1. For the first time since 2001, the Seattle Mariners are about to begin a regular season with a balanced roster void of any glaring holes. One of this roster's strongest points remains its bullpen, which stranded runners at an historic rate in 2014, leading all of baseball in ERA and rounding out the top five in a number of other metrics. This bullpen is so strong, in fact, that just last week they sent a pitcher who finished the last two months of the year touching 100 with only two walks away for outfield depth, and the response was basically "Oh, well we have this other guy who can probably do that too." Yoervis Medina is not that other guy. But Yoervis Medina is, through no fault of his own, an integral part of the Seattle Mariners' bullpen.
2. Yoervis Medina spent the earliest parts of his state-side career as a starter in the Mariners farm system after being signed as a 17-year old Venezuelan free agent in 2005. To simply say his 1-13 record in A+ during 2011 was a disappointment would be lazy analysis--but to acknowledge the M's were reticent to give up on a 22 year old kid with a fastball at 94, a changeup at 84, and a weird curve that everyone thought looked like a slider is also kind of obvious. They, of course, did no such thing.
3. On April 16th, 2013, Yoervis Medina made his Major-League debut in a game against the Detroit Tigers. He walked in a run while facing the first batter of his career, and the Mariners would go on to lose the game, 6-2.
4. Medina notched his first save on June 18th, 2013 in the wake of M's closer Tom Wilhelmsen's sudden bout with Fastball Command Allergy. Pitching coach Carl Willis noted that "in Venezuela (Medina) was pitching in front of 20,000 almost nightly," and that this all happened amidst bands playing over violent crowds rivaling that of an Apple Cup college football game. They liked this energy, and they liked that he not only looked up to his fellow countryman Felix Hernandez but also that he kind of looked like Felix, with a 245-pound frame on a 6'3" body. I'm not sure what that really has to do with baseball, but it's in there.
5. Danny Farquhar eventually got the nod as the team's closer, and during the rest 2013 season Eric Wedge used Yoervis primarily to eat innings. Medina faced 132 left handed batters and 159 righties during his 68 innings of work, a slight handedness split that wasn't overmanaged that resulted in only ten innings of difference in his usage. His splits, however, were kind of interesting.
The only real notable difference was that Medina was able to rack up strikeouts against right-handed batters with his curveball, which really falls more like a slider to give him a breaking advantage against hitters on the right side. But he threw this against left handers as well, and as a result, he struggled to keep his walk rate down, continuing command problems which had plagued him since his earlier days as a starter coming up in the Mariners' farm system.
6. I remember a lot of things about Eric Wedge's time as the Mariners skipper, but one thing I don't remember is being frustrated at how he used Yoervis Medina. This could be for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the Mariners were awful in 2013, and if a closer was blowing a save with the team 10 games under .500 very little would change in the material world. But what's so interesting is that Wedge was eager to trot out Medina in any number of situations, leaving him in the game or bringing him out well after the bed was shat-upon.
I don't remember why I wasn't frustrated at those 23 innings of high leverage baseball from Medina, and his .195 average doesn't tell you that his K rate fell from 33% in low leverage situations to 16% under pressure. Or that his walk rate skyrocketed up from 7% to 18% in the same period of time. Everyone performs different under pressure, of course, but that Medina was able to trot out a .195 average with such variance is kind of insane, all things considered.
7. Outside of Oliver Perez and a late summer surprise from Danny Farquhar, the Mariners bullpen was pretty bad in 2013. Yoervis Medina was a weird baseball player trying to find his way on a weird team with a weird dysfunctional management structure and a weird operational philosophy. He was thought of as a closer at one point, and then a middle reliever, and sometimes he was even their setup guy. Sometimes he would face one batter, and then he would face eight in his next appearance. Regardless, he was that guy on the team that you just kind of watched sometimes, and then the Mariners would lose the game or maybe win it, and you didn't really feel too strongly one way or the other. The Mariners were bad, and you did not get upset when he walked in runs because a lot of other people were walking in runs.
A few months later Eric Wedge left and then the house burnt down and everyone got a second chance, which is really kind of amazing when you think about it.
