Game 159, Royals at Mariners

marc w · September 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Ervin Santana, 7:10pm

With the Royals all but eliminated, the Wild Card chase is essentially a two-team battle between Cleveland and Texas. The M’s had a very minor impact on the playoff race in September, but it wasn’t zero. Tampa had to take on fellow AL East teams New York and Baltimore while the Royals played Seattl, Texas played the Astros and Cleveland faced the White Sox. As it happened, Tampa and Cleveland swept series while the Royals dropped a critical game and with it their last chance to catch the Tribe.

I talked about Ervin Santana’s use of a sinker this year to cut down his HR issues to problematic-but-manageable size the last time he faced the M’s. Today, the pitching probables highlight the odd similarity between these two. Let’s be clear: Iwakuma and Santana don’t look anything alike on TV. Iwakuma’s bread and butter pitch is the splitter, a pitch that gets him whiffs despite a low zone%, reverse platoon splits, and an above-average ground ball percentage. Santana’s always been a slider-heavy pitcher, and his slider/FB arsenal’s produced below-average ground-ball rates and standard to high platoon splits (look at 2012).

All of that’s quite true, so it’s not that they use similar means, just that they get to a similar place. Over the past four years, Santana’s run an ERA of 3.85 despite a FIP a half-run higher. Iwakuma’s career ERA is 2.91 with a FIP of 3.83. I don’t want to reopen the whole FIP vs. fielding dependent, true-talent vs. what-actually-happened argument – it’s just a similarity borne of a similar problem: home runs. Both Iwakuma and, to a lesser extent, Santana post very good K:BB ratios. Both yield a lot of home runs. Both have low-ish BABIP-alloweds, in large part because some of the really hard contact they give up flies a really long way, and is thus not included in the BABIP denominator. This in turn can affect how they’re perceived – Iwakuma and Santana have had good, clearly above-average seasons, but they’re not in Fangraphs’ top 20 WAR leaderboard. This isn’t a complaint, or a criticism – the rankings are tabulated accurately. And, as Matt Cain’s 2013 demonstrates, it’s fairly perilous to assume you can spot guys who can reliably “beat” their FIP by looking at the past few seasons. Still and all, Iwakuma and Santana have been better than their FIP in part because they’re just stingier with men on base. 73% of Iwakuma’s HRs have been solo shots. This year, it’s 72% for Santana, and it’s 63% for the past four years (2012 was really, really unkind to Santana – both ERA and FIP).

This isn’t to say they’re undervalued, or over-valued, or buy-low or sell-high candidates. It’s just an indication of what you need to do if you want to run a gorgeous ERA and a good-but-not-excellent FIP: limit BABIP and hope the HRs come with the bases empty. Iwakuma obviously has a bit more room for error, given his high GB rate, high strand rate, and extremely low walk rate. More specifically, Iwakuma could become an interesting test case in that he’s got a completely different motion with men on base, and thus his splits in those situations may not simply be luck, the product of a mind that doesn’t get flustered, or the will to win. Santana on the other hand is going to be somewhat volatile, as we’ve seen. His GB% is up this year thanks to his sinker, and that may help reduce his volatility, but he’s still been a very valuable pick-up for the Royals.

And that highlights Dave’s argument below. It’s not that the Royals went for it and came up short against a Tigers juggernaut and an Indians team riding a well-timed hot streak. The Royals have had a brilliant season helped in no small part by Santana’s brilliant RA, Bruce Chen’s best season in years, and a shut-down bullpen. They’ve got the 4th best ERA and the 10th best FIP.* That is, this is a team that’s had no shortage of luck. I’m sure the Royals will argue that their rebuild came up just a few games short, and that the trade and the other moves they made justify their pre-season assessment of the gap between their club and the AL Central leaders. To me, it highlights just how large that gap really was – the club got better AND got luckier, and still couldn’t overcome the large gap in talent.

1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, CF
SP: Iwakuma

* Ok, ok, I should mention this: the Royals are baseball’s best defensive team by UZR, so some of the gap in ERA-FIP has less to do with HRs and solo shots and strand rates and more to do with defenders turning balls-in-play into outs. But Santana’s had this issue for four years, only one of which was in KC, and Iwakuma’s been similar in both his years in Seattle, despite the fact that the defense behind him changed rather substantially from 2012 to 2013.


26 Responses to “Game 159, Royals at Mariners”

  1. ripperlv on September 25th, 2013 3:37 pm

    Hasn’t this 32 yo pitched enough innings this year? 211 innings so far. He’s never pitched this many innings in his career. I don’t get it. He’s signed for next year. Is win #14 all that important? Is another M’s win all that important? He’s had a couple injuries in the past. Only Shields, Dickey and Verlander have more innings in the AL. Save him for next year.

  2. scraps on September 25th, 2013 3:52 pm

    I said in Fangraphs, in Jeff’s chat: “The Royals were supposed to make the playoffs. That was what trading Wil Myers was for. All in. Now the trade was about ‘playing meaningful baseball games in late September,’ apparently. Has the media noticed the switcheroo? Or did everybody know it was a bad trade, but everybody is surprised at how it ‘almost’ worked? (And Moore will keep his job, even though the playoff odds never passed 15% percent or so.)”

    (Jeff demurred a bit, saying “I will say there’s a lot of value in playing meaningful September baseball.” But, to me, it was exaggerated to the extent that it was never close; too many teams ahead of them, always. In September, the odds were pretty 5 to 7%. Mostly, I think most sportwriters wanted it to be closer than it was, because then it was a Story.)

    Anyway, 80% (made up in person!) both Mariners and the Royals are going to be in for, well, disappointment.

