Game 102, Giants at Mariners

marc w · July 25, 2018 at 12:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Derek Holland, 1:10pm – This game isn’t on TV; it’s one of those odd Facebook-only deals.

The M’s close out this short two-game set with San Francisco today with an early game. I, like many of you I suspect, won’t be able to watch it, so hopefully it’s a boring, never-in-doubt win without real standout performances. After last night, I think we’d all take a plain vanilla win without much in the way of drama.

This should probably go without saying, but if I didn’t say it, I’d lose one of my leitmotifs here on the blog: pitchers are completely amazing, and are capable of reinventing themselves. We’ve all seen this, we all know this, but it’s worth repeating. Yes, medical care has helped extend careers, giving pitchers the opportunity to change. Advances in training have essentially tossed out what we’d learned from standard, league-wide aging curves. And great coaching does this frequently – there’s a reason we know the names of several pitching coaches, just as we learned Leo Mazzone’s name 20 years ago. I think one of the reasons this resonates with me is that I think sabermetrics may have obscured this fact more than it illuminated it. Regression towards the mean is a hugely important tool with which to examine the game, and it’s true: not every great game or two-week stretch is indicative of an entirely new level of talent. But within the parameters of their natural ability, pitchers are always in the process of becoming something different. If you’re not changing, you’re either one of the game’s truly elite talents (and even they’re still tinkering, I’d suppose), or you’re going to get exposed pretty soon.

Sam Gaviglio, SAM FREAKING GAVIGLIO, has a K/9 that’s nearly the equal of David Price’s. Both start today, so they could flip-flop depending on how each performs. By K%, Price’s lead is more solid, but did I mention we’re talking about SAM GAVIGLIO? Gaviglio never posted a K% over 20% in the M’s minor leagues, and when he came up to the M’s and then the Royals, his K% was under 16%. That’s not a knock on Sam – it’s just who he was. Command/control lefty. Throws 88. No big-time breaking ball or change-up. Keeps you in the game if he can keep the ball in the park, nothing flashy. THAT guy is now striking out basically a batter an inning at the major league level, and has a K% quite close to league average, so he has an *above-average K%* for a starting pitcher. Literally Sam Gaviglio!

Charlie Morton’s starting for Houston. The guy who had a long career in Pittsburgh despite a K% that was generally below 15%, and *always* below 20%. Threw 92-93, with a decent enough curve, but didn’t miss a ton of bats. Lots of grounders, so maybe an oft-injured Mike Leake, or something in that vein. As you know, Morton now throws 97, has a K% over 30%, and is striking out about 12 per 9. Same guy, yet completely unrecognizable.

I mentioned James Shields the other day, but he’s starting again and I’m reminded again of how impressive his career-saving adjustments have been. No, it’s not made him into a star again, but after last year, I legitimately thought he was done, and that he’d either go overseas or be a AAA vagabond this year. He’s fighting MLB to a draw in Chicago instead.

I bring all of this up because one of his teammates from last year’s pulled the same trick. Derek Holland was worth nearly -1 fWAR thanks to a Shields-like HR/9 of 2.07 over 135 putrid innings. The oft-injured Holland didn’t make it to 40 IP in 2014, and was under 60 the next year. He barely passed 100 IP in 2016, but with his K% in free-fall and his extension drawing to a close, there was no way he’d be back. He signed a 1-year deal with Chicago that I think both parties would love to hit the do-over button on, as Holland’s fastball/sinker/slider/curve mix just never fit well in the homer-charged modern game and the homer-charged ballpark on the south side.

This isn’t to say Holland was changing things up. He was – look at the bottom (yellow) lines in this chart. That’s his curveball, the one that started out as a 12-6 offering at around 75 MPH or so.
Holland velo
In the past few years, his curve has been creeping up towards 80 MPH, and the movement on it is very different too. In fact, I think it’s no longer any kind of curve at all – it’s now a slider; it’s a different look, a slight wrinkle on his “old” slider. The horizontal movement on the pitch is almost identical to his old slider, and it’s within a few MPH in velocity. It no longer drops below 0 in vertical movement, and it no longer has any gloveside movement.

