Game 49, Mariners at Red Sox

marc w · May 26, 2017 at 3:45 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Yovani Gallardo vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 4:10pm

Avoiding the sweep was nice, as was seeing the bullpen throw 4 scoreless innings in a close game. I don’t know that it changes my view of the club, but it’s nice not to be mulling over another 10-1 loss. The M’s now head into Boston to face the somewhat underwhelming Red Sox. Underwhelming just in the sense that they were pretty much everyone’s pick as the best club in the AL East (and maybe the AL as a whole), and find themselves in third place in their division. They’re a few games over .500 and in very good position to make the playoffs, but while everyone thought Houston was good and they responded by running away with the West, Boston took a while to get going.

There are extenuating circumstances of course: they lost prospective ace David Price for the year this spring, and Jackie Bradley Jr. has turned back the clock to his pre-breakout past, slashing .204/.284/.359. But just as the Dodgers’ depth allows them to overcome missed starts by guys like Rich Hill, I think no one was better able to get past the loss of Price than Boston. Chris Sale is absolutely dominant right now, and would be the ace of the staff even if Price were healthy. He’s taken his level of production from great to better-than-great, and then today’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez, has gone from promising enigma to really productive #2. What’s interesting is that both are doing it in a similar way.

We’ve talked a lot this year about team-wide approaches, and how the Astros throw way more low pitches than any club. The M’s are now facing the anti-Astros. No club in baseball has thrown more high pitches than the Red Sox, especially high fastballs. You can define “high” however you want, and you’ll essentially see two teams: the Tigers and Red Sox. The Sox lead in the percentage of fastballs above the midpoint of the zone, the top ~ third and the very top, and it’s not all that close. Here’s a leaderboard of high fastballs – defined here as above 3′. This is the very top of the zone and above. The Tigers were near the top if we use 2′ or 2.5′, but for really, truly high fastballs, there is Boston and then there is distance. Boston’s at 21.5% of all of their pitches qualifying as high fastballs, and you go all the way below 19% to find second-place Washington. The M’s talked about the high fastball this spring, at least in Felix’s case, but they’re still not throwing many of them; they’re way down at 14.4%, or 22nd place. So, does Boston have a bunch of Drew Smyly-types with straight, high “rise” fastballs? Not really, no.

Sale and Rodriguez rank #2 and #4, respectively, in fastball velocity for left-handed starters (no huge surprise who tops the list – it’s James Paxton). Unlike Paxton, or Clayton Kershaw, Robbie Ray or Blake Snell, though, they have far *below* average rise. Sale, with his low arm slot, has the fastball movement of a sinkerballer, with lots of horizontal run and comparatively little rise. Rodriguez is somewhat similar in terms of movement – look at that list of lefty fireballers, and Sale/Rodriguez really stick out as having lower vertical movement. And yet, Sale’s running his career low GB% at 38.5% (he was around 50% when he came up as a reliever with Chicago), and Rodriguez is waaay down at 32%, one of the lower rates in the league.

If they’re going to essentially counteract or overcome the natural tendency of their fastball to get topped, they have to use it differently, and that’s just what we see. Rodriguez is in the top 10 among starting pitchers for high FB (over 3′) percentage, behind guys like Trevor Bauer and current Red Sox Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz. But go back a few years, and Sale and Rodriguez weren’t even close to the top. They ranked 190th and 149th, respectively, or 67th and 50th among starters (Bauer was #1 still). This is a clear, obvious plan of the Red Sox. Think about Porcello, who came up as a sinkerballer with one of the highest GB% rates in the game, and how his GB% has dropped every year in Boston to the point now where it’s under 40%. It’s worked pretty well for them; the Sox have one of the game’s lowest team GB%, but also the second best FIP and THE best K-BB%. They’re missing a perennial Cy Young candidate, Steven Wright’s been abysmal, and they haven’t missed a beat.

Their offense is right next to the M’s in terms of team WAR and wRC+. The Sox, like their pitching colleagues, are the best at what the M’s front office would call controlling the zone. Low K hitters like Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia help, but their walk rate’s a bit better than the M’s, too. The M’s are now the better power-hitting team, which always seems weird to say, but the M’s have been fairly homer-dependent for a while now.

Rodriguez, who came to Boston from Baltimore in a deal for Andrew Miller, had a mid-high 90s fastball in the minors, and averaged nearly 95 in his first big league season in 2015. He’s lost a tick or so since then, but it’s still pretty fast for a lefty starter. His best secondary pitch is a great change-up at 85-87, and that’s one reason why he’s actually run reverse splits in his big league career: the change is just far, far ahead of his slider. Now, by FIP, his splits are even, and we can’t say a whole lot simply because as a lefty throwing that hard, he’s seen very few lefties in his career. The point though is that the M’s don’t need to worry that the match-up’s awful for their big lefty hitters. It’s not ideal, but Rodriguez isn’t a clear lefty-killer.

