When evaluating the team’s strengths and weaknesses, there is a popular sentiment gaining traction (especially among local beat writers and columists) that the Mariners should begin exploring a trade for a right-handed setup man to take some of the load off of J.J. Putz, who made yet another multi-inning save on Saturday night. Here’s a snippet from the linked Art Thiel piece:
So in the two weeks left until the trade deadline, it seems the Mariners’ most urgent need is less a starting pitcher and more a veteran setup reliever who might also spell Putz.
And here’s a quick take from Geoff Baker’s latest blog entry:
J.J. Putz continues to carry the bullpen, but he cannot do it alone for the entire season. The need for a more dominant eighth-inning set-up man still appears to be there.
Both Thiel and Baker are smart guys, and while we don’t agree with everything they write, they follow the team closely and generally form their opinions around some evidence and logic. Both guys have decided that the M’s simply don’t have a reliever in the bullpen capable of skills that would deem him worthy of 8th inning, high leverage situations. Baker’s outlined his reasons for keeping George Sherrill in the left-handed specialist role, and while I disagree with his conclusion and would like to see Sherrill and his 1.26 ERA given a chance to pitch the 8th inning on his own (much as Arthur Rhodes used to do), that’s not what this post is about.
No, this post is about the criminally underrated Sean Green. In all the clamoring over the M’s need for a lights out right-handed setup man, the failures of Chris Reitsma and Brandon Morrow are often pointed to, while Green is a simple after thought. Indeed, it seems that both the Mariners, and those in favor of acquiring another right-handed setup guy, are focusing significantly more on velocity than production. Brandon Morrow was given the 8th inning because he throws hard, and now that he’s proven that he’s not yet a major league pitcher, the Mariners apparently need to replace him with another guy who also throws extremely hard.
Meanwhile, while radar gun lighter uppers like Brad Lidge, Kyle Farnsworth, Derrick Turnbow, and Fernando Cabrera mix impressive fastballs with inconsistent results, Sean Green just keeps getting people out when it matters. Since adjusting his delivery to drop down and get more tilt on his slider, Green has added a strikeout pitch to his already lethal sinker, and the results have been nothing sort of tremendous. However, because his fastball sits at 93 with movement instead of 98 and straight, apparently, he’s not worthy of the 8th inning role.
Or, as Thiel put it this morning, the ‘pen is full of guys who haven’t yet proven that they can get critical outs, because they’re young and untested. But isn’t giving opportunities to those players within the organization who have earned them part of building a championship team? I know Sean Green doesn’t have the velocity readings that some people covet, but don’t even the staunchest velocity lovers have to admit that it takes a back seat to performance at some point?
And, really, there’s no arguing with the performance of the 2007 Sean Green. When the team has called upon him to put out a fire, he’s done so with amazing consistency. Once again, let’s take a look at the incredible fangraphs play log for Green, sorting each of the at-bats against him by Leverage Index (LI on the chart), which is essentially just a number that quantifies how important the game scenario is. For those who love clutch performers, Leverage Index is your dream stat. Anyway, let’s look at how Green has done in the high leverage situations he’s been handed this year.
July 2nd, at KC, bottom of the 9th, tied at 2, 1 out, runners at 1st and 3rd
Eric O’Flaherty had just given up a double and a single, putting the winning run 90 feet away, and bringing Emil Brown to the plate. A routine flyball gives the Royals the win. Sean Green comes in and blows Emil Brown away, getting the strikeout for the 2nd out, and eliminating the chance for a sacrifice fly ending the game.
June 8th, at San Diego, top of the 9th, tied at 5
Green relieved Brandon Morrow to start the 9th inning of a tie game on the road, meaning a run equals a loss. After an error by Adrian Beltre put the winning run on base with nobody out, Green got out of the inning without the run scoring. He then was called on to also pitch the 10th, and after getting the first out, he gave up back to back singles to put the winning run in scoring position with only one out. He then struck out Rob Bowen and got a weak grounder from Russ Branyan to complete two scoreless innings, and the M’s would then win in 11 innings after a Raul Ibanez home run gave them the lead immediately thereafter.
June 9th, at San Diego, bottom of the 7th, trailing 5-4
The day after throwing two high leverage shutout innings, the M’s went back to the Sean Green well, asking him to keep their deficit at just one run. After getting an easy 1-2-3 seventh inning, the Mariners tied the game up in the top of the 8th, and Mike Hargrove sent Green back out for his 4th high leverage inning in 24 hours. He gave up a leadoff single, then got a groundball fielders choice that kept the runner at first base and struckout Russ Branyan before giving up another single that put the winning run on 3rd base with two out. Khalil Greene stepped to the plate. Khalil Greene struck out, and Green wrapped up another successful appearance. The M’s then took the lead in the top of the 9th and won when J.J. Putz shut it down.
July 12th, vs Tigers, top of the 7th, up 3-2, 1 out, runners at 1st and 2nd
Felix’s last start ended when the Tigers got two hits off of him in the 7th inning, putting the tying run in scoring position with Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen due up. Sean Green got the call. He struck out Ordonez and got Guillen to weakly tap to first base. Inning over, rally quashed.
June 30th, vs Blue Jays, top of the 7th, up 3-1, 1 out, runners at 1st and 2nd
The Blue Jays chased Miguel Batista with a single and a walk to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Green comes out of the pen and immediately induces an inning-ending double play. Inning over, rally quashed.
Those are the five highest leverage situations Green has been called into this year. He’s done yeoman’s work in all five, providing a huge boost to the team’s chances of winning each time, either through a clutch strikeout or a timely double play.
No, he hasn’t been perfect. He gave up a single to Michael Barrett to drive in the tying run in his second inning of work on June 12th against the Cubs, but then again, I’m pretty sure perfection isn’t the baseline by which we judge the quality of a setup man. If it was, we certainly wouldn’t be interested in failed closers from non-contenders, now would we?
By any measure you want to use, traditional or not, Sean Green has been tremendous this season. His ERA is 2.86, while his FIP is 3.60. Righties are only hitting .239/.307/.337 against him. The last 28 days, the league as a whole is hitting .214/.333/.286. He hasn’t given up a home run since his second appearance of the year. He’s inherited 21 baserunners – 3 have scored. He’s induced 6 double plays, most of any Mariner reliever, while only pitching 34 innings, and his double play rate is by far the highest on the team.
I don’t get it. Why are we in such a rush to replace Sean Green with a variety of pitchers who aren’t as good as Sean Green? Because he doesn’t throw hard enough?
I’d have thought the strikeout of Magglio Ordonez on Friday night would have opened some eyes. Sean Green has been establishing himself as a qualified high leverage right-handed setup man for the last month, even while the Mariners continue to try to force inferior pitchers like Brandon Morrow and Chris Reitsma into that role.
J.J. Putz has been tremendous this season, but Art, he’s had help – Sean Green and George Sherrill have also been big components in the Mariners bullpen cog, and they deserve better than the little respect they’re getting right now.
You want to trade for Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, or Eric Gagne, and surrender a quality young player or two in the process? I’ll stick with my man Sean Green, thanks, who will keep getting his groundballs and strikeouts while bailing the team out of jams and being an underappreciated reason this team is winning ballgames.