Game 55, Mariners at Astros

marc w · June 6, 2022 at 4:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. Cristian Javier, 5:10pm

Yesterday’s win was a wildly improbable robbery, thanks to Eugenio Suarez’s 4 RBIs. It looked like a boring, listless loss to a boring, listless Rangers club until their remarkable 9th inning comeback, and a great relief performance from the suddenly-unhittable Diego Castillo. Two series wins is just so, so different from coming into this series at .500 on the trip. Intellectually, it’s not all that different at all; only the Angels collapse is keeping these M’s games slightly meaningful. But if we can’t get a thrilling playoff chase – yet – we want two things: 1) some sort of improvement, and beating the teams you’re supposed to beat; and 2) to be exciting. Give me chaos or give me greatness, but don’t give me dependable mediocrity.

Justin Choi had a great article at Fangraphs today on the declining effectiveness of the high fastball. Choi notes that perhaps the primary reason pitchers employ elevated hitters – to get swings-and-misses – wasn’t working out in 2022, as whiff rate on them is down markedly, after a minor drop in 2021. As Rob Arthur noted as BP late in 2021, and as Choi mentions as well, a big part of that 2021 leveling out was due to the crackdown on sticky stuff. The ban on Spider Tack produced a near instantaneous drop in whiff rate, right as fastball spin rates dropped. But then, spin rate returned. And velocity on elevated fastballs (and, er, everything else) continues to rise too; fastballs are a full tick faster than they were just a few years ago.

All of that is interesting to read given that tonight’s starting pitcher, Cristian Javier, is a pitcher whose entire strategy/profile could be summed up in the phrase “elevated heaters.” Here’s his zone chart for fastballs from Brooks, first for his career, and for this year. It’s why Javier’s yet to post a season ground ball rate above 30%, and why his current rate of 26.1% is 3rd-lowest in MLB among pitchers with at least 30 IP. Unlike the rest of the league, Javier’s whiff rate on his fastball continues to climb, and it’s helped him post great strikeout numbers.

But it’s interesting: where Javier gets fastball whiffs looks a lot different than where he throws most of his fastballs. This is a reminder that there are other reasons to throw an elevated fastball than just to chase, uh, chases. wOBACON (weighted On Base Average on Contact) on high strikezone fastballs is down considerably in 2022; it’s dropped every year since 2019. If we look at all high fastballs, not just strikes, we see the exact same pattern. It doesn’t change much if we include all fastballs and not just four-seamers. I think Choi is right that batters are getting better at reaching these pitches due to changes in batting practice and using more high-velo pitching machines instead of lobbed pitches from coaches. But they haven’t yet made the switch to actually hurting those pitches the way they did with low fastballs.

The other thing to remember is that high fastballs are often great at disguising breaking balls, especially curves, because the curve’s trajectory can look an awful lot like a high fastball’s before the magnus force causes it to head south. Javier has a curve, but his primary breaker is a slider, but the same effect may occur. Whatever the reason, Javier has thrown 213 fastballs *out* of the zone and only 207 within it. He’s *more* likely to throw a ball than a strike with his primary pitch, and yet it’s drawn a swing over 55% of the time. That’s remarkable.

On the plus side, the Mariners have fared better against fly-ball pitchers than any other kind of hurler, according to BBREF’s batting splits. They just have to make sure they’re hitting strikes, and not popping up above-the-zone fastballs. As a FB/SL guy, Javier has pretty noticeable splits. This isn’t a great match-up for, say, Julio, so Winker and Crawford are going to need to step up.

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

Would be good to see a real ace-type game from Ray.

Tacoma lost the final game in their series in Reno 6-5 despite Justin Upton’s first org home run.

Taylor Dollard was excellent in Arkansas’ 6-0 win over Springfield, tossing 6 IP of 2 H, 0R, 3 BB, 6 K ball at the Cardinals. That brought his ERA on the year under 1 (5 ER in 47 1/3 IP).

Everett beat Eugene 5-1, as Noelvi Marte homered. Marte’s prospect stock has dipped a bit, so it’s nice to see him heat up a bit. He’s 3 for his last 7 with a double and a dinger.

Modesto beat Fresno 7-4, as Edwin Arroyo (whose prospect stock has moved sharply up) got back in the hit column.


6 Responses to “Game 55, Mariners at Astros”

  1. schwingy on June 6th, 2022 9:57 pm

    “Dependable Mediocrity” – brilliant !!
    I want to steal that as a band name : )
    Thank you for your write ups.

    What is your emphasized take at this point after tonight’s game?
    – steady emergence of Cal
    – continued rise of Julio
    – continued struggles of Ray
    – awful BA from Winker and Toro
    – acknowledgement of France and Crawford as legit MLB hierarchy
    – Castillo finding his slot

    Personally it’s hard not to be jacked up about Julio and Gilbert as potential real stars. How different would the start of this season look with only two changed variables: Haniger in the line up, and Winker hitting 75% of his last year?

    Don’t I sound like a chronically tortured Ms fan?

  2. schwingy on June 6th, 2022 10:05 pm

    Sorry, I meant to also add Cameron burning sage and doing the Voodoo. Love it!

  3. schwingy on June 7th, 2022 9:34 pm

    And…. Just like that I am ready to nickname Toro: “GBToroS” ie “ground ball to second” and really concerned about Winker and now Borucki.

  4. bookbook on June 8th, 2022 8:56 pm

    Can cal Raleigh become… Mark Parent? I remember that dude as a useful catcher from my childhood, who hit .210 with some home runs.

    PS Never mind. 1.7 WAR in 13 seasons. Ouch.

  5. Stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2022 9:03 am

    ^Cal Raleigh reminds me of 2021 Mike Zunino. Ks a lot, doesn’t get on base, but cashes in on his power and has a great wRC+ despite a low BABIP.

    It’s a roughly a two-week sample, and maybe he’ll have to figure out what to do with more breaking balls in the zone, but he may very well be on track.

  6. MKT on June 10th, 2022 5:16 pm

    Right, indeed Raleigh’s been hitting at an all-star level for almost a month.

    (Meanwhile, Zunino’s hitting worse than ever in 2022, but he was a literal all-star in 2021.)

    So players might figure things out, only to unfigure them the next season. But yes there’s reasons to have hope for Raleigh. And the Ms may have finally shaken free of that mysterious losing streak. Most people expected them to be .500-ish this year, and they might indeed end up around there. Potentially better, but I’m not counting on it.

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