Brandon Maurer has been what you could call an experiment within the Seattle Mariners‘ organization. The controlled variable has been his inclusion to the 40-man roster for the past two seasons. The uncontrolled variable has been his role on the pitching staff. Though he has had a few minor league stints in both 2013 and 2014, he has mostly been a mainstay in Seattle and has epitomized the turnaround of the Mariners’ bullpen from a season ago to present day.
Maurer broke Spring Training in 2013 by being named to the Mariners’ starting rotation. He struggled, going 3-8 with a 6.20 ERA before being moved to the bullpen, and then eventually optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. While he pitched out of the bullpen as a reliever in the majors, his ERA was 6.64 and his performance did nothing to help the Mariners’ second-worst ranked bullpen in all of MLB become any better. On the whole, the group went 16-33 with a 4.58 team ERA.
2014 has seen a variety of changes to the M’s bullpen. Not necessarily from a personnel standpoint, but instead via the results the group has experienced. Their collective ERA currently sits at 2.36. No bullpen in MLB is better than that. Their story is one of the cliched worst to first — a bunch of zeros turned heroes. Maurer has epitomized their renaissance.
Maurer found himself again thrust into the role of a starter early this season after an injury to James Paxton. Maurer was miserable, going 1-4 in seven starts with an inflated ERA of 7.52. Subsequently, he was sent on an assignment to Tacoma for roughly a month before rejoining the M’s bullpen in late June. Since then he has been lights out. Maurer has made 14 appearances and logged 19.1 innings after being recalled on June 25, allowing only a single earned run in the process.
The Mariners’ bullpen is somewhat of an anomaly. Maurer’s IP/ERA split as a reliever in 2013 vs. 2014 is 21.1/6.64 vs. 19.1/0.47. Ridiculous. Other mainstays with contrasting ratios from 2013 and 2014 in the pen are as follows: Charlie Furbush 65.0/3.74 vs. 32.0/3.94; Danny Farquhar 55.2/4.20 vs. 47.1/2.66; Tom Wilhelmsen 59.0/4.12 vs. 58.1/2.16; Yoervis Medina 68.0/2.91 vs. 39.0/2.31. Every one of those five pitchers, with the mild exception of Furbush, has experienced a drastic improvement in their earned run averages.
Clearly the additions of closer Fernando Rodney (45.2/2.36), veteran Joe Beimel (33.2/1.34) and youngster Dominic Leone (46.1/2.14) have been wins for the Mariners in 2014. But it also must be something in the water in Seattle, because three new arms cannot turn a 31st ranked bullpen to a top ranked one in the span of less than a season. For that to take place, it takes effort and contributions of an entire unit.
Credit pitching coach Rick Waits with the work he has done amongst his entire pitching staff and also Lloyd McClendon for being clutch in playing situational matchups on point so far. The turnaround has been kind of puzzling, but nobody in the Pacific Northwest is complaining.
Maurer recorded four straight outs in Thursday night’s ball game against the Chicago White Sox. Though the effort by Maurer was appreciated, it was not entirely necessary. The M’s found their power stroke at home, slugging four home runs and beating up on the Sox to the tune of 13-3. Maurer lowered his season ERA to 4.88, which is impressive when you consider it hovered well above 7.00 in late May. His success represents a partially new and certainly improved bullpen in Seattle, ready to bear down and fight for an AL playoff berth.