M’s Continue to Remake Bullpen, Acquire Evan Scribner

marc w · December 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

In my last post, I mentioned that recently-acquired bullpen arm Jonathan Aro looks a lot like Evan Scribner, then of the A’s, in terms of movement and approach. Pretty clearly, Jerry Dipoto doesn’t mind a pitcher who pitches up in the zone and gives up a lot of elevated contact, even if that’s caused HR issues in the past. Not content with grabbing a guy who could, if things break right, become a Scribner-like arm, Dipoto has gone and traded for the genuine article.

The price is reliever Trey Cochran-Gill, a right-hander with a good sinker/slider. Cochran-Gill was a 17th rounder out of Auburn, but thanks to a great, if abbreviated, 2014, found his way to #20 on the pre-season M’s top 30 prospect list put together by MLB.com. He pitched fairly well in the Spring for the M’s, and then started off the season with great numbers for Bakersfield. He then settled in at AA Jackson, and his control left him – he ended up with more walks than Ks in the Southern League, and was remarkably hittable.

Evan Scribner is coming off two sub-replacement level campaigns for Oakland. On the face of it, this looks like a minor swap: a struggling minor league sinkerballer for an out-of-options big leaguer with serious home run issues. But as we talked about yesterday, Scribner does have a remarkable K:BB ratio and a track record of missing bats at the highest level. HR rate is much, much more volatile than strikeout rate or walk rate, so simple regression to the mean *might* take care of some of the problem.

On twitter, many people pointed out that a fly-ball guy with a HR pitcher should do fine in Safeco field, thanks to its HR-killing mariner layer. The problem with this is that, by essentially any measure, Oakland is now a more *difficult* park to homer in than Safeco. Fangraphs’ park factors (for 2014, admittedly) show Oakland’s HR factor as 92, while Safeco’s is 98. By Statcorner, Oakland’s LHB/RHB HR factors are 81 and 80, respectively, while Seattle’s are 104 and 92. Just counting up the long balls shows that Oakland pitchers gave up 79 dingers at home, compared to 93 on the road. The M’s gave up 90 at home and 91 on the road.* As if to prove the point, Scribner threw 4 1/3 IP in Safeco last year, giving up 7 runs on two HRs (let this Gutierrez bomb to CF just wash over you).

So while the park helps in a general and limited sense, Safeco and the M’s outfield defense aren’t going to solve this on their own. I’d love to think the M’s have figured something out either in Scribner’s delivery or approach that can limit elevated contact. Scribner has struggled most against righties, which may make sense given the shape of his fastball and the fact that his primary breaking ball is a big overhand curve ball – both pitches tend to have small platoon splits. So: could a bit of deception in his delivery help? Maybe. Scribner’s also given up several home runs on outside pitches. These should be harder for batters to drive, but they’re obviously not having much trouble doing so; Scribner might do better keeping his fastball low on the outside corner, and elevate it when pitching inside. Of Scribner’s 24 HRs, *11* have come in 0-1 or 1-2 counts, which could indicate some predictable pitch sequencing.

Beyond the specific players involved, the trade for Scribner (and grabbing Aro in the Miley deal) seems to indicate a preference not just for fly-ball relievers, but for generalists. Scribner has essentially no platoon splits, and Justin De Fratus has reverse splits for his career. They’re replacing the sidewinding Carson Smith who, with his arsenal and arm angle *really should* have platoon splits, but didn’t. Gone is Tom Wilhelmsen, who struggled mightily against lefties last year, and has “normal” platoon splits for his career. And, when Dipoto wanted Scribner, he used another sinkerballer with a low arm-angle in Trey Cochran-Gill who could not get AA lefties out (K:BB ratio of 13:20). There’s an interesting argument embedded here that baseball’s hyper-specialization has gone too far, and that a team with Scribners may be harder to pinch-hit against. Taking it further, you could envision a team with generalists running a 6-man pen, handing the bats another position to use against the opponents’ LOOGYs and ROOGYs. At the same time, I think the advantage of a Carson Smith (or someone worse, say, Roy Corcoran or Sean Green) wasn’t just the platoon advantage – it was that they could generate a specific type of contact. We haven’t seen the final, opening-day M’s bullpen, but I hope that’s still a consideration.

