Game 155, Mariners at Rangers – It’s Officially Over

September 23, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Martin Perez, 12:05

So as you may have heard, the M’s were mathematically eliminated yesterday, despite crushing the Rangers. Jerry Dipoto has been about as forthright as he can be, as summarized in this TJ Cotterill article. They’ve seen the Yankees/Red Sox/Astros ascend into superteams who have more talent, younger players, and better player development, and then they’ve seen teams in the middle ground like Tampa and Oakland take steps forward, passing the M’s. While they’ve had awful seasons in 2018, it’s hard to assume the M’s will be better than Anaheim and Minnesota, too.

Dipoto’s right to point out that it’s been a successful season on the field, albeit one that hurts more than any successful year should. The M’s have been a better ball club than I thought possible. They also seem stuck. After years of being sunk by black holes – players far below replacement level – the M’s essentially fixed that problem in 2018. They’ve been hurt by a lack of high-end, superstar-level play. I’d hoped that Mitch Haniger would get there, and you can make a case he has, especially if you ignore some newfangled defensive metrics. But it’s tough when all the teams above them/around them have at least one player playing at an even higher level. James Paxton, Jean Segura, and maybe even Marco Gonzales showed flashes of that 6-7-8 WAR talent, but none’s been able to sustain it. To get to the next level, they’ll need further development from Haniger – which seems doable – and another player at that level – that seems a bit harder.

Today’s game likely marks Adrian Beltre’s final game in Arlington, where he’s become an org favorite/legend. Still would’ve loved to see what would’ve happened if Adrian played on the M’s *after* the walls moved in, or in the offensive environment of 2017.

1: Segura, SS
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Healy, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Maybin, LF
7: Negron, RF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Freitas, C
SP: LeBlanc

Game 153 Mariners at Rangers

September 21, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Connor Sadzeck, 5:10pm

It’s been a rough year for the Rangers. It’s hard to believe it was only a couple of years ago that the Rangers occasioned a bunch of “Can teams beat their run differential consistently?” articles by winning 95 games despite a run differential of just +8 (and which was negative for most of the season). A pretty clear rebuild started last year, when the Rangers swapped FA-to-be Yu Darvish for today’s #9 hitter, Willie Calhoun. They’d spent lavishly on FAs like Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo; they’d extended Darvish and Elvis Andrus, and they’d taken on Prince Fielder’s and Cole Hamels’ salaries. Injuries to many of this crew meant that some salaries weren’t movable, while Fielder’s injury forced him into retirement. Hamels and Darvish were traded, and at this point it’s clear that the Rangers aren’t trying to add more veteran presence.

All of that means they’re in a very different position than they were back in late 2014 when they hired manager Jeff Bannister to try to coax another run out of an aging core. Bannister did that to a degree, but after a meeting with team ownership, the Rangers fired him, seemingly out of nowhere, this morning. Old M’s manager Don Wakamatsu will now manage about 10 games. It’s a weird situation, albeit quite different from the one that saw long-time manager Ron Washington fired near the end of 2014 – the move that opened the door for Bannister. The Rangers are bad, and were bad last year. I’m not sure that anyone really had high expectations for the club, but I’m still pretty surprised to see a manager canned this close to the end of the season. Like Scott Servais, Bannister came in with the idea that he’d be the bridge between the analytics department and the players, but I wonder if the GM/owners wanted to get a bit more avant garde in the dying days of a lost season that Banny was comfortable with.

It’s sort of fitting that the first game of the post-Banny Rangers will feature a Rays-style “Opener” in right-handed reliever Connor Sadzeck. Sadzeck was a Rangers draft pick back when they were coming off an AL pennant, and he’s racked up solid K numbers in the minors, but couldn’t avoid walks or dingers. He’s got great velocity from a 6’7″ frame, but he could never put everything together as a starter, so the Rangers moved him to the pen. Even there, he never quite pitched up to the level his stuff suggested, but pitchers can often live by the BABIP as often as they die by it. After getting BABIP’d to death in AAA, he’s pitching around too many walks in his first few MLB innings by giving up essentially no hits on balls in play. He’s walked 5 and K’d 5, and there’s nothing in his performance record that gets you too worried about things, but then he’s averaging 97+ with a straight, almost sinker-y fastball, and he’s got a hard slider at 88 and a big breaking curveball at 79 that could be a real weapon some day. The fastball isn’t fooling anyone, but the slider sure is. This is a classic specialist profile, at least at this stage; he’s struggled with lefties for a while, but he can often give righties problems.

