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Seattle Mariners Are Making the Right Move by Transitioning Danny Farquhar to Closer

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COMMENTARY | The Seattle Mariners have had a couple of memorable meltdowns during the 2013 season, but the most disheartening loss of the year loss came August 1 against the Boston Red Sox.

Tom Wilhelmsen entered the ninth inning with a 7-2 lead, following yet another Felix Hernandez gem, and proceeded to give up two walks, a single, and a double without recording an out. Two other relievers came in to pour gasoline on the fire, and the Red Sox wound up with an 8-7 walkoff win.

One night before, the two teams played a 15-inning marathon, also resulting in a Red Sox walkoff. Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar perfectly navigated a difficult Boston lineup for three high-leverage innings, not allowing a single base runner while striking out four.

Following the series in Boston, the Mariners announced that Wilhelmsen would be out as closer. Farquhar got two save opportunities in the next three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles, converting both. Of course, no team should change its closer based off of two games, but the move reflected a larger trend that has been playing out for weeks.

A team like the Mariners with no definitive closer is probably better suited just pitching to matchups, which is what they are saying is the situation is for now. But, nearly every team around baseball typically ends up settling on one guy for the role eventually. If Seattle is to do that, Farquhar could both improve the team in the present and long-term.

Farquhar, the only player left from last year's Ichiro trade, has everything a team would want from a closer. A mid-90s fastball, plus cutter, and mid-70s curve ball with plenty of movement give Farquhar a dominating arsenal that has been extremely difficult for hitters to handle recently.

This has led to some shiny peripheral statistics that are indicative of huge potential. Farquhar has struck out a ridiculous 36.1 percent of batters he's faced, while walking only 9.7 percent. He also has only given up only two home runs in 35.1 innings pitched. A xFIP of 2.13 is best among major-league relievers while a WAR of 0.8 ranks fifth, despite relatively few innings.

Now, that ERA of 5.09 is ugly and worse than that of Wilhelmsen. But, a reliever's ERA is very volatile and doesn't tell nearly the whole story. The inflated ERA is largely a result of three outings shortly after Farquhar was called up from AAA Tacoma, and it has been dwindling for the most part ever since. Granted, those outings were terrible, but Farquhar has only given up two hits in his last 10.2 innings while striking out 16 batters.

Meanwhile, Wilhelmsen has been heading in the opposite direction and giving up far too many base runners, particularly since the beginning of June. His strikeout numbers are way down and his walk numbers are up. Whether it's mental or physical, Wilhelmsen is not the same dominating pitcher that he was in 2012 and the first two months of 2013.

That sort of pitch-to-contact approach can work as a reliever, particularly if you keep the ball in the ballpark as Wilhelmsen does, but an overpowering pitcher is better suited to close out games. Wilhelmsen certainly still can be an effective player, as he has a high-90s fastball and good 12-6 curve. He first needs to find the strike zone.

It's in the Mariners' best interest to groom Farquhar for the closing role for the rest of the year and potentially beyond. Wilhelmsen has a place on the team, but the change was necessary.

Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily.

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