Game 131, Rangers at Mariners

August 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 22 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Nick Martinez, 7:10pm
Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 53.2% Baseballprospectus.com: 48.3%

Last night was another in what’s become quite a series of inexplicable collapses against bad-to-mediocre starting pitchers. It technically does happen to every team now and then, but I’m a bit nervous because the Rangers are sending yet another not so good starter to the mound tonight in Nick Martinez. If you look hard enough, you can convince yourself that Martinez is actually different in some important ways to Miles Mikolas, but that won’t make the queasy feeling go away.

Like Mikolas, Martinez is a fly-balling right-hander, who relies primarily on a four-seamer, but also throws a change, a slider and a curve. Like Mikolas, the slider’s his breaking ball against righties, while he throws the curve and change to lefties. Unlike Mikolas, Martinez has shown normal platoon splits; lefties have torched him this season. He’s not much of a strikeout guy, and hitters have tended to push him off the plate. He’s thrown fewer strikes than average, as you’d figure given his walk rate. What he does well is generate fly balls. If you’re Chris Young, inducing lots of fly balls is a great thing. If you’re just most other pitchers, it’s not immediate clear that this is cause for congratulations, and if you pitch half your games in Arlington, it’s downright worrying. Indeed, Martinez has been destroyed at home – his home ERA is 7.52, and batters are slugging .546 against him. Perhaps as a result, he’s walked more than he’s struck out in Arlington. On the road though, he’s not a lost cause. He’s still not good or anything, but he’s limited the damage. Perhaps this is why he’s made 14 road starts against just 8 at home.

So, all of those fly balls. Martinez’s fly ball rate ranks 7th in baseball among pitchers with at least 80 IP. Chris Young is way out in front at #1, of course, and there are some other pretty effective pitchers in the top 10 – from Danny Duffy of KC to Jake Odorizzi of Tampa. Martinez hasn’t quite made the transition to effective starter yet, but that’s to be expected as he spent nearly all of 2013 in the high-A Carolina League. His four-seam fastball has plenty of vertical rise, and comes in at 92 or so. I know I’ve beaten this particular drum far too often, but tonight’s match up is interesting in that both pitchers rely on very similar four-seam fastballs. Paxton’s got horizontal run of around 5″ and vertical rise of 10-11″. Martinez is essentially a mirror image – run of 5″ (the other way, of course), and rise of 10″. When batters put Paxton’s four-seamer in play, about 55% of them have been ground balls. When batters put Martinez’s in play, only 33% have been hit on the ground. That latter figure makes some intuitive sense. Paxton’s doesn’t, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather enjoy it than understand it.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Taylor, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: Paxton

The Rainiers and the Iowa Cubs finish off their series tonight at Cheney with an interesting match-up of pitchers who’ve bounced between AAA and the big leagues. Dan Straily starts for Iowa, while Erasmo Ramirez gets the ball for Tacoma. Both have enjoyed some limited success in the bigs, both have struggled to adjust after some rough stretches, and both have given up too many HRs. The M’s are again shifting their rotation around next week, with Felix starting the first game against Washington on Friday. That means that they’ll probably make a roster move to cover the finale of the Rangers series on Wednesday afternoon. Since Taijuan Walker pitched last night, that would make Erasmo Ramirez a pretty good candidate. Meaning, while it’d be fun to see Erasmo against the I-Cubs and Straily, I wouldn’t bet on him making this start.

Jack Zduriencik To Be Mariners’ GM Until He Isn’t

August 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

A two-part story about a general manager. Just about a decade ago, the Diamondbacks hired Josh Byrnes to serve as the team’s GM. A little while in, Byrnes was given an almost unheard-of eight-year contract extension, that would’ve run through 2015. He was let go in the middle of 2010.

But, not to worry — Byrnes landed on his feet, getting picked up by the Padres in October 2011. That was right when Jed Hoyer went over to work with the Cubs. It was reported that Byrnes had a long-term contract and an option, lasting through 2017. A couple months ago, Byrnes was dismissed.

