Saturday, July 4, 2009

Seattle's Turnaround

Last year, the Seattle Mariners lost 100 games for the first time since 1983. Now, they're in the hunt for the AL West division lead. After beating the Red Sox in Boston for the 2nd straight night, they are 42-38, only 2.5 games behind the Angels and Rangers. Although this team is not as good as the Piniella-led early 2000's or the mid-90's, they are competitive. How could they so quickly go from 101 losses to a contender?

A very simple analysis of the numbers tells the story. Last year, they were 26th in runs scored and 24th in runs allowed. This year, they are 28th in runs scored and 4th in runs allowed. Even though I'm sure they got some good karma from bringing back Junior Griffey, it's not the offense, it's the pitching. After digging a little through the numbers, one of the primary reasons is simple: they are allowing fewer hits. In 2008, the pitching staff allowed a batting average against (BAA) of .276, one of the worst in the league. In 2009, they have BAA of .250, one of the best.

One of the main reasons is unavoidable: they do not have Carlos Silva in their rotation right now. Carlos Silva, once a good pitcher, has become one of the most hittable pitchers of his generation. He was once known for allowing fewer walks than any other pitching and striking people out too, but those days are long gone. In 2008, he had 28 starts and the league hit .330 against him. Not surprisingly, he went 4-15.

To put that in the proper context, among pitchers with at least 140 IP in 2008, he was 2nd worst in the league at .330 behind Livan Hernandez's staggering .341. But, if you also look at all seasons of 140 IP or more from 2000-2008, it was still 2nd worst (Carlos had some of the other worst seasons too). It was a historically bad season for allowing hits. He was at it again this year (.309) until he went on the DL. He still has 2 years left on his deal with Seattle after this year, with about $24 (gulp) million still owed.

The next big reason: Miguel Batista is in the bullpen. The part-time novelist and poet had his season in 2007 and his worst in 2008. From 16 wins and a full-time starting gig to 4 wins and being banished to the bullpen. In his first year in the bullpen since 2005, he has a 2.72 ERA and his batting average against has dropped from .295 to .253.

There are other reasons that I will get to another time: Jarrod Washburn's resurgence and newcomer David Aardsma's remarkable emergence as dominant closer. Baseball really is simple sometimes: allow fewer hits and good things happen. Lessons for the Mariners (hopefully these are obvious to them): Keep Carlos Silva out of the rotation and Miguel Batista in the bullpen. Better yet, attach Silva's contract to any deal for Erik Bedard and see what you get (good luck).

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