|Washburn will love the Mariners' new outfield
As a big Ichiro Suzuki fanboy I'm looking forward to his scheduled Wednesday return for many reasons, but most of all I'm excited to see exactly how great Seattle's outfield can be defensively. With a healthy Ichiro joining Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez the Mariners can trot out three above-average center fielders in spacious Safeco Field.
According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Gutierrez's defense has been 22 runs better than the average center fielder per 150 games, while Ichiro is at +8 and Chavez is at +10. Of course, only Gutierrez will actually be playing center field for the Mariners, and both Ichiro and Chavez have been even better in the corners. UZR rates Ichiro as 11 runs above average per 150 games in right field and Chavez as 22 runs above average per 150 games in left field.
In other words, a Chavez-Gutierrez-Suzuki alignment figures to be something like 50-60 runs above average over the course of an entire season, which is truly extraordinary. If the Mariners' pitching staff suddenly improves upon last year's 4.73 ERA despite losing J.J. Putz and not adding any world-beaters, the three guys running down everything in the gaps will be the No. 1 reason.
In particular Jarrod Washburn figures to benefit more than anyone else. Washburn is among the league's most extreme fly-ball pitchers and has one of the league's lowest strikeout rates, which means a ton of fly balls are put in play against him. Last season he went 5-14 with a 4.69 ERA in 153.2 innings while 31 out of every 100 balls put in play against him fell for hits.
That rate was well below par for a fly-ball pitcher and about 10 percent worse than his career mark. Washburn is now a year older and hasn't gotten any less mediocre, but don't be surprised to see all kinds of stories about his big comeback season popping up in a couple months because many of the 42 doubles and 109 singles that he allowed in 2008 are suddenly going to find gloves this time around.