For the fifth time in 2013, Joe Saunders failed to record a quality start on the road, as the Mariners lost 5-4 to the Indians in Cleveland Saturday. Saunders went 5.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on 11 base hits while walking and striking out two. All things considered, it was probably Saunders’ best road start of the season. Still, he laid out a blueprint of how not to make a quality start with a few key things he did or did not do.
Don’t mess around with two outs
Too often during Saturday’s start, Saunders failed to close the book on the Indians after recording two outs. As a matter of fact, Ryan Divish pointed out on Twitter that Saunders has zero 1-2-3 innings in road starts this season. This inability not only costs the Mariners precious runs but also runs Saunders’ pitch count way up. Today proved no exception.
In the first inning, Saunders quickly retired Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis with just eight pitches. When Asdrubal Cabrera stepped in, Saunders gave up a base hit on his fourth pitch of the at-bat. This small crack in the armor proved lethal for Saunders, who threw seven balls to the next two hitters, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, walking Swisher and giving up an RBI single to Reynolds. All told, he threw 17 pitches with two outs in the first inning.
The second inning almost mirrored the first one, except that Saunders survived unscathed. He only needed seven pitches to retire Mike Aviles and Jan Gomes, but ran into trouble with Drew Stubbs and Bourn. Saunders walked Stubbs and Bourn singled. Kipnis ended the threat with a come-backer to the mound, but Saunders’ pitch count took another huge two-out hit. He threw 16 more pitches with two outs, running his count to 48 through two innings.
Saunders only threw two two-out pitches in the third, stranding a runner at second and throwing only 18 pitches. He threw ten pitches with two outs in the fourth, allowing a single to Bourn before retiring Kipnis. However, he ran into two-out trouble again in the fifth. Swisher basically hit a home run to left field, except that the wind knocked it down and Raul Ibanez made the catch. Cabrera, at first after a lead off single, was totally fooled and the Mariners doubled him off. Yet Saunders apparently learned nothing from Swisher, as he left another pitch out over the plate to Reynolds, who hit it in almost the same spot as Swisher, except this one carried out for a solo home run.
To notch a quality start on the road, Saunders cannot afford to mess around with two outs like he did today.
Don’t sacrifice an early edge in the count
Saunders threw a ton of first pitch strikes today, especially early on. Of the 29 batters he faced, Saunders threw them 20 first pitch strikes. That doesn’t even include at bats where Indians’ batters put the ball in play on the first pitch. Saunders took control of most of the hitters he faced right from the get go, which should foreseeably help him.
However, of those 20 first pitch strikes that didn’t end up in play, Saunders followed 13 of them up with second pitch balls. Saunders would frequently get ahead and immediately surrender his advantage with the next pitch. He needed to stay aggressive and make things happen to keep his pitch count down. Instead, he ended up with 120 pitches in a weak 5.1 inning start.
Don’t heavily rely on balls in play
In five road starts this year, Joe Saunders pitched 24 innings. He struck out seven batters in those appearances. Seven! In 24 innings! Sure, Saunders isn’t a strikeout pitcher, but that’s just horrendous. His inability to get batters out on his own hurts him significantly, as it did today. Saunders allowed 11 hits and recorded 14 outs on balls in play. That’s a horrendous BABIP against, but when you only strike out two batters of 29, that kind of stuff happens. Quality starts are built on commanding the strike zone and batters, and Saunders did neither with effectiveness in the loss.
The Mariners fell to the Indians 6-3 in 10 innings last night, as Jason Kipnis ripped a walk-off three-run blast off of Lucas Luetge. Seattle missed out on their first opportunity to reach the .500 mark since the second week of April, and fell to 20-22. This morning, the Mariners get underway at 10:05 PT, with Joe Saunders taking on Zach McAllister. Before they get
underway in Cleveland, here are some things to look out for.
