Seattle Mariners 50 Game Check-in Starring: The Back End of the Starting Rotation


The Mariners have played 50 games of the 2014 season. We have seen some players fall well short of expected production (read: Brad Miller) yet we have also seen players exceed expectations and step into larger roles (read: Michael Saunders). We have seen players perched oddly in the middle of the disappointment-to-pleasant-surprise spectrum (Read: Robinson Cano). The middle of most visible light spectrums is greenish. Robinson Cano is green. Ish.

That being said, if you had asked me prior to this season’s beginning where the Mariners would be after 50 games, I would likely have given a far more modest projection than where they presently sit in this reality.

In an alternate reality, the Mariners could be much, much worse. Their pitching staff could easily have crumbled under the weight of a combined lack of depth coupled with a reasonable dose of the league-wide “all young pitchers must die” epidemic. Thankfully this alternate universe exists parallel to ours and does not cross it. In this parallel universe, I don’t even like the Mariners, but am rather an exquisite Russian Ballerina with skills that marvel fans yet private reservations regarding my unique but voracious sexual appetites.

We do not live in that universe, as my browser history suggests. We live instead in a universe where the Mariners have neither a losing record, nor a winning one. The Mariners, according to record, are neither bad nor are they good. We are decidedly average. Yet, I can’t help but translate this averageness to optimism. After all, the M’s are undermanned- having only had Hisashi Iwakuma for a month and having both James Paxton and Taijuan Walker on the injury block as well. When people argue that the Mariners are doomed towards negative regression, it is those 2 names I bring up as bullet points subsumed under my list of arguments for the rebuttal.

Think about Brandon Maurer, Roenis Elias and Chris Young for a bit. These are the 3 guys who round out the Mariners’ starting rotation following the one-two punch of Felix and Iwakuma. None of these guys were expected to be contributors at the beginning of the season. All of them have had to fulfill important roles for this team. This team has not tanked completely. That alone provides a space for positivity.

Let us start with Brandon Maurer. Maurer has been the one pitcher of the aforementioned 3 to come out every 5 days and basically suck every time. His ERA is presently above 6 and, despite having what appears to be excellent and projectable stuff, he has yet to show an ability to locate his pitches and has done a bad job of limiting damage once things begin to unravel. This has been documented in the past. Maurer, in a fashion similar to other young pitchers with throbbing libidos and a taste for Taco Bell, lacks the wisdom of age.

This is OK. We all didn’t expect Maurer to be a contributor this year and if things went according to plan, he wouldn’t be. Unfortunately, things seldom do go according to plan where Major League pitchers are concerned. The number of injuries to pitchers this year has been record-setting, and the Mariners are just one of several teams to have suffered through this irksome trend. The reality is that Brandon Maurer was a stop-gap measure who is merely holding a spot for James Paxton’s return. If Paxton is anything remotely akin to what he was before he went down to injury earlier this year, this is a huge upgrade and therefore instance 1 of the Mariners having reason to expect positive regression.

Next up: Roenis Elias.

Elias was a no-name left more or less completely off any of the prospect lists headed into the 2014 season. A defector from Cuba having never pitched at a level higher than AA, Elias went into the season requiring major mechanical tweaks. He had previously thrown from about 30 arm angles. When asked why he was pitching like an idiot, his response was “I’m from Cuba.” Needless to say, this does not fit the profile of a guy from whom one could expect big things.

Until we all actually saw him pitch.

Elias has the look of a pitcher whose ceiling is even higher than what we have seen thus far. He does not fit the traditional profile of a lefty throwing junk and trying to fool everybody. Rather, he comes at guys with strikeout stuff—a great lefty fastball that he throws anywhere from 92-94 MPH and a big curve that generates plenty of whiffs and standing strikes as well. Watching him drop down from the left side to get Brett Gardner looking was one of the better pitches I have seen executed in awhile. Observe.

Roenis Elias is here to stay. Taijuan and Paxton are returning, but I do not see either of them unseating Elias. While Chris Young has performed well—Elias has the kind of stuff as a young pitcher that makes you salivate. A rotation of Felix-Kuma-Paxton-Walker-Elias would be one of the better staffs in baseball.

When you add Chris Young to the mix, that’s just gravy. But not just any gravy! This is gravy that is only gravy until it becomes necessary, congealing into meat in a matter of moments out of the saucer of long-relief, if any such gravy exists.

Back to normalcy! Let’s look at the final third of our injured starting pitcher replacement roundup: Chris “Unique Gravy” Young.

Watching Chris Young pitch is hilarious. If you ever get the chance, I suggest you seize it. Young has some of the most “whatever” looking stuff I have seen from a Major League starting pitcher. He goes up there and throws 84 MPH fastballs up in the zone that get crushed for warning track flies. It kind of makes you cringe sometimes, but in a good way. Sort of like the face that precedes male orgasm.

Young was a former all-star pitching in the spacious confines of San Diego’s Petco Park and has quickly seized upon the opportunity to pitch in Safeco’s delightfully offense-suppressing marine-layer. When Young is on, he is pitching up and down in the zone, inducing weak contact and suppressing runs-scored by simply making people hit the ball a wee-bit less hard than usual.

To provide some context- FIP is a stat used to measure expected runs allowed by a pitcher, taking into account only such events that are obviously in the pitcher’s control. For this reason, it emphasizes whiffs, strikeouts and walks. The flaw of the stat is revealed only when pitchers are good at controlling and limiting effective, strong contact without generating whiffs and strikeouts.  

Young appears to be one such outlier. His xFIP sits at a hilariously shitty 5.85 and yet his ERA is at a sparkling 3.30.

Since FIP is the statistic used to calculate fWAR (the most common stat used to measure a pitcher’s value in terms of wins), his fWAR is -.01. Yet we, having watched Young go out and limit teams to 2 or 3 runs over and over know his value to exceed that.

He is a player whose unique skills are so unconventional that they break the statistical system used to quantify them. “Chris Young is meta as fuck” your little sister might say, assuming she exists, reads at around a 7th grade level and has Pinterest as her MacBook Pro’s homepage. That being said, it is fascinating as a baseball fan to watch expectations unravel in the face of a unique set of skills. While not a particularly sexy player, (think Bob Saget on stilts) Chris Young has been a remarkably interesting player insofar as he breaks the mold of any I have seen before. While I would recommend moving Chris Young to long relief when Taijuan Walker is ready to play, I have no problem with him as our 5th starter.

The Mariners are average. The faces of this team are not the faces we expected when the year began. The names accompanying those faces have similarly changed. Rejoice in this fact because the Mariners have hung in there in the face of diversity—and help is on the way.

Now if only that Brad Miller guy could figure his shit out…

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