Game 66, Angels at Mariners – It Begins

marc w · June 11, 2018 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Andrew Heaney, 7:10pm

After a brief respite in Tampa, the M’s schedule turns sour for a bit, as the M’s face the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees for a while. People have been eyeballing this slate of games since before the season started, with the optimists considering this an absolutely critical stretch against likely wild card opponents. Here we are, and indeed, these three are the competition for the two WC spots – you figure one will go to the loser of the East, leaving the second for the AL West to fight over. The Angels hot start showed that they’d be a strong opponent, but they stumbled a bit in May, and today came the crushing news that Shohei Ohtani’s been shut down with ulnar collateral ligament strain – one that may need Tommy John surgery to repair.

The Angels appeared to do everything right with Ohtani. They employed a modified 6-man rotation, they gave him plenty of rest, and gave him fewer innings than other starters. He rewarded them with brilliant pitching when he was healthy, but then that’s been Ohtani’s issue the past few years. I’ll be honest, I think he’s great for baseball and I was hoping he’d be a star in MLB. I wanted Ohtani to succeed and for the Angels to blow it anyway. I sincerely hope the TJ talk is just worst case scenario-ism, and that he’ll return this year. If not, I hope he comes back and hits triple digits again. And that the Angels *still* blow it anyway.

I’m not sure if it’s the 6-man rotation or what, but the Angels staff has been stouter than I would’ve thought. Garrett Richards is turning in a decent season, but they’ve been buoyed by the emergence – finally – of Tyler Skaggs, and the more than solid fill-in, Jaime Barria. Still, the big breakout (aside from Ohtani) has been Andrew Heaney, himself coming off of TJ surgery rehab. Specifically, the lefty’s command has enabled him to post an above-average K-BB% while limiting HRs. After allowing 12 in his 20-odd innings last season, he’s allowed just 4 in 60 2/3. His velocity’s up a bit since his return – now at 92+ with his running sinker, thrown from a low-3/4 arm slot. His best pitch is a slurvey curve/slider thing that he throws a ton of to lefties, but he’s also got a firm change-up at 83-84 that he employs to righties.

With a lower arm slot and a sinker/kinda-slider arsenal, it’s no big shock that his platoon splits are pretty sizable. This is definitely a better match-up for Jean Segura/Mitch Haniger/Nelson Cruz, but his curve has been better this year, even to righties. That said, what seems to have made a difference for him is his primary fastball, the sinker. In general, sinkers have less spin than four-seamers, with less pure backspin producing “rise.” Heaney’s, though, gets plus spin, which may help it miss some bats. From Statcast, it looks like Heaney’s spin rate has improved since his TJ surgery, which may be a byproduct of that increased velo. But it *also* looks like he’s getting some extra cutter spin – that is, some spin that does NOT produce movement. Heaney’s armside run was higher back in 2015…but his spin was lower. This may be what’s happened with James Paxton this year, too – his spin rate keeps rising, but his…uh…rise does not follow suit. That is to say, Paxton’s adding extra spin without it influencing the movement of the pitch. With so much emphasis on spin efficiency, is that “cut” spin doing anything useful? I don’t know, but it certainly seems to be working for Big Maple – and it’s been effective for Garrett Richards, the guy who occasioned me learning about gyro spin in the first place a few years back. Whatever it is, Heaney’s fastball has been more effective than in the past, and that’s made a big difference for him.

Speaking of more effective fastballs, the entire Mariner team has been on a roll, and they’ve done it in much the same fashion as Heaney – they stopped allowing dingers. A bit over a year ago, I wrote a post about how much of the HR explosion had to do with four-seam fastballs. That’s less true now, as the percentage of four-seamers that turn into dingers is down fractionally, even as the overall percentage of four-seamers thrown remains the same as last year (35.5% according to MLB). The M’s are throwing dramatically fewer four-seamers and have actually allowed the fewest HRs on four-seamers of any club in the game. For a team that led MLB in HRs in 2016, and came darn close to repeating that feat last year, this is noteworthy. If you’ve watched Felix recently, it won’t come as much of a shock that they are giving up too many HRs in the NON four-seam FB category, but the numbers are low enough that that seems like an easier problem to deal with. In any event, it’s something to watch the rest of the way – are the M’s changing their pitching strategy? And is that what’s behind the resurgence of guys like Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, and today’s starter, Wade LeBlanc?

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

Christian Bergman and Max Povse start for Tacoma and Arkansas, respectively, and look to continue a run of effective starts. Colin Rogers and Ryne Inman take the hill in the lower levels of the system.

Clinton swept a double-header from Kane County yesterday and are closing in on a first-half title in the Western division of the Midwest League. Modesto, who got blown out by San Jose, are in last in their division, and already eliminated mathematically from the first-half race. Arkansas leads their division, albeit with a record of just 32-30; no other team in the North division has a .500 record. Tacoma’s 7.5 games out in the Pacific Coast League’s pacific north division.


10 Responses to “Game 66, Angels at Mariners – It Begins”

  1. mrakbaseball on June 11th, 2018 6:33 pm

    Buster Olney’s suggestion limiting teams to 4 pitchers per 9 innings, realistic? good idea? Something’s gotta give.

  2. pdome01 on June 11th, 2018 7:09 pm

    I like it. I like it a lot better than putting runners on second base to start an inning.

  3. Stevemotivateir on June 11th, 2018 7:53 pm

    How much rope does Healy have left? He’s approaching 200 PA’s. He has walked just twice since May 17th and has hit just 1 dinger since the 16th.

    At some point (soon) they have to send him down and run with Vogelbach, or find an alternative elsewhere.

  4. Bwilliam on June 11th, 2018 8:15 pm

    Healy heard you Steve!

  5. Stevemotivateir on June 11th, 2018 8:15 pm

    Right on cue: I talk trash, Healy responds.

    And I’m perfectly OK with that. I just hope he does a lot more of that.

  6. kmsandrbs on June 11th, 2018 9:48 pm

    So, if I calculate correctly, if the M’s revert to a .500 team for the rest of the season, they end up a 90 win team.

  7. Bwilliam on June 11th, 2018 9:57 pm

    My concern is, does 90 wins make the playoffs?

  8. mksh21 on June 11th, 2018 10:53 pm

    According to fan Graphs it does lol. Good enough to play at NY or Boston in the Wild Card.

  9. mrakbaseball on June 12th, 2018 10:42 am

    If the Mariners make the wild card game and lose, would you consider their playoff drought over? Officially it will, but losing a 1-game playoff wouldn’t seem like a postseason appearance to me.

  10. Stevemotivateir on June 12th, 2018 2:50 pm

    Filia as the PTBNL for Elias? Really? Is this some kind of bad joke?

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