Game 1, Giants at Mariners

marc w · April 1, 2021 at 5:50 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:10pm

Well, here we go. The M’s season kicks off tonight in the first-ever interleague opening day for Seattle. Marco Gonzales makes his third consecutive opening day start, and he’s coming off a brilliant, if short, season. After a 2019 that showed him survive serious regression in his walk and K rates – driven in part by lower velocity – he improved every facet of his game in 2020. His walks dropped below 1 per 9IP, an unfathomably low mark, and he did it while increasing his strikeouts. No, that missing velocity didn’t come back, but with a variety of pitches thrown with command (and seam-shifted wake adding to batters’ confusion), he didn’t miss it.

The Giants come to Seattle in a similar place, organizationally. The glory of their three World Series championships has faded a bit, and they’re now in something of a rebuild. Catcher of the future, Joey Bart, had a rough introduction to MLB, but the club hit the ball well thanks to a bounce-back year from Brandon Belt, and a breakout campaign from OF Mike Yastrzemski, and a good year from new 2B Wilmer Flores. They had some holes in the line-up, but overall, the strength of the team was their position-player group.

The pitching staff wasn’t terrible, but it had very little depth. Unfortunately for the Giants, there’s not a lot of depth in their system at the moment. Their system leans towards position players, and the guy nearest to the majors is Hunter Bishop, brother of the M’s Braden Bishop. Hunter doesn’t pitch, though, so the Giants have to hope their jury-rigged rotation holds together. To their credit, the Giants have done pretty well scrounging the waiver wire for pitchers.

Their rotation’s mainstay is 35-year old Johnny Cueto, but they had almost no one behind him to fill out the other four spots. They picked up tonight’s starter, Kevin Gausman, off of waivers before last year, and watched him become the staff ace. They also got Jeff Samardzija, whom they cut in September, and Drew Smyly, who left after the year. So, back to free agency they went, but the bargain bin of free agency. They weren’t in on Trevor Bauer, but picked up Aaron Sanchez and hope he’ll be healthy enough to pitch, and got Anthony DeSclafini from the Reds org.

Gausman was the big prize, and his growth was a feather in the cap of the big league coaches. Gausman’s been an elite talent since college; the Orioles picked him 4th overall out of LSU in 2012 thanks to a mid-90s fastball, a slider, and a real outpitch: a hard sinking splitter. He’s got velocity, movement, and a bat-missing weapon that works against righties and lefties alike. How’s this guy in the *bargain bin?*

We can see the velocity numbers, his arsenal, and, these days, things like spin rate. But ultimately, only batters determine how good a pitcher’s stuff is. That…that was unfortunate for Mr. Gausman. Despite touching the high-90s at times, batters have simply never been troubled by Gausman’s fastball. After throwing over 10,000 of them in his big league career, batters are hitting .288 and slugging .461 off of the heater. But it gets worse: off of Gausman’s slider, his one breaking ball after ditching an ineffective curve, batters are hitting .321 and slugging *.564*. Off of a breaking ball. For his (long-ish) career. That’s stunningly bad.

It’s a testament to that velo and of course that transcendent splitter (career .191 average, and SLG% just over .300) that he’s still getting offers. Despite sporadic success, he’s fallen hard in 2017 and then again in 2019, despite finally missing the bats that pitching coaches all thought he should. Home runs have been a fairly consistent problem, but the real issue has been his BABIP. Yes, it’s often seen as random, but in Gausman’s career, it’s at .313, and has dipped below .300 only twice (including last year). Whatever the opposite of deception? That’s Gausman’s fastball to batters.

It’s funny, because I think of Marco Gonzales as the anti-Gausman: he has poor velocity, no real “wow” outpitch (when he was drafted, everyone thought that pitch would be his change, but it’s never really happened), and elite command. All that said, Gonzales struggled for years with…home runs and BABIP. Even after solving those issues in recent years, Gonzales’ career BABIP is still pretty high. But the pitcher perhaps most akin to Gausman in terms of BABIP woes-despite-high-octane-stuff is James Paxton, who has the exact same BABIP since 2016 as Gausman: .317.

