Game 47, Astros at Mariners

May 23, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

King Felix vs. Rudy Owens, 7:10pm

So we’ve got a pitcher making his major league debut tonight, a hurler who came up through the Pittsburgh system, studiously avoiding the Cactus League and the Arizona Fall league, ensuring that there’s absolutely no pitch fx data to look at. That’s too bad, because scouts were somewhat divided on Owens’ velocity and stuff – it’d be great to have some data to settle that debate.

Owens, a lefty, was a late-round draft pick in 2006 who moved steadily up the chain in the Pittsburgh system thanks to extremely low walk rates. Looking back at his line, it’s tough to know how to see him – great control, but occasional bouts of ineffectiveness. Like he was able to keep the ball in the zone, but unable to prevent hitters from punishing him for keeping the ball in the zone. Moving over to Houston in the Wandy Rodriguez deal, he got knocked around in his first taste of the PCL. He started back in Oklahoma City again last year, but had a foot injury that required season-ending surgery after just 17 innings. This year was his third go-round in OKC, and familiarity hasn’t improved the raw results. PCL hitters are hitting over .300 against him, leading to an ERA over 6 despite the still sterling walk rate and an extremely low HR rate. He’s not overpowering, and he’s been a bit of a fly ball pitcher over the course of his career. Thanks to a solid change-up, he’s run reverse platoon splits in the minors, though this is purely the result of HRs. You’ve got to assume he’d run fairly average splits in the majors, but the minor league record’s a sign that his change is probably his best pitch. If he had a good slider/curve, you’d assume he’d have a better K rate against same-handed hitters, but I’m just guessing at this point.

1: James Jones, CF
2: Stefen Romero, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Gillespie, RF
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Bloomquist, SS
SP: King Felix

Taijuan Walker threw a simulated game today at Safeco, and Ryan Divish has some video of it here, and he quotes Walker as saying he’s ready to head out on a rehab start.

Speaking of rehab starts, James Paxton will start for Tacoma tomorrow at Cheney in the Rainiers double-header against El Paso.

Today’s MiLB starters include Erasmo Ramirez, Tyler Pike, Carlos Misell and Victor Sanchez. Pike and Sanchez were consensus top-10 Mariner prospects heading into 2014, but their stock has fallen a bit thus far. Sanchez missed time due to injury, and he’s been homer prone. After yielding four HRs over 113 innings last year for Clinton, he’s given up five just since coming back from the DL – over the course of just 13 2/3 innings. He’s just 19 and in AA, so he’s still a good prospect, but it’s a less-than-ideal line. Pike, as I’ve talked about frequently, has suffered from control lapses in the California League, as his K:BB ratio is currently 32:31. That said, he’s avoided a lot of damage – he’s had 9 starts on the year, and he’s given up 2 or fewer runs in 6 of them. Sure, the ERA isn’t pretty, as he’s given up plenty of runs in two disaster starts, but it’s High Desert. Still, a dead even K:BB ratio isn’t what we wanted to see.

Mike Zunino Facts Of Uncertain Fun-ness

May 23, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Hello! This won’t be much of a post, because I only have a moment, but there’s something I wanted to put out there before disappearing for the holiday weekend. You should also go disappear for the holiday weekend. But not before reading this? You’re already reading this. Get to the end of this, then do whatever.

There’s something you might’ve missed in April, and that’s that Mike Zunino had the highest swing rate of any regular or semi-regular hitter in baseball. Zunino swung at 62% of all pitches, and that’s a higher rate than, say, the most undisciplined version of Josh Hamilton. Zunino also ran a low contact rate, and the next-closest Mariner had a swing rate of 51%. Yet, for as much as Zunino was swinging, he was also producing, with power compensating for a lack of walks.

It’s not April anymore, and Mike Zunino isn’t April Zunino anymore. In May, Zunino’s swing rate has been 47%. He hasn’t really seen fewer strikes, and he also hasn’t really lifted his contact rate, and it’s odd to see such a fluctuation in swing rate over a decent sample because swing rate is one of those things that just comes naturally to a hitter. Hitters are as aggressive as they are, and that’s a pretty stable trait.

