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40 in 40: Evan Scribner

Meet Jerry's newest bullpen piece: an enigma wrapped in a riddle blanketed by an abnormally high homerun rate enfolded within a dominant K:BB ratio

Evan Scribner isn't so sure about you, either
Evan Scribner isn't so sure about you, either
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On December 8, the Mariners traded Trey Cochran-Gill for Evan Scribner. On February 9, Evan Scribner did an interview with Danny, Dave and Moore on 710 ESPN. You can listen here, but you might not want to unless you are the kind of person who enjoys uncomfortable situations, like watching wildly mismatched people on first dates or couples fighting in the shower curtain aisle at Target.

The interview starts off well enough, with the requisite weather chat (Scribner is from Connecticut, but has spent his whole playing career on the West Coast, which he says he enjoys because the weather is "perfect"—someone told him Seattle isn’t California, right?), and saying he’s excited to join the Mariners because he’s "glad to get away from what they’re doing in Oakland." Danny O’Neil interprets this as him being discouraged with the A’s system, which makes Scribner backtrack and clarify because he is No Dummy: no, he’s just happy to have an opportunity to be here, and would like to continue working in baseball for a long time, thank you very much.

Things sour, however, when O’Neil asks him to "give us an evaluation of your season," citing the sparkling strikeout to walk ratio that must have caught Jerry Dipoto’s eye. Over 60 innings last year, Scribner allowed only four free passes against 64 strikeouts, which are the kinds of numbers Jerry scribbles in his dream journal. The question is innocuous enough, but what happens next is weird: instead of saying something like, "yeah, I guess Jerry liked that," or, "yes I pride myself on not giving up a lot of walks," or anything at all, Scribner takes a long pause—like, long to the point where the listener wonders if the connection has dropped. Then, he makes a tiny laugh, the kind of laugh your neighbor on a cross-country flight would make in reply to your opening gambit to let you know that the next five hours will be spent in mutual disinterested silence.

The silence stretches on, becomes eternal; somewhere radio execs are throwing things around a wood-paneled conference room over this dead air. O’Neil has no choice but to press on: "How’d your season go, Evan?" he prompts. Scribner clarifies: "How’d it go?" he repeats, throwing some emphasis on the last word. (Scribner has a tendency, throughout the interview, to end his sentences with question marks? Maybe all that time in California has ingrained upspeak? Or he’s just very suspicious?) "How’d you evaluate the season you just had, last year," O’Neil says, again.

Now, Scribner did not have a great season last year, and he knows it, and he probably assumes the hosts know it too. This puts him in the uncomfortable place of having to spin his poor season in a way that partially explains his struggles while still conveying hope and optimism for the future. Scribner throws out all the cliches--"up and down," "roller coaster"--and reminds everyone it was his first full year in the majors. "I was overall happy with it, I’d say?" he finally sums up, because what other answer could he give? A six-minute radio interview does not allow for the nuances of Evan Scribner’s career in the majors so far.

Drafted in 2007 by the Diamondbacks, traded to the Padres and then the Athletics in 2011, Scribner toiled in the minors until 2011. Between 2012 and 2014 he ping-ponged between Triple-A Sacramento and the Athletics. In 2015 he pitched in more major league games than he did in all of 2012-14; he also allowed more runs in 2015 than in his three previous seasons combined. An injury to Sean Doolittle and the general implosion of the A’s bullpen forced Scribner into more high-leverage situations than he’d ever pitched in before: after appearing in virtually no high-leverage spots between 2012-14, Scribner found himself in 16 such situations in 2015. Although he started well, posting a shiny 1.96 ERA over his first nine games, Scribner’s ERA ballooned to 5.56 by the end of June.

Before 2015, Scribner threw two pitches, a meh fastball and a tricky curve. Over the offseason and in the minors, however, Scribner added a new pitch, a cutter, to his repertoire. Initially the cutter dazzled batters and Scribner worked himself into a setup man role by late April—a position he says he enjoys more than that of long relief, which is a little like a college professor saying he prefers teaching senior seminars to freshman comp. But by the All-Star break, hitters had figured out his new pitch, Scribner was struggling, and the Bay Area press began calling for his demotion. By the time a torn lat muscle ended his 2015 campaign (a torn lat has been a problem for Scribner before, and his injury status is worth monitoring over the year), Scribner’s ERA sat at 4.35 and his HR% at 5.9%—14 dingers in just 60 innings. Worse, 16.7% of the fly balls hit against him were homers, more than double the MLB average of 7.6%.

But Trader Jerry saw a slightly bruised Scribner in the clearance bin and decided he’d found himself a bargain. At the media luncheon at Safeco on January 29 (the selfsame one attended by LL’s fearless leader Nathan Bishop), Dipoto said this:

"Evan Scribner is under the radar pretty good. He’s better than you think he is. He had a little bit of a problem with the homer ball last year, but he’s about as good in terms of his ability to control the strike zone as any pitcher in baseball."

The phrase that pays: Scribner controls the zone. Despite the .250/.269/.489 slash line he allowed, Scribner manufactures a ton of strikeouts and almost no walks, something he’s done throughout his career. In his 2014 cameo, he issued no free passes while striking out 11. His 5.9% home run ratio is high, but he actually lowered that from a dismal 8.5% in 2014, and the pitcher-friendly park factors of Safeco will drive that number even lower. And despite his struggles last year, as O’Neil noted before things went south, Scribner only walked four batters last season. Four! You can literally count the number of walks he issued on one hand. His K/BB chart over at Fangraphs looks like some crazy abstract art, something Jerry probably commissioned to hang on his wall.

Back to the interview and those precious, expensive, silent moments. The hosts try a variety of things to coax more information out of Scribner, asking him questions about beer, dogs, being single (rude), his golf game, and any other nuggets they can glean from his social media accounts. But Scribner is wary now, and offers only the briefest of answers. Maybe the "assess your season" question still rankles him, or perhaps he’s suspicious they will ask him about when a 91 mph wayward fastball whacked our best player in the elbow? (I’d rather they ask him about whether he will continue to use the Epic Sax Guy song as his intro music, or if he’s leaving that in Oakland.) Eventually, the interview stumbles to a close, and everyone hangs up wondering what the heck just happened. It’s an unfortunate start to a relationship that just may turn out to be something special for both player and club. Hopefully it’s something we can look back on in a few months and all have a good laugh over. In the meantime, here's Scribner making Kevin Pillar look silly: