Last season the Mariners finished ten games below .500 and 12 games behind the AL West champion Rangers. Seattle used 23 relievers over the course of 523 innings and barely amassed one win above replacement (per FanGraphs). This season, Seattle's pen has tossed about 20 percent as many innings (114) and has already posted one win.
Going into Wednesday night's games, the Mariners bullpen has the fourth-best ERA in the American League and the third-best xFIP. Mike Montgomery, whom Seattle acquired from the Rays for Erasmo Ramirez, leads the team in innings, though free agent Steve Cishek is not too far behind:
New Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto supplemented what Seattle had in their system with some key free agent signings to put together the relief corps. D-Pot took risks on high risk / high reward free agents.
The aforementioned Mike Montgomery is not a signing of Dipoto's, but he did ink Steve Cishek to a two-year deal this past offseason. Steve Cishek, who did not contribute much value at all in 2015 in a split season with the Cardinals and Marlins. He posted a 0.0 fWAR and walked 27 batters in 55.1 innings. His strikeout rate in 2015 was significantly lower than his career average to that point (19.8 percent compared to between 24 and 30.6 percent between 2011 and 2014). Cishek has risen to that level again, currently sustaining a 27.4 percent strikeout rate. If Cishek can toss another 20 to 30 innings on this pace, it would be a huge win for Dipoto if they were to make the playoffs.
Joel Peralta is another two-year signing of Dipoto's. So far in 2016, the long ball has been his biggest issue, as he's given up five home runs in only 16.1 innings. A 21.7 percent fly ball rate belies the effectiveness in the zone; Peralta is currently posting his best strikeout rate of his career and is right around his career average seven percent walk rate. He holds an 85 xFIP- despite having a 131 FIP-. Based on those numbers, it appears Peralta is likely to improve his performance, though the home run balls have to stay in the yard.
Nick Vincent is another Dipoto reliever whom the Ms acquired from the Padres for a player to be named later. Vincent is also posting the highest strikeout rate of his career and currently has a 20:2 strikeout to walk ratio. He has not allowed an inherited runner to score and has an ERA 66 percent below league average and a FIP 16 percent below league average. For having to give up nothing, Vincent is another win for Dipoto thus far.
Steve Johnson and Joaquin Benoit are two other relievers thrown into the mix by the new Seattle front office. The Mariners signed Johnson as a free agent this past March when the Rangers released him. Benoit on the other hand joined Seattle after being traded by the Padres for two minor leaguers. Benoit is in an uphill battle, as he is not being given many innings to prove he can be effective. In only five innings so far this year, he has walked four batters and allowed one home run.
Jerry Dipoto added to a young and inexperienced Seattle bullpen by betting on veteran pitchers with high strikeout rates who were coming off down years. Should Seattle make the playoffs, the back end of their ‘pen is solidified with Cishek and Peralta, which can be a formidable combination if they are performing well. Although all these moves seemed fairly insignificant at the time, together they have come into their own as a vast improvement that is helping the Mariners stay on top of the American League West.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.
Editor's Note: New players win cash in their first league or get their entry fee refunded. Offered in partnership with FanDuel. Here is the link.