Around the league, 200 different players have batted at least 50 times in April and May. Zunino’s drop in swing rate is the biggest, by more than a full percentage point. Only six players have had drops in the double digits. The biggest overall swing is about 16 percentage points, a swing-rate increase by Pablo Sandoval, but the primary point is that Zunino’s numbers are extreme and uncommon.

That’s what I thought would be a whole post. Then something else and presumably related caught my attention. According to FanGraphs, in April, Zunino saw 65% fastballs. According to FanGraphs, in May, Zunino has seen 45% fastballs. That is a big big drop in fastballs.

Let’s look at that same pool of 200 players. Here are the biggest changes in fastball rate, in percentage points:

  1. Mike Zunino, -20.4%
  2. Mike Aviles, -18.4%
  3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, -16.5%
  4. Denard Span, -14.5%
  5. Mark Reynolds, -14.2%

(At the other end, Billy Hamilton leads the way at +13.8%.)

Between April and May, Mike Zunino has swung way less often, and he’s gotten fastballs way less often. These are not independent points. Other Mariners have mostly seen the same pitches, so it’s not really obviously about opponent scheduling. This is about adjustments to Mike Zunino, as the changes in his numbers are too large to just be dismissed as coincidental noise.

So? On the one hand, Zunino has dropped from a 110 April wRC+ to an 80 May wRC+. He definitely hasn’t been nearly as productive. But then, while his strikeouts are up, his walks are up, and his ISO hasn’t changed. It’s mostly about singles dropping in, and we need more than a few weeks to be able to say anything about that. Maybe Zunino can handle this. Maybe he can’t. There are positive signs and less positive signs.

Brooks Baseball offers some simplistic classifications. There’s hard, breaking, and offspeed. Some Zunino data, from there:

2013: 68% hard pitches seen
4/14: 68%
5/14: 51%

So, Zunino saw as many fastballs in April as he did during his cup of coffee last summer. But the big difference is that, this April, Zunino hit, where, last summer, he really didn’t. So my suspicion is that, once Zunino demonstrated that he can hit a fastball-heavy approach, opponents decided to not give him that anymore. They fed him fastballs until he started adjusting, and now he’s going to have to make another adjustment, to counter the league adjustment. Fun fact: the adjustments never stop. Even Pedro Martinez kept tweaking things over the course of his career, and Mike Zunino isn’t the Pedro Martinez of hitting.

When Zunino was struggling in triple-A, word was he was struggling with offspeed stuff. Now he’s seeing a lot of offspeed stuff, finally, and there’s good news and bad news about that. I don’t know if these are fun facts or not, but they are facts, so, now you know them. Mike Zunino probably also knows them. Now it’s a matter of what he can do about it. He sure is strong. He sure does miss a bunch. Thank God he can catch a damned baseball.

Names for the First-Round, 2014 Edition

May 23, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 13 Comments 

Edit: I had intended to let this one sit, but this morning’s mock draft from BA indicated that we were hot on two more prospects, which I have now added to the list. One of them I am rather keen on! The other I am not.

One of the positives I can take of last season’s poor record, as I am in the lemonade business, is that the Mariners ended up with a high, protected pick in a draft that most people seem to like. And it being that time of year of wildly casting energies about at all manner of likely and unlikely possibilities, I’m now here to write about some of them in that foolish way that hopefully obviates the need of my frantically writing the evening of the draft. It worked so well in the Hultzen draft.

This year is a pitcher-heavy year for the draft. Look through the top 100 prospects by BA and you’ll only see seven hitters in the top twenty, and a little over sixty pure pitchers on the list, not counting those two-way guys who could slide into the role. With the weirdness that we’ve already seen with regard to pitchers, it’s easy to imagine a lot of teams wanting to take advantage here. Whether they do or are scared out of it remains to be seen, but it’s not as if baseball can do without pitching. It’s good that they seem to be taking the initiative to try to figure out what’s going on. Imagine a sport that, I don’t know, risked traumatic brain injury on a routine basis, and imagine that sport just ignoring those injury risks and shrugging them off. Why, people would be up in arms! Not that the arms aren’t up now, in stiff casts and largely useless… You know, let’s just move on.

