Click to enlarge. 2009 Mariners SP tRA for April 2009. Source StatCorner.com
In April, the Mariner rotation combined to pitch at a talent level which amounted to being 21 runs over average. In May, it was four runs below average. It was a big turnaround and no wonder the team backslid so much. Behind the defense, the rotation was supposed to be next best unit and they have been. When your second best unit is still below average well you might want to start looking for spare rolls of toilet paper because you are in crapville.
ERIK BEDARD: The strikes went down a touch as well as the missed bats, down to 7.2% in May from 8.2% in April. The ground balls fell from 44% to 39%, though most of them were replaced by infield pop ups. Also interestingly, in April Erik Bedard had 32 strikeouts, 16 looking and 16 swinging. That seemed highly unlikely to continue mainly because generating called strikeouts is a tough skill to sustain. Well, May came about and Bedard recorded 22 strikeouts, 17 swinging and just five looking. Bedard allowed six runs total in May. He allowed four home runs. It was a pretty lucky month for Bedard. GRADE: C+
Further note on Bedard: I wanted to specifically address the declining missed bats issue. I dug into the numbers to see if I could spot anything with his pitches that would clue me in as to why it would be down this year. So far, nothing. However, his average fastball velocity was 91.3 in his last start, exactly matching his average on the year. That 91.3 figure is up from last year, but in case you think last year should be thrown out for injury reasons, it's also within range of his average in 2007, which was 91.6 mph. So he's not missing any velocity.
Moving to deception, Bedard has generated more swings on pitches out of the zone, and fewer swings on pitches in the zone, than ever. In other words, he's getting hitters to chase balls and take strikes at the best rates of his career. Taking a look at his curveball profile in Pitch F/X, I do not see anything drastically different from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 in its break angle or length. Hitters are simply making contact more often. Who knows why. It's disconcerting, but rest assured that every check that I looked at in the numbers suggest nothing different than in year's past. It is worth keeping an eye on, but I do not suggest freaking out about a possible injury or anything. That would be irresponsible and reactionary.
FELIX HERNANDEZ: We got a slightly better Felix in May than we got in April in my opinion. He did throw a touch fewer strikes overall, but he cut his walk rate by two points and his swinging strikes went from a very good 10.4% to an obscene 13.9%. What is odd is that his strikeout rate actually fell in the process, losing 2.4 points. Like Bedard, Felix saw his swinging to looking rate skew heavily toward the former as Hernandez notched 31 swinging strikeouts in May to just five looking. Other good news is that his ground ball rate ticked up two points. GRADE: A
CHRIS JAKUBAUSKAS: Whoopsy. The control abandoned Jakubauskas for the most part in May, going from a 66.7% strike rate down to 61.9%. His 3.2% swinging strike rate also does not fill one with glee. The walks (ten) outpaced the strikeouts (eight) in May and five home runs were yielded in just 24 innings pitched. Some good news is that Jak's batted ball profile went from neutral to a much more ground ball friendly nature, coming just under 48% ground balls. He also continued, and improved on, limiting line drives, which is why a pitcher with bad control and no out pitch managed to still be just a bit below average. Seemingly out of the rotation now, Jakubauskas certainly still has a place on the team and his work as a fill in should be applauded. GRADE: C-
JARROD WASHBURN: Trade trade trade trade. Unlike last year, I advocate trading Washburn not because of a flukily shiny ERA, but because he is actually pitching significantly better than in years past and might yet net us something back more than discarded old boots. Washburn followed up his solid April with an equally solid May, even going so far as to raise his swinging strike rate by over two points and further increase his ground balls. GRADE: B-
JASON VARGAS/GARRETT OLSON/CARLOS SILVA: Three three made up a sort of hodgepodge of random starts as the rotation seems to have/had lost it's circular nature around the end of the month. Collectively they were all poor. Silva's problems are well documented. Vargas and Olson get knocked around by tRA for their home runs allowed, though both look like decent back-end options once those regress. GRADE: F
2009 Mariners RP tRA for April 2009. Source StatCorner.com
1.6 runs above average is what the bullpen ranked after April. A disastrous May followed. Mark Lowe, Denny Stark and Brandon Morrow collapsed, leading the charge for a unit that performed at 13.7 runs below average.
Only four members of the pen were in the black for May and two of them, Garrett Olson and Jason Vargas, got promoted for their efforts into the rotation. One of the others, Shawn Kelley, got hurt and the other one was David Aardsma and his 0.3 runs above average. For doing the seemingly impossible and not throwing up all over himself this past month, Aardsma was promoted into the closer's role.
I wrote this last month:
Other totals include ranking 24th in line drive rate, 21st in ground ball rate and 3rd in home run rate. Big time uh ohs. That home run rate is the least stable of all of these indicators and coupled with the poor showings in the most pertinent categories makes me want to bury my head in the sand and pretend that I never earned a minor degree in Statistics or did all that baseball analytical research. I fear for our bullpen.
The bullpen allowed a total of four home runs in April to 293 batters faced. A rate of one home run per 73.25 batters faced. In May that rate fell to a home run allowed every 42.4 batters faced. Their line drive rate is now 26th in baseball. May is not a total aberration, this is how bad the staff pitched in April as well, but they got away with it then. You can only try throwing spaghetti at the wall for so long before you just end up with a big sticky mess that will never fully clean off, requiring you to paint over it and try to pass off the attempt as some sort of new wave art deco design.