The Starting 2011 Rotation

Update: the rotation is official

With Luke French gone and Vargas starting today in the Spring Training game, we are almost completely sure of the first five starting pitchers the Mariners will use when this season begins in earnest. Felix Hernandez obviously will lead things off followed by Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard and then Michael Pineda.

This is not altogether surprising by now and even if told to us back when pitchers and catchers reported, it only would have elicited mild surprise at Pineda making it through and Bedard still being healthy. It got me thinking however about the starting rotation of years past out of the gate.

I went back to 1995 and noted the first five starting pitchers used by the team in each season.

Starters_medium

The turnover is interesting. The 1997 Mariners made the playoffs and the subsequent season had just one (Randy Johnson) of the first five starters repeat. That's the only year with fewer than two returnees. Granted that's subject to the minor injuries and the like that you always see when talking about what is essentially Opening Day lineups, but it's still a sort of progression over time that helps to connect the seasons together.

And what a delicious electronic walk through memory lane it is. Butch Henry, Scott Sanders, Edwin Hurtado, wow! It's difficult to objectively analyze these as they exist in varying stages of memory. The 2010 edition is tainted by the recent failure and also the expectations coming in and the knowledge that Cliff Lee and potentially Erik Bedard were waiting around. Meanwhile, the further back it goes, the more hazy it gets and it becomes harder to remember not just who else there was in the system, but also what the perception was of the pitchers beforehand.

Which was the best? It could conceivably be quantified by looking at WAR or FIP or something, but for the moment I prefer to wallow in the fog without such metrics and consider what I do remember. The 2001 squad strikes me as one of those units that is unimpressive on paper --and probably on the mound as well, where were the strikeouts coming from?-- but efficient and without a true weak link. Then again, Brett Tomko?

Was the 2003 squad, which remarkably used only those five starters all season actually good? It's hard to say since so much of my impression of Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro and Ryan Franklin is colored by what they did afterward. I have fond memories of Bob Wolcott from his amazing 1995 ALCS start, but Bob Wolcott was terrible and so was Scott Sanders, who I also liked.

Only time will tell how this crop of 2011 will look in the future. Four years from now is Pineda appearing at the bottom going to be like how we feel about seeing Felix at the fifth spot in the 2006 rotation? Or will he be another wistful memory? Will Bedard find redemption? Will Doug Fister implode like Dave Fleming? So many questions and 162 upcoming baseball games to help decide some answers. It's almost here.

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