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Michael Pineda and the 10 Best Rookies in Mariners History

Alex CarsonCorrespondent IIIJune 2, 2011

Michael Pineda and the 10 Best Rookies in Mariners History

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    SEATTLE - MAY 04:  Starting pitcher Michael Pineda #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on May 4, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    At the one-third pole of this 2011 season, Michael Pineda could stop pitching right now and be the 14th best rookie pitcher in Mariners history, if sorted by WAR.

    I don't know that he'll continue to dominate the way he has, and he isn't going to pitch a full season anyhow, but if you could just pace that over the rest of the season he'd end the season at close to 6.0 in WAR, 18 wins, 200 strikeouts a shiny ERA and in contention for a Cy Young Award.

    Hit the brakes!

    It's easy to start drooling on your math book while you day dream about the possibilities for this rookie. We should temper those expectations and remember that he is, indeed, a rookie. With 139 innings being the biggest number in his log book, we can't just stretch his current numbers out over 200 innings.

    The Mariners are likely to skip over him here and there in the rotation and eventually shut him down. Perhaps he gets to 160 innings. Who knows? No one knows except the Mariners front office, especially if they keep contending, but we can probably safely assume the number will be considerably less than 200.

    Plus, there are still flaws in his game. In the two games that resulted in a loss for him this season, those weaknesses have been exposed. His changeup is still under-developed, leaving him no real weapon against left handed batters. The slider has the largest platoon splits in baseball and good hitters are going to catch up to even the best of fastballs at times.

    Who am I to assume, though? Maybe he rivals the best rookies in franchise history even if his time is limited. That's the fun of baseball. We get to watch it all play out.

    Here's what we do know. The following are the top 10 rookies in club history.

No. 10: SP Felix Hernandez, 2005

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    SEATTLE - AUGUST 26:  Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez #59 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Chicago White Sox on August 26, 2005 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    For reasons no one will ever know, Felix didn't arrive to the bigs until August of 2005.

    Consider that even though he only pitched a handful of games, 12 to be exact, he put up a 2.6 WAR. That's a tick above the value he's provided here in 2011 in his first 12 starts after a Cy Young campaign.

    Felix is really good, but then again, Felix has always been really good. He was really good out of the gate.

    In those initial 84.1 innings he struck out 77 and only walked 23. It was a small sample, and he was really young. It was hard to hold back the excitement of what might be in store in the future. Things have worked out pretty well.

No. 9: CL Kazuhiro Sasaki, 2000

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    SEATTLE - AUGUST 13:  Kazuhiro Sasaki #22 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays in the eighth inning of the game on August 13, 2003 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington.  Sasaki retired the side in order as the Mariners defeated
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    A year before Ichiro arrived, another Japanese import was turning heads.

    Kaz Sasaki ripped off 37 saves in his rookie campaign. This is fairly impressive considering managers having reluctance to hand the ball to inexperienced players.

    You can point to his Japanese experience if you like, but facing the best hitters in the world in high leverage situations isn't something you can just shrug off.

    Dave Niehaus' voice still rings in my head as he he described "the thang," Sasaki's split-finger fastball that aided in 78 punch outs in 62.2 innings pitched.

No. 8: Of Ken Griffey, Jr., 1989

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    29 Aug 1999: Ken Griffey Jr. #24 of the Seattle Mariners stands ready at the plate during a game against the New York Yankees at the Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York. The Yankees defeated the Mariners 11-5. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Junior arrived in 1989 and had himself a nice rookie campaign.

    Who wouldn't take 16 deep flies from a 19 year old?

    It's not often a position player hits the major leagues at such a young age. While "The Kid" may not have the best WAR or other value numbers of some other rookies in Mariners history, it's hard to ignore just how special he was while still relatively green.

    He had a slash line of .264/.329/.420, stole 16 bags and provided solid defense that season to show us what was coming just beyond the horizon.

No. 7: C Kenji Johjima, 2006

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 31:  Catcher Kenji Johjima #2 of the Seattle Mariners on July 31, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The string of Japanese "rookies" for the Mariners during this decade continued with Kenji Johjima in 2006.

    While many fans remember his poor player in his final season and the conspiracies surrounding the ridiculous extension he was given, Kenji had a solid rookie campaign.

    He hit .291/.332/.451 with 18 homers and 76 runs driven in from the bottom part of a bad lineup. He was nearly worth three wins which is better than the Mariners had been.

No. 6: Of Ruppert Jones, 1977

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    Ruppert Jones wasn't even supposed to be a Mariner. He also could have easily not been a rookie in 1977.

    Jones was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and made his major league debut in 1976 for them. The following winter, however, the Mariners made Jones their first pick in the expansion draft. Having only played in 28 games in '76, Jones still qualified as a rookie when he suited up for the Mariners in their initial voyage of '77.

    All he did was hit 24 baseballs over a fence, drive in 76, swipe 13 bags and provide solid outfield defense for the brand new ballclub. All of this was good for a 3.7 WAR. He was an All-Star and perhaps the first "star" in mariners history.

