The Seattle Mariners’ bullpen last year was ugly. Closer Fernando Rodney had a 5.23 ERA in April and 8.18 in May. He blew six save opportunities and was traded away in August. Rodney wasn’t the only one who struggled. Danny Farquhar had a 5.12 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Joe Beimel had a 3.99 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. After Rodney was dispatched, the Mariners used both Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen in the closer role, with Wilhelmsen finishing the year as the top guy. He had an okay ERA (3.19) but an ugly WHIP (1.37). Based on Fangraphs’ WAR, the Mariners’ bullpen ranked 26th in baseball in 2015.
The two best relievers for the Mariners last year were Carson Smith and Mark Lowe. Smith and Lowe both excelled at striking out opposing hitters and had solid walk rates. Smith pitched 70 innings for the M’s and had a 2.31 ERA. Lowe was even better, but in fewer innings. He had a 1.00 ERA in 36 innings. Of course, Lowe was traded away during the season and Smith was traded away in the off-season. This means the two brightest spots in the Mariners’ bullpen last year will not be back in 2016.
In fact, none of the six relievers with the most innings pitched for the Mariners last year will be back in 2016. Two returners who had limited innings in 2015 are Charlie Furbush (21.7 IP) and Tony Zych (15.7 IP), both of whom are expected to have roles in the 2016 bullpen. So the Mariners have made big changes, but is this a good thing?
The charts below show the six relievers with the most innings pitched for the Mariners in 2015 and their statistics with the M’s. The lower chart shows the team’s new bullpen, with their Steamer projections from Fangraphs. A couple notes about the lower chart:
· The players listed are the current members of the bullpen as projected by MLB Depth Charts.
· Steve Cishek is projected for just 10 innings as a default setting since he is a free agent. His projection will be updated and should be around 60 innings, which is likely to increase his WAR.
The team will likely want a second lefty in the pen. This could be Mike Montgomery if he doesn’t make the starting rotation. Other left-handed options are Vidal Nuno (if he doesn’t start), Tyler Olson, Rob Rasmussen, and David Rollins. Justin De Fratus is a right-hander who is on the 40-man roster and should get a chance to compete with Zych and Bass as a middle reliever.
Losing Smith is a big blow, but I’d expect the bullpen to improve from last year. They won’t be a top-third bullpen, like the lockdown bullpen of the Kansas City Royals, but I think they have a chance to finish in the middle-of-the-pack.