Game 160, Angels at Mariners
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
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.