Game 151, Mariners at Astros

marc w · September 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Josh James, 5:10pm

I mentioned Josh James in yesterday’s game post, but feel like I may have sold him short. If you’ll recall, James was a 34th round draft pick with a solid but unspectacular career in the low minors until this year. Then, at 25, he suddenly laid waste to the high minors. Is this a funky delivery guy, a Tony Cingrani-type thing where minors hitters can’t see the ball and so a guy without much stuff racks up insane K rates in the minors? Uh, no, apparently not. Scouting reports and MiLB broadcasts noted that James sat at 95, and hit 97 with some regularity. He also brought a very good slider to the table, and thus overwhelmed minor league hitters by pitching like a closer for 5 innings at a time.

He made his MLB debut on the first of this month, and I was kind of curious to see what velocity we’d see once we had proper measurement and not stadium radar guns. It didn’t take long: the third pitch of his big league career registered at 101.6 MPH. While he wasn’t able to sustain *that*, he ended up throwing 91 pitches on the night, so this wasn’t some opener strategy where he knew he was only going to pitch 1-2 innings. James doesn’t sit 95; he sits 97-98. That’s just great, really good stuff. That’s…:cries softly:

He hasn’t been perfect, and his ERA has lagged his strikeout-inflated FIP the whole year (MLB and MiLB), but he’s struck out 17 and walked 4 in 10 2/3 IP. This’ll be his second start, and he’s now essentially proven he can be an asset at the big league level, perhaps giving them yet another reliever capable of triple digits as they face great offenses in the playoffs. Framber Valdez is a great story, as it seems just about impossible to get an MLB-quality starting pitcher from a 21-year old DR signing. But James is, if anything, even MORE of an outlier. Valdez came into the year on the prospect radar, albeit just barely. James was *nowhere*. Popup prospects are a thing, and every once in a while, a guy everyone had written off has a huge year, but often that’s due to injury, or it happens a year or two after the draft. It’d be one thing if he rode some crazy change-up or hidden ball delivery to great statistical success, but dude’s been throwing *at least* 95 all year. If you do that as a starter, prospect people will rank you, period. If you do that without walking people, you get those people very, very excited. Every single time. How did everyone miss this guy?

His fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement; it reminds me a little bit of Thyago Vieira’s, but there’s no huge sink or rise. The key to his success, it’d seem, is his control not so much of his fastball (though that’s good), but of his slider. Already in the majors, he’s throwing his slider for strikes at an impressive rate. If anything, I think he’s doing it TOO often. But the Astros turned a nobody into a guy touching 10-freaking-2 who can drop a slider into the zone in any count. God I love the AL West. Perhaps as overkill, he’s got a change-up as well, albeit one he’s not throwing all that often. Looking at the pitch fx/statcast movement numbers, I was instantly reminded of another brilliant cambio, and another time the Astros pulled some absolute nobody from their bag of nobodies and watched him slice through the major leagues: Chris Devenski’s. Devenski had a bit more rise on his fastball, but his change produced sharp sink, about 8″ less than his FB. James has the same 8″ gap, coupled with the same few inches of additional armside run on his change, which comes in around 89-90. It’s not getting the swings/whiffs I’d expect yet, though that may be due to the fact that he’s not hiding it all that well yet (his release point seems pretty different with it). All of that’s to say that James still has room to grow. Faaaaantastic.

The Astros pitchers have dominated this year, and they’re the primary reason why the Astros are headed back to the playoffs and may win 100 games again. Here’s a table of teams ranked according to how many total runs they’ve allowed. There’s no real attempt at controlling for factors like park, opponent, or even games played. This is the highest of high-level metrics. 11 teams have already given up at least 700 runs, while the Orioles are already well over 800. The Astros have given up the fewest, at an astounding 498, by a mile. The gap between the Astros and second-place Dodgers (who play in the NL, remember) is more than the gap between the second-place Dodgers and the 16th-place Pirates. They rank #1 in strikeouts, #1 in hits-allowed, #1 in K-BB%, #1 in ERA (by a mile) and #1 in FIP (by a mile). They’re lapping the field. Teams can content themselves with the knowledge that the gang probably can’t stay together after 2018, though. Both Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel are free agents after the World Series, and while the Astros could bring them back, they may want to focus on the line-up and finding a 1B. It’s possible that the staff responsible for these breathtaking numbers will look quite different next year. Regression is coming, as it always does. But you look at Josh James and think: the Astros don’t really need to care. Charlie Morton has essentially been step for step with James Paxton all year; Pax has the better FIP, Morton the better ERA, HR-rate and innings pitched. Charlie Morton could walk away from the Astros at the end of the year, and it barely puts a dent into their 2019 projections. How does this happen?

The M’s better figure that out. They’ve played the Astros very tough this year, and they’ve figured out a way to keep the Astros close, something no one could do in 2017. That’s got a ton of value. But the M’s can’t really compete over the course of a long season with a team like this, and if the Astros keep piling on unheralded pitchers who throw 100, it’s going to be like this for a while. Signing Charlie Morton might help, especially if he can help them reverse engineer some things, but more importantly, they’re going to need to jump start player development. Logan Gilbert’s now crucial to the M’s hopes of keeping the Astros within visual range.

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


2 Responses to “Game 151, Mariners at Astros”

  1. Stevemotivateir on September 18th, 2018 9:40 pm

    Seeing the offense get shut down was no surprise tonight, but watching Span and Gordon in the outfield was salt in the wound.

    Does anybody really think that Span is worth 12 million for 2019? Good on-base guy, but he doesn’t offer much more.

    Does anybody still think Gordon can be a good center fielder? I say that without snark. I’m just not sold myself.

  2. LongDistance on September 19th, 2018 11:07 am

    And … that’s it.

    Loved reading the Josh James saga. Makes me feel like Tiny Tim, in that old B&W version of A Christmas Carol, staring at all the good stuff in the rich kid toy shop.

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