Game 146, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · September 12, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Jason Hammel, 7:10pm (If you’re going, please note the Sounders have their own late-season really-important game tonight as well. Pioneer Square/SoDo is going to be jammed tonight, which is great, but something you should probably plan for if you’re driving to the game).
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 42.5% Baseballprospectus.com: 35.4%

It’s been a little over ten days since the last time the M’s and A’s faced off, and, at least for the M’s, almost nothing’s changed. They were coming off a disappointing series loss (to the Nationals, in that case), and saw their playoff odds in the low-40% range. They faced Jason Hammel, who was pitching much better in recent games, but who couldn’t stop the A’s from losing. Today, the M’s are again coming off a disappointing series loss, have similar playoff odds, and face Jason Hammel again. The M’s have essentially treaded water for 10 days, while the A’s continue to sink. Some portion of the M’s lower playoff odds (considering they picked up a game on the Royals without playing yesterday) is due to the easier schedule the AL Central teams have down the stretch, which we talked about the other day. It’s in that context that makes this series so important. If the Tigers/Royals feast on the likes of the Twins/White Sox, then the M’s may be better off focusing on the reeling Athletics.

I’m still completely befuddled by their collapse. Through July, this team was one of the most complete, one of the most dangerous, we’d seen in a while. The M’s played them tough, but they annihilated everyone else, and their run differential was off the charts. That incredible run differential’s (mostly) intact, as the A’s have turned to losing one-run games instead. Their last SEVEN losses have been one-run affairs, and 10 of their last 30 games in total have been one-run losses. This wasn’t supposed to happen, especially not after the team jettisoned closer-turned-disaster Jim Johnson. The A’s bullpen has the third-best ERA in baseball (the M’s are #1), and have a solid FIP as well. But shift from context-neutral to context-dependent stats like WPA and they fall to the middle of the pack. Why? The A’s relievers have, for whatever reason, given up their runs at the absolute worst possible times. The “meltdown” stat counts games in which a reliever drops his team’s win probability by 6% – this is a more expansive, less arbitrary version of the blown save. Like blown saves, a team should have at least twice as many games in which a reliever ADDS 6% to WPA than those in which they give away 6%. The M’s have the 3rd fewest meltdowns in baseball behind the Padres (who rank 2nd in ERA, and have been excellent all year) and the Royals, who feature one of the most well-known and successful groups of relievers in baseball. The A’s are in 7th, with 9 more meltdowns than the M’s. But focus on the 2nd half, and it gets worse. In the 2nd half, the M’s have a nearly 3:1 ratio of shutdowns to meltdowns, while the A’s are nearly even (21:17). Their bullpen is 26th in win probability added, while the M’s are up in 5th. The A’s offensive struggles get a lot of attention, and in many ways their bullpen numbers overall still look OK, but the pen’s clearly a major part of the A’s slide.*

Their starting pitching was solid, and it’s been even better recently with Jason Hammel’s resurgence. Back on the 1st, he was showing signs of coming out of the slump he’d been in since coming over from Chicago. After a good start against Seattle, he had another versus Houston, bringing his Oakland ERA under 5. That said, he’s still giving up too many HRs, so his FIP remains terrible. I wanted to see if he’s done anything differently in recent weeks, and a few things look like possibilities. First, he’s simplified his pitch mix. Earlier in the year, he threw a four- and two-seam fastball, a slider, a change-up and the occasional curve. In the past month, he’s essentially throwing only fastballs and the slider. That seems like it’d make him vulnerable to lefties, but his splits don’t look too wide, and in fact, they’re pretty normal for his career. The bigger change was that his control got a bit better. He was missing with too many fastballs in July, and that led to bad counts, and that led to extra-base hits. He’s around the zone a bit more now, and while he’s still giving up his share of HRs, his BABIP and OBP-allowed have come down.

I mentioned before that Hammel’s career year came when he switched to a sinker instead of being a four-seam pitcher. In the years since then, he’s steadily gone back to the four-seamer, and thus his GB% has dropped markedly since 2012. A career 44% ground ball guy, his rate topped 52% in 2012, before dropping to under 40% this year. Given his home park – and the park he’s in today – that’s understandable, I suppose, but the M’s need to look for fastballs they can drive. Only five of his 21 HRs overall -and only one of his last nine- have come off of breaking balls/offspeed pitches.