Since moving to the leadoff spot, Mitch Haniger’s been absolutely great, hitting for average and power and racking up key at-bats. This *should* have more of an impact on run scoring, but much of the team has scuffled just as their lead-off man got hot. With Jean Segura back, the M’s have the best 1-2 line-up positions they’ve had all season… and you can understand why the Rangers might want to use Sadzeck in the first inning to see if he can get past these two plus Nellie Cruz before handing it over to someone who could pitch a bit longer. For all of the potential the whole “opener” thing has to artificially suppress salaries, it really seems like it’s working. The Rays give up surprisingly few runs employing the strategy, and they only use it when Blake Snell isn’t pitching. They’re making the back of their “rotation” – guys like ex-M’s prospect Ryan Yarbrough – into legitimate MLB pitchers by putting them in positions to succeed. Remember it was the Angels’ righty-heavy top of the line-up (anchored by that Trout guy) that brought about this experiment in the first place, when the Rays used ex-closer and current ROOGY Sergio Romo to “start.” It’s weird, and I get why a lot of people don’t like it, but just like the shift, if you’ve got a lefty 4th or 5th starter and you’re facing a line-up with 2-3 tough righties at the top…doesn’t it make sense?

1: Haniger, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 1B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Span, LF
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Ramirez

The top of the line-up is still righty-heavy, but the M’s may have overcompensated in making the bottom of the line-up so lefty dominant. It’s not a bad line-up – it’s probably the M’s best possible line-up overall – but the lefties are bunched up together starting with Kyle, and a lefty reliever may get a couple of innings in to deal with it.

Game 152, Mariners at Astros – Bullpen Day

September 19, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Matt Festa vs. Dallas Keuchel, 5:10pm

Like Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel will be a free agent at the end of the year, and it’s not yet clear whether the Astros will make a big effort to keep him in Texas. As a former Cy Young winner, he’ll generate some interest, but as a low-velo, command-and-grounders guy, he won’t command the sky-high prices of the high strikeout pitchers. He’s been somewhat volatile in the past 3-4 years, but he’s been volatile within the “pretty good” to “great” range, which is not a bad place to bounce around in. The M’s have traditionally shied away from ground ballers, with Jerry Dipoto arguing they simply cost too much; the Cubs deal for Tyler Chatwood would seem to make that point AND serve as a cautionary tale. But of course, the M’s have plenty of money, and Keuchel’s kind of the polar opposite of Chatwood: he’s been consistently good, a results-over-scouting report pitcher as opposed to Chatwood’s velocity and not much else.

I’ve talked a lot about the Astros player development work, and Keuchel’s another great example. He throws 89, and had kind of established himself as a boring, near replacement-level starter for a while before suddenly turning great for a few years. No, he hasn’t been able to maintain Cy Young-like stats, but he’s been an excellent pitcher now for 5 years. The question is: what happens when he leaves Houston? Keuchel strikes me as something like an old MG or another cool, slightly culty car model that collectors and enthusiasts go nuts for, and which performs incredibly when tuned by a talented mechanic, but which may be a money pit for someone without highly specialized mechanical training. I don’t know much about either cars or acquiring free agent pitchers with poor fastball velocity, but it’ll be interesting to see what Keuchel’s contract ends up at. Same for the going-on-35-year-old Charlie Morton.

Today the M’s are going to have a bullpen day, and Matt Festa will start things off. Festa put up huge strikeout numbers in AA last year and has largely continued to rack up whiffs this year. Looking at his scouting report, it’s easy to see why. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, a sweeping slider, and then a curve and a change up. That’s a broad repertoire, one befitting a starter. Unfortunately, that’s not who we’ve seen in his admittedly limited duty. Festa’s come up with a fastball at 93 and a slider. And that’s essentially it. He’s thrown a couple of curves, no cambios. His scouting report at Fangraphs had *4* pitches with at least 50 grades (average), and now he’s your standard sinking-fastball/slider reliever. Simplifying can be good for a pitcher upon a promotion, but I’m not sure this is working: he’s got a single strikeout in the bigs. Is today the day he can take his mothballed change up out for a spin?

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Healy, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, LF
9: Gordon, CF
SP: Festa

Postscript on the post yesterday regarding Josh James – someone on twitter sent me this explanation for his breakout: being diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea. That’s fascinating to me, but it seems a bit incomplete. At the very least, it probably greased the skids for any work the Astros did with him, but a jump in velo of ~ 8 MPH sounds like too much to attribute to sleep. But maybe not? Maybe I’d be 10X the blogger I am now if I slept properly.

