Game 106, Mariners at Indians

marc w · July 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Trevor Bauer, 4:05pm

The M’s trouble scoring has brought their on-again, off-again pursuit of the second wild card to a head. According to BP’s metric, their playoff odds have dropped by 25 percentage points over the past week. Speaking of playoff odds, the Indians’ are now just a bit ahead of the Mariners’ by the Fangraphs/Coolstandings metric (though not by BP’s playoff odds) thanks to a better schedule down the stretch. That the Indians are in the race isn’t a shock; they won a WC berth last year, after all. What *IS* interesting is that they’ve got the 6th-best offense in baseball despite the implosion of several players they were counting on as middle-of-the-order threats. Nick Swisher has collapsed to a 72wRC+, and as his defensive ratings have collapsed as well, he’s been one of the least valuable players in baseball. Asdrubal Cabrera didn’t bounce back from a subpar 2013, and 2B Jason Kipnis – the breakout start who posted a 128 wRC+ last year – has slumped to a 95 wRC+; he’s gone from adding over 23 batting runs in 2013 to less than two this year. The big reason for their team-wide success has been the continued effectiveness of catcher Yan Gomes as well as the incredible emergence of Michael Brantley, son of ex-M’s CF Mickey Brantley. Brantley’s WAR places him in between Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, and looking solely at batting runs, he’s firmly in the top 10 in all of baseball, ahead of luminaries like Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera.

Cleveland’s pitching has been surprisingly good, especially considering Danny Salazar’s faceplant. The Indians’ rotation’s put up a 3.69 FIP, slightly ahead of the M’s 3.82. To be fair, they’ve actually allowed more runs than that, so on TV as opposed to spreadsheetland, you might not come away with the impression that the M’s and Indians were all that close. But the rotation that lost two of its best starters last year is keeping them in contention, and that’s at least a minor surprise. Trevor Bauer hasn’t been the biggest contributor – that’d be Corey Kluber by quite a margin – but he’s a key reason why the Indians survived the loss of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. Bauer is pitching like the top prospect he once was, and he’s rewarding the Indians for their patience.

Bauer was drafted #3 overall in 2011 and shot through the Arizona system. At every level, he posted eye-popping strikeout rates, but he paired them with elevated walk rates as well. When you’re striking out 30% of opposing batters, a high walk rate is tolerable, but he also had some HR trouble at times. By the time he hit AAA, the HRs became more of an issue, and his velocity was more above-average than exceptional. He threw six or seven pitches, but frequently had trouble commanding most of them. In a brief call-up with Arizona, he was a mess – the walk rate became unbearably high, he had HR problems as well, and then got into a very public tiff with his catcher, leading the team to just-as-publicly disparage him and all but hang a “for sale” sign around his neck. Cleveland picked him up in the Shin-Soo Choo deal, and he rewarded their faith by getting even worse in 2013. It was just 17 IP, but he gave up 17 free passes to just 11 strikeouts. His average fastball velocity was 92, just 43% of his pitches hit the strikezone, and essentially no one was fooled – his o-swing rate of 20% makes Chris Young look like Yu Darvish. The kid who was so analytical about his own approach was at risk of bouncing out of the league.

His career at a crossroads, Bauer overhauled his mechanics at home and locally with the help of Kyle Boddy of Driveline baseball in Puyallup. The Indians noticed, and after bringing him up in mid-May (after tearing through the IL), he’s rewarded them with 80 solidly above-average innings. The first thing you notice is that he’s halved his walk rate. After double-digit walk rates in his MLB call-ups AND at every step of the minors, Bauer’s dropped to 8% (and 7% at AAA Columbus) in 2014. Has he done so by dropping three or four of his eclectic, almost experimental, pitches? No, he’s throwing more pitches this year according to BrooksBaseball. Is he taking something off the fastball to locate it better? No, his fastball velocity is UP about 1.5mph.

