Game 143, Mariners at Angels

marc w · September 16, 2022 at 5:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. Michael Lorenzen, 6:38pm

This blog’s long history has meant that trawling through the voluminous archives means you’re constantly finding records of battles that seem incomprehensible to modern eyes. USSM had to defend Ichiro from…haters? Explaining what FIP was to a skeptical audience? Arguing that Felix would be excellent against an army of TINSTAAP and “the minor leagues don’t mean anything” comments? It all seems so dated, in part because so many of those fights ended so decisively.

Ichiro is a beloved Seattle icon, and the folks who thought him selfish or what not have the good sense not to maintain their beliefs. We don’t really have to argue about pitcher wins anymore. Felix’s entire career came and went (sigh). But I keep thinking about a theme of this blog was the long-standing and contemptible good fortune of…are you ready for this?…you’re not…ok, here we go…The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

They’d won a World Series in 2002 by finding a legendarily dominant closer. Their actual wins exceeded their pythagorean winning percentage every year from 2004-2012. They often built a good bullpen, and spent heavily in free agency or trade to stock their rotation, but didn’t often build a great line-up. They didn’t strike out much, but that was about it. In those years, you could point to so many things that screamed “fluke:” Jered Weaver’s rookie year of 2006 looked downright pedestrian by FIP. Surely, that ERA would rise to match, right? Well, Weaver had a long career and had better results than FIP would predict in nearly all of them – a combined 11 WAR worth above and beyond the fWAR he got with that so-so FIP. They famously burned through prospects – not just the Dallas McPhersons and Brandon Woods, but guys who otherwise had OK careers: Erick Aybar, Casey Kotchman. They couldn’t seem to build around the likes of Garrett Anderson and Vlad Guerrero…and it didn’t matter. They won anyway. You could point to the specific failures, but they’d just point to their record. It was maddening.

Fast forward about a decade, and I think you can make the case that the Angels are the most cursed franchise in the game. They employ two of the most transcendent talents the game has ever seen, and in an ironic inversion of their old history, it doesn’t matter at all. They can’t really do anything to change the overall outcome. Yet again, this season has been a complete failure, just as the last 8-9 have been. Their pitching was so awful in recent years that not even peak Mike Trout could score enough to overcome it. So, this year, they’ve got an ERA under 4 and in line with some contending teams (not great teams, but some good ones). It. Doesn’t. Matter. This isn’t happening. The specific successes are just as irrelevant as the specific failures were in 2009.

They’ve had several different front offices in this period, and I’m struck by just how many different ways they’ve found to lose. They’ve spent big in free agency, going back to Josh Hamilton and through to Anthony Rendon. They’ve been burned in international free agency, they’ve run afoul of the law, and then, tragically, saw one of their own employees give a starting pitcher the drugs that killed him. There are systemic failures, largely around player development, and there are one-offs, like the communications director running a drug ring in the clubhouse. They just keep coming.

It’s tempting to write this off as just the natural swinging of a pendulum, a kind of gambler’s fallacy-style equilibrium. But it isn’t. I think it speaks to how hard it can be to change a culture or processes in an entity as large as a major league team. It also might have something to do with how you prioritize your resources; the Angels may not have seen their player development issues as a critical threat as long as Arte Moreno would spend in free agency. Teams can get set in certain ways that hinder development, as this damning piece on the Royals from the Athletic details. Whatever the ultimate reason, it’s amazing to think back to when we couldn’t believe how lucky they seemed – the way complementary pieces seemed to fall out of the sky for them. Nothing seems further from current reality. I love it.

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

Travis Sawchik has a good article on the M’s usage of the sinker and the uptick in league-wide sinker usage AND sinker effectiveness. I’m not really surprised to see this resurgence – you can’t shun a good a pitch, especially to same-handed hitters, and be as effective. Sure, the newer uppercut swings hurt sinkers for a while, but that’s not a reason to abandon the pitch entirely. In fact, the M’s themselves show it almost doesn’t matter what batters do against them – the value is in the fact that they give hitters something else to think about. For all of the sinkers M’s pitchers have thrown in the past few months, by pitch type run values, they remain…kind of bad at throwing them? It hasn’t mattered, because M’s four-seam fastballs are 3rd best in MLB, behind only the twin juggernauts of the Astros and Dodgers.

The M’s low minors affiliates are now done for the year. Everett finished 59-72 with the worst run differential in the Northwest League. Their 715 runs allowed was easily the worst in the circuit, and over 200 runs more than what first-place Eugene conceded. Modesto finished 66-66, despite a +131 run differential. They are apparently the Portrait of Dorian Gray of Fun Differential, absorbing all of the bad luck that slides off the Mariners. Modesto scored a lot of runs, and really should’ve finished higher. The Arizona League M’s finished at 26-29.

Lookout Landing has good season wrap-ups of Everett , and Modesto.

The Arizona Fall League rosters came out, with nine M’s heading to Peoria to transfer into Javelinas and take on prospects from other organizations. It’s a huge opportunity for minor leagues, especially those who may have missed time due to injury. It seems most MLB superstars logged time in the AFL, from Mike Trout to Bryce Harper (who played in the same AFL season) to MAx Scherzer. With the big Luis Castillo trade, the M’s don’t have as many big names to send down – Noelvi Marte will be there, but for the Reds org, of course. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be players to watch. The M’s are sending five pitchers, including relievers Ty Adcock and Jorge Benitez, two injury-plagued starters in Juan Then and Adam Macko, and former TJ rehabber and breakout prospect in 2022, Bryan Woo. Woo was dominant at times this year for Modesto and Everett, and I’m fascinated to see what he can do against some very good hitters. Adam Macko has brilliant stuff, but hadn’t pitched since May.
Position players include Spencer Packard, coming off a great campaign for Everett, Robert Perez, Jose Caballero, and current 40-man rostered OF Alberto Rodriguez. LL also has a great rundown on all of these players in their AFL preview.


One Response to “Game 143, Mariners at Angels”

  1. globalalpha on September 17th, 2022 10:09 pm

    So, according to Fangraphs, the Angels have had 62 players make an appearance so far this year. And 30 of those have produced negative fWAR on the season. Almost half! And it’s not tiny either, those 30 players have combined for -10 WAR. That more than cancels out the MVP-caliber performance from their 2-way superstar. Ouch.

    Mariners, by comparison, have 16 negative WAR players totaling -5.2 WAR. Dodgers have 10 for -2.5 WAR.

    Man, almost half your players producing below replacement… that sounds like an easy problem to fix, right? Right?

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