I don’t have any more special insight to what the M’s might bring to this draft than I usually do. That is, aside from that the 2nd round to date has been all position players, the 4th round entirely college players, and the third round skews towards prep players. Often in the last few days, we’ll get attached pretty solidly to a name this high and that will be that. As for who is most likely, Dave noted last June that since McNamara has been at the helm, four of the five top picks have been “safe” college players who were emphasized as sure major league contributors with sound fundamentals and high floors. “Contributors” seems key here because some of these fellows are still looking to have complete seasons. Shifting gears to the exception, and a considerable reach at the time, Taijuan Walker has had at least had the look of being the highest ceiling player of the bunch, going from live-armed curiosity moving off shortstop to one of the best prospects in the game, prior to the epidemic rise of injury and surgery.

As an addendum to Dave’s post, while the first round favors college, we’ve seen them mix both raw and experienced players in the top five rounds overall. On the side of rawness, Nick Franklin, Tyler Marlette, Edwin Diaz, and Patrick Kivlehan have all been boons; Joe DeCarlo, Marcus Littlewood, and Steve Baron, less so. Nor has experience been a sure-fire winner as, first-round aside, the additions of your Kyle Seagers and your 2013 Brad Millers and your Chris Taylors have been weighed against the faults of a Rich Poythress, or a John Hicks, or a Tyler Blandford. There have also been trends that suggest a love for shortstops and college pitching, so these are also probably givens in the early rounds of what is now a three-day oh godda-

Let’s just look at some names then. This will ease past some of the obvious ones, because in the unlikely event that Aiken, Rodon, or Kolek manage to drop somehow, you would have to give them strong consideration.
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Game 45, Astros at Mariners

May 22, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 63 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Jarred Cosart, 7:10pm

I’ve written plenty about Cosart before; depending on what you think of these write-ups, the unbalanced schedule is either a blessing or a curse. So far, we’ve talked about the fact that he throws a very hard cutter (95mph) and that he generates tons of grounders. He doesn’t have much in the way of platoon splits, but he also doesn’t have much in the way of command. It’s one of the reasons everyone pegged him as a big regression candidate this year, and indeed, his ERA’s moved from 1.95 in his brief 2013 to 4.41 so far this year. That’s not exactly a great feat of prognosticating skill, of course – basically no one has a true-talent 1.95 ERA, and guys who give up more walks than Ks DEFINITELY don’t.

So his strand rate and HR/FB have both settled back around league average, and thus his runs allowed have followed. But there’s still something interesting going on here – something beyond the whole “95mph cutter.” One of the reasons he seemed like such a lucky pitcher was that his BABIP in 2013 was just .246. This year, with everything that had been exceptional looking more like league-average, his BABIP is still just .267. Remember, Cosart’s a heavy GB pitcher – he was at 54.5% last year and he’s regressed alllll the way down to 54.4% this season. How can a right-handed pitcher getting tons of ground balls (which have a higher BABIP than fly balls) post a really low BABIP?

The first possibility is that it’s luck and/or team/park effects. Marwin Gonzalez is not going to win any gold glove awards, so I’m not buying the team thing. It *could* be luck, as he didn’t post particularly amazing BABIP numbers in the minors. If you’re willing to speculate, though, there could be a few other things at play. We know, for example, that hitters post lower BABIPs against higher pitch velocities. Pace what the color commentator is saying, the pitcher doesn’t “supply all of the power” – it’s easier to hit the ball hard against someone throwing 85 than 95, which isn’t really groundbreaking when you put it in those terms. Moreover, pitchers have some ability to control how hard the ball is hit. Yes, this is counter to standard DIPS theory, which is still more right than wrong on the population as a whole. But then you’ve got your exceptions – the Moyers, the Wakefields, maybe the Washburns – who post lower-than-expected BABIPs time after time. As Mariano Rivera had the lowest expected BABIP of any one in this brief study of hit fx data from 2008, it’d be interesting to know if batters have trouble hitting cutters hard, just due to their movement (or the delta between how a cutter moves and a four- or two-seamer moves). Cosart better hope that they do, and that his BABIP “skill” is real, because it’s looking like one of the few statistical indicators of lasting success on his fangraphs page. Sure, I know: 95mph cutters. That’s worth something too, but right now, he’s not striking many out, he’s walking far too many, and the HR rate’s normal-ish. That cutter has to DO something for him, and maybe it is.

