Game 145, Mariners at Angels: Splitting Headaches

marc w · September 18, 2022 at 12:54 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Reid Detmers, 1:07pnm

It’s clearly not time to panic, but dropping the first two in Anaheim is sub-optimal for the M’s pursuit of the #1 wild card spot. They have quite a few games against the underbelly of the league like Detroit and Oakland coming up, so nothing’s decided yet, but avoiding sweeps would be advisable (as it always is). I’d say that the M’s hit much better away from home, but as we saw last night, these are not the regular Mariners. You have to make do and hope for some 2021-style nonsense like Abe Toro walkoffs. We can also hope for an extension of Marco Gonzales’ current hot streak.

But I want to talk a bit more about the M’s home/road hitting splits, just because they’re so noteworthy. Their overall batting lines are different, but only separated by about 36 points of OPS. BABIP has a lot to do with that, as T-Mobile park has the lowest BABIP of any venue in the league: It is exceedingly hard to get a base hit in Seattle. Despite medium but not insane OPS splits, the gap is much larger in something more important: runs. The M’s score 3.82 runs/game at home, but a healthy 4.55/game on the road. That has some implications.

The first thing that we notice is that the hitting woes at home are NOT driven by home runs. The days of T-Mobile being a HR-suppressing monster are long gone, but the days it almost actively encouraged them are gone too. The average distance a fly ball flies is lower in T-Mobile than any other park. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hit HRs; the M’s have homered in 3.26% of their home plate appearances. On the road, however, it’s…uh, 3.26%. If you can hit the ball hard enough, you can get it out of T-Mobile, just as you can get it out of any other park in the league. But if you don’t hit the ball hard to begin with, you might be in trouble. T-Mobile is not a place to luck into a wall-scraping HR on a mis-hit – this isn’t 2019, so those are hard league-wide, but essentially impossible in Seattle.

This is partly the reason the M’s are scuffling so badly at home: they seem to have spotted what they believed was a market inefficiency. Instead of going for the Judges/Stantons type who nearly break statcast with super-high exit velocities and distances, they would acquire guys who hit the ball comparatively softly. No, you’re not going to hit home runs with this type, but the idea was that they would get base hits – soft line drives falling in front of MLB outfields that are now positioned much further out than the pre-Statcast era. Dee Gordon, JP Crawford, and now Adam Frazier are the obvious ones, and each had some kind of track record, even within a season, where this approach was seemingly proved right. None would be a superstar, but having players put pressure on defenses and getting on base in front of your sluggers makes a ton of sense.

At this point, they may need to rethink this. T-Mobile doesn’t appear large enough for flares to fall in front of outfielders regularly, and a complete lack of consistent HR (or extra base hit) power renders even a so-so batting average worthless in T-Mobile. This has left Crawford with an extremely empty .248 average with an ISO under .100, but it’s left Adam Frazier nearly unplayable at .224/.293/.299 in Seattle. And of course, most worrisome of all, it’s turned bat-first corner OF Jesse Winker into a .202/.329/.282 hitter at home.

This is odd, given that Winker was, until this year, someone who hit the ball pretty hard. He wasn’t Aaron Judge, but this year’s 87.7 MPH wasn’t exactly predictable. Worse is the distribution of that average. Last year, he hit fly balls and line drives at 95.7 MPH, right alongside Pete Alonso and George Springer. This year, those air balls are at 90.8, good for 210th in baseball, down from the mid-40s a year ago. The contrast with his ex-Reds teammate, Eugenio Suarez, couldn’t be starker. Suarez is hitting air balls at 94.3. A bit above average, nothing superhuman. His ground balls are remarkably poorly struck, which kind of makes sense: he is never attempting to hit a grounder, and any ground ball is thus, definitionally, a mis-hit. This profile looks familiar.

In 2021, Kyle Seager hit air balls at 94.1 and ground balls at 82.4 MPH. This year, Suarez is at 94.3 and 82.7, respectively. Suarez has fractionally more hard-hit balls, which helps him avoid Seager’s terminally low BABIPs. Suarez is also walking a bit more, but the *shape* of the slash line is familiar, because the underlying contact pattern is nearly identical. Suarez will not win any batting titles, but hitting the way he does allows him to hit for power *even at home.* He’s following Seager’s path to posting a solid WAR despite a low average, and being productive at home despite a park that hurts hitters. Jesse Winker is…not doing any of that.

All of that said, it’s unsurprising that the M’s are scuffling a bit with all of their “hit the ball hard” guys on the shelf. Suarez is now on the 10-day IL, while Julio’s back will hold him out today and maybe one more game. Winker isn’t in his pink-hued sarcophagus, but Anaheim is only marginally better for a hitter like him. The most important thing the M’s can do is work with him in the offseason to figure out where that missing 2-3 MPH in exit velo went.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Santana, DH
5: Haggerty, LF
6: Moore, CF
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Toro, 3B
9: Casali, C
SP: Marco Gonzales

Ooof, that’s not a great line-up. Let’s go Marco.
As a lefty with a good slider/curve, Reid Detmers has sizable platoon splits. That’s good for guys like Dylan Moore, but maaaan, you wish Julio/Eugenio were here to try their luck.


3 Responses to “Game 145, Mariners at Angels: Splitting Headaches”

  1. mrakbaseball on September 18th, 2022 3:16 pm

    Does Vegas have an over/under on how many runs the Mariners score in the wild card series? 3?

  2. eponymous coward on September 18th, 2022 5:48 pm

    Have to make the WC series first. It’s not looking like an absolute lock right now.

  3. MKT on September 19th, 2022 12:16 pm

    “Have to make the WC series first. It’s not looking like an absolute lock right now.”

    Right, it’s very nice to get Dylan Moore back. And Haniger too, but we need the all-star caliber Haniger from earlier this season rather than the one who might be feeling the effects of accumulated injuries that we’ve seen the last several weeks. And of course we need Julio and Suarez.

    The team has nice depth this season, with the Moores and Haggertys who can step in and play some quality innings, but the offense is merely decent when it’s at full power with its stars in the lineup. Without those stars, even the Angels can do another one of those accursed near sweeps (for me the low point this season was in June when the Angels took 4 out of 5 in Seattle). Or heaven forbid, a 4-game sweep depending on the outcome of today’s game.

    A hot streak by the Os is not impossible, and a cold streak by the Ms is not only possible, it might be happening right now thanks in part to those injuries. The odds are strongly in the Ms favor to make the playoffs, but it’s not a certainty yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.