Game 153, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · September 23, 2021 at 11:43 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Yusei Kikuchi vs. Chris Bassit, 12:00pm

The M’s go for a rare four-game sweep *in Oakland* today, as they try to add to their dominance of the A’s this year. As of right now, the M’s have an 11-4 record against the A’s. In a very real sense, the M’s performance against the A’s and Rays (owners of the AL’s best record) is the reason why they’re in the position of still hunting a wild card here in late September. That’s an odd outcome given that those teams are built on very good pitching.

The M’s struggle against starting pitching. They have an OPS of .698 against starting pitchers, and that includes teams like the Orioles whose starters couldn’t hold down that role for any other team. Their OPS against relievers is, oddly, even worse: it’s jut .667. The thing the M’s have going for them is pressure: they do well in the clutch, and string together solid at-bats, although it seems like they’re equally adept at stringing together crushing strikeouts. However they do it, I still find it fascinating that the M’s – a well below-average hitting team – can not only fight pitching-first teams like the A’s and Rays to a draw, but consistently beat them.

There was a great conversation last night after Corey Brock mentioned that Chris Flexen is now in the top 5 in the AL in ERA. It’s true, as of this morning, he’s 4th! What’s unreal about all of this is that he’s 4th out of a total of 16 qualified starters. As the role of pitching changes, so many of the old ways we think about pitchers – and on what to expect from a starter – have had to change. This has been ably covered by Rob Mains over at BP in a series that’s worth thinking about and wrestling with.

This isn’t really changing; there are fewer than 10 qualified pitchers in AAA-West, and that’s with modified criteria. Teams will need to pay starting pitchers less going forward, and shift payroll costs to an ever-growing number of at least partially fungible relievers. In this odd transitional period, I think it has shown the value in pitchers like Flexen and his opposite number today, Chris Bassitt. Bassitt *just* dropped off of eligibility for qualified starters; he should re-join that group if he pitches a decent number of innings, but he’s making his first start after a 10-day IL stint. If/when that happens, he’ll slot in with the third-best ERA in the league.

Bassitt’s someone who I’ve long been fascinated with, as it’s difficult to see exactly *why* he’s so successful, but after a brilliant/short season in 2020, he’s backed it up with his most valuable season to date in 2021. Avoiding HRs has always been a part of his success, but he’s helped himself with his best K:BB ratio and best K% of his career this year. He’s never been overpowering, and still isn’t: he’s just has six pitches to mix around, and the way each of them moves adds up to a very harmonious arsenal. That makes a bit of sense to me, but it’s still hard to pinpoint *why.* In what way, exactly, does a cutter, change, and four-seam’s movement add up to something that you wouldn’t get just be looking at their movement in isolation? I don’t really know, but that seems like a great research project for fans but also for teams looking to help pitchers with pitch design. Even if the best, say, slider has X or Y movement properties, it may be just as good or better to consider a movement pattern that better plays off of a fastball or cutter.

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

Raleigh’s frigid start and Kelenic’s hot streak has focused more of the concern for fans on the young catcher. Raleigh’s wRC+ is the 3rd lowest out of 95 rookie-eligible hitters, just ahead of ex-M’s C prospect, Alex Jackson.

Speaking of ex-M’s, Jack Mayfield had another big XBH last night for the Angels. He’s still not exactly a great hitter, but his slash line with the Halos is now .209/.274/.429. Ok, yeah, that’s not great, but what it looks like is a low BABIP power hitter’s line. Mayfield look nothing like this when he was (briefly) with the M’s this year. He hit 0 HRs for Seattle or Tacoma, and now has 10 with the Angels and 5 with Salt Lake. It’s a slash line that looks suspiciously Kyle-Seager-in-2021-like. Kyle’s better, of course, with his .216/.292/.454 line. But they’re oddly similar, right down to the atrocious BABIPs (.229 for Mayfield, .226 for Seags). Seager has a better walk rate, too, but I just never imagined that Mayfield’s value would come from power, nor that his line with the Angels would be kind of a dead ringer for Seager’s slash line in late-July. Not sure what that says about either player, or either season.


One Response to “Game 153, Mariners at Athletics”

  1. Stevemotivateir on September 23rd, 2021 4:39 pm

    Kikuchi’s cooked.

    But man, sweeping the A’s in Oakland!

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