Game 27, Rays at Mariners

marc w · May 6, 2022 at 5:25 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Logan Gilbert vs. Matt Wisler/Josh Fleming, 6:40pm

Logan Gilbert is off to a blazingly fast start, with a Pitcher of the Month in his pocket and an ERA under 1. I’ve talked a bit about an improved slider that’s helped, even as his K% and swinging strike rate have actually declined. Well, it’s actually weirder than that: Logan Gilbert allows more contact than just about any starter.

By called-strike-plus-whiff rate or CSW%, Gilbert ranks 10th-lowest among qualified starters, lower than Jose Quintana, Jordan Lyles and Cole Irvin (but just ahead of Chris Flexen and, uh, Robbie Ray). By contact%, he’s at 15th. This isn’t an instant red flag. You can be decent and have stats like these; he’s hanging really close to Justin Verlander of all people on these metrics. But if I asked you how Logan Gilbert does it, what would you say?

It’s not through pinpoint control. His walk rate’s solid, but he throws fewer pitches in the zone than Matt Brash. He allows too many well-struck balls, though in his favor, rather few barrels (ideally-hit balls). The expected stats think he’s good, but not great, though the expected stats are still having a rough month-plus. He has good velocity, but poor spin. He allows very few balls in play, but has to throw far more pitches-per-plate-appearance than his teammates, and especially the pure put-it-in-play guys like Marco and Flexen.

The slider and curve really do look different, and his average breaking ball (and change-up) velocity is up markedly this year, even while his fastball remains exactly where it was in 2021. I think that’s part of the answer. Even setting aside movement, a firmer breaking ball might help keep batters off balance, as it may be harder to square up, even if it’s not any more/less hard to make contact with. If that was true, we’d see a lot of foul balls (aaaaand we do; he gets more fouls than other M’s) and we’d see a low BABIP (aaaand we do). I’m not convinced that’s sustainable, necessarily, but I think what it means is that he’ll regress towards a mean that’s lower than the league average. That is, he’s been out-of-his-mind good thus far, and when his insane strand rate and BABIP luck runs out, they won’t go to the (already low) league mean, but perhaps somewhere lower than that.

That’d be a neat trick: throw a bunch of balls just off the plate that batters won’t miss, but still can’t resist. But the slight problem is that he’s not actually inducing a lot of off-the-plate swings. Even Chris Flexen, perhaps the best example of this strategy, gets more. Gilbert is getting a lot of these slight miss-hits on in-zone fastballs, which seems like a tough game to win, but his extension and the resulting sneakiness of his fastball seems to allow it.

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

There’s a lot of talk about the strikeout rate in the game, and whether the slight drop in April was anything meaningful, or just the result of the universal designated hitter. I think we’ll have to wait till the summer months to know for sure, but I am struck by the fact that the batting leaderboard shows so many low-K hitters right now. There are a lot of them, and a lot of formerly-high K guys like Matt Olson. I have a hypothesis that part of what’s driving the K-rate rise in baseball is baseball’s roster management. That is, I think qualified batters’ K rates are rising more slowly, but that replacement-level players are extremely vulnerable to high K rates. There’s also the obvious point that guys running 40% K rates aren’t likely to get enough PAs to qualify.

Back in 2009, qualified batters’ K rate was about 1.8 percentage points lower than the league average. Nowadays, it’s closing in on a 3 percentage point gap. It’s too early to say what it’ll be this year, but it’s over 2 percentage points already. Relievers, the source of so much of the roster moves in baseball, are generally selected for their ability to miss bats, and their role allows them to do this: throw as hard as possible for 15-20 pitches. Young players and role players may be selected for a bunch of other characteristics, from defense to power, and thus if they run K rates over 30% for a month, no one bats an eye. And players can still be effective with high K rates, as Fernando Tatis Jr. shows. But there were fewer players on the year-end fWAR top 15 with K rates over 20% last year than there were in, say, 2017. Does that mean anything? We’ll see. Willians Astudillo was not the turning point many wanted him to be, but maybe Steven Kwan and Nick Madrigal will run after Astudillo walked. No, just kidding, Astudillo *never* walked.

Modesto was the only affiliate to win yesterday with Edwin Arroyo, Jonatan Clase, Robert Perez, and Walking Cabrera going yard. Tacoma’s in Salt Lake today, Arkansas is in Frisco, Texas, Everett’s winning currently in Vancouver, and Modesto’s back at it in Fresno tonight.


2 Responses to “Game 27, Rays at Mariners”

  1. Westside guy on May 6th, 2022 9:01 pm

    I’m not really sure how I feel about this Apple TV crew that’s doing the broadcast.

  2. Westside guy on May 7th, 2022 8:31 pm

    The Mariners still need to show they can play with the good teams.

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