Searching for Saves: Will Edwin Diaz Emerge As One Of The Elite Closers?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

He wasn’t expected to close in 2016, especially since he wasn’t transitioned to the bullpen until after the season had already began. That said Edwin Diaz forced the Mariners’ hand as he thrived in his new role, including a 2.79 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 15.33 K/9 over 51.2 IP in the Majors. The question now isn’t if he can thrive in the role, the question is if he can be one of the elite.

The owner of a minor league career 9.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, his stuff wasn’t really a significant question. However, pitching in short bursts certainly suited him even better. He averaged 97.3 mph on his fastball and featured a nearly unhittable slider:

  • Whiff% – 34.83%
  • BAA – .141
  • SLG – .171

That type of wipeout pitch certainly helps him at the end of games, though you have to wonder if utilizing just two pitches could ultimately catchup to him. Then again, he had been working on a change up prior to the transition and if the league adjusts its certainly possible that he starts using it again.

While it obviously would be his third offering, just using it on occasion would help to keep opponents honest. Just look at what Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 had said about the pitch prior to the season:

“His slider is his primary out-pitch, although he’s throwing a lot more change-ups and consequently the pitch has taken a major step-up. While the arsenal is good, what makes Diaz effective is his low three-quarters delivery. Batters, particularly, right-handed batters do not pick up the delivery well. While there is deception, many times pitchers with a lower delivery wind up in the pen.”

That’s obviously not an issue, at least not now, but it does add to his potential appeal. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and knowing that he has that in his back pocket if needed helps to diffuse the risks.

You also have to keep in mind, when looking at the numbers, he was actually victimized by a bit of poor luck. Sure an 83.9% strand rate has room to regress (though it’s not impossible that he maintains it), a .377 BABIP should surely improve even with his 22.5% line drive rate. Given his strikeouts and control, fewer hits will make him that much more dominant.

He’s already proven he can thrive, but the potential for fewer base runners and the ability to adjust if necessary makes him seem that much stronger. He’s not going to be considered elite entering the season, but he has the upside of getting there before long. Don’t be shocked if he rises to Top 5 status before long.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Brooks Baseball, Prospect 361

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Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings:

Position
Standard League
OBP League
Catcher03/20/1702/28/17
First Base01/16/1703/07/17
Second Base03/22/1703/09/17
Third Base02/06/1703/12/17
Shortstop02/13/1703/15/17
Outfield#1-20 |03/16/17

#21-40 |03/16/17
03/19/17
Starting Pitcher#1-20 |02/27/17

#21-40 |03/02/17
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Relief Pitcher01/02/17--

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