Last season, the A’s bullpen had the 2nd slowest average fastball in the game, just ahead of Houston. Their bullpen imploded, and while it’s absolutely not the case that you can’t succeed without velo (look at Houston or San Francisco), Billy Beane and co. have remade their bullpen this off-season and clearly prioritized velocity. Gone is Scribner with his below-average (92mph) FB, and in is Ryan Madson and his 95mph heater. As August Fagerstrom wrote at Fangraphs, they’ve ditched many of their worst performers from last year, many of whom were comparative soft-tossers: Edward Mujica, Eric O’Flaherty, Dan Otero.

The M’s, who ranked in the middle of the pack last year, are again moving in the opposite direction. The A’s swapped out Scribner’s 92 for Madson’s 95, while the M’s shipped out Wilhelmsen’s 95 for Scribner’s 92. Justin De Fratus is around 92 as well, Bass and Aro are around 93-94, while Cody Martin’s more like 89-90. The M’s hardest thrower is now Tony Zych, the guy acquired for cash considerations last spring. Again, that’s not necessarily bad, but it DOES look different. Some of the big off-season stories involve teams trying to create something akin to Kansas City’s death-dealing bullpen – Boston’s traded for Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith and have, on paper at least, a shut-down pen. Oakland’s is at least no longer a clear weakness. The Dodgers looked to be acquiring Aroldis Chapman *despite already having a dominant closer*, before Chapman’s ugly, ugly domestic violence arrest put his future in question. Even with the pick-up of trusted-closer ™ Joaquin Benoit, the M’s are moving in a different direction. Bucking the consensus is a great way to innovate or reap big returns, and it’s also a way to fail. Here’s hoping the M’s – and their pitching coaches – can help the M’s build an effective ‘pen out of not just undervalued but unwanted parts.

* To be clear: Safeco is still a pitcher’s park, though less so than before the remodel. It’s just that Safeco aids pitchers by suppressing hits – it’s really hard to hit doubles there, for example, which may have something to do with its small total outfield area.


17 Responses to “M’s Continue to Remake Bullpen, Acquire Evan Scribner”

  1. marc w on December 9th, 2015 12:45 pm

    I realize I’m about a day late on this one, and that delay means that I’m now behind on the M’s *latest* trade, the swap of three below-A-ball pitchers for 1B Adam Lind. The trio of M’s righties is headlined by Brazilian SP Daniel Missaki, who was having a solid year for Clinton before going down with TJ surgery.

  2. Eastside Crank on December 9th, 2015 1:04 pm

    Considering you basically forecast this trade, what else will the Mariners do? Thanks for the great write ups.

  3. Westside guy on December 9th, 2015 1:14 pm

    Marc you are spoiling us – thank you.

  4. Notfromboise on December 9th, 2015 9:57 pm

    Glad (at least in a cosmic sense) my little rant on booting Trumbo for no return spurred on the Lind deal. Line up looks solid, now its time for the pen.

    Hey Marc, any ideas on who’s left on the market for bullpen strengthening that we might have a realistic shot at? Hard to imagine any more trades left, we’re basically *out* of assets in the cupboard.

  5. LongDistance on December 9th, 2015 11:04 pm

    Lind can’t be a surprise to anyone. Milwaukee wasn’t going to keep him, from the git go, and he fit the Dipoto profile/need.

    Some might question what the Brewers got in return. But that club and their fans are committed (resigned?) to such a long and deep rebuild that nobody expects to see much of them for three or four years.