To learn more about how and why Bauer was able to transform his mechanics and his results, I talked to Kyle Boddy. What does HE think about the old saw that you can essentially trade some velocity for control? “If anything, there is a weak positive correlation between the two (though obviously if you throw slower, you probably don’t want to hit the strike zone that much).” Is Bauer actually throwing more different pitches this year, or is that just the pitch-type algorithms learning more about him? “I’d say [he is throwing more pitches]. He doesn’t throw all of them every game, and he does try to change some of his pitches’ profiles as well. The slider he throws now is slightly different than the one he started throwing. As you can guess, PITCHf/x neural nets have a hell of a time classifying them, as I’m sure Pavlidis does as well.” As Kyle mentioned, Bauer’s slider has actually slowed down as his FB’s gained a step, and if anything, the slider looks much more like a curveball. His curve’s at 79mph, while the slider’s down at 81mph. However, thanks to spin deflection, their vertical movement is quite different. To have a pitch that functions more like a hard slider, Bauer throws a cutter around 87-88.

Another part of Bauer’s new delivery is his position on the mound. Last year, he shifted his position on the rubber depending on the handedness of the hitter. This year, he’s sticking to the first-base side of the rubber regardless of who’s at the plate. Was that a conscious decision, or just something that felt comfortable. Perhaps unsurprisingly for Bauer/Boddy, it was definitely not based on gut feel: “Yes, he did [move on the rubber in 2013], and now he does not. It was a conscious change to throw off the 1b side of the rubber only for tactical reasons. He felt his pitches profiled better off that side of the rubber, and I agreed.” Despite his success in bringing down his walk rate, he’s still giving up some home runs. As a fly-ball pitcher and someone who’s publicly questioned the mania for keeping the ball down, it’s perhaps that’s not a surprise. So I asked Boddy if there’s a balance Bauer needs to watch between throwing FBs high in the zone to get whiffs and pop-ups on the one hand and giving up extra-base hits and dingers on the other. “Actually his RAA/100 is very, very good in the top part of the zone if you look at the data. On all pitches thrown in the upper quartile of the zone, Trevor is not giving up XBH and HR and BB at a detrimental rate, and in fact balls down in the zone have a worse run value than ones up. I think a major current failing of the sabermetric community at large is to rely on relatively old DIPS theories as if they were locked in stone, while remaining ignorant of the fact that there are significant advanced in analytics caused by HITf/x and Trackman data – neither of which is public. Batted ball exit velocity and trajectory are pretty important variables that few people actually pay attention to. Trevor’s LD% is very high which is probably somewhat luck, but not entirely. His main problem is a low percentage of first pitch strikes – in fact, he is well below-average there. That has been correlated with increased bat exit speed as hitters take more confident swings and do more damage when they are ahead (obviously).”

Interesting stuff. I’ll end this with a comparison – here’s a heatmap showing where Bauer throws his four-seam fastball. It’s nearly all up; mostly up and in. Here’s Hisashi Iwakuma’s since the beginning of 2013. I’m not going to say they’re mirror images; they’re not. Iwakuma’s fastball is more centered in the zone rather than scraping the top. He’s also kept it out and over the plate as opposed to up and in. The point is that in Bauer and Iwakuma you’ve got two completely different pitchers who approach their task in very different ways, and yet both tend to ignore both sabermetric and traditional advice when it comes to their fastball. Iwakuma pounds the bottom of the zone with his sinker and (especially) his splitter. As a result, he gets tons of ground balls and because he gets ahead, his walk rate is a rounding error from zero. Bauer pitches up, and even his slider/cutter typically result in elevated contact. He’s brought his walk rate down, but it’s still not low, and as Kyle mentioned, he’s often had to pitch from behind (Statcorner’s data agrees with this). But that doesn’t mean he’s interested in throwing his four-seamer at the knees. Both Iwakuma and Bauer have moderate HR problems, and while Iwakuma’s clearly a star in spite of them, it’s possible Bauer could join him.

Bauer’s platoon splits are a bit odd, but ultimately, lefties have had a better time than righties. Thus, the M’s have a lefty-heavy line-up today:
1: Ackley, LF
2: Taylor, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Hart, RF
9: Jones, CF
SP: Iwakuma

No Miller, but Taylor certainly needs some playing time. Ackley moves up to leadoff, as Bob Dutton talked about a few days ago.

Speaking of Dutton, he mentioned today that the M’s will hold a private workout with Cuban defector Rusney Castillo on Sunday. The big OF has been working out for several teams; no word on his timing to sign a deal. The M’s *have* signed one of the top-5 International “July 2” talents in Brayan Hernandez, a switch-hitting OF seen by some as the top Venezuelan in this year’s market.

