Game 111, Braves at Mariners

marc w · August 5, 2014 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Alex Wood, 7:10pm

It’s nice to be back, and it’s nice to start a series like this one with so much importance to both the AL and NL wild card races. Like the M’s, the Braves begin play two games back of the 2nd wild card spot, and like the M’s, Fangraphs’ playoff odds thinks they’re a better club than the team immediately ahead of them. The M’s case gets trickier because of the number of teams in the race, but the point is the same: these are two extremely evenly matched teams with a lot to gain.

The Braves are coming off of a dispiriting sweep in Los Angeles, while the M’s are probably just as frustrated about how they dropped a series in Baltimore. The M’s at least get to turn to their ace, and the prohibitive favorite for the AL Cy Young race, Felix Hernandez. The Braves counter with the underrated Alex Wood, a lefty with a 90mph four-seam fastball, and a solid change and curve. I say underrated because Wood’s had to work as a swing man with the Braves this year; just a few weeks after being one of the starters in the best pitcher’s duel in years, he moved to the bullpen. Think back to April/May and how dominant the entire Braves rotation was* – Julio Teheran was emerging as an elite starter, Ervin Santana looked like the FA pick-up of the year, and Aaron #@%ing Harang had turned back the clock to 2006.**

Alex Wood is an object lesson in the value of consistency. Despite being bumped around from rotation to the pen in both 2013 and 2014, he’s shown nothing in the way of a performance drop in the rotation. His OBP against as a reliever was .315, but as a starter, it’s .314. Sure, he’s been hit harder, as his SLG% against skyrockets from .360 all the way to .369, but still. His OPS against vs. righties is .685, and against lefties it’s .673. At home, it’s .674, and on the road, it’s .689. He’s pretty much exactly what he is, whatever role the Braves ask him to perform in, and who he’s facing, and where. How? Again with the consistent thing. There’s nothing you can really point to and say, “there, THAT’s the pitch that’s made him a success.” His FB was never overpowering, and he – somewhat worryingly – lost about two MPH from 2013 to 2014, but just about nothing else changed. The pitch has a great deal of horizontal movement to it, and thus he’s got an above average whiff rate with it. By BP’s Pitch FX leaderboard, he ranks 56th of 156 pitchers who’ve thrown a four-seamer at least 200 times this year. The change-up’s even better, with a 33% whiff rate, good for 26th out of 60 starters. Wood’s curve ranks 33rd of 72 qualified starters. There’s no obvious, game-changing weapon in his arsenal, but there’s also no just-get-it-over, “I wanted to give them a different look” style bad pitch, either. Roenis Elias’ curve AND change rank far better than Wood’s, by either pitch-type linear weights or whiff/swing, but Elias’ fastball(s) aren’t all that effective. Erasmo Ramirez’s change-up STILL turns MLB hitters into Mark Reynolds, but that fact hasn’t helped him become a reliable big league starter, which, when you think about it like that is kind of remarkable.***

Anyway, I think my favorite example of Wood’s consistency has to do with his curve. Like many pitchers, he throws it to righties and lefties alike, and like many pitchers, he prefers to keep it down. But unlike most pitchers, he doesn’t care about batter handedness or tendencies or “soft stuff away” or any of that. Instead, he throws the pitch to his designated curve ball spot. Seriously. Here’s his curve heat map to lefties:
Low and away!
And here’s his curve ball heat map to righties:
Low and in!
When a guy’s really getting hit hard, the color guy will often chide him for “aiming the ball.” That’s a wider, more nuanced definition of the word “aiming” perhaps, but this…this looks like the real thing. Alex Wood throws some pitches, and then essentially attempts to play darts or horseshoes with his curve. This is taking the guesswork, the over-analysis and the over-thinking out of the enterprise and replacing it with clean, unbending simplicity. A simplicity that starts with not trying to do too much – with a recognition of one’s own fallibility, and in the end looks inseparable from an almost overbearing confidence. This is Bauhaus baseball.

M’s line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS

Taijuan Walker got roughed up a bit in yesterday’s start in Albuquerque, giving up 8R in 2 1/3 IP, including a grand slam to Carlos Triunfel. Dosger prospect and Miguel Olivo chew toy Alex Guerrero also homered in the game, that one coming off of Blake Beavan. Jordan Pries starts tonight for the Rainiers in Albuquerque.

