Game 71, Mariners at Tigers
James Paxton vs. Justin Verlander, 4:10pm
The M’s lost another close game after yet another disappointingly short starting pitching outing and despite scoring enough runs to win. Texas won, again, and now the M’s face a 9.5 game deficit in the AL West, and find the Astros perilously close behind. The Astros have gone ahead of the M’s in expected wins for the season, in fact. This despite the fact that the Astros have a negative run differential, while the M’s are up at + 53. That’s not the best in the league, but it’s far, far better than the Rangers, Giants, and a number of teams the M’s are looking up at in the standings. Last year, the Rangers won the division despite carrying a negative run differential into the season’s final month, and Kansas City’s similarly bested its win projections over the past several years (they’re currently 38-31 despite a negative run differential). The M’s do not seem to be appreciably worse than the Rangers, but this is year 2 of the M’s needing to console themselves with that thought as they watch Texas race off ahead of them. This is a frustrating season, and the fact that it’s *differently* frustrating from 2010-2012 (“The M’s have no business being on the field with real, actual, major league baseball teams”) doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. It also lends itself to a frenzy of quasi-psychological explanatations, from lacking a will to win, to tut-tutting about bullpen construction when the M’s bullpen has given up 33 fewer runs than Texas’ despite pitching more innings.
It’s a tough time to be a fan right now, and I’m definitely feeling it too. The bullpen’s an easy target, despite the quality of their stats overall, just because it’s generally way worse for a reliever to give up a home run than a starter. And the M’s bullpen gives up *a lot* of home runs. We’ve talked a lot about how that was part of the plan – the M’s actively acquired pitchers who’d given up lots of dingers, and bet on regression. They’ve actually GOTTEN that regression, but they’ve gotten the dingers too, and a homer-prone bullpen’s a great way to post a worse actual record than your baseruns or pythagorean record would expect.
All of that said, at this point, I’m kind of struck by just how *accurate* the overall pre-season projections have been for the M’s. They made a hash of the M’s rivals – remember that Texas was picked last, and everyone was wayyyy too high on Oakland, evidently. But the systems all had the M’s as a slightly-better-than-.500 team, and that’s pretty much what they’ve been. Sure, some of the individual forecasts are off, but they did a decent job of capturing the M’s in a big picture sense.
James Paxton’s a fireballing rebuke to the cyncism and pessimism you get from watching the M’s fritter away a division lead, or struggle with bullpen overuse and dingers. When so much seems to go against the M’s, or when Joe West’s “Strike zone” is the last thing you need to struggle with as the M’s continue to lose in June, it’s nice to remember that fate can actually smile upon Seattle every so often. I was looking again at some of Paxton’s games this spring, when he pitched in a pitch fx ballpark in Peoria. On the 2nd of March, Paxton pitched a few innings and averaged 91.5mph with his fastball. 10 days later, he was up to 92. The trail goes dark after that, but the next game we have reliable measurement from is his start in San Diego on June 1st, where he averaged 98. He *averaged* 99.0mph in his next outing. Justin Verlander is pitching today, and Paxton makes Verlander look like late-period Jamie Moyer at this point. This makes absolutely no sense, and I love it.
Verlander’s velocity is actually much more volatile than I remember it, so even back in 2008-09, he had games where his FB averaged 93, and others where he sat 95-96, but I can’t find any starts that rival what Paxton’s just done several times in a row. Sure, Verlander averaged 99 a few times in the All-Star Game, but that’s throwing a single inning, or at most 2. In 2011, he had a game against Toronto in which he sat at 98+, and he’s had a few games averaging 97, but those are all several years old. Anyway, Verlander’s change and cutter have been very good pitches against left-handed hitters, which is one reason he has very even – or even slightly reversed – platoon splits over his long career. In recent years, in fact, his slash lines against lefties are actually much better than righties, though FIP thinks that’s all just BABIP luck. But clearly, Verlander’s not a guy you need to be too concerned with getting in an all-lefty line-up or anything.
1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Aoki, LF
It’s the All-Star break for most full-season affiliates, but there’s still plenty going on in the minors. Everett’s Ljay Newsome made his short season debut last night a memorable one, as he tossed 7 scoreless IP, giving up 2 H and 0 BB while striking out 6. He was a late round pick-up out of a Maryland high school in the 2015 draft, and pitched a bit in the Arizona League last year. Everett won, 10-0, by the way.
Fresno edged Tacoma 2-1, despite a 9th inning HR from Stefen Romero. Cody Martin pitched 7 brilliant IP, with 4 H, 0 BB allowed, and the Gonzaga product K’d 7. Steve Johnson, who was recently outrighted back to Tacoma, pitched a scoreless 8th. Brad Mills starts for Tacoma today as they open a series in Sacramento.
The Arizona League M’s won their first one, 9-6 over their hated rivals on the Padres. Joe Rizzo’s first pro hit was a 3R inside-the-park HR to CF. Catcher Juan Camacho went 4-5. Danny Hultzen made the start and went 1 IP, and hopefully hasn’t re-injured anything. We’re all pulling for you, Danny, or, you know what, forget we said anything about pulling. We wish you well. Another 2015 HS draft pick, Jio Orozco, pitched 5 solid IP after that.