Mariners reworked bullpen, and Los Bomberos are thriving

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports activities MLB Author

Final month in Detroit, a number of members of the Mariners bullpen went out to dinner. For right-hander Paul Sewald, it was acquainted in a single sense, as a bunch of Seattle relievers had gathered for dinner about 14 months earlier through the annual journey to the Motor Metropolis. However then Sewald realized one thing.

“I looked around,” Sewald advised FOX Sports activities. “And literally just Fleming Baez, the bullpen catcher, and I were the only two people that were there a year ago.”

As has turn out to be fairly regular within the Jerry Dipoto Period, the Mariners roster has certainly turned over a good bit over the past calendar 12 months, and for the higher. 

The 2021 Mariners have been one thing of a mirage. They gained 90 video games with a minus-51 run differential however an off-the-charts enjoyable differential — thanks largely to a 33-18 document in one-run video games — making for a wild season, albeit not one which felt significantly sustainable. 

In flip, Dipoto made important upgrades to the roster this previous winter and once more on the Commerce Deadline which have put the Mariners in glorious place to lastly finish their two-decade-plus postseason drought. 

However the evolution — and transformation — of the bullpen particularly is one which deserves a better look. An enormous a part of the crew’s success in shut contests a 12 months in the past was predicated on a bullpen that constantly delivered when referred to as upon. Although it was hardly brimming with family names, it was chock-full of hidden gems resembling Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and Casey Sadler, who have been constantly slamming the door when their names have been referred to as. Rafael Montero, Anthony Misiewicz, Will Vest, JT Chargois and Keynan Middleton every made 30+ appearances. Kendall Graveman was downright dominant till his commerce to Houston. 

As Sewald noticed, for quite a lot of causes, from trades to accidents to poor efficiency, none of these guys are nonetheless round. And but: “We were a top-five bullpen in the league last year. And now we are a top-five bullpen in the league again with totally different guys,” Sewald mentioned. “When you think about it like that, we’ve just replaced really great pitchers from last year with better pitchers this year. It’s been really fun to watch.”

This 12 months, the Seattle bullpen has a bunch of recent faces and maybe extra importantly, a brand new nickname: Los Bomberos. The Firemen. 

Sewald may lead the crew in saves with 19, however Andres Muñoz — the one who launched the Bomberos bullpen nickname — has been the clear headliner. The 23-year-old right-hander was acquired from San Diego as a part of the Austin Nola haul again on the 2020 Commerce Deadline. He had showcased his electrical heater in 23 innings with the Padres as a 20-year-old in 2019, however required Tommy John surgical procedure in spring coaching the next 12 months that took him off the radar for some time. 

Now absolutely again from TJ, Muñoz has picked up proper the place he left off with probably the most dynamic fastball-slider combos in baseball — one that’s strikingly much like that of former Mariners nearer Edwin Diaz. Supervisor Scott Servais has deployed him in any semblance of high-leverage state of affairs, regardless of the inning, and Muñoz has delivered time and time once more. He’s presently ninth amongst all relievers in fWAR and has a 39.3% strikeout fee that ranks solely behind, fittingly, the aforementioned Diaz. 

It’s powerful to match Muñoz’s high-octane arsenal, however this bullpen has no scarcity of pure stuff. Erik Swanson’s splitter. Diego Castillo’s sinker. Matt Festa’s slider. And arguably the crown jewel of all of them, rookie Matt Brash’s ridiculous breaking ball.

Brash, a starter in Excessive-A when Sewald was out to dinner in Detroit final 12 months, has burst onto the scene in 2022, particularly since shifting to the bullpen full-time. He, too, throws laborious like Muñoz, nevertheless it’s his slider, which options extra horizontal motion than some other in baseball, that has his teammates’ – and PitchingNinja’s – consideration:

“A 90-mph slider with 20 inches of horizontal movement is rather unfair,” reliever Penn Murfee mentioned of his teammate’s standout pitch. 

“It’s insane,” Festa agreed. “What are you supposed to do with that?”

Brash started the 12 months within the Seattle rotation however struggled with strike-throwing sufficient to immediate a demotion and eventual transition to a aid function that has labored wonders. After posting a 7.65 ERA in 20 innings as a starter, the 24-year-old has put up a 1.50 ERA in 24 aid innings, together with 12 consecutive scoreless outings relationship again to August 17. 

Brash’s integration additionally flowed seamlessly right into a bullpen that was slowly discovering its stride because the summer season went on — identical to the remainder of the roster. 

Although the dramatic brawl with the Angels on June 26 is commonly cited because the turning level of this Mariners season, the turnaround had actually begun the week prior. After falling to 29-39 on June 19, Seattle rattled off a five-game profitable streak earlier than dropping the sport wherein the brawl occurred. Just a few days later, a brand new streak started — a 14-game heater that carried Seattle all the best way to the All-Star break. 

In June, Seattle’s odds to interrupt their historic playoff drought fell as little as 5%. Now, with just some weeks to play, FanGraphs forecasts the drought as having a 99% likelihood of being damaged.

Since June 21, the Mariners have gone 51-23, roughly a 112-win tempo over 162 video games, and the second-best document in MLB behind solely the Dodgers (58-19). 

