Game 150, Mariners at Astros: They’re Coming Out of the Woodwork

September 17, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Framber Valdez, 5:10pm

The M’s were always in a different league than these Astros. Not in the literal sense; not since 2012, anyway. The defending MLB Champions simply had too much talent and too much depth to worry seriously about a challenge from the Mariners. Even when the M’s briefly took the AL West lead, it had more to do with the Astros’ injuries and the vagaries of small sample sizes than the sense that the battle for AL supremacy had been joined. Even the A’s, the latest team to make a run at the Astros’ crown, don’t seem to match up with them all that well. Despite their ridiculous run in the second half, the A’s simply can’t match up with the Astros’ starting pitching, though their line-up is starting to close the gap. But let’s put the big names aside – the real reason the M’s have (rightly) focused on the wild card is that everyone knows that the Astros will develop their own crew of MLB depth within a season, *even as* they’re able to trade pieces away to pull in, I don’t know, Gerrit Cole.

Today’s starting pitcher, Framber Valdez, is a perfect example. Valdez was signed at age 21 out of the Dominican Republic, an under 6-foot lefty without top-shelf velocity. That sounds like the background of org depth that kicks around the Midwest League if everything breaks right, but he somehow made his way to AA last year. Despite struggling with walks, he moved up the chain thanks to a worm-killing sinker and a solid curveball thrown around 80MPH. At AA though, his walk problems and issues out of the stretch seemed to doom him. His ERA was nearly 6, and while his K/9 was decent enough, he got hit too hard to profile as much more than depth – albeit depth who had already overcome long odds to make it to the high minors. Because these are the Astros, he overcame a horrific BABIP to torch AA, striking out over 11 per 9, and moving quickly through AAA. The walk issues subsided a bit and he was one of the minors top strikeout artists, just like his teammate and former 34th round pick, Josh James.

James, Valdez’ teammate this year in AA, is 25 and had reached AA last year. Like Valdez, he struggled with balls in play and walks, and as a slightly old-for-the-league 34th-round righty, I don’t think anyone had serious expectations for him this year. Then, this guy that didn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere (even Valdez cracked an org-top-20 list) started sitting 95, and struck out 171 minor leaguers in 114 1/3 MiLB innings. He’s now in the majors, where he’s been hard to square up, with 17 punchouts in 10 2/3 IP.

I don’t think Framber Valdez is any sort of wunderkind. He had to age out of being a kind at all just to sign a tiny-dollar pro contract. He’s got a good breaking ball and a sinking, er, sinker, which as descriptions go will work just fine for about 20,000 guys none of us have heard of. He DOES seem to be the best version of himself possible, and that’s what’s so difficult following a team that plays in Houston’s division. We can hand-wave the gap in current MLB talent aside, even though the Astros are much younger than the Mariners. You can’t hand-wave aside the fact that the Astros’ prospects are also far, far better AND that the Astros track record of developing players – both prospects and not – is just lights years ahead of Seattle’s. This, more than anything, is what the M’s have to figure out in the next year or two, a span that will see them likely lose a lot of the production they’ve had this year (Nellie and D-Span are both free agents, and there’s no way they’re bringing back both). They have nothing of note in the system beyond a player in the DSL and two prospects in High A and AA who have plenty of question marks. The M’s need a Framber Valdez. Frankly, they need a couple of years where the M’s get a Valdez and a Josh James at the same time. Of course, even if they do that, they’ll only be keeping pace.