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

Yesterday’s MLB schedule was marred by a serious injury to the Marlins superstar OF Giancarlo Stanton, who turned into a Mike Fiers fastball and took it on the cheek/mouth. Stanton suffered, “lacerations, facial fractures, dental damage” but has already stated he’d like to return before the end of the season. Dave had just speculated about what kind of contract he might be in the market for should the Marlins lock him up, or if he tests the open market after 2016. Here’s hoping he comes back healthy and effective.

Also at FG, Tony Blengino talked about where the M’s excellent pen ranks with other historically good groups. From that list, it’s extremely hard to stay as hot as the M’s have been for multiple years, though the 2002-2004 Angels managed to stay very good for three years, and the Royals look like they’re on their way to something similar (even if they haven’t been quite as dominant as they were last year).

Welcome back, Dustin Ackley. It was nice to be in the position of wanting Ackley’s bat in the line-up down the stretch, though Saunders’ return meant the M’s didn’t miss too much. Still, this team needs its best line-up on the field in September, and with Ackley healthy, they can do that.

* The A’s are activating their closer, Sean Doolittle, from the DL for today’s game. They can blame injuries for the slide, but even guys with great numbers – like Luke Gregerson – have struggled of late in the closing role.

Game 145, Astros at Mariners

marc w · September 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Nick Tropeano, 7:10pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 49.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 47.7%

A tough loss against a surprisingly tough pitcher last night, and suddenly the M’s wildcard odds edge below 50%. A part of the issue is the Tigers closing schedule is fairly easy, with seven games against the Twins and another three against the White Sox. The Central teams have an advantage in the very last weeks thanks to the unbalanced schedule and the enduring mediocrity of the AL Central itself. That said, the Royals and Tigers are playing each other at the moment, and thus the M’s have to gain ground on SOMEONE. They’ll face off four more times including tonight’s match-up, which features James Shields and Rick Porcello.

The Mariners hope to get back on track behind #2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who’s sustained level of success is nothing short of remarkable. Given his sky-high strand rate and low BABIP in 2013, it really felt like there was no way to go but down. Indeed, his BABIP and strand rate have slipped a bit this year, but he’s compensated by improving his peripherals. He is a phenomenal starter and his acquisition and extension remain the two biggest feathers in this front office’s cap.

Nick Tropeano makes his big league debut tonight for Houston. The righty is a product of Stony Brook, where he put up two fantastic statistical seasons in 2010 and 2011, but fell to the fifth round due to pedestrian stuff. After signing with the Astros, his velocity took a bit of an uptick, and he’s been successful at essentially every level, rising through the lower leagues until spending an entire year at AA in 2013 and the whole year in the PCL in 2014. There’s nothing flashy about him; he flashed slightly above-average velocity in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, but that came in relief and the AFL data’s always a bit weird. He’s earned rave review for his change-up, and he also flashes a slurvy curve ball and, according to many scouts, a splitter. In the AFL, we saw just the four-seam, the change and the curve/slider thingy, and it seems a bit odd to throw BOTH a change and a splitter, but hey, it seems to be working for Tropeano.

He’s a fly-ball pitcher, and when he’s run into trouble in the minors, home runs have largely been to blame. His command may have improved, as his numbers overall look better in AAA than they did in the Texas League, despite the increase in altitude/skill level/video game ballparks. Tropeano reduced his dinger rate, and as a result, became one of the the PCL’s best/most consistent arms this year. He sustained a forearm strain early in the season, but was healthy down the stretch, and thus the Astros summoned him up to become the sixth starter in their rotation through the end of the year. Thanks to the change, he’s not shown much in the way of platoon splits. They’re there, but they haven’t been a major problem; while his K:BB ratio’s a bit worse, he still struck out about a quarter of lefties. All in all, the Astros have to be happy with the development of a guy many thought had a back-of-the-rotation (or 7th inning reliever) ceiling. He hasn’t proven he’s any of those things, but his bounce-back year in the PCL showed he could add some value if he can keep the ball in the park in the American League.

