Archive for Mariners

The Mariners Had to Love What They Just Saw

The World Baseball Classic is, of course, its own tournament, fully enjoyable all by itself. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll concede that we think of the regular season first. So we watch the WBC with the year ahead very much in mind. The Seattle area had particular interest in Wednesday night’s game between Venezuela and the United States, in San Diego. The US was scheduled to open with Mariners starter Drew Smyly. Venezuela was scheduled to open with Mariners starter Felix Hernandez.

Felix, at this point, is among baseball’s more intriguing unknowns. One of the best pitchers in the world is coming off the most disappointing season of his career, a season in which all the numbers went in the wrong direction. That’s typically a sign of decline, but Felix spent the winter working hard to try to regain his strength. His outing was sure to be monitored closely, and he wound up spinning five shutout innings, without a single walk. The public is forever keeping track of Felix’s velocity, and on a few occasions, he pushed his fastball past 92. There were reasons to be encouraged, as Felix blanked a strong lineup.

And yet maybe that’s missing the point. So many times, the story has been about Felix Hernandez’s fastball. In this case, the story should probably be about Drew Smyly’s fastball.

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Seattle’s Grand Outfield Experiment

The Mariners are trying something that has never been attempted before. In Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, and Leonys Martin they’re rolling out three legitimate center fielders that were center fielders last year. We’re in love with fly balls right now, but fly balls will not love Seattle this season.

There’s obviously some precedent for strong defensive outfields. The Cubs and Royals, for example, have both appeared in the World Series recently thanks, in no small part, to their ability to take away hits. But even if you stretch the definition of center fielder, something approximating Seattle’s current experiment appears to have been attempted only three times previously. And even then, it doesn’t appear to have happened exactly this way. While the three outfielders themselves don’t think it’s a big deal, there might be a few reasons no other teams have tried this.

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FanGraphs Audio: Kate Preusser, Inaugural FanGraphs Resident

Episode 722
Kate Preusser is the managing editor of Seattle Mariners SB Nation blog Lookout Landing. She’s also (a) FanGraphs’ inaugural writer-in-residence and (b) the guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

Would you like to nominate someone for a residency? You can do that here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 7 min play time.)

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The New Brazilian Flamethrower

This is Kate Preusser’s first piece as part of her month-long residency.

In Molloy, Samuel Beckett tells us: “There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common.”

Thyago Vieira is a freak. I mean this in the nicest, but also the meanest, way. The Mariners prospect and Brazilian native has been turning heads across the league after blazing through the California League and the AFL this past year, victimizing hitters with his triple-digit fastball and newfound slider and just generally looking like a Brazilian golem looming atop the mound with his cold stare and imposing stature. And that’s before he throws 104 at you. Vieira is officially listed at 6-foot-2, but his height is often given offhand by manager Scott Servais or GM Jerry Dipoto as 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. The average Brazilian male, meanwhile, is 5-foot-7. There is a little of everything in nature but, as the fifth-most populous nation in the world, a lot of everything in Brazil.

Perhaps part of the height inflation is Vieira’s frame. He’s listed at 220 pounds but looks bigger than that in person, with a Bunyan-esque lower half fueled by daily workouts and a newfound love of American food like the Cheesecake Factory. Having grown up with a single mother who often gave up her own meals so Thyago and his brother could eat, his love of Instagramming his food with heart and praise hands and cake emojis comes into clearer focus.

I first became interested in Vieira last year, when he moved into a closer role with the Bakersfield Blaze, the Mariners’ Low-A team. His picture showed a kid with a big, easy smile and thick black-framed glasses, a la Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Unfortunately, his command had also emulated Charlie Sheen’s character, leading Vieira to have been stuck in the Mariners’ system since he was drafted in 2011, never making it past A-ball. Brazilian prospects, maybe more so than any other group, are raw, lacking the kind of resources teams pour into talent powerhouses like Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

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Let’s Everyone Shout About Dan Vogelbach

It’s rare that the scouting community, projections wonks, and enthusiastic fans all possess more or less the same opinion about a player. More commonly, a player comes up and drives some kind of wedge between certain crowds. So Dan Vogelbach, guy who fans like more than scouts, isn’t necessarily rare in that regard. In Vogelbach’s case, however, the difference of opinion are more pronounced. And in Vogelbach’s case, the stakes are higher — in more ways than one.