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

Wade LeBlanc is arguably the M’s greatest player development story of the year, or at least, he’s right up there with Marco Gonzales. It’s kind of funny, as the two highlight two different ways of measuring value. Because he gives up so many HRs, Wade LeBlanc is never going to do well in FIP. By RA9-based WAR, LeBlanc is essentially tied with James Paxton. By FIP-based WAR, he’s below average. Marco’s been the opposite: his FIP is great thanks to a very low walk rate and moderate dinger proclivities, but for the second year in a row, BABIP and strand rate have left him with more runs allowed than FIP would predict. Does some of this have to do with the M’s not-great defense? Yes. You don’t want to penalize Gonzales for the (in)actions of his teammates, but if Wade’s figured out a way to pitch around an obvious weakness, you don’t want to ignore that, either. FIP’s more consistent from year to year, but we’re on year 2 of waiting for Paxton’s runs-allowed to drop down into alignment. Some pitchers consistently outpitch their FIP, and some consistently pitch worse.

Game 149, Mariners at Angels

September 16, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Marco Gonzales vs. Jaime Barria, 1:05pm

Baseball is strange. The M’s came into the season reeling from Anaheim’s win in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. And despite injury and a spring so bad it became international news, Ohtani has more than lived up to his considerable hype. He’s clearly one of the best stories in the game, and comes into the game with a 162 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR *as a designated hitter*. He’s also flashed elite stuff off the mound, and while we won’t see him there for a long while, he added another win off the mound in 51 tantalizing innings. Mike Trout remains Mike Trout, and today’s starter, Jaime Barria, somehow has more RA9-based WAR than Marco Gonzales, and is neck and neck with James freaking Paxton. There are plenty of reasons why it seemed like the Angels were better on paper, and thus it can’t be a total shock that the Angels run differential is +35, while the M’s is -42.

The M’s are 11-7 against their divisional rivals, and are looking to break the Angels’ spirit by concluding a four-game sweep today. So much has happened to make the M’s season feel like more of a failure than it is. I mean, the long term view here is still unclear, and pretty darn bad, but just looking at 2018, it feels like we should be having more fun. I completely understand why we’re not, but just for today, let’s enjoy the schadenfreude of beating the Angels comprehensively in this season series and blowing past them after they started off so brightly in April. We don’t get to have nice things, it’s true, but Anaheim’s nice things don’t get to go to the playoffs, either.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Span, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Healy, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Freitas, C
8: Gordon, CF
9: Romine, SS
SP: Gonzales

The latest Mariner to fall ill and miss a game is DH Nelson Cruz. Feel better soon, Nellie. Today’s line-up does not inspire a great deal of confidence, though I remain confident that the Angels bullpen will find a way to blow it if they’re entrusted with a lead. And frankly, today’s line-up is sort of watchable in the way a late Cactus League game is: will Vogelbach figure things out at this level? How can Gonzales make counter adjustments, and how does his stamina look after a long season? It’s not much, but I’ll take it.

Game 147, Mariners at Angels

September 14, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Matt Shoemaker, 7:00pm

Yesterday in a radio hit at AM 710, Jerry Dipoto talked about his frustration with the M’s second half and took some of the blame for their slide. Here’s an interesting quote from that interview, as posted in this story at MyNorthwest:

“We were in a position to do special things and we had a group that was playing together in a way that was so energizing for everybody around the team, and we watched it methodically and painfully be pulled apart over the course of these last two months – and it’s gotten worse as we’ve gone,” Dipoto said. “That has to be part of our decision-making heading into ’19, and frankly those are some tough decisions. We’re at a bit of a crossroads in looking at where we are as a club and trying to determine how we get to a championship level, because we’ve taken two steps forward and then three steps back – and that’s on us.”

I’ve spent much of the season taking issue with this roster construction and how they’ve seemingly thrown Felix under the bus at times. I’m not always trying to give Jerry the benefit of the doubt, but I think this was a great start. I’m not saying the blame here falls squarely on Jerry Dipoto’s well-tailored shoulders. I DO like the fact that he’s taking some responsibility, and I’m really interested to see if that manifests itself in different roster construction strategies this offseason. “We have a group of players, frankly it’s close to half our lineup since the midpoint of the season who just stopped getting on base with any regularity. … We have had roughly half our lineup just effectively disappear for half a season, and it’s really hard to score runs when only half of your lineup is working,” Jerry said on the Danny, Dave, and Moore show. That’s…that’s pretty specific, and it’s pretty obviously true. The issue, of course, is that they seemed to go out of their way to get hitters who don’t walk, which means if these guys (Healy, Gordon, Seager this year) don’t have hits falling in pretty regularly, then they’re just making tons of outs. That’s exactly what we’re seeing.