    Jones' rookie campaign was one of the finest in Mariners history and perhaps the best year of his career.

No. 5: SP Freddy Garcia, 1999

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    SEATTLE - AUGUST 30:  Pitcher Freddy Garcia #34 of the Seattle Mariners throws a pitch during the MLB game against the Kansas City Royals on August 30, 2002 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington.  The Royals defeated Mariners 5-1.  (Photo by Otto Greule
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    "The Chief" came to the Mariners as part of the trade that sent Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros in 1998. A year later, he was in the big leagues and paying immediate dividends on that trade.

    Part of the group of three Mariners rookie pitchers to win at least 17 games, only accomplished by 11 pitchers in all of baseball since 1970, Garcia quickly became the team's ace.

    In just over 200 innings of work, he sported a 4.07 ERA and struck out 170 while only walking 90. He threw two complete games, one being a shutout. His days of being a horse for the Mariners (and eventually White Sox) started right away.

    Plus, he's Felix Hernandez's hero and the reason "The King" signed with the club. That counts for something, right?

No. 4: SP Dave Fleming, 1992

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    24 Jun 1992:  Pitcher Dave Fleming of the Seattle Mariners prepares to throw the ball during a game against the Oakland Athletics. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule  /Allsport
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    (Note: Fleming's 1991 season spanned only nine games, not enough to remove his status as a rookie for 1992).

    A photo finish puts Dave Fleming as the Mariners No. 4 all-time rookie, as he started, won and lost the same amount of games as Mark Langston. They had nearly identical lines all over including ERA and WAR (4.4). Fleming was as much of a strikeout pitcher, though, so we had to bump him down a spot.

    In 1992, Fleming burst onto the scene and won 17 games. He only struck out 112 but he also only walked 60. It's hard to find much to nit pick about, as Fleming showed much promise for Seattle.

    Unfortunately, his career would stall due to arm issues, perhaps due to the massive number of innings he pitched in his rookie season (228.1). He'd never hit 200 innings again and after just five seasons as a pro, he was off to become a teacher and manage a wiffle ball team.

No. 3: SP Mark Langston, 1984

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    1987:  Pitcher Mark Langston of the Seattle Mariners prepares to throw the ball during a game against the California Angels at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Since 1970, when five-man rotations started catching on in baseball, only 11 pitchers have won 17 or more games in their rookie campaign. Mark Langston is one of those pitchers.

    Though upstaged by his rookie-of-the-year teammate Alvin Davis, Langston had a tremendous first year winning those 17 games, running an ERA of 3.40, striking out 204 batters against only 118 walks and contributing a 4.4 WAR to the Mariners squad.

    During the middle of his sixth year with the club, the Mariners shipped Langston off to Montreal for some guy named Randy Johnson. I suppose it was only fitting the the best rookie pitcher in team history was shipped off for the eventual best pitcher in team history.

    While Langston had several years of success, some greater than 1984, his rookie season was great.

No. 2: 1B Alvin Davis, 1984

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    SEATTLE - APRIL 2:  (L-R) Former Mariners Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, and team announcer Dave Niehaus of the Seattle Mariners throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game on opening day against the Oakland A's at Safeco Field April 2, 2007 in Seattle, Wa
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    "Mr. Mariner" Al Davis earned that nickname as the first real star the team had, and it all started during his rookie season of 1984 when he was the first player in franchise history to win rookie of the year honors.

    During that campaign, Davis hit .284/.391/.497 with 27 homers (the most ever by a Mariners rookie), drove in 116 RBI, provided solid defense at first and put up a 5.8 WAR.

    It would turn out to be the finest season of Davis' career. He had good seasons in '88 and '89 and a few others that were above average but he kicked off his career in that first season with a bang.

No. 1: Of Ichiro, 2001

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    SEATTLE - OCTOBER 15:  Ichiro Suzuki #52 of the Seattle Mariners makes his way to first base during Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians on October 15, 2001 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington.  The Mariners won 5
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    It's pretty neat to remember back to a 27-year-old "rookie" coming to states after a nice run of pro ball in Japan. The low expectations,

    Was he really a rookie? Should guys like Ichiro, Kaz Sasaki and Hideki Matsui qualify for the award? The point could be made that pro ball in Japan is fairly competitive and thus these players are not true rookies.

    I of course could counter by pointing to the small number of Japanese players who have made the jump and the even smaller number who made it and saw success.

    The bottom line is, they qualify, and no rookie that has ever been a legal rookie by the rules has been better than Ichiro in Mariners history.

    He won the batting title. He had 242 hits, 127 runs scored and 56 stolen bases. The fans that were bummed about Jay Buhner losing his spot in right field quickly got over it and joined in for Ichiromania.

    Ballparks around the country saw hoards of fans come out, his merchandise sales were through the roof and the media contingent that followed him made you think Elvis was in the house.

    He was Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the American League.

    Perhaps Ichiro gets the edge over "Mr. Mariner" not just because he edged him out in WAR, but because he was an instant superstar.

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