Game 4, White Sox at Mariners

marc w · April 5, 2021 at 5:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Justus Sheffield vs. Carlos Rodón, 7:10pm

After a great series win against San Francisco, the M’s welcome in the first contending team they’ll face this year: the Chicago White Sox. The south siders made the playoffs last year before being bounced by the AL West champs from Oakland. It’s been a long, hard road back to contention for Chicago after going into a rebuild by trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

A key consideration in that rebuild was tonight’s starter, Carlos Rodon. The Sox drafted him #3 overall in 2014 out of NC State, where he’d come into his junior year as the prohibitive favorite to go #1 overall, but some up-and-down velocity readings dropped him a couple of places. He made his big league debut in 2015 and was pretty successful early on, including his first full season, where he dropped his slightly elevated walk rate and tossed 165+ IP.

Unfortunately, that total remains his career high, and after shoulder problems, bursitis, and then TJ surgery, he’s combined to throw less than 43 innings since 2018. He’s been working with a new, external coach to try and help him stay healthy, and in his very brief return last year, he touched 97-98 at times. But he struggled anyway, and with a career walk rate at about 10%, it couldn’t have come as a complete shock when the Sox non-tendered him this winter. He ultimately re-signed with the club on a one-year show-us-what-you’ve-got contract, and looked good enough this spring that he won his old job back and is once again in the middle of the Sox rotation.

That’s impressive given the Sox goals this year. After a first round exit last year, the Sox are clearly gunning for the World Series, trading for Lance Lynn to help the rotation and bolstering an already impressive bullpen with Liam Hendriks. Their first series of the year didn’t go according to script, though, as they lost 3 of 4 to an Angels team that looked fairly impressive on offense.

Rodón’s best pitch since college has been his slider. Even after over 2,500 of them in his big league career, batters are still *slugging* just .236 off of it. Despite good velocity, batters have not had similar problems with his fastball. He came up with a four-seam and sinker, but has moved away from the sinker over time. Not a huge surprise, as batters slugged .526 off of it. They’ve had slightly less success off of the four-seam, but fundamentally, Rodón wants to get ahead and then fire off some sliders. As you might expect, this plan has worked a lot better against lefties than it has against righties, and thus the M’s will trot out a slightly tweaked, righty-heavy line-up tonight with Sam Haggerty in CF and Taylor Trammell getting a night off.

Chris Flexen was great in his first game with Seattle. He sat at 94 with his fastball, and showed off a cutter than looked unhittable at times. It was just one game, it’s early, yadda yadda, but he showed the stuff of a legitimate rotation mainstay. If he can keep that up, his signing really is one of the steals of the offseason.

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

The M’s can’t go as righty-heavy as other teams without hurting their defense, and of course, they don’t have Kyle Lewis available right now. But it does make sense to have Trammell start on the bench, I think, and get as righty-heavy as is practicable.

Steven Goldman’s article on the debates around pace of play and three-true-outcome dominant baseball at BP is worth your time ($). It’s the latest in a series of articles on how baseball got into the predicament wherein it’s increasingly rare that plays involve fielders, and who’s to blame. “Analytics” have been blamed by many, but as Goldman puts it, there’s no way to unlearn what we’ve learned about anything from the wisdom of bunting a runner to 2nd to the value of stolen bases or even how to train pitchers.

It’s an important debate as the league mulls a variety of ways to increase balls in play, and at least in the early going, the ball does seem to be limiting HRs to a degree. But as important as it is, I felt a little weird about that whole debate this morning. Why? Because the story of last night was Shohei Ohtani doing Shohei Ohtani things. He hit 101 with his fastball, and his splitter was utterly ridiculous, eliciting swings on pitches that traveled 57 feet…and you couldn’t blame the hitters. Then, in the first, Ohtani (hitting 2nd!) launched a long, long HR. It was the most electrifying performance on the young season, and it was…all three true outcomes stuff. Ohtani tossed 4 2/3 IP (before coming out after a collision at the plate that the Angels swear wasn’t injurious in any way), walking *5* and striking out 7.

Perhaps no one is doing more to make baseball as viral or “cool” on social media than Rob Friedman, the Pitching Ninja. For years, he would make GIFs of the nastiest pitches in the game. At first, MLB banned him for it, but relented and essentially brought him into the fold. Every day, he tweets out a ton of GIFs and talks to pitchers about how they throw them. He’s become popular not only among online fans, but among pitchers themselves, who’ve learned grips from his interviews with their colleagues.

It’s awesome, and I love watching pitches like Devin Williams’ airbender that we haven’t gotten to see due to the pandemic and the general paucity of games between Seattle and the NL central. But it strikes me that we as fans are going nuts over the *exact* thing that is making the game so three-true-outcomes heavy. We can’t get enough of Shohei Ohtani’s 100 MPH fastball and 91 MPH splitter. We love dingers. We don’t actually want to return to 2014, even if we keep saying we do! Our heart simply isn’t in it!

