Well, meet Tony Zych. Tony Zych could be the next Carson Smith in the Mariners’ bullpen. This article at Fangraphs goes into more detail, but I’ll lay out the basics.
First off, let’s be clear: Carson Smith has a much longer track record of success. He was drafted in the 8th round of the 2011 June Amateur Draft and moved up through the minors quickly, like many Mariners prospects. In three minor league seasons, Smith pitched quite well.
Carson Smith, minor leagues:
155 IP, 193 K, 58 BB, 3.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
Tony Zych was taken in that same 2011 June draft, although he was taken in the 4th round, 114 picks before Smith. Zych hasn’t had the same success as Smith in the minor leagues.
Tony Zych, minor leagues:
228 IP, 199 K, 69 BB, 3.71 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
The strikeout rate greatly favors Smith. He’s been dominant in his minor league career. Zych has had flashes of dominance, but has also had seasons where he wasn’t nearly as effective.
Smith reached the major leagues for 8.3 innings in 2014 and struck out 10 hitters and walked three. He took on a bigger role in last year’s bullpen, when he pitched 70 innings and even picked up 13 saves.
Zych got a taste of the big leagues with 18.3 innings in 2015 for the Mariners. He struck out 24 batters and walked just three.
Here is a comparison between the two last year:
They had similar repertoires on the mound last year. Both essentially rely on their fastball and slider, with a small percentage of change ups.
When it comes to their physical attributes, Smith has an edge in size, but Zych throws harder. Smith is 6’6” and weighs 215 pounds. Zych is 6’3”, 190. Despite being smaller in stature, Zych’s fastball averaged 96 mph last season to Smith’s 93.
Smith has generated more ground balls (65% ground ball rate last year to Zych’s 50%) but Zych induced more pop ups (18% infield fly rate to 7%). They were both effective at limiting hard contact, with Smith having a 19.6% hard hit rate and Zych checking in at 17%.
There are many good indicators for Tony Zych. Carson smith got his feet wet with the Mariners in 2014, then pitched 70 very good innings in 2015. Tony Zych got his feet wet last year. Hopefully, he can pitch 60-70 very good innings for the Mariners this year.
Here are the Steamer projections for Smith and Zych for 2016:
55 IP, 60 K, 20 BB, 3.04 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9—Carson Smith
55 IP, 52 K, 17 BB, 3.41 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9—Tony Zych