Game 61, Mariners at Astros

marc w · June 6, 2018 at 5:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Lance McCullers Jr., 5:10pm

After a pleasingly convincing, easy win yesterday, the M’s hand the ball to Wade LeBlanc, who’s on a month + hot streak. That streak has been characterized by an astonishingly good K:BB ratio that has NOT been accompanied by dinger troubles. When LeBlanc last played here, he posted a 15.4% K-BB% mark, the best of his career. Unfortunately, it was also accompanied by a wave of HRs allowed, which sunk his fWAR, if not his actual in-game utility. It’s funny; with the Padres, LeBlanc had awful strikezone numbers – missing too few bats and walking too many – but kept his HR rates low, in part thanks to his spacious park and the overall environment in scoring’s little ice age. In 2016 and 2017, he flipped – he wasn’t exactly Max Scherzer, but he struck out more batters and he pushed his walk rates significantly lower, but then had to deal with dingers. What we’ve seen thus far is what LeBlanc looks like when he does both at the same time. It’s a good look.

After mentioning Dallas Keuchel’s emerging HR problem and then watching the M’s demonstrate it, I wondered: is Wade LeBlanc really *worse* in some absolute sense than Dallas Keuchel? Is Dallas Keuchel the bloated major-label version of the same thing, while LeBlanc is the innovative, indie-label alternative? Keuchel has the credentials and career, but who’ll be better in 2019-2020? If we look at the projection systems, the answer’s pretty clear: Keuchel’s still better. They all assume Keuchel will recover his HR mojo AND miss some more bats, and that’s essentially the difference. By pure K:BB projections, though, it’s surprisingly close – at least if you look at ZiPS. Steamer is still not a fan, no matter what trendy label LeBlanc is on. But so much of the work being done here is Keuchel’s career HR/FB and HR/9 rate. I understand that LeBlanc’s should probably be higher, if only because he gives up about twice as many fly balls, but I’m not completely sold on Keuchel just bouncing back to where he was a year ago. It’s closer than I would’ve thought, anyway, and it’s kind of awesome for the question to pop up.

Today’s match-up pits two very, very dissimilar pitchers up against each other. Kind of. McCullers throws very hard, gets a ton of grounders, and strikes out and walks many more opposing batters. LeBlanc’s a soft-tosser who has very good control, gives up fly balls and has below-average K rates. In approach, though, they’re more similar than you’d think. McCullers got a lot of attention early in his career for his remarkably high breaking ball usage rate. This year, McCullers throws only 40% fastballs, and then another 40% or so of breaking balls, with the balance change-ups. The league in general and the Astros in particular have been moving away from FBs and towards other pitches for a while, but McCullers is kind of the poster boy for this “pitching backwards” strategy. But hey, look at ol’ Wade LeBlanc! If you use Brooks’ pitch categories, he’s throwing 65% “hard” pitches, but that’s counting his cutter as a quasi-fastball. At 4 or so MPH slower than his FBs and with a break that’s about 10″ or so different from his sinker, it feels slider-y to me. And if you put it with the breaking balls, then he’s throwing 43% fastballs, 30% change-ups, and 27% breaking balls.

Tonight’s line-up:
1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Span, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: LeBlanc

The draft lumbers on, and the M’s have added another big group of players to the organization. Rounds 11-40 were today, and the interesting pick from a few angles was local product Damon Casetta-Stubbs, a righty pitcher from the Vancouver, WA area. As this article from the Columbian mentions, he’d heard he might go anywhere from the 3rd-8th round, and his coach encouraged him to pick a price and stick with it in negotiations. As you probably know, there are slot values for each pick in the first 10 rounds, with the signing bonuses all counting towards a team’s overall bonus pool. They can go “over slot” with someone, but not by too much, or they’ll need to sign others for under slot money. As always, teams sign a few college seniors who’ll command less than their “slot” value would suggest in order to allow them to sign a reach pick – last year, the M’s got Sam Carlson in the 2nd round, but gave him 1st round money in part by signing Wyatt Mills in the 3rd to a far under slot bonus. What’s this have to do with Casetta-Stubbs? Well, picks after the 10th round that are over $125,000 count against the bonus pool. To sign him, I think it’s going to cost them more than that. But by waiting until the 11th round, they had an entire night to see how their draft crop looked, and how much money they expect to have available. They obviously think they can sign him AND stay under the worst of the penalties. It’d be nice to get another player with ~5th round talent in the 11th round.

Anyway, Casetta-Stubbs aside, the story of the M’s draft is their overwhelming tilt towards the college ranks. That’s been an organizational preference for a while, but this year stands out. Of interest to me, anyway, is 9th rounder Keegan McGovern, a senior out of Georgia who looks like a completely different player this year. In his junior year, he hit all of 2 HRs, but broke out with 18 this year, one of the top marks in the SEC.

Important article in the Athletic by Meredith Wills, who examined baseballs pre- and post-HR surge, and finds that the new balls have thicker, tougher laces. This small difference may account for a big chunk of the ball’s decreased drag AND why so many pitchers have been having blister problems. It’s free (at least today) to read, and it’s worth your time.

The M’s announced today that they’d offer a ballpark pass for the July slate of home games – 14 in all. It’s just $98. Pretty cool move to get more fans to Safeco as the playoff race heats up. A few other teams have done this, or targeted kids with similar promotions, but it’s cool to see the M’s offer something like this for July. It’s well-timed, kids are out of school, and it includes some really nice match-ups and promotions.


6 Responses to “Game 61, Mariners at Astros”

  1. Grayfox3d on June 6th, 2018 7:40 pm

    Could Nicasio pick a worse possible game to shit the bed again! my god what a joke! put him on the same bus as Scrabble, so unreliable lately.

  2. Stevemotivateir on June 6th, 2018 7:51 pm

    Why would Altavilla throw a strike on a 2-0 count to Gurriel, when he know’s he’s been clutch with RISP and 1B was open?

  3. MKT on June 6th, 2018 8:49 pm

    In such a close game, why pitch Nicasio at all? Bradford and Pazos pitched one inning each, and threw 8-10 pitches each. They could’ve faced more batters, and although LeBlanc’s short start put the bullpen under pressure, they were ready to carry the team. But Servais decided that each reliever should pitch only one inning, and that Nicasio needed to be one of those relievers.

  4. Jake on June 6th, 2018 9:27 pm

    Nicasio has been unreliable lately? Since May 18th, he’s pitched 9 innings and given up three hits with zero runs with 16Ks. I’d say that’s pretty reliable.

  5. groundzero55 on June 7th, 2018 3:04 am

    I’m not pinning this one on Nicasio. Guy has been good lately, and the balls they were hitting weren’t even in the zone. He wasn’t serving up meatballs. Just bad BABIP luck.

  6. LongDistance on June 7th, 2018 3:28 am

    The statistic for bad BABIP luck is BABIPDIG.
    Or BABIP Direct In Glove.

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