Seattle Mariners 2012 starting rotation preview
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There’s hope on the horizon for Seattle Mariners fans. A slew of fine young players have begun to make their way to the big leagues. The prospect parade includes several terrific young arms that are already making an impact at the big-league level and will be for the next half decade.
Caption: (Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
1. Felix Hernandez (RHP)
2011 Salary: $10MM
2012 Salary: $18.5MM
2011 Stats: 233.2 IP over 33 starts, 8.5 K/9, 3.47 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 5.5 WAR
Hernandez endured a regression to the mean on balls in play in 2011. It was the primary reason his ERA spiked to 3.47, up from his Cy Young-winning 2.27 ERA in 2010. Hernandez wasn’t any worse of a pitcher this past year, his defense just didn’t help his cause as dramatically as it did during the 2010 run. You’re likely to hear trade winds blowing about Felix again this offseason. I have serious doubts about that. If Seattle’s decision makers don’t think the club will be able to contend by the end of Hernandez’s contract in 2014 and/or have serious doubts about their ability to retain him once he hits free agency, then maybe they’ll take some calls. However, I think the rumor about GM Jack Zduriencik’s pursuit of Prince Fielder indicates the M’s are intent on winning sooner rather than later.
A question in the back of Mariners fans’ minds should be whether you want Zduriencik to bring back Hernandez beyond 2014. Yes, he’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball right now, but before you assume he’ll sustain that well into his 30s, you should know about some interesting trends. Felix has thrown 1,388 major-league innings before his 26th birthday. In 2008, the Hardball Times did a nice little write up on pitchers who had heavy workloads prior to that age. All of the contemporary examples (the Fernando Valenzuelas and Dwight Goodens of the world) burned out. Hernandez’s average fastball velocity has tailed off from nearly 96 mph in 2005 to 93.3 mph in 2011. Curiously, over that same time span, his slider velocity has climbed up from 83 mph to 86 mph and his change-up velo is up from 85 mph to 89 mph. Throughout all this, Felix’s power curveball velocity has held steady. What does all this mean? We’ll have to watch how Hernandez performs in the near future, but it’s becoming clear that a guy who once had an entire arsenal of above-average to plus pitches is losing a little bit of his gas. While he’ll probably be on the short list of Cy Young contenders again in 2012, his long-term viability is something to monitor. Enjoy it while it lasts.
2. Michael Pineda (RHP)
2011 Salary: $414M
2012 Salary: $415-420M
2011 Stats: 171 innings over 28 starts, 9 K/9, 3.74 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.4 WAR
Pineda far exceeded my expectations in 2011. I didn’t think the change-up was ready to get left-handed hitters out. Neither did he, evidently, as he only threw the change six percent of the time. Instead, he survived almost exclusively on his mid-90s fastball and his mid-80s slider, which he prefers to work back-door to lefties. It worked just fine. He held lefties to a reasonable .234 batting average in 2011. Understand that, like Felix’s 2010 season, Pineda enjoyed an unsustainable batting average on balls in play last year. He’s due for a bit of a statistical regression next year with an ERA somewhere in the 3.3-3.5 range, but he’s still an absolute monster. He tossed 140 innings in 2010 and 171 innings last year. That’s a fairly standard 30-inning bump, but his performance waned as the season went along. There may be some amount of physical conditioning Pineda can do in order to maintain excellence throughout an entire 200-inning season.
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