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Are We at the High-Water Mark for Shifting in Baseball?

Here’s the thing about bunting: it can be a good idea if the third baseman is playing too far back. The chance of a hit goes up in that case, and a successful bunt often causes the third baseman to play more shallow in future plate appearances, so future balls in play receive a benefit. That’s one of those games within a game we see all the time in baseball: once the positioning deviates from “normal” by a certain degree, the batter receives a benefit. Then the defender has to change his approach.

This tension created by the bunt illustrates how offenses and defenses react to each other’s tendencies. That same sort of balance between fielder and hitter might be playing out on an even broader scale, however, when it comes to the shift in general.

Too many shifts in the game, and the players begin to adjust. They develop more of a two-strike approach, they find a way to put the ball in play on the ground the other way, or they make sure that they lift the ball if they’re going to pull it. There’s evidence that players are already working on lifting the ball more as a group, pulling the ball in the air more often than they have in five years, and have improved on hitting opposite-field ground balls. So maybe this next table is no surprise.

The League vs. the Shift
Year Shift wOBABIP No Shift wOBABIP
2013 0.280 0.294
2014 0.288 0.294
2015 0.286 0.291
2016 0.292 0.297
wOBA = weighted on base average on balls in play

The league has improved against the shift! The shift is dead! Or, wait: the league has actually improved as a whole over this timeframe, and the difference between the two is still about the same. And every team would take a .292 wOBA against over a .297 number. Long live the shift.

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How Much Hope Is Appropriate for Felix Hernandez?

Felix Hernandez looks like a new man. He’s created a new self because he wants to more closely resemble his old self, the self that ranked consistently among the best pitchers in baseball. There are many different ways to tell the story of his decline, but I could note that he was most recently a one-win pitcher, where he used to be a six-win pitcher. The season before last, he was a three-win pitcher. That’s one way to put it all simply. Here’s another:

You don’t have to know anything about baseball to spot those directional changes, and you don’t have to know much about baseball to know those directional changes are bad. This is an easy thing to discuss: Over the past couple years, Felix has lost his command, and he’s become more hittable. Now that he’s almost 31 years old, we could say, well, yeah, this is how players decline, and his age is pretty decline-y. Felix, though, has worked to reverse all this. As with Noah Syndergaard, you could say Felix is presently in the best shape of his life. The whole point is to be hopeful.

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The Reinvention of Franklin Gutierrez, Baseball Miracle

The Dodgers signed Franklin Gutierrez over the weekend. Now, I didn’t realize the Dodgers still had room on their major-league roster, but they probably know better than I do. Here is a list of problems that have sent Franklin Gutierrez to the disabled list over the past several years:

  • stomach gastritis
  • strained left oblique
  • torn right pectoral
  • concussion
  • strained right hamstring
  • strained right hamstring

Related to the above, here are Gutierrez’s year-to-year plate-appearance totals after getting traded to the Mariners:

  • 2009: 629
  • 2010: 629
  • 2011: 344
  • 2012: 163
  • 2013: 151
  • 2014: 0

That zero stands out. Gutierrez missed all of 2014, making the personal decision to sit out so he could focus on treatment. Treatment for what? Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis! Young athletes are not often diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but Gutierrez was, and there isn’t a cure. It’s a condition he’ll deal with for the rest of his life, and it costs him flexibility and mobility. It’s cruel and unrelenting, and when Gutierrez elected to not play, he couldn’t have known whether he’d ever be able to return.

