Game 96, Mariners at Blue Jays
James Paxton vs. Marco Estrada, 4:07pm
After winning a series against the suddenly-open-to-selling White Sox, the M’s head to Toronto to face a team whose wild card chances are a bit better, the 54-42 Jays. If the M’s have a move in them, now’s perhaps their last decent shot.
They’re not quite the offensive juggernaut they were last year, but Toronto still boasts an impressive offense. Josh Donaldson has improbably improved upon his MVP season last year, and while Jose Bautista’s fallen off, his production has been offset by growth from ex-M’s Michael Saunders and Ezequiel Carrera. What’s striking about their offense, though, is just how *similar* it is to the M’s. The M’s slash line of .260/.328/.439 looks an awful lot like the Jays’ .253/.334/.439. The Jays have blasted 137 HR, the M’s, 138. The Jays have stolen 31 bags to Seattle’s 26, ranking 25th and 27th in MLB, respectively. The value that both teams get from their powerful offenses are tempered by struggles in on the base paths. The M’s are 29th in baserunning runs, while the Jays are 24th. The one area where the Jays shine, though, is defense, as their position players have added significant runs above a league average club while the M’s have lost about 30 runs more than average thanks to poor defending.
Pitching for Toronto is unlikely All Star Marco Estrada, the exteme over-the-top, rising fastball maestro who shook off home run trouble in Milwaukee to become a BABIP ace. A right-hander with an 89mph fastball, Estrada seems like an unlikely candidate for stardom, but he’s honed his four-seamer into a bizarre outpitch. Over the pitch fx era, Estrada ranks 5th in vertical four-seam rise at 12″ or so, a bit behind Chris Young. With Toronto, Estrada’s made a couple of very minor moves that seem to have paid off. First, he ditched the sinker he threw occasionally with Milwaukee – while the pitch got more GBs, it wasn’t effective – batters destroyed it, while they were more feast or famine on his four-seam (poor batting average, but a fair number of HRs). Second, he was able to adjust the angle on the four-seam to squeeze out a bit more vertical rise (and a bit less horizontal movement). Focusing just on 2016, Estrada’s now #1 in vertical movement, surpassing Young, Clayton Kershaw and Drew Smyly. He’ll still give up HRs on the pitch, but his BABIP on four-seamers continues to drop, and while batters hit ~ .240-.250 on it in Milwaukee, they’ve hit .195 and .184 in Toronto. Think about that: this is his four-seam fastball, a slower than average, extremely straight offering that he, like basically every other pitcher, throws MORE often with the batter ahead in the count and LESS often when he’s got 2 strikes.
He complements the pitch with a good change-up that’s his strike-out pitch and a cutter and curve he’ll use to change eye level and/or get a ground ball. He’s closing in on 300 IP with the Jays, and he’s been oddly consistent for a guy who struggled in that department before. After a 3.13 ERA last year, he’s at 2.93 this year, good for 7.7 RA9-based WAR. By FIP, his so-so walk rate and continued long ball issues push his value down to 3.6 WAR, but Estrada’s insanely low BABIP doesn’t look like a fluke. Estrada is a challenge to DIPS theory, which, in simple terms, argues that pitchers don’t have much control over balls in play. In over 800 career innings, Estrada’s BABIP is just .253, and it’s been lower still in Toronto. On the plus side for Seattle, Estrada’s just back from a back injury, as he’s being activated from the DL to make this start.
Speaking of BABIP, another hit to DIPS came today, as Jonathan Judge and BaseballProspectus refined their new pitching stat by explicitly INcluding balls in play; they found it actually helped their new version of DRA or deserved run average.*
The M’s recalled Luis Sardinas to take Mike Montgomery’s spot on the 25-man roster, but they’ll make another move today, as Ketel Marte’s been placed on the DL with mononucleosis. He’d been sick for a few days, and not responding well…now they know why. Not sure who’ll come up, but Dutton speculates it’ll be David Rollins, a lefty who seems a good fit with the M’s losing a lefty reliever in trade.
Bad news from the minors, as #1 draft pick Kyle Lewis will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, an injury he suffered Wednesday in a collision at the plate. And in what seems more like acknowleging reality than breaking news, the M’s announced Danny Hultzen’s shoulder hasn’t responded well to rest and that he’s likely looking at other “career opportunities.”
Tacoma lost a late lead, as Blake Parker blew his first save of the season in OKC’s 6-4 win at Cheney. Parker came in with a 4-3 lead, gave up two hits, and then a 3R HR to Okoyea Dickson (he had Dickson 0-2, before Dickson worked the count full and then hit a good curve out). Ah well. Joe Wieland starts tonight against Salt Lake’s Nate Jones.
Tyler Herb’s control wasn’t great, but everything else about his night was OK, as Herb and the Generals blanked Chattanooga 6-0. Herb went 6 IP, and then Forrest Snow worked 2 perfect IP with 3 Ks, and Dan Altavila closed it out with 2 Ks of his own. Kyle Petty tripled. Andrew Moore takes the hill tonight against the Lookouts’ Omar Bencomo.
Osmer Morales had a rare complete game L in Bakersfield’s 3-0 loss to Modesto. The Blaze K’d 11 times against three Nuts pitchers. Increasingly interesting prospect Zack Littell starts for Bakersfield tonight.
Clinton’s 3 errors hurt their cause in a 7-5 loss to Lansing. Luiz Gohara starts for the L-Kings tonight, and tries to sustain the momentum he’s had this season.
Everett lost to Salem-Keizer 12-5, and, perhaps more worryingly, lost starter Ljay Newsome to a leg injury in the 1st. It doesn’t sound serious, but Joselito Cano replaced him in the 2nd, and instantly gave up 5 runs and that was essentially that.
* Interestingly, at least to me, DRA still doesn’t buy Estrada; his DRA looks pretty much like his FIP, not like his ERA.