Crafty Tom Wilhelmsen

By: Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter: @jarlyjarhead

No one measures my overall performance each day at work and this is completely normal. If I finish less documentation on Thursday than I did on Monday there isn’t someone analyzing my keystrokes to determine that I typed z more often on Thursday and thus that must be the reason I finished less documentation. Or that my coworker spun his chair around to chat an average of two additional times on Thursdays which lends itself to my lack of production. If I have three straight months of work that are less than stellar, chances are likely that only I, and maybe my management, are aware of these struggles. But certainly not journalists or our customers, that’s silliness.

Hey, did you guys hear that Tom Wilhelmsen was terrible with Texas this season?

Wilhelmsen was one of the first causalities of the Jerry Dipoto era, but not necessarily for lack of production. Dipoto wanted to get more athletic and needed a centerfielder, enter Leonys Martin. Dipoto bought low on Martin, which explains having to only get rid of a right handed reliever that wasn’t especially great, but not so bad either. What Texas got was a reliever that wasn’t a closer, but could close in a pinch. He pitched 62 innings in 2015 with an ERA that stood at 3.19 and averaged about a strikeout per inning pitched.

Except Texas didn’t get what they traded for, not even close. A guy that could close if circumstances dictated had become a liability that bounced between Texas’ AAA affiliate Round Rock and the big league team. An ERA in the low threes in 2015 jumped to nearly 11(!) in Texas. His strikeouts per nine was cut in half, et cetera, et cetera.

This post isn’t so much about what Texas got in the trade though, Texas bloggers have probably covered that already. I imagine CAPS were used in addition to many exclamation points. This is more about what Seattle got after Texas, which is pretty much the same thing that he was prior Texas. At least in terms of surface production, but he’s succeeding in different ways.

I would surmise that the SABR-inclined Dipoto was open to trading Wilhelmsen for more than the fact that he needed a starting center fielder, but also that he saw Wilhelmsen beginning a decline. At his best and when he was a closer (2012) Tom was a great strikeout pitcher at nearly 10 K/9. But for the most part he’s hovered around 8 K/9 which is above average and still makes for a functional relief pitcher. But a Tom without strikeouts is a less effective version than himself, he just wasn’t used to getting outs in other ways.

This was part of the problem in Texas, his K/9 cratered, hovering just above four strikeouts per nine. But it wasn’t for lack of throwing strikes, his walk rate remained about the same. He wasn’t getting hit much harder than the season before either. He simply couldn’t end at-bats and enough of those bats ended in hits, sometimes loud ones, that it made an impact.

Fast forward to June 22nd, Wilhelmsen is signed by Seattle after being released by Texas, and makes his first appearance on July 2nd. This time around however, Dipoto and the coaching staff are aware of the pitcher that Tom is today and have a plan to utilize him.

The changes are to his pitch craft, and are multi-layered. For starters he has completely stopped throwing sliders to lefties. And by completely, I mean he hasn’t thrown a single slider to a lefty since he has been with Seattle in 2016. This is in comparison to around 10% of the time when with Texas. He has instead replaced his slider with increased usage of his changeup. I’ll always believe that a pitcher that breathes the same air as Felix will have a better changeup and that is true of Wilhelmsen. He’s not only throwing his changeup more often but has also increased the movement of this pitch since coming over from Texas.

Team Changeup Horizontal Movement (inches)
Rangers -3.57
Mariners -5.57

 

However, I think the biggest change that’s been made is using different pitch locations to induce weaker contact rather than trying to miss bats. This isn’t a change from Texas either, it’s a change for Wilhelmsen as a whole. He has begun pitching low and outside a lot more than at any point of his career up to this point.

When discovering the link between his current performance and his previous performance, I was reminded of a post covering the Houston Astros that was posted on Grantland. The Astros, in an effort to mitigate pitchers on their staff with low velocity, began pitching on the low outside corner at a rate of 34.8% of the time. Wilhelmsen is pitching in that same area, he’s just doing it a lot more, at around 50% of the time to righties and around 30% of the time for lefties. He’s more than adopted that philosophy of pitch craft, it’s now his practiced religion.

As a result, he’s remained effective despite doing so in a different way. His strikeout numbers are down, but he’s now inducing more soft contact.

Season Team Soft Contact Medium Contact Hard Contact
2015 Mariners 19.40% 60.00% 20.60%
2016 Rangers 17.20% 43.70% 39.10%
2016 Mariners 23.50% 41.20% 35.30%

 

In addition to inducing more soft contact, the location of most of his pitches also force certain hit types. He’s forcing more hitters to the opposite field than he was than with Texas and also is increasing on the number of groundballs induced. Hitters simply aren’t making great contact.