The Line-up:

1: Haniger, RF
2: France, DH
3: Seager, 3B
4: White, 1B
5: Trammell, CF
6: Moore, 2B
7: Fraley, LF
8: Murphy, C
9: Crawford, SS
SP: Marcooooo Gonzales

I love flipping Crawford to 9th and hitting Mitch Haniger lead-off. It takes pressure off of Crawford, and gives the M’s some sneaky OBP in the bottom of the order. That said, I’m definitely not a fan of starting Evan White at clean-up.

So, as usual, it’s time for some predictions.
I’ve complained for years that the M’s key indicators are always ambiguous. JP Crawford is neither an all-star nor washes out, he’s…fine. The team gets massive improvement from some of their prospects, but Evan White faceplants, etc. It’s added up to some incremental improvement, but it’s not the kind of improvement where you can easily say “look out for this team in 2022.” So, as I argued in the last post, they really need to finish around .500. 80 wins is a successful season, and 73-74 has to be seen as failure: it doesn’t close the gap between where they were and where they need to be to have a couple of free agents help them become contenders. Given all of that, I think they continue confounding our efforts to figure out how this :gestures grandly: whole thing is going, and finish right in the middle with 77 wins.

I think the Dodgers and Yankees are the class of the league, and think that 2021 will set new records for strikeouts and home runs. Even if the ball is dampened – again, it’s not clear they’ve done that correctly – the problem will be that the quality of pitching will decline as teams will be forced to dip way into high-minors depth to eat the glut of innings. Even good starters can’t/shouldn’t go from 55 IP to 200 IP, and that means we’ll need a lot more middle relievers. Good luck trying to hold down scoring with that game plan.

On the plus side, I think we *will* see more balls in play. Again, the tidal wave of 7th-8th-9th options out of the pen will play a big role in that, but the baseball and a new trend towards teams selecting players for their contact ability will also play a part. Nick Madrigal, Luis Arraez, Ketel Marte, Mookie Betts, DJ LeMahieu, David Fletcher, and Nolan Arenado are going to have an impact as they get tons of PAs for their respective teams. We’re seeing an interesting trend of pitcher Ks increasing even as veteran bats like Arenado and Freddie Freeman improve their own K rates. If teams have to dip into the minors more for pitchers than for position players – and I think they will – the balance of power shifts a bit towards the batters.

I’ve got Cy Young, MVP, and ROY predictions up over at BaseballProspectus, so go check those out too.

Go M’s.


46 Responses to “Game 1, Giants at Mariners”

  1. Stevemotivateir on April 1st, 2021 7:44 pm

    Gonzales stunk it up in the 2nd. But it’s early.

  2. Stevemotivateir on April 1st, 2021 7:57 pm

    Gonzales stinkin’ it up in the 4th. But it’s still kind of early.

  3. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 8:13 pm

    Listening to the TV guys, they seem to be in “looking back” mode – which is not a good sign for the expectations of the season ahead.

    Hello Steve!

  4. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 8:15 pm

    Sea-Boss with a double!

  5. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 8:23 pm

    Unfortunately Marco is not sharp tonight…

  6. Stevemotivateir on April 1st, 2021 8:26 pm

    Gonzales stinkin’ it up in the 5th. But it doesn’t really matter now.

    Good to see you hanging out, Westy. Misery loves company.

  7. Stevemotivateir on April 1st, 2021 8:50 pm

    Gonzales lowering his ERA in the 6th.

    Small victories…

  8. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 8:55 pm

    Of course, if the Mariners can’t score, Marco’s ERA is irrelevant. ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 8:57 pm

    On TV, at least, the socially-distanced crowd makes this look a lot like one of those it’s-late-in-a-bad-season games.

    But it’s nice to see some living people in the stands. I wonder how many concessions are open? I’d like to go, but you gotta have the food experience too!

  10. Longgeorge1 on April 1st, 2021 9:02 pm

    Was listening to the M’s while getting an early evening 9 in. I had more “long balls” than the M’s and I stink. (at golf).

  11. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 9:12 pm

    They are supposed to hit that white spherical thing, right? Sigh.

  12. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 9:14 pm

    Hey Evan!

  13. Stevemotivateir on April 1st, 2021 9:20 pm

    Mariners are on the bored.

    I mean, board.

  14. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 9:21 pm

    It’s nice not to have that big O in at least one spot.

  15. Stevemotivateir on April 1st, 2021 9:22 pm

    Seriously, it’s good to see White and Moore working a tough Gausman to squeeze out a run.

