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Mariners sign reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to one-year, incentive-laden deal

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Mariners add a former World Series champion who has put up good numbers outside an injury-plagued 2019 despite subpar command

2016 World Series - Chicago Cubs v. Cleveland Indians: Game Seven

Yesterday Ryan Divish teased that there would be a second pitcher signing announced today, and while first indications were it would be a starter, later reports were it would be a reliever. Today the Mariners made good on their stated goal of keeping slots open for young arms Justin Dunn and Logan Gilbert (and new acquisition Nestor Cortes Jr.) and added to the bullpen instead of the rotation, signing reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to a one-year deal that will pay Edwards $950K, plus up to an additional $500K in incentives.

Like Kendall Graveman, signed yesterday, Edwards Jr. is a bounceback candidate. After three solid seasons that included pitching in the 2016 World Series, Edwards Jr. struggled last year. He’s always run a high walk rate, but it ballooned in 2019 from just under 10% to almost 17%. The juicy ball might have played its role in that, but more troubling is the shoulder discomfort Edwards Jr. experienced. The Cubs optioned him to Triple-A early in the 2019 season before placing him on the IL; they recalled him in early May only to send him back to the IL a month later with a left thoracic strain. He returned again in late July and made one appearance, facing four batters and getting just one out while allowing a run, before the Cubs dealt him to the Padres for LHP Brad Wieck. He made two appearances for the Padres in mid-August and allowed six runs in 1.2 innings, facing 14 batters total, before San Diego sent him again to the IL, this time with a right shoulder strain.

Shoulder strains are no walk in Thoracic Park, but Edwards Jr. passed the physical, so maybe an off-season of rest and rehab will help the “Stringbean Slinger” (he’s listed at 6’3”/170) get back to his previous form. Barely 28 years old, Edwards Jr. has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief career, though his velocity has taken a slow decline in recent years. In 2017, Edwards Jr. would routinely sit around 96 mph with his fastball. His slingshot action from the mound allowed 96 to look like 106 at times, especially when operating at the top of the zone. Edwards Jr. fell closer to a 95 mph average in 2018. His fastball last season dipped a step further, to 93.9 mph.

The biggest issue Edwards Jr. encountered last season was his fastball flattened out. It lost almost all horizontal movement and the rising action he was used to faded. The 2636 RPM on his heater actually suggests it may be more of a mechanical issue than Edwards Jr. losing his stuff. There’s good reason to believe the pitch will bounce back in 2020, especially under the watchful eye of Brian DeLunas, who specializes in pitching mechanics. Edwards Jr. altered his delivery prior to last season in an effort to cut down on the walks that have plagued his career; you might have heard about his “toe tap” or seen film of it when the legality of erstwhile Mariner Cory Gearrin’s delivery was being discussed.

Hopefully between DeLunas’s expertise and the overall value the organization places on throwing strikes and not walking people, Edwards Jr. can solve the one thing that’s held him back from being a dominant reliever.

While Edwards Jr. has always struggled with walks, 2019 was especially rough, as he failed to paint the black all season. His 35.7% edge percentage is not only well below the MLB average of 39%, but it’s almost 6% lower than his career average of 41.4%. That’s a pretty drastic jump.

This, as you may imagine, would be why 13% of balls in play off Edwards Jr. were barreled up. League average is just 7%. Seeing a theme here?

It comes down to control for the South Carolina native. Edwards Jr. is a fly ball pitcher, inducing line drives and fly balls at a 75.6% clip, so he’s fighting an uphill battle in the first place. If he can’t revert back to the guy who finds the edges and misses more bats, it’s going to be tough sledding. If he can, however, given his championship pedigree and ‘stuff’, Edwards Jr. is a real legitimate flip candidate at the deadline this year. Here’s hoping Mariners fans this season see less of the walks and more of batters embarrassing themselves against Edwards Jr.’s late-biting curve: