Game 22, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · April 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Roenis Elias vs. Robbie Ross, 7:10pm

The M’s faced Ross on April 14th, and the undersized lefty was brilliant, shutting the M’s out in 7 2/3 despite only two strikeouts (to the first two batters of the game). Ross’s approach, especially as a starter, is to let batters put the ball in play. To righties, Ross tries to keep his fastball in, which makes sense, but the striking thing is that he gets grounders no matter where his fastball ends up. In, away, even elevated fastballs still get pounded into the ground. Ross’ vertical movement looks like it should be hard to elevate, though it’s not dramatic. Especially given the platoon splits he’s shown (lefties don’t tend to hit that many grounders off of him), it’s clear that he’s got some deception: the ball isn’t moving like right-handers expect it to.

I’ve talked at length about Elias’ fly ball tendencies coming up through the minors. You look at his fastball, and you look at the way it moves, and you peg him for a 40% GB guy, which, unsurprisingly, is where he was in the minors. So what’s he doing with a ground ball rate over 50%? The key’s been his breaking ball. In the link above, I mentioned that I didn’t think his slow curve would generate a ton of whiffs. So far, it hasn’t. But what it HAS generated is a ton of weak contact, and much of that’s been topped. When batters make contact with Elias’ fastball, they tend to hit it in the air (FB/LD/pop up). But they hit his curve ball the way righties hit Robbie Ross’ fastball. This is an interesting pattern; it’s not intuitively surprising, but it’s odd it didn’t balance his minor league GB rates. Was this a case where minor leaguers swung through the slurve, and only put the fastball in play? Or did they adjust to the curve after a while and start to elevate it?

1: Almonte, CF
2: Bloomquist, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Romero, RF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Seager, 3B
8: Gillespie, LF
9: Zunino
SP: Elias

The M’s stack their line-up with seven righties. Is Ackley being platooned officially? Bloomquist at SS? Don’t they know Robbie Ross’ career splits? Honestly, Hart has to be in there, as he hit the ball very hard off of Ross the last time, even if he wasn’t always rewarded for it. Beyond platoon splits, the M’s have been awful against ground-ballers. As the A’s know well, fly-ballers tend to hit ground-ball pitchers better than average, so it’s no surprise that Hart (a guy with an uppercut swing) has better career numbers against ground-ball guys than anyone else. Zunino should hit them better too, if he can make contact.

Jason Churchill’s got an interesting piece up on the struggles of Brad Miller and Kyle Seager. Using brooks baseball data, he shows how both lefties have been pounded away by opposing pitchers. He notes, though, that the approach was mostly the same last year as well. To Churchill, the problem is that Miller’s expanded his zone, and is swinging at more pitches off the plate, and making less contact. That’s plausible – he clearly IS making less contact, and that’s showing up in his K rate, which is now about DOUBLE is 2013 K%. It’s odd, especially since Miller was always a good contact hitter, never touching 20% in the minors.

My own theory, which may be complementary to Churchill’s, is that Miller and a few other hitters are guessing, or over-thinking their at-bats. At first, I thought Miller was ending up behind in the count a lot more, which can lead to more out-of-zone chases, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. His batted-ball profile shows more elevated contact and fewer grounders, which should help him if he ever gets his contact rate back where it was last year. Even last year – when he feasted on fastballs and change-ups – he had some issues with bendy pitches. This year, he’s seeing a few more sliders/curves, but not enough to matter. The problem’s his approach to fastballs. Last year, he didn’t miss many fastballs, in any count. This year, he’s making a bit less contact on them overall, but *dramatically* less contact with 2 strikes. Obviously, all of this comes with SSS caveats. It’s been a month, and we’re looking at splits against a particular pitch *with two strikes*. Noted. But it’s just odd, and it ties in to the problem he’s had getting any production from the times he HAS made contact. According to Statcorner, he’s pulling more fly balls than he did last year. But he’s slugging .435 when he pulls the ball overall, and has far below average production on fly balls in general. The strikeout rate is the most obvious sign of a problem, but Miller’s been poor even putting strikeouts aside. Unlike Ackley, there’s not a clear weak spot for him, and unlike Ackley, his batted ball profile didn’t go into the toilet after an encouraging half-season. Overall, he’s too good to hit this poorly, but given the struggles up and down the line-up, I wonder what the approach is. As a team, the M’s are struggling with two strikes (compared to the league average), but they’re hopeless when they’re *ahead* in the count. The whole club, but Miller in particular, seem to get fastballs when they’re expecting breaking balls and vice versa.

The arresting thing to me in Churchill’s article was the claim that pitchers have put only 41% of the pitches they’ve thrown to Miller in the strike zone. But Fangraphs’ plate discipline numbers show over 50% of pitches have been in the zone, and that he’s seen slightly *more* strikes than he did in 2013. Statcorner’s numbers corroborate that. This isn’t about picking on a number, or on Churchill or anyone. It’s just that early in the season, it doesn’t take very many pitches called strikes or balls to generate really different averages. I talked about this the other day, as BIS numbers show James Paxton avoiding the zone at all costs, while the pitch fx data from MLBAM shows that he’s thrown MORE strikes than average. It’s confusing, and it’s going to happen a lot until the sheer number of pitches (hopefully) pushed the data sources closer together. And yes, I see the irony given I was just talking about zone% to Miller as well. But the best we can do is probably just be clear about what data we’re using, and, if we’re aware, if other data sources don’t agree.

Lots of roster moves recently. As you’ve already seen, Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Franklin were sent down, while the M’s have called up Cole Gillespie (making his M’s debut tonight) and LHP Lucas Luetge.


39 Responses to “Game 22, Rangers at Mariners”

  1. Westside guy on April 25th, 2014 5:43 pm

    Here’s an unhelpful but true statement…

    I am officially tired of McClendon’s stupid lineups.

  2. HighlightsAt11 on April 25th, 2014 5:54 pm

    True: Beltre has been activated for tonight’s game

    True but difficult to comprehend: Angels are leading the Yankees 8-0 in the top of the 5th at Yankee Stadium

    True but impossible to comprehend: Almonte is still leading off for the Mariners

  3. PackBob on April 25th, 2014 5:57 pm

    “But the best we can do is probably just be clear about what data we’re using, and, if we’re aware, if other data sources don’t agree.”

    Wholeheartedly agree, especially early season, when data indications can be mistaken for conclusions.

  4. californiamariner on April 25th, 2014 6:00 pm

    Willie in the 2 spot!

  5. Paul B on April 25th, 2014 6:23 pm

    The Dick Wiiliams school of managing.

    The second batter has to be a no hit middle infielder. Because, erm, bat control.

    The second baseman can hit.

    Ergo, the shortstop must bat second.

  6. Dennisss on April 25th, 2014 6:32 pm

    Tony Blengino had some pointed words about Almonte batting first and playing every inning of every game. I suspect he enjoys taking a few pokes at his former team, in a professional manner, of course.

  7. Paul B on April 25th, 2014 6:47 pm

    He also mentions Brad Miller as an example of what I think of as the Miguel Olivo school of hitting.

    Also there is a dig in the Raul Ibanez comments.

  8. Paul B on April 25th, 2014 7:13 pm

    If Lloyd was managing the Rangers, Josh Wilson would hit second.

  9. HighlightsAt11 on April 25th, 2014 7:16 pm

    Kouzmanoff, who has damaged the Mariners enough already, was put on the DL.

  10. MrZDevotee on April 25th, 2014 7:30 pm

    Robinson Cano is a really really good infielder. He makes great plays look whimsical and fun. Like if Ken Griffey Jr had been a middle infielder…

    Love watching him wear a M’s uniform.

  11. MrZDevotee on April 25th, 2014 7:42 pm

    Damn… Zunino thought it was in his glove… Lucky break for Texas there.