And this year shows that trying to reduce the ratio of home runs to fly balls can have other consequences – the new ball does indeed seem to be reducing HR/FB, but strikeouts are up markedly in the early going, as pitchers have appreciated the more standardized seam height. The nuclear option here remains moving the mound back and giving hitters a bit more time. But as Driveline’s Kyle Boddy mentions, it’s not clear that even that would come without serious unintended consequences: he believes it would aid breaking ball movement (giving a curve more time to move, or a slider to slide), potentially increasing both walks AND strikeouts. We may be seeing a bit of that already in the early going, as the new ball has sent walks and K’s up in the first few games.

I think the interim solution may simply be to increase the size of the OF, meaning Seattle and other teams may need to abandon the new OF alignment and move the fences back where they were when the park opened. Same in Comerica, same in Citi Field, etc. The league freaked out when offense nosedived from 2010-2014, and teams like the M’s moved fences in. Then, the ball ushered in a HR era the likes of which we’d never seen before. Before we try and move the mound, and before the league tries to seriously deaden the ball, why not flip things back to 2011 or so and move the fences? I know, I know: it’s really expensive. But it seems a bit more in keeping with the balance between hitters and pitchers than endless changes with the ball, and it seems less likely to come with serious unintended consequences than moving the mound.


9 Responses to “Game 4, White Sox at Mariners”

  1. Shizane on April 5th, 2021 5:57 pm

    Love your writeups….i read them before every game despite commenting once every 2-3 years lol. Go M’s!

  2. Stevemotivateir on April 5th, 2021 6:45 pm

    Yeah, I’m not in the move-the-mound camp and screwing with the balls sseems risky. I’d rather see the fences pushed back before doing anything (more) drastic.

  3. Stevemotivateir on April 5th, 2021 7:27 pm

    They’re giving Mitch a double?


  4. Stevemotivateir on April 5th, 2021 8:49 pm

    Well, this is already a wild one.

  5. don52656 on April 5th, 2021 11:10 pm

    I agree with the idea of moving the fences back. One of the reasons we’ve transitioned to the “three true outcomes” baseball is that anyone can hit a homer, so therefore everyone tries.

    I refuse to believe that it’s that much harder to hit a single than it used to be, it just seems to me that no one is trying to hit a single anymore.

    I went to the game tonight, and….excruciating. Two hours to play 4 and a half innings….why doesn’t baseball do something to increase the pace of the game instead of monkeying around with the rules (i.e., the really stupid extra inning rule). It seems like every pitch, the batter is stepping out, undoing and redoing his gloves, while the pitcher has to spend 20 seconds thinking about his next pitch. Tell the pitcher that more than 20 seconds will result in a ball being called, and also tell the pitcher that he can throw the pitch as soon as he wants, regardless of whether the batter has finished readjusting his gloves.

    Seeing Sam Haggerty swing for the fences was interesting. But at least he hit the ball a couple of times, which is more than I can say for many of his teammates.

    (By the way, up to $17 plus sales tax for a “premium” draft beer, and $5 for a bottle of water. A family of four buying a regular soda and a small hot dog are going to be charged $56 plus sales tax this year. Meanwhile, the Mariners are prohibiting fans from bringing in their own food. Baseball isn’t for the masses any more….)

  6. CaptJack on April 6th, 2021 10:00 am

    I agree pace of play can make the game oh so boring to the casual fan, but I see a huge problem with attracting the casual younger fans when there is basically no streaming service available for local teams, such as the Mariners. Neither of my kids in their twenties have satellite or cable, so no chance of watching the Mariners and they’re certainly not going to spend $100+ to go to a live game unless I’m buying. Baseball has to start doing a better job of attracting the younger generation and it starts with being able to see the game on their terms.

  7. Stevemotivateir on April 6th, 2021 12:41 pm

    $17 for a beer!? That is nuts. $5 for water is just as crazy.

    Baseball should think like the Casinos: Make food and drinks a reason to come spend your money, rather than a reason to avoid the place. Cheap dining/snacking/whatever could attract people to the ballpark.

  8. don52656 on April 6th, 2021 2:03 pm

    Actually, it’s $18.70 for a beer with the sales tax and $5.50 for a bottle of water with the tax. The family buying 4 hotdogs and 4 cups of soda are spending $61.60 for them with the sales tax.

    In past years, the price on the board included the sales tax. This year, it doesn’t. And since they are going “cashless” this season, they don’t have to make change, so they aren’t interested in making round numbers.

  9. eponymous coward on April 6th, 2021 6:19 pm

    If the M’s cared about fan attendance vs. squeezing the fans who would attend for maximum profit, they wouldn’t be complacent about having bad teams that don’t draw the last few years.

    MLB is profitable for all franchises without needing good attendance, as long as you keep salaries down ala Seattle, Tampa, Oakland. You can essentially be a AAAA farm team playing in the same league as the actual MLB teams.

    And if some fans are willing to come see your AAAA team… might as well soak them some more with $18.70 beers.

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