Dee Gordon’s been abysmal in the second half, with a wRC+ of 57 and a batting average (his big skill, remember) of .239. Ryon Healy’s average and K:BB ratio are better in the 2nd half (how could they NOT be?), but his overall production has dipped because more of his hits have been singles. This sucks, and it’s unfortunate that it’s happening in the 2nd half when Oakland’s surged, but at the same time, these guys are *going* to be streaky.

Another thing that’s come out of that has been an acknowledgement that team chemistry has nose dived along with their playoff odds. Score another one for the “chemistry follows winning, it doesn’t CREATE winning” crowd, perhaps. But in light of everything that’s happened, I do wonder how Dee Gordon’s viewed in the clubhouse, especially after the dust-up with Jean Segura. Similarly, I wonder what folks think of Segura after the fight, being obliquely but clearly shamed by his manager for taking himself out of a game due to foot pain, and then missing games with illness. To be clear: I’m not trying to shame him for those things, but I just wonder how he’s viewed in there. Neither Gordon nor Segura are likely to move in the offseason, unless Dipoto is very, very serious about trying to bolster OBP.

I wonder if those comments aren’t directed so much at Healy/Gordon/Seager, but at long-time hitting coach Edgar Martinez. I wonder if part of this is laying the groundwork for a separation from the guy who’s name is on the damn street, and whose name graces a restaurant inside the stadium. Edgar was essentially the only staff member retained by Dipoto, and their line-up has lagged behind their pitching staff in production this year. It used to be that GMs would fire a hitting coach to slake public thirst for change, any change, after a painful slide like this. That was never going to be the case here, but I do wonder if Dipoto thinks Edgar hasn’t done enough to develop some patience or…something in his charges this year.

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

Game 146, Mariners at Angels

September 14, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Mike Leake vs. Odrisamer Despaigne, 7:10pm

Mike Leake is putting the finishing touches on the most Mike Leake season ever. He has a career FIP of 4.13, but this year that’s shot up all the way to…4.14. His ERA is right at 4, very close to his career average of 4.11. Mike Leake is perhaps the most freakishly consistent pitcher at the seasonal level I’ve ever seen, which is pretty wild considering how inconsistent he can appear from game to game or even month to month. He’s already topped 2 fWAR, and is something like an unsung hero on a team like this one that has needed some consistent innings out of the rotation like few other clubs. That’s great, and Mike’s been worth every penny they’ve given him, and it’ll be nice to have someone like him in the rotation in 2019.

Having said all of that, can you imagine being fired up to watch Mike Leake face Odrisamer Despaigne, cast off by the Florida Marlins AAA club and picked up and sent straight to the bigs by the Angels? I think the Angels season can be aptly summed up in the pitching probables here. If you’re reaching for Despaigne, something’s gone horribly, irreversibly, wrong. It’s September of a contending year (albeit past-tense contention now) and there are no prospects playing, just Mike Leake (known quantity) versus Odrisamer Despaigne (known, bad, quality). I…I realize we’re all at that point of disconnecting from the 2018 M’s, and every once in a while I try to fight that off by looking at something underlying a player or the team’s predicament as a whole. Today, I’ve got nothing.

