The Seattle Times has a poll question up, asking, “Which of these pitchers will win the most games for the Mariners this season?” The choices are Erik Bedard, Doug Fister, Luke French, Ian Snell, and Jason Vargas, the five names most likely to occupy the final two spots in the Mariners’ rotation. It’s an important question in some ways, not so important in another, so let’s take a look at these guys and the back end of the rotation. Lookout Landing just did the same thing, with numbers, so check that out too.
There are a few other names to consider for these spots: Nick Hill, Ryan Feierabend, maybe Garrett Olson if he gets a new left arm or everyone else’s ams fall off. I think Hill in particular could eventually end up in the rotation, but for now he hasn’t pitched above Double-A and is more likely to break camp in the bullpen or go to Triple-A Tacoma. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the team acquired another starter, but as it stands now, two of these five are likely to break camp in the rotation.
Both Danny and I have written about Bedard, and I see him in a different category from the rest. If or when he is healthy, even to say 90% of his previous level, he is the best pitcher of this group. Even if his stuff only comes back to 75%, he’s probably as good as the others. We just don’t know if he can come back or when it will be.
Ian Snell appears to have the inside track on the #4 spot. He has the most experience and potential of the non-Bedards, but was inconsistent and generally unimpressive after coming over from the Pirates midseason. Abundant theories (depression, lack of deception in his motion) have been posited regarding his ineffectiveness, but we’ll just say an Ian Snell at or near his early Pirate days would be an above average #4 or 5 starter and go a long way toward a successful Mariners season.
The other three fall into the low-upside, some majors experience category. French came from the Tigers in the Washburn trade and was fairly bad, but had some success with Detroit. Vargas spent a lot of time in the M’s rotation and in my mind, his solid change-up gives him the inside track on the #5 spot. Fister, the only righty of the three, has below-average stuff but occasionally above-average command. All three pitched in the bigs in 2009, at times successfully, at times not.
Short of having two proven veterans or blue chip prospects to slot in, the situation is set up as well as you could ask. The key is having one of Bedard or Snell, particularly Snell, perform. If Snell pitches at or above league average, he is a good #4 and potentially the best #5 in the league if Bedard can come back at some point. Filling one spot from the Vargas/Fister/French group, while not ideal, worked fine last year. It’s likely at least one of them (or another pitcher in the system) will be throwing well at any given time, leaving it up to Wakamatsu and Zduriencik to find the right one. We’re likely to see multiple pitchers get a decent number of starts for the team, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the years of Batista and Silva, their big contracts made it difficult to switch them out when they weren’t performing, an issue that won’t come up with a player making the league minimum.
It doesn’t matter a great deal which of these players ends up with the most wins (or best ERA or FIP or whatever). It only matters that two of them pitch well at any given time, and it seems to me the odds of that are surprisingly good.