2:46pm PDT

September 28, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 57 Comments 

On so many occasions of brilliance in the past, Felix has required some run support from one team. On this particular occasion of brilliance, he required run support from two. So we shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think anybody is surprised. Even the way things played out was a miracle.

An important, fundamental point to understand is that we aren’t really in this for championships. That would be stupid — if we were in this for championships, there wouldn’t be sports fans. That’s always a losing gamble. We aren’t in this for the ultimate triumph, in that the benefits are separate, but at the same time, what drives us is the belief that there could be a championship, sometime kind of soon. It’s all an exercise in misleading ourselves. Think of it like projections. We aren’t trying to get perfect player projections, and we wouldn’t want those anyway, because they’d ruin everything. We like that we’re wrong, all the time, but we always have to believe the projections are getting better, that we’re all getting a better idea of the future.

All we need is to be able to dream that good things are coming. It’s that simple, and we’re all dreamers, which is why everybody loves April. Teams are always in it in April. It’s acceptable if you feel like good things are coming a year or two or three down the line, but of course the priority is the most immediate season, and you want to be able to dream that your team can win the World Series. The 2014 Mariners allowed us to dream that dream, until the dream died on the last day of the regular season, at 2:46pm local time. It was a much later time of death than for dreams previous.

The disappointment is that the Mariners fell short of the playoffs. In that way, they’ve extended a too-long streak. The disappointment is that they had opportunities to do better, as if every team in baseball doesn’t have its share of heart-breaking or uninspiring losses. It’s so easy to look ahead. They definitely could’ve won tomorrow. At home? Please. They definitely could’ve handled Kansas City. And then to have Felix available in the ALDS…I mean, once you’re in, you’re in, right? No reason the Mariners couldn’t have gone all the way. Just needed to get there. They didn’t get there.

But what are the playoffs? The playoffs are just more baseball, where more fans of more baseball teams get to experience a final disappointment. The playoffs allow you to extend the dream, a day or a week or as much as a month. All but one of the dreams die. A dream will die Tuesday. Another dream dies Wednesday. Of the eight dreams then remaining, four are dead by the 9th. That’s a week and a half from now. Another two die by the 19th. Then two dreams remain. The Mariner dream was alive until the end of September. The Mariner dream was alive longer than most. A selection of more blessed dreams will last all of a few more days before fizzling out. There is a difference, but it’s hardly as stark as missing the playoffs suggests. The Mariners came up just short of a handful of teams who will come up just short. Think about it like that and I swear it’s not so bad.

Every day of this regular season, we got to give a shit. More than that — we got to feel like every day of this regular season mattered. And every day did. They mattered after the early eight-game losing streak, where a lot of people sensed the seemingly inevitable darkness. They mattered during every slump, and they mattered during every hot streak. God knows they mattered this week. I felt like the five-game skid killed my dream, and I swear I felt it die when Ryan Goins doubled home Munenori Kawasaki, but I kept on paying attention, because, what if? It isn’t final until it’s final. I thought it was final on Wednesday, but it wasn’t really final until Sunday at 2:46. The Mariners didn’t completely turtle, and the A’s treated a wild-card berth like an angry beehive. I’m not sure the A’s even want to be in the playoffs, but you can only lose to the Rangers so much unless you’re actively trying.

The Mariners kept us occupied all summer. Is it fall? The Mariners kept us occupied all summer, into or almost to fall. Last season they bid farewell to .500 on April 9. The year before, April 29. The year before that, July 6. The year before that, April 30. They wound up with a fine record in 2009, but they weren’t really in the thick of things so much, so that season had a different feel. This year’s Mariners, finally, held up their end of the bargain. They fulfilled their obligation. It felt like there was a return for our investment, which is the point, and which hasn’t often been the case. This was a team it was actually a pleasure to root for, even when we hated it. We all hated watching Fernando Rodney walk in the winning run against Oakland, but I love that I got to hate that so much. I love that it was a different hate — it was missed-opportunity hate, as opposed to why-are-we-doing-this hate. That second kind of hate, the more familiar hate, is in part just us hating ourselves. The former — that’s pure sports emotion. In all its beauty and pointlessness, that’s the sort of emotion sports fans want to experience.

At the best of times, being a baseball fan doesn’t have to be philosophical. It gets that way in the hard times so we can maybe try to learn something and better ourselves in the process. It’s a way to try to squeeze some water out of the stone of a godawful season. At the best of times, you feel good when the team wins, and you feel bad when the team loses, and when the team loses, you want to feel good about the team winning the next day. At the best of times, you have a very different relationship with players like Endy Chavez. It’s a relationship founded 100% less on snark. Even if you don’t like that he’s on the team, you like him on the team, and you want him to do well because you want the team to do well because you believe in the team as it’s constructed.