Right here’s how their aid corp stacks up throughout the league since then:  

3.5 fWAR (third)

2.48 ERA (first)

3.28 FIP (second)

27.2% strikeout-rate (second)

80% strand fee (first)

.188 BAA (first)

1.03 WHIP (second)

For pretty much as good because the 2021 unit was, Los Bomberos have set a brand new customary. And whereas this 12 months’s group arguably outranks final 12 months’s on pure expertise, they’ve additionally benefited immensely from one thing the 2021 crew clearly lacked: elite beginning pitching. 

Mariners beginning pitchers have posted a 3.35 ERA since June 21, the fourth-lowest in baseball, and have been significantly unimaginable as of late.

Having such a dependable beginning rotation does extra than simply assist groups win baseball video games — it additionally permits the relievers to chill out and revel in one another’s firm for the primary a part of the sport with out worrying about coming in sooner than deliberate. 

“The fact that we don’t have bullpen days twice a week makes it a lot easier for us,” Sewald mentioned. “There’s not a whole lot of panic down there. 

“We really feel like we have now 4 innings to actually hang around and fiddle and discuss.” 

“Everybody’s actual chatty for, like, 4 innings,” Festa added. “I can not hold my mouth shut, so I am all the time speaking. Me and Swanny have a whole lot of enjoyable.”

Finally, the relief and dialog turns to focus and preparation. 

“We’re so snug with no matter state of affairs is thrown at us,” Festa mentioned. 

“Our bullpen coach [Trent Blank] does a extremely good job,” Murfee said. “If there is a state of affairs the place he seems like he wants to tell us of one thing that might come up through the sport, he is superb about giving us a heads up. We have simply gotten in a fairly good rhythm of understanding when sure names are gonna be referred to as.”

It’s fitting Murfee referenced Blank, a key member of the Mariners’ pitching development group since joining the organization in 2019. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s with our first-rounder, or our Thirtieth-rounder: we actually consider we are able to make everybody higher,” Blank said after being promoted to bullpen coach and Director of Pitching Strategy for the 2021 season

Building a bullpen is never just about acquiring the guys that throw the hardest or have the nastiest stuff like Muñoz or Brash. It’s also about finding players who can simply get outs, the way Murfee — a former 33rd-round pick who didn’t start pitching full-time until his senior year of college — has demonstrated in his breakout rookie campaign. The 28-year-old has posted a 2.68 ERA in 58.1 IP and a 0.91 WHIP that ranks 12th-lowest among all qualified relievers, with two of the 11 lower than him being Sewald (0.77) and Swanson (0.88). 

“It is attractive to throw laborious. And do not get me improper, I want like hell I might throw 95-100,” said Murfee, whose fastball averages about 89 MPH but whose ability to suppress hard contact is among the best in the entire league. “I believe it is nearly creating distinctive seems and greater than something, preserving guys off steadiness. You are able to do that with 90.”

Sewald echoed this sentiment: “As we have seen, [velocity] just isn’t the one factor that issues. It will get you away with some errors, however relying on the angle, I can throw pitches proper down the center at 91 and be simply as efficient as someone who throws 96 down the center.”

Murfee and Sewald have both thrived as Mariners by relying on unusual release points to compensate for relatively below-average velocity for a late-inning reliever.

“Distinctive is an important factor,” Sewald said. “Penn and I’ve very distinctive, step throughout our our bodies, throw from a low angle, throw the ball up [deliveries] … nevertheless it’s humorous, he has cut-ride, I’ve run-ride. Our pitch traits are completely completely different although our deliveries are very comparable. When you advised a 2004 pitching coach that the 2 of us have been on the identical crew, they might assume you may have the identical two pitchers. Why would you need these two collectively?” 

Since it’s not 2004, the Mariners have found a way to maximize both of these same-but-different deliveries in the same bullpen, even if they aren’t throwing a billion miles an hour. 

That’s not to say Sewald can’t appreciate how hard big league pitchers are throwing nowadays. “That sport we performed towards the Yankees when [Luis] Castillo pitched towards Gerrit Cole. Me, [Scott] Effross and [Matt] Festa have been the one three pitchers that threw a fastball below 95. In a 13-inning sport! The evolution of velocity is loopy.”

Certainly, the numbers from that August basic are staggering. 9 completely different pitchers mixed to throw 202 of the 367 whole pitches within the sport above 95 mph, with solely Sewald (94.7), Festa (94.0) and the side-armer Effross (91.9) maxing out beneath that threshold. 

Beyond the historic display of velocity, that game was one of Seattle’s signature wins of the season – a profound demonstration that they could hang with a powerhouse team like the Yankees in an epic battle for 13 innings.

The clear goal for the Mariners entering 2022 was simple: end the drought. Two-plus decades without postseason baseball is a long time.

The Mariners are a solid offensive team, led by a generational talent in Julio Rodriguez and just enough other impact bats in All-Star Ty France and home run machine Eugenio Suarez to make opposing pitchers sweat. 

On the mound, however, Seattle boasts an incredibly deep group of pitchers that matches up with nearly any across the league. It is this group that has all but ensured the Mariners will finally play postseason baseball games again. 

Better yet, it is that group that gives the Mariners the best chance to win postseason baseball games again.

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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