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Date: Monday, 29 Sep 2014 05:14

On so many occasions of brilliance in the past, Felix has required some run support from one team. On this particular occasion of brilliance, he required run support from two. So we shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think anybody is surprised. Even the way things played out was a miracle.

An important, fundamental point to understand is that we aren’t really in this for championships. That would be stupid — if we were in this for championships, there wouldn’t be sports fans. That’s always a losing gamble. We aren’t in this for the ultimate triumph, in that the benefits are separate, but at the same time, what drives us is the belief that there could be a championship, sometime kind of soon. It’s all an exercise in misleading ourselves. Think of it like projections. We aren’t trying to get perfect player projections, and we wouldn’t want those anyway, because they’d ruin everything. We like that we’re wrong, all the time, but we always have to believe the projections are getting better, that we’re all getting a better idea of the future.

All we need is to be able to dream that good things are coming. It’s that simple, and we’re all dreamers, which is why everybody loves April. Teams are always in it in April. It’s acceptable if you feel like good things are coming a year or two or three down the line, but of course the priority is the most immediate season, and you want to be able to dream that your team can win the World Series. The 2014 Mariners allowed us to dream that dream, until the dream died on the last day of the regular season, at 2:46pm local time. It was a much later time of death than for dreams previous.

The disappointment is that the Mariners fell short of the playoffs. In that way, they’ve extended a too-long streak. The disappointment is that they had opportunities to do better, as if every team in baseball doesn’t have its share of heart-breaking or uninspiring losses. It’s so easy to look ahead. They definitely could’ve won tomorrow. At home? Please. They definitely could’ve handled Kansas City. And then to have Felix available in the ALDS…I mean, once you’re in, you’re in, right? No reason the Mariners couldn’t have gone all the way. Just needed to get there. They didn’t get there.

But what are the playoffs? The playoffs are just more baseball, where more fans of more baseball teams get to experience a final disappointment. The playoffs allow you to extend the dream, a day or a week or as much as a month. All but one of the dreams die. A dream will die Tuesday. Another dream dies Wednesday. Of the eight dreams then remaining, four are dead by the 9th. That’s a week and a half from now. Another two die by the 19th. Then two dreams remain. The Mariner dream was alive until the end of September. The Mariner dream was alive longer than most. A selection of more blessed dreams will last all of a few more days before fizzling out. There is a difference, but it’s hardly as stark as missing the playoffs suggests. The Mariners came up just short of a handful of teams who will come up just short. Think about it like that and I swear it’s not so bad.

Every day of this regular season, we got to give a shit. More than that — we got to feel like every day of this regular season mattered. And every day did. They mattered after the early eight-game losing streak, where a lot of people sensed the seemingly inevitable darkness. They mattered during every slump, and they mattered during every hot streak. God knows they mattered this week. I felt like the five-game skid killed my dream, and I swear I felt it die when Ryan Goins doubled home Munenori Kawasaki, but I kept on paying attention, because, what if? It isn’t final until it’s final. I thought it was final on Wednesday, but it wasn’t really final until Sunday at 2:46. The Mariners didn’t completely turtle, and the A’s treated a wild-card berth like an angry beehive. I’m not sure the A’s even want to be in the playoffs, but you can only lose to the Rangers so much unless you’re actively trying.

The Mariners kept us occupied all summer. Is it fall? The Mariners kept us occupied all summer, into or almost to fall. Last season they bid farewell to .500 on April 9. The year before, April 29. The year before that, July 6. The year before that, April 30. They wound up with a fine record in 2009, but they weren’t really in the thick of things so much, so that season had a different feel. This year’s Mariners, finally, held up their end of the bargain. They fulfilled their obligation. It felt like there was a return for our investment, which is the point, and which hasn’t often been the case. This was a team it was actually a pleasure to root for, even when we hated it. We all hated watching Fernando Rodney walk in the winning run against Oakland, but I love that I got to hate that so much. I love that it was a different hate — it was missed-opportunity hate, as opposed to why-are-we-doing-this hate. That second kind of hate, the more familiar hate, is in part just us hating ourselves. The former — that’s pure sports emotion. In all its beauty and pointlessness, that’s the sort of emotion sports fans want to experience.

At the best of times, being a baseball fan doesn’t have to be philosophical. It gets that way in the hard times so we can maybe try to learn something and better ourselves in the process. It’s a way to try to squeeze some water out of the stone of a godawful season. At the best of times, you feel good when the team wins, and you feel bad when the team loses, and when the team loses, you want to feel good about the team winning the next day. At the best of times, you have a very different relationship with players like Endy Chavez. It’s a relationship founded 100% less on snark. Even if you don’t like that he’s on the team, you like him on the team, and you want him to do well because you want the team to do well because you believe in the team as it’s constructed.

What the Mariners didn’t deliver was a playoff berth. They didn’t bring home a title, or even a won series. Yet they generated playoff atmospheres. They generated memorable moments. They ended on a far better note than they could’ve, and don’t underestimate the significance of ending like this, instead of ending with the four wins and the five losses swapped around. That’s a marketing thing more than it’s a baseball thing, since baseball-wise it doesn’t matter, but our emotions are easily manipulated and in this way the Mariners get to head into the offseason as having won at the end. The Mariners didn’t provide everything they could’ve. Rather, they provided enough. Maybe more than enough. Maybe you think I set my standards too low, but how seriously do you really want to take this? The game’s entertainment, and the Mariners entertained, and the show’s over, and it was a good show. Could’ve been better, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse, and overall that was a fine way to pass the time.

We all get about a month of reflection, if we want it, while the rest of baseball sorts itself out. The stage is set for October’s title dream battle royale, and we’ll watch without caring, or we’ll watch something else. And we have a month to look back on 2014 before we think about how to bring the dream back to life for the season and seasons to come. And the dream will come back to life, because it always does, every November, or December or February or March. I don’t know when next year’s dream is going to die. The dream about the dream is it won’t. The last time we felt this good about the Mariners, they came back and lost 101 games. But, the Pirates built on the dream of 2012. The Royals built on the dream of 2013. Maybe the Mariners build on the dream of 2014. That dream is dead, and it died today, but there’s another version of the dream to come, because there always is. You might already feel it stirring.

-- This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.

2:46pm PDT

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Sunday, 28 Sep 2014 18:54

King Felix vs. Cory Rasmus, 1:10pm

It is the happiest Felix Day Ever. I don’t need to tell you to watch, and I don’t need to strain for a reason you should care. I have no idea how we got here, but this is incredible. Enjoy this, no matter what.

Cory Rasmus was excellent against the M’s for four IP 10 days ago, but even if he’s great again, he’s not going more than 5. This could be a bullpen battle, and I like our chances if it is.

Go Mariners. Go Rangers.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS

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Game 162, Angels at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 27 Sep 2014 23:37

James Paxton vs. CJ Wilson, 6:10pm

Hisashi Iwakuma did his part. Now it’s James Paxton’s turn to shake off a terrible start and keep the M’s slim playoff hopes alive.

I wrote a bunch about Wilson the last time he faced off against Paxton, ten days ago. I had a well researched story of decline and aging, and he went and shut the M’s out for seven innings, out-dueling Paxton and getting the win. But like the M’s, my narrative isn’t technically dead: in his next start, Wilson faced the A’s and didn’t make it out of the first, yielding six runs on two hits and four walks (no Ks) in 2/3 of an inning. Since August 1st, Wilson’s given up 34 runs and 34 walks against 42 Ks in 53 1/3 IP. This is a sustained, sustainable slump with a weird, unfortunate seven inning blip against the M’s. No more blips, M’s.

The Angels wrapped up the best record in the AL the other day when Toronto beat Baltimore, and Mike Scioscia mentioned that while he’s not going to turn the line-up over to AAA call-ups entirely, he will get his starters out of the game earlier to get some rest. The big game to watch today is the A’s/Rangers tilt in Arlington, where Jeff Samardzija faces off against Derek Holland, who’s been sharp since coming off the DL a month or so ago. [EDIT]. Awww, c’mon Texas. The Rangers scratched Holland and start Scott Baker instead.]

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Denorfia, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Paxton

If you’re heading to the game, it’s going to be a bit crowded. The Sounders have a game at 1 across the street, and then the Huskies/Stanford game starts at 1:15. It’s a night game, I know, but I imagine there’ll be some traffic from fans leaving those two events. Not a great night for a 6pm start, but hey, go M’s.

-- This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.

Game 161, Angels at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 27 Sep 2014 00:30

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jered Weaver, 7:10pm

It’s game #160, the final series of the year, at home, and the M’s technically haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. The Mariners DHs, as Jeff just pointed out, have been historically awful again. Their opening day CF was gingerly dumped on the trash heap like something both foul and volatile, and after a surprising trade got them a veteran CF, the new guy underperformed that low bar. We all know this team’s all-too-visible holes. To their credit, they played well in spite of them throughout the summer. In all likelihood, their pitching can’t recapture this level of performance in 2015. But despite it all – despite the Brad Miller faceplant, and the realization that Kendrys Morales of all people desperately needs spring training – the M’s go into next year as a contender. A lot can happen in an offseason, but man, the gap between the M’s and A’s looks a hell of a lot smaller now, and the Angels don’t have that untouchable feel that the Rangers had as recently as 2012. I like this, as much as it hurts watching Hisashi Iwakuma slump or Chris Young’s inscrutability suddenly turn hi-def, 1080p scrutable.

