Game 116, Angels at Mariners

marc w · August 10, 2017 at 5:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Tyler Skaggs, 7:10pm

Happy Big Maple Day? I think we kept waiting for some young pitcher to emerge and become the prince to Felix’s King, but it didn’t quite happen. I’d call Paxton the Governor General, but that force-fits him into the King Felix template, and at this point, we all know who the ace of the staff is. So here’s to the group of fans who created the Big Maple cheering section and saw it took off. I’m glad Paxton’s getting the adulation he deserves from fans, particularly as he carries the M’s rotation on his back.

It’s remarkable: over the past 30 days, the M’s rotation has an ERA of 5.00 and a FIP of 5.35 thanks to a HR/9 mark of 2.24, the worst in baseball. Dingers you say? Yes, there’ve been some dingers, but the offense has actually been poor as well, with an OBP of just over .300. The M’s offense has a wRC+ of just 90, and their starters (aside from Paxton, of course) have tossed 30 days of replacement-level baseball…and they’ve kept on winning. The M’s have felt fated to lose for a while now; I didn’t come by this disposition naturally, it was beaten into me since Jim Beattie and Matt Young played for Seattle. Even when they didn’t seem horribly unlucky, other teams reaped all sorts of ill-gotten gains from the sequencing gods. Remember Texas last year winning 95 games with a pythag record of 82-80? Or the Royals destroying their BaseRuns projections year after year? This past month it’s finally happened to the M’s, and it is glorious.

Yes, the bullpen’s been lights out, and that’s a key reason why teams can “beat” their assumed records. But even there, the Red Sox and Yankee bullpens have been even better, but it hasn’t stopped the M’s from gaining ground on both clubs. With David Phelps hurt and Edwin Diaz getting a ton of action, it may not last forever. But that’s actually OK: the bullpen may regress, but you have to think the offense will, too. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are finally riding hot streaks, and Yonder Alonso figures to help the M’s line-up versus righties. Meanwhile, the M’s probably won’t have a BABIP of just .278 in the next month. The M’s are now in control of the 2nd wild card, and they have the talent to hold off Tampa and Kansas City. To do so, they need to continue to rack up wins against poor teams, just as they did these past two days. That’s why the series that starts tonight is so big: the Angels are lingering around the wild card chase just as the M’s were. Games like this one strongly favor the M’s, and they need to continue to dominate when their ace is on the hill. But more than that, they need to figure out how to put together a competent rotation behind him.

The M’s starting pitchers since Paxton last pitched have thrown 18 1/3 innings in 4 games. They allowed 19 runs in that time. Only one of them gave up fewer runs than innings pitched. That’s…that’s not good, or sustainable, or fun. The bullpen’s been incredible, but they’ve had to be perfect, and it’s hard to keep that up. In a twitter conversation yesterday, John Trupin of LL asked what I’d do to fix it (excluding things like trade for Chris Sale, etc.). This may be a classic case of fighting the last war, but it’s plainly obvious where the M’s struggles lie: they give up way, way too many HRs. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum this year, and believe the M’s plan of getting low-walk, high-FB pitchers as undervalued matches for the park and defense would’ve been amazing in about 2013. But given the ball and context the M’s hurlers have to work with, it’s not a winning strategy. It’s one that’s driven the construction of the staff, though, and the M’s need to go with the guys they have. Thus, I’d suggest that the M’s take a page from the Yankees/Astros book and start throwing a ton of breaking balls/offspeed pitches. Ariel Miranda’s splitter has been great this year, but it’s overlooked because his fastball’s getting rocked.* Yovani Gallardo’s curve hasn’t been great, but he should still be throwing it more than 20% of the time. Marco Gonzales should be throwing his change more, etc. Pretty much everyone (save Andrew Moore, whose secondaries were beaten to a pulp) in the M’s rotation should give it a go and see if they can’t keep the ball in the park a bit more. We’ve established that Safeco’s no longer, er, safe for fly ball pitchers and that it hasn’t regressed anywhere near enough from last year to really suppress fly ball contact. The M’s pitchers give up a ton of fly balls, but that’s at least partially under their control.

That reminds me of my discussion of Ben Gamel from 6 or so weeks ago. At the time, he was one of the AL’s leading hitters thanks to his utter dominance on fastballs, and *in spite of* his poor performance against anything other than fastballs. At the time (I published it on 6/22), pitchers were still giving him a steady diet of fastballs – more than league average, actually. As a moderately high-K guy without power but with a discerning batting eye, it made sense: give him fastballs, since he wasn’t a big HR threat – let him ground out and focus on the next guy. Early in the season, Gamel, like so many others, dramatically reduced his GB% and rode a flurry of line drives to that hot start. He’s *still* an effective hitter, but his ISO’s down to .130, and pitchers finally caught on: since 6/22, he’s seeing non-fastballs (four-seam, two-seam, sinker) about 50% of the time, and he’s still struggling with them. He’s still doing pretty well against fastballs, but seeing FBs about 9 percentage points less has been a big driver in the return of his high-GB ways. After hitting a grounder in just over 1/4 of his balls in play in April+May, he’s nearing 60% in July+August. That’s a big reason his production’s tailed off a bit despite hitting a bunch of singles. The same thing’s happened to Yonder Alonso, who was around 25% grounders in April/May and has been at 46% in July+August. Alonso’s FB% hasn’t changed much since earlier (though it’s way down from prior years), but he’s putting fewer FBs in play and a few more breaking balls. This strategic shift won’t solve everything. Miranda’s splitter wouldn’t be as effective on a rate basis if he started throwing it half the time. If batters sit on something, they can do a lot of damage on it. But the M’s should try *something* and throwing their best pitches a bit more seems like a good place to start.

