Game 127, Mariners at Red Sox

marc w · August 22, 2014 at 3:35 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Joe Kelly, 4:10pm
Wild Card Odds – 41.2% 40.6%

That series in Philadelphia was neither entertaining nor helpful. Now, the M’s head to Fenway, where they’ve lost nine consecutive games. Ahhh, but we’ve got Felix and you’ve got…Joe (checks again) uh, Kelly. The guy with the…(checks) sinker? A guy with a sinker.

So yes, Mr. Kelly, who came over from St. Louis in the John Lackey deal, throws a very hard sinker, a curve, and a change-up. When he first came up in 2012, his primary breaking ball was a slider, but after working on his curve (and looking at his wide platoon splits), he evidently decided to go with the hook instead. And it’s been a good pitch for him – unlike many curve balls, he gets an extraordinary amount of ground ball contact with it. According to BrooksBaseball, his curve’s GB/balls-in-play ratio is over three standard deviations from the mean, which is good, considering his sinker is pretty standard. So he gets over 50% of ground balls, and almost no one can elevate the curve. Is he a great pitcher? Well, no.

In 2013, Kelly posted a brilliant ERA in over 100 innings despite a poor FIP that resulted from his low K% and poor BB%. The grounders helped him avoid HRs (for the most part), but as Dave and others pointed out, what was driving that sparkly ERA wasn’t HRs, it was BABIP, or more accurately, BABIP in certain situations. Everyone talked about the Cardinals’ offense, and their incredible hitting with runners in scoring position. Kelly was the pitching version of Allen Craig last year, running a .224 BABIP with RISP, and thus generating a strand rate over 82%. Just as Craig’s RISP numbers tumbled this season, Kelly’s BABIP with RISP this year is .304, and that’s helped knock his strand rate down to just over 70%. That’s not the ONLY thing that’s changed with Kelly, but it’s another example of why it’s usually a good idea to be skeptical that a small-sample performance is predictive. A year after posting an ERA well over a full run lower than his FIP, his ERA’s now OVER his FIP, and he’s been essentially replacement level on the year.

In his career, he’s yielded a .350 wOBA to lefties and a .295 wOBA to righties. By FIP, it’s about one run higher to lefties than righties. This is a sinkerballer, after all, so it’s not terribly shocking. And he’s faced more RHBs than lefties in his career – another perk of pitching for St. Louis in the NL Central. Since moving to Boston, he’s actually faced two NL Central teams (including, famously, the Cardinals – in his first start in a Boston uniform) and the Astros. This is a pitcher with real problems against lefties, and for whatever reason, those problems weren’t as evident in 2013 thanks to BABIP and all of that. But they’re just as real in 2014 as they were in 2012, and this is a good opportunity for the M’s to use their lefty-heavy line-up to gain a significant advantage…er, even more of an advantage than they had by just starting King Felix.

Kelly’s sinker is a lively one, averaging around 95mph, and that’s something of a worry. The M’s platoon splits against lefties have been discussed quite a bit, and by picking up Jackson/Denorfia, the M’s have tried to address the issue. But their splits against ground-ball pitchers are actually worse. Henderson Alvarez comes to mind, as does Kyle Gibson. Those two had much better control, however. One way for the M’s to avoid 4-3’ing their way to a loss is to be a lot more patient. Kelly’s thrown a below-average percentage of strikes throughout his career, and it’s been quite low this year. He’s not been able to get batters to chase, either, as his slider – the pitch he doesn’t throw much anymore – was the pitch that got him a lot of out-of-zone swings.

Some might wonder if Kelly was always going to struggle after leaving the Cardinals thanks to their incredible pitch-framer Yadier Molina. Catchers adept at picking up the low strike can be extremely beneficial to sinkerballers, and obviously Molina’s adept at essentially every aspect of catching. It’s probably true that a portion of Kelly’s brilliant 2013 shouldn’t be called “luck” – it should be called “Molina.” But there’s a new catcher in the league who’s among the very best pitch framers we’ve yet seen. I…ok, yes, that description might work for Mike Zunino, but I’m talking about Red Sox backstop Christian Vasquez. Jeff’s article at Fangraphs is a good introduction. If you’re in a hurry, 1) why are you reading this game preview (thank you!), and 2) just go to the second gif in that article. If someone doesn’t understand the concept of pitch framing, or what it is that a catcher’s supposed to DO to get a strike call, have them watch that. Maybe part of it is an artifact of the gif itself, but it looks a bit like magic. Vasquez has caught Kelly twice – two games, two wins, two solid-ish performances for a guy without good control or a swing-and-miss pitch. Kelly’s one awful game for Boston came against Houston, and was caught by Daniel Butler. Am I saying…no, I’m not saying anything, I’m just…look at that gif again, would you?

