CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Prospectus Preview: Mo... (04/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Milw... (04/07)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Apri... (04/14)
Next Article >>
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (04/08)

April 8, 2008

Prospectus Today

Mariner Meltdown on the Mound

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

The Seattle Mariners dropped their fourth game in a row Monday afternoon to fall to 2-5, completing their being swept at the hands of the Orioles-the Orioles-by losing their third bullpen game in the season's opening week. On Monday, Eric O'Flaherty was once again victimized by the O's, giving up a solo homer in the eighth to Aubrey Huff. Lefties hit .178 with one extra-base hit and more strikeouts (18) than hits (17) against O'Flaherty last year; they're 7-for-11 with three doubles and a homer off of him through five appearances this time around. That's a bad week.

Of the reasons I had the Mariners at 80-82 this season, falling closer to PECOTA's projection of 75-87 than the mainstream's "90 wins and a division title" call, was the expectation that the bullpen would be a problem in 2008. What I didn't foresee-and my AL Tout Wars can attest to this-is that the Ms would quickly lose their pen's anchor, closer J.J. Putz, to a rib injury. The loss of Putz, combined with the trade of George Sherrill to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal, now leaves the Mariners without their two best relievers from last year's pen, and in fact, the only two relievers from last year's team who could be expected to come close to matching their run prevention from '07 this year.

Here are the current Mariners relievers, along with their 2007 statistics.

Pitcher                 IP   ERA   K/9   K/BB*   HR/9   G/F** HR/FB
Sean Green            68.0  3.84   7.0   1.89    0.26   3.3     .05
Eric O'Flaherty       52.1  4.47   6.2   1.89    0.17   1.2     .02
Ryan Rowland-Smith    38.2  3.96   9.8   3.00    0.93   0.7     .07
Cha Seung Baek        73.1  5.15   6.0   3.77    0.74   0.8     .05
Brandon Morrow        63.1  4.12   9.4   1.47    0.43   0.8     .04

*less intentionals
**from ESPN.com, as is the fly-ball data

To round out the unit, there's also Mark Lowe, part of the nominal closer crowd but not listed above; he threw just 12 2/3 innings last season at four levels as he rehabbed from elbow surgery. He's a hard thrower who had a strong debut in 2006, but is an unknown coming off of the injury. There's also Roy Corcoran, called up when Putz went down; he's a journeyman a month shy of his 29th birthday. In four separate stints, Corcoran has 21 MLB innings with a 5.14 ERA and a 14/12 K/BB. I threw Brandon Morrow in there because he spent all of last season in the big league bullpen, and could conceivably be back there as soon as this week.

The group combined had very little MLB experience prior to last season, so last year's stats are a fairly good proxy for expectations. What we have are a number of relievers whose ERAs don't match their underlying performances, a red flag when it comes to predicting the direction an ERA will take. In particular, take a look at the home-run and fly-ball data. Green is a legitimate ground-ball pitcher, but the rates of O'Flaherty, Baek, and Morrow are out of whack, even allowing for Mariners pitchers throwing half of their innings in always-friendly Safeco Field. Just to pick one control group, the five primary Mariners' starters last season allowed 97 homers on 996 fly balls, or just shy of 10 percent. As a result, the Mariners' bullpen's home-run rate has nowhere to go but up. The problems in the season's first seven games are a particularly nasty expression of that idea; Mariners relievers have allowed four homers in 15 2/3 innings, posting an 8.04 ERA.

John McLaren clearly had no plan for what to do after losing Putz, and has been muddling through in the five games since then. He used Miguel Batista on the starter's throw day to close the M's last win on Wednesday. Sunday, he tried to play matchups in the ninth and walked into O'Flaherty's nightmare, then watched Lowe lose the game. Monday, it was O'Flaherty in the eighth in a tied game that the lefty untied in a hurry. Lefties are unlikely to keep hitting .636 against the southpaw, so using him in a match-up role, and complementing O'Flaherty with Green from the right side, seems like a good idea. Elevating Lowe to a high-leverage role may be optimistic given his lack of experience and that he's still working back from surgery. As the folks at USS Mariner have noted, McLaren has barely used Rowland-Smith (one appearance), who may be the best candidate for one-inning non-matchup stints in the absence of Putz. Using Baek as the long man, Lowe in the seventh, O'Flaherty and Green for matchups, and Rowland-Smith to close is probably the best alignment of talent available to McLaren until Putz comes back in two to three weeks.

That's not the problem. The underlying issue that even after Putz returns, though, the primary problem will remain: the Mariners' bullpen isn't nearly as good as it looked last season, and it is unlikely to help the team to the record in one-run games (27-20) that helped prop up last season's overall 88-74 mark in 2007. That's why they looked like a .500 team to me two weeks ago, and nothing we've seen in the season's opening stretch has changed that perception.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Prospectus Preview: Mo... (04/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Milw... (04/07)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Apri... (04/14)
Next Article >>
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (04/08)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Trading Ryan Howard For No...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: July 30, 2014
Fantasy Article Dynasty Dynamics: Who We're Selling at the D...
Eyewitness Accounts: July 30, 2014
Premium Article Scouting the Draft: The Cape League All-Star...
The Lineup Card: Nine Last-Minute Trades
Premium Article Moonshot: Separating the Phenoms Who'll Make...

MORE FROM APRIL 8, 2008
Premium Article Prospectus Preview: Tuesday's Games to Watch
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Go Go, Tigers, Go?

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2008-04-17 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: C.C.'s Struggles
2008-04-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Eight Point Two
2008-04-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: April Analysis
2008-04-08 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Mariner Meltdown on the Mo...
2008-04-07 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Milwaukee Mash-up
2008-04-05 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Value Judgments
2008-04-03 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Angel Mayhem
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2008-04-17 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: C.C.'s Struggles
2008-04-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Eight Point Two
2008-04-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: April Analysis
2008-04-08 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Mariner Meltdown on the Mo...
2008-04-07 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Milwaukee Mash-up
2008-04-05 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Value Judgments
2008-04-03 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Angel Mayhem
More...