The Rainiers face Salt Lake today, and nearly-ex-Mariner Randy Wolf, on his third team since being let go at the end of spring training. The M’s went with Chris Young instead, a move that sounded like insanity to me at the time and :phtooo:, what the :wipes face: hell? Where did all of these eggs come from?


47 Responses to “Game 106, Mariners at Indians”

  1. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 4:27 pm

    This thread needs a comment.

    On the radio pregame they were talking about possibly bringing Paxton back as early as Saturday. He won’t help the hitting, but I would still like to see him in the rotation.

  2. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 4:29 pm

    Westy, please send some of that revers mojo magic to Morales.


  3. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 4:35 pm

    It’s kind of hilarious, in a sad, horrible way, to see LoMo and Hart, who have value only to the extent that they can hit, batting 7th and 8th in one of the worst lineups in the league.

  4. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 4:36 pm

    And Hart illustrates my point, so well…

  5. Westside guy on July 29th, 2014 4:40 pm

    Ugh, sorry Mike – I’ve been having to focus on a work project to the extent I can’t really follow the game.

    But I’ll give it a go…

    You might as well stick a fork in Morales – he’s done. Dude will not have a hit today. He most definitely won’t be hitting any grand slams there in Cleveland.

  6. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 4:54 pm

    Thanks for the effort, Westy … But Morales just looked very much as you have described in his second AB.

    An absolute horseshit AB.

    He would have been better off bunting.

  7. Westside guy on July 29th, 2014 5:05 pm

    I guess I’m so good I’ve now got a reverse REVERSE mojo going?

  8. SeattleSlew on July 29th, 2014 5:08 pm

    It seems like the M’s gave up on signing Cuban defectors ever since the Yuniesky Betancourt experience but I would really like to see them sign Rusney Castillo.

  9. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 5:12 pm

    Atta boy Ackley!

  10. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 5:13 pm

    Atta boy Taylor!

  11. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 5:15 pm

    Okay Morales … It is time.

  12. Eastside Suds on July 29th, 2014 5:19 pm

    Nope. He looks terrible. Very long swing and offering at poor pitches.

  13. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 5:45 pm

    Well, it’s nice to give up a run and not feel like we’re at an overwhelming disadvantage.

  14. Phantom Dreamer on July 29th, 2014 5:50 pm

    Roenis Elias is Cuban.

  15. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 6:07 pm

    Good news: Ackley has to at least receive some consideration for player of the month.

    The bad news: Justin Smoak has previously won that award.

    I have to admit though, the Pube beard is slightly less troubling when his bat is hot. Slightly.

  16. Eastside Suds on July 29th, 2014 6:10 pm

    I don’t care if he really had pubes all over his face if he is a solid, productive hitter.

  17. californiamariner on July 29th, 2014 6:12 pm

    Morales looks absolutely terrible.

  18. Westside guy on July 29th, 2014 6:18 pm

    Unfortunately Ackley’s hot streak has coincided with a BABIP over .470 – it seems unlikely to last.

  19. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 6:19 pm

    We’ll all be able to say we were there watching when Ackley suddenly became the great player we always knew he would be.

  20. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 6:19 pm

    OK, Westside, or maybe not.

  21. Westside guy on July 29th, 2014 6:21 pm

    I’m sorry to be a Debbie Downer, Dennisss.

  22. californiamariner on July 29th, 2014 6:22 pm

    Don’t put out the shimmer of light on Ackley please!

    Just kidding, but I was actually wondering something about him. Maybe every player goes through these streaks (a lot of it may be luck). With Ackley, we just notice them a lot quicker because deep down everyone wants to believe that he is going to be DUSTIN ACKLEY the best hitter in college in years. Deep down, I think it is hard to get rid of those first impressions and dreams of what Ackley will become.

    With that said, it sure does seem like he’s hitting the ball hard lately. Here’s to hoping (again and again) that it will last.

  23. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 6:31 pm

    Ackley has been hitting the ball well lately, even if his BABIP is unsustainable, and I totally want to believe in him, even though reason, and Westside (but I repeat myself) say I shouldn’t.

    I refuse to ever believe in Smoak again, ever, however.

  24. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 6:33 pm

    That’s probably it for Iwakuma, nicely done.

  25. Woodcutta on July 29th, 2014 6:38 pm

    So is that a mega or ultra quality start? 🙂

  26. Woodcutta on July 29th, 2014 6:39 pm

    Nice, another baserunning error.

