What stat says the most about Mariners’ incredible starting rotation?

Jun 17, 2024, 12:08 PM

Seattle Mariners George Kirby Rangers 2024...

George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Rangers on Saturday. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Starting pitching is undeniably the backbone of the first-place Seattle Mariners.

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That was on full display this weekend, as the Mariners’ top three starters shut down the Texas Rangers’ dangerous lineup to key a pivotal three-game sweep that stretched Seattle’s AL West lead to 8.5 games. Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert combined to allow just two earned runs in 20 innings over the three-game set, while racking up 22 strikeouts and just three walks.

Those types of performances have become commonplace for this deep and talented Seattle rotation, which at one point this season rattled off a historic streak of 21 consecutive starts of allowing two earned runs or fewer.

During his appearance on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday, ESPN MLB senior writer David Schoenfield was asked if there’s a stat that jumps out about this Mariners team. He pointed to the fact that Seattle has an MLB-best 46 quality starts, which are outings when a starting pitcher throws at least six innings and allows three or fewer earned runs. The next-closest team is the Philadelphia Phillies with 39 quality starts.

Gilbert is tied for the MLB lead with 12 quality starts, Castillo has 10, Kirby and Bryce Miller each have eight, and Bryan Woo and Emerson Hancock have four apiece.

“Just look around the majors,” Schoenfield said. “Yeah, there’s a lot of individual pitchers having great years, but there’s not a lot of staffs that can match the depth.”

How starting rotation has helped the bullpen

The Mariners’ bullpen has been decimated by injuries this season.

Hard-throwing reliever Matt Brash will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Fellow high-leverage reliever Gregory Santos has yet to throw a pitch this season after suffering a lat strain. Gabe Speier is on the 15-day injured list with a rotator cuff strain. Tayler Saucedo had an IL stint with a hyperextended knee. Even closer Andrés Muñoz has been sidelined, missing a few games last week after aggravating a lower-back issue.

Yet through it all, Seattle’s bullpen has held up remarkably well. According to FanGraphs, the Mariners’ bullpen ranks fourth in the majors in WHIP (1.16), fourth in opponents’ batting average (.212), fourth in strikeout rate (24.8%) and 13th in ERA (3.67).

“That’s been the big surprise to me – the bullpen has managed to hold things together at the end of games,” Schoenfield said.

Schoenfield said part of the credit goes to the Mariners’ starting rotation, which has logged an MLB-high 437 innings. With its starters consistently going deep into games, Seattle’s bullpen has pitched an MLB-low 218 innings, which equates to just 2.9 innings per game.

“There’s some concerns about the depth of the bullpen, but luckily they don’t need to go very deep too often, because the Mariners starters are getting six or seven innings – or eight like Gilbert did yesterday,” Schoenfield said. “And that’s huge. When you can minimize your innings for those sixth, seventh and eighth relievers – which are a concern with Seattle – then you don’t have to use them.”

Is it sustainable?

The Mariners’ starting rotation currently leads the majors in WHIP (1.01), ranks second in opponents’ batting average (.213) and is fourth in ERA (3.30). Is that level of success sustainable over the course of the 162-game season?

Schoenfield said it all comes down to health. Woo opened the season on the IL and had his last scheduled start skipped (an MRI on his elbow came back clean), but aside from that, Seattle so far has avoided the rash of arm injuries that have sidelined numerous big-time pitchers this season.

“Well, we all know the secret there, right? You’ve just gotta stay healthy,” Schoenfield said. “But look, Gilbert, no injuries in his career. Luis Castillo, he had one April he missed with the Reds, but he’s been a healthy pitcher. George Kirby, he’s got such a nice, easy delivery. He’s certainly a guy you project as staying healthy. Bryce Miller’s been healthy.

“Obviously, Bryan Woo’s been the one concern there. Somehow, he’s pitched great through these injuries, so let’s hope he stays there. The concern (is there’s) not a lot of depth once you get past those top five, so (it’s) important to keep those guys healthy.”

Listen to the full conversation with ESPN’s David Schoenfield at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• ESPN’s Schoenfield on where Mariners sit: ‘The momentum is there’
• Five storylines as Mariners take control of AL West
• First-place M’s sweep Texas, now have MLB’s biggest division lead
• Mariners reliever takes positive step in rehab process
• A top Seattle Mariners prospect out for season with torn ACL

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What stat says the most about Mariners’ incredible starting rotation?