But he tried in 2015. He tried, and he succeeded, having settled on a treatment plan that left him feeling somewhat okay. Gutierrez batted almost 200 times with the 2015 Mariners, and then he batted almost 300 times with the 2016 Mariners. And the player that Gutierrez turned himself into was and is dramatically different from the player he’d been before.

Franklin Gutierrez vs. Franklin Gutierrez
Years PA Def/600 BB% K% wRC+ ISO HR/FB% Hard% Zone% WAR/600
2007 – 2010 1999 18.3 7% 21% 94 0.143 9% 32% 53% 3.6
2015 – 2016 472 -10.3 9% 29% 135 0.255 30% 44% 45% 3.7

That’s a comparison of recent Gutierrez to what’s basically peak, healthy Gutierrez. Earlier in his career, Gutierrez was as smooth an outfield defender as anyone had ever seen. He was one of the best defensive players in baseball, and at the plate, he showed some promising pop. Now look at the last two years. Gutierrez has become a negative defensive asset, because he simply doesn’t move so well anymore. For the same reason, he’s seldom aggressive on the bases. So much of that old athleticism is gone, and it’ll never return. But Gutierrez has found a way to compensate. He’s gotten bigger, and he’s made a conscious effort to try to just beat the living crap out of the ball.

Some percentile rankings from the last two years:

  • HR/FB%: 100th
  • ISO: 96th
  • Hard%: 99th
  • wFA/C: 99th
  • Exit Velo: 96th
  • Contact: 7th
  • K%: 5th
  • Fastball%: 4th
  • Def/600: 19th

No hitter in baseball has managed a higher rate of home runs per fly ball. Gutierrez has some of the best hard-contact measures around, having sacrificed contact to get there. At this point, he has a lot of power and a lot of swing-and-miss, and so pitchers increasingly treat Gutierrez like a terrifying threat, avoiding fastballs and avoiding the zone. As far as other things go, Gutierrez can still play the outfield, but he isn’t very good at it. And there will be days he’ll wake up and he simply won’t be able to play. On those days, his condition won’t let him.

The reality is, Gutierrez isn’t getting healthier. And teams are reluctant to sign a player whose availability is unpredictable. From time to time, the Dodgers might end up frustrated, playing games with a short bench. But they know what they’re getting into, and they know what Gutierrez has been able to do since his return. Having lost a lot of his ability to move around, Gutierrez has focused on more light jogs and fewer hard sprints. He remains active with his 34th birthday coming next week, and given where he’s been, that’s almost impossible to believe.

2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: AL Catchers

A classic Super Bowl is behind us, large trucks are headed to Florida and Arizona, and spring is in the air — at least in some places a distance from my Wisconsin residence. We’re entering the home stretch of our position-by-position look at hitter contact quality, utilizing granular exit-speed and launch-angle data. Last time, it was National League right fielders. Now, it’s the catchers’ turn. We begin with a look at the 2016 AL regulars at that position.

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Punting First Base Is The New Black

It’s no secret that this winter has not been kind to veteran hitters, particularly those with limited defensive ability. Mike Napoli is still a free agent, as are Chris Carter and Pedro Alvarez. Brandon Moss just signed with the Royals yesterday, getting a backloaded $12 million on a two year deal. Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo all took significant discounts relative to their initial asking prices. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the market for offense-first players was remarkably poor this year, to the point where it could be seen as an overcorrection; perfectly useful players are signing for less than what similarly valuable players with different skills are getting paid.

What is perhaps most interesting about this development, however, is that the teams who could are most in need of a first base upgrade are also teams that should be trying to squeak out every marginal win they can find.

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Omar Vizquel and the Worst Hitters in the Hall of Fame

While perhaps not universally accepted, it is generally acknowledged that Ozzie Smith is the greatest defensive player of all time. With 13 Gold Gloves at the most important defensive position that doesn’t require extra equipment, his ability to generate outs was second to none. Back when we had few defensive stats, eight times Smith led the league in assists and still has the record among shortstops with more than 8,000 in his career.