1: Segura, SS
2: Heredia, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Motter, LF
8: Gamel, RF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Gallardo

I said I’m not too worried about Cano/Seager, but I’m not too worried about Servais sitting Jarrod Dyson in favor of Guillermo Heredia.
Let’s all hope Gallardo got whatever it was that caused his last start out of his system.

Sorry I missed it the day it happened (I’ve been in jury duty this week), but the M’s made another minor trade, picking up ex-Astros prospect Andrew Aplin, a CF, for a PTBNL. Aplin had been DFA’d when the Astros needed a pitcher on Tuesday, and the M’s got him the next day. Aplin’s plate discipline got him noticed, but his pure hitting ability has lagged behind a bit. After walking more than he K’d in the low minors, he hit a bit of a wall in AAA, with an awful season for Fresno last year, and another disappointing one this year. To make matters worse, the Astros had another CF moving up the system behind him, Derek Fisher. Fisher’s now in AAA, which made Aplin surplus to requirements. The more you look at him, the more you see Boog Powell. Like Aplin, Powell walked more than he K’d in the low minors, and like Aplin, Powell had essentially zero power. To make a sub-.100 ISO work, you need to maintain a decent batting average, and both of them did that in the low minors, but then struggled a bit in AA-AAA. Aplin’s K rate rose a bit more than Powell’s, although both still walk a ton, and that’s meant Aplin’s projections look a lot like Powell’s…just a bit worse. Making matters worse for Aplin, he’s nearly two full years older than Powell. Still, with Powell up in Seattle, Aplin can settle in as Leonys Martin’s back-up in Tacoma.

It was handy that the M’s made this trade given that Fresno’s in town to play Tacoma. The Grizzlies beat Tacoma 5-2 last night, scoring 3 in the 8th after Andrew Moore tossed 6 solid innings. Moore gave up a HR, but pitched effectively outside of that. That sentence could apply to every one of his starts, as he’s running a gaudy K:BB ratio but has given up a homer in each PCL appearance he’s made. Tonight, the Rainiers take on the Astros’ top pitching prospect, Francis Martes, who tossed 9 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run to start the season, and then struggled mightily after that. We’ll see how he does tonight; when he’s on, he brings a plus fastball and breaking ball and a developing change. He’s still only 21, but the Astros thought his delivery may make it hard to display consistent control; his walk rate’s sky high thus far in 2017, so they may have more work to do.

Midland destroyed Arkansas 8-1. Oakland prospect Grant Holmes got the win, which he needed, as he’s scuffled thus far in 2017 (after a poor 2016). The Travs start a series against Frisco tonight. The RoughRiders will start David Ledbetter, a former 3rd round pick of the Rangers. Frisco’s notable in that David’s twin brother was also a pitcher, and was also drafted by the Rangers in 2013 – 16 rounds after David. In fact, Ryan Ledbetter pitched for Frisco last year. He doesn’t seem to have pitched this year, otherwise I’d be hoping Ryan would come in for David tonight. The two pitched together for High Desert in 2015, where they put up nearly…uh…identical ERAs of 7.50 and 7.46.

Modesto walked off Rancho Cucamonga last night 4-2 on a 2-R shot by Joey Curletta. Reggie McClain gave up a run in 6 strong innings, and is now one of just 5 qualified Cal League pitchers with an ERA under 3. Braden Bishop was on base 3 times. Nathan Bannister starts tonight. Bannister’s given up 10 hits in 10 2/3 innings in AAA, but the Cal League’s rudely knocked 54 hits off of him in 35 1/3 IP.

Cedar Rapids easily dispatched Clinton last night 9-2. Anthony Jimenez, a 21-year old OF prospect, hit his 3rd home run, and is something of a bright spot on the L-Kings. Clinton hosts Wisconsin tonight, with Tim Viehoff on the mound.


3 Responses to “Game 49, Mariners at Red Sox”

  1. stevemotivateir on May 26th, 2017 8:59 pm

    There must have been a tornado that came in and wiped out all the comments from that thriller in Boston.

    Nice write up, Marc. One of the few positives this season!

  2. Sowulo on May 26th, 2017 10:04 pm

    Paxton pitched 4 innings of rehab for Arkansas today.

  3. Grayfox3d on May 27th, 2017 3:35 pm

    Drawing quite the posting crowd with today’s game, at this point I think we just all expect to lose, I’ve pretty much given up on the season.

    I’ll still watch and root for them because that’s what I do.

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