HomeTrending MLB NewsBig Mike’s Revenge Rampage Comes to Seattle

Big Mike’s Revenge Rampage Comes to Seattle

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, I was distraught to learn that Mike Baumannmy lovely, mild-mannered, Suits-loving, pineapple-curious distant cousin — had been designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles. Those no-good, rotten, perfidious, cold-hearted Baltimore Orioles. Did you know that Big Mike and Austin Hays had been teammates dating back to college? All those years, lost like tears in the rain.

To say I’m furious would be an understatement of biblical proportions, and the Mike Baumanns of the world are coming together to visit disproportionate vengeance upon the Orioles. I’ve already jinxed John Means, and I’ll take another pitcher every week until our thirst for retribution is sated. Which will probably be never. Francis Scott Key was a hack. The Wire is overrated. Neither I nor my descendants will ever eat crab again.

Fortunately, there are other teams that value what Big Mike can offer. (Meg gave me permission to call the younger, harder-throwing Baumann “Big Mike” throughout this story, because writing my own name over and over was getting weird.)

This is a physical, durable, hard-throwing reliever with multiple secondary pitches who played a significant (if low-leverage) role on a 100-win team last year. I would’ve been shocked if he made it through waivers, but he didn’t even get that far.

The Mariners took interest in Big Mike and worked out a trade: Two Michaels for a Blake. Baumann and Michael Pérez to Baltimore in exchange for Triple-A catcher Blake Hunt. Pérez you might remember from his brief cameo on the Mets’ catcher carousel last summer. (I totally forgot that Gary Sánchez was on the Mets briefly in 2023. They had a wild year.) Hunt is, presumably, a human man who has many attributes. I care not even a little what they are. We’re here to talk about what Big Mike can do for Seattle.

Big Mike got into his first game in a Mariners uniform while I was writing this, and in 2/3 of an inning he threw just three strikes out of 12 pitches, walked two batters, and threw two wild pitches. Not a great first impression, but I’m willing to chalk it up to immediate post-trade jitters. Don’t worry about it.

Let’s say nothing changes about Big Mike’s game from Baltimore. Last season, he won 10 games out of the bullpen mostly by being in the right place at the right time. Big Mike appeared in 60 games last year and entered 32 of them in either the sixth or seventh inning. He entered with the Orioles either tied or trailing 36 times, appeared in multiple innings 20 times, and recorded four or more outs 16 times.

Last year’s Orioles had an awesome offense, an awesome closer (even after Félix Bautista got hurt), and a rotation that’s best understood by the amount of effort that team put into convincing us that, yes, we actually do think we can win with Kyle Gibson and Dean Kremer pitching that many innings.

A team like that is going to have a lot of games decided in the sixth and seventh innings, and whichever pitcher is around at that time is going to rack up a lot of wins. Unless you’re the 2022 Astros, the reliever who pitches those innings — or relievers, most likely, given injuries and variances in form — is probably going to be just fine at best. Big Mike was a little better than “just fine” last year; he walked 12.1% of opponents, which isn’t great, but he had an ERA- of 90 and held opponents to a .218 batting average.

With that said, when the Orioles got to the playoffs last year, they left him off the postseason roster. And not to be the guy who says, “And then what happened?” — which is one of the internet’s most annoying tics — but what happened next is the Orioles got their collective head caved in by the Rangers. Baltimore got swept in the ALDS and gave up roughly a billion runs in the process.

Coincidence? I think not.

But even in this hyperbolically positive evaluation of Big Mike, I concede that he was hardly a pivotal member of the pitching staff. He was out of options, and the Orioles cut him to make room for Grayson Rodriguez’s return from the IL. I’ll concede, reluctantly, that you’d probably rather have Rodriguez on your roster than Big Mike.

The Mariners could use a steady hand at the wheel in the middle innings, but they wouldn’t have given up a… well, prospect is probably too strong a word for Hunt, a 25-year-old who needed three tries to get out of Double-A. But he’s hitting .293/.372/.533 in 24 games in Triple-A this year, so he’s not nothing. Anyway, the Mariners would not have given him up if they didn’t think there was at least the potential for more from Big Mike.

