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Mixed bag of horrors: A bullpen examination

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Part One of our look at 2016’s pile

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This post marks the first of two exit examinations of the (sometimes) lovable bunch of weirdos: the Seattle Mariners bullpen. From a Canadian import to a triple digit-throwing rookie, the storylines and performances coming from the bullpen were endless and we’re going to do our best to sum it all up for you. Here we go.

Drew Storen

2016 (w/ Mariners): 0.3 fWAR, 2.76 FIP, 3.51 xFIP, 7.85 K/9, 1.47 BB/9

Drew Storen came to Seattle in a damaged goods for damaged goods trade, with Joaquin Benoit heading over to Toronto after walking everyone in a five-mile radius with a bat in their hands.

Storen’s first outing with the Mariners was a peculiar one. Hours after joining the club in Pittsburgh, he was tasked with keeping a 3-1 deficit static. His debut inning was ideal, as he induced three straight groundouts. Scott Servais, perhaps smitten with the sudden appearance of a real life, functional reliever, decided to send Storen back out in the seventh, where Storen was forced to rack up his highest pitch count of the season. When the dust settled, he had surrendered four runs on three hits, a walk, and a strikeout. To repeat myself: other relievers were available and Storen had been a Mariner for roughly five minutes.

Surprisingly, Storen actually recovered from the outing and put together a fairly successful run with the Mariners. From the beginning of August through the rest of the season, he managed to post a 2.65 FIP while running a 7.50 K/BB. His .214 BABIP during the time period isn’t sustainable, but his ability to limit hard contact was a fun and unexpected turn of events:

He also started mixing his pitches more, posting his lowest total Hard Pitch Percentages in August and September. Storen will be a free agent this offseason, but I’d imagine he’ll be open to the idea of a return to Seattle, given his short run of success this summer.

Vidal Nuno

2016: 0.0 fWAR (0.9 bWAR), 4.51 FIP, 4.12 xFIP, 7.82 K/9, 1.69 BB/9

Props to Vidal Nuno: in a year where it seemed like every pitcher ended up on the disabled list sooner or later, he was a shining beacon of health.

The results during that time were fairly mixed:

Nuno isn’t the masterful bullpen arm he was in April/May and he isn’t the disaster he was in June and August. He’s a fairly average bullpen arm, but his team control and ability to take on so many different roles, including that of an emergency spot starter, makes him a nifty piece to have moving forward.

Arquimedes Caminero

2016: -0.1 fWAR, 5.13 FIP, 5.35 xFIP, 8.24 K/9, 5.03 BB/9

Caminero rode strong BABIP luck and a brief stretch of command to a strong start with the Mariners, but things eventually came crashing down in an ugly way for the flame-throwing 29-year-old. He surrendered his first run in a Mariners uniform on August 16th. From that point forward, he put up a 5.95 xFIP while walking more than seven batters per nine innings.

Whether or not he has value moving forward depends on if he A) can figure out how to throw his pitches with any semblance of command, B) develops a second pitch, or C) adds some movement to his triple-digit fastball. Right now, his entire repertoire consists of a straight fastball and below-average breaking stuff, none of which he controls very well. He’s still under team control through 2021, but it’s not like the M’s are dealing with a 23-year-old who is just learning how to pitch. Caminero is 29 and has shown little signs of improvement over the years. All you can hope for at this point is that the M’s figure something out that other teams haven’t over the last decade.

Evan Scribner

2016: 0.4 fWAR, 1.65 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 9.64 K/9, 1.29 BB/9

Scribner had an odd season, going from neat offseason acquisition to hurt to most people forgetting he existed to suddenly rehabbing to Seattle, where he managed to put up fourteen scoreless innings before the season came to an end.

He was the beneficiary of BABIP luck and several long fly balls just not having enough to get out of the stadium, but it was a fairly strong Seattle debut, regardless. His fastball velocity was down a tad in 2016, but the curveball was just about as sharp as it’s ever been.

Scribner will likely be expected to be a significant contributor in the bullpen entering 2017, where we’ll get a much better feel for what kind of pitcher he could be for the Mariners. The small success in 2016 was nice, but it was exactly that: small success.

Tom Wilhelmsen

2016 (w/ Mariners): -0.2 fWAR, 5.07 FIP, 4.65 xFIP, 6.12 K/9, 3.60 BB/9

The narrative that Wilhelmsen purposely sucked in Texas so he could come home to Seattle and go back to tearing MLB hitters to pieces was a fun one and one that I had no problem playing up for fun, but truth be told, Wilhelmsen just wasn’t the Wilhelmsen we knew in 2016.

The velocity and horizontal movement of most of his pitches have trended in the wrong direction the last couple years and in 2016 he saw a career-low in Whiff Percentage on his fastball (7.44%).

There are some questions regarding Wilhelmsen heading into 2017. How much stock do you put into him holding down a spot in the ‘pen? How much money are you willing to give him in arbitration? To you even keep him around long enough to find out?

The Bartender has been a fan favorite in Seattle for awhile now and will probably be one of my favorite relief pitchers in team history when all is said and done, but his presence in the ‘pen in 2017 is far from a certainty.

Edwin Diaz

2016: 1.9 WAR, 2.04 FIP, 1.88 xFIP, 15.33 K/9, 2.61 BB/9

Of all the surprises 2016 brought us, it was hard to find one greater than that of Edwin Diaz: elite relief pitcher. Diaz started the year as a starting pitcher with Double-A Jackson, where he twirled a few consecutive strong outings in a row to start the year. Just as the idea of him potentially sneaking into the Seattle rotation at some point in 2016 started creeping into our minds, Dipoto and Co. made the sudden move to switch him to a permanent, full-time reliever, effective immediately. They spoke of his ability to contribute sooner this way and how much his stuff would play up. These high expectations were met instantly, as Diaz flirted with 100 mph while flashing a razor sharp slider in his first relief appearance with Jackson.

Soon after, he was called up to Seattle, where he quickly emerged as the team’s best reliever. For awhile, he treated MLB hitters like minor leaguers, flinging pitch after pitch past them with ease and leaving them unsure about whether or not this whole baseball thing was going to work out after all.

A bit of a wall was hit in August, when his walk-rate shot up to just over five walks per nine innings and his xFIP inflated to a pinch over three. Even then, it always felt like if he could just get it together for three hitters, he’d be fine, and that typically was the case. He finished the season with a big September/October, posting a 12.48 K/9 and a 1.66 xFIP.

I expect Diaz to continue as the team’s closer in 2017. It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches his first offseason and full season as a relief pitcher, but I wouldn’t expect much to change. The triple digit fastball will be there. The exploding slider will be there. The smile will be there. The fun will be there.