  3. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 4:12 pm

    The Royals are the best defensive team according to UZR? You wouldn’t know it by the Raul-esque plays we’ve seen from their outfielders so far this series…

  4. PackBob on September 25th, 2013 4:36 pm

    If the Mariners had been the Royals this year, how they played not how they got there, just about every fan would have been on the ride. Good grief, the M’s played a few good games early and talk was all about their chances. Luck counts, and if the Royals were lucky, good for them. Does it change the trade from bad to good? No. But good for them this year.

  5. scraps on September 25th, 2013 5:50 pm

    PackBob, I wouldn’t, for the reasons stated. They didn’t make the playoffs, they didn’t come close (no matter what the sportwriters and Royals fans believe). They made a bad bet, and they lost.

  6. gopilots70 on September 25th, 2013 6:08 pm

    I hate to keep harping on the broadcast team, but this great article raises an issue that made me grumble yesterday. I know the announcers don’t really matter, but I have come to believe that they get much of their “insight” from Wedge and the coaching staff.

    Yesterday, Mr. Sims was raving about all the Royals stolen bases this year and pointed out that they were able to overcome all the dingers that the M’s have hit because of their speed. Inferring that this was why they were in the playoff hunt.

    Looked it up yesterday and the Royals have scored 21 more runs than the M’s this season. Probably because they get on base to a .316 to .306 advantage.

    So why the difference? As Marc pointed out the Royals have a very good defense and the M’s is loveably atrocious. How much difference?

    Try more than 150 runs scored against the M’s than KC. And this with pitching staffs that are not that much different in WAR.

    So if we just hit better with runners in sooring position we would be alright?

    I know I am preaching to the choir here but…

    And yesterday, courtesy of Ryan Divish, another “Wedge Gem”….

    About Smoak’s homerun…”I think that is probably the best ball he has hit righthanded this year”

    Really? Probably? Smoak has two homers righthanded.

  7. Paul B on September 25th, 2013 7:03 pm

    The only Mariner announcer I really like is Blowers. He doesn’t always get it right, but he notices a lot in his understated way.

  8. Paul B on September 25th, 2013 7:18 pm

    Wonder if tonight is the lowest attendance of the year. Lots of empty seats even behind home.

  9. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 7:25 pm

    Well, Paul, now that Raul has tied the record for 41 year olds you just can’t expect the same amount of rampant fan interest we saw a few weeks ago.

  10. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 7:36 pm

    Yuck, Buhner again.

    Bring Dan Wilson back!!

  11. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 7:37 pm

    Will Chef Dave deliver to my house?

  12. juneau_fan on September 25th, 2013 7:49 pm

    Yes, can’t this season whimper off into the night without more Bone?

  13. mrakbaseball on September 25th, 2013 8:07 pm

    Good for Moyer to kindly correct Rizzs by telling him he was 49 last year, not 50.

  14. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 8:12 pm

    Oh is Jamie on the radio side? He’s great!

    Wanna trade ex-jocks?

  15. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 8:23 pm


  16. Longgeorge1 on September 25th, 2013 9:19 pm

    Nice job Kuma!

  17. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 9:23 pm


    Kuma has been a joy to watch.

  18. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 9:25 pm

    Zunino redux!

  19. Longgeorge1 on September 25th, 2013 9:25 pm

    Hey let’s start the season now

  20. Longgeorge1 on September 25th, 2013 9:32 pm

    Just looked- Kuma 3rd in MLB in WAR for pitchers before tonight

  21. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 9:35 pm

    I’m glad he’ll be back next year. Definitely a good signing.

  22. Westside guy on September 25th, 2013 9:41 pm


  23. mrakbaseball on September 25th, 2013 9:45 pm

    He should get some serious Cy Young consideration. Very good season.

  24. The_Waco_Kid on September 25th, 2013 9:57 pm


  25. Breadbaker on September 25th, 2013 11:13 pm

    I was at the game, which was actually quite pleasant. The fans around us, sparse as they were, were great fans. Our seating host was one of those who was honored before the game and that was a nice touch. And of course, Kuma and Zunino made it one lovely evening.

    But here’s my complaint: the Mariners, as a team, pretty much can’t avoid making a profit in the current situation of major league baseball. Keep the payroll in the middle, market enough to pull a couple million, own your cable station and you’ll get enough from the MLB central fund that you can’t lose.

    Only that was not the deal behind the building of Safeco Field. The deal was that the restaurants and bars in Pioneer Square, the International District and SoDo were supposed to hum with business all season. Tonight, as I walked through the ID to buy my banh mi, there were some shifty characters on the street corners, but no baseball fans. Walking past the nearly empty carts and stands along Occidental, I was asked a couple of times if I wanted “cheap” tickets.

    The point is that in these circumstances, no one is sharing in the financial success of the Mariners. I have a feeling it’s a lot better in Oakland of all places.

  26. Woodcutta on September 26th, 2013 3:20 am

    While I agree trading Wil Myers was a mistake at the time, the Royals not making the playoffs this year isn’t necessarily due to that trade. The pitching was much better than it has been but the young middle of the lineup hitters (Hosmer and Moustakas) have been bad for most if not all of the season. Hosmer turned his season and career in Kansas City around but it was too late to help his team make the playoffs. Frency went from starting outfielder who hit enough to losing his job and being waived. Cain was a nice surprise until recently and Escobar is in Brendan Ryan hitting territory. The Royals improved/got lucky with their pitching but the hitters they counted on improving regressed. They will need to make some major changes to the lineup if they want to make the playoffs in the “window” the Myers trade provided them.

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