Game 160, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · September 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Jason Vargas vs. Brandon McCarthy, 7:10pm

The M’s season mercifully comes to an end with a three-game series against fellow punching bags, the Oakland A’s. Like the M’s, the A’s have a terrible offense and a solid pitching staff; the A’s FIP is just slightly better than the Mariners’. This won’t shock anyone – pitching was supposed to be the strength of both teams back in March. But while the M’s staff’s been led by the deliciously consistent Felix Hernandez, the A’s are enjoying an out-of-the-blue 5 win season from… Brandon McCarthy.

Coming into the year, McCarthy was an oft-injured journeyman, a fly-baller with so-so command, mediocre velocity and a rare shoulder condition that leaves him vulnerable to stress fractures. He signed a one-year free agent deal with Oakland for $1m and set about reinventing himself. Of course, stories about pitchers tweaking their mechanics in spring training are the new, more detailed twists on the hoary old “best shape of his life” cliche. He was going to ditch his four-seamer and pitch to contact with a sinker and cutter, apparently, and he’d lower his arm angle to ease the wear and tear on his shoulder. Evidently, some small fraction of those spring training stories are significant.

He’s more than halved his walk rate while improving his K rate. His new sinker’s greatly improved his ground-ball rate, which has helped him control HRs. His new cutter’s a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch, and to top it all off, he’s throwing harder than ever before. The cutter’s particularly interesting to me. It appears he’s throwing it much more often than gameday’s algorithm thinks (it’s hard to distinguish it from a four-seamer), and he’s generating whiffs and keeping it low in the zone. It all culminates in one of the unlikeliest great seasons in recent memory, and yes, I know that Doug Fister *also* has 5 wins. Brandon McCarthy, the Brandon McCarthy many thought was a bust and AAAA roster filler, leads the American League in FIP.

In some ways, McCarthy’s emergence is bad for the M’s. He plays for a divisional rival (though it was only a one-year deal! Jack – call his agent!) after all. But the takeaway for me is that large-scale transformation is possible, and it’s possible a lot quicker than many of us thought. That’s not exactly earth-shattering to fans of the team that employs Steve Delabar, but I think many of us view a pitcher’s skillset as essentially fixed. A guy’s a fastball-curve guy who gets fly balls, or he’s a sinker-slider-grounder guy, and you can’t go from one bucket to the next. That’s still largely true, but McCarthy offers proof that it’s not a hard and fast rule. The M’s *need* to get more out of the raw talent they have in the system, and someone in Pedro Grifol’s shop really needs to study this test case.

The M’s line-up:
1: Ichiro
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Smoak (1B)
6: Olivo
7: Robinson
8: Liddi
9: Saunders


10 Responses to “Game 160, Athletics at Mariners”

  1. gag harbor on September 26th, 2011 7:20 pm

    Headed to a top three draft position again. Awesome.

  2. lalo on September 26th, 2011 7:48 pm

    Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the Mariners? I´d say yes, but maybe not close, our pitching rotation will be fine next year, Felix and Pineda both are very good, Hultzen will play some games, and Paxton has a high ceiling, but the offense won´t be good, not even average, the only players I would trust are Ichiro and Ackley… Smoak, Carp, Guti, Wells, Robinson , Olivo, Figgins, all are below average hitters right now, i can´t see a real change from this year´s lineup for 2012, maybe 1 or 2 average players from the thin FA class, we don´t have good hitters in the minors neither, I like Jack Z and all, but he´ll have to do something, our lineup is painful and I know we can´t pay 100+ millions in only one player (Pujols, Fielder)… Please Jack Z, do something to bolster this crap.

  3. lalo on September 26th, 2011 8:54 pm

    Vargas is looking good, he is at 200 innings for the season, Felix

  4. gwangung on September 26th, 2011 9:03 pm

    Smoak, Carp, Guti, Wells, Robinson , Olivo, Figgins, all are below average hitters right now,

    Carp? at a .350 wOBA or 125 wRC?


  5. djw on September 26th, 2011 9:14 pm

    For some reason this game is blacked out here on MLB extra innings in Ohio (??), so I’m missing Vargas’ 10 strikeout performance. Any commentary on this?

  6. Westside guy on September 26th, 2011 10:38 pm

    And Smoak’s been hitting about .330 since he came back in August. And, of course, NOW they are talking about the thumb having been bothering him that whole time – with the extended downtime finally giving it enough time to heal.

    What’s with these guys? They try to play hurt, invariably do poorly, and yet baseball people seem to see it as a positive because of their silly macho outlook. Sometimes I wish a reporter would yell “How Is A Guy Playing Hurt and Hitting .140 benefiting the team?”

  7. MrZDevotee on September 26th, 2011 11:52 pm

    Question of the week–
    “If an atrocious, below average hitting team, breaks out the lumber and hits 6 homeruns in two games, and nobody sees them do it– did they make a sound?”

    Go M’s!

  8. MrZDevotee on September 26th, 2011 11:58 pm

    As somebody who’s lost lots of family to diseases, cigarettes, and car accidents, it may not seem smart on the surface, but I’m guessing Justin Smoak was enjoying his time on the field, with or without effective hands, given the situation he was dealing with in his family life this season.

    Not making excuses for him, just saying I understand his poor judgement. Others, maybe not. But Smoak I’m willing to forgive.

  9. Paul B on September 27th, 2011 6:51 am

    Wells and Smoak both have OPS+ over 100, so by definition they are above average major league hitters this season.

  10. Westside guy on September 27th, 2011 8:18 am

    MrZ, frankly I don’t blame a player all that much for wanting to “play hurt” – although I do think they should be honest with their manager, and I don’t believe they are much of the time (in large part because of the prevailing culture inside the game). What bugs me is this systematic belief that playing hurt somehow benefits the team, and the way these guys are encouraged to do so when it’s actually bad for the team and bad for the player.

    It’s like earlier this year, when Heyward (IIRC) went on the DL. He was having some nagging problems, and when he was playing his performance was suffering. Yet Chipper Jones basically called him out in the media and more or less said “he needs to man up and play through those injuries”. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that’s Wedge’s attitude as well – he’s pretty much said so in the media with regard to Guti.

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