THT round table: Erik Bedard

Seattle Mariners acquire Erik Bedard from the Baltimore Orioles for Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler.

John Beamer: Make no mistake, the Mariners gave up a lot to acquire Berdard (this was a five for one swap), but in doing so they have snared one of the best pitchers in the game. The center piece of the trade was Adam Jones. We project Jones to hit .279/.331/.488 in the cavernous Safeco—expect those numbers to bump up a little in Camden Yards.

Is he an elite prospect? M’s fans think so but I’m not 100 percent convinced, having seen him a few times last year. But what do I know about scouting evaluation? (Close to nothing is the answer.) He’s forte is power hitting—he’s not a contact hitter for sure. I think he’ll be an above-average center fielder but I’m not sure he has elite potential.

I’m not enough of a Seattle prospect watcher to comment on the other players, apart from Sherrill. He’s an effective reliever and will be a loss for the Mariners’ pen, who were already hamstrung by Rafael Soriano’s departure to the Braves last year.

The only rationale for making this trade is that you expect to contend. Perhaps Seattle were convinced that it would after last season’s surge to the top. Given some of the simulations done by the knowledgeable folks at USSM, which suggest that Seattle will struggle to break even, it is unclear that this move will bring success to the franchise.

This deal, along with the Tejada transaction, puts Baltimore in the frame for a run in three or four years times. Will they really contend? Given the financial power of the Red Sox and Yankees it is hard to imagine the O’s having a chance … but three years is a helluva long time in this game.

Chris Jaffe: I’m a big fan of Erik Bedard, beyond what I can sabermetrically justify.

Obviously, this makes the M’s a better team for 2008. How much? Well … last year, the M’s had 66 starts from guys not named Felix Hernandex, Miguel Batista, or Jarrod Washburn. The also-ran starters allowed 279 runs (264 earned) in 348.7 innings. Ouch. That’s a 7.20 RA and 6.81 ERA—in one of the best pitchers’ park in the AL. It’s an ERA+ of 64. That might be the worst back-end pitching in all baseball last year; it’s gotta be close.

Meanwhile, not only did Bedard post a 3.16 ERA, but he only allowed 2 earned runs in 28 starts, for an RA of 3.26 (yes, almost four runs lower than what he’s replacing per nine innings). Plus, going by Win Shares, the M’s have a better defense than the O’s. Not only are they better overall, but Bedard is a groundballer, and Seattle scored more Fielding Win Shares at first base, second base, shortstop, and especially catcher.

If he can post an RA around 3.00—which isn’t likely admittedly, but is possible—over 190 innings (his normal amount) he can save the team about 90 runs (!?!) over what they got from their back-end last year. Jeepers.

I’m really fascinated in the route the Mariners are taking this year. I began this comment expecting to say that they have no chance because their won-loss record last year was so wildly ahead of their Pythag mark. And I still think the odds are heavily against them (the Angels got better, and between the Tigers and Indians in the Central, and Evil and Empire in the East the Wild Card could 95+ wins), but they’re putting themselves in a position to surprise people.

I’m a firm believer that one of the easiest (and more silent) ways to substantially improve a team is to begin with absolutely horrible back-end pitching (even by the standards of back-end pitching) and replace it with league average pitchers. Everyone expects a fourth or fifth starter to be lousy, but some are lousier than others. Based on my own numbers-farting, replacement level is around 78-80 ERA+.

The M’s replaced 66 far-below replacement level starts with Bedard and Carlos Silva, who is a fairly average pitcher. They join a staff containing The Future (King Felix) and a pair of dependably healthy, consistently adequate innings eaters in Miguel Batista and Jarrod Washburn.

If everyone stays reasonably healthy and effective, they Ms could have one of the best rotations in baseball. That’ll help out their bullpen, allowing the relievers to rest more, and use the dregs less. And they’ll all be backed by that defense (Silva, like Bedard is a groundball pitcher).