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

You may have seen/heard about the latest skirmish in the long-running battle about WAR, the comprehensive value stat for baseball players. Jeff Passan of Yahoo wrote a pretty good article about the incongruity of seeing Alex Gordon’s name top Mike Trout on the fangraphs leaderboard. Gordon’s value’s propelled in large part due to his defensive numbers, numbers which are out of line with his career averages (which were always good, just not great). Dave’s response was measured, and pointed to Robert Arthur’s work at BP and baseball’s own division of payroll to support the idea that the metrics absolutely need to include defensive numbers to get the total WAR numbers right for position players. Today, Tango (the inventor of WAR) has his own multi-part series explaining what WAR is and responding to criticisms about playing time, position adjustments and defense. It’s worth your time, whatever side of the fence you’re on.

One of the benefits of last night’s game, maybe the only one, was getting a longer look at rookie RP Carson Smith, who threw two great innings. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and think he could be a Zach Britton/Jeremy Affeldt type out of the pen at his peak, thanks to a freakish sinking fastball that should generate top-of-the-charts ground ball rates. He can pair it with a good breaking ball, allowing him to get some strikeouts too. The issue, for a side-arming sinkerballer, is going to be platoon splits. We all worried this would hurt Carter Capps’ ability to close long-term, and then Capps suddenly couldn’t get RIGHTIES out either, a fact that I still can’t quite fathom given his arm angle and velocity. Indeed, Smith’s platoon splits in the minors are fairly wide, though that’s mostly because he gave righties fits. This is also where the GB% can give him something of a cushion – if he can’t miss as many lefty bats, that’s OK as long as they’re hitting grounders. It’s also worth noting that his BABIP in the minors was always quite high, which could just be an artifact of lesser fields and fielders, or it could indicate some issues with hard contact. Still, Smith looks like a good one, and while the M’s don’t really have any vacancies for righties in their pen, having too many good big-league arms is a good problem to have.

Game 144, Astros at Mariners

marc w · September 9, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Collin McHugh, 7:10pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 59.3% Baseballprospectus.com: 55.6%

You can see what last night’s comeback win did for the M’s wildcard odds. That was a huge comeback, and while it perhaps shouldn’t have taken a late-innings triple to salvage a game against the Astros started by Felix, a win is a win. Felix was not sharp at all last night; I felt his change-up was missing all over the place (usually down, which is better than missing up) and he got through it by throwing some curves and by being Felix.

Today’s match-up features two of the least-likely average-ish starters in all of baseball. Last year, Collin McHugh was cut by two teams, and in a handful of big league innings, compiled an ERA over 10, and a FIP near 6. He did not make the Astros starting rotation out of spring training, which isn’t quite as damning an indictment of one’s big league prospects as it once was, but is not an encouraging sign. In a few PCL appearances in the beginning of the year he was underwhelming. He came up to make a spot start against the M’s during the M’s spring tailspin and pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings with 12 Ks and no walks. Who the hell is Collin McHugh?

Apparently, the biggest change for him is when a Houston coach told him to scrap his sinker and stick with a four-seam fastball that (apparently) hides his curve ball well. As you’d expect, he doesn’t get too many grounders, but with a good enough fastball (at 92), and a surprisingly effective curve, he’s nearing 3 fWAR on the year.

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

Psychology Test

Jeff Sullivan · September 9, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

You probably knew this, but the Mariners sucked for a while. It didn’t cause us to stop being fans, but it did cause us to become different fans, fans who adapted to the miserable circumstances. When a team loses over and over, it’s only natural for one to develop a defense system, and I think a lot of us survived with humor, much but not all of it dark. We also would’ve distanced ourselves, because, who can really be the textbook example of a die-hard when the team you’d die for reliably blows? The Mariners forced us to change our fan behavior, and along the way they conditioned us, they altered our psychology. Every fan group has different psychologies. We identified with our own.

