Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced they had claimed George Kontos off of waivers from the San Francisco Giants. The reliever is in the middle of an up and down year, but he seems to be a good fit for the Pirates. But at what cost?
To make room for Kontos, the Pittsburgh Pirates designated reliever Jhan Marinez for assignment. Though technically speaking, he may yet remain in the team’s system, the likelihood of that happening is nil.
While Marinez never turned heads in Pittsburgh, he might have if he was given the chance.
Not the best, but mostly solid
It’s not like Marinez struggled with the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a team that was and still is desperate for relievers, he has been fairly consistent.
His 3.18 ERA was marginally better than has 4.56 FIP, but his metrics sounded like the type of guy GM Neal Huntington loves. His fastball averaged 95 MPH. Half of his batted balls go on the ground. He had a healthy strikeout percentage.
But what separated Marinez from other ground ball specialists was his slider. Batters are hitting .102 against it this season with no home runs, according to Statcast. His whiff rate with his snapper is just under 20 percent. Fangraphs values it at five weighted runs above average, which was among the top 20 for major league relievers.
So why didn’t they use that slider to its potential?
Marinez threw a slider 19.3 percent of his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s 4.4 points lower than his career average and 9.4 points lower than what he did as a Brewer in the first two months of the season. While it did contribute to his walk problem, the swings and misses it generated more than made up for it. It’s hard to argue with telling a guy to pitch to his strength.
Instead, the Pirates made Marinez throw more changeups- 15 percent of the time in black and gold compared to five percent in his career. While a reliever doesn’t always need a third pitch, it developed nicely. True, batters hit .300 against it, but out of the 101 he threw, all 101 stayed in the ballpark. The 13 percent whiff rate is encouraging too. With time, it could have been something special.
So despite having good stuff, he was never given a role other than mop up guy. Considering the original eighth and ninth inning guys (Daniel Hudson and Tony Watson) pitched themselves out of those coveted roles, there was an opportunity to see if he could get high leverage outs. He at the very least could have handled the “Andrew Miller, fireman-lite” role Juan Nicasio vacated when he became the set-up man. He didn’t get a chance at either gig and just sat to rot, sometimes going a week between outings.
Some shortcomings, sure.
I’m not saying he is perfect. His four-seamer is flat out bad. All six of his home runs allowed this year are off that variation of the heater. Batters are slugging 1.056 against it. But it has good velocity, and there may have been a way to fix it, like moving his arm slot. At the very least, they could have abandoned it and just stuck with his above average two-seamer, making up the difference with more sliders and changeups. A reliever can get away with that.
But it doesn’t feel like they ever really tried to find a way to fix his arm slot, alter his pitch selection or do their normal voodoo that makes others the best he can be. Marinez was just here to eat innings and let Edgar Santana grow in AAA a little longer. Once someone a little more appealing came around, they kicked him to curb, not realizing they might be only making a lateral move for an older reliever who has fewer years of team control.
Will Marinez turn out to be a closer one day? Probably not. But for an organization that prides itself in being able to find pitchers other teams don’t want and turning them into reliable arms, their handling of Marinez is puzzling to say the least.
The Pittsburgh Pirates very well may have let a reliever with potential top of the line offspeed stuff slip through their fingers.