Today’s game pits Iwakuma against Jered Weaver, the Angels shorter, healthier version of Chris Young. As you all know, Weaver’s ridden a slow fastball with plenty of backspin to a remarkably consistent career. He’s lost some velocity over the years, but he’s topped 200 IP again in 2014 for the fourth time, and first since his excellent 2011. He uses a four-seamer to righties, a “sinker” to lefties that has essentially zero sink, but a bit more armside run, a change-up, a curve and a slider. As a pitcher who throws plenty of high fastballs, he gets very few ground balls, but that doesn’t matter, as he’s consistently kept his HF/FB ratio under 10 (though Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle’s parks certainly help with that), and thus he’s a rare right-hander with a .270 career BABIP in over 1,600 career innings. Pop-ups are clearly a big part of that equation, as all of his pitches – not just the four-seamer – get more pop-ups than average. But he’s also able to get more strikeouts and whiffs than Young or other pitchers with this MO. This is why he’s been a borderline ace and not just a surprisingly effective middle or back-of-the-rotation guy – he manages contact well AND he’s able to get outs on his own. Finally, his approach and arsenal works for lefties as well as righties, and thus he has essentially no platoon splits in his career. It all adds up to a guy whose ERA is significantly lower than his FIP, and who seems to have earned the right to ignore the fielding independent stats.

That said, he’s clearly not what he used to be. Not only is he not striking out a batter an inning, he’s walking more than he has since 2009 – back before he was *Jered Weaver* and was more the guy who’d fluked his way to a great rookie season. His o-swing, or the percentage of swings on balls outside of the strikezone – tanked this year; as I mentioned before, it’s the 2nd lowest figure of any qualified starter, behind only CJ Wilson. His BABIP and FB%, the two things that define his ability to generate weak contact, aren’t quite in Chris Young’s league, and thus, on a rate basis, Young’s essentially matched Weaver’s (good) 2014. They’re not equally valuable, and honestly, Young was incredible for a while there, but Weaver’s less an ace and much more of a very nice complementary piece. For most of the year, that’s all he needed to be: Garrett Richards was the team’s unlikely ace, and Weaver and CJ Wilson were the handsomely-compensated veteran “presences” that stabilized the rotation. With Richards out, the team might seem to be at a disadvantage in the playoffs, except that no one really knows WHAT makes for a great playoff team. The Angels have been incredible this year, and if their pitching can’t quite line up against the A’s or even the M’s, they probably won’t be too concerned thanks to their best-in-baseball line-up.

1: Jackson (C’mon, man)
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales ( )
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Grant Brisbee’s guess/approximation of AC/DC’s new song “Play Ball” – the song that’ll be featured on every commercial break for the upcoming postseason – was surprisingly soulful.

The Royals face Hector Noesi and the Sox tonight, while the A’s will lose in excruciating fashion to Nick Tepesch of the Rangers. The A’s managed to get six hits and six walks last night, but only scored one run in a walk-off loss in Arlington. Coco Crisp was on base five times himself, but never scored.

Go M’s!

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Game 160, Angels at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 26 Sep 2014 23:59

So the current Mariner we get to think is newly good is Logan Morrison. Morrison’s the guy we can choose to focus on, if we want to not focus on the various other disappointments. The way this usually works, there’s a handful of semi-interesting young players, and one of them will be performing well at a time, and when that one starts to slump, another one’s getting hot, kind of like young hitter Whac-A-Mole. Morrison’s had himself a wonderful September, and he’s just been pretty solid in the second half, suggesting that maybe he can be a first baseman for a while. I mean, one worth having, too. The guy’s only newly 27.

It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Morrison and Justin Smoak. The Mariners once traded for the Rangers’ Justin Smoak, then last winter they traded for the Marlins’ Justin Smoak. I don’t need to review the similarities. The Mariners were either doubling down on their investment, or they were emplacing an identical safety net. Morrison, if nothing else, was an interesting young player. There are worse things to stockpile.

And, look at that, Morrison has a 107 wRC+. An average first baseman this year has a 111 wRC+, which is basically the same. Morrison seems like maybe he can be an average type. He played most of the year at age-26. As encouraged as you want to be, though, you can’t help but think of something, like that damned comparison between Dustin Ackley and Jeremy Reed. A year ago, Smoak was 26. He posted a 111 wRC+. Some walks, some power, some defense, some promise. Everything we think now about Morrison, we thought then about Smoak. Following here, a Lloyd-McClendon-on-Justin-Smoak opinion montage.

March 2014

“For me, Smoak is a guy who should hit 40-45 doubles and 20-25 home runs. Not the other way around.”

May 2014

“I like what I see,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said of Smoak earlier this week. “[He's] probably going to cost me a lot of money, but I hope he does, if he keeps hitting this way.”

July 2014

McClendon says Smoak is a Major League player, but needs to work on things.

July 2014

“He’s swinging the bat well,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, he can give us a little lift from an offensive standpoint. And, obviously, his glove work around first base is a little smoother than LoMo (Logan Morrison).”

September 2014

“Smoak, no, I’ve never heard that name before in my life. Do you mean Smock? No, I’ve never heard that, either. Who’s named Smock? That’s a thing for wearin’, not namin’. People still wear smocks?”

Smoak was all promise a year ago. There was a time McClendon thought it was possible for him to lead the damned league in doubles, which often require running. Smoak sucked in the first half, and he’s barely played in the second. He’s a forgotten and useless instrument, like a lot of the things I put away in my kitchen, and considering Smoak this year cost nearly $3 million, it’s unlikely he’s coming back. He’ll end up a free agent, and someone will hope for his upside, because these players are always more appealing if you haven’t actually had to watch them all the time.

None of which is to say that Logan Morrison is just going to go the way of Justin Smoak. They are very literally different people and different players, and if one of them has an X% chance of succeeding, you have higher chances of one of them succeeding if you have two. Just because Smoak seems like a letdown doesn’t mean Morrison can’t even improve from here, but Smoak’s just going to be linked, because he’s a hard guy to unremember, and it’s a hard player profile to trust. Morrison, in a way, is likely to pay for the constant Smoak teases; we’re going to be more cautious with him, because of the defects of his predecessor. Hey, a hugely productive September! Haven’t seen that one before.

Compared to Smoak, Morrison’s probably the worse defender, but not by too much. Neither is an asset on the bases, nor would you expect them to be. They’ve hit for similar power, but Morrison seems to have a higher power ceiling, which is a good thing. They’ll both pop the ball up. One separator is that Morrison seems better about line drives. And discipline? Morrison makes more contact. And, interestingly, Morrison has gotten a lot more aggressive over the course of his young career. Between 2010-2012, Morrison was a patient type. He’s since doubled his rate of swings at first pitches. And, hell, I found 226 players who’ve batted at least 250 times in 2014, and who also batted at least 250 times between 2010-2012. The biggest overall swing-rate increase? A hike of ten percentage points, belonging to Logan Morrison.

He’s significantly more swing-happy now. That’s a big reason why his walks have gone down. He’s also managed to avoid a strikeout increase, so Morrison is basically betting more than ever on the quality of his batted balls. We know he’s not going to depend on his legs, so Morrison goes as far as his power and line drives can take him. When he’s on, he’s a terror, as he’s been the last month or so. When he’s off, he’s worthless, because he doesn’t do anything else, so it’s about maximizing the “on” time. I can’t pretend to be able to predict this.

What are some of the details behind Morrison’s aggressiveness increase? Used to be, he swung at about a quarter of first pitches in the zone. This year, he’s swung at nearly half. And while he’s swung more at pitches in all places, he’s paid particular attention to pitches up near the belt. His swing rate against pitches around the bottom half of the zone has increased from 48% to 56%. His swing rate against pitches around the upper half of the zone has increased from 59% to 77%. Morrison seems to believe his happy place is in the upper reaches of the strike zone. Most pitchers these days are trying hard to work to the bottom of the strike zone, where the zone keeps expanding every year, but then pitchers do make mistakes. Breaking balls get hung. Fastballs try to get blown by. Morrison’s done what he’s done this year with this approach.

So we wait and see and do nothing else. There’s nothing else that can be done, from our end. Morrison’s earned an opportunity next year, just like Smoak earned an opportunity this year, and Smoak wasted his opportunity, but Morrison isn’t Smoak, even if Morrison is a lot like Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the memory of Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the limitations of the Morrison profile. But, maybe he’s actually blossoming somewhat. Or at least producing like he used to, if through an adjusted process. You can see how he could belong, even as a 1-2 win player, because it’s been hard to find decent hitters and his defense isn’t humiliating. I can talk myself into Logan Morrison. It’s not hard, when he’s hitting dingers.

