Scouting the 2004 Mariners: The Relief Pitchers

In part two of this four-part series, we'll take a look at the Mariners bullpen in 2004. The analysis will use various statistical tools including DIPS ERA, which was also used in reviewing the starting rotation, to evaluate and project the relievers' expected performance.

The bullpen for the 2003 Mariners was one of the best in baseball. The pen ranked fourth in ERA at 3.36, second in WHIP at 1.196, and second in OPS at .656. In addition, they had the fewest losses, 11. With the top performers from last year's bullpen remaining and some top-notch off-season acquisitions, the 2004 bullpen will be better than ever.

Eddie Guardado (65.1 IP, 60 K, 14 BB, 7 HR, 41 SV, 4 BLSV, 2.89 ERA)
Signed to replace Arthur Rhodes as the left-handed set-up man, Guardado will end up replacing Kazuhiro Sasaki as the closer. Guardado became Minnesota's closer in the second half of 2001 and hasn't looked back since. He has saved 98 games with just 12 blown saves since he took over. Guardado uses a low-to-mid-90s fastball, curve, slider, and split-finger fastball to keep both left and right-handers at bay.

Guardado's ERA has improved each year since 1998, beginning at 4.52 and improving all the way down to 2.89 in 2003. Last season, Guardado made a few trade-offs that worked out well. While his K/9 dropped from 9.31 to 8.27, his BB/9 greatly improved from 2.39 to 1.93. The change enabled him to post the best K/BB, OBP against, and ERA of his career, posting marks of 4.29, .246 and 2.89 respectively. In 2003, Guardado was effective against right-handers as well as left-handers. He posted a .219 AVG against vs. right and an amazing .175 vs. left.

Guardado is very intriguing as the closer. As a lefty, he negates the natural advantage that left-handers have in Safeco. With him closing, managers will be forced to either use weaker right-handed hitters or stick with their left-hander in the 9th inning. Guardado has improved each year and the move to Safeco will improve his numbers even more.

Projected 2004 line: 65 IP, 63 K, 17 BB, 6 HR, 48 SV, 3 BLSV, 2.75 ERA

Shigetoshi Hasegawa (73 IP, 32 K, 18 BB, 5 HR, 16 SV, 1 BLSV, 1.48 ERA)
When Kazuhiro Sasaki went down in 2003, the M's struggled while trying to replace him with a combination of Jeff Nelson and Arthur Rhodes. On July 5, Hasegawa took over and was lights out. On the season he converted 16 of 17 save opportunities and gave the Mariners the stability they needed. Hasegawa doesn't strike many out, but he doesn't walk many either. He uses his fastball, forkball, and slider to induce grounders and is equally effective vs. both righties and lefties.

Hasegawa's 2003 was the best year of his career. His 1.48 ERA, .620 OPS against, 2.22 BB/9, and 16 saves were easily career bests. However, while he pitched extremely well, he wasn't quite as good as it may appear. His DIPS ERA was just 3.93, not much better than his 2002 mark of 4.06. He also faded at the end of the year just as he had done in the past. Breaking down his performance by month for the past three years, his August and September have historically been his worst.

Hasegawa will probably not get any opportunities to close in 2004, and that is fine. He is much more valuable as a middle-reliever where he can be used in tight situations. If he is to stay strong throughout the year, his inning total will need to be cut down some. Even with a slightly higher ERA, Hasegawa will be a very valuable piece for the M's.

Projected 2004 line: 70 IP, 35 K, 20 BB, 4 HR, 2.90 ERA

Rafael Soriano (53 IP, 68 K, 12 BB, 2 HR, 1.53 ERA)
Wow! Aside from Eric Gagne, was there any reliever better than Soriano in 2003? He came in not expected to stick too long with the team. He threw just 7.2 innings coming into July, but that's when something clicked. Soriano got the chance to stick with the team and dominated in whatever role was handed to him from that point forward. Armed with a fastball that one scout said was "…the second best fastball in baseball," Soriano is able to throw the ball right by even the best fastball hitters. Soriano also mixes in the occasional change or slider, but the fastball is his bread and butter pitch.

Among pitchers with at least 50 IP, Soriano had the second best OPS against at .462, only behind Gagne. He struck out 11.55 per 9 innings and walked just 2 per 9 for an amazing 5.67 K/BB ratio. Since July 1, his ERA was 1.39. He even faired better than Gagne on several prominent publications' "top relievers lists" with an 0.93 RRA (an adjusted version of ERA). There was nothing that he could not do in 2003, and there's no reason to believe he can't repeat the performance in 2004.

Soriano enters 2004 as the primary set-up man and might get a chance to join the rotation if someone should falter or get hurt. While in the Dominican Winter League, he worked rigorously on his slider and change and threw well. In 42.1 innings, he only allowed 1 ER. If he continues to improve his secondary pitches, he'll be nearly unhittable. Whether he's starting or relieving down the road, he is and will be a very special player.