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

The big story of the baseball world today is the signing of Cuban OF Rusney Castillo by the Red Sox. Boston beat out a number of teams, including the Tigers and M’s, to ink Castillo to a 6-year, $72m contract. It’s back-loaded, so Castillo will make something like the $500,000 this year. Castillo’s contract beats out the $68m the White Sox gave Jose Abreu in the offseason in a deal that’s worked out pretty nicely. The rapidly rising prices paid for international free agents has a few causes – from the quicker-than-expected impact from guys like Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Masahiro Tanaka and Abreu, to the dampening of bonuses paid both to draft-eligible players and the July 2nd international signings. International signings are still discounted, of course, because we’re still not quite sure how they’ll fare in the US (I’m shaking my head at all of the unnamed scouts/executives who questioned Abreu’s batspeed this offseason), but they’re able to produce right away, giving teams bidding on their services more information about their own place on the win curve. Thanks in part to the nearly-instant success of Puig/Abreu, some talked about Castillo moving right into the Boston line-up. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, especially given that Boston’s out of the race in 2014, but he’s probably not long for the minors.

Here’s your basic Sam Miller article auto-link: Has Replay Killed Lying in Baseball? It’s Sam Miller, it’s gifs of attempted subterfuge…just click it.

Tacoma’s final homestand of the season continues tonight at 7:05 against Omaha. The red-hot Rainiers send Jimmy Gilheeney to the mound against Aussie control-pitcher/HR-maven Liam Hendriks. Lefty Tyler Pike starts for Jackson. There are always ups and downs as prospects move up the ladder, but I have to say I’ve been especially dismayed by Pike’s 2014. He struggled in High Desert, and that’s understandable, but the walk rate has been absurd. In hindsight, it never really matched up to the “plus pitchability” scouting reports, but it’s gone haywire this year. Pike is talented, and in AA before he can legally drink, so don’t take this as me writing him off. It’s just a statistical line that I would never have guessed we’d see from him.

Speaking of prospects, RP Carson Smith – a guy I thought could make an impact in MLB this season – is locked in for Tacoma right now. He suffered an injury early in the season, and had a very poor April, but in his last 26 innings, going back to June 6th, he’s given up three runs, struck out 29 and walked 7. In the process, he’s knocked his ERA down from 6.00 to 2.93.


116 Responses to “Game 127, Mariners at Red Sox”

  1. Will on August 23rd, 2014 7:43 pm

    I’d like to hear some viable reasoning as to why Chavez isn’t completely useless… because he is. What does he do well? Nothing, but we’ve still managed to give him 210 PAs this year. Can’t help but chuckle at somebody arguing that we should keep Chavez because he’s hitting .278.

    Guess who else is hitting .278? Munenori Kawasaki… if you’re still evaluating players based on their batting average with all of the advanced data we have now that pretty much downplays its significance, you’re naive.

  2. Grayfox3d on August 23rd, 2014 8:05 pm

    Were 12 games above .500 and fighting for a playoff spot, who the hell cares about Endy Chavez at this point. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
    Ackley started hitting and no one complains about him anymore, what about LoMo hitting .220? where’s his complaints. Hart goes on the DL and everyone shifts their hate towards Chavez.

  3. Will on August 23rd, 2014 8:16 pm

    Were 12 games above .500 and fighting for a playoff spot, who the hell cares about Endy Chavez at this point. He’s not going anywhere any time soon. Ackley started hitting and no one complains about him anymore, what about LoMo hitting .220? where’s his complaints. Hart goes on the DL and everyone shifts their hate towards Chavez.

    Because with Chavez we actually have a legitimate, MLB-worthy alternative in Michael Saunders. Who are you going to replace Morrison with at this point, Smoak? The frustration is that our third best position player is waisting away in the minors while we give semi-regular playing time to a 36-year-old scrub.

  4. Will on August 23rd, 2014 8:20 pm

    In other news, Cleveland acquired Chris Gimenez today for some cracker jacks. I’d take him as a backup over Sucre any day.

  5. Grayfox3d on August 23rd, 2014 8:32 pm

    That’s the thing, Saunders has not been able to stay off the DL this season, and right now he’s sick and according to Lloyd he’s not ready for MLB action. What happens when Saunders get’s hurt again? who do you trust more at this point Endy or Jones?

  6. Seattleguy527 on August 23rd, 2014 8:42 pm

    Nah, I’m not naive, Will. The reason I brought up batting average was because people on this site were using that same stat against him earlier in the season. Goose/gander, right? And I’m all in favor of advanced stats, but I also know that people love to cherry pick advanced stats to suit their own purposes.

    I find it funny that for some people on this site if you don’t irrationally hate Endy Chavez or constantly complain about him, you’re somehow a fan of his. Apparently we’ve now moved on to conspiracy theories that the organization has Michael Saunders stuffed in a suitcase somewhere because they think Chavez is the greatest thing since sliced bread? What, no “Ohhhh great, now they’re going to sign Chavez to a 5-year deal!” posts after last night’s game? Personally, I think those are my fave. You guys must be slipping.

    There, I think that was hyperbolic enough to be a legitimate USSM post, no?

