Game 54, Astros at Mariners

marc w · September 21, 2020 at 4:23 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Lance McCullers, Jr. 6:10pm

The final homestand can now actually take place at home, as the M’s welcome the Astros. A few days ago, the M’s and Astros were dueling for the automatic playoff birth that now comes from finishing 2nd in the division, but an ill-timed couple of losses has (mostly) closed the door on that form of excitement. In lieu of the increasingly-desperate paths to the 8th playoff spot, we can close this year the way we began it: by focusing on the M’s rebuild, and what we can learn from watching the youngsters close out this bizarre campaign.

One of the stories of July was the freakishly low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) early in 2020. Despite all the shifting that teams do, despite increases in velocity (and Ks), and despite changes in the actual baseball, BABIP was remarkably sticky, wavering around in the .293-.297 range for many, many years. Early this year, it was hanging around .270, an absurd decline, particularly given that BABIP generally peaks in July/August with warmer weather (and it’s lowest in April). Well, so much for that. It’s now .291 – low, but not insanely so. But what we see thanks to the abbreviated schedule is that the range for players and teams is still really wide; it averages out, but there are still teams that are stuck on one side or the other of that distribution. There’s simply more variance, given that they’re only playing a couple of months of games.

So, there are usually a team or two with a BABIP just under .280. Sometimes, there are none. This year, as of today, there are 10. They range from the incredible (the Dodgers) to the abysmal (the Rangers), and the poor Reds are hanging in a playoff run despite a BABIP (as a team!) of .244. So what does this all have to do with the Mariners, you ask? Well, the M’s themselves are at .278, and it’s making it harder to really evaluate certain players. Kyle Seager’s season is really, really strange, capped off by a low BABIP and a slump-driven collapse in his batting average. But the issue is perhaps more important with JP Crawford, whose poor BABIP has led to an average of .223, with a slugging percentage of just .313. It’d be easy to write off the .266 BABIP as bad luck, but this is now year 2 of the same thing. He hit .226 last year, in part due to a .275 BABIP. Crawford is not a liability on this club, but despite the walk rate, his projections look totally different if he’s simply not going to hit more singles (or extra-base hits! We like those too!).

Kyle Lewis and Dylan Moore are inverses of Crawford: slugging, middle-of-the-order hitters with sky-high BABIPs producing nice, well-rounded batting lines. In Moore’s case, that BABIP is still propped up by a torrid start to the season. He’s been in a minor slump in the second half, with a much lower BABIP holding him down. To be clear: he hasn’t exactly struggled, even in the second half. The key is to figure out what his overall ceiling may be, as that might drive how he’s used in 2021. Even a low-ish average, high-K approach can work for Moore, as long as he’s able to hit for this much power.

Lewis’ season looks a bit like Moore’s, only cranked up to 11. Lewis ran a BABIP of .444 in the first half, and that’s plummeted down to .205 in the second half. Lewis really is in a prolonged slump, with his OPS in the second half now under .600. But that’s small sample luck, even if his first half really was too good to be true. But as a guy with some swing and miss in his game, I’d love to see Lewis finish the year strong. Lewis has done more than enough to show that he’s a guy who can be part of a good team going forward, and he’s the first of their young prospects to really break out. But I’d love to see him look a bit more complete at the plate. He’s more than capable, I think, but again, it’s harder to get a read on these guys with BABIP yanking their production all over the place.

On a different subject entirely, here’s one of the many, many bets you could’ve won with me before the season began: Marco Gonzales currently has a higher strikeout rate than his opponent tonight, Lance McCullers. It’s not just that Gonzales’ walk rate is under *3%* or that he’s still oddly hard to hit. He’s missing bats like he’s…uh, like he was the Lance McCullers of a few years ago. But with legitimate control/command! Kyle Lewis gets the credit – deservedly – for being a bright spark on this team, but I continue to be flabbergasted by Gonzales’ remarkable improvement this season.

For a while, Gonzales was someone whom FIP probably overrated. His walks were low, and the HRs were normal-ish, and FIP couldn’t tell when Gonzales had trouble stranding runners. With a low K rate, that was always a risk with him, and so his actual runs-allowed came in higher than his FIP. This was notable in 2018, and hidden in 2019 thanks to the flurry of unearned runs he allowed. But in 2020, I think FIP, if anything, is underselling the transformation thanks to a small uptick in his HR rate.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Moore, 2B
3: Lewis, CF
4: Seager, 3B
5: France, DH
6: Marmolejos, LF
7: Torrens, C
8: White, 1B
9: Lopes, RF
SP: Gonzales


One Response to “Game 54, Astros at Mariners”

  1. Stevemotivateir on September 21st, 2020 5:33 pm

    Lewis and Moore are the all hype, and understandably so, but Torrens has been interesting in the small sample as well. Like Moore (and White), he’s been blistering the ball. Exit velocity is 94.4; hard hit is 61.4%.

    Neither are likely sustainable, but it’s nice that the K’s are low and the BABIP isn’t ridiculously bloated.

    Getting back to Moore, I really wonder if he’s better off in a super-utility role, or stationed at 2B. Kind of like the idea of keeping him mobile.

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