They’re record and Pythag record were so different because they got shelled frequently—they lost 29 games in blowouts. The Tigers and Mets, who both lost exactly as many games as Seattle, lost 21 and 18 blowouts. That’s due to Seattle’ horrible back-end pitching.

Seattle was 3-34 when their pitchers allowed eight or more runs. They won over two-thirds of their remaining games. This team is designed to allow eight runs in a game less often. It’s a heckuva plan Bavasi’s going with … but I don’t see it working. Batista and Washburn are average pitchers who will be 37 and 33 respectively next year. Silva’s strikeout-rate scares the crap out of me, and he was terrible just two years ago. Sure, they could snag a surprise wild card slot if everyone pitches like they did last year, but I don’t like the odds of everyone pitching like they did last year.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Well, that was a much longer comment that I anticipated making.

Joe Domino: Hasn’t Bedard been pretty brittle throughout his career?

I think this could be a good case of selling high for the Orioles … their bullpen is a disaster right now and they got an excellent pitcher to help there. They got a nice position player prospect, not elite, but very good potentially. The other three all have some upside as well.

The Orioles are going to stink this year with or without Bedard. They have been decent at developing starting pitching of late: Daniel Cabrera (who I still love, despite his struggles), Adam Loewen, Bedard, Garret Olsen, etc. They claimed Jeremy Guthrie off waivers, threw him out there and he pitched well.

Starting pitching is one of the only things this team has been doing well of late. I have no problem with them dealing from a position of strength on this one, before Bedard gets hurt again.

Richard Barbieri: I’m going to disagree strongly with Chris here and say if (and in my opinion, it’s when) the M’s don’t make the playoffs, it will be because of the team they’ve assembled, not the other ones in the league.

Ichiro is going to be running a marathon in center field trying to cover for Raul Ibanez, who is an absolute butcher in left. Brad Wilkerson is nothing special in right field, and once he gets hurt—and he will—I think the third guy on the depth chart is me.

Moreover—and I’m cribbing this from the USS Mariner guys—as bad as the back of Seattle’s rotation was, the team was actually only 32-36 in those games. Bedard and Silva will be better than that, but I doubt enough to make up a big difference.

Finally, Seattle has major depth/injury issues. If one of Ichiro or Adrian Beltre goes down for an extended period, that’s the season. And while Bedard and Felix are obviously great, great pitchers, neither of them has ever pitched 200 innings in a season, and both spent time on the DL last season.

If you asked me which is more likely, Seattle making the playoffs or Seattle finishing under .500, I’d take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Lisa Gray: Well, best I can tell, the Mariners are a lot more than just an ace pitcher away from winning, so I seriously doubt that having Bedard will put them over the top, at least this year.

As for Baltimore, I seriously doubt that Peter Angelos has actually learned his lesson after the past 10 years of humiliation and I would be stunned if this franchise competes while he is still owner. These few trades are reminding me of the “rebuilding” he did four or five years ago and I don’t expect these to advance the club any more than the last ones did.

Matthew Carruth: The drop off from losing Sherrill and Jones compared to that of the gain from Brandon Morrow/replacement level starter to Bedard is probably 10-20 runs.

The Mariners traded six years of Jones + four years of Sherrill + three quality pitching prospects in order to get one or two wins better in 2008.

This is a bad trade for Seattle.

Craig Brown: As Chris says, the Mariners have done an outstanding job upgrading their rotation. Last year, their starters threw only 928 innings and posted an ERA of 5.16—third worst in the AL.

Last year, they were nine games better than their Pythag won-loss record. Certainly, it looks like there was a fair amount of luck on their side. But it seems to me that the front office in Seattle isn’t aware of this. They’re trading prospects for one player—in other words, they’re acting like Bedard is the missing piece of the championship puzzle. But he’s not.

Yes, the Mariners have upgraded their rotation. But what about their offense? Last year they slugged .425 and got on base at a .337 clip—both numbers were right on league average. Good, but not great. And certainly not championship caliber. And to that offense they’ve added who? Brad Wilkerson and Miguel Cairo?