  7. Seattleguy527 on August 23rd, 2014 8:47 pm

    Haven’t you heard, Grayfox? The reason Saunders is sick is because Jack and Lloyd are slowly introducing arsenic into his protein shakes. Shhhhhhh, this needs to look like an accident. We can’t have this ending up on Forensic Files, ya know?

  8. naviomelo on August 23rd, 2014 8:52 pm

    Chavez isn’t going anywhere. That seemed pretty clear to me when Lloyd made the comment about it being too late in the season to have guys try and figure things out at the big league level. When they’re forced to make a move with Saunders, it would seem that it’s going to mean the end of the eight-man bullpen, not the end of Endy Chavez.

  9. Will on August 23rd, 2014 9:49 pm

    I find it funny that for some people on this site if you don’t irrationally hate Endy Chavez or constantly complain about him, you’re somehow a fan of his.

    Never said that you were a fan of his, but please enlighten me as to what you’re trying to argue here…

    I don’t understand why you think we shouldn’t complain about playing 36-year-old scrubs like Chavez on a regular basis.

  10. ivan on August 24th, 2014 2:23 am

    Management plays favorites in all walks of life. Baseball is no different. Managers play favorites in baseball, almost with a vengeance. Endy is one of Lloyd’s favorites, and there isn’t jack $hit you can do about it while Lloyd is the manager. That’s why it is silly to complain. Lloyd is going to do things for his reasons and not for yours. It’s his job on the line and not yours. If you refuse to acknowledge this human dynamic, all the advanced stats in the world aren’t doing you any good.

  11. KDawg on August 24th, 2014 2:38 am

    This blog lacks content. But it has for the last 2 years. For a team that is finally in a pennant race for the first time in 7 years, I am truly disappointed. Wish you guys picked up your game.

  12. naviomelo on August 24th, 2014 2:55 am

    Somebody send this guy a refund.

  13. djw on August 24th, 2014 6:25 am

    Endy is one of Lloyd’s favorites, and there isn’t jack $hit you can do about it while Lloyd is the manager. That’s why it is silly to complain.

    You can’t be serious. It’s “silly” to talk about the organization’s shortcomings and errors? I can’t believe you’re still reading this blog after all these years, since one of its core themes–arguably its raison d’etre–is “silly”.

    Were 12 games above .500 and fighting for a playoff spot, who the hell cares about Endy Chavez at this point.

    It’s precisely because we’re fighting for a playoff spot that the organization’s delusions about Chavez are so maddening. Do you really need someone to spell out for you why giving an ancient sub-replacement level scrub with no upside regular playing time isn’t wise for a team trying to win more games than the Detroit Tigers in the next 40 days?

    So what’s the deal with Hart? Went on the 15-day DL on 8/2. Has that been extended? Is he in rehab somewhere? Is he out for the season?

    He appears to have begun his rehab in Tacoma yesterday.

  14. ivan on August 24th, 2014 6:40 am

    Why can’t you believe I’m still reading this blog after all these years? I read this blog for my reasons and not for yours. I never said sabrmetrics were silly. I’m a SABR member. I don’t think sabrmetrics are silly. I think some of the people who practice them are silly, and that some of the people who practice them are just flat-out dogmatic and arrogant about it (are your ears tingling?)

    Why do I think that? Because stats and metrics do not explain everything about baseball, and it’s high time some people quit pretending that they did. Even Bill James has said this. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

    I read this blog to learn, and every day I learn. I even learn stuff from you sometimes.

  15. eponymous coward on August 24th, 2014 10:05 am

    All told, if Saunders isn’t ready (which wouldn’t be surprising, after having his rehab interrupted by paternity leave AND illness), the M’s don’t have a ton of options in the OF. We already know this.

    Now, if Saunders was on the MLB roster and not playing AT ALL, and Chavez was the starter, yeah, we should probably bitch about this. But the M’s starting one of their raft of replacement-level players over the other when there aren’t any other options? Meh.

    (And yeah, Jones is probably the younger, worse-fielding version of Chavez, though if he could field as well as Chavez did in his salad days, he’d be an OK 4th OF, like Chavez was. But he’s not at present.)

  16. Seattleguy527 on August 24th, 2014 10:55 am


    I wasn’t saying people shouldn’t complain that Chavez is playing too much. I completely agree that he’s playing more than he should. In my first post I acknowledged he shouldn’t even be on the roster because Jack should have went out and upgraded the OF, but he didn’t.

    What I’m saying is given his limited, if any, skillset, his production is what everyone should have expected. Yet there are people who complain about his production and wring their hands anytime he does something even remotely bad. I assume this is because they are bitter he’s on the roster in the first place. I think some people would rather see a guy fall on his face and be right than see a guy they don’t like help the team (also see: Ibanez, Raul).

    Also, for everyone who’s complaining that he’s playing too much — you realize he would be playing a lot less if Saunders could stay healthy, right?

    Ok, I’m spending way too much time talking about Endy Chavez. I really need to get out more.

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