Game 95, Mariners at Astros

marc w · July 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Sam Gaviglio vs. Brad Peacock, 5:10pm

Last night’s game was the strangest, most unlikely, most entertaining win of the year for me. My game post went to great lengths extolling the Astros’ remarkable season and their utter dominance, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The M’s were facing their most dominant starter on a per-inning basis, and although he’d struggled recently, Lance McCullers was the reason Fangraphs’ odds game the Astros a stunning 70% chance of winning the game. Even today’s game, with Sam Gaviglio flying in from AAA, only has the Astros as 64-36% favorites. The M’s right-handers gave the M’s an early lead, but when the Astros came back and took the lead late, it felt both final and inevitable. And then, of course, the M’s rallied, fought off a 9th-inning challenge, and then won it in the 10th. Dave’s Fangraphs post about which teams are buyers/sellers noted for a few teams – like the M’s – that the first week or two after the break was pivotal, as the general mass of mediocre teams in the AL starts to separate. In their most important 2 weeks since last September, the M’s have played themselves back into the race. This team is volatile as hell, and, oddly, I find that kind of endearing as opposed to aggravating. Maybe that’s because I thought their season was over a month ago, but there’s something fun about a team capable of the game we saw last night, even if they are ALSO the team that’s capable of losing 3 of 4 at home to a terrible White Sox team, or punting easily winnable games left and right. Consistency is great, it’s admirable, and I tip my hat at the Dodgers of the world. The M’s don’t have that kind of talent, so they need to embrace their lack of consistency. Lose 4 in a row? Annoying, sure, but that just means you better come back and win 6 in a row.

The game did highlight another Astros weakness: their bullpen. To be clear: the Astros bullpen *looks* great. Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, a bunch of other guys that strike everyone out (James Hoyt!) – there’s depth, and sheer bat-missing ability here that pretty much no team can match. The problem is that they’ve been horrific in clutch situations, even as their peripherals look great. The Astros’ relievers have a HR/9 of 1.48 with no one on, but it’s 0.85 with men on base. They lead the league in K/9 in all situations, and while their FIP is lower with men on, that’s true of pretty much every team, so their FIP ranking goes up with men on; that is, they rank 7th in baseball with no one on, but 3rd with men on base. Despite low expected wOBA on contact, despite all of those strikeouts, the Astros’ pen has just given up a ton of runs. The more critical the situation, the worse it gets. Thus, you have a team that ranks so highly by K-BB% or any kind of defense-independent metric but ranks in the middle of the pack by win probability added. Chris Devenski was untouchable early in the year, so the Astros built up some positive WPA there, but they’ve been steadily giving it back. They’re now all but tied with the Mariners, the team that dug themselves a massive WPA hole early in the year.

This same sort of thing happened in 2015, when the Astros raced out to an out-of-nowhere, and seemingly insurmountable, divisional lead only to watch a leaky bullpen yield the division to the Texas Rangers. By RE24, so *even accounting for runners on base and situation* the Astros were one of the best, if not THE best bullpen in baseball that year. The problem was that every misstep seemed to come at the exact worst possible time. The Rangers were, famously, sequencing masters that year, as their oddball bullpen put up very average performances, but got a great performance every time they absolutely needed one. This sort of thing is, as you’d expect, pretty volatile and not indicative of real skill. But yet…Kansas City and Texas ended up “beating” their BaseRuns and RE24 numbers, and now this is the Astros’ second time in 3 years of significantly underperforming it. Of course, the Astros’ bullpen WPA was awesome last year, so it’s pretty hard to string some kind of narrative out of this, but it’s funny to see a perfect inverse of the old Baltimore Oriole ‘pen of 2012 who put up a staggering 13.5 Wins above average by WPA despite a closer who didn’t strike anyone out. The Astros strike *everyone* out, and limit hits, but if it’s a tie game late, they’ve given up long HRs or 3 straight seeing-eye singles. This is probably much less funny to Astros fans.

Brad Peacock, like so many Astros, has been a replacement-level, fungible 5th starter, but decided this year to just strike everyone out. Charlie Morton started it last year, so this shouldn’t really be so shocking to me anymore, but here we are. Peacock throws a four-seamer at about 93 from a low 3/4 release point, but his most-used pitch is his slider – a sweeping frisbee-like offering at 81. He has a curve that he saves for lefties, and it looks like a good pitch, but his slider is his primary breaking ball against all batters. Again, the release point and heavy slider usage should create a pitcher with huge platoon splits, and Peacock isn’t like McCullers – he has normal platoon splits, with lefties hitting him a bit better than righties. But I still can’t figure out how the Astros can be so effective against opposite-handed hitters despite approaches/repertoires that should *maximize* platoon split issues, not minimize them. Yes, he’s better against righties, but how is Peacock’s FIP vs. LHBs under 3? How does McCullers disguise his slurve to lefties? How does Dallas Keuchel survive throwing 88 MPH sinkers at line-ups featuring 8 righthanders and win Cy Young awards? It’s tempting to just say “Command” and with Keuchel, you might have a point, but I’m not sure McCullers really has plus command at this point, and I’m 100% sure Brad Peacock doesn’t (he’s walking over 14% of batters faced). Something else is going on.

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

To make room for Gaviglio, the M’s have optioned OF Boog Powell back to Tacoma. He’s in the line-up for the R’s today in Albuquerque. The R’s comeback against the Isotopes fell just short last night, as Albuquerque prevailed 6-5. Christian Bergman was tagged with his first AAA loss of the year. Tylers Smith and O’Neill homered for Tacoma. Today, they play a doubleheader, with Cody Martin starting game 1, and a bullpen day for the nightcap. Luckily, both games are only 7 IP.

Arkansas demolished the Tulsa Drillers 13-2, handing Tim Shibuya his first AA loss. Dylan Unsworth was great, tossing 6 IP of 1 run ball with 5 Ks. Chuck Taylor homered twice and knocked in 5. It’ll be Anthony Misiewicz on the hill tonight for the Travs.

Modesto beat Inland Empire behind a bend-don’t-break start from Nick Neidert. The M’s top pitching prospect gave up 1 run in 5 IP, but walked and K’d 3, and he also gave up 7 hits. Eric Filia doubled twice for the Nuts, who’ll send Pablo Lopez to the mound today against IE, the Angels’ affiliate.

I mentioned Robert Dugger’s 7 shutout IP yesterday. He’s now made 9 starts after starting the year in the pen, and in those 9 games and 45 2/3 IP, Dugger has given up 34 hits, 6 runs, 9 walks, and 46 Ks. That’s a 1.18 ERA and a K:BB ratio over 5 for about 2 months as a starter.

Eugene beat Everett 5-4 despite Brayan Hernandez’s 3B and 2 RBIs. The Emeralds walked it off against Gonzaga product Wyatt Mills in the bottom of the 9th. JP Sears had 2 Ks in 1 1/3 IP, so he’s now at 22 Ks and 3 walks in 10 2/3 IP. Someone seems ready for the MWL, in my humble opinion.

Kyle Lewis went 2-6 for the Arizona League M’s in a rehab appearance last night.


One Response to “Game 95, Mariners at Astros”

  1. Westside guy on July 18th, 2017 7:25 pm

    I always end up missing the first 2/3 of these away games… although with the Mariners down 5-1 in the sixth, it probably was just as well tonight.

    Come on guys, let’s see a rally!

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