I bring this up because news is out that the Mariners have signed Jack Zduriencik to a multi-year extension. Or Jack Zduriencik has signed Jack Zduriencik to a multi-year extension, I don’t know how this works. But, before, the Mariners extended Zduriencik for one season. Before, the Mariners kept quiet about it, citing organizational policy, or something. This time the contract covers multiple years, and the Mariners sent out a press release, complete with a quote from Kevin Mather. So it’s an opposite situation, and, here are Mather’s words:

“Since Jack took over after the 2008 season, we have been building toward our ultimate goal, which is to win the World Series.  We believe, with the efforts of Jack and his staff, we are now well-positioned as an organization to be a contender for many years to come.”

So let’s go back to Byrnes again. Some words upon his dismissal:

“The search for a new General Manager begins immediately,” Dee said. “We are looking for someone who can define, direct and lead this franchise’s baseball philosophy for years to come.” (source)

“You expect better performance. We gave baseball ops [operations] a clean slate as far as what they want and what they want to do,” Fowler said. “We’re standing here as a result of that not working.” (source)

That’s June of 2014. That’s just several weeks ago, that the Padres finally decided to make a dramatic organizational change. Here’s some stuff from April 2013:

Without being asked about Josh Byrnes, the new Padres owners are bringing up his name and saying how terrific he is.

Ron Fowler said he trusts the 42-year-old general manager will make “smart baseball decisions.”

“The more I get to know Josh Byrnes, the more I like him,” Peter Seidler said.

Byrnes has a knack for getting a baseball team’s big shots to believe in him.

The Padres loved Josh Byrnes until they didn’t love the team he’d built, and then they let Josh Byrnes go. It was the second time Byrnes had been fired in the middle of a long-term contract, the point being: any GM who gets fired gets fired in the middle of a contract. Any player who gets cut gets cut in the middle of a contract. The Mariners got rid of Chone Figgins with money left to pay out, and Figgins was due a hell of a lot more money than Jack Zduriencik is.

I don’t mean for this whole post to be about the fact that Zduriencik can still be fired, because that seems kind of cynical in what’s been something of a magical year, but it’s an important point to keep in mind. A multi-year extension isn’t a job-security guarantee. It’s a money guarantee, and a job-security suggestion. Jack Zduriencik was the Mariners’ general manager, and he is the Mariners’ general manager. He is to remain the Mariners’ general manager until their general manager is somebody else. Depending on which way their fortunes go, the Mariners could have a new GM in a year and a half, or they could keep the same guy for as long as they keep Felix.

What this is is a thank-you, an acknowledgment of how well the team has been playing. It’s a commitment to the Zduriencik way for at least a little bit longer, as the Mariners are throwing their support behind the team’s current direction. It’s a vote of confidence without the negative connotations, and, why wouldn’t one expect exactly this? The Mariners are in the race and statistically a good baseball team for the first time in more than a decade. Zduriencik’s contract was almost up and there was no clear reason to let him go. A line thrown around last winter was that Zduriencik and the rest of his front office would make moves to try to save their jobs. I don’t think that’s how they behaved, but if a good year was going to be enough to keep everyone around, well, hasn’t it been a good year, last night be damned? Hasn’t Zduriencik constructed a successful roster? Do the Mariners not somehow look like one of the best teams in baseball?

The future has been touched but not mortgaged, and the team is a legitimate World Series contender. A front office shouldn’t be judged only on its most recent results, but the Mariners were never going to make a change after a year like this, so we’ve got seemingly significant news that really isn’t that significant in truth. And while we all have our opinions of Zduriencik, and while many have lower opinions of him than we had some years back, lately he hasn’t done that many objectionable things. The Mariners of 2013 were a disaster, but perhaps the organization learned from that. I don’t know, maybe I’m reaching, but a commitment to a GM is like a commitment to a player. You’re not paying a player because of what he’s already done. You pay him because of what you think he will do. Zduriencik doesn’t always have to be the same guy with the same ideas. God knows we already saw him shift course once.

I know, this past trade deadline, there was stuff written up about how Zduriencik is really hard to deal with. Those lines have been floating around for years, and they’re not the stuff of fiction. Certain people really don’t like trying to engage Zduriencik in a negotiation, but then, look at what just happened. Zduriencik added Kendrys Morales, he added Chris Denorfia, and he added Austin Jackson. He was far from inactive, and if his personality worked to his detriment, I’d need to see the evidence. He does annoying things, but they might not have an effect on the roster he builds. I don’t like when I have to call my bank, but sometimes I need to call my bank.