Well, OK, not *nothing*. Jeff Sullivan wrote a cool article at FG the other day about the Mets’ home park dramatically limiting BABIP, and doing so, at least potentially, by limiting exit velocities. It interests me because it seems so akin to Safeco; HRs were really hard to hit at Citi field when they opened it, so they did a big change of the OF dimensions in 2012 or so, around the time that Safeco’s outfield got pulled in. Both parks are now ~ average-ish for HRs (more so Citi than Safeco in 2018), but now it’s very hard for fly balls to find a hole in the smaller outfields. That’s a known factor; it’s not news to teams at this point. But the effect seemed to be to dramatically weaken the Mets’ home field advantage. Their winning percentage at home minus their winning percentage on the road from 2012-2018 was the lowest in baseball, and in fact was the only negative in the game. Just above them, and the only team within miles of them, is the M’s.

To be fair, much of this stems from the tail end of the Zduriencik years, where the club struggled mightily everywhere, but *especially* at home. The weird effects brought on by the new hyped-up baseball seemed like they could destroy the M’s, as Jerry Dipoto didn’t factor in the rabbit ball when targeting Wade LeBlanc (the first time), Drew Smyly, etc. In his defense, they’ve actually performed better at home in his tenure as GM, but it *does* make you question – again – the strategy of building an offense around base hits. I raised this when the M’s got Dee Gordon, but there seemed to be a concerted effort to avoid walks when bringing in offensive players, and the idea was that you’d just trade walks (and some homers) for a bunch more singles. That’s risky when pitchers now strike out so many batters, and when teams have tons of relievers capable of throwing 98, WITH the platoon advantage to neutralize your string-hits-together strategy in the late innings. But to run this strategy *in Safeco* seemed to be piling risk on top of risk. The M’s team batting average of .263 is the product of hitting .263 on the road, but just .243 at home. Sure, they’re not as heavily punished for that lower performance, because Safeco has a lower run environment, making each out slightly less costly. But at the macro level, at 30,000 feet, the M’s built their club *against* their home park, and they’re getting hammered for it.

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

Game 145, Padres at Mariners

September 12, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Joey Lucchesi, 3:40pm

The M’s faced rookie Joey Lucchesi not long ago, back at the end of August. At that time, I noted that Lucchesi had started the year brilliantly, armed with a weird change-slider hybrid thingy, but as the league figured him out, he was scuffling. Of course, the cure for a struggling pitcher is often pretty obvious: a struggling opposing line-up. That’s what he got in the M’s, and he proceeded to take them apart, with 9 Ks in 6 2/3 IP. Have the M’s figured out his one trick? Has Lucchesi made counter adjustments late in the year? Does any of it matter?

I ask because the M’s have the look of a team that’s completely spent, and doesn’t much want to keep playing games their own play has rendered meaningless. It has to hurt, to know you’ll be the team everyone thought blew a great chance at the wildcard, to see all of the miserable playoff odds graphs plummet towards zero. I have no idea how I’d motivate the players at this point, so I’m not really blaming Scott Servais for this particular bad look. All I can say is that it’s getting pretty miserable for the fans. There’s no one coming up that fans are excited to see. I’ve almost convinced myself I’m interested in Shawn Armstrong, who’s been very solid thus far, but he’s an out-of-options middle reliever who came up in the Cleveland org, not a prospect. Dan Vogelbach getting some ABs would be nice, but he’s been hurt, and no one’s going to want to rush back to take part in…this.

So we’re at a similar point to the beginning of the year. We pretty much know who’s going to be on the 2019 Mariners, so it’s just a matter of seeing if they can make some sort of improvement or tweak to their repertoire. I think Wade LeBlanc has been one of the unsung heroes of a solid 2018 club, and he’s been rewarded with a (comparatively cheap) contract extension. At his age (34) and talent level, I can’t quite see how he’s going to best his 2018 performance. Maybe he won’t have to, and the M’s could bank on an improved Marco Gonzales or something, but it’s…strange to be watching September baseball, trying to see how the races could shake out in 2019 and focusing on Wade LeBlanc. A bill is coming due, a bill forestalled by all of the M’s trades for relievers, Mitch Haniger and, bizarrely, by signing LeBlanc. But it’s coming, nonetheless. It won’t come due next year, I don’t think, but the M’s are coming to the limit of weird, semi-successful strategies to kick the can further down the road.