    So, OK, I get it. They’re willing to pick up all sorts of cheap, unproven and basically raw and unformed – if not floundering — scraps, from all over the place, to see what they can make of them. And where’s one of the best places to go to find that? The Mariners farm system, of course. A place where young baseball prospects go to become … older baseball prospects.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I shudder to think that other clubs, looking at our A-AA prospects, believe that what they really need to improve within the M’s development program, is to get out of the M’s development program.

    Anyway, all that said, the thing I’m thinking these days is not so much about Dipoto’s obvious ability to take the Dipoto Scan-the-Stats Method from theory to reality. 180 degrees from Jack’s kid-in-the-candy-store approach. But … once the trade winds have blown through … what is he, in fact, going to do about the M’s down on the farm?

    I mean, at what point, for the sake of trading, have you raided your farm system to where it’s on the brink of non-viability? Because you then can’t turn around and trade your way into a genuine development program. Or can you? No.

    Unless you want to be the Brewers, give up on contention for half a decade, and trade away anything and everything above and within one standard deviation of league average.

  6. groundzero55 on December 10th, 2015 1:05 am

    I’d postulate that our farm system was already past the brink of non-viability. Our minor league teams were atrocious last year and not good the year prior. There are a few fringe prospects and the rest is a steaming pile. I don’t see a problem with trading out of that heap, it will definitely be an interesting draft this coming year.

  7. mksh21 on December 10th, 2015 8:08 am

    So this begs the obvious. A Montero shortside platoon with Lind getting the lions share against righties. That could lead to like a 260/340/470 line out of firstbase which would be like Xmas for me as a fan.

  8. mksh21 on December 10th, 2015 8:15 am


    You seem to be on it, did we get a extra first of sandwich pick out of Iwakuma leaving?

  9. JD Devotee on December 10th, 2015 12:34 pm

    I really like that Jerry D came in with a plan to address all needs and executed it so well (bullpen remaining, and hopefully the results will pan out). This team should be very watchable and hopefully be in contention in the AL West, with any luck. It has been hard to hang in there as a fan with all the muddled decision making of Bavasi and Jack Z. I’m all on board with JD’s plan. I live 2 miles from the Rangers so I get to see the new Mariners in the season opening series.

  10. Rengaw on December 10th, 2015 1:23 pm

    This trade for Lind could end up being a blessing for Montero. No way were the M’s going into the season with Montero as the lone first baseman. If Montero can feist off of left hand pitching, he can solidify a place on the team. Wait! I take that back. With Dipoto driving the bus, no player is assured of a safe journey.

  11. MrZDevotee on December 10th, 2015 2:41 pm

    I think the dilemma he faced– and saw clearly– as an outsider is that nothing coming out of the Mariner farm system was working at the major league level (for the most part)… So he’s gutted it as a means to build up the major league roster, with the idea that as a trader, he’s gonna get off on the thought of rebuilding the M’s farm system with a different kind of player that he’ll target and go find in other teams’ farm systems…

    Hard to believe as much joy as Dipoto gets out of trading that he’s gonna limit it to the major league roster… Especially when he brought in his own player development guy, who’s a “psychology counts” type of guy. I think they want fresh meat they can mold in their own fashion, with none of the side effects of what was installed previously.

    And personally I think that’ll be fun to see. I think most of the high level prospects here before he arrived fell into the “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” category, from a development perspective. I understand what you’re saying, but I think the future will take care of that situation.

    Not to mention, at the AAA level, half the position players are gonna be guys who were at the Major League level in 2015, so everyone is getting pushed back a level, which is sort of a reset, defacto “restocking” of the minors… AA players from 2015 will be High A players this year, some AAA guys will be back at AA, etc. I think THAT was on purpose too, since we obviously had a knack for rushing guys up too quickly with our fingers crossed…

  12. MrZDevotee on December 10th, 2015 2:52 pm

    Although, I’m definitely bummed after checking today’s rule 5 draft… Mariners lost FOUR guys… Including 2/3rds of our AAA starting outfield…

    OF’s Jabari Blash and Julio Morban
    Pitchers Steve Bawcom and Brian Moran

    (Mariners, predictably, picked up a bullpen guy with their dice roll…)