My outlook is hopelessly biased by what’s been happening the last five months. With just a little worse luck, the Mariners could be 59-71 instead of 71-59, and Zduriencik could be the exact same guy, and I’d be fine with seeing him leave. I think that mostly captures where I am. I’m pretty much certain he’s not the best GM in the sport. I’m pretty much certain he’s not even in the top half. But now it’s hard to see him as a catastrophe, especially if he’s learned from past lessons, so, what guarantee is there that the next front office would be markedly superior? At the recent Saber Seminar, one of the speakers — I don’t remember who — remarked that it’s harder to build a great team now than it was, because the gaps between organizational intelligence have been reduced. Most teams know, now, a good deal and a bad deal. The inefficiencies are fewer and farther between. How much worse is the Zduriencik front office than another, really? What is the Mariners’ disadvantage? Do they even have a meaningful disadvantage? How much of what we think of as general managing is coaching and player development?

I like this team that Zduriencik has built, and it seems capable of winning now and also in 2015. So it makes sense to me to let Zduriencik at least see that window through. I’m not so much in love with the Zduriencik front office, but I can’t rip on it today, not after it’s finally managed to put a winner together. If things go south again, Zduriencik could be made to pay the price. He doesn’t truly have that much security. He’s just the guy the team likes the most now, and, who could forget the image of Chone Figgins smiling in his introductory press conference? When things change, things can change.

If you’re upset by this news, you’re asking that the Mariners make their decision based on the process, instead of the results. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect any organization to let Zduriencik go after a season like this — the results might’ve come out of the process. How much can we say about the process? How much does the process have in common with last year’s process? How much does a GM even have to do with the wins and losses of the team on the field? Situations can look different when Dustin Ackley doesn’t suck. My gut tells me one day we might reflect on this afternoon with a certain degree of sorrow, but you know what they say about predicting baseball. All this is is another step of the ride.

Game 130, Rangers at Mariners

August 25, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 60 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Miles Mikolas, 7:10pm
Wildcard odds: Fangraphs.com: 55.0% Baseballprospectus.com: 55.6%

I’ve made no secret of my respect and grudging admiration for the way the great Rangers teams of recent years were constructed. There was no was to sum up what they did in a 10-second elevator pitch. There were no good guys and bad guys, no “one weird trick”-style overly-simplifications. They just did a lot of things well – from drafting to player development to negotiating their TV deal to pitcher rehab. They didn’t stock up on high draft picks, they just wrung value out of the guys they drafted. To patch holes, GM Jon Daniels made a series of trades that all seemed to work out – without seeming to imperil the long-term viability of the team. They didn’t overpay for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder (foreshadowing!) – they wrapped up Yu Darvish for a comparative pittance, and let others pay for the decline phase of ex-Ranger stars. Whatever you call their approach, or to get management-consulty for a moment, their system – it made them seem, at least to a beaten-down, cynical M’s fan, unbeatable.

It’s late August, and the Rangers have the worst record in major league baseball. Their 50 wins are fewer than the Colorado Rockies have – the Rockies that have very publicly imploded this year. Worse, they now trail their in-state and in-division rivals the Houston Astros by four games. The *Astros*. The team that has famously not tried to win at the big league level, and whose recent seasons remind me of famously awful albums recorded by artists trying to escape a bad record deal. The Rangers season isn’t just a failure, it’s a legendary, colossal failure. As I mentioned a bit before, Sam Miller wrote about this recently at BP, and about how shocking it is that a team that had won 90 games a few years AND had a top-5 farm team three years ago is on its way to losing 90 or 100 games this year. It rarely happens, and it’s easy to see why – to be both good now *and* seemingly stocked for the future takes competence, and while anyone can suffer from bad luck, the competent have contingency plans. A top-5 farm system is its own contingency plan, after all. Anyway, a collapse this total and this sudden makes you question the qualities that made them seem impervious to collapse.

