Game 154, Mariners at Angels
Vidal Nuno vs. Garrett Richards, 7:05pm
Garrett Richards makes his 5th start of the year against the M’s, and, perhaps luckily for him, dodges Felix Hernandez following the M’s rotation shake-up. Going back to 2014, when Richards became a top-flight starter, he’s faced the M’s 6 times, and utterly dominated them in 4 of those starts. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s the wear and tear of topping 170 IP for the first time, but his only two mediocre starts have come in his last two tries. The first four times he faced the M’s, he went 2-0 and gave up four total runs in 29 2/3 IP. With his cutter-ish four-seam and hard, hard slider, he has essentially no platoon splits. His heavy fastball produces lots of grounders, so he’s largely immune from the HR problems that have plagued some of his teammates on the road. Every indication we have is that all of those strengths are still there – he’s still throwing 97, still throwing a sinking four-seamer, and his slider still dives like an 89mph curve ball. But the M’s have touched him for 8 runs on 17 hits and 2 HRs in just 10 1/3 IP the last two times they faced him.
The biggest reason why Richards’ FIP is nearly a run higher than it was last year is that Richards’ slider is no longer untouchable. In 2014, batters *slugging percentage* on sliders was .173. They hit zero homers and just four doubles on the nearly 800 sliders Richards threw. This year, though, they’re slugging .358 on 943 sliders, with 18 XBH including 8 dingers. To be clear: it’s still a very good pitch, and Richards has probably been somewhat unlucky on the pitch this year, but it illustrates how regression comes for every player *and every player strength*. Richards’ slider was gold in 2014, and nothing gold can stay. So is that the answer to the M’s recent run of form against the Angels’ ace? Surprisingly, no. The M’s were always completely undone by Richards’ fastball, and that’s the pitch they’ve seemingly learned to hit.
In his first 3 starts against the M’s, he posted pitch type linear weights, or the run value below average, of about 8 runs in total (I’m combining Richards’ sinker and four-seamer here) while his slider was 3.4 runs better than average. There are many reasons why pitch type linear weights isn’t the best metric here, in that it’s a counting stat and he threw more FBs and balls “hurt” Richards, and he’s more likely to throw the slider for a ball. But in this case, it illuminates the problem the M’s had with his fastball. Richards threw a *ton* of sliders in this 3 game sample, throwing 47 of 98 pitches in a game in 2014, for example, so while he threw more total fastballs, it’s not like he threw 80% FB/20% sliders. But look what’s happened to his run value in his LAST 3 starts against the M’s: it’s 3.3 runs BELOW average. His slider has dropped too, but it isn’t as dramatic.
As Richards is almost absurdly consistent, there doesn’t seem to be any change in *how* he uses his fastball. Here, for example, is a graph of his horizontal pitch location this year. This graph *should* be volatile, and it’s not. There are more peaks and valleys on the vertical location chart, but there’s been no change in approach. It this the M’s making an adjustment? I’d like to think so, just because evidence of them adjusting just about anything that isn’t working is so often hard to find. But we’re quickly reaching the outer limits of what I can gin up by looking at free data; the M’s aren’t whiffing on his FB now, but then, they didn’t too much before. They’re turning strikes into balls in play, and balls in play into hits, but that’s always the noisiest part of the data. Maybe they’ve figured out the pitch’s odd movement, maybe they spotted some sort of tell (his vertical release point for sliders is a tiiiiny bit higher than it is for FBs), or maybe the batters’ eye at Safeco’s really good. Maybe it’s just that his most recent starts occurred when the M’s offense has been legitimately good. Whatever it is, may it continue tonight.
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: Baron, C
A depressing note from Joe Sheehan regarding King Felix. In a free preview of his subscription newsletter, Sheehan noted a year ago that Felix has the highest WAR of any active player who’s never played in the playoffs, and it’s not close. At the time, Felix had a 10+ WAR lead over Brian Roberts, who then retired (and technically, Roberts played a tiny bit on the 2013 O’s team that went to the playoffs, though of course Roberts wasn’t on the playoff roster), a larger lead over Mike Trout and Alex Rios. Mike Trout made the playoffs last year, and Rios is headed there in 2015. It’s not just that Felix leads this sad group, it’s that so many of the group get disqualified every year once their clubs break their playoff droughts. We always say that Felix stands alone, but this is a particularly sad verification of it.
The Red Sox today hired ex-Braves GM Frank Wren as a senior VP for baseball ops, which means their front office is now even more crowded than it was. Despite firing GM Ben Cherington earlier in the year, the club now has a President of baseball operations, a general manager, and now Wren. Gordon Edes says the hierarchy is Dave Dombrowski (President), then Mike Hazen (the GM), and then Wren (Senior VP). But the club now has 4 “Senior VPs” within the same division and it’s not clear at all how they divvy up the work. Along with Allard Baird, there are fully 4 GMs/ex-GMs on staff, and 28 total VPs throughout the org (plus another with Fenway Sports). I know there’s a trend towards hiring “President” types above GMs, but this seems unparalleled.