First Quarter Report Cards: Starting Rotation

As Matthew looks ahead to next year in his series, I’m going to look back at the first quarter of the season.  We’re a few games past the quarter point but this seems to be an appropriate time to look back on who has done what.  We’ll start with the starting rotation because that’s the least depressing thing.  Grades after the jump!

Felix Hernandez – B

Felix started the year as the king we grew accustomed to seeing last summer.  The Mariners’ won in each of Felix’s first 3 starts and the King threw his first complete game against Baltimore a couple games into the season.  But from then on Felix hasn’t quite been himself.  He’s still been getting a great goundball/flyball ratio and his strikeouts are just as high as they’ve ever been but his control has been off at times.  His ERA  is sitting at 3.80 right now but there’s reason to believe that he’s been a little unlucky.  The BABIP is up 20 points over his career average.  With that being said, there do seem to be a lot of line drives hit off of him in the past couple starts. 

I’m not worried about Felix but he hasn’t been the ace he was last year.  It was about this time when he got on his roll last year and one has to think that a version of that will happen again.  Felix’s WAR has only been .1 this year which is absolutely crazy.  Last year Felix had a WAR of 5.8.  Yes, he was probably never going to repeat a 5.8 WAR but I would put good money on that number jumping up from .1 pretty quickly.  His 2-4 record is more a reflection of the sucky offense than anything else.  Don’t worry about his record.

Cliff Lee – C (Due to injury)

Before I’m persecuted for giving Cliff Lee a C on his report card, remember that he missed the first month of the season.  He’s only made 5 starts this season although it seems like more.  In those 5 starts Cliff Lee has proved why he is one of the best pitchers in baseball.  It’s not hard to imagine Cliff being 5-0, instead he’s 2-2.  His last time out against San Diego Lee gave up quite a few runs and it was weird to see.  That start proves that pitchers can’t be perfect all the time.  He works so fast and pounds the strike zone. 

Cliff is running out a 3.44 ERA at the moment and that’s a little high due to that San Diego game that was over by the 4th inning.  Lee does scatter quite a few hits but that makes him even more impressive.  Watch next time an opposing team gets guys on base against Lee, he steps up his game and becomes an even more dominant pitcher.  Lee’s strikeout to walk ratio is 32.00.  32!  That is amazing.  His control is unlike anything I’ve seen.  Enjoy it while it lasts because…. Well, it probably won’t last much longer.

Doug Fister – A

Doug is a revelation.  This season has sucked quite a bit but Fister has been one of the bright spots.  I don’t have to say much about him, rather I’ll just list where he is in some sabermetric (the most telling) pitcher stats:

  • Fister leads the league in ERA at 2.03.
  • Fister has a 2.0 WAR.  This is the 2nd highest pitcher WAR in the AL.
  • The Fist leads the league in HR/9 innings pitched.  This may be luck but it also speaks to the amount of control he’s shown.
  • Doug leads the league in walks and hits/inning.
  • He’s also first in adjusted ERA. 

All this to say that if Fister keeps this up to an extent and if the offense scores a few more runs for him he will be a cy young contender.  Wow, that felt weird to type.

Jason Vargas – A

No, Vargas is not quite at the level of Fister but no one is!  In ways, J-Varg (that is an awful nickname) has been equally impressive.  His swinging strikes are off the charts and he’s shown much better control than he did last year.  He’s made this run with a deceptive fastball and a well above-average changeup.  His ERA is at 3.12 and he’s sporting a 3-2 record. 

It’s not that Vargas has really changed.  He’s still a flyball pitcher who uses Safeco and a great defense to his advantage.  He has found some control and he’s thrown his changeup more.  While I expect Fister to regress back to the mean at least a tiny bit, I don’t have many reasons to think Jason can’t continue this run.  His HR/FB percentage is a little low but not alarmingly low.  If it weren’t for Fister, Vargas would be the surprise of the season.

Ryan Rowland-Smith – F

I wanted to give Hyphen a D because an F seems a little harsh but then I looked at the stats a little closer.  Man, he’s been bad.  Hyphen currently has a 7.30 ERA and an 0-4 record.  That’s just the beginning of the problems.  Ryan threw 96 innings last year and gave up 9 home runs.  That’s a fairly good number.  This year he’s thrown 40 innings and has given up 10 home runs.  That’s a home run every 4 innings!  Yes, his HR/FB percentage may be a little unlucky but if you watch him it’s clear that hitters are having no trouble mashing Hyphen.  His walks are up and his strikeouts are down.  He currently sports a 1 K/BB ratio.  That’s bad.  So far this year Ryan has a -2 WAR. 

I could throw out stats all day about how bad he’s been and if you’re not a stat geek then just watch him pitch.  He was never great, but he was much better than this.  His breaking ball doesn’t seem as sharp to me and it’s landing right in the middle of the plate every time he throws it.  Maybe he’s throwing it too much against right-handed hitters?  I don’t know but I hope everyone’s favorite Aussie gets it back together.

Ian Snell – D

This is where it gets a little dicey for me.  When I first started to tackle this post, I thought Rowland-Smith and Snell deserved the same grade but, as you can see, I changed my mind.  Make no mistake, Snell has not been good.  Snells ERA, which has been helped a little from his stint in the bullpen, is at 4.32.  He’s had some really bad starts but he’s had a few that are reason enough for cautious hope.  The positives are that he’s been throwing more strikes and that, in his last start at least, his changeup has gotten a lot better.  His platoon splits are also not as drastic this year, although it’s been a pretty small sample size.

The weaknesses still outweigh the strengths and that’s why his grade is a D.  His control, while a little better, still isn’t good.  His fastball is too straight and tends to get crushed.  His platoon splits aren’t as drastic but that might be because righties have started to mash off of him too.  To be honest, I don’t think Snell will ever get back to his former, fairly decent, self but he’s been the 5th best pitcher out of these 6 which leaves him in the rotation.

Overall Grade – A-

This group has been the best part of the Mariners.  4/5 of the rotation is in really good hands right now and has been solid for the past month.  They’ve kept an anemic offense in games an are not to blame for all these close losses.  There have been a couple bad starts here and there, mostly from the Snell/Hyphen spot, but that’s to be expected.  The strength of this team is the starting pitching and that proved true to form over the first quarter of the season.



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