When Jarrod Washburn tossed eight shutout innings against the Twins on Thursday, the entire Mariner Nation let out a collective “where the hell has that been?” However, upon further investigation, a Washburn-resurgence could make sense this season.
The catalyst, though a lot of credit may be given to his battery mate from Thursday, perhaps isn’t Rob Johnson, but the Mariner’s new center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.
It must be understood, that while the signing of Jarrod Washburn must go down as one of the worst in Mariner history, it was made by one of the worst general managers in baseball’s history. Washburn, a product of Bill Bavasi’s former employers, the Angels, has been the same pitcher through the whole time.
Pitching has been eloquently described as “chess at 90 mph.” Washburn’s repertoire of mostly fastballs and cut-fastballs, mostly high in the strike zone, is something that has kept him in the bigs for over a decade now.
The philosophy, in Washburn’s brand of chess, is to cause batters to hit fly balls from a place other than the barrel of the bat.
Washburn, like it or not, is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, and not the good kind. He’s a fly ball pitcher, his ground ball/fly ball ratios are significantly lower than league averages, and that has gotten him in trouble in recent years.
What the culprit may have been, however, is the series of guys patrolling center field.
Range factor is a statistic used by sabermetricians, perhaps the defensive answer to OPS, which is also perhaps the most tangible and least contrived. It is an unbiased assessment of essentially how many plays a player makes in an average game over the course of a season.
Range factor is determined by dividing putouts and assists by innings played. Range Factor/9 innings, or RF/9, is that same number multiplied to equal an average game.
Washburn’s best season of his career came in 2002. In 2002, he was on an Angels team that won 99 games and a World Series ring.
The center fielder for that team was eventual 2002 Gold Glove winner Darren Erstad.
Washburn went 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA, pitched the first of two 200+ inning seasons to this point in his career, and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.
Erstad’s RF/9 was 3.39 in center field in 2002, his best season in center when he played significant time at the position.
In 2007, Washburn’s best season in a Mariner uniform, the team had Ichiro in center field for 155 games. The Mariners won 88 games in 2007, and Washburn went 10-15 with a 4.32 ERA. Those may not be gaudy numbers, but they’re his best in blue and teal.
Ichiro had an RF/9 of 2.90 in 2007.
Jeremy Reed, Willie Bloomquist and Ichiro all saw significant time in center field in 2008. Reed played 58 games in center, posting an RF/9 of 2.64 at the position. Bloomquist played 23 games in center, and posted an RF/9 of 2.74.
Ichiro, who played 69 games posted a 2.98 RF/9. What this means, essentially, is that about once a week,
Ichiro made an out that neither Bloomquist or Reed would have made.
Similarly, Erstad’s impressive 2002 season, he made an out once a week that even Ichiro wouldn’t have made.
Coming into Thursday’s game, Gutierrez had a 3.07 RF/9 in center field for his career, albeit in only 219.2 career innings at the position. Remember, however, that he was flanked by Grady Sizemore in Cleveland. Sizemore is a guy I affectionately refer to as Ken Griffey III.
Gutierrez made eight putouts during Washburn’s eight innings. With Gutierrez in center, Ichiro in right, and a combination of Endy Chavez, Wladimir Balentien and Ken Griffey Jr. in the outfield in 2009, Washburn may have the best supporting cast behind him since he was backed up by Erstad, Garrett Anderson, and Tim Salmon.
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