1: Jones, CF
2: Saunders, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Ackley, LF
7: Romero, DH
8: Franklin, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: Elias

Nick Franklin at SS tonight; interesting move, as Franklin had played OF in recent (minor league) games. To be fair, McClendon said he’d get some time at SS and just about everywhere else when they re-called him, so there’s nothing too surprising about it…especially when the incumbent and primary back-up have been god awful at the plate.

The M’s split the two-game mini-series in Texas and look like they’re capable of sticking right with the Rangers for a while. Today, that goal got a bit easier, as Prince Fielder opted to have surgery on a herniated disk, putting him out for the season. Look, there’ve been some deals that the sabermetric community has slammed that have turned out great – most of them involve Raul Ibanez, strangely. But here’s one that the statheads pretty much nailed. No one saw a serious back injury as the problem, but the numbers were slipping and the contract looked ominous. The Rangers have plenty of depth at most positions, but the drop-off between Fielder (on paper) and Mitch Moreland (on paper) is severe. The Rangers still have a lot more talent waiting to come back from injury, but even THAT depth took a hit today as Jurickson Profar re-injured his shoulder. That set-back will cost him plenty more time, as the Rangers are going to be cautious with such a valuable young player. Schadenfreude is natural and all, and it’s amazing to think that the M’s are essentially neck and neck, and pulling ahead, from the team that’s won so many games recently, and the team that employs Beltre and Darvish, but holy crap it’s been a bad year in Texas. I always said the M’s had a huge gap in true talent to close with Texas, as the team wasn’t just good in 2011-12, they had another wave of talent ready to step up. For a number of reasons, that ship crashed on attrition shoals, and while they can be really good, they’re at a crossroads now.

The intriguing Jordan Pries starts tonight against ex-Astro Lucas Harrell at Cheney Stadium.

Game 44, Mariners at Rangers

May 20, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 78 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Colby Lewis, 5:05pm

The M’s and Rangers are separated by a half-game in the standings, and while things like games-behind don’t mean everything at this point, the M’s really do need to stick around Texas in the next month or two. Like the M’s, the Rangers rotation was plagued with injuries, as Derek Holland’s still out, Martin Perez joined the TJ club, and it’s not at all clear that Matt Harrison will pitch again, ever. Like the M’s, they committed a lot of money to a proven offensive weapon, and have watched said weapon disappoint. The Rangers were probably a better team, on paper, on opening day, but it was very close. The Rangers have had essentially everything go wrong, and they’re still essentially at or near .500. The M’s have had a lot go wrong, and they too are essentially a .500 team.

What you do with this set of selective similarities probably says a lot about your relationship with the M’s. The pessimists would say that the M’s can’t separate themselves from the Rangers even when half the team comes down with Bubonic plague, and they’re turning to Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez in their rotation. Optimists would say that the M’s version of Nick Martinez is names Roenis Elias, and Elias is likely better. That Robinson Cano’s a very good player, and that many fans saw Prince Fielder as a declining, limited player whose reputation (and salary) outstripped his actual production. Both views are justifiable, of course. The Rangers turned to Josh Wilson for a good chunk of April. Their opening day starter was a converted 7th inning reliever. But think back to what we all said on opening day – with Iwakuma and Walker out, the M’s just needed to stay close to .500 and make a run in the second half. With the news that James Paxton’s close to making a rehab start in the minors, hasn’t this condition been met?

