Game 109, Mariners at Orioles
Aaron Harang vs. Chris Tillman, 4:05pm
All right, a three game series against a good Baltimore team – how’s everyone feeling about the M’s? For a unit that contributes comparatively little to overall team WAR, a bullpen sure feels important. Yes, yes, leverage means that its contributions mean more in terms of wins and losses than their innings (and WAR) would predict, but sabermetrics is always reminding us that it’s not some sort of rare skill (within professional baseball, not the general population) to be able to protect a 3, 4, or 5 run lead in the 9th. That seems impossible to fathom today, despite the fact that a pieced-together M’s bullpen held Boston scoreless (and hitless!) for six innings the previous day. Baseball feels awful right now because the results don’t seem to match up with the team’s overall strength. No one’s claiming the M’s are a playoff team, but they “deserved” more from that series, with two solid starting pitching performances, some decent hitting, great relief work, etc., all of which was undone by sequencing.
The M’s head south now to face Chris Tillman, who’s 4-0 against them with an ERA of 0.98. In over 100 career PAs against him, the M’s are getting on base at a .194 clip. Of course, past performance is not an indicator of future results, and the fact that Tillman was able to deal with Jesus Montero and Mune Kawasaki doesn’t guarantee he’ll be effective against Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. With that said, the M’s have been throwing lefty-heavy line-ups at Tillman, and he hasn’t struggled yet. In fact, Tillman’s got reverse splits for his career, and at this point he’s looking more and more like the 2013 version of John Lackey. Like Lackey, Tillman’s four-seam fastball has gradually migrated to a very high vertical movement, almost zero horizontal movement mix, and like Lackey’s, for whatever reason, this combo is hard for lefties to drive. It’s not terribly hard for righties, however, but the M’s don’t have too many righties capable of driving a fastball except for Mike Morse (Blanco/Quintero are *capable* but it’s not really the reason why they’re in the line-up). Tillman throws a curve, cutter and change, with the curve the most effective overall, and by far the most effective against lefties.
The biggest outlier in Tillman’s record isn’t the movement on his fastball or his reverse splits, however. It’s his strand-rate, and the resultant FIP-ERA gap. For the second consecutive year, Tillman’s sporting a very good RA in a tough division while carrying a bad FIP. Last year, his ERA was 2.93 while his FIP was 4.25. This year, the ERA’s at 3.62 and his FIP’s up at 4.72. The big reason his FIP’s so high is that he’s got a home run problem (well, at least against non-Seattle teams). That extreme vertical movement means that batters have hit his fastball in the air on about 72% of the time they put it in play. What’s not so obvious is why right-handers hit home runs on *more* of those balls in play than lefties, but it’s the same pattern we saw with Lackey. That doesn’t explain the strand rate, though. And at first glance, there’s no reason it should be so high: he’s got slightly better K% and better HR%, but that’s not because he’s great with men on, it’s that he’s been *bad* with no one on. And it’s not a BABIP fluke – his BABIP is lowest with no one on, and is worst with men in scoring position. I’ve got no real explanation for the strand rate, so we can hope 1) that it will regress and regress *today* and 2) that Harang and the bullpen will conspire to profit from any such regression *today*.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Morse, RF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Saunders, CF
9: Quintero, C
SP: Aaron Harang
I’m sure you’ve all been waiting to see where Robert Andino would end up, and now we know: he’s off to the Pirates’ AAA affiliate, Indianapolis for a PTBNL/cash. This deal occurred before the deadline, but I’ve just now been able to stave off the yawning long enough to link to it.
The Rainiers losing streak continues apace, and tonight Andrew Carraway will try to put a stop to it. He’ll be faced by former Royals prospect Danny Duffy, who’s battling back from TJ surgery last year. Victor Sanchez starts for Clinton and Eddie Campbell for Pulaski.