Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto spent the offseason putting together a team.
Their goal: Steal the AL West title.
It’s a treasure that has eluded the Mariners since a magical 2001 season when they tied the MLB record with 116 wins behind rookie sensation Ichiro Suzuki, future Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez, and ageless wonder Jamie Moyer.
After years in exile, it looks like they may finally be back.
A rag-tag group of relievers has banded together to form one of the best bullpens in baseball, and their effectiveness has been a huge reason for the team’s early success.
Let’s take a quick run through the largely anonymous cast of characters.
RHP Ljay Newsome
Stats: 4 G, 1-0, 1.69 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 1 BB, 11 K, 10.2 IP
Member Since: Selected in the 26th round of the 2015 MLB draft
Specialty: A starter by trade, Newsome has chewed through multiple innings in each of his four appearances this year, helping to take some pressure off the rest of the relief corps. Pitching exclusively as a starter in 2019, he posted a 3.54 ERA with a brilliant 169-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The 24-year-old picked up his first MLB win on April 18.
Stats: 8 G, 1-1, 4.66 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 6 BB, 11 K, 9.2 IP
Member Since: Signed as MiLB free agent on Nov. 20, 2020
Specialty: The most experienced member of the Seattle bullpen with 131 career relief appearances, Steckenrider has filled a variety of roles in his career from middle reliever to setup man to closer during his time with the Miami Marlins. He had five saves and 10.3 K/9 in 71 appearances in 2018. The 30-year-old has induced a staggering 61.5 percent groundball rate on the year, well above his 37.9 percent career mark.
RHP Casey Sadler
Stats: 9 G, 1 HLD, 1.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6 BB, 9 K, 9.2 IP
Member Since: Claimed off waivers from Chicago Cubs on Sept. 5, 2020
Specialty: A curveball specialist who throws the pitch nearly 40 percent of the time, Sadler has been equally effective against right-handed and left-handed hitters over the course of his career. He has thrown 397 curveballs in his MLB career and allowed just three extra-base hits while racking up 34 strikeouts. With a hittable upper-80s cutter as his second pitch, he lives and dies with the breaking ball.
RHP Will Vest
Stats: 11 G, 2 HLD, 1.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 6 BB, 10 K, 12.1 IP
Member Since: Selected from the Detroit Tigers in the 2020 Rule 5 draft
Specialty: With a lively mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup, Vest is a difficult pitcher to square up. The 25-year-old ranks in the 88th percentile in barrel rate and he is quickly pitching his way into more of a high-leverage role after winning a roster spot this spring. The Tigers have to be kicking themselves for leaving him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. The Detroit relief corps currently ranks dead last in the majors with a 5.83 ERA.
Stats: 9 G, 2 HLD, 0.00 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 1 BB, 5 K, 7.1 IP
Member Since: Acquired via trade from the Tampa Bay Rays on Dec. 13, 2017
Specialty: Misiewicz has limited left-handed hitters to a .208 average and .519 OPS in 52 plate appearances in his brief MLB action. The 26-year-old was originally selected by the Mariners in the 2015 draft, then traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in a swap of four minor leaguers on Aug. 6, 2017, only to be re-acquired four months later in exchange for international bonus pool money. He had a 4.05 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings in his first MLB action last year.
RHP Keynan Middleton
Stats: 7 G, 2 SV, 4.50 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 5 BB, 7 K, 8.0 IP
Member Since: Signed a one-year, $800,000 deal on Dec. 16, 2020
Specialty: Middleton once looked like the closer of the future for the Angels, posting a 2.04 ERA with six saves in seven chances during the 2018 season before injuries derailed his development. With a clean bill of health and an electric fastball-slider combination, he fits the prototypical late-inning profile. The M’s signed him to a one-year deal in free agency, but he’s controllable via arbitration through the 2023 season, so that signing could wind up paying long-term dividends.
RHP Rafael Montero
Stats: 10 G, 2-0, 3 SV, 2.61 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 4 BB, 9 K, 10.1 IP
Member Since: Acquired via trade from the Texas Rangers on Dec. 15, 2020
Specialty: The No. 68 prospect in baseball at the start of the 2014 season, Montero flopped as a starter but he’s reinvented himself as a reliever. He’s throwing his sinker and slider more and his fastball less in relief, and he nailed down all eight of his save chances with 9.7 K/9 last year anchoring the Texas bullpen. The Mariners sent right-hander Jose Corniell and a player to be named to the Rangers to help bring some late-inning experience to the new-look bullpen.
RHP Kendall Graveman
Stats: 8 G, 2 SV, 2 HLD, 0.00 ERA, 0.31 WHIP, 2 BB, 11 K, 9.2 IP
Member Since: Signed to a one-year, $2 million deal in free agency on Nov. 26, 2019, re-signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal on Oct. 29. 2020
Specialty: With a mid-90s sinker and a wipeout slider, Graveman is a completely different pitcher now than the one who started 78 games for the Oakland Athletics. He has allowed just one hit while striking out 11 of the 32 batters he has faced this year. The velocity on his slider has jumped from 81.0 mph in 2018 when he was still starting to 87.3 mph this year, and a pitch that was previously an afterthought can now be pointed to as the source of his newfound success.
Can those seven largely unknown relievers help pull off an unexpected heist and lead the Mariners to their first division title in 20 years? We shall see.
Photos by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)