It has, but there’s a problem; there’s ALWAYS a problem, it’d seem. The offense has struggled, and instead of getting key contributions from the likes of Stefen Romero, the M’s OF still ranks 25th offensively in baseball (though 19th overall! Silver linings!). Worse, the M’s found a *new* hole, as their shortstops rank dead last offensively. The fact that they’re hanging with the Rangers is encouraging as far as it goes, but the A’s have already left them in the dust, and the Angels look solid (except when facing the M’s, oddly). The M’s playoff chances (er, wild card chances) are still large enough to care about, but that’s in part due to the parity in the AL East and the ineptitude of the AL Central. All of this means that the M’s position vis a vis the Rangers, and to a lesser extent the Royals/Orioles/Rays/Jays could get important. This is the situation the Wild Card was supposed to create – that even a team in 3rd had some sort of hope. Well, the M’s have some. Now they’ve got to keep it alive.

Colby Lewis has quietly put up his best K rate since 2010, and has a brilliant K-BB%. But as a flyballer in Arlington, his actual runs allowed don’t look like it. A BABIP over .400 will do that, of course, but some of that may be the result of a shaky defense as Jurickson Profar, Adrian Beltre and others spent time on the DL. Lewis traditionally had problems with lefties, and he still does, though this year it’s righties that have hurt him. He’s a fastball/slider guy to righties, and he’s a fastball/sinker/change/slider/etc. guy to lefties.

As Jeff noted, Nick Franklin’s been recalled, and he’ll start today at DH. In the minors, he’s moved to the OF in the past week, playing a game in RF and one in LF. We’ll see if he gets some time in RF, or if he’ll bounce around the diamond.

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

EIGHT lefties. Pretty good line-up against Lewis.

Still can’t believe the M’s lost Corey Hart on a stolen base.

Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Tacoma as they open up a homestand against Reno. Lars Huijer gets the ball for Clinton in Peoria.

Felix Hernandez: Pitcher With A Catcher

May 20, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

I mentioned something briefly in the podcast I wanted to expand upon. One of the things we’ve learned about Mike Zunino is he’s an extremely capable receiver. The Mariners haven’t had many of those, aside from Jesus Sucre, who played eight times. I was beside myself with excitement over Sucre’s receiving skills, and I’ll never forget him even though I’ll probably never see him play again. So, the Mariners have been without receivers, and in the last few years, we’ve started to better understand what that’s meant. And now that’s all changed.

I was wrong about something I said — Felix wasn’t constantly getting screwed by the zone. In 2011 and 2012, Felix’s strike zone was basically normal. But in other years, it’s been disadvantageous, and in 2014, it’s been the opposite of that, as Felix has gotten more of the benefit of the doubt around the edges. We’ve seen Felix with bad receiving before, and we’ve seen him with roughly average receiving before. Now we’re seeing him with good receiving, and Felix is running a career-best strike rate.

I’m going to give you two tables and one .gif. The first table uses data grabbed from Matthew’s StatCorner. It covers the PITCHf/x era, from 2008-2014, and you’re going to see a few numbers — rate of balls within the strike zone, and rate of strikes outside of the strike zone. You’ll see Felix’s rates, the league-average rates, and the differences. Let’s just embed that table now:

Year zTkB% League Difference oTkS% League Difference
2008 26% 20% 6% 7.0% 8.1% -1.1%
2009 23% 18% 5% 5.8% 7.6% -1.8%
2010 19% 16% 3% 5.8% 7.5% -1.7%
2011 16% 16% 0% 8.4% 7.4% 1.0%
2012 15% 15% 0% 7.7% 7.0% 0.7%
2013 17% 14% 3% 5.7% 7.1% -1.4%
2014 10% 14% -4% 11.2% 7.4% 3.8%

zTkB%: rate of called pitches in the zone called balls
oTkS%: rate of called pitches out of the zone called strikes

For the first time, this year, Felix is getting fewer called balls in the zone than the average. Additionally, he’s getting more strikes outside of the zone, and the differences aren’t small, relatively speaking. Part of this, I’m willing to credit to improvements in Felix’s command. It’s easier to catch a pitcher who knows where the ball is going. But the catcher is also just a better catcher than Felix has mostly thrown to before, and Felix has benefited by having more places to throw the ball and get himself a strike.