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

For the past several days, I’ve actually been down in Oakland for family stuff. It’s been years since I’ve flown to Seattle and seen as many M’s hats/jerseys as I did yesterday. I’d worried the fanbase would’ve tuned out after the M’s poor start, but this town really wants to care about the M’s. This hot streak, however unlikely, has been great for that.

If you want to go see the M’s, there are two great nights coming up. The first is this weekend, when the M’s salute Edgar Martinez with a bobblehead/light-bat giveaway. Tickets for that game are available here.

The second has gotten some press, and deserves every bit of it. Ex-Lookout Landing and current Baseball Prospectus writer Meg Rowley’s organized a Women in Baseball night highlighting the contributions of women in a variety of roles, from broadcasting to scouting to statistical analysis. The panel sounds really interesting, and it’s just a great idea for an event. This isn’t just a pink hat or a free drink ticket, but insight for fans about the game, and I wish my daughters were a bit older. Let’s make this one annual, M’s! I’m going to be out of town, otherwise I’d be there. It’s on the 15th, and tickets are here.

Speaking of John Trupin, he’s got a post today detailing that the M’s are in uncharted waters as far as their rotation goes: no team’s made the playoffs with a rotation this bad. By fWAR, the M’s would be in uncharted territory, though of course by ERA it’s not quite so dire. The M’s defense pulls their ERA+ (Baseball Reference’s park-adjusted ERA compared to league average) up to 95, so a bit worse than average. The Giants won the Series in 2012 with a team ERA+ of 96, and the Angels won 89 games that year at 95. The M’s themselves won 88 games in 2007 despite a 5.01 ERA, good for a 92 ERA+ – that’s the club with Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez combining for 47 well-below-replacement-level starts. The Angels and M’s didn’t make the playoffs, but 87-89 wins would do the trick this year. There’s hope! But please pitch better!

* Miranda’s pitch-type linear weights are good on his FB, but that’s BABIP driven. Batters are slugging .518 on it, compared to .310 on his splitter. His change-up, which is similar but distinct to the splitter, has actually been his worst pitch on a per-pitch basis.


12 Responses to “Game 116, Angels at Mariners”

  1. mksh21 on August 10th, 2017 6:08 pm

    RE: Gamel

    EVERYONE can hit a fastball. I always wondered why pitchers give rookies or guys like Gamel a steady diet of fastballs early then “figure out” to not throw him fastballs to tee off on. But it’s been going for on 100 years.

    He seems like he will adjust and I’m not banging on Gamel or Marc, but if were a team and they had a recent call up why start them out with the easiest pitch to handle on a consistent basis?

  2. Grayfox3d on August 10th, 2017 8:59 pm

    Looks like the Offense decided they didn’t feel like playing tonight, probably not the best time to take some time off.

  3. mrakbaseball on August 10th, 2017 9:18 pm

    Paxton exits with a left pectoral strain. The teal is cursed gents.

  4. Grayfox3d on August 10th, 2017 10:07 pm

    Ya sooo what happens now? The pitching has officially become a garbage heap of random discarded arms.

  5. Grayfox3d on August 10th, 2017 10:11 pm

    Wow…. nice job Diaz.

  6. Grayfox3d on August 10th, 2017 10:14 pm

    Little late on that pitching change there Servais. What a load of crap.

  7. MrZDevotee on August 10th, 2017 10:16 pm

    This is on Servais… Ridiculous. Pitching Diaz a 3rd game in a row, in a non-save appearance (which means he won’t be available for a save tomorrow, if needed)… Then he walks THREE GUYS, only not giving up a run because of two great defensive plays, and then Servais leaves him in to face Trout.

    Textbook 101: “How Not To Manage The Bullpen Of A Playoff Baseball Team”


    And that’s not even mentioning trashing the fine job Segura and Cruz did to make it a tie ball game just a few pitches earlier…

  8. Grayfox3d on August 10th, 2017 10:24 pm

    While Servais might be a good people person, keeping the mood good in the clubhouse. Time and time again he has shown his absolute inability to manage this bullpen, or use the bullpen for proper situations. How many loses do they need to endure to get someone in there who knows what they are doing to give him some tips on what to do!

  9. eponymous coward on August 10th, 2017 11:19 pm

    Pitching Diaz a 3rd game in a row, in a non-save appearance (which means he won’t be available for a save tomorrow, if needed)

    Time and time again he has shown his absolute inability to manage this bullpen, or use the bullpen for proper situations.

    You don’t save your stopper/best bullpen guys for a 6-3 ninth inning tomorrow if you have a 3-3 ninth inning today. That’s just dumb. A 3-3 game in the ninth deserves your best pitchers.

    If you want to make the argument that Diaz isn’t one of the best pitchers in the M’s bullpen, and he should be demoted out of the eighth/ninth inning… OK, though did you want to demote him out of pitching late innings in close games BEFORE he pitched tonight’s game? Or are you reacting to the blown save tonight?

    But it’s not like the team has a well-rested bullpen at the moment. As mentioned above, the starters have gone 18 1/3 innings in the last 4 games before tonight. That means the bullpen’s gone more innings than the starters have over those four games.

    But OK, so now Zych’s the ninth inning guy? Maybe Vincent?

  10. eponymous coward on August 10th, 2017 11:30 pm

    Incidentally, running a good relief pitcher out three days in a row for the late innings? Not unusual at all. Familia did it multiple times last year. So did Melancon. So did Colomé.

    Apparently there are a lot of stupid managers misusing their relievers out there.

  11. Sowulo on August 11th, 2017 3:28 am

    It wasn’t Diaz’ fault. The Umpire squeezed the hell out of the strike zone for those walks in the 9th.

  12. Westside guy on August 11th, 2017 5:04 pm

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