Omar Vizquel was not quite Ozzie Smith as a fielder. He did receive 11 Gold Gloves. He also played in 200 more games at shortstop than Smith, which is the record, and he’s third all-time in assists by a shortstop — around 700 behind Ozzie. Vizquel comes up on the Hall of Fame ballot a year from now, and he’s likely to be regarded as nearly, but quite, Smith’s equal as a defender.

Being nearly as good as Ozzie Smith might be enough to get Vizquel in the Hall of Fame, given just how good Smith was, but there are considerable questions regarding Vizquel’s bat.

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The Other Most Unhittable Fastball

Sometimes baseball makes things easy. According to the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards, there have been almost 1,500 individual fastball types thrown at least 500 times by different pitchers since we were first able to track these things in 2008. Which has been the most unhittable fastball, determined by whiffs per swing? Well, Aroldis Chapman‘s four-seamer, obviously. It’s been the most unhittable fastball, in large part because it’s also been the fastest fastball. Chapman throws harder than anyone’s ever been able to throw in the major leagues, at least that we know of. When batters have swung at his fastballs, they’ve missed more than 36% of the time.

Sometimes baseball makes things hard. After Chapman’s fastball, who comes in second? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not Craig Kimbrel. I’ll give you another hint: It’s not, I don’t know, Sean Doolittle. Pick a pitcher! It’s not that pitcher. Unless you already know the pitcher, in which case, I can only assume that you cheated. The second-most unhittable fastball has been thrown by Nick Vincent.

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Do All the Free-Agent Sluggers Have a Home?

It’s true that, if you look at the free agents who remain unsigned this offseason, you’ll find a lot of power still available. Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo: all three produced an isolated-slugging figure greater than .200 last season. All three are projected by Steamer to produce better than a .195 ISO in 2017. All three have yet to find a team for the 2017 season.

Given the general demand for power, you might wonder why so many of these sluggers don’t have jobs yet. A look both at the supply and the demand in the league reveals a possible cause, however: handedness. There might be an obstacle, in other words, to matching those free agents with the right teams.

To illustrate my point, let me utilize the depth charts at RosterResource. What’s nice about RosterResource, for the purposes of this experiment, is that the site presents both a “go-to” starting lineup and also a projected bench. Here’s a link to the Cubs page to give you a sense of what I mean.

In most cases, a team will roster four non-catcher bench players. Looking over the current depth charts, however, I find 15 teams with only three non-catcher bench players on the depth chart (not to mention five additional bench players who are projected to record less than 0 WAR). For the purpose of this piece, let’s refer to these as “open positions.”

Fifteen! That’s a lot. It means we’re likely to see quite a few signings before the season begins. Of course, not all these openings are appropriate for the power bats remaining on the market. Most of those guys are corner types, if they can play the field at all, while some of those 15 clubs have needs at positions that require greater defensive skill.

For example, Anaheim might need an infielder or a third baseman for their open bench spot. The White Sox need a right-handed center fielder to platoon with lefty Charlie Tilson. Detroit needs a center fielder, maybe a right-handed one — and in the process of writing this piece, they got one in the form of the newly acquired Mike Mahtook maybe. If Mel Rojas Jr. can’t play center in Atlanta, they need a (right-handed?) center fielder, too. The Yankees may need a third baseman — and, if not that, definitely someone with some defensive ability on the infield.

So that reduces the number of open positions to 10. That’s 10 slots that could be filled by an offensive piece with little defensive value. Here are the teams that, by my estimation, have an opening for a slugger: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago (NL), Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Tampa, Texas, and Toronto.

