clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

LL Season Preview: The Bullpen

New, 6 comments

The Mariners bullpen has already run into injury issues and they're hoping they can pick out the right pieces from the pile they've assembled.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's difficult to talk about a major league bullpen without using the word ‘volatile'. Between small sample sizes, pitchers throwing with maximum effort, and late inning dramatics, it's a wonder anyone tries to predict what relievers are going to do year after year. That buzzword is usually used with a negative connotation to temper our expectations. Well, the Mariners are hoping for some positive volatility with the uninspiring collection of bullpen arms they've assembled.

Just two years ago, Mariners relievers posted a 2.60 ERA and an excellent 3.24 FIP. Both of those marks led the American League, topping the celebrated Royals bullpen. Most of the main contributors returned in 2015, but what was a team strength quickly soured. Mariner fans soon abandoned any trust in relief arms they may have gained the year before. Fernando Rodney lost all control of his fastball. Danny Farquhar left too many cutters over the heart of the plate. Dominic Leone forgot how to pitch. There were a few bright spots to be sure, the emergence of Carson Smith and the steady rhythms of Tom Wilhelmsen most notable. But both of them are gone now, replaced by a pile of relievers as tall as Tom's big, bending curveball.

Jerry Dipoto quickly leveraged whatever value was left over from that excellent 2014 crew to fill many of the other holes on the roster. Only Charlie Furbush remains from that era. In their place is a group of pitchers with warts, dings, and question marks, hoping for a little volatility to break their way. With such a ragtag group of pitchers, the roles each of them might hold might be a little flexible. Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais may be proponents of sabermetric principles but they may not be ready to fully embrace those ideas in their bullpen. So which roles do these relievers slot into? Here's my best guess with just 10 days left until Opening Day:

MLB Roster

2016 FanGraphs Projections

Role

Name

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

Closer

Steve Cishek

8.55

3.32

0.82

3.67

3.60

Setup 1

Joaquin Benoit

9.06

3.05

1.02

3.28

3.70

Setup 2

Tony Zych

8.67

2.42

0.85

3.46

3.42

LOOGY

Vidal Nuno

7.75

2.14

1.27

3.97

4.08

Middle

Joel Peralta

8.26

2.56

1.30

4.06

4.07

Middle

Mayckol Guaipe

7.17

2.73

1.04

4.20

4.11

Long

Mike Montgomery

6.87

3.21

0.92

4.20

4.15

Disabled List

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

DL

Charlie Furbush

9.43

2.86

0.95

3.31

3.51

DL

Evan Scribner

9.35

1.72

1.17

3.44

3.42

DL

Ryan Cook

8.18

3.69

0.96

4.18

4.04

Minors

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

40-man

Jonathan Aro

7.74

3.10

1.02

4.01

4.06

40-man

David Rollins

7.44

3.02

1.05

4.18

4.14

40-man

Cody Martin

8.13

3.49

1.23

4.39

4.41

AAA

Donn Roach

4.12

2.69

1.00

4.85

4.72

AAA

Justin De Fratus

7.42

3.27

1.09

4.19

4.29

AAA

Blake Parker

8.66

3.30

1.04

3.64

3.92

AAA

Paul Fry

8.92

3.78

0.87

3.58

3.78

Steve Cishek was a great reliever from 2011 to 2014, and an elite closer during two of those seasons. Unfortunately, he lost command of his slider in 2015 and his walk rate rose in 2015. He relies primarily on a sinker/slider combo that helps him keep the ball in the yard while racking up big strikeout totals. This spring, he's running a 4/1 K/BB ratio while working through a sore bicep. My guess is that he'll rebound to where he was before last year and the Mariners will have an excellent pitcher closing out their games.

Backing up Cishek are Joaquin Benoit and Tony Zych. Benoit already has experience in the ninth and his repertoire enables him to generate tons of weak contact alongside modest strikeout totals. He should be a reliable setup man and could step into closing duties if Cishek fails. Zych dazzled in his brief appearance in the majors last year. His big fastball and nasty slider give him two weapons he can lean on in the late innings. If he's for real, he has all the makings of a potential closer down the road.

With Furbush sidelined with a shoulder injury, Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery seem to be the most likely candidates to take his place as lefty specialists. Nuno may seem kind of bland but his stuff played up when he was moved to the bullpen last year. In just under 40 innings as a reliever, he struck out a quarter of the batters he faced and his FIP was just 2.82. Montgomery  transitioned to the bullpen this spring, and not surprisingly, he's throwing harder. His arsenal isn't ideal for a LOOGY—he ran a reverse split in limited time last year—but he's out of options and I can't see the Mariners tossing him overboard.

Injuries to Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook have opened two more roster spots. Joel Peralta is in camp as a non-roster invitee and seems to be a great influence in the clubhouse. His velocity is up and his splitter looks as good as ever. He'll need to be added to the 40-man roster but he's probably the favorite for the sixth spot. The final spot will probably end up going to Mayckol Guaipe simply because he's already on the 40-man roster. He hasn't looked too bad this spring and his curveball seems to have more bite to it.

The last few remaining challengers to Guaipe's spot will probably end up on the Tacoma-Seattle shuttle at some point during the year. Jonathan Aro, David Rollins, and Cody Martin are already on the 40-man roster and all of them have been reassigned to minor league camp. Justin De Fratus was in camp on a major league contract but was cut, re-signed, and assigned to minor league camp as well. That leaves Donn Roach and Blake Parker as the two remaining non-roster invitees. Each has intriguing upside—Roach generates a ton of grounders and Parker has a nasty curve that has helped him strikeout a quarter of his opponents despite average velocity. I'd expect they'll accept minor league assignments knowing there will probably be some turnover at the major league level early in the season.

Injuries to a few valuable relievers left the Mariners scrambling to fill their vacated spots. The team won't be starting off with an ideal bullpen, but even at full strength this group has its question marks. It also has room to surprise. Zych in particular looks like he's ready to break out as the Mariners next relief ace, and the collection of minor leaguers should provide enough depth should the injury bug strike again. It probably won't be a strength of the team but volatility goes both ways. The Mariners are hoping they've assembled enough arms to find five or six reliable pitchers.