Yesterday, (royal) we kicked our 2015 Mariners coverage into high gear with some words about what types of years we can expect out of our starting pitchers. Today, let’s take a look at the bullpen in all its
If you think about it, the bullpen is probably the most underrated aspect of any baseball team. You’re not going to be in contention – and you’re CERTAINLY not going to be winning any divisions – if your bullpen is blowing games left and right. Unless you’ve got the offense to end all offenses, you’re going to need your bullpen to be on point much more often than not (and even then, never forget about the mid-90s Mariners with their astronomical offense and astronomically bad bullpen).
When you look at this team as it’s presently constructed, we’re talking about a lineup that’s much better than it was, say, five years ago. We’ve got three bona fide middle-of-the-order hitters with Cano, Cruz, and Seager. And, we’ve got enough talent around those guys (while they might not be All Stars, we can at least expect them to get the job done from time to time) with Jackson, Ackley, LoMo, Zunino, and hopefully our right field platoon, that runs shouldn’t be the struggle to come by that they were in the most recent dark ages. Brendan Ryan is NOT walking through that door. Nor are the myriad pieces of crap we’ve employed of late. It’s no 1927 Yankees, but this is an offense that should get the job done. Then, factor in the starters, and we’re talking about another group good enough to be getting the job done more often than not.
Getting to the 6th and 7th innings with a lead should NOT be too much of a hassle for this team. The question is: can we expect the bullpen to lock these games down?
Fernando Rodney – Let’s start at the bottom. Last year, our closer was better than he’d ever been, except for that crazy 2012 when he only gave up 5 earned runs all season. In 2014, he blew three saves, which is outstanding. He also ended up more or less costing us three other games, when he came in during a tie game and gave up the winning run. So, he wasn’t PERFECT, but he was about as good as you could reasonably expect. If we could squeeze another year out of him like we had last year, I’d be head over heels.
Relievers are tricky, though. You never know what you’re going to get, and that has absolutely nothing to do with injuries. You’ve got relatively small sample sizes with each season, and they get even smaller when you consider most relievers go just one inning per appearance. You give up a couple runs and all of a sudden, your numbers look crazy bad.
With a closer, all you want is to not have to endure a string of consecutive meltdowns. Somehow, we were spared this fate in 2014, but I doubt we’ll be so lucky in 2015. It’s how you’re able to bounce back that will define your season. With younger guys like Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen, multiple consecutive meltdowns triggered the demise of those guys as closers. Doesn’t mean they’re not valuable relievers; just means they probably can’t handle the pressure of the end of the game. Rodney strikes me as a guy who will suffer a run of bad luck, or bad performances, and be able to overcome. I expect his numbers to look a little worse, but not so bad that we have to totally replace him for the duration.
Danny Farquhar – Probably the guy I worry about the least in this bullpen, so of course he’s going to be the guy who fucking tanks it. Farquhar has been an absolute treat since he came over here in that Ichiro trade and has more or less been locking fools down on the reg. My prediction is that he will continue to be dynamite and we’ll all continue to bemoan the fact that we’re NOT using Farquhar whenever Medina or Wilhelmsen enters the game.
Yoervis Medina – Speaking of the devil, I feel like Medina gets kind of a raw deal in this whole thing. We’re talking about a guy who has blown exactly 5 saves in the last two years, and that’s been almost exclusively in a 7th & 8th inning role, which arguably can be the tougher innings to pitch, depending on the situation. Nevertheless, you know as well as I that a sense of dread comes over all of us whenever Medina’s name gets called. At times, Medina can be lights out and the best pitcher in the stadium. At times, you wonder if he’ll ever find the strike zone again. For the vast majority of his outings, he’s just good enough. He’ll put a scare into everyone, but he wouldn’t be employed if he weren’t getting through these innings. Frankly, you need guys like this to fill out your bullpen. Medina is a horse, he can pitch multiple days in a row, he seemingly never gets injured, and in the long run he’s going to save your more important bullpen arms down the stretch. I expect more of the same.
Tom Wilhelmsen – Dude turned into something of a Jack of All Trades last year. He’s never fully regained the form that he had in 2012, when he stole the closer’s job from League, but he’s also not as bad as he was in 2013 when he lost the closer’s job. He’s an innings eater, which is crucial when you’re talking about a bullpen that doesn’t really employ a “long reliever/spot starter” type. I’m a little concerned about him regressing back to his crappy self, but if the team continues to use him properly (read: sparingly), we should be able to get some good mileage out of him.
Charlie Furbush – For some reason, I feel like Furbush took a huge step back in 2014, compared to 2013, but the numbers don’t really bare that out. He somehow managed to blow exactly zero saves last year, but he did find himself on the losing end of five games (four in the first half alone, when he struggled out of the gate for long stretches). Honestly, Furbush was the LAST guy I wanted to see come out of the bullpen last year, as 15 of his appearances saw him give up at least one run (saying nothing of the guys he let score who were put on base by the previous pitcher). I don’t have high hopes for Furbush, but as he’s a reliever, he could magically figure out how to dominate the strike zone and be amazing. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and move on.
Carson Smith & Dominic Leone – Leone was a rookie who managed to stay with the big club all year. Smith was a guy who got a cup of coffee in September and made the most of it by making batters look silly while giving up 2 hits and zero runs in 9 appearances. I hope both of these guys make the team, but suffice it to say, whether or not we go with the 8-man bullpen, they’ll both get some play in the bigs at some point this season. I like Smith’s upside more, as I feel like he’s got his offspeed pitches figured out. But, Leone is another horse who will get you multiple innings and be able to pitch multiple days in a row. The hope is, with a full year under his belt, he’ll start adding to his arsenal and be even more dynamic than he was last year. If that’s the case, watch out!
Overall, I do like our bullpen’s chances. Even if some of the older guys start to flail about, I think we have enough hotshot young arms to make up for it. The hope is, if someone is indeed done, the organization realizes it in time and makes the switch early enough to save our season. Because, if Rodney, for instance, falls off the wagon, we’re going to need to act swiftly. Playing him just because he’s the veteran – even though he’s melting down every game – will surely drive me insane and nobody wants that.