Season Team Groundball Percentage Line Drive Percentage
2015 Mariners 42.10% 20.50%
2016 Rangers 49.40% 16.50%
2016 Mariners 52.00% 12.00%

 

Weak contact that is on the ground makes for more outs and for a reliever coming into the game, oftentimes with runners on base already, this is a tangible skill. He may not be the first guy out of the bullpen any longer to get a tough strikeout, but he’s still serviceable.

The consequence of beginning down the path of pitch craft rather than relying solely on physical ability is that the end could be near. The life of a reliever is a combustible one and Wilhelmsen has enjoyed a nice career despite that fact. He also still may have a lot of life left, his fastball still averages 96 and his curve still has a lot of bite. Breathing the same air as Felix doesn’t hurt either when considering his changeup. But if he is done soon, at least some schlub with a blog won’t be exhaustively analyzing his work life.

Mike Zunino, Reclamation Project

By: Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter: @jarlyjarhead

My wife scrolls Pinterest a lot, not quite for hours at a time, but at least for many minutes at a time. I suppose she could be reading a blog post, but if she is, she found that blog on Pinterest. Pinterest is weird. It’s classified as social networking, but there is nothing social about it. She doesn’t follow anyone, or engage in conversation. She doesn’t post anything either. But Pinterest is a hobby of hers, which sounds odd, but hear me out.

My wife loves reclamation projects. When she’s scrolling Pinterest it isn’t a mindless activity, but rather an involved activity. She’s on the hunt for a DIY, cataloging every cute idea that comes between her fingertip and her iPad. She’ll take those non-descript boards of wood, scrounge up some rope and, boom, here’s a shelf. She found some terracotta pots at a garage sale for a dollar once, and now we have a potted plant waterfall thing in our front yard.

She takes pride in improving something, but it’s about the process just as much as it is about the end result. If she cared about baseball, I’m sure she would take pride in the process of Mike Zunino, reclamation project.

***

As I write this, Zunino is hitting in the sixth inning with the Mariners losing to the Yankees 5-3. It’s the end of August, and the Mariners are only one game out of the second wildcard spot. The Yankees are within striking distance of the playoffs as well. This is meaningful baseball. There are two runners on and the Yankees just brought in a right handed pitcher, only one out after their last call to the bullpen. Obviously a same-handed strategy designed to take advantage of the weaknesses of a once struggling Zunino.

Zunino works a full count, at one point down 1-2, and takes ball three in the dirt as he steps out of the box. He shakes his head, reminding himself of what would have certainly been a strikeout this same time last year. The sixth pitch is a slider, on the lower outside corner, a pitch that has haunted Zunino in the past, but this time it’s different. He sits back, waits on the pitch and drives it to the opposite field for an improbable three run homerun. A homerun that would prove to be the difference in this game. This at-bat encapsulates the reclamation project that has become Mike Zunino. He used to be a couple of boards and some rope, now he’s starting to resemble a shelf.

***

This is all very dramatic, but it isn’t without some context. Zunino was a disaster last season. Of all players with at least 350 plate appearances in 2015 (248), Zunino was next to last in wRC+.  That’s bad enough in and of itself, but he also struck out more often than any of those players as well, at just over 34% of the time. He also had the worst batting average and on base percentage of the bunch. Hell, more than 200 players had a higher batting average than Mike had OBP! I could keep going, but no need to pile on and you get the point. Dude was awful.

In 2016, Zunino is just now getting consistency as a regular in the lineup and the sample size is still extraordinarily small. But the reason for hope is in part because of the way that he was handled at the beginning of the year. It’s been obvious to Mariners fans that Zunino was called up too early in his career. Especially without ever really dominating the minors the way one would hope for a high level talent. Jerry Dipoto also realized this and put on his kid gloves with Mike from the start. He signed Chris Iannetta with intentions of him being the starter and traded for Steve Clevenger with the sole purpose of him acting as a backup and put more plainly, to keep Zunino in AAA for as long as possible. It was only after Clevenger got hurt that Dipoto’s kid gloved hand was forced and he moved Zunino up to the big league team. Yet even then Dipoto wasn’t convinced, he sent Zunino back down only a week later and recalled Jesus Sucre from the disabled list. Sucre however didn’t last long and we’re now experiencing our current iteration of Zunino. An everyday catcher still great at defense and pitch framing and also the guy with a wRC+ that currently sits four times higher than his total last year, 189.

All of this is very interesting and inspiring, Zunino seems like a good guy and he certainly deserves this surge. But the more interesting question, is how in the hell he’s made such a drastic improvement. The low hanging fruit is that he has simply become more patient at the plate and he’s swinging less in general. This includes pitches outside of the zone, a weakness of his before and a big reason for his lofty strikeout numbers from last season. This year he’s swinging less on all pitches and has lowered his strikeout rate by more than 10%, which over the course of the season is in the neighborhood of 40 fewer strikeouts.

