It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners are selling off any and all talent on their roster that is over, or at least approaching, 30 years old. This team is digging in for the long haul, attempting to clear salary and acquire prospects to move its window of contention back into the next decade.
With that said, recently acquired reliever Anthony Swarzak (33) doesn’t seem destined to don a Mariners hat next season. If he does get dealt, he would be the seventh Mariners reliever to change hands this offseason, joining Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Erasmo Ramirez, Alex Colome, and Nick Vincent.
Without Swarzak, the Mariners bullpen would feature a hodgepodge of fringy big leaguers and very little combined experience. Cory Gearrin was just signed, joining Shawn Armstrong, Chasen Bradford, Zac Rosscup, Nick Rumbelow, and Dan Altavilla in an unfavorable bullpen setup.
If the season started today, Swarzak would probably be the ninth-inning guy for Seattle. But come April, it is anyone’s guess. One dark-horse candidate, based on his promising 1-2 fastball-slider combo, is Altavilla. No one will mistake Altavilla’s velocity and hard slider with Seattle’s former closer, Diaz, but there is some untapped potential here.
First, a look at Altavilla’s numbers. In 2018, he posted a 2.61 ERA and a 10.02 K/9 in 20.2 innings. That came with a 4.66 SIERA and a 6.53 BB/9, however, as a .209 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate buoyed his success.
His 2017 numbers (10.03 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, .281 BABIP and 72.1% strand rate) are probably more indicative of his true performance, and they resulted in a 4.24 ERA—albeit with a better 3.88 SIERA. Still, a closer with control issues and a high-3.00 ERA isn’t ideal, even for a rebuilding team like Seattle.
However, I can see some signs in his arsenal that indicate better days are ahead for the 26-year-old.
Here is a look at his fastball/slider combo, with his 2017 and 2018 results highlighted.
Altavilla’s fastball improved tremendously from 2017. Even though the pitch lost some movement and generated a lower rate of chases, batters struggled to make hard contact. In 2017, hitters posted a 1.014 OPS off the heater. That was down to .639 in 2018, thanks to a nearly 20% increase in infield fly balls and a 7% drop in line drives. Altavilla also tried to attack up in the zone more with his fastball last season, as evidenced by the chart below:
So, Altavilla learned how to attack up in the zone with his heater, which reduced the amount of hard contact he gave up and generated much, much better results with his hard fastball. What happened with his slider?
While Altavilla made strides with his fastball in 2018, it looks like he took a step backward with his breaking ball. While the pitch itself didn’t change much, he generated fewer swinging strikes and fewer chases, resulting in a lower pVal and a higher OPS (.568 compared to .391 in 2017).
However, as you can see from the above GIF, this pitch is filthy when it’s on. I won’t pretend that striking out Byron Buxton deserves a medal, since it appears to be quite easy to do, but there’s no doubt that pitch has potential.
Taking the best parts of each of the last two seasons and combining them isn’t an exact science and doesn’t do much for future estimations. However, it does show that if you squint, the 26-year-old Altavilla has the makings of a solid big league closer.
With only 79.2 innings under his belt, he has shown promise with both his fastball and slider—just never at the same time. But in Seattle where the Mariners don’t have much bullpen help, even through the rosiest of rose colored glasses, Altavilla’s solid two-pitch mix could be enough to see him attempting to shut the door in the ninth inning.
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)