Jeff Sullivan pointed out that for the first time since 2004, the NL has officially won the interleague series -the AL had dominated for 14 years.

Game 151, Mariners at Astros

September 18, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Josh James, 5:10pm

I mentioned Josh James in yesterday’s game post, but feel like I may have sold him short. If you’ll recall, James was a 34th round draft pick with a solid but unspectacular career in the low minors until this year. Then, at 25, he suddenly laid waste to the high minors. Is this a funky delivery guy, a Tony Cingrani-type thing where minors hitters can’t see the ball and so a guy without much stuff racks up insane K rates in the minors? Uh, no, apparently not. Scouting reports and MiLB broadcasts noted that James sat at 95, and hit 97 with some regularity. He also brought a very good slider to the table, and thus overwhelmed minor league hitters by pitching like a closer for 5 innings at a time.

He made his MLB debut on the first of this month, and I was kind of curious to see what velocity we’d see once we had proper measurement and not stadium radar guns. It didn’t take long: the third pitch of his big league career registered at 101.6 MPH. While he wasn’t able to sustain *that*, he ended up throwing 91 pitches on the night, so this wasn’t some opener strategy where he knew he was only going to pitch 1-2 innings. James doesn’t sit 95; he sits 97-98. That’s just great, really good stuff. That’s…:cries softly:

He hasn’t been perfect, and his ERA has lagged his strikeout-inflated FIP the whole year (MLB and MiLB), but he’s struck out 17 and walked 4 in 10 2/3 IP. This’ll be his second start, and he’s now essentially proven he can be an asset at the big league level, perhaps giving them yet another reliever capable of triple digits as they face great offenses in the playoffs. Framber Valdez is a great story, as it seems just about impossible to get an MLB-quality starting pitcher from a 21-year old DR signing. But James is, if anything, even MORE of an outlier. Valdez came into the year on the prospect radar, albeit just barely. James was *nowhere*. Popup prospects are a thing, and every once in a while, a guy everyone had written off has a huge year, but often that’s due to injury, or it happens a year or two after the draft. It’d be one thing if he rode some crazy change-up or hidden ball delivery to great statistical success, but dude’s been throwing *at least* 95 all year. If you do that as a starter, prospect people will rank you, period. If you do that without walking people, you get those people very, very excited. Every single time. How did everyone miss this guy?

His fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement; it reminds me a little bit of Thyago Vieira’s, but there’s no huge sink or rise. The key to his success, it’d seem, is his control not so much of his fastball (though that’s good), but of his slider. Already in the majors, he’s throwing his slider for strikes at an impressive rate. If anything, I think he’s doing it TOO often. But the Astros turned a nobody into a guy touching 10-freaking-2 who can drop a slider into the zone in any count. God I love the AL West. Perhaps as overkill, he’s got a change-up as well, albeit one he’s not throwing all that often. Looking at the pitch fx/statcast movement numbers, I was instantly reminded of another brilliant cambio, and another time the Astros pulled some absolute nobody from their bag of nobodies and watched him slice through the major leagues: Chris Devenski’s. Devenski had a bit more rise on his fastball, but his change produced sharp sink, about 8″ less than his FB. James has the same 8″ gap, coupled with the same few inches of additional armside run on his change, which comes in around 89-90. It’s not getting the swings/whiffs I’d expect yet, though that may be due to the fact that he’s not hiding it all that well yet (his release point seems pretty different with it). All of that’s to say that James still has room to grow. Faaaaantastic.

The Astros pitchers have dominated this year, and they’re the primary reason why the Astros are headed back to the playoffs and may win 100 games again. Here’s a table of teams ranked according to how many total runs they’ve allowed. There’s no real attempt at controlling for factors like park, opponent, or even games played. This is the highest of high-level metrics. 11 teams have already given up at least 700 runs, while the Orioles are already well over 800. The Astros have given up the fewest, at an astounding 498, by a mile. The gap between the Astros and second-place Dodgers (who play in the NL, remember) is more than the gap between the second-place Dodgers and the 16th-place Pirates. They rank #1 in strikeouts, #1 in hits-allowed, #1 in K-BB%, #1 in ERA (by a mile) and #1 in FIP (by a mile). They’re lapping the field. Teams can content themselves with the knowledge that the gang probably can’t stay together after 2018, though. Both Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel are free agents after the World Series, and while the Astros could bring them back, they may want to focus on the line-up and finding a 1B. It’s possible that the staff responsible for these breathtaking numbers will look quite different next year. Regression is coming, as it always does. But you look at Josh James and think: the Astros don’t really need to care. Charlie Morton has essentially been step for step with James Paxton all year; Pax has the better FIP, Morton the better ERA, HR-rate and innings pitched. Charlie Morton could walk away from the Astros at the end of the year, and it barely puts a dent into their 2019 projections. How does this happen?