Woeful road Joe
Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Saunders’ four starts on the road in 2013:
April 3, Oakland: 4 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 3 K
April 19, Texas: 4.2 IP, 7 ER, 9 H, 3 BB, 0 K
April 24, Houston: 5 IP, 8 ER, 11 H, 2 BB, 2 K
May 5, Toronto: 5 IP, 7 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 0 K
All four of these are horrid starts in their own special ways, and all four are Mariners’ losses by wide margins. The closest game of the bunch was the first one, a 6-2 loss to the A’s. Anything can happen in baseball, but starting Joe Saunders on the road this year has been akin to a forfeit for the Mariners. Part of that may be that he only has five strikeouts in 18.2 road innings this year. He’s relying on contact too much and paying the price. His 12.54 road ERA has to come down today for the Mariners to sniff success.
Saunders gets day off
Endy Chavez is leading off and playing centerfield today, a role Michael Saunders has occupied in every game since returning from the disabled list. Eric Wedge and my northwest.com’s Shannon Drayer played it off like a regular day off, but Saunders has been slumping lately. Three of his last four games resulted in 0-for-5 performances, and in those three games, he totaled seven strikeouts. That doesn’t equate to quality lead off hitting, and Saunders’ time in that slot could be limited if Chavez or Dustin Ackley can keep hitting.
Morse returns from eye trouble
The official word on Michael Morse’s eye irritation last night was that he poked himself in the eye some time leading up to Friday’s game and had issues with a dislodged contact and blurred vision for the rest of the night. The Mariners could have used his hot bat yesterday, as runs were few and far between. Hopefully the eye issue doesn’t derail Morse’s hot streak, during which he has racked up nine hits in his past four games.
Here’s the lineup for today:
- Chavez CF
- Ackley 2B
- Seager 3B
- Morales DH
- Morse RF
- Ibanez LF
- Smoak 1B
- Montero C
- Ryan SS
The Mariners won their third series in four Sunday, as they defeated the Oakland A’s 6-1 to the delight of mothers everywhere. The team improved to 18-20 behind 6.1 solid innings from Joe Saunders and home runs from Kendrys Morales and Jason Bay. Personally, it was the first game I’ve attended this year after getting home from college on Saturday. Here are a few things I observed from section 146, row 4.
“Safeco Joe” lives up to his nickname
Saunders continued his absurd splits trend by turning in another dominant home win to improve to 3-4 in 2013. He allowed just one run over 6.1 innings, striking out a season high six batters, including Brandon Moss three times. He struggled with control at times, walking three batters, but good defense from Brendan Ryan got him out of a big jam in the second inning. He improved to 9-0 in his Safeco Field career in 13 starts. Saunders will only start once on the next road trip, and I’m sure he’ll tank again.
Moved-in fences help M’s play long ball.
Morales set the tone for the Mariners with an important three-run big fly in the first inning and Bay carried one out to straight away center for an insurance run in the seventh. What did both homers have in common? Most likely, neither would have cleared the fences in 2012 Safeco. Both of them were well hit and well-deserved the runs they produced, but both went out to previously extremely difficult parts of the park to homer in. Morales hit his to right-center, and without his big time swing, Saunders may not have had the confidence to pitch boldly in his second-inning jam.
Andino and Ryan hit the ball hard a few times
Sure, starting Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino at the same time seems like a horrible idea. And it played out that way, as the two middle infielders combined to go 0-for-7 with a walk and two strikeouts. But in both of their first two at bats, Ryan and Andino hit the ball hard. Both flew out to deep center in the second inning. In the fifth, both men flew out again, with Ryan’s poke forcing Michael Taylor to make a sliding catch in left. With their averages dropping to .159 (Andino) and .122 (Ryan), Carlos Truinfel and Nick Franklin are looming in AAA as legit possibilities. Today, both Ryan and Andino were unlucky not to improve their averages somewhat.
Perez showed off A-plus stuff
The game was over when Oliver Perez took the hill in the ninth inning, but he sure pitched like he had a lot to prove. Perez struck out the side, victimizing Nate Freiman, Moss and Michael Taylor with a hard sinker and nasty slider. The Mariners bullpen has shined in 2013, and the late-inning combination of Perez, Carter Capps and Tom Wilhelmsen helps the Mariners hold slim leads with regularity.
The M’s are off Monday before heading to the Bronx for a three-game set with the American League East leading Yankees.
