Game 60, Red Sox at Mariners

marc w · June 12, 2022 at 12:59 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. Kutter Crawford, 1:10pm

Last night’s thrilling, come-from-behind win felt like it could be important. Another in what’s seeming like a string of games the M’s looked sure to lose, but putting together tough at bats in key situations and doing just enough to come out on top. The Sox jumped on George Kirby for 3 in the first, but the M’s weren’t too concerned. They gave up what felt like a crushing HR in the 9th, but yawned again and came back with 2 in the bottom half. That was legitimately fun.

Kirby was solid, but I’m still unsure about his secondaries. Kirby’s fastball is a great, if straight, pitch. It’s key for him, as it allows him to get swinging strikes, and I keep thinking that if it stays effective and gets him ahead in counts, it almost won’t matter that his slider hasn’t really been fooling people. But as the league moves further and further towards swing-and-miss breaking balls in fastball counts, I worry that it could keep Kirby’s K rate lower than it should be. And even then, it would keep him playable and effective given his microscopic walk rate. But I’d like to be greedy, and get something other than a great #3, because Kirby’s got the ability to do more. He just needs a better slider.

Speaking of better sliders, I hope the M’s are keeping an eye on today’s starter’s breaking ball, too. Robbie Ray’s seen his K rate drop noticeably this season – a season that’s seen his velocity drop as well. It’s possible he picks it back up in the warmer months, but right now, he’s down over 1 mph with his fastball and breakers, too. It’s not a bad pitch by any stretch, but as we’ve seen over the course of Ray’s career, it’s prone to hard contact. He’s given up 7 “barrels” – the best quality of contact for hitters – on sliders this year, tied for 4th most in MLB. Sure, he throws so many of them that they’re not exactly common, but they’re why he’s already allowed 6 home runs on the pitch, 2nd most in MLB.

It’s such a key pitch for him, and it’s what’s enabled him to become essentially a two-pitch pitcher. It’s a pitch that elicits swings, which can be tricky for breaking balls. In recent years, Ray’s getting swings on well over 50% of his sliders, which is great because many of them become whiffs, and at least theoretically, you’d always prefer batters to put sliders in play as opposed to fastballs. Even with high exit velocities, it’s still garnered lower exit velos than his fastball – last year, that gap was 2 mph on average. This year, the gap is down to a half an mph – and his slider exit velo is just about 91 mph. Sure, the whiffs are still there, but there are a bit fewer put in play, and those that ARE put in play are hit slightly harder. It’s a series of very small declines adding up to a more precipitous one. He reminds me so much of Yusei Kikuchi, actually. Kikuchi’s given up the highest exit velo on sliders in MLB (among pitchers with at least 25 BIP off of them), while Ray sits in 10th.

But hopefully that can change today. Boston’s back of the line-up isn’t all that different from the M’s – both line-ups have some ugly stat lines. And beyond that, the edge in starting pitching is in the M’s favor, no matter what your projections are for Ray. Boston’s starting Kutter Crawford, an improving righty who’s more MLB depth option than real prospect. A 16th round pick, Crawford’s had mop-up duty in 2021 and 2022, and produced a 10.66 ERA. William the Conquerer, he is not. He has good velocity on his fastball, and of course his primary breaker would be a cutter. But the overall results have not been there. He’s giving up hard contact to just about everyone, and even his AAA numbers look like there’s something wrong. He has no platoon splits, but in the bad way, not the good way. On paper, this is a mismatch.

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

Tacoma lost a wild one at home to Round Rock. They scored 5 in the bottom of the 9th to tie a game that looked lost, then gave up 5 in the top of the 10th. They’re back at it today in Tacoma.

Arkansas’ Taylor Dollard continues his eye-opening season, and his ERA remains below 1 into June.

Modesto jumped all over Inland Empire, winning 14-3. Edwin Arroyo and Jonaton Clase hit back to back homers in the victory.


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