Game 94, Mariners at Angels

marc w · July 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Tyler Skaggs, 7:00pm

The rubber match of this three-game set features the best pitching match-up on paper, with the M’s ace facing the Angels’ ace…especially now that we’ve heard Garrett Richards damaged his UCL in Game 1.

Tyler Skaggs, the lefty so beloved by Jerry Dipoto who acquired him with the D-Backs and then again with the Angels, is having a Paxton-esque season. That is to say, he’s been a talented enigma, and someone I think Angels fans have always wondered what he could do with a full year. No coming back from TJ surgery, no weird dead-arm phase, no random DL stints. To be clear: he doesn’t have Paxton’s nuclear stuff, but Skaggs has been a big-time prospect for years and his injury history is nearly as long as Paxton’s. Well, I guess now we know. He’s been healthy, and he’s blowing away his previous levels of performance, with more than a strikeout per inning, low HRs-allowed, and a GB% that’s more in line with where he was pre-TJ.

He works primarily with three pitches: a fourseam fastball, a curveball, and a change-up. This year, he’s added a sinker that he reserves for right-handed bats, nearly exclusively. That’s kind of an odd choice, if you think about it: sinkers have one of the higher platoon splits of any pitch type. That is, if you cared about the numbers, you’d throw the sinker to *lefties* and give the righties a steady diet of four-seamers. The Angels are counseling the opposite, which is both weird, and entirely consistent with the way they’ve operated for years. I mentioned this with regard to Skaggs himself in 2014, and for a while, he listened – he all but stopped using his sinker at all in 2016-17, but it’s back now. Given he had a HR problem before, and fairly hefty platoon splits, maybe this makes sense? Well, not *quite*. His platoon splits this year are even wider – they’re massive. It’s just that he’s utterly dominating lefties so much, the fact that righties are faring OK is hardly a concern. This seems like an approach designed to fix one problem, and while it’s not exactly remedied that problem, the process of attempting to fix it may have fixed other, much larger, problems.

Out of curiousity, I looked at the average wOBA-against for lefty pitchers throwing sinkers to righties. As you can imagine, they fare much, much worse than when they throw sinkers to same-handed batters. But again, the change in the environment this year due to an apparently new ball becomes evident. This year, righties have produced a .357 wOBA against lefty sinkers/two-seamers. (Lefties put up a .366 wOBA against righty sinkers). Last year, though, righties put up a .371 wOBA, and .367 the year before. As in so many other cases, it’s like baseball has just re-set the clock to 2015, and we’re just moving along like 2016-2017 never happened.

So, the last time the M’s were facing the Angels, Corey Brock at the Athletic had an article about the M’s run differential and how their record didn’t match up with it. In that piece, the M’s front office said that they care about their own “Control the Zone” metric, or the differential between good and bad K/BB outcomes. I wrote about it here, and about how that metric told essentially the same story as run differential – the M’s were good by the CtZ metric, but 3rd-best in the division and a far cry from the Bostons/Houstons/New Yorks of the world. Today, there’s another article about the M’s apparent luck – this one by Tim Brown at Yahoo. Predictably, the players don’t care a whit about their pedestrian run differential, and they absolutely shouldn’t. Nick Vincent mentions one of – probably THE – big reasons: Edwin Diaz. But the whole article gave me an excuse to re-run the numbers.

The M’s CtZ number is now 87, good for 9th in baseball. That’s good, but it’s *still* 3rd in the AL West behind Houston (352) and Anaheim (125). Houston’s number is where it is because their pitching staff has the highest K% in the game while their batters the 4th-lowest. The *Angels* fare well thanks to the 3rd lowest batter K%, and middle-of-the-pack numbers everywhere else. The M’s simply weren’t built to succeed in CtZ, not with the 4th-lowest walk rate on their offense. They’re still good, mind you, with a very low pitcher walk rate and solid K% numbers. But CtZ still isn’t going to show *why* the team’s outperforming its run differential. As I mentioned a month or two ago, run differential and CtZ are highly correlated; more highly correlated than CtZ and wins. The A’s, meanwhile, look terrible by CtZ (-81), but a bit better with my even simpler HR delta. Back in the spring, I mentioned that net HRs – HRs hit minus HRs allowed – may be a better lens to look at teams in the current day and age than the other FIP components, walks and strikeouts. Indeed, the correlation between net HRs and wins is 0.80 to CtZ’s 0.70, and it’s got a better correlation to run differential. This may just be a fluke, but I think it adds some credence to the idea that even as HR rates come down, HRs are *still* absolutely critical to wins in the modern game. Controlling the zone is important, don’t get me wrong, but with K rates moving up inexorably, it’s harder and harder to string hits together to create runs. Thus, there may be diminishing returns to something like Houston’s utterly bonkers CtZ numbers; so much of that gets wasted. Either that, or they simply built their pen around the wrong closer. Heh.

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: Freitas, C

Congrats to David Freitas on his first MLB HR last night; he’s rewarded with a second straight start (ok, ok, Skaggs left-handedness had more to do with it than the HR, but still…good for him).

The PCL defeated the hated International League *in* IL territory, and with that job done, the Rainiers begin the second half tonight against Cy Sneed and Fresno. Johendi Jiminian takes the ball for Arkansas as they face Springfield, while Ljay Newsome starts for Modesto against Cody Stapler and Visalia. I sincerely hope the Rawhide can pull together some sort of Office Space-themed promotion for Stapler. 2017 7th rounder Max Roberts starts for Everett.


8 Responses to “Game 94, Mariners at Angels”

  1. Sowulo on July 12th, 2018 7:35 pm

    More first inning crooked numbers for the opposition. *sigh*

    And Paxton is hurt.

  2. Longgeorge1 on July 12th, 2018 7:38 pm

    I was going to make a wise-ass comment about the “Big Maple” not having to have a “King”-like 1st inning just because he was taking his start. But as he is now leaving the mound now there is no room for humor.

  3. Grayfox3d on July 12th, 2018 8:00 pm

    And here we go…

  4. WTF_Ms on July 12th, 2018 8:55 pm

    You guys are starting to sound like me!

  5. mrakbaseball on July 12th, 2018 9:19 pm

    Forget the Astros and division lead, I think the question is can the M’s stay ahead of the A’s? This team is limping to the break.

  6. mrakbaseball on July 12th, 2018 9:56 pm

    At least Romine has proven he can retire Trout and Pujols. Hidden talent.

  7. mksh21 on July 13th, 2018 5:55 am

    Romine now has -0.1 WAR pitching in 5.2 innings and and .7 WAR as a position player… How in the heck has this guy been allowed 550 games and nearly 1,300 PA’s and still in the Majors at 32?

  8. eponymous coward on July 13th, 2018 12:34 pm

    Because this is a common profile for a 25th man on the roster middle infielder: a replacement level player who can play multiple infield positions?

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