Year Swing Percentage Strikeout Percentage
2015 49.60% 34.20%
2016 46.00% 23.00%

 

He is also starting to make better contact. Zunino, and a player with a similar profile, will rarely be league average or better as a contact hitter. He likes to swing hard, hit dingers and clear bases. But even an all-world player like Giancarlo Stanton has contact rates well below league average. So that isn’t necessarily the problem to begin with, but an improved contact rate certainly helps.

A nice little byproduct of both swinging less and making more contact is that Zunino is starting to get on base a lot more in the way of walks. His walk rate is more than double what it was a season ago, a change in more than 20 additional times on base over the course of a season.

So Zunino is beginning to eliminate outs and effectively replace them with walks. He’s also changing the way in which he hits the ball. His BABIP is actually lower this season than it was in 2015, so luck isn’t a factor. What is a factor though is that his line drive rate has increased, his groundball rate has decreased and oh shit his HR/FB ratio has nearly tripled.

Year LD Percentage GB Percentage HR/FB Ratio
2015 17.40% 32.60% 10.10%
2016 19.20% 28.80% 29.60%

 

More important than being more selective and making better contact, is that he is also beginning to take advantage of areas that were recently exploited. In 2015, he was mostly challenged on the low outside corner of the zone (the four lower right squares of image).

Zunino2015ZoneBrooks.JPG

Nearly 30% of all pitches that Zunino saw last year were in the low and outside quadrant of the strike zone. And he didn’t do well.

Zunino2015ZoneSLGBrooks.JPG

To be clear, these are slugging percentages not batting averages. Zunino had a clear weakness and major league pitchers aren’t one for charity.

For comparison, below is the percentages of pitches per zone for 2016.

Zunino2016ZoneBrooks.JPG

Once again pitchers continue to attack Zunino in the same area and do so about 30% of the time. But he has begun to improve and has applied a child’s size Band-Aid to this area.

Zunino2016ZoneSLGBrooks.JPG

He still struggles with pitches in this area that are outside of the strike zone, but we know that he mitigates that by swinging less at those pitches. But in the strike zone for that area, the dude is raking. A weakness can only be a weakness for so long until the player begins to evolve.

Time will tell if Zunino’s play is sustainable, but it’s nice to see that there is actually data to back up his surge. With Zunino’s already strong reputation as a defender, even becoming an average offensive player will make him a better than average big leaguer. Then again, he is a high end draft pick with the talent to match, perhaps Dipoto has created his potted plant waterfall thing that will sit behind home plate and hit in the middle of the order for years to come.

 

Jacob’s: A Progressive Experience

By: Joshua Ellis

 

As I shake hands, exchange hugs and walk down the long corridor to my hotel room, I wear the biggest baseball grin I have had in quite some time. Tonight was magical, epic and despite not being in Safeco Field for opening night, felt just like home. The much needed sleep delayed by swirling thoughts and bowels that only planned impulsiveness and six white castle burgers can allow. Before I finally drift to sleep I know I will be missing out on a tribute to the World Champion Seattle Seahawks, Kings Court pandemonium, and the home field debut of Robinson Cano. In the end and throughout the evening, my spontaneity and trust in complete strangers would make for a memory of baseball I would not soon forget. Two months ago, a phone conversation with my brother made this night a reality. A thought provoking night thrown together on a hop from baseball to bars. A progressive night. Only fitting that it should start at Progressive Field.

For the past several years my brothers and I have gone to opening day at Safeco Field. During a conversation with my brother, I tell him that I will not be able to attend this year. Instead, my job is sending me to Cleveland for advanced training during opening week of Mariners baseball. Understandably bummed, he realizes that if he wants to go to opening day that he will have to go one brother short. Currently, Mariners baseball doesn’t attract the fair weathered fan. Instead, it brings the folks who understand that baseball, at its essence is a past time to be spent with family and friends. Baseball, for us, will not be the same without me there. This thought and my absence leads to a decision. No one is going to Opening Day.