This puts the Mariners in the interesting position of actually improving their team as far as starting pitching, yet losing a couple of games in the win column. I like Bedard and Hernandez at the front of the rotation, but it’s the three, four and five starters along with the offense that’s going to prevent this team from winning any kind of championship this year.

As far as Baltimore, I can’t believe that Peter Angelos has entered a full blown rebuilding mode. But they’re certainly jumping into the prospect pool, aren’t they? It’s going to be a lean couple of years, but as long as they stick to playing and developing their young players (that’s a huge if) they could be a few years from rising again in the East.

Chris Jaffe: Yup. They got lucky last year. But what causes teams to exceed their Pythag? I don’t mean luck or not-luck—there are two causes for it. Either a team does exceptionally well in close games, or they do exceptionally poorly in blowouts.

Last year the Mariners were 27-20 in one-run games. Clearly that’s a bit high. Then again, a 88-74 should be expected to do a little better than .500. How much did they really overachieve by? Well … there are 37 different 88-74 teams in MLB history (yeah, I do have this on file. Sad, isn’t it?). Between them, they went 970-839 in one-run games, a .536 winning percentage. The M’s were two ahead.

Meanwhile, the Mariners went 24-29 in in blowouts. Of the 37 teams, only three had losing records in blowouts. The others were the 1976 Orioles (10-11 in blowouts) and the 1973 Royals, the only team to ever do worse than the M’s in blowouts while going 88-74 (22-28 in those games). On the whole, those teams won about 57 percent of their blowouts.

Blowouts had a bigger impact on Seattle’s Pythag mark than one-run games. That was because of the back of their rotation. They’ve taken steps to improve it.

Again, I don’t expect them in the postseason because between Washburn, Bautista, and Silva I think someone will go ka-blewie! on them, but they’ve addressed their biggest weakness.

Craig Brown: Great stuff, Chris.

I dug a little deeper into last year’s Mariner team as far as the blowouts. In games started by Hernandez, Washburn and Batista that became blowouts, the M’s record was 12-14. Only King Felix pitched in more winning blowouts than losing blowouts – Seattle was 6-3 in games he started that ended in blowouts.

The back end of the rotation actually fared a little better with Seattle going 11-12 in blowouts started Weaver, Ramirez and Baek.

Here’s where things get kind of interesting… When Ryan Feierabend started, Seattle had a 1-3 record in blowouts, losing by scores of 1-16, 3-17 and 4-12. Granted, he wasn’t responsible for all of those runs (he allowed 25) but if Feierabend was replaced in those three starts by a league average pitcher who kept those games close, I wonder what that would have done to their Pythagorean.

I’m looking for someone to blame. And since the Mariners lost 11 games by eight runs or more and Feierabend started three of those, I’m looking at him.

Matthew Carruth: I’d argue their biggest weakness was team defense, which is what played a big factor in causing the crater at the back-end of the rotation. Either way, the defense was at least their second-biggest problem and they’ve gone and managed to make it worse.

Sal Baxamusa: This is what I said in the THT annual:

Not only did the offense exceed expectations, the Mariners won more games than their underlying performance suggested. Based on their team OBP/SLG and ERA, we might have guessed the Mariners to have won 76 games; in reality they won 88. The difference is due to the well-leveraged performance.

Part of that, 3.6 wins, was due to the bullpen, which was not only quite good but leveraged very well (whether by design or not)…The rest of the 12-game gap was due to well-leveraged performance of hitters and starting pitchers. Repeatable? Maybe, although probably not. These numbers indicate that a good deal of their success will not persist, and I submit that winning 88 games was not a Great Leap Forward. Management, however, was pleased and capped the year by announcing that both GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren—who took over after Mike Hargrove resigned unexpectedly—would return in 2008…

If Oakland (“but for the injuries”) and Seattle (“we won almost 90 games”) rationalize their mediocre seasons and conclude they are at the cusp of contention, they could make franchise-crippling mistakes.

One of these teams made the right decision and the other one didn’t.

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