What the Mariners didn’t deliver was a playoff berth. They didn’t bring home a title, or even a won series. Yet they generated playoff atmospheres. They generated memorable moments. They ended on a far better note than they could’ve, and don’t underestimate the significance of ending like this, instead of ending with the four wins and the five losses swapped around. That’s a marketing thing more than it’s a baseball thing, since baseball-wise it doesn’t matter, but our emotions are easily manipulated and in this way the Mariners get to head into the offseason as having won at the end. The Mariners didn’t provide everything they could’ve. Rather, they provided enough. Maybe more than enough. Maybe you think I set my standards too low, but how seriously do you really want to take this? The game’s entertainment, and the Mariners entertained, and the show’s over, and it was a good show. Could’ve been better, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse, and overall that was a fine way to pass the time.

We all get about a month of reflection, if we want it, while the rest of baseball sorts itself out. The stage is set for October’s title dream battle royale, and we’ll watch without caring, or we’ll watch something else. And we have a month to look back on 2014 before we think about how to bring the dream back to life for the season and seasons to come. And the dream will come back to life, because it always does, every November, or December or February or March. I don’t know when next year’s dream is going to die. The dream about the dream is it won’t. The last time we felt this good about the Mariners, they came back and lost 101 games. But, the Pirates built on the dream of 2012. The Royals built on the dream of 2013. Maybe the Mariners build on the dream of 2014. That dream is dead, and it died today, but there’s another version of the dream to come, because there always is. You might already feel it stirring.

Game 162, Angels at Mariners

September 28, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 128 Comments 

King Felix vs. Cory Rasmus, 1:10pm

It is the happiest Felix Day Ever. I don’t need to tell you to watch, and I don’t need to strain for a reason you should care. I have no idea how we got here, but this is incredible. Enjoy this, no matter what.

Cory Rasmus was excellent against the M’s for four IP 10 days ago, but even if he’s great again, he’s not going more than 5. This could be a bullpen battle, and I like our chances if it is.

Go Mariners. Go Rangers.

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

Game 161, Angels at Mariners

September 27, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 276 Comments 

James Paxton vs. CJ Wilson, 6:10pm

Hisashi Iwakuma did his part. Now it’s James Paxton’s turn to shake off a terrible start and keep the M’s slim playoff hopes alive.

I wrote a bunch about Wilson the last time he faced off against Paxton, ten days ago. I had a well researched story of decline and aging, and he went and shut the M’s out for seven innings, out-dueling Paxton and getting the win. But like the M’s, my narrative isn’t technically dead: in his next start, Wilson faced the A’s and didn’t make it out of the first, yielding six runs on two hits and four walks (no Ks) in 2/3 of an inning. Since August 1st, Wilson’s given up 34 runs and 34 walks against 42 Ks in 53 1/3 IP. This is a sustained, sustainable slump with a weird, unfortunate seven inning blip against the M’s. No more blips, M’s.

The Angels wrapped up the best record in the AL the other day when Toronto beat Baltimore, and Mike Scioscia mentioned that while he’s not going to turn the line-up over to AAA call-ups entirely, he will get his starters out of the game earlier to get some rest. The big game to watch today is the A’s/Rangers tilt in Arlington, where Jeff Samardzija faces off against Derek Holland, who’s been sharp since coming off the DL a month or so ago. [EDIT]. Awww, c’mon Texas. The Rangers scratched Holland and start Scott Baker instead.]

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

If you’re heading to the game, it’s going to be a bit crowded. The Sounders have a game at 1 across the street, and then the Huskies/Stanford game starts at 1:15. It’s a night game, I know, but I imagine there’ll be some traffic from fans leaving those two events. Not a great night for a 6pm start, but hey, go M’s.

Game 160, Angels at Mariners

September 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 46 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jered Weaver, 7:10pm

It’s game #160, the final series of the year, at home, and the M’s technically haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. The Mariners DHs, as Jeff just pointed out, have been historically awful again. Their opening day CF was gingerly dumped on the trash heap like something both foul and volatile, and after a surprising trade got them a veteran CF, the new guy underperformed that low bar. We all know this team’s all-too-visible holes. To their credit, they played well in spite of them throughout the summer. In all likelihood, their pitching can’t recapture this level of performance in 2015. But despite it all – despite the Brad Miller faceplant, and the realization that Kendrys Morales of all people desperately needs spring training – the M’s go into next year as a contender. A lot can happen in an offseason, but man, the gap between the M’s and A’s looks a hell of a lot smaller now, and the Angels don’t have that untouchable feel that the Rangers had as recently as 2012. I like this, as much as it hurts watching Hisashi Iwakuma slump or Chris Young’s inscrutability suddenly turn hi-def, 1080p scrutable.

