The Seattle Mariners’ bullpen is not as bad as it seems
By Ty Gonzalez
The Mariners’ bullpen has been dreadful through the first month of the season. But compared to the bullpen they were in position to field, have they actually downgraded by much?
Last year, the Mariners finished 10th amongst all MLB bullpens in fWAR with two elite relievers at the back-end of their bullpen leading the charge. Now, only Chasen Bradford and Roenis Elías remain from that group, and neither were significant contributors to the success of 2018.
Elías has stepped up in a major way and has been more valuable than any reliever that left the Mariners during the offseason. In 14 appearances so far, Elías has posted a 2.52 FIP while filling multiple roles within the bullpen, including closer, saving all four of his opportunities.
For as bad as the Mariners’ bullpen has been this year (currently 26th in the MLB with a -0.6 fWAR), a bullpen consisting of their key departed relief pieces would actually grade out worse.
Allow me to demonstrate:
Group A: 75 appearances, 4-5, 14 saves, 8.63 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 4.27 ERA, 4.27 xFIP, -0.6 fWAR
Group B: 78 appearances, 7-3, 8 saves, 10.80 K/9, 5.20 BB/9, 2.50 ERA, 4.13 xFIP, +0.6 fWAR
Aside from a massive walks issue, Group B has clearly been the more successful unit of the two thus far. Surprisingly, Group B is the one that consists of Elías, Brandon Brennan, Connor Sadzeck, Anthony Swarzak, Zac Rosscup, and Cory Gearrin.
Meanwhile, Group A is made up of Edwin Díaz, Álex Colomé, Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, Zach Duke, and Adam Warren—the six most prominent relievers to leave the Mariners this winter.
Both groups have a healthy dose of good and bad, with the struggles of Nicasio, Duke, and Warren being comparable to those of Gearrin, Rosscup, and Swarzak. So while you may initially think that either group’s numbers are being dragged down by one pitcher, each group seems to even the other out.
But for parity’s sake, let’s trim down each group to the three most successful pitchers. For Group A, that would be Vincent, Díaz, and Colomé and Elías, Brennan, and Sadzeck for Group B.
Group A: 38 appearances, 1-3, 14 saves, 10.36 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 2.27 ERA, 3.60 xFIP, +0.3 fWAR
Group B: 38 appearances, 3-2, 5 saves, 9.39 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 1.90 ERA, 3.89 xFIP, +1.1 fWAR
Shedding Warren, Duke, and Nicasio does Group A a lot of favors here, which suggests the obvious: the Mariners have gotten worse at the top-end of their bullpen. However, they haven’t gotten significantly worse, which is at least encouraging in the hopes of developing a quality bullpen by season’s end.
Of course, no one here is arguing that the Mariners are better off without Díaz, Colomé, or even Vincent. It does, however, prove that they have found a way to supplement their missing pieces in fairly successful fashion and have the foundation in place for a young and efficient bullpen moving forward.
Using those “top 6” and “top 3” formulas earlier also suggests that the Mariners’ bullpen has been dragged in the rankings by the likes of Ruben Alaniz and Shawn Armstrong, amongst other part-time relievers. Over the course of the first 33 games of the season, there’s been plenty of turnover and the Mariners haven’t been shy to quickly filter out what they don’t like.
As of now, Swarzak is the biggest concern in Seattle’s bullpen. After missing all of Spring Training with a shoulder injury, Swarzak returned in early April and found success from the jump. But dating back to the team’s most recent trip to Anaheim, Swarzak has appeared uncomfortable on the mound and his performance has suffered.
FanGraphs has been extremely low on Swarzak thus far, assigning him -0.5 fWAR—tied for the second-lowest mark of all qualifying relievers. Yes, even lower than Trevor Rosenthal, who’s off to a disastrous start. I don’t think Swarzak’s necessarily been that bad, but his 7.95 FIP indicates that he’s been a bit fortunate in avoiding any monster damage to this point.
That said, relievers like Swarzak, Rosscup, and Gearrin have no future in Seattle. The relievers that do (Sadzeck, Brennan, Elías), however, have been constants in the Mariners’ bullpen so far. That’s given Jerry Dipoto a great opportunity to retool the bullpen as the season progresses in hopes of finding a unit that can succeed in a potential wild card race later this year.