Allow me to expand on a theory I introduced in this space roughly a week ago in my post on three ways the Mariners could immediately improve. After the Mariners fell to the Blue Jays 10-2 Sunday in Toronto, they have now lost four Joe Saunders starts on the road in 2013. How many starts has Saunders made on the road? Four, of course.
As I theorized last Monday, the Mariners would be better served not starting Saunders away from Safeco Field. His home and away splits in 2013 are, in a word, terrifying.
Home: 3 starts, 2-0, 22.1 IP, 0.81 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 9 K’s
Away: 4 starts, 0-4, 18.2 IP, 12.54 ERA, 2.51 WHIP, 5 K’s
I mean what even needs to be said about those ugly numbers? The Mariners are essentially forfeiting the game when they send Joe Saunders out to any other mound than the one in Seattle. It may have been premature to call for my solution last week, but with two more starts under his belt (one home, one away) Joe Saunders has proved his near-Cy Young quality at home and AA ball pitcher status on the road.
As a result, the Mariners need to restructure their rotation so Saunders can maximize his home starts while making as few road starts as possible. Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan, while generally atrocious starters, cannot be as bad as Saunders on the road, and would give the Mariners a shot to win at least one out of every four games.
If you need a lefty to make a start, why not make Charlie Furbush or even Oliver Perez a starter again temporarily? It legitimately cannot get any worse than Saunders.
James Paxton is 2-2 with a 5.19 ERA in Tacoma this year, so he’s probably not ready for the bigs yet. That didn’t stop Jack Z with Brandon Maurer (too soon?). Even he could post an ERA in the 7.00 range on the road, probably.
Here’s how I figure it: the Mariners want to finish .500 or slightly better in 2013 to show progress from a 75-win 2012. To do that, they have to win half of the games their rotation starts.
The Mariners went 16-17 in games that Felix Hernandez started in 2012. Felix had some rough patches in May and especially September, but throw those out, and the M’s win well over fifty percent of his starts. If Felix puts together a Cy Young-caliber year, the Mariners will likely win 60 percent of his starts (so far, 4-3).
Hisashi Iwakuma doesn’t have a full season of starts with the Mariners to reference, but looking at the starts he made last year, the Mariners went 10-6. Iwakuma has improved in 2013, and the Mariners are 5-2 when he starts. If he continues his success, the Mariners could win 60 percent of his starts as well.
Say the Mariners win 40 percent of the games started by Brandon Maurer/Aaron Harang/whoever occupies those rotation spots for the rest of the year. That means they need a third starter who can win them half of the games he pitches.
“Safeco Joe” Saunders can do that at home. He’s 8-0 in his Safeco career (12 starts). If that trend continues, he should win 70-75 percent of his home starts. Unfortunately, that only accounts for 50 percent of the third starters schedule in theory, so the Mariners need another 15% or so from Saunders on the road.
At this stage, Saunders can’t even do that. He’s probably the most “suited for Safeco” pitcher ever to play there, but he simply cannot win games on the road. The Mariners would win more games by strategically adjusting their rotation to maximize Saunders’ home starts and prevent him from pitching on the road at all costs.
The Mariners most consistent and quality pitcher in 2013 has undoubtedly been Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma has pitched so well, many close observers forget that he has battled a nagging blister on the middle finger of his pitching since the Spring.
It appears that the blister may finally catch up to Iwakuma, as his scheduled Saturday start against the Blue Jays was moved back to Sunday, Eric Wedge announced before Monday’s win. Joe Saunders, who won his second game of 2013 yesterday in a complete game four-hitter,
So far in 2013, Iwakuma has posted a 1.67 ERA and a 2-1 record in six starts. He ranks fifth in the American League in ERA and third in batting average against (.160). He took a no decision in Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Angels, after throwing six innings without allowing an earned run.
“We didn’t want to push him one more inning and have it get it back to where it has been, even with the extra time,” Wedge told MLB.com’s Greg Johns. “He’s working hard to get over the hump with this thing.”
Saunders is 0-3 with a 12.51 ERA in three road starts for the Mariners this year. The Mariners have Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan in the bullpen to make spot starts in the future if need arises.
