Game 105, Orioles at Mariners

marc w · July 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Roenis Elias vs. Miguel Gonzalez, 1:10pm

There’s a balance in writing these game preview posts between highlighting what makes individual pitchers distinct and/or unusual, and re-affirming and pointing out the ubiquity and importance of regression. What often pops out on a pitcher’s fangraphs page or in their pitch fx data *looks* bizarre, but over time, regression tends to smooth out these small-sample differences. We can talk about those differences and the likelihood that they’re “real” versus an interesting but ultimately meaningless expression of randomness; when you look at so many data points, it’s easy to find *something* that looks counter-intuitive and cool. It’s a balance between interesting stories of pitchers and individual skills that break off from sabermetric orthodoxy and the importance of reminding people why that orthodoxy developed and why it’s useful.

That’s why pitchers like Chris Young and today’s O’s starter Miguel Gonzalez are so fun. On the surface, they make no sense. Their raw stuff isn’t good enough to get strikeouts. They don’t get ground balls, and as a result, give up their fair share of HRs. Their control is average, maybe a touch better, but it’s nowhere near Iwakuma-class. Their entire career has been based on eliciting a certain kind of fly-ball contact from batters. This is the kind of thing that looks like a fluke, and at least in Gonzalez’s case, it technically could be. But while it’s important to remember that FIP predicts next year’s ERA better than ERA, it’s also important to try to learn why certain pitchers consistently post ERAs below their FIP.

If you look at the list of pitchers whose ERA is significantly better than their FIP, you’ll find Chris Young at the top, but Gonzalez ranks 5th. He wasn’t in the top 10 the year before, but the gap was still significant. Go back to 2012, and there’s Gonzalez again, at #3. So he’s demonstrated this, uh, “skill” or pattern in each of his three MLB seasons. Like Chris Young, he’s a fly baller, and thus, like Young, one reason for his ability to post great strand rates and low BABIP numbers is his ability get pop-ups. Gonzalez leads baseball (min. 80 IP) in pop-up rate this season; Young’s in 3rd.

Young’s incredibly, almost impossibly, low ground ball rate means that, to be effective, he has to limit his HR/FB ratio. Gonzalez hasn’t shown much of an ability to do this, as his HR/FB has risen in each of the past two years, and is now above the MLB average. Thus, while both give up HRs, Gonzalez’s HR rate is now edging into dangerous territory. And while his BABIP allowed was just .260 in his first two seasons, it’s creeping towards the average now at .291. An increase in HRs and an increase in BABIP should spell the end of Gonzalez’s run as an OK back of the rotation starter, but while it’s higher than it’s been, his RA9 is still near 4, meaning he’s got an RA9 WAR of 1.2, putting him on pace for a season right around 2 again. That’s not amazing, and obviously it pales in comparison to Chris Young’s RA9 wizardry this season, but it’s pretty good for a 4th starter in the AL East.

Part of what makes Young so crazy is his LACK of a repertoire. He throws 86mph straightballs and batters hit them 300 feet, just not 350 feet. Gonzalez is more of the classic junkballer, and he’s made adjustments this season. He throws a four-seam fastball at 92, a sinker around 91, a change/splitter, a slider and a curve. In his first few seasons, the slider was his primary breaking ball, but he’s throwing more curves this year. Thanks in large part to his underwhelming slider, Gonzalez has actually had a much tougher time with righties than lefties. This isn’t a BABIP thing; his career FIP is over one full run worse against same-handed hitters. Not only has his K rate been better against lefties, but righties have hit for far more power. He’s faced a few more lefties than righties in his career, but righties have hit 34 HRs to lefties’ 20. The slider wasn’t generating whiffs, and it was generating hard-hit contact – he’s given up more XBHs to righties on the pitch than strikeouts.

As an aside, Gonzalez looks like a pitcher who’d benefit by changing his fastball approach. Righties have teed off on his four-seam fastball, which he throws them about 4X more than his sinker. They’ve got 20 HRs on the pitch, good for a .527 SLG%. They haven’t seen as many sinkers, but their results have been pretty poor. They may make adjustments if he threw it more, but we know that sinkers/two-seamers have much larger platoon splits than the comparatively straight four-seamer. Thus, it’s probably not a shock that lefties have feasted on the sinker and battled his four-seamer to a draw. The K rate’s better, the BABIP’s better, and his sinker’s hasn’t actually generated many GBs to lefties (while it’s actually effective as a GB pitch to righties). The results we can look at make this look like an easy call, and while it’s undoubtedly not that simple, I’m genuinely curious what would happen. The counter, of course, is that he made need more four-seamers to disguise his curve ball a bit more. But even there, he’s throwing his curve ball more often to lefties, as he still like to throw the slider to righties. Using more four-seamers to lefties might actually improve his curve.

In any event, this is the kind of game where stacking the line-up with left-handers could be counter-productive. Lefties have hit him well, so it’s not like a by-the-book line-up would be disastrous.

1: Jones, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Hart, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

Nicely done, Mr. McClendon. The line-up’s lefty-dominated at the top, then more balanced at the bottom, and Gonzalez is a good match-up for Hart and Zunino specifically. Sure, sure, the OF defense figures to be worse, and that’s an issue with Elias out there, but even after yesterday’s win, I think M’s fans will trade some defense/BABIP for the chance at some more runs. For that trade to work, of course, Corey Hart needs to stop being useless, so, uh, any time you’re ready, Corey.