* An underrated part of the Braves’ pitching is their primary catcher, Evan Gattis. Gattis is in the line-up for his bat, and his wRC+ is the best on the team, ahead of Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Gattis was always seen as a bat-first guy, and someone other teams might look to run on when they got on base. And those teams aren’t wrong! Gattis leads the league in wild pitches allowed despite not qualifying for the batting title because he’s played in dozens fewer games than the guy he’s tied with, Tyler Flowers (who two weeks ago started wearing glasses). But framing, man, framing. The Braves probably expected a massive decline from Brian McCann, reliably among the league leaders in framing runs, but they’ve instead replaced him with yet another elite framer, if various metrics are to be trusted, and, critically, if they’re isolating just the catcher and not some other, more global factor.

** Harang’s start, and his entire 2014 season, is one of the reasons I imagine the gap between the AL and NL is larger than it seems to be statistically. I *saw* Harang last year. I know what he can do, and what he can’t do. If Harang’s a well-above average SP in your “major league” then I’m at least a utility infielder or situational right hander. Yes, yes, I know there’s some kid in Arizona who probably thinks the AL sucks because Brandon McCarthy’s tearing it up with the Yankees, but his underlying peripherals clearly showed he was undervalued, and you have to account for defense and park and I am now arguing with a hypothetical child.

*** Maybe Erasmo is the Craig Hodges of baseball. Or the Billy Hamilton, if Billy Hamilton was more like the plus-plus run, absolutely-no-hit-at-all player we thought we were getting.


51 Responses to “Game 111, Braves at Mariners”

  1. MrZDevotee on August 5th, 2014 7:24 pm

    Harang DID throw two complete game shutouts for us too last year, in a span of 4 starts…

    It’s easy to forget.

  2. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 7:26 pm

    I remember everyone pretty much being glad the Justin Upton trade didn’t happen. Anyone change their mind?

  3. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 7:32 pm

    Ackley is pretty solid out there, as long as his job doesn’t involve throwing.

  4. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 7:43 pm

    Back to back walks? When was the last time that happened for the mariner offense?

  5. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 7:44 pm

    Now Zunino striking out to end an inning … That is really easy to remember the last time it happened happened happened happened happened x 10.

  6. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 7:47 pm

    Justin Upton trade … Meh, ambivalent. He kaybashed it and its hard to miss someone who was never here and didn’t want to be here. I don’t remember the specifics of the trade offer, but I remember it was a lot.

  7. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 7:52 pm

    I mostly remember something like Franklin and Walker. Just seems like those 2 lost a lot of value. Although I don’t know Upton’s contract situation. and it would also mean no Austin Jackson. Just crossed my mind when I saw him, I had pretty much forgot that deal almost happened.

  8. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 7:56 pm

    Come on offense, Blue Jays and Indians lost. Yankees in extras with Detroit. Make it happen!

    Hey! Chris Taylor!

  9. JasonJ on August 5th, 2014 8:02 pm

    Just got picked off at second base…unreal.

  10. Grayfox3d on August 5th, 2014 8:04 pm

    Nope! wrong again!

  11. JasonJ on August 5th, 2014 8:05 pm

    Hah! I guess it wasn’t definitive but we caught a break there.

  12. JasonJ on August 5th, 2014 8:07 pm

    Come on, Robbie…this might be our last runner in scoring position for the night.

  13. JMB on August 5th, 2014 8:09 pm

    Gah. Way to strand the leadoff double.

  14. Grayfox3d on August 5th, 2014 8:09 pm

    C’mon Bonifacio! just drop one! damnit!

  15. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 8:12 pm

    Damn, Ackley and Cano both hit it hard

  16. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 8:19 pm

    I guess we need to give up the DH and let Felix hit – that way he can win the game all by himself.

  17. Section329 on August 5th, 2014 8:24 pm


  18. Grayfox3d on August 5th, 2014 8:25 pm

    wow! it feels like its been so long since we’ve had at least a tie!

  19. Grayfox3d on August 5th, 2014 8:30 pm

    Zunino swings at anything thrown into the ground, he’s gotta change that if he wants to be successful.

    Hey! that Chris Taylor kid!

  20. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 8:31 pm

    HA! About time we got a break – we give the Braves a break every time Zunino gets up to bat.

