The Mariners have played a handful of games and I have come to one of the many conclusions: Tom Wilhelmsen is the best Mariners reliever and he is not quite being used to his full potential. Wilhelmsen was one of the more heartwarming stories to come from the atrocious Mariners last year. Once a promising young prospect, Wilhelmsen quit the game and was working in a bar. Missing the feel of firing a baseball, he tried out for an independent team, was scouted by the Mariners, quickly moved his way up and blah, blah, blah…we all heard that story last year.
Nonetheless, Wilhelmsen is here now and the Mariners have to find a way to use him effectively. He has the body and the arm strength to be a starter but lacks a good third pitch to supplement his fastball and curveball. Since he is a little older, it does not make sense for him to go back down in the minors and try to develop a third pitch; especially since the M’s a plethora of big league ready talent with much higher ceilings. So the Mariners should stray away from the conventional bullpen management and use him as hybrid reliever. He has definitely made a case to be the M’s 8th inning guy, so why not make him the 7th inning guy as well.
Look, outside of King Felix, the Mariners rotation is not going to be getting deep into games. Why not make Wilhelmsen the guy who takes the ball to start the 7th and hands it over to League in the 9th. Heck, when Brandon League gets dealt at the deadline, why not let him just finish the game out from the 7th inning on (might be hard for Manager Eric Wedge to think that unconventionally). This will also allow for less arms in the bullpen, creating a couple of extra spots for the soon to return Carp and Gutierrez. Using Wilhelmsen for only an inning is severely under utilizing his size and electric arm.
Think this idea is still crazy; let me prove my point a little more. The way bullpens are managed today were not how they were always managed. There is only one great relief pitcher that comes to mind in the history of the game; Mariano Rivera. Rivera has been the most successful reliever in the history of the game, with a record amount of recorded saves at 605 (and counting). But do you know what year he was most valuable to the Yankees? 1996 when he only recorded 5 saves for the Bronx Bombers. ‘96 was Rivera’s high Wins Over Replacement (4.4 according to FanGraphs.com, 5.4 according to Baseball-Reference.com). The reason for his value being so high is the fact he pitched 107.2 innings in 61 games that year (with is close to 2 innings an outing), struck out 130 of the batters he faced, and gave up only 1 home run all year. He also finished 3rd in Cy Young voting and 12th in the MVP vote.
Now, the Mariners organization, nor the fans, should not expect the next Mariano Rivera in Tom Wilhelmsen. They can, however, utilize the talent they have to make this fluffy feel good story even better by redefining the way a bullpen is managed.