Game 81, Orioles at Mariners

marc w · July 2, 2016 at 6:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Tyler Wilson, 7:10pm

On the M’s last trip to Baltimore, they faced extreme pitch-to-contact righty Tyler Wilson, who came up without much hype thanks to a strong aversion to missing bats and so-so minor league numbers. Despite all of that, he’d held opposing offenses in check through his first few months in the bigs (split between 2015 and 2016) thanks to a freakishly low HR rate. Back in May, I wondered if he might follow the dispiriting path that so many pitch-to-contact guys (Nick Blackburn, Scott Diamond, etc.) had gone before, where the league adjusts and a low HR/FB ratio just isn’t sustainable any more. We’re a few months later now, and the evidence is starting to come in that Wilson really is Blake Beavan in a more compact exterior. With a HR/9 over 1, his ERA and FIP are both in the mid 4s instead of the mid 3s (his xFIP is essentially unchanged, which shows how dependent he’d been on fly balls falling short of the wall).

Wilson isn’t quite the extreme fly ball guy that Beavan or various Twins were; his fastball has a bit too much sink for that. It’s also freakishly straight, which may help explain his lack of platoon splits. His sluve-slider has been his best pitch, and it’s curveball-ish enough that it works pretty well to left-handed bats. He’s got a change-up too.

I didn’t get into this to talk about Tyler Wilson, no offense to him, his family or his fans. So let’s talk about the M’s defense. Getting more “athletic” on defense was a key part of Jerry Dipoto’s offseason strategy, and they’ve clearly done that, bringing in ball hawk Leonys Martin, and replacing Mark Trumbo with Nori Aoki (a move that looks…different now). To a degree, that shift in emphasis has brought results: the M’s defense turned 89.1% of fly balls into outs in 2015, while turning…uh… 89.0% this year. Moving from the gaffe-pron Brad Miller to Ketel Marte has helped the infield go from turning 75.4% of ground balls into outs in 2015 to 74.7% this year.*

That’s…surprising, I think. The Mariners overall defensive efficiency is pretty good, thanks to a great job at turning line drives into outs. But these numbers don’t neatly match up with what the team talks about. That is, the team loves to tout the extra outs they’ve saved using defensive shifts. And maybe they’re right! But the overall ratio of ground balls to outs seams kind of low if the shifting was getting them dozens of extra outs every where, and while you can argue that the real benefit is showing up in line drives, I’m not sure that an approach that results in a lot of line drives (even ones caught by fielders!) is an optimal strategy.

So am I against shifting? No, I don’t think so. But like I’ve mentioned before, it’s a bit hard to see the clear, obvious evidence that it’s helping the M’s defense overall. Is it hurting the defense? Ehhhh, probably not. There’s no reason not to put your fielders where a batter typically hits the ball, and the evidence seems pretty good that it works against a certain type of hitter. It’s possible that the real issue is how the M’s pitchers perform in a shift, which is something both Russell Carleton and others have mentioned. As Joe Sheehan points out (and as the M’s infield confirms this year) – way more shifting does nothing to limit singles or base hits. It may “work”, but it doesn’t do what we think.

1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Lind, DH
8: Zunino, C
9: O’Malley, SS
SP: Paxton

This is not the line-up that’s going to improve the M’s DER on its own, so hey, strike some dudes out, Paxton.

Welcome back to the bigs, Mike Zunino. After one of the most horrific non-injury related career trajectories ever seen, Zunino’s spent 2016 getting his approach right in Tacoma. So far, so good; he hit .282/.366/.512. His K rate’s fallen as well, which helps me overlook the fact that he’s been only OK after a brilliant April. That weird thing from 2013 where he hit a ton on the road and struggled at Cheney Stadium? Ha, in 2016 he’s actually…no? Still there? Huh, yeah, still doing that.
* Of note: Miller’s new team, the Rays, rank dead last in ground ball defensive efficiency this year.


