Game 148, Mariners at Astros

marc w · September 15, 2017 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton (!) vs. Charlie Morton, 5:10pm

A day after getting their heart and soul back from an extended DL trip, the M’s today activate their *best* player, lefty James Paxton. By fWAR, Paxton’s been the best player on the M’s by about a full win, and by RA9-WAR by more than half a win. It’s a counting stat, so Paxton’s already penalized for missing time like, uh, James Paxton, so that says something about the rate at which he accumulates production: when healthy, no one on the M’s comes close to Paxton’s level this year.

That’s…that’s a double-edged sword, though, isn’t it? Jeff had a good post today about which tranche of players on each team have contributed WAR. The Indians have the most as a team, followed by the Dodgers, so perhaps it won’t come as a huge surprise that those teams’ top 5 and 10 players are much better than other teams’ top 5 and 10 players. The Astros are also remarkably deep, having the 5th best group of 1st-5th-best players, and the single best collection of supporting stars, and the 5th best collection of depth players (players below the top 10 in WAR). The Mariners come in around the middle in each group, and thus come in around the middle in overall WAR. They have 7 position players at or above 2 WAR on the year, compared to the Astros 6. But those 6 players on the Astros combine for 24 fWAR, while the M’s top 7 add up to just 19. And while the M’s have just one pitcher above 2 WAR, the Astros have four of them.

That’s a big reason why the Astros are looking to officially wrap up the AL West during this series. They’ve been remarkable successful in developing talent through the minors, and thus not only do they have a number of great young players, but they’ve also been able to make a number of trades to shore up weaknesses they’ve had. They’ve turned their top prospects into productive regulars, and then they’ve gotten remarkable production from less-than-can’t-miss prospects like Jose Altuve or Brad Peacock. This ability to turn big-time prospects into at least starting-caliber players and then hit on a player development lottery ticket or two has been huge for the darlings of baseball right now, the Indians. Francisco Lindor was a top-100 prospect, and he’s now a superstar. But Jose Ramirez seemed like org depth until last year, and he’s a top-10 fWAR position player now. The Astros are getting contributions from George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, but they’re also getting them from Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, whom essentially no one saw as future stars.

The M’s have a solid core of players; they’re not playing at last year’s level, but that’s partially balanced by improvements in the 6th-10th-place players. The problem is that their stars can’t compete with Houston’s, and they can’t compete with Houston’s sheer number of contributors. Other than that, it’s a pretty balanced contest. The M’s have developed a handful of players who essentially came out of nowhere to be contributors – Emilio Pagan’s one, and you can add Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia to that list too. In the past, the biggest star the M’s produced from outside of their top 10 was Doug Fister, whom they traded away before he was arb eligible. The emergence of Mike Zunino’s been a huge story this year, and an all-important player development win, but it’s impossible not to notice the difference in the quantity and quality of home-grown success stories between the two clubs. Sure, the Astros had a lot of high draft picks, but so have the M’s the past several years.

Morton looks like one of the better free agent pick-ups of the offseason, as if Houston needed further successes. As we talked about when the M’s saw him (against Paxton, actually) back in April, he’s seen a velo bump and now sits at 96 with his four-seamer and swerving sinker. That sinker’s the key to Morton’s continually-high ground ball rate, but after settling in for many years with K% rates in the teens (in the NL), he’s now scraping 27%, and thus his K-BB% is far and away a career high. This combination of strikeouts and grounders sort of reminds you of peak Felix, and while Morton isn’t quite at that level, he should easily pass 3 fWAR in a season marred by injury stints.

Of note, Morton’s shown remarkably reversed platoon splits this year, with lefties utterly lost against him while righties have been successful. Yes, a .100 point gap in BABIP explains a lot of it, but it’s there in FIP too – his K% and HR rates are just better against lefties. Lefties haven’t fared well against his sinker, but they’ve been particularly flummoxed by Morton’s curveball. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it reminds me a bit of the reverse splits put up this year by Astros’ relief ace Chris Devenski, whose fastball confounds lefties – they’re *slugging* .111 on his four-seam fastball this year. I have no idea why the release point or mechanics with these guys so confuses opposite-handed hitters, but I have a hunch the Astros do.

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
SP: Paxton!


3 Responses to “Game 148, Mariners at Astros”

  1. mrakbaseball on September 15th, 2017 5:51 pm

    Paxton is not sharp and his velocity is down. I guess that’s the risk you take when there is no place for him to make a rehab start this point in the season.

  2. Notfromboise on September 15th, 2017 6:47 pm

    He walked off the mound under his own power, thats all i was asking from him here.

    Thank you again Marc for all the hard work you put into the site. I watch most of the games from work, so i’m not home to comment often, but many silently enjoy and anticipate your write ups.

  3. LongDistance on September 16th, 2017 12:53 am

    I think, statistically, we’re not too far behind the Astros in terms of overall pitching, and in some ways better … whereas their batting (OBP, RBI … you name it), blows us and everyone else away. The M’s are just in the middle of the pack. I love(d?) watching Felix or now Paxton, consistently dominate another team. But how many times did it come down to that flatline for OBP and RBIs …

    And so goes the playoffs.

    2017. Still waiting.

    Anyway … indeed, thanks Marc. I love baseball, and I truly appreciate the existence of this site. Where the M’s themselves during the season can sometimes leave me feeling flat, to say the least, reading USS Mariner never does. I wish, in fact, the site had an archived, seasonal post compilation. But maybe, as with most things Mariner, Carpe Diem is best.

    I would absolutely love them to take one more win here…

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