Game 151, Mariners at Royals
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jeremy Guthrie, 5:10pm
I wrote about the huge gap in W/L records between the M’s and Rangers despite some striking similarities in their peripheral stats the other day, but I could’ve written much the same about the M’s and Royals. With the AL clustered around .500, perhaps it’s to be expected that a team could get to 10 games over .500 or so through a combination of sequencing and whatever’s in the black box that we can’t yet measure. But the Royals have laid waste to the league, owning the league’s best record since early June or so. While they haven’t been perfect in recent weeks, they’re still a game up on Toronto, a team that seemingly hasn’t lost since the trade deadline.
And yet, the Royals and Mariners are tied with identical wRC+ marks for their offenses. The Royals have a better OBP, the M’s have a larger lead in slugging. Their pitching staffs rank 18th and 19th by FIP. Park adjusting that gives the Royals a clear but small lead in fWAR, but by xFIP the M’s have a similar edge. By park adjusted ERA, the Royals have a clear advantage, and that starts to hint at a few of the reasons why the Royals have outplayed their raw FIP.
First, and perhaps most importantly, they remain one of the best fielding clubs in baseball. By most measures Fangraphs has (like UZR), the Royals lead all teams in runs saved. By DRS, they’re second, but it’s quite close. As we heard about last year, their outfield is a real strength, and they’re still excellent, though they rank second behind Kevin Kiermaier and it-literally-doesn’t-matter-who-else of the Rays. They’re solid at nearly every spot on the IF as well, and this run-prevention group is a big reason why the Royals staff has given up far fewer runs than you’d expect if you just glanced at FIP. Add their batting runs to their fielding, and the Royals position players have a ten-win edge on the M’s’ group.
Second, they strand runners thanks to an elite bullpen. The pen’s been a strength of the club for years, but the group STILL has the lowest bullpen ERA in the AL, a solid-but-not-incredible FIP and they’ve done it all throwing more innings than any other AL team besides Tampa. The bullpen gives the Royals a clear advantage in close and low-scoring games, and they’ve come from behind to win 37 games while only coughing up a lead 24 times. This also doesn’t feel “lucky” per se, especially given that they’ve been dominating at the tail end of games for 3-4 years now. Interestingly, their closer, Greg Holland, has been struggling of late and today the Royals announced he’d be moving out of the role due to a mild elbow injury. Not only that, but even when he’s back, the guy with 125 saves since the start of 2013 won’t get his old job back: the Royals are sticking with Wade Davis, the lefty acquired as the 2nd part of the huge Wil Myers/James Shields trade (which now that neither of those guys play for the teams that acquired them, maybe we should just call the Wade Davis for Jake Odorizzi deal). It’s Davis who’s been the real star of the KC bullpen this year – he’s 3rd on the team in fWAR, but that probably undersells him. Since the start of 2014, a period covering over 130 innings, Davis has an ERA under 1 and has given up all of 2 home runs. His FIP last season was 1.19, but has soared to 2.22 this campaign. The Royals are gonna be fine at closer, is what I’m saying.
At the other end of the Royals WAR list stands tonight’s starter, Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie’s not a strikeout pitcher, so he’s benefited greatly from the all-world defense behind him, and as a fly-ball pitcher, he’s been especially fortunate (he and Chris Young are tailor-made for this club). It’s one reason why Guthrie’s so consistently “beaten” his FIP. From 2007 to 2014 – *8* full seasons – Guthrie posted a lower ERA than FIP, and some years, 2013 for example, the gap was huge. That streak looks like it’s coming to an end this year, and Guthrie’s currently sporting an ugly ERA (and FIP) solidly above 5. If the Royals weren’t leading the AL, this would probably be extremely frustrating to Guthrie, considering how little difference you see in his stats: his velocity’s essentially the same, his K% is exactly where it was in 2013, and his BB% is higher only fractionally. BABIP and strand rate have worsened, as they’d have to, but hitters are making *less* contact than they did in 2013. They *are* hitting the ball in the air a lot more, as his line drive rate has spiked and his fly ball rate is higher than it’s been since he was a Baltimore Oriole. And thus, despite a fairly normal HR/FB, he’s given up an awful lot of HRs. Lefties have always given him trouble, but in recent years, his platoon splits have gotten fairly extreme.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Smith, RF
7: Montero, 1B
8: Miller, CF
9: Sucre, C
Given Guthrie’s splits, you’d expect to see LoMo in there at 1B, but there are two reasons why he’s not. First, his wife gave birth to a baby girl last night, so LoMo’s taking some paternity leave (congratulations, Morrison family). Second, Montero’s got great stats against Guthrie in what is obviously a small sample. We can talk about the validity of stats like that, but they clearly matter to McClendon, and may mean more to players than we’d think.
Nelson Cruz quad continues to bother him, though it’s obviously not keeping him out of the line-up. Today, Lloyd said we wouldn’t see Cruz in the field again this year.
The Brewers filled their GM vacancy with 30-year old Houston AGM David Stearns. The M’s have been oddly silent, especially given how much Mather stressed he wanted someone soon. There was talk that Jerry Dipoto interviewed back in early September, and more recently, we’ve heard the M’s have interviewed Yankees AGM Billy Eppler. If the M’s are open to folks who haven’t been GMs before (they said they weren’t, of course, but Eppler’s never been a GM), they may want to speak to Quinton McCracken, the head of player development in Houston. McCracken’s led a PD group that’s been jaw-droppingly successful this year, though how to apportion credit for minor league success and success in MLB is always tough to do. The M’s may not have a chance, as McCracken’s already interviewing for the Boston job.