Game 57, Indians at Mariners
James Paxton vs. Trevor Bauer, 7:10pm
That Texas series was a serious blow. As Jeff detailed today at Fangraphs, the Rangers have overtaken the M’s as the playoff favorites in the AL West. Their ace starter is back, and many of the things that impeded them early on – Shawn Tolleson, Delino DeShields – have been demoted. They are by no means a juggernaut – their DH is expensive and suffering through a terrible year, and is now whining about his playing time. Their 1B has been nearly as bad. Their pitching staff has a terrible FIP thanks to a ton of HRs allowed. Still, they exposed some weaknesses on the M’s, and now we’ll see how Seattle responds.
One of the Rangers’ strengths this year has been their depth, and thus when Rougned Odor got suspended, they called up ex-top prospect Jurickson Profar, who’s been amazing. Profar’s play – and the, uh, needs at 1B – has essentially made it impossible for the Rangers to send him down again. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’d love to see James Paxton force the M’s hand with a couple of eye-popping starts. He had unreal velocity and stuff the other night, but zero command of it, and he paid the price with tons of hard contact. The new velo means he doesn’t need pinpoint command, just something better than what he showed in San Diego.
His opponent tonight is enigmatic right-hander Trevor Bauer. I’ve probably spent more words on Bauer than any non-M’s pitcher over the past few years – attention that his performance to date doesn’t seem to warrant. There’s something remarkable about his very public discussion of strategy, training, and study of the game that’s remarkable for fans (no need to have that information filtered through the press), and for sabermetric fans in particular. The fact that he came up throwing pretty much every pitch under the sun, like a nerdy American Yu Darvish, didn’t hurt, either (screwballs! Woo!!). Yet here we are, over 400 innings into his big league career, and he’s put up about 3 fWAR. So much of the promise he showed at UCLA and in the minors remains to be tapped, and you start to wonder why.
It’s certainly not due to any lack of effort on Bauer’s part. Whether working with Kyle Boddy at Driveline Baseball here in the northwest, or working with Ron Wolforth in Texas, and of course his own coaches with Cleveland, Bauer’s diligent about training and talking about his process. His work on “pitch tunneling” – or making sure different pitches look very similar at the point where a batter chooses to swing or not – is a great example, and we’ve now got data suggesting that being good at doing this leads to much better outcomes. He’s not just training for the hell of it, he’s got a (very good) plan, and he’s attempting to execute it. In fits and starts, it shows a hell of a lot of promise.
But it’s not working nearly enough, and I’m not quite sure why. 119 pitchers in baseball have thrown at least 50 innings this year. Of these, Bauer ranks 115th in o-swing%, or getting batters to swing at balls. By itself, that’s not a kiss of death – there are some decent pitchers in the 100-119 range. But they’ve all got some way to mitigate that deficiency. Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon just don’t throw balls to begin with. Same with Rich Hill, who gets batters looking with his curve, and has very low contact rates when batters DO swing. Steven Wright’s 119th and having a great year, but hey, the knuckle ball really is a different animal, and it can lead to plenty of whiffs on strikes. Aaron Sanchez gets a ton of ground balls. Bauer doesn’t really have these mitigating circumstances – he walks too many batters, so the fact that batters seem to recognize pitches that are going wide (even if “tunneled” correctly) is bad news. He’s not a big ground ball guy, so HRs have been an issue as well. There’s nothing weird about his BABIP, unlike, say Chris Tillman, so he’s giving up plenty of baserunners.
All he can do is keep tinkering, the way he’s always done. Last year, his slider was his primary breaking ball, with a rising four-seamer as his #1 fastball. In 2016, he’s basically thrown no sliders at all, replacing it with a cutter, and gone to his good curve a bit more. This year, he’s throwing his sinker more than his four-seam, which may be why his GB% is up substantially. He’s not afraid to throw it up in the zone, but its movement is different enough that it gives batters a different look. That’s great. But his ERA/FIP are both around 4.25, and that’s just not what the Indians expected when they acquired him, nor is it what Bauer would expect of himself. Through years of training, through years of honing, altering, and remixing his repertoire, there’s been remarkably little change in his results. He’s never had an ERA or FIP under 4.
1: Aoki, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, DH
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Marte, SS
9: O’Malley, 2B
Welcome back, Ketel Marte! Leonys Martin’s eligible to be activated on the 10th, I believe, but it’ll be longer than that for King Felix. Fingers crossed.
Good pitching day in the minors, with Tacoma’s surprising Adrian Sampson starting in Vegas, and Tyler Herb in San Jose. Brett Ash and Jackson host Pensacola.
Andrew Moore was solid for Jackson yesterday, but benefited from some good offense in the Generals win over the Blue Wahoos. DJ Peterson led the way with 2 HRs. Joe DeCarlo also hit 2 dingers for Bakersfield, part of a 4 HR day for the Blaze, in a 7-5 win.