Game 26, Rays at Mariners: Snap Decisions

marc w · May 5, 2022 at 5:07 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. Shane McLanahan, 6:40pm

Sooo, not a good road trip. After yesterday’s easy win, the Astros completed a sweep of the M’s, going from a game back to two games ahead of the M’s. Worse, those wins looked effortless: two shutouts, with the M’s not really threatening to score, and then jumping all over Matt Brash, allowing Justin Verlander to go on cruise control. That’s not going to end well.

The M’s offense looked atrocious, but there they are at 6th by Fangraphs’ wRC+ measure. No, they’re not going to confuse anyone for the Blue Jays or Yankees, but they’re more than holding their own, right? Well, yes, kind of? The issue is that their more average-ish wOBA – just the results of their plate appearances – is 15th. But, as all smart fans know, park factors are a thing. wRC+ applies them and tries to account for opposition. Playing Tampa and Houston a lot is going to be an issue, after all. But the park factor is clearly playing a large role in getting a 15th-ranked wOBA up to a 6th ranked wRC+. The question is, should it?

That may come as a surprise after I spent all of last year screaming that the park effect for Seattle wasn’t big *enough* and that something was going on that made it all but impossible to get base hits at T-Mobile. I’d hoped that the introduction of humidors everywhere, and not just in certain parks (like Seattle’s) might ameliorate this. Well, good news: it did. The problem is that it’s turned everywhere into Seattle. Zach Crizer looks at the league-wide trends over at Yahoo Sports, and the numbers are stark. Slugging percentage on fly balls is down, and it’s down dramatically at the launch angles that previously produced home runs and doubles (around 25-30 degrees). M’s batters have known that there are no doubles to be had in that range, at least at home, but T-Mobile hasn’t been that bad of a park to homer in. That’s where the addition of the draggier baseball comes in. The new ball takes away the one thing that wasn’t impossible at home, and the humidors take away XBH on the road.

Every park now plays similarly. Sure, there are still differences. Coors field is still an outlier, and always will be. But the gap seems smaller, as evidenced by the fact that run scoring is down so dramatically and uniformly (uh, except when Cincinnati is pitching…yeesh). The M’s pitching has looked solid overall, and I don’t think they’re as bad as their FIP-based WAR makes them look. But by the same token, this is not a top-10 offense, or at least, they have not performed like one. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to be done about that now, but I would seriously love to see Jesse Winker get hot.

The M’s response to the roadtrip was to do what Scott Servais said they wouldn’t do: make a snap decision to demote Matt Brash. This is a move that many fans I typically agree with have applauded/called for, so I think I should talk about why I don’t. Clearly, the M’s needed to do something with Brash, who wasn’t keeping them in games the last few starts. The key was continually falling behind hitters, and thus throwing in hitters’ counts. His elevated walk rate was more proof that he couldn’t find the zone. But here’s the thing: out of the Mariners’ five starting pitchers, Brash’s Zone%, the percentage of his pitches that are in the zone, is right in the middle. Sure, 39.9% is low overall, and not a great sign. But Logan Gilbert is at 38.5%, and “command guy” Chris Flexen has one of the lowest Zone% in baseball at 36.3%.

The problem is how his pitches out of the zone (and in it) get bunched together. He’ll throw several strikes, then start the next hitter 3-0. He seems to not know how to get a strike when he needs one. A part of this is that he seems to be telegraphing his pitches, which is why a guy with his death-dealing slider has the lowest O-Swing% of the M’s starters. On the plus side, he’s getting more called strikes (haters would point out that they’re probably on 3-0 pitches), and he’s got the lowest contact rate. These are things that take tweaks, not overhauls.

But why isn’t it better to do that in the minors? Well, part of it is that the Pacific Coast League was essentially broken by the major league ball, and is still a run-scoring paradise. As a result, it’s not really a developmental league right now. It’s great for rehabbing, and it’s not bad for a few months of confidence-restoration in struggling players, but there’s a reason Tacoma’s rotation looks the way it does, and why the M’s have essentially tried to have starters skip it or almost skip it.

As a result of *that*, it’s not clear that trying to work on hiding the ball or adjusting release point would be better done there, or frankly, even at AA. Brash has to work on deceiving major league hitters. He’s already demonstrated an ability to do this at the minor league level; the major leagues have selected for people who can do this at an elite level. The M’s trainers and coaches have been selected for their ability to make adjustments too, I would think, and should get to work on this.

I think people like Darren Gossler are right that there are things beyond the mechanics that the M’s can do; I think he should throw a lot more change-ups too. But I’m still against the demotion, just as, say, Kyle Boddy is not a fan of demoting Reds’ phenom Hunter Greene, who’s struggling just as much with Cincinnati. Some things you just have to do in the big leagues, as Julio Rodriguez demonstrates, I think. As much as Jarred Kelenic is struggling now, I think the same applies. The M’s tried the “work it out in AAA” thing last year, and he went down and dominated from day 1…it just didn’t apply in the big leagues, and it’s often not clear why we should expect it to.

The thing that’s brought us M’s fans back into agreement though, is the short-sighted move to have Brash work out of the pen, so as to more quickly contribute at the big league level. That…that’s just dumb. The M’s rotation is now out of whack, and I think everyone can see that if Brash can cut the walks and pitching-from-behind, he’s easily their #2 or #3 starter. Utilizing him as, say, the third or fourth guy out of the pen could enable him to contribute quickly, but also to contribute quite little. The M’s lost Matt Festa to injury, but fundamentally, they do not have a problem at set-up guy. Munoz, Sewald, Steckenrider is plenty good. Would getting an upgrade over Misiewicz or the current replacements for Festa be nice? Sure, I suppose. Every little bit helps. But this seems like a ridiculous waste of Brash’s undeniable talent, and there’s no guarantee it’s 1) a move likely to work more quickly and 2) that Brash will be able to avoid control lapses in short, high-intensity outings. I just don’t get it.

1: Toro, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Rodriguez, CF
6: Winker, LF
7: Torrens, C
8: Moore, RF
9: Frazier, DH
SP: Ray

Revamped line-up to try and get the bats going again. They were going just fine on the last homestand, so we’ll see how they look now.


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