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The 2017 Mariners in review: Starting Pitching

[eternal shriek noises]

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners
yeah, pretty much
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Mariners season was a disappointment. There’s really no way to sugarcoat that. Sure, there were high moments, but as a whole, the Mariners played some really unenjoyable baseball at points during this year, as both Jake and Zach pointed out in pieces this past week. The pitching staff that was supposed to be never was, favorite prospects were traded away (miss you Toenail), and injuries interrupted promising seasons from players like Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and James Paxton. In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching some Big Picture-type pieces to assess what we as a staff believe the Mariners need to do to take a step forward this off-season.

In order to do that, we first need to complete the autopsy of the 2017 season, as icky as that sounds. This week, we’ll be looking back over each member of the 2017 squad, weighing their contributions, and projecting their role in 2018. We started with the infield and outfield; today, we’ll move to looking at one of the more embattled sections of the roster: starting pitching.

Ariel Miranda

Overall performance: 5.12 ERA, 5.70 FIP, league-high 2.08 HR/9, team-high 160.0 IP and 29 Games Started.

High point: Pitched the lone complete game of the Mariners’ season on June 4th against the Rays, with 9 Ks and just one walk in a 7-1 victory.

Low point: A grisly August led to Miranda's removal from the rotation, as he allowed 11 HRs in just 29.1 innings en route to a 7.56 FIP.

2018 outlook: This time last fall, Ariel Miranda had shown some intriguing stuff that looked likely to play up in long relief or a bullpen role. Flash forward a year and while the same is true, it's tough to see Miranda breaking camp with Seattle as his dismal 2017 was positive only in that he showed superior durability to his compatriots. Miranda likely begins 2018 where he should have spent much of 2017 - in Tacoma, either starting or working long relief, and developing his secondary pitches. In a post-fly ball revolution world, Miranda must adapt, as only his narrow failure to qualify for the innings title saved him the ignominy of the MLB record for highest HR/9 in baseball history.

James Paxton

Overall performance/High Point: Blessings upon House Paxton. In a season marked by subpar pitching performances, Big Maple shone brightly in an otherwise dark night of the Mariner fan’s soul, posting a sterling 2.61 FIP and a K/9 that would have been 10th-best in the league...if he’d had enough innings to qualify.

Low point: Yeah, about that. Once again, Paxton couldn’t stay healthy for a full season, going on the DL on two separate occasions. Each time was devastating, both for fans and for the Mariners’ slim playoff hopes, but him clutching his chest on the eve of Deadgar Weekend gets the nod here for sheer cinematic value alone.

2018 outlook: Supposedly Pax has paid a visit to Driveline, has had blood tests to figure out how to optimize his diet, and is doing whatever else he can to try to turn in a healthy season. The lone upshot of Pax’s health problems is that, after earning 2.35mm last year, he’s in Arb 1 this year, and shouldn’t cost the Mariners a ton of money for this year in arbitration thanks to his extended time on the DL. There’s also a possibility the Mariners try to sign him to a longer contract, which would be a near-impossibility as a Boras client if he didn’t have such a lengthy injury history. Like Haniger, Paxton’s injuries seem to be more the product of bad luck than a systemic problem (a pec injury is not related to a blister is not related to hurting your forearm doing yoga), so the Mariners wouldn’t lose anything by at least offering to lock down their lone ace. Stay with us, James. The Maple Grove lives here.

Yovani Gallardo

Overall performance: [eternal fart noise]

We knew it was going to be bad, but Gallardo’s 5.53 FIP was abysmal, even for him. Even in 2016 he managed to post .6 fWAR; in 2017, he managed a big fat goose egg. Seattle will not be sad to see the back of him.

High point: His fastball velocity returned to his 2012 levels and, um, he wasn’t...horrible out of the bullpen?

Low point: Pick one.

2018 outlook: Happy trails, Yovani. Enjoy your $2 million buyout that the Orioles paid the Mariners to give you.