The Mariners just won their first series of the 2013 season to improve to a lackluster 11-16. They benefitted from three great starts from Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Brandon Maurer and some timely home runs from Mike Morse, Jason Bay and Jesus Montero. Still, this team is a far cry from contending in the AL West this year. Here are three moves the Mariners can make to improve the team immediately.
1. Reinstate OF Michael Saunders from the 15-day disabled list, option OF Carlos Peguero to Tacoma
This one’s a no-brainer and might actually happen later today. Saunders started the season hot, hitting consistently and stealing bases, before running into the fence while chasing a fly ball and injuring his shoulder. The Mariners missed his consistent production, going 7-10 in his absence. The outfield combination of Bay, an injured Morse, Endy Chavez and Raul Ibanez hampered the Mariners over the past few weeks.
Peguero went 2-for-6 with a home run since coming up for Franklin Gutierrez on Tuesday. His home run measured 451 feet, the third-longest jack in Safeco Field history. He hit it basically off of his shoestrings, too. Maybe he has a future in professional golf. For now, he’s the most expendable Mariner and can be optioned to Tacoma without consequence.
2. Promote 2B Nick Franklin from Tacoma, designate UT Robert Andino for assignment
The Mariners won’t make this move, but as far as immediate improvements go, Franklin would be a better complement to Brendan Ryan in a shortstop platoon than Andino. Andino has proved to be a non-factor in all facets so far, with a sub-.200 batting average and inconsistent defense. Just yesterday, Andino nearly handed Hisashi Iwakuma a loss with a horrible error that scored the Angels only run. Ryan can’t hit a lick, but neither can Andino, and Brendan’s Gold Glove-caliber defense should earn him the starting job.
Franklin isn’t on the 40-man roster, but Andino’s DFA would remedy that issue. He’s hitting .382 with three home runs and 13 RBI. He’s also stolen four bases. Running Franklin as a platoon spell for Ryan and Dustin Ackley in the middle infield would improve the Mariners offense significantly. However, even though the move would improve the team, the Mariners should (and will) wait to promote Franklin, so as to not start his arbitration clock early and to maximize his reps in AAA.
3. Move to a six-man rotation where Joe Saunders only starts at Safeco Field
This one comes out of left field, and might not make a whole lot of sense on the surface. But look at Saunders’ numbers at home as opposed to on the road this year.
Home: 2 starts, 13.1 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 strikeouts, .90 WHIP
Away: 3 starts, 13.2 IP, 0-3, 12.51 ERA, 5 strikeouts, 2.63 WHIP
That’s absurd! Joe Saunders is an elite pitcher at Safeco Field in 2013 and a double-A pitcher on the road. Sure, small sample size, but if Saunders rolls past the Orioles tonight, this will make more sense.
Hector Noesi has pitched well out of the bullpen recently. Give him the starts. Or give them to Blake Beavan. Both guys need career salvaging after horrible stints in the Mariners’ rotation. Saunders’ road starts are essentially throwaways at this point. Might as well try and win now.
Hidden underneath the Felix Hernandez hullabaloo, one might not have noticed that the Mariners signed lefty Joe Saunders to a one-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $6M, possibly with an option for 2014. Without knowing the specifics of the contract, this is still a deal I was hoping the M’s would make.
Back in November, I wrote about the importance of improving the current staff before the Big Three are ready. I was hoping for a number 2 starter to bump everyone down a slot in the rotation, and then the team went in the opposite direction, trading away Jason Vargas. That left us here:
5) Noesi? Furbush? Hultzen?
Counting on any more than zero WAR from Noesi, et. al. would have been somewhat optimistic, considering Noesi lit up the leaderboards for -0.7 fWAR last season, Furbush hasn’t started in more than a year, and Hultzen gave up a walk rate of 14% in the high minors last season. The addition of Saunders to the rotation adds an expected 2-ish wins for the M’s this season because he is effectively replacing a steaming pile of manure—from a baseball perspective, anyway.