To give Daniels and co. credit, injuries have played an inordinate role in Texas’ 2014 struggles. Every team deals with injuries, but the Rangers are off the charts. Adrian Beltre and Darvish started the year on the DL, and it didn’t take long for Prince Fielder to go down with season-ending surgery. Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez all suffered serious injuries, and that’s just looking at the pitchers. Jurickson Profar went down with an injury in the spring, and his somewhat-rushed replacement, Rougned Odor, suffered a shoulder injury that’s limited his impact. 1B Mitch Moreland wasn’t terribly good, but he was better than turning 1B over to JP Arencibia or the ghost of Carlos Pena. Even the best-run franchise couldn’t compete or even make a run at .500 with this kind of injury report. Still, what about that top-5 farm system? Where were the great late-round draft picks who could pick up the slack, from CJ Edwards to Cody Buckel to Neil Ramirez? The player development machine that once looked magical now looks…well, it looks like everyone else’s. I’m not going to beat up the Rangers FO because some prospects don’t pan out – MOST prospects don’t pan out. But their depth seemed inexhaustable. Who the hell is Nick Tepesch and why could he give them so-so production from the #5 slot? Tanner Scheppers was always hurt until, suddenly, he was the unhittable righty in the ’13 bullpen.

More strikingly, the team that had studiously avoided the big high-profile whiff in free agency or in trade made a series of them. The Shin-Soo Choo deal looked like an overpay, but we’re still at the point where *everything* can look like an overpay as the value of a win in free agency keeps rising along with MLB’s revenues. OK, so you paid a lot for a very good player. Instead, Choo’s been replacement level – undone by a shocking lack of power and abysmal defense. Worse, the team decided to eat Prince Fielder’s contract in the Ian Kinsler swap – a move that pretty much every saber-inclined observer panned, and which went from bad to worse when Fielder needed neck surgery early in the season.

They’ve gone from a team that seemed to magnify each other’s strengths (great defense making the pitchers look even better) to a team that seems like a hodge-podge of parts that don’t form a cohesive team. The Rangers are last in the AL in both FIP and ERA. The Rangers have the lowest GB% AND they have an atrocious outfield defense that now makes their pitchers look WORSE than they are. Miles Mikolas, tonight’s starter, has poor control, so he’s responsible for a lot of his own 55% (!) strand rate, but the fact that he’s a fly-baller with Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo behind him doesn’t help. Mikolas, a RHP they acquired after he was DFA’d by San Diego, traded to Pittsburgh and then shipped to Texas for a 1B prospect, throws about 93-94 and has a four- and two-seam fastball, a change-up, a slider and an interesting looking curve ball, was a reliever his entire career until this season. After never being able to harness a fastball that occasionally touched the high-90s, he was starting in the PCL and averaging less than one walk per 9IP. The so-so control to sudden, overnight 0-walk precision made me think of Doug Fister’s incredible 2009 season, but that’s probably the last time Mikolas will be mentioned in conjunction with Fister. Mikolas has been destroyed thus far in the big leagues – his ERA and FIP are both awful, and he’s given up a few HRs as well.

He’s posted strong reverse platoon splits in his brief MLB career (he had some time in the San Diego bullpen too, mostly in 2012). Much of this is undoubtedly random luck, and you’d think they’d straighten out over time. But some of it is that curve ball, a slow yakker with a lot of vertical break. RHBs and LHBs both have trouble elevating it, and he’s been able to keep the ball in the ballpark. The problem is that he can’t spot it. He throws it for a ball over half the time, so he’s not getting called strikes. Still, there’s something to work with. His fastballs have been problematic, and his slider’s not enough of a swing-and-miss pitch yet. This lack of command means he doesn’t resemble a guy who never walked anyone in the minors this year, and it makes it seem less likely that he’s been the victim of bad OF defense and more like an accomplice. He’s not giving up base hits on fly balls – he’s giving up home runs. His line drive BABIP looks pretty normal, too – the problem is that there are just too many of them.

