The Mariners bullpen packs quite the punch, with four guys at the back end who have the potential to strike out nearly one-third of the batters they face. Unfortunately for Seattle, there might not be as many holds or saves available to these guys as they would like, but for owners looking for rates there is plenty of fantasy relief upside tucked away in the Pacific northwest.
The incumbent, Wilhelmsen took over the ninth-inning reigns from Brandon League (it remains debatable as to who contributed to the change more) in early July and never looked back, posting a 1.76 ERA and a 26% K% post-ascension. Wilhelmsen uses a 96-mph fastball (topping out at a hair over 99) mixed in with an above-average curveball and a so-so changeup, meaning he is practically the definition of the stereotypical closer. His full-season 3.42 xFIP hints that he may have been a little lucky (as does his .266 BABIP) but there was still little to complain about when talking peripheral stats. However, being newish to the big-league scene, many think Wilhelmsen is an up-and-coming mid-20’s guy. Rather, he is entering his age 29 season and will not hit free agency until he is well into his 30’s. Seattle has a couple big swing-and-miss guys behind him (we’ll get to them soon!) and while Wilhelmsen will have job security to open the season, there’s a possibility the Mariners rebuilding project coupled with his age/contract combination could push him onto the trade market as the dog days of summer heat up. Something to keep in mind if you are counting on him to anchor a fantasy ‘pen.
Former Tiger prospect Furbush quietly had a very nice season in 2012, putting up impressive strikeout (29% K%) and walk (9% BB%) rates as Seattle’s top bullpen lefty. While he has a decided platoon split (.183/.272 wOBA versus LHB/RHB), he’s decent enough against righties to fight off the full LOOGY moniker. There was some chatter towards the end of last season about moving Furbush back into a starting role, but that seems to have died off as teams have reported to spring training. Expect him again to serve as the lefty bridge to Wilhelmsen, although he’s probably fourth in line for saves behind the next two guys. Pryor was called up with much fanfare last year as a big strikeout guy (30+% K% in the minors) and a potential threat to usurp the ninth inning. He didn’t quite live up to expectations, putting up solid (but unspectacular) strikeout rates, but also walking 13% of the hitters he faced. However, he’s still a guy with impressive minor league numbers (only having one bad stretch of over-3.00 FIP during 2011 in high-A) and, as long as he cuts down the walks, should be a useful setup guy.
Capps is one of the names that has induced the most drool among fans of relief prospects, as the 22-year-old arrived armed with an effortless 98+ mph fastball last summer. He struck out 96 batters over 69.1 minor league innings and has shown at least average control at each stop during his professional career — both led to him coming in at number 6 on Mark Hulet’s top 15 Mariner prospects list. He doesn’t enter camp as the go-to late inning relief ace on this staff, but might assume that role soon enough. Both Pryor and Capps would be in a tight race for the closer gig should something happen to Wilhelmsen, but both will still be very rosterable to open the season in AL-only leagues, ones with holds, and deeper standard mixed ones as well.
Luetge is (unlike Furbush) your prototypical LOOGY. He performs admirably against guys hitting from the same-side (career .243 wOBA, 27% K%) but get raked across the coals by righties (.372 wOBA, 15% K%). With a fastball which sits in the upper-80’s, there’s not a lot of ceiling here, so don’t expect a whole lot of movement up the totem pole from him. Former Pirates ace Perez has a quasi-ressurection in Safeco last year, posting a sub-3.00 ERA (albeit in 29.1 innings) for the first time since 2004. He was helped immensely by a low HR/FB% (2.6%) so serious regression towards his 2012 4.37 xFIP should be expected (especially with the Safeco fences coming in). Even with a fastball that ticked up to 93 mph in relief (up from 89-91 as a starter with the Mets), there’s very little appeal here outside of tremendously deep leagues.
Loe was signed to a minor league deal last week and will be in competition for one of the last slots in the bullpen. He wasn’t great last year (4.61 ERA, 3.57 xFIP) but it’s still a little surprising a guy one year removed from a 1.2 WAR season (without a huge dropoff statistically) couldn’t lock down a guaranteed deal. Expect him to win a spot and be a useful find for Seattle, just not your fantasy team. Kinney will turn 34 in a few weeks and profiles as a fairly average middle/long relief option. His major league career 3.88 xFIP isn’t terrible, but there really have never been a lot of huge upside in his arm. He’s a desperation innings filler in linear weights leagues but not much else.