Felix Hernandez

Overall performance: 5.02 FIP, but an xFIP of 4.03. 21.2 K%, 7.1 BB% (a point and a half below league average), and a 3.96 DRA. A league average home run rate would have salvaged his season, because his HR/FB was an abominable 22.4%. There are only four pitchers who have thrown between 80 and 100 innings with a HR/FB rate that was that high. Yeah, sorry, probably should’ve warned you not to read this out in public, because people around you might be concerned by that face you just made. He was not a bad starting pitcher. He was just a not-so-good Félix Hernández.

High point: In keeping with King Félix tradition, one of his brightest games ultimately resulted in a loss. On July 20th, against the New York Yankees, Félix struck out 9 and allowed only one run off a solo shot through seven innings of work. Honorable mention goes to the April 14th game against the Texas Rangers, when we saw what Félix 2.0 could be at his peak; 7.1 innings pitched with one run allowed, no walks, just three strikeouts, ten fly balls and 14 groundballs. I love it when they pitch to contact with a real defense behind them. *fans self*

Low point: Every time the sun rose over the mountains, and we blearily opened our eyes to the start of another day and the inevitably cruel passage of time.

2018 outlook: Pardon the mental mumbo-jumbo, but the big thing Félix needs to do this offseason (other than condition the hell out of his body, and stay as far away from Iron Glenn as possible) [Ed. note: Looks at Felix’s Instagram; removes blame from Iron Glenn.] is recognize that he has become Baseball Old. He’s not going to be the second coming of Justin Verlander and regain what many thought was a lost velocity, but when his secondary stuff is working Félix can still be a dominant pitcher. Or, okay, he can still be a solid starter. But a big step towards Félix 2.0 is the recognition that he is likely no longer the strikeout machine of his youth, but that if he becomes more crafty, with a greater focus on inducing groundballs/fly balls, he can still be a boost to this rotation. The three biggest things we can look for from Félix next season are 1) No injuries 2) A league average home run rate, and 3) No more sinkers (thanks Goose!).

Erasmo Ramirez

Overall performance: A 4.39 ERA/4.43 FIP/4.28 xFIP pitcher slash line (3.92/4.71/4.46 with the Mariners). 1.1 fWAR (0.5 with the Mariners). 20.2% strikeout rate, tied for a career high.

High point: Coming back to the Mariners right at the trade deadline, Erasmo Ramirez stabilized the Mariners starting rotation in August after losing James Paxton to the disabled list for the second time. Between August 12 and September 10, he made six starts of at least six innings and gave up two or fewer runs in five of those games.

Low point: His first two starts with the Mariners were pretty rough. He was still being stretched out after spending most of the year in the bullpen with Tampa Bay. Particularly rough was a five inning start on August 6 against the Royals where he gave up five runs in five innings, allowing three home runs in the game.

2018 outlook: As the rotation stands right now, Erasmo would probably slot into the fourth spot. The Mariners definitely don’t want him that high in the rotation. The ideal situation would be to treat him like Tampa Bay has treated him for the past couple of years—a swing man out of the bullpen who can provide length as a reliever and spot start when needed. If the Mariners add a starter or two, he could compete for the fifth spot in the rotation during spring training, but he’s best used as depth rather than someone to count on for 150 innings.

Andrew Moore

Overall performance: The Mariners didn’t want to call up Andrew Moore when they did, but injuries and inconsistency on the pitching staff forced their hand. In an alternate reality (sigh), Andrew Moore has spent all year in Tacoma, adjusting to MLB-experienced hitters and developing a fourth pitch under the keen eye of Lance Painter. He maybe had a brief call-up in September, facing a righty-heavy lineup, and provided a performance that struck a promising note in a disappointing season. Alas.

High point: Moore’s debut on June 22nd was exhilarating: a home-grown prospect, a local kid, going seven strong innings of three-run, no-walk ball. Canó hit a grand slam in celebration and later credited his newest teammate for being able to “throw the ball wherever he wants.”