This is a good match-up, basically.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

I keep wondering what it is about the Rangers collapse I find so startling. Is it unsettling to think that it’s just not possible to prevent every outcome – that no one can think their way out of a systemic failure? I’m a bit surprised I don’t feel more schadenfreude about the whole thing, particularly after the M’s post-2009 collapse (“#6 org lololol!”). I know how I’ve felt the past few years when the Rangers would come to town in August, tuning up for the post season, and facing a Mariner team stuck in “rebuild,” showing some promise but ultimately going nowhere. I like this feeling much, much better. I like poking through someone else’s wreckage.

The Rainiers beat the Iowa Cubs in 14 innings last night, coming from behind in the 14th to do it. Kris Bryant homered for the I-Cubs because of course he did, but the R’s got a HR from Corey Hart and another from Ji-Man Choi. Taijuan Walker pitches tonight, so go go go go. 7:05 first pitch in Tacoma.

Before this even got posted, I’ve had to update it with more Rangers injury news. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Shin-Soo Choo will miss the rest of the season to have surgery to remove bone spurs. And if that wasn’t enough, Daniels all but stated that Yu Darvish won’t pitch again this season after hitting the DL two weeks ago with elbow inflammation.

Podcast: Sweeeeeeeeep!

August 25, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Monday Morning Podcast! Going back to our roots with this one.

Except it continues to be about the Mariners and the playoffs and both things happening in conjunction. That is not like our roots; well, not our podcasting roots.

Podcast with Jeff and Matthew: Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated.

Game 129, Mariners at Red Sox

August 24, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 108 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Allen Webster, 10:35am
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 49.7% Baseballprospectus.com: 52.4%

Sorry for the lack of a game thread yesterday – after the incredible five-run 9th inning on Friday, and the seven-run inning yesterday, the M’s are in position to sweep a three-game series in Boston for the first time in franchise history. Perhaps more importantly, they’re in position to go 6-3 on this road trip and push their wild card lead to two games as they head home to face the playing-out-the-string Rangers.

Allen Webster’s a heralded righty who came to Boston in the massive Crawford/Gonzalez/Beckett trade/salary dump a few years ago. He’d been one of the Dodgers top arms (along with Rubby De La Rosa, who came with Webster to the Red Sox system), with solid velocity and a potential plus change-up. He’s never shown even average control/command, but a 94mph fastball, a slider and a change-up meant he could post solid numbers in the minors. He made his big league debut in 2013, but his seven starts were unmitigated disasters. His walk rate soared, and worse, he gave up way too many home runs. Lefties torched him, and as a result, his ERA hovered near 9, and his FIP was over 6. He went back to the minors to start this season, and showed enough to get a return trip to Boston. He posted his lowest walk rate since rookie ball for Pawtucket, and got his HR rate back under control. Perhaps more encouragingly, he’s been decent against lefties thus far – since joining the Red Sox, he hasn’t allowed a HR to a LHB yet (although he’s only faced 62 of them).

That said, the control fixes didn’t make the jump to the big leagues. Webster’s walked 18 and hit another 3 so far in just 26 innings. His K rate’s falling too, as he’s gotten just 13 strikeouts. This is how you can have an RA/9 and a FIP around 5 despite not allowing many HRs and enjoying a .247 BABIP. If you needed any further proof of the irrelevance of the win statistic, Webster’s 3-1 despite it all. How’s he changed since last year, when the M’s knocked him around? Well, he’s throwing noticeably slower. In his call-up in 2013, his four-seamer actually averaged about 95mph, with his sinker at 94. This season, both are just shy of 93. He’s not throwing any more strikes with his fastball; his ball% is actually up this year. He’s still potentially useful, as his change-up really has the makings of an effective pitch once his fastball gets sorted out. He’s getting experience to see if he can help the Sox make a run next year. It’s really fun, and really odd, to be on the other side of games like this after spending so many Augusts getting a look at prospects who might help down the road, or trading for Henry Blanco, or trying to play spoiler. As the M’s media information staff pointed out, the M’s can win their 71st game today. Last year’s win total? 71.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Denorfia, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Iwakuma

