The bullpen has regularly been a strength in the Jerry Dipoto/Scott Servais era. Dipoto and Justin Hollander can take another team's designated for assignment arms or even trade for them and turn these guys into valuable and sometimes high-leverage relievers. Paul Sewald, Casey Sadler, Erik Swanson, and Justin Topa are shining examples of this process in action. The track record is there.
The Mariners acquired Topa in the offseason, and out of camp, he started in Tacoma. He was recalled on April 9th and never looked back. The Mariners have a system that is damn good at identifying guys with specific traits, spin rates, arm slots, etc., that they can work with or tweak and make them very effective. Topa's essential tool is his sinker, which is elite (10 run value), and he throws it 44.6% of the time.
The 32-year-old reliever always had the stuff but couldn't stay healthy. That is, until this year, by authoring a breakout season. Topa fired 69 innings with 61 strikeouts and used his elite sinker to accumulate a 56.7% groundball rate. Topa also ended up stranding nearly 73% of all inherited base runners, which is a key performance indicator when evaluating high-leverage arms.
I'm handing out an A- for Justin Topa's 2023 season.
Topa stacked month on top of the month, and by the end of the season, he was one of Scott Sevais' go-to guys in high-leverage situations. Granted, the Sewald trade expedited Topa's ascent in the Mariner bullpen, but he didn't shrink when the lights got brighter. Here's to the Mariners finding the next Sewald and an even better 2024 sophomore season for an unsung hero in the pen.