Here's a Thought: Analyzing the Seattle Mariners' Bullpen
I've already analyzed each AL West team's rotation. Now it's time to move on to bullpens.
First up is the Seattle Mariners.
Rather than mess with who is actually going to make the team, I'll just look at everyone who has a legitimate chance: six righties and four lefties.
In general, the back of the bullpen, and all six righties, is very solid. The lefties in the bullpen are far more questionable.
Positives: Aardsma struck out over 10 men per nine innings last year. He throws a tailing 92-98 mph fastball that explodes on hitters.
After years of control issues, Aardsma got his K/BB ratio up to 2.35 last year, and dominated.
Negatives: Aardsma throws his fastball almost 90% of the time, and lacks a reliable second pitch. Neither his splitter or slider has had much success, despite the fact that hitters usually aren't expecting them.
His walk rate is still high (4.29 BB/9 last year), and given his unreliable history, it remains to be seen if Aardsma will be able to replicate his 2009 season. He also had a very low HR/FB rate last year (4.2%); his xFIP, which normalizes HR/FB, was 4.12.
Overall: Aardsma isn't one of the top relievers in baseball, but he's a very solid arm. If he can find a second pitch, he could be spectacular. If not, he'll probably be a good setup man or decent closer long-term. He can't afford to lose any more control, however.
Positives: I love League's stuff. Absolutely love it.
The guy throws 94-99 mph from a sidearm angle, and gets ridiculous sink on his fastball. He also throws a high-80s forkball that drops so much, it seems to defy the laws of physics.
Stuff-wise, League is right there with any reliever in baseball.
Batters can't lift his stuff, as League owns a career 62.0% groundball rate.
Negatives: League has a career HR/FB rate of 18.2%, and since he's been around since 2004, it's tough to write that off as a fluke.
He doesn't have much of a breaking ball. He all but abandoned his subpar slider last year to go with the fastball and forkball.
Overall: League has the stuff to be a ninth-inning monster, but he's too inconsistent to be in the upper-echelon of relievers just yet. He's of similar value to Aardsma.
Positives: Man, the Mariners sure have some hard throwers. Lowe sits at 96 and can scrape 100 with his fastball.
Lowe also features a wipeout slider that comes in around 83-87, a big difference from the heater.
Negatives: For all the power stuff, Lowe's K rate is mediocre, sitting just below 8 K/9 the past two seasons. His control is okay, but nothing special.
Lowe also lost the feel for his solid changeup last year, and basically abandoned it, leaving him with only two pitches.
Overall: Lowe has excellent potential, but he's still a bit rough around the edges. I expect a step forward in 2010, and he'll be a very solid reliever.
Positives: Olson is an extreme flyballer, which plays well in Seattle. The Mariners have a big home park and phenomenal outfield defense.
His walk rate, long a huge problem, finally got down to 3.81 BB/9 last year.
Olson has a nasty high-70's curveball and a very good changeup as well.
Negatives: The soft-tosser's fastball, which ranges from 85-91 mph, just gets crushed seemingly every time he throws it.
It's pretty tough to post a 5.60 ERA in a pitcher's park with a great defense and a .250 BABIP, but that's exactly what Olson did.
He doesn't have a particularly pronounced platoon split, so it's not like he can just become a great LOOGY (although he can probably throw the curve and change more as a reliever than as a starter, which will help).
Overall: Olson is just not a very good pitcher. Barring some drastic improvement, he's best suited to Triple-A work.
Positives: This Rule Five pick boasts one of the top sliders in the minor leagues. He throws in the low-90's and works in a solid changeup as well.
Texeira has a solid minor league track record of sub-4.00 FIPs.
Negatives: Texeira has not yet pitched in Triple-A, so like most Rule 5 picks, he's being rushed if he makes the majors.
His strikeout numbers are merely average for a reliever (7.82 K/9 in AA last year), indicating that he has somewhat limited big league upside.
