Game 102, Diamondbacks at Mariners
King Felix vs. Patrick Corbin, 12:40pm
Happy Felix day in the actual day time, everyone.
While the King’s fielding-independent stats are down, he’s still having a remarkable season, and one that FIP may tend to underestimate. His K:BB ratio is a bit worse than it’s been in recent years, but at the same time, his strand rate and ground ball rate continue to rise. The key here, as usual when discussing veteran (as opposed to flamethrowing-rookie) Felix is his change-up. Felix went from throwing curves to lefties to throwing change-ups to lefties, and the platoon issues that cropped up occasionally (like in 2008) vanished. The pitch produced a lot of ground ball contact *and* whiffs, but the key thing was that it generated swings. All of those whiffs and ground-outs helped lower his walk rate, and then his command improved to the point where the pitch type didn’t really matter: he’s never going to have control problems again. In 2014, Felix greatly increased the number of cambios he threw to *righties*, which meant that he was throwing more change-ups in general. As a result, his ground ball rate shot up from 51% to 56%.
Felix can essentially choose his ground ball rate now, as we can see when he’s in a jam. With the bases empty, Felix gets ground balls on 53% of balls in play. Once runners are on, and especially with RISP, his use of the change increases to nearly 40% of all pitches thrown, and his GB% soars to 62%. It’s important to note that his GB rate’s rise this year isn’t solely due to the change-up – Felix is using more curve balls than ever before. Fully 1/5th of his pitches are now curves – a level he’s never been at in the pitch fx era. This is a pitch mix we haven’t seen since April of of 2007.
As usual whenever I choose to write about something, Jeff Sullivan’s beaten me to it and done a better job of it. The wrinkle here isn’t *just* that Felix’s curve is again so good that it gets swings out of the zone and takes in the zone, but that it’s every bit as grounder-heavy as his change. It isn’t swung at as much – which is nice in certain high-leverage situations – and consequently, it’s not put in play as much as the change. But when it IS put into play, it’s remarkably difficult to elevate, and in 2015, Felix is throwing a ton of it with men on base, and particularly to left-handers. It’s a pitch that no one’s managed to drive all year – not only has he not surrendered a home run on it, he hasn’t given up a double. This isn’t to say it always generates bad contact – his batted-ball velocity on curves isn’t elite. But exit speed is only one part of the puzzle: angle matters, too. What Felix’s curve seems to do is trade angle for velo. Collin McHugh, just as an example, has a good curve, and batters have tended to put it in play more slowly than they’ve put Felix’s in play. But because so much of the contact against Felix is on the ground, that contact can’t do much damage. Batters are slugging .307 against McHugh’s this year, while they’re slugging just .096 against Felix’s.
Today’s opponent is Patrick Corbin, once a throw-in prospect from the Angels in the Dan Haren/Joe Saunders deal, he saw his velocity grow and turn from a pitchability lefty potential #5 starter into a solid #3. Of course, that was before Ulnar, God of Elbows paid a visit to him in 2013, and thus Corbin is only just returning to the big leagues this month. So far, he’s looked good – his velocity is actually up a tick compared to 2013, and he’s still getting very good run on his fastball. He’s got a so-so change-up that moves just like his sinker but comes in 10mph slower, but his best pitch is a good slider with two-plane break. Because of its downward movement, he’s comfortable using it to righties as well as lefties, and both have struggled against it. Thanks to the slider, Corbin’s o-swing% has been well above average, and it’s touching 40% in his first 22 IP back this year.
He throws both a four- and two-seam fastball, preferring to target the top of the zone with the former, while moving the latter around. The slider is thrown down and away to lefties and low and in to righties – that is, it’s thrown to the same spot no matter who’s batting. He’s got good command, but for whatever reason, he’s given up a fair number of home runs already in his four starts. Part of this may be due to throwing more four-seamers this year, but he’s actually given up more off the sinker. Perhaps it’s rust after the long layoff, but the M’s should be somewhat aggressive – he’s been prone to mistakes with his fastball, and the M’s need to capitalize.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Gutierrez, LF
5: Trumbo, DH
6: Miller, 2B
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: El Rey
The M’s promoted DJ Peterson to Tacoma this morning; an interesting move given Peterson’s struggles at the plate this year. Maybe a change in environment will do him some good.