Game 74, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · June 21, 2017 at 4:54 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Justin Verlander, 7:10pm

Now that’s a pitching match-up. Not an 88 MPH fastball in sight. This would be among the more anticipated match-ups of the year, but – there’s always a ‘but’ with this team – the recent context makes this more complicated. Instead of tuning in and getting swept up in a game featuring two pitchers operating at the very edge of human capability, we’ll tune in and scrutinize everything (“Why did he just shake his arm there?”).

James Paxton’s velo was down in his past three starts, though one was in Texas, home of the especially, uh, modest velo readings. More than that, though, he’s just seemed out of sorts – he’s given up 9 walks in those starts (covering less than 13 IP) after walking 6 in April (covering 39+ IP). He’s simply not missing bats like he once did, as batters are hitting .351 off of him in June after hitting below the Mendoza line in April+May. Paxton says the issues are purely mechanical, and that he has an idea about what to do to correct them. I sincerely hope he’s right.

Meanwhile, Verlander’s been just as bad: his walk rate’s 11.6% right now, far, far worse than it’s ever been. His K% dropped by over 7 percentage points compared to last year, too; he’s given back a huge chunk of the gains he made last year. By ERA and FIP, he’s been a mediocre, below-average pitcher just a year after an unexpected 5-6 WAR season. Oddly for someone on the Tigers, HRs haven’t been a huge problem. He’s given up 10 this year, which is higher than his career average HR/9 would predict, but it’s completely in line with recent years and his fly balling ways. Instead, Verlander’s very low BABIP in 2015-16 has reverted to average, and, combined with the decline in his K and BB numbers, made him much easier to score on. That *could* be bad luck, but his balls in play have been hit much harder, with his average exit velocity up 2.5 MPH from 2015 to 2017. That in turn has pushed his expected wOBA from .263 in 2015 to .277 in 2016 and now .350 this year.

As with Jordan Zimmermann, much of the blame for that can be directed at Verlander’s fastball. Verlander actually halted and then reversed years of velo decline, and his average heater this year is faster than it was in any year since 2011. He’s not throwing it differently, either. He’s been one of the most vocal pitchers about the value of throwing his fastball up in the zone, so he’s continuing to do that. It’s just that batters are now hitting those high fastballs harder than ever. Looking at fastballs near the top of the zone and above, batters average exit velocity is up by about 6 MPH since 2015, from just over 85 MPH to nearly 92.

Worse, his breaking pitches haven’t been able to bail him out. As great as he was with his fastballs, batters struggled even more against his curve/slider (this makes sense, given he’s more likely to throw them when ahead in the count). But now, batters have a wOBA of .325 against his non-fastballs, compared to a league average of .282. Verlander isn’t alone in this (he’s flanked by guys like Jake Arrieta, Kenta Maeda, and Jacob de Grom), but this seeming diminution of his entire repertoire is concerning, and as the Tigers plummet in the AL Central race, it should be the focus of their pitching coach’s work. Why have Zimmermann, Verlander, Matt Boyd, and Anibal Sanchez all collapsed this year?

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

The PCL will look a bit different next year, as Colorado Springs will drop down to the short season Pioneer League. Meanwhile, ex-M’s Texas League affiliate San Antonio will step up to the PCL. To balance that league, Amarillo will join, keeping the league at 8 teams. (hat tip: Mike Curto)

Two games in the minors today, with Lindsey Caughel starting for Arkansas and Michael Suarez, who turned in the best performance that the AquaSox have seen thus far, making his 2nd start of the year in Vancouver.


11 Responses to “Game 74, Tigers at Mariners”

  1. EdgarIsAHOFer on June 21st, 2017 6:36 pm

    With Zunino on a total tear and Segura back, that hitting lineup is legit from top to bottom.

  2. Sowulo on June 21st, 2017 8:49 pm

    Too bad they can’t get any hits legitimate or otherwise today…..

  3. Westside guy on June 21st, 2017 9:01 pm

    A hit!

  4. Westside guy on June 21st, 2017 9:16 pm

    I like Mr. Gamels.

  5. Westside guy on June 21st, 2017 9:22 pm

    The time Verlander is taking between pitches right now is absurd.

  6. Westside guy on June 21st, 2017 9:25 pm

    Yeah! Cruz doubles in two runs!

    Verlander unravelled rather quickly, after owning the Mariners for five innings.

  7. WTF_Ms on June 21st, 2017 9:40 pm

    I was screaming BUNT, and what happens? Also, Haniger. Wow.

  8. Westside guy on June 21st, 2017 9:50 pm

    Cano drives in two!

    And Gamel is one speedy dude.

  9. Notfromboise on June 21st, 2017 10:21 pm

    Diaz looks legit right now.

    Good to see the boys didn’t mail it in after Verlander threw a few innings of darts!

  10. Westside guy on June 21st, 2017 10:28 pm

    Good win!

  11. Notfromboise on June 22nd, 2017 12:02 am

    lol Diaz coughed up the gopher ball literally seconds after i typed that.

    Glad i didnt jinx us. Eerie.

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