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Don’t sleep on James Pazos

The Mariners’ underrated reliever is a key part of Seattle’s bullpen

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with a question: what do you do for a living?

Is it one of those jobs that you can explain with just one word, or one of those jobs where if you try to describe it to me I’ll get confused and just act like I understand?

The reason I ask is because I assume James Pazos has existed on both sides of this paradigm. “I’m a pitcher” can certainly do the trick, just as “I’m an engineer” can. But if someone with an actual knowledge of either field inquires, things can get murkier. Questions about roles and duties and skills arise, prompting more complicated conversations about the very nature of the profession.

“I’m a pitcher” can lead to “I’m a relief pitcher,” which can then morph into a conversation about the importance of a modern bullpen.

“I’m a left-handed reliever that throws 95,” might inspire some acronym-inclined fans to ask, “So you’re a LOOGY?” Pazos is decidedly not that.

The hefty lefty from the University of San Diego has seen 46 right-handed batters climb into the box this season, compared to 35 left-handers. Mark Rzepczynski, the nominal LOOGY for this year’s team, faced 16 righties and 31 lefties before being designated for assignment. In his absence, Pazos is the one true left-handed relief man out of Seattle’s pen, while Roenis Elías serves as a swingman who can either start or sub.

Right-handed batters own lower on-base and slugging percentages against Pazos, so he doesn’t fit the job description of a LOOGY. He’s never made a big-league start or save, rendering the simple “starter” and “closer” job titles inapplicable. He doesn’t have a lovable reliever quirk like a submarine delivery or bombastic entrance song. He even shaved the mustache that used to define his image. So, what is Pazos?

He’s a highly effective weapon at the end of a game, is what he is.

Papa Paz hasn’t pitched since June 2, which is good for the Mariners because it means he’s rested, but bad for my eyeballs because it means they don’t get to watch James Pazos. In the month of May, he threw 9.2 innings and allowed exactly one earned run, good for a 0.93 ERA. During that stretch, the man Seattle got for Zack Littell fanned eight hitters and walked zero. For the season, Pazos has logged 20.2 innings, 21 strikeouts, and one (1) walk. He’s allowed more wild pitches than home runs. Among 80 AL relievers with at least 20 innings to their name this season, Pazos is tied for fifth in WHIP, behind three All-Stars and some guy named Díaz.

Jerry Dipoto sung Pazos’ praises in his premiere podcast episode, noting that the southpaw gets brought up in trade talks more than anyone else.

“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.”

Scott Servais also had kind things to say about the twentysomething twirler.

“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.

While Servais is right about Pazos’ 2017 slider and the .098 clip the league managed against it, this year the number has baby-jumped to .143. If there was any concern about that relatively small regression, it has been cancelled out by his improved fastball. The pitch – which Baseball Savant classifies as a sinker – has been utilized more this season to some enticing results.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Not only does Pazos trust the sinking fastball enough to throw it 89.5% of the time, hitters are faring worse against it. As Servais said, Pazos relies on stuff more than command. When you have roughly 15 MPH of difference between your only two pitches, and one of them sits around 95, you’re going to miss a lot of bats. The issue for many pitchers of that profile is surrendering the long ball. 95 MPH down the middle can quickly turn to 105 MPH into the bleachers.

Luckily for Mariner fans – and their safety – Pazos has substantially decreased his home run rate. The 6’2” 235-lb hurler sports a career 15.6% HR/FB rate, which is thrown a bit out of whack by the 50% figure from his 3.1 innings in 2016. Still, this season’s number has plunged to 6.7%, an incredibly encouraging sign considering the Mariners’ upcoming slate of homer-happy opponents.

Each passing day increases the volume of Mariner playoff conversations. While superstars are well and good, lots of playoff teams have thrived off the well-roundedness of their entire 25-man group. James Pazos will absolutely not occupy the minute amount of national media coverage Seattle gets, but his importance should not be overlooked. The meat grinder of June’s schedule will spit out one of two results: a Mariner squad decimated by teams with higher profiles and payrolls, or a Mariner squad that is stronger than it’s been since my elementary school days.

For that second scenario to become reality (especially given the team’s propensity to play one-run games), James Pazos needs to continue excelling at his job. If he does that, explaining his title becomes much easier.

James Pazos is the pitcher who comes in and gets people out.