In 2014, the Seattle Mariners had the best bullpen in all of baseball, leading the majors in both ERA and xFIP. The impressive nine-man crew featured Fernando Rodney, Brandon Maurer, Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel, and even Carson Smith pitched great in just 8.1 innings of work in September last season. In the offseason, the bullpen lost one member of its crew as the Mariners traded Brandon Maurer for Seth Smith. Even with that trade, the thought was that the Mariners still had a ultra-solid seven man crew in Rodney, Farquhar, Leone, Furbush, Medina, Wilhelmsen and Smith. Miraculously, the Mariners’ bullpen is now one of the worst in all of baseball, and this list of relievers this season is not pretty. In 2015, Mariners relievers have combined for the fourth-worst ERA and sixth-worst xFIP in the majors. Is the Mariners’ bullpen actually the worst in the league? Not quite, but the majority of these stats were compiled when Mark Lowe and Charlie Furbush were on the roster. Now, with Lowe traded and Furbush on the disabled list, the Mariners’ bullpen is hardly bearable. Last season, fans were so used to games being shortened by the reliable bullpen. Time and time again, if the Mariners had the lead after the sixth inning, they’d have the lead after the ninth. This season, no five run lead is safe. This article will examine how the bullpen imploded.
No more Maurer
The Mariners traded Brandon Maurer to the Padres in return for Seth Smith in December 2014. Maurer famously reinvigorated his career as a reliever in the latter half of 2014 after struggling as a starter. Smith, a corner outfielder with a high on-base percentage throughout his career, is someone the Mariners needed in the lineup, but giving up Maurer will sting for quite a while. Maurer is having a really solid season in San Diego, recording a 3.00 ERA, 3.30 FIP, and 1.059 WHIP. Obviously, in hindsight the Mariners wish they could’ve traded Farquhar, Medina, or Leone instead. Before the trade, Maurer was viewed as a potential closer candidate in Seattle.
Unanticipated player regression
Player regression can at times be completely spontaneous, and unfortunately that’s what happened to a few members from the 2014 squad. Leone, Farquhar, and Medina were all terrific for the Mariners in 2014, but for whatever reason they completely lost their control in 2015. All three have spent time in the minor leagues this season, and Leone and Medina have both been traded. Farquhar’s ERA has more than doubled from last season. Even Tom Wilhelmsen had an extremely rough stretch at one point which resulted in a trip to AAA Tacoma, but he’s since recovered and has actually put together a pretty decent season. It’s difficult to figure out what, if anything, caused this decline in aptitude. Age can’t be a factor, as all three are pretty young. This is why Fernando Rodney falls in a different category, because age can be a factor in his case. The Mariners were supposed to still have a legit bullpen even after the Maurer trade, but evidently this was definitely not the case. Player regression has a lot to do with this, and it’s very unfortunate that there was no way the Mariners could’ve seen this coming. While bullpen arms have historically been regarded as volatile, this is a pretty extreme case of volatility of multiple relievers on one team.
The 2014 bullpen was so consistent, and there was rarely any shuffling with the bullpen. This year, there’s been several new faces in the clubhouse, and it hasn’t been pretty. The Mark Lowe trade and the injury to Charlie Furbush have taken a big toll on the bullpen. Overall, Tyler Olson, Mayckol Guaipe, Logan Kensing, David Rollins, Rob Rasmussen, Edgar Olmos, and even Jesus Sucre have seen time as relievers. The inconsistencies of the bullpen can probably be directly correlated to the constant shuffling of the roster. Perhaps Carson Smith has been the only consistently good reliever the Mariners have had this season. Vidal Nuno has been impressive, but he’s also pitched some spot starts. Charlie Furbush has been great, but his injury appears to be one that will keep him out through the end of the season.
What will the Mariners’ bullpen look like in 2016? It’s pretty evident that the Mariners need a new closer, and if the Mariners can also make Nuno a permanent reliever, the bullpen will get a huge boost. The Mariners need to bring back Charlie Furbush, and they should also consider bringing Tom Wilhelmsen back, as he’s had a good second half of the season. Perhaps the Mariners can sign Mark Lowe again. Here’s what the Mariners’ bullpen could potentially look like next season.
Closer: (Free agent signing)
Setup men: Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush
Middle relief: (Free agent signing), Edgar Olmos
Long relievers: Vidal Nuno, Tom Wilhelmsen