I’m not trying to minimize this M’s game at all, but the correct Baseball Play today is to head to Tacoma and watch the Rainiers host the Iowa Cubs. Hey, you can watch/listen to most of the game before heading to Cheney. Why a AAA game? The Iowa Cubs came into the season as the most prospect-laden club in the land, with guys like Javier Baez, Junior Lake and Arismendy Alcantary in the line-up. I worried that most of them wouldn’t still be on the club by the time they rolled into the northwest in late August, and indeed, Baez, Lake, Alcantara and others have made the leap to the big leagues. Ahh, but as it turned out, the best prospect in the system may not have been Baez after all – it’s 3B Kris Bryant, who has laid waste to the upper-minors, with a combined 42 HRs in 130 games. He’s got a .660 SLG% in AAA, which is down a bit from the .700+ figure he put up in the Southern League. He’s hit for average (which a lot of people thought he might struggle with), he’s certainly hit for power, and his defense hasn’t been disastrous. He’s an easy top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and you should go see him in this series. I have to figure he’ll make an appearance in Chicago when the calendar page flips over. But it’s not just Bryant. Cuban OF Jorge Soler’s now with Iowa as well, and he’s shown some impressive power as well. Mike Olt, the one-time top-prospect of the Rangers, is now protecting Bryant in the line-up and is producing at AAA (though he again face-planted in another big-league trial). Finally, the Cubs signed a rather unusual player/coach to keep an eye on all of these prospects: Manny Ramirez. The 42-year old Manny has earned 72 ABs thus far, and seems to enjoy his role as an instructor who can still come in and hit dingers every now and then. As Mike Curto notes, you really need to get to Cheney for this. Today’s game at 5:05, and the next two are both 7:05 starts.

Game 127, Mariners at Red Sox

August 22, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 115 Comments 

King Felix vs. Joe Kelly, 4:10pm
Wild Card Odds – Fangraphs.com: 41.2% Baseballprospectus.com: 40.6%

That series in Philadelphia was neither entertaining nor helpful. Now, the M’s head to Fenway, where they’ve lost nine consecutive games. Ahhh, but we’ve got Felix and you’ve got…Joe (checks again) uh, Kelly. The guy with the…(checks) sinker? A guy with a sinker.

So yes, Mr. Kelly, who came over from St. Louis in the John Lackey deal, throws a very hard sinker, a curve, and a change-up. When he first came up in 2012, his primary breaking ball was a slider, but after working on his curve (and looking at his wide platoon splits), he evidently decided to go with the hook instead. And it’s been a good pitch for him – unlike many curve balls, he gets an extraordinary amount of ground ball contact with it. According to BrooksBaseball, his curve’s GB/balls-in-play ratio is over three standard deviations from the mean, which is good, considering his sinker is pretty standard. So he gets over 50% of ground balls, and almost no one can elevate the curve. Is he a great pitcher? Well, no.

In 2013, Kelly posted a brilliant ERA in over 100 innings despite a poor FIP that resulted from his low K% and poor BB%. The grounders helped him avoid HRs (for the most part), but as Dave and others pointed out, what was driving that sparkly ERA wasn’t HRs, it was BABIP, or more accurately, BABIP in certain situations. Everyone talked about the Cardinals’ offense, and their incredible hitting with runners in scoring position. Kelly was the pitching version of Allen Craig last year, running a .224 BABIP with RISP, and thus generating a strand rate over 82%. Just as Craig’s RISP numbers tumbled this season, Kelly’s BABIP with RISP this year is .304, and that’s helped knock his strand rate down to just over 70%. That’s not the ONLY thing that’s changed with Kelly, but it’s another example of why it’s usually a good idea to be skeptical that a small-sample performance is predictive. A year after posting an ERA well over a full run lower than his FIP, his ERA’s now OVER his FIP, and he’s been essentially replacement level on the year.

In his career, he’s yielded a .350 wOBA to lefties and a .295 wOBA to righties. By FIP, it’s about one run higher to lefties than righties. This is a sinkerballer, after all, so it’s not terribly shocking. And he’s faced more RHBs than lefties in his career – another perk of pitching for St. Louis in the NL Central. Since moving to Boston, he’s actually faced two NL Central teams (including, famously, the Cardinals – in his first start in a Boston uniform) and the Astros. This is a pitcher with real problems against lefties, and for whatever reason, those problems weren’t as evident in 2013 thanks to BABIP and all of that. But they’re just as real in 2014 as they were in 2012, and this is a good opportunity for the M’s to use their lefty-heavy line-up to gain a significant advantage…er, even more of an advantage than they had by just starting King Felix.