8. In 2014, the Mariners were very good, and this surprised many people. As we noted in the first point, their bullpen went from one of the league-worst to the league-best, and despite the fact that Fernando Rodney would give you a heart attack every night, the system seemed to be working. New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon got a lot of credit for this turnaround, and then he started to confuse people by doing things like lock in permanent bullpen roles that seemed to make little sense with all things considered. To the dismay of many, Lloyd locked in Yoervis Medina as his right-handed set-up man, even though former M's closer Danny Farquhar was available and the harbinger of many less terrifying memories over the past 365 days. Instead, it was the Fernando Rodney Experience round two, but in this version there was no fun arrow at the end, and the M's didn't always seem to get out of it.
9. In August of 2014, Yoervis Medina did this to Alexi Ramirez, who also held the honor of breaking apart against a Tom Wilhelmsen curveball two years earlier.
If you look at the beginning of the GIF, you will notice that Mike Zunino tries to locate the pitch on the outside corner of the plate. Medina threw it literally the furthest he could from that point while still somehow landing in the strike zone, up near Ramriez' head. If you had frozen time after the ball left Medina's hand and then asked him where it was going to end up, I'm not sure he could have answered your question. Yet, this is really a story about Alexi Ramirez, who was out on strikes because of Yoervis Medina.
10. Lloyd's new set up guy still managed to face more righties, as he is wont to do. But instead of having nearly comparable results like 2013, Medina's 2014 saw a much stranger split situation, resulting partly from him completely abandoning his changeup in favor of his sliding curve and sinking fastball, which was now touching 97. Look at this nonsense, and keep in mind he faced only 40 more right handers than lefties (143 to 103):
I don't know what this means. Was he having trouble getting lefty outs with his curve? No, because he was giving up fewer hits and reversing his career splits. Was he having command trouble and somehow crawling into oddly workable results? Well...now we may be getting somewhere.
11. Medina always seemed to be pitching in high leverage situations late in games that the Mariners needed to win. Between April 14th and July 19th, Medina pitched exclusively in the eighth or ninth innings, appearing in the seventh only once to get Lorenzo Cain out so he could then pitch in the eighth. This continued on into September, and it frustrated many people because Danny Farquhar was on the bench, and watching Medina pitch was kind of like watching the coolant rack melt in the back of your failing fridge. You knew what was coming and you knew the mess was going to be awful, but at the same time it just sat there....dripping...beckoning you with malice.
12. Yoervis Medina was worth 0.3 fWAR last season, which was more than Tom Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith, Chris Young, Joe Beimel, Lucas Luetge, and Erasmo Ramirez.
13. Lloyd's usage of Medina felt incredibly frustrating, mostly because the Mariners were finally winning and they didn't have time to trot out the same young arm that had no business being in high leverage situations with games that actually mattered for once. The time to pressure rookies and see what was in the tank was long gone. Which is why Lloyd used Medina like this:
I'm not sure what to make of this beyond the simple fact that Yoervis Medina didn't actually pitch in as many terrifying situations as it felt like he did last year. And rather than plummet off the cliff in those 13 innings, Medina's K% and BB% remained fairly consistent with his overall averages--he struck out batters at a 23.5% clip in low leverage situations, and only dropped down to 19% in high. His walks only increased by 2.6% in the same.
Either way, it's clear that Eric Wedge let Yoervis Medina face much more dangerous situations than Lloyd, and even when Medina was in trouble this season, he actually performed more in line with his career averages rather than falling apart. I'm not sure I believe any of that.
14. Yoervis Medina once took this amazing picture with his teammates on a plane ride back from New York last season, and despite the fact that you can't measure it, 2014's camaraderie seems like it was an integral part to the push made in late September.
15. Barring the unforeseen, Yoervis Medina is going to be pitching out of the Mariners bullpen during the 2015 season, which is supposed to be their first in the playoffs in over a decade. It was incredibly frustrating to watch Lloyd trot Medina out in situations he wasn't supposed to be in last year, but it as it turns out, he may not have actually pitched in as many as you had thought.
And even if he did, he's going to be there anyway, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Nathan put it best last year, when he said that Yoervis Medina was "the worst while still being totally fine and ok." And even if he isn't, we always have, um...well, that other guy.