The Myth of Early Innings Meltdown Syndrome: Mariners pitching just isn’t very good.

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Roenis Elias in action against the Cleveland Indians in a baseball game Saturday, May 30, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Though he’s had fewer short outings than in 2014, Roenis Elias would sure like to know what happened to the Mariners pitching in 2015.

For the entire 2015 season I’ve complained about the inconsistency of the starting rotation.I’ve also fussed about the bullpen (but then again who hasn’t.) More than anything, however, I’ve tried to understand why a pitching staff that was so incredibly good, historically good at preventing runs, could be so much worse in just one year.  Yes, there were some personnel changes and some injuries, but especially in the case of the bullpen, not that much.

I was sure one of the reasons for the early implosion of the bullpen was because the M’s starters suffered from Early Innings Meltdown Syndrome, or EIMS.  I looked for starts in both seasons in which pitchers did not go at least six innings. Why six, why not five or seven?  Six is the yardstick used to identify a “quality start.”  I didn’t try to factor in runs allowed, because I really wanted to look at how much work was foisted back on the shoulders of the bullpen.  Did they suffer from overwork in 2015 as opposed to 2014? My hypothesis was that the 2015 team had far more incidents of EIMS than in 2014, which likely contributed to bullpen exhaustion and collapse, especially in April.

In order to learn this I sat for a couple of hours looking at looking at every box score for 2014 and 2015 on Baseball-Reference.com. I checked each game for starts under six inning for each pitcher who started a game for the M’s in the two seasons. I’ve given the name of the pitcher and the number of starts less than six innings.  It would be great if I could display this as a chart–but no such luck:

2014

  • Roenis Elias–17 starts less than six innings
  • Erasmo Ramirez–9 starts less than six innings
  • James Paxton–5 starts less than six innings
  • Blake Beavan–1 start less than six innings
  • Chris Young–11 starts less than six innings
  • Brandon Maurer–6 starts less than six innings
  • Hisashi Iwakuma–7 starts less than six innings
  • Felix Hernandez–5 starts less than six innings
  • Taijuan Walker–3 starts less than six innings.
  • Tom Wilhelmsen–2 starts less than six innings.

Altogether that’s 66 starts that went less than six innings.  Of those 13 of them occurred in April, 7 in May, 10 in June, 8 in July, 12 in August, and 15 in September.  Felix had his 8-run 2-inning meltdown against the Blue Jays on September 23rd, which likely cost him the Cy Young Award.  With 66 starts that went fewer than six innings the Mariners allowed 554 runs, the fewest in franchise history.

The 2015 season looks a bit different, as you might expect, but perhaps not in the way you (or I) imagined.

2015

  • Taijuan Walker–10 starts less than six innings
  • Felix Hernandez-4 starts less than six innings
  • Hisashi Iwakuma–7 starts less than six innings
  • James Paxton–5 starts less than six innings
  • Roenis Elias–10 starts less than six innings
  • J.A. Happ–8 starts less than six innings.
  • Mike Montgomery–5 starts less than six innings
  • Vidal Nuno–4 starts less than six innings
  • Edgar Olmos–2 starts less than six innings.

Altogether that’s 55 starts that went less than six innings. Of these, 9 occurred in April, 9 were in May, 6 in June, 8 in July, 10 in August, and 8 in September.  In 150 games the Mariners allowed 669 runs.

As you can see, my hypothesis is shot all to hell. The 2014 team seemed to suffer more from EIMS than the 2015 team, despite being much better. One of my beliefs was that a lot of poor and brief April starts got the bullpen off to a bad start.  But the M’s had a much worse start in April, using the same criteria, in 2014.

So comparing just these two sets of numbers what can we learn about he M’s pitching?  Nothing factual.  Maybe the bullpen was so good in 2014, Lloyd was simply willing to go to them much more often, including earlier in games, resulting in fewer six inning starts. . And in 2015 the reverse is true–the bullpen is poison, stay away as long as possible.

However, it is not too difficult by simply looking at fairly basic numbers this group of starters is not as good as last year’s.  Of the entire rotation, only King Felix has an ERA+ higher than league average of 100.  He’s only at 107, much lower than 2014’s 168.  Remember the September 23, 2014 loss to the Blue Jays when Felix gave up 8 runs in two innings?  Felix has had three of those games this year, capped by the August 15th Fenway horror show when he gave up 10 runs in 2.1 innings. The only difference was that in 2015 so many teammates were willing to jump on board and contribute to the bonfire-final score 22-10.

In the bullpen, only Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith have above average ERA+. The season totals for everyone else are pretty bad.  Low ERA+, high WHIP, high ERA.

In any case, there doesn’t seem to be much causal relationship between the mediocre rotation and the lousy bullpen.  They both just suck.  Hopefully the new GM will have a lot better analytical tools than i do and will be much better about recognizing patterns than I am, and, most importantly, have a plan to solve the problem.

The Ichiro Watch

Editor’s Note: At no time did I suggest in my article the Mariners should go get Ichiro.  I was merely observing the Marlins expressed an interest in bringing him back. I know Mariners and Marlins both start with M.

Ichiro went 0-4 in Saturday’s 5-2 loss against the Nationals

ichiro went 0-4 in Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Nationals with three strikeouts.

Ichiro’s average is down to .237.

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