Game 87, Angels at Mariners

marc w · July 4, 2018 at 1:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Garrett Richards, 1:10pm

The moribund Angels desperately need a win or two in this series, but it’s looking harder and harder to see them as a real challenger at this point. They could win today, and they’d still be the Angels, their season still sunk by injuries.

Garrett Richards remains one of the game’s enigmas. A Statcast darling with freakishly spin rates, and the velocity and stuff to turn that raw material into plenty of strikeouts. And while his long and varied injury history gets a lot of the blame for why he’s never quite blossomed into a Cy Young candidate*, another key reason is that he’s not really developing in any real sense. Injuries probably have a lot to do with that, I know. But he came up as a guy with great stuff and disappointing results: too many walks, troubles stranding runners, etc. Now, after over 700 big league innings, he’s…still that guy. He’s getting more strikeouts now than when he came up, but then, so is the entire game of baseball. That 10-11% walk rate in his initial call-ups was a bit of a concern, but now, with several years under his belt, his walk rate is…11%. The huge sink on his breaking balls and cutter/fastball produced growing GB%, peaking around 58% a few years ago. But now, it’s back to 50% – very good, but not a true stand-out several-standard-deviations-from-the-mean skill. His career strand rate is just over 70%, and it’s 67% this year.

There are probably attributes that make it hard to really coach/develop someone like this. You don’t want to change the mechanical processes that generate his freakish spin rates in a misguided effort to bring down his walk rate. You have to take his injury history into account, but you probably don’t want to radically change his approach. After all, he’s got a career ERA and FIP below 4. You’d take that, right? It’s just that Richards’ talent is such that being a perfectly fine when healthy #3 feels like a terrible outcome. Richards’ curve is one of the better pitches I’ve seen, and no one’s ever homered off of it. His career SLG%-against on the thing is .153, and he’s never thrown it much. Its usage rate is above 10% for the very first time this year, and by a fraction of a percent. Look, his slider is really, really good too, but his curve seems like a cheat code, and he just doesn’t throw it, largely because he’s always struggles to keep it in the zone.

So: you’re a pitching coach and you’ve got Garrett Richards. I keep thinking there are plenty of things to try, and ways to make that curve much more of a dependable weapon. To date, they’ve failed to do so. The Angels have struggled with health, and they’ve struggled with dingers, and while they’ve had some big successes (Skaggs this year, Shoemaker in the past), I’m starting to wonder how much of that is player development more generally, and how much is really attributable to MLB coaching. Shoemaker can’t stay healthy, nor can some of their other big development/coaching successes like JC Ramirez (or Richards), but they’ve struggled to get more out of vets from Ricky Nolasco to Jesse Chavez, and now Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano seem to be kind of stuck in neutral. The Angels are still set up well for the future; Mike Trout is still somehow just 26, Ohtani’s 23, and Andrelton Simmons is 28. But something’s going to need to change -pretty dramatically- for them to reach their potential.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the key reasons for the M’s success this year seems to be the success of that big league coaching staff, with Marco Gonzales and Mike Leake improving not only over prior years, but improving over their own April-of-2018 levels. Felix is showing signs of life, and of course there’s Wade LeBlanc. No, not everything is perfect – if it was, the M’s wouldn’t need to scoff at run differentials. But Mel Stottlemeyer Jr seems to have gone from embattled to low-key cog in their best season in over a decade. I’ll take it.

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

Happy Independence Day!

This is verging on talking-about-run-differential territory, but I wanted to point out Jeff Sullivan’s great article on negative WAR. As you know, the M’s have often had great performances by their star players rendered irrelevant by awful, awful performances from guys the M’s simply couldn’t stop playing. The M’s gave 280 PAs to a below-replacement-level Taylor Motter last year, and 500 to Danny Valencia. Think of Adam Lind and Ketel Marte in 2016, Zunino and Dustin Ackley in 2015, Kendrys Morales/Stefen Romero/Corey Hart in 2014. Sometimes, the M’s simply had no other options – they *wanted* to bench Valencia, but Vogelbach was somehow worse. Other times, they kept cycling through people who put up curiously similar (awful) lines. The point is that the M’s in 2018 are, finally, not giving lots of playing time to sub-replacement-level players. Their positive WAR is more or less identical to their overall WAR, and it’s only little blips like a few innings of Erasmo Ramirez that make up the delta.

Still, there’s a chance that the M’s will coast into the postseason with a number of negative WAR players. Guillermo Heredia is at 0.0 right now, and Denard Span is at 0.1. Ryon Healy’s already at -0.2. It’s not likely, but the M’s could end the year with negative WAR from 2-3 *positions* and still get to 100 actual, real world wins. The more you try to explain the M’s, the more you really fall back on things like chemistry, which is weird for a blog like this, but kind of freeing, as well. The M’s are better than the sum of their parts, and I think that helps explain why the region’s fallen so hard for this group in 2018.

* Yes, I know I predicted he’d get Cy votes this year. I predicted a lot of dumb stuff this year.


5 Responses to “Game 87, Angels at Mariners”

  1. Grayfox3d on July 4th, 2018 2:28 pm

    C’mon Leake! things are looking bleak! Need the offense to wake up a little bit today, looks like its going to be a tough game.

  2. Sowulo on July 5th, 2018 7:26 pm

    What??? Haniger is given the day off on a day when the starting pitcher (Barria) is a guy he took deep twice the last time they faced? He can rest tomorrow!

  3. Stevemotivateir on July 5th, 2018 7:45 pm

    ^Bruised knee. I’m sure Servais had every intention of using Haniger if possible.

  4. Sowulo on July 5th, 2018 10:01 pm


  5. heyoka on July 6th, 2018 3:27 am

    Gonzales is giving results. It’s looking like Paxton-Gonzales-LeBlanc as a 1-2-3 based on results. Crazy, crazy question: for the playoffs should Felix be moved to the bullpen?

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