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2019 Mariners Exit Interviews: The Lefties Behind

Appraising the crafty lefties endangered by the dastardly juiced ball.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Seattle Mariners
Don’t listen to him, glovey.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Lefties are oddballs. They use the less common hand to perform dastardly feats, creating curious movements of the baseball that can only be attributed to strange magicks. Do these seemingly innocuous beings build their powers through straightforward study or some sort of recondite ritual? Are they part-human, part-Fey shapeshifters with occult capabilities? And if so, why did most of them pitch so poorly? Today, on UnsoLLved Mysteries, we investigate the strengths and shortcomings of several Mariners lefties.

Wade LeBlanc

Wade the White is a well-recognized wizard from his work in the 2016 and 2018 campaigns. His work in those promising seasons brought consistency to flagging pitching staffs rendered desperate by injury and ineffectiveness. 2019 had no such rosy outline for Louisiana’s premier veteran, who unfortunately augured his struggles early. Noticing the differences in the baseball from day one of Spring Training, LeBlanc saw the writing on the wall. The worst season of his career since his brief rookie campaign by any metric was a doozy no matter how you slice it.

Never an ace, nor an advanced stats darling, the well-liked 35 year old may have authored his final miraculous escape in a Mariners uniform. His line reads like a heavily farsighted person’s contact lens prescription: 5.71/5.49 by ERA/FIP, 5.10/8.04 by xFIP/DRA. A year after his newly refined cutter seemingly salvaged his career, the book appeared to be out. Between a better approach from hitters and and the simple challenges of precision with the slicker baseball, LeBlanc’s tightrope of low-velo balancing finally snapped, and the free fall was swift.

The lowest slugging percentage on any of LeBlanc’s pitches was a cool .438 on his changeup, with every other pitch ranging between an All-Star caliber .500 to .650, save for his curveball which yielded a .906 SLG and made hitters feel like Ted Williams at a .406 batting average. Whether suppressing hard contact is a repeatable skill or a bit of fluky fortune is a topic of contention, but LeBlanc saw things get worse in **checks notes** every imaginable way this year, hard contact allowed most of all.

Baseball Savant

Yesterday Nick Stillman joked about Erik Swanson being fired, which is the true term for what happens to baseball players who get cut even if we don’t discuss it that way. That is unfortunately a looming actuality for LeBlanc this winter. Seattle signed him to a curious extension, rife with team options. $5 million to LeBlanc wouldn’t set off any alarms on the Mariners bank statement, but they will likely choose his $450k opt-out instead. This may be the end of the road for the beloved craftsman, but pitchers of his charisma and reputation tend to make popular pitching coach candidates when they hang the cleats up at last. We may not have seen the last of LeBlanc yet, but his magic on the mound appears just about used up.

Tommy Milone

Hey, kid, wanna see a trick? I’ve heard in the middle of the night, when the moon is at its highest point, Tommy Milone arises from Wade LeBlanc’s sleeping shadow and occupies his form for his dark machinations. Thus far, he has only gotten a bunch of temporary tattoos and pitched a tiny bit better, but it’s still spooky as all get-out. Milone was the medium-rare Mariners lefty in the starting rotation for much of the year, slightly outperforming Yusei Kikuchi by results, if not peripherals.

He was the beneficiary of The Opener on numerous occasions, starting just six games despite throwing 111.2 innings. After signing a minor league deal in January, it took all of two months before Seattle broke the glass on the veteran southpaw who became their preeminent “Headliner”. If you remember a specific Tommy Milone outing in detail this year I tip my hat to you, which is an exceptional degree of anonymity for the 5th-most prolific pitcher on the Mariners in 2019.

You may be inclined to think “Tommy Milone wasn’t that bad, we can bring him back next year”, and your rights as a human being grant you that capability. But Milone, like LeBlanc, has next to no wiggle room in the juiced ball era. Next year we may see a different baseball, with less bounce and higher seams, making extreme fly ball generating soft-tossers a resurgent breed. The challenge of evaluation in this current moment is uncertainty of what will stay consistent, but there is little room for Milone and his ilk these days.

Zac Rosscup

Despite being just one year Rosscup’s elder, the 32 year old Tommy Milone threw more innings in 2019 than Rosscup has in his entire MLB career. A dying breed of a different sort, Rosscup is best-served as a lefty specialist, but even an overwhelming faculty for strikeouts cannot abide walking over 20% of the hitters he faced. If a single game the Mariners had played this year was intended to be competitive, Rosscup would’ve been cast as 2019’s Casey Fein. The Mariners cut Rosscup loose in mid-May, just before Milone was selected. The upshot? Perhaps the Mariners will be broken of their fixation on LOOGYs, particularly with the three-batter minimum looming.

Jesse Biddle

I Biddle you hellooooooooooo

I Biddle you goodbyeeeeeeee