  21. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 8:31 pm

    We’ll take all the breaks!

  22. Grayfox3d on August 5th, 2014 8:43 pm

    Yankee’s lost! could be a good night, I’d pull for the D-backs to beat the Royals but the D-backs cant even beat them selves.

  23. Don Money on August 5th, 2014 9:08 pm

    Nice DP!

  24. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 9:10 pm

    I’ll bet they could if they had Fister

    Ba dum bump!

  25. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 9:12 pm

    James Russell looks like he’s wearing a fake beard.

  26. Eastside Suds on August 5th, 2014 9:13 pm

    Don’t look now, but Wolverine is on the bump. Bet he has a good cutter! Bata Ching “cymbal crash”

  27. JasonJ on August 5th, 2014 9:13 pm

    Yeah, can’t wait for this dumb beard trend to die…

  28. Breadbaker on August 5th, 2014 9:16 pm

    What if we just had Felix bat cleanup?

  29. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 9:21 pm

    There are only so many things that can be done with hair – and every one of those things has been done to death. We are currently in the “House of David” hair era.

    Google House of David – baseball … Interesting read – from about 70 years ago.

  30. Longgeorge1 on August 5th, 2014 9:22 pm

    Cris “AAAA” Taylor!

  31. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 9:22 pm

    Oh THAT was a sweet play by Mr. Taylor!

  32. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 9:23 pm

    Edit: about 100 years ago

  33. Longgeorge1 on August 5th, 2014 9:24 pm

    Wonder what we could get for Felix now? Just kiddn’

  34. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 9:24 pm

    I believe I heard about the House of David when I watched Ken Burns’ “Baseball”.

    It’s on Netflix, if you’ve got 15 or so hours to spare. It really is fascinating.

  35. Will on August 5th, 2014 9:25 pm

    Best M’s play of the season?

  36. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 9:26 pm

    I’m going to have to give Taylor another “A” for that play.

  37. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 9:28 pm

    I have the Ken Burns “baseball” dvd’s. Seen them all several times. Off seasons are long. Yes, the house of David was one of the storylines.

    And the entire “baseball” production is awesome.

  38. Will on August 5th, 2014 9:39 pm

    If Rodney blows this lead, I’m literally going to throw my TV out the window.

  39. Longgeorge1 on August 5th, 2014 9:40 pm

    Don’t know if Taylor will hit, but he can play his position. Also I still like Ack at 1B when Saunders returns. We would just need a DH to be a “powerhouse”

  40. Longgeorge1 on August 5th, 2014 9:41 pm

    And another TV set lives

  41. msfanmike on August 5th, 2014 9:43 pm

    I feel happy for Will – and his TV.

  42. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 9:45 pm

    One game back! A lot of teams lost tonight too.

  43. bookbook on August 5th, 2014 9:46 pm

    Don’t think Ackley willhit well enough to play 1b.

  44. Grayfox3d on August 5th, 2014 9:47 pm

    Hit well enough to play 1b? have you seen what the Mariners have stuck at 1st base?

  45. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 9:49 pm

    Did anyone hear a progress report on Saunders after his planned on-field workout?

  46. MissouriMariner on August 5th, 2014 9:51 pm

    Exactly what I was thinking Grayfox….1b has been a mess…

  47. MrZDevotee on August 5th, 2014 9:56 pm

    They said Saunders isn’t ready to go out on rehab yet… He’s gonna keep working out with the team, and then hopefully go play some minor league games after the homestand is over, as DH, to get his timing back. The main problem is he can’t throw with full motion yet.

  48. Longgeorge1 on August 5th, 2014 9:56 pm

    With only slight exaggeration, my mother could hit better than our 1B’s. She had a BIG wooden spoon

  49. californiamariner on August 5th, 2014 9:58 pm

    I know WHIP isn’t the #1 stat to use, but this is pretty awesome:

    Since 1980 among qualified starters in a single season, 2000 Pedro, 1995 Greg Maddux, and Kershaw this year are only pitchers with a lower WHIP than Felix right now.

  50. Westside guy on August 5th, 2014 10:03 pm

    Thanks, MrZ.

  51. Jake on August 5th, 2014 10:39 pm

    More good news: Sale starts for Chicago tomorrow, so the Mariners won’t be facing him in the weekend 4 game series.

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