And now there are the 2014 Mariners. I still don’t really know what to do with them, because this whole course is unfamiliar. It’s like we’ve been hiking uphill in the cold and the clouds and the rain, only now it looks like the clouds might break, like we might be able to achieve a clear and warm summit. This team feels like a gift, but it’s also challenging the identities we developed over the course of the previous decade. This is a good baseball team, unlike even the 2007 mirage. We’ve been trained to laugh at the bad. We’ve been trained to expect even worse. But we can’t laugh at what bad that there is, because it’s September and we still freakin care, and you can’t laugh at the bad during good. And as much as we know what we’ve expected in the past, this year feels different, as any winning year does.* If the Mariners are better, are…we…better? Just a few months ago, the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. They actually won so convincingly I think they won a few of them. What has that done to the city’s psychology? What’s going on with the city’s psychology?

So I want to see how people feel, today. I want to monitor the mental state of things, because I’m legitimately curious where people are finding themselves after so many years of getting let down. Is your brain allowing you to really buy in, or are you still too damaged? Does it take more than a single pennant race to heal? I want you to answer this honestly, and I’m not asking for what you want to happen.

It feels like this year’s Mariners are writing a completely different story. The story is also far from finished.

* I’m told

Game 143, Astros at Mariners

marc w · September 8, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Brad Peacock, 7:10pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com 52.3% Baseballprospectus.com: 47.5%

Happy Felix Day, everyone. I apologize for not getting game threads up, but I decided to take a page out of Jeff/Matthew’s book and go camping instead. I’ve mentioned the many ways this season feels different than its immediate predecessors, but I’ve been camping several times over the past few years and not once was I upset about missing an M’s game. I was a bit upset at missing these two games. Not distraught or anything, but hey, after the decade we’ve all had, any sort of feeling is a good sign.

The Astros come to town fresh off a series win against the Athletics, another sign that Houston’s not quite the embarassment they’ve been for the past few years. Since July 1st, they’re 19-15, which isn’t bad for a team that lost an astonishing 218 games over 2012-13. They’ve even posted the 2nd best improvement in run differential from 2013 to 2014 at +152 runs (2nd behind Seattle at +223). They’re still not good, of course, and with George Springer on the 15-day DL, they’re arguably less interesting than a a team that’s this far into a rebuild should be. But they’re not without strengths. One player to whom the label “strength” applies is 1B/LF/DH Chris Carter, the lumbering slugger who came to Houston in the Jed Lowrie deal with Oakland – a trade that also netted the Astros tonight’s starter, Brad Peacock.* Carter went from PCL terror (Mike Curto still shudders involuntarily at the mention of his name, the result of the show he put on in the 2009 PCL playoffs) to overmatched, overage MLB prospect to possible AL home run crown winner. His success sheds some light on the shifts baseball’s undergone in the past five-ten seasons.

Carter had light-tower power coming out of HS, and put up solid power numbers in the minors, first in the White Sox system and then with the A’s. But he was always beset by strikeout issues, and his trouble with breaking balls and pitch recognition has led to freakishly high whiff rates. By pitch fx, no qualified batter has made less contact than Carter. That’s a problem – one that can only be overcome with great defense, an extremely patient approach, or off-the-charts power. Carter’s not a great fielder, even at 1B, so the combination of his fielding and his spot on the fielding spectrum means he’s yielded over 50 runs in his brief MLB career thus far. So, the balancing attribute isn’t going to be defense. Carter’s walk rate is a very respectable 8.8% this year, but that’s down substantially from his 11% career rate, or the 12% he put up last year. The problem is that he’s an aggressive hitter, and thus he swings at more pitches than average, despite seeing a few less strikes. It’s not that he flails at pitches in the dirt, but that he’ll swing at pitches on the edges – and just off the edges – of the zone. So, he’s not going to put up peak-period Adam Dunn OBPs either.