But I could talk myself into Justin Smoak. I did exactly that, several times, somehow. The dream is that you have star players, but you can’t have stars everywhere, and below the level of stars, you get this uncertainty. We’d like for the Mariners to have a decent first baseman, and maybe they have one. We know they have Logan Morrison, whatever he is.

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Logan Morrison And Justin Smoak, Who Is A Player On The Team

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 26 Sep 2014 20:32

The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973. Since 1973, here are the ten worst team DH seasons, offensively, as measured by OPS relative to the league-average OPS. Information from Baseball-Reference; information also absolutely predictable, if you’ve watched the Mariners at all in the last nine years.

  • 2001 Angels, 46
  • 1988 Rangers, 53
  • 2014 Mariners, 54
  • 1981 Twins, 55
  • 2008 Mariners, 58
  • 2012 Mariners, 60
  • 2010 Mariners, 62
  • 1993 White Sox, 62
  • 2013 Yankees, 62
  • 2006 Mariners, 63

So we’ve got the Mariners of 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, and 2006. If you’re into pattern recognition, that at least bodes well for next year, but it bodes poorly for the year after that, and well for the year after that, and poorly for the year after that, and well for the year after that, and poorly for the year after that, and

The Mariners just haven’t had a good consistent designated hitter since Edgar Martinez. Or, for the most part, when there have been half-decent candidates, the Mariners have put them in the outfield. It’s not just that the hitters haven’t hit well — it’s that, too often, they haven’t hit at all, and while this year there was reason to believe in Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales, the way it’s worked out has felt all too familiar, so Hart and Morales have somewhat unfairly had to deal with fan baggage that predates them. But it’s also been not unfair, because, holy shit, all these situations are like little disaster snowflakes. We hate our DHs in part because of previous DHs, but we also hate our DHs because they suck.

When I first started blogging about the Mariners, and that was well more than a decade ago, I didn’t worry too much about Edgar’s coming retirement, because I figured the easiest thing to find in baseball is a guy who can hit a little and do nothing else. The Mariners have nailed half of that.

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Today’s Fun Fact

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Sep 2014 19:07

Tom Wilhelmsen vs. Daniel Norris, 1:07pm

The A’s continue to slide, but it’s too late now. A fifth consecutive loss has apparently allowed the M’s to go with a bullpen day today, and with the stakes even lower for the Jays, they’ll do the same. Wilhelmsen could conceivably pitch 3-4 innings, but it sounds like the Jays will limit Daniel Norris, one of their big prospects, to 2-3.

Norris was never an afterthought – as a 2nd rounder in 2011, and the highest draft pick to actually sign with Toronto (they couldn’t get Tyler Beede under contract) – but he’s never been a top-100 prospect, and was ranked below fireballers Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. Sanchez battled spotty results, command issues and so-so strikeout rates, but stayed atop the Jays’ prospect lists thanks to a high-octane fastball. Syndergaard was traded to the Mets, while Stroman rocketed up the ladder and enjoyed a breakout season for Toronto this year. The point is: Norris was never the #1 pitching prospect for Toronto, but that’s not to say he was unheralded. In fact, many would probably slot him in ahead of Sanchez at this point thanks to his astonishing 2014 season. In 124 2/3 IP this year, the lefty’s struck out 163, while walking 43. He doesn’t have a 70-grade fastball, but that clearly didn’t slow him down.

Depending on who you ask, Norris’ best pitch is a big breaking curve ball (a pitch he K’d David Ortiz on in his first big league appearance), a slider, or a change-up. Fangraphs says curve, MLB goes for the change, and BP’s repeatedly called attention to his slider. The slider gives him a weapon against lefties, while he uses the change vs. righties. In his 3+ inning career thus far, he’s thrown far more change-ups than breaking balls, which may be because he’s faced a couple more RH bats. Early in his career, he had serious command problems, and he was getting hammered well into 2013 because of them. Since then, he’s been death on a stick to righties in particular, so it certainly looks like getting a feel for his change-up was the key to his success.

His fastball sits in the low 90s, with the change in the mid-80s. The change looks a bit like a splitter, with heavy, heavy sink and little armside run. His fastball’s got a lot of “rise,” and the curve ranges from the low- to mid/high-70s. If that arsenal sounds familiar, it should – that sounds a bit like Taijuan Walker. Walker’s right-handed and throws a bit harder, obviously – seeing him hit 98 yesterday was pretty cool – but he too has a big, slow curve and that new and nasty split/change. Their fastballs have very similar movement as well.

Tom Wilhelmsen seems to have the stuff to start, and he has basically no platoon splits. He hasn’t been great as a starter in the high-minors, and he wasn’t sharp in a spot-start this year. There’s no clear reason for it, so it’s easy to chalk it up to sample size, but if the M’s want to get a look at Wilhelmsen in the rotation, they need to do more than give him spot starts on bullpen days. After another great year in the ‘pen, I’m fine if they want to leave him alone and hope he can remain an effective set-up man, but I understand the temptation to squeeze more value out of him.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Taylor, SS
3: Cano, DH
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, LF
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, 2B
SP: Wilhelmsen

Interesting line-up today.

M’s are three behind Oakland for the 2nd wild card with four games to play. Oakland’s in Texas to take on the Rangers (Jason Hammel vs. Colby Lewis), while the Royals are in Chicago facing the White Sox (James Shields vs. Jose Quintana).

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Game 159, Mariners at Blue Jays

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Sep 2014 17:37

Looking back, the correct answer was “utterly collapse!” That’s “utterly collapse!”, selected by 2.6% of you. Good job, one out of 38 individuals. You are fortune tellers. You are fortune tellers who root for the Mariners anyway, which hints at some kind of severe psychological trauma at an earlier age. Imagine liking this team when you already know what’s going to happen.

I guess a lot of us probably feel like we knew that was going to happen, after the fact. Oh, we got caught up, how we got caught up, but now that the Mariners have plummeted not just into the ground but beyond it, it makes all the sense in the world. It feels like the thing that was going to happen all along, because we’re messed up, because they’ve messed us up, and we don’t know how to trust.

The feeling’s by no means unique to us. Fans of chronic losers all feel the same, no matter how much they want to believe that they’re special. This is how Pirates fans felt, before the team got back to the playoffs. This is how Royals fans felt, before the team got back to the playoffs, where it is presumably headed now. When you go through a break-up, you feel like your circumstances are unusually dark. The most specific details are always a little bit different, but billions of people have been through break-ups, and your situation is uninteresting to everyone who isn’t you. We don’t have it the worst. We just have it bad, like others have it bad. No need to be, I don’t know, egocentric about it, although then I suppose it’s at least an identity.

Still, something about this feels very Mariners. Which is odd, because this Mariners team has come unnervingly, uncommonly close to making the playoffs, which is a distinctly non-Mariners thing to do. Most generally it’s just about building our hopes up before tearing them down, and maybe the scary thing is that the Mariners don’t just capture one particular flavor of disappointment — all forms of disappointment feel kind of Mariners-y, as through the years they’ve let us down in every way possible. The one thing that’s almost unique to us is that at no point have the Mariners made it to the World Series. Neither have the Nationals/Expos, but there aren’t actually Nationals fans.

I’m pretty confident in identifying the Mariners’ biggest hits from the past couple weeks. The hits that just stirred something within. There was Robinson Cano’s dinger during the home series against Oakland, and there was Logan Morrison’s ninth-inning shot in Anaheim. The former was a game-tying solo shot in a contest the Mariners lost, and maybe we should’ve noted upon Morrison’s homer that the Mariners had so much trouble doing away with a Triple-A opponent even though they had Felix on the mound. It took until the last inning for the playoff-hopeful Mariners to separate themselves from many of the Salt Lake Bees, and the Bees finished 60-84.

Things were good, then they were a little rough, then they slid into disaster. On the radio the other day, after one of the Mariners’ recent embarrassing losses, Mike Blowers said he was just searching for a reason. This was after Felix got clobbered, and the M’s scored twice. This was the day after James Paxton’s ERA went up a full run, and a day before the M’s got shutout and lost because Munenori Kawasaki walked and Ryan Goins spotted a gork. Blowers settled on the pressure of the playoff race. The Mariners hadn’t been in this position, but Blowers admitted he might be reaching.

You can go with that theory if you want. It can’t be disproved. It’s also appealing in its simplicity: the Mariners simply wilted under pressure. What could one reasonably expect? The stakes were the highest they’ve been in more than a decade for this team. But then, you know, Austin Jackson’s been here before. He’s been one of the Mariners’ worst players in September. Kendrys Morales has been here before. He’s been one of the Mariners’ worst players in September. Felix was bad the other day, but he had just recently been awesome against Oakland in a playoff atmosphere at home, so it’s not like one should think nerves got the best of him. Given what we know about professional athletes, it doesn’t actually hold up to reason well to accuse them of choking.

Blowers was searching for a reason. I can tell you my reason. I don’t think it was pressure. I think the Mariners were aware of the pressure, but I don’t think it caused them to collapse. This wasn’t regression to the mean. Regression doesn’t work like this. It’s not that the Mariners weren’t actually good. The Mariners were good. This Mariners team was plenty good enough to make the playoffs. Have you seen the Royals’ roster? We’re just the victims of bad timing. Unfortunate, unbearable, unpredictable randomness. I can see why the team is 83-75. But the team was at one point 79-64. The latter team shouldn’t turn into the former team, but for an awful spate of misfortune.

