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40 in 40: James Pazos

James Pazos is an awesome pitcher and we should appreciate him more.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever I try to write down the Mariners’ projected bullpen for 2018, I always seem to forget one guy: James Pazos.

I’m not sure why. He was solid last year as a lefty reliever in his first season in Seattle. Pazos threw 53.2 innings to the tune of a 3.86 ERA. On paper, that seems all right. His numbers certainly weren’t spectacular -- he walks a lot of guys, which we’ll get to in a bit -- and he doesn’t have the kind of velocity that arms like Edwin Diaz possess (although he does throw in the mid-90s). To the naked eye, Pazos just kind of seems like a regular dude. But I’ve come to realize that he’s a lot more than that.

Pazos was yet another reliever acquired from the Yankees prior to 2017. He didn’t have a whole lot of big league milage, pitching briefly in New York in 2015 and 2016. He finally got his first chance to throw a full MLB slate in Seattle in 2017, his age-26 season.

And the deeper numbers suggest that he’s a much more valuable reliever than we give him credit for. Among lefty relievers younger than 29 who threw 50+ innings last season, Pazos was just one of five who had an ERA+ better than 110 with a K/9 over 10. The others were closers Felipe Rivero and Brad Hand, and middle relievers Enny Romero and Andrew Chafin.

Unlike a couple of those other guys, Pazos has only had one year with those kinds of numbers. He’ll need the upcoming season to back those lines up. But according to Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners aren’t the only team who thinks he can repeat that kind of success.

Both outfielder Ben Gamel and left-hander James Pazos have established themselves in Seattle, so much so that Dipoto notes that he gets asked about Pazos more than any other player in trade talks.

“You don’t find a lot of 26-year-old lefties who throw in the mid-90s, who are making close to league minimum, who have gone out and shown that they can be effective in the big leagues,” [said Dipoto].

There’s no reason to believe Papa Paz can’t keep up his terrific numbers. The lefty has maintained K/9 rates over 10 in every season he pitched in the minors, so he’s had no problems missing bats. Despite being a lefty, he actually had double-digit K/9 rates against hitters from both sides of the dish.

However, Pazos’ continued problem throughout his career has been his control.

In 2017, Pazos walked 4.02 batters per nine innings. That’s pretty close to his minors career 3.68 BB/9. Unless he can improve there, it’s going to be difficult for him to work his way into a closer role like Grant predicted he might when the team acquired him. Once his velocity starts dipping, he’ll be in trouble. Hopefully that won’t be a concern for the M’s for a long time, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

But part of what helped Pazos this season was his extensive work with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre on increasing the usage of his slider. In the first half of the season, he was relying on his high heat to get guys out, and his willingness to change up his pitch mix is certainly encouraging in terms of his long-term outlook.

“Pazos is a stuff guy,” [Scott] Servais said. “He’s not a command pitch-maker. He’s going to have some up-and-down to his game. But the slider — they don’t hit it. They hit less than .100 against it.

“But the fastball, they’re getting a lot of them, and they’re hitting them.”

So look for more sliders in Pazos’ future appearances.

“Yes, sir,” [Pazos] confirmed. “That’s the thing. I just need to use it, and that will get the fastball back on track.”

Here he is getting Rafael Devers to strikeout on one of his sliders.

Pazos is heading into his sophomore season, and he seems to be ready for the challenges that await. The signs point towards him continuing to be an effective lefty out of the bullpen in 2018 and beyond.

Essentially, Pazos is what the M’s hoped they were getting out of Marc Rzepczynski when they signed him last winter. Pazos is arguably even more than they could have hoped for with Zep, considering Zep’s historical struggles against righties. Pazos is an effective left-handed arm who’s dominant against left-handed batters (2.55 xFIP) and can hold his own against right-handers (4.38 xFIP). He’s young and moldable so the team can continue to develop him, while his cheap cost will keep him around for years. If Zep is able to bounce-back, the M’s will have a couple of lefty killers in an already-stacked bullpen. And if nothing else, Pazos can always double as an outfielder. Just look at this dude’s glove as he tracks down Mike Zunino’s homer!