Today’s game pits Iwakuma against Jered Weaver, the Angels shorter, healthier version of Chris Young. As you all know, Weaver’s ridden a slow fastball with plenty of backspin to a remarkably consistent career. He’s lost some velocity over the years, but he’s topped 200 IP again in 2014 for the fourth time, and first since his excellent 2011. He uses a four-seamer to righties, a “sinker” to lefties that has essentially zero sink, but a bit more armside run, a change-up, a curve and a slider. As a pitcher who throws plenty of high fastballs, he gets very few ground balls, but that doesn’t matter, as he’s consistently kept his HF/FB ratio under 10 (though Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle’s parks certainly help with that), and thus he’s a rare right-hander with a .270 career BABIP in over 1,600 career innings. Pop-ups are clearly a big part of that equation, as all of his pitches – not just the four-seamer – get more pop-ups than average. But he’s also able to get more strikeouts and whiffs than Young or other pitchers with this MO. This is why he’s been a borderline ace and not just a surprisingly effective middle or back-of-the-rotation guy – he manages contact well AND he’s able to get outs on his own. Finally, his approach and arsenal works for lefties as well as righties, and thus he has essentially no platoon splits in his career. It all adds up to a guy whose ERA is significantly lower than his FIP, and who seems to have earned the right to ignore the fielding independent stats.

That said, he’s clearly not what he used to be. Not only is he not striking out a batter an inning, he’s walking more than he has since 2009 – back before he was *Jered Weaver* and was more the guy who’d fluked his way to a great rookie season. His o-swing, or the percentage of swings on balls outside of the strikezone – tanked this year; as I mentioned before, it’s the 2nd lowest figure of any qualified starter, behind only CJ Wilson. His BABIP and FB%, the two things that define his ability to generate weak contact, aren’t quite in Chris Young’s league, and thus, on a rate basis, Young’s essentially matched Weaver’s (good) 2014. They’re not equally valuable, and honestly, Young was incredible for a while there, but Weaver’s less an ace and much more of a very nice complementary piece. For most of the year, that’s all he needed to be: Garrett Richards was the team’s unlikely ace, and Weaver and CJ Wilson were the handsomely-compensated veteran “presences” that stabilized the rotation. With Richards out, the team might seem to be at a disadvantage in the playoffs, except that no one really knows WHAT makes for a great playoff team. The Angels have been incredible this year, and if their pitching can’t quite line up against the A’s or even the M’s, they probably won’t be too concerned thanks to their best-in-baseball line-up.

1: Jackson (C’mon, man)
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales ( )
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Grant Brisbee’s guess/approximation of AC/DC’s new song “Play Ball” – the song that’ll be featured on every commercial break for the upcoming postseason – was surprisingly soulful.

The Royals face Hector Noesi and the Sox tonight, while the A’s will lose in excruciating fashion to Nick Tepesch of the Rangers. The A’s managed to get six hits and six walks last night, but only scored one run in a walk-off loss in Arlington. Coco Crisp was on base five times himself, but never scored.

Go M’s!

Logan Morrison And Justin Smoak, Who Is A Player On The Team

September 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

So the current Mariner we get to think is newly good is Logan Morrison. Morrison’s the guy we can choose to focus on, if we want to not focus on the various other disappointments. The way this usually works, there’s a handful of semi-interesting young players, and one of them will be performing well at a time, and when that one starts to slump, another one’s getting hot, kind of like young hitter Whac-A-Mole. Morrison’s had himself a wonderful September, and he’s just been pretty solid in the second half, suggesting that maybe he can be a first baseman for a while. I mean, one worth having, too. The guy’s only newly 27.

It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Morrison and Justin Smoak. The Mariners once traded for the Rangers’ Justin Smoak, then last winter they traded for the Marlins’ Justin Smoak. I don’t need to review the similarities. The Mariners were either doubling down on their investment, or they were emplacing an identical safety net. Morrison, if nothing else, was an interesting young player. There are worse things to stockpile.

