Game 123, Nationals at Mariners

marc w · August 23, 2022 at 6:17 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. Erick Fedde, 7:10pm

The execrable Nationals shuffle into Seattle for a brief two-game set before the M’s face an actual Wild Card contender in Cleveland starting on Thursday. I talked a lot about Erick Fedde when the M’s faced him in July, but the cliff’s notes version is that his K rate (never really strong) is down this season, while his walks are up. He’s always given up plenty of hard contact and dingers, and that hasn’t changed. Perhaps the biggest change is that he’s been hurt; he was just activated off the IL to make this start. His overall results have been better than replacement level, but especially this year, the gap isn’t exactly huge. Fedde is exactly the sort of pitcher you’d expect a team cruising to over 100 losses would run out there to eat innings, and, shoulder-willing, that’s what he’ll try and do. No one’s *excited* about Fedde, but they can’t exactly forfeit games at this point. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve looked into it, especially post-Juan Soto trade.

Robbie Ray’s season really is something of an enigma, and it looks a bit like a microcosm of his volatile career. It’s kind of weird, because it’s not like Ray has completely reinvented himself as a pitcher: he throws pretty hard, has a good slider, and strikes out quite a few batters. He can be wild, but, with the exception of the shortened 2020 season, not especially so. He gives up loud contact when batters hit the ball, but his results on contact have fluctuated pretty wildly. He’s won a Cy Young, and he’s been so bad he was essentially let go for free by Arizona in 2020. He had an ERA of near 5 in 2016, and solidly under 3 in 2017, despite fielding-independent marks that were nearly identical – you get the idea.

So perhaps it’s not really a surprise that his season line is the sum of very, very volatile stretches. He was pretty bad in the first two months, with an ERA of near 5 at the end of May. After trying out the sinker he hadn’t thrown in more than a year in early June, he reeled off 7 brilliant starts – a 1.41 ERA and 49 Ks to 15 walks. Again though, part of this seemed to be sequencing; his FIP in April-May wasn’t *that* much higher than his FIP in June-July. But whereas he couldn’t avoid big innings, or a bunch of hits strung together, early on, he wiggled out of trouble later on. His last five starts, though, have been out and out bad. He’s gone 25 IP, given up 29 hits including 5 HRs, with an ERA well over 5 and a FIP approaching it. To be fair, two of those came against him nemesis team in Houston, and he pitched pretty well against the Yanks and Angels. But the M’s need the good version of Ray back.

Part of this has to do with his sinker. When he went to it and had immediate success, people hailed it. It coincided with his great results, and it caught batters who weren’t expecting it. Since then, he’s relied on it as his primary fastball – why wouldn’t he? Because it’s his worst pitch. I mentioned this before, but since switching to it, the success he’s had has come as a result of batters doing much, much worse…on his four-seam. They’re struggling against his slider too. Early in the year, he was a two-pitch pitcher, and he paid a price for that. I’m not saying he needs to shelve the sinker again, but he’s got to be more judicious. Batters are hitting .277 with a .479 SLG% off the sinker, and have slumped to . They were slugging .485 against his four-seam at the time he added in the sinker; since then, they’re down to .313! It’s not a binary decision, he could – and should – have two separate fastballs. But he needs to throw a bit more of the old four-seam, especially to right-handed batters.

Of course, even all of this is subject to good old Robbie Raysian volatility, right? With these multiple buckets of in-season data, we’re grabbing plenty of noise along with what we hope are some signals. There’s an interaction at play, too, that makes it harder to say definitively that more four-seamers = better, especially given what happened in April/May. But Ray’s already learned the value of changing things up on the fly mid-season. I hope he gives it another go.

There was some Twitter discussion about Carlos Santana the other day, and how his season wRC+ (comprehensive batting stat) is more or less what Mike Ford’s was, if you can remember who Mike Ford was. They got there in different ways, with Ford drawing walks and Santana swatting homers, but neither line was, on the whole, good. But what Carlos Santana has been is insanely clutch. He’ll only get a few hits a month, it seems, but each one is exquisitely timed to win a game. It’s why Santana ranks 3rd in MLB in Fangraphs’ Clutch score, essentially a ratio of how a batter hits in close/late/high-leverage situations to how they hit in other, less critical, plate appearances. If you scroll down, Abraham Toro of all people cracks the top 25.

So, a big part of this is the formula itself. Because the denominator is a player’s overall line (or line in non-clutch situations), it kind of helps to be, uh, real bad in those other situations. Santana and Toro have that part down pat. Toro has an OPS under .600 in low-leverage spots, and under *.500* in medium-leverage spots. His high-leverage line is nothing to write home about, but it’s comfortably over .600, and he HAS had some game winning hits. Santana’s OPS of .563 in low-leverage spots looks like it’s DFA-worthy, but in high leverage PAs? He’s got a line of .263/.396/.579. Baseball.

Of course, for some to soar in a stat, others must face-plant. The second *worst* clutch score in the game belongs to Cal Raleigh. This was fairly surprising, though I have noted a few late HRs in blowouts recently. Raleigh apparently has a slash line of .135/.154/.243 in high-leverage spots, though he’s only had 39 trips to the plate in them. Am I worried? Nah; his line in low-leverage spots is closer to being reliable than below-40-PAs, and he’s done well enough that his clutch score was always going to be in jeopardy. The stat, as you can imagine, doesn’t have year-over-year consistency – it’s more of a “for fun” thing, or how it *felt* watching a hitter more than something that describes a hitter’s talent level. But it’s amazing, as is the fact that the M’s pitching staff as a whole is #1 in baseball in team clutch, and 2nd in baseball since June 1 (they were in negative territory before June).

1: Julioooo, CF
2: France, 1B
3: Winker, LF
4: Haniger, RF
5: Santana, DH
6: Suarez, 3B
7: Crawford, SS
8: Raleigh, C
9: Frazier, 2B
SP: Ray

The M’s have traded a lot of prospects and a lot of pitchers over the past year, but file away the name Bryan Woo, who won the NWL’s pitcher of the week and continues to rack of K’s. Another of the M’s draft picks out of Cal Poly a year after they got current AA star Taylor Dollard from the same school, Woo throws in the mid-90s and seems to have a developing change – his pre-season reports on that pitch weren’t great, but tell that to high-A batters.

Speaking of Dollard, he’s pitching tonight, and doing quite well against Tulsa.


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