The Second Half Begins – Game 90, Mariners at Yankees

marc w · July 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Montgomery vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 4:05pm

The M’s finished the first half 7 games under .500, seemingly stuck in neutral as their competition fights a mile or so ahead. It’s a difficult lead to make up, but given the parity in the 2-wildcard AL of 2015, perhaps not difficult enough. As we’ve talked about, the M’s may fancy their chances to add another bat and make a run, which would be somewhat quixotic move given the number of teams above them, and would be hard to swing in any event given the struggles of the M’s top prospects. They could sell some of their pitching depth, but 3 months of JA Happ isn’t going to bring back a whole lot, and trading a Mike Montgomery or Roenis Elias is simply not what the M’s should be considering. All of that said, Jack Zduriencik is clearly on the hot seat now, and that’s what’s concerning me. Not that’s he’s on the hot seat, but that decision-making acumen isn’t generally improved by administering pain and desperation.

The trade deadline’s less than two weeks away. Prices are higher at the deadline than in the offseason because teams are supposed to know more about where they stand and why. While the M’s are probably painfully aware of what’s gone wrong, it must be difficult to really assess where they stand at the moment. The M’s fangraphs playoff odds are at 17%, which, while not great, don’t PRECLUDE “going for it,” whatever that means. At BaseballProspectus, they’re under 5%, though. You can pick and choose why BP just doesn’t GET the M’s, or why Fangraphs’ view of the offense is more accurate, but some very good statistical minds have produced a frustratingly wide range of outcomes for you to consider. What Zduriencik must be wondering about is why his team’s offense has so consistently underperformed their projections. Whatever they’ve been, and the M’s have had some mighty pessimistic forecasts in 2011-12, the M’s have generally found a way to come in low. The 2014 club succeeded because their pitching (and really, their bullpen) was incredible. They haven’t had a season where they surprise people by clubbing the ball. This is a problem they haven’t solved in the 6+ years of Jack’s tenure in charge. There are multiple suspects, up to and including Zduriencik’s own eye for pro talent, but there’s no way to conclusively assign blame. That kind of cloud has *got* to make it difficult to make trade decisions right now.

I have no idea what happened over the all-star break when one group of (national) reporters stated that the M’s were close to a deal for a catcher, and another group of (local) reporters said they weren’t. I just know that as of today, the M’s didn’t add one. And that means another half-season of Mike Zunino, and scrounging every data source for some reason to be hopeful. Zunino’s wRC+ is currently 45, a level no qualified batter has approached since Cesar Izturis’ 46 in 2010. He adds value in other ways, and sure, maybe even these struggles count as development of some sort or another, but the trend here is alarming. That no one knows how to stop it is *more* alarming. The M’s, as an org, are full of former catchers, but the M’s have continually struggled with the catcher position. And now, Zduriencik and that coterie of ex-catchers need Mike Zunino’s bat – not his glove, but his bat – to save their jobs. Working in baseball is surely stressful, but some spots are more stressful than others.

Today, the M’s kick off their second half with an intriguing match-up between Masahiro Tanaka and Mike Montgomery. Both have so-so fastballs, and both rely heavily on a plus to plus-plus offspeed pitch. The splitter, the pitch Tanaka throws more than any other, is really a form of change-up. It’s thrown with the same arm speed as a fastball, but comes in slower and sinks more. Montgomery’s change has less vertical “drop” of a typical splitter (and Tanaka’s splitter in particular), but has remarkable armside run. In general, the more 12-6 movement of a *good* splitter is very advantageous, because it can be used against all batters, gets a ton of ground balls, and is difficult for batters to hold up on – think of Iwakuma’s swing-rates on his split, even when he throws it below the zone. A more traditional circle-change can be great against opposite-handed hitters, but depending on who’s throwing it, it might not be so great against same-handed bats, and it might generate fly balls. That’s pretty much what we see with Montgomery – his change isn’t a big ground-ball pitch, and batters are less likely to swing at it than Tanaka’s split.

But there’s something to be said for living at the tail end of the distribution. Montgomery’s motion is more or less over the top – he releases the ball near 7′ from the ground, or about 0.1′ lower than James Paxton does. And yet Montgomery’s change-up gets over 11″ of armside run – far, far more than Paxton’s or most anyone’s. To be fair, there are a few pitchers in baseball that get a bit more run. In first place is the wonderfully bizarre Chris Sale, who averages 13″. But think about Sale’s arm angle and how different it is to Paxton/Montgomery’s. It’s just easier for a side-armer like Sale to apply enough sidespin to make the ball move that much. It’s really tough if you’re coming over the top, but Montgomery manages, which means the difference between what a hitter expects and what he gets has got to be freakishly large.

