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40 in 40: Edwin Diaz

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Can everyone’s favorite fireballer find an extra gear in 2017?

The LL Holiday Party agrees: Edwin Diaz is Good at Base Ball.

In 2014, Edwin Diaz was named the Seattle Mariners Minor League Starter of the Year after making 24 starts in A-ball, with 111 strikeouts in 116 innings.

In 2015, Edwin Diaz was named the Seattle Mariners Minor League Starter of the Year after making 27 starts across A+ and AA-ball, with 145 strikeouts in 141.1 innings.

And yet, despite all that success, on May 11, 2016, Diaz was banished to the bullpen, that graveyard for starters to find themselves. It was seen by some as a desperate move by a win-now organization, or perhaps a sign that the Mariners truly didn’t believe in their best pitching prospect’s ability to succeed.

Fast forward to early June, and Diaz was already called up to the major league roster. Fast forward to early August, and Diaz was named as the M’s closer, replacing Steve Cishek. And fast forward to the end of the year, where Edwin Diaz - the same Edwin Diaz who began the year in AA Jackson - finished third in all of MLB in xFIP, posting a sparkling 1.9 fWAR.

I was at his first-ever game, and let me tell you, it was a thing of beauty.

That 90-94 MPH fastball from his days as a starter? Now hitting triple digits.

And that offspeed stuff, oh boy.

But chances are that you, dear Mariners fan, already know all of this. You know just how dangerous Electric Eddie D is, and you know that he’s a Mariner for six more years. You know that 22-year-old pitchers tend to, y’know, get better, and you’re probably aware that a 15.33 K/9 rate is pretty flippin’ spectacular.

So what to expect in 2017? Let’s start with the projections. Unsurprisingly, neither Steamer nor ZiPS project Diaz to match his numbers from a year ago. ZiPS calls for Diaz to put up 1.5 WAR over 79.1 innings, while Steamer is not quite as optimistic, putting him at 1.2 WAR in 65 innings.

Now, let’s remember: Neither of those are actually bad (really, they’re quite good!), and projections systems will be cautious by nature. Diaz has no track record in the majors before last year, and never even stopped in AAA on his rocket ship to Seattle a year ago. The uncertainty factored into these systems’ calculations absolutely makes sense. And with an entire offseason to study film and get ready to hit him, expect opposing batters not to look quite so foolish at times against the young Puerto Rican.

How can you not love this guy?

Yet even in a franchise that has seen many an illustrious closer - Kaz Sasaki, J.J. Putz, David Aardsma, and even the Fernando Rodney Experience circa 2014 come to mind, at least in the recent vintage - Diaz is poised to assume the mantle as the team’s Greatest Closer Ever. His background as a starter, combined with Scott Servais’ openness to analytics, will hopefully allow him to pitch in the highest-leverage situations. His offspeed stuff should only get better with major league coaching and training facilities, as well as simply maturing.

Get excited, friends. Edwin Diaz is going to continue to set the world on fire, and though he may be just a short while removed from being a starting pitcher, his dominance from the ‘pen has eliminated any possibility of a return. Instead, just know...