Game 86, Angels at Mariners
King Felix vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm
Happy Felix Day. I think we can all be frank with each other and admit that at this point, the M’s playoff chances are effectively over. Sure, sure, they’re not mathematically zero, and why yes, I do remember what happened in 1995, thank you. But I know the M’s playoff chances are *effectively* zero because the M’s twice handed Mayckol Guaipe the ball in tie games against an important wild card rival. This isn’t about Guaipe, who may become a decent reliever one day, and in any event is back in Tacoma now. It’s about how the M’s played this series against the Tigers, and how they look coming into this series against the Angels. The M’s runs per game is stuck between 3.3-3.5. Sure, Fangraphs thinks the team is much better than that, and forecasts them for 4.23 per game, or a bit better than the Dodgers have scored so far. THAT gets them close to but not over .500. This team needs to absolutely minimize runs allowed, but they don’t *act* like it.
This is all somewhat disappointing, though it’s all quite familiar, too. If we absolutely couldn’t stand a team being out of it in July, we wouldn’t be M’s fans. We need to extract each atom, each util, of joy and meaning we’re entitled to, and probably quite a few more than that. And that’s why tonight’s pitching match-up is so compelling. Felix and the Angels ace, Garrett Richards seemed to be battling it out for the Cy Young last year before Richards got hurt and Felix scuffled a bit late while Corey Kluber ascended to another plane of existence in his final starts. Richards is an anomaly in many ways, but his very hard sinking fastball allowed him to post high GB rates and correspondingly low home run rates, both of which helped him post 4.5 fWAR even though he missed a month or two of the 2014 season. He’s regressed a bit this year, but much of that has to do with a weird 4-game skid earlier in the year – in those 4 games, he threw 19 1/3 IP and gave up 19 runs on 9 walks and only 12 Ks. It was “capped” by a disaster in the Bronx in which he couldn’t get out of the first inning, similar to Felix’s….let’s not even talk about that. Since then, though, Richards seems to have recovered; he’s thrown 15 2/3 IP over his last two starts, with 12 Ks but only 2 walks and 3 runs allowed.
If you pull up Richards’ card at BrooksBaseball, you see that while his fastball’s extremely, er, fast, it doesn’t have much in the way of movement. It has essentially zero horizontal movement at all – some years it moves an inch gloveside (like this year), in others, it moves and inch armside. The vertical movement is much lower than you’d expect given the speed and horizontal movement. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t throw as hard, but gets similar horizontal movement on his four-seam fastball, but the thing has absolutely elite rise, or vertical movement. Then there’s Richards’ breaking balls – here, we DO see a lot of movement. Richards’ curve (which, admittedly, he doesn’t throw very much) is faster than most curves, but is creeping close to 3 standard deviations more “drop” than other curves. Same deal with the slider – it’s thrown at 88mph, but has negative vertical movement, something you typically see only with curveballs.
What’s going on here is kind of interesting, and it’s time for another physics lesson from Dr. Alan Nathan. Nathan’s got a great (free) piece at Baseball Prospectus discussing the two types of spin that each pitcher imparts on the ball. There’s what he calls “gyro” spin in which the spin axis is parallel to the direction of movement; he compares this to a spiral in football. You throw a spiral so that the ball doesn’t deviate from its path, and the same is true with this kind of spin in a baseball – gyro spin DOES NOT create “movement.” Only transverse spin does that. As you can probably guess, transverse spin’s axis is perpendicular to the direction of movement, and causes a ball to deviate from a hypothetical straight-line, no-spin path. When you see “spin” readings from pitch fx, you’re seeing *only* the transverse spin – it’s imputed from the movement of the ball, so by definition, the system is calculating only that spin that causes movement. Trackman, though, calculates spin directly, and thus is picking up both transverse and gyro/bullet spin. Nathan used Trackman data to come to graph the different spin components of various pitch types. *In general* the conclusion is that fastballs typically have more transverse spin, while breaking balls have more gyro spin. That is, from a physics point of view, breaking balls are those pitches that are thrown with spin that doesn’t cause the ball to break. Makes sense….wait, what?
The best way to think about it is with a rising four-seamer, like Kershaw’s. Fastballs have so much “break” according to pitch fx because they’re thrown with a lot of backspin, and that means that they don’t fall as quickly as they would without spin. They’re scaled-down version of golf drives where backspin and magnus force actually do cause the ball to rise before gravity takes over and pulls the ball down again. A baseball with pure backspin – no sidespin mixed in – the direction of the spin’s axis is perfectly perpendicular to its path. Essentially all of that spin is “used” to create movement – in this case, rise. And that’s why you typically see four-seam fastballs have 9-10-11″ of vertical movement while a slider that looks to have plenty of drop will often come in near zero. According to pitch fx, that hypothetical slider had very, very little spin. We know that it was spinning like mad, but the point is that it had the wrong kind of spin to create rise or armside run. That’s fine, of course. To the batter, it appears to break a ton, and that’s all that matters – what counts is that it do something noticeably different than the pitcher’s OTHER offerings, and that’s what breaking balls do.
