Game 19, Astros at Mariners

marc w · April 21, 2014 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners 

King Felix vs. Dallas Keuchel, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day – may it end happier than last Felix Day.

About a decade ago now, Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” came out and changed the way many fans looked at the game, and, importantly, got businesses and organizations around the country to think about market inefficiencies and how they balanced things like tradition and organizational memory with data-driven analysis. For a while there, Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane and Lewis were popular on the lecture circuit, talking about opportunities and threats and how corporations like baseball teams or car companies or government departments evaluate claims and make decisions.

Whatever you think of the book, whether you think it gave short shrift to Tim Hudson and Miggy Tejada, or whether you thought it was a landmark in the appreciation of and realization of the power of data, it was a pretty big deal. The fact that firms paid to discuss these concepts showed just how transferable certain skills and approaches could be. With the right message, an executive in a ball club could conceivably help an executive in manufacturing or marketing. Admittedly, I’m somewhat biased; I’m sympathetic to the specific message that Beane/DePo like to talk about, but they’re just one example, and I feel like baseball’s richness has interesting concepts hidden within it.

This is actually not a complaining-about-the-M’s-FO post, this is about Felix. Look, the whole “use data” thing is really important, and if it bent the curve in industry even slightly towards rationality, cool. But I’ve been just stunned watching Felix this year, and I keep thinking there is an incredible story that Felix himself probably isn’t equipped to tell. The A’s had to contend with competitors with far more resources. Felix has to contend with aging, regression to the mean, and the fact that everyone on every team gets to prepare for *him*. He’s a known entity, and it’s not like he’s become a knuckleballer or shifted to a sidearm delivery. Felix has a target on him every time he pitches, and he’s lost several ticks on his fastball since debuting in 2005.

And to this point in 2014, he’s gotten better. Every small sample size caveat applies; we’re still in March. But at least in the early innings, Felix has thrown four games of Pedro-in-2000 ball at his divisional rivals. As you know, many advanced pitching stats like FIP and xFIP have smaller spreads than ERA/RA. That’s because by ignoring aspects of performance that are more influenced by luck – strand rate, BABIP – they tend to pull pitchers back to the middle. Any truly amazing performance, like any completely abysmal one, is a combination of true talent and luck; winning 116 games means you had an amazing team AND you got a bit lucky. So, Felix right now has an xFIP – a measure doubly-insulated against “lucky” stats – is 1.84.

To say that that number will rise is trite and missing the point entirely. Of course it will. But a 28 year old Felix, after over 1,800 major league innings, started off this season with the same 92-93 MPH velocity and ripped off 39Ks to 3 walks. By xFIP, he’s been UNlucky. The point is that Felix has adapted and is now lethal to batters, and *I can’t figure out how.* The movement on the pitches is the same, the velocity’s essentially the same. He seems to throw the same number of strikes*. He doesn’t have a new pitch. He’s throwing the same pitches to hitters who’ve seen him dozens and dozens of times – Coco Crisp has faced him 66 times! Howie Kendrick has 73 PAs! – and they’re reacting like they’ve never seen a pitch before, let alone a Felix change-up. How’s this possible? To be fair, it’s not just Felix. Clayton Kershaw debuted as a young fireballer with an unreal curveball and command issues, and over time turned himself into clearly, unquestionably the best hurler in the NL. He did it despite losing some velocity and despite throwing his curveball far less (sound familiar?). Command is a crucial part of the equation to be sure, but so is limiting contact. Do they make trade-offs consciously? Do coaching staffs help them plan their attack, and do they tailor it to specific line-ups? Or do they get to a point where they stop thinking about the other team entirely? If so, what do they think about instead? There are cliches to fill the space here, like take it one pitch at a time, or trust your stuff, or focus on the gameplan, but to be pithy about it, that won’t sell on the lecture circuit. What IS Felix’s gameplan? The fact that his change-up and sinker are now 2 MPH apart in velo and with similar arm-side run…that runs counter to decades of accumulated pitching wisdom. It’s also clearly “the gameplan.” Does Felix think about this? Does he sequence them differently now than he did three years ago when the velo gap was nearly as small? Does he target different parts of the zone? Felix is extraordinary and Felix is way more extraordinary than we thought.