19 Responses to “Game 81, Orioles at Mariners”

  1. stevemotivateir on July 2nd, 2016 6:45 pm

    Marte’s errors seem to come in bunches, and we’ve seen a lot less of Guti in the field than expected. Less than I expected, anyway. So I suppose those numbers aren’t that shocking. Makes me wonder what kind of difference a better, regular left fielder might make, and what Marte could do if he didn’t take vacations from focus.

  2. stevemotivateir on July 2nd, 2016 7:26 pm

    Is Cruz supposed to be having a career year better than last year? He’s a year older, right?

  3. mrakbaseball on July 2nd, 2016 7:31 pm

    Cruz turned 36 yesterday.

  4. Notfromboise on July 2nd, 2016 7:35 pm

    Man that Angels/RedSox box score is hilarious tonight.. its 21-2 in the seventh.. Texas lost 17-5.. Its been a wild night around the diamond.

    Hoping for good things from Paxton tonight!

  5. stevemotivateir on July 2nd, 2016 7:37 pm

    Welcome back Zunino!

  6. Notfromboise on July 2nd, 2016 7:39 pm


    Brb, helping Ianetta pack for his bus trip.

  7. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 8:27 pm

    Last time I looked, Cruz was down about 90 OPS points compared to the same time last year. So this can’t really be seen as a “career year” for him.

  8. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 8:28 pm

    YEAH!!! Smittie!

  9. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 8:30 pm

    Hope that guy actually knew that lady… otherwise that was kind of creepy.

  10. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 9:28 pm

    Ugh, I love Dae-Ho’s bat, but the dude is Montero-esque on the base paths…

  11. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 9:32 pm

    Adam Lind is having a good game!

    It’d be nice if there weren’t so many crappy games in between his good ones, but tonight he’s good!

  12. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 9:34 pm

    Wow, Zunino does it again!! Hahahaha!!

  13. JMB on July 2nd, 2016 9:35 pm


    Doesn’t matter if this carries over–though of course it would be great–but what a great feeling tonight must be for him.

  14. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 10:26 pm

    Woo hoo!

  15. Grayfox3d on July 2nd, 2016 10:31 pm

    Hello from work! What a game and what a series so far! Only thing i have a gripe about is leaving Paxton in there for so dang long when he obviously had lost his touch. But lots of HR’s! chicks dig the long ball.

  16. Westside guy on July 2nd, 2016 10:34 pm

    Hey Grayfox – I was reading about Amazon’s bio domes today. Is that your secret assignment? 😉

  17. Grayfox3d on July 2nd, 2016 11:26 pm

    I told them I would only do it if i got to play the part of Pauly Shore.

  18. stevemotivateir on July 3rd, 2016 7:46 am


    The only thing I was certain of when I suggested Cruz was trying to outdo himself, is that he has more HR’s at this point, which he does. But at the time of my comment, his OPS was almost identical to last season’s OPS at this point. Using ESPN’s pre-AS line, he had an OPS of .913 after that dinger compared to .919 last season. Lower BA, but well, who cares?

    I’m surprised. I didn’t expect him to fall off a cliff, but I didn’t expect him to put up numbers so close to last year’s performance. Hard not to be impressed with Cruz.

  19. Westside guy on July 3rd, 2016 12:09 pm


    I hope I didn’t come across as if I thought Cruz was tanking!

    Unfortunately for this particular discussion, “last time I checked” had been a few weeks back (when we’d had a similar discussion here). Yesterday I didn’t factor in 2015’s June Swoon, when Cruz ran an 80 wRC+ for the entire month.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it goes moving forward. Last season he followed up that awful June with a monster July and August… so I’ll hazard a guess he’ll fall behind last season again. But September 2015 sucked; so he might catch up again by October. 🙂

    Last season wRC+ by month: 198, 181, 80, 182, 202, 85. This year he’s been pretty consistent, hovering around 140 or so.

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