Game 118, Not-As-Blue-As-Steller’s-Jays at Mariners
I’m going to start putting the playoff odds for the M’s up at the top of these posts. I have been here since 2010, so at no point was this a priority, or a thing I needed to think about, or discuss with Jeff/Dave/a qualified therapist. This is fun. For reference, BP’s odds also calculate the one-day and seven-day change in these playoff odds, and you can get a sense of how volatile they can be when two teams chasing the same prize play each other by looking at how they change from day to day. For example, yesterday’s game improved the M’s odds by 8%, while the Blue Jays’ dropped by about the same (actually, 8.9%). To be clear – I’m just posting the wild card odds. Their overall playoff odds are a tiny bit higher, reflecting their odds of catching both the A’s and Angels. This is more of an issue for the Blue Jays, who could conceivably catch Baltimore, but I’m not going to worry about it for Seattle. The M’s are focused on that second wild card, and thus I’ll focus on that too. If you want to make a run at the division, though, I am willing to revisit this, OK M’s?
Yesterday’s game was a great one – it featured yet another dominant outing from Felix (who really made one bad pitch and paid for it; he was close to getting Bautista with an earlier change/sinker, but then really hung a pitch), a suprisingly tense early period where Hutchison pitched effectively, and then an offensive explosion that turned the later innings into a party that featured lots of Canada-taunting. That said, yesterday’s was the game they were *supposed* to win. The next two are arguably more important than beating a jet-lagged, exhausted team throwing Brad Mills to the wolves. Today’s game features lefty J.A. Happ, a fastball/curve/change-up hurler the Blue Jays picked up from Houston in exchange for the curdled dregs of Francisco Cordero’s career.
He first garnered attention in 2009, when he went 12-4 with a sparkling 2.93 ERA in a hitter’s park for Philadelphia. The sabermetrically-inclined blogosphere noted that he benefited from an absurdly high strand rate, and didn’t seem to have a dominant skill – his K% was so-so, his walk rate was so-so, and while his HR/FB was low, he didn’t magically avoid HRs. He threw 90mph, and had normal platoon splits. In a rare moment of lucidity and brilliance, Ruben Amaro Jr. flipped him to Houston in exchange for Roy Oswalt, and he again posted a good RA/9 despite bad peripherals. Was he another Jarrod Washburn, or, and you hate to even mention the king of the “peripherals don’t matter” pitchers, Chris Young? Apparently not. From 2011-2013, Happ decided to see how the other half lived, and posted better peripherals (thanks to an uptick in K rate) and god-awful actual results. Suddenly, FIP wasn’t the big meany telling him he wasn’t actually worth nearly 5 wins in 2009, it was about the only thing saying that Happ was better than replacement level.
This year’s been an interesting one for the lefty. He’s finally brought his walks under control again after several years of posting BB% over 10%, and he’s got a K% of 20% for the first time in his career. He’s still not exactly great; that 85% (!) strand rate that produced 2009’s lovely ERA never returned. But he’s suddenly throwing a lot harder than he had in the past. Happ actually gained about 1 MPH on his fastball from 2009 to 2012-13, but this year, it’s up even more, and he’s now averaging 93-94mph on it. His four-seamer has a lot of vertical rise, and thus he’s generally been a fly-ball pitcher. It’s nowhere near as extreme as Chris Young’s and thus his FB% is likewise a bit more moderate. Happ’s also gone away from his slider/cutter, a pitch he used as his primary breaking ball before. Instead, he’s relying on a curve at around 78mph and a hard change at 86. The change in particular has been easy for right-handers to elevate, and thus he’s struggled a bit against them this year. It’s hard to know if it’s just a small sample thing (he’s had a decent change-up in the past) or if there’s some issue with his change and sinker (another pitch he’s throwing more of) getting too similar. Adding the two- and four-seamers together (and he still throws far more of the latter than the former), Happ throws his fastball around 70% of the time, which is actually a bit more than Chris Young’s 65% rate this season, but right in line with Young’s career mark.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Zunino, C
8: Morrison, 1B
9: Taylor, SS
Great (but math-heavy!) article from Russell Carleton at BP (free) today investigating clutch hitting. It’s very interesting; Carleton used player-specific regressions to examine change in behavior (in this case swing rates) in high-leverage situations. That’s a step or three removed from what we think of as “clutch hitting” but it’s important to start to tease out if and how players react to clutch situations. Hopefully he’ll look at more components of hitting and we’ll start to piece together a picture of what some players are able to do in high-leverage moments.
You’ve just read Jeff’s article on Felix and the AL MVP race (just below this one), now take a look at Dave’s examination of how starters have fared in MVP voting recently. Mostly bad, of course, but hey, Verlander in 2011! I think the list of pitcher MVPs highlights how strange that award really is. Everyone has a different definition of value, so you can’t *just* go by WAR, but you combine the oddities like Rollie Fingers in 1981 with the blunders like Ivan Rodriguez and Mo Vaughn and the whole thing looks a bit strange. It’s clearly gotten much better in recent years, which is why Felix will win the Cy Young even if, say, Scott Kazmir finishes with more wins. But Felix is an MVP, and while I don’t think he’ll get one, that’s no fault of his.
The Rainiers are in New Orleans tonight, taking on prospect Andrew Heaney. Not sure who’s starting for Tacoma, but it isn’t Roenis Elias; sounds like Elias will get 3-4 innings on Wednesday (hat tip Greg Johns). Cam Habson starts in AA, and Scott DeCecco takes the hill for High Desert (also facing a prospect – this time, it’s Astros fireballer Lance McCullers).
Speaking of the Rainiers, M’s SS prospect Ketel Marte’s now in AAA with the club, and he went 2-5 in his AAA debut yesterday. The 20-year old has very little power, but he’s improved as he’s moved up the ladder, and has a good defensive reputation. You may have seen him in spring training with the M’s in recent years.