With his league-high 32 saves and a career-low 0.864 WHIP, it isn't hard to tell that Seattle closer Edwin Diaz has been great. But however admirable you view his deeds, I can assure you that he's been even better than you think.
The best baseball player of his generation will be in Seattle on Tuesday, and his powers have never been so potent. Angels center fielder Mike Trout is having an historic season that should net him a third Most Valuable Player award barring a sudden plunge in production.
But what if I were to tell you that someone on the Mariners has been just as valuable and is in the midst of an equally historic year? What if I were to suggest that he has actually been MLB’s most indispensable player?
With his league-high 32 saves and a career-low 0.864 WHIP, it isn’t hard to tell that Seattle closer Edwin Diaz has been great. But however admirable you view his deeds, I can assure you that he’s been even better than you think.
“You feel pretty good about that guy with a one-run lead,” Mariners pitcher James Paxton said of Diaz. “When he comes into the game, it feels like the game is over.”
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Let’s home in on a specific part of Paxton’s quote: “one-run lead.” Because not only does this separate Diaz from his peers — it’s separating him from any reliever who’s come before him.
The record for most saves in a season when entering a game with a one-run lead is 23, which Francisco Rodriguez achieved for the Angels in 2008. But 85 games into this season, Diaz already has 20 such saves.
At this pace, Diaz would break Rodriguez’s mark by 15! Percentage-wise, this is like a slugger chasing Barry Bonds’ single-season home-run record and already having 63 dingers.
Yes, much of this is due to circumstance, as the Mariners (54-31) aren’t fond of holding advantages of two runs or more. Still, when you talk about clutch — Diaz has been its embodiment.
In the 22 games Edwin has marched out to the mound with a one-run lead this season, he has recorded 20 saves. More significantly, in the 22 games Edwin has marched out to the mound with a one-run lead this season, the Mariners are 22-0.
With a league-high 26 one-run wins, Seattle has been awakening its fan base one near-death experience at a time. But Diaz? Diaz has been the heartbeat of the cardiac kids.
“We have a lot of valuable players on our team, there’s no question about it. But winning the close games creates the kind of atmosphere that’s going on in Safeco Field right now and throughout the city,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “What (Diaz) has done as far as being valuable to our team — it would have to be at the top of the list.”
You might look at Diaz’s ERA of 2.45 and question whether he has been as dominant as Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel (2.16) or Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman (1.51). You shouldn’t. Edwin has been knocked around in a few non-save situations — such as the four runs he allowed in one-third of an inning vs. Texas in May, or the two runs he allowed in a 7-2 win over Boston in June — but he’s been virtually unhittable everywhere else.
His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.46 is nearly twice as good as it was last year. His Win Probabilty Added of 3.31 is actually better than that of Trout (2.98) and Mookie Betts (2.99).
When he closed out the Royals on Sunday afternoon, he joined Eric Gagne as the second pitcher in MLB history to record 30 saves and 70 strikeouts before the All-Star break (Diaz has 32 and 71 compared to Gagne’s 31 and 76). More than anything, we’re seeing a model of efficiency — a 24-year-old who has thrown 15 or fewer pitches in 20 of his appearances this season.
So has any of this surprised Diaz? In his third year in the majors, has the fastball-and-slider-hurling Puerto Rican exceeded even his own expectations?
Doesn’t sound like it.
“I worked hard in the offseason. I worked a lot on my command and my fastball and my offspeed, so I think I deserve that,” Diaz said. “I’m really happy with my work. I’m just trying to keep going.”
It’s easy to look at a team 23 games above .500 with a plus-22 run differential and think “luck.” It’s harder to draw that conclusion when you’ve been watching the guy preserving all those microscopic leads.
So yes, the best player of the 2018 season will be in an Angels uniform Tuesday. But the most essential so far? He might be called in to face him.