Game 104, Rangers at Mariners – Finding Relief

marc w · July 23, 2019 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Matt Wisler/Tommy Milone vs. Brett Martin/Pedro Payano, 7:10pm

The M’s beleaguered pitching staff got a much-needed break last night as Marco Gonzales spun 7 very effective innings against the suddenly-reeling Texas Rangers. The bullpen didn’t have a lot to do, but they more-or-less got the job done, not that holding a 5 run lead for 1-2 innings is all that much to ask. Still, the M’s pitching problems have completely sunk their season, and while the Orioles are worse overall, you can make a very good case that the M’s have the worst *bullpen* in the game. By FG, there they are: right at the bottom, at nearly a full win below replacement-level. The Mets have a worse ERA, but better strikeout, walk, HR, and stranded runner numbers. By BBREF’s ERA-based numbers, they’re in last place as well.

You know all of this, and of course, so do the Mariners. They’ve been remaking the bullpen essentially the entire year; the season opened with 9 relievers (thanks to the extra roster spot), and with a 10th swapped in nearly immediately. Of those 10, only 2 are currently on the active roster (Roenis Elias and Cory Gearrin). The guys expected to take a bunch of innings – Hunter Strickland, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Bradford, Anthony Swarzak, Matt Festa and Zac Rosscup, haven’t featured much, and three have been shipped out. The pen showed signs of failing early on, so the trades and roster moves have been happening for months. A stunning 31 pitchers have appeared in relief for the M’s, and the names reveal the waves of pitchers the M’s have thrown at their bullpen black hole. Conner Sadzeck was one of the first to come from outside the org, but he was followed by Austin Adams, Mike Wright, Matt Carasiti, Anthony Bass, and Jesse Biddle. The first source of replacements were the in-house prospects and minor league signings, from Tommy Milone (obviously more as a starter, but he’s relieved, too), Parker Markel, Tayler Scott, David McKay, Ryan Garton, Ruben Alaniz, Gerson Bautista, and the SP prospects Erik Swanson and Justus Sheffield. As injuries removed options, the M’s have cycled through ever more options, and with one-time RP prospect Ian Gibaut DFA’d today, I’d suspect they’ll continue to do so. But what’s depressing is just how little movement in the group’s overall numbers we’ve seen even after completely remaking it several times.

Tom Tango created a stat based on win probability added called shutdowns and meltdowns back in 2010, off of an idea from Jeff Zimmermann. Essentially, a reliever gets a shutdown if the team’s chance of winning goes up by a certain amount during his appearance, and he’d get a meltdown if the chances went DOWN by a similar amount. It was an idea to essentially replace the save, which compresses really tough/important outings (5 outs with a 1-run lead and 2 on in scoring position, or even a standard 9th inning, team up by 1) with easier ones (no one on, up by 3). You can pick nits with it, but it’s good, as it puts all relievers – not just closers – on the same scale. Like saves, you expect there to be a lot more shutdowns than meltdowns, simply because hitting is difficult, and pitchers “win” more often. As such, no team’s had *more* meltdowns than shutdowns since the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. A couple of teams – teams with memorably awful bullpens – have had the two exactly equal (the 2012 Cubs and the 2009 Royals). This year’s M’s have a real shot at this. As of today, they’re at 63 shutdowns and 67 meltdowns. The Orioles are +2, while the Nats are exactly even at 62 apiece. Getting Austin Adams back should help, but it might not be enough if the rest of the pen doesn’t help; that ’09 Royals team had a great season from Joakim Soria, but everyone around him was awful.

The stepback year and the bullpen woes have taken some of the focus off of Kyle Seager, who’s been atrocious, at least before last night’s HR. Here’s hoping that’s the big hit that can get him going again, because his line of .189/.265/.349 in his age 31 year looks waaaaaay too much like another 3B in his age 31 year: Scott Spiezio’s 2004 line of .215/.288/.346.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Narvaez, C
5: Beckham, DH
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Nola, 2B
8: Seager, 3B
9: Negron, LF
SP: Matt Wisler, then Tommy Milone

Vogie getting moved down along with Seager; can’t complain about that. But just as some of the M’s scuffles have been lost in this stepback season, so too has Narvaez’s blossoming as a hitter. He’s all of the growth he had last year in Chicago and added a bit of power. What a great, great acquisition.

Dee Gordon’s injury is a bit more severe than we first thought, so he’s been put on the 10-day IL, which would seem to knock down a lot of his trade value. To replace him, the M’s are calling up Tim Lopes from AAA. Lopes was a draft pick of the M’s many moons ago (2012, to be exact) and then flipped him for Pat Venditte a while back. When he became a minor league free agent, they signed him, and he’s had a great season for Tacoma. Glad to see a long time farmhand get a shot in the big leagues. Every one of those shots comes at someone’s expense, and to get Lopes on the 40-man, the M’s DFA’d Parker Markel, who’d looked amazing for Tacoma back in April.

I’ll end on a positive: Wisler’s last ‘open’ in the Angels series was a textbook example of how that strategy can work. The slider-heavy righty got Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons and even Shohei Ohtani, and then turned it over to soft-tossing Wade LeBlanc. Let’s hope it’s as effective tonight.

George Kirby starts for Everett today, who just hired a new manager – 2017 M’s draft pick Louis Boyd! Boyd, a 2B out of the University of Arizona, is from Vancouver BC.


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