Where has there been the biggest difference? To me, I think it’s around the bottom of the strike zone. Let’s create a box, from 1.5 to 2 feet above the ground, and from one foot to the left of the center of the plate to one foot to the right. It’s a rectangle around the bottom of the zone, with an area of one square foot, and in 2008, Felix got 24% strikes on called pitches in the box. This year that’s up to 80%. Those numbers speak for themselves. Except they don’t, accurately, because they ought to be put in a league context. The league overall has seen a rising strike rate on those pitches, but still, here’s another table:

Year Felix, Strike% MLB RHP, Strike% Difference P/GS
2008 24% 44% -20% 5.9
2009 24% 44% -20% 7.1
2010 26% 49% -23% 7.8
2011 41% 52% -11% 7.3
2012 43% 59% -16% 5.2
2013 57% 64% -7% 6.4
2014 80% 70% 10% 7.0

In the first column (after the year), you see Felix’s rate of strikes on called pitches in the box. In the next column, there’s the league-average rate for big-league righties. Then there’s the difference, and then there’s the average number of called pitches Felix has thrown in that box per start. He’s always hovered around seven of those pitches, and where he used to come in 20 percentage points below average, now he’s above average by ten percentage points. Felix has always pitched low, and he’s always gotten whiffs and grounders low, but now he’s also finding some consistent called strikes, basically for the first time. Some of this is Felix; a lot of this is Zunino.

As a visual, I’ve created a little .gif using data from Texas Leaguers. Here are Felix’s called strike zones, from 2008-2014:

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Corey Hart Disabled, Nick Franklin Able

May 20, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

What Happened

Over the offseason, the Mariners acquired a pair of bat-first players coming off knee surgeries. Both players are currently on the DL with leg injuries, and while that seems like an over-simplification, it also kind of doesn’t, in that it feels kind of obvious that we’ve wound up here. It wasn’t a guarantee that Corey Hart and Logan Morrison would develop the problems they’ve developed, but it’s not a surprise their lower bodies are currently preventing them from participating in the games the team plays.

Hart just hit the DL with a hamstring strain, and not one of the minor ones. He hurt himself stealing second, which seems like just teasing fate, and while now Hart isn’t disabled in the way that gives you a placard and better parking, he is disabled in the way that he’s still mostly able and collecting a massive paycheck. The estimate at the moment is that Hart will be missing from the Mariners for 4-6 weeks, and that’s a significant percentage of the rest of the season.

To replace Hart on the roster, the Mariners have recalled Nick Franklin. That’s a stupid word — it’s not like the Mariners forgot about Nick Franklin. All anyone’s literally wanted to talk about lately has been Nick Franklin. So the Mariners brought Nick Franklin up, which was going to happen soon anyway, and from the sounds of things Franklin will play all over the place, including the middle infield, the corner outfield, and DH. He’s not up to replace Brad Miller, but he’s also not up to watch Brad Miller from the dugout, so Franklin’s going to get his at-bats and he’s going to keep getting at-bats if he hits.

Is This Bad For The Team?

In almost all circumstances, it’s bad to lose a starter to injury. Hart has been the Mariners’ DH, demonstrating a preference for playing Corey Hart, and now the Mariners have to give those plate appearances to other guys. This is a decision the Mariners didn’t want to have to make. But it’s important to note that Hart hasn’t been hitting very well. I don’t think he’s as bad as his slash line, and just the other week he basically had two doubles turned into singles, but think of it this way: the rest of the season, Hart projects for an OPS in the mid-.700s. Franklin projects for an OPS in the low-.700s. And, in Tacoma, Franklin has been beating the living crap out of the ball.

Hart, in the majors, has under-performed. Franklin, a step below the majors, has as many walks as strikeouts and a slugging percentage that starts with a 6. Franklin’s hit even better than he hit last year in triple-A, and last year in triple-A, he forced his way up with his hitting. Granted, that was followed by a hot streak and a long big-league slump, so it’s not like Franklin has proven himself against the best, but this is his opportunity, and he’s not trying to replace David Ortiz.