In retrospect, a Baumann-Mariners partnership makes so much sense I feel a little foolish for not predicting it before it happened. See, Big Mike is about power. His fastball averages 96.2 mph, and his two breaking balls are a slider that averages 92.1 mph and a knuckle curve that comes in at 87.2. That is, according to Baseball Savant, the highest average slider velocity and the second-highest average curveball velocity in all of baseball this year. Since 2020, there have been 45 sliders thrown in the majors at 95 mph or more; Big Mike has thrown nine of them. The only person who’s thrown more than that is Jacob deGrom; the only other pitcher who’s thrown more than five is Emmanuel Clase.

You know who loves a hard thrower? Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners.

The Mariners, as a staff, are no. 1 in the league this year in average fastball velocity at 94.6 mph across all fastball types. That leads the league by more than half a mile per hour. And they love a hard-throwing fastball-slider guy out of the bullpen. Last offseason, Seattle signed free agent reliever Ryne Stanek (fastball velocity 98.6 mph, slider velocity 88.3 mph) to supplement a bullpen anchored by closer Andrés Muñoz (fastball velocity 98.9 mph, slider velocity 88.1 mph).

When I talked to Big Mike last summer, I posed a question I like asking pitchers: If you had the ability to steal one pitch from anyone in baseball, which one would you pick? Big Mike gave me two answers: First, his then-teammate Shintaro Fujinami’s splitter. Second, Matt Brash’s slider.

Now he’s Brash’s teammate. Sure, Brash is currently on the IL while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but I’m sure he’d be happy to give Big Mike a call and talk him through the finer points of throwing a slider.

With that said, if learning Brash’s slider were as simple as following a checklist, surely every pitcher who’s come through Seattle in the past three years would’ve picked it up. I’m not sure it’s within Big Mike’s ability to copy Brash, if only because he’s never spun anything as fast as Brash spins his slider.

Sliders From Selected Mariners Relievers, 2023-Present

PlayerHoriz. Movement (in)Vertical Movement (in)VelocitySpin Rate (RPM)
Matt Brash11.83.488.82826
Andrés Muñoz4.53.788.32239
Mike Baumann1.57.391.82292
Ryne Stanek2.7-0.888.52484

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Brash’s slider is much more east-west, while Big Mike’s has more vertical break. But when Muñoz was getting his slider into the lower 90s, which he did pretty routinely in 2022 — when the pitch was one of the best breaking balls in baseball — his movement profile was a little more attainable for Big Mike. It’d still require an overhaul in order to generate more horizontal movement, but the spin rates and velocity are pretty similar, and both pitchers throw from a three-quarters arm slot.

And one thing Big Mike has going for him: He’s down to try stuff. Over parts of four seasons in the majors, he’s adjusted his curveball, gaining three miles an hour from 2021 to 2022, and another three from 2022 to 2023. He also changed his set position this year. In 2023, he pitched from a pretty traditional stretch.

But this year, he’s started from an open stance, with his left leg cocked out toward the first-base dugout.

He also let the lettuce grow out over the winter. I think it’s a good look that’s well-suited to the cooler, air-conditioned environs of T-Mobile Park. (And another thing Big Mike has in common with Muñoz, for what it’s worth.) Anyway, if the Mariners think they can unlock something the Orioles couldn’t, I imagine Big Mike has shown a willingness to experiment.

Saying that a guy who just got DFA’d is potentially the next Brash or Muñoz is obviously big talk. But it wasn’t too long ago that those guys were just anonymous hard throwers who had their potential unlocked by a trip to Seattle. And if you want to expand the set from hard-throwing fastball-slider guys to right-handed relievers more generally, you could say the same about Paul Sewald and Erik Swanson before they were traded away.

The Mariners have had their ups and downs — and more than a little generational trauma stemming from trades involving Orioles pitchers — but this strikes me as a good place to kick off Big Mike’s Revenge Rampage. I hope he makes Baltimore regret this trade for years to come.


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