Game 138, Mariners at Royals

marc w · September 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Bruce Chen, 5:10pm

I have a soft spot for Bruce Chen, as I think there’s just something cool about a Panamanian-Chinese lefty hanging on in MLB for 15 seasons and coming up on 400 games. No one has ever said, “No, I can’t do that – Chen’s pitching and I *need* to see this game,” but on the other hand, Chen’s never been out of work. He’s perfect as an exemplar of all manner of hoary old-school baseball cliches (“Knows how to pitch” “He’s been around a long time, and knows when to challenge” “He keeps you in the ballgame”), and he’s also a perfect example of DIPS theory or the role of luck: In 2011, he ran a 3.77 ERA thanks to low HR/FB and BABIP numbers. In 2012, his ERA was over 5 when he was unlucky in strand rate and HR/FB. If someone really, really believed that ERA was a better measure of pitching talent than, say, FIP, they’d be really troubled by Chen. Life’s too short to be troubled by Bruce Chen, so I have consciously chosen to be smitten by him.

Thanks to the Royals off-season pitching imports, Chen’s pitched mostly out of the bullpen this year, and his results have been superficially astounding, or at least, astounding given that we’re talking about Bruce Chen. Thanks in large part to a career-best strand rate, and thanks to some stellar work by the Royals bullpen behind him, he’s posted an extremely low RA. Sure, his FIP is much higher, but it’s still under 4, which for Chen is pretty remarkable. A big part of this is that he’s yielded fewer HRs than he did last year; his HR/9 is also a career-low this year, and that’s *despite* putting up a jaw-dropping 27% GB% mark. The reason he’s been so volatile, and the reason his GB% is so absurdly low, is simple: Chen likes to elevate his 80-something fastball. Against righties, Chen likes to keep his fastball at or above the center of the zone. Pitching coaches will tell you to pound the knees or “keep it down” and Chen, after 15 seasons, will continue to ignore them. This year, it’s even more extreme, as he’s thrown far more four-seamers up and out of the zone than he has anywhere in the lower third of the strike zone.

That explains the fly ball tendencies, but why would a guy who’s struggled with HRs want to do this? It may be that he’s realized how tempting, how sumptuous, a Bruce Chen fastball looks to a major league hitter. If they’re going to swing, because hey, *Bruce Chen* just threw you a high fastball, you may as way get hitters to climb the ladder. This is a tough game, because if you miss your spot by a few inches – leaving it in the zone instead of out – it could be hit a long way. But even MLB hitters struggle when they go and chase pitches out of the zone. Here’s some pitch fx data from Fangraphs for you, looking only at fastballs. Bruce Chen’s fastball is 86-87mph, remember.

Pitcher Velocity O-Sw% Contact% SwStr%
Bruce Chen 86.4 37.90% 80.60% 11.1
Matt Harvey 95.4 30.20% 78.30% 11.1

Once more: Bruce Chen’s fastball is 86mph and it gets a swinging strike 11.1% of the time.
I have successfully compared Bruce Chen to Matt Harvey. My work here is done. :Slowly vanishes:

Something interesting to watch with Erasmo Ramirez: in recent games, he’s relied much more heavily on his slider than his change-up. When he first returned, his change-up was clearly rusty, as he struggled to keep it in the zone. Throughout much late July/mid-August, his command of the pitch improved, and he was once again using it as his two-strike pitch. In his last two starts, however, he’s thrown 53 sliders to just 18 cambios. His results haven’t been stellar with the pitch, and his change-up still has a great whiff rate associated with it, so we’ll have to see if this was a reaction to particular teams and hitters, or an effort to focus on a breaking pitch, especially to right-handers. Even if that’s the case, his curveball might be a better option, but I’m not going to second guess a young pitcher’s pitch mix when he’s returning from an extended bout of dead arm. I’m still just glad to see him in an M’s uniform.