It’s the same kind of randomness that’s had Morales and Jackson suck so bad since coming over. Both those moves were totally justifiable. Good, even, maybe. They’ve sucked. What’re you gonna do? Over his last five starts, Hisashi Iwakuma has an ERA over 8. He’s thrown an above-average rate of strikes, and he’s gotten plenty of whiffs. His BABIP’s been almost .400. The whole pitching staff was always overachieving a little, but lately it’s been the worst staff in the American League, and oh by the way, it’s gotten less attention, but the offense has also lately been one of the worst offenses in the American League, performing worse than it already was. Almost everything’s gone wrong, and it feels like that much shouldn’t go wrong without a better explanation, but randomness is the best explanation, like it almost always is.

Sure, some of the Mariners have to be fatigued, but every team deals with fatigue by the end. Sure, the Mariners aren’t as talented as the A’s and the Angels, but that’s not enough to explain the team-wide breakdown. You want so badly for there to be a better reason, because if there’s a better reason, it can be fixed. Randomness can’t be fixed. Randomness can strike at any moment. Randomness is a big part of why the A’s have struggled so bad since acquiring one of the best pitchers in baseball. Randomness is a big part of why the Angels have soared so high since losing one of the best pitchers in baseball. Randomness is a big part of why the Mariners have gone from in the race to out of it in a matter of days. It can be the coldest thing, but life’s cold sometimes, and you don’t grow by trying to deny it. You accept that you should never get too wedded to your plans.

The first misfortune is what’s happened to the Mariners. The second misfortune is the blend of the timing with the human impulse to try to find a pattern. We don’t actually like to think about randomness, because it gives us way too much perspective, so what’s going to happen is we’ll emerge from this with our skepticism more firmly cemented. At some level our brains will settle on the explanation that this all happened because Mariners, and that’ll make it only harder for us to trust. We’ll require even more reasons to believe in the team, and we’ll try to protect ourselves, and it’ll be that much more difficult for fans down the road to allow themselves to get carried away. You’re born with the capacity to love 100%. Life is just a series of events that chip away at the ceiling. It’s possible to restore what’s been lost, but it takes time and effort and luck in the other direction. We can’t help that we’re damaged people.

The odds of a pretty good baseball team losing 11 of 15 games are about 4%. The odds this year of Chris Young giving up a home run in a given plate appearance were about 4%. With Young, we know that sometimes the homers just happen, and maybe it was a mistake, and you move on. The Mariners are Chris Young giving up a home run. It’s just that this was a pretty important and hurtful home run. Was Young rattled by the pressure of the situation? Probably not, no. But the next time, you’re not going to trust Young to get that out. For what reason would you?

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Mariners’d

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 22:45

Taijuan Walker vs. Mark Buehrle, 4:07pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: nope Baseballprospectus.com: noooope

Maybe it’s fair – the M’s sweep of the Jays in early August dealt Toronto a significant blow, and it was one they ultimately never recovered from. The Jays arrived sometime after midnight on August 11th, sitting 2nd in the East and in the WC hunt. They had playoff odds of 31.5%, about evenly split between the Wild Card and the Divisional crown. They limped out of Seattle that Wednesday with playoff odds of 14.2%. They weren’t out of it, exactly, but they ultimately never hit 14% again. This week, the Jays have returned the favor, essentially eliminating the M’s from the playoffs. They haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet, but they could be today. Damn it.

Taijuan Walker’s coming off an encouraging start against Houston; it marked the first time this season he had more strikeouts than innings pitched. He’s dealt with that command lapse, and he’s continued to keep the ball in the park.* Walker’s fastball comes in at 95, and has similar movement to James Paxton’s, with just a tiny bit less armside run and rise. Intriguingly, at least to nerds like me, is that he’s getting similar balls-in-play results. Not identical, because I don’t think I’ve seen anything like Paxton’s BIP ratios, but similar – Walker throws a “rising” fastball but gets more grounders than the average. Because it’s not extreme, and because he doesn’t pair it with another outlier pitch like Paxton’s curve, Walker’s overall GB% is just a bit over average, at 47%. But just looking at the arsenal, you’d assume something significantly lower. Like Paxton, it’s not like he’s pounding the knees with it; he’s throwing it up in the zone, especially up and away to lefties. And because of *that*, Walker’s able to get a lot of infield pop-ups – his 15.8% rate leads the team, and while the sample is miniscule, he was over 11% in another small sample last year. A rising FB, thrown up and away really OUGHT to get a fair share of pop-ups, after all.

His opponent today is the nearly perfectly-opposite Mark Buehrle. Buehrle’s a veteran with an extremely low walk rate and an extraordinarily slow fastball. The lefty now averages 83-84mph, or about what you might see in a local high school game. His swinging strike rate was never all that high, and his contact rate has crept up recently as well. That said, he’s having one of his better years thanks to a big shift in approach – something Jeff found in a Fangraphs article back in May. Seriously, go read that. Have the trends that Jeff found – Buerhle getting an absurd amount of called strike-threes, and throwing inside sinkers to righties – continued, or were they just a weird one-month blip? Uh, the former. After throwing very few 2-strike sinkers to righties from 2007-2013 (under 10% each year), he’s throwing sinkers in about 40% of his 2-strike counts this year. And that’s led to a huge increase in the percentage of backwards Ks . His previous career high in the percentage of strikeouts that came looking was 39%, back in 2004. This year, it’s 54%. Over his career, Buehrle has no discernible platoon splits. It’s not like this change in approach has changed his fortunes against right-handed bats or anything, but it’s an insight into Buehrle’s ability to adapt, change and hang around in a league that has generally not found guys throwing 83 to be viable. Command is huge.

Here’s today’s line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, RF
7: Hart, DH
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Tai Walker

Eno Sarris’ interview with Brandon Moss is well worth your time.

And Jeff just wrote about another pitcher who gets even more backwards Ks than 2014-Mark Buehrle: Vance Worley of Pittsburgh.

Here’s Russell “Pizza Cutter” Carleton at BP talking about how much clarity that new “StatCast” system can bring to defensive metrics, and how much we’ll probably never know.

* – Yes, yes, I’m aware that I talked about Paxton’s low BABIP and he got BABIP’d to death, then talked about the crappy line-up yesterday and watched that crappy line-up knock Felix around.

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Game 158, Mariners at Blue Jays

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014 22:30

King Felix vs. RA Dickey, 4:07pm
Wildcard…:sigh:….odds – Fangraphs.com: 8.0% Baseballprospectus.com: 7.6%

Happy Felix Day. The M’s fanbase could use a bit of happiness today after yesterday’s debacle. Paxton had been so sharp, and he picked an unfortunate time to turn in a disaster start. The day I write about his ultra-low BABIP, he goes and gets BABIP’d to death and the M’s playoff hopes now dangle by a thread. C’mon Felix. You got this.

Beyond the fact that the M’s have King Felix, the favorite for the AL Cy Young award on the hill today, check out the Blue Jays line-up. Munenori Kawasaki is starting at 3B, and batting *fifth*. Dalton Pompey, until recently a solid player in the Florida State League, starts in LF. In CF is Anthony Gose, he of the 74 career wRC+ in about a full season’s worth of disappointing play. Ryan Goins! Josh Thole!

RA Dickey’s 2014 has gone a bit better than his 2013 thanks to some regression in his HR rate. In 200 IP this year, he’s allowed 1.11 HR/9, or dead on his career average. His K rate’s essentially unchanged, his BB rate’s actually a touch worse, and his BABIP’s still reliably low. It’s just that fewer balls have left the field of play. This in itself is somewhat odd – in his peak seasons with the Mets, Dickey was something of a ground-baller. Not an extreme one, but he topped 50% grounders one season, and was around it for all three. Last year, he was just above 40%, and is at 42% this year. That, plus the whole designated hitter thing, and a dash of park effects, explain why he’s now giving up more HRs than he did in New York. That said, Dickey’s move to Toronto worked out pretty well for all involved. It’s really strange to say about a defending Cy Young award winner, but Dickey wasn’t paid to be the ace of the Blue Jays staff – he was paid to be a league-average starter, and that’s actually what he’s been. I think the Blue Jays certainly hoped he’d be better than that, but they didn’t pay through the nose for a high-ceiling star. They paid for a guy with a really strange career who was in his late 30s.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: KING FELIX

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Game 157, Mariners at Blue Jays

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Monday, 22 Sep 2014 22:40

James Paxton vs. JA Happ, 4:07pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 17.3% Baseballprospectus.com: 20.7%

Ouch. *Ouch*. The M’s playoff odds were cut in half yesterday, when another poor start from Hisashi Iwakuma coincided with the A’s finally winning a game and the Royals holding off the Tigers. This syzygy of woe has the M’s in dangerous territory with only a week to go. As if things couldn’t get worse, a new team has entered the periphery of the chase: the red-hot Cleveland Indians. While the Yankees and the Jays graciously dropped out of the race around a month ago, the Indians have been buoyed by an incredible run by their starters, including Corey Kluber, coming off his second consecutive game of 14Ks, and Carlos Carrasco who has laid waste to the AL since moving back into the rotation a few months back. Given that the Tribe is playing the Royals the next three days, and given the short amount of time, they’re probably not going to pass the Royals, M’s and A’s for a Wild Card spot. But it shows that even if the Royals, say, completely collapse, the M’s wouldn’t necessarily be the beneficiary.*

Thus, the M’s find themselves in a must-win game, on the road, with rookie starter. All of that said, I think most M’s fans are pretty happy that Paxton’s taking the ball today. The Canadian lefty’s been excellent – when healthy – all year, and is coming off of five consecutive quality starts. As I mentioned last time, his unique fastball has been the key to his success – both in generating ground balls and in disguising/setting up his curve ball. There’s basically no way a four-seam fastball should do what Paxton’s is doing, but when the team absolutely has to have a win, I don’t much care. I just care that he gets 12 ground outs and a handful of Ks and the M’s walk out of Rogers Centre victorious.

