Game 151, Mariners at Angels

marc w · September 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. CJ Wilson, 7:05pm

For four innings, it looked like the M’s season would end at the hands of a random middle reliever making a spot start. The M’s playoff odds had dipped below 20% according to BP, and when the Royals rallied to tie the White Sox, well, that looked like that. A couple of doubles later, the M’s took the lead against the second Angels middle-reliever, and then the White Sox fought back against KC. An Oakland rally in Texas stopped short, and then the M’s poured it on against the dregs of the Angels’ 40-man. Their playoff odds, in serious danger of dropping to somewhere in the 10% range, shot up 15 to 20 percentage points, and are above 1/3 again. Unreal. Everything about it was insane, from how completely hapless they looked against Cory “The Other” Rasmus, to the timing of the White Sox rally, to the actual Mariners posting a six-run inning later on after several days of an almost religious-level of run avoidance.

So, today’s game comes to you with a modicum of drama and stakes attached, and that’s worth celebrating considering that it’s mid-September. Today’s game shows a big reason why – the M’s are in Anaheim, facing the team that’s run away with the AL West, and facing one of that team’s better/highest paid pitchers. And while the Angels clearly have a leg up in terms of their line-up, there’s essentially no way to spin the pitching match-up as anything but a clear M’s advantage. I know, I know: James Paxton’s entire professional career is still a small sample oddity, and CJ Wilson is a big-league veteran with all-star appearances, a massive contract and a Brazilian super-model girlfriend. But Wilson is very clearly not the same guy he was when he signed that big free agent contract, just as Paxton’s clearly not the guy who spent three months of his first AAA season (this was LAST YEAR, not the ancient past) with an ERA over 5.

After coming up as a reliever with the Rangers, Wilson shifted to the rotation thanks to a deep arsenal of pitches (he routinely throws six different pitches) and his ability to keep the ball down and get weak contact. He never quite figured out the strike zone, and walk rates over 4/9IP pepper his fangraphs page, but he generated enough Ks and gave up few HRs, even in Arlington. His change-up allowed him to deal effectively with the legions of right-handers he suddenly had to face, and thus his contract – while large – didn’t seem to be a disaster, particularly considering his excellent 2011 season. Wilson’s strengths seemed to be reinforced by his new home park; if Wilson was good at suppressing his HR/FB ratio, Anaheim was a legend at doing so for just about everyone. If Wilson walked a few too many, a good infield defense and the marine layer would reduce the price he’d need to pay for those baserunners. In his first season in Anaheim, he posted his highest HR/FB since becoming a starter, and saw his ERA and FIP rise markedly (along with his walk rate). 2013 was a bounce-back year, as his HR/FB dropped to his career norms, but his declines against right-handed bats was masked by his incredible success against lefties – a BABIP in the .230s looked like luck, though his K:BB was still excellent. This year, his luck’s evened out, and that’s made him look remarkably hittable. He’s still excellent against lefties, and the M’s are right to do everything they can to get RHBs in today’s line-up, but he’s not as dominant as he was a recently as last year. Against righties, though, he’s continuing to slide – his wOBA-against to righties since 2011: .290, .316, .329, .350.

Worse, those six pitches simply aren’t as deceiving as they once were. Here’s a table of qualified pitchers in 2014, sorted by O-swing, or the percentage of swings each pitcher gets on pitches outside of the strikezone. CJ Wilson’s in last place, with a paltry 22.7% o-swing. A very low o-swing isn’t the kiss of death – Jered Weaver’s just barely ahead of Wilson, and he’s been OK. Lance Lynn’s at #8, and he’s been excellent. Bartolo Colon’s been weirdly effective despite a low o-swing for a while now. Weaver and Lynn both pair good control with well above-average pop-up rates; their game isn’t based on getting hitters to chase, it’s about getting them to mis-hit the ball or swing under a high (but in the zone) fastball. Bartolo Colon throws nothing but fastballs and nothing but strikes, so it’s not a surprise that his o-swing suffers. Wilson, though, has seen his control suffer – again, whether this is age-related or the effect of giving up so many HRs suddenly – as his zone% tumbled from about 51% in 2012 to 44.9% this year. He’s throwing more balls, and no one’s swinging at them. He’s earned every bit of his nearly-11% walk rate. Wilson’s game is now predicated on bad contact, but his stuff isn’t as good at generating it as it was in previous years. CJ Wilson will be paid $38 million for 2015-16.