And, look at that, Morrison has a 107 wRC+. An average first baseman this year has a 111 wRC+, which is basically the same. Morrison seems like maybe he can be an average type. He played most of the year at age-26. As encouraged as you want to be, though, you can’t help but think of something, like that damned comparison between Dustin Ackley and Jeremy Reed. A year ago, Smoak was 26. He posted a 111 wRC+. Some walks, some power, some defense, some promise. Everything we think now about Morrison, we thought then about Smoak. Following here, a Lloyd-McClendon-on-Justin-Smoak opinion montage.

March 2014

“For me, Smoak is a guy who should hit 40-45 doubles and 20-25 home runs. Not the other way around.”

May 2014

“I like what I see,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said of Smoak earlier this week. “[He’s] probably going to cost me a lot of money, but I hope he does, if he keeps hitting this way.”

July 2014

McClendon says Smoak is a Major League player, but needs to work on things.

July 2014

“He’s swinging the bat well,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, he can give us a little lift from an offensive standpoint. And, obviously, his glove work around first base is a little smoother than LoMo (Logan Morrison).”

September 2014

“Smoak, no, I’ve never heard that name before in my life. Do you mean Smock? No, I’ve never heard that, either. Who’s named Smock? That’s a thing for wearin’, not namin’. People still wear smocks?”

Smoak was all promise a year ago. There was a time McClendon thought it was possible for him to lead the damned league in doubles, which often require running. Smoak sucked in the first half, and he’s barely played in the second. He’s a forgotten and useless instrument, like a lot of the things I put away in my kitchen, and considering Smoak this year cost nearly $3 million, it’s unlikely he’s coming back. He’ll end up a free agent, and someone will hope for his upside, because these players are always more appealing if you haven’t actually had to watch them all the time.

None of which is to say that Logan Morrison is just going to go the way of Justin Smoak. They are very literally different people and different players, and if one of them has an X% chance of succeeding, you have higher chances of one of them succeeding if you have two. Just because Smoak seems like a letdown doesn’t mean Morrison can’t even improve from here, but Smoak’s just going to be linked, because he’s a hard guy to unremember, and it’s a hard player profile to trust. Morrison, in a way, is likely to pay for the constant Smoak teases; we’re going to be more cautious with him, because of the defects of his predecessor. Hey, a hugely productive September! Haven’t seen that one before.

Compared to Smoak, Morrison’s probably the worse defender, but not by too much. Neither is an asset on the bases, nor would you expect them to be. They’ve hit for similar power, but Morrison seems to have a higher power ceiling, which is a good thing. They’ll both pop the ball up. One separator is that Morrison seems better about line drives. And discipline? Morrison makes more contact. And, interestingly, Morrison has gotten a lot more aggressive over the course of his young career. Between 2010-2012, Morrison was a patient type. He’s since doubled his rate of swings at first pitches. And, hell, I found 226 players who’ve batted at least 250 times in 2014, and who also batted at least 250 times between 2010-2012. The biggest overall swing-rate increase? A hike of ten percentage points, belonging to Logan Morrison.

He’s significantly more swing-happy now. That’s a big reason why his walks have gone down. He’s also managed to avoid a strikeout increase, so Morrison is basically betting more than ever on the quality of his batted balls. We know he’s not going to depend on his legs, so Morrison goes as far as his power and line drives can take him. When he’s on, he’s a terror, as he’s been the last month or so. When he’s off, he’s worthless, because he doesn’t do anything else, so it’s about maximizing the “on” time. I can’t pretend to be able to predict this.

What are some of the details behind Morrison’s aggressiveness increase? Used to be, he swung at about a quarter of first pitches in the zone. This year, he’s swung at nearly half. And while he’s swung more at pitches in all places, he’s paid particular attention to pitches up near the belt. His swing rate against pitches around the bottom half of the zone has increased from 48% to 56%. His swing rate against pitches around the upper half of the zone has increased from 59% to 77%. Morrison seems to believe his happy place is in the upper reaches of the strike zone. Most pitchers these days are trying hard to work to the bottom of the strike zone, where the zone keeps expanding every year, but then pitchers do make mistakes. Breaking balls get hung. Fastballs try to get blown by. Morrison’s done what he’s done this year with this approach.

So we wait and see and do nothing else. There’s nothing else that can be done, from our end. Morrison’s earned an opportunity next year, just like Smoak earned an opportunity this year, and Smoak wasted his opportunity, but Morrison isn’t Smoak, even if Morrison is a lot like Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the memory of Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the limitations of the Morrison profile. But, maybe he’s actually blossoming somewhat. Or at least producing like he used to, if through an adjusted process. You can see how he could belong, even as a 1-2 win player, because it’s been hard to find decent hitters and his defense isn’t humiliating. I can talk myself into Logan Morrison. It’s not hard, when he’s hitting dingers.

