Game 11, Rangers at Mariners
King Felix vs. Martin Perez, 7:10pm
Happy Felix Day. Felix’s subjects grow restless, frustrated by another poor harvest, and a steady drip of stories of defeat and mismanagement in the army’s campaign against the southern kingdoms. But the King himself remains beloved, a symbol of nobility and wisdom. Of effortless leadership and resolve. His confidence and joy lifts the spirits of his downtrodden people, but even they, the uplifted, wonder how the Kingdom got quite so lopsided. The Canadian Prince helps, it’s true, but the army’s struggles, the bumbling Council who come in and implement the King’s decrees but inevitably screw up, the alarmingly rapid development and military strength of the southern kingdoms… it’s hard to be positive these days. Being positive is part of the King’s job, and his subjects hope that this is something that comes naturally to him; a product of his personality, or at the very least extensive training from birth. Without him, the people say, we are nothing. With him, we are a contented nothing. They repeat that often, trying to make it true.
The M’s face a divisional rival who has serious bullpen issues of their own. Texas’ bullpen ERA ranks 26th in baseball, just a tiny bit ahead of the M’s in 28th. By Win Probability Added, these two clubs rank last in baseball, with the Rangers at 29th and the M’s right where it feels like they should be in 30th. Closer Sam Dyson’s suffered two gut-punch blown saves, and lost another game to boot. The M’s problems are more diffuse, but the Rangers are perhaps stranger. They’ve lost Jake Diekman for half the year as he’s had to have his colon removed. Keone Kela’s not with the team for personal/personality reasons. Matt Bush has shoulder problems, and so the club is now leaning on Tony Barnette and lefty Dario Alvarez in higher leverage situations.
The M’s will miss Yu Darvish, as the righty just K’d 10 last night in the Rangers win over Anaheim. Instead, the series will kick off with familiar lefty Martin Perez facing off with fellow Venezuelan King Felix. The next day, the Rangers will give the ball to Andrew Cashner, who’s been rebuilding strength in extended spring training, before Cole Hamels will finish off the series on Sunday. Perez, like a microcosm of the baseball world, has seen his velocity increase slowly but steadily over the past 4-5 years. When he first came up, he was at 91 or so, but now routinely sits at around 95 MPH with his fastball. He throws a change, curve, and slider, with the change his best pitch. He was a hyped prospect moving through the Rangers’ system at a young age, so many always assumed his sporadic control issues would be smoothed out with experience. That hasn’t happened, and his walk rate’s continued to climb even as he’s established himself as a big league #4 starter. He’s walked 7 in 11 1/3 IP thus far after setting a career high walk rate in 2016. He’s 5-2 with an ERA in the low 3’s against Seattle lifetime, despite a so-so K:BB ratio, and was 3-0 against them last year, including the 14-0 drubbing of Felix Hernandez the Rangers inflicted on August 31st.
The M’s could use some runs, and it would do my petty, grudge-holding heart good to see them really pound Perez. To do *that*, they’re going to need production from guys other than Mitch Haniger and Robbie Cano. Taylor Motter’s stepped in nicely for the injured Jean Segura, but the combination of Dyson, Valencia, and CF Leonys Martin really need to get going. Martin’s an interesting case study in the promise and the limits of the great new batted-ball data we’re getting from MLB. If you look at a list of Mariners ranked by 2017 exit velocity, Martin ranks 4th on the team, behind only Nelson Cruz among starters (Motter and Freeman rank 1st/2nd). Martin’s a bit ahead of Robinson Cano, and easily outpaces Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. One way of looking at this is that Martin’s been unlucky, and that his good average EV heralds an imminent turnaround in his results. That way of looking at it would be wrong.
To highlight this, I looked at a non-random group of hitters: Mike Trout, Daniel Murphy, Kris Bryant, Taylor Motter, Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager. At this point, Motter leads the group in exit velocity, with Murphy in 2nd. Martin and Trout are right in the middle of the pack with nearly identical 89+ MPH average exit velocities. Being close to Mike Trout is great, right? No, because these data, on their own, are essentially meaningless. Sure, if his average was 60 MPH (or 110 MPH), that’d be noteworthy, but the world is frustrating in that nothing is that easy.* *Everyone* is clustered fairly tightly together, and while Nelson Cruz hits the ball really, really hard, it’s not like the guys in the middle or even towards the back of the pack are necessarily slap hitters. Mitch Haniger’s average exit velocity is below average, but it doesn’t matter.
If we restrict those batted balls to ones hit between 20-30 degrees, nearly ideal angles for slugging, the picture looks pretty different. Now, Haniger leads the group with 5 such hits, and they’ve been hit at an average over 100 MPH. It’s probably no surprise that Haniger’s gone 4-5 with 3 HRs and a 2B on such contacts. Look at Martin, though. He’s got 4 batted balls in this group, with an average velocity of just 80 MPH.