James Paxton – despite the elite velocity, despite the achingly beautiful curveball – actually pitches in a similar way. He’s just better at it right now. While Paxton’s o-swing isn’t bottom-of-the-league bad like Wilson’s, it’s slightly below average, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it: here’s a lefty throwing 95+, and yet he gives up MORE contact than the league average. His zone% isn’t quite as bad as Wilson’s, but it’s low. But while Wilson’s GB rates are no longer special – and that’s a problem if his HR/FB are likewise trending the wrong way – Paxton is still a GB machine. More importantly, he doesn’t need to rely on secondary offerings like a change or his curve to get grounders. Because it’s his *fastball* that does the heavy lift, he’s able to generate weak contact in just about any count – he doesn’t need to get you to 0-2 or 1-2 to induce a chopper to shortstop. BrooksBaseball has some really cool tabs that you can play around with when looking at each pitcher’s pitch fx numbers. One is the Z Score tab on a few of the tables. Check out Paxton’s fastball here – the numbers are the standard deviations above or, for negative numbers, below the league-wide mean for that pitch type. Paxton’s fastball generates over two full standard deviations more GBs than the mean, and two full standard deviations fewer fly balls. The ratio is over 3 standard deviations higher than the average four-seam fastball. His curve, too, gets far fewer fly balls than average. It is extraordinarily, freakishly hard to hit fly balls off of Paxton. Elite velocity and poor launch angles make Paxton a tough, tough match-up for lefties and righties alike. Paxton is still a pre-arb player.

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

* Kind of funny that the bottom two qualified starters in O-Swing are teammates CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver, while the top two, the guys with the BEST o-swing rates, are also AL West teammates: Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma.


91 Responses to “Game 151, Mariners at Angels”

  1. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:06 pm

    Good think we didn’t play Saunders–


  2. msfanmike on September 17th, 2014 9:06 pm

    Okay Westy – have at it!

  3. JMB on September 17th, 2014 9:07 pm

    Geez, Ibanez out in right?

  4. Westside guy on September 17th, 2014 9:07 pm

    Defense doesn’t matter.

  5. Longgeorge1 on September 17th, 2014 9:07 pm


  6. msfanmike on September 17th, 2014 9:08 pm

    I want to say that this is only the second time I can remember that the Rainbow flatulence contingent has illicited an “F” bomb.

    DeNor”F”ia has broken Mr Z.

  7. msfanmike on September 17th, 2014 9:11 pm


  8. msfanmike on September 17th, 2014 9:11 pm

    Ahh, who the fuck cares?

  9. JMB on September 17th, 2014 9:14 pm

    Great effort Paxton. You deserved better.

  10. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:14 pm

    You were right the first time, Mike… It was a very illicit F bomb… Don’t tell my wife.

    (I’m working up some serious rainbows right now… They should start circulating in the atmosphere soon…)

    I’m shooting (pun intended) for 7 runs in a single inning this time… For the M’s of course…

  11. JMB on September 17th, 2014 9:15 pm

    How could I forget about Sleep Country?

  12. Longgeorge1 on September 17th, 2014 9:16 pm

    Denorfia is a solid outfielder. Obviously a bad play. Starting a guy slugging .130 against a starter is hard to justify. Range factor and fielding % for both players are slightly above league average for right fielders.

  13. Grayfox3d on September 17th, 2014 9:17 pm

    if we lose because of that, I’ll be dropping some serious F bombs.

  14. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:19 pm

    Well Paxton just got Fucked… (That’s 3…)

    Great night of pitching down the toilet…

  15. JMB on September 17th, 2014 9:19 pm

    Now you can drop that f bomb.

  16. Grayfox3d on September 17th, 2014 9:19 pm

    Well ok then, guess we will just lose on a home run.

  17. Longgeorge1 on September 17th, 2014 9:19 pm


  18. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:21 pm

    Missed his mark by about 2 feet, too… Sucre was set up on the outside corner, middle… Farqhuar hit down and in on the plate.

  19. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:22 pm

    Remember though… I’ve got a 7 run inning in the works for the M’s…

  20. WTF_Ms on September 17th, 2014 9:22 pm

    Well, Oakland lost, so at least we WERE headed in the right direction.

  21. Woodcutta on September 17th, 2014 9:23 pm

    How was that an earned run for Paxton? Did I miss something? I thought if a runner scores on an error that run is unearned. Was he on 3rd? (I just got back)

  22. WTF_Ms on September 17th, 2014 9:23 pm

    Oops. Spoke too soon…they’re up on Texas 1-0.

  23. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:24 pm

    Dude… You missed the outside on one side of the plate, by 2 feet… And NOW you miss the outside corner completely on the OTHER side of the plate, by 2 feet…

    WTF? That made no sense… Both pitches ended up down and in, and demolished, to opposite handed guys…

    Someone doesn’t have his control tonight. (sigh)

  24. Woodcutta on September 17th, 2014 9:25 pm

    Unfortunately, this outing will probably mean Lloyd will relegate Farquhar to mop up work the rest of the season.