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John Coppolella on Atlanta’s Deals with Seattle

John Coppollela hasn’t been as swap-happy as Jerry Dipoto this offseason. As Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan have recently written, Seattle’s general manager has dominated the transaction log. That doesn’t mean Coppolella hasn’t been busy. The Atlanta GM has made several moves of his own, acquiring both oldsters — hello R.A., hola Bartolo — and a passel of youngsters.

Four of the prospects the Braves have brought on board came over from the Mariners. In late November, Coppolella and Dipoto swung a deal that brought 2014 first-round pick Alex Jackson to Atlanta in exchange for Max Povse and Rob Whalen. A few weeks later, left-hander Tyler Pike, a 2012 third-round pick, came to the Braves as the PTBNL in that transaction. Last week, Coppolella’s club moved Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons to Seattle, and got a pair of southpaws in return — 2016 fourth-round pick Thomas Burrows, and 20-year-old Brazilian Luiz Gohara.

Coppolella discussed the acquisitions of the four prospects, including a planned position switch for one of them, over the weekend.

Coppolella on Atlanta’s previous interest in the players: “In 2016, we had Tom Burrows’ folder in a group of folders at our draft table, so we literally had our pockets picked by Seattle. In 2014, we didn’t draft until pick No. 32, and Alex Jackson was in the mix to go No. 1 overall, so we didn’t waste time discussing him, though we had admired him for years. In 2012, I remember Dom Chiti — now our Director of Pitching – had mentioned Tyler Pike because he was from Winter Haven, where Dom lives. But as a scouting department we never followed up on the player. We are happy to have him now and, ironically, the first person he met with from the Braves was Dom. Finally, when Luiz Gohara signed in August 2012, we had a couple of reports, which were very impressive, but he had already made a deal with Seattle.”

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Jerry Dipoto’s Trade Activity, in Context

I recently took a vacation, which meant I recently missed some Mariners trades. The trades weren’t conditional upon me being somewhere else; they were conditional upon the passage of some amount of time. The Mariners subtracted from the pitching staff to add to the outfield. They then subtracted from the outfield to add to the pitching staff. Later, they subtracted from the minors to add Mallex Smith, then they subtracted from Mallex Smith to add Drew Smyly. I was asked last Friday why the latest pair of moves didn’t go down as a three-team maneuver. I don’t know, but, this way, Jerry Dipoto gets to double-add to his tally.

In general, baseball fans are mostly preoccupied with the goings-on surrounding their own favorite teams. Plain and simple, it can be hard to know much about everything else that’s taking place. Dipoto, though, is transcending that, developing an active trader reputation that fewer and fewer can ignore. It’s become a punchline, Dipoto sometimes resembling a caricature of himself. It’s tempting to compare Dipoto to a hummingbird, but as luck would have it, a hummingbird has recently taken up temporary residence outside our bedroom window. A picture:

Even a hummingbird can sometimes be seen sitting still.

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Did Drew Smyly Already Fix What Was Broke?

The last time I saw Drew Smyly, it was during one of the lowest points of his career. It was July and he’d just completed a stretch of 20.2 innings over which he’d allowed 21 earned runs. He’d been assured that his job was secure, for the moment, but when a local beat writer asked him how it felt, the pitcher had a hard time looking up, doing his best to provide an honest answer before moving on to the next question — any other question, please. I obliged, and asked him about the home runs, pointing out that his strikeouts and walks were fine. Up came the eyes, and on was the conversation.

Back then, the focus for me was organization-wide: the Rays got hit harder by the home run bug last year than most teams, perhaps because they threw more high fastballs than any other team in the league. And yeah, Smyly, because of the unique nature of his stuff, will always throw high in the zone, and will always give up a few more homers than most.

But we did talk about Smyly’s particular issues last year, and what he was planning on doing about it. And it looks like he capitalized on that conversation somewhat, because things changed a bit from that day forward. The real question, though, is did it change enough?

