Oh, to be the Seattle Mariners.
With a rotation fronted by the best pitcher in the American League, Felix Hernandez, Seattle’s starters posted the second-best ERA in the AL in 2010 (behind Oakland), at 3.83.
This season their rotation has nearly taken more than three-quarters of a run off that cumulative ERA, with a 3.14 mark through the team’s first 49 games, once again second in the AL to the Athletics.
Unfortunately, as anyone who follows baseball knows, the 2010 Mariner offense was historically inept, posting a .286 team wOBA. Things haven’t gotten any better for the Seattle bats, as their team wOBA on the 2011 season to-date is a matching .286, albeit in a significantly lower run-scoring environment than the 2010 American League (2010 AL R/G: 4.45; 2011: 4.23).
Getting back to the pitching, while you can’t deny the success of the A’s’ and Mariners’ pitching staffs, there are two key factors to keep in mind when assessing what they’ve accomplished these last two seasons: (1) Though both Safeco and the Ballpark Formerly Known as the Oakland Coliseum (I’m sorry, Overstock.com Coliseum is the worst thing I’ve ever heard) are surprisingly in the top 16 in Park Factors in 2011, both fields have historically played as significant pitcher’s parks — look no further than last season, with Oakland at #20 and Safeco at #29; and (2) Both teams are offensively challenged, and they also get to play each other 19 times apiece, which may skew some of their overall numbers.
As for point #1, both the M’s and A’s seem to want to splash cold water on the notion that they enjoy a significant advantage on the pitching end of things at home, as Seattle surprisingly has a 3.09 ERA on the road and a 3.68 ERA at home, while the A’s have a 2.78 ERA at home and an equally sparkling 2.95 on the road (though not to worry, as both teams notched ERAs roughly a run lower at home than on the road in 2010; it should only be a matter of time before that begins to even out).
However, there are a couple of issues with these numbers — first and foremost, neither team has faced the best offense in the American League in the Yankees. Secondly, the Mariners have only played 9 of their first 49 games against the AL East (three vs. Boston, three vs. Toronto and three vs. Baltimore); while Oakland has only played five of its first 50 games against the AL East (three vs. Toronto and two vs. Boston).
As for getting to run their pitching numbers up against each other’s putrid offenses, that point doesn’t seem to hold as much weight in the small samples they’ve amassed thus far this season, but I think it’s still noteworthy that they play in two of the more cavernous parks in the American League in the same division.
Now that I’ve spent several paragraphs trying to look for holes in Seattle’s and Oakland’s pitching, let’s get on with the preview. For the Yankees’ troubles, they get to face fireballing rookie Michael Pineda (2.16 ERA/2.25 FIP/2.97 xFIP) — whose peripherals are incredibly almost better in nearly every single category across the board than rotation-mate Hernandez, albeit in less innings – in tonight’s opener.
Interestingly, noted Mariners fan Dave Cameron has been asked seemingly every week in his Wednesday Fangraphs chat about whether he’s a Pineda believer, and each and every time he seems very reluctant to evince even a shred of enthusiasm, harping on Pineda’s lack of a true offspeed offering as something that will eventually allow lefthanded batters to figure him out.
While that may be the case at some point, Pineda thus far hasn’t had a problem with dispatching of any and all comers, utilizing the 7th-best wFB (8.3 runs above average) in the AL and the 3rd-best wSL (7.9 runs above average) to put up a 2.83 FIP against lefties and 1.77 FIP against righties. Oh, and Pineda leads the American League with a 9.41 K/9. Have fun, Yankees!
A.J. Burnett (4.02 ERA/4.50 FIP/3.94 xFIP) draws the unenviable task of facing Pineda, and it would seem the righty has his work cut out. That being said, if this season’s considerably more effective version of A.J. shows up, he really shouldn’t have that much difficulty with the worst offense in the American League, non-Twins division.
On Saturday night the Yankees may as well forfeit the game, as they get to face King Felix (3.01 ERA/2.31 FIP/2.74 xFIP), who threw 26 innings of one-run ball against the Yankees in 2010 (an 0.35 ERA!), and hasn’t lost to the Bombers since May 3, 2008, in a game in which the Yankees somehow hit Felix up for 6 runs in 5 2/3 innings.
For his career, Felix has held the Yanks to a .249/.321/.355 line and has a 2.73 ERA across 59.1 innings; however, if you take out that bizarre 2008 game and a 2006 contest in which they roughed him up for seven runs over 3.2 innings (could you imagine that happening now?), his ERA drops all the way down to 0.90 in 50(!) innings!
The Yankees’ sacrificial lamb to Felix is Ivan Nova (4.29 ERA/4.28 FIP/4.44 xFIP), who has continued to get good results despite suspect peripherals. Good luck, Ivan, you’ll need it.
And in the Sunday afternoon (note the 4pm start time) finale, CC Sabathia (3.17 ERA/2.77 FIP/3.35 xFIP) will takes on slow-throwing lefty extraordinaire, Jason Vargas (3.86 ERA/3.69 FIP/4.07 xFIP). Vargas stymied the Yankees last July in Seattle until they finally broke through in the 8th inning, though they were able to tag him pretty hard at the Stadium a month later. Vargas has had several rough outings this season — including his last one, in which he allowed five earned runs to the hapless Twins offense — and has also spun several gems. Hopefully the Yankees can salvage this one behind Sabathia, because the Friday and Saturday night contests are going to be rough.
Here’s who’s hot coming into this series (per wOBA over the last 14 days):
Russell Martin – .421 (What a beast)
Alex Rodriguez – .418 (Seems to be doing it mostly with singles, but as long as he’s getting on base I won’t complain)
Curtis Granderson – .413 (The man)
Jorge Posada – .385 (Surprise!)
Brendan Ryan – .493 (Honestly, I don’t even know who this is)
Miguel Olivo – .430 (I feel like Olivo is another in a long line of scrub catchers who inexplicably demolish Yankee pitching)
Adam Kennedy – .382 (What?)
And here’s who’s been cold:
Chone Figgins – .118 (Compiled over 53 PAs, talk about ice-cold)
Michael Saunders – .139
Ichiro Suzuki – .187 (Doesn’t matter; he’s bound to come up with a timely hit or two against the Yanks)
The Yankee offense as a whole has been the second-best in the AL over the last two weeks (.340 wOBA; though way behind Boston’s absurd .381 during that time period), while the Mariners have been even worse than they are on the season, hitting at a .277 wOBA clip.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the Mariners’ pitching staff has been lights-out during the last two weeks, posting an insane 1.80 ERA/2.84 FIP/3.14 xFIP as a unit (1.55/2.50/2.95 from the starters; 2.78/4.14/3.90 from the bullpen); while the Yankees have managed a 3.78/3.98/3.87 aggregate line (4.43/4.23/3.81 by the starters; 2.38/3.43/4.01 by the bullpen).
Clearly, run-scoring is going to be at a premium this weekend at Safeco Field. That’s not to say that the Yankees can’t score runs and take this series, but going against two of the best pitchers in the American League along with one of the top-performing bullpens of late could make this a very tough series.
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