Thursday, April 10, 2008

Seattle, WA - Safeco Field

By Brent Hubbard - Columnist

As spring sets in and the baseball season begins, optimism fills the air. Every team’s fans think their team has a chance — even irrational or deluded fans of teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates are allowed to think, “Maybe this is our year.”

I know I always do. Last year’s post season collapse is all but a distant memory. Optimism usually dominates, at least where the Halos are concerned.

And even with the team beset by a rash of spring training injuries, leading me to think the training room must be built on a Native American burial ground, I wondered why so many in the media were jumping on the Seattle Mariners bandwagon. And after the first week of games, I still wonder.

Baseball is unique in that it’s all about the numbers, right? Well, before the Angels meet the Mariners for this weekend’s series in Seattle, a closer examination of the numbers is definitely warranted.

The Bedard and Silva Trade made a huge difference to the Mariners’ starting rotation. Look at this from USS (I’m paraphrasing)

“Assuming that Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva both stay healthy and make their 34 starts, what do you expect the Mariners record to be in those 68 games 36-32? 38-30? 40-28? I’d imagine that it’s almost certainly going to be somewhere in that range.

The Mariners record in the 68 games in 2007 that were started by Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, Cha Seung Baek, and Ryan Feierabend? 32-36.

Yep, for all the talk about how terrible the back end of the Mariners rotation was last year (and in terms of individual performance, it was), the Mariners were a .470 club when their #4/#5 starters were on the hill. Even if you believe they’ll be a .560 club with Bedard and Silva on the hill, and if you believe that neither will miss a start all season, then you’re expecting the team to go 38-30 in those 68 games. That’s a 6 win improvement.

(Bedard + Silva) - (Weaver + Ramirez + Feierabend + Baek) = 6 wins, if you assume that no one gets hurt, everyone else on the roster plays at their ‘07 level, Wilkerson = Guillen, and losing Sherrill has no impact on the bullpen.

Yep, this trade still sucks.”

And that is from a Mariner fan! Erik Bedard is a pretty good pitcher who played for a lousy Orioles team, but his stats don’t impress that much. 2007 was his best year at 13-5 in 182 innings over 28 starts. He struck out 221 and had a 3.17 ERA. Which leads me to my next point.

Bedard is an ace. Um, no. He is a nice pitcher, but prior to 2007, it was maddeningly inconsistent Daniel Cabrera who was universally thought of as the future No. 1. Bedard has taken a big step forward in 2006 and 2007, but I hesitate to call him an ace. An ace dominates his competition. Bedard gets the benefit of being left-handed, but the next Pedro Martinez he is not. He compares more to a guy like Kelvim Escobar than John Lackey. The Derek Lowe to Pedro Martinez, or AJ Burnett to Roy Halladay.

In 2004, his ERA was 4.59. It dropped to 4.00 in 24 starts in ’05, then down to 3.76 in 2006, and finally 3.17 in 2007. His strikeouts have increased in a similar fashion. This career path is similar to Lackey, but while John has not missed a start until this year, Bedard has started 111 Games over 4 seasons, averaging 28 per season. Only in 2006 did he make 33 starts.

Bedard has struggled this season, but still manages to have a 2-0 record in two starts and a 3.27 ERA against the Rays and Rangers. Bedard has also already missed a start. He’s pitched 5 and 6 innings in the ones he made. Pretty average.

Silva is an above average starter. Again from USS Mariner: “Is Silva A Good Fit For The Mariners?”

That is a long piece, but basically it says Silva is not a good fit for the Mariners’ ballpark. Nor is he above average. Silva is average. But he should be better than Jeff Weaver, regardless. In his four seasons as a starter, Silva has posted ERAs of 4.21, 3.44, 5.94 and 4.19. Again average or below. Well, does he at least strike out a bunch of guys? No.

Next, we arrive at Seattle’s offense. Jose Guillen may not have many fans in Anaheim, but the guy can hit. And Adam Jones isn’t a slouch, either; even as a rookie, he provided a boost to the Mariners’ late season offense in 2007. Brad Wilkerson is league average in center field, but he’s playing right. He hasn’t hit for significant power, well, ever. Ben Broussard is gone to Texas, leaving Richie Sexson and his Mendoza-line average alone at first base. He and Adrian Beltre are going to have to take a significant step forward for the Mariners to even stay close to their offensive output of 2007.

And finally, look at the 2007 run differential: The M’s scored 794 runs and allowed 813 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 79-83. They actually won 89 games, so I’d say that is playing into a bit of luck. Teams that score, but give up more are not usually that successful. Good pitching is only going to lower the runs allowed so much, and the decline in their offense is probably going to parallel the decline on the other side of the equation. So, unless they are lucky as they were in 2007, the Mariners are likely going to decline in wins, even with their vaunted off-season pitching acquisitions.

I’ll take 94 wins + John Garland and Torii Hunter, thanks — even with a sidelined Lackey and Escobar hurt for the season. Experts, be damned.

And I’ll take the 2008 division crown.

Bring on the Mariners.

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