This weekend, the Seattle Mariners will be honoring Ken Griffey Jr. by retiring the number 24 at SafeCo Field. While the M’s are honoring ‘The Kid’, a new phenom is trying to take over the Pacific Northwest. That would be none other than Seattle’s new closer, Edwin Diaz. The man referred to as ‘Sugar’ has brought an electric fastball and a sit-down slider to one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, their bullpen.
The Seattle Mariners have had very few closers over the years that made the rest of the league ready to give up when they entered the game. Their all-time saves leaders are Kazuhiro Sasaki (129 saves), J.J. Putz (109 saves) and Mike Schooler (98 saves) before dropping off to David Aardsma with 69. Sasaki was the M’s closer in 2001 when they won a MLB record 116 games.
Edwin Diaz currently sits at number 61 on the Mariners’ saves list with two, but the sky is the limit for the 22-year-old. He took over the closer role earlier this week after Steve Cishek blew back-to-back saves. He was placed on the disabled list on Thursday with a hip issue.
So, how did Diaz respond to being named closer on Tuesday night? How about striking out the side.
He recorded his second career save on Wednesday night and now has 53 strikeouts in 27 career major-league innings. That’s a mind-blowing 17.7 strikeouts per nine innings. To help put that in perspective, Aroldis Chapman‘s best ever K/9 rate for a season was in 2014 when he finished with 106 strikeouts in 54 innings (17.7 K/9). Diaz features two pitches, a fastball and slider. His fastball, which he uses almost 74 percent of the time, sits at 97 MPH and can reach triple digits. He uses his slider the other 26 percent of the time and has 30 of 53 strikeouts using it. Opponents are hitting just .114 against it. He is a converted starter after the M’s decided a reliever role might fit his wiry 6’3″, 165-pound frame better. This could turn out to be one of the best moves anybody within the Mariners’ organization has made in a very long time.
The last two seasons the Mariners are tied for the most blown saves (41) in all of baseball with the Atlanta Braves. They are second in the American League this season with 17, only trailing the Chicago White Sox who have 20 blown saves. Those stats are a big reason the M’s were in desperate need of a closer that can come in and get the job done.
Diaz could be the lock down closer the M’s have long been looking for but if you don’t get him the lead in the ninth, he is pretty much useless. The Mariners are hoping he will have plenty of chances to close the door in these final two months as they are hanging around in the playoff picture.