Game 147, Mariners at Rangers – The Return of the King

marc w · September 14, 2017 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

FELIX vs. Andrew Cashner, 5:05pm

:clears voice: Happy Felix Day.
Man, that feels good to say again. Felix’s season hasn’t gone at all like we’d hoped, so assessing where he is now is an important part of how the M’s view their 2018 season. Felix remains the heart of the club, even if he’s far from its most productive member. There’s been a lot of talk this year about how Felix’s slide means his days as an above-average pitcher are over, and I get that, but pitchers are strange. Let’s hope the King is strange, too, and that just continuing 2-year trend lines below replacement level looks silly next year.

Hell, his opponent today is a good example of this. Cashner teased with his high-90s velocity with the Padres, but while he put up decent FIP-based stats for years, he never quite made the leap to staff ace that many expected. BABIP struggles in 2015 and then 2016 led him to post 2 straight below-replacement level seasons by RA9-based WAR, and with his velocity dropping fast, the Pads flipped him to Miami last year, whereupon he put up perhaps his worst stretch of pitching as a professional. He was released by the Marlins and struggling with injuries, but the Rangers signed him to a one-year deal because their pitching coach was convinced he could unlock something. He was activated in April (against the M’s, actually), and while his velo is lower than ever, and though his K:BB ratio is abysmal, he’s got an RA9-WAR of 4.2 on the year. 4 wins! Yes, yes, FIP still doesn’t buy it, but not many runs have scored on Cashner this year, despite his inability to miss bats. After two years of getting BABIP’d to death, he’s morphed into a contact manager, at least temporarily. Part of the story there is a shift in how he uses his fastballs, throwing his sinker more to same-handed batters and his four-seam to opposite-handed bats. This is what the “numbers” (pitch type platoon splits) would suggest, but surprisingly few teams do it. His change is still a decent pitch, but he ditched his slider for a harder cutter, and that seems to have helped him this year.

If Felix can stay healthy, can he figure out his HR problems? As a pitcher who’s made countless adjustments thus far, I don’t really see why not. Age and injuries are formidable foes, of course, but Felix doesn’t have to be royal again to be effective. The story of the past few years has been Felix’s ineffective fastball(s). After years of dominating lefties with the game’s best change-up, lefties started to batter his fastballs, especially in fastball counts. Righties have gotten into the act now too, even as they continue to struggle against Felix’s change. He’s thrown fewer and fewer fastballs, but the ones he HAS thrown just get hit harder and harder. We know where the problem is, so now he just needs to adjust. One potential could be the cutter that’s he’s toyed with off and on for years – something to give very different movement to his sinker. It’s his sinker that’s been the primary offender, and I said he should consider moving back to his four-seamer and throw it up in the zone more, but as I mentioned the other day, the league as a whole is hitting those pitches more better now. Felix has gotten hit especially hard up in the zone (sorry Felix! Don’t listen to me!), but I think he can learn to nibble the way Zach Davies (and others) does and get some bad contact on pitches just out of the zone. As a guy with a splitter-like change, that should be easier for him than most: he can already induce swings on out-of-zone pitches. He’s just got to keep his fastballs out of the center of the zone, even if that means a few more balls and a few more walks. That’s where the cutter could help – once batters think armside movement will take a pitch out of the zone, say, a cutter could bring it back to the corner. Once hitters look for *that*, then they’ll be more like to swing at sinkers as they dart out of the zone. Rinse/repeat.

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

Modesto beat Lancaster in extra innings last night 8-5 on a three-run shot by local kid Jordan Cowan. That gives the Nuts a 2-0 lead in the Cal League championship series, and a win would help erase the bad taste the 2017 MiLB season’s left. RP Art Warren touched 96-97 in the 8th according to Bobby DeMuro, who was at the game.

Speaking of bad tastes, the M’s former #1 prospect Luiz Gohara recently made his MLB debut for Atlanta after rising from high-A ball all the way through the minors. His second start was last night, opposite Max Scherzer and the Nats, and the young Brazilian pitched a gem, going 6 IP with 6 hits allowed, 2 runs (1 earned), no walks and 6 Ks. He was efficient with his pitches, allowing him to sit at 97-98 with his fastball into the 6th. He threw several change-ups along with a slurvy slider. He’s still somewhat raw, and his fastball command isn’t there, but…he was in A ball this year, and is now sitting comfortably in the high-90s against Anthony Rendon and the Nats. No, Gohara wouldn’t have had this season here, but that doesn’t make this deal any easier to forget. This one could sting, and sting for a while, particularly given that the primary return for Gohara (Mallex Smith, who became Drew Smyly), will likely never pitch in an M’s uniform. Sigh.


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