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40 in 40: Charlie Furbush

Charlie, who represents the M's best left-handed reliever, looks to come back strong in 2016 after an injury-shortened campaign last season.

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

For the first few months of 2015, Charlie Furbush was enjoying what might have been the best season of his career. Everything was great! And then, towards the beginning of July, he got hurt. And the Mariners training staff maybe bungled his rehab. And he didn’t pitch again in 2015. And man was last year dumb. Below is a brief timeline of Charlie’s injury status, which is so damned frustrating.

  • July 7th: Charlie struck out the side in a scoreless inning against the Detroit Tigers.

  • July 9th: He was placed on the 15-day DL with left biceps tendinitis.

  • July 18th: The team announced that his rehab process wasn’t going as quickly as they originally planned. However, Rick Griffin was adamant that Furbush hadn't suffered a setback.

  • July 18th (later that night): Charlie was spotted in Ballard by everyone’s favorite beat reporter David R. Skiba. Good work, Skeebsy.

  • August 2nd: He threw a 33-pitch bullpen session.

  • August 10th: He threw a 40-pitch bullpen session.

  • August 16th: He revisited the Mariners' team physicians after continuing to feel soreness in his left biceps following the bullpen session he threw on Aug 15th.

  • August 21st: He was diagnosed with a slight tear of his left rotator cuff.

  • September 8th: He was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL.

It’s possible that Charlie was super unlucky and simply tore his rotator cuff during rehab. But maybe the original diagnosis was incorrect? Who knows. Regardless, Charlie’s absence proved to be pretty detrimental to the Mariners bullpen in the second half. Just look at this table!

M's lefty relievers 1st half 80 6.30 3.15 1.01 79.0% 45.3% 10.2% 3.49 4.36 4.48
M's lefty relievers 2nd half 77.1 6.40 3.26 1.16 71.4% 39.5% 9.4% 5.35 4.63 4.80
Furbush in 2015 (out for 2nd half) 21.2 7.06 2.08 0.83 75.8% 48.2% 10.0% 2.08 3.73 3.90

Over the past few seasons, Charlie has quietly become one of the very best left-handed relievers in the league. Since 2012, hitters have posted a teeny-tiny 0.217 wOBA against him. During that period, 453 pitchers faced lefties more than 200 times, but only FIVE (Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Javier Lopez, Mark Melancon, and Koji Uehara) have been more effective than Charlie (using wOBA). That is some pretty rockin’ company to be in.

As such, it’s not terribly surprising that the Mariners left-handed relievers struggled after Furbush got hurt. As a unit, their ERA ballooned from 3.49 (pre-All-Star break) to well above 5.00 (post-All-Star break). Their FIP and xFIP also increased appreciably. Instead of having Charlie as their go-to lefty, the Mariners were stuck with Joe Beimel or David Rollins or Rob Rasmussen, which was far from ideal. (Vidal Nuno would eventually prove to be surprisingly adept in this role in limited opportunities.) The quote below, which is an excerpt from one of Bob Dutton’s ‘Mariners Notebook’ pieces following a game in New York last July, gives you an idea of how Charlie’s absence was a big ol’ bummer for the M’s.

"McClendon acknowledged he would have called on Furbush in the seventh inning Friday in a 3-3 game against the Yankees. Instead, the Mariners turned to Joe Beimel, who yielded a homer to Alex Rodriguez. That homer lifted the Yankees to a 4-3 victory."

Looking forward to 2016, it’ll be interesting to see how Scott Servais uses Furbush out of the ‘pen. When he first joined the Mariners relief corps, Charlie faced an average of 3.8 batters per appearance. However, under Lloyd, Furbush’s role became more akin to that of a LOOGY (his BF/G dropped precipitously to 2.6 in 2014).

Before getting hurt last season, almost 49% of the batters Furbush faced were left-handed. That’s significantly higher than the average (42.6% of PA in 2015 were taken by LHBs). However, it should be noted that Charlie is also quite proficient against right-handed batters (a career wOBA of 0.288 vs. righties as a reliever), so he needn’t be pigeon-holed as "just" a LOOGY. Depending on how the bullpen shakes out moving forward, Servais could use Charlie in a few different roles. This kind of flexibility is good for the team; I sure do hope that the Mariners bullpen is less bad next year.

It should, of course, be emphasized that all of this hinges on Charlie’s ability to fully recover from his torn rotator cuff. I haven’t read anything to suggest that Charlie won’t be in the best shape of his life come spring training, but when you miss the final 78 games of the season there’s always room for doubt. Come back strong, Charlie. We miss you and your red beard and your high socks and your antics in the ‘pen.

Go M’s.