Casey at the Bat | Lefty Starter Surplus Could and Should Bring a Bat

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IJune 20, 2009

To begin this column, I’d like to extend a heartfelt sympathy to Russell Branyan, Jose Lopez and Rob Johnson, who have all been impacted by family illness or death in recent days.

In my last column about the Mariners, I detailed how Erik Bedard may have vaulted into the top spot in terms of trade commodities in the starting rotation. He subsequently went on the 15-day disabled list, but before that, Griffin Cooper used an interesting word to describe the Mariners pitching rotation; abundance.

With the untradeable arm of Carlos Silva included, the Mariners have received starts from nine different players this season.

Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner Mike Salk has gone into detail this week on 710 ESPN – Seattle as to his belief that the Mariners could be both buyers and sellers approaching the trade deadline.

They way they would do this, in all likelihood, would be to trade from a surplus. The Mariners have a bunch of left-handed starting pitching, an overvalued commodity, but a market that the Mariners may be able to take advantage of without giving up on this season.

Jack Zduriencik has proven something of a master of “buying low,” netting Jason Vargas and Garrett Olson, two of the Mariners starters, and Russell Branyan all for peanuts, comparably speaking.

It remains to be seen though, if he’s able to take his own commodities (which appears to be his view of players), separate emotion, pride, and unfounded hope, and flip them for another substantial gain.

If Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, and Ryan Rowland-Smith all get healthy soon, the Mariners may face tough decisions as to who to remove from the rotation, or the big club entirely.

But Bedard’s stock is volatile. He’s injury-prone, atypical, and surely has different valuations by different clubs around the league. He’s not included on this list, because a trade of Bedard would likely signal a surrender in 2009, while a trade of another, lesser starter may not.

Jason Vargas has pitched very well this season, and apart from the rough fifth inning in Colorado last week, which didn’t turn south until the rain hit, he’s been stellar as a starter. Going into that start, Vargas had improved on his career average BABIP against, but not by an unsustainable margin, and he has seen modest gains in nearly every other contemporary pitching evaluation statistic.

Garrett Olson on the other hand, has a .150 BABIP against paired with an ERA over four and a something of statistical oddity, a .198 BAA. Batters are batting at a higher average than BABIP because Olson has given up eight home runs (which don’t count toward BABIP), and is surrendering a .277 ISO. Assuming Olson can’t hold opposing batters below the Mendoza line for the entire season, in all likelihood, his production will recede.

A lot has been made about Jarrod Washburn’s two-seam fastball and an altered pitching approach. A traditionally fly-ball-oriented pitcher, Washburns groundball-fly ball ratios are on par with his career averages. I attribute much of Washburn’s success to the Chavez-Gutierrez-Suzuki outfield which covers a lot of ground.

Here’s an interesting set of statistics.

Chavez-Gutierrez-Suzuki Combined Outfield

7.85 RF/9

League Average Combine Outfield

7.01 RF/9

2008 Mariners Combine Outfield

6.87 RF/9

(Baseball Reference displays different numbers, but doesn’t account for innings played by Wladimir Balentien in 2008)

League Average Combined Outfield

7.09 RF/9

The Mariners make essentially one more out in the outfield per nine innings this season that last, but compared to league averages, they’ve picked up even more.

The Mariners have an almost league average GB/FB ratio. League average is .76 and the Mariners are at .75. However Vargas, Olson, and Washburn have .67, .51, and .63 ratios respectively. The trio throws significantly more fly balls than league average.

Considering that, it’s conceivable that each pitcher may actually allow the outfield to make close to another quarter out per nine innings on average than the team’s combined pitching staff.

Going to another team, Washburn, Vargas and Olson would be sure to see drops in production, despite their improved 2009 campaigns.

The market for the three isn’t established, there hasn’t been a major trade to this point in the baseball season. This economic situation is unprecedented in this era of baseball, and it really isn’t clear what effect it will have on the trade market, apart from teams being hesitant to add salary. We may see some NBA-like salary dumps, or some very lopsided on-field trades made for financial reasons.

Here are some possibilities for the Mariners:

Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ethier’s left handed bat would be a welcome addition in left field. He’s got some pop (11 home runs this season) and he walks a lot. He’s got some speed, though he doesn’t steal a lot of bases. He could be the answer in the two hole that would move Branyan to the three hole, where his abilities would be better-utilized.

The Dodgers aren’t exactly reeling from the losses of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny, boasting the best record in baseball, but that doesn’t mean that their pieced-together rotation will hold up all season. The Dodgers barely dodged an ugly arbitration hearing with Ethier last year, and will be facing the same dilemma this offseason.

The Dodgers have four outfielders and little financial flexibility. Vargas or Olson would probably be the ideal fits here, though the dodgers may be reluctant to add a lefty to a rotation which follows Chad Billingsley with Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.

Kelly Johnson, 2b and/or Jeff Francoeur, OF, Atlanta Braves

The Braves have two under-performing players in their mid-20s, both of whom are in the midst of their arbitration years: Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur. While Francoeur has struggled this season, he’s put up numbers very similar to Franklin Gutierrez, and if he were part of the compensation in a Jarrod Washburn trade, he could be a major coup for the Mariners.

Johnson is a left-handed batting second baseman who walks. The Mariners may not want to replace Jose Lopez, who has come on strong of late and been the hero in most clutch situations this year, but Johnson can also play left field if necessary.

If the two were traded for Washburn and Jeff Clement, both teams could benefit. Washburn may not see a major drop off in the pitcher-friendly confines in Atlanta, and the Braves would be able to unload two under-performers. The Mariners may have to eat some of Washburn’s remaining salary, as there is a $3 million gap between Washburn’s salary and the combined salary of Johnson and Francoeur.

Clement would add depth to the Braves behind both Brian McCann and Casey Kotchman, and may be able to play some left field if necessary.

Hideki Matsui, OF, New York Yankees

The Yankees shouldn’t be looking to add anyone who pitches fly balls in their new wind-tunnel of a stadium; but the team may become desperate as the trade deadline approaches. The Bombers give up more than five runs per game and it appears that Chien-Ming Wong’s days in the starting rotation may be over.

Matsui is a shell of his former self, and makes $13 million this year, but his .816 OPS would be good for third on this Mariners club, and his 10 homeruns would tie him for second. Unlike plugging Francoeur or Ethier into the outfield, if the Mariners decided to play Matsui in left they’d lose a good deal of range relative to Endy Chavez, but the offensive upgrade may make up for it.

Carl Crawford, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Trading for Crawford may be wishful thinking. He’s one of the best young players in baseball, but the ever-frugal Rays will have to pay Crawford more than they may be able to afford. Crawford has $18.25 million worth of club options in the next two seasons.

The Mariners may have to give up one of Olson and Vargas, as well as Jeff Clement and/or David Aardsma to make a trade like this happen, maybe more.

Crawford is 27 years old, and is on pace for nearly 100 stolen bases this season, is not a bad offensive threat either. He’s got a .817 OPS, and with moderate power would be an ideal fit in the two hole.



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