Game 101, Mariners at Cubs
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jon Lester, 11:20am
The M’s visit Wrigley Field to take on the team with baseball’s best record, the Chicago Cubs. The M’s starting pitching has been better recently, despite an off game from James Paxton the other day, but even at full strength, the M’s would be several steps behind the Cubs’ arms. The Cubs have allowed 3.5 runs per game this year, the best in the league. That translates into the best team ERA, of course, and their rotation’s been the key. Jon Lester’s not quite repeating his dominant 2015 (neither is Jake Arrieta, of course), but he’s still been remarkably good, and his age 30-32 seasons have been the best of his career. While Lester’s ERA’s great, his FIP is only average to good thanks to some slight HR difficulties. It hasn’t hurt him that much thanks to a great BABIP of .261.
Limiting hard contact isn’t something Lester’s been known for (his BABIP was over .300 last year), but the Cubs may be on to something here. Their TEAM BABIP is even lower – it’s .256, far and away the best in baseball. In fact, the gap between them and the 2nd place Dodgers is as wide as the gap between the Dodgers and the Mariners, all the way down in 14th. They had an excellent team BABIP last year as well. A big part of this is their excellent team defense. Addison Russell’s been better than advertised at SS, Dexter Fowler’s been great in CF, and they added one of baseball’s best defensive corner OFs in Jason Heyward. But it kind of makes you wonder – has Joe Maddon and/or the Cubs brain trust figured something out regarding positioning? Are their pitchers using their command to induce weak contact? Some of them – Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks – almost certainly are…have they taught Lester a thing or two? Probably not, and it’d be impossible to prove, but the Cubs staff has been so *good* it’s hard to avoid conspiratorial thinking about them.
The Cubs offense has also been one of baseball’s best. Their combination of age, defense and pop makes them far and away the best position player groups in the game. The Cubs have been better than their best-in-baseball record indicates (by pythagorean record, they should’ve won 6 more games), which is probably why they upgraded their bullpen recently, trading for Mike Montgomery and then just a few days ago, Aroldis Chapman. This is a tough test for the M’s, but it’s a good one.
1: O’Malley, SS
2: Gutierrez, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Iannetta, C
Jeff had a great article on Iannetta’s abysmal framing stats this year. Iannetta was excellent last year after working with Hank Conger to perfect his technique; not sure what happened to it this year. Variance is normal, and players have good and bad years at everything, but the magnitude here makes you wonder about the metrics themselves. That said, the article mentions that multiple measures using very different methodologies agree not only that Iannetta’s been below average, but way, way below. Hard to hand-waive this away.
Pablo Lopez and Ryan Yarbrough headline the starters in the M’s affiliate minors tonight. Luiz Gohara’s 10 Ks in 6 IP was the standout performance in yesterday’s slate of games.
Site note: I’m going to be traveling a bit over the next 2 weeks. I’ll try to post when I can, but I’m going to miss some posts.