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.

Game 140, Orioles at Mariners: Feel Like Giving In

September 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Andrew Cashner, 7:10pm

Yesterday’s game was, in my humble opinion, the grossest of 2018. It wasn’t all that important anymore; the real work in slashing the M’s playoff odds happened in July/early August, particularly the July 30th-Aug 4th stretch. It wasn’t the most painful – that may have been the A’s walk-off against Diaz that spoiled James Paxton’s unreal game in May. Instead, this game offered us an M’s team fresh off of a clubhouse fight looking utterly lost against an Orioles team fighting to keep ahead of the 2003 Tigers. It featured an Orioles runner scoring from 2nd on a sacrifice fly. It featured the M’s two deadline relief acquisitions digging a hole, filling it with live spiders, and then jumping in. It was the kind of game that makes you forget that for all of the angst and heartbreak this swoon has caused, the team is somehow 77-62.

So much of the fun of this season was watching to see how a not-amazing-on-paper-or-true-talent team was going to overcome a deficit, like a classic old film serial. You know Captain Marvel isn’t exactly real, but the fun is suspending disbelief and watching something amazing, implausible, unbelievable unfold. The point is getting swept up, and the whole thing had a momentum of its own. The players themselves were swept up in it, and it seemed to fuel further cliffhanger escapes. It was great. But that has to keep working, or games like yesterday’s screw up that disbelief. They show the wires holding up the “flying” superhero. The boom mic keeps dropping into frame. And once that starts happening, the effect is ruined. You start judging the thing by its script, or second-guessing casting. I haven’t seen M’s fans this upset about a team’s collapse in..well, ok, it’s only been a couple of years. But the arc of this one is so painful, and so games like yesterday’s which seem to lay bare so many of their failings just seem on the nose, gratuitous.

Can the rest of baseball bail us out here? Can we take joy from the beauty of the game itself? Noooooo, we cannot. Shohei Ohtani will apparently have TJ surgery after all, and it sounds like another MRI revealed further structural damage. Was his abortive 2 1/3 IP start (one with a rapidly dropping velo) the cause? Or was it the damage that may have needed repairing months ago? Either way, we lose out on one of the great stories of the year, and one that fortune had deigned to make relatively harmless. The M’s are waaaayyy ahead of the Angels in the standings. Nothing Trout or Ohtani could’ve done would change that simple, awesome fact. This is the perfect circumstance to just *enjoy* Ohtani’s unique and wonderful talent. Sure, I wish he’d picked the M’s too, but I’d at least like to be able to watch him dice up, I don’t know, the Twins and have it do nothing at all to the M’s playoff odds. And now I don’t even get that, and won’t next year either.

The top post at Lookout Landing is about just how costly it is to attend games at Safeco, a fact that anyone who’s been to a game can understand. The growing importance of TV money was supposed to take the pressure off of gate receipts. Luxury boxes are another way to make tons more off of ticket sales that do not require gouging regular ticket buyers. I completely understand the rationale that if tickets sell at $25, then they’re not going to just sell them at $15. But as John points out, all too often, they’re *not selling*. It’s hard: they probably wouldn’t want a subscription model like they piloted in July (and which is an awesome way to make lifelong fans) in September, not if the M’s were actually in the race. You may not get many takers on such a deal in April, either. But going forward, they may need to look at alternative ways to ensure live games are feasible for families, and I keep thinking the PR value might outweigh any marginal drop in gate revenues (which are already a drop in the bucket of total team resources).

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

Ben Gamel’s added a spark since his return from an unjust demotion. He had a brilliant game defensively last night, but he’s tweaked his approach at the plate. He’s striking out more, but also walking more while hitting fewer grounders. It’s not exactly working as a way to add over-the-fence power, but it’s something to watch, I guess.

Game 139, Orioles at Mariners

September 4, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Alex Cobb, 7:10pm

In a story that’s been all over social media this evening, the M’s kicked off preparations for tonight’s game with an intrasquad tussle. Apparently, Dee Gordon asked all media members to exit the team’s clubhouse, and then the reporters heard a fight break out. Any ambiguity was removed when the pack of squabbling Mariners pushed open the doors that Gordon had so carefully closed. Scott Servais, who’d been on the field when it happened, is still piecing together the story of who said what to whom, but downplayed its significance to reporters, noting there was probably one fight of that magnitude per season in his 11 year MLB career.