Getting to know Saunders a little better basically requires that you remember that guy mentioned up there named Vargas. Check out the similarities over the last three seasons:
Saunders throws a little harder, though neither throws fireballs, and he gives up fewer fly balls. Vargas had a slightly better K/BB ratio, and edged Saunders in ERA and park-adjusted xFIP. In the end, both contributed equal amounts of WAR to his team. But we have to remember that Vargas was playing in a ballpark practically built for him. While WAR does account for ballparks to a certain extent, it’s not tailored to adjust for individual players. Vargas had a special relationship with SafeCo that should have made his wife jealous. Even if we account for moving in the fences, Saunders can probably still expect to get extra value out of the marine air, solid outfield defense, and whatever other voodoo is at work in SafeCo.
And hey, if the salary reports are true, Saunders will cost less than Vargas this season. So it’s kind of like we got a cost-controlled Kendrys Morales, along with a cheaper Jason Vargas, for Jason Vargas. If you can’t tell, I really like this signing.
In light of the recent Morales for Vargas trade, I thought I would talk about the last move or two that I think the Mariners should, and possibly will make to make for a successful offseason.
First of all, I love the Kendrys Morales/Jason Vargas trade that went down a couple days ago. We traded from a position of depth in order to acquire a much needed middle-of-the-order bat that the team has lacked for years. Morales hit 34 homers just a few years ago, and had a very solid year last year coming back from what could have been a very serious injury.
The only “problem” that could come of this is playing time at the first base and DH positions. However, I think that can be very easily solved. Against LHP, Jesus Montero would catch, Morales would DH, and Justin Smoak would man first. Against righties, John Jaso would do the catching, with Montero as the DH, and Morales at first. Then once Mike Zunino is ready, whoever is hitting stays around. If Smoak bombs again, then he is gone and the Ms try to re-up Morales. If Smoak plays well, then Morales can be let go, and net us a pick in the process.
In my opinion, Seattle can’t stop here. Don’t get me wrong, Morales is a very good hitter and is a very big upgrade. But he cannot turn the team around on his own. The Ms need to continue to add on, and improve even further.
Two moves I think the Ms should make in order to have a successful offseason are as follows:
- Acquire an outfield bat
- A veteran starter or two to shore up the rotation
Those two moves would definitely make for a solid offseason, and if executed correctly, could get the Mariners to 85 wins. The lineup still lacks a bat in my opinion, and there’s no guarantee that Morales will return next year. Another bat that can be slotted in the middle with Morales and Montero makes a ton of sense.
As for the pitcher, I am not comfortable having both Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi in the rotation next year, which is how it looks right now. The team needs a guy that can be counted on to eat some innings and be at least a solid #3 or 4 guy, at least until the young guys are ready.
Some of the candidates for an outfield bat are Michael Morse, Jason Kubel, Andre Ethier and Nick Swisher. As far as pitchers, some names I like are Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Erik Bedard and Chris Capuano.
Unfortunately, all of the bats have a fairly large down side, and none seem to be a great fit.
Morse is a solid right handed bat and is probably the most likely due to the possibility of him not having a spot if Washington signs Adam LaRoche as expected. However, he probably belongs at 1st base as he is a butcher in the outfield. Plus, he is also only on a one year deal, and there would be a chance that both he and Morales would be one year rentals.
If he were to be acquired, I would want to be 100% sure that at least one of he and Morales would agree to a 3 year deal, so we are not in the same situation again. I would hate to give up Vargas and whatever it would take for Morse (looks like a reliever such as Charlie Furbush or Stephen Pryor headlining) for only one year of each player.
That being said, if the team thinks he can be passable in the outfield, and can be sure to retain him or Morales, then I would be willing to give up a reliever for him every day of the week.
Kubel is in a similar, yet different situation. He too struggles defensively, but not quite to the extent of Morse. He is also signed for two years at $6 million a year, so there is a little more guarantee in that department. However, he is no where near the hitter than Morse is. He is above average, but not by a huge amount. He was aided by Chase Field, and struggles against lefties as well.
He is probably my least favorite option, but he may still cost more than the others. I am not really sure what the Diamondbacks are looking for at this point other than infield help, something the Ms do not possess, at least not when Kubel is the return.
Ethier is a very interesting guy, and is my favorite option, and simultaneously my least favorite option. He is my favorite because he is probably the best hitter of the guys I named, and is signed long term. But at the same time, he is lost against left handed pitching, below average defensively, and is owed $85 million over 5 years. He is essentially a massively overpayed platoon player.