Kelly’s sinker is a lively one, averaging around 95mph, and that’s something of a worry. The M’s platoon splits against lefties have been discussed quite a bit, and by picking up Jackson/Denorfia, the M’s have tried to address the issue. But their splits against ground-ball pitchers are actually worse. Henderson Alvarez comes to mind, as does Kyle Gibson. Those two had much better control, however. One way for the M’s to avoid 4-3′ing their way to a loss is to be a lot more patient. Kelly’s thrown a below-average percentage of strikes throughout his career, and it’s been quite low this year. He’s not been able to get batters to chase, either, as his slider – the pitch he doesn’t throw much anymore – was the pitch that got him a lot of out-of-zone swings.

Some might wonder if Kelly was always going to struggle after leaving the Cardinals thanks to their incredible pitch-framer Yadier Molina. Catchers adept at picking up the low strike can be extremely beneficial to sinkerballers, and obviously Molina’s adept at essentially every aspect of catching. It’s probably true that a portion of Kelly’s brilliant 2013 shouldn’t be called “luck” – it should be called “Molina.” But there’s a new catcher in the league who’s among the very best pitch framers we’ve yet seen. I…ok, yes, that description might work for Mike Zunino, but I’m talking about Red Sox backstop Christian Vasquez. Jeff’s article at Fangraphs is a good introduction. If you’re in a hurry, 1) why are you reading this game preview (thank you!), and 2) just go to the second gif in that article. If someone doesn’t understand the concept of pitch framing, or what it is that a catcher’s supposed to DO to get a strike call, have them watch that. Maybe part of it is an artifact of the gif itself, but it looks a bit like magic. Vasquez has caught Kelly twice – two games, two wins, two solid-ish performances for a guy without good control or a swing-and-miss pitch. Kelly’s one awful game for Boston came against Houston, and was caught by Daniel Butler. Am I saying…no, I’m not saying anything, I’m just…look at that gif again, would you?

Line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Miller, SS

The big story of the baseball world today is the signing of Cuban OF Rusney Castillo by the Red Sox. Boston beat out a number of teams, including the Tigers and M’s, to ink Castillo to a 6-year, $72m contract. It’s back-loaded, so Castillo will make something like the $500,000 this year. Castillo’s contract beats out the $68m the White Sox gave Jose Abreu in the offseason in a deal that’s worked out pretty nicely. The rapidly rising prices paid for international free agents has a few causes – from the quicker-than-expected impact from guys like Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Masahiro Tanaka and Abreu, to the dampening of bonuses paid both to draft-eligible players and the July 2nd international signings. International signings are still discounted, of course, because we’re still not quite sure how they’ll fare in the US (I’m shaking my head at all of the unnamed scouts/executives who questioned Abreu’s batspeed this offseason), but they’re able to produce right away, giving teams bidding on their services more information about their own place on the win curve. Thanks in part to the nearly-instant success of Puig/Abreu, some talked about Castillo moving right into the Boston line-up. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, especially given that Boston’s out of the race in 2014, but he’s probably not long for the minors.

Here’s your basic Sam Miller article auto-link: Has Replay Killed Lying in Baseball? It’s Sam Miller, it’s gifs of attempted subterfuge…just click it.

Tacoma’s final homestand of the season continues tonight at 7:05 against Omaha. The red-hot Rainiers send Jimmy Gilheeney to the mound against Aussie control-pitcher/HR-maven Liam Hendriks. Lefty Tyler Pike starts for Jackson. There are always ups and downs as prospects move up the ladder, but I have to say I’ve been especially dismayed by Pike’s 2014. He struggled in High Desert, and that’s understandable, but the walk rate has been absurd. In hindsight, it never really matched up to the “plus pitchability” scouting reports, but it’s gone haywire this year. Pike is talented, and in AA before he can legally drink, so don’t take this as me writing him off. It’s just a statistical line that I would never have guessed we’d see from him.