I’m not sure how many we should expect, or if today’s skirmish was the product of the M’s slow, steady slide out of the wild card lead, or just an inevitability given living in close quarters with aggressive people for 5-6 months. It may not matter at all, and many of the reporters noted that they’ve seen or heard about fights from time to time on other M’s teams. It is, however, a bit of a blow to the idea that the team’s remade culture was part of the mix that’s allowed them to outplay their run differential all year. At a time when so many M’s fans have turned on Servais, I’ve thought his job allowing the players to have fun and instill a positive, open culture was worth celebrating. I’m not sold on his in-game management, but I’m also convinced that in-game management isn’t half as important as many baseball fans think. The job is about setting a culture and expectations and letting the players figure out how to meet them. The M’s have been remarkably good at bringing in new players, and many minor league FAs and other signings hinted that it was a reason they chose to sign here. I’d hate to think that culture wasn’t as fully formed, or was just another product of winning. It really shouldn’t be, not after last year, but in any event, we’ll see how Servais and the M’s handle this in the game’s final month.

The M’s face Alex Cobb, the ex-Ray who’ve I’ve long thought would be a great pick-up. He repaid my faith by turning in a microcosm of the O’s season with his season line, with an ERA over 5 and a very elevated HR rate. He’s gotten better after a disastrous start, but still: this O’s season is not something you want to be compared with, even if the comparison isn’t perfectly apt. Famous for his splitter/change that he taught to many ex-teammates, most notably Jake Odorizzi (another ex-Ray FA bust), he’s battled injuries throughout his pro career. They haven’t sapped his velo, which is now at 92-93, above his career average. His splitter is still a real weapon, too, but he’s been let down by his curveball, on which batters are slugging over .700 this year. Unlike so many on the Rays, Cobb’s primary FB is a sinker, and that – along with the split – help him post consistently high ground ball rates.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 3B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Span, LF
6: Healy, 1B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Freitas, C
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Wade LeBlanc

Game 138, Orioles at Mariners

September 3, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Josh Rogers, 6:10pm

Happy Labor Day.

The M’s return home after the most dispiriting road series split I can recall, a split that left them 5.5 games behind the A’s, and with their playoff odds quickly vanishing. On the plus side, the M’s get to host the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in baseball in this year, while the A’s play the Yankees. But because we don’t get to have nice things, the A’s have already beaten the Yankees and the M’s can’t see this as a gimme with their starter coming off a disastrous start on the road trip.

The O’s famously declined to move impending FAs like Manny Machado and Zach Britton in the offseason, both to drive up prices and also to see if they could perhaps make one last run with their old core. With Chris Davis having a historically bad season, and with their entire rotation in shambles, they’ve instead slumped to a 40-97 record, and could hit 100 losses this series with another month of the season to go. Like the Royals, the Orioles have had a rebuild thrust upon them thanks to the syzygy of contracts, performance, and injuries. They’ve since torn things down, and gotten some decent prospects for the likes of Machado and Britton (today’s starter was part of the haul for Britton), but their system wasn’t prepared for a White Sox-style rebuild. They’re just bad and not terribly young, though they’re younger now than when the season started. There’s no obvious bad guy here, no self-inflicted tear down like the White Sox, and no stars riding off into the sunset with the nimbate glow of a recent championship like the Royals. They weren’t quite good enough before, and now they’re not really good enough to compete in the majors. It’s a rough state of affairs, and one I really, really hope the M’s can avoid in 3-5 years time.

Josh Rogers is a lefty command/control type, with a sinking four-seam fastball that tops out at 90-91, a so-so change and then a really intriguing slider. Theoretically, the slider shouldn’t really play, because batters would just wait for his fastball and destroy that, but it seems to be effective. With everything coming in so slow, it may not get a lot of whiffs, but mediocre contact would be a huge step up for the Orioles, who are now desperate for even so-so pitching. As a fly-ball-oriented pitcher, he’s going to need to run a low BABIP, and that’s going to be harder to accomplish with a defense that struggles as much as Baltimore’s. Their position players have been barely above replacement level as a whole thanks to a sub-.300 OBP and one of the worst wRC+ figures in the league combined with clearly worst-in-the-game defense, sprinkled with slightly below average baserunning. It’s a putrid combination, but they pull it off and in so doing somehow take more of the blame for the O’s predicament than their pitching staff, the guys with the worst ERA in the game.

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

Game 137, Mariners at Athletics

September 2, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

King Felix vs. Edwin Jackson, 1:05pm

Happy Felix Day.