My trip to Progressive Field was not without its adventures. I made a conscious decision that I would be attending a baseball game long before I actually arrived in Cleveland. The excitement of being in a different stadium followed me throughout the work day and any kind of baseball mythology and lore that I could soak up. My journey downtown found me on a train traveling at the speed of my own anticipation. The sprawl of a city nestled along the banks of Lake Erie allowed me to see many different adjuncts of lifestyle. Suburbs, architecture, people, restaurants, vegetation laid out on flat terrain as I rolled closer to the skyline of Cleveland. Seattle never felt so far away. Thankfully, I met a few out of town stragglers on the way downtown in the same predicament as myself. Amongst the four was a middle aged man with tough rugged features, a leather jacket that screamed Midwestern blue collar and Indians gear from head to toe. I knew instantly this was my fate, I had to befriend these people. I introduced myself, my situation and within no time we were exchanging small talk and baseball enthusiasm while the train whistled along. I would now be able to see baseball through the eyes of an east coast baseball nerd and relax in the company of his friends. He knew absolutely everything about the Cleveland Indians. As far back as the Cleveland Spiders when they played at a “dump” called Cleveland Municipal. He would tell me about the infamous drummer that didn’t randomly appear at any given spot in the stadium, but rather always in the outfield. This now iconic drummer leads the charge to get fans clamoring for their beloved Indians. However, I had a hard time finding this supposed drummer and for good reason. The Indians absolutely killed any chance the National League representing San Diego Padres could muster. Between cheers and runs scored I kept my ear tuned to my new found friend’s rants on upcoming farm system talent, recent trade acquisitions and praise only a die-hard fan could spit out. However, my fascination in his stories proved difficult when trying to discern my hunger levels. It was only during a lull in the conversation I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch earlier. It wasn’t until I excused myself that John, the Indians fan, would stop me and insist that I get a hot dog with the Cleveland Indians signature mustard called Bert’s. What he didn’t tell me is that this knee buckling condiment would change my experience of ball park hot dogs forever. Twenty-five dollars and four bottles of mustard later I walked out of the team store relishing in my purchases. This experience had to be shared, shared with the people I would normally be watching baseball with. Baseball might be cooler here.

In my experience as a baseball fan I have had the privilege of seeing Candlestick Park, Oakland – Alameda, Camden Yards, Safeco Field and now Progressive Field. I was able to fully appreciate what I have and don’t have back home as I strolled around the stadium demolishing a hot dog and sipping on surprisingly quality craft beer. What I do have, at Safeco Field, is a nothing short of state of the art. A ball field that caters to both fans and players. Safeco Field’s identity lies underneath a retractable roof and is illuminated by the Major League Baseball’s largest jumbotron. The scent of garlic fries and brewed Pyramid beer masks the spray of ocean water coming from Puget Sound. Seattle’s progressive skyline hovering behind left field giving just an inkling of what the city truly has to offer. However, this package comes with a sense of what baseball means in the 21st century.. A far cry from where it started over a hundred years ago leading to its eventual manifest destiny. Without knowing any better, one might assume that the fans and city are rich, full and drunk with power in the best sports city in America. Sadly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We haven’t been playoff contenders in over a decade and are still seeking our first World Series appearance! We are a fan base trying to find an identity, while the 12th man, voted as the NFLs best are literally across the street. What I don’t have is a Midwestern city that clings to sports as if it’s the only thing worth getting out of bed for. I have seen this attitude in St. Louis, another Midwestern city.. In my opinion, I haven’t found much else outside sports to get excited for when visiting the Midwest. Seattle, Portland and San Francisco have so much to offer in terms of culture, personality and general things to do than your average Mid-Western city. The Mid-West feels like a post apocalyptic desolate wasteland. An area on the map that looks overpopulated but feels like a ghost town. Sports, thankfully, gives the locals an excuse to go downtown, support the team and give the illusion of a bustling city. Its this mindset that fuels the desire and need for sports to exist in this area of the country. For example, the Cleveland Browns NFL team moved to Baltimore and their fans cried for their return and got them back several years later. Conversely, when the Seattle Supersonics left for Oklahoma you saw an outcry in Seattle but not strong enough to bring them back to the city. Cleveland has that, we don’t. This all became more clear as I circled the concourse. Random cheers amidst random bits of silence encapsulated the feel of a baseball game. However, the aging stadium resounded more with me than any of the familiarities that I have come to expect during a game. The stadium has this rustic, old, dirty and industrial feel. Massive steel poles acting as foundation for bleachers crisscrossed along the perimeter of the concourse. It was as if the local fans griminess caked on each towering pole fueled the organizations profile, mantra and character of the city. This was part of Cleveland’s identity, part of their birthright, part of history and no one recognized it more clearly than myself. This was not just any Tuesday night, it’s their way of life. Baseball is different here.

After purchasing the necessary memorabilia without being a traitor to my own team, I found my way back to my seat. In the relatively short trek around the somewhat unoriginal stadium, the Indians had managed to pull together a very strong lead. The fans being robbed of their opening day festivities due to inclement weather the day prior were able to relish in the glory of their beloved Indians. It was then, that I was able to relax and truly take in the awesomeness of being in a different stadium, to take notice of what I was watching and also what I was missing. Behind the curtain, the sanctuary and past-time of baseball has always been an escape. An opportunity to revel in the mystery of the dreamers out there that made their dream a reality. The American Spirit and American dream that anything is possible tucked underneath the pleasure of good company is what makes baseball sacred and special. Only later in life have I been able to realize this. It took an Indians – Padres game in the middle of nowhere America for me to realize this. At the 7th inning stretch I had a revelation but not before I took notice to mascots dressed as condiments raced around the stadium punching and kicking their way to bragging rights. I cleared my throat and braced myself for the singing of take me out to the ball game. Goose bumps littered my skin as I started into song, knowing full well that I could never let myself actually root, root, root for the Indians. It was in this moment where that I realized that although I was amongst the family of baseball, I missed my actual family. I missed my own anticipation of the drive up to the game, the dreadful parking at Safeco Field, sitting in a different part of the stadium, being late for the third consecutive time, opening day festivities, laughing about the most ridiculous things with my brothers and taking in the feeling of being in the midst of my personal family. So, even though I was singing take me out to the ball game, I cheated and root, root, rooted for a team that had not even started playing their home opener. Baseball is not only different here, its cathartic.

