Game 152, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · September 22, 2021 at 5:22 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Chris Flexen vs. Cole Irwin, 6:40pm

The M’s continued their mastery over the A’s last night to pull into a tie for 2nd in the AL West, and for third in the Wild Card standings. The Rays took care of Toronto earlier, so we’ll hope for good news out of New York, and focus on the game at hand here in Oakland.

We’re just at the point in the season – and I think this is *especially* true this year, following the shortened 2020 mini-campaign – where teams are fraying at the edges. The M’s bullpen had been unreal for months, but while still great overall, has shown some signs of slipping. The A’s starting rotation essentially pitched the A’s into playoff position, but has been worse over the past 30 days. The M’s historic “clutch” performance? It’s still there, kind of, but it’s fading, if something as elusive and intangible can “fade.”

But that’s not all bad. It’s time for the M’s to become a good team without resorting to “I don’t know how, but some random player in the midst of a terrible season will hit a game winning HR tonight,” in lieu of a sustainable model. No, we’ve had enough dingers-ex-machina endings, as awesome as they’ve been (again, this has been the most *fun* season in recent memory). So it’s great to see Ty France end the season on a high note, and even better to see Jarred Kelenic put game after game together where he looks like an offensive force.

Kelenic, like Abraham Toro, who had a similar run after coming over, still has below-average exit velo, and that’s a bit of a red flag. He’s not striking out like Evan White or Taylor Trammell, but it’s elevated enough that he’s either got to learn to hit for power (something he’s showing some aptitude for at the moment), or he’s going to have to maintain a very high BABIP in a park that makes that very hard to do. Kelenic’s season-long BABIP is .211, which is just ridiculously low. It took a hot streak to get it over .200, so yeah, he’s been unlucky. But the problem is that the M’s have several hitters whose approach look similar, and who consistently run very low BABIPs: this is Kyle Seager’s big problem.

Seager has never had a full season BABIP over .300, and hasn’t been above .250 since 2018 (.251!). The reason is that, despite hitting fewer ground balls than average, teams know he’ll pull the ones he does hit. Thus, Kyle’s BABIP on grounders is below .200. Well, Kelenic’s BABIP on grounders is way, way worse than Seager’s. It’s not always going to float dangerously close to .100, but it may never be high, exactly.

And that’s why the most helpful sign from Kelenic recently has been the drop in his GB%. Kelenic’s K% is actually up in September compared to August, but his GB:FB ratio went from 1.67 in July to 1.42 in August to just 0.70 in September. Along with that shift has been a decrease in his pull rate and an ability to spray line drives from gap to gap. That’s an approach that can work. That is, in a nutshell, Ty France’s deal. France is having a great year in many ways, and his low K% is one example of why. But he had a more or less average K rate last year, and still put together a solid season at the plate: France’s approach has led to consistently high BABIPs. He’s at .330 for his career, which is pretty much exactly what he’s running now. He’s not fast, he hits more grounders than Kyle, and his pull rate has been high (2020) and medium (2021) and it hasn’t changed much. He doesn’t have incredible exit velo, either. He just consistently hits the ball on a line. That’s something Kelenic has shown flashes of, and it’s one way to turn what’s been a forgettable rookie season into a long, successful career.

A more easily obtainable outcome, and maybe something like an intermediate step for Kelenic, would be to take Chris Taylor’s approach. Taylor has a nearly identical K rate, and similar numbers in terms of exit velo and hard hit rates. Like France, he has a good idea of the strike zone, and lays off of balls (leading to a good walk rate). But Taylor essentially sells out for power. He has less true raw power than Kelenic, I’d guess, but he gets into balls and barrels them up more than France does. Thus, Taylor has a consistently high BABIP as well, even with a lower batting average due to the higher K rate. Are there some red flags there? Yeah, probably, but Taylor’s a very good player who’ll be a sought-after free agent. If Kelenic’s second act is to refine his approach and hit mistakes harder, that’d be pretty good – no need to go from 0-60 in a year.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Torrens, DH
6: Toro, 2B
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Murphy, C
9: Moore, LF
SP: Flexen

Tacoma lost 8-4 loss to El Paso. Tyler Herb took the loss in his first start up from Arkansas. The R’s start a series at Round Rock on Thursday.


2 Responses to “Game 152, Mariners at Athletics”

  1. Stevemotivateir on September 22nd, 2021 7:47 pm

    I just hope Kelenic doesn’t turn into Justin Smoak 2.0. And I don’t think he will, but I’m incredibly curious to see if he can hit the ground running in 2022.

    Call me crazy, but Toro kind of reminds me of Ketel Marte. Marte sprayed the ball around and didn’t have great EVs until he broke out in 2019. We know Toro has some pop in him and we’ve seen his potential, but he doesn’t hit the ball hard and sprays it around. Marte’s breakout had a lot to do with changes to his pitch selection. I’m not convinced that alone would do it for Toro, but with adjustments to his swing as well, maybe he could tap into that power more consistently?

    Just a thought.

  2. eponymous coward on September 23rd, 2021 2:33 pm

    Ketel Marte’s MiLB total HRs in almost 2300 PAs: 17
    Toro’s MiLB total HRs in just over 1600 PAs: 50
    ISO difference in MiLB, Toro over Marte: .076

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