First, a brief exercise to get things started: I would like you to close your eyes. Good. Now, in your mind, please envision a Mariners reliever. A man who throws a 96+ mph heater. A man with a killer slider. A man who strikes out a ton of bad guys.
Have you done this? What do you see? Does the player you’re envisioning look a lot like Edwin Diaz? That would make sense. All of these attributes do apply to the M’s electric closer.
However... they also apply to Mr. Tony Zych!
Warning: All of the following numbers are based on a small sample size; Zych has pitched just 32 big-league innings. This is not a lot. That being said, it is nearly impossible to talk about any reliever without venturing into the realm of small sample sizes and large degrees of uncertainty/volatility. If you come across baseball writing that asserts anything more than the barest certainty re: a reliever, you are probably reading the words of a LIAR (or a prophet).
First, some good/great/very fun things about Zych:
- Since 2015, among the 586 MLB pitchers with at least 32 innings pitched, Tony Zych has the 10th lowest FIP (2.23).
- Since 2015, among the 586 MLB pitchers with at least 32 innings pitched, Tony Zych has the 8th highest strikeout rate (12.66 K/9).
- Since 2015, among the 318 MLB pitchers who have thrown a slider at least 15% of the time, Tony Zych’s slider is the 6th most valuable (2.76 wSL/C).
(For comparison, Diaz’s ranks within these categories are 6th lowest, highest, and 2nd most valuable, respectively. Damn do the M’s have some crazy arms in their ‘pen.)
When Zych is feeling it (and healthy), he can be absolutely lights out. His strikeout numbers, which are one of the surest signs indicating how dominating a pitcher can be, are among the best in all of baseball.
Unfortunately for Tony, health was a definite issue last season. After pitching in 10 of Seattle’s first 24 contests, word surfaced that Zych had been dealing with shoulder soreness; this may have been partially responsible for his early-season inflated walk rate of 6.0 BB/9 (although he was still striking dudes out at a rapid clip, with a K/9 of 14.3). He was eventually sent to the DL on May 2nd with “rotator cuff tendinitis” in his throwing shoulder. To compound problems, he suffered multiple setbacks during rehab and eventually missed more than three months of action. He did make two appearances for the M’s in late August, but was sent back down to Tacoma before the end of the season.
Zych also underwent a biceps tendon debridement on his right arm back on October 11th, which means that he probably won’t be able to start the season on the M’s 25-man roster. It’ll be interesting to see 1) how much he pitches in spring training, 2) how filthy his stuff looks, and 3) whether his control has improved.
Assuming that Zych’s injury woes are behind him, he represents an incredibly formidable arm in the Mariners relief corps. (I know that it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it, but, in its own way, Zych’s slider is nearly as filthy as Diaz’s.) Please heal up, Tony. The M’s bullpen is much better with you in it.