  25. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:28 pm

    So what was the need to get Paxton out of the game? He hasn’t pitched for half the season, so it can’t be a concern for a pitch count, or too fatigued? Carson Smith? Maurer? These are sort of important games…

    I like Farqhuar but we all know Lloyd NEVER uses him in pressure situations, and suddenly “he’s the guy” in the currently most important game of the season? How did that even happen? I don’t trust you in April, May, June, July, August… But, meh, what the heck, get out there in September…

  26. Grayfox3d on September 17th, 2014 9:28 pm

    woodcutta – Would you want to put him back up in a key situation for a little while after this mess?

  27. MrZDevotee on September 17th, 2014 9:31 pm

    pfffffffftttt… (cloud)

  28. bongo on September 17th, 2014 9:33 pm

    So… why did we *have* to take out Paxon before finishing the inning? Lloyd is on the verge of losing my manager of the year vote.

  29. msfanmike on September 17th, 2014 9:34 pm

    Need to win tomorrow. A split of this series will be okay.

    Big game tomorrow – but with Chris Young on the mound and a lot of mashers on the Angels, I am overly overtly extremely pessimistic … But confident about it.

    What wasn’t okay “then” and still isn’t okay “now” was losing two of three at home to Houston and Texas. We all knew it at the time, too.

  30. Longgeorge1 on September 17th, 2014 9:35 pm

    woodcutta – the ruled in this case he would have scored eventually. The only time an error completely rules out a run being earned is when the batter reaches on an E.

  31. Grayfox3d on September 17th, 2014 9:36 pm

    Mike, add that Oakland series to that list, should of went 2-1 in that series.

  32. Westside guy on September 17th, 2014 9:38 pm

    Wilson being hard on lefties overall – that is a valid argument. But how Saunders – or anyone else – has done against Wilson isn’t particularly relevant to how they can be expected to perform going forward. Individual batting performances against individual pitchers is not predictive – that bit of old school wisdom is not supported by statistical analysis.

  33. bongo on September 17th, 2014 9:42 pm

    The problem here is that we only have 11 games left. For the last 5 years the minimum wins to be second wildcard is 88-93. To get to 88 we need to go 7-4. For 90 wins 9-2 is required.

  34. marc w on September 17th, 2014 9:44 pm

    Welp, you had a really good run, 2014 Seattle Mariners. Thanks for not being aggressively boring.

    PS: That Paxton kid is something else.

  35. Longgeorge1 on September 17th, 2014 9:51 pm

    Westy anything can happen. Saunders Sample size vs. lefties and Wilson in particular are large enough to make an informed decision. I can guarantee that if Saunders had collected a sombrero tonight someone would be wondering out loud why Lioyd started a lefty when he had Denorfia on the bench.

  36. Westside guy on September 17th, 2014 9:55 pm

    Longgeorge1 – please realize I have been speaking out of frustration as much as anything else. I’ve been keeping my distance from this team to some degree even during this run… and while I’m not surprised that they’re not doing as well against the good teams they now have to face, I’ve certainly been hoping against hope that their improbable run would continue.

    I have no doubt you are right, and I also am pretty certain many other managers in baseball would’ve put Denorfia in right field tonight. Any arguments I’ve been making are at best academic. Wilson dominated tonight, pure and simple.

    And Paxton indeed rocks.

  37. Longgeorge1 on September 17th, 2014 9:58 pm

    Westy – Enjoy the give and take. Enjoy the ride

  38. msfanmike on September 18th, 2014 8:45 am

    Hey, Chris Young is not pitching today!

    Felix is pitching today!!

    Boy, that’s a relief! I wish I had known this last night before I went to bed … I probably would have slept better.

    Hopefully the Mariner offense will show up today.

    Detroit and KC play another series against each other and I don’t really care who wins … as long as the winning team sweeps the series.

    The Mariners aren’t done yet, but the fat-lady is getting prepped in the dressing room.

  39. MrZDevotee on September 18th, 2014 2:14 pm

    As long as the A’s have games left to play we still have a chance at the post season… They gave up 4 runs to Texas in the first inning today… After giving up 6 in the 9th to lose last night… They’re still losing in the 5th currently…

    Felix– we need you DESPERATELY to get us 1 game closer to the A’s……

  40. MrZDevotee on September 18th, 2014 4:15 pm

    Oakland loves us… That’s sweet.

    Texas 7, Oakland 2

    We can pull a game back with a big W for the King!

  41. MrZDevotee on September 18th, 2014 4:30 pm

    And Weaver just got scratched from his start tonight to set him up for Game 1 of the playoffs… Looks like we’ll still see him next Friday though… Once is nicer than twice, especially when someone is now getting a fill-in start tonight, on short notice…


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