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Scouting the Braves’ and Rays’ New Prospects

The Seattle Mariners made a pair of moves yesterday, the first of which featured the acquisition of OF Mallex Smith from Atlanta in exchange for pitching prospects Thomas Burrows and Luiz Gohara. They then turned Smith around and sent him to Tampa along with teenage INF Carlos Vargas and LHP Ryan Yarbrough for LHP Drew Smyly. Below are scouting reports on the prospects involved — as well as for Smith himself.

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Projecting the Prospects Seattle Traded Yesterday

The Mariners continued their early-January flurry of activity yesterday, swinging two trades in short succession. First, they dealt left-handed pitchers Thomas Burrows and Luiz Gohara to the Braves for Mallex Smith and intriguing arm Shae Simmons. They promptly flipped Smith, along with prospects Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough, to the Rays for Drew Smyly.

The most interesting players in this deal are likely the two who’ll make an immediate big-league impact — Smith and Smyly — the former of whom KATOH adored heading into 2016. But the other players changing hands also have their merits. Here’s what my KATOH system has to say about the players who spent most of 2016 playing in the domestic minor leagues.

Note that new Atlanta prospect Burrows is omitted due to a lack of professional experience; new Tampa prospect Vargas, because KATOH doesn’t account for Dominican Summer League numbers, which are the only sort Vargas has produced. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar a methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.


Luiz Gohara, LHP, Atlanta (Profile)


Gohara posted an ERA well above 5.00 over his first three seasons as a pro, but really found his groove last year as a 19-year-old. In 15 starts across two levels of A-ball, he pitched to a dazzling 3.04 FIP on the strength of a 29% strikeout rate. Gohara was one of the more dominant arms in the low minors.

KATOH isn’t completely sold yet, though, as Gohara has a few negative variables in his profile. For one, he was decidedly bad as recently as 2015, which wasn’t terribly long ago. He’s also never pitched above Low-A, meaning he’s largely untested against high-quality hitters and still has a few years of development that have yet to occur. Even his strong 2016 numbers came in a small sample — 79 innings — so KATOH’s a bit skeptical of the track record he does have.

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Mariners Add Intriguing Arm in Shae Simmons

To keep us entertained during this lull of baseball activity, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto keeps making trades — and he acquired an interesting bullpen arm in Shae Simmons on Wednesday.

In the trade, Seattle dealt one of its top prospects, Luiz Gohara, to Atlanta for center fielder Mallex Smith and Simmons.

Simmons doesn’t headline the trade, but he’s an intriguing component of it at a time when the industry is paying premium prices for relief help.

A 22nd-round pick by the Braves in 2012 out of Southeast Missouri State, Simmons rose from obscurity to become the Braves’ second-best prospect by WAR prior to the 2015 season.

Prior to that 2015, former FanGraphs prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel ranked Simmons as the Braves’ No. 15 prospect and was given a “poor man’s Craig Kimbrel” comp on Simmons.

Wrote McDaniel:

“Simmons shot through the upper levels in 2014 and posted 21.2 quality innings in the big leagues on the strength of his 93-96 mph fastball that hits 97 mph. Simmons also has a 55 curveball and 50 splitter, but they can waver at times when his delivery and command get out of whack. There’s setup potential here and Simmons may get there early in 2015.”

Did “poor man’s Kimbrel” grab your attention?

Simmons employed his fastball-slider combo to strikeout 12.9 batters per nine innings over the course of his four years in the minors, allowing just 76 hits in 120 career minor-league innings en route to a sparkling 1.80 ERA. (Kimbrel averaged 14.4 strikeouts per nine in the Braves system, posting a 1.85 ERA and 75 hits allowed in 151 innings.)

All those nice things were said and written of Simmons in January of 2015.

In February of 2015, however, Simmons had Tommy John surgery.

