Before I begin, I would like to outline what the statistic WAR (or Wins Above Replacement) means. You can find the full explanation here. The quick and dirty explanation is as follows:
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic. You should always use more than one metric at a time when evaluating players, but WAR is pretty darn all-inclusive and provides a handy reference point. WAR basically looks at a player and asks the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” This value is expressed in a wins format, so we could say that Player X is worth +6.3 wins to their team while Player Y is only worth +3.5 wins.
To be fully briefed on what FIP and xFIP mean, click this link. The quick and dirty version is if you keep your home run and walk totals down and strikeouts up, your FIP and xFIP will be solid. FIP is a future indicator of success for pitchers. Strikeout pitchers (Corey Kluber/Ian Kennedy) will have a lower FIP than a pitch to contact pitcher (Jason Vargas/Chris Young). It’s on the same scale as ERA.
Before the season, many people (including myself) were extremely critical of the Mariners handing Fernando Rodney a deal for two years, worth $14 million. At the time, it seemed like another outdated, old school Jack Zduriencik move. In my mind, it was the equivalent of signing Nelson Cruz (who we were favorites to land). Cruz is in the midst of a career year that he hasn’t produced since 2008. Baseball is a weird thing and it consistently tries to prove you wrong and make you look like a jackass. In the case of Fernando Rodney and Nelson Cruz, baseball has made me look like a jackass.
In 2013, the cost per win was approximately $7,032,099. So for a player worth 1 WAR, that player is worth a contract of one year for approximately $7M. Not very far from a number Fernando Rodney is very familiar with — $7,000,000. In 2014, it’s more than likely in the ballpark of $7.5M. Currently at 0.8 WAR, Rodney would only have to gain 0.2 WAR in 88 more games. Not a difficult feat to accomplish, as Rodney could conceivably reach 2.0+ WAR with ease. Saves and wins aren’t as big of a deal as they used to be regarded, but Rodney is tied for 7th in the MLB in saves. He is also 22nd among relievers in WAR. Rodney has done a superb job of limiting the walks and dingers, while striking out a good amount of hitters. After starting off slow and walking too many batters per inning, Rodney has improved a great deal in June and has been an integral part of a bullpen that is firing on all cylinders.
The M’s bullpen is ranked 9th in WAR in the MLB, while the rotation is ranked 10th in WAR in the MLB. Our pitching has been unequivocally the savior of a team ranked 24th in the MLB as an offense. Dominic Leone has been the biggest surprise of the year, sporting a a 0.5 WAR, 2.87 xFIP, and 2.32 ERA. Almost more impressive is that he hadn’t pitched at a higher level than AA. Unsurprisingly, Charlie Furbush and Joe Beimel have been extremely good against lefties (2.38 and 2.74 xFIP) and not so hot against righties (4.35 and 6.07 xFIP). Unfortunately, Furbush has faced more righties than lefties and Beimel has faced 12.1 innings versus lefties and 11 innings versus righties. The main issue I previously had with signing Fernando Rodney goes by the name of Danny Farquhar. I took issue with the signing for two reasons. One, I didn’t think Rodney would be worth the money. Second, in 2013 Farquhar had the 9th best WAR out of relievers in the MLB. Not only that, but the 9th best xFIP and 9th best K/9 in the MLB. (9 appears to be Danny’s number.) His stuff is electric. We have finally rid ourselves of the grossness that is Hector Noesi and have seemingly put Tom Wilhelmsen in the garbage man/innings eating/low leverage role that Noesi occupied. Speaking of Tom Wilhelmsen, Chris Young in all of his two innings pitched in the bullpen has a higher WAR (0.1) than Wilhelmsen (-0.1). Hell, I have a higher WAR than Tom Wilhelmsen. Lucas Luetge hasn’t been a solid LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) or lefty specialist since 2012 and quite possibly could be deceased. He’s only pitched 2.1 innings this season. Dustin was convinced that he was on the Tampa Bay Rays, and I haven’t heard of him pitching for what seems like forever. On the bright side, he cut his hair!
It’s hardly a secret that the M’s bullpen would be solid. Before the season, FanGraphs ranked their bullpen #7 in the MLB. The rotation was also ranked #7. Simply due to the presence of Felix Hernandez (who is on pace for around 9.5 WAR), the Mariners could exceed those expectations. Upon the hopeful returns of phenoms Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Mariners become even deeper. So why trade for another pitcher? We’re set, right?
Not really. Another pitcher would give them much more flexibility to do things such as shut down Roenis Elias for the season. Currently at 98.2 innings pitched, Elias has never pitched more than 148.1 innings in a season. Shutting him down somewhere before 170 innings is imminent and refusing to do so would be moronic. If the Mariners trade for a veteran pitcher like they are rumored to do, it could allow them to put Chris Young in the bullpen as a long man if they so choose. At the moment, they lack a true long reliever. To me, targeting a “veteran pitcher” is somewhat significant because that in a sense means we think we can contend. Sort of, but not really. The only thing that throws a wrench in those plans is the Mariners continue to pretend that they have no money.
If the M’s don’t add a pitcher and bat at the deadline, it will confirm what has been long thought by fans: 1) We will never spend money and we don’t care about contending. 2) Jack Z is a bonehead. With this pitching alone, I can see us winning a playoff series if we can manage to get in. However, if we want to be serious we have to do more than stand pat. Roenis Elias will more than likely be shut down, and you cannot count on James Paxton or Taijuan Walker being healthy. Not only that, but you can’t bank on a couple younger pitchers being studs throughout a whole season. There will be bumps and bruises and not every young top prospect is Michael Wacha. We’ve already been hit by the injury bug. Michael Saunders, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Blake Beavan, and Hisashi Iwakuma have all been hurt and appeared on the disabled list. This article was supposed to be predominantly about Fernando Rodney, and now we’re here.
I’m going to get on my soapbox and say this: The Mariners must be aggressive and must make a couple savvy moves if they’re serious about this whole contending thing. If Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero are manning the corners regularly by season’s end, I can all but guarantee the Mariners have missed a playoff spot. If we ruin a season that we could have seen the first postseason appearance since 2001, open up the floodgates of criticism from the fans of Seattle.