Opposing him is JA Happ. The last time the M’s faced him, we talked about his resurgence with the Jays, and how he’d suddenly started throwing harder this year. He also came into that game on a hot streak, striking out 12 Orioles in his previous start, and on a K:BB tear that the heretofore command-impaired Happ wouldn’t have dreamed of in previous years. That all ended in Safeco, as the M’s knocked him around a bit, and Happ hasn’t been able to regain the form he showed in July and early August. That said, he’s been a half-decent middle of the rotation guy for the Jays this year, and he’s been OK each year since 2012. Sure, his RA/9 hasn’t always reflected that thanks to HR problems and problems stranding runners, but his FIP has hinted that he’s had the ability to be a run-of-the-mill #4 starter.

Happ’s bread and butter is a 93-mph fastball. He throws four- and two-seam varieties, and those two combine for about 70% of his total pitches. His primary breaking ball is a curve that he’s started throwing at the expense of his slider/cutter, especially against righties. He’s also got a change-up that he’ll throw to righties, but as you can tell from his fastball usage, it’s not a great one. It generates fewer whiffs and grounders than a league-average change, and as someone who faces overwhelmingly right-handed line-ups, you understand why he’s now throwing more curves instead. In his career he’s got normal platoon splits, but they’ve gone backwards in 2014 (and 2013 too, actually). It’s probably just noise, especially when you see just how few lefties he’s faced; this year, only about 20% of the opposing hitters have batted lefty against him.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Denorfia, RF
8: Taylor, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: James Paxton

That fastball, man. Paxton’s velocity, movement and deception team up to wreak havoc with hitters’ timing, and the result is a low BABIP. Paxton was the beneficiary of an absurd .203 BABIP in his call-up in 2013, and saber-fans noted that it’d regress. It has, actually. To .254. Normally, this is something that would be concerning – he still hasn’t pitched a full MLB season, and there’s no way to say that his true-talent is anywhere close to that .254 figure (to say nothing of .203). But Paxton’s pretty much sui generis; I have no idea what mean I should regress Paxton towards, given that I really can’t think of many pitchers like him. The Paxton we’ve gotten is so, so different – and so much better – than the Paxton many of us were following on his way up the chain. In the minors, Paxton had velo and that great curve, and thus got a good number of strikeouts. Unfortunately, the raw results were generally worse than you’d expect because his minor league BABIPs were uniformly terrible. The projection systems like ZiPS and Steamer that use minor league data can’t figure him out, because in the minors he walked tons and was incredibly hittable for a guy with a 95mph fastball. I figured he’d eventually improve his control, and that his curve would help him miss big-league bats, but his fastball command has changed to such a degree that he’s unrecognizable from the James Paxton that toiled in the M’s affiliates. I should point out that even this year, in his 10 rehab innings in Tacoma, Paxton gave up a .393 BABIP. The PCL is a hell of a drug.

Speaking of the PCL, the league’s going to look a bit different next year thanks to a raft of affiliation changes. Some long-standing agreements are no more – the A’s have left Sacramento to the Giants, and instead entered into an agreement with Nashville. That meant the Brewers needed a new affiliate, and they picked up Colorado Springs, ending the Rockies 21-year agreement with the Sky Sox. Mike Curto has you covered on who’s going where. Thankfully, the M’s aren’t one of the teams moving affiliations; the Rainiers/M’s partnership’s been a good one since 1995.

One M’s affiliate will be changing, though: the M’s agreement with High-A High Desert is no more. The M’s will move to a slightly less insane offensive environment in 2015 when they start playing in Bakersfield, which had been the Reds affiliate. The M’s had been in High Desert for the past eight seasons after their previous affiliate, Inland Empire, signed a deal with the LA Dodgers (they’re now affiliated with the Angels). Again, Curto’s got some information on a (possible) new home park for the Bakersfield team and why home games often start 15-minutes late at the current park.

* As an aside, I think this season has gone a long ways towards making me feel better about the introduction of the second wild card. I’m still squeamish about anything that appears to diminish baseball’s regular season, but the introduction of the play-in game arguably restores the importance of winning a division, while the 2nd wild card race has captivated baseball fans for months even when the first wild card seemed locked-up, first by the Angels, then the A’s (lolololol).

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Game 156, Mariners at Blue Jays

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Sunday, 21 Sep 2014 17:19

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Collin McHugh, 11:10am
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 37.4% Baseballprospectus.com: 42.2%

It’s weird – with the A’s and Royals losing, yesterday’s blowout lost was nowhere near as costly as it could’ve been. On the other hand, the M’s had everything to play for – a chance to tie for the FIRST wildcard – and got blown out by a bad team. This is the perfect test of where a person lies on the optimism-pessimism spectrum.

Yesterday, I mentioned that it took a while for people to warm up to the concept that Dallas Keuchel was actually good. Not “a useful 5th starter” or “solid depth” if he got his HR problem under control, but actually good. That same process played out this season with his teammate, Collin McHugh. McHugh entered the season with a career record of 0-8 and an ERA of about 9. He was a righty with a fairly generic arsenal – a four- and two-seam fastball around 91, a slider, a change and a curve. The curve was actually a decent pitch, but he couldn’t get to it because his fastball was just freakishly hittable. Everything was a small sample of course, but lefties in particular couldn’t help but hit him hard. Coming into 2014, he’d only faced about 100 lefties in total, but their wOBA against him was nearly .500. They had 34 hits and six walks in just 94 plate appearances with a remarkable 17 extra base hits.

When the Astros called him up to make what we all assumed was a spot start in Seattle in April, I’d never heard of him and assumed he’d be sent back down to AAA immediately after the game. He’d been knocked around in AAA, after all, and again, 0-8, 8.94 ERA. Instead, McHugh pitched a gem, with 12 Ks and no walks in 6 2/3 shutout innings. Suddenly, the guy without an out pitch, the guy who couldn’t get lefties out, was an effective big league starter. As I’ve talked about a few times, the Astros made a few adjustments to his delivery and arsenal, getting him to concentrate on his four-seam, slider and curve, and changing where in the zone he throws them. The change in usage wasn’t all that big – he’d always thrown more four-seamers than sinkers. He moved over on the rubber a bit compared to 2013, but it’s quite close to where he was in 2012. His breaking balls have less vertical break than they did, but that’s just because he’s throwing everything a bit faster in 2014. If there’s a change here, it’s in where he’s putting them. He’s been able to keep his fastball away from lefties, and keep his curve down. He’ll sneak called strikes with his slider, which…I mean, it takes guts for a guy who’d been torched by lefties to throw sliders middle-middle to them, but whatever the cause, McHugh’s been excellent against everyone this year. In 143 innings, he’s at 3.3fWAR, with a FIP barely over 3, and an ERA under that.

I wondered if he was getting by on novelty, and about a month after coming up, McHugh had a rough patch – including a loss to the M’s. But looking at his splits, he’s only gotten better in the 2nd half. He’s not getting as many K’s (and that first-half number was likely inflated by that one spectacular 12K game against the M’s), but he’s stopped walking anyone, and he’s limiting HRs as well. This new and improved version may not be his true-talent level going forward (the 8+ K:BB ratio is peak-period Cliff Lee), but the body of work is remarkable. I have no idea how the Astros turned a career minor-leaguer, and a guy who’d been cut by two separate orgs last year into a great pitcher. I really hope the M’s know.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: Iwakuma

The BP podcast with Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller had a guest for episode 538 – ex BP guy turned political forecaster Nate Silver. Interesting listen.

The Royals/Tigers match-up features Jeremy Guthrie facing off against Rick Porcello. The A’s host Philadelphia, where Scott Kazmir will try and get a win for Oakland against AJ Burnett and the Phillies.

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Game 155, Mariners at Astros

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 20 Sep 2014 22:51

Chris Young vs. Dallas Keuchel, 4:10pm
Wildcard Odds- Fangraphs.com: 41.7% Baseballprospectus.com: 48.3%

I swear it was just a few days ago that the M’s wildcard odds dipped under 20%. With each game’s impact so large, and with the AL Central leaders facing each other, we’re going to have to get used to these massive swings in playoff odds. This is pretty cool.

