Game 84, Mariners at Rangers
King Felix vs. Derek Holland, 5:05pm
Happy Felix Day!
For reasons that no one fully understands, close losses in games Felix pitches are felt much more keenly by a large segment of the M’s fanbase than by Felix himself. I love this team, but if I was Felix, I might’ve…well, *explored* alternatives to a long-term extension here. I cannot imagine how amazing it would be to live as an incredibly wealthy person in Seattle. And maybe that’s enough – in the grand scheme of things, tough losses to Jeanmar Gomez are whatever’s beyond first world problems. Maybe Felix’s personality is such that he genuinely doesn’t mind. He can see how offensive futility eats at players (like Brendan Ryan), at managers, and fans – maybe he’s made the decision that bitterness isn’t worth wasting time on, and in any event, he can afford any and all distractions he wants. So if not for Felix, the M’s offense owes a good stretch to *us*. It sounds stupid to frame it that way, and frankly, it IS stupid. This is entertainment; if it isn’t entertaining, we’re supposed to find alternatives, not invoke some bizarre obligation on the part of the entertainers.
Still though, this whole thing seems cruel when you step back from it. The M’s acquire, develop and showcase a singular talent – someone who justifies every ticket to the stadium by his presence. Then the club surrounds him with a succession of some of the worst offenses in history. We’re now in the somewhat odd position of being able to compare and contrast different styles, different modes of futility, as we watch Felix labor on heroically. The context of a pennant chase or contention has been stripped from a jaw-dropping percentage of Felix’s starts, especially if you include the beginning of years like 2011-12 and probably 13 where they were in de jure but not de facto contention (if you can even talk about contention in April). So I cheer for Felix every five days, without context. But take all that away, and the failures like five days’ ago look senseless. It’s like I bought my kids a ticket to “Bambi” and it was a 2-hour long, ultra-slow motion clip of Bambi’s mother being shot. So yes, I have a grievance. Yes, I am complaining to my entertainers instead of finding better entertainers. You mess with Felix, you mess with me. Stop messing with Felix, even if Felix doesn’t mind.
Derek Holland is an enigma, in that he voluntarily attended a Counting Crows show this year, and then got himself ejected from the theater. Also, his career is dominated by variance in his home run rate. He came into the league a fire-balling lefty without much command, and MLB hitters punished him. But as he developed his slider and change, and as his command improved, he appeared on the verge of stardom – his 8+ inning 2-hit shutout performance in the 2011 World Series seemed to be the moment that would propel him to ace status, or that not-quite-ace-which-is-still-handsomely-remunerated status that CJ Wilson had. Instead, he was pretty bad in 2012, with 32 HRs allowed in less than 180 innings and just 1.7fWAR (adjusted for Arlington).
This year, his HR/FB rate is less than half of his career average, so as you probably know, he’s got the fourth-most fWAR of any pitcher in baseball. It’s not just about HRs – his K% is up, though it’s not appreciably higher than it was in 2010. But, coupled with a slight drop in walks, and Holland’s pitched like the ace many thought he’d be in 2012. As a lefty with a big fastball and a good slider, many observers thought he’d have to refine his change-up to avoid big platoon splits (like many tough lefties, Holland faces a steady diet of right-handed batters). Instead, his change-up is still the same work-in-progress it’s been for years. In 2010, righties hit .256 and slugged .558 on the change-up (small-sample warning) – since the start of 2012, they’ve hit .318/.557. The pitch doesn’t generate whiffs, and it never did. Instead, he’s throwing his slider to righties, and it’s worked just fine. I’ve talked about some in the context of Brandon Maurer, but there are a few pitchers out there (most of them lefties, I’d say), who are able to get away with throwing opposite-handed hitters a lot of sliders and have success. Madison Bumgarner for one, or CC Sabathia for another. Holland may be in that group now.
4: Morales, DH
7: Ackley, CF
Tyler Pike’s on the hill for Clinton in the Midwest League, while James Paxton starts for Tacoma at lovely, warm Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers always have their big fireworks show on July 3rd, and it’s probably the best attended game of the year – it’s a tradition that long pre-dates the Rainiers or the association with the Mariners, and it is, somewhat oddly, one of the things I find myself missing about Tacoma now that I don’t live there anymore.