Series Wrap-up, Futures Game, etc.
Well, at least this series cleared up a lot of nagging questions. These past four games have had a decidedly “2010 Mariners” feel to them, and I suppose I should be happy that it’s taken as long as it has for this no-hit M’s team to ape the look and feel of last year’s no-hit M’s team. As Jeff pointed out at LL, this sweep has taken the M’s postseason odds from 17% to 3% at Cool Standings. Baseball Prospectus’ odds were never as bullish, so the M’s odds have dropped fractionally to 0.7%. The race is not technically over, but hey, the problem of how to limit Michael Pineda’s innings in a tight divisional race has sort of solved itself.
Even down 2-0, I thought the Angels had a better than 50/50 shot to win today. Yes, Felix was pitching, but so was Dan Haren, and with the M’s bullpen sliding… I’m just not surprised it ended the way it did. In fact, I keep trying to recall how it was that the M’s beat Jered Weaver and Dan Haren in a quick two-game set back in May. I mean, I know they did it, and I watched the games. But even having seen it, I can’t imagine how it would look for this team to beat that team behind those starters.
For the second consecutive series, M’s pitchers allowed a three-ball walk. I can’t believe that no one on the bench watches the game with more focus than those of us grabbing beers, distracting kids or doing yardwork, but the evidence would suggest they don’t. In the minors, you’ve got a starting pitcher or two charting the game, and you have to figure they’d notice. I’ve always wondered about how this baseball ritual works in the majors; recent events make me wonder if some of the charts are doodles of cars and caricatures of the opponent’s manager. What do pitchers get out of this, anyway? How does it help Jason Vargas to know that batter X struggles against 97 MPH fastballs up in the zone and 92 MPH sinkers away?
I’m trying to remember what it was like to be confident when Jamey Wright – THAT Jamey Wright – came into a tight game. Looking back, it’s a classic example of why statheads drone on about small sample sizes. Most everyone here knows that BABIP fluctuation or strand rate will play havoc with a reliever’s ERA (another reason ERA isn’t useful). But Wright’s instructive because, for a brief, confusing moment, his peripherals changed too. He was striking more people out and walking fewer back in April/May. Then, just as suddenly, he reverted to being the same Jamey Wright we’ve known for years. Anything can happen in a small sample. The FIP categories of walks, strikeouts and home runs are important because they’re much more stable than things like hits or runs allowed, but pretty much nothing’s “stable” over a week or a month except perhaps Yuniesky Betancourt’s walk rate.
One of the keys to the sweep was Angels’ 1B Mark Trumbo, the same guy I trashed in the AL West prospect preview. According to Fangraphs, he’s now the most valuable rookie position player in the AL. How does a guy whose slash line looks like it’s ripped from a Mike Jacobs baseball card put up 1.6 WAR at the break? First, offense is down so substantially that a .300 on-base percentage *from a first baseman* is no longer an automatic mark of failure. Second, Trumbo’s been solid defensively. There’s still some disagreement amongst the defensive metrics, but he certainly looked like a good defender this weekend (and considerably better than Justin Smoak). Partial season UZRs aren’t all that meaningful, but if you assume Trumbo adds a few runs defensively, his WAR doesn’t seem that crazy: a few runs at the plate, a few runs in the field, and you’ve got the makings of an average-to-decent player. That’s not saying a whole lot, but I’m still stunned – both by the fact that Trumbo’s holding his own and by the fact that he’s performed so much better than Justin Smoak.
In brighter news, the Futures Game featured a ray of hope for M’s fans in the person of James Paxton, who threw a seven pitch 1-2-3 inning for the World team today in Arizona. The Canadian lefty hit the mid-90s on the gun, and got a comebacker from Jason Kipnis and induced a weak grounder from hyped prospect Bryce Harper. Larry Stone spoke with him afterward, and Paxton mentions that he’s picked up a new change-up this year, and his performance against righties will be interesting to watch down the stretch for AA Jackson. Alex Liddi also played – again – and made an excellent defensive play to retire Giants speedy CF Gary Brown. Liddi’s arm is a weapon, but the bat’s still a work in progress. He went 0-3 with a strikeout against the Rays Matt Moore. Mind you, Matt Moore was jaw-dropping today, hitting 100 mph (he’s a LEFTY) on the TV gun and 98 on pitch fx, then breaking in a good high-80s slider. Liddi saw both the 98mph heat and an 86mph slider and that was that. On the bright side, no one Liddi will face for the rest of the year has that kind of arsenal.