The only way I would want him is of the Dodgers would eat $20-25 million of his contract. He is not worth $17 million a year, but he may be worth $12-13 million a year. I am not sure what the Dodgers would want, but it would probably be too much.
I may be alone in this, in fact I am not even sure I really believe it, but I think I would trade Nick Franklin for Ethier, Capuano and $20 million, as that would fill both of the team’s needs. I am bigger on Brad Miller than I am Franklin, and I think Franklin may have to move off of short anyway, thus taking away a spot for him.
It would also allow us to keep all of our young pitching to build a very strong rotation, possibly with some left over to acquire future needs. But as you can tell, I am very conflicted on Ethier, and am not sure what to think of him right now.
Lastly, there is free agent Nick Swisher. Some people have given up on Swisher as he did not meet with the Mariners, causing people to jump to the conclusion that he won’t play here. But Jack Z said in an interview that he has an offer on the table, which I believe is to Swisher. It would also fit with the report that two teams have offered Swisher a contract.
Unfortunately, Swisher isn’t perfect either. He is the oldest of the targets I named, and as Matty pointed out, he may not be as breakdown-proof as many of us want to believe. Guys tend to struggle when they reach their mid 30s, which is where Swisher will be in just a couple years.
He would also cause us to lose the 12th pick in next years draft, which is a scary thought in what looks to be a very good draft. I am not sure anymore than Swisher is worth $13-14 million a year and a top draft pick. He would fit nicely in the middle with Montero and Morales, and would fill the whole in right field with another switch hitter.
As you can see, all of these guys have their downsides, and there really isn’t a perfect fit like Morales was. Jack may have to get creative and take a chance here, but I think it has to be done.
I will try to be a little more brief with the pitchers, as I am already well over 1000 words, as I seem to be too often.
Shaun Marcum is the best pitcher out of the bunch, but he may also be the most expensive, and could very well command the most money, possibly for multiple years. I think a one year deal is ideal here, but Marcum may get 2-3 years. If he would come here for 1 year and $8 million or so (which he could do to regain some value and try again next year) then I think the Ms should jump all over it. He is basically a right handed, better version of Vargas, and would fit in nicely to the spot that Jason left.
Joe Saunders is in a similar situation to Marcum. He had a solid year last year, and while he hasn’t been talked about a lot, could end up getting 2 or 3 years, which doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Ms. Like Marcum though, if he could come in for one or two years at $5 million or so, then he could be a solid signing to try to improve the rotation until the kids are ready.
Erik Bedard back for another go around? It makes some sense if the team prefers the cheap route, and want a guy to battle with Beavan and Noesi for the back end rather than fit in behind Felix. He struggled last year, but when he was healthy as a Mariner, he was very effective, and could bounce back enough to hold down the fort until Danny Hultzen can join the rotation, hopefully during the coming year.
Last there is Chris Capuano, who I mentioned before. He would have to come through a trade, but the Ms were already linked to him yesterday, as the Dodgers have an excess of starting pitching now. He is under contract for 2 years at $4.8 million a year, which is very reasonable for someone who can do what he can. He would fit in very well between Felix and Iwakuma as an inning eating vet lefty. Very similar to Vargas, but better and cheaper.
Once again I am not sure what the Dodgers want, but if he can be had for a mid level prospect or reliever or something along those lines, I think he makes a ton of sense.
In conclusion, the Mariners can’t end here. Jack needs to go out and make a couple more moves to solidify this team. As you can see, there are no perfect solutions, so its up to Jack to assess all of his options, and see what makes the most sense for this team. I think its very realistic that both of these things can be done, and the Mariners have the money to do it. There is no reason to stop here. The Morales move is the kind that you build on.
If both of these things happen, I would give Jack an A for the offseason as the Mariners head into a very important and telling year. I know it is hard to wait, but we need to be patient and hope for the best. That is coming from the guy who is constantly searching for more news and rumors, and has a few different MLB video game franchises going, each with different options that the Ms have.
Hey GMZ, hurry up. I am going nuts. The Morales trade held me over for a while, but I am losing control.