Game 79, Mariners at Orioles

marc w · June 25, 2018 at 4:20 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Andrew Cashner, 4:05pm

Happy Felix Day. The last two series haven’t exactly gone to plan, but the M’s have weathered the toughest part of their schedule fairly well. It would’ve changed the narrative, but there’s absolutely no way I’d trade one of the wins in the Angels sweep for one of the losses in the Bronx.

The M’s find a more welcoming harbor today in Baltimore, home of the 23-53 Orioles. Bucking the trend of recent years, the Orioles decided not to sell off stars like Manny Machado in the offseason, preferring to see how they’d stack up in the AL East; if they got near the wild card, then maybe they’d change tack and buy instead. They are…not near the wild card hunt at this point, as just about everything has blown up in their face. Their offense ranks dead last in the game, their putrid hitting magnified by just-as-putrid defense. Their pitching staff isn’t last (holy crap, things have really gone down hill for the Royals), but they’re close. As it stands now, they’re almost a perfect inverse of the teams they’re nominally “chasing” – the Red Sox and Yankees. Both of those teams are averaging 5.11-5.17 runs per game, and giving up 3.7-8. The Orioles are scoring 3.6 and giving up 5.17.

We’ve been fretting about the seemingly greased decline phase for Felix, but my goodness, look what’s happened to poor Chris Davis and Chris Tillman. In 2016, Tillman was 16-6 with a low ERA thanks to his fly-balling ways. From 2014-16, he averaged over 2 fWAR per year, and his actual runs-allowed WAR was even better. In the last two (injury-riddled) seasons, Tillman’s tossed 119 2/3 innings, and has an RA/9 of 8.87, good for 3.2-3.4 WAR BELOW replacement level, depending on the system you prefer. And he’s not the biggest collapse! That honor probably belongs to Davis, who’s in the midst of what Jay Jaffe noted may end up as the worst season on record. Tillman got hurt; Davis just keeps taking PAs, and enters the day with a .151/.230/.242 slash line.

Andrew Cashner is either an object lesson in why FIP is better than ERA, or, more likely, an object lesson in why context matters. In his comeback year with the Rangers last year, Cashner pitched to contact and tried to avoid the middle of the zone. The results were awful from a strikeout and walk point of view (hence the awful FIP), but he avoided HRs, unlike pretty much everyone else in 2017, and thus he put up a decent ERA. This year, he’s missing more bats with the same pitch mix, and so his K rate’s up noticeably – it’s not great or anything, but it’s not freakishly low anymore. The problem is that his HR rate is spiking, so along with essentially the same awful FIP (but this time for different reasons), his ERA’s terrible, too. No, Texas isn’t a great place for a low-K pitcher, but the AL East is just brutal if you’re a fly-balling pitcher without excellent command.

The game didn’t end well for him yesterday, but I continue to be impressed with Marco Gonzales’ curve ball. I mentioned it on twitter, but the more I see it, the more I think his breaking ball was the pitch that occasioned Jerry Dipoto’s paeans to Gonzales’ improvement when the M’s acquired him. The improved fastball velocity got some press, but he’s lost a tick on his four-seam fastball compared to last year, so I don’t think that’s what’s driving his success. He got some attention for his cutter this spring, and it’s been good for him, to be sure, but the curve seems to be the biggest single change from his pre-injury days with the Cardinals. Back in 2014, his curve had -5.8″ of vertical drop. That’s about where it was last year, too, with one big change – it was thrown much harder: 79 as opposed to 75 MPH. Just maintaining that vertical drop despite a 4 MPH gain in velocity is noteworthy – it shows that his spin is more efficient, counteracting the decreased time that gravity has to pull the ball downwards. So, this year, the pitch is still at 79 MPH, but it’s got over -8.2″ of drop. He’s taken a fairly pedestrian offering and turned it into a real weapon, and it’s one that’s helped him post much better stats against righties this year. That can only happen with a very high spin rate, and Statcast shows that his curve spin rate is much higher than league average. Old pitch fx-based spin measurements aren’t really comparable, but they do show that his effective (not total) spin rate on his curve is 40-50% higher than in his rookie year. Did Mel Stottlemeyer Jr. do that? Did the Cardinals’ PD group? I’m guessing it was more the latter, as he showed up to Seattle with it, but it doesn’t really matter: the M’s are getting a newer, healthier, better Marco Gonzales.

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


4 Responses to “Game 79, Mariners at Orioles”

  1. mrakbaseball on June 25th, 2018 4:45 pm

    Chris Davis’ 2018 season is one of the most fascinating and bizarre spectacles I can recall in my baseball fandom. What a fall from grace.

  2. mksh21 on June 25th, 2018 5:15 pm

    Well when all you got is power and nothing else, when it goes it goes ugly. Thinking Travis Hafner, Adam Dunn etc. They didn’t age to graceful either but yeah Davis is a trainwreck at 32.

  3. mksh21 on June 25th, 2018 5:17 pm

    Felix has quietly got his ERA under 5 with some good outings!

  4. Jake on June 25th, 2018 7:02 pm

    Nah, Felix’s ERA snuck back over 5 unfortunately.

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