Andres Munoz primed to face his biggest challenge so far as Mariners closer in 2024

Andres Munoz is set to lead the Mariners bullpen as their closer in 2024. He got a taste in 2023, but 2024 will be his first full season as a closer
Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners
Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

It caught me off guard when I went to look up Andres Munoz's numbers from 2023, looking to compare how he did pre-Sewald trade and post-Sewald trade. His ERA before the trade was 2.96. His ERA after the trade was 2.92. I know that ERA isn't everything, but I found it funny that there was really no change in the bottom line of ERA once he made the move to closer.

His FIP got a bit worse, but that seems to fall in line with a ~75 point rise in his BABIP against him, going from .291 to .367. I was hoping to be able to formulate some argument on his move to closer but was stumped in seeing it didn't really affect him at all. Which oddly enough, cements my feelings on the matter. His demeanor and performance didn't change with the increased responsibility.

Andres Munoz is the Mariners full-time closer for the first time

That's what was nice about the Mariners bullpen. Servais doesn't always have set roles for his pitchers. Instead, he puts them into matchups he deems best as opposed to a defined inning. In 2022, Sewald had 20 of the Mariners' 40 saves. In 2021, the Mariners had save totals of 14-11-10-7 from their relievers. The matchup determines the pitcher, which is the way it should be.

That's why the "full-time closer" role for Munoz shouldn't matter in how he pitches. Sure, he is going to have success this year, especially if he continues to pitch like he has in the last couple of years. I think it's going to be a lot of fun for Mariners fans seeing Brash and Santos get a taste of the 9th inning once in a while. There are going to be nights when you see Santos-Brash-Munoz to finish out games, and it's going to be nasty.

What could we actually see from Munoz, though? To start, he's gotta be up there for the favorites in the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year award. Is that what it's even called anymore? Whether or not it is, he has to be up there, especially with Felix Bautista out for the year in Baltimore.

There is a shot that Munoz is able to join Brash in what he did in 2023, striking out 100+ as a reliever. Munoz was closer in 2022, throwing 65 innings and striking out 96. As he matures on the mound and continues to improve, we could see that K rate jump still, even though it's already remarkable. 65 innings with a K rate of 14 would get him there, and it would be a fun stat to watch as the year goes on.

Munoz also had a bit of bad luck last year with a BABIP of .330, well above league average. If we see league average luck, Munoz could easily post a 2.50 ERA again like he did in 2022. A healthy start for Munoz+3.0BB/9+decent luck on balls in play? We could be looking at a 25-30 save season with a 2.20 ERA from Munoz. Especially if that slider turns back into the 2022 version as one of the best in all of baseball.

The Mariners are set with a "new" closer in Andres Munoz. Let's hope he is up to the task.