MLB insider Verducci: Why Mariners’ dominant pitching is different

Aug 28, 2023, 12:21 PM

Seattle Mariners Bryan Woo...

Bryan Woo of the Seattle Mariners pitches against Arizona on July 29, 2023. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The offense has come around for the Seattle Mariners in the recent push that has brought them to first place in the American League West, but the reason they even had the opportunity to get there is their pitching.

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The Mariners as a team have the highest pitching fWAR this year in the American League with 19.1, and they lead all of MLB in fielding independent pitching (FIP), ERA and walks per nine innings. Yeah, that’s pretty good.

It’s also a pretty good recipe for a squad looking to return to the playoffs for the second season in a row – and do more damage this time around. Just ask longtime MLB reporter and analyst Tom Verducci.

“I think they’re a dangerous postseason matchup because of what they can present on the mound,” said Verducci, who keeps busy these days working for FOX, MLB Network and Sports Illustrated, when he joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday.

Verducci had a fascinating breakdown when he appeared on MLB Network’s MLB Central last week that highlighted what makes the Mariners’ pitching staff, especially its starting rotation, so extraordinary in today’s game. Even though Seattle’s starting rotation has featured right-handed pitchers almost exclusively this year – namely Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo and (less so) Emerson Hancock – the lack of a lefty doesn’t make it any easier on opponents.

Watch Verducci’s piece from MLB Central below. After that, read what he said to Brock and Salk that dived even more into what makes the dominant Mariners pitching staff so different.

Tom Verducci on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk

There are fewer fastballs (being) thrown this season than in the history of the game, really, and the Mariners are a team that have figured out that if you can kind of trick a hitter’s eyes – in other words, have people who are throwing a baseball from angles that are different from the norm – that plays, and fastballs play. You look at the Mariners, of all the contending teams, they throw more fastballs than any other staff, and it’s fastballs that are not just ‘Here it is, hit it,’ but so well placed and generally at the top of the zone.

They love guys who have extreme arm angles. I’m talking about mostly below the average release height, so that ball is coming from a lower release angle to the top of the strike zone – they call that ‘vertical attack angle,’ and probably no one has a greater vertical attack angle than Bryan Woo. Across the board, even their bullpen, they have guys who can run that ball up on top of the strike zone from a low release angle, and that plays in today’s game.

On one hand, you look at the Mariners’ staff and you go, ‘Man, that’s just a lot of right-handed pitching. Where are the lefties?’ I don’t think that’s a big deal, really, because they they present such different looks. Even Logan Gilbert, I mean, he obviously is straight over the top, but with his height (6 foot 6) and his long stride that he has, he releases the ball a foot closer to home plate than any other pitcher. So that again is something that’s going to trick the hitter’s mind.

… If you have pitchers like Seattle has who are throwing low release point, high release point, long stride, it really confuses the hitter’s general sense of where the ball is going to be, and that’s why the Mariners get so much swing and miss, they get a lot of popups. … You look at the bullpen numbers for Seattle, even after they traded (closer Paul) Sewald, they’re right in there, top two or three in strikeouts out of the bullpen, as well.

We’re getting farther down the road, but when you think about postseason matchups, I always look at, can your pitchers get hitters out in the strike zone? The hitters’ concentration really locks into the postseason environment, nobody gives away an at-bat, guys really grind out at-bats, season on the line a lot of times. So you better have stuff that gets people out in the zone because you don’t want to be walking people and creating rallies that way. I think Seattle’s stuff plays really well in the zone, just about as well as anybody.

To hear the full Brock and Salk conversation with Tom Verducci, find the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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Morosi: ‘Why wouldn’t you love’ where Mariners are in playoff race?
Video: Bob’s Breakdown – Are surging Mariners’ sights set on AL West title?
Dipoto: Where does Seattle Mariners’ pitching depth, rotation plan stand?

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