The final countdown before the trade deadline has begun, and the Brewers will be one of the most intriguing teams to watch this weekend. Of particular interest to many contenders are a trio of pitchers in Milwaukee’s bullpen, as Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith and Tyler Thornburg are becoming household names in the baseball world as they are drawing a cacophony of offers from a number of contenders.
Jhan Marinez: Stuff & Results
One name in the bullpen that even casual Brewers fans might not be familiar with, given his usage, is human white flag Jhan (pronounced Yahn) Marinez. If you’re not familiar with the name, that’s probably because his appearances come after most people have stopped watching. Milwaukee is 3-15 in games Marinez appears in, and the Brewers were trailing by four or more runs in 11 of his 18 appearances (and had leads of that size in two more). 84% of the batters he has faced with Milwaukee this season have been in low leverage situations. That kind of usage pattern suggests a poorly performing mop-up guy and forces upon the Brewers fan psyche horrifying flashbacks to Wei-Chung Wang in 2014.
Yet Marinez has been one of the most effective pitchers on Milwaukee’s staff this season. His 3.63 DRA is the fourth-lowest on the team, better than Junior Guerra and Jeremy Jeffress. His PWARP of 0.4 is fifth, ahead of every starter except Guerra and Zach Davies. He has a stellar 24.6 percent strikeout rate that pairs well with an acceptable 9.5 percent walk rate. His 2.59 ERA (including 3.2 innings with Tampa Bay) this season places him squarely in the top quarter of relievers, all while suffering the effects of a .380 BABIP in front of one of the league’s worst defenses.
Why, then, is he being utilized in such a manner? I’m going to do something I don’t really like doing when I write for you fine folks and tell you that try as I might, I couldn’t find the answer. He hasn’t proven incapable of handling pressure: he’s one for one in hold opportunities, having successfully navigated choppy waters in his only chance to do so. In just his second game with Milwaukee, Marinez’s number was called to protect a one-run lead after Wily Peralta put runners on second and third with one out. He struck out Reid Brignac (look, he is a major league baseball player, it counts) and coaxed a fly out from Nick Markakis to keep the score 3-2. He has actually performed better in mid- and high leverage situations this season, though we’re of course forced to concede small sample size bias. In 18 batters faced, he has a 44.4 percent strikeout rate, an 8.0 K/BB ratio, and he’s held opponents to a .532 OPS.
The 27-year-old owns a mid-90s heater that he pairs with a slider that sits around 83-88. The latter is the out pitch: 25 of his 37 strikeouts have come via the slider, and opposing batters have just five hits off of it. He’s an erstwhile top prospect who appeared in the Futures Game in 2011, and though he debuted in 2010 he remains a rookie, having entered the season with just six major league innings. Milwaukee is Marinez’s sixth team, having been acquired in exchange for cash from the Rays after they designated him for assignment after three solid appearances. He appears now to be the winner of David Stearns’s game of musical chairs that was conducted throughout the season’s first month, having replaced Michael Kirkman, who replaced Sam Freeman, and so on.
The knock against Marinez throughout his career has been problems with control. He was jettisoned from the Tigers organization in 2014 after putting up a 21 percent walk rate in 18 innings with Triple-A Toledo. He surrendered a free pass 13.6 percent of the time during his minor league career. So far this season, however, he’s figured that out: he’s right around the major league average with a 56.8 percent first pitch strike rate, and while his percentage of balls in the zone is slightly lower than average, he’s generating an above average swing rate on those pitches.
Marinez’s two-pitch arsenal and his occasional bouts of wildness likely limit his potential role to that of a solid middle reliever, but that’s not how to Brewers are using him. Instead, he’s been relegated to “last man in the bullpen” status. As we head into the trade deadline weekend, Milwaukee is expected to make plenty of moves, and a number of pitchers in their bullpen are drawing big interest. Should there be movement, Marinez’s role must increase, and who knows? Maybe this time next year, it’ll be his name that the Rosenthals and Cotillos of the world are constantly tweeting.