At the trade deadline in 2005, the struggling Mariners traded away Ron Villone—their first -round pick way back in 1992, enjoying a career resurgence with the Mariners as a LOOGY—to the Florida Marlins. In exchange, they received two righty relievers: Mike Flannery, who never made the bigs; and Yorman Bazardo, who was DFA’d the following off-season when the Mariners acquired Jeff Weaver, eventually ending up in Detroit in exchange for outfielder Jeff Frazier, Todd’s brother. And that’s today’s “Five Degrees of Todd Frazier,” thanks for playing.
Yorman, of course, is the much-older brother of Eduard Bazardo, who is also treading the creaky path of journeyman MLB reliever at the ripe old age of 28. Initially an international signing for Boston in 2014, Eduard had an on-again off-again relationship with the Red Sox, making his debut in 2021 and hanging around the fringes of the roster until electing free agency after 2022. The Orioles, who had probably seen plenty of their AL East rival, scooped him up on a minor-league contract; he pitched ably for the Norfolk Tides but struggled in brief looks at the big-league level, and the Orioles DFA’d him at the end of July, opting to flip him to Seattle in exchange for Everett AquaSox bullpen stalwart Logan Rinehart. Rinehart was 25 years old at the time of the trade and repeating High-A, so not exactly a premium prospect cost, but still, the Mariners were willing to sacrifice something rather than taking the risk of missing out on Bazardo on waivers. So what makes this journeyman reliever different from all the other journeymen relievers they could have easily collected off waivers for free?
It starts with Bazardo’s excellent command of the strike zone. Until being forced to pitch in the bounce houses of the PCL, Bazardo had never, at any minor-league stop, posted a BB/9 beginning with the number “4” or higher. He’s been a career-long zone-controller, making him an ideal fit for an organization that believes a pitcher’s effectiveness is directly tied to how well he can command the zone. In his 13.2-inning stint with the Mariners, Bazardo walked four hitters—slightly more batters than he usually does—but also struck out 14.
That’s especially impressive because Bazardo’s fastball isn’t his primary weapon; he uses his slider over 45% of the time, with his fastball and sinker making up the bulk of the rest of his arsenal (he’ll also rarely throw a splitter). It could be argued that Bazardo’s fastball is the weakest part of his arsenal; he’ll work it on the edges and up in the zone, but it’s a relatively flat and straight fastball and so can occasionally leak into a juicy part of the zone; batters couldn’t square it up regularly (a nice round BA of .100 on the pitch), but when they did, they feasted on it (.400 SLG, .561 xSLG). More interesting is the sinker, which when it’s on, can tie righties up in knots, as seen here:
Did he hit his spot? No. Was this pitch maybe supposed to be a fastball instead of the sinker Statcast recorded? Probably. Is this a great pitch anyway? Yes.
Basically, Bazardo just has to use these two pitches in order to vamp to get to the best part of his arsenal: his hellacious high-spin slider that elicits buckets of ground balls, weak contact, and whiffs. It’s the slider that caused the Mariners to jump the line to acquire Bazardo.
That’s goofy! That makes a really good hitter look goofy.
It works on righties, too—the pitch comes in looking hittable before diving away. That causes a lot of big, empty swings like this one, which got Bazardo out of a jam:
But even on the plate it’s hard to catch up to, as José Altuve found out:
At this point we have to leave the highlight reel and come back to the yucky real world. You’ll notice there’s traffic on the bases in most of those clips, which is a real problem: Bazardo’s two fastballs aren’t effective enough at keeping hitters honest so he can get to the slider, and he needs to develop more consistency with the heater to graduate from the low-leverage role the Mariners used him in last season. He might be adept at avoiding free passes, but if batters can stack hits against him it doesn’t matter how many he doesn’t walk. There’s another, more serious problem afoot as well: hitters don’t struggle to barrel him up when those pitches do leak into the middle of the zone, and he got touched up by the long ball more than his fair share. With the bases often clogged up with runners, this can be a recipe for disaster. If Bazardo wants a longer term with the Mariners than his older brother, he’ll need to shore those things up prior to next season, or find himself repeating family history out on the waiver wire.