The contrast with Bryant is instructive, and it’s one I’ve been thinking about since Jeff wrote this great piece about Justin Smoak of all people. Kris Bryant’s average launch angle is right around 20 degrees, but his average exit velocity – even for those perfectly-angled hits – is nothing special. Last year too. Part of this is the distribution of his batted balls – with an uppercut swing, he’s got several near-misses that result in lazy fly balls. But he’s not Giancarlo Stanton – he generates prodigious power not by hitting the ball 120 MPH, but by hitting a number of balls at the right angle and 107-109 MPH. This has been Mitch Haniger’s trick, too. He’s hit three HRs this year, none of which were struck as well as Taylor Motter’s double, but it didn’t matter. The combination of angle and speed is much, much more important than either on their own.
That brings us back to Martin. He’s actually hit *4* balls at 100 MPH or more, including one that was hit with a higher exit velocity than *any ball Mitch Haniger has hit all year.* The average launch angle of Martin’s 100 MPH blasts? *Negative* 2.5. He’s hit three ground balls and a line drive. At this point, Martin can either hit the ball hard, or hit the ball in the air. He’s been totally unable to do both. This is fixable, but very troubling. Last year, Martin hit 86 balls at least 100 MPH, and started out the year hitting them in the air as well. Through May 21st 2016, Martin hit 22 such balls, and 20 of them had positive launch angles, including 7 HRs. Even through July, he looked like a new hitter – an improved angle had allowed him to display much more power. But since then, something’s changed. His ISO fell off last year, and it’s not going to change now unless his swing path improves. Hitting a bunch of hard ground balls *could* work for some players, but it won’t work with Martin’s elevated K rate. He strikes out too much to be a singles hitter, so getting back to his swing in the first half of 2016 needs to be a priority for the M’s and Edgar Martinez.
1: Heredia, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Motter, SS
7: Valencia, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
I can’t tell if I’m glad or kind of annoyed that I did research on Martin only to see him benched in favor of Dyson today. Is it more relevant or less? Relevance has never been my strong suit, so I’ll just let it go. Not sure Dyson’s batted ball data are more encouraging than Martin’s in any event…
Dillon Overton’s been optioned to Tacoma to make room for the newly-rehabilitated RP Tony Zych. The bullpen could use some assistance, so between the off day, Zych, and awesome power of regression towards the mean, things are looking up!
The M’s had a banner day in the minors, with *every* affiliate winning by shutout. Ok, ok, the Rainiers played a double-header, and in the other game, they themselves were shut out, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the stars align for each team to blank their opponents.
Tacoma split a doubleheader with El Paso, with Sam Gaviglio the hard-luck loser of a 1-0 score in game 1. Gaviglio pitched all 7 IP, and retired the final 17 to face him. In the nightcap, Chris Heston tossed a CH 7-IP shutout in the R’s 5-0 win. Tyler O’Neill had 2 singles, while Dan Vogelbach went 3-4 with a 2B. Tonight, Dylan Unsworth’s on the hill opposite El Paso’s Dinelson Lamet.
Max Povse needed to keep up with teammate Andrew Moore, so he went out and blanked Corpus Christi for 5 2/3 IP in the Travelers’ 9-0 win. The 3-4-5 hitters for Arkansas went 9-14. Tyler Herb starts tonight.
Modesto blanked Lancaster 8-0 behind 5 great IP from Anthony Misiewicz and then 3 more from Matt Festa. The game was scoreless headed into the 6th, so Festa gets the win (for whatever that’s worth). The Nuts pitchers K’d 13 JetHawks to only 2 walks, while the offense drew 9 walks to just 6 Ks. Control the Zone champions of the day, right here. Reggie McClain starts tonight’s game.
Clinton dominated Burlington 9-0, scoring 7 runs in the first two innings. Brandon Miller went the first 6 IP, giving up 3 hits and a walk and striking out 5, and Ronald Dominguez closed it out with 3 uneventful IP. Luis Liberato doubled and tripled, while Dimas Ojeda went 3-5 with a double of his own. Tim Viehoff toes the rubber tonight for the L-Kings who’ve won 4 in a row after starting 0-4.
* It’s not quite so black and white, but Jarrod Dyson’s average of 76.9 MPH is troublingly low. He’s never going to hit the ball all that hard, but that’s the lowest figure in baseball for all 76 players with at least 25 (tracked) balls in play. Worse, it’s in last place by *FIVE MILES AN HOUR*. Second to last place (Billy Hamilton, if you’re wondering) is at nearly 82 MPH.