Low point: On August 11th, Moore was summoned out of the bullpen for the first time as a professional. Despite being staked to a significant lead, he wasn’t able to put hitters away over 1.2 innings of work, giving up 6 hits and 4 runs. Boos rained down when he was finally, mercifully, lifted from the game.

2018 outlook: After being sent back to Tacoma after Deadgar Weekend and returning to the MLB rotation in September, Moore finished the season strong against some tough teams in the Rangers, Cleveland, and the Astros (twice!). Since Moore has options and Marco Gonzales doesn’t, it looks like he’s ticketed for a return to Tacoma until the big club needs him, which isn’t the worst place for the 23-year-old, who still needs to develop an effective putaway pitch to strike out right-handed big-league batters.

Marco Gonzales

Overall performance: After losing all of his 2016 season to TJ, Gonzales returned to Triple-A Memphis in mid-May, where he enjoyed success before being traded to Seattle in late July. The Gonzaga product only threw 36 innings for the Mariners, posting a 4.28 FIP over that time.

High point: Back-to-back strong outings against the A’s and the Rangers in September, both as a starter (against Texas: 5 IP, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and a reliever (against Oakland: 4 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K).

Low point: If Tyler O’Neill is swatting dingers in a Cardinals uniform around this time next year, this trade—already hugely unpopular among a fanbase with precious few big-name prospects to be excited about—is going to look bad, bad, bad.

2018 outlook: Gonzales has the mindset of a starter, but his lack of options and ability to throw balls with his left hand might press him to the bullpen. There’s a possibility Gonzales qualifies for a fourth option year, available to a player who has used all their options (as Gonzales did when he was bounced between the majors and minor leagues with the Cardinals in 2014, 2015, and 2017), but has played five or fewer professional seasons); if that’s the case, some low-stress development time in Tacoma might be good for the 25-year-old as Seattle sorts out their complicated pitching picture.

Hisashi Iwakuma

Overall performance: Hisashi Iwakuma’s shoulder problems finally caught up to him in 2017. The Mariners were playing with house money knowing his shoulder gave the Dodgers pause, a team which has expertly juggled fragile pitchers with the disabled list. He made just six starts this year and they were pretty ugly.

High point: Iwakuma started off the year with two six-inning starts, allowing just three runs off three solo home runs. Of course the Mariners lost both of those games—the first because of a lack of run support and the second was the disastrous ninth inning meltdown in Anaheim.

Low point: I don’t want to point out any one single game as the low point for Kuma. The real low point will probably be his quiet exit from the organization—and possibly from major league baseball too. Iwakuma quickly endeared himself to this fan base in 2012 and his quiet dominance of the league between 2013 and 2015 will go down as one of the best three-year stretches by a Mariners pitcher in team history. He deserved a send-off and celebration of his long career, but instead, he’ll go quietly into the night.

2018 outlook: The best case scenario for Iwakuma is probably a minor league deal to prove that his shoulder isn’t irreparably broken. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired quietly, returning to Japan and his family.

Mike Leake

Overall performance: Mike Leake compiled 1.3 fWAR in just five starts for the Mariners. An overall 3.92/3.90/3.91 pitcher slash line shows just how consistent he was this year, a 2.53/2.25/3.40 slash line with the Mariners shows what he could be if everything goes perfectly. He made 31 starts in 2017, the sixth season in a row with at least 30 starts.

High point: In his first start with the Mariners on September 1, Leake pitched seven strong innings, allowing just two runs against the Athletics. It was the just eleventh start by a Mariners starter that lasted seven innings or more and the first since a James Paxton gem in mid-July against the Astros.

Low point: Leake didn’t necessarily have a low point with the Mariners but he did have a pretty terrible July and August while he was still with the Cardinals. In his 10 starts during those two months, he posted an ugly 6.94/5.57/4.53 pitcher slash line. Some of those struggles might be linked to a drop in fastball velocity he suffered as the season wore on. Luckily for the Mariners, his velocity rebounded in September.

