Game 37, Mariner at Tigers – Weather Permitting

marc w · May 11, 2018 at 3:45 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Matt Boyd, 4:10pm

After an encouraging series beating up on Toronto pitching, the M’s face the rebuilding Tigers in Detroit. It’s raining in Detroit, and it’s forecast to last for the evening and into tomorrow, so we could see a double-header tomorrow or Sunday. That could become an issue, as the M’s off-day on Monday has already been used to reschedule a rain/snow-out in Minnesota back in April. A double-header on Sunday and then a make-up game in another city and then a home game on Tuesday is a pretty brutal 72 hours. That is, there’s the potential here for the M’s to play 4 games in 3 days in 3 different cities. Clean up your act, AL Central.

The Tigers gave up Justin Verlander and essentially entered into a rebuild last year. Their pitching staff was horrid last year, and they haven’t really tried to do much about it – they’re hoping for rebounds from the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, their free agency dud, and today’s starter, Matt Boyd, the overachiever who made the majors and may be the pitcher *least* suited to the home-run-happy era we’re now in. To be clear: they haven’t done the huge take-down that the White Sox did, so the Tigers aren’t as awful as the White Sox were last year and are this year. At the same time, there’s a bit less to look forward to; they traded Verlander, but guys like Miguel Cabrera and Zimmermann aren’t movable right now. They can wait out those contracts and try to build, but they don’t have a Chris Sale-on-a-cheap-extension or even a Jose Quintana to deal.

Thus, if they’re going to be credible, they’re going to need some of the guys who are on this team to get significantly better. Thus far, Boyd’s done just that. The lefty came up in the Jays system and pitched two games for Toronto before being sent to Detroit. He’d been a middling prospect but his stock rose after improving his velocity training at Driveline. He wasn’t throwing 95 regularly, but he used a high-spin four-seamer with solid rise, and even at 91-92, it missed some bats. His approach was designed to elicit whiffs, even at the expense of elevated contact. His GB% in 2015 was under 32%, and thus he gave up a ton of fly balls. And, given what was going on in the second half of 2015, it probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise that a lot of them left the yard. He gave up *17* dingers in just 57 1/3 IP that year, which led to unsightly ERA/FIP totals. At least he knew what he needed to work on. That off-season, he worked again at Driveline, this time on his breaking ball.

In his first season in the bigs, he threw a four-seamer, a change, a slider, and a rarely-seen curve, all from a relatively high 3/4 arm slot. The slider, his primary breaker, was somewhat slurvy at 80 MPH – it was quite effective, albeit in a tiny sample, but what killed Boyd that year was his fastball, which batters absolutely destroyed. His change wasn’t much better, so it was merciful that his slider escaped unscathed. That next season, 2016, Boyd unveiled a series of changes to his repertoire. His fastball was largely the same, but he used it up in the zone more than in 2015, letting batters get under the ball and improving his whiff rate. He debuted a new sinker to give hitters a different look. And his new slider was much, much harder, with an average velocity nearly 5 MPH higher than 2015. As a pitcher in Detroit giving up tons of fly balls, his ceiling was perhaps limited, but he put together a nearly 1 fWAR season in 1/2 to 2/3 of a year. Not good, not too bad.

The following year, Boyd reinvented himself yet again. He dropped his arm angle significantly, and used a low-3/4 slot, giving his four-seam and sinker much more horizontal movement at the expense of vertical rise. His slider was *harder still* at a cutter-ish 86-87 MPH, but he used it much less and his curve much more. His fastballs were better than in 2015, but the arm slot didn’t cure his HR problem, and both the four-seam and sinker had poor SLG%-against numbers. He’d changed the shape of his pitches, changed his mix, and while his HR rate came down (helping out his FIP), he had the exact same GB% and was, on the whole, less effective than he’d been the year before.

Thus far this year, Boyd’s split the difference in his arm angle, raising it above 2017’s level, but keeping it lower than it was when he entered the league. He’s gone back to his old slider, the one thrown at 80-81, and he’s using it far more than ever. He’s essentially tripled his slider frequency over last year. He’s avoided HRs thus far despite the fact that he’s suddenly lost 2-3 ticks on his fastball. April of 2018 was his slowest average velo ever, and while it’s improved in May, it’s still low for him. His K% is lower than 2017, which was lower than 2016, but he’s doing fine with his Chris Young imitation thus far. Of course, that’s a very difficult trick to pull off long term, and with Comerica still looking like a park that engenders a lot of good contact, he’ll have to have great command to make it work.

Marco Gonzales arm angle and movement look pretty similar to Boyd’s 2017, though hopefully he can improve upon Boyd’s 2017 results. Gonzales’ cutter has seemed to make a huge difference, and you kind of wonder if that’s what Boyd was thinking about when he added 6-7 ticks to his slider. What’s tough is that if Gonzales’ cutter is making a difference, it’s probably going to show up in the results of his *other* pitches. His average against and SLG% on his cutter are so-so. But watching the games, you can see that batters react to his change and even fastball *differently* than they did last year when he didn’t have the cutter. Here’s hoping his BABIP can start regressing down towards average one of these days, though of course Comerica’s not a great park for that with its expansive OF.

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

The M’s are one of the league’s best teams against left-handed pitching, which may not be a huge surprise given their big righties like Haniger and Cruz. Having Heredia start over the slumping Ben Gamel probably helps those numbers as well. Kyle Seager’s no slouch against southpaws either, though:


7 Responses to “Game 37, Mariner at Tigers – Weather Permitting”

  1. Westside guy on May 11th, 2018 4:22 pm

    Looks like it’s currently in a rain delay. Currently no start time has been announced (not surprising, given what Marc said regarding the forecast).

  2. Westside guy on May 11th, 2018 5:29 pm

    … AND what Marc foresaw has come to pass – there’ll be a doubleheader tomorrow, starting at 4:10pm.


  3. Notfromboise on May 11th, 2018 7:25 pm

    bummer, we already have so many games to make up from rainouts already.

  4. Westside guy on May 11th, 2018 9:12 pm

    BTW that’s 4:10pm Detroit time – so 1:10pm Pacific.

    Not sure how that translates to Sao Paulo time…

  5. heyoka on May 12th, 2018 3:32 am

    M’s narrowly avoid embarrassing loss by making it rain before the game can start. Now that Ichiro is not playing, he has become more powerful than ever.

  6. mrakbaseball on May 12th, 2018 8:04 pm

    Regarding Game 2, Felix looking as hittable as ever, and Ben Gamel continues to be the weak link in an otherwise strong Mariners lineup. I wonder how long the LF situation will last?

  7. heyoka on May 13th, 2018 4:12 am

    The King has had a bit of a rough patch.

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