The Pirates’ bullpen is in trouble at the moment. Felipe Rivero is continuing a surefire All-Star worthy campaign, but there is not much of a bridge to get to him.
Juan Nicasio is suffering from fatigue and might be used less for the time being. Daniel Hudson has looked OK in recent high leverage situations, but he was batted around in late innings earlier in the year. He also does not seem to have much of a leash, which is why Clint Hurdle pulled him after one hit Saturday. Tony Watson is at the end of his rope.
Right now, the Pirates need a guy — or even a pitch — to get big outs. They might already have one: Jhan Marinez and his slider.
Marinez has mostly done mop up innings in his time as a Pirate, but the results have been very good. His ERA as a Pirate is 2.81 over 12 outings (five runs over 16 IP). He is striking out eight per nine innings and has a 56.6 percent ground ball rate. His outside swing rate was 34.6% before Sunday. The big knock against him is his tendency to walk batters, but he is getting that under control, handing out only six free passes as a Pirate so far.
He can thank his slider for his success. Fangraphs values it at 4.9 runs above average: tenth among all major league relievers. Out of the 143 times he’s thrown it, 27 have been swings and misses (18.88%). Coming into play Sunday, batters were hitting just .065 against it, and slugging .097.
But against the Cubs this weekend, he was used for only two batters: to get the final out in the top of the ninth Friday and the top of the seventh Sunday. Sunday he struck out his man using only three pitches, getting two swings and misses. They were all sliders- a rare occurrence for him now.
One of the hallmarks of the Pirates’ pitching staff during their playoff years was taking advantage of each player’s strengths. Mark Melancon threw more cutters once he became a Pirate. Francisco Liriano threw more offspeed stuff. J.A. Happ revved up his fastball usage. That is not the case for Marinez. In fact, it’s the opposite.
When Marinez was with the Brewers this year, he threw sliders at a clip of 28.7%. Before his yakker outburst Sunday, it only made up 19.8% of his pitch selection as a Pirate. That is lowest rate out of all the relievers with more valuable sliders.
Marinez is throwing the snapper significantly less compared to the rest of the top 10. If everyone on that list threw 100 sliders, his would be the second most productive (as evidenced by his 3.54 wSL/c mark). If Marinez threw it twice as much as he is now, he would rank fourth in usage among the top 10.
This slider might be a hidden gem in a bullpen that looks like it has more pyrite than gold. If Marinez throws more sliders, he could be much more than an inning eater. He could help get leads to Rivero.
Perhaps that’s too much to ask of a waiver claim, but this point, what do they have to lose?