Speaking of prospects, RP Carson Smith – a guy I thought could make an impact in MLB this season – is locked in for Tacoma right now. He suffered an injury early in the season, and had a very poor April, but in his last 26 innings, going back to June 6th, he’s given up three runs, struck out 29 and walked 7. In the process, he’s knocked his ERA down from 6.00 to 2.93.

Game 125, Mariners at Phillies

August 20, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 85 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Cole Hamels, 10:05am
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 42.0%. Baseballprospectus.com: 47.1%

Great pitching match-up on getaway day between two pitchers who were the subject of trade rumors this offseason and, a bit less often, before the deadline.

I’ve always found it a bit surprising that Hamels has faced 3-4 times more right handed bats than lefties over his career. As the owner of the NL’s best change up, it’s not like righties have some big advantage over him; in his career his splits are even to a bit more favorable to *lefties.* In any event, the M’s line up is a lot more stable right now, and it’s pretty balanced, with five RHBs starting today.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Taylor, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, LF
7: Morrison, RF
8: Sucre, C
SP: Paxton

Game 124, Mariners at Phillies

August 19, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. AJ Burnett, 4:05pm

Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 42.2% Baseballprospectus.com: 43.2%

AJ Burnett was one of the biggest prizes on the free agent market this winter – a solid right-hander coming off a four win season, whose age would preclude the need for a long-term contract. The righty had an elite GB rate, which helped him avoid the dinger problems that plagued his Yankee tenure.

He signed a one-year, $16m deal in Philadelphia, and, like most things associated with this year’s Phillies, it hasn’t gone according to plan. To be clear, that’s not to say that he’s been terrible. His FIP and ERA are now above 4, as his K%, strand rate and GB rates have all fallen while his walk rate and HR rate rose. That said, he had some room to fall. He’s not going to post a 2-3 WAR season, but hes been mediocre instead of out-and-out bad. He’s throwing the same pitches- mostly a sinker, then a four-seam, a big curveball and the occasional change – at the same velocities. The big thing that’s changed is his command. He’s throwing a lot more balls, and that means he’s pitching behind. It’s interesting – if you just look at zone%, the delta looks tiny. But looking at the ‘ahead’/'behind’ numbers at Statcorner, or the Ball% numbers at Brooks Baseball shows a fairly dramatic decline.

That seems to be because the problem’s mostly affected his fastballs. A few more balls there, and he *has* to throw more strikes with his other pitches, leading to fewer whiffs, and more hitter’s counts mean more fastballs (especially sinkers) overall. This in turn puts pressure on his platoon splits. In his two good years in Pittsburgh, Burnett had the platoon advantage in a majority of PAs. That ratio’s lower this year, and the M’s will obviously pose a particular challenge for him. Of course, they should’ve posed a problem for Jerome Williams, too.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morrison, 1B
6: Chavez, RF
7: Zunino, C
8: Miller, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Great article on a new frontier for baseball analysts by Ben Lindberg today at Grantland.

Podcast: Great Week Sullied a Little by Today

August 18, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Monday Evening Podcast! You never know when with us lately.

Today’s episode is chock full of some disjointed tangents and points. But almost entirely about the Mariners. It feels a little weird, to be honest.

Podcast with Jeff and Matthew: Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated.

Game 123, Mariners at Phillies

August 18, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 55 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Jerome Williams, 4:05 pm
Wild Card Odds – Fangraphs.com: 50.1%. Baseballprospectus.com: 52.4%

The M’s head to Philadelphia with their wildcard odds now north of 50%. They face righty Jerome Williams, a pitcher they know well from his time with the Angels and Astros. Williams is now on his third team of the year; he started with Houston, was DFA’d and picked up by the injury-ravaged Rangers, got cut again, and was picked up this month by Philadelphia.

He’s had HR problems – issues that predate his move to hitter-friendly parks. This isn’t really a left/right issue; while his K:BB ratio is abysmal vs. lefties, righties have hit more dingers. It’s not really an arsenal thing – like an journeyman worth his salt, Williams is always tinkering, and throws 4-5 different pitches regularly. It’s…it’s just that whatever magic he had for reducing HRs and getting himself to the bigs appears to have expired in 2011.

That and a declining GB rate, which makes his higher than average HR/FB rate untenable.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, RF
8: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

Elias replaces James Jones on the active roster.

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