Well I didn’t get to this preview as soon as I’d have liked to, but with Spring Training half over and Opening Day three weeks away it’s still a great time to preview the 2015 Seattle Mariners starting pitching staff. This was a group that ranked second in the MLB and first in the American League last season with a 3.17 ERA. While the starting rotation was solid with ace Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and 2014 AL Comeback Player of the Year Chris Young, it was the bullpen that was the most impressive part about last year’s club. They kept the M’s in games last year and were a huge reason why the team was within a game of the playoffs.
While they did lose a few of their better bullpen arms from last season, the rotation, if healthy, could be even better. This post will highlight each of the five starting rotation spots. Manager Lloyd McClendon has already said who four of the five starters will be, but the fifth spot is becoming clearer as we near April 6th.
1. Felix Hernandez – It’s good to be King. What else is there to say? King Felix was robbed of the Cy Young in 2014 and is one of the most (if not THE most) dominating pitchers in the game of baseball. He posted a 15-6 record last year with a 2.14 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, both the best in the MLB. His arsenal is unmatched, as every pitch he throws would be considered elite. Once a pitcher that relied upon power, Hernandez has mastered a changeup with movement like a breaking ball – and it’s nearly un-hittable. Felix will again be the ace of this staff, and it’s not unreasonable to expect anything but greatness from The King this season.
2. Hisashi Iwakuma – One of the coolest things about the Mariners’ starting rotation is that they basically have two aces. Iwakuma had somewhat of a “disappointing” season in 2014 after posting a 14-6 record with 2.66 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 2013 and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. He still had good numbers last year, though, allowing around 3.5 runs per nine innings. Part of the reason for his struggles was because he was injured at the beginning of the year so it took him a while to “get right.” With ‘Kuma healthy, he should be in for another big season.
3. James Paxton – While Iwakuma may have more experience, this is the guy that is destined to eventually become the second starter in this rotation behind Felix. If he had been healthy, Paxton may have challenge Iwakuma for the spot last season. In 13 starts he compiled a 6-4 record and a 3.04 ERA in 2014. While that’s impressive, the best thing about Paxton is that he’s a lefty that can get both right-handed and left-handed hitters out. 95+ MPH from the left side is so rare and the M’s are lucky to have this gem in their organization.
4. J.A. Happ – An offseason addition, Happ has spent his eight year career with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Houston Astros, and, most recently, the Toronto Blue Jays. In 140 career starts, he’s posted a 51-53 record with a 4.26 ERA. While those numbers won’t “wow” anyone, Happ should bring a much needed veteran presence to this rotation, which is probably the biggest reason that McClendon has already penciled him into the starting five. It’s also worth noting that he’s often pitched in what would be considered “hitter-friendly” ballparks, so he could find more success and better numbers inside Safeco Field.
5. Taijuan Walker/Roenis Elias – This is the only spot in the rotation that is up for grabs and was one of the few true position battles this spring. Walker, once considered the next Felix Hernandez, has had a better spring than Elias, who was a pleasant surprise last season for the M’s. Walker has struggled with his command at times in the big leagues after struggling through injuries and being called up and down between Seattle and Tacoma. But he’s looked incredible so far this spring and one of the biggest reason is a new and effective pitch: a slider. With a plus-fastball already, adding an effective breaking pitch would go a long way towards his success. Both are young pitchers with bright futures, but it’s hard to argue against the upside that Walker brings to the table. Add the fact that having Elias would mean three lefties in the rotation, and it’s becoming more apparent that Walker will likely win the job coming out of Spring Training. However, expect him to be on a short leash with Elias just a phone-call away.
This is a very brief preview on each of these pitchers, but it should give you a better idea of what to expect from this year’s starting rotation. It’s crazy to think that we’ll all be watching baseball in a matter of 21 short (but not short enough) days.
As always, here’s a video for entertainment. KING FELIX IS INSANE.