Today, El Cartelua marches up against Edwin Jackson, a phenom before Felix. It’s getting harder to find pitchers whose career started back in the pre-pitch FX era, but we know Jackson was a lightning-armed youngster with a mid/upper 90s fastball. By 2007, when we first get movement data, Jackson had extreme vertical rise to go with plus velo. He threw a slider, but messed around with a curve and change, too.

His career feels disappointing given his promise, but sticking around as long as he has proved he’s been a valuable big leaguer for 15+ years. His success this year is definitely BABIP-related, and FIP ain’t buying what Jackson’s selling, but he really seems to be developing into a decent junkballer.

He’s still throwing 93 with his four-seamer, but it no longer has above-average vertical movement. His primary FB is now a hard cutter at 91, and he still has that slider to throw against righties. He throws a sinker, too, so he’s got three FBs with three different movement profiles, which may help him avoid barrels. This may be why, as I talked about a week or two ago, he’s handled lefties better than ever. He’s not missing bats, but it’s working…so far.

The M’s bats have come alive this series, so we’ll see if the ‘weak contact’ approach works against a locked in line-up, but mostly, I’m again struck by how another team turned a guy most thought was an ex-big leaguer (Jackson started the year in the Nats minor league system) into a productive pitcher. Hopefully, the M’s have helped Felix find some sort of groove.

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, LF
SP: Felix.

Game 135, Mariners at Athletics

August 31, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Mike Fiers, 7:05pm

It’s been a while since the A’s were buyers at the deadline, but they were able to swing a deal for Mike Fiers last month, and the steady, unremarkable Fiers has excelled. Jeff Sullivan wrote a post at FG about his tweaked approach. He’s not throwing harder, or a new pitch. He’s just taken his high-FB and curve approach and…turned it up to 11. Now his high FB is *super* high. It’s always kind of weird to see what changes bring results for pitchers, though of course all of this could just be noise.

What we know about Fiers won’t change as a result of any changes like a higher high FB. He gets lots of fly balls, runs a low BABIP and yields plenty of HRs. Let’s see some HRs, M’s.

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

Game 134, Mariners at Athletics: A Season in the Balance

August 30, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Frankie Montas, 7:10pm

The Mariners playoff odds sit at about 9% or 5%, depending on which site you read. To many fans, even those long odds seem optimistic. The team, obviously, sees things a bit differently. They trail the A’s by 5.5 games, but have 7 games remaining with them: win them all, and jump ahead. Sure, that’s a tall order, but it’s something the M’s control. That’s true, but it does mean needing big performances from the likes of Wade LeBlanc and a hopefully-healed Marco Gonzales later on. It’s too late to hope that James Paxton or Jean Segura get hot – the M’s need *everyone* to come up big in these games. God speed, Wade.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened here, how the M’s lost a massive lead and how the A’s went from afterthought to juggernaut. The focus since January has been on the M’s suspect pitching staff, and the gap between Jerry Dipoto’s assessment of his rotation and the projection systems’. As much as we all re-litigate their offseason decisions, and as much as we’d all love to have more starting depth, we now have enough evidence to say this: Jerry Dipoto was more right than wrong. I went back and looked at my 2018 “risks” post and it led off with the pitching staff, and my cotention that the M’s would be very, very hard pressed to limit total runs allowed to around 700, a figure which might, with a good year from the bats, be enough. Well, we’re under 30 games remaining, and the M’s are on pace to allow just above 700. It hasn’t been perfect, there have been bumps in the road, but…they’ve more or less done their job.

They did it in ways none of us imagined: they were supposed to give tons of innings to their deep bullpen, but Juan Nicasio’s struggles put an end to that. Their rotation – the one weakness pretty much everyone NOT on the M’s payroll identified – has pitched more innings at a higher level than people like me expected. So, credit where it’s due: Dipoto thought he had done enough with the rotation, and thus far, the rotation hasn’t sunk the season. In fact, they’re a key reason why the M’s are within striking distance of the playoffs in an insanely competitive AL.

The problem, and the reason the A’s overtook them, is the position players. The M’s wanted to build an offense based on stringing hits together, a balls-in-play, don’t-wait-for-the-HR type offense that would play to their team speed and athleticism. That’s just really, really hard to do in an era in which relievers as a whole strike out a batter an inning, and as the growth of pitching staffs allow for better match-ups for pitchers. As great as their record in close games, the M’s bats have gone cold in the 9th inning, where they’ve hit a collective .205/.273/.332 for the year. The M’s consciously gave up some power potential and a LOT of OBP to get a lot more singles and batting average. The results have not been pretty. Their OBP is terrible, and their ISO is below average. While they HAVE hit more singles, it hasn’t mattered, as down years from some starters (coughSeagercough) have eaten into those gains.

