Game 155, Mariners at Astros

marc w · September 21, 2014 at 10:19 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Collin McHugh, 11:10am
Wildcard Odds – 37.4% 42.2%

It’s weird – with the A’s and Royals losing, yesterday’s blowout lost was nowhere near as costly as it could’ve been. On the other hand, the M’s had everything to play for – a chance to tie for the FIRST wildcard – and got blown out by a bad team. This is the perfect test of where a person lies on the optimism-pessimism spectrum.

Yesterday, I mentioned that it took a while for people to warm up to the concept that Dallas Keuchel was actually good. Not “a useful 5th starter” or “solid depth” if he got his HR problem under control, but actually good. That same process played out this season with his teammate, Collin McHugh. McHugh entered the season with a career record of 0-8 and an ERA of about 9. He was a righty with a fairly generic arsenal – a four- and two-seam fastball around 91, a slider, a change and a curve. The curve was actually a decent pitch, but he couldn’t get to it because his fastball was just freakishly hittable. Everything was a small sample of course, but lefties in particular couldn’t help but hit him hard. Coming into 2014, he’d only faced about 100 lefties in total, but their wOBA against him was nearly .500. They had 34 hits and six walks in just 94 plate appearances with a remarkable 17 extra base hits.

When the Astros called him up to make what we all assumed was a spot start in Seattle in April, I’d never heard of him and assumed he’d be sent back down to AAA immediately after the game. He’d been knocked around in AAA, after all, and again, 0-8, 8.94 ERA. Instead, McHugh pitched a gem, with 12 Ks and no walks in 6 2/3 shutout innings. Suddenly, the guy without an out pitch, the guy who couldn’t get lefties out, was an effective big league starter. As I’ve talked about a few times, the Astros made a few adjustments to his delivery and arsenal, getting him to concentrate on his four-seam, slider and curve, and changing where in the zone he throws them. The change in usage wasn’t all that big – he’d always thrown more four-seamers than sinkers. He moved over on the rubber a bit compared to 2013, but it’s quite close to where he was in 2012. His breaking balls have less vertical break than they did, but that’s just because he’s throwing everything a bit faster in 2014. If there’s a change here, it’s in where he’s putting them. He’s been able to keep his fastball away from lefties, and keep his curve down. He’ll sneak called strikes with his slider, which…I mean, it takes guts for a guy who’d been torched by lefties to throw sliders middle-middle to them, but whatever the cause, McHugh’s been excellent against everyone this year. In 143 innings, he’s at 3.3fWAR, with a FIP barely over 3, and an ERA under that.

I wondered if he was getting by on novelty, and about a month after coming up, McHugh had a rough patch – including a loss to the M’s. But looking at his splits, he’s only gotten better in the 2nd half. He’s not getting as many K’s (and that first-half number was likely inflated by that one spectacular 12K game against the M’s), but he’s stopped walking anyone, and he’s limiting HRs as well. This new and improved version may not be his true-talent level going forward (the 8+ K:BB ratio is peak-period Cliff Lee), but the body of work is remarkable. I have no idea how the Astros turned a career minor-leaguer, and a guy who’d been cut by two separate orgs last year into a great pitcher. I really hope the M’s know.

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

The BP podcast with Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller had a guest for episode 538 – ex BP guy turned political forecaster Nate Silver. Interesting listen.

The Royals/Tigers match-up features Jeremy Guthrie facing off against Rick Porcello. The A’s host Philadelphia, where Scott Kazmir will try and get a win for Oakland against AJ Burnett and the Phillies.


59 Responses to “Game 155, Mariners at Astros”

  1. G-Man on September 21st, 2014 2:58 pm

    I wonder if Lloyd will give up on Morales and DH someone else against a RHP.

    Oh yes, the Royals have that suspended game to finish this week, and they’re behind 4-2 in the 10th. Good.

  2. madatms on September 21st, 2014 3:01 pm


  3. madatms on September 21st, 2014 3:03 pm

    Addtion by subtraction,cancer in the clubhouse,everybody knows but won’t say

  4. Adam S on September 21st, 2014 5:22 pm

    I’ve been very anti-Morales but he’s actually the Mariners best hitter against lefties, small sample size caveats. There’s enough to suggest he’s OK with a LHP.

    Against righties though, we should sit him for Chavez or even Smoak. He’s spent 2 1/2 months NOT hitting. It’s just a huge hole in the middle of the lineup.

    Tomorrow is pretty much must win.

  5. Westside guy on September 21st, 2014 6:24 pm

    I don’t believe the statement about Morales being the team’s best hitter against lefties is correct. At least looking at their 2014 season splits against lefties, Cano (wRC+ 115) has Morales (wRC+ 98) beat by a hefty margin, and Condor (wRC+ 98) matches him.

    But your basic point still stands, even if it’s disappointing that the best DH they can put up against lefties is slightly below a league average hitter. 😛

    On a tangential note: the guy Lloyd plays against lefties at the expense of Saunders, Chris Denorfia, is currently sporting a 2014 wRC+ of 68 in that circumstance.

  6. JMB on September 22nd, 2014 10:51 am

    In better news, KC *should* lose their suspended game today.

  7. eponymous coward on September 22nd, 2014 11:17 am


    Caps lock much?

    OK, now think about this: you turn down the qualifying offer, and end up sitting until June and making a lot less.

    In what universe is tanking your half-season worth throwing away any shot of a decent-sized free agent deal? If Morales was hitting like last year, he’d probably get… well, something. A .200 hitter who’s mostly a DH is going to be lucky to break 1-2 million. IF they get an offer.

  8. Westside guy on September 22nd, 2014 12:17 pm

    I don’t think Morales is as bad as he’s performed… but EC is spot-on. There’s no way he’s doing this intentionally.

    Additionally, baseball people are aware that one-dimensional players with Morales’ profile sometimes fall off the cliff in their early 30s. We’ve seen it a lot, both with the Mariners (Richie Sexson says “hi”) and with several other high-profile players over the past few years (Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, etc.).

    As it is, per EC’s comment: He’ll be lucky to get a couple million offer with a bunch of make-good incentives – there are just too many red flags right now.

  9. msfanmike on September 22nd, 2014 2:07 pm

    I can’t believe you guys would question the well thought out logic proferred by “Mad at M’s.”

    I think Morales will be on the Mariners radar list in the off-season. His agent will spin him as a “bounce back” candidate with a proven track record interrupted by an unfortunate season whereby he missed spring training camp.

    As a bounce-back candidate, Morales might be worth a one year offer in the $3.5M neighborhood … or roughly what the M’s already have Justin Smoak under contract for – for next season.

    As much as we might hate the idea, the Mariners are going to be bringing back one of those guys next season and as much as I hate to admit it, Smoak is probably more valuable. They Mariners won’t be able to contain themselves. They will definitely have one of those ass-clowns clogging up a roster spot next season, if not both.

    If Morales refuses the presumed one-year offer at about 1/4 the amount he was offered last offseason, throw a party and thank him! He’s been horrible, but he is definitely not being horrible on purpose. Just the opposite … he is actually trying to improve his value in a walk year, but he just doesn’t have “it” any longer. He is horribly out of shape and may never “find it.” Jesus Montero is a bit of an Adonis compared to Morales.

    Okay, maybe that is a bit overboard, but ……..

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