(It’s almost like brawling in the clubhouse hasn’t solved any underlying issues with the club. Weird.)

1: Haniger, RF
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Healy, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Negron, LF
7: Beckham, SS
8: Freitas, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: LeBlanc

Oh, one of THOSE games. Kris Negron is 32, Beckham will turn 32 in a couple of days. Your September call-ups, everybody!

Game 144, Padres at Mariners

September 11, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Bryan Mitchell, 7:10pm

I’m sorry for the lack of activity. It isn’t full-on M’s ennui; if you’d like some, check out David Skiba’s great post here. It’s been mostly fun stuff, and then some work stuff thrown in the mix, but let’s face it: the M’s aren’t making any of us completely overhaul our schedule to catch these games. This is a *formerly* strange feeling that’s now become almost routine: a very good season, a winning season, blessed with contention late in the year, that suddenly curdles and spoils. They were too fun for too much of the year to get too upset about it all. But then, with half the league trying to be bad, and with 5 playoff bids up for grabs, it won’t exactly do to give them a high five for trying and saying that it’ll all work out eventually.

As the season began, I said this:

The season is, for all intents and purposes, over. So does that mean I “win” and the M’s look silly? No, not really, not with a solid season and months and months of wins under their belt. What I was thinking when I wrote that was this: I don’t really see how this roster is good enough to win a playoff spot, but if they DO win that second wild card, it’ll be because something big has happened – something that we couldn’t see back in the dark ages of March, but that becomes captivating and obvious over the course of the season. I came into the season thinking that for all of his practice, Jerry Dipoto isn’t really, uh, good at making trades. There’s some wins in there, and the Segura/Haniger trade stands out as a potential franchise-altering move, but it’s just weighed down by a really long list of unforced errors. Second, the M’s didn’t seem to be developing talent all that well, despite that being the focus of the front office. If the M’s won a playoff spot, I thought it would highlight something the team was good at – much better than the average MLB outfit. They came in with less true-talent in 2018 than some of their rivals and much less talent for the years ahead. If they won, it’d either because their current roster suddenly got much better, or maybe because something shocking happened on the farm and they got contributions from, I don’t know, the latest crop of MiLB free agents they picked up.

None of that happened. For a long time, it didn’t matter. I was wrong about so, so much, from who the M’s would be chasing, to the specific problems the M’s would face. I thought the pitching staff might continue to hemorrhage dingers, which would dig the offense too much of a hole to get out. Everyone was worried about the pitching, and I thought they’d really struggle to keep total runs-allowed around 700, a figure low enough that an above-average offense could slug their way to a really positive run differential. I have no idea how, really, but here’s the thing: the starting rotation that Jerry Dipoto and essentially ONLY Jerry Dipoto thought was good enough has more or less done their job. They’re giving up 4.4 runs per game, which is high-ish for a team that plays in Safeco, but a dramatic improvement on 2017. He said they’d be better, and good enough, and there it is. A bunch of 88 MPH fastballs and Edwin Diaz, and they may hold runs allowed to 700. The problem is that the offense still hasn’t crested 600. I’m not exactly sure why everyone thought the offense was one of the team’s best, but I think many thought the M’s might score quite a few runs this year, and they’re under 4.1 per game, and then they’ve doubled down by being bad at defense. The M’s position players have struggled mightily, which pretty much takes away all the credit I’d give Dipoto for his pitching staff’s success.

They’ve done it in very predictable ways: they don’t draw walks, which, oddly, seems to have been the plan. They picked up two of the most walk-averse batters in the league, and somehow got them to walk *less.* Pair that with Kyle Seager’s face-plant and a ball and weather-driven return to pitcher-friendly form from Safeco Field, and here we are. As many are already saying, the future looks a bit more bleak, which is one reason I’m trying to focus on the positive of *all of those wins* they had early on. The M’s have more committed dollars in 2019 than all but a couple of teams, like Boston and New York. More than the Angels and their back-loaded Pujols deals, more than San Francisco. The M’s have committed about 2X as much to Felix next year as the A’s have guaranteed to their entire roster, which, sure, says more about the A’s than anything, but is also pretty troubling for an M’s franchise that unexpectedly finds themselves *chasing* the A’s. The A’s are younger and have tons of flexibility (and no willingness to use it), and…it gets tough to figure out how to get out of this.

