The Mariners have finally made a trade! It may not be a name you recognize, but this deal helps address the M’s bullpen woes for 2018 and beyond.
As announced by Mariners PR, the Mariners have swung their first deal of the July trade season, acquiring right-handed reliever Sam Tuivailala from the St. Louis Cardinals. Before you inevitably shout “Who?!?!” at me, let’s take a look at what “Tui” brings to the table.
At face-value, Tuivailala doesn’t look too impressive. A 3.69 ERA (4.36 xFIP) with a low K/9 (7.39) and a relatively high BB/9 (3.13) isn’t going to wow anyone. But when you look deeper, you’ll find that Tuivailala is somewhat of a righty specialist and those numbers have been inflated by his struggles against lefties.
You’ve heard of LOOGYs before. Now, let me introduce you to a ROOGY.
Against right-handed hitters this season, Tuivailala has allowed seven runs while only walking one batter and striking out 18. More importantly, hitters from the right side are only making hard contact off of him just 25.4% of the time.
Left-handed hitters, on the other hand, are making hard contact 45.7% of the time. That’s pretty bad, and that’s why Tuivailala has a slash line of .333/.446/.556 against him by lefties.
The lack of strikeouts is a bit disappointing given how good Tuivailala’s stuff can be, especially with a fastball that sits at roughly 96 miles-per-hour. But this is another effect of his lefty problem, whereas his K% versus righties is currently at 22.2%.
To further demonstrate how good Tuivailala has been against righties, here’s a tweet you may find interesting:
The Cardinals’ bullpen has been in flux for the entire year, forcing them to play Tuivailala to his weaknesses at times. While the M’s have had their own share of struggles, their bullpen is deep enough to not be forced into having Tuivailala face lefties most nights.
This is a significant addition to the bullpen, as the Mariners haven’t been very successful against right-handed hitters in relief. As of now, the Mariners’ bullpen ranks 27th in the MLB in xFIP against righties, as well as 28th in GB%.
For reference, Tuivailala ranks 25th and 31st in those categories, respectively.
Tuivailala is out of Minor League options so he’ll be on the 25-man roster for good. However, he’s still a year-and-a-half away from arbitration, meaning the Mariners have him under club control until 2023.
This all did come at a significant cost, however. The Mariners shipped off one of their “big four” Minor League relievers, Seth Elledge. Through 38.1 innings of relief at High-A Modesto, Elledge had posted dominant strikeout numbers and was seemingly close to a promotion to Double-A Arkansas.
Elledge’s numbers, however, actually appear pretty similar to Tuivailala’s at the same point in their careers. In fact, the measurables stack up pretty closely. It’s quite possible that the Mariners just traded Seth Elledge for another Seth Elledge, but one that can help you immediately.
The Mariners needed more help from the right side, with Nick Vincent, Juan Nicasio, and Alex Colome struggling for most of the season. Tuivailala helps you in an American League dominated by right-handed bats such as J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Khris Davis, amongst others.
Tuivailala is the perfect example of the kind of situational reliever Dipoto has talked about looking for.
Expect more from Dipoto and co. over the next few days. Now that they’ve made their first trade, things could get kicked into high-gear. They may still look to add a left-handed reliever, but their attention has likely turned to adding a bat or two and possibly a starting pitcher. We’ll see.