Game 27, Mariners at Padres

marc w · April 24, 2019 at 12:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Chris Paddack, 12:40pm

Happy Felix Day. It’s an early game today as the M’s try to resume their HR barrage after getting skunked by the Padres last night. Today they face heralded rookie Chris Paddack, who’s been devilishly hard to hit this year, though he’s yet to record his first big league win. Of note, the M’s will be the first team to face him for a second time. No, he hasn’t faced them in a real MLB contest yet, but he just pitched against much the same line-up at T-Mobile park in late March after the M’s returned back from Japan. It doesn’t “count” but it totally counts. How will the M’s adjust? Will they stalk fastballs in particular counts?

I mentioned Paddack in yesterday’s post, so I want to put the focus back on Felix. Everyone knew Felix needed to make some adjustments, and Felix is an interesting lens through which to see the impact of the M’s new pitching coach and the assorted development folks who are new to the org. Felix has had numerous issues over the past few years, but a big one is that as his velocity dropped (or, as his stuff worsened), batters could wait for pitches over the plate. If Felix didn’t throw them, they’d take a base on balls, and thus Felix’s walk rate, which was 5% in 2014, climbed to 7%, then nearly 10% in 2016, and has bounced around 7-9% since. If he DID pipe get-me-over fastballs in the zone, they’d destroy them. He struck out 92 batters on FBs in 2014, and gave up 6 HRs in the last year of the little batting ice age. In 2015, that ratio was down to 62:15, before dropping to 32:11 in 2016 and then 20:11 in fewer innings in 2017. It got slightly better last year (31:14), but this is still a serious problem, and obviously the ball’s juicier this year.

When Felix first came up, he threw a ton of strikes, but still had a high walk rate. He was hittable in and around the zone, despite premium velocity. As Felix learned to pitch more effectively, he was able to drop his walk rate AND the rate of pitches he threw in the zone. This is the best of both worlds, obviously, and something I’ve talked a lot about in regards to Hisashi Iwakuma. When Felix’s change-up was perhaps the best pitch in the game, Felix could throw it for a ball knowing that batters would swing anyway. So, in 2008, Felix could throw 53.3% of his pitches in the zone and produce a walk rate of 9.3%. But by his magisterial 2014 season, he threw just 44.6% of his pitches for strikes, but walked just 5% of hitters. And then, for several years, the plan stopped working.

In 2016, as I mentioned, his walk rate was nearly 10% and he posted his lowest-ever zone%, at just over 40%. Worse, as I showed above, it didn’t really prevent HRs. His two strengths had flipped to weaknesses, and thus began Felix’s long trek through the pitching wilderness, a journey in which he seemed to get very little actionable information from his pitching coach. He’s brought his zone% up in recent years, but the walks are still high, and the dingers…man, the dingers. So what’s the strategy now? Avoid the zone and nibble around a bunch and keep the game close? Or just throw strikes and let the dingers fall where they may?

It’s still early, but thus far, Felix seems to have thrown his lot in with Plan B, and is just going to throw strikes. His zone% is now 55.7%, the highest it’s ever been in the pitch fx era (since 2007). His walk rate is absurdly low, at 2 walks in 18 1/3 IP, though that’s misleading, as he’s plunked 3 as well. Thus far, it hasn’t resulted in a HR barrage, but it’s made him hittable. As I’ve been talking about all year, that seems to be a team-wide philosophy. The M’s have given up the 2nd-most base hits this year to the abysmal Orioles, and while they’ve faced the most batters, they’ve given up 24 more hits than the A’s in 25 more PAs, and 56 more hits than the Padres. But like many of his teammates, Felix is sort of muddling through. True, his BABIP has been awful, so the ERA doesn’t exactly show that this new philosophy is working, but if he can gut through some starts without too many HRs and without walking people, he’ll be doing fine as a 5th starter. In this rotation, he’s just doing what everyone else is doing. Among starters with at least 20 IP, Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, and Mike Leake rank 5th, 6th, and 7th, respectively, in zone% out of 115 pitchers. Felix is just under 20 IP (so he’ll get there today), but would rank fractionally ahead of Gonzales as the team’s preeminent strike thrower.

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

The M’s made a trade today, picking up RHP Mike Wright from Baltimore in exchange for 2018 draft pick, shortstop Ryne Ogren. Ogren was with West Virginia, where he homered last night in a big win. Wright had been DFA’d by Baltimore this week, as the fly-baller had never quite adjusted to life in the live-ball era. His career ERA is nearly 6, and his FIP is solidly over 5. There’s no way around the fact that he’s been bad, and bad enough that the worst pitching club in the game DFA’d him. But it’s equally true that Baltimore’s been stunningly bad at developing or helping pitchers recently, and thus if you want to bargain shop, they’re not a bad little thrift store. Jake Arrieta’s the big example, but Wade Miley may be another. Not saying Wright’s going to do that; his stuff isn’t great. He throws a straight FB at 93 or so, has a decent-looking change, but his out pitch is a hard slider at 89. He used to have a curve, too. We’ll see what the M’s want to do with him.


2 Responses to “Game 27, Mariners at Padres”

  1. heyoka on April 25th, 2019 11:06 am

    That was a vintage 2010 M’s style game.

  2. MKT on April 25th, 2019 8:05 pm

    Yep. There’s perhaps more good news in that than bad news though. We still don’t really know what to make of the Ms offense this season, maybe they’ll be as bad as some people thought but the early-season results suggested maybe they’re not so bad.

    But surely most of us simply cross our fingers whenever Felix starts these days. But these early season results suggest that maybe he’s finally figured out the late-career adjustments he’s needed to make?

    Too early of course to conclude anything but Felix’s performance is a silver lining in this loss.

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