The M’s better figure that out. They’ve played the Astros very tough this year, and they’ve figured out a way to keep the Astros close, something no one could do in 2017. That’s got a ton of value. But the M’s can’t really compete over the course of a long season with a team like this, and if the Astros keep piling on unheralded pitchers who throw 100, it’s going to be like this for a while. Signing Charlie Morton might help, especially if he can help them reverse engineer some things, but more importantly, they’re going to need to jump start player development. Logan Gilbert’s now crucial to the M’s hopes of keeping the Astros within visual range.

1: Haniger, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 1B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Span, LF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Herrmann, C
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Leake

Game 150, Mariners at Astros: They’re Coming Out of the Woodwork

September 17, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Framber Valdez, 5:10pm

The M’s were always in a different league than these Astros. Not in the literal sense; not since 2012, anyway. The defending MLB Champions simply had too much talent and too much depth to worry seriously about a challenge from the Mariners. Even when the M’s briefly took the AL West lead, it had more to do with the Astros’ injuries and the vagaries of small sample sizes than the sense that the battle for AL supremacy had been joined. Even the A’s, the latest team to make a run at the Astros’ crown, don’t seem to match up with them all that well. Despite their ridiculous run in the second half, the A’s simply can’t match up with the Astros’ starting pitching, though their line-up is starting to close the gap. But let’s put the big names aside – the real reason the M’s have (rightly) focused on the wild card is that everyone knows that the Astros will develop their own crew of MLB depth within a season, *even as* they’re able to trade pieces away to pull in, I don’t know, Gerrit Cole.

Today’s starting pitcher, Framber Valdez, is a perfect example. Valdez was signed at age 21 out of the Dominican Republic, an under 6-foot lefty without top-shelf velocity. That sounds like the background of org depth that kicks around the Midwest League if everything breaks right, but he somehow made his way to AA last year. Despite struggling with walks, he moved up the chain thanks to a worm-killing sinker and a solid curveball thrown around 80MPH. At AA though, his walk problems and issues out of the stretch seemed to doom him. His ERA was nearly 6, and while his K/9 was decent enough, he got hit too hard to profile as much more than depth – albeit depth who had already overcome long odds to make it to the high minors. Because these are the Astros, he overcame a horrific BABIP to torch AA, striking out over 11 per 9, and moving quickly through AAA. The walk issues subsided a bit and he was one of the minors top strikeout artists, just like his teammate and former 34th round pick, Josh James.

James, Valdez’ teammate this year in AA, is 25 and had reached AA last year. Like Valdez, he struggled with balls in play and walks, and as a slightly old-for-the-league 34th-round righty, I don’t think anyone had serious expectations for him this year. Then, this guy that didn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere (even Valdez cracked an org-top-20 list) started sitting 95, and struck out 171 minor leaguers in 114 1/3 MiLB innings. He’s now in the majors, where he’s been hard to square up, with 17 punchouts in 10 2/3 IP.

I don’t think Framber Valdez is any sort of wunderkind. He had to age out of being a kind at all just to sign a tiny-dollar pro contract. He’s got a good breaking ball and a sinking, er, sinker, which as descriptions go will work just fine for about 20,000 guys none of us have heard of. He DOES seem to be the best version of himself possible, and that’s what’s so difficult following a team that plays in Houston’s division. We can hand-wave the gap in current MLB talent aside, even though the Astros are much younger than the Mariners. You can’t hand-wave aside the fact that the Astros’ prospects are also far, far better AND that the Astros track record of developing players – both prospects and not – is just lights years ahead of Seattle’s. This, more than anything, is what the M’s have to figure out in the next year or two, a span that will see them likely lose a lot of the production they’ve had this year (Nellie and D-Span are both free agents, and there’s no way they’re bringing back both). They have nothing of note in the system beyond a player in the DSL and two prospects in High A and AA who have plenty of question marks. The M’s need a Framber Valdez. Frankly, they need a couple of years where the M’s get a Valdez and a Josh James at the same time. Of course, even if they do that, they’ll only be keeping pace.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cruz, DH
4: Healy, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Maybin, LF
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: LeBlanc

