A great running line in the Newman/Redford classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was “Who are those guys?” It was said by Cassidy/Newman when no matter what Butch and Sundance did to ditch a posse, they could not shake them. Well Seattle GM, Jerry Dipoto has shaken up the Mariner bullpen and brought in a new posse. But will it be better? At the moment it looks to be their biggest weakness.
Frankly at the moment it scares me. I think Dipoto has secret Freemason analytics unknown to the rest of us. Something found in ancient knowledge of necromancy, alchemy, and witchcraft. Looking at his acquisitions I ask, “Who are those guys?”
There are 20 pitchers on the 40 man roster, six of which are starters, those being Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Nathan Karns, and two lefties, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley. That leaves 15 relievers, including one recently acquired for another reliever, also acquired during the offseason. By spring training all the following pitchers could trade as Trader Jerry likes to deal like a riverboat gambler.
Their are only six pitchers returning who spent any time with the Mariners and four of those are lefties. Charlie Furbush, 29, appeared in only 33 games due to an injury; Vidal Nuno, 28, another lefty was 1-5, 3.74 in 35 games (3 with Arizona), 10 starts; Mike Montgomery, 26, who began 2015 as a starter was 4-6, 4.60 and though he had two early shutouts, his 16 starts indicated a five inning pitcher at best; Dave Rollins, 26, the fourth lefty was 0-2, 7.56 and was dreadful. From the right side is Mayckol Guaipe, 25, 21 games, 5.40 ERA and Tony Zych, 25, who only appeared in 13 games with a 2.45 ERA.
Based on the five returnees Furbush and Nuno are likely to be in the pen, with Montgomery being a starter in Tacoma. Guaipe will have to compete with seven new righties and all have question marks.
Staring at the end with Steve Cishek, 29, the likely closer with 39 saves in 43 opportunities in 2014, but between two teams last season was 4 of 9 with 3.58 ERA. So a question mark as to health and if he can regain his previous form. The setup man is likely Joaquin Benoit whose only question is age at 38 as his 2015 ERA was 2.34 in 65.1 innings with San Diego. He also has closing experience. They should make the team. That makes Cishek, Benoit, Furbush, and Nuno. Along with 5 starters, that makes nine pitchers.
Assuming a 12 man staff that leaves three spots open between seven pitchers-at the moment. The odd man out of the rotation, baring another Iwakuma/Paxton/Other injury, is Karns. If he stays in the bullpen as long reliever, that leaves two spots. Besides Zych there is Jonathan Arno, 25, 6.97 in six games with Boston in 2015; Ryan Cook, 28, 8.2 innings between two teams allowing 20 hits, 18.69 era in 9 games. An aberration as he had three good years with Oakland and can also close games. Another former Oakland A is Evan Scribner, 30, 5-2, 4.21 career marks; Justin DeFratus, 28, 6-1, 5.51 with the Phillies in 2015; Cody Martin, 26, 7.92 between Atlanta and Oakland; and Joe Wieland, soon to be 26, two bad starts with Dodgers in 2015, career record 1-5 5.85 in 11 games. Anybody’s guess, so I pick Cook and Zych, or Cook and Scribner, or draw two names out of a batting helmet.
Dipoto has remade the pen and they can make or break the 2016 team, just as the 2015 pen sunk the Good Ship Mariner. I am at the moment a bit seasick and must get below deck.
Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners new GM, has a massive overhaul ahead of him. And his options are limited. Here are the problems he faces. Only two starting pitchers, a bullpen best known as an arson squad, no outfielders, no catching depth, and who’s on first. All of which are an Abbott and Costello routine.
Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are his two starters. Hisashi Iwakuma is a free agent, will be 35 next April 12, and has had injuries each of the last two years. That being said, the Mariners should make a good offer to keep Iwakuma because they are desperate for starters. James Paxton can not be counted on as he has spent more time on the disabled list the past two years than on the mound. Strained dorsi muscle, a bad finger, and a split fingernail have plagued him and there is no reason to believe he can stay healthy. Elias can not pitch beyond the fifth inning and has yet to prove being anything other than a fifth starter at best.
The strength of the 2014 team was the bullpen, and those who dominated that year pitched more like batting practice pitchers in 2015. Consider Danny Farquhar who was 3-1, 2.66 in 2014 and allowed only five home runs in 71 innings. On 9/26 against the Angels he gave up a 9th inning walk-off homer. Two days later on the 28th against Houston he gives up the game winning homer in the 7th. Two days later on the 30th, again in the 7th, he serves up another homer breaking up 6-6 tie and M’s lose 7-6. On the 2nd of October against Oakland it is 4-4 when a 2-run homer in the 8th gives the A’s a 4-2 win. The M’s lost 9 of last 11 after getting within three wins of .500. Five of those nine losses were by one run, and four of the those losses charged to Farquhar who gave up four game winning homers. He finished 1-8. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “And so it goes.”
