Game 93, Mariners at Angels

marc w · July 11, 2018 at 6:20 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Jaime Barria, 7:00pm

The less said about last night’s loss, the better. Mike Leake didn’t have it, and the M’s couldn’t figure out the Angels’ pen. Everyone has an off-night.

Tonight’s game features Marco Gonzales, perhaps the story of this dream-like season for the M’s. While he seemed like a potential break-out player, his ceiling seemed limited, and the HR troubles that sunk his 2017 could be a concern going forward. But Gonzales has thrived this year, cutting his HR/9 in half and throwing more strikes, resulting in a much-improved K-BB% as well. The specific areas of improvement haven’t been the ones we/I keyed in on back in the spring: his velocity is *down* from 2017, for example, and while his cutter’s been a solid pitch, it doesn’t appear to have been the key to his success. Instead, it’s been his curve and his ability to sneak high four-seamers past hitters who are looking for something else.

Yesterday’s post centered on the ball changing and HRs falling league-wide, and how that’s helped the M’s in particular (just as the more dingerific ball hit them harder than most). Today, let’s talk about how/why pitchers are reacting to it. One of the big changes last year was the changing value of the high fastball. As hitters learned to elevate *low* fastballs, the high fastball seemed like a good pitch to employ – you get the benefit of the lower BABIP that fly balls bring, but the penalty in SLG% and HRs is low- to non-existent as hitters blast away on low pitches. That all changed last year, as hitters elevated high pitches over the fence, and so the M’s, who’d focused so much of their pitching strategy on high fastballs, were sunk. The league put up a wOBA of .308 on high fastballs in 2016 (a year with a lot of HRs, remember), but that jumped to .320 last year. In 2018? It’s back down to .308 again, as the slight mishits that flew over the fence last year stick around and find gloves again.

Have the M’s noticed? Here’s a graph charting the vertical height of Marco’s pitches:
The points are months, and you’ll notice that Marco’s highest ever average FB height have come in the last two months. He’s not throwing his fastball low anymore – now he’s got the cutter for that. The FB is now thrown up, where it pairs really well with his bigger breaking curve.

How about James Paxton? Yeah, same thing:

With the Big Maple, you see not only a higher average FB, but a change in his slider/cutter from a pitch thrown way low – a chase pitch – to one that can occasionally sneak a called strike.

This isn’t universal or anything – Mike Leake still looks pretty much the same, which is funny given the narrow band his season stats move within – but there are enough that it starts to feel more like a pattern. To be clear: the M’s aren’t exactly doubling down on their “fly balls or bust” strategy from last year. They’re throwing fastballs up, but they’re throwing fewer four-seamers. The cutters are lower, and, in theory, can get ground balls. This strategy isn’t foolproof; they still give up HRs, and the cutters/sinkers haven’t been stellar, at least at the team level. But this strategy seems to have worked fairly well, at least for Gonzales and Paxton.

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

M’s fans have officially #sentSegura. Thanks to a great marketing campaign, Jean Segura won the final spot in the All Star game in a fan vote. He’ll join Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger, and Edwin Diaz in DC. The All Star game itself is on Tuesday.

The PCL All Star game is going on now in Columbus, and it’s already a slugfest – it’s 10-7 in the 6th. Arkansas are facing Springfield in the Texas League tonight. Oliver Jaskie starts for Clinton tonight, Ashton Goudeau for Modesto, and a rehabbing Rob Whalen takes the mound for Everett. Yesterday, Luis Liberato hit his 9th HR for Modesto in a 6-4 loss.


One Response to “Game 93, Mariners at Angels”

  1. Steve Nelson on July 11th, 2018 11:33 pm

    Looks as if you posted the Paxton chart twice.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.