Wade LeBlanc is arguably the M’s greatest player development story of the year, or at least, he’s right up there with Marco Gonzales. It’s kind of funny, as the two highlight two different ways of measuring value. Because he gives up so many HRs, Wade LeBlanc is never going to do well in FIP. By RA9-based WAR, LeBlanc is essentially tied with James Paxton. By FIP-based WAR, he’s below average. Marco’s been the opposite: his FIP is great thanks to a very low walk rate and moderate dinger proclivities, but for the second year in a row, BABIP and strand rate have left him with more runs allowed than FIP would predict. Does some of this have to do with the M’s not-great defense? Yes. You don’t want to penalize Gonzales for the (in)actions of his teammates, but if Wade’s figured out a way to pitch around an obvious weakness, you don’t want to ignore that, either. FIP’s more consistent from year to year, but we’re on year 2 of waiting for Paxton’s runs-allowed to drop down into alignment. Some pitchers consistently outpitch their FIP, and some consistently pitch worse.

Game 149, Mariners at Angels

September 16, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Marco Gonzales vs. Jaime Barria, 1:05pm

Baseball is strange. The M’s came into the season reeling from Anaheim’s win in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. And despite injury and a spring so bad it became international news, Ohtani has more than lived up to his considerable hype. He’s clearly one of the best stories in the game, and comes into the game with a 162 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR *as a designated hitter*. He’s also flashed elite stuff off the mound, and while we won’t see him there for a long while, he added another win off the mound in 51 tantalizing innings. Mike Trout remains Mike Trout, and today’s starter, Jaime Barria, somehow has more RA9-based WAR than Marco Gonzales, and is neck and neck with James freaking Paxton. There are plenty of reasons why it seemed like the Angels were better on paper, and thus it can’t be a total shock that the Angels run differential is +35, while the M’s is -42.

The M’s are 11-7 against their divisional rivals, and are looking to break the Angels’ spirit by concluding a four-game sweep today. So much has happened to make the M’s season feel like more of a failure than it is. I mean, the long term view here is still unclear, and pretty darn bad, but just looking at 2018, it feels like we should be having more fun. I completely understand why we’re not, but just for today, let’s enjoy the schadenfreude of beating the Angels comprehensively in this season series and blowing past them after they started off so brightly in April. We don’t get to have nice things, it’s true, but Anaheim’s nice things don’t get to go to the playoffs, either.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Span, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Healy, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Freitas, C
8: Gordon, CF
9: Romine, SS
SP: Gonzales

The latest Mariner to fall ill and miss a game is DH Nelson Cruz. Feel better soon, Nellie. Today’s line-up does not inspire a great deal of confidence, though I remain confident that the Angels bullpen will find a way to blow it if they’re entrusted with a lead. And frankly, today’s line-up is sort of watchable in the way a late Cactus League game is: will Vogelbach figure things out at this level? How can Gonzales make counter adjustments, and how does his stamina look after a long season? It’s not much, but I’ll take it.

Game 147, Mariners at Angels

September 14, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Matt Shoemaker, 7:00pm

Yesterday in a radio hit at AM 710, Jerry Dipoto talked about his frustration with the M’s second half and took some of the blame for their slide. Here’s an interesting quote from that interview, as posted in this story at MyNorthwest:

“We were in a position to do special things and we had a group that was playing together in a way that was so energizing for everybody around the team, and we watched it methodically and painfully be pulled apart over the course of these last two months – and it’s gotten worse as we’ve gone,” Dipoto said. “That has to be part of our decision-making heading into ’19, and frankly those are some tough decisions. We’re at a bit of a crossroads in looking at where we are as a club and trying to determine how we get to a championship level, because we’ve taken two steps forward and then three steps back – and that’s on us.”

I’ve spent much of the season taking issue with this roster construction and how they’ve seemingly thrown Felix under the bus at times. I’m not always trying to give Jerry the benefit of the doubt, but I think this was a great start. I’m not saying the blame here falls squarely on Jerry Dipoto’s well-tailored shoulders. I DO like the fact that he’s taking some responsibility, and I’m really interested to see if that manifests itself in different roster construction strategies this offseason. “We have a group of players, frankly it’s close to half our lineup since the midpoint of the season who just stopped getting on base with any regularity. … We have had roughly half our lineup just effectively disappear for half a season, and it’s really hard to score runs when only half of your lineup is working,” Jerry said on the Danny, Dave, and Moore show. That’s…that’s pretty specific, and it’s pretty obviously true. The issue, of course, is that they seemed to go out of their way to get hitters who don’t walk, which means if these guys (Healy, Gordon, Seager this year) don’t have hits falling in pretty regularly, then they’re just making tons of outs. That’s exactly what we’re seeing.