  12. HighlightsAt11 on April 25th, 2014 7:45 pm

    Welcome to Seattle Cole.

  13. Woodcutta on April 25th, 2014 8:31 pm

    Is the only reason Romero is still at the MLB level b/c he is a right handed hitter? James Jones looked sooooo much better (I know, SSS).

  14. Westside guy on April 25th, 2014 8:33 pm

    Didn’t we just see that same “double play” a few days ago?

  15. msfanmike on April 25th, 2014 8:42 pm

    Great job by Cano

  16. Longgeorge1 on April 25th, 2014 8:51 pm

    Ok BIG spot in the game here do we get the third out?

  17. Longgeorge1 on April 25th, 2014 8:54 pm

    Same old Mariners, just give up free runs

  18. Longgeorge1 on April 25th, 2014 8:59 pm

    And that in a nut shell is why the M’s suck. It’s not line-up or any other thing. It is the failure to execute at key moments, how did I know this was coming? History?

  19. G-Man on April 25th, 2014 9:37 pm


  20. nvn8vbryce on April 25th, 2014 9:39 pm

    What’s this, scoring with RISP? Are pigs flying?

  21. californiamariner on April 25th, 2014 9:41 pm

    The comeback kids strike again!!

  22. Sea-Dog on April 25th, 2014 10:00 pm

    Don’t you dare Rodney…

  23. Westside guy on April 25th, 2014 10:00 pm

    Boy Rodney doesn’t make it easy…

  24. Westside guy on April 25th, 2014 10:03 pm

    This must be happening because I tuned back in. I’ll go away now – you can thank me later.

  25. msfanmike on April 25th, 2014 10:04 pm


  26. Sports on a Shtick on April 25th, 2014 10:06 pm


  27. msfanmike on April 25th, 2014 10:06 pm

    Thank you Westy

  28. nvn8vbryce on April 25th, 2014 10:07 pm


  29. Ichirolling51 on April 25th, 2014 10:10 pm

    Smoak should get credit for the save there, not Rodney.

  30. californiamariner on April 25th, 2014 10:10 pm

    I don’t even know what to say about that “save”

  31. Don Money on April 25th, 2014 10:12 pm

    I want to hear again how Smoak is an average defender. That was a great play!

  32. bookbook on April 25th, 2014 10:15 pm

    Average defenders make great plays sometimes.

  33. Westside guy on April 25th, 2014 10:27 pm

    You’re welcome. Hehehe

    Boy I’m glad they won.

  34. Mike G. on April 25th, 2014 10:50 pm

    The Mariners tonight: 0 walks

    The Mariners this season: 51 walks.

    Dead last in MLB. They won tonight, but no lessons will be learned from this win.

  35. The_Waco_Kid on April 25th, 2014 10:55 pm

    Yeah, Westy deserves the save as much as Rodney.

    What do people think about Farquhar as closer if Rodney doesn’t clean up his act?

  36. naviomelo on April 25th, 2014 11:45 pm

    Why is Farquhar not the closer now? Because we’re paying Rodney a lot of money?

  37. groundzero55 on April 26th, 2014 4:19 am

    Farquhar isn’t “proven” that’s why.

  38. Westside guy on April 26th, 2014 8:23 am

    The team’s charter requires they employ a closer who will make the crowd sweat. Tonight, Fernando Rodney was really channeling his inner Jose Mesa. Bravo, guy, bravo!

    C’mon, lights-out closers are SO BORING! 😀

  39. casey on April 26th, 2014 11:21 am

    thanks for the link to the Blengino article – interesting and supports what you see in games. Particularly the part about overagressive swinging and lack of control of the strike zone. We are beginning to move past small sample for whole team – wondering if there is enough evidence that this approach is coming from McClendon and HoJo or maybe because it was true with Wedge too (re Ackley anyways) if it is an organizational philosophy. Seems Miller is a very different hitter from last year, Franklin looked weird this way too.

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