By the numbers, another Mariner has a very similar change-up, the guy Montgomery’s currently beaten out as the 5th starter: Roenis Elias. Elias’ is nowhere near as upright as Montgomery, but gets 10.5″ of run with an average release point over 6′, and that’s interesting. But if you know about Elias, you know why that’s a bit misleading. Elias drops way down to lefties, and I think those drop-down changes might generate more run. David Price’s cambio is similar, as it gets run similar to Elias’ but from a slightly higher release point. It’s also easier to understand Price applying an ungodly amount of spin to the ball, because *all* of Price’s pitches move like crazy. Another ex-Ray has a still-more comparable change: Matt Moore. The oft-injured lefty throws harder than Montgomery, but generates an insane amount of run on his fastballs and change despite a release point higher than Price’s (but still lower than Montgomery’s). What Moore and Montgomery have shown – albeit in limited samples – is that their swerving change-ups tend to get fouled off a lot. They get plenty of whiffs, but instead of ground balls, they get a lot of strikes without the ball being put in play. Moore’s control wasn’t great to begin with, so he wasn’t able to take that advantage and turn it into great walk rates. Montgomery’s control has been solid, so this is something to track – if Montgomery’s able to get and stay ahead of hitters, his BABIP won’t regress as far as it otherwise would.

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

That’s a strongly left-handed line-up against a pitcher in Tanaka who’s run reverse splits thanks to his splitter. It’s not BABIP luck or HR/FB – lefties have a ground ball rate of over 54% against Tanaka in his career, while righties are at just under 40%.

Speaking of Roenis Elias, he’ll start tonight’s game at Cheney Stadium against Chris Stratton and Sacramento. Fireworks night, perfect temps…head to Tacoma. The R’s lost the first game of this series last night by a score of 11-3.

Jackson’s Edwin Diaz starts tonight in Mobile. The Generals have gone 1-1 in the series with the Shuckers, winning the first behind homers from DJ Peterson and Tyler Marlette, but losing last night 8-3 thanks in part to an inside-the-park-HR from former General Jack Reinheimer. Reliever Paul Fry, who’d been so good with Bakersfield, is now in Jackson.

Bakersfield lost the first two games of its series with Modesto by a combined score of 20-6. Dan Altavilla tries to stop the bleeding tonight.

Clinton lost the first game of their series with Kane County, and then yesterday’s game was postponed. They’re playing two today, with Lukas Schiraldi and Osmer Morales starting for the L-Kings.

Everett’s dropped two straight to Vancouver, both by the same score: 5-4. Lane Ratliff looks to stop the losing streak tonight in Everett. There was a lot of chatter on Wednesday when Alex Jackson was pulled from the game midway through, and then was held out of yesterday’s game. There was no apparent injury, and well, it’s trade season, but in the end, Jackson’s not going anywhere. He picked up a hand injury on a swing in Wednesday’s game, and that kept him out yesterday. He’s not on the DL yet, and may play tonight.


7 Responses to “The Second Half Begins – Game 90, Mariners at Yankees”

  1. Westside guy on July 17th, 2015 3:09 pm

    Wasn’t the rumor that the Mariners were acquiring a backup catcher? That’s been part of the issue, in my mind – the team refuses to take Zunino out of the starting role. The only way they can really justify that is by having backup catchers even worse than he is, and that doesn’t help the team in any way.

    I don’t know that I believe Jack is on the hot seat. The team’s ownership really seems to mostly care about making a profit, and they are. Jack Z seems to think about baseball in the same manner the ownership does – simplistically, based on old-school philosophies most successful orgs have moved on from.

    Ah, well, it’s still a very nice summer day outside. One nice thing about being a casual fan – it’s easy to watch for a bit, and if the game isn’t going the way I want… I just switch to a different game or turn it off completely.

    Go M’s.

  2. PackBob on July 17th, 2015 3:48 pm

    It’s funny how the odds work. The Mariners have underperformed their projections so far and that is water under the bridge. Their projected final record is the combination of what’s happened so far and the M’s living up to their projections in the second half. To achieve the number of wins to be in the mix for a playoff spot, they would have to exceed those projections by a good bit and play like the best team in the AL for a few months.

