Joe Saunders Gives Seattle Mariners Much-Needed Boost In Rotation

By Thom Tsang
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners have just locked down the ace of their staff for a very long time, but the rest of the rotation remains somewhat dicey.

Hisashi Iwakuma will be the team’s number-two starter, and that’s a role he should fill nicely, if the 2.65/1.23 ERA/WHIP he put up over 16 starts last year is any indication. After that, though, the question marks start piling up pretty quickly.

Blake Beaven threw 152.1 innings with an unimpressive 4.43 ERA and 3.96 K/9 last season, and Hector Noesi simply struggled in the starter’s role, and was removed from the rotation towards the final weeks of the season after a 1.1 IP, six-run outing. The wildcard in all this might be Erasmo Ramirez, who flashed promising stuff (.218 BAA) over eight starts, but his 59 innings of MLB experience hardly makes him reliable – not for a team that’s looking to make some serious headway in the AL West in 2013.

That’s there the Mariners are hoping Joe Saunders will come in:

The veteran lefty will immediately be slotted in the number-three spot in the rotation that was held by the now-departed Jason Vargas, and will give the team a much-needed innings-eater in a rotation that doesn’t have much experience outside of Felix Hernandez.

Though no one would ever confuse Saunders for a star, that’s a role that he should fit nicely in. Like Vargas, Saunders does not throw hard (avg 88.9 mph fastball in 2012), and like Vargas, he doesn’t strike very many batters out (5.77 K/9). Saunders gets by with pedestrian ground ball stuff (.277) that he throws with decent control  (2.74 BB/9 over career, 2.01 in 2012), and is effective enough with getting outs, even if those outs aren’t going to impress anyone.

He’s an average pitcher, and sometimes painfully, obviously so. For that, the 31-year old has gotten a bit of a bad rep over the years.

But, the fact is that he’s a lefty who can throw 200 innings a year, with a career 4.17 ERA/1.37 WHIP that isn’t going to hurt the team on most nights – which is more or less the kind of production that Vargas gave Seattle over the last three years.

In fact, you might even say that Saunders is exactly what the Mariners were looking for.

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