With my new temporary ‘baseball’ family we finished watching the game and I soaked in as much of my remaining experience as possible. The sights, smells, feels and look of our national pastime represented under a different set of lights while illuminating a very real and cherished memory in the making. These days, I am smarter about what I eat and drink but felt the necessity of sharing a smoke with one of my new comrades. It only seemed fitting that with every inhale and exhale of smoke that I could truly appreciate the dizzying effect of not only the cigarette but what I had just had the privilege of witnessing. After the game, my crew and I deemed it appropriate to get drinks at a Hooter’s knock off called The Tilted Kilt of Cleveland. It was then, after treating these strangers to drinks, that I looked up and saw my beloved Mariners on the jumbo screen. My heart sank but was lifted simultaneously when the expected shit talking that only sports fans can appreciate started barreling towards my direction. For a moment, ironically, it felt like home. However, my current home (i.e. The Hilton) was beckoning my return. The time I had to return to the train station for a shuttle ride back to my hotel was quickly dwindling away. I then communicated my dilemma to the group and Jon, baseball guru, stopped me before I could finish. My love of fast food and the stipulation of going on a quest to White Castle would guarantee a ride back to my hotel. It was a no-brainer. Harold and Kumar would be proud.

One hour and six hot off the oven White Castle burgers later I found myself tired, excited, happy and most of all, safely back in my hotel room. As I have gotten older and allowed the world to frame my thinking on things I never would have guessed at this point in my life that I could surprise myself. A spontaneity I haven’t felt since I left home for the first time. Could I put my complete faith in people I just met? Could I make the best of a lonely awkward situation where I would rather be someplace else? Could I pull myself out of the personal shell that with time I have created? Could I look back on this experience as something of a life lesson and gain some value out of the situation? It was these thoughts that rattled around in my head as I finally was able to lay down for sleep. It was these thoughts that kept me awake for longer than I had wanted to stay awake. It was these thoughts that when answered, “Yes” that I was able to finally escape to dream world and leave the dream that I had just experienced behind.

Parallels for Elias and Strikeouts.

By: Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead

During the 2014 season I will discuss and analyze sabermetric stats that may have previously eluded us and certainly eluded me. The statistics covered will be the most recent to stabilize.

In last week’s post we discussed strikeout rates for the Seattle Mariners hitters. We pick up this week on our Mariners sabermetric tour by taking a look at strikeout rate for pitchers, the most recent stat to stabilize on this still young 2014 season.

 

Spring Training opened this year with so much promise, not only because of the obvious awesome that is Robinson Cano and mainstay Felix Hernandez but because finally help was on the way. The incoming help was of the pitching variety and that of longtime prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Two pitchers that have topped prospect ranks for years were finally set to begin their first full season in the big leagues; so if I were to ask a Mariner fan in March who the first pitchers to surpass 70 batters faced were there would probably be a consistent smattering of guesses. Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma would be popular answers as well as Walker and Paxton.

Well those poor, poor Mariner fans would be oh so wrong. Walker is still yet to make an appearance in 2014 after dealing with shoulder issues since March. Paxton pitched 12 stellar innings before straining his oblique and has been out since the middle of April and Iwakuma just yesterday made only his second appearance of the season. In fact, only Felix of those perceived four starting pitchers have surpassed 70 batters faced thus far. He’s blown it away actually, in typical Felix fashion with 219 to this point of the season, not that it’s a competition or anything.

Here are the Mariners starting pitchers that have qualified and their corresponding strikeout rates:

  TBF K/9 K%
Felix Hernandez 219 9.06 24.20%
Roenis Elias 171 8.06 21.60%
Erasmo Ramirez 132 7.2 18.20%
Chris Young 123 4.55 12.20%
       
Average   7.1 18.50%

 

This tells us some pretty obvious things, first is that Felix is so damn good at pitching baseballs. Fangraphs, while listing averages for this stat also lists what constitutes as being excellent. Spoiler alert Felix is excellent, striking out nearly a quarter of the batters that he faces.

