In Avatar, a film that made $2.7 billion at the box office, the catalyst for the events of the film is that the twin brother of the protagonist dies, forcing the living twin to take his place. It's a common trope, and one always made all the more absurd by its outlandishness. Is the twin qualified? No. Do they have the characteristics necessary to fulfill the role as it was expected? Nope. Do they look kinda like the other guy and come from the same place? Yes? Congratulations, they're hired.
Andrew Albers is no twin of James Paxton, but you could be forgiven for thinking Jerry Dipoto went to the cloning machine from Rick & Morty with a few of Pax's whiskers and came up a few credits short. Albers is a Canadian LHP, formerly of the University of Kentucky, with a devotion to wearing numbers usually reserved for backup offensive linemen. Lest you confuse the two, I've highlighted some of the main similarities and crossed out the key differences below.
Albers was technically "born three years earlier" and is "older than Paxton," but that's just semantics. If Paxton's baseball life cycle is entering his red supergiant phase as a Mariner, Albers is a mere protostar that is inching its way straight towards white dwarf-hood. At 31, Albers is not a likely candidate to be developing much further, but in the Mariners' nebulous rotation, he does not have to go supernova to shine.
Albers certainly qualifies as a fringe MLB starter. Surprisingly, he's throwing as hard as he ever has in his pro career, and through 100+ IP had a better FIP & ERA than Braves' top SP prospect Sean Newcomb in AAA this year. On the other hand, Albers is nearly five months older than Yovani Gallardo, tops out at 90 mph, and has been a replacement level player the last couple times he was in the majors.
The Mariners have essentially decided to start James Paxton's buddy Andy from college. Perhaps they are hoping opposing hitters will squint and be confused and think it's still Paxton pitching. Their motions are not totally dissimilar!
Look at that blazing heater! Now compare that to Pax...
Big performance from Big Maple in Houston. #GoMariners pic.twitter.com/IiJCqAB36H— Mariners (@Mariners) July 19, 2017
Well, maybe if the other team is squinting.
The story of Albers is a similar story to one we've heard all season. This is a pitcher with good command, less than overpowering stuff, and an actually balanced GB/FB rate. When discussing Albers' acquisition a couple weeks ago with Marc W from USS Mariner, he was one of now many to point out the resemblance Albers shares with Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc, as you may recall, graced the 2016 Mariners with several quality starts despite underwhelming stuff and escaped before the advanced metrics caught up to him this year. He also was nearly traded for himself.
The optimistic among us might posit Jamie Moyer, and yes, Albers does rely on his changeup heavily to go along with his sub-90 fastball, a slider, and a really Nice curveball. Moyer is remembered because Moyer was rare, an exception to the rule that speed is king. For every Moyer or Dallas Keuchel there are a dozen Dillon Overton's. Betting on exceptions is a tough business, yet it's what the Mariners are in a position to do with their pitching staff, with Albers the 16th different starter on the year. As with every one of those starters not named Paxton, the blueprint is simple: Get through five innings or so, don't make too much of a mess, and the offense will have your back. So far, Albers is 2/2 on CHEWS (Could Have Been Worse Starts aka 5 IP, 4 Rs allowed h/t snoho56 & Jadeus) and the Mariners are 2-0 in those games. It is asinine to say he's been great, but he's gotten hitters to swing at bad pitches (35.4 O-Swing%) and avoided walking hitters to put himself in holes *glares at Yovani*.
I've said something to the effect of "maybe that's enough" several times this year, and it's true now as it was then. The Mariners potentially are running out the worst rotation in the league right now, but the rest of the team is picking up the slack. The Angels can't keep pitchers healthy either. The Twins are erratic as all get-out. The Rays don't have the offense Seattle does. The Mariners need Achilles, and desperately. Instead they have Patroclus, and they must survive.