To be viable at ALL in baseball, Carter has to make the most of every time he contacts the ball. For Carter, that’s meant focusing on launch angle. Just looking at Mike Fast’s tweets (former public sabermetrics guy and current Astros employee), it looks like the team pays a lot of attention to that too. We don’t have hit FX, but we can certainly look at Carter’s GB and FB rates. Since 2012, his FB% has gone from 45.7% to 46.8% to 53.9%. The Astros aren’t paying Carter to hit ground balls, so this looks like a very good sign. Carter’s 2nd in the league in HRs, but his overall batting line certainly isn’t up to those his peers like Jose Abreu, Mike Trout or even Nelson Cruz are crafting. We’re still talking about a limited player here,** but the larger question behind all of this is: how do you get the most out of what you have? The Astros are getting more out of Carter than most thought they could.

Brad Peacock is a righty with a 93mph four-seam fastball that gets a ton of vertical rise. As such, it won’t shock you that he’s an extreme fly ball/pop-up guy who has his share of home run problems. To lefties, he’ll throw a big curve ball and a change-up, and to righties he features a slider, backed by the curve. The hook’s his best pitch, with solid whiff rates and a record of success against lefties. The fastball’s solid, as the vertical movement gets him less contact than you’d think, while minimizing platoon splits. The problem is that he trades occasional hard contact for these assorted virtues, and his walk rate makes that a really steep price to pay. It’s odd for a guy who throws so many four-seam fastballs, but Peacock’s *career* BB/9 is 4.42, and his career walk rate is over 11%. That’s fine if you’re a fireballer with enough velocity to minimize HRs/hard contact or a reliever who strikes out enough to compensate. It’s not fine if you’re a starter giving up 1.35 HR/9. His career ERA/FIP are essentially identical, and thus he’s just slightly above replacement level over his 212 career IP whichever flavor of WAR you choose. There’s always the sense that there’s more talent in there somewhere, and that a small change would produce big results the way they have for teammates Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel. But for now, Peacock’s the same guy the M’s have seen often the past two seasons – a guy who will reward a patient approach, and will give batters a few mistakes over the course of the game.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Chavez, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Saunders, RF
9: Miller, SS
SP: KING FELIX

Go out and watch this one, Seattle. This is a critical game in September with the M’s best pitcher taking on a divisional rival. Gooooooo.

Lots of lefties tonight, and a warm welcome back to Michael Saunders. Nice timing too, with Dustin Ackley’s ankle still bothering him.

The Tigers and Royals are facing off right now, so the M’s gain ground on someone. I suppose it’s time to temporarily start cheering for the Royals, which is tough because I *just* got used to rooting against them. The A’s have been in free fall, which makes their trip to the south side so critical. Schadenfreude is seeing a team that looked like the class of baseball pressing in a must-win game against Hector Noesi.

* That trade’s been good for all involved. The A’s got Lowrie’s best/healthiest year ever last year and rode him to a 3+ WAR season and the playoffs. The Astros solved their 1B/DH woes after shuffling through Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace and Brandon Laird.

* I’ve been thinking about what player Carter reminds me of. Mark Reynolds comes to mind, of course, but a 3B has more to offer defensively, and Reynolds got started a bit quicker. I’d point out that Carter’s 2013 K% was actually higher than Reynolds career high, a fact that surprised me more than it probably should have. Going back to the similar offensive environment of the 80s, Jesse Barfield is out due to great defense, and George Bell because he struck out infrequently. But I think I’ve got one. This player bounced between AAA-MLB for three years before getting a starting gig at 27 and putting up a line of .244/.320/.498. In his next season, he went .243/.307/.477 and led the league in strikeouts. Carter’s first year? .223/.320/.451. This year, he’s at .235/.309/.521, and ranks last in contact. Neither had big platoon splits ala Ryan Howard, they’re the same type of hitter against righties and lefties alike. So there you go, Chris Carter is most like ex-Royal and ex-Mariner Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni.

Podcast: Inside the Cutoff Again

Matthew Carruth · September 7, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

A quick turnaround and the Mariners have gone back to winning since our last recording. They now sit just two back of Oakland. We spend some time talking about that.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): 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. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

Game 140, Mariners at Rangers

marc w · September 5, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Scott Baker, 5:05pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 46.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 47.3%

Only Detroit’s seven-run 11th inning against Cleveland marred a dominant night by two Seattle sports teams, with the M’s drubbing a Texas team featuring two players making their MLB debuts, and Jon Edwards, who was apparently a failed OF in the Cardinals organization as recently as 2010. They are shattering the record for most players used in a season, and despite a universally-praised system, nothing’s been able to staunch the bleeding. Not the kids, and not the veteran stop-gaps like Joe Saunders or today’s starter, Scott Baker.