Meanwhile, the A’s have continued to hit for power, and it’s allowed them to pick up for a rotation that took a while to find its feet. Neither team runs all that well, a fact that’s more surprising in the M’s case than the A’s, so that’s not really separating the two clubs. Still, there’s another key difference that’s helped the A’s position players bail out a rotation held together with twine and chicken wire: defense. The A’s lead the league in team defensive efficiency. Their starters have allowed an absurd .273 BABIP on the year, a figure that no one approached last season. The A’s home park gives them a thumb on the scale, and so their BABIP last year, when they were universally seen as a mediocre-to-bad defensive team, was .294. By UZR, they’ve gone from a league-worst -35 runs last year to #1 in the league at +29 runs this year. BP’s park adjusted defensive efficiency puts them at #1 too, so this isn’t just about UZR. Meanwhile, the M’s have imploded. They ranked in the top-10 by UZR last year (+10 runs), but have fallen to 21st at -11 runs this year. That gap of about 40 runs or ~ 4 wins is a big chunk of the A’s lead on the M’s, and it’s a huge reason why the A’s have been able to continue their run despite losing their entire opening day rotation to injury.

Today’s starter, Frankie Montas, came to the A’s from the Dodgers as part of the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill set of deals. He’d been a big prospect with the White Sox before then, a very hard throwing starter with a solid breaking ball. He sat at 97 or so in his first cup of coffee with the White Sox, and then averaged about 100 in the AFL in 2016. With the A’s, he’s gradually shifted from a four-seam fastball to a sinker (so far, so A’s), and that, compared with his change in role (starter, no messing about with the bullpen) has dropped his average fastball to Paxton-ish levels. He’s got a solid slider, but doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in his change, so he’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher at the moment. That’s limited his ability to miss bats, so despite all of the velo, he’s got below-average K rates at the moment. That lack of a third pitch has hurt his ability to get lefties out, too; his platoon splits are a serious worry. Despite all of that, and despite a bad BABIP (even on the A’s!), he’s been fairly effective at the big league level this year. It makes no sense, but there it is. Montas has limited home runs, especially to righties, and that’s made the difference. There’s no real secret here, no reason *why* – they just haven’t happened. All of that’s to say that this is a winnable game despite his under-4 FIP and prospect pedigree. After seeing the debacle in San Diego, the M’s offense – and especially lefties like Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon – has no more excuses. Don’t give up ABs, get into good counts and drive the ball.

Isn’t the A’s line-up full of RH power a tough challenge for a lefty like LeBlanc? Sure, I suppose. But for whatever reason, righties like Khris Davis and Matt Chapman have fared better vs. RHPs this year, and Wade’s best pitch – his change- is a great equalizer. It’s just tough knowing that he may need to be near-perfect on the night. The offense needs to score often and early to take some pressure off of LeBlanc and the pitching staff.

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

The initial rosters for the Arizona Fall League were released today. The M’s are still affiliated with the Peoria Javelinas, who’ll be managed by Daren Brown, one-time Rainiers (and M’s interim manager!) and current AA skipper. The pitching coach will be former Mariner Rule 5 pick Kanekoa Texeira. The M’s are sending SP Anthony Misiewicz, RPs David McKay, Matt Walker and Wyatt Mills, OF Ian Miller, IF Chris Mariscal, and 1B Evan White. White’s clearly the big name of the group, and it’ll be great to see how his swing changes look against better pitching. Wyatt Mills has been great since the M’s drafted him, and his funky arm angle and arsenal could see him move quickly, though I think many may see him as a righty specialist. I think he has the potential for more, but his awful first go-round in AA is a concern. The sleeper here is probably McKay, who quietly put up a great year in AA after a late-spring trade from the Royals organization. A good year could’ve seen Miller get a look in Seattle, but it was not a good year, and thus he was skipped over by the likes of John Andreoli and now Andrew Aplin for CF innings in Tacoma and positioning to help the big club. He and Mariscal are probably auditioning for roles in other organizations.

