Mariners reports that newly acquired starter Drew Smyly is ailing from elbow soreness have dampened some of the excitement of Opening Day. How many wins will the Smyly injury cost the Mariners this season?
The Mariners Opening Day starter is who it has been for more than a decade. Tonight, we’ll see Felix Hernandez take the ball on Opening Day for the 11th time. There are concerns about King Felix, of course, after a sub-par, by his standards, 2016.
But there are questions throughout the Mariners rotation and entire pitching staff this season. A year after finishing three games out of playoff contention, mostly because of inconsistent pitching, General Manager Jerry Dipoto put a premium on acquiring as many pitchers with upside as possible.
In comes Drew Smyly, who suffered through his worst season in the big leagues last year, sporting a 4.88 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays. Last year was Smyly’s first season in which he qualified for an ERA title, recording 175.1 innings in 30 starts. Part of the reason why his ERA was so high was that he was awful at stranding runners, a skill (or a stroke of luck) he had relied on for much of his career up to that point.
Smyly famously helped pitch Team USA to a World Baseball Classic Championship this spring, even facing Hernandez in a game. Many fans want to point to the WBC with accusatory fingers, but I think American players should take the WBC as seriously as their teammates from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela take it. If Smyly is out with elbow discomfort after a few innings in the WBC, what makes you think he, with his extensive injury history, wouldn’t hurt himself at some point this season? That’s a topic for another day.
There’s no doubt that Smyly being out hurts the Mariners, obviously. Even with their cache of useable arms in Tacoma and in the bullpen, Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were looking forward to seeing what Smyly could add to the rotation. Let’s take a look at the projections, compiled courtesy of FanGraphs, to see what the Mariners could be missing if Smyly misses extended time:
Depth Charts Projection: 1.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement)
Streamer: 1.4 WAR
Fan projections (15 fans participated): 2.9 WAR
ZiPS: 2.5 WAR
That’s a wide range of potential outcomes over a full season. Of course, because of Smyly’s current injury and his history of arm problems, no projection system on FanGraphs has Smyly’s total innings pitched this year over 175.
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Subtract Smyly’s 1.4 to 2.9 WAR from the Mariners’ rotation without a replacement and we likely fall a few games short of the playoffs again, since, despite Dipoto’s wheeling and dealing, Seattle has essentially the same team strengths as last year, with the exception perhaps of team fielding (as a result of Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger patrolling the outfield instead of Nori Aoki and Seth Smith).
Outfield defense will likely add a few wins to the Mariners total this year. If the offense stays its productive self, the pitching has to do enough to avoid falling behind like last year. Smyly will be replaced by Ariel Miranda, who pitched well in limited action last season as a bullpen arm and starter. It’s tough to quantify Miranda’s 56 innings in Seattle last year in WAR form, but a 3.54 ERA in 10 starts isn’t bad.
Losing Smyly presumably for the foreseeable future will deal a blow to the Mariners pitching staff that must improve on last year, but if Miranda and others can figure out a way to make up for that 1.4 to 2.9 win chasm, Seattle will survive. Can’t wait to see what happens!