This weekend for reasons I can’t even remember, I was reading about the evolutionary dance between rough-skinned newts and garter snakes, two animals that are pretty common around here. The newt secretes a very, very powerful toxin (TTX, the same stuff in blowfish livers that scare sushi-lovers off of fugu) from its skin. Garter snakes developed a way to process that poison that allows them to eat slow, docile newts (you don’t have to run fast from predators when you are literally built of tetradotoxin). Many newt populations have responded by growing ever more toxic. The snake apparently required fewer genetic steps to develop immunity (since the process only happens in its stomach, as opposed to its skin), and so has pulled ahead even in areas in which the newts are many times more toxic than poison dart frogs. I keep thinking of that story when I look over Felix’s early 2014 stats – all of the work hitters can do to make themselves more toxic. Stacking line-ups with lefties, or watching tons of video. The A’s add a bunch of fly-ball hitters who hit *better* than average against sinker-baller/ground ball pitchers. But the snake makes a tweak and swallows the newt, and slithers off unaffected.

Oh, uh, Dallas Keuchel is a ground-balling lefty who is nothing like Felix at all. Fastball/slider/change-to-righties.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Ackley, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Romero, RF
7: Seager, 3B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS

* Here BIS and pitch fx differ. To pitch fx, Felix has thrown FEWER pitches inside the zone, and gotten batters to chase many more of them. To BIS, he’s thrown MORE pitches in the zone. This is essentially the opposite of the discrepancy with Paxton, where BIS thought he had an extremely low zone%, but got swings anyway, while pitch fx saw him as pounding the zone while hitters were powerless to punish him for it. Early in the season, these discrepancies are larger and perhaps more numerous; it’ll be interesting to see if they converge over time.


97 Responses to “Game 19, Astros at Mariners”

  1. californiamariner on April 21st, 2014 8:53 pm

    Eff you baseball season

  2. absolutsyd on April 21st, 2014 8:54 pm

    This is fucking embarrassing.

  3. Breadbaker on April 21st, 2014 8:54 pm

    The Zduriencik era began with the acquisition of the man called Death to Flying Things. Our current outfield should be called Allergic to Flying Things.

  4. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 8:56 pm

    They weren’t easy plays, but if Seager or then Romero made those plays, damage could have been kept in check (or to zero in Kyle’s case).

    But yeah, sucks to have to be perfect when it depends on keeping the ball out of play.

  5. msfanmike on April 21st, 2014 8:58 pm

    It’s bordering on hilarity at this point. Same thing happened early last season. Astros came in and kicked ass.


    And putrid.

  6. nvn8vbryce on April 21st, 2014 8:58 pm

    Breadbaker, allergic to batted things is more like it…

  7. Section329 on April 21st, 2014 9:01 pm

    Oh no, Breadbaker, that is so true.

  8. marc w on April 21st, 2014 9:02 pm

    Thanks for making me look like a food-in-beard crazy person, Felix. Thanks for nothing, M’s.

    I could eat a rough skinned newt right now.

  9. Ichirolling51 on April 21st, 2014 9:02 pm

    Would I have a case if I sued the Mariners for emotional distress? I seriously feel like punching a hole in the wall.

  10. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 9:07 pm

    Maybe we can trade stadiums with the Astros…

    They were 6-3 here last year… Whereas we were 8-4 at THEIR stadium last year…

    Get the Mayflower moving company involved… Some free ads, or such… How much does it cost to drive a stadium to Houston?

  11. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 9:08 pm

    Hey, somebody help me… What’s it called when the ball goes in an outfielders glove while still in the air like that?

  12. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 9:09 pm

    Hey, somebody help me out… What’s it called when a guy has a play on a ball and a hometown fan catches it instead?

  13. ck on April 21st, 2014 9:11 pm

    Howard Lincoln will tell the club president, to tell the manager, this team needs some infield and outfield fielding drills, many laps around the track, and an Elmer Fudd-ish psychologist to lecture the team in the clubhouse just how, “…losing is a disease.”

  14. Ichirolling51 on April 21st, 2014 9:13 pm

    Well what should we expect when the M’s have had 2 straight brain dead GM’s? I use to like Jack Z, but no more, he’s probably worse than Bavasi.

  15. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 9:14 pm

    Astros need 1 run to score as many as they just scored in an ENTIRE SERIES against the A’s.

    Our defense has stunk really REALLY bad the past week… From guys you wouldn’t expect even (Seager, Cano). And the outfield is younger, sure, but not really all that different results-wise. Ackley looking decidely Ibanez-esque on a couple balls this season, and Romero doing a pretty close Morse impersonation out there (so close, it’s like he’s only missing an “S” in his last name)…

  16. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 9:16 pm

    Holy crap… Zunino might have just hit the longest ball I’ve seen go out to left field here…

    Holy F***.