  27. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 6:40 pm

    It’s a “W”.

  28. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 6:47 pm

    And the suddenly-great Dustin Ackley gets his third hit.

  29. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 6:57 pm

    Nice long single. That was a break. Good play by Ackley.

    I hope Furbush is on a short leash tonight.

  30. Paul B on July 29th, 2014 7:12 pm

    Just tuning in, Hart had a double? How did that happen?

  31. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 7:15 pm

    He channelled his inner Ackley for one AB.

  32. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 7:18 pm

    LoMo had a double too, although that didn’t turn out so great.

  33. Paul B on July 29th, 2014 7:18 pm

    Looks like Zunino, Seager and Kuma all had a good game.

  34. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 7:19 pm

    Only because Chavez channelled his inner Eric Byrnes.

  35. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 7:20 pm

    Chased that one! Sweet pitch.

  36. Grayfox3d on July 29th, 2014 7:22 pm

    Hey Paul B, dont forget about Ackley.

  37. Dennisss on July 29th, 2014 7:23 pm

    Zunino is a beast. Fun to watch, even if his hitting needs some work.

  38. msfanmike on July 29th, 2014 7:27 pm

    Cleveland probably feels real good about having to face Felix tomorrow.

    Sleep well tribe land … Sleep well.

  39. Grayfox3d on July 29th, 2014 7:46 pm

    So Lester was scratched from his start tomorrow… anyone think he’s coming here? Probably not, but who knows.

  40. aqua1122 on July 29th, 2014 7:51 pm

    Kendrys Morales has been a total bum since coming back… geez I thought he’d be better than this!

  41. JasonJ on July 29th, 2014 8:02 pm

    Anything is possible. Don’t think the price (Walker+?) to acquire another arm for a couple months is worth it. Plus I can’t imagine we can afford to extend him so it would be a rental only which isn’t very appealing.

  42. HighlightsAt11 on July 29th, 2014 9:52 pm

    AP wire headline this evening:

    “Road Warrior: Iwakuma stays uneaten on road in last year”

  43. Westside guy on July 29th, 2014 9:59 pm


    Jim Bouton would have fun with that…

  44. G-Man on July 29th, 2014 10:26 pm

    I hate the umps having to make a judgment on balls like that near-homer that Endy jumped for. I think it should be dictated by where the ball lands if at all possible. So since it bounced back into the field of play, it’s not a homer. If it had bounced out, touch ’em all.

    The only thing that should change that is if the fielder somehow messes it up – say it had hit Endy’s glove on the way back after hitting the wall and gone into the stands.

  45. LongDistance on July 29th, 2014 11:38 pm

    The Thing With A Beard comes to life and becomes Dustin Ackley. Well, this year it’s welcome, rather than last year where it was just baffling and frustrating. Some say it’s his mechanics. I tend to think it’s something related to pressure and his head. And, unfortunately, whatever it is that makes him suck in May and June… in Seattle, for him, it’s entrenched and he’d be sincerely better off elsewhere.


    Regardless of how real-world statistical trends on this season project forward, this year’s been fun and it’s impossible that 2015 won’t be better.

    My only real regret at this point, is that we won’t see the Yankees again this year.

    Yeah, I know… that’s Cracker Jacks baseball… letting myself let go, and get into it and enjoy it on the grade-school, rivalry-thing level, and forgetting about the rest. But in my defense, at least it isn’t Bobblehead-Fan baseball.

  46. Woodcutta on July 30th, 2014 11:53 am

    So Bleacher Report posted an article today about Jack Z and it wasn’t exactly flattering. If this is true then he needed to be fired yesterday and if the rest of the front office (his bosses) knew what he was doing they also need to go now. It is hard enough trying to put together a winning team and organization without constantly upsetting the other GMs in the league. Here’s the link…

  47. Seattleguy527 on July 30th, 2014 12:26 pm

    Yeah, another site posted an article similar to that one a few days ago. Based on this article and others I’ve read in the past, it sounds like Jack Z is always trying to “get one over” on other GMs. So in a sense, he’s kind of the anti-Bavasi.

    I’ll tell you what, if you’re endgame is to try and screw over everyone you work with people will stop taking your calls pretty damn quick. The best deals are the ones where both sides win, because that’s what builds good faith. I’m guessing Jack Z has burned a lot of bridges.

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