So we’ve had a lengthy digression and precious little about Garrett Richards. Ok, sorry. Richards is fascinating in that he’s inverted the rule of thumb we just learned. Richards throws fairly over the top, and throws 96-98mph, presumably imparting tons and tons of spin on the ball, but you look at the movement his four-seamer gets and it’s simply not there. Not in the horizontal direction, sure, but he gets suspiciously little rise. He’s either actually, maybe consciously throwing the ball with much less spin than you’d think, or his grip causes that spin to fall more along the line between the rubber and home plate. Meanwhile, his breaking balls have tons of transverse spin. It’s his CURVE that has more “spin” than his fastball. That’s really, really strange, and it might help explain Richards’ well above average GB rates – or at least, offers some bonus explanatory power above and beyond the raw movement numbers.
Picture time. Clayton Kershaw and Garrett Richards’ curves both have similar vertical movement. Take a look at a graph of the spin rate and spin axis of a recent start for both Kershaw and Richards. Kershaw’s curve has some spin to it, but by and large, he’s a perfect example of the principle Nathan explained:
And here’s Garrett Richards in his last start against the M’s. Note the blob of fastballs in the middle of the graph, while his curveballs are grouped in the top left corner:
There are a few guys who get a ton of “useful” spin on their breaking balls – many are listed in that AFL trackman spin teaser article at BA. Then-M’s pitcher Brandon Maurer had a very Richards-like curve, and you see Marcus Stroman near the top of the list for slider spin. And if you look at them in pitch fx, the numbers are different, but they still show better-than-average spin. But those guys, especially Stroman, still show *more* spin and movement on their fastballs. Some pitchers just put a ton of spin on the baseball, and this shows up with every pitch they throw. Others, like Kendall Graveman for example, throw the ball with less spin – but again, that lack of spin persists across all of their pitch types. Richards is the rare guy who combines Stroman-esque slider spin with a 96mph, four-seam fastball that looks like a Kendall Graveman sinker thrown at 90mph.
1: LoMo, 1B
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smith, LF
6: Ackley, CF
7: Trumbo, RF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: El Cartelua
Keep the ball down, Felix. That’s not the worst defensive OF I’ve seen the M’s roll out, but that’s…suspect.
Tacoma had to wait through a 2-hour weather delay in Reno, but at least they took their frustrations out on the Aces. Jesus Montero had two triples and his 15th HR, and Jordan Pries pitched an effective 6 1/3IP. The win brought the Rainiers to 44-43, the first time they’ve been above .500 since the first week of the season. There’s a lot of talk about bringing Montero up, which Mike Curto discusses at his blog. Today, Stephen Landazuri takes on Aces righty Gabriel Arias.
Jackson doubled up Mississippi 10-5 behind a barrage of doubles, including one by DJ Peterson. The Generals plated 7 in the first inning despite losing their hottest hitter, 1B Jordy Lara, to the Pan-Am Games. Today, James Gilheeney takes the mound against the M-Braves’ Frankie Montas.
Bakersfield’s struggling to score without THEIR hottest hitter, too. OF Tyler O’Neill’s representing Canada at the Pan-Am games in Toronto, and that leaves a sizable hole in the Blaze line-up – as we saw last night in a 14-inning 2-1 loss to San Jose. Tyler Pike gave up 1 run in 5 2/3 (with 6 Ks), but the Blaze couldn’t touch Ray Black’s 100mph FB, and despite plating a run in the 8th, they were helpless against the Giants’ relievers, including Jake Smith, who’s now struck out 75 in 57 1/3 innings. Kyle Schepel took the loss, though he and Paul Fry were excellent for a combined 6 innings. The Blaze staff K’d 18 Giants, but Bakersfield’s compiled a team .615 OPS, and that’s WITH O’Neill. Ugly. Dylan Unsworth starts tonight’s game against San Jose’s Martin Agosta, who played for San Jose last year after a very promising 2013 only to fall apart mechanically – he went on the DL and headed to extended spring training to get right. The K’s are back, but he’s been incredibly hittable (and homer prone) this season.
Clinton beat Quad Cities 3-2 in extras on a walk-off Austin Cousino double. Interestingly, the winning run scored off of the Bandits’ Eric Peterson, the twin brother of Clinton pitcher Pat Peterson. Lukas Schiraldi starts for Clinton, and he’ll share the mound with Francis Martes of Quad Cities. In a story that’s way too pat and confirming of current saber-thought but which is remarkable all the same, Martes was a so-so performer in the Marlins’ complex league team when he was traded to the Astros as a throw-in in the Jarred Cosart for Jake Marisnick/Colin Moran deal. Almost immediately, he started pitching well, and in 41 IP this year, his ERA is still below 1. ERA sucks, and his peripherals aren’t great, but it’s been an encouraging year for the 19 year old.
Everett beat the Hillsboro Hops 4-3. Utility man Logan Taylor and OF Corey Simpson each had 2 hits, with Simpson getting 3 RBIs for his trouble. Luiz Gohara gave up just 1 run in 4 IP, but also walked 4. ASU product Darin Gillies starts tonight.