No word on today’s starter in Tacoma, but as Mike Curto notes, this is a crucial stretch if Tacoma’s wants to remain on the outskirts of the playoff race. The Rainiers have called up OF Julio Morban from AA Jackson, but they’ve lost their most consistent pitcher, Matt Palmer, to the DL. RP/CL Logan Bawcom’s also back, and SS Gabriel Noriega joins Palmer on the DL. Morban had a great spring training in 2013, but his career’s been sidetracked by injuries. Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s missed most of 2014 due to…sigh…injury, and while he’s got talent, the lack of consistent at-bats has really stunted his progress.


77 Responses to “Game 105, Orioles at Mariners”

  1. msfanmike on July 27th, 2014 3:47 pm

    That was big time!

  2. Westside guy on July 27th, 2014 3:48 pm

    One thing Zunino can do is hit mistakes.

  3. Will on July 27th, 2014 3:48 pm

    Damn, when Zunino gets into one it goes a mile.

  4. californiamariner on July 27th, 2014 3:48 pm

    Oh wow, Zunino, that was unexpected

  5. msfanmike on July 27th, 2014 3:48 pm

    Hard to do when that is exactly what he was trying to do.

    Good job Zunino!

  6. Will on July 27th, 2014 3:54 pm

    That pitch reminded me of Hector Noesi. I don’t like being reminded of Hector Noesi.

  7. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 3:56 pm

    Pretty telling how bad our offense is when Lloyd treats every tied in the ninth situation as a Rodney call. Man…….

  8. Will on July 27th, 2014 3:59 pm

    Pretty telling how bad our offense is when Lloyd treats every tied in the ninth situation as a Rodney call.

    It’s odd, because up until about a week ago, he hadn’t been used in a tied ninth inning hardly at all this season, and all of a sudden he’s been using him a ton lately.

  9. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 4:01 pm

    I know. In most cases we use Medina/Furbush/Farquhar combo. Lloyd obviously thinks it’s less than a coin flip that we can score one in the bottom of the ninth.

  10. Will on July 27th, 2014 4:06 pm

    We need to save our bullpen, and Rodney only threw five pitches out there. Hope Lloyd sends him out for another inning.

  11. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 4:09 pm

    And…..that’s why

  12. HighlightsAt11 on July 27th, 2014 4:17 pm

    Medina comes in and there goes the neighborhood.

    Are the M’s out of playoff connection yet. If not give’em a couple days, it’s still July after all.

  13. Will on July 27th, 2014 4:19 pm

    Medina’s stats look good on paper, but he seems like one of those guys that always comes in and gets into trouble.

  14. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 4:20 pm

    When he’s bad, he’s really bad. Hasn’t done this for awhile, but….Mariners.

  15. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 4:23 pm

    No defense for a walk.

  16. HighlightsAt11 on July 27th, 2014 4:27 pm

    Will the O’s intentionally walk Seager with slow and ineffective Hart on deck, and a not productive enough LoMo in the hole? Or pinch hit? What does the book say to do in this situation?

  17. HighlightsAt11 on July 27th, 2014 4:29 pm

    And there is the answer. Game over.

  18. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 4:33 pm

    Broken record. This week should be interesting, but with so many teams still in it, pretty slim pickens out there.

  19. msfanmike on July 27th, 2014 4:33 pm

    Well that sucked.

  20. Will on July 27th, 2014 4:40 pm

    Have a feeling we’ll see a move for a right-handed bat in the next day or two. Heard Kemp and Rios thrown around today as possibilities.

  21. HighlightsAt11 on July 27th, 2014 4:41 pm

    All those previously whining about Chavez, Miller and Ackley in the lineup should have been screaming louder why Hart and LoMo were signed, and are still playing most everyday and on the active roster. And then Z does the M’s a favor taking Morales off their roster, and the M’s lose Pryor. The M’s are back to performing like a national league AAAA team.

    Z is all smoke and mirrors. And soon is toast.

  22. Eastside Suds on July 27th, 2014 4:48 pm

    Did Angie just say “exceptionately”?… Wow

  23. HighlightsAt11 on July 27th, 2014 4:51 pm

    Should have been “And then Z does the Twins a favor…”

    M’s losing so many close games due to inability to perform situational hitting.

    I don’t think anyone wants to wear the DH badge for the Mariners. Since Edgar it’s a curse, like a badge of dishonor and black death. And the same for 1B position.

    I will apologize for my remarks if the M’s somehow are still in the running come late August.

  24. Westside guy on July 27th, 2014 5:01 pm

    Kemp is horrid in the field. Absolutely horrid. He gives back more on defense than he provides at the plate.

    Hey, why didn’t Jack trade for him LAST season? He would’ve fit right in…

  25. Will on July 27th, 2014 5:06 pm

    I think that trading for Kemp is a horrible idea, but that’s what is being floated around.

  26. HighlightsAt11 on July 27th, 2014 5:15 pm

    So who is pitching at Baltimore on Saturday. Paxton coming up?

  27. Grayfox3d on July 27th, 2014 7:42 pm

    Good thing we traded for Morales!

    On a serious note, where do we go from here? The Mariners obviously can not win any more with what we got, especially with how tough this second half is going to be. Is our season over as far as the WC goes? This is the first time in a long time i have had a fun first half of baseball, it just sucks to watch it slip through our fingers.

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