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Community Projection: Jarrod Washburn

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The fifteenth and last in an alphabetical and irregularly updated series of seasons-in-review for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the right-hand sidebar, below the LL Exclusives.)

LL Community: 4.48 FIP (n=14)
PECOTA: 4.83
Bill James Handbook: 4.72
ZiPS: 4.73
Marcel: 4.62

Actual: 4.83

And so we wrap up our series with one of the (statistically) least-interesting players on the team. Everything about Jarrod Washburn's game just screams "mediocrity!," and here's why: out of 129 pitchers who threw 100+ innings last year, Washburn's ERA ranked 76th, his FIP 95th, his xFIP 109th, his GB% 94th, his strikeouts 100th, his walks 48th, and his LOB% 72nd (a total average of 85th). Nothing he does is even close to exceptional, but at the same time nothing he does really sucks, either, which makes him pretty much a textbook #4/5 starter. The problem? He's getting #2 starter money (FOR FOUR YEARS). It didn't makes sense then, it doesn't make sense now, and it won't make sense down the road. Washburn's been almost the exact same pitcher now for four consecutive seasons, and while reliable consistency is usually good, it's not when you're talking about someone who needs to substantially elevate his game to be worth his contract.

Anyway, yeah, kudos to PECOTA for the spot-on projection. All four computer systems were good, really, which makes sense when you consider that Washburn's barely changed since 2003. LL finished last of the five, but I'm comfortable chalking that up to confusion between ERA and FIP; as much as I talk about FIP around here, I think it's still relatively unfamiliar to a lot of people, which is why next time around we're probably just going to have community projections for ERA instead.

After getting slapped in the face with Washburn's acquisition during the winter, we entered the season with pretty low expectations. Granted, Washburn is exactly the kind of pitcher who succeeds most in Safeco, so he had that going for him, but that's not really a particular skill he possesses, and a lot of people were down on him from the get-go. Never has there been so little anticipation for the debut of a big free agent addition. He was greeted with a resounding "meh" by the Seattle fanbase, and only after striking out seven pathetic Angels in seven innings in his first game did Washburn raise some eyebrows.

Then he made the classic cartoon character mistake of looking down after running off a cliff. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, Washburn remembered who he was, and in his second start of the year he failed to strike out a single Indian. While most of us tried to feign surprise, deep down we knew our fears were being realized. This was Jarrod Washburn in all his spectacular glory. Time to get used to it.

In Jarrod's defense, it wasn't all bad. And why would it have been? He's not Joel Pineiro, he's just overpaid. Between his clever deadpanning and occasional flashes of dominance (like his nine-K game against the Yankees in late August), Washburn was generally able to keep the bullseye off his back in a season where even Ichiro was taking criticism. Maybe people were just sick of getting on his case after an entire winter of lamentation, but seldom was Washburn the target of much ridicule. Me, I like to think it's because he did just enough - just often enough - to keep from drawing negative attention to himself. He was a C- student on a team full of D's and F's. Given how many other problems there were, it was hard to complain about a 4.67 ERA.

By the end of the year, Washburn had amassed his typical numbers. Not many strikeouts, not too many walks, and a ton of flyballs, several of which landed on empty seats behind the fence. The only reason his ERA took such a leap is because he couldn't sustain the incredible luck he had in 2005. For 187 innings, he pitched exactly like everyone but Bill Bavasi expected him to. All things considered, it probably could've been worse. He didn't decline and he didn't get hurt, which is something. The contract still sucked, but at least he wasn't worthless on top of being paid too much.

Mind you, it's not really appropriate to take Washburn's numbers at face value, since, again, he benefits a ton from playing in Safeco. The home air gobbled up fly balls (7.1% HR/FB, vs. 11.6% away), and the park gave him the confidence to use his high fastball more often, resulting in more strikeouts and fewer grounders. On the road he was a different, more cautious pitcher who didn't miss bats and kept the infield more busy than he did back home. The difference isn't quite as dramatic as the home/road ERA splits would suggest, but Washburn clearly took a liking to his newfound environment, which skews his overall statline in a positive direction. I don't want to put too much weight on one year of data, but it's worth considering that, away from Safeco, Washburn may barely be an ML-quality starting pitcher. It's nice to have players that complement the park, but it can trick you into thinking those players are special, when it's really just the stadium that makes them who they are. Jarrod Washburn isn't very good. He was fine during this most recent throwaway season, but if you have to rely on him in a year in which you're aiming to compete, you've got problems.

Now that it's November 2006 and the developing free agent market looks batshit crazy, there's been talk that maybe Washburn has some trade value. He doesn't. While there are going to be a handful of contracts given to FA pitchers this offseason in the neighborhood of $8-10m/year, Washburn's probably worse than all of them. Or in the arguable cases, like Washburn vs. Meche, he's older and less promising. He belongs somewhere in the Mark Redman/Tomo Ohka tier, and even in this inflated environment they're not going to touch the $28m/3yr Washburn has left on his deal. The Mariners could chip in a few million to make him more palatable, but even then, the most they'll get out of someone is a live arm in A-ball, if they find a trade partner at all. While you can never count out an eleventh hour phone call from a very desperate and very inebriated pitching-starved GM (we'll call him 'Wayne K.' Or maybe 'W. Krivsky'), there just isn't a sober market for Jarrod Washburn and his contract. And as much as I'd love to shed him for whatever I can get, the reality is that the team already has three holes in the rotation, and they're not about to open up a fourth just to clear payroll.

I suppose the consolation of having to live with Jarrod Washburn for at least another season is that, based on the last four years, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. He'll put up numbers that warrant an ERA in the 4.50-5.00 range, and if he gets a little lucky, he can keep his actual ERA closer to 4.00 and hopefully trick someone into thinking he's good by next November. There's always a certain degree of collapse potential with pitchers in their 30's, particularly ones with Washburn's injury history, but he's been pitching on the brink of usefulness since 2003, and I don't see any indication that he's about to stop. More of the same is just about all we have to look to look forward to, here.

A year ago, Jarrod Washburn was a middle-tier player who, like dozens of other middle-tier players, fooled someone into giving him upper-tier money. Now his greatest value to the organization is in teaching the front office a lesson about not repeating the same mistake. We'll see if they're listening.