For many pitchers, TJ is simply a bump in the road thanks to modern medicine and strength and conditioning programs. Fellow right-handed reliever Bruce Rondon had Tommy John a spring prior to Simmons, and he was as good as he had ever been when he returned to the Tigers late last summer, striking out 11.8 and walking 3.0 batters per nine — the latter figure representing an improvement for Rondon — in 26.2 second-half innings. Rondon pitched last season at 25; Simmons is entering his age-26 season.

Daniel Hudson had a second Tommy John surgery at age 26 in the spring of 2013, and he’s posted FIPs of 3.49 and 3.81, respectively, in 2015 and 2016. In a market paying a premium for relief pitching, the small-market Pirates signed Hudson to a two-year, $11 million deal last month.

Hunter Strickland had Tommy John at 24 in 2013 and has been a quality reliever for the Giants since returning.

Of course, not every reliever returns successfully. Bobby Parnell has struggled mightily since his spring 2014 procedure, though Parnell had the surgery as a 30-year-old. Jonny Venters could never catch a break. And it’s important to note: a return from Tommy John surgery is not the same as a successful return. Perhaps success rates have been overstated, as Jon Rogele’s research for the Hardball Times indicates.

In trading for a player with a limited track record coming off surgery, risk factors increase. But Simmons is still in his mid-20s and the early signs following his return have been encouraging.

We have two small samples of Simmons’ work at the major-league level.

In 21 innings with the Braves in 2014, Simmons recorded an average fastball velocity of 94.9 mph, which he threw nearly 70% of the time. He also featured a breaking ball (which is classified alternately as a curveball and slider) and rare split-finger fastball.

In a seven-game major league sample after returning from surgery last season, Simmons’ fastball velocity was up a full mph to 95.9.

See Simmons’ fastball in action here:

According to our PITCHf/x data, he threw his breaking pitch 32% of the time last summer in his brief showing with the Braves.

This is evidence of his lone swinging strikeout with the pitch as he back-footed a breaking ball against left-handed hitting Danny Espinosa last September:

The Mariners hope he can hone his delivery and command, which have been inconsistent. He walked more than six per nine during two minor-league rehab stops last season. But he’s limited opponents to 11 walks in his brief 28 innings of major-league work to date, and his stuff appears to be intact, if not improved, following his injury.

Dipoto offered some thoughts on the trade to the Seattle Times. “Shae has had success pitching at the back end of games in the minors and has shown strikeout ability at all levels,” Dipoto said.

Dave Cameron wrote earlier this week about how the Mariners are perhaps trying to model their outfield defense after the Royals. And every team is trying to assemble a Royals-like bullpen. So perhaps trying to identify a future quality back-end arm before it becomes a present quality back-end arm is a smart play in a market that will pay a premium for it.

Okay, Now the 2017 Mariners Are Interesting

On Monday, I wrote about how the Mariners were transitioning back to a speed-and-defense team, looking to cover up the weaknesses of their pitching staff with elite athletes in the outfield. In comparing them to the Royals of recent years, I ended the piece with a little bit of skepticism.

And, of course, another part of the recent Royals success was some magic, as they significantly outperformed their BaseRuns win expectations. If the speed-and-defense plan was a primary reason for that success, then perhaps the Mariners can copy some of that, but if the bullpen was the key to helping the Royals to win more close games than expected, then that’s probably bad news for Seattle’s ability to recreate that part of the formula. And that’s why we currently have the Mariners projected as an 82-80 team heading into 2017, putting them in line with other fringe contenders who need a bunch of things to go right to snag a playoff spot.

The outfield defense is probably going to be great, and the team will run the bases a lot better than they have in recent years. But winning with a thin line-up and a mediocre rotation isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and especially with a bullpen of one good guy and a bunch of random arms, the Mariners probably can’t count on repeating the Royals success. But given the moves of this winter, that’s clearly what they’re trying for.

48 hours later, and that description of the Mariners pitching staff is already obsolete, because this morning, Jerry Dipoto made two more trades, and in the process, made the team’s stockpile of arms a lot more interesting than they were on Monday.

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