Projected 2004 line: 80 IP, 110 K, 17 BB, 3 HR, 1.65 ERA

Julio Mateo (85.2 IP, 71 K, 13 BB, 14 HR, 3.15 ERA)
Mateo was expected to be the sixth man in a deep bullpen in 2003, but he was much more valuable than anyone could have expected. Having out-pitched his competitors in spring training, Mateo earned the final position in the bullpen. Being a starter in the minors gave him the endurance and variety of pitches necessary for such a role. He generally pitches up in the zone and has excellent command of a low-90s fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, and splitter.

As an extreme fly-ball pitcher, Mateo is prone to the longball. He allowed 14 in 85.2 innings last year. However, the homers aren't detrimental to him due to his outstanding command. He walked just 1.37 batters per 9 and 5.46 K's per walk. He was most effective from June on striking out 50 while walking just 5 batters. Also during that period he was able to keep the HR totals to a minimum, 7 HR in 49.2 IP compared to 7 allowed in his first 26 IP.

Mateo will enter 2004 in the same role as 2003, long relief. This is his most effective role and he should continue to have success. He is able, however, to pitch in tight, late inning situations if necessary.

Projected 2004 line: 90 IP, 85 K, 15 BB, 13 HR, 3.55 ERA

Ron Villone (6-6, 106.2 IP, 91 K, 48 BB, 16 HR, 4.13 ERA)
Villone was originally drafted by the Mariners in the first round of the 1992 draft., and has pitched for eight teams in his major league career serving as both a starter and a reliever. The Mariners signed him this offseason to fill the fifth spot in the bullpen. With the current state of the bullpen, he would be best used as a long reliever and spot starter.

Villone would qualify as a power pitcher thanks to his 7 K/9 rate during his career. During the past three seasons he has improved his overall rate to 7.7. He has also improved his walk rate from 4.73 per 9 to 3.87. However, as a reliever during this time period, his ability to cut down on his walks has come at the cost of some strikeouts. Even so, he has held hitters to a .248 AVG and held lefties to a .249/.334/.387 line.

Villone's most value asset is his flexibility. He can be used as a spot starter, a long reliever, and a situational lefty if necessary. The surplus of pitching talent in the minors will keep Villone on his toes. He will need to throw his best at all times if he is to keep his job.

Projected 2004 line: 55 IP, 40 K, 23 BB, 5 HR, 4.35 ERA

The sixth spot in the bullpen will be determined during spring training. The following are some of the candidates who could fill the void.

Terry Mullholland (3-4, 99 IP, 42 K, 37 BB, 17 HR, 4.91 ERA)
Mullholland will join the M's in spring training as a non-roster invitee. He most likely will not make the team, but if he does it will only be as a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy). If he is allowed to face righties he will not fair well. In fact, over the past three seasons his line vs. righties is a line that Bret Boone would love to have: .315/.366/.543. His line vs. lefties is better but still not very good either, .275/.332/.422. As a vet he'll get every opportunity to make the team, but players such as George Sherrill and Bobby Madritsch shouldn't have a problem beating him out.

Kevin Jarvis (92 IP, 49 K, 32 BB, 15 HR, 5.87 ERA for the San Diego Padres)
Jarvis was acquired from San Diego in the Jeff Cirillo deal. He has average "stuff," including a high-80s fastball and a variety of breaking pitches. He dealt with multiple elbow problems in 2003, which had an effect on his overall performance. If he is to earn a spot in the bullpen it will be as a long reliever, pushing Mateo into a middle-relief role.

Bobby Madritsch (158.2 IP, 153 K, 67 BB, 11 HR, 3.63 ERA in AA San Antonio)
Signed by the Mariners following his 2002 Independent League Player of the Year campaign, Madritsch showed that he has what it takes to make it in the majors. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, curve, and change, Madritsch isn't afraid to go right after the hitter. As a lefty, he has an edge in the race for the bullpen.

Mike Myers (36.1 IP, 21 K, 21 BB, 4 HR, 5.70 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks)
Recently signed to a minor league contract and invited to spring training, Myers is your typical "LOOGY" (Left handed one out guy). His sinking-fastball and slider coming from a submarine delivery allows him to keep lefties at bay. They have hit just .236 off him over the past 3 years. If he shows in spring training that he still has it, he has the inside track to a spot in the pen. However, if he falters, the Mariners won't hesitate in going to Madritsch or…

George Sherrill (27.1 IP, 31 K, 12 BB, 1 HR, 0.33 ERA)
Another player signed from the Independent leagues, Sherrill dominated wherever he pitched in 2003, including the Independent leagues and the winter leagues. Sherrill was recently endorsed by M's pitching coach Bryan Price at Mariners FanFest. When asked about the possibilities for filling the bullpen, Price said Sherrill was "a sleeper who had a fantastic season at Double-A in 2003." He went on to say that the lefty could end up in Seattle in 2004.

No matter who fills the final spot in the bullpen, it is sure to be one of the best in baseball. Any way you look at it, the bullpen is set up perfectly to complement the rotation. There will be a great mix of lefties and righties, short and long relievers, and hard and soft-tossers.

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