  17. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 9:19 pm

    Or a medical doctor to tell them… “Losing is a terminal disease… You’ve got 5 more months, start saying your goodbyes…”

  18. californiamariner on April 21st, 2014 9:25 pm

    Just think of how much more productive I’ll be for the next 5 months as I do not care to watch all of the Mariners games.

  19. r-gordon-7 on April 21st, 2014 9:25 pm

    On most teams losing is a disease. On the Mariners, it’s a tradition.

  20. Breadbaker on April 21st, 2014 9:30 pm

    MrZ, from your lips to the Astros bats (with help from the bartender, whose last call may be coming).

  21. juneau_fan on April 21st, 2014 9:40 pm

    Aaaannndd, I call it an evening.

  22. HighlightsAt11 on April 21st, 2014 9:42 pm

    It’s an addiction.

  23. californiamariner on April 21st, 2014 9:44 pm

    4-1 against the Angels though.

  24. G-Man on April 21st, 2014 9:45 pm

    All 4 runs the Astros scored in that inning were unearned, but I don’t think it reflects Felix’s poor pitching. Calling everything unearned after two outs and an error when they then go single, triple, double is a dubious scoring convention, but that’s how they do it.

  25. G-Man on April 21st, 2014 9:46 pm

    Chone Figgins got sent to the minors by the Dodgers today. Maybe we could pick him up cheap.

  26. Breadbaker on April 21st, 2014 9:54 pm

    Josh Fields: the canary in the coalmine of the Zduriencik administration that we ignored at the time.

  27. G-Man on April 21st, 2014 9:54 pm

    To add insu;lt to injury, let’s see Josh Fields, M’s first round draft bust, put down the M’s in order.

  28. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 10:00 pm

    Insult to injury…

    Josh Fields mowing down the M’s to close it out…

    Wow. One of our worst 1st round draft picks, ever, owning the M’s.

  29. MrZDevotee on April 21st, 2014 10:04 pm

    Just what the Astros needed to crawl out of these 7 game losing streak… Felix and the Mariners.

    G-Man’s right though… Felix didn’t have his best stuff. His change didn’t seem to be working tonight… Leaving stuff up, after bouncing a lot of stuff in the 1st…

    But that’s the thing… SOMETIMES the defense needs to pick up the pitcher too. Zunino tried, with that great play to 3rd, which would have kept that inning at zero runs, with 1 more out there.

  30. Prozach on April 21st, 2014 10:04 pm

    This is a different sort of Mariners sorrow, because the “hope springing anew/reality setting in” process has already completed itself, and we’re only in April.

  31. Westside guy on April 21st, 2014 10:09 pm

    MrZ, I didn’t see your question ever get answered.

    If the fan interferes with the OPPOSING team, it’s fan interference.

    If the fan interferes with the HOME TEAM, he’s called “Steve Bartman”. There’s no penalty other than earning the undying hatred of all the hometown fans… well, assuming such exist. In Seattle, the fan might get a cheer at this point.

  32. Westside guy on April 21st, 2014 10:21 pm

    As a side note… So far this year I’ve been only half paying attention to the Mariners. I listen for a few innings (or follow on Gameday), go do some yard work or whatever, check back in, rinse, repeat.

    I highly recommend it. I will admit there’s still some aggravation, but I swear this is 80% less stressful than I remember during last season’s losing streaks.

  33. LongDistance on April 22nd, 2014 5:14 am

    Go … M’s …

  34. Sports on a Shtick on April 22nd, 2014 7:06 am

    1) Hope Lincoln and the front office go away
    2) Look forward to next year’s draft
    3) Rinse, repeat

  35. MrZDevotee on April 22nd, 2014 7:31 am

    I wonder if being a M’s fan is a similar experience to having a Meth addiction? Or maybe Bath Salts?

    I feel dirty after knowing what I did last night, and embarrassed to let anyone I love know the truth… But then I know I’m gonna do it again tonight no matter how awful I felt yesterday. I’m addicted to the few seconds of high, and days of misery, known as the Mariners.

    It’s my dirty little secret.

    I know other people who’ve tried it too, saying to themselves “it won’t happen to me, I can control it. One time won’t hurt me. Just one little heartbreaking loss…” And now they’re life is ruined too… I feel ashamed for the misery I’ve brought onto my wife. Now she’s hooked too.

