When baseball fans around the world thinks of dominant, hard-throwing late inning guys in 2016, there are certain names that naturally come to mind, many of whom have been involved in trades this season or might be by the end of today: Craig Kimbrel, or Aroldis Chapman and former teammates Andrew Miller (since traded himself) and Dellin Betances.
Soon, very soon, another name will be spoken in the same revered tones as the aforementioned group: 22-year-old Mariners rookie relief pitcher Edwin Diaz.
The Mariners relief corps in 2016 has endured some exceptional churn due to the timeless twin pillars of injury and ineffectiveness. Around mid-May, in the midst of the turmoil, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto made the bold move of converting the organization's minor league starter of the year of 2014 and 2015 into a reliever. Díaz's move to the bullpen initially caused some consternation among Mariners fans, who thought the organization was wasting a valuable potential starter in the pen.
In a conversation with the Seattle Times' Ryan Divish, Dipoto explained the rationale behind the move:
"We felt like as a starter he's mostly 90-94 mph with a good slider," Dipoto said. "What happens when we dump him into the bullpen? Do we have a chance to get that back-end dynamic arm? And does that supersede the ceiling that he would have as a starter? As nice as his progression has been as a starter, we felt like his ceiling was probably more back of the (starting) rotation because of the third pitch and the general wonder about how he could handle the innings because it's not the largest frame among the pitchers in our system. But as a reliever, if he can acclimate himself to the bounce back and show the resiliency to be a bullpen guy, does the stuff tick up?"
The results were impressive: In 11 and 2/3 innings pitched with AA Jackson, Díaz gave up one unearned run along with three hits, two walks and 16 strikeouts. Furthermore, the fastball that had been in the low 90's was suddenly jumping up to 96–99 MPH.
On June 4th, Dipoto made his second bold move regarding Díaz, bypassing AAA Tacoma entirely and bringing the young flamethrower directly into the majors. The results have remained impressive, if not even more so:
|Craig Kimbrel||Red Sox||34||33||13.64||.277||3.55||2.83||3.36|
|Jason Grilli||- - -||41||35.2||13.12||.297||3.79||3.89||3.88|
|Aroldis Chapman||- - -||34||34||12.97||.271||2.12||1.72||2.13|
The above table (from FanGraphs) is sorted by K/9 rate, and as you can see, although he hasn't logged quite the innings of his comrades, Díaz leads all of baseball (min. 100 batters/20 IP) at 17.49 K/9. Up through Saturday's play, Díaz had logged an absurd 46 strikeouts in less than 24 innings pitched. There is not a reliever in baseball more likely to get at least one strikeout in an appearance than Díaz at this point. Díaz also has a 37.9% K/BB ratio, second only to Andrew Miller among relievers. He can presently boast of both superior command and control.
What is it that makes his stuff so great? Well you've already heard about the plus fastball (with a max velocity reached of 101.4 MPH) that has movement and is located with precision, but Díaz also has an above-average slider. In fact, 26 of his 46 punch outs have come via the slider. Díaz has thrown it 108 times to date and exactly three hits have been recorded as a result. Here it is in action against Chris Davis:
Over the weekend, Díaz had a chance to introduce himself to a wider audience in Chicago, and he did not disappoint, striking out Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo back to back to get out of a jam in the eighth on Saturday while the more heralded Aroldis Chapman blew the save. On Sunday, Díaz struck out three more Cubs in an inning and a third's work.
Díaz has started to garner national attention, such as with this piece from the Wall Street Journal a week back, but by and large he's done his dastardly work in a place so far out of the public eye that former NFL head coach/current commentator Jimmy Johnson once called it "Southeast Alaska." Indeed, last night's Sunday Night Baseball telecast was the first time the Mariners had been featured on there since 2004, and, let's keep it real, the other team being featured was probably a large part of the equation there. There can be no doubt that if this young fireballer was wearing pinstripes instead of being true to Mariners blue that he would be a national sensation by now. Maybe we here at Beyond the Box Score have done our little part to help change that, but I suspect that if Díaz keeps this up, he'll be recognized alongside his elite counterparts in no time.
Stats are through Saturday July 30th unless otherwise stated. All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Thomas Bennett is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. He is also an Editor at Fish Stripes and Co-Host of the Fish Bites podcast. You can follow him on twitter @ThomasManyNames.