The nice thing, in the VERY short term, is that the Padres, who did the very trendy thing and sold off every high-priced player and really leaned in to a rebuild, are in town and are abysmal. They can’t hit, and starting tonight is Bryan Mitchell, who has given up more walks than strikeouts this year and in his call-ups in 2016 and 2017. He’s got the 2nd-worst FIP of any player who’s thrown at least 50 innings. These are the decisions you’re forced to make when you have essentially nothing that’s fully cooked at the big league level. Many of us in the M’s blogosphere/twitter have lamented the M’s seeming desire to remain just shy of good, to bob along on the very fringes of contention. Watching the Padres (or thinking back to 2010) make me remember that things could always be worse. Of course, most think the Padres will be competitive sooner than the M’s, so there’s that, but it’s instructive to see what tearing it all down actually looks like.

1: Haniger, CF
2: Span, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Healy, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, SS
SP: Marco Gonzales, welcome back, buddy.

The Rainiers/M’s have parted ways with Pat Listach, their manager for the past four years. I assume we’ll see plenty more moves in the months to come.

Game 140, Orioles at Mariners: Feel Like Giving In

September 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Andrew Cashner, 7:10pm

Yesterday’s game was, in my humble opinion, the grossest of 2018. It wasn’t all that important anymore; the real work in slashing the M’s playoff odds happened in July/early August, particularly the July 30th-Aug 4th stretch. It wasn’t the most painful – that may have been the A’s walk-off against Diaz that spoiled James Paxton’s unreal game in May. Instead, this game offered us an M’s team fresh off of a clubhouse fight looking utterly lost against an Orioles team fighting to keep ahead of the 2003 Tigers. It featured an Orioles runner scoring from 2nd on a sacrifice fly. It featured the M’s two deadline relief acquisitions digging a hole, filling it with live spiders, and then jumping in. It was the kind of game that makes you forget that for all of the angst and heartbreak this swoon has caused, the team is somehow 77-62.

So much of the fun of this season was watching to see how a not-amazing-on-paper-or-true-talent team was going to overcome a deficit, like a classic old film serial. You know Captain Marvel isn’t exactly real, but the fun is suspending disbelief and watching something amazing, implausible, unbelievable unfold. The point is getting swept up, and the whole thing had a momentum of its own. The players themselves were swept up in it, and it seemed to fuel further cliffhanger escapes. It was great. But that has to keep working, or games like yesterday’s screw up that disbelief. They show the wires holding up the “flying” superhero. The boom mic keeps dropping into frame. And once that starts happening, the effect is ruined. You start judging the thing by its script, or second-guessing casting. I haven’t seen M’s fans this upset about a team’s collapse in..well, ok, it’s only been a couple of years. But the arc of this one is so painful, and so games like yesterday’s which seem to lay bare so many of their failings just seem on the nose, gratuitous.

Can the rest of baseball bail us out here? Can we take joy from the beauty of the game itself? Noooooo, we cannot. Shohei Ohtani will apparently have TJ surgery after all, and it sounds like another MRI revealed further structural damage. Was his abortive 2 1/3 IP start (one with a rapidly dropping velo) the cause? Or was it the damage that may have needed repairing months ago? Either way, we lose out on one of the great stories of the year, and one that fortune had deigned to make relatively harmless. The M’s are waaaayyy ahead of the Angels in the standings. Nothing Trout or Ohtani could’ve done would change that simple, awesome fact. This is the perfect circumstance to just *enjoy* Ohtani’s unique and wonderful talent. Sure, I wish he’d picked the M’s too, but I’d at least like to be able to watch him dice up, I don’t know, the Twins and have it do nothing at all to the M’s playoff odds. And now I don’t even get that, and won’t next year either.

