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September 27, 2007 at 10:06 AM

Bavasi’s rotation

The days are winding down, with the Mariners now having four more games in which to hit the 85-win plateau. We wrote back in spring training that an 85-win season might be enough to get Mike Hargrove and Bill Bavasi off their respective “Hot Seats”. Somehow though, these 85 wins don’t seem as special as I thought they might.
Hargrove is now gone, so we don’t have to worry about him. Let’s talk about Bavasi a bit more. Heading into last winter, the common and largely accurate consensus was that his biggest chance to prove himself would be in his reshaping of the team’s starting rotation. Again, not to beat an already dead horse’s carcass even more, leaving yourself exposed with three rotation vacancies at a time when starting pitching was about to become the game’s most scarce commodity is the kind of thing that can hamstring an organization for years.
Or, the kind of thing that leads you to panic and trade away your best setup man for an ineffective lefty starter. You know, since I arrived in Seattle, I’ve been hearing all types of back channel whispering about how Rafael Soriano had to go. How he really wasn’t that great a guy. I have no idea if it’s true. Really don’t care, to be honest. I have my suspicions that a handful of current Mariners may not be the greatest guys to invite home to dinner. But that’s not my problem. None of them seem to be tearing the clubhouse apart. One guy who came close to doing that, Julio Mateo, was shipped off. There were signs of a clubhouse split forming over Mateo and the organization — to its credit — decided to distance itself from him after his arrest on charges of assaulting his wife.
No such trail exists for Soriano. He seems to have fit in well in Atlanta. At least, to the point of not tearing that clubhouse apart. So, he’s gone. The bullpen still doesn’t have a reliable eighth inning guy as of right now, and the team is stuck with the rotation it has. Let’s ignore the bullpen-aided wins and losses for a starting five that rarely went seven or more innings with any consistency.
For a quick and simple comparison, the ERA+ stat will do fine. Let’s remember the rules about this sabermetric tool. An ERA+ of 100 is right at the average level of performance in the major leagues. Anything higher is that much above average in terms of percentage points, anything lower is that much below it. A score of 102 is 2 percent above average, 98 is 2 percent below.
As always, the numbers take “park factors” into account so that the M’s starters won’t have pitching-friendly Safeco Field to hide some of their uglier traits.
Without further ado, the 2007 starting five:
Felix Hernandez 106
Jarrod Washburn 99
Miguel Batista 97
Jeff Weaver 68
Horacio Ramirez 60
Yikes. Only Hernandez was above average. Despite a win total difference of five in Batista’s favor, he’s actually been outpitched by Washburn to a degree. In fact, while a lot of us in the media, me included, keep refering to this staff as “mediocre” the truth is it’s been frighteningly below average.
How did the staff do in 2006? The original starting five?
Jamie Moyer 99
Gil Meche 97
Felix Hernandez 96
Jarrod Washburn 93
Joe Pineiro 68
Well, as we can see, all were below average. The difference this year is that Hernandez took a step up. But while 2006 had the usual cluster of guys slightly below average as there was this year, it had one less all-out bomb. You can flip flop the 2007 Weaver with the 2006 Pineiro. But that still leaves Horacio Ramirez all by himself at the bottom of the pack.
Yes indeed, the 2007 rotation was arguably worse than in 2006. So, for me, when I judge whether or not Bavasi did his job well last off-season, this is the first and primary category I turn to. After all, he was the one who allowed the team to enter the winter with three rotation vacancies. He filled all three with below average pitchers. What else can I say? Yes, he tried. Of course he tried.
Free agent pitchers who didn’t sign with the M’s? Or that the team opted not to go after last winter?
Ted Lilly 118
Daisuke Matsuzaka 102
Jeff Suppan 97
Barry Zito 96
No, there weren’t many arms out there who would have made a difference. I didn’t even take the cheap shot of counting Meche and his ERA+ of 130 for this year. After all, the M’s could have re-signed him. But I’ll accept that a change of venue is sometimes good for both pitcher and team. Though it’s hard to not feel like Meche, even at his usual mediocre level, could have helped the M’s this year. I’ve left off the scores of other free agents who were injured or who just flat-out bombed. The four above, substituted for Weaver or Ramirez, might have made a difference in getting this rotation more to where it was last year than right now. Zito’s money is, obviously, a huge impediment. But put that aside (I know it’s hard) and you can see that even his worst year is not that much worse off than the best Seattle starters outside of Hernandez. How much of it was Zito getting used to the National League? Who knows?
Would Lilly have made the M’s better? Most certainly. He’s a guy who’s spent most of his career in the AL, especially the hitter-heavy AL East. He’s a flyball pitcher who pitched in the homer-happy confines of Wrigley Field as opposed to the flyball-killing air of Safeco Field. Matsuzaka? He’s done OK for a rookie. I’d like to see how he’d do going forward. Would feel much more comfortable about this rotation heading into next season if he was in it.
Rafael Soriano? An ERA+ of 145. But he’s a reliever, so let’s not go crazy on ERA. Strikeouts-to-walks? 70 to 15. An excellent ratio of more than 4-to-1. J.J. Putz is at 79-to-13 for a quick comparison of where Soriano fares with the game’s best late-inning guys. Soriano also has a WHIP (walks-plus-hits-to-innings-pitched) of 0.86. Anything under 1.00 is usually pretty darned good. Just the kind of guy you want working the eighth inning for you.
Clubhouses ruined? None so far.
So, when it comes time to evaluating the job Bavasi did for this team last winter? Can’t say I’m all that impressed by the results of the moves that impacted this team the most. But again, when you position yourself behind the eight ball as the M’s did heading into last winter, can anyone honestly say they were surprised? Not at the failures on the mound. For me, it’s the degree of the failure that shocks and the way it was compounded by one trade.
And now, with the free agent market even more scarce on the pitching front, Seattle heads into this winter knowing the only way to make this staff better will almost certainly come via trade. A long, cold winter indeed looms.

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