Game 140, Rangers at Mariners
Vidal Nuno vs. Martin Perez, 7:10pm
With their win last night (and the Astros’ loss), the Rangers moved to within a game of the AL West lead. And over the past 7 days, the Rangers’ overall playoff odds have jumped up by over 20%, and now stand at over 70%. Some of this is the result of the recent sorting out of the playoff races – the Angels’ and Rays’ slides, coupled with the failure of Cleveland to ever make a real run in the Central means that the Yankees and Rangers have a commanding lead in the wild card chase. Only one team remains under 4.5 game back: the Minnesota Twins, a young team with a negative run differential, and whose BaseRuns performance predicts a record of 60-78, not the 71-67 they’ve actually put up.
But…wait, what about the Rangers? They too are a young team who are counting on some fairly inexperienced players in a playoff stretch. The Rangers have a negative run differential too, and by BaseRuns, they “should” be 65-72, not 73-64. That’s a remarkable amount of luck or skill or *something* that’s driving the Rangers performance. It’s not a case like the Cardinals of a few years ago, where the team was torrid in RISP opportunities. In fact, the Rangers have absolutely sucked with RISP. They have a worse OPS and a much worse wRC+ *than the Mariners* with RISP, and the M’s are no one’s idea of a clutch team. The Rangers’ team FIP and ERA are both worse than the Mariners’, so it’s not like they’re winning a bunch of 2-1 games, either. The Rangers are a very good fielding team, according to DRS and UZR, though they’re only middle of the pack when you just look at the percentage of balls in play they convert into outs.
One reason? The resurgence of previously injured and/or ineffective players like Shin-Soo Choo, who truly looked done in April and May. Since the break, he’s hitting .320/.441/.542. The entire team’s OPS rose from .712 in the first half to .752 in the second. The Rangers were lucky not to be out of the race entirely in the first half, but at least their offense has played like a playoff club’s in recent months. Their rotation hasn’t been as fortunate. Their FIP is up in the 2nd half, and that’s despite the return of guys like Derek Holland and tonight’s starter, Martin Perez.
Tonight’s match-up is interesting to me in that it pits two lefties from the opposite poles of the prospect world. Martin Perez was the #17 prospect in all of baseball in 2010, and made Baseball America’s top 100 list in *5* separate years. A lefty with a plus fastball, he reached AA at the age of 18. Beyond velo (which was always more “good” than “great”), Perez had a very good change-up and developing breaking pitches, and that helped ensure his place on prospect lists even when his on-field results looked more…modest. Despite arriving in AA early, he had difficulty escaping its gravity, and his career marks in the upper minors are underwhelming at best. Perez’s control came and went, and that meant plenty of baserunners. He battled HR issues in AA despite a strong GB%, and that helped push his RA/9 to about 5 over the course of 222 AA innings. He was better in the PCL, of all places, but that’s still damning with faint praise. His strikeouts all but vanished in AAA, and despite a better BABIP, he still gave up 4.3+ runs per 9. Now, Perez is a few months into his return from TJ surgery rehab.
Vidal Nuno was selected in the 48th round of the 2009 draft. In 2010, with Perez enduring the scrutiny of the game’s elite prospects, Nuno was enduring HR problems in A-ball, and would soon be released by the Indians, the club who drafted him out of Baker University, an NAIA school which I hope (and refuse to look up and disprove) is an institution that specializing in the study of actual baking. After a stint in the independent leagues, Nuno arrived in the Yankees org and set about demolishing minor league hitters. His MiLB track record is much shorter than Perez’s because Nuno was older, but also because he didn’t need to repeat levels: his RA/9 was below 3.00 in both AA and AAA, and his K:BB ratio was always at least 3.7 or better. He had a problem with HRs, but with good control and the ability – somehow – to miss bats, it wasn’t a fatal flaw.
Of course, the old adage that you can’t scout a stat sheet is an old adage for a reason. Perez has enjoyed sporadic success at the big league level, and his sinker/change/slider game still produces plenty of ground balls. But Perez still looks like the guy his minor league numbers would’ve predicted: his MLB K:BB ratio is just 2, and he’s still below average in terms of strikeouts. On the other hand, his 4.31 ERA looks better when you consider his home park, and by FIP, he’s been pretty good: his career mark’s below 4 (barely, but still) thanks to HR-suppression. And Nuno? Well, Nuno’s *still* struggling with the long ball, and that’s pushed his career FIP over 4.5. But as with Perez, he’s still the same basic pitcher: he still gets way more strikeouts than anyone with an 88mph fastball and a mean beignet recipe should (seriously: do not look it up. Let’s all just choose to believe Nuno is the greatest ballplayer the culinary schools have ever produced). His career K:BB is nearly 3, and it’s been nearly 4 this year. Neither player is a hulking specimen or throws 100, but Perez just *looks* more like a big league pitcher than Nuno. But despite opposite pedigrees and contrasting approaches/skillsets, they’ve ended up reasonably similar in terms of on-field production. Perez has pitched a few more innings (despite missing a full year), but it’s close. Nuno has a much better career RA/9. Perez has a much better FIP. Going forward, I think their projections are going to look fairly similar, with some improvement in Perez’s K:BB and BABIP, and some improvement in Nuno’s HR:FB ratio as well. Nuno doesn’t really have a job, though, and it’s possible he’ll end up in out-of-option, AAA purgatory. Ah, the power of the pedigree.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Trumbo, 1B
4: Cano, 2B
5: Montero, DH
6: Miller, LF
7: Romero, RF
8: Baron, C
9: O’Malley, CF
Welcome to the bigs, Steve Baron. It’s been a long road for the 2nd of the M’s 2 first round picks in 2009 (#33 overall). Defensively advanced, the M’s believed they could develop his bat over time. After 5 mostly miserable years at the plate, I think we all thought Baron might go the Jesus Sucre route of a useful minor league FA signing, and that his days as a prospect were over, if they hadn’t been over since 2012-13 or so. Then, Baron hit a bit in AA this year, and after moving up to AAA, he hit more. By the time Hicks was called up, I’d have said Baron was the better bat, with Hicks having a slight edge defensively. “Better than Hicks offensively” is a far cry from “look out Buster Posey,” but I’m actually really happy for Baron. The temptation to quit must’ve been there, but he stuck with it. Well done.
Tri-City calmly dispatched Everett in game 2 of the best-of-3 NWL semifinals last night, officially ending the M’s minor league campaign of 2015.