SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: How does the Mariners’ rotation compare to rest of division?

Jan 15, 2022, 9:19 AM
Mariners Robbie Ray...
Toronto Blue Jays' Robbie Ray delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox on June 13. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
(AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Last week we took a look at how the Mariners’ heart of the order compared with those of the rest of the division with the consensus being while there is potential with the quality of at-bats in the length of lineup, they currently are missing the thump in the middle most of the division rivals have.

Drayer: How does heart of Mariners’ order stack up with rest of AL West?

Today, a look at the rotations.

If the season were to begin today, how do the Mariners stack up against the rest of the division’s starting rotations as projected by Fangraphs?

Seattle Mariners

Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert, Justin Dunn

One of the bigger disappointments of the 2021 season was that the Mariners were rarely able to lean on their starting rotation, something they thought they would be able to do, particularly early.

They went so far as to go with a six-man rotation, which may or may not have benefited them, but the intention was to give the group a boost. Early injuries and individual struggles dashed those hopes, but what the Mariners were able to come away from the 2021 season with was answers.

There was a clearing of the slate, so to speak. Yusei Kikuchi’s options were not picked up, Dunn and Justin Sheffield will not be given a spot in rotation to figure things out at the big league level.

Of course, there were substantial positives with Logan Gilbert able to get his first big league experience, Chris Flexen, who they video scouted in the KBO the previous year, being even better off paper and video than expected, and Marco Gonzales overcoming early struggles and injury to finish with a 2.70 ERA in his final 14 starts. All good. Add to that the signing of Ray, the 2021 Cy Young Award winner, it’s not a bad starting place for 2022.

In Ray, a strikeout pitcher the rotation sorely needed, the Mariners should also have what I call a true “Win Day” starter. Tough to quantify, but you see the impact they have on their teams. This is the starter that gives teammates and coaches the feeling that they are going to win as they drive into the park. There seems to be a little something extra for the entire team on those days. Think Felix Day. If Ray is even close to what he was last year, the Mariners should have one of those guys.

As for the rest, there could be a few question marks with Flexen coming off a breakout year, Gonzales enduring a month-long struggle before injury and then a bumpy comeback before settling down and Gilbert still very young in his career. All things to keep an eye open for, but all three are starting from good spots with Flexen finishing top 20 in the AL in innings, ERA, FIP and xFIP, Gonzales bouncing back with a strong second half and Gilbert more than surviving in his first big league experience.

The Mariners’ depth in 2022 will be very different than it was in 2021. Assuming another arm is added, if the need arises early, Dunn or Justus Sheffield could be given another opportunity. Then the door opens for the youngsters: Matt Brash, George Kirby, Brandon Williamson, Emerson Hancock. Any or all could make their debuts in 2021, but how they are used could be one heck of a puzzle as none of the four threw more than 100 innings last season. When comparing this young depth to that of other clubs, keep in mind three of the four are Baseball America top 100 prospects.

Houston Astros

Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy

Like the lineup, there are few breaks in the Astros’ rotation. Make no mistake, the Astros aren’t exactly opening the Mariners’ window of contention. Seattle will have to do its own heavy lifting here.

The last time we saw Verlander he was making his first start of the 2020 season, the reigning Cy Young Award winner. As it would turn out, that was also his last start of the 2020 season. At 39 years of age and coming off Tommy John surgery having missed nearly two full seasons, what has he got? I wouldn’t bet against him and the Astros certainly aren’t, giving him a 1-year $25 million contract with a $25 million player option.

With Verlander, the Astros appear to be bringing a strong rotation into the 2022 season with questions limited to health and youth with three of the five starters coming off their first full seasons. McCullers, coming off his best full season, finished seventh in Cy Young voting. Unfortunately for the Astros, a forearm strain knocked him out of the postseason. He was expected to resume throwing any day now but there has yet to be a report that he has been able to do so. The expectation all along has been that he should be ready for an on-time start to spring training. In addition to the forearm strain, McCullers missed two starts with a sore shoulder.

With McCullers’ early exit from the postseason, the Astros leaned heavily on their youth and that youth, particularly Valdez and Garcia, took a tumble. If their struggles were the lasting memory of the Astros 2021 staff, it is worth taking a look back at the entire season.

