Game 152, Mariners at Angels
King Felix vs. Wade LeBlanc, 7:05pm
Wildcard odds- Fangraphs.com: 24.4% Baseballprospectus.com: 22.9%
Happy Felix Day.
The playoff odds look bleak, as does the gap in the schedule between the M’s and Royals, but if you want to hang on to hope, forget the Mariners – just watch the A’s for a while. Tony Blengino had a fascinating post up at Fangraphs today on the A’s collapse, focusing on the disappearance of first-half stars Brandon Moss and Derek Norris, but they are fun to watch in a cringe-comedy sort of way. Yesterday, it was closer Sean Doolittle imploding against whoever those people are in Texas Rangers uniforms. Today, it was their (good) starting pitcher uncorking another sub-par start against the murderer’s row of Jake Smolinsky, Tomas Telis, and Ryan Rua. The M’s have been running in place right when they needed to be sprinting. This has very likely cost them the ability to chase down whoever finished 2nd in the AL Central. However, running in place is a hell of a lot better than what the A’s are currently undertaking.
Fortune’s bestowed a second gift to the M’s today, too. Jered Weaver’s been scratched and replaced by Wade LeBlanc. This was Weaver’s spot, and it shaped up as a classic pitcher’s duel: a repeat of opening night right when the M’s need a win the most. That’s dramatic and all, but I think we’d all take an easier path to contention as opposed to a “dramatic” one. We’ll get drama in the playoffs, should they get that far. Before that, though, give us your LeBlancs, your Tropeanos, yearning for a big-league paycheck. Yes, yes, the Tropeano thing didn’t work so well, but LeBlanc’s a guy that most of the M’s have faced.*
He’s a classic soft-tossing lefty, a guy with an 87mph fastball, a pretty good change and a not-so-hot cutter. He came up with the Padres in 2008, and faced the M’s here and there for years as a spot-starter/swing-man for our hated interleague rivals. He shuttled between San Diego and AAA for a few years, logging a decent record as a back-end starter in spacious parks, but not really grabbing a permanent job. In 2012, he was traded to Miami, and absent a familiar (if less-than-full-time) role with the team that drafted him, he’s really bounced around since then. The Marlins waived him in 2013, and he headed to Houston. Then he signed with Anaheim, who waived him, and he signed with the Yankees. After a single inning in the Bronx, the Angels re-acquired him on waivers, hence his appearance today. Many, many pitchers are in the position of not knowing who they’ll report to spring training with the following year. In the past two years, LeBlanc really has had no idea which uniform he’d be putting on a week or a month in the future.
The problem is that LeBlanc’s a fairly extreme fly-ball guy with so-so stuff. He’s tried to make that approach work in PETCO PARK and had trouble. Anaheim is a sneaky-tough park to homer in, but LeBlanc’s stuff eases the hitter’s burden a bit. To make matters worse, his control isn’t great. A walk rate over 8% seems like it’s far too high for a guy who doesn’t rack up strikeouts and has a gopher-ball problem. Really, there are only two reasons LeBlanc’s still a major leaguer. 1) He’s left-handed. 2) The change-up really is pretty good. In his career, he’s generated whiffs on about 35% of the swings at his cambio, and when batters put it in play, they’re more likely to hit it on the ground. He’ll still hang a few of them – he’s given 13 HRs on it overall – but it’s been effective overall. It’s also why he’s posted reverse-splits in his career, with righties posting a much lower wOBA and FIP against him than lefties. *LEFTIES* are hitting a combined .315/.372/.540 off of him, or a bit better than Miguel Cabrera’s 2014 line.
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
* Actually, as a guy who spent most of his time in the NL, and as a swing man, he’s missed more of these guys than you’d think. He’s faced Morales and Seager once, Taylor/Zunino/Jackson/Cano/Ackley zero. Denorfia and Morrison have seen him a few times, but that’s about it. That really surprises me, but there you are. LeBlanc has been around a while, and been in many places, but he has not actually pitched that many innings. He topped 100 back in 2009, when Seager/Ackley/Taylor/Zunino were in college.