Game 41, Mariners at Reds
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dan Straily, 4:05pm
Ah, the Reds. It’s a rebuilding year, and no one really expected much from them. It’s actually kind of *nice* to go into a rebuild when you share a division with a club that’s peaking, and is laying waste to the entire league. You probably weren’t going to compete with the Pirates/Cards this year anyway, Cincinnati, let alone the Cubs, so good on you and Milwaukee for building for the future. That sounds okay and all, but kind of like with Atlanta, you worry about poisoning the well with putrid play. The Reds pitching staff has been historically awful. Their ERA is nearly 0.6 runs per game worse than Colorado’s. Their FIP is the worst in baseball by even more than that. They have the worst walk rate in baseball by a mile, as well as the worst home run rate. And somehow, their bullpen has taken these anti-qualities and honed them, turning dog crap into crap-diamonds.
The A’s bullpen last year was famously bad, but they were bad in some specific ways. They gave up HRs, and they gave them up at the worst possible times. They weren’t historically bad *pitchers*, which is why Jerry Dipoto poached Evan Scribner from them, they just made their fans *feel* that way because they reserved their worst pitches for the times they’d hurt the most. Cincinnati’s might be historically bad. The Reds bullpen ERA and FIP starts with a 6. They’ve already accumulated -2.3 fWAR. In run expectancy terms, they’re worst in WPA, but that actually undersells them, because the rotation’s been bad enough that the bullpen sometimes comes in when the game’s already out of reach. By RE24, which measures the change in run expectancy after each plate appearance, the true magnitude of the Reds problem becomes clearer. Because it includes inherited runners, it’s probably a better measure than just ERA or FIP. The Royals (duh) lead MLB bullpens with a 23.06 mark as a group, meaning the sum of all plate appearances they’ve been in have made 23 runs less likely to occur, and Baltimore’s a fraction of a run behind. Anyway, at the other end of the spectrum sit the Rangers, at -17. Think of Tom Wilhelmsen’s repeated meltdowns, or how Shawn Tolleson’s lost his closing job. They’ve been up and down, but when they’ve been down, they do it comprehensively. The Reds are well over twice as bad, at a mind-altering -46, getting close to three times worse than the #29 team. The gap between the Reds and the 2nd-worst Rangers is the same as the gap between the Rangers and #9 Angels.
So, Dan Straily. The former pop-up prospect for the A’s has become a peripatetic journeyman, moving from the A’s to the Cubs to the Astros and now Reds, all since 2014. He came out of nowhere in 2012, an unheralded, late-round draft pick who led the minors in strikeouts by a mile. He never had a great walk rate, but it was average to a bit better, and he did it without an overpowering fastball. At 92-93, it wasn’t bad, but his slider and change meant he had weapons against lefties as well as righties. By 2013, his first full season in the majors, his fastball was down a tick or two, settling in at 91, but as it fell, his control got worse and worse. After a month in the rotation in 2014, his velo averaged 89+ in a start against the M’s, and the A’s sent him to AAA immediately after. Soon after *that* he was dealt to the Cubs in the Samardzija deal that sent Addison Russell to Chicago.
He got in a few games for Houston last year, but wasn’t all that effective, with a walk rate stubbornly above 10%, just as it was in 2014. This off-season, he worked with Kyle Boddy and Driveline baseball, as detailed in this August Fagerstrom piece at FG. In it, Boddy notes that it’s not uncommon for pitchers’ walk rate to go up as their velo drops.
“The first thing you see from guys who lose velocity is that they start not throwing strikes, not because of any mechanical problem they have, but because they’re just like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m throwing 88, I don’t want to throw anywhere in the zone,’” Boddy said.
Also mentioned in the piece were reports from the spring, in which Straily was hitting 94 again, so I’ve been very curious to see him now that we’re a quarter of the way through the season. It’s just… if he was throwing 94 in Florida, he hasn’t brought that north with him. In his first game of the year, he averaged nearly 92 and touched 93, which is a clear improvement over last year, and would put him on pace to hit 94 in the warmer months. But since then, he’s regressed again, averaging 90 in his last outing vs. Philadelphia and hitting a top velo of 92. He hasn’t averaged 92 since April, also the last time he touched 93+. I don’t say all this to impugn his work, or Driveline’s efforts at improving him. He is, or at least WAS, throwing a touch harder. But it’s probably a sign of how hard it is to maintain not only gains you make in the gym, but maintain the work rate you used to get them, all while playing a big league schedule.
Straily’s tried to reinvent his FB, and move away from the disappointments of last year, but here’s the funny (if you’re not Straily) thing: he’s having the *exact same season*.
Every number is eerily similar except, of course, ERA. Straily’s stranding runners now, instead of letting them in, buoyed by a much lower BABIP (of note: Straily’s BABIPs have always been low, maybe due to his rising FB, dropping SL combo). And yes, BOTH years are stupidly small samples, but it highlights just how much ERA can vary from a nearly fixed set of peripherals.
Despite the fact that lefties have not hit him well this year, Straily remains pretty platoon-able. His best pitch is his breaking ball, a slider, and that’s made his K% much better against righties. At the same time, he’s still walking a lot more lefties…it’s just that lefties have put up a a BABIP of .118 against him this year. This is a game for the lefties, and hoping Adam Lind can keep his hot streak going.
1: Marte, SS
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
The Rainiers beat Iowa 2-1 on a solo shot from Mike Baxter and an RBI single from Luis Sardinas. Donn Roach had his best game of the year, going 6 2/3, striking out 7 and walking none. Joe Wieland starts for Tacoma tonight.
Jackson got a 3 run 5th and made it hold up for a 3-2 win over Chattanooga. Brett Ash was solid through 6, giving up 2 runs and K’ing 6. Edwin Diaz pitched the 7th, a 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout and some 98mph fastballs. Dylan Unsworth starts today’s game for the Generals.
Andrew Moore was predictably good for Bakersfield, but the story was the offense, who scored 17 in a 17-2 win in High Desert. Even weirder, three starters were held hitless, which shows you how much damage the other guys did. 9th hitter Gianfranco Wawoe had 4 hits, including a 2B and HR, and 8th hitter Arby Fields had 6 RBIs on 3 hits (including a HR).
Clinton lost 9-4, so we didn’t get an org sweep, but we did get something better: top prospect Alex Jackson made his full-season debut after starting the year in instructs and crushed a 450′ HR. Clinton opens up a series with Burlington today with Nick Wells on the hill.