Scouting the 2004 Mariners: The Starting Pitchers

Five familiar faces will in all likelihood comprise the Seattle Mariners' starting rotation in 2004, as each member of last year's squad is due to return. Only an unlikely trade would change that now. So who's going to be the M's top pitcher this season? How will each guy do?'s newest writer, Ian Levin, uses his statistical analysis to forecast the unit that figures to be one of the M's main strengths in 2004.

The Mariners will provide an exciting mix of youth and veteran players in 2004. The team is balanced in all areas with very few weaknesses. Barring a slew of injuries, they figure to compete for the AL West title and potentially the World Series.

In part one of a four-part series that will break down the 2004 Mariners into starting pitchers, relief pitchers, infielders and outfielders, we'll take a look at the starting rotation using various statistical tools including "Defense Independent Pitching Stats" ("DIPS"). Created by Voros McCracken, DIPS uses many equations to remove the effect of defense, league, and the park. Roughly translated, the DIPS ERA is the ERA for the pitcher given an average league and park.

Jamie Moyer (2003: 21-7, 215 IP, 129 K, 66 BB, 19 HR, 3.27 ERA)
One of the most enjoyable things one could do is watch Jamie Moyer dominate a baseball game. While most dominant pitchers are throwing 90+ MPH fastballs, Moyer tops out in the 81-84 MPH range. His outstanding command and ability to change speeds enable him to keep hitters off balance. Even more amazing than his array of pitches is his age. At 41 years old, Moyer's outstanding work ethic and preparation allow him to stay at the top of his game.

Moyer's ERA has dropped each year since 2000. However, there are some signs that he is beginning to slow down. His walks per 9 innings pitched (BB/9) rose from an average of 1.9 in 2001-2002 to 2.75 in 2003. For the past 3 seasons, his DIPS ERA has been much lower than his actual ERA. In 2003, he posted a 4.19 DIPS ERA compared to his 3.27 actual ERA. As a fly-ball pitcher, the outstanding outfield defense was the primary cause for the disparity. With the loss of Mike Cameron, the defense is sure to take a hit and Moyer's numbers should as well.

Given that Moyer's ability is at a stand-still or perhaps slowly declining, and that the defense figures to take a hit in the outfield, we should expect slightly worse numbers overall from the veteran southpaw. However, Moyer is far from done. His work ethic and conditioning will allow him to remain a top-notch starter in 2004 and beyond.

Projected 2004 line: 18-11, 205 IP, 120 K, 65 BB, 22 HR, 3.75 ERA

Joel Pineiro (16-11, 211.2 IP, 151 K, 76 BB, 19 HR, 3.78 ERA)
The 2003 season was a very important year for Pineiro. It was the first time he began a season in the starting rotation and he didn't disappoint. He displayed his ability to settle down when things didn't go his way. Throughout the year, Pineiro struggled in the first inning only to dominate the rest of the game. Pineiro throws a mix of fastballs, changeups, sliders, and curves in an unpredictable pattern, keeping the hitter off balance.

On the surface, it would appear that Pineiro took a slight step back in 2003 when in actuality, he improved. In 2002, Pineiro posted a 4.45 DIPS ERA compared to a 3.24 actual ERA, showing that he benefited greatly from his defense and was very lucky. In 2003, that gap decreased dramatically to a 4.04 DIPS ERA and a 3.78 actual ERA. Pineiro's improved DIPS ERA in 2003 shows that his ability increased even though his actual ERA decreased. Pineiro also improved in almost every basic statistical category including HR allowed, K/9, and OPS against. The only area in which he took a hit was BB/9; 2.5 in 2002 to 3.2 in 2003.

Pineiro has shown that he has what it takes to be a top-flight starter for many years to come. If he can correct the first-inning issues and continue to improve his strikeout and homerun rate, 2004 could be Pineiro's best season yet. He is poised for a breakout season and can quickly show that he is more than worth his recently signed 3-year, $14.5 million contract.

Projected 2004 line: 22-8, 220 IP, 170 K, 70 BB, 17 HR, 3.05 ERA

Freddy Garcia (12-14, 201.1 IP, 144 K, 71 BB, 31 HR, 4.52 ERA)
Nothing was more frustrating in 2003 than watching Garcia pitch in April, May, July, and August, and nothing was more confusing to watch than Garcia pitch in June and September. How could a player with such skill throw so badly sometimes and so perfectly others? Garcia has never had a problem with his stuff - a mid-90s fastball, a curve, slider, and a change. The problem has been in his head. Which Garcia we shall see in 2004 will ultimately depend on him.

