Game 24, Mariners at Angels

marc w · April 20, 2019 at 3:24 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Yusei Kikuchi vs. Trevor Cahill, 6:07pm

I mentioned yesterday that Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc were three of the starting pitchers with the lowest average and peak velocity in this new strikeout-fueled game. Even after last night’s gem, Marco’s still got the absolute highest contact rate of any qualified starter – it’s almost impossible to come up empty on a swing in the zone against Marco. That doesn’t mean that something good for the batter is going to happen, but the best outcome for the pitcher – the one that’s more and more common every year – is not really in Marco’s game right now. That hasn’t mattered, of course, and I hope it stays irrelevant. But what about Kikuchi? Yusei Kikuchi throws legitimately hard, and is clearly nowhere near the bottom of the league table in terms of velo, especially peak velo.

Well, *still* he’s near the bottom in terms of contact rate. I’m not sure why. He gets tons of swings-and-misses with his slider, but the fastball’s been quite hittable, with balls in play resulting in over half of the swings. It doesn’t have remarkable movement or anything, but solid velo from a lefty who also has a very good slider and good curve… I don’t get why this is happening. Like Gonzales, he isn’t getting hit *hard*, so it’s not the worst thing in the world, but there’s a reason teams look for strikeouts more than HR/FB results or BABIP: they’re more consistent.

Kikuchi’s expected batting average/wOBA etc. in statcast show he’s been slightly lucky thus far, but nothing remarkable. That’s a good sign, as a very low walk rate and fairly low hit rate against him that isn’t the result of a great defense on hard-hit balls should be a skillset that lasts decently well. It’s not exactly a #2 starter ceiling, and I was hoping that’s what we’d get, but if he took a very different path to Marco Gonzales’ results, well, that’ll do, Kikuchi. That’ll do.

Trevor Cahill saw that Marco Gonzales got the most out of his so-so raw stuff by being unpredictable on the mound and is now replicating that strategy. Marco threw four different pitches last season around 23% of the time (each), making it harder to go up and look for, say, a sinker. OK, so Trevor Cahill this year is doing him one better, and throwing *5* different pitches at least 15% of the time, and all between 15-26%. He’s got a four-seam and sinking fastball with fairly big movement differences between them, a change-up, a slider, and a curve. His fastballs are generally around 92, with the change at 83, the slider almost cutter-ish at 86, and the curve at 80. And like Marco, this is confusing enough that batters are swinging at less than 40% of his sinkers, but over 50% on his sliders and curves. Obviously, you want batters to swing and miss, and failing that, to make contact on a pitch out of the zone. A less-good-but-still-good result is to get batters to make contact on breaking stuff and leave your fastballs alone. Cahill’s got a solid K:BB% thanks to a very low walk rate, a good approach…but hey, juiced baseball. He’s given up 5 dingers, and that’s enough for his FIP to be crap, but he’s better than that shows, and probably a touch better than his also-ran ERA. Thanks to the raw stuff, he’s not MUCH better, but there’s still a decent starter in there.

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

The M’s picked up several key additions this off-season, but one I wanted to highlight today is Omar Narvaez. He was coming off a career year at the plate, but his fielding metrics were atrocious. They still pretty much are, but here’s the thing: I don’t really care. His production at the plate has been off-the-charts good at a position the M’s haven’t really had great production from since Kenji Johjima. Thanks to those fielding metrics, he was worth about 1 win over replacement per Fangraphs and was dead-on replacement per BP’s metric, which reflects his poor pitch framing. He’s at 0.8 wins above replacement now by FG, and 0.6 by BP, and it’s still April. I give Dipoto grief about his many trades that’ve blown up on the org, but this one is clearly, clearly in the win column.


3 Responses to “Game 24, Mariners at Angels”

  1. Longgeorge1 on April 20th, 2019 4:11 pm

    Still a part of the game that irks me arises again. Strikes that aren’t and balls that aren’t.
    Anyway I like Narvaez as he can hit, throws OK and looks athletic enough to develop as an adequate backstop. He is certainly producing more runs than he is costing.
    The M’s are certainly exceeding any of my expectations at present. Infield defense and a thin and inconsistent pen are the major flaws. With speed and power the offense is a poor man’s Red Sox though so far a better version.
    I still don’t see this team finishing with 80 or more wins. I actually hope we are far enough back in July that maybe a few veterans that we are “stuck” with could be used to add to the 2020/21 M’s.

  2. jellison on April 20th, 2019 4:57 pm

    Is it too early (only 15% of 2019 has been played) for a little retrospective analysis?

    (i) Changes up the middle:

    Player BA OPS

    Cano .218 .646

    Zunino .196 .560

    Is this the true performance level of a 36 year old Robinson Cano absent PEDs, or is he just a bit slow out of the gate this year? His April/March splits don’t display a history of slow starts. In return for freeing up his spot at 2B, the M’s have Smith (CF) and Gordon (2B) and Narvaez (C) up the middle.

    As you noted, Narvaez has been a welcome improvement.

    Player BA OPS

    Narvaez .303 .915

    (ii) Changes at DH/1B:

    Player BA OPS

    C. Santana .389 1.052

    N. Cruz .278 .879

    Encarnacion .260 .861

    Vogelbach .354 1.367

    It looks like no team is necessarily destined to lose this game of musical chairs. Encarnacion will still need to be traded at some point this year.

    (iii) Changes at SS:

    Player BA OPS

    Segura .328 .861

    Beckham .299 .964

    I guess this is why they play the games. Shortstops are like a box of chocolates…

    (iv) Other changes in the outfield:

    Player BA OPS

    Gamel .280 .757

    D. Santana .315 .882

    Bruce .194 .883

    The Gamel-Santana and Narvaez-Colome trades look like they are going to be big wins for Dipoto.

    (v) Changes at starting pitcher:

    Paxton versus Kikuchi is a bit of a push right now (with Paxton trending in a positive direction). I think this contest will come down to a race to see who stays healthy the longest.

    Overall, not too shabby. Of course, almost all of the above was supposed to be beside the main point of the off-season moves – the acquisition of upper minor league talent expected to be called up this year.

  3. MKT on April 22nd, 2019 1:47 pm

    I like the shout-out to Johjima, who took a fair amount of grief from fans, even here on USSM, for not being as good as Dan Wilson or something. But I figured that replacing Johjima would not be an easy task and predicted that we’d be singing “Where have you gone Kenji Johjima, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you”.

    I remember attending a game where the Ms visited the Angels and my friend asked me why the Mariner’s were starting a catcher who was only batting .190 and my answer was “because their other catcher’s batting .180!”, IIRC this was Rob Johnson-Adam Moore years.

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