Brandon League’s job just got a lot more secure. While making his return from hip surgery, David Aardsma appears to have suffered a setback. He will be visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum to look at his grade two UCL sprain as reported here. I may not know what a UCL sprain is, but I know that this is bad news. A grade three sprain means that it is actually torn, so luckily it isn’t that severe. Still, a grade two sprain means that there is a partial tear. Typically, a tear in the UCL (of the UCL?) means it is time for Tommy John surgery. As I said before, bad news.
Well, it isn’t bad news if you’re Brandon League. Going into the season, I anticipated that League would get Kerry Wood’d. Basically, the Mariners would showcase him as a closer while Aardsma was recovering and then around the trade deadline, they’d ship League off to a contender needing bullpen help. Now, Mariners fans need to be hoping that Aardsma gets healthy in time to pitch for a couple weeks before the trade deadline so the Mariners can get something for him instead. Aardsma’s future is unclear, but it’s safe to say that League is the closer for at least this year.
Had you told me after last season that League would be the closer, I would have said you were crazy. In 2010, League put up a 9-7 record with six saves, 13 holds, 3.42 ERA, and six blown saves. He wasn’t spectacular and wasn’t looking like a pitcher ready to step into the closer position. However, since being handed the closer role, League has been pretty good. Even on Tuesday when he recorded his first blown save of the season, he wasn’t terrible. Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing does a wonderful job at breaking down League’s inning here.
League will get better this year and that’s encouraging considering he has already been pretty good. So far this year, he’s 0-2 with a 4.80 ERA, nine saves and one blown save. Those numbers are a bit misleading, because as we dive into the advanced stats provided by FanGraphs, we see a couple encouraging things (small sample sizes be damned!). First, his FIP is sitting at 1.61 and his xFIP is 2.84. That ERA will be coming down. His BABIP is pretty high at .333, considering his career average is down at .285. Also, his LOB% is at 50%, much lower than the expected 70%. What this is saying is that he’s getting a little unlucky. Batters are getting on base more often than usual (we can blame that on Figgins) and those same batters are making it around to home more often that we would expect. Over the course of the season, those numbers should even out and League will start looking better. Which is good, because he’s now the closer for the indefinite future.
I watched the Mariners last year so I understand why you may not trust League. I’m having a tough time accepting it myself. But in a bullpen with so many questions, League is the one guy the Mariners should have faith in.