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May 1, 2007 at 9:57 AM

Washburn: The Sequel

First start tonight for Jarrod Washburn since three-hitting the Oakland A’s in a complete-game shutout last week. Now, the Chicago White Sox are no A’s offensively, but they’ve been about a C-minus this year (hey, I thought it was a rather funny turn of phrase). Anyway, the most valuable contribution Washburn has made to this team since Felix Hernandez went down hasn’t been his 1-1 record against the A’s and Twins. More like the 15 1/3 innings he’s pitched in those two starts. That’s four more innings than Jeff Weaver has thrown all season. It’s more than Seattle’s starting staff tossed in that entire series in Anaheim two weekends ago. Almost as many as the M’s starters threw in the first four games of that 3-3 road trip. OK, you get the point. A No. 2 starter has to do that. Has to produce innings that go beyond the normal six.
One of my personal pet peeves of pitching stats is the so-called “quality start” in which a starter has to go a minimum six innings and allow three earned runs or less. Agents use this stat to help pitchers land fat contracts in that gray zone between a staff ace and No. 5 starter.
How many times have we heard the tiresome debate about who is really a No. 2, or a No. 3 or No. 4 guy? That’s when “quality start” usually begins to rear its ugly head. Trouble is, what then, is the difference between a pitcher loading up on “quality starts” and a second one derided as simply a “six-inning pitcher”? Sometimes, there is none. Some pitchers can dazzle for six innings, then leave it up to the bullpen to continuously carry them to victory (a big reason why many of the “quality start” fiends never win 15 or more). What I propose, but what will also never happen, is changing the “quality start” rule to seven innings of three earned runs or less allowed. Then, we would separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Going at least seven innings allows a team to employ its setup man and closer in their traditional roles. It enables the club to avoid a concoction of relievers in the seventh inning. Hey, I’m all for a pitcher who gives you “quality starts” more often than not. But I prefer the ones who sprinkle in a liberal helping of the seven-inning variety. After all, know what we’d get with a rotation that threw nothing but six-inning quality starts all season? Probably a winning record in April, followed by a whole lot of losses and a bullpen gassed by mid-May. Anyway, this is all just a long-winded way of saying that Washburn looked very much like my definition of a No. 2 starter last week in Oakland and the previous week against the Twins before Julio Mateo got involved (which, in a seven-inning quality start, Mateo never would have). Let’s see if Washburn can keep it up.
Interesting new series by one of the more interesting baseball writers. I confess, though, that Jonah Keri and I once worked together for the same university newspaper, The Concordian, in Montreal in the late 1980s. And though I’m no celebrity, as he was hoping for in his column, I really do miss the Expos and all the good they brought to an international game. Jonah, as many of you know, used to live in Seattle and considers it one of his favorite cities. So, any references to the Mariners are not strictly cheap shots from afar.



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