Dipoto said he wants athletic players and wants outfielders who can chase down balls in the gap, something that, for some reason, escaped Jackie Z, the former GM. Where does Dipoto get outfielders. He is high on Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, but both are former infielders and Miller has not proven that he can play centerfield. James Jones, effective in 2014, did not get enough playing time this past season, so his future is cloudy. The minor leagues have nobody major league ready if you believe what everyone has said.
Logan Morrison, the M’s first baseman, hit .225 and is a free agent, so his return is dubious, though the M’s may try to resign him because they have more pressing problems. Then there is catcher Mike Zunino, a defensive standout, who can’t hit .200.
The Mariners Robinson Cano’s zillion dollar contract will keep him in Seattle and Felix will not be traded due to pitching shortage, so the only tradable player is Nelson Cruz, at least one that brings back multiple players. Kyle Seager is too valuable at third to trade as there are not many gold glove third basemen who hit 26 homers. And Ketel Marte looks like a future star at short.
I prefer Cruz stays in Seattle, but if the M’s are going to get some players, he is the best fishing bait they have.
All sports fans have heard the preseason predictions, just like Seattle Mariner fans heard national baseball writers say Seattle would compete for the pennant, with some predicting the Mariners would play in the World Series. I never bought into it because, though these baseball pundits said ‘they look good on paper,’ paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, then poof the paper is gone.
And so it has been for Seattle. Poof, their season is long gone. Many baseball writers pointed to the Mariners starting pitching and bullpen. The ace of the staff is King Felix. But despite a 14-8 record, Felix is 3-3 with a 6.26 RERA and a .343 batting average against in his last seven starts. At this rate he would have one of his worst seasons. Who could predict that, nor could anyone predict Hisashi Iwakuma missing a large part of the season with injuries; the same for James Paxton. Mike Montgomery, called up from AAA, who started so brilliantly is 0-3 with a plus seven ERA since the all-star game. Roenis Elias who was sent to Tacoma long ago, was recently recalled and though he may yet start, he has been relegated to the bullpen.
Then there is the bullpen, nearly flawless in 2014, but deeply flawed in 2015. To this date the bullpen has blown 17 saves and are in large part the reason the Mariners lead the majors with 22 losses with the opposition winning in their last at bat. And having 20 extra inning games already, the bullpen has been taxed. Fernando Rodney who closed 48 games last season has been released. Yoervis Medina, the 8th inning pitcher last season was gone after 12 innings, though his pitching numbers did not merit the M’s parting with him so early, not with a 3.00 era and a win and save.
Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, and Joe Beimel, stalwarts all in 2014, have failed in 2015 and Tom Wilhelmsen was sent to AAA for a spell. The Mariners have tried Tyler Olsen, 5.40; Mayckol Guaipe, 7.50; Dave Rollins 7.85; and Robert Rasmussen, 16.71, and though their inning pitched is low, their numbers tell the story.
Their one reliable reliever, Mark Lowe, was traded at the deadline for prospects-or suspects if you wish. Charlie Furbush, solid from the left side, pitched 21 innings before an arm injury.
And now you know why looking at paper is a folly; why believing the paper is foolish, a chimera, a distorted hopeful dream. Paper tends to go up in smoke. Just ask the Seattle Mariners.
I did not do the math, but I trust 710 ESPN Seattle who gave out the information. The sports talk host said Felix had 118 starts where the Mariners had given him one run of support.
At this writing Felix has 319 starts, so 118 starts equates to 37% and with Felix averaging 34 starts in his career, three years would be 102. That leaves 16 starts. So for three and one half years Felix has had one run to work with and that means a lot of stress innings trying to hold the opposition close while waiting-and 37% of the time waiting in vain-for his team to score runs.
I do not know what pitcher has had the worst run support in his career, but King Felix must be at or near the top. And consider we are talking only run for three and a half years. What about two runs?
To go out and pitch the way Felix does requires great determination and desire knowing he can’t afford any mistakes every five days, week after week, month after month, year after year. And Felix never complains, never carps, never bitches, remaining as positive as Seahawk coach, Pete Carroll. The difference of course is that Carroll has reason to be optimistic, Felix has none.
Perhaps the closest pitcher to Felix, if not surpassing him for frustration, is Hall of Famer Walter Johnson. He pitched 21 seasons for the Washington Senators from 1907-1927, one of the worst teams of that era (like the Mariners). Walter won 416 games, 110 by shutout, a major league record never to be broken. He shutout the opposition in 26% of his wins. And his record in shutouts has set records. Consider that 38 of his 110 shutouts were 1-0 scores, a major league record. And he was the losing pitcher in 65 shutouts, a major league record, and 26 of those were 1-0 games. His record in 1-0 shutouts was 38-26. Sixty-four games of 1-0 duels is also a record. 110-65 in overall shutouts. And not all of his career was in the dead ball era.
Walter got to the World Series in 1924 and 1925 when he was 37 and 38. I doubt Felix will pitch that long. And the way the Mariners fail to hit year after year, Felix, like Ernie Banks, may have a Hall of Fame career but no World Series.