Dee Gordon’s been abysmal in the second half, with a wRC+ of 57 and a batting average (his big skill, remember) of .239. Ryon Healy’s average and K:BB ratio are better in the 2nd half (how could they NOT be?), but his overall production has dipped because more of his hits have been singles. This sucks, and it’s unfortunate that it’s happening in the 2nd half when Oakland’s surged, but at the same time, these guys are *going* to be streaky.

Another thing that’s come out of that has been an acknowledgement that team chemistry has nose dived along with their playoff odds. Score another one for the “chemistry follows winning, it doesn’t CREATE winning” crowd, perhaps. But in light of everything that’s happened, I do wonder how Dee Gordon’s viewed in the clubhouse, especially after the dust-up with Jean Segura. Similarly, I wonder what folks think of Segura after the fight, being obliquely but clearly shamed by his manager for taking himself out of a game due to foot pain, and then missing games with illness. To be clear: I’m not trying to shame him for those things, but I just wonder how he’s viewed in there. Neither Gordon nor Segura are likely to move in the offseason, unless Dipoto is very, very serious about trying to bolster OBP.

I wonder if those comments aren’t directed so much at Healy/Gordon/Seager, but at long-time hitting coach Edgar Martinez. I wonder if part of this is laying the groundwork for a separation from the guy who’s name is on the damn street, and whose name graces a restaurant inside the stadium. Edgar was essentially the only staff member retained by Dipoto, and their line-up has lagged behind their pitching staff in production this year. It used to be that GMs would fire a hitting coach to slake public thirst for change, any change, after a painful slide like this. That was never going to be the case here, but I do wonder if Dipoto thinks Edgar hasn’t done enough to develop some patience or…something in his charges this year.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Span, LF
6: Healy, 1B
7: Seager, 3B
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, CF
SP: Roenis Elias

Game 146, Mariners at Angels

September 14, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Mike Leake vs. Odrisamer Despaigne, 7:10pm

Mike Leake is putting the finishing touches on the most Mike Leake season ever. He has a career FIP of 4.13, but this year that’s shot up all the way to…4.14. His ERA is right at 4, very close to his career average of 4.11. Mike Leake is perhaps the most freakishly consistent pitcher at the seasonal level I’ve ever seen, which is pretty wild considering how inconsistent he can appear from game to game or even month to month. He’s already topped 2 fWAR, and is something like an unsung hero on a team like this one that has needed some consistent innings out of the rotation like few other clubs. That’s great, and Mike’s been worth every penny they’ve given him, and it’ll be nice to have someone like him in the rotation in 2019.

Having said all of that, can you imagine being fired up to watch Mike Leake face Odrisamer Despaigne, cast off by the Florida Marlins AAA club and picked up and sent straight to the bigs by the Angels? I think the Angels season can be aptly summed up in the pitching probables here. If you’re reaching for Despaigne, something’s gone horribly, irreversibly, wrong. It’s September of a contending year (albeit past-tense contention now) and there are no prospects playing, just Mike Leake (known quantity) versus Odrisamer Despaigne (known, bad, quality). I…I realize we’re all at that point of disconnecting from the 2018 M’s, and every once in a while I try to fight that off by looking at something underlying a player or the team’s predicament as a whole. Today, I’ve got nothing.

Well, OK, not *nothing*. Jeff Sullivan wrote a cool article at FG the other day about the Mets’ home park dramatically limiting BABIP, and doing so, at least potentially, by limiting exit velocities. It interests me because it seems so akin to Safeco; HRs were really hard to hit at Citi field when they opened it, so they did a big change of the OF dimensions in 2012 or so, around the time that Safeco’s outfield got pulled in. Both parks are now ~ average-ish for HRs (more so Citi than Safeco in 2018), but now it’s very hard for fly balls to find a hole in the smaller outfields. That’s a known factor; it’s not news to teams at this point. But the effect seemed to be to dramatically weaken the Mets’ home field advantage. Their winning percentage at home minus their winning percentage on the road from 2012-2018 was the lowest in baseball, and in fact was the only negative in the game. Just above them, and the only team within miles of them, is the M’s.