When the M’s signed Baker on a minor league deal, it seemed like a great low-risk pick-up. Baker’s road back from Tommy John had been unusually long and winding, but he’d come back to make a handful of appearances for the Cubs in 2013. If his velocity continued to rebound, he seemed like a decent 5th starter candidate. Not good enough for the M’s, of course, who opted first for Randy Wolf and then, at the 11th hour, for Chris Young. Baker’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher, and with Texas, his GB% is a Chris-Young-esque 26%. In his best years with the Twins, he was able to get a decent number of strikeouts thanks to a solid slider and by working up in the zone with his fastball, and he’s always had good control. The problem, even in those good years, has been home runs. Pitching up works well for some, and on balance it probably was the right move for Baker, but he (like everyone else in baseball) didn’t have Chris Young’s magical HR/FB suppressing ability, and so he’d give up a fair number of long balls, which meant his ERA and FIP weren’t as pretty as his K:BB ratio.

An important part of his ability to last despite an elevated HR rate was the fact that he really didn’t display any platoon splits, or at least he didn’t show constantly wide splits. For his career, he’s got a FIP of 4.02 against lefties and 4.00 against righties, and he’s done this despite using primarily fastballs and sliders. That said, this is not the same Scott Baker anymore. While his velocity’s up a tick from where it was last year, it’s just 90-91, or 1.5-2mph down from his peak in Minnesota around 2010-2011. That’s part of the reason why his K% has stayed around 15% this year as opposed to the 20%+ figures he ran years ago, despite the fact that he’s been used in relief a lot this year. That relief usage has allowed him to face more right-handed bats, which is somewhat lucky, given his problems with lefties this year. Given his career numbers and the fact he hasn’t pitched much, it’s easy to see those splits as an Arlington-driven, small-sample oddity, but I’m not so sure. Lefties are destroying his slider these days, and given that he’s used his change-up so sparingly, it’s not clear what Baker can do about this.

Obviously, it’s possible that Baker’s issues with BABIP and the ugly line drive rate he’s given up have something to do with the quality of the OF defense behind him. Balls that fall in for hits are more likely to be scored line drives than those that are caught, so who knows. But the M’s aren’t terribly interested in Baker’s “true talent” today – they just want to beat him. And given his struggles against lefties, his HR problems, and the fact that the M’s have fared better against fly-ballers overall, they’ve got a pretty good shot to do that, especially with Hisashi Iwakuma on the hill.

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

Detroit hosts the Giants tonight in a game pitting Jake Peavy against Rick Porcello. The Royals send James Shields to the hill against the Yankees and old friend Michael Pineda.

Texas has seen so many players lost to injury, and now they’ll have to struggle on without their manager. Ron Washington resigned before today’s game, saying that he needed to focus on, “an off the field personal matter.” No idea what that is, and have zero interest in speculating, but I sincerely wish you well, Wash.

In much less surprising personnel moves, the Arizona Diamondbacks fired their GM today. Kevin Towers was widely seen as a lame-duck, especially after the DBacks brought in Tony LaRussa as their chief of Baseball Operations back in May. Towers’ deals over the past two seasons drew criticism from the Fangraphs crowd and from more traditional baseball folks, and while his insistence on grit was always going to get him some barbs from the sabermetric community, the team he put together has been a disappointment by any measure. I’m a bit surprised they made the move now, with less than a month to go in the season, but given that his firing seemed inevitable, I guess there was no point in keeping him around. Towers had a very good run as GM with the Padres, and had some initial success in Arizona, but it’s been a very rough couple of years.

Jeff’s got an article at Fangraphs today showing how Mike Zunino’s power and hit-by-pitch acumen have him in select company. Or, uh, the company of Miguel Olivo. “Select” can have many implications. Jeff went with the term “unusual,” and Olivo DID chew a teammate’s ear off, so we’ll go with Jeff’s term. This is in no way a comparison between the two in overall value; Zunino’s a great defender, while Olivo remains *a guy who chewed a teammate’s ear off.* But yeah, neither of them are overly fond of taking pitches.