The good and the bad in 2003 were like night and day. In the good months, Garcia struck out 6.98 per 9 while walking just 2.5. In the bad months, he lost nearly one K/gm and added one BB/gm (6.10 and 3.60 respectively.) Overall, Garcia allowed an alarmingly high number of HR. His 31 HR allowed is just one less than his combined total for 2001 and 2002 (16 per year) and his SLG and OPS against were both the worst he has posted in his career.

All signs point to Garcia correcting his problems and improving on his 2003 numbers. The eardrum problems he experienced in 2003 have been corrected, he can learn from his past difficulties, and he is pitching for his 2005 contract. It is likely that 2004 is Garcia's last in a Mariner uniform as he is a free agent following the season.

Projected 2004 line: 16-12, 210 IP, 155 K, 75 BB, 27 HR, 3.80 ERA

Gil Meche (15-13, 186.1 IP, 130 K, 63 BB, 30 HR, 4.59 ERA)
Considering what Meche has gone through, 2003 was simply amazing. Prior to 2003, he had not thrown a major league pitch since 2000. He suffered through numerous shoulder injuries and surgeries. Last season was supposed to be just a year to stay healthy, but he somehow managed to go well-beyond the expectation level that was placed on him. Many believed he would not even make it back to the majors, but he came back and was as good as ever.

Even after the arm troubles, Meche still possesses a mid-90s fastball, a nasty curve, a slider, and a change. His "electric" stuff combined with his improving command can mean big things for Meche in the future.

Overall, Meche's numbers were not spectacular, but when broken down we are able to see what Meche is truly made up of. He posted the best K/9 and BB/9 rates of his short career, 6.28 and 3.04 respectively. His first half ERA was 3.61, and his overall DIPS ERA was 4.79. He averaged 6.1 IP per start in the first half. Throughout the year he failed to crack under pressure, including two starts in Yankee stadium and a face-off with Greg Maddux. He can use some work on his HR rate, but it is nothing to be concerned about yet.

Having proven in 2003 that he's able to stay healthy for an entire season, he must now improve his endurance. He often faded late in games at the tail end of the 2003 season. With the injury-free year under his belt, the endurance issues should be corrected next. In 2004 we should see more consistent pitching and more outstanding performances. If his health and endurance stay where they should be, his showing in the first half of 2003 will be the worst numbers Meche will put up in a full season; and that's not bad at all.

Projected 2004 line: 16-10, 205 IP, 170 K, 70 BB, 24 HR, 3.65 ERA

Ryan Franklin (11-13, 212 IP, 99 K, 61 BB, 34 HR, 3.57 ERA)
Some pitchers throw two pitches well, others three, and on the rarest of occasions a pitcher will have command of four pitches. Franklin commands five pitches and he's still looking to add more. He uses primarily a fastball, curve, slider, change, and splitter. As the season progressed last year, he began mixing in some sinkers and cutters. He has the ability to throw all of these pitches for strikes while constantly changing speeds, and is very aggressive and goes for the first pitch strike. Since he is not overpowering, if a hitter can guess what is coming, Franklin becomes susceptible to the longball.

Franklin became a fixture in the Seattle rotation in the second half of 2002. Since then, however, his ERA has dropped every half season: 4.38, 3.75, 3.34. In order to be effective, Franklin must get ahead in the count. Hitters bat .219 with a .580 OPS against him following a first-pitch strike. If the first pitch is a ball, hitters bat .271 with a .814 OPS against. The need to get ahead in the count causes him some problems when a hitter swings at the first pitch. It will often be the most hittable pitch for the hitter and the stats show it. Franklin allowed a .311 AVG and .988 OPS against with 13 HR in this situation. Franklin is the anti-Freddy Garcia. In his 32 starts in 2003, he failed to go at least 6 innings just 4 times, and failed to go at least 5 innings only twice.

As an extreme fly-ball pitcher, Franklin relies heavily on his outfield defense. In 2003 the Mariners had one of the best. The slight defensive downgrade should hurt Franklin in 2004. However, as he gains more pitches and more experience he could counter that and post similar numbers to 2003. He'll continue to take the ball every fifth day and give the team at least six solid innings, time and time again. Every team needs a Ryan Franklin.

Projected 2004 line: 14-11, 210 IP, 105 K, 65 BB, 30 HR, 3.75 ERA

The M's rotation in 2003 was the first five-man rotation to start every game of the season since the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966. It could happen again in 2004, although it is unlikely. Still, the rotation is as strong from top to bottom as any in baseball. In 2004 it will be one of the main strengths on a very balanced Mariners team.

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