Game 41, Mariner at Red Sox: Let the Worrying Commence

marc w · May 21, 2022 at 10:21 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Chris Flexen vs. Garrett Whitlock, 1:10pm

After another loss last night, the M’s are now two back of the Rangers in 4th in the West. Sure, it was good to see the Astros lose so the gap to the division leaders didn’t grow, but watching Martin Perez of all people throw a complete game shutout against them (in 2022??!) made it much tougher for M’s fans. The Rangers might hang around here for a while. The M’s, meanwhile, fell to 17-23 after 40. No, last year’s club wasn’t great in May, but they were 20-20 after 40 games. Three games down isn’t a ton, and there’s a lot of baseball left. But they need to show some signs of life, and signs that they can not just win the odd game against a Max Scherzer or Aaron Nola or whoever, but that they can grind out series wins against good teams. That’s what they did time and again last year, and it’s something they’ve struggled with in 2022.

What are the M’s good at, as a group? One of the more surprising things, at least for me, is this: they’re the league’s best team at hitting fastballs. By pitch type run values, no team’s done better on fastballs. Convert it to a rate, doesn’t matter: they’re really good at it. Part of this is just the kinds of hitters they have – Julio has struggled with spin, but does a good job against heat. Part of it is that they have a great approach: they’re good at knowing when to swing and when not to. But against the pitches thrown most often, they’ve done a great job.

The flip side of this is that the scouting report or opposition research kind of writes itself. Give them change-ups. Sliders. Curves. Doesn’t really matter; just avoid the fastball. Thus far, the M’s have seen comparatively *more* fastballs than other teams, though that may just be the result of facing the Twins and then Justin Verlander twice. Still, I worry that other teams knows what the M’s are good at it (and less good at), and can pitch accordingly. I worry that this may be behind their poor performance late in games – relievers with a good breaking ball can be effective.

Last year, the M’s bullpen was a major strength. They were good, but they played better than that, and when it mattered most, they somehow played even better. The true talent in this year’s pen is probably better, but…they’re not really playing well. We marveled at their clutch score last year, but this year, it’s just above zero (which is in itself cause for muted celebrations, given their overall performance and win probability added). They have 22 games in which they’ve significantly bettered the M’s chances of winning (measured by win probability added), but 21 in which they’ve significantly hurt it – last night’s game was such an occasion. That ratio of shutdown games to meltdown games is in the bottom three in the league; no one is close to Seattle except Washington and Cincinnati. In 2022, you do NOT want to be near those clubs in anything.

Garrett Whitlock is probably the best Rule 5 pick of recent years. He’d been a Yankee farmhand and pitched very well, but went down in late 2019 with an elbow problem and needed Tommy John. The Yankees, in one of their perpetual 40-man roster crunches, thought they could leave him unprotected after he missed 2020 with rehab. Boston picked him anyway, and he rewarded them with a brilliant season of in relief last year. He tossed over 73 IP in 2021 with an ERA under 2, firing a mid-90s sinker with a very good slider and change-up.

After starting in relief this season, the Red Sox moved him into their rotation, figuring that a good three pitches (plus a fourth, a rarely-used four seamer) would play for multiple PAs. The only question would be platoon splits. His platoon splits were pretty elevated last season, with his slider – his best pitch, probably – not as much of an option against lefties. Well, so far, it hasn’t mattered. His change was solid last year, but it’s been a dominant pitch this year. Cameron Grove’s pitching bot rates it a 70 by stuff+, and 65 (on the scouting scale) overall. In fact, he’s running reverse splits thus far. I don’t expect that to last, but it shows that Whitlock has the arsenal to stick in the rotation and to do it well. His K rate is up over last year, and it’s up even more as a starter. The saving grace here for the M’s is that he relies pretty heavily on fastballs. Get a sinker and drive it, M’s.

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

Don’t look now, but the Rainiers are actually hot. They won their second straight shutout yesterday, blanking Sacramento 2-0. Konner Wade won his 2nd game as the R’s yielded just 3 hits. Of course, they only got 3 hits themselves, but made ’em count.

Arkansas slipped past NW Arkansas 2-1, with Jake Haberer getting a win in relief and Levi Stoudt tossing his best game, with 5 2/3 scoreless and 7 Ks.

Everett got 2 in the 7th to get past Hillsboro 7-5. The deadly top 3 of the Frogs line-up (Marte/Packard/Alberto Rodriguez) went 0-13 with 7 Ks, but the bottom of the line-up picked ’em up. C Andy Thomas had 3 hits including his 3rd HR. Adam Macko starts today’s game for Everett.

Modesto demolished Stockton 11-3, as Edwin Arroyo hit his 8th bomb of the year. The 18 year old now has a .952 OPS on the year.


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