Overall: It's unlikely that Texeira would be well above-average if he makes the Mariners, but he could be a serviceable pitcher, particularly against right-handers. He should be a solid major leaguer down the line, but his 2010 possibilities are somewhat up in the air.
Positives: White is a groundballer who posted a 2.80 ERA for Seattle last year.
He boasts three solid pitches: a low-90s sinker, high-80s slider, and mid-80s changeup.
White throws a lot of strikes, walking just 2.80 batters per nine last year, and is very stingy with home runs.
Negatives: White is an extreme pitch-to-contact guy, allowing batters to make contact on nearly 90% of their swings. He almost never strikes anybody out (3.92 K/9 last year).
Overall: White's pitch-to-contact strategy works great with the phenomenal Mariners defense behind him, resulting in ERAs consistently lower than his peripherals indicate.
His act should play well in a middle-innings role again this year.
Positives: Kelley throws a solid 93 mph fastball and 84 mph slider.
He posted a phenomenal 4.56 K/BB ratio as a rookie, and he relentlessly pounds the zone early in the count.
Negatives: Kelley got bashed around for 1.76 HR/9 last year, leading to a 4.50 ERA. He tends to work high in the zone, so when he misses, he's prone to the long ball.
Kelley doesn't have a third pitch, and his stuff is pretty generic for a reliever.
Overall: Kelley is fifth on the RHRP chain behind Aardsma, League, Lowe, and White, and could be pushed off the roster entirely by Texeira. He's a decent pitcher, but his fate is likely to be determined more by the performance of others than by the performance of Kelley himself.
Positives: French has a solid sweeping slider in the high 70s.
He did a nice job against lefties last year, posting a 3.62 FIP (compared to 6.08 against righties). His K/BB ratio was also drastically split (3.60 vs. L, 1.04 vs. R).
Negatives: As those numbers indicate, French gets torched by righties, meaning he needs to be kept to strict situational work.
His other pitches—a mid-to-high-80s heater and a changeup—are below average.
Overall: French would be a decent situational lefty, and is better suited for that role than Olson. However, if he's in a role where he has to face a lot of righties, French will likely get hit hard.
Positives: Seddon didn't allow a homer to a lefty all season in Triple-A. That's all I got.
Negatives: A three-pitch lefty, Seddon lacks an out pitch. His fastball tops out in the high 80s, and he doesn't have the wipeout slider of a traditional lefty specialist.
His changeup is a decent pitch, but he relies on it too heavily, so hitters sit on the pitch and knock it around.
Seddon's K/BB ratio against lefties in AAA (26/20) is also substandard.
Overall: Seddon is not a major league caliber pitcher.
Positives: Despite throwing his mid-to-high-80s heater 70% of the time, Vargas gets surprisingly decent mileage out of the pitch. It's nothing spectacular, but of the four lefties in the bullpen race, his fastball is easily the best.
Vargas throws a decent slider and change as well.
Like Olson, French, and Seddon, Vargas doesn't miss bats, but he does have excellent control, walking just 2.36 batters per nine last year.
Weaknesses: Vargas doesn't have much of a platoon split, so he wouldn't make a great lefty specialist. He fits better as a long man.
He works up in the zone a lot, leading to high fly ball and homer rates, even at Safeco Field.
Overall: Vargas is the best pitcher of the four lefties vying for relief spots, but is ill-suited for situational work. He's a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.
It looks like the six righties with a real shot--Aardsma, League, Lowe, Kelley, White, and Texeira—are the six best relievers in camp.
The best of the lefties is Vargas, but he fits best as a long man. French is the best LOOGY option.
The team could either carry all six righties and pick one of the lefties, or keep both lefties and send Kelley back to Triple-A or Texeira back to the Yankees.
If I were Jack Zduriencik, I'd probably open with both lefties on the roster and Kelley in Triple-A working on keeping the ball down. I think Texeira is too valuable of an arm to throw away for the sake of French, Vargas, or Kelley, so I'd definitely look to keep him.
But that's just me. What do you think?