The top post at Lookout Landing is about just how costly it is to attend games at Safeco, a fact that anyone who’s been to a game can understand. The growing importance of TV money was supposed to take the pressure off of gate receipts. Luxury boxes are another way to make tons more off of ticket sales that do not require gouging regular ticket buyers. I completely understand the rationale that if tickets sell at $25, then they’re not going to just sell them at $15. But as John points out, all too often, they’re *not selling*. It’s hard: they probably wouldn’t want a subscription model like they piloted in July (and which is an awesome way to make lifelong fans) in September, not if the M’s were actually in the race. You may not get many takers on such a deal in April, either. But going forward, they may need to look at alternative ways to ensure live games are feasible for families, and I keep thinking the PR value might outweigh any marginal drop in gate revenues (which are already a drop in the bucket of total team resources).

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

Ben Gamel’s added a spark since his return from an unjust demotion. He had a brilliant game defensively last night, but he’s tweaked his approach at the plate. He’s striking out more, but also walking more while hitting fewer grounders. It’s not exactly working as a way to add over-the-fence power, but it’s something to watch, I guess.

Game 139, Orioles at Mariners

September 4, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Alex Cobb, 7:10pm

In a story that’s been all over social media this evening, the M’s kicked off preparations for tonight’s game with an intrasquad tussle. Apparently, Dee Gordon asked all media members to exit the team’s clubhouse, and then the reporters heard a fight break out. Any ambiguity was removed when the pack of squabbling Mariners pushed open the doors that Gordon had so carefully closed. Scott Servais, who’d been on the field when it happened, is still piecing together the story of who said what to whom, but downplayed its significance to reporters, noting there was probably one fight of that magnitude per season in his 11 year MLB career.

I’m not sure how many we should expect, or if today’s skirmish was the product of the M’s slow, steady slide out of the wild card lead, or just an inevitability given living in close quarters with aggressive people for 5-6 months. It may not matter at all, and many of the reporters noted that they’ve seen or heard about fights from time to time on other M’s teams. It is, however, a bit of a blow to the idea that the team’s remade culture was part of the mix that’s allowed them to outplay their run differential all year. At a time when so many M’s fans have turned on Servais, I’ve thought his job allowing the players to have fun and instill a positive, open culture was worth celebrating. I’m not sold on his in-game management, but I’m also convinced that in-game management isn’t half as important as many baseball fans think. The job is about setting a culture and expectations and letting the players figure out how to meet them. The M’s have been remarkably good at bringing in new players, and many minor league FAs and other signings hinted that it was a reason they chose to sign here. I’d hate to think that culture wasn’t as fully formed, or was just another product of winning. It really shouldn’t be, not after last year, but in any event, we’ll see how Servais and the M’s handle this in the game’s final month.

The M’s face Alex Cobb, the ex-Ray who’ve I’ve long thought would be a great pick-up. He repaid my faith by turning in a microcosm of the O’s season with his season line, with an ERA over 5 and a very elevated HR rate. He’s gotten better after a disastrous start, but still: this O’s season is not something you want to be compared with, even if the comparison isn’t perfectly apt. Famous for his splitter/change that he taught to many ex-teammates, most notably Jake Odorizzi (another ex-Ray FA bust), he’s battled injuries throughout his pro career. They haven’t sapped his velo, which is now at 92-93, above his career average. His splitter is still a real weapon, too, but he’s been let down by his curveball, on which batters are slugging over .700 this year. Unlike so many on the Rays, Cobb’s primary FB is a sinker, and that – along with the split – help him post consistently high ground ball rates.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 3B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Span, LF
6: Healy, 1B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Freitas, C
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Wade LeBlanc

Game 138, Orioles at Mariners

September 3, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Josh Rogers, 6:10pm

Happy Labor Day.

