Game 69, Nice (Astros at Mariners)
Taijuan Walker vs. Dallas Keuchel, 7:10pm
Viewed from one angle, this is a total mismatch. The M’s already sagging offense has cratered in the month of June, and today they face a guy who’s giving up a slugging percentage allowed of *.251* this year. That’s much, much higher than the career SLG% of Brendan Ryan, Rene Rivera or Eric Sogard. It is worse than Eric Sogard’s worst year, and it’s slightly lower than Mike Zunino’s career on-base percentage. 15 years ago, in the height of the long-ball era, players like A-Rod and (especially) Bonds put up numbers that simply beggared belief – you could mentally account for context and all of that, and it STILL just didn’t compute. You have to dig around for similar numbers now, but they’re out there, and Keuchel’s SLG% is an example.
As you’ve heard from Blengino and Jeff Sullivan, Keuchel’s somehow able to do a number of little things extremely well, and when you put them together, it all adds up to a bizarre kind of ace. Keuchel’s ground ball percentage is the highest in the AL, about 5 percentage points higher than Felix’s. But it’s not just that he induces grounders, it’s the KIND of grounders he gets – they all seem to be hit by profoundly sick batsmen. This season, batters are slugging .132 on grounders off of Keuchel. Felix is having a remarkable season, particularly from a GB point of view, but batters are slugging .234 on GBs off the King. How about Tyson Ross, the only guy in Keuchel’s league in terms of GB% the past two years? This year, batters are slugging .364 on grounders off of him.
But it doesn’t stop there. As Jeff mentioned, his motion and pick-off move make it very difficult for batters to steal on him if they make it to first. TWO runners have stolen a base off of Keuchel thus far, and given that he’s running so high a GB rate, keeping runners on first can make a big difference. Another small but real advantage is his defense. By every fielding metric, Keuchel’s the best in baseball.
All of that said, the resurgent Taijuan Walker evens things up a bit. And the M’s have been a better club against ground ball pitchers than fly-ballers (and guys in the middle). That’s not to say they’ve been GOOD against them, but they’re better. Same with lefties – the M’s have a team wRC+ of 100 against lefties, which, while it isn’t setting the world on fire, is much better than their 87 mark against righties.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2b
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, DH
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
The big news out of Seattle today is that the M’s made a change at hitting coach. They’ve severed ties with Howard Johnson, and have installed M’s legend Edgar Martinez in the job. This was, at least to me, a stunning announcement because if Edgar had been interested in coaching, you’d think the M’s would have enabled that long ago. Hitting coaches probably don’t matter, but I’m not cynical enough not to squeal a little bit about seeing Edgar again. EDDDDGAAARRRRRR.
Jordan Pries, Mosies Hernandez, Jake Zokan, Dan Altavilla, Tyler Herb and a rehabbing Hisashi Iwakuma start for the M’s affiliates today. It’ll be Pries’ first start for Tacoma since May 5th.