September 23, 2005
It's been another cloudy summer in the Emerald City, as the Mariners have shuffled along behind their AL West big cousins on the way to a second straight last place finish. An offseason of hubris--inking Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson in an attempt to enter the fray--did little to reverse the team's slide. All the Mariners gained was a 2005 salary of $87.75 million, highest in franchise history and the eighth highest in the majors this year. Long gone are the days of 2001, when a salary of $74.7 million bought the franchise an American League-record 116 wins.
Ichiro Suzuki's historic march to 262 hits gave M's fans joy last season. This year Felix Hernandez has provided the Northwest faithful with a compelling storyline to numb the pain, and all witnesses to his brilliance have joined the court of the youthful king in hopes his electric stuff can return the Mariners to the throne. Hernandez, who is already first among Seattle starters in support neutral value added, is not the only cause of optimism, however. Seattle will have several onerous contracts coming off the books in 2006, chief among them the deals of Bret Boone and Jamie Moyer, which together ate up $14 million this season. Shigetoshi Hasegawa is not going to reach the 58 appearances needed for his $3.1 million 2006 option to vest, meaning the M's can wipe that off the slate as well. Closer Eddie Guardado's contract contains a dual option--assuming the team declines to bring him back at $6.25 million, Guardado can choose whether he wants to return for $4.25 million. If Easy Eddie tests the waters of the free market, Seattle will have jettisoned its two oldest, most expensive relievers.
That's not to say Guardado hasn't earned his keep. He has helped out a surprisingly strong Mariners bullpen, which ranks behind only Cleveland in the AL in adjusted runs prevented, and leads the team with 2.269 WXRL coming off an injury-shortened season. As has been outlined before, that figure stems from usage pattern--closer status has led to Guardado garnering the highest leverage situations on the club, giving him more opportunity to affect the game's outcome. The true stalwart in the pen this season has been Julio Mateo, who ranks fourth in the A.L. in ARP with 24.1, behind more publicized firemen Huston Street, Cliff Politte and Mariano Rivera. Mateo has gotten by with great control--he has struck out only 51 in 85.7 IP, but walked 17, a solid 3:1 ratio. Mateo's 2005 season is reminiscent of his 2003 campaign, when he posted a 71:13 K:BB ratio and 23.9 ARP in 85.7 innings. Last year, Mateo had a 4.68 ERA and only 1.3 ARP in 57.7 seasons, another illustration of the variability of performance that is endemic to the small sample sizes that accompany relief work. Between Mateo, J.J. Putz (3.62 ERA, 45:21 K:BB in 59.7 IP), George Sherrill (21 K in 17 '05 innings, 12.35 career minor league K/9) and Rafael Soriano, who just recently returned from Tommy John surgery after a tantalizing 2003 season (1.53 ERA, 68:12 K:BB in 53 IP), the Mariners have the makings of a cheap and effective young bullpen that is still years from free agency.
It remains to be seen whether the same optimism is warranted when discussing Seattle's middle infield. Neither Ramon Santiago, Jose Lopez or Yuniesky Betancourt has managed to post an OBP above .300 this season, and Michael Morse, who has hit reasonably well (14.4 VORP in 244 PA) has another issue to deal with--his inferior defense. Down on the farm, an intriguing alternative has emerged in the form of Adam Jones, a shortstop who only turned 20 on August 1st. Jones, who had a strong season in 2004 in the Midwest league, has continued to progress:
Team League Level AB AVG OBP SLG HR BB K Inland Empire Calif. A 271 .295 .374 .494 8 29 64 San Antonio Texas AA 228 .298 .365 .461 7 22 48
Excellent numbers for any teenager at those levels, let alone a shortstop. The California and Texas Leagues both favor the hitter, but according to the three-year park factors in BP 2005, Jones toiled in the third best pitcher's park in the 10-team Cal League and the best pitcher's park in the eight-team Texas League (excluding new parks in Corpus Christi and Springfield). Of course, the large number of strikeouts is worrisome, and 34 errors in 131 total games don't bode well for his future at shortstop. Jones's offensive promise, however, will ensure the M's find him a home somewhere on the diamond.
"Breakout candidate." These were the last two words of the 2005 player comment for John Patterson. Patterson not only broke out, he pretty much went "clobbering time" on the league. Pick your metric, Patterson has excelled this year:
Category Patterson MLB Rank PK_RA 2.84 4th RA 2.84 6th FAIR RA 2.96 6th SNLVAR 6.90 7th VORP 57.50 9th H/9 7.76 10th SO/9 8.39 11th HR/9 0.72 15th *All with min. 150 IPPatterson's stats belie his miniscule 9-6 record. Using our LUCK metric we can see that Patterson has also been the 13th unluckiest pitcher in the Majors, and should really have more than four additional wins in his briefcase. No outing more exemplifies Patterson's season than his start on September 3. After being pasted 7-1 the day before by Philadelphia, the Nats entered play trailing the then wild-card leading Phillies by four games and suddenly found themselves in the NL East cellar. Things were going south so quickly that Frank Robinson finally admitted before the game for the first time he did not think the Nats could win the NL East. A loss would assure Philly of at least a split of the four game series and continue the Nats downward spiral--entering the game Washington was 6-11 in their last 17 contests. None of that mattered to Patterson, who came out and dominated: 7 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, allowing only a second-inning homer to Pat Burrell. Did he get the win? Of course not. The Washington offense waited until he was out of the game and Joey Eischen was the pitcher of record before they took the lead. Not that it mattered, as Chad Cordero blew his fifth save in the ninth, forcing the Nats to go 12 innings to win the game. Patterson's dominating performance became a footnote in the wake of the dramatic extra-inning victory.
In the chart above, we can see from Patterson's PK_RA and SNLVAR stats that his success this year is due to much more than his home ballpark. In the chart below, we can see that Patterson has made a pretty big jump in performance, ranking fourth for pitchers in their Age 27 season (thanks to James Click for the data mining):
Player Year VORP Pre_VORP DIFF Pat Hentgen 1996 94.7 12.7 82.0 Frank Viola 1987 80.3 20.1 60.2 Charles Nagy 1994 47.4 -6.4 53.8 John Patterson 2005 57.5 5.0 52.5(For those of you thinking, "1996, wasn't that the year Hentgen won the Cy Young?" well, yes it was)
The Nationals have experienced so many poor performances (Guzman, Castilla, Baerga), so many faux-solutions (Hammonds, P-Dub, Spivey, Drese), and so many seasons slowed or derailed by injuries (Vidro, Day, Johnson) that performances like Patterson's have been a much-needed breath of fresh air. The more dominating seasons from Roger Clemens, Chris Carpenter, and Dontrelle Willis have dominated the Cy Young talk, and rightly so, but something would be out of place if we did not mention the season that Patterson has had. Though his track record is short, Patterson stands to get a good raise in the off-season, as he should be a lock to qualify for arbitration under the "Super-Two" provision. There will certainly be questions of whether or not Patterson can repeat this performance next year, but PECOTA liked him entering the season and he has done nothing to dissuade its confidence. At the very least, it is has been fun to see Patterson finally on the incredible hype that he once carried.