2011 Seattle Mariners: 7 Reasons Erik Bedard Is the Key to Contention
To everyone's likely surprise, the Seattle Mariners have managed to stay right in the thick of the race for the American League West crown. Coming into today, they were only two games back of the first-place Texas Rangers.
That seems all the more incredible considering that Ichiro Suzuki is having an un-Ichiro type of year (.279 batting average), two rookies (Carlos Peguero and Dustin Ackley) are in the starting lineup and Seattle's regular closer (David Aardsma) has been out all season. (Though, to be fair, Brandon League has done a stupendous job in his place, leading the league with 20 saves.)
So how can the Mariners possibly keep this up? What do they need to do to stay in contention?
There is never just one answer, of course, but one of the more significant players to associate with the cause is starting pitcher Erik Bedard.
To say Bedard has been a disappointment since coming to Seattle in 2008 would be a grave understatement, mostly because of how very little time he's actually been healthy. This season, however, Bedard has been able to make his starts, and he has been refreshingly productive.
Bedard currently sports a 4-4 record with a 3.16 ERA. Here is why he will continue to be a major factor in determining the Mariners' 2011 fate.
1. The Abysmal Offense
This actually speaks more to the importance of the Mariners pitching as a whole, but Bedard is certainly a part of that.
To be frank, the Mariners hitting has been horrific this season. They are 28th in all of Major League Baseball in runs scored, last in batting average, last in on-base percentage and 29th in slugging percentage.
If you hadn't guessed, the reason the Mariners are where they are right now is because their pitching has been almost as good as their hitting has been bad. Seattle pitchers are fourth in baseball in ERA, second in quality starts and third in WHIP.
Because the Mariners can't seem to score more runs in a game than a soccer team scores goals, their pitching has got to keep coming up as big as it has. For Bedard, this means that, more than anything else, he must stay off the disabled list. He's proven that he can keep his team in games; now he just has to keep them in as many games as possible.
2. Take Some Pressure off King Felix
I think most fans still do a double-take when they read that Felix Hernandez is only 25 years old. It feels like he's been making hitters look silly for about the past 10 years.
Yet, this is only his seventh season, and only twice in his first six years have the Mariners even finished above .500.
Hernandez, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, has proven he can carry the rotation. But that doesn't mean he won't need any help. If the Mariners are going to contend, the other pitchers have to do their best to ease the burden for King Felix. This is particularly important for Erik Bedard, the eldest member of the rotation, who by experience alone should shoulder some more responsibility.
(Not literally, of course—Bedard has already torn his labrum and suffered other injuries to his pitching shoulder in recent seasons.)
3. Prepare for Prince Pineda's Innings Limit
Another reason Seattle has continued to play this well has been the dominating rookie season of starter Michael Pineda. Pineda is currently 7-4 with a 2.64 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.
As much as the Mariners would like to return to the postseason, they will not likely do so at the expense of their youngest prized arm. Though there has been no official report of an innings limit for Pineda, 22, one might expect it to be implemented later in the season.
Pineda pitched 139 innings last year but was shut down for most of 2009 with an elbow injury. He is currently at 88.2 innings for the season.
If and when he is shut down, the Mariners rotation will, of course, be left without its second-best arm. Much like the case with easing the burden off Hernandez, Bedard will be looked at once more to pick up the slack, especially because...
4. Jason Vargas and Doug Fister Can't Be Trusted
It should be no surprise by now to hear that the remaining two-fifths of the Mariners rotation, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister, have been good in 2011. Vargas has a 3.75 ERA at the moment, while Fister is sporting a 3.34 ERA.
Both, however, have limited experience in the rotation with little success of which to speak. This is only the second season in which Vargas has made 15 starts, and last year was the first in which he finished with an ERA under four. Fister is in his third big league season and has a career record of 12-26.
Now, there is no definitive reason to think that these two will falter during the remaining three-plus months of the season. But their youth and track records suggest they'll suffer some regression. If that happens, it is most important for Bedard to pick up the slack, because we more or less know what we will get from Felix Hernandez and cannot put too many expectations on Pineda's young arm.
5. Veteran Leadership
I've hinted at it already, but it's worth emphasizing that, as a veteran, Erik Bedard holds special importance to this Mariners team, particularly to the pitching staff. Especially because this team as currently constituted hasn't really won anything—other than former Angels Adam Kennedy and Chone Figgins—the older players will take on a greater role in guiding their younger teammates.
Of course Bedard, who was a Baltimore Orioles lifer before being traded to the Mariners, doesn't have much of a winning pedigree. But he is the most experienced member of this young rotation, even if Felix Hernandez is the assumed leader.
As the season wears on, if the Mariners continue to stay in the race, it will be up to Bedard to offer a voice of reason and reassurance.
6. Success Against Key Left-Handed Hitters
As a veteran pitcher, Erik Bedard has compiled a significant history with some of baseball's most talented left-handed hitters. Here are his numbers against five lefties who, if the Mariners are going to reach the playoffs, will be standing in their way:
Bobby Abreu (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim): 5-29, 0 HR, 7 K
Robinson Cano (New York Yankees): 4-16, 2 2B, 4 K
David DeJesus (Oakland Athletics): 0-7, 2 K
Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers): 3-11, 1 HR, 1 2B
David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox): 5-24, 1 HR, 1 2B, 5 K
Obviously, Bedard will have to deal with eight other players in the lineups of these rival teams. But this kind of success against the premier left-handed hitters will certainly help in the make-it-or-break-it games later in the season.
7. Possible Trade Chip?
Bet you didn't expect this twist, did you? (Okay, maybe you did.)
It is possible that Erik Bedard's greatest value to the Mariners' hopes for contention rests in what he could bring back in a trade. He is showing traces of his prime form back in Baltimore, which, if you can remember, was very, very good. Plus, he's a southpaw, which is always enticing to prospective trade partners.
As important a piece as Bedard is in this rotation, it is clear that the Mariners' greatest need is offense. If the Mariners could swap Bedard for a big bat, it may end up being a prosperous move in the long run.