Game 139, Mariners at Rangers

marc w · September 4, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Robbie Ross, 5:05pm
Wildcard Odds- Fangraphs.com: 45.3%. Baseballprospectus.com: 41.6%

Big day yesterday, as a great performance from Felix paired with a Detroit loss to give the M’s playoff odds a boost.

Today, the M’s head to Arlington to take on the reeling Rangers, who more resemble a AAA club than the team many thought could win the division. Robbie Ross won a spring competition to start the year in the rotation, and while injuries helped with that, he looked like he belonged. The lefty blanked the M’s over 7 2/3 IP back in April – his third straight solid outing to begin the year. Five days later, he got knocked around a bit and simply hasn’t been the same.

Ross is heavily fastball dependent, though he also throws a slider, curve and change. He gets good sink, and his delivery must be deceptive to righties, as he never had problems with RHBs, at least until this year. He’s always generated grounders, which has helped him avoid HRs, but even with a solid GB%, he’s had HR issues this year. It can’t be too shocking considering his home park and raw stuff that’s never been elite (he was seen as a finesse lefty by many when he was coming through the minors), but he, like the entire club, has been both bad and tremendously unlucky.

Most teams stack their lineups with righties, but Ross has reverse splits for his career in part because his slider’s been so bad against lefties. That said, his fastball’s been poor to righties this year after being effective for the two years he spent in the Texas bullpen.

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

Game 138, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · September 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Jon Lester, 12:35pm
Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 38.9% Baseballprospectus.com: 37.0%

Happy Felix Day!

The M’s desperately needed a long outing from James Paxton last night following Chris Young’s less-than-an-inning disaster the previous day. They got one, and the M’s can now take the series with their ace on the hill.

I talked about Gray being potentially the A’s ace, and evidently that prospect frightened Billy Beane a bit, as he traded Yoenis Cespedes for today’s A’s starter, Jon Lester. The Piece County native has put up his best season in the majors, with a FIP under 3 for the first time in his career. His K% is now approaching his career high, but he’s also cut his walk rate substantially, all without a return of the home run problems that plagued his 2012.

Lester’s maintained his excellent peripherals and runs allowed stats since moving to the A’s, though his fastball velocity is down a bit from August of 2013. It clearly hasn’t hurt his whiffs, and he’s throwing more strikes, but it’s odd to see his velocity settle down a bit right when most pitchers peak, and where he was throwing hardest last year. Since moving to the A’s, he’s shelved his change-up, which was never a big part of his arsenal. He’s now a four- and two-seam fastball/cutter/curve ball pitcher. He’ll throw cutters in any count, to RHB/LHBs, and often features it more than his fastball.

Line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Denorfia, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Hart, DH
7: Zunino, C
8: Romero, RF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: King Felix

Seven righties in the starting line-up today against the lefty Lester. I understand it a bit, though Lester’s been extremely tough on righties this year, and has career splits narrower than many left-handers. I’m not sure the platoon-split gain of starting Romero is worth the trade-offs, but of course that’s got a lot more to do with injuries than anything. Endy Chavez has been hot, but you do not want him within a quarter mile of today’s starting line-up. If the choice was Romero or a healthy Saunders, I think you go with Saunders, but that’s not helping McClendon fill out the line-up card.

The A’s line-up’s been quiet recently, with many pointing to the departure of Cespedes in the Lester deal. But the A’s are also down a lefty hitter who’s put up a 119 wRC+ this year in 344 PAs – C/DH John Jaso, who’s been sidelined with the aftereffects of a concussion. Jaso spoke with Eno Sarris about his recovery today at Fangraphs.

Podcast: Down the Stretch

Matthew Carruth · September 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Sorry for the delay folks; Labor Day camping took us far away from our recording outposts. This week we get into the recent scuffling, Jesus Montero, and who hasn’t been terrible for the Mariners lately and what’s to come.

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.

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