Game 153, Mariners at Royals

marc w · September 24, 2015 at 4:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Johnny Cueto, 5:10pm

We’re under ten games to go in 2015, and the M’s technically haven’t been eliminated yet, which is…no, it’s not much of anything, but I suppose it’s better than the LAST time national experts thought the M’s would be contenders. That year, 2010, was one of the most dispiriting campaigns in M’s history, which is saying something. At the other end of the spectrum, Kansas City can clinch the AL West tonight with a win and a Twins loss. I remember when we used to joke that at least the M’s org wasn’t as bad as the Royals or Pirates. Both of those teams are *returning* to the playoffs this year.

Johnny Cueto’s been a rather disappointing pick-up since the Royals traded for him in late July. In 10 starts, he’s gone 2-6 with an ERA over 5 thanks to a very high BABIP. By FIP, he’s been merely average, which still isn’t quite what Dayton Moore thought he was buying, but it’s reason for hope (of a sort). Cueto’s explanation of what’s gone wrong is, at least in part, that catcher Sal Perez kept his glove too high, and this caused him to elevate pitches. After talking with him about it, he pitched quite well, though as Jeff Sullivan noted, he threw the ball *higher* than he did before. It’s not important if Cueto’s explanation was true or not – if Cueto believed it was affecting him, then he was right to say something. Pitching coach Dave Eiland blamed a mechanical issue with Cueto’s delivery – that his front shoulder was flying open. Both explanations are somewhat hard to evaluate, given that no pitcher always hits a catcher’s target and that Cueto’s twisting delivery means his front shoulder goes flying on every pitch. Whatever the real explanation (and it may just be BABIP luck and stranding runners), I can’t imagine Cueto’s the favorite guy in the clubhouse after pointing the finger at Perez.

Cueto throws a four-seam fastball at around 93 and has a great diving change-up that racks up whiffs and strikeouts. This year, he’s missing just as many bats, but batters have really made him pay for mistakes. When he leaves it up, batters have done very well. When he gets it down – which is typically where he wants it – the results have been much better. Given his career-best walk rate, it’s hard to detect command issues, but the results make you wonder – in 10 games, he’s given up 9 HRs, including 7 in two games against Baltimore. Most of the damage has been done by right-handed hitters. The change is still quite effective against lefties, but he’s using it pretty often against righties, and it hasn’t been as successful. There’s nothing really wrong with that approach – it moves somewhat like a splitter, so it shouldn’t have much in the way of platoon splits. The cutter he developed recently has also been a bit spotty. Cueto’s dead-even platoon splits last year have turned into extreme *reverse* splits this year, as his K% is much higher against lefties, while he’s giving up more HRs to righties. His FIP to lefties is 2.83, but to righties it’s 4.13.

Cueto’s not *really* a guy with extreme reverse platoon splits; he’s a guy who’s made a number of bad pitches to righties, and paid a steep price. But it’s also worth considering that he isn’t a true-talent 80% left-on-base guy either. In 2013 and 2014, he put up great ERAs despite solid-but-not-Cy-Young-worthy FIPs thanks to ridiculous BABIPs of .236 and .238. Even with his so-so few months in KC, Cueto’s FIP is right in between in 2013 and 2014 marks; he doesn’t look like a different pitcher at all, it’s just that now his BABIP is a low but not insane .275, his strand rate’s lower and his ERA matches up with his FIP. Still, Cueto had full season BABIPs under .250 three times from 2011-2014, which is kind of incredible for a righty. He’s clearly pitching in front of a better defense now than when he was in Cincinnati, but it may be that Cincinnati knew a lot more about how to position themselves behind him. If that’s true, and I haven’t done any looking for evidence that it is, I wonder if that’s part of what’s going on in the so-called free agent penalty – the observation that players who stay with a team tend to do better than veteran players who sign with a new club.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Smith, LF
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Miller, CF
9: Sucre, C
SP: Paxton


8 Responses to “Game 153, Mariners at Royals”

  1. Longgeorge1 on September 24th, 2015 4:27 pm

    If Paxton, Kuma and Cano had been healthy all season I have to believe the M’s would be 6 games or so better than they are even with all the other disasters. I realize that Texas ( and others) has overcome worse. My point is that as bad as the M’s have been they are not hopeless.
    I think we have a serviceable OF with Cruz, Miller, Guti and Smith. We need a catcher and help at 1B/DH. Which is funny when you figure we have had about a dozen 1B/DHs on the roster.
    Add two starters and sign every available RP with 96+ you can and let God sort’em out.

  2. mrakbaseball on September 24th, 2015 6:14 pm

    Paxton is soft, torn fingernail? and the Royals can clinch the Central tonight, they haven’t been in the West since ninety three, but we knew what you meant.

  3. Woodcutta on September 24th, 2015 6:36 pm

    If the torn fingernail was causing him issues with command then he should be taken out of the game. Of course, this assumes that is what the issue was.

  4. Longgeorge1 on September 24th, 2015 7:03 pm

    I have to believe that if this game was meaningful, Rasmussen would not be anywhere near a mound.

  5. line drive on September 24th, 2015 9:59 pm

    Can someone please explain to me why Morrison is still playing? We are very aware of what he can do…225, a few HR’s a month. Are we ever going to see Montero play more than a couple of starts a week? Shouldn’t we be playing him at first to find out if his tear in Tacoma is transferable to the Majors?

  6. Westside guy on September 24th, 2015 10:41 pm

    The playoff picture is (mostly) getting clearer.

  7. LongDistance on September 25th, 2015 1:29 am

    It’s interesting to consider the impact of injuries. Looking at the disabled stats compiled by Nathan Currier, there’s no doubt Texas has been leading a charmed life…

  8. heyoka on September 25th, 2015 6:58 pm

    holy crap, baseball is still going on?

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