  13. Rengaw on December 10th, 2015 3:41 pm

    Some fans are thinking Dipoto is disregarding (or even gutting) our minor league system at the expense of putting together our major league roster. This isn’t Milwaukee with only Ryan Braun as a front line player. The M’s can be a competitive club right now. Dipoto had no choice but to scurry around devoting most of his time and energy to establishing his major league roster.
    Now with the position players set for next season, only some more pitching will be on his plate.
    Dipoto does not appear to be a guy who will sit back and admire his work. I’m guessing he can’t wait to start evaluating the minor league system and start to build that. Boy, he has his job cut out for him, especially in the higher minors. This could take quite awhile before we see results.

  14. Milendriel on December 10th, 2015 6:13 pm

    One of the reasons Dipoto gave for making the Miley trade was that he wanted to acquire a quality starter without having to make an FA signing that would cost them their first-round pick. I think we can strongly expect Dipoto not to sign any FAs with compensation attached this winter, and then to use that pick and the Iwakuma comp pick to start rebuilding the farm system.

  15. LongDistance on December 10th, 2015 11:02 pm

    Z. I have to agree. I threw the question out there because … like everyone else … I’m trying to understand the Dipoto Method. We’re now seeing what it looks like at the major league level. But we haven’t seen what it looks like on down through the organisation. It’s intriguing, at this point.

    I think it’s probably correct to say that once a trader always a trader, and he and his staff will be looking to swap players out on the basis of looking for position guys who, taking a wild guess, show a lot of on-base potential. And, it may well be, another wild guess, that coaches will have new marching orders in terms of players already on roster, emphasizing different things to develop.

    I hope so.

    I’m interested to see how this all plays out. For a long, long time I haven’t really found any reason to watch what’s happening in the minors, with what just seemed like a bunch of kids trying desperately to knock the covers off the balls or throw cannon balls.

    The system is so flat that, at this point, you need a big outlook turnaround on a couple of dozen player slots. By anyone’s definition, that’s a chunk of work, as Rengaw said.

  16. eponymous coward on December 11th, 2015 7:48 am

    Some fans are thinking Dipoto is disregarding (or even gutting) our minor league system at the expense of putting together our major league roster. This isn’t Milwaukee with only Ryan Braun as a front line player. The M’s can be a competitive club right now. Dipoto had no choice but to scurry around devoting most of his time and energy to establishing his major league roster.

    The problem I see is if the “buy low” guys actually turn out to have had reasons why you could “buy low” and we see some age and injury regression from the group of Guti/Smith/Cano/Cruz, we’re boned, bigtime.

    Not that the team was in a great position to start with and an emphasis on OBP and defense in the OF over DINGERS!!11!!1! has a lot to commend it, so I’m not saying this is the wrong path to take at all; your alternative is probably blowing up the team and trading some combination involving guys like Cano/Cruz/Seager/Felix for what you can get in a huge salary dump, and doing an Astros-style raze and rebuild, which would just completely nuke the fanbase, and there’s no guarantee you would rebuild in 2-3 years like the Astros did. But the downside is pretty easy to see.

  17. MrZDevotee on December 11th, 2015 10:56 pm

    Agreed. I think the “floor” is higher though than previous seasons when things went wrong, simply because he seems to be targeting guys that even when they’re slumping, still get on base.

    So at least when we’re not getting solid contact, it won’t necessarily mean the usual total inability to scratch out a few runs…

    Looking at Aoki’s numbers it’s bizarre how solidly “same” his numbers have been all 4 seasons, regardless of health, switching leagues TWICE, or # of at bats…

    2012 (Brewers) .288/.355/.433 …109 (OPS+)
    2013 (Brewers) .286/.356/.370 …100
    2014 (Royals) .285/.349/.360 …99
    2015 (Giants) .287/.353/.380 …104

    Seems like Safeco shouldn’t bother him much, since he handled San Fran perfectly well…

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