To be fair, much of this stems from the tail end of the Zduriencik years, where the club struggled mightily everywhere, but *especially* at home. The weird effects brought on by the new hyped-up baseball seemed like they could destroy the M’s, as Jerry Dipoto didn’t factor in the rabbit ball when targeting Wade LeBlanc (the first time), Drew Smyly, etc. In his defense, they’ve actually performed better at home in his tenure as GM, but it *does* make you question – again – the strategy of building an offense around base hits. I raised this when the M’s got Dee Gordon, but there seemed to be a concerted effort to avoid walks when bringing in offensive players, and the idea was that you’d just trade walks (and some homers) for a bunch more singles. That’s risky when pitchers now strike out so many batters, and when teams have tons of relievers capable of throwing 98, WITH the platoon advantage to neutralize your string-hits-together strategy in the late innings. But to run this strategy *in Safeco* seemed to be piling risk on top of risk. The M’s team batting average of .263 is the product of hitting .263 on the road, but just .243 at home. Sure, they’re not as heavily punished for that lower performance, because Safeco has a lower run environment, making each out slightly less costly. But at the macro level, at 30,000 feet, the M’s built their club *against* their home park, and they’re getting hammered for it.

1: Haniger, CF
2: Span, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Healy, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, SS
SP: Leake

Game 145, Padres at Mariners

September 12, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Joey Lucchesi, 3:40pm

The M’s faced rookie Joey Lucchesi not long ago, back at the end of August. At that time, I noted that Lucchesi had started the year brilliantly, armed with a weird change-slider hybrid thingy, but as the league figured him out, he was scuffling. Of course, the cure for a struggling pitcher is often pretty obvious: a struggling opposing line-up. That’s what he got in the M’s, and he proceeded to take them apart, with 9 Ks in 6 2/3 IP. Have the M’s figured out his one trick? Has Lucchesi made counter adjustments late in the year? Does any of it matter?

I ask because the M’s have the look of a team that’s completely spent, and doesn’t much want to keep playing games their own play has rendered meaningless. It has to hurt, to know you’ll be the team everyone thought blew a great chance at the wildcard, to see all of the miserable playoff odds graphs plummet towards zero. I have no idea how I’d motivate the players at this point, so I’m not really blaming Scott Servais for this particular bad look. All I can say is that it’s getting pretty miserable for the fans. There’s no one coming up that fans are excited to see. I’ve almost convinced myself I’m interested in Shawn Armstrong, who’s been very solid thus far, but he’s an out-of-options middle reliever who came up in the Cleveland org, not a prospect. Dan Vogelbach getting some ABs would be nice, but he’s been hurt, and no one’s going to want to rush back to take part in…this.

So we’re at a similar point to the beginning of the year. We pretty much know who’s going to be on the 2019 Mariners, so it’s just a matter of seeing if they can make some sort of improvement or tweak to their repertoire. I think Wade LeBlanc has been one of the unsung heroes of a solid 2018 club, and he’s been rewarded with a (comparatively cheap) contract extension. At his age (34) and talent level, I can’t quite see how he’s going to best his 2018 performance. Maybe he won’t have to, and the M’s could bank on an improved Marco Gonzales or something, but it’s…strange to be watching September baseball, trying to see how the races could shake out in 2019 and focusing on Wade LeBlanc. A bill is coming due, a bill forestalled by all of the M’s trades for relievers, Mitch Haniger and, bizarrely, by signing LeBlanc. But it’s coming, nonetheless. It won’t come due next year, I don’t think, but the M’s are coming to the limit of weird, semi-successful strategies to kick the can further down the road.

(It’s almost like brawling in the clubhouse hasn’t solved any underlying issues with the club. Weird.)

1: Haniger, RF
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Healy, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Negron, LF
7: Beckham, SS
8: Freitas, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: LeBlanc

Oh, one of THOSE games. Kris Negron is 32, Beckham will turn 32 in a couple of days. Your September call-ups, everybody!

Game 144, Padres at Mariners

September 11, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Bryan Mitchell, 7:10pm

I’m sorry for the lack of activity. It isn’t full-on M’s ennui; if you’d like some, check out David Skiba’s great post here. It’s been mostly fun stuff, and then some work stuff thrown in the mix, but let’s face it: the M’s aren’t making any of us completely overhaul our schedule to catch these games. This is a *formerly* strange feeling that’s now become almost routine: a very good season, a winning season, blessed with contention late in the year, that suddenly curdles and spoils. They were too fun for too much of the year to get too upset about it all. But then, with half the league trying to be bad, and with 5 playoff bids up for grabs, it won’t exactly do to give them a high five for trying and saying that it’ll all work out eventually.

