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The AL West’s starters have puny arms

Stacking the Mariners’ much fretted-over starters up against the rest of the division reveals an AL West-wide weakness.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
“I throw 96 mph, that’s why they don’t talk about me behind my back, Hisashi.”
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Mariners’ biggest question mark this season appears to be their starting rotation. This sentiment has been reiterated by a number of sources. Some have even repeated it ad nauseum. Looking beyond these bold statements, however, the Mariners aren’t alone. The AL West, for a division with four teams that could legitimately make noise in the playoffs, has a hand full of jacks and not many aces. The Mariners very well may be undone by their rotation, but may the starting five be just as big a concern for their closest competition?

There are a number of ways to evaluate rotation strength, so I figured I’d throw a little stew of numbers onto a table and see how it looked.

2016 AL West Starting Pitchers

Team MLB Rank (fWAR) MLB Rank (FIP) MLB Rank K/9 MLB Rank BB/9
Team MLB Rank (fWAR) MLB Rank (FIP) MLB Rank K/9 MLB Rank BB/9
Astros 13 (12.1) 12 (4.17) 16 (7.65) 18 (2.94)
Mariners 19 (9.0) 19 (4.48) 22 (7.40) 7 (2.71)
Rangers 22 (7.9) 25 (4.69) 26 (7.12) 24 (3.36)
Athletics 23 (7.2) 22 (4.58) 29 (6.79) 13 (2.80)
Angels 28 (5.6) 27 (4.79) 25 (7.17) 21 (3.17)

If nothing jumps out at you from this table that makes sense. Unremarkable is the first word that comes to mind for me. That’s the thing, though. The Astros check in at narrowly above-average, while the rest of the division was below-average or worse in 2016. Even with this unremarkable display, the Rangers had the best record in the American League last year, while the Mariners and Astros were in the thick of the Wild Card chase until the final week of the season.

The top eight teams in starting pitcher fWAR made the playoffs last year. The only two exceptions were the Satan-smooching Rangers and the Orioles, who fit much better in the AL West by composition than anywhere else. That’s the past, however. What is expected for 2017?

2017 SP Fangraphs Projections

Team MLB Rank (fWAR) FIP K/9 BB/9
Team MLB Rank (fWAR) FIP K/9 BB/9
Astros 8 (15.5) 3.90 8.30 2.80
Mariners T-15 (13.4) 4.09 7.70 2.70
Rangers 19 (12.8) 4.21 7.80 3.20
Athletics 20 (12.2) 4.11 7.20 2.90
Angels T-15 (13.4) 3.96 7.90 2.80

Unremarkable, again, yet more encouraging across the board. From offseason additions to improved development from youth to the assumption of improved health, nearly every team has reason to expect better performance. Still, the end result is that the Astros might be good, and the rest of the division might be alright. During the weeks leading up to Spring Training, Jake Mailhot did a wonderful job previewing the starting rotations for each of the Mariners’ rival AL West teams, which are listed here, here, here, and here, respectively. As you can grasp from his work, there just aren’t any sure bets in the division when it comes to the starting rotation. There aren’t even any sure bet aces.

Yu Darvish is the best pitcher in the AL West, and if you asked for who I would take, full health, tomorrow, it wouldn’t be all that close. Darvish has had six trips to the disabled list in his five year MLB career, including missing all of 2015 and half of 2016 with Tommy John. A full season of Darvish props up the Rangers rotation, but so would a full season of James Paxton, or Garrett Richards for the Angels. A return to form from Dallas Keuchel, Félix Hernández, or Tyson Ross would do the same. If one team hits on all their bets, they will likely be the one wearing the AL West crown come October, but each team in the division will depend on their position players and/or bullpen to drag them to the postseason.

The Mariners rotation might very well sink them in 2017. The rotations their rivals have constructed, however, are just as flimsy, and in the cases of Texas and LAA, likely more so. The depth that Jerry Dipoto has accrued may render Seattle best prepared to weather the storms to come. More likely than not, they won’t be alone, asea, when the maelstrom comes.