Game 154, Indians at Mariners

marc w · September 22, 2017 at 5:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Trevor Bauer, 7:10pm

Another outing from James Paxton, and another set of questions raised. It’s easy to say in the midst of a six-game losing streak, but this is not the way the M’s wanted to end the season. Their home slate ends with a three-game set against the white-hot Cleveland Indians, beginning tonight. It’s still been a fun season, as long as you didn’t pin your hopes on the expectations of a playoff run. The M’s are starting to show hints of who they’ll be when their big stars move on; not enough of them, sadly, but we’ve learned a thing or two about what may drive the M’s of 2020 and beyond.

That’s nice and all, but M’s fans can’t shake the feeling that things happen faster for other clubs. The Indians and Mariners were both terrible in 2010. But since 2013, the Indians have been above .500 every year, won 90 games three times, and won an AL pennant. This is NOT the story of a complete tear-down and then a savvy rebuild – they were a good team in 2013, but were led by Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez (?) and their youthful 5-win 2B, Jason Kipnis. Corey Kluber is essentially the only holdover to that club; Kipnis is still technically there, but he’s been absolutely awful and is now filling in at CF given a rash of injuries the Tribe’s suffered. They drafted Francisco Lindor, which is a big, big deal, but that’s only part of their successful rebuild-on-the-fly strategy. Turning Jose Ramirez from journeyman utility guy into one of the league’s best players doesn’t hurt.* The club’s posting the 2nd-lowest strikeout rate for batters behind the Astros, but the real driver of the Indians’ transformation has been their pitching staff’s development into the most whiff-tastic grouping the game’s seen.

They’re not perfect, but Cleveland’s K/9 and K% look like they’ll be MLB records, which is pretty remarkable for an AL team, and Jeff Sullivan said they may have the best rotation ever. The names have changed in Cleveland, but this has been a consistent strength of theirs going back to 2013-14, and it’s driving their best-in-baseball FIP and ERA. Having Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco atop the rotation doesn’t hurt, nor does a bullpen featuring Andrew Miller. But that’s just it: ANYONE could’ve had those guys at one time or another. Mike Clevinger was acquired for the immortal Vinny Pestano, Kluber in a 3-way deal involving Ryan Ludwick and Jake Westbrook, and Carrasco, while part of a Cliff Lee deal, had been relegated to the bullpen and seemed like a classic busted prospect. This team’s done an absolutely amazing job with a varied cast of pitchers, and while the M’s have talked a lot about controlling the zone, the Indians have absolutely dominated it.

The Tribe’s been careful not to pigeonhole their hurlers; there’s no one ‘Cleveland Way.’ Tonight’s starter, Trevor Bauer, certainly appreciates that, and he’s clearly in a better situation for him – and his own unorthodox, highly-analytical approach – than he was in Arizona. It seems like no team could extract more value from Bauer than the Tribe, and despite years and years of tinkering, and clear and manifest improvements in some areas, he remains…Trevor Bauer. His FIP has gone from 4.01 in 2014 to 4.33 the next year, down to 3.99 and 3.96 this year. His ERAs/runs allowed have remained stubbornly higher each year. The causes vary, but the results remain strangely underwhelming: he had a high BABIP in 2014, then too high a walk rate, then lower Ks, and now HRs AND BABIP problems. For a guy who is perhaps singularly unafraid of changing everything from repertoire to approach, it’s kind of remarkable to see these consistent issues, even if the specific causes vary.

This year, he’s having his best year by K% – and it’s not even close. He’s seemingly reached the potential he flashed at UCLA and in the minors, and the problems he had putting away righties seem to have been solved. But it’s like playing whack-a-mole: now lefties are driving the ball off of him even as his K-BB% to righties soars over 20%. For the second straigh year, he’s been among MLB leaders in the percentage of balls in play hit at least 95 MPH. To his credit, these aren’t going for “barrels” – they’re not 95+ with ideal launch angles. But that’s still a ton of hard contact, and even if a low percentage of them have been hit for HRs, the sheer volume explains why he’s suddenly got a HR problem. A big part of his K% spike has been the fact that he’s largely shelved the sinker he used extensively last year, especially to lefties. He’s also throwing a lot fewer cutters, especially to righties, preferring instead to go with four-seam fastballs (at 94) and his big breaking curve.

Since 2014 or so, he’s also shifted his release point, dropping down a tad and sacrificing some vertical rise for more run. Even within a season, he’s tinkering; Travis Sawchick noted he started throwing his curveball up in the zone in the second half which may be part of the reason for the dramatically improved results he’s had. Still, with so much change going on, it’s tough to know what to keep and what to ditch. I’m sure he could’ve given you a reason for going to a sinker in 2016, just as he could give you one for abandoning it now. For someone so interested in measurement and data, I’d think he’d want to test variables one at a time, but that probably doesn’t fit with what seems like a restless personality. In any case, he’s been especially tough on righties, while lefties have accounted for a majority of his HRs-allowed, and this may be a decent match-up for Yonder Alonso and Robbie Cano.

Francisco Lindor was picked 8th overall in 2011, 6 spots after Danny Hultzen. He’s a great SS and is sitting on 32 HRs this year, which will likely be his 2nd consecutive 6-fWAR season. Yyyyup.

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

* Turning utility guys into stars is the new market inefficiency. The Dodgers did it with Chris Taylor, the Astros with Marwin Gonzalez (and Jake Marisnick), the Indians with Ramirez, and the Nats have benefitted from Daniel Murphy’s transformation, even if it started while he was still in New York.


4 Responses to “Game 154, Indians at Mariners”

  1. mrakbaseball on September 22nd, 2017 7:42 pm

    A baseball team winning 27 out of 28 games is incomprehensible. The 1995-96 Bulls didn’t even have a stretch like that.

  2. Longgeorge1 on September 22nd, 2017 8:33 pm

    Is Erasmooooo for real or just on a hot streak? If he could be an under 4.00 ERA starter he would be an answer to one piece.

  3. Sowulo on September 22nd, 2017 10:01 pm

    The M’s have had losing streaks of 3(6x), 4(3x), 5(3x) and 6(1x) this season. That’s 51 of their 79 loses. Just shorten each of those streaks by one and they would be 88-66 with a firm grasp of a wildcard spot. -sigh-

  4. LongDistance on September 24th, 2017 12:52 am

    I’m no statistician, but any streak, win or lose, greater than 3, is obviously getting into the territory of the mathematically unlikely. To the point we begin using magic words for wins/losses, like slump or chemistry. General impression: they were a + .500 team (though just), that couldn’t get consistently beyond a sort of reoccurring fragility.

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