As the season began, I said this:

The season is, for all intents and purposes, over. So does that mean I “win” and the M’s look silly? No, not really, not with a solid season and months and months of wins under their belt. What I was thinking when I wrote that was this: I don’t really see how this roster is good enough to win a playoff spot, but if they DO win that second wild card, it’ll be because something big has happened – something that we couldn’t see back in the dark ages of March, but that becomes captivating and obvious over the course of the season. I came into the season thinking that for all of his practice, Jerry Dipoto isn’t really, uh, good at making trades. There’s some wins in there, and the Segura/Haniger trade stands out as a potential franchise-altering move, but it’s just weighed down by a really long list of unforced errors. Second, the M’s didn’t seem to be developing talent all that well, despite that being the focus of the front office. If the M’s won a playoff spot, I thought it would highlight something the team was good at – much better than the average MLB outfit. They came in with less true-talent in 2018 than some of their rivals and much less talent for the years ahead. If they won, it’d either because their current roster suddenly got much better, or maybe because something shocking happened on the farm and they got contributions from, I don’t know, the latest crop of MiLB free agents they picked up.

None of that happened. For a long time, it didn’t matter. I was wrong about so, so much, from who the M’s would be chasing, to the specific problems the M’s would face. I thought the pitching staff might continue to hemorrhage dingers, which would dig the offense too much of a hole to get out. Everyone was worried about the pitching, and I thought they’d really struggle to keep total runs-allowed around 700, a figure low enough that an above-average offense could slug their way to a really positive run differential. I have no idea how, really, but here’s the thing: the starting rotation that Jerry Dipoto and essentially ONLY Jerry Dipoto thought was good enough has more or less done their job. They’re giving up 4.4 runs per game, which is high-ish for a team that plays in Safeco, but a dramatic improvement on 2017. He said they’d be better, and good enough, and there it is. A bunch of 88 MPH fastballs and Edwin Diaz, and they may hold runs allowed to 700. The problem is that the offense still hasn’t crested 600. I’m not exactly sure why everyone thought the offense was one of the team’s best, but I think many thought the M’s might score quite a few runs this year, and they’re under 4.1 per game, and then they’ve doubled down by being bad at defense. The M’s position players have struggled mightily, which pretty much takes away all the credit I’d give Dipoto for his pitching staff’s success.

They’ve done it in very predictable ways: they don’t draw walks, which, oddly, seems to have been the plan. They picked up two of the most walk-averse batters in the league, and somehow got them to walk *less.* Pair that with Kyle Seager’s face-plant and a ball and weather-driven return to pitcher-friendly form from Safeco Field, and here we are. As many are already saying, the future looks a bit more bleak, which is one reason I’m trying to focus on the positive of *all of those wins* they had early on. The M’s have more committed dollars in 2019 than all but a couple of teams, like Boston and New York. More than the Angels and their back-loaded Pujols deals, more than San Francisco. The M’s have committed about 2X as much to Felix next year as the A’s have guaranteed to their entire roster, which, sure, says more about the A’s than anything, but is also pretty troubling for an M’s franchise that unexpectedly finds themselves *chasing* the A’s. The A’s are younger and have tons of flexibility (and no willingness to use it), and…it gets tough to figure out how to get out of this.

The nice thing, in the VERY short term, is that the Padres, who did the very trendy thing and sold off every high-priced player and really leaned in to a rebuild, are in town and are abysmal. They can’t hit, and starting tonight is Bryan Mitchell, who has given up more walks than strikeouts this year and in his call-ups in 2016 and 2017. He’s got the 2nd-worst FIP of any player who’s thrown at least 50 innings. These are the decisions you’re forced to make when you have essentially nothing that’s fully cooked at the big league level. Many of us in the M’s blogosphere/twitter have lamented the M’s seeming desire to remain just shy of good, to bob along on the very fringes of contention. Watching the Padres (or thinking back to 2010) make me remember that things could always be worse. Of course, most think the Padres will be competitive sooner than the M’s, so there’s that, but it’s instructive to see what tearing it all down actually looks like.

1: Haniger, CF
2: Span, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Healy, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, SS
SP: Marco Gonzales, welcome back, buddy.

The Rainiers/M’s have parted ways with Pat Listach, their manager for the past four years. I assume we’ll see plenty more moves in the months to come.

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