Fortunately for Mariners fans everywhere, Edwin Diaz balled out, but not with his balls out.
Edwin Diaz made his long awaited debut on a warm, beautiful Monday night, and it was just as good as one could imagine. Diaz struck out one and allowed no walks or hits. He threw 11 pitches, 10 of those pitches being strikes. After starting with a 96 mph fastball, Diaz immediately turned it up to 99 mph on the next pitch, and finished on a 101 mph fastball. Holy smokes.
I can’t remember a time in which I’ve been so blown away by a player’s debut. Edwin Diaz looked as electric as advertised. And he’s hardly 22 years old.
As a third round pick in 2012, Diaz had lofty expectations. Diaz breezed through the minors with ease. Then as he reached the Mariners’ AA affiliate, Jackson, Diaz stopped dominating. Although he had a 3.22 FIP (fielding-independent pitching, an ERA predictor), Diaz’s ERA stood at a subpar 4.57. For a pitcher seen as the M’s top pitching prospect, it was disappointing.
John Sickels, a highly esteemed minor league/amateur baseball writer, has been vocal about his reverence for Diaz. John Sickels is someone whose opinion I respect very much. From 1993 through 1996, Sickels worked as a research assistant for Bill James, the most prominent pioneer of sabermetrics in baseball. Dude’s got some cred.
In March, Sickels gave Diaz a ‘B’ grade and set him atop the rest of the Mariners prospects at #1. Along with the B grade, Sickels had this shorthand excerpt available on his website:
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, posted 4.57 ERA with 103/37 K/BB in 104 innings in Double-A; ERA was deceptive, FIP was much better at 3.22; fastball at 93-97 with peaks at 98, slider and change-up have steadily improved, both solid-average at least and slider may be plus; control good, potential mid-rotation starter. Do not underestimate him.
A month later, Sickels provided some additional commentary. In it, Sickels stated that Diaz was an elite pitching prospect and that he did not receive enough national attention. He added that with the progress made with his changeup and command, Diaz was probably something around a future #3 starter.
Another month after this, Edwin Diaz made headlines, and not for the reasons you’d like to see. After spending the last two seasons as the top minor league starter in the organization, Jerry Dipoto announced that Diaz would transition to reliever.
Hearing this, Sickels conceded in an update that the Mariners, as well as other outside scouts, prefer Diaz in the ‘pen. Chief of concerns were Diaz’s durability and secondary pitches. His personal opinion, he doubled down on, is that Diaz still had a future as a starter. Sickels mentioned that he understood he was clearly in the minority with his opinion.
When asked about the move, Dipoto had almost nothing but good things to say about Diaz.
“The guy has a chance to be a pretty good reliever,” Dipoto said. “Edwin has plus fastball velocity, plus fastball life and what at times is a plus breaking ball. The changeup has never really been easy for him. It’s not the most conventional arm action and delivery you will ever see. So the likelihood of him picking up that third pitch was maybe a little bit more remote.”
Dipoto felt that as a starter Diaz is a guy who would be in the middle 90’s with a plus slider. This probably meant a back-of-the-rotation type of guy. His slender size (6’3″, 170 lbs) posed questions as to whether he could withstand a full major league season in a rotation. But in the back-end of a bullpen, he might be something much more dynamic. Tonight, it clearly allowed him to rear back and throw his hardest. Adrenaline from his debut probably didn’t hurt either.
Velocity isn’t the most important thing, and it certainly isn’t the only thing, but Diaz has a lot of it. Before tonight, the Mariners lacked a power arm in the bullpen. After tonight, they have one! We’ve been burned several times by relievers showing promise and then completely imploding. It’s not a Mariners thing. It’s a baseball thing. .
People often talk about the unpredictability and volatility of relievers and it is so so so true. Just to rattle off a few names: Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Brandon Maurer, and our old pal Hector “Home Run On A 0-2 Count” Noesi. Every relief pitcher is a failed starter, and it holds true in this case with Diaz.
Dipoto wasn’t the only one profiling Diaz as a reliever. Scouts elsewhere projected him similarly. Dipoto likely also saw that Diaz could be of use sooner rather than later
After logging only 41.2 minor league and major league innings as a reliever, Edwin Diaz has blown hitters away, all while blowing my socks off with his debut. I remain optimistic that Diaz will make a living filling the arbitrary role of closer for the Seattle Mariners. Let’s hope Sickels and Dipoto are right about him.
But for now, let’s have some fun, Eddie.