Valdez took steps forward last year after a late start due to a finger injury suffered in spring training. Positive, elite curveball. Negative, he walks a ton. His 3.88 BB/9 was third worst in the AL – with McCullers’ 4.21 the second worst – but his 4.74 K/BB was good for sixth best. Can he cut down the walks which in part led to shorter outings?

Like Valdez, Garcia did not go deep into outings, averaging just 5.1 innings per start. His 93 mph fastball was hittable (.301 average against) but his secondary offerings are a different story with the slider (.133), cutter (.175), and curve (.179). Garcia finished second in Rookie of the Year voting while leading all rookie pitchers in WAR and strikeouts. Both Garcia and Valdez have shown good stuff and now have good experience behind them. What the Astros would like them to show now is consistency. Is Garcia closer to Rookie of the Year or back of the rotation starter? Is Valdez a pitch his way in and out of trouble using up pitch count guy, or can he eliminate the walks and take a step towards the upper end of a rotation?

The last likely member of the rotation, Urquidy, showed a bit more of that consistency when healthy. A strike thrower, he posted a 3.62 ERA with a FIP of 4.14 and WHIP of .0991, his 1.66 BB/9 the third best in the AL among pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings. Shoulder issues limited Urquidy to just 20 starts.

In the depth department, Jake Odorizzi and Christian Javier are likely starters No. 6 and 7. After that, prospects with Tyler Ivey (ranked seventh in the Astros top 10 by Baseball America), Peter Solomon (10th), and former top Astros prospect Forrest Whitely all a possibility.

Oakland A’s

Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Cole Irvin, James Kaprielian

We are going to do this because as of now, all of the above are still A’s. That could change quickly once the CBA is reached. Right now, the A’s have a very strong top three, a promising prospect in Kaprielian and, well, Irvin.

Bassitt, Manaea and Montas were tremendous in 2021 and all three are believed to be available to the highest bidder. Their replacements could be in the returns. It is likely at the very least one 2022 starter is not currently in the organization. Internal depth would include the organization’s top pitching prospect Daulton Jerreries along with Paul Blackburn, Brian Howard and Ryan Castellani. They will take a look at former Rays top prospect Brent Honeywell who was acquired last fall. Honeywell, who missed three straight seasons due to four elbow surgeries, is out of options and would have to make the club out of spring training or clear waivers to stick with the organization.

Los Angeles Angels

Shohei Ohtani, Noah Syndergaard, Patrick Sandoval, Michael Lorenzen, Jose Suarez

Much like the Angels’ lineup, the rotation is home to a big 1-2 punch and then…

I would look for the Angels to be aggressive in trying to add another starter once the CBA is settled.

About that 1-2, however.

Ohtani, if you had to pick, would you rather have him in the batter’s box or on the mound? Walking him is not an option. With a 3.18 ERA and 3.52 FIP, he’s a bit more human on the mound, right? And his strikeout rate is only fifth best in the AL.

Here’s a scary thought: He got off to a slow start. Ohtani was susceptible to the free pass early on, allowing 35 walks in his first 12 games. That got cleaned up fast. In his last 11 games, just nine walks. The only real break hitters got from Ohtani last year was that he got extra days off and was limited to 23 starts.

The Angels, of course, have another big arm they will have to be careful with in Syndergaard, who has thrown just two innings since 2019. If he proves to be healthy, getting caught in the 1-2 pocket of a series with the Angels will not be fun for hitters. As for the rest, a mixed bag with Sandoval coming off a breakout season that was shortened by a back injury, Lorenzen has mainly pitched out of the ‘pen since 2015 and Suarez who came on strong at the end of the season.

In addition to a rotation piece the Angels will be looking for pieces to add to the current rotation depth which includes Jaime Barria, Reid Detmers, and Griffin Canning.

Texas Rangers

Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn, A.J. Alexy, Spencer Howard

Jon Gray is a solid pickup, but oh my. The Rangers could, and probably should, add another veteran starter – Clayton Kershaw, come on home? – but 2022 should be about getting the young Rangers arms experience.

Dunning and Alexy, the Rangers fourth and 30th ranked prospect,s should get plenty of opportunity. A big question will be can they straighten out Howard, the former Phillies No. 1 prospect who came over in the Kyle Gibson trade who has put up a 6.75 ERA in his first 21 starts? Behind these young players, more, with Glenn Otto and Kolby Allard pushing for spots and No. 3 top prospect Cole Winn likely to debut at some point.

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