But I could talk myself into Justin Smoak. I did exactly that, several times, somehow. The dream is that you have star players, but you can’t have stars everywhere, and below the level of stars, you get this uncertainty. We’d like for the Mariners to have a decent first baseman, and maybe they have one. We know they have Logan Morrison, whatever he is.

Today’s Fun Fact

September 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973. Since 1973, here are the ten worst team DH seasons, offensively, as measured by OPS relative to the league-average OPS. Information from Baseball-Reference; information also absolutely predictable, if you’ve watched the Mariners at all in the last nine years.

  • 2001 Angels, 46
  • 1988 Rangers, 53
  • 2014 Mariners, 54
  • 1981 Twins, 55
  • 2008 Mariners, 58
  • 2012 Mariners, 60
  • 2010 Mariners, 62
  • 1993 White Sox, 62
  • 2013 Yankees, 62
  • 2006 Mariners, 63

So we’ve got the Mariners of 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, and 2006. If you’re into pattern recognition, that at least bodes well for next year, but it bodes poorly for the year after that, and well for the year after that, and poorly for the year after that, and well for the year after that, and poorly for the year after that, and

The Mariners just haven’t had a good consistent designated hitter since Edgar Martinez. Or, for the most part, when there have been half-decent candidates, the Mariners have put them in the outfield. It’s not just that the hitters haven’t hit well — it’s that, too often, they haven’t hit at all, and while this year there was reason to believe in Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales, the way it’s worked out has felt all too familiar, so Hart and Morales have somewhat unfairly had to deal with fan baggage that predates them. But it’s also been not unfair, because, holy shit, all these situations are like little disaster snowflakes. We hate our DHs in part because of previous DHs, but we also hate our DHs because they suck.

When I first started blogging about the Mariners, and that was well more than a decade ago, I didn’t worry too much about Edgar’s coming retirement, because I figured the easiest thing to find in baseball is a guy who can hit a little and do nothing else. The Mariners have nailed half of that.

Game 159, Mariners at Blue Jays

September 25, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

Tom Wilhelmsen vs. Daniel Norris, 1:07pm

The A’s continue to slide, but it’s too late now. A fifth consecutive loss has apparently allowed the M’s to go with a bullpen day today, and with the stakes even lower for the Jays, they’ll do the same. Wilhelmsen could conceivably pitch 3-4 innings, but it sounds like the Jays will limit Daniel Norris, one of their big prospects, to 2-3.

Norris was never an afterthought – as a 2nd rounder in 2011, and the highest draft pick to actually sign with Toronto (they couldn’t get Tyler Beede under contract) – but he’s never been a top-100 prospect, and was ranked below fireballers Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. Sanchez battled spotty results, command issues and so-so strikeout rates, but stayed atop the Jays’ prospect lists thanks to a high-octane fastball. Syndergaard was traded to the Mets, while Stroman rocketed up the ladder and enjoyed a breakout season for Toronto this year. The point is: Norris was never the #1 pitching prospect for Toronto, but that’s not to say he was unheralded. In fact, many would probably slot him in ahead of Sanchez at this point thanks to his astonishing 2014 season. In 124 2/3 IP this year, the lefty’s struck out 163, while walking 43. He doesn’t have a 70-grade fastball, but that clearly didn’t slow him down.

Depending on who you ask, Norris’ best pitch is a big breaking curve ball (a pitch he K’d David Ortiz on in his first big league appearance), a slider, or a change-up. Fangraphs says curve, MLB goes for the change, and BP’s repeatedly called attention to his slider. The slider gives him a weapon against lefties, while he uses the change vs. righties. In his 3+ inning career thus far, he’s thrown far more change-ups than breaking balls, which may be because he’s faced a couple more RH bats. Early in his career, he had serious command problems, and he was getting hammered well into 2013 because of them. Since then, he’s been death on a stick to righties in particular, so it certainly looks like getting a feel for his change-up was the key to his success.

His fastball sits in the low 90s, with the change in the mid-80s. The change looks a bit like a splitter, with heavy, heavy sink and little armside run. His fastball’s got a lot of “rise,” and the curve ranges from the low- to mid/high-70s. If that arsenal sounds familiar, it should – that sounds a bit like Taijuan Walker. Walker’s right-handed and throws a bit harder, obviously – seeing him hit 98 yesterday was pretty cool – but he too has a big, slow curve and that new and nasty split/change. Their fastballs have very similar movement as well.

