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The story of the 2016 Mariners starting pitching aka thank goodness for Hisashi Iwakuma

The pitching rotation was a total mess this year. Our first of two posts tries to make some sense of it.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Like it is every year, the Seattle Mariners pitching staff had its highs and lows. Like it has never had, however, was a Seattle Mariners pitching staff that wasn’t highlighted by Felix Hernandez. In 2016, Hernandez was the defacto No. 1 starter, purely because of order, but he was hardly the best pitcher on a staff that dealt with a wild amount of injuries. Let’s take a look at how everyone did.

Felix Hernandez

2016 just wasn’t Felix’s year, flat out. Not to criticize someone by their hair choices, but perhaps whatever it was that King Felix showed up to this season absorbed into his skin and leeched his powers away. Or maybe it is also just because he is 30-years-old and has pitched over 2,400 innings of major league level baseball. Either way, King Felix was hardly a nickname befit for Hernandez this season. He needed something that rolled off the tongue a bit better, such as Old King Who is On His Way Out and Nation is Currently Trying to Determine His Successor Felix.

Hernandez finished with a fWAR of 2.9, his lowest total for a full season of work in his career. The strikeouts were down and the walks were up. The fastball had another few ticks off the velocity, yet Hernandez still tried it out 46.3 percent of the time, more so than he did in 2014 and 2015.

King Felix is by no means done, however. He still demonstrated in a few games this season that he has the ability to be a dominant No. 1 starter. The fact of the matter, and this is something Hernandez needs to realize, is he can no longer blow by people with his fastball. He still has a few more years on his contract, and theoretically a few more year on his arm, and he is at a sort of crossroads of his career. Hernandez needs to re-invent himself, turn himself into a more finesse pitcher who relies on placement and smarts, rather than a pitcher that relies on straight-up athleticism. He does that, he should be fine. He doesn’t do that, and the Mariners will be in a world of hurt.

Hisashi Iwakuma

Remember when Iwakuma was almost not a Seattle Mariner this season? Well thank goodness that medical fell through, because he ended up being the most consistent member of the starting rotation on a rotation that desperately needed some semblance of consistency. Iwakuma led the team in innings pitched, and although at the end of the season his numbers were hardly awe-inspiring, the fact that he could trot out every five days was so important. As members of the rotation fell left and right to injuries or trades, Iwakuma tried his best to keep the boat afloat.

Kuma will most likely be in the starting rotation next season. The Mariners built in some injury clauses into his contract, and Iwakuma finished the season without a trip to the disabled list. Like Hernandez, a lot of Iwakuma’s pitching numbers trended in the wrong direction in 2016. The strikeout rate was down, the walk rate was up, and the fastball lost a notch, but Iwakuma still put that all together for a perfectly serviceable season.

Taijuan Walker

Another year of Walker and another year of tantalizing starts combined with horrendous nuclear winter style starts. Perhaps the hardest thing about watching Walker pitch is that you never know what kind of start you are going to get. You might get the June 08 gem against the Indians, where he finished with eight innings pitched, giving up three hits and striking out 11 in the process. Or you might just as easily witness the July 05 start against the Astros, where he finished with four innings, five earned runs coming from three home runs clonked off him.

Walker’s inconsistency is an issue, and the team made some midseason mechanic adjustments to try and help Walker realize his full potential. Walker only made it into the sixth inning or later in 10 of his 25 starts, and that doesn’t vibe too well with Jerry Dipoto, the fastest draw in the west.

“We need to see Taijuan drop into the sixth- and seventh-inning zone of a game and prove to us that he can be more efficient with his pitches,” Dipoto said. “As a major leaguer over the past two years, Tai has not really had an issue with walks … but he’s not done a great job of being efficient with his pitches, and as a result he’s not always as consistent getting deep into games as we’d like for a starting pitcher. And that’s just something we challenged Tai and said to go out and do.”

Walker is currently in the plans for the team next season. But he also could just as easily be currently in trade plans for Dipoto next season. He didn’t do anything this season that made him remotely indispensable, and his window to achieve that lofty ranking is rapidly closing.

Cody Martin (go zags)

Authors note: as a graduate of Gonzaga University, there is no way I can write about Cody Martin (go zags) in an unbiased format. Martin (go zags) was called up from AAA to spin together a couple of stop-gap starts as the rotation disintegrated from its tattered strings. Martin (go zags) was meh in one of those starts and oh god in another one of those starts. The Mariners then sent him to the pen, where he was a decent at stranding guys on base.

There is plenty of room for Martin (go zags) to crowd his way onto the bullpen bench. Hopefully, we saw the last start of Martin (go zags) in a Seattle Mariners uniform this year. He was forced into the role because there was no one else to force into that role. Considering that is how the rotation operated for a good portion of the year, it sometimes is amazing the Mariners were even able to compete for a playoff spot as long as they did.