Chris Young doesn’t surprise us either as he is known to be an extreme fly ball pitcher that pitches exclusively to contact. Young doesn’t have overwhelming stuff with a fastball that averages only 85MPH and is thrown 80 percent of the time. If Young strikes someone out, it’s by accident.

Erasmo Ramirez is boringly average, both in strikeouts per nine and his strikeout percentage. Blah.

But what I find to be most interesting is Roenis Elias, a guy that surprised all of us. Elias broke camp with the team straight from AA and only did so because of the injuries to both Walker and Iwakuma. It helped that he has a heavy curve and a fastball that averages near 92, but with no other alternatives he became the fourth starter and has been effective from the beginning. He’s worth writing an entire post about that is surely coming soon, and he is not only an interesting baseball player but an interesting human.

But his strikeout rates are stellar, so stellar in fact that I started looking early Felix. Here’s a look at Elias up to this point in the season compared with Felix’s first full season in 2006.

Name Year K/9 K%
Felix Hernandez 2006 8.29 21.60%
Roenis Elias 2014 8.06 21.60%

 

Isn’t that neat, a parallel between one of the top five pitchers in baseball and an unheralded rookie. Now in no way am I saying that Felix and Elias are one in the same, Felix in 2006 was 20 whereas Elias is 25 and will turn 26 this summer. In addition, Elias’ walk rates are far higher than Felix’s were in 2006. What could be the case though is a natural progression, even at 25, to become an elite strikeout pitcher and he isn’t far off already. I think most of his strikeout can be explained in two ways.

Name Contact% F-Strike%
Roenis Elias 77.90% 64.90%
     
Average 81% 59%

 

The first, while his walk rate is absolutely dreadful at around 11%, is that his first pitch strikes are actually above average. That coupled with a contact percentage that is better than average and we have a guy that is getting ahead of hitters and generating swings and misses.

If Elias can continue these trends while bringing his walk rate to even league average, I think we have a special player with the capability of striking out a lot of hitters. So much promise in such an unexpected place, now only if Walker and Paxton would hurry back.

***

Next week we’ll cover walk rates for the Mariners hitters, a stat that stabilizes at 140 plate appearances.

A look at strikeouts

By: Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead

Baseball is a simple game. You throw, catch, hit and run. The team that scores the most runs wins the game. The winner of the last game of the season is the champion. When put simply, yes, baseball is a simple game. When put less simply, it is anything but. The statistics that were on the back of my childhood baseball cards of Batting Average (AVG), Earned Run Average (ERA) and home runs (HR) have evolved into statistics that aren’t as intuitive. Now we analyze the game using Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), Weighted Runs Created (wRC) and perhaps most importantly Wins Above Replacement (WAR). These and many other advanced statistics are the new normal for the ever changing sabermetric baseball world.

Thing is, I don’t know how to analyze most of these statistics; at least not as quickly as I would the now arcane statistics. They require reading and sometimes rereading the description before fully grasping the stat. And then after a few months, I’ll probably need a refresher of reading and rereading the description again.

The question I ask myself with most of these stats is:

  1. What new stats are the most important?
  2. When can we trust the stats?
  3. What is league average for these stats?

The answer to the first question is that there probably isn’t only one way to analyze a player. Sure WAR encompasses all that a player does, but there are inconsistencies with it. The first and most obvious inconsistency is that there are multiple versions as both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have their own formulas. In addition WAR uses defensive metrics that vary, as both Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) are considered. Not only do they have different ways to measure performance but are often times far apart in the actual analysis on an individual player. In addition, WAR doesn’t tell specific stories about the player’s statistics, it is simply the long range view. The reason why a hitter struggles against right handed pitchers will require some additional digging.

Questions two and three are what I hope to cover over a period of time on this blog. The sabermetric community will often times cite small sample size (SSS) when analyzing a player. What is so neat about SSS is that someone incredibly smart has found out when a specific stat will stabilize (you can find the tool here) and becomes a large enough sample to have proper context. And to find league average of each these stats, we have decades of data to apply to what is now a very large sample size.

To begin in this young season of only April, a time when a more casual observer will say that the Milwaukee Brewers are destined for a championship and that Charlie Blackmon will be our first .400 hitter since Ted Williams, we have two stats that have stabilized for most regular players around the league. The first we’ll cover is strikeout rate, a stat that stabilizes at 60 plate appearances. Since this is a Seattle Mariners blog, we’ll stick to them.

Of the Mariners 25 man roster, only eight have qualified for stabilization of strikeout rate. This shows not only how young our season is but also shows consistency with Lloyd McClendon’s daily lineups. And out of those eight, a whopping five are higher than league average in 2014…that’s a bad thing.

