Game 129, Mariners at Diamondbacks

marc w · August 24, 2018 at 3:27 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Zach Godley, 6::40pm

With the M’s playoff odds trimmed to less than 22%, the M’s head to Phoenix to face the NL West-leading Diamondbacks. To say that the M’s have scuffled against the NL West is an understatement. The long-standing dominance of inter league play by the AL has come to an abrupt stop this year, and the M’s difficulties with Colorado and the Dodgers seems like a microcosm of that larger trend.

As good as the Dodgers looked in Seattle (and you should read Brendan Gawlowsku’s post on the gap between the teams at the Athletic), the D-Backs have been great in different ways. Acquiring Zack Greinke helped stabilize their rotation, but after a series of disastrous trades, the Snakes have done a brilliant job of building around a homegrown core. Patrick Corbin (acquired as a low-minors guy from the Angels) has taken a colossal step forward to become the staff ace, while today’s starter, the modestly named Zach Godley, is following up a 3.5 win season with another solid campaign.

Godley’s development is great news for the D-Backs, who are getting solid production from a guy who was once seen as org depth. It also highlights that there’s still room in the majors for guys without premium velocity.

In a lot of ways, Godley reminds me of Marco Gonzales; both throw sinkers, a change, a hard (uh, relatively) cutter and a curve. Both top out around 91, and when on, both look like they could run 3.00-3.50 ERAs/FIPs for years. Godley misses more bats and racks up grounders, while Gonzales has better control. Sure, Godley’s a righty while Marco’s a lefty, but the repertoire is so, so similar.

So how has Godley, the 10th rounder, not the 1st rounder, been able to stay a touch more consistent? How is he surviving the much more offense-friendly home park? I can point to a few things that help on the margins, and then I have a guess about what’s really doing the work here.

First, the Snakes defense is one of the game’s best. The pitchers are running a .284 BABIP, which puts them up by Oakland and far, far from the M’s. This is why the D-backs ERA is lower than their FIP, and how their run prevention is even better than their 7th-in-Baseball fWAR.

Second, Arizona installed a humidor this year, and so the park that saw an unbelievable number of extra base hits and barreled contact last year is playing a bit more even this year. I talked earlier how the league-wide drop in HRs benefitted the M’s (who were sunk by HRs in 2017), but the D-Backs are reaping huge benefits too. Their defense-first mindset pairs perfectly with a season in which balls stay in the park.

Third, Godley has the better outpitch, a weird, hybrid curve. It’s thrown in the low 80s, and looks a bit like a hard breaking slider, and has been his big strikeout pitch. He’s now throwing it over 40% of the time, giving him an almost Lance McCullers-like pitch mix at 6-7 MPH slower speed.

Gonzales has done a great job of mixing his pitches this year, and from a game theory POV, that’s great. But he does so in part because there’s no one single pitch that can completely flummox opposing batters. Coming up, it was supposed to be his change. For much of 2018, it looked like it was going to be his curve. But that curve isn’t working well anymore.

In recent games, Gonzo’s giving up tons and tons of hits, yielding hard hit balls all over. Righties, whom he’d handled this year for the first time, are starting to figure him out again. It’s all very sudden, which also means the sample sizes are tiny. We can’t prove anything. But batters are suddenly annihilating Marco’s cutter and curve, and they’re hitting his sinker well, too. This is what would happen if Marco were tipping his pitches. Marco may be tipping his pitches.

To be fair, this could be the result of predictable sequencing and locations, and his habit of going sinker-away followed by cutter or curve in *does* look pretty obvious. But that’s easy to say from a computer screen; it was fine early this year, and it should be. The cutter and sinker should start from the same place, before the sinker’s armside run takes it to the outside edge vs. a righty, while the cutter just stays on the inside edge. There’s nothing crazy about that strategy, *unless* batters knew where the ball was going to break beforehand.

Godley’s always had some deception, but he went through a long stretch where batters teed off on him back in 2016. He fixed something the following year, and had a great season. As I’ve been saying all year, while pitching is incredibly complex and difficult, there are *always* ways to improve, and teams throughout the game are helping pitchers improve and as velo, deception, or both. The M’s need to follow suit.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 1B
4: Span, LF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Maybin, CF
7: Zunino, C
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Erasmoooooo


3 Responses to “Game 129, Mariners at Diamondbacks”

  1. LongDistance on August 24th, 2018 4:01 pm

    We’ve gone from being a worrisomely near nemesis for the Astros, to an ever more relieving nomesis for the A’s. Where did I see that percentage scale showing how by late August, teams were pretty nearly locked into their win/loss production percentage for the rest of the year … And generally the main change from that consisted of unexpected meltdowns? I may even have seen it here? Somebody correct me on that, please?

  2. Longgeorge1 on August 24th, 2018 8:41 pm

    Chatter radio has been gigging DiPoto for not having a 6th starter considering the injury past of some our top 5. I think the guy pegged to be the 6th man pitched tonight. Too bad he was out all year. He has looked great since coming off the DL. 6 innings/ 1ER.

  3. heyoka on August 25th, 2018 3:33 am

    Grats Diaz.

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