Game 17: Verlander vs. Felix and Astros vs. Mariners

marc w · April 13, 2019 at 5:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Justin Verlander, 6:10pm

Tonight’s starters debuted exactly a month apart back in 2005, and both became the most durable starters in the league not long after. Both struggled a bit in their first few seasons, as their raw staff was far ahead of their execution and strategy, and frankly, with the weight of the expectation placed on them. They soon figured it out, and after Felix won the Cy Young in 2010, it was Verlander who followed in 2011 (and doubled up by winning MVP). But in 2014, in the midst of a league-wide depression in batting, Verlander started to falter. His fastball velocity, which had sat at 95-96 in 2011, was down to 93, and his strikeouts dropped markedly. His FIP wasn’t terrible, but thanks to a poor strand rate (which was influenced by his lack of strikeouts), he had an awful ERA (and DRA actually saw him as below-replacement-level) and it looked like years of reliably tossing 230+ innings were catching up to him.

At the same time, Felix was in the midst of his peak. Felix threw 236 brilliant innings in 2014, with an ERA of 2.14, and a FIP not far behind at 2.56; DRA splits the difference. In all of these metrics, 2014 ranks as his career low. Felix looked like he was just getting warmed up in 2014, but…well, you know. 2015 was something of an transitional year for both. Verlander missed a fair number of starts for the first time, ending the year with just 133 1/3 IP, and posting a FIP in the mid-3s. His K rate trended up, as did his velocity, but both were pretty far from his peak of a few years earlier. Meanwhile, Felix just crept over 200 IP, but each peripheral stat trended the wrong way, and he ended up with a FIP in the mid-3s, too.

And then their paths really forked. There wasn’t as much movement in Verlander’s FIP thanks to the league-wide HR binge in 2016, but with Felix’s control trending south right when his legendary HR-suppression was starting to fade, Felix was in trouble. Verlander’s K rate spiked to 28%, a new career high. Felix’s fell below 20% for the first time. He was hanging on by a thread, while Verlander was starting to look more like the Verlander of 2011.

After a trade to the :shudders: Astros, Verlander changed his pitch mix a bit and gained all of the velocity he’d lost since 2011. He’s back at 96, and after winning a World Series in 2017, he’s coming off a 2018 that saw him obliterate his prior best for K rate, at an obscene 34.8% Felix is coming off of a year in which he was banished to the bullpen and pretty publicly challenged/shamed by his coaches. He’s now the M’s 5th starter, and his position on the team has never been more perilous. He’s three years younger than Verlander, but age seemed to slow him, while Verlander shrugged off its clutches.

The point here isn’t to compare Felix unfavorably, though God knows I’m sure plenty of M’s fans and even M’s personnel have done so. Rather, it’s to say that Verlander crafted a pathway to undo, to reverse, age-related decline. These things are possible, if unlikely (though less unlikely every year). What they take is hard work, of course, but a very specific plan and specific areas to work on. Not “strength” or “conditioning” or “using your lower half” or whatever, but specific, actionable, targeted, measurable things that can lead to velo gain and improvement. For all of the grief I’ve given the M’s for how they handled the Felix situation, I’ll give them credit for turning over a fair bit of their player development folks. The key is to ensure that the PD folks and analytics staff communicate and help each other. It’s hard, and if you’ve got a pitcher who rebuffs both groups, then, welp, that’s not going to work. But I would love to know what the Astros would do with Felix if he ended up over there.

1: Smith, CF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Santana, LF
4: Bruce, 1B
5: Vogelbach, DH
6: Beckham, SS
7: Narvaez, C
8: Healy, 3B
9: Gordon, 2B

Justus Sheffield continues to battle some wonky fastball command, but he made it through 4 IP yesterday on 3 walks and 2 Ks, giving up 2 runs. But the R’s bats destroyed the Albuquerque Isotopes 10-3, as Shed Long went 3-4 with a triple and JP Crawford doubled. Nabil Crismatt starts tonight’s game.

Arkansas lost to Tulsa 8-2, as the Drillers scored 6 in the 7th off of Darin Gillies. Jake Fraley was 1-2 with 2 BBs, and used those times on base to run rampant, stealing 3 bases before getting caught once. Today’s game was rained out.

Modesto lost to Stockton 6-2. Nick Wells gave up 5 in 4 1/3, and the Nuts didn’t score until the 6th. Ray Kerr starts today’s contest.

Augusta beat West Virginia 9-3, but they cheated: they knocked out Julio Rodriguez on a HBP to his hand in the first. He’ll be out a few days, but apparently X-rays didn’t spot any fractures. Whew. The Power got a modicum of revenge by winning today’s game 2-1, as Steven Moyers went 7 scoreless, striking out 9. Augusta pitchers again plunked an M’s prospect, as Jarred Kelenic got hit (he was fine, and stayed in the game). I’m still navigating the Sally League, and don’t know it very well, but I DO have a least-favorite team now.


4 Responses to “Game 17: Verlander vs. Felix and Astros vs. Mariners”

  1. mrakbaseball on April 13th, 2019 8:51 pm

    Well, the Astros gave the Mariners a dose of reality this weekend. It was fun while it lasted.

  2. Stevemotivateir on April 13th, 2019 9:21 pm

    Their ace vs. our number 5.

    This wasn’t a game I anticipated winning. But this wasn’t a terrible outcome for Felix I don’t think the loss says anything more about the team than what we already know.

  3. currcoug on April 14th, 2019 8:20 am

    Great article, but Verlander had regained his velocity and command, well before the trade to the Astros. Indeed, he was 4-1 in August, limiting hitters to a paltry .174 AVG (50 SO’s, 7 BB’s). In his last 11 starts before the trade, Verlander posted a 2.31 ERA, with a 0.96 WHIP. If you don’t believe the stats, you can read Devan Fink’s August 12, 2017 article in regards to Verlander’s velocity returning (100 mph, Tigers/Orioles).

    Those were the reasons some of us advocated acquiring Verlander, before the Astros did. Yes, I know the prevailing wisdom was Seattle didn’t have the prospects.

  4. heyoka on April 14th, 2019 4:48 pm

    Look, the Mariners still have 13 wins this season. No one can take that away…..

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