Monday, February 21, 2005

Early Pitching Thoughts 

As the rest of the position players report today, camp starts to get even more interesting. However, the first week has certainly raised some interesting questions about the pitching staff, and we may have more answers than we previously thought.

The rotation coming out of Spring may contain a few surprises.

Jorge Campillo could be anything from AAA fodder to a major league star. Early reports out of camp have him looking VERY good, with fantastic location on his low 90's fastball, a late-breaking slider, and a nice circle change. Think Greg Maddux. The biggest concern around Campillo appears to be that he has been throwing all year, but he is a big guy in the Chris Bosio mold, and may be able to handle the workload.

Another candidate with an early leg up for the rotation may be Aaron Sele. Rumors around camp indicate that he may be a favorite to break camp with the team. This will not be a popular choice with many fans or with your Mariner Optimist. It reeks of 2004 when veterans got the nod over youth with the only point of comparison in their favor being "experience." (It also reeks of the logic of playing Winn at the expense of Bucky. Free Bucky!)

Sele's last "good" year was 2001 and he parlayed that into a 3-year, $24 million dollar contract with the Angels and proceeded to do as sabremetrics would predict by stinking it up. Sele is a pitcher whose peripheral numbers are extremely weak. Other than 2001 (2.1 bb/9ip), he has always walked more than 3 batters a game, and sometime as many as 4. And while in his 20's he kept his K/9 around 7-8, he has been nowhere close in years, averaging 5 strikeouts per game with the M's and less than 4 K/9 with the Angels. For those doing the math, his K/BB ratio is rapidly approaching one, which is not going to get the job done.

Maybe the 34 year old can turn a 180 on his decline past mediocrity, and emerge as a useful end-of-the-rotation pitcher for the M's. If he shows he has regained his control and command this Spring, then he will have the full support of your Mariner Optimist. But he damn well better have to prove it before the M's just hand him a job due to his "veteran" label.

So if Campillo and Sele might get rotation spots, who might lose theirs?

The first name that always jumps to mind in these situations is Ryan Franklin, our hard-working pitcher from Spiro, Oklahoma. Word is he is adding a knuckleball to his already extensive repertoire of six pitches. This may be his best chance to cling to his hold on the rotation. Franklin was much more dominant in his early days coming out of the pen, and that may be a better place for him, if the knuckleball doesn't work out.

But the man who looks most in danger of losing his spot in the rotation is amazingly Bobby Madritsch. Madritsch was unquestionably the best pitcher for the M's last year in his rookie season, and seemed like a lock for the rotation. However, Spring Training finds Bobby grouped with the relievers during workouts, and rumors about him needing to listen to the coaches better have him on the outside looking in.

The optimist in me hopes they are just doing this to motivate Madritsch because he came into camp out of shape or something like that. I mean, this kid ended 2004 with impressive 8-inning wins over the Red Sox, A's and Angels! Maybe another possibility is that they are considering Bobby for the closer role in case Guardado's health is not 100%. Madritsch is 29 years old and had some pretty heavy usage heaped on his arm last year, so maybe this is a thought to use him out of the pen. I can't see Madritsch taking Sherrill's or Villone's spot in the pen, but who knows what Hargrove may be thinking. This is a situation that bears watching closely.

Jamie, Gil, and Joel seem like mortal locks for the rotation as long as they are healthy. Obviously, Joel's health is of most concern, but the mood around him is optimistic, although they have not let him throw all out yet. The leash on Jamie Moyer may have gotten shorter with this many alternatives available, so while he may not need a strong Spring, he certainly won't last a full season if he comes out pitching like he did in the second half last year.

Of course, as this quote from Hargrove shows, perhaps we are making a mountain out of a molehill.
"We'll take a look at all of them (pitching candidates). You'd like to have at least eight major league-ready starters. That's a comfortable number, and I think we're going to have that."
The first five may be locked and loaded, and Grover may just be deciding who the first three replacements would be, and exploring alternatives for the closer role if Eddie goes down. It is already an interesting camp. Stay tuned...

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?