Tom Wilhelmsen seems to have the stuff to start, and he has basically no platoon splits. He hasn’t been great as a starter in the high-minors, and he wasn’t sharp in a spot-start this year. There’s no clear reason for it, so it’s easy to chalk it up to sample size, but if the M’s want to get a look at Wilhelmsen in the rotation, they need to do more than give him spot starts on bullpen days. After another great year in the ‘pen, I’m fine if they want to leave him alone and hope he can remain an effective set-up man, but I understand the temptation to squeeze more value out of him.

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

Interesting line-up today.

M’s are three behind Oakland for the 2nd wild card with four games to play. Oakland’s in Texas to take on the Rangers (Jason Hammel vs. Colby Lewis), while the Royals are in Chicago facing the White Sox (James Shields vs. Jose Quintana).


September 25, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

Looking back, the correct answer was “utterly collapse!” That’s “utterly collapse!”, selected by 2.6% of you. Good job, one out of 38 individuals. You are fortune tellers. You are fortune tellers who root for the Mariners anyway, which hints at some kind of severe psychological trauma at an earlier age. Imagine liking this team when you already know what’s going to happen.

I guess a lot of us probably feel like we knew that was going to happen, after the fact. Oh, we got caught up, how we got caught up, but now that the Mariners have plummeted not just into the ground but beyond it, it makes all the sense in the world. It feels like the thing that was going to happen all along, because we’re messed up, because they’ve messed us up, and we don’t know how to trust.

The feeling’s by no means unique to us. Fans of chronic losers all feel the same, no matter how much they want to believe that they’re special. This is how Pirates fans felt, before the team got back to the playoffs. This is how Royals fans felt, before the team got back to the playoffs, where it is presumably headed now. When you go through a break-up, you feel like your circumstances are unusually dark. The most specific details are always a little bit different, but billions of people have been through break-ups, and your situation is uninteresting to everyone who isn’t you. We don’t have it the worst. We just have it bad, like others have it bad. No need to be, I don’t know, egocentric about it, although then I suppose it’s at least an identity.

Still, something about this feels very Mariners. Which is odd, because this Mariners team has come unnervingly, uncommonly close to making the playoffs, which is a distinctly non-Mariners thing to do. Most generally it’s just about building our hopes up before tearing them down, and maybe the scary thing is that the Mariners don’t just capture one particular flavor of disappointment — all forms of disappointment feel kind of Mariners-y, as through the years they’ve let us down in every way possible. The one thing that’s almost unique to us is that at no point have the Mariners made it to the World Series. Neither have the Nationals/Expos, but there aren’t actually Nationals fans.

I’m pretty confident in identifying the Mariners’ biggest hits from the past couple weeks. The hits that just stirred something within. There was Robinson Cano’s dinger during the home series against Oakland, and there was Logan Morrison’s ninth-inning shot in Anaheim. The former was a game-tying solo shot in a contest the Mariners lost, and maybe we should’ve noted upon Morrison’s homer that the Mariners had so much trouble doing away with a Triple-A opponent even though they had Felix on the mound. It took until the last inning for the playoff-hopeful Mariners to separate themselves from many of the Salt Lake Bees, and the Bees finished 60-84.

Things were good, then they were a little rough, then they slid into disaster. On the radio the other day, after one of the Mariners’ recent embarrassing losses, Mike Blowers said he was just searching for a reason. This was after Felix got clobbered, and the M’s scored twice. This was the day after James Paxton’s ERA went up a full run, and a day before the M’s got shutout and lost because Munenori Kawasaki walked and Ryan Goins spotted a gork. Blowers settled on the pressure of the playoff race. The Mariners hadn’t been in this position, but Blowers admitted he might be reaching.

You can go with that theory if you want. It can’t be disproved. It’s also appealing in its simplicity: the Mariners simply wilted under pressure. What could one reasonably expect? The stakes were the highest they’ve been in more than a decade for this team. But then, you know, Austin Jackson’s been here before. He’s been one of the Mariners’ worst players in September. Kendrys Morales has been here before. He’s been one of the Mariners’ worst players in September. Felix was bad the other day, but he had just recently been awesome against Oakland in a playoff atmosphere at home, so it’s not like one should think nerves got the best of him. Given what we know about professional athletes, it doesn’t actually hold up to reason well to accuse them of choking.