K% 2013 2014
League Average 19.90% 20.90%
Corey Hart *24.3% 18.80%
Mike Zunino 25.40% 29.70%
Justin Smoak 22.80% 23.80%
Robinson Cano 12.50% 13.30%
Kyle Seager 17.60% 21.50%
Dustin Ackley 16.90% 18.40%
Abraham Almonte 25.60% 35.10%
Brad Miller 15.50% 30.20%
*2012

My first takeaway from this data is, oh geez this is bad. The youngest of the Mariners’ players are the ones that seem the worst off. Brad Miller’s strikeout rate has nearly doubled since his short stint with the team last year. Mike Zunino has regressed as well and sweet Christ look at Abraham Almonte! This guy is our lead off hitter and he strikes out more than a third of his at bats.

Let’s take an even closer look at these three folks. For a guide on these fancy pants stats, go here.

2014 O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
League Average 30% 65% 46% 81%
Mike Zunino 47.20% 76.90% 62.70% 66.70%
Abraham Almonte 19.50% 59.10% 39.70% 72.00%
Brad Miller 41.60% 62.10% 51.90% 74.50%

Zunino can be explained as a swinger with limited pitch recognition, the dude swings at everything. His contact rate will obviously be low when he’s swinging at nearly half of the pitches he sees that are out of the strike zone. I also mentioned in an earlier post that he has a high swing and miss rate on fastballs, which explains his high swing rate for pitches in the zone coupled with having a low contact rate.

Miller has pitch recognition issues as well, as his O-Swing% is nearly as bad as Zunino’s. That also explains his contact problems and I think that this is representative of both players being very young still.

Almonte is an interesting case. I think he simply has trouble making contact. His O-Swing% explains why he is at the top of the order as he has a strong understanding of what his strike zone is and while walk rates haven’t stabilized yet for this season he has a history of promising walk rates in the minors. He simply has trouble making contact, once again I believe this is mostly a sign of him being a young player that is still getting used to big league pitching.

While those three young players are concerning and are certainly the outliers when looking at their strikeout rate, it is encouraging to see Dustin Ackley maintaining average strikeout rates considering his struggles up to this point. In addition, Corey Hart has seen a significant dip since his last full season in 2012 and the dude is starting to rake, also an encouraging sign as he is sorely needed in the middle of that lineup.

The past week of Mariners baseball has been tough and it has been the same old story, they can’t score runs. I get the feeling though that as these young guys start to settle into the season and feel more comfortable, that the strikeout rates will drop, the contact rates will increase and we’ll start to see some hits drop in.

Next up on my sabermetric tour will be the counterpart of strikeout rates for batters, but with pitchers!

Mariners win 6-4; First in AL West!

By: Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead

 

Me: Those Ks are short for the word strikeout.

Daughter: Don’t they mean King for Felix?

M: Well…that certainly makes sense!

D: I think they mean King because Felix is the King of baseball.

 

Truer words were never spoken. Tonight was Felix’s first home start of the season and ROOT Sports led their broadcast with stats highlighting the reign of Felix since he joined the Mariners in 2005. The short version of these stats is that Felix has dominated the league since he first stepped onto big league dirt. The long version is that since his arrival he is first in strikeouts, first in quality starts, first in starts with at least 7 IP with two earned runs or less and third in complete game shutouts. They even created a stat called mega quality starts and since 2010, he leads that category as well. The short version again, Felix is the man. Going against the A’s (again) only solidified the fact that Felix would be dominant once again. See, the King has faced the A’s 30 times in his career coming into tonight’s game and holds a 16-7 record with a 2.60 ERA against his AL West rival. Tonight was a foregone conclusion.

The Supreme Court was in session for tonight’s game as 30,000 fans were wearing the King’s gold throughout the ballpark. The energy of the crowd was palpable even while watching on television and early on it was obvious that he was especially excited for this game as he was consistently getting up to 94 early on. Usually, a dominant Felix will have at least his changeup and fastball working. Tonight, he had his curve biting as well and was even mixing in his slider. There was even a point in the game after Felix threw Yoenis Cespedes a slider and after waving at the pitch for a swinging strike, all Cespedes could do was shake his head with a look of disbelief. It’s difficult enough to prepare for two dominant pitches, when adding a third and a fourth it’s nearly impossible for the hitter.

This was the story for most of the night and while he didn’t strike out a batter in the first he struck out one in the second, two in the third and then struck out the side in the fourth and again in the seventh. In total, Felix finished with 11 strikeouts in seven innings of work. He also didn’t walk a batter and only gave up four hits. This was a night fit for a King and he received a standing ovation as he walked off the field in the seventh to Aloe Blacc’s “The Man”. Fitting, for The Man that is the King of Baseball, go ahead and tell everybody.

***

On to the bullets!