Dateline: Twilight Zone
Reason number one of why the M’s can’t win is that they can’t beat Houston. They are 1-7 against the Astros with 30% of the homeruns the Mariner pitching staff has given up being hit by the Astros. They beat Felix 10-0 Friday night with the King allowing eight first inning runs. Houston pounds the M’s like they are playing their double A affiliate. They abuse Seattle so badly the M’s need to ask PETA for shelter.
Reason number two is the recent batch of bats came from the wrong company. They have been using plastic wiffle ball bats. It is no wonder they can’t score runs. Okay, the truth of the matter is that Safeco Field has been found to be on an old Native American burial ground and they are playing under a curse. There is another theory brought up by the Ancient Mariner who believes there is an albatross around Jackie Z’s head.
Okay, to be serious, the number two reason is that Jackie Z, Seattle’s GM, does not like contact hitters or those who can get on base. He has built a team of hitters who don’t hit. The scouting department does an excellent job of drafting and developing pitchers, but they are a disaster when it comes to developing hitters. When Seattle traded for Mark Trumbo, they gave up nothing they would miss, but they got another all or nothing hitter, one who strikes out almost as often as Mike Zunino.
And why was Justin Ruggiano let go instead of Richie Weeks? Ruggiano can play the outfield and was at least batting over .200. Weeks was batting in the .160’s at the time of the trade and can not play defense. It is not a coincidence that Weeks and Jackie Z both have a Milwaukee Brewer connection. It is playing a favorite rather than doing what is best for the team.
The rumor was that Jackie Z was trying to pry outfielder Ben Revere from the Phillies this past week. The Phillies reportedly wanted to Taijuan Walker of James Paxton. That was wisely rejected. Ben Revere is another batter with a poor on base percentage. There is no trade that can help Seattle. They are stuck.
Wait til’ next year is the new battle cry.
The strength of the 2014 Mariners was pitching, especially a strong bullpen. They were 25-20 with a Major League leading 2.59 ERA with batting average against of .219.
But relief pitching is rarely consistent from year to year and this year they are blowing it-literally. They are 21st in ERA at 4.06, and have won 3 and lost 9, the most in baseball. They are responsible for 9 of the 17 losses. And five of their last six losses have been by one run.
What is curious is one of the changes in the bullpen Seattle recently made. Joe Beimel replacing rookie Tyler Olsen was expected from the left side. But why was Yoervis Medina sent down for Mark Lowe? In 12 innings Medina gave up 11 hits and 7 walks. Though the walks are high he struck out 9 and had an ERA of 3.00. Hardly numbers to be sent down to Tacoma.
Consider that Danny Farquhar who has a 5.02 ERA, has two blown saves, and has a .278 batting average against. Medina .234. Dominic Leone has a 5.40 ERA in 8 innings along with six walks. So why was Medina chosen to be sent down? I wish I had the answer. Some guys get more of a chance then others; maybe Lloyd McClendon saw something he didn’t like in Medina. I know I see something I don’t like in Farquhar and Leone.
Seattle needs answers in the pen and need them soon. Felix has pitched great, Paxton and Elias are now pitching well, and Happ has had only one bad outing. They deserve better then they have gotten of late.
More changes could come soon. And that’s no bull.
It is not the .210 batting average that bothers me. Though the Mariners are 26th in baseball and 12th in the American League is not the problem. Their on base percentage does bother me. At .258 they are 14th in the American league, ahead of only the Twins at .249. The reason for that is the same as last season and that is the inability to draw walks.
They are 13th in the league in walks with 18 in nine games. The Twins have 17 and the White Sox have 13, but they have played eight games. Last season the M’s drew 396 walks, last in the League. Oddly Kansas City was last with .380. who finished with a 89-73 record. The difference was Kansas City hit .263 while Seattle hit .244 and that is why the Mariners finished dead last in on base percentage at .300.
The Mariners survived a poor offensive output in 2014 because their pitching was one of the best in baseball. It is early, but through nine games they have had only two good starts, one from Felix, the other from J.A. Happ. Paxton, Iwakuma, and Paxton have either struggled or floundered. And closer Fernando Rodney has blown up the last two games.
Everything looked good in spring training, but there is no pressure in those games; once the bell rings, high expectations can cause things to go wrong. I don’t know whether they feel the pressure of expectations or not. They say no, but what do you expect them to say. It could be the pitchers are not in their rhythm, are having trouble locating.
The focus of the everyday players has not been there. Cano thought the bases were loaded when there were runners at second and third and began walking home from third when a batter walked and Cano was thrown out. Logan Morrison forgot how many outs there were in consecutive innings. Brad Miller Forgot to cover second base once.
The 3-6 record is disappointing and while the starting pitching has been poor, it should not mask the Mariners inability to get on base. Homers alone will not win games. You need to be patient, get pitchers deeper into counts, draw walks, and get clutch hitting. The M’s are doing none of that.
It is time for the Mariners to step and during this nine game home stand. Forget expectations and start playing fundamentally sound baseball.