Blowers was searching for a reason. I can tell you my reason. I don’t think it was pressure. I think the Mariners were aware of the pressure, but I don’t think it caused them to collapse. This wasn’t regression to the mean. Regression doesn’t work like this. It’s not that the Mariners weren’t actually good. The Mariners were good. This Mariners team was plenty good enough to make the playoffs. Have you seen the Royals’ roster? We’re just the victims of bad timing. Unfortunate, unbearable, unpredictable randomness. I can see why the team is 83-75. But the team was at one point 79-64. The latter team shouldn’t turn into the former team, but for an awful spate of misfortune.

It’s the same kind of randomness that’s had Morales and Jackson suck so bad since coming over. Both those moves were totally justifiable. Good, even, maybe. They’ve sucked. What’re you gonna do? Over his last five starts, Hisashi Iwakuma has an ERA over 8. He’s thrown an above-average rate of strikes, and he’s gotten plenty of whiffs. His BABIP’s been almost .400. The whole pitching staff was always overachieving a little, but lately it’s been the worst staff in the American League, and oh by the way, it’s gotten less attention, but the offense has also lately been one of the worst offenses in the American League, performing worse than it already was. Almost everything’s gone wrong, and it feels like that much shouldn’t go wrong without a better explanation, but randomness is the best explanation, like it almost always is.

Sure, some of the Mariners have to be fatigued, but every team deals with fatigue by the end. Sure, the Mariners aren’t as talented as the A’s and the Angels, but that’s not enough to explain the team-wide breakdown. You want so badly for there to be a better reason, because if there’s a better reason, it can be fixed. Randomness can’t be fixed. Randomness can strike at any moment. Randomness is a big part of why the A’s have struggled so bad since acquiring one of the best pitchers in baseball. Randomness is a big part of why the Angels have soared so high since losing one of the best pitchers in baseball. Randomness is a big part of why the Mariners have gone from in the race to out of it in a matter of days. It can be the coldest thing, but life’s cold sometimes, and you don’t grow by trying to deny it. You accept that you should never get too wedded to your plans.

The first misfortune is what’s happened to the Mariners. The second misfortune is the blend of the timing with the human impulse to try to find a pattern. We don’t actually like to think about randomness, because it gives us way too much perspective, so what’s going to happen is we’ll emerge from this with our skepticism more firmly cemented. At some level our brains will settle on the explanation that this all happened because Mariners, and that’ll make it only harder for us to trust. We’ll require even more reasons to believe in the team, and we’ll try to protect ourselves, and it’ll be that much more difficult for fans down the road to allow themselves to get carried away. You’re born with the capacity to love 100%. Life is just a series of events that chip away at the ceiling. It’s possible to restore what’s been lost, but it takes time and effort and luck in the other direction. We can’t help that we’re damaged people.

The odds of a pretty good baseball team losing 11 of 15 games are about 4%. The odds this year of Chris Young giving up a home run in a given plate appearance were about 4%. With Young, we know that sometimes the homers just happen, and maybe it was a mistake, and you move on. The Mariners are Chris Young giving up a home run. It’s just that this was a pretty important and hurtful home run. Was Young rattled by the pressure of the situation? Probably not, no. But the next time, you’re not going to trust Young to get that out. For what reason would you?

Game 158, Mariners at Blue Jays

September 24, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 60 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. Mark Buehrle, 4:07pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: nope Baseballprospectus.com: noooope

Maybe it’s fair – the M’s sweep of the Jays in early August dealt Toronto a significant blow, and it was one they ultimately never recovered from. The Jays arrived sometime after midnight on August 11th, sitting 2nd in the East and in the WC hunt. They had playoff odds of 31.5%, about evenly split between the Wild Card and the Divisional crown. They limped out of Seattle that Wednesday with playoff odds of 14.2%. They weren’t out of it, exactly, but they ultimately never hit 14% again. This week, the Jays have returned the favor, essentially eliminating the M’s from the playoffs. They haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet, but they could be today. Damn it.