1: Miller, 2B
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Ibanez, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Zunino, C
7: Chavez, LF
8: Almonte, CF
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Erasmo Ramirez

Four lefties in the line-up today, as the M’s get Guti and Ryan a start. Chen’s never had high platoon splits, so he’s in a somewhat different category than the lefties the M’s have seen recently. I’d assumed Ibanez got the start due to some prior success against Chen, but he’s 2-12 with 2 singles.

Taijuan Walker starts tomorrow, and James Paxton will make his debut for the M’s on the 7th, starting against the Rays. A six-man rotation down the stretch will help them manage the innings caps for Walker, Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma.

You know who’s four-seamer has an even lower contact rate than Harvey’s? Erasmo Ramirez, that’s who. Yes, yes, this comparison, like the Chen one, isn’t strictly “fair” in that Erasmo/Bruce have thrown many, many fewer fastballs than Harvey has on the year. But it’s still pretty surprising, and it’s an example of what guys like Trevor Bauer are talking about when they bemoan the “keep it down” dogma. Of course, as Chen (and Bauer too, perhaps) knows, the trade-off here is slugging percentage and home runs, but the upside is that Chen and his “fast”ball have been more-or-less-successful for a long time, and I’d guess a lot of that has to do with his unorthodox approach.

Rainiers hitting coach Howard Johnson will join the team for the final month.

Great stats article by our fearless leader here.

Go M’s, and go Erasmo!


34 Responses to “Game 138, Mariners at Royals”

  1. msfanmike on September 3rd, 2013 4:40 pm

    I can’t see the word “bemoan” and not instantly think of today’s callups (sans Paxton).

    Ruffin, Noesi and Triunfel … thats awesome, man!

  2. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 5:12 pm

    Wow – Peggy didn’t get a call-up? I wonder if his days with the org are finally, mercifully numbered?

  3. G-Man on September 3rd, 2013 5:21 pm

    Speaking of players on the cusp – Matt Tuiasosopo has hit 276/382/469 with Detroit this year.

  4. Eastside Suds on September 3rd, 2013 5:25 pm

    Shocked that Peguero isn’t up. I really thought he would be a lock. That speaks volumes about what the FO thinks about him. At least let him DH some and see if he has improved. I saw him in the AAA All-Star game and thought he looked rather good. Watch him be DFA’d and hit 25 bombs for someone else. Grrr.

  5. SonOfZavaras on September 3rd, 2013 5:33 pm

    Runners on first and third, no outs….

    OF COURSE, two pop-ups in-between a liner right at the second baseman.

    GOD, we suck at situational hitting.

  6. msfanmike on September 3rd, 2013 5:37 pm

    Peguero struck out 30% of the time in AAA and that was an area where the team wanted to see improvement. An area of focus, per se. And as we know, this org is serious about their commitment to players showing improvement (Noesi, Ruffin) before being called up.

    They could literally dump 10 of their replacement/sub replacement players from the 40 man roster and it wouldn’t make a shitting bit of difference for the 12th best team in the AL.

  7. SonOfZavaras on September 3rd, 2013 5:37 pm

    Shocked that Peguero isn’t up…. Watch him be DFA’d and hit 25 bombs for someone else. Grrr.

    Those 25 dingers over a full year- 140+ SO and 10 errors in the outfield minimum…that’s a tough price to pay for 25 bombs, even if he did it.

    I’ll be perfectly happy to see a player with a major-league future get assigned uniform #4.

  8. SonOfZavaras on September 3rd, 2013 5:50 pm

    Someday, I’d like to see a post from Dave or Jeff that estimates just how much the injuries to Franklin Gutierrez over the years have really hurt this franchise.

    When you see how good he can be when he’s healthy and playing…

  9. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 5:52 pm

    I love how Gameday is labeling some of Chen’s pitches as “Eephus”.

    I don’t love how Almonte and Miller made weak outs swinging at pitches they should’ve taken…

  10. msfanmike on September 3rd, 2013 5:56 pm

    Assuming he was an every day regular, i think Peguero would be an automatic 200K’s per season. Easy. 25 bombs, probably. He hit 18 with approx 160 K’s in AAA this season.

