Game 96, Mariners at Rockies – Welcome to the Show, Matt Festa + The Enigma of Jon Gray

marc w · July 14, 2018 at 3:25 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Jon Gray, 6:10pm

Jon Gray started for the Rockies on opening day. He made his last start for Albuquerque in the PCL. Depending on your pitching metric of choice, Gray has performed basically at replacement level, and his demotion was well-earned (an RA9 of 5.97, leading to a BBREF WAR of 0.4). Or he’s been a top-20 pitcher in the game, having already accrued 2.7 WARP, ahead of Miles Mikolas and Noah Syndergaard (DRA of 2.72). Or somewhere in between; a good pitcher undone by bad luck (FIP of 3.12, BABIP of .386). His strikeouts and walks are amazing, but it seems like every ball in play goes for a hit.

He plays in Colorado, so some of this is park related, but not all of it. Gray avoids HRs thanks to a four-seam fastball without a ton of rise. It’s not exactly a sinker, but I can imagine it feels heavier to hitters than, say, uh…Wade LeBlanc’s. Colorado’s defense has been quite good this year at turning grounders into outs – better than the league average easily – but it just hasn’t worked out for Gray. Sure, his BABIP is worse at home than on the road, but it’s still pretty bad on the road.

That brings up an odd thing that ties these two clubs – and today’s starting pitchers – together. Both are profoundly changed by their home park. The Rockies allow a BABIP of .328 at home, by far the highest in the big leagues. The M’s smaller park helps them to restrict base hits – they’ve posted a .279 BABIP at Safeco. On the road, everything flips. The M’s shoot up to .309, 5th-worst in the game, while the Rockies – finally away from their neverending outfield – plummet to .283.

No one’s been more affected than LeBlanc, who’s got a .207 BABIP at home vs. a .333 mark on the road. At home, he’s much more aggressive, with more strikeouts and also more home runs. On the road, he gives up more balls in play, and those balls in play are much more likely to find a gap. Does he give up harder-hit balls on the road? No, his average exit velocity is actually lower on the road, and it’s the lowest figure for any M’s starter. It’s just that he’s a fly ball guy, and that type of pitcher is going to do very, very well at Safeco if they can pitch around a HR or two. Gray gives up harder contact at home, but even still, he appears to be extremely unlucky.

Gray throws a four-seamer at 95-96, and his outpitch for many years has been a slider, thrown around 90. It’s been a swing-and-miss pitch, and also a grounder generator (handy at altitude), and while it’s still his best pitch of 2018, it’s lost a bit of its luster. Sure, his fastball’s getting hit fairly hard, but for whatever reason, Gray’s *always* given up a high BABIP on his fastball (and in general). This year, he’s doing it on his slider as well. Of course, this is the circular feedback loop of peripheral stats. His overall BABIP is bad, so it’s quite possible that it’ll be bad for each individual pitch he throws. There’s nothing different in the movement/speed of his pitches…they’re just going for base hits, and while it’s pretty exceptional this year, it’s always been a problem for him. So what to make of Gray? I don’t really know, I’d just settle for making him today’s losing pitcher.

The M’s optioned last night’s starter, Christian Bergman, back to AAA after the game. To fill his active roster slot, the M’s have brought up AA reliever Matt Festa, whose stats I included in yesterday’s post. He’s been solid for Arkansas, and owns an impressive 44:7 K:BB ratio in his 31 2/3 IP, but he’s also given up 37 hits. That helps explain how someone with 12.5 K/9 and 6.3 strikeouts for every walk has an ERA over 3, and an RA9 essentially at 4. Festa pitched in the AFL this past fall, showing three pitches: a four-seamer with some sink, thrown at 93-94, a slider at 88 with pretty good two-plane break, and a slurve-y curveball at 82 with more downward movement. He throws them all from a low-3/4 arm slot, so you’d think he’d have some platoon split issues; that’s been the case this year, though it’s not been a big issue for him in the past. All in all, from his heavy four-seamer to the movement on his slider, he *kind of* reminds me of Gray. Sure, one’s a reliever, and Gray both 1) throws much harder and 2) more over-the-top, so they’re not exactly identical twins or anything. But there’s also this: Festa’s allowed a BABIP north of .400 this year.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Span, LF
6: Healy, 1B
7: Gamel, CF
8: Herrmann, C
9/SP: LeBlanc

Gamel gets his second-straight start in CF, which doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence with a fly-baller like LeBlanc on the mound. Still, it’s probably a boost to the offense, as Gamel’s got strong platoon splits. Mitch Haniger’s recent knee injury probably rules him out of CF, and Denard Span had a foot problem this week as well. So, Ben Gamel flanked by two slightly hobbled corner OFs in the largest, toughest to defend OF in the game. Hmm.

Tacoma beat Fresno thanks to an IF-single turned “little-league triple” for noted speedster Dan Vogelbach. A sac fly later, the R’s had the go-ahead run in their 8-7 win. Williams Perez, the most successful of the indy-league signings the M’s made in June, starts today’s game opposite Trent Thornton of the Grizzlies.

