4 reasons for Mariners' pitching success

May 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- Much has justifiably been made about the Mariners’ offensive shortcomings, which is perhaps the biggest reason they enter their third road trip under .500 (18-19). But the way their pitching suggests that if their bats come alive, they could go on a tear. 

Seattle’s pitching staff went into Thursday’s off-day leading MLB with 8.0 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, two more than second-place Minnesota. WAR is an all-encompassing metric that measures a player's value, and most front offices widely regard it. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto references it often. 

“I can't say enough about the job our pitching has done -- starting, bullpen,” manager Scott Servais said after Wednesday’s frustrating loss. “Whatever spot we put these guys in, they take the ball, they go out and really compete well. I feel awesome about that.”

Here’s why they’ve been so good: 

Their starters eat innings

lasted just five innings Wednesday thanks to an elevated pitch count in the third inning, which snapped a streak of eight consecutive starts with at least six innings from their starters. For the season, Servais has received 21 starts of at least that many frames, second most in MLB, and they’ve collectively racked up 206 1/3 innings, tied for third-most. 

Castillo (1.6), (1.5) and (1.3) each rank in the top 15 in WAR, per FanGraphs -- and no other team has more than one pitcher in that elite leaderboard. With the way rookie , has pitched he could very well climb into those ranks.

“Our mentality, really in all accounts, is early in counts, get ahead, throw strikes,” Miller said. “I'm fine with my stuff being if I miss middle, then I miss middle. They've still got to hit it.”

Their relievers have elite whiffs

When that bullpen door swings open, there’s typically filth coming out of it. Seattle’s relievers have generated misses on 29.2% of the swings they generate, seventh-most in MLB, and they’ve been on a particular tear of late. Over their past 11 games dating back to April 29, Seattle’s ‘pen has combined to post an MLB-best 1.56 ERA with an MLB-best 34.8% strikeout rate and 6.5% walk rate, tied for second best. They’ve been scoreless in six of those 11 games.

And they’re doing it all without their best guy, as  recovers from a deltoid injury in his pitching shoulder. He’s not expected back for another month. 

“We've got a really good staff,” third baseman  said. “We've got a good bullpen. Our starting pitching, they've done a really good job. That gives us that confidence that when we play a right game, we've got a chance to win.”

They continue to unearth under-radar guys

The renaissance story has been well-chronicled; he’s the first among many relievers that Dipoto’s front office has taken a flyer on and found incredible success. And that trend has continued this year with righties , and, to a lesser extent,

Combined, those three have a 1.31 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 11 walks in 48 innings. Their emergence and the struggles of and  are why those key cogs in last year’s ‘pen are at Triple-A Tacoma. 

“You're always looking for three or four of those guys,” Servais said when asked about assessing new arms every Spring Training. “You're going to need them. Every team needs them. And we all know bullpens, they're a little volatile. ... Who's the next guy? How do we cycle this through? I enjoy looking for those guys that maybe we could unleash something and then we open up a new career.”

“The focal point of our team”

Teams that win the World Series almost always have one of that year’s best pitching staffs. The Astros last year, Braves the year prior and Dodgers in the pandemic-impacted 2020; each possessed a collection of elite arms. So for as frustrating as the offensive struggles have been at times, if they’re able to figure it out -- and potentially add at the Trade Deadline -- there’s an encouraging foundation here. 

“Our pitching has kept us in every game for three years now,” said catcher , one of the few players who’s been here since the rebuild began in 2019.

“I think that's the focal point of our team, obviously. What we've realized is obviously dominating the zone works for just about everybody with really good stuff. We have guys that do that here. And we have the past few years, and there's zero doubt in my mind that's the foundation of our success in this organization over the past couple of years.”