Most simply, Franklin might be a slightly worse hitter than Hart. Or he might not — Franklin might have improved, and Hart might be declining. What Franklin provides that Hart doesn’t is flexibility, so a number of players can shuffle through DH in Hart’s absence. And this gives the Mariners an opportunity to challenge Nick Franklin’s bat without yet giving up on Brad Miller. By discipline, Miller is getting better. By hits, Miller is getting worse. The Mariners know what Miller and Franklin are defensively, but they don’t know what they are as bats at the highest level, and now they can see them both. That could help down the line if Miller continues to fight it. It’s easier to stomach a defensive downgrade if you know for sure you’re getting a considerably better bat. Franklin’s going to get a chance.

Of course, it is worth noting that Hart is a righty slugger and Franklin is a switch-hitter who bats righty like Hisashi Iwakuma break-dances. Since 2012, Franklin has 33 dingers batting lefty and one dinger batting righty. He’s a switch-hitter who really isn’t, so he makes the Mariners even more lopsided, and some of the time, that’s a problem. But, 63% of the Mariners’ plate appearances have come against righties, and I’d rather a player be useful a lot of the time than some of the time. Of all the concerns about the Mariners’ roster, the handedness isn’t high on my list.

So Corey Hart’s going to shut it down for a little while. Nick Franklin will take a lot of the playing time Hart’s giving away, and if Franklin performs, the playing time will keep on coming. There’s reason to believe Franklin’s as good a hitter, and this is a way to introduce his bat without yet having to make a call on Miller, who Lloyd McClendon thinks is progressing. In terms of expected performance, the Mariners aren’t meaningfully worse than they were a couple days ago. And now their lineup’s going to have another interesting young hitter, a hitter who’s done all the right things since returning to the minors. For sure, Nick Franklin’s got issues to iron out. Corey Hart has a .295 OBP. It’s not the worst thing to be forced into this.

Roenis Elias Fun Fact(s)

May 19, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

Funny thing about standards. If Felix Hernandez were pitching like Roenis Elias, we’d be like, oh man, what’s the matter with Felix? This isn’t like good Felix at all. We’d be extremely disappointed. But Felix isn’t pitching like Roenis Elias; Roenis Elias is pitching like Roenis Elias, and he’s the opposite of a disappointment, since just a couple months ago almost literally nobody knew who he was. We want the great talents to be great players, particularly when there’s a track record. But we also like when lesser talents prove themselves worthwhile, even if they aren’t stars. Not everyone can be a star, and every team needs quality role players around the core. Elias has been something of a very modest sensation.

In the beginning, we all had to learn the basics. What’s his fastball like? What’s his breaking ball like? How do you say his name? Are you sure he’s a real player? Elias was an unknown in camp and just out of it, and so we had to learn him from scratch. But now he’s kind of established himself, and he’s thrown 50 innings. We’re getting to know Elias in finer detail, and I wanted to make note of some of those details right here, in case you’ve missed them.

This is about arm angles and on-the-fly situational adjustments. In camp, we learned that the Mariners had worked with Elias on finding more consistent release points and angles. Used to be, he’d throw from anywhere, saying it’s what Cubans do. The Mariners tightened him up, and Elias sensed his stuff got a little better. But Elias does still use multiple slots. I’ll put the images after the jump. Recently the broadcast has started to notice what Elias has been doing, but it’s an easy thing to miss if you’ve just been watching casually.

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Podcast: Felix is Mighty Again

May 19, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Monday morning podcast(s) continues/begins.

The team has dipped below .500, but just barely and good(?) news is that there are four games versus the Astros on the docket for this week. Jeff and I discuss Mariner-stuff, much moreso than last week even though this week was worse.

Podcast with Jeff and Matthew: Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner work in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated.

Felix Hernandez And True Talent

May 18, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

Today wasn’t one of Felix’s classic amazing starts, but that right there tells you where he’s managed to set expectations. He worked eight strong innings against the Twins, with plenty of strikes and enough missed bats, and as I write this Felix has one of the league’s better ERAs. He has one of the league’s better FIPs, and he has one of the league’s better xFIPs. He’s been one of the league’s better pitchers, and we know that, and we also know that, before today, Felix was in a bit of a slump. Four or five turns in a row he was somewhat mediocre, and so it’s good to see him come out of that. This was Felix pitching like Felix, and afterward, he said he felt great about his performance. We hadn’t heard that for a while.

