The Keys to Winning at Safeco Field: Run Prevention

1. David Price, 2. Zach Greinke, 3. Johnny Cueto

There’s lots of shoulder shrugging out there in Marinerland. The GM is hired.  Scott Servais is in the fold.  Staffs are being filled out and re-shuffled on the field and in the front office. But Mariners fans really want to know how the new regime will take a 2016 team, one that failed so miserably in 2015, after being so close in 2014, and get it to the Promised Land-the playoffs.

4. John Lackey, 5. J.A. Happ, 6. Jordan Zimmerman

I’m sure Jerry DiPoto has already discussed philosophy and strategy with his new colleagues going forward.  My guess is there is already a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C in place.  Most teams have these, though Jack Zdurencik always had a plan largely grounded in sunshine, lollipops, the odd unicorn and fairy godmothers.  DiPoto and manager Scott Servais made comments about winning at Safeco, and to do that, it seems to me the Mariners have to focus more resources on pitching and defense-run prevention.

7. Wei-Yin Chin, 8.  Jeff Samardzija, 9. Colby Lewis

Last year, the Mariners pitching staff was bad.  We’re not used to saying it or hearing it, but Mariners pitching was in the bottom third in the big leagues. Especially coming off an exceptional 2014, that was disconcerting. But just to illustrate how lousy the 2015 team was compared to 2014, let’s have a quick look.

Stat                                          2014                                   2015

Runs Allowed                           554 (1st)                            726 (20th)

ERA                                         3.17 (1st)                            4.16 (22nd)

WHIP                                       1.17 (tied 3rd)                     1.31 (tied 16th)

BABIP                                      .275 (2nd)                           .298 (tied 12th highest)

xFIP                                          3.57 (tied 5th lowest)          .399 (tied 13th lowest)

BLSV/SO/SV%                         12/63/80.95% (3rd)             24/69/65.22% (22nd)

10. Bartolo Colon, 11. Yovani Gallardo, 12. Scott Kazmir

In 2014 the Seattle Mariners were within one game of the playoffs, in 2015 the were ten games out of the second wild card, and 12 games behind the division leading Rangers. As the M’s begin counting their chips and determine how to allot them in the offseason through trades, free agent signings and waiver acquisitions, a blind man could see the pitching has to improve IF they truly plan to compete for the playoffs with this current core of players.

13. Mark Buehrle, 14. Mike Pelfrey, 15. Marco Estrada

The trios of names appearing are lists of free agent starting pitchers available.  Beginning with David Price, the highest rated pitcher on the market rated by WAR.  The lists follow down to number 20.  Assuming the M’s start with the following guys on their roster-Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias-in order to compete the M’s likely need two guys off this list if they want to upgrade their rotation to be competitive for a pennant race in 2016.

16. Hisashi Iwakuma, 17. Brett Anderson, 18.  Mike Leake, 19.  Mat Latos, 20. Rich Hill

Re-signing Iwakuma is a no brainer.  It just depends how much the M’s are willing to dip into their pile of available cash to sign another guy. We’ve seen in 2014 and 2015 there will be injuries on pitching staffs.  The key is being prepared to deal with them.  Iwakuma and Paxton both spent time on the DL in 2014 and 2015.  Walker was also injured in 2014.  Answering the call with Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and Edgar didn’t cut it.  If the M’s want to win, they’ll have to spend the money–because certainly good pitchers, left-  and right-handed are available. It will unquestionable cost money, and buckets of it–but that’s baseball.  Unfortunately, for the best of the pitchers, they’ll also likely carry a qualifying offer as well–so signing them will cost the M’s their first round draft pick.  For a team whose farm system needs a reboot, that’s a lot to ask.

  1. Darren O’Day, 2. Mark Lowe, 3. Shawn Kelley, 4. Ryan Madson, 5. Brad Ziegler, 6. Chad Qualls, 7. Matt Albers, 8. Burke Badenhoop, 9. Carlos Villanueva, 10. Blaine Boyer, 11. Tyler Clippard, 12. Matt Belisle.

But firming up the starting rotation is not going to be enough.  The Mariners will have to improve their bullpen, which went from one of the very best to one of the very worst. I don’t think the slash stats demonstrate how terrible they were, allowing the most walk-off hits in the major leagues. Who the Mariners would actually keep in their coven of arsonists is hard to predict, but the most likely suspects are Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, Vidal Nuno and Charlie Furbush. Rebuilding the bullpen is a matter of the highest priority.  Those above, are the highest ranked right handed relievers available.

  1. Tony Sipp, 2. Antonio Bastardo, 3. Oliver Perez, 4. Manny Para, 5. Matt Thornton, 6. J.P. Howell

These are the top six lefties available.  The M’s have a pile of young gas-can wielding southpaws-Rob Rasmussen, David Rollins, Tyler Olsen-gives me the willies. Again, the players are out there to bolster the pen if the Mariners make them a priority.

Having an improved pitching staff is the most obvious front line in run prevention.  But team defense is also an important part of the conversation.  How bad was the Mariners defense?  They ranked 28th in defensive runs saves with -43.7. Outfield defense is very problematic for the Mariners.  This gives you an idea of the Mariners outfield defense. Of the returning players, only Seth Smith has a positive UZR rating. The rest are all bad, some really bad. Some can be attributed to Sean O’Malley and Brad Miller playing a new position, especially center field. But it’s clear the M’s must upgrade their outfield defense if they hope to support the work of their pitching staff AND take advantage of spacious Safeco Field.

There are certainly players available who are great outfielders and good offensive players too. Yoenis Cespedes and Jason Heyward are ranked 1 and 2 respectively among available free agents, and both can play center field.  But the M’s will likely have to choose between superior pitching or a high priced offensive player.  I look for them to pick up a strong center fielder, and letting Miller and O’Malley duke it out for a corner outfield spot–or perhaps picking up a young player in a trade without a clear path to a starting job.  But I don’t look for a star to shine in Safeco Field’s center field.

I know there are those who believe the road to winning is to pick up Chris Davis, Cespedes and call it good. That’s the same ol’, same ol’. It won’t win at Safeco. A team can’t simply hope to bludgeon its opponents to death.  We are in an age of pitching dominance, and the Mariners have to catch that wave. The Royals have demonstrated it’s possible to win without hitting tons of home runs on a team with good starting pitching, a brilliant bullpen and superb defense. The Mariners and their fans would do well to consider these factors as the season moves to a conclusion and the beginning of the Hot Stove League.

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