Game 150, Mariners at Rangers
King Felix vs. Derek Holland, 12:05
Happy Felix day, M’s fans.
Despite the Rangers’ easy win yesterday, they couldn’t pull another game ahead of the Astros, as Houston broke their long losing streak against the A’s (and struggling ace Sonny Gray). Back on the 10th, the M’s beat Holland and Texas behind a classic Felix performance in a game that felt like it would mean more than it did. Instead, the Rangers re-grouped and swept Houston in 4 to take charge of the division.
Holland’s return has to be encouraging for a Rangers club that’s had to deal with a patched-together rotation all season. Encouragingly, his velocity is all the way back to pre-injury levels (that is, back to his 2010-2012 averages). His slider is still a very effective pitch against righties and lefties alike, and it’s Holland’s best swing-and-miss pitch. He’s got a change, but it’s never really been all that good either at inducing grounders or whiffs. Theoretically, it should help make his fastballs better by giving the hitter something else to keep in mind, but it’s not a great pitch on its own.
This year, whatever benefit the cambio provides his fastballs is pretty tough to identify. Since his return, his four-seam and sinker have been remarkably, impressively whiff-resistant. Holland has thrown 154 sinkers at an average of 94mph, and with nearly 11″ of armside run, and he has all of two whiffs. Two. One came in his abbreviated 1-inning, injury-plagued start against Houston back in April, so since his retun, he’s thrown about 150 sinkers and racked up a single swing and miss. It came in Seattle, because of course it did. Swings and misses on fastballs has never really been Holland’s strength, but not having ANY reduces his margin of error. You might think the small sample distorts this; maybe he’s faced a lot of contact-oriented teams. In actuality, he’s faced Houston, Baltimore, Seattle (and Toronto and Anaheim) – if anything, he’s faced a slate of hitters that swing and miss much MORE than average. Holland hasn’t paid a big price for this, thanks in part to his slider’s continued effectiveness and in part to a career-low walk rate.
Felix is 4-0 against Texas this year, with two starts early in the year against the odd, punch-less Rangers and two starts since August, when the Rangers have been on fire. Felix cares nothing for your run differential, your 2nd half record, your team depth or your deadline pick-ups.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Trumbo, 1B
7: Smith, RF
8: Romero, CF ?
9: Sucre, C
SP: THE KING
Soooo, Romero will make his first ever start in CF as a professional. I don’t see any CF starts in college either – the Beavers has Adalberto Santos in CF when Romero played there, and Santos was good enough to make it to AAA. This game isn’t crucial to the M’s, so you can see the argument that they should figure out what guys are capable of going forward. But the M’s have expanded rosters, and their best option is sending a guy out to a position he’s never played before? Before Miller made the move to CF (or Dustin Ackley, or Ketel Marte), the M’s talk about how well the players have responded to coaching from guys like Andy Van Slyke or other positional coaches. There’s essentially none of that here – it’s just a shoulder shrug and a, “hey, how hard can it be?” Good luck, Stefen. Keep the ball down, Felix.
David Laurila has a great interview with Edgar Martinez at fangraphs which is well worth your time. Edgar talks a lot about being quick to the ball by eliminating a lot of pre-swing hand movement. It’s the kind of thing I’d love to see him work with, say, Jabari Blash on. Blash had a great year, but his hands are so high and his arms are so long that he’s going to be vulnerable to inside fastballs. Blash’s natural power and some path-shortening thanks to Edgar would be a nice combination. Ah well.
As nice as it’s been to see the M’s hitting take off after Edgar arrived, there’s a confounding variable: EVERYONE’S hitting took off recently. MLB teams scored more runs per game in August of this year than in ANY month in the past 5 years. That’s one of many interesting facts Jon Roegele discovered in this Hardball Times article. In the first half of the year, MLB put up a combined .309 wOBA. Thanks to the August run-scoring explosion, they’re at .320 in the second half. The league last had an overall wOBA of .320 in 2010, the beginning of the recent offensive ice-age.