As strange as it is to see a seven-foot righty soft-tosser succeeding by allowing a blizzard of fly balls, it’s taken the AL a while to get used to the idea that Dallas Keuchel‘s actually quite a good pitcher. Lloyd McClendon memorably dismissed Keuchel as “average” and putting the blame on his hitters after Keuchel stymied the M’s in Seattle in early May. But at that point, Keuchel was one of the AL Leaders in FIP/fWAR, thanks to a career low walk rate and an insane GB%. Keuchel throws 88-89, and came into 2014 with an ERA well over 5 over parts of two seasons, so it’s not like McClendon was really going out on a limb, but the fact that the story got so much attention shows just how sharp Keuchel’s first few months were. Instead of a great GB% of 53-55%, he was in the 60s. This helped him address his biggest weakness – the long ball. In his 239 career innings before 2014, he’d given up 34 HRs, easily over 1 per 9IP. This year, in 192 IP, he’s given up just 11, or about 0.5 / 9IP.

While his walk rate’s also better, it’s that HR rate that’s driving his vastly-improved FIP. Sure, it’s hard to give up HRs when no one’s able to hit a fly ball at all, let alone a deep one, but HR/FB rates are variable, and just as his career HR/FB looked extremely unlucky, is it possible he’s just gotten lucky in 2014? Anything’s possible, but his HR/FB looks a lot more like “normal” than “freakish” – for that, you just have to look at Chris Young’s numbers. But it’s not just that he’s giving up fewer flies, he’s changed his approach. He dropped his lousy curve for a slider, and for whatever reason, that pitch has been effective against right-handed hitters; a lefty sinker/slider guy sounds like someone who righties should dominate, but they haven’t managed it this season. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t have platoon splits – he does. They’re pretty sizable, really, because he’s not able to miss very many right-handed bats. That’s fine if you can get 62% grounders against them, as Keuchel can. Lefties have had almost no chance against him, as they combine an even higher GB% with a K:BB ratio of 5, so the M’s are going to get as many RHBs as they can in the line-up. I know I’ve said it a million times, but the M’s have struggled this year against extreme GB guys like Keuchel – they’ve got a .604 OPS against them, and are slugging about .300. Some teams, most notably the A’s, have tried to counteract sinkerballers by stocking up on fly-ball hitters. The Angels just have Mike Trout, a guy with preternatural ability to drive low and low-and-in pitches. The M’s don’t really have that, but if it’s any consolation, they’re in a better position to get to Keuchel now than before their deadline deals. Now if only they could get Austin Jackson to hit like himself and not like Abe Almonte.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Denorfia, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, LF
7: Hart, DH
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: The Magical Giant

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Game 154, Mariners at Astros

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 20 Sep 2014 00:00

Taijuan Walker vs. Brad Peacock, 5:10pm
Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 34.2% Baseballprospectus.com: 33.7%

The development of Taijuan Walker’s split-change has certainly helped him boost his GB%, but it hasn’t turned him into an ace just yet. He’s struggled at times this year with wildness, with HRs, and, of course, with injury. But I think Paxton’s emergence (and all the time Walker missed, of course) have led people to overlook the top prospect. I’m not saying Walker’s going to be as good as Paxton’s been, but we haven’t seen what Walker can be just yet. His cutter’s intriguing at times, but his command of it hasn’t quite been there thus far, though his control woes of July seem to have subsided.

Brad Peacock…everything I said about him a few weeks ago remains true.

Line-up:

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: Taijuan Walker

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Game 153, Mariners at Astros

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 19 Sep 2014 00:30

King Felix vs. Wade LeBlanc, 7:05pm
Wildcard odds- Fangraphs.com: 24.4% Baseballprospectus.com: 22.9%

Happy Felix Day.

The playoff odds look bleak, as does the gap in the schedule between the M’s and Royals, but if you want to hang on to hope, forget the Mariners – just watch the A’s for a while. Tony Blengino had a fascinating post up at Fangraphs today on the A’s collapse, focusing on the disappearance of first-half stars Brandon Moss and Derek Norris, but they are fun to watch in a cringe-comedy sort of way. Yesterday, it was closer Sean Doolittle imploding against whoever those people are in Texas Rangers uniforms. Today, it was their (good) starting pitcher uncorking another sub-par start against the murderer’s row of Jake Smolinsky, Tomas Telis, and Ryan Rua. The M’s have been running in place right when they needed to be sprinting. This has very likely cost them the ability to chase down whoever finished 2nd in the AL Central. However, running in place is a hell of a lot better than what the A’s are currently undertaking.

Fortune’s bestowed a second gift to the M’s today, too. Jered Weaver’s been scratched and replaced by Wade LeBlanc. This was Weaver’s spot, and it shaped up as a classic pitcher’s duel: a repeat of opening night right when the M’s need a win the most. That’s dramatic and all, but I think we’d all take an easier path to contention as opposed to a “dramatic” one. We’ll get drama in the playoffs, should they get that far. Before that, though, give us your LeBlancs, your Tropeanos, yearning for a big-league paycheck. Yes, yes, the Tropeano thing didn’t work so well, but LeBlanc’s a guy that most of the M’s have faced.*

He’s a classic soft-tossing lefty, a guy with an 87mph fastball, a pretty good change and a not-so-hot cutter. He came up with the Padres in 2008, and faced the M’s here and there for years as a spot-starter/swing-man for our hated interleague rivals. He shuttled between San Diego and AAA for a few years, logging a decent record as a back-end starter in spacious parks, but not really grabbing a permanent job. In 2012, he was traded to Miami, and absent a familiar (if less-than-full-time) role with the team that drafted him, he’s really bounced around since then. The Marlins waived him in 2013, and he headed to Houston. Then he signed with Anaheim, who waived him, and he signed with the Yankees. After a single inning in the Bronx, the Angels re-acquired him on waivers, hence his appearance today. Many, many pitchers are in the position of not knowing who they’ll report to spring training with the following year. In the past two years, LeBlanc really has had no idea which uniform he’d be putting on a week or a month in the future.

The problem is that LeBlanc’s a fairly extreme fly-ball guy with so-so stuff. He’s tried to make that approach work in PETCO PARK and had trouble. Anaheim is a sneaky-tough park to homer in, but LeBlanc’s stuff eases the hitter’s burden a bit. To make matters worse, his control isn’t great. A walk rate over 8% seems like it’s far too high for a guy who doesn’t rack up strikeouts and has a gopher-ball problem. Really, there are only two reasons LeBlanc’s still a major leaguer. 1) He’s left-handed. 2) The change-up really is pretty good. In his career, he’s generated whiffs on about 35% of the swings at his cambio, and when batters put it in play, they’re more likely to hit it on the ground. He’ll still hang a few of them – he’s given 13 HRs on it overall – but it’s been effective overall. It’s also why he’s posted reverse-splits in his career, with righties posting a much lower wOBA and FIP against him than lefties. *LEFTIES* are hitting a combined .315/.372/.540 off of him, or a bit better than Miguel Cabrera’s 2014 line.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Denorfia, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: FELIX

* Actually, as a guy who spent most of his time in the NL, and as a swing man, he’s missed more of these guys than you’d think. He’s faced Morales and Seager once, Taylor/Zunino/Jackson/Cano/Ackley zero. Denorfia and Morrison have seen him a few times, but that’s about it. That really surprises me, but there you are. LeBlanc has been around a while, and been in many places, but he has not actually pitched that many innings. He topped 100 back in 2009, when Seager/Ackley/Taylor/Zunino were in college.

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Game 152, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 18 Sep 2014 00:30

James Paxton vs. CJ Wilson, 7:05pm

For four innings, it looked like the M’s season would end at the hands of a random middle reliever making a spot start. The M’s playoff odds had dipped below 20% according to BP, and when the Royals rallied to tie the White Sox, well, that looked like that. A couple of doubles later, the M’s took the lead against the second Angels middle-reliever, and then the White Sox fought back against KC. An Oakland rally in Texas stopped short, and then the M’s poured it on against the dregs of the Angels’ 40-man. Their playoff odds, in serious danger of dropping to somewhere in the 10% range, shot up 15 to 20 percentage points, and are above 1/3 again. Unreal. Everything about it was insane, from how completely hapless they looked against Cory “The Other” Rasmus, to the timing of the White Sox rally, to the actual Mariners posting a six-run inning later on after several days of an almost religious-level of run avoidance.

So, today’s game comes to you with a modicum of drama and stakes attached, and that’s worth celebrating considering that it’s mid-September. Today’s game shows a big reason why – the M’s are in Anaheim, facing the team that’s run away with the AL West, and facing one of that team’s better/highest paid pitchers. And while the Angels clearly have a leg up in terms of their line-up, there’s essentially no way to spin the pitching match-up as anything but a clear M’s advantage. I know, I know: James Paxton’s entire professional career is still a small sample oddity, and CJ Wilson is a big-league veteran with all-star appearances, a massive contract and a Brazilian super-model girlfriend. But Wilson is very clearly not the same guy he was when he signed that big free agent contract, just as Paxton’s clearly not the guy who spent three months of his first AAA season (this was LAST YEAR, not the ancient past) with an ERA over 5.