Game 133, Mariners at Padres

August 29, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Joey Lucchesi, 12:40pm

After one of the most baffling, frustrating losses of the year last night – a night in which Jacob Nix shut down the M’s offense despite not registering a single strikeout over 8 1/3 frames – the M’s face another rookie hurler with funky mechanics and something of a trick pitch. What could go wrong?

Joey Lucchesi roared out of the gate in April, confusing hitters with his frankly bizarre change-up. Lefties couldn’t elevate the ball at all, righties didn’t see it well, and Lucchesi’s delivery added enough deception to make him a surprisingly tough at-bat despite 91 MPH velo. More recently, the sheen (or novelty) is wearing off, and righties in particular seem to be figuring something out. They’re starting to hit for average against his weird churve and hit for power against his heavy, sinking four-seam fastball. A part of this may be that for all of its supposed novelty, Lucchesi’s signature pitch doesn’t look too odd by movement. It only looks odd when you insist on calling it a change-up.

Lucchesi (a lefty, btw) has a sinking fastball and than a “change” that moves 1″ *gloveside* and has about 1″ of vertical drop. That’s…that’s not a change-up. I’m going to acknowledge here that it’s Lucchesi’s pitch, not mine, and that he throws it with a change-up grip. I’ll stipulate that it may look kind of change-uppy out of his hand or something, but if we classify pitches based on what they DO, and not how pitchers developed them or what they like to call it, it’s very, very clearly not a change. A change typically breaks armside, often more than the fastball. A splitter may have little armside run, but when it’s cutting like this, I can’t fathom why he’d call it a change.

Per BrooksBaseball, but not Statcast, Lucchesi also throws the occasional curveball. The pitch is mentioned in the article linked above, so I have no doubt Lucchesi firmly believes he throws one, but here’s the thing: it has the exact same velocity, horizontal movement, and vertical movement as his “change-up.” I’m not a strict baseballing essentialist, but I’d like to point out that, at least to batters, when you have two pitches that are completely alike in everything save perhaps the pitcher’s intent, you do not in fact have two pitches.

What do we have here? We’ve got a pitcher throwing a change-up that looks absolutely nothing like a change-up, and a curve that has very little movement compared to a ball thrown without spin. That…that sounds weird. But everything takes on a very different cast if we just called all of his non-fastballs sliders. By movement, they become completely normal – boring, even. Whatever Lucchesi wants to call it, and however many of them Lucchesi insists there are, it looks for all the world like Lucchesi throws a fastball at 91 and a slider at 79-80. He’s still got some deceptiveness, but everything else starts to make sense- a brilliant start that fades as batters adapt to his three-pitch mix that isn’t a three-pitch mix at all. The “churve” that’s so beguiling initially starts to seem a bit more hittable once you stop trying to think of a change that moves like *that* and just look slider.

This isn’t to suggest that Lucchesi’s terrible. Lefties really do have trouble elevating the ball, and he misses a ton of lefty bats…exactly what you’d expect from a lefty who throws sliders all the time. The platoon splits, the righty HR trouble, all of it makes perfect sense if we just give up the fiction of the “churve.” Now, last night, the M’s couldn’t quite figure out Jacob Nix, who, despite an actual, really good, change, can’t quite disguise his pitches. You can have flaws, even big ones, and beat this offense if things break right. The M’s need to ensure that things don’t break right for Lucchesi, or they give themselves too much work to do against the A’s. Yes, the M’s still have 7 games left against their Wildcard rival, but they can’t afford to slide further back than the 5.5 game hole they find themselves in now.

1: Haniger, LF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Healy, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Zunino, C
8: Maybin, CF
9: Erasmooooo

The M’s brought up Shawn Armstrong, the former Cleveland Indians reliever and the standout star of Tacoma’s bullpen this year. Nick Rumbelow’s been optioned back to T-town, whose home schedule is now over. Armstrong was dominant down the stretch, and is still an intriguing guy, as I wrote about back when they picked him up late last year.

I haven’t written much about the M’s system, as I just got tired of writing about minor league free agents doing stuff in AAA/AA while the few impact prospects the M’s had struggled or had TJ surgery. Since that fatalistic shrug, though, Evan White’s been on a tear, as John Trupin details at LL. I’m not completely convinced yet, and the Cal League’s a great place to show some pop, but it’s a well-argued piece and a very, very hopeful sign. It helps make up for Kyle Lewis’ disappointing 2018 and helps make the wait for Julio Rodriguez go a bit faster.

« Previous PageNext Page »