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About Last Night: Christian Bergman fits right in

Christian Bergman was the next man up in the endless cycle of relievers.

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

It’s pretty incredible that the Mariners are just two games under .500 despite missing their three best starters. The offense has picked up some of the slack but let’s not overlook how good the starting depth has been, particularly in this latest series win against the Rangers. Yovani Gallardo, Chase De Jong, and Dillon Overton combined to throw 15 1/3 innings, allowing just four runs on 12 hits and three walks, while striking out eight. None of them were dominant performances but they were all quality starts which helped the Mariners win two out of three.

Because he didn’t make the start yesterday, I purposefully didn’t include Christian Bergman’s performance in the stats above but he deserves some recognition as well. In his piggy-backed relief effort, he allowed one run on one hit and one walk, while striking out two.

Among all the various pieces of depth the Mariners acquired over the winter, Bergman was one of the least heralded. Across parts of three seasons with the Rockies, he posted a 5.79/4.68/4.51 pitcher slash line and posted one of the lowest strikeout rates in all of baseball. As you’d expect from a pitcher with fly ball tendencies, Coors Field did not agree with Bergman. But that same high fly ball rate plays well in Safeco Field with the Mariners elite outfield defense roaming the grass.

Bergman possesses four pitches in his arsenal, a four-seam fastball, a cutter, a changeup, and a rarely used curveball. As you might expect from a pitcher with a career strikeout rate of 13.8%, he isn’t able to generate above average whiff rates with any of his pitches. His most interesting pitch is his fastball, which he throws around 40% of the time. His velocity isn’t very impressive but its horizontal movement is at least interesting. Among all 600 starting pitchers who have thrown a fastball during the PITCHf/x era, Bergman’s horizontal movement ranks 133rd, just outside the 80th percentile.

With the amount of arm-side run he gets with his fastball, location is critically important. To right-handed batters, the pitch will break in towards their hands. If he tries to locate the pitch on the outer half of the plate, he risks leaking out over the heart of the plate. But against left-handed batters, the pitch will break away from them which allows him to easily target the outside zone. Here are two strike zone heatmaps showing his fastball location against right-handed batters (on the right) and left-handed batters (on the left).

Baseball Savant

As you might expect, Bergman has run a pretty significant reverse split during his career. He locates his fastball in the middle of the zone too often against righties to be very effective against them. But lefties have had a really hard time squaring up his fastball and his strikeout rate against them is almost double his rate against righties. The perfect example of Bergman’s fastball in action was his strikeout of Rougned Odor in the seventh inning yesterday. He starts off the at-bat with a changeup at the bottom of the strike zone and then gets two swinging strikes on two straight fastballs, elevated and tailing away from Odor.

Jerry Dipoto hasn’t been shy about acquiring pitchers with mediocre stuff that could play up in Safeco Field. Now that he’s left the unfriendly confines of Coors Field, Bergman’s found an almost perfect fit in Seattle. With his stuff, he probably won’t rise above his role as a spot starter or long reliever, riding the train between Tacoma and Seattle regularly. But with a fastball that’s at least a little interesting, he provides another arm the Mariners can call on while they wait for their starting rotation to heal.