We also suspect we know why he slumped, or at least why he slumped as long as he did. Granted, fans are always looking for excuses for under-performance, but some time ago Felix got really sick and lost considerable weight. The flu was going around the clubhouse, and it’s not like Felix struggled after a bad night of sleep. I don’t think it’s a reach to assume being sick, and having been sick, affected Felix’s pitching. When you’re sick, you’re weaker, and you get fatigued easily. When you’re recovering, the same stuff applies, to a slightly lesser degree. There’s healthy pitching and sick pitching, and it stands to reason the latter is a lot worse than the former.

This is actually less about Felix, specifically, and more of a general thought. Felix is just who brought it to mind. What Felix did while sick counts on his record. You can’t really just throw starts out, so those innings are just a part of Felix’s career. Now, in analysis, we’re frequently talking about a player’s true-talent level. That is, what his numbers would look like if he had an infinite sample. This is what projections try to approximate. We know that numbers are volatile — what we assume is that they fluctuate around the true talent. Our understanding of true talent is informed by the statistical record.

But the statistical record sort of assumes that everything evens out. We assume that, over time, the signal drowns out the noise. But how do we want to define true talent? Is true talent just overall average performance, or are we talking about true talent when a player is at or around 100%? Do we really want to care about what Felix did when he had the flu? Do we really want to care about what players do when they play through pain? Most recently, Jose Fernandez pitched through a damaged UCL and had a lousy evening. Now he’s officially out for a year. His numbers will always include those five innings and six runs, but why should we care about those when analyzing Fernandez later? Presumably, his true talent ought not involve a torn ligament.

Players will tell you that, especially later in the season, no one’s 100%. Absolutely, that’s correct — the season is brutally long, and taxing, and a player’s condition in September isn’t his condition in April. But there’s ordinary wear and tear, and there’s the more unusual stuff, and if players play through unusual stuff, it can affect their numbers, and it can subsequently affect the perception of their true talent. In some cases this is a minor thing, and in Felix’s case we’re just really talking about two starts involving illness, but I think it’s interesting to consider what true talent means.

Every projection is based on history. You can never be better than 100%, but you can be worse, and many projections will consider history when below 100%. And then they’ll just average that stuff out, such that, if you believe a player is 100%, he should probably be better than his projection. His projection unknowingly accounts for some performance-affecting issues, and if you want to know how good a player is, really, in theory you should strip that stuff out. That is, if true talent refers to when a player is fresh.

On the other hand, if you boost every single projection to put each player around 100%, then pitchers would be better and hitters would be better, and stuff would cancel out, and we’d be back to square one. A pitcher isn’t always 100%, but the hitters he faces aren’t all 100%, and you can’t just half-adjust. This all gets really complicated, and it’s a small-enough deal that it’s not like the projections are systematically wrong. This is me writing words about something insignificant.

Going back to the start: Felix’s numbers reflect, accurately, what’s happened with him on the mound in 2014. They reflect his performance, but they’re not a totally accurate reflection of how healthy Felix has pitched, because there are a few starts in there of Felix pitching while sick or post-sick, and in one of them he didn’t strike a batter out. Non-sick Felix this year has been outrageous, and while even the fresh version isn’t immune to the occasional stinker, it seems that we’re really most interested in how good a player is when he’s on his game. At the end of the year, Felix’s starts will all be grouped together, but depending on what we’re asking, perhaps that’s not quite appropriate.

Or maybe it is. I haven’t thought this all the way through, and I don’t know if that’s even possible, or if this is all just circular and infinite. I might be the only person who even gives a shit, and that would be totally fine. But Felix pitched sick. For the most part, when he hasn’t pitched sick, he’s been downright amazing. That’s more like what Felix really is. That’s what I’m most interested in talking about thinking about. We can’t strike games from the record, but we can ask if we should, under certain circumstances.

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