So how’s that working out for him? In 2017, not so hot. It was his worst pitch by a mile, as he gave up 13 HRs off of it, good for a SLG%-against of .720. He’s throwing it just as often this year, and it’s sliiiightly more slider like this year, and the results have been completely different. His SLG%-against on it is .321. Derek Holland – DEREK HOLLAND – now has 105 strikeouts in 102 innings. Yes, yes, national league, and spacious ballparks like his new home in SF, and context and the general decline in HRs, etc. I get all of that. But Derek Holland looked like he was headed out of the league. He signed a 1-year deal for less than $2 M, which, depending on your definition, would make him freely-available or kinda sorta replacement level. He’s got a career high in K% and K-BB%.

Like everyone else, he’s throwing a lot fewer FBs than he used to. That approach only works, though, when batters aren’t teeing off on your secondaries. I’m not exactly sure what he’s done to disguise his slurve better, but whatever it is, it’s working. You could project him using his career averages, or his recent year averages, and see a replacement-level pitcher. He’s not exactly like Morton, where everyone can see something fundamental has changed. But the point is that regressing to the mean works great on the overall population. With individuals, true talent is always in flux – you’re regressing towards a moving target. On average, using career numbers works best. It’s often the best way to see what individuals will do going forward, but it can just as often lead you astray. Jon Lester starts today for the Cubs. In his Boston heyday, Lester used to average 50%+ ground balls. It’s one of the attributes that made him successful. With the Cubs, that mark has been falling, and this year it stands at 38%. He’s having a good year (though not by FIP, perhaps). Would you project his GB% to head back towards, say, 46.5%, which is his career average? High five if you replied, “no.”

This is not a veiled shot at Mike Leake, one of the most stable pitchers I’ve ever seen. Leake isn’t flashy, but there’s plenty of value in a standard Mike Leake season, and standard Mike Leake seasons are pretty much his stock in trade. No, there’s another Mariner hurler who could stand to really work on a mid-career reinvention. A guy who’s reinvented himself already, but needs to go further, and faster. Felix owes us nothing. If he retired tomorrow, I would laud an amazingly successful career, and I’d put my kids in their Felix #34 shirseys and tell Felix stories to them for hours. He’s given all of us more than we ever could’ve hoped. But he’s capable of writing some new stories for us to tell, and he’s capable of giving a boost to a club who could use one right about now. I’m not completely convinced the M’s are the best organization to foster and encourage such a transformation, but it’s the only org he’s ever known, and it’s worth a shot.

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

Tacoma’s in Round Rock tonight, where they’ll face off against former Rainier/Mariner Adrian Sampson. Erasmo Ramirez makes another rehab start for the R’s.
Other probables in the system include Anthony Misiewicz, Nick Wells, Ryne Inman, and Jheyson Caraballo.

Round Rock jumped on Christian Bergman early in a 7-2 win last night, while Foster Griffin and NW Arkansas blanked Arkansas 4-0 in Game 1 of their double-header. Arkansas won the 2nd game 8-1, getting a HR from OF Chuck Taylor. Modesto edged Stockton 5-4 on a walk-off single by Beau Branton in the bottom of the 9th. Branton, the ex-Stanford 2B drafted in the 28th round this year, now has 38 hits in 25 career pro games between the AZL and Cal League. Vancouver scored 2 in the 7th to come back and beat Everett 4-3. Orlando Razo was solid for 6 IP for the AquaSox.


4 Responses to “Game 102, Giants at Mariners”

  1. mksh21 on July 25th, 2018 7:57 pm

    The A’s have no fans, no ballpark, no good players yet hung 30 runs in last 2 games and will probably rally in the 9th to win again today. It kills me they are somehow making another run at the M’s expense.

  2. mrakbaseball on July 26th, 2018 2:06 am

    Rooted in Oakland. A beautiful story of the 2018 season.

  3. LongDistance on July 26th, 2018 7:57 am

    There’s no there there. And yet.

  4. Jake on July 26th, 2018 8:41 pm

    Oakland’s only one game back now.

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