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

marc w · September 17, 2018 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


One Response to “Game 150, Mariners at Astros: They’re Coming Out of the Woodwork”

  1. mrakbaseball on September 17th, 2018 11:07 pm

    I guess the odds that Volgebach is the M’s 2019 DH are demonstrably higher than Cruz is.

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