The M’s return home after the most dispiriting road series split I can recall, a split that left them 5.5 games behind the A’s, and with their playoff odds quickly vanishing. On the plus side, the M’s get to host the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in baseball in this year, while the A’s play the Yankees. But because we don’t get to have nice things, the A’s have already beaten the Yankees and the M’s can’t see this as a gimme with their starter coming off a disastrous start on the road trip.

The O’s famously declined to move impending FAs like Manny Machado and Zach Britton in the offseason, both to drive up prices and also to see if they could perhaps make one last run with their old core. With Chris Davis having a historically bad season, and with their entire rotation in shambles, they’ve instead slumped to a 40-97 record, and could hit 100 losses this series with another month of the season to go. Like the Royals, the Orioles have had a rebuild thrust upon them thanks to the syzygy of contracts, performance, and injuries. They’ve since torn things down, and gotten some decent prospects for the likes of Machado and Britton (today’s starter was part of the haul for Britton), but their system wasn’t prepared for a White Sox-style rebuild. They’re just bad and not terribly young, though they’re younger now than when the season started. There’s no obvious bad guy here, no self-inflicted tear down like the White Sox, and no stars riding off into the sunset with the nimbate glow of a recent championship like the Royals. They weren’t quite good enough before, and now they’re not really good enough to compete in the majors. It’s a rough state of affairs, and one I really, really hope the M’s can avoid in 3-5 years time.

Josh Rogers is a lefty command/control type, with a sinking four-seam fastball that tops out at 90-91, a so-so change and then a really intriguing slider. Theoretically, the slider shouldn’t really play, because batters would just wait for his fastball and destroy that, but it seems to be effective. With everything coming in so slow, it may not get a lot of whiffs, but mediocre contact would be a huge step up for the Orioles, who are now desperate for even so-so pitching. As a fly-ball-oriented pitcher, he’s going to need to run a low BABIP, and that’s going to be harder to accomplish with a defense that struggles as much as Baltimore’s. Their position players have been barely above replacement level as a whole thanks to a sub-.300 OBP and one of the worst wRC+ figures in the league combined with clearly worst-in-the-game defense, sprinkled with slightly below average baserunning. It’s a putrid combination, but they pull it off and in so doing somehow take more of the blame for the O’s predicament than their pitching staff, the guys with the worst ERA in the game.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Healy, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Maybin, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, CF
SP: Erasmooo?

Game 137, Mariners at Athletics

September 2, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

King Felix vs. Edwin Jackson, 1:05pm

Happy Felix Day.

Today, El Cartelua marches up against Edwin Jackson, a phenom before Felix. It’s getting harder to find pitchers whose career started back in the pre-pitch FX era, but we know Jackson was a lightning-armed youngster with a mid/upper 90s fastball. By 2007, when we first get movement data, Jackson had extreme vertical rise to go with plus velo. He threw a slider, but messed around with a curve and change, too.

His career feels disappointing given his promise, but sticking around as long as he has proved he’s been a valuable big leaguer for 15+ years. His success this year is definitely BABIP-related, and FIP ain’t buying what Jackson’s selling, but he really seems to be developing into a decent junkballer.

He’s still throwing 93 with his four-seamer, but it no longer has above-average vertical movement. His primary FB is now a hard cutter at 91, and he still has that slider to throw against righties. He throws a sinker, too, so he’s got three FBs with three different movement profiles, which may help him avoid barrels. This may be why, as I talked about a week or two ago, he’s handled lefties better than ever. He’s not missing bats, but it’s working…so far.

The M’s bats have come alive this series, so we’ll see if the ‘weak contact’ approach works against a locked in line-up, but mostly, I’m again struck by how another team turned a guy most thought was an ex-big leaguer (Jackson started the year in the Nats minor league system) into a productive pitcher. Hopefully, the M’s have helped Felix find some sort of groove.

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