2018 outlook: After a season full of injuries and inconsistent starters, Leake’s durability and consistency should provide a breath of fresh air in 2018. With the Cardinals covering $15 million of the $53 million owed to Leake over the next three years, he’s relatively affordable for the Mariners too. Right now, he’s penciled in as the third starter in the starting rotation. If the Mariners make a few upgrades to their pitching staff, he could drop as low as fifth, but will probably end up fourth in line. Wherever he ends up, he’ll be counted on to eat 180 innings or more while providing league average performance on the mound.

Andrew Albers

Overall performance: Andrew Albers came out of nowhere (North Battleford, Canada) to make six starts for the pitching starved Mariners this summer. Plucked out of the Atlanta Braves organization in exchange for “cash considerations,” the 31-year-old journeyman posted the best peripherals of his career, a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.51/4.13/4.44 pitcher slash line.

High point: A two game stretch in early September saw Albers give up a single run over 12 innings, including a dominating one-hit, six-inning start against the Athletics on September 1. He was relegated to the bullpen immediately following these two starts to make way for the return of James Paxton.

Low point: The start before that two game stretch was a disaster. Granted, much of the disaster wasn’t necessarily Albers’s fault. He didn’t have any control over the five errors the Mariners committed in the first inning. He ended up allowing eight runs in five innings (just three of them earned!).

2018 outlook: Even though he’ll be 32 in 2018, the Mariners should be too quick to write off Albers. He showed some interesting skills in his short stint with the Mariners which grew from some excellent numbers in Triple-A the past two years. A decent strikeout rate and a good walk rate should help him maintain a league average FIP if given the chance to contribute. His place in the organization will probably be determined by any offseason acquisitions the team makes. The ideal scenario sees Albers serving as depth in Triple-A again with a few spot starts here or there during the season.

The depth: Sam Gaviglio, Christian Bergman, Chase De Jong, Ryan Weber, Rob Whalen, Dillon Overton, and Chris Heston

Sam Gaviglio (Kansas City love interest), Dillon Overton (Where in the world is Dillon Overton? San Diego, ya know, like Carmen San Diego, international online childhood gaming woman of mystery. But really, he pitches for the Padres now. I didn’t know that till just now either), Chris Heston (once thought to maybe be okay, was mostly pretty bad, joined the Dodgers just to spite the Giants, then joined the Twins because...he likes snow? And niceness?), Christian Bergman (elected to become a minor league free agent, because he too was tired of the yo-yo routine—no, we’re talking about his good pitcher/bad pitcher routine, not the bouncing from Tacoma to Seattle), and Ryan Weber (also a free agent, called up for an emergency start in May against Toronto, left after the fourth inning after pointing indiscriminately at his arm/shoulder/right side area, and was mostly not heard from again) are all no longer in the organization but were once upon a time touted as decent pitching depth (which they would have been, if literally every other pitcher, except for the very worst pitcher in the starting rotation, hadn’t injured themselves).

Rob Whalen is on the restricted list which, for all intents and purposes means that he has been placed into a cryogenic state for an indeterminate length of time and nothing about his contract, etc. will change. Chase De Jong made one of the most high pressure appearances imaginable, and might have emerged unscathed were it not for the godforsaken Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. He had a 5.91 FIP and a 6.57 xFIP in the majors, but on the bright side he's only 23 years old, all of his body parts seem to be intact, and he recently gave a pair of pink, signed cleats to his neighbor fighting breast cancer. After being named Texas League Pitcher of the Year in 2016, De Jong was not able to capture the same success as he ping-ponged around different levels of the organization. Hopefully next year he starts in Tacoma and is able to spend some consistent quality time with Lance Painter, Pitcher Whisperer. He is likely the only pitcher on this list who remains with Seattle next year, although we’ll always hold out hope our local kid/sweet lil’ putto Sam Gaviglio somehow returns to round out the Rainiers’ rotation.