Just like that, plans change. For those of you looking to roster a certain closer from the Pacific Northwest in 2011 you might want to reconsider that plan of attack and “hop” to another reliever in the Mariners’ bullpen.
The Mariners were thought to be exploring potential trade partners for David Aardsma. Not that they didn’t like his game – he has saved 69 of them the past two years – it’s just that he has been pretty good the past two years which means that his salary is about to get a bit pricey (he is eligible for arbitration and could double his $2.75 million salary of last season). Well, things just got downright sticky for the Mariners as it was announced that David would need surgery for a labrum tear in his left hip. Obviously this means they will not be able to move him for that power bat that they seek. It also means there has to be some question about what Aardsma will be able to offer early in the year. Reports are that he will miss about four weeks before he will be allowed to throw again, but that seems a bit quick to me. Even if he is back throwing that soon there is no guarantee that he will be able to pitch effective in spring. If you are considering holding on to Aardsma in a keeper league, I certainly wouldn’t (in fact, I’d have said the same thing even before the injury).
Who would I be looking at in the Mariners’ pen now that Aardsma could be slow to start the year? I’d be looking at Brandon League. Even if Aardsma was healthy I’d let you draft him in the 10th round and just take League in the 20th and be happy about it. Why would I feel comfortable with something that seems downright outlandish? Again my friends, I roster skills over role nearly every time. So that must mean I’m saying that I like the skills of League better than those of Aardsma? You got that right. Here are their 2009-2010 numbers.
Aardsma: 9.60 K/9, 4.39 BB/9, 2.19 K/BB, 2.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
League: 7.33 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 2.75 K/BB, 3.98 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Obviously Aardsma has the advantage in the strikeout department, but that one run advantage in ERA sure looks pretty darn spotty. Not only does League walk a batter and half less per nine, a figure that sooner or later will even out the other numbers (meaning Aardsma is in trouble), I left out two salient facts that point even more strongly toward League being the better option.
League is a dynamite, and I mean other worldly type of ground ball inducing pitcher. League owns a career 3.09 GB/FB rate, and a decent rule of thumb is that the average big league hurler is usually in the 1.00 to 1.10 range. Obviously that means that League is superior to the average hurler, by a multiple mind you. Moreover, amongst pitchers who tossed 70-innings last season League’s 3.00 GB/FB was the best mark in the American League. If you keep the ball on the ground you rarely give up extra base hits, and that is certainly key late in games, especially for a guy like League who often comes into a game with guys on base.
Aardsma couldn’t be a more different type of pitcher. Mind you, Aardsma has been successful with his style the past two years, but sooner or later most of things tend to normalize. I already mentioned the huge concern about his walk total, but there is another part of his game that belies his current success – Aardsma is diametrically opposed to League as he is a fly ball machine. Because of all the fly balls he gives up Aardsma owns a career GB/FB rate of 0.79 which just so happens to be the same number he posted last season. Think about that. Aardsma’s GB/FB rate in 2010 was about 25 percent of the mark of League, so how in the hell did he have a better ERA? Sheer luck if you ask me. Somehow Aardsma has allowed a mere nine homers the past two years despite all those fly balls. That’s far too few, even if he does possess some innate yet unmeasurable ability to keep fly balls in the yard. Maybe it’s just because Safeco isn’t a great park to go deep in. The bottom line is that Aardsma has been playing with fire for two years, and sooner or later fire burns.
To sum it up you need to knock Aardsma well down your relief pitcher list until you see him out there slinging it at 95 mph. Even if that does occur in spring training I’m telling you – draft League. In my mind he has the more stable skill set, and when you combine that with better health, all he needs is to be given the opportunity to truly shine in 2011.
By Ray Flowers