It’s Opening Day! Spring Training always seems to drag on for a week too long. I guess the promise of real, this-time-it-counts baseball makes everything in March drag on and on. I’m wrapping up my 2014 season preview of the Mariners with a look at the Bullpen. I’ve already covered the infield, the outfield, and the starting rotation. If you haven’t read those yet, take a look to get the full picture of where the Mariners find themselves at the start of this year.
It was a rough year of transition for the bullpen last year. The incumbent closer, Tom Wilhelmsen lost his job after his walk rate spiked to 5 per nine innings and his strikeout rate dropped to just under 7 per nine innings. Overall, the group had the second highest ERA in the majors at 4.58 but their collective FIP was just 3.79. Perhaps it was the relative inexperience of the bullpen that drove their ERA so high when their peripheral stats tell us they should be right around league average. The majority of the ‘pen is returning with a few new faces. Let’s hope that one more year of development from our young pitchers will be supported by these new veterans.
It was clear that the Mariners were shopping for a veteran closer this offseason–they were linked to almost every bullpen arm on the market–and they found their man in Fernando Rodney. Just two years ago, it looked like Rodney’s career had run it’s course. In 2011, pitching for the Angels, he was close to walking a batter an inning. The very next year, he had a career renaissance with his new team, the Rays. He set the major league record for lowest ERA in a season by a qualifying relief pitcher, just 0.60, and his control problems disappeared.
The Mariners are hoping to get the Rays version of Rodney, not the Angels version. The differences between these two pitchers is pretty stark. In 2011, Rodney played around with a slider that he threw over 10% of the time. His swinging strike rate was a low, 8% and batters made contact with almost 80% of the pitches he threw. The very next year, Rodney dropped the slider in favor of a two-seam fastball, his swinging strike rate jumped up to 13%, and his contact rate dropped ten percent. If Rodney can continue to build on these adjustments he made with the Rays, he’ll be a solid closer for the M’s.
With Fernando Rodney slotting in as closer, everyone else was pushed back an inning, including the closer from last year, Danny Farquhar. If Rodney falters as the closer, Farquhar should be next in line to see save opportunities and I’d expect him to poach some saves along the way. I discussed the adjustments Farquhar made last year in one of my weekly recaps. After throwing in the mid-80’s for the first few years of his career, he’s now throwing in the mid-90’s after completely rebuilding his throwing motion. That’s not an easy thing to do and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to maintain the consistency he found down the stretch last year. Relearning all of your muscle memory is hard enough, but to do it at a major league level is one tall task. Look to see if Farquhar’s command and velocity match his numbers from last year, they will tell you if he’s going to sustain his success this year.
|Tom Wilhelmsen||64 1/3||8.40||60||4.14||30||0.62||4||3.55||3.46||0.5|
|Yoervis Medina||65 2/3||9.15||67||5.18||38||0.79||6||3.50||3.88||0.2|
|Hector Noesi||90 2/3||6.14||62||3.44||35||1.47||15||5.63||4.95||-0.4|
Tom Wilhelmsen and Yoervis Medina will slot into the middle-relief roles if someone is needed in the sixth and seventh innings. Medina has actually shown a pretty even split against righties and lefties so he’s someone who can be called on in almost any situation. Wilhelmsen has historically pitched better against righties and I’d expect him to be called on in righty heavy situations. Hector Noesi makes the team over Blake Beavan solely because he’s out of options and the Mariners would have to release him if he wasn’t on the active roster. He’ll fill the long-relief role and make spot-starts if necessary.
|Joe Beimel||24 1/3||6.12||17||3.84||10||1.61||4||5.27||5.30||-0.4|
Charlie Furbush has pitched exceedingly well in high leverage situations out of the back of the bullpen. He should continue to see time in the seventh and eighth innings against tough lefties and in a setup role similar to Farquhar’s role. Joe Beimel makes the team over Lucas Luetge because he’s a veteran pitcher with grit. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery so if he’s unable to pitch at a major league level, I’d expect Luetge to take his place pretty quickly. Both of them fill the LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy) role in the ‘pen.
|Lucas Luetge||45 1/3||7.70||39||4.44||22||0.71||4||4.32||3.84||0.1|
|Stephen Pryor||27 2/3||9.65||30||4.46||14||1.04||3||3.44||3.89||0.1|
|Carson Smith||46 1/3||9.07||47||3.96||20||0.71||4||3.57||3.37||0.4|
Stephen Pryor is recovering from an injury to his triceps and his shoulder, only one other pitcher has recovered from the type of surgery he underwent. He’s currently on a rehab assignment in Double-A but his timetable to return is unclear. If he is able to recover, he brings a high-90’s arsenal to the back of the bullpen. Carson Smith is one of our promising bullpen arms in the organization. He had an excellent Spring Training and when injuries or ineffectiveness strike, he should be quickly called up from Triple-A.