After coming up as a reliever with the Rangers, Wilson shifted to the rotation thanks to a deep arsenal of pitches (he routinely throws six different pitches) and his ability to keep the ball down and get weak contact. He never quite figured out the strike zone, and walk rates over 4/9IP pepper his fangraphs page, but he generated enough Ks and gave up few HRs, even in Arlington. His change-up allowed him to deal effectively with the legions of right-handers he suddenly had to face, and thus his contract – while large – didn’t seem to be a disaster, particularly considering his excellent 2011 season. Wilson’s strengths seemed to be reinforced by his new home park; if Wilson was good at suppressing his HR/FB ratio, Anaheim was a legend at doing so for just about everyone. If Wilson walked a few too many, a good infield defense and the marine layer would reduce the price he’d need to pay for those baserunners. In his first season in Anaheim, he posted his highest HR/FB since becoming a starter, and saw his ERA and FIP rise markedly (along with his walk rate). 2013 was a bounce-back year, as his HR/FB dropped to his career norms, but his declines against right-handed bats was masked by his incredible success against lefties – a BABIP in the .230s looked like luck, though his K:BB was still excellent. This year, his luck’s evened out, and that’s made him look remarkably hittable. He’s still excellent against lefties, and the M’s are right to do everything they can to get RHBs in today’s line-up, but he’s not as dominant as he was a recently as last year. Against righties, though, he’s continuing to slide – his wOBA-against to righties since 2011: .290, .316, .329, .350.

Worse, those six pitches simply aren’t as deceiving as they once were. Here’s a table of qualified pitchers in 2014, sorted by O-swing, or the percentage of swings each pitcher gets on pitches outside of the strikezone. CJ Wilson’s in last place, with a paltry 22.7% o-swing. A very low o-swing isn’t the kiss of death – Jered Weaver’s just barely ahead of Wilson, and he’s been OK. Lance Lynn’s at #8, and he’s been excellent. Bartolo Colon’s been weirdly effective despite a low o-swing for a while now. Weaver and Lynn both pair good control with well above-average pop-up rates; their game isn’t based on getting hitters to chase, it’s about getting them to mis-hit the ball or swing under a high (but in the zone) fastball. Bartolo Colon throws nothing but fastballs and nothing but strikes, so it’s not a surprise that his o-swing suffers. Wilson, though, has seen his control suffer – again, whether this is age-related or the effect of giving up so many HRs suddenly – as his zone% tumbled from about 51% in 2012 to 44.9% this year. He’s throwing more balls, and no one’s swinging at them. He’s earned every bit of his nearly-11% walk rate. Wilson’s game is now predicated on bad contact, but his stuff isn’t as good at generating it as it was in previous years. CJ Wilson will be paid $38 million for 2015-16.

James Paxton – despite the elite velocity, despite the achingly beautiful curveball – actually pitches in a similar way. He’s just better at it right now. While Paxton’s o-swing isn’t bottom-of-the-league bad like Wilson’s, it’s slightly below average, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it: here’s a lefty throwing 95+, and yet he gives up MORE contact than the league average. His zone% isn’t quite as bad as Wilson’s, but it’s low. But while Wilson’s GB rates are no longer special – and that’s a problem if his HR/FB are likewise trending the wrong way – Paxton is still a GB machine. More importantly, he doesn’t need to rely on secondary offerings like a change or his curve to get grounders. Because it’s his *fastball* that does the heavy lift, he’s able to generate weak contact in just about any count – he doesn’t need to get you to 0-2 or 1-2 to induce a chopper to shortstop. BrooksBaseball has some really cool tabs that you can play around with when looking at each pitcher’s pitch fx numbers. One is the Z Score tab on a few of the tables. Check out Paxton’s fastball here - the numbers are the standard deviations above or, for negative numbers, below the league-wide mean for that pitch type. Paxton’s fastball generates over two full standard deviations more GBs than the mean, and two full standard deviations fewer fly balls. The ratio is over 3 standard deviations higher than the average four-seam fastball. His curve, too, gets far fewer fly balls than average. It is extraordinarily, freakishly hard to hit fly balls off of Paxton. Elite velocity and poor launch angles make Paxton a tough, tough match-up for lefties and righties alike. Paxton is still a pre-arb player.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Taylor, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: Paxton

* Kind of funny that the bottom two qualified starters in O-Swing are teammates CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver, while the top two, the guys with the BEST o-swing rates, are also AL West teammates: Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma.

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Game 151, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 17 Sep 2014 00:30

Roenis Elias vs. Cory Rasmus, 7:05pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 21.8% Baseballprospectus.com: 19.3% (ouch)

Well, that was no fun at all. Matt Shoemaker is now 2-0 against the M”s, and in 20 1/3 IP, he’s got an 18:2 K:BB ratio and an RA/9 of 1.77. Hisashi Iwakuma’s late season slide was a popular topic on twitter last night, with many pointing to his poor ERA down the stretch. Our fearless leader Dave pointed out that his fielding independent stats have generally been pretty good. Outside of the three-HR game, he’s not been getting shelled, it’s just teams have strung a lot of hits together off of him. I recognize that Iwakuma’s FIP has generally been pretty good (it’s significantly better in the 2nd half than it was in the 1st, actually), but FIP’s always been a tough way to evaluate the guy. For two years, Iwakuma posted ERAs lower than his FIP, because while he’d give up HRs, he tended to do so when there weren’t runners on. His weird FIP-breaking trick wasn’t a freakish HR/FB ratio, like Chris Young, it was posting much better results with men on (and with men in scoring position) than with the bases empty. That’s not normally a skill, but it’s probably that SOME pitchers can reliably do this, especially given that pitchers have an entirely different motion with men on base. Well, in 2014, Iwakuma just hasn’t had that…skill/luck, depending on your POV. This year, he’s been WORSE with runners in scoring position, and thus, while he isn’t necessarily giving up more HRs, his ERA’s now worse than his FIP. To the optimists, this is the ultimate small-sample fluke, and it’ll just bounce back to his career norms next year. The cynics probably never believed Iwakuma’s success with RISP was skill at all, and see this year as regression. So many baseball arguments are really just about what mean to regress someone towards.

Hey, another ballgame against the white-hot Angels. Sigh. Ok, the Angels are going with a bullpen day, though, as middle-reliever Cory Rasmus starts. In his last start, he pitched effectively, but for less than four innings, which means we’ll probably see quite a few Angel hurlers. Rasmus has a fastball around 93 – a rising four-seamer that he’ll throw up in the zone. In terms of movement and how he uses it, it’s actually quite similar to Matt Shoemaker’s, albeit a tick or two faster. That said, he doesn’t have a big-time weapon like Shoemaker’s split. What he DOES have is a pretty good change-up that he throws a lot to lefties, and a slider he throws to righties. He’s got a curve as well, but his best pitches are the slider and change-up. Since he’s got pitches to throw to both, he’s posted good numbers against lefties and righties alike this year – a far cry from his struggles against lefties in 2013. In 2013, lefties teed off on his fastball, slugging over 1.000 in extremely limited duty. After a couple of tweaks, his fastball’s been effective against them this year, which is why he’s been tabbed to make a couple of spot starts with the injury problems plaguing the Halos.

He can miss bats, he throws reasonably hard, and he’s got four pitches. Why’s he normally a reliever? Rasmus has not seen eye to eye with the strike zone in his career, and this isn’t just nerves. In his minor league career, he posted a BB/9 of 4.3. Last year, in his first big league stint, it was over 5. This year, because Angels, his K% has improved markedly while he’s cut his walk rate from 12.6 to 8.2%. He’s still a very far cry from Greg Maddux, but it’s not a crippling problem anymore. And a move to Anaheim helped his HR problems, too. Like Shoemaker and most other Halos, Rasmus has sizable home/road splits, largely driven by home runs – Rasmus has a GB% under 40%, so he’s a fly ball pitcher, and Anaheim’s a great place to ply that particular trade. We’ll see who follows him, but Rasmus will get the first crack at this line-up:

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Chavez, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

I’ve actually loved watching Clayton Kershaw pitch this year (thank you, MLB.tv), but Ben Lindbergh’s open letter to Kershaw from Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season is hilarious and spot-on.

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Game 150, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 00:30

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Matt Shoemaker, 7:05pm
Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 33.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 31.0%

Fangraphs’ odds feature gives the M’s a nearly 70% chance of winning today’s game, based almost entirely on the identity of the starting pitchers. The Angels have the better line-up, and are playing at home, so the fact that the M’s are prohibitive favorite tells you something about how the projection systems see both Iwakuma and Shoemaker going forward. To me, the game doesn’t feel like a cakewalk, and while we’ve been shocked by Shoemaker before, it’s time to give the guy a bit of credit.