Chase de Jong was sharp, and Chris Mariscal homered in the Travelers 7-2 win over Springfield last night. Max Povse starts for Arkansas tonight, who again face the Cardinals.

The Stockton Ports doubled up on Modesto 4-2, thanks to a good start from recently-demoted Kyle Friedrichs. Friedrichs was doing fairly well in AA, but then stumbled badly in a few starts at the end of June/early July. Nick Wells makes his 5th hi-A start for the Nuts tonight.

Clinton shut out Great Lakes 1-0 thanks to a solo HR from Ariel Sandoval and a brilliant 11 K, 1 BB performance on a bullpen day. Ryne Inman started, and then Tyler Jackson went the next 4 IP. Kyle Wilcox K’d 5 in just 2 IP before Sam Delaplane finished it off in the 9th with 2 Ks of his own. Delaplane’s 14.2 K/9 ranks second in the Midwest League.

Everett faces Salem-Keizer tonight, with Orlando Razo starting for the AquaSox. The Frogs beat S-K last night 3-1; 1B Ryan Garcia homered for Everett.


18 Responses to “Game 96, Mariners at Rockies – Welcome to the Show, Matt Festa + The Enigma of Jon Gray”

  1. WTF_Ms on July 14th, 2018 6:40 pm

    The Mariners new motto: Down early.

  2. mksh21 on July 14th, 2018 7:38 pm

    I hate these NL park games. Oh yay the best hitter on our team can sit on the bench zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  3. WTF_Ms on July 14th, 2018 9:03 pm

    Ahhh, back to normal. Iffy pitchers and no offense. Revert to mean anyone???

  4. mrakbaseball on July 14th, 2018 9:05 pm

    This is an all too familiar sight.

  5. WTF_Ms on July 15th, 2018 1:13 pm

    Game 97 – Was
    Going well until the 3rd. They should have postponed for an hour, but the umps suck.

  6. Grayfox3d on July 15th, 2018 2:42 pm

    Oh look! we have the lead!… and it’s gone.

  7. WTF_Ms on July 15th, 2018 3:18 pm

    They really should have postponed for an hour or so. The outfield is a swamp, and dangerous.

  8. Grayfox3d on July 15th, 2018 3:21 pm

    They wont because it gives the Rockies an advantage over the hobbled outfield defense of the Mariners… of course that’s me being salty.

  9. Grayfox3d on July 15th, 2018 3:26 pm

    Awesome way to go into the ASG….. Regression to the mean is a harsh bi*** and I hate it.

  10. WTF_Ms on July 15th, 2018 3:49 pm

    Who knows. Maybe the injuries will heal and we’ll come out strong. Wishful thinking.

  11. LongDistance on July 17th, 2018 9:50 am

    July 31

  12. mrakbaseball on July 17th, 2018 10:26 am

    Meh, I think this team, as presently constituted, including guys on the DL, has too many holes and will probably be passed by Oakland.

  13. eponymous coward on July 17th, 2018 12:30 pm

    Wow, Stockholm Syndrome as applied to Mariners fans makes y’all a bunch of Debbie Downers.

    It’s still a three game lead where the M’s chances are 2-1 in favor of being in the Wild Card if you look at Fangraphs odds. Oakland isn’t some amazing superteam, they are on their own hot streak just like ours a bit back. Why can’t we actually enjoy baseball instead of imagining disappointment?

  14. eponymous coward on July 17th, 2018 12:35 pm

    I mean, really, if I came to you on opening day and said “3 game lead on Oakland for the second Wild Card at the All Star break, around a .600 winning percentage, we’re five back of the Astros for the division, there are six teams alive for five playoff spots”… come ON, would you be complaining? Or bitching that we’re not one of the three best teams in that race for those five spots?

  15. eponymous coward on July 17th, 2018 12:44 pm

    PS: given Billy Beane’s history, he’s just as likely to deadline trade Jed Lowrie (or anyone making actual money) to someone in the NL for prospects and kneecap his team as to actually try and make a run for a second wild card spot, in a year where Boston, New York and Houston could send anyone golfing very, very quickly.

    Beane isn’t exactly known for being afraid to do things like that; Oakland is a garbage attendance town anyway (under 16k a game), so taking a leak on your fanbase’s postseason hopes doesn’t exactly have much in the way of consequences.

  16. Notfromboise on July 18th, 2018 1:23 am

    This last week nonwithstaning, the starting pitching has looked worlds better… almost solid!

    Remember we get Robby Cano back soon (not soon enough, but soon).

  17. heyoka on July 18th, 2018 5:14 am

    Hey Positive Patties.

    We’re M’s fans and we need gloom. It’s our gray cloud security blanket during these grueling bright days.

  18. LongDistance on July 18th, 2018 11:32 am

    Heyoka. LOL I like the humor. It’s not far from the mark. But to be more precise, we don’t need gloom. We’ve just got an ingrown expectation of a need to keep expectations low… and this somewhat rainbows and unicorns first half has us … off base. And so when things go sideways, as they did a bit earlier, we reset to default. I’m more than ready to get out of default. Any. Time. Now.

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