With roster cuts coming with regular frequency at this stage of spring training, one battle with some uncertainty is the bullpen. Late offseason addition Kameron Loe is stating his case to make the final 25-man roster. Loe has bounced around different roles (and leagues) in his career, but the Mariners are just his 3rd MLB stop. Standing at 6'8'', Loe is an imposing presence on the mound who flamed out as a starter with the Texas Rangers but later found success in 2010 with the Milwaukee Brewers after a brief and disastrous stint in Japan. Loe excelled as a reliever in 2010 (3.72 tERA/3.28 xFIP), and in 2011 he became a predominantly sinker-ball pitcher, throwing it a whopping 78.6% of the time in 2011 while mixing in a breaking pitch (which appears to be slurve of sorts) at 19%.
2011 was another success even if a cursory look at his traditional stats leans otherwise. Despite an ERA increase from 2.78 to 3.50, Loe improved on nearly all his peripheral stats, improving his tERA to 3.10 and his xFIP to 2.78. He also caused more ground balls (63.3%), and struck more batters out, and walked less. (3.81 K/BB ratio). In 2012, he kept the same approach, but everything fell apart. Loe's tERA shot up to 4.63 as both is FB% and LD% increased while his GB% dropped. He stayed with the same predominantly two pitch approach, but his sinker usage decreased to 68.7% while his slurve usage went up to 26%. Loe's HR rate shot up to 1.19 HR/9, and while his FIP (4.21) was much poorer than his xFIP (3.57), both were significantly worse than his previous two successful seasons.
Loe has maintained a clean and consistent three-quarters delivery over his career as a reliever, evidenced here in 2010 (first) and 2012 (second).
2012 ended up costing Loe a major league deal after electing to become a free agent. Loe received interest from the Orioles this offseason, but ended up settling for a minor league deal with Seattle, and the road to reclamation begins. So was Loe's 2012 fueled by poor pitch selection or a flukey home run rate? Evidence would seem to suggest the latter, as the 18% HR/FB rate was well above his career average of 11.5%. There's not any red flags in his profile to suggest he's cooked. Loe did not see a drop in velocity, and while he changed the way he approached hitters slightly, he has shown an ability to adapt positively throughout his career.
Loe also fills a situational role for the Mariners. Last season, the best ground ball generating reliever was Tom Wilhelmsen, at 48.3%. Loe's 3 year average has placed him at ~60%, significantly higher than any other reliever on the roster last year. There's value to having a guy like that in the pen to try and generate double plays when they're desperately needed. With Josh Kinney sidelined with an injury, it appears there is a spot to be claimed, at least for now. It is possible the Mariners could grab an arm they like better on the waiver wire as teams narrow their rosters and knock Loe out of the picture, but it'd be unlikely. Matt Capps, for example, is expected to be available. There will be more.
Loe hasn't been talked about much this spring, but he's put together a nice line. Through 7 innings he's struck out 10 batters and walked just one, and he's allowed 2 earned runs in the process. We all know spring training stats are misleading and unreliable, but reports on his progress have been positive as well. The velocity and movement appear intact. Given Kinney's injury that will start him on the disabled list, Loe belongs in the 2013 Mariner bullpen.