  36. Mariner.lovechild on April 22nd, 2014 8:17 am

    trying to hide it from people, slipping off at 7:10… spacing for hours, and not a damn thing to show for it. looking spun out afterward. must be…

  37. jak924 on April 22nd, 2014 9:03 am

    …and our long national nightmare continues..

  38. jak924 on April 22nd, 2014 9:19 am

    Is there precedent for dumping the GM 3 weeks into a new season?

  39. msfanmike on April 22nd, 2014 9:35 am

    If not, they can always start a new precedent.

    And hey Mariners … feel free to make it retroactive if you can find a way!

    The Walker/Paxton/Kuma injuries will be mentioned about a zillion times during the forthcoming Zduriencik radio apology tour. Just watch/listen to how many times the depleted rotation references will be used to explain the slow start, when we all know that is not the primary problem. The team has bad hitters and bad defenders. If they had their expected rotation, it would certainly help boost the attitude muscle of the team, but it is still a very, very flawed team with too many misplaced and/or missing puzzle pieces.

  40. Doug1060 on April 22nd, 2014 10:12 am

    And to see Josh Fields striking everyone out in the ninth inning…had to be incredible for the front office. I think we still need two more bats and another reliever. But it’s easy to say; I have no suggestions apart from trades.

  41. MrZDevotee on April 22nd, 2014 11:03 am

    Needs: Two decent OF with avg+ bats… 1 RH, 1 LH… And a LH reliever with an average out pitch for lefties too. We’d be so much better… They don’t even have to be All-Stars, to be an improvement, if they can play defense and contribute .270, 14 HR, 75 RBI… Just better OF defenders than Dustin Ackley and Romero/Hart… So Hart can DH/1B, Romero can go back to AAA, Saunders can play more OF as the 4th. And Ackley goes to super sub OF/IF. LoMo and WFBloomquist can, uh, be put out to pasture…

    Funny thing is– in the big picture of baseball management– those are supposedly three of the EASIEST things to both find AND stockpile in MLB… OF’s and lefty relievers. And yet, Mariners.

    What other team in baseball has management meetings where a concern that has long term employment ramifications reaches the level of: “Well fellas, how are we gonna find a couple starting outfielders and a reliever? Where do we even start to look? Do those even exist anymore? I can’t find any anywhere… Maybe we need to play less golf in the offseason?”

    Go M’s!

  42. stevemotivateir on April 22nd, 2014 11:58 am

    Thanks for the number on Almonte, Westy. 57% sucks! That help explains the K’s.

  43. jorax on April 22nd, 2014 12:22 pm

    MrZ “I feel ashamed for the misery I’ve brought onto my wife. Now she’s hooked too.”

    I know the feeling. My wife isn’t hooked per se, but she definitely turns the games on even if I’m not around, and frequently asks me why we keep watching – despite not changing the channel herself…

  44. Ichirolling51 on April 22nd, 2014 12:47 pm

    So, what’s the going rate for Giancarlo Stanton? Would it cost us half of our farm to acquire him? Any chance we get him, keep Walker, and lock him up to a lengthy extension? I know it’s a wet dream,but him hitting in the 4 hole and Cano hitting 3rd, would kind of make us watchable.

  45. stevemotivateir on April 22nd, 2014 7:33 pm

    ^No chance. Every team in baseball has inquired about him.

    If the M’s were willing to offer Walker, Franklin, Pryor, and other pieces to acquire Upton, you should have an idea just how much it would take to acquire Stanton. If there was even a shred of possibility, it would have happened by now.

    We should all move on from the idea of acquiring him.

  46. bongo on April 23rd, 2014 8:43 pm

    Mariners need a new theme song. I nominate “Wake me up”, with a contest for the best tweaked lyrics. My contributions:

    Feeling my way through the darkness
    Of a Mariners home stand….

    The season will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes
    Well that’s fine by me…

    So wake me up when it’s all over
    With the Series playing in October…

  47. LongDistance on April 23rd, 2014 11:13 pm

    Blessedly, I have other things to think about than the M’s. But eponymous, in his three-part wrap of the last game post, said this was not a “bad” team. I didn’t disagree with that, because I don’t like to carry those sentiments.

    But it did get me thinking: what is the definition of a bad team. I’ve got some ideas. But I’d love to see what USS Mariner had to say.

    Go M’s. Any ol’ time now…

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