    No thanks.

    However, his OPS was better than Romero’s … Which probably helps to explain why Romero didn’t get a call up.

  11. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 6:05 pm

    “Justin Smoak strength and Felix Hernandez speed” – they probably could’ve done a better job with that.

  12. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 6:13 pm

    Well, Mr. Sims, KC may be last in the AL in home runs – but they’re a better team than the Mariners.

    You’d think the Mariners would let that meme die, given how it’s obvious the homers haven’t done much to change the team’s fortunes.

    Also, Erasmo is not having one of his better outings.

  13. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 6:20 pm

    I am NOT going to miss watching Brendan Ryan trying to hit.

  14. jak924 on September 3rd, 2013 6:35 pm

    Mariners very close to becoming a national joke.

  15. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 6:37 pm


  16. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 6:39 pm

    Man, Raul has tanked hard. He’s probably not even going to reach Ted Williams age 41 HR record – which is pretty bad, given he was only three away at the ASB.

  17. msfanmike on September 3rd, 2013 6:59 pm

    Well, he’s 4 away from tying the record right now, so that is a really bad 2nd half – to actually lose a home run. Muy muy stinko.

  18. Paul B on September 3rd, 2013 7:19 pm

    Sometimes the highest leverage point in the game is not in the 9th inning. Good on Wedge for using his bench in the 7th.

    Now I have to run over to Fangraphs and see if my impression was correct.

  19. Paul B on September 3rd, 2013 7:21 pm

    The highest leverage point in the game so far was in the top of the 7th, so yeah. And he still has about 4 guys on the bench.

  20. juneau_fan on September 3rd, 2013 7:25 pm

    Almost forgot the game was on! (Bad sign)

    Funny, I was just wondering about Peggy on Sunday with the callups. He’s that sort of player we all think about and probably not for the right reason.

    A run, please.

  21. Paul B on September 3rd, 2013 7:27 pm

    Well, pooh.

  22. juneau_fan on September 3rd, 2013 7:32 pm

    Well, poop, Paul.

  23. juneau_fan on September 3rd, 2013 7:39 pm

    Wow, that was some Little League fielding, guys.

  24. juneau_fan on September 3rd, 2013 7:42 pm


  25. MissouriMariner on September 3rd, 2013 7:44 pm

    What happened?

  26. juneau_fan on September 3rd, 2013 7:49 pm

    The Royals took the lead.

    Or did you mean what happened–details?

  27. MissouriMariner on September 3rd, 2013 7:52 pm

    on the poor fielding…

  28. msfanmike on September 3rd, 2013 7:52 pm

    The quest for 90 losses, continues.

  29. juneau_fan on September 3rd, 2013 7:58 pm

    Almonte dived for the line drive and missed by a couple feet, which can happen. Then he tried throwing it back in and missed Miller, but Miller still laid himself out trying to get it. Backed up by the pitcher, I think it was, but looked all Bad News Bears there.

  30. Westside guy on September 3rd, 2013 10:58 pm

    After 138 games…

    2013 Mariners: 62-76 RS 535, RA 639 (diff -104)
    2012 Mariners: 67-71 which is depressing enough w/o the peripherals

    Good news is they’ll have a tough time losing 100!

  31. MissouriMariner on September 4th, 2013 6:40 am

    24 games left…sure wish we could look forward to some changes this offseason but it sure seems that it will just be more of the same…this philosophical change sure blew up in their faces though…

  32. eponymous coward on September 4th, 2013 12:20 pm

    2013 Mariners: 62-76 RS 535, RA 639 (diff -104)
    2012 Mariners: 67-71 which is depressing enough w/o the peripherals

    An 8-16 finish to this year… well, that wouldn’t exactly be progress, would it.

  33. sawsatch on September 4th, 2013 2:58 pm

    Trade Smoak Now (he’s at his ceiling.)

  34. msfanmike on September 4th, 2013 3:11 pm

    And while you are at it, FEW … (Fire Eric Wedge)

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