At the same time, I can’t really blame ZiPS/Steamer. Look at his minor league record, and you see org depth, a guy who has no business in a big league ballpark without paying to be there. Look at his major league stats, and you see an elite starting pitcher. If this sounds familiar, well, yes, Jeff’s article on Shoemaker at Fangraphs was spot-on. The takeaway, at least for me, was just how similar Shoemaker is in arsenal and results to guys like Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka and, yes, Hisashi Iwakuma. Shoemaker’s splitter is a difference-maker, and it’s carved up the American League in 2014. The big question I have is: why does a guy with a pitch that can torch good big league line-ups struggle so much in the minors?

As Jeff pointed out, and as you can verify at your leisure, Shoemaker’s career AAA ERA – accrued over bits and pieces of five seasons – was 5.38. This isn’t a case where he was awful, then learned the splitter and turned interesting. No, Shoemaker made five starts in the PCL *this year* and was inconsistent, hittable and not terribly noticeable just like always. The righty has always had good control, and that’s been critical to his success in the big leagues. An above-average first strike% and a BB/9 under 2 is a great way to limit damage, but there’s often a trade off in home runs, especially if you’re not a ground-ball guy; with a GB% under 42%, Shoemaker’s clearly in the fly-ball camp. Indeed, home runs were a perennial problem for Shoemaker in the minors. Even in his excellent AA campaign in 2011, he allowed a higher HR/9 than the league average. Again, though, fans of Iwakuma and Tanaka will recognize this pattern – ultra-low walks, high strikeouts, with pretty much all of the damage coming on longballs. It’s not great for FIP/fWAR, but it’s clearly an approach that can work. More interesting to me, though, was that it wasn’t *just* HRs that killed Shoemaker. At nearly every stop, he’s been extremely hittable. In his minor league career, he’s given up about 10 hits per 9 innings. In AAA, that figure rose to over 11 per 9.

This is a minor league journeyman, an undrafted minor college player, who’s pitching like an All-Star. His K-BB% is 20th in baseball, tied with Jonny Cueto, and just a tick behind Iwakuma. He’s got a well-above average contact rate, which is probably how he can be around the plate so much without paying for it in hits and home runs. We’ve seen a few guys with essentially no big-time track record break into the big leagues and post a nice ERA for a year or two (JA Happ, a million relievers), but we haven’t seen guys fluke their way to this kind of fielding-independent success. Here’s a table of the best K-BB% from a rookie starter over the past 10 years. Shoemaker’s in there at #10, and while a place on the list doesn’t guarantee a long, happy MLB career, the most of the guys who haven’t done much after their rookie year have one thing in common: surgery. Corey Luebke’s had two, as has Brandon Beachy. Michael Pineda had one, Matt Harvey’s still on his way back, etc. It’s just not normal to pitch this well for 100 innings and have it not mean anything.

How on earth is he giving up *8* per 9 in the big leagues? How has his K% increased, while his walk rate’s dropped, and his HR rate is stable/a bit lower? It seems like there are a couple of possible answers here. First, while lengthy flukes of this nature are rare, they’re not unheard of. Once big league hitters adjust, Shoemaker may find his stats reverting to his minor league averages (which would still be kind of amazing given that MLB is, you know, BETTER than the minors). The parallels here are Tony Cingrani and one-time sleeper prospect Erasmo Ramirez. It’s both remarkable and painful to see Erasmo on that list of rookie starters – he was 22, didn’t walk anyone, and posted a 5:1 K:BB ratio in 59 innings for the 2012 M’s. Since that time, he’s dealt with serious home run problems and either lost his control or been scared out of the zone. His K:BB ratio since is under 2, and his HR/9 has gone from 0.92 (Shoemaker-esque!) to 1.48 (Shoemaker-in-Salt-Lake-esque!). Personally, I think injuries may have more to do with this sad slide than Erasmo and the team have let on, but whatever the cause, Erasmo was not able to fulfill the promise of that brief call-up. Cingrani’s an interesting case, as he came up through the Reds system with basically one pitch, a fastball. Thanks to a deceptive delivery, Cingrani’s average velocity played up, and he struck out errbody in the minors. The Reds wanted him to develop secondary pitches, because no one can succeed with just a fastball (Bartolo Colon excepted), but that’s what Cingrani did last season, posting a K% near 29% (that’s incredibly good) and an ERA under 3. Unfortunately, the National League seems to have adjusted this year, and Cingrani’s ERA’s in the mid-4s, his K rate is down, and his HR rate is even higher than Erasmo’s. Again, Cingrani’s shoulder injury makes you wonder if he’s been 100% this season, but then again, his velocity wasn’t down, and, I feel like I should repeat this, the guy’s entire game plan was throwing 92mph fastballs.

The other possibility here is that MLB is no longer a bigger, better version of the minor leagues – that the changes that have swept through the big leagues have simply not filtered down the affiliate ladder yet. The big change I’m referring to is how the strike zone’s changed since the 2007 introduction of the pitch-fx system. Among the many culprits people point to for the decline in offense in the bigs, the strike zone changes seems (at least to me) the most plausible. Arming the umpires with much more information about what they were getting right and wrong, the strike zone has increased in size, and it’s done so by growing at the knees. That is, pitches near the bottom edge of the zone are now called strikes more often than they were in 2008. This finding has been corroborated many times, so it’s not likely to be due to pitch fx calibration issues or a botched research design. The question is, has the same change occurred in the minors? Some parks have pitch fx, and many have the TrackMan system, but to my knowledge, they tend to be used by teams for quantitative scouting, not checking the work of minor league umps. If it hasn’t, the effect would be different for different pitchers. A guy like Shoemaker, whose game seems predicated on getting people to chase low splitters and sliders, it could be pretty important. If hitters can know that a splitter isn’t going to be called, they may be able to hold off, even if it initially looks like it’s right down the middle. Since his fastball’s straight and only 91mph, they could sit on them once he fell behind in the count. Is that what happened to Shoemaker? I have no idea. It sounds possible, but then almost no one throws splitters to get *called* strikes – they’re whiff generators. It’s guys with good curves who should *really* notice the difference. But given Shoemaker’s breakout, that spate of awful games PCL umpire call-ups had early this season, and Javier Baez’s frustration about the zone, I do wonder if they’re more dissimilar than they’ve been in a while, and I wonder what that means for everything from Taijuan Walker’s chances of success to stats like major league equivalencies (MLEs) if they are.

A linked, but distinct possibility is that the PCL is especially hard on command guys like Shoemaker because their breaking balls flatten out in the high-altitude parks of Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Reno and Shoemaker’s home park, Salt Lake. With less vertical “rise” on his fastball, less side-spin on his slider, it’s easy to assume that Shoemaker would be a sitting duck, and the hypothesis would seem to explain why Shoemaker could be effective at AA and then implode once he got to AAA. The problem is that his best pitch, the splitter, would seem to be an ideal pitch at altitude, because it relies less on pure spin than a true breaking ball (it doesn’t really need horizontal movement, and some of the apparent “drop” can be the result of *less* backspin than a regular fastball, causing the pitch to appear to sink more). In any case, Shoemaker’s minor league numbers suggest a mid-rotation insurance or medical device salesman, not a guy with a big league ERA of 3 in over 130 innings.

Roenis Elias’s solid season has boggled my mind. Whoever the hell Shane Greene is has stabilized the Yankee rotation. Yusmeiro freaking Petit has a lower contact% than Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer. Baseball is weird, and pitchers are engine of entropy at the center of it all. A pitcher like Kluber can suddenly click and pitch like a Cy Young candidate. Or, they can suddenly lose any concept of the strike zone like Erasmo (at the mild end of the spectrum) or Cody Buckel/Mark Wohlers (at the extreme end). But what Shoemaker shows is the possibility that even pitchers who don’t change their approach can look completely different when placed in a new context. That’s thrilling (“wait, could *I* be a big league if I changed my shirt and received just the right series of butt-pats?”), and also disorienting. I love hearing from scouts because I think I learn something new about pitching/hitting and even about *watching* baseball every time. I respect them tremendously. Maybe the Angels pro scouting department knew this was coming, but I can pretty much guarantee that 29 other scouting departments did not. That is, the best scouts in the business can watch a guy pitch in the high minors and have no inkling that he’s about to go 12-5 in the big leagues. Just like 20-some odd teams can pass on Mike Trout, who was essentially the best baseball player on the planet on draft day, and has remained so ever since. To be fair, I’m not picking on scouts here: they were clearly slightly ahead of the statheads, who if they’d had a vote, would’ve told Shoemaker to move to the bullpen or retirement. All of us, except for maybe a couple of people in Anaheim, saw this coming. Personally, I’m glad about that.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: Iwakuma

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Game 149, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 08:12

The regular season podcast finale. Hopefully the Mariners will still be playing when I return.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

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Podcast: Thank you, 2014

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Author: "Matthew Carruth" Tags: "Mariners, podcast"
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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 19:10

Chris Young vs. Jon Lester, 1:10pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 39.6%. Baseballprospectus.com: 35.0%

Line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Denorfia, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Hart, LF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Taylor, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: Young

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Game 148, Athletics at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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