Game 158, Mariners at Blue Jays
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.