Game 28, Orioles at Mariners
Joe Saunders vs. Zach Britton, 7:10pm
The Orioles famously won 93 games and won the wild card (while playing in the toughest division in baseball) last season despite being picked last by nearly every major baseball outlet/scribe. There were a number of reasons they outperformed their runs scored/runs allowed – an insane record in one-run games and in extra innings, for example. In related news, their cobbled-together bullpen was a force. Adam Jones broke out and Mark Reynolds was solid enough on offense. One hidden source of wins enabling them to hold off the Angels was, well, the Mariners. The O’s went 8-1 against the M’s as their starting rotation, which was in shambles after Jason Hammel’s injury, flat-out dominated Mariner hitters (a .610 OPS-against, a 3.3 K:BB ratio, etc.). Sure, sure, the M’s were eminently dominatable, but so were Baltimore’s starting pitchers. Zach Britton was hurt, Brian Matusz ended up in the bullpen, Tommy Hunter started giving up HRs in pre-game warm-ups, they ended up giving starts to Dana Eveland, because why not…. get past Wei-Yin Chen and it was ugly.
Zach Britton was responsible for some of that ugliness after coming back from a shoulder injury that plagued the end of his 2011 campaign. Since the All-Star Break in that year, Britton’s been ineffective, hurt, or both – giving up well over 5 runs per 9IP thanks in large part to poor command. As is usually the case, the picture’s a lot better looking at FIP. His velocity’s still there, and his strikeout rate’s even improved. But between shoulder woes and his patchy 2012, he began the 2013 campaign back in AAA Norfolk. There he worked on refining his sinker, which he apparently threw about 80% of the time. His ERA was great with Norfolk, but that was despite hitting/walking eight batters and getting only five strikeouts total in three starts. I don’t think he’s going to model himself after Aaron Cook in the big leagues, but this adjustment may be a good idea. He mixed in several four-seamers with his sinker last year, and that was easily his worst pitch. Five of his six HRs came on four-seamers despite the fact he threw it much less frequently. In his brief career, opposing hitters are slugging .667 on the pitch. Ditching it, and going with his slider and change to back up the sinker seems like it’s worth a try.
It’s an especially good move against Seattle. The M’s have struggled mightily against ground-ball pitchers thus far, posting only a .445 OPS. They’ve faced some decent GB pitchers (Lucas Harrell), but I don’t think I’ve been as down on the M’s as when they were absolutely throttled by Derek Lowe (whom I honestly thought had retired). Britton’s probably the most GB-heavy starter they’ve faced, too. On the plus side, he’s a lefty, and the M’s have fared better against lefty starters than righties. But it’s easy to fashion a post-hoc justification* for their awful splits: a team that relies on power so much is going to struggle when fewer balls are hit to the outfield. Mike Morse’s career splits against high grounder pitchers are terrible, and he’s a huge part of the offense.**
Michael Saunders is back from the DL and leading off tonight. As expected, the M’s sent Carlos Peguero back to AAA Tacoma to make room.
Man, Joe Saunders home/road splits are…severe. I’m glad this series is in Safeco. It’s absurdly early, but thus far, “New” Safeco’s playing pretty much *exactly* the way Jeff Sullivan predicted. Safeco’s seen 1.86 HRs per game, not too far off the league average of 2.04 – and a substantial increase over its 1.4 mark last year. But the total run environment hasn’t changed all that substantially. Mariner pitchers have been flat-out dominant at home, striking out nearly 25% of opposing batters, and posting a FIP barely over 3. Unearned runs push their RA9 to 3.57, but that’s still excellent. On the road, their K% drops to 18%, and their FIP is *5.17*. Their RA9 is basically *two full runs per game higher* on the road. Yes, this is clearly influenced by the parks they’ve played in (Texas-y ballparks), but this pattern – a so-so rotation that looks great at home, not so much on the road – was exactly what we saw last year. This was our Bayesian prior! Still, it’s kind of funny to see it play out again, just the way it did in 2012. At home, M’s pitchers are a bit like 2012 David Price. On the road, they’ve been a bit like 2012 Ubaldo Jimenez.
Line-up, now with infinitely more Canadian Content
1: M. Saunders, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, 1B
4: Morse, RF
5: Montero, C
6: Smoak, DH
7: Bay, LF
8: Andino, 2B
9: Ryan, SS
SP: J. Saunders
Yes, so Dustin Ackley sits against a lefty. I understand the move, and if he needs a day, then I’d rather have it come against a lefty than a righty, but we’re playing BOTH Andino and Ryan again. The whole ‘The M’s hit well but just got unlucky with men in scoring position’ theory founders when line-ups stack Smoak near Andino and Ryan.
* Yes, post-hoc rationalizing of an odd statistic you come across isn’t the best way to go about things. This has been your up-front acknowledgement/warning that this isn’t terribly serious analysis. Just something I’m going to keep an eye on.
** It’s somewhat counter intuitive, I guess, but Dustin Ackley’s fared better than his overall average against GB pitchers. He tops four-seamers, but sinkers drop onto the sweet spot of his bat – his HR rate is actually higher against them than it is for fly-ballers. Kendrys Morales is essentially the same hitter against all pitcher types, as is Justin Smoak, albeit a worse one.