Game 120, Mariners at Tigerss

marc w · August 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Rick Porcello, 4:08pm
Mariners Wild Card Odds- 44.1% 49.8%

After a sweep at the hands of the M’s, the Blue Jays playoff odds are now on life-support. The Tigers too have been hurt in the past week thanks to a few heartbreaking losses to the same Jays team, and thanks to the fact that the Royals have essentially stopped losing. After falling out of the divisional lead, the Tigers found themselves trying to re-take the lead and hold off the M’s just in case Kansas City runs away with the AL Central. The Wild Card is doing exactly what it was meant to do, with these fascinating temporary rivalries and fleeting allegiances (I’ve been rooting for the A’s the past few days, and now I’m a kind of Twins fan).

The Tigers starting pitching made them a juggernaut in the Central last year, and despite the struggles of their erstwhile ace, Justin Verlander, they’re still the top rotation by fWAR this year. They pair that elite rotation with an equally-impressive offense; last season, their 113 team wRC+ ranked second in baseball behind the World Champion Red Sox. This year, despite losing Prince Fielder and with a down year (by his standards) from Miguel Cabrera, they’re still at 108, and still second in baseball. So why are they trailing the Royals by a half-game?

First of all, their actual runs-allowed hasn’t quite matched up to their shiny FIPs. Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander in particular have been hurt by absurdly low strand rates, and thus, while the Tigers ERA’s still decent, by fielding dependent WAR, the Tigers are neck and neck with the Royals. A big reason for this has been Detroit’s poor defense. The Tigers rank 27th in baseball by UZR, and 26th by defensive efficiency. By defensive runs saved, they’re all the way down at 29th. They’ve been especially weak in the outfield, with ex-Tiger Austin Jackson’s poor UZR numbers pulling them down a bit, and thanks to Torii Hunter’s quick slide from elite corner defender to liability. And then there’s the Tigers atrocious bullpen. By ERA, they rank 27th in MLB. By FIP, they’re 28th (yes, the defenders have hurt them too, but the Tigers’ pen has been bad even putting balls in play aside). Joba Chamberlain, Al Albuquerque and Blaine Hardy have been solid most of the season, but big off-season acquisition Joe Nathan’s and veteran Phil Coke have been replacement-level this season. That’s the reason the Tigers grabbed Joakim Soria from Texas in July, but the ex-closer had a terrible run with his new team (six runs allowed in his first 1 2/3 IP), and just when he appeared to get back on track, he was sidelined with an oblique strain. The M’s have a massive, massive advantage in both defense and bullpen strength/depth.

Today’s starter, Rick Porcello, posted one of the worst strand rates of any starter from 2010-2013, and thus his ERA was always much higher than his FIP. He’s continually tweaked his approach – last year, his strikeout rate jumped dramatically, but he gave away most of that improvement this year. After years of a terrible BABIP and a terrible ERA, he’s posted the best strand rate and the lowest BABIP of his career, and after years of getting hit hard by lefties, he’s posting reverse splits this year. So what’s he doing differently? For one, he’s throwing a lot more four-seam fastballs to lefties, and that’s taken the pressure off of his 92mph sinker. His GB% at a career low (though it’s still a touch above average), and that’s certainly helping his BABIP. He ditched his slider in favor of a curve ball last year, and he’s gotten better at commanding it. It’s not a swing-and-miss curve, but it generates some ground-ball contact, which helps balance out his batted-ball profile. In two seasons of pretty heavy use, no lefty’s hit a home run off of it, which helps Porcello’s other long-standing problem. Clearly, there are things you can point to that help explain his improvement, and he’s got the status as the top HS-pitching prospect in his draft class and all of that too.

Still, you wouldn’t want to bet anything you cared about that this can continue. After a career of struggling against lefties, it’s unlikely throwing a couple more four-seamers has entirely eradicated that problem. Chris Young can throw lefties high four-seam fastballs and get away with it, but I’m not sure a career sinker-baller can do that consistently. As so much of his improved splits is due to a low HR-rate to lefties, it looks even less sustainable. It’s not like he’s striking them out, he’s just keeping them in the ballpark for the first time. The low strikeout rate also makes it harder to believe that the strand rate belongs up there ahead of King Felix’s. Porcello, as basically every sabermetrically-inclined fan has said, was never as bad as his lousy ERAs, but I’m not convinced he’s as good as this year’s, either.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Chavez, RF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: James Paxton


57 Responses to “Game 120, Mariners at Tigerss”

  1. MrZDevotee on August 15th, 2014 7:14 pm

    Okay, okay… Extreme small sample size warning…

    Chris Taylor: .912 OPS

    He’s certainly on path for a HUGE regression in batting average and OBP, but I’ll take it up to now… He just needs to focus on picking those balls off the dirt cleanly and getting the throw to first.

  2. californiamariner on August 15th, 2014 7:31 pm

    Well that was another fun game. I’m kind of getting used to this. Paxton wasn’t too sharp, but at least he got by.

  3. Westside guy on August 15th, 2014 7:51 pm

    Chris Taylor is currently sporting a .488 BABIP. He’s going to regress a TON.

  4. MrZDevotee on August 15th, 2014 8:04 pm

    Yeah, he was struggling a bit with breaking stuff… But nice to have pitchers who struggle and give up 1 run in 6 innings… I’ll take those struggles.

    I also like, looking at the CBS Sports recap, BOTH the players of the game are M’s… Normally it’s one guy from each team. Nope. Sorry Tigers…

  5. LongDistance on August 15th, 2014 10:50 pm

    CBS recap was fair. But the fact is, the M’s are still being dissed and dismissed by the mainstream talking heads. Go on some MLB TV LoudTalk show, it’s all an ugly fluke that the M’s are even anywhere at this moment. I hear so much shit, not to be dignified with even repeating it. And, cherry on top, these stuffed-jocks getting off on, for example, “discussions” about how a regional WS between, for example the Nats and the O’s… because of the STARS… what people want to see is the STARS… would be the IDEAL… a really, really worthwhile WS.

    I don’t know. Those 19th hole pundits with their first class, gold card, extended travel miles view of the game and life, don’t ring true somehow. They should, maybe, go NFL or something. Baseball is something else. Me, I think regular people do indeed love field of dreams baseball.

    And we’re sure getting it. And I’ll take it as far as they go with it.

    Jeff said it: Arms in the air…

    Go M’s.

  6. Kazinski on August 16th, 2014 1:23 am

    I kind of wonder when Paxton is going to start living up to his projections, he was supposed to start giving 4.26 runs per 9 starting tonight, but he only gave up 1.5. Tomorrow Felix is supposed to give up almost 3 runs per 9, we will have to see. It certainly could happen with the Tigers but at some point I’m just going to have to believe my lying eyes. At some point it doesn’t matter how much your model can hindcast previous values, but if it can’t predict what is going to happen then you need to refine the model.

  7. MrZDevotee on August 16th, 2014 12:03 pm

    The funniest part of all that, is Elias supposedly is going to get better (y’know, as teams have more tape on him and face him for the 3rd and 4th time, he’ll be better against them), when the reality is, if Walker gets his control issues under wraps, Elias won’t even be on the 25 man roster in a couple weeks.

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