    But if the M’s were to start off with a 7-game winning streak, everything changes. The new baseline is a .500 team that, if it plays close to projections, has a good chance of making the playoffs.

    Any team, not just the M’s, just needs to play like world beaters for a week or two, and then come back to earth to contend.

    I’m not saying the M’s will do it, but they are capable of doing it with good pitching and hitting that finally shows up. It’s more likely that they will simply play to their projections in the 2nd half and wonder what could have been. Again.

  3. Westside guy on July 17th, 2015 5:28 pm

    And if the M’s start off the second half with a 70 game win streak, they’ll win the division!

  4. LongDistance on July 18th, 2015 12:26 am compiled statistics from 2007 through early June 2012, showing that the home team swept 2 game series 27.8% of the time, but won 2 games of 3 game series 56.8% of the time, and 2 games of 4 game series 74.8% of the time. Just for comparison, the same values for road teams were 23.8%, 43.5%, and 61.5%. Eliminating the two disastrous losing streaks earlier this year, the Mariners are currently playing as a profoundly average team, with one exception: their underperformance is most visible in the erosion of their home advantage.

    Is home field advantage real? Yes. In “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won” the numbers compiled for the last ten years show that home clubs win 53.9% of the time.

    From the FO, profit-based perspective, winning at home is much more important than winning on the road. Home game wins generate a lot more revenue in all ways, from attendance to advertising to merchandising.

    This said, the authors combed through reams of stats, trying to find what the biggest single factor to home field advantage was, and guess what they found? It’s the referees and their home town bias.

    “In baseball, it turns out that the most significant difference between home and away teams is that home teams strike out less and walk more—a lot more—per plate appearance than do away teams….For the most ambiguous pitches—the ones on the corners—the home-away called-strike discrepancy is largest, which makes sense….Over the course of a season, all of this adds up to 516 more strikeouts called on away teams and 195 more walks awarded to home teams than there otherwise should be, thanks to the home plate umpire’s bias. And this includes only terminal pitches—where the next called pitch will result in either a strikeout or a walk. Errant calls given earlier in the pitch count could confer an even greater advantage for the home team….Taking the value of a walk and a strikeout in various game situations, this adds up to an extra 7.3 runs per season given to each home team by the plate umpire alone. That might not sound significant but cumulatively, home teams outscore their visitors by only 10.5 runs in a season. Thus, more than two-thirds of the home field advantage in MLB comes by virtue of the home plate umpire’s bad calls.”

    Interestingly, the authors found that this bias, which discounted outright corruption, comes mainly from the internalized pressure created by a loud and sometimes unruly fan base, and indirectly from unspoken but well-understood expectations of the ownership.

    Possible Seattle crowds are too polite? The FO too gentlemanly? Maybe instead of a politely bowing, absentee ownership, and a country club style upper management, they need a hell-raising owner and management, and a crowd more interested in winning, than going to games to see a few dingers and discuss what’s up and down on Nasdaq today.

    I dunno, of course. But it just seems to me, and statistics seem to support the argument, that even a deeply mired .500 team playing ping-pong with wins and losses, and regardless of whether it is underperforming based on pre-season expectations, should win more often at home.

  5. jak924 on July 18th, 2015 7:02 am

    Paralysis by analysis. The team stinks.

  6. eponymous coward on July 18th, 2015 9:47 am

    But it just seems to me, and statistics seem to support the argument, that even a deeply mired .500 team playing ping-pong with wins and losses, and regardless of whether it is underperforming based on pre-season expectations, should win more often at home.

    Do you seriously think the M’s home crowd and management has changed much since 2011-2012? Because they had lousy road records/good home records back then.

    And how would you propose changing the crowd; move the team to another city?

  7. LongDistance on July 18th, 2015 3:52 pm

    eponymous: First of all, I can’t agree concerning the W/L splits you cite for 2011-12.

    In 2011, at home they went 39-45, and on the road 28-50. Which for me = lousy/lousy.

    In 2012, they went at home 40-41, road: 35-46, which I score = mediocre/lousy.

    Which sort of makes it impossible for me to go on to argue about something that, in fact, we’re actually agreeing on about management and crowds. Which are just factors, although management as a factor is the more changeable one, where crowds are both a factor and a result. Either a vicious or virtuous circle.

    Anyway, I’m not going to fall on my sword over this thing. It’s just a statistical analysis I came across which I found interesting because I do believe there is such a thing as home advantage, would like to understand why it is, and for whatever reason you want, they’ve been kicking it down the road.

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