  16. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 9:41 pm

    Not a bad first inning for Vest.

  17. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 9:56 pm

    Come ON, Evan!

  18. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 9:57 pm

    Go go Evan!

  19. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 9:59 pm

    Ah, bases loaded and the opposing pitcher can’t throw strikes. It takes me back to a Jose Lopez end-of-game at bat when the bases were loaded, the pitcher couldn’t throw strikes, and Jose kept insisting on swinging at them anyway.

    Dude fouled off something like 10 balls.

  20. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:01 pm

    Do it Taylor!!

  21. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:02 pm

    All right Taylor, let’s do it!

  22. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:05 pm

    Good walk Taylor!

  23. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:06 pm

    Yep, way to work it!

  24. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:08 pm

    Awesome – Dylan Moore!

  25. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:09 pm

    Yes MOORE!

  26. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:10 pm

    Their bullpen appears to be as bad as ours! ๐Ÿ˜›

  27. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:10 pm

    Hey, that’s one way to get on.

  28. Longgeorge1 on April 1st, 2021 10:11 pm

    So much for “working the count”. If you get a fat pitch .

  29. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:11 pm

    This is why we love baseball!

  30. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:11 pm

    Woo Hoo!! Love me some SF mistakes!

  31. Longgeorge1 on April 1st, 2021 10:12 pm

    DEFENSE?? Thankfully not ours.

  32. Longgeorge1 on April 1st, 2021 10:13 pm

    Now we will find out about our pen. (gulp).

  33. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:21 pm

    And there’s our bullpen.

  34. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:21 pm


  35. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:28 pm

    OUR turn for a dinger!

  36. kmsandrbs on April 1st, 2021 10:35 pm

    Or not. Sigh. Here’s hoping I wake up to a happy outcome. Go M’s!

  37. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:38 pm

    This “start at second” thing takes some getting used to. But I guess they are trying to eliminate those 20-inning games… Has it been shown to make a difference, though?

  38. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:41 pm

    In 2022, the new innovation will be – during extra innings, you can have both a leftie and a rightie at the plate at the same time.

    You heard it here first.

  39. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:45 pm

    Nice catch by Mitch there – glad he’s healthy!

  40. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:54 pm

    Hey if SF wants to walk in the winning run, I’d say we let ’em.

  41. Westside guy on April 1st, 2021 10:56 pm


  42. eponymous coward on April 1st, 2021 10:59 pm

    Nice to see someone elseโ€™s bullpen blow it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  43. GLS on April 1st, 2021 11:39 pm

    Jake Fraley with 3 walks. Who knew?

  44. C. Cheetah on April 2nd, 2021 2:12 am

    Marc… please do us and the M’s a favor…
    Someone must point out how poor defensively Crawford played, especially on the assist / throw that Trammell made to get Longoria.
    Crawford was in front of 2nd base on the OF side, clearly caught the ball at least 2 feet if not 5 feet in front of the 2nd base bag on the OF side… then twisted, turned and lunged back to second base to get the out. That play should not have been close… but poor form made it so.
    The proper way to play it would be to straddle 2nd base or even stand behind 2nd on the infield side… let the ball travel to the base where you catch it, and just drop the glove in front of the runner.
    No coach teaches the technique that Crawford used there, and he has been doing it for years. Someone needs to properly coach this kid… and we know Perry Hill has been trying but… please.

  45. Stevemotivateir on April 2nd, 2021 5:22 am

    As it was 6-1 and well past 1am where I live, I kneeled by my bed and prayed: “Please God, give Seattle this one.” and I promptly went to sleep as the top of the 7th was underway.

    Waking up and seeing this miracle should have restored any faith I had lost. But I’m convinced this was a vindictive act to make me pay for going to sleep, rather than suffering through the final innings.

    Tonight I’ll stick around through 9, but I’m going to turn the game volume down and blast Slayer to assure I stay awake.

  46. kmsandrbs on April 2nd, 2021 8:07 am

    @ Westside guy – Apparently, something like 65% of extra inning games ended in the 10th last year, as opposed to something like 47% previously, so it does appear to make a difference.

    Walk off walk isn’t all that exciting, but a win after being down 6-1 in the 8th is. Woo hoo!

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