Taijuan Walker’s coming off an encouraging start against Houston; it marked the first time this season he had more strikeouts than innings pitched. He’s dealt with that command lapse, and he’s continued to keep the ball in the park.* Walker’s fastball comes in at 95, and has similar movement to James Paxton’s, with just a tiny bit less armside run and rise. Intriguingly, at least to nerds like me, is that he’s getting similar balls-in-play results. Not identical, because I don’t think I’ve seen anything like Paxton’s BIP ratios, but similar – Walker throws a “rising” fastball but gets more grounders than the average. Because it’s not extreme, and because he doesn’t pair it with another outlier pitch like Paxton’s curve, Walker’s overall GB% is just a bit over average, at 47%. But just looking at the arsenal, you’d assume something significantly lower. Like Paxton, it’s not like he’s pounding the knees with it; he’s throwing it up in the zone, especially up and away to lefties. And because of *that*, Walker’s able to get a lot of infield pop-ups – his 15.8% rate leads the team, and while the sample is miniscule, he was over 11% in another small sample last year. A rising FB, thrown up and away really OUGHT to get a fair share of pop-ups, after all.

His opponent today is the nearly perfectly-opposite Mark Buehrle. Buehrle’s a veteran with an extremely low walk rate and an extraordinarily slow fastball. The lefty now averages 83-84mph, or about what you might see in a local high school game. His swinging strike rate was never all that high, and his contact rate has crept up recently as well. That said, he’s having one of his better years thanks to a big shift in approach – something Jeff found in a Fangraphs article back in May. Seriously, go read that. Have the trends that Jeff found – Buerhle getting an absurd amount of called strike-threes, and throwing inside sinkers to righties – continued, or were they just a weird one-month blip? Uh, the former. After throwing very few 2-strike sinkers to righties from 2007-2013 (under 10% each year), he’s throwing sinkers in about 40% of his 2-strike counts this year. And that’s led to a huge increase in the percentage of backwards Ks . His previous career high in the percentage of strikeouts that came looking was 39%, back in 2004. This year, it’s 54%. Over his career, Buehrle has no discernible platoon splits. It’s not like this change in approach has changed his fortunes against right-handed bats or anything, but it’s an insight into Buehrle’s ability to adapt, change and hang around in a league that has generally not found guys throwing 83 to be viable. Command is huge.

Here’s today’s line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, RF
7: Hart, DH
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Tai Walker

Eno Sarris’ interview with Brandon Moss is well worth your time.

And Jeff just wrote about another pitcher who gets even more backwards Ks than 2014-Mark Buehrle: Vance Worley of Pittsburgh.

Here’s Russell “Pizza Cutter” Carleton at BP talking about how much clarity that new “StatCast” system can bring to defensive metrics, and how much we’ll probably never know.

* – Yes, yes, I’m aware that I talked about Paxton’s low BABIP and he got BABIP’d to death, then talked about the crappy line-up yesterday and watched that crappy line-up knock Felix around.

Game 157, Mariners at Blue Jays

September 23, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 85 Comments 

King Felix vs. RA Dickey, 4:07pm
Wildcard…:sigh:….odds – Fangraphs.com: 8.0% Baseballprospectus.com: 7.6%

Happy Felix Day. The M’s fanbase could use a bit of happiness today after yesterday’s debacle. Paxton had been so sharp, and he picked an unfortunate time to turn in a disaster start. The day I write about his ultra-low BABIP, he goes and gets BABIP’d to death and the M’s playoff hopes now dangle by a thread. C’mon Felix. You got this.

Beyond the fact that the M’s have King Felix, the favorite for the AL Cy Young award on the hill today, check out the Blue Jays line-up. Munenori Kawasaki is starting at 3B, and batting *fifth*. Dalton Pompey, until recently a solid player in the Florida State League, starts in LF. In CF is Anthony Gose, he of the 74 career wRC+ in about a full season’s worth of disappointing play. Ryan Goins! Josh Thole!

RA Dickey’s 2014 has gone a bit better than his 2013 thanks to some regression in his HR rate. In 200 IP this year, he’s allowed 1.11 HR/9, or dead on his career average. His K rate’s essentially unchanged, his BB rate’s actually a touch worse, and his BABIP’s still reliably low. It’s just that fewer balls have left the field of play. This in itself is somewhat odd – in his peak seasons with the Mets, Dickey was something of a ground-baller. Not an extreme one, but he topped 50% grounders one season, and was around it for all three. Last year, he was just above 40%, and is at 42% this year. That, plus the whole designated hitter thing, and a dash of park effects, explain why he’s now giving up more HRs than he did in New York. That said, Dickey’s move to Toronto worked out pretty well for all involved. It’s really strange to say about a defending Cy Young award winner, but Dickey wasn’t paid to be the ace of the Blue Jays staff – he was paid to be a league-average starter, and that’s actually what he’s been. I think the Blue Jays certainly hoped he’d be better than that, but they didn’t pay through the nose for a high-ceiling star. They paid for a guy with a really strange career who was in his late 30s.

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

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