The Start He Wanted, And The Start He Needed

One of the downsides of knowing more about pitching than the Mariners is that, as much fun as it can be sometimes to rip into them about Washburn and Silva, I'm also acutely aware of when pitchers I like aren't quite pulling their weight. Armed with a 3.62 ERA and six consecutive quality starts, RRS was probably satisfied with how his rotation stint was going, but his raw performance hadn't actually been very good at all, to the tune of a 1.2 K/BB and a mid-6's tRA. Over his previous three games he'd allowed just seven runs despite walking twice as many guys as he struck out. As much as I wanted to be able to overlook the numbers in this one instance, I couldn't do it, not in good conscience. RRS had been pitching pretty poorly. Worse than Ryan Feierabend, worse than Jarrod Washburn, and even worse than Carlos Silva. Early, limited sample size aside, RRS' audition as a starter was not going as well as I'd hoped.

Thank heavens for tonight. For, tonight, RRS turned in a heck of a game.

It wasn't a dominant start by any means. RRS isn't going to dominate. But then, nobody expects him to. As I think I've said about a thousand times, all we want is for RRS to pitch like a fourth starter, and tonight, he pitched like a little more than that. Not only did he pound the zone with 77 strikes (67%), but he also kept 14 of 22 balls in play on the ground, something I don't think anyone expected him to be able to do when he first made the transition. That he struck out six hitters on top of all that actually reflects a bit of good luck, as he only missed a handful of bats, but his strikeout rate had that good luck coming anyway, and at the end of the night, RRS was staring at a sexy 7/2/1/6 final line. Solid pitching managed to yield him some excellent results, his first excellent results in nearly a month.

RRS' ERA as a starter now stands at 3.34. Unless something unlikely happens, it's funny how myself and the Mariners will take completely different approaches in arriving at the same conclusion.

Mariners:

-RRS has a starting ERA in the 3's
-RRS should be in the 2009 rotation

Me:

-RRS has a starting ERA in the 3's
-RRS' ERA as a starter is actually misleading, and in reality he's been pretty bad
-but has he deserved to be that bad? His ball% and swinging strike rates are fine
-therefore his K/BB as a starter is unsustainably low
-his ball in play profile is fine too
-but it's not, because home runs
-but the home run rate is flukily high and likely to regress
-accounting for probable regression, going forward indications are that RRS will be adequate, regardless of certain results to date
-RRS should be in the 2009 rotation

I'd complain that the Mariners are being too simplistic (and let's face it, that's exactly how they're going to think about this, or if nothing else how the current front office would think about this), but at least they're getting the right answer. RRS deserves to be a permanent part of this rotation. Or in the medium-term, anyway. And I don't much care how he proves it as long as he proves it. I'm just glad he's not mowing people down while getting enough bad luck to run an ERA in the high-Silva's. Given the way the rest of the season has gone, I'm actually kind of surprised that isn't happening.

It's interesting to take a look at RRS' numbers to see just how he's handled the transition from the bullpen to the rotation.

Starting Relieving
Ball% 35.9 37.3
StSw% 7.0 10.4
GB% 43.6 32.2

As expected, he's missing fewer bats, but this may be at least partially deliberate, as he's also throwing more strikes and generating way more groundballs, suggesting that in the interest of efficiency he's trying to get quicker outs. Which is a smart idea. Had I known that RRS was capable of keeping the ball on the ground at a league-average rate, I'd've been clamoring for this from the beginning. I just had no idea, and it'll take a little PITCHf/x investigating to figure out what he's changed in terms of approach to yield such dramatically different results. Groundball rates don't just change that much on their own. RRS is doing something he didn't do before, and I'd love to be able to figure out what. In the meantime, I'll just be happy that he's no longer using every ball in play to seed the clouds.

I'll cut myself off here. I don't really know what else there is to say. I'm happy to see RRS put up such a solid start against the team with the best record in baseball. I've always imagined that he was better suited as a starter than as a reliever, and my confidence didn't waver during his little recent stretch of mediocrity, but a start like tonight's really serves to boost my faith. The ability is there. Tonight, he showed it in spades. Good on you, RRS. May both yourself and your 70mph lollipop curve be rotation fixtures for many years to come.

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