  • Tommy Milone was throwing first pitch strikes and the Mariners were swinging. Abraham Almonte ripped the first pitch from Milone for a double, followed by a bunt single from Brad Miller on the very next pitch and another infield single by Robinson Cano on his first pitch. The simple math, three pitches for three hits to start the game. The last of which scored the first run of the ballgame.
  • Despite the win, the Mariners squandered an opportunity in the first inning with the bases loaded and only one out. They followed with an infield fly ball from Kyle Seager and a strikeout by rookie Stefen Romero.
  • Dustin Ackley clocked in with three hits tonight in four at bats and it looks like his hot streak at the end of last season was real and has continued into this year. His first hit was an outside pitch that he punched the other way through the infield. He then followed with a hard hit double that one hopped the wall and he ended his hit parade with a whoops single over the heads of the infield. Fingers are crossed real tight that this is sustainable, but I like seeing him hit the ball hard and hitting it the other way.
  • The significant scoring came in the sixth when Mike Zunino absolutely crushed a ball from Milone to left for a two run home run. It was one of those shots where the outfielders don’t even move. A no doubter for anyone who was watching.
  • In the same inning Miller hit another home run, his third of the season and this one was a big boy home run. In the cold sea air of Safeco Field Miller hit one to straight away center. An impressive showing of strength. He’s a shortstop!
  • Things got hairy in the eighth, Felix convinced Lloyd Mclendon that he should pitch and then quickly allowed two base runners without recording an out and the bullpen that has been solid up to this point showed signs of weakness. Lucas Luetge in his first appearance of the year walked a batter on four straight pitches to load the bases, followed by Danny Farquhar walking in a run. Then Charlie Furbush allowed a run on a single, a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice.
  • Fernando Rodney coming into this season has inspired fear, when he’s on his game he is terrifyingly good. When he’s not, he’s just terrifying. Tonight he was very good. His location was spot on and his changeup when paired with a 96 MPH fastball is simply unfair. Rodney is yet to allow a run in this young season.

The Mariners are in first place in the AL West! They play the A’s again tomorrow. Sonny Gray vs. Erasmo Ramirez.

Felix Felixes, Mariners win

Living in the Portland area, it can be hard to attend Mariners games during the season. Life can be so damned busy sometimes and at other times there isn’t enough money to justify making the trip up to Seattle. This is of course without mentioning that the commute is 3 plus hours and the traffic in Tacoma is never peaceful. So when I do go to a game, there is very little planning that goes into it. I’ll see that I have an open couple of days and make a weekend out of visiting Seattle on a whim. Because of that reason, I very rarely plan a trip around the more interesting teams of the league, never have I seen the Yankees or the Red Sox. The Angels and the Tigers have always eluded me as well. In fact, more often than not I am seeing the Oakland A’s. While they have been successful in recent years, my god they are a boring team to watch live. They don’t have must see starting pitchers or an explosive position player. Their roster is pretty blah from top to bottom. Their blah has produced an average of 95 wins over the past two years to accompany two AL West titles, but that doesn’t do much for their home attendance let alone the attendance when they’re visiting another ballpark. Plus, it also seems that every game they play against the Mariners ends 2-0 or 3-1 with minimal highlight moments.

I say all of this not because I attended another Mariners vs. A’s game (they’re in Oakland, that’s a long drive). Instead I bring this up because it was exciting today. Sure it was a 3-1 game like all the others but Felix was pitching and man, he Felixed the shit out of the A’s.

Like most Mariners fans I make an event out of Felix Day and today was no different. I could have been at Ikea getting lost in the maze of furniture and eating 50 cent meatballs but instead I was camped out in my man cave chomping on chips and salsa, loudly yelping every couple of minutes after another Felix strikeout.

He started out the game strong, his curve was quite obviously dialed in early in the game and he was delivering it sharply to begin each at-bat, stealing a strike in the process. While the royal curve was freezing the patient A’s bunch early in the count, his changeup was making the hitters look silly to end the at-bats. Six of his eight strikeouts were via the changeup and four of them came after just two innings of work, two innings that only called for 20 pitches of which 18 went for strikes. He didn’t surrender his first hit until the fourth and only walked a single batter in 8 1/3 innings.

Yet early on, Felix was matched pitch for pitch by A’s hurler Dan Straily. Straily had six strikeouts through just three innings and was rolling with mostly soft stuff, the nastiest of which was his slider. He generated whiffs on 32.6% (Felix 19.6%) of his pitches that were swung at, most of which came from his fastball that averaged 89MPH showing that he had good mix of his pitches early on. But the wheels fell off in the fifth as those swings and misses turned into hard hit balls. Kyle Seager led off the inning with a double off the wall in left and later advanced to third on a wild pitch and it was an almost certainty that the Mariners would push at least one run across in the inning. Dustin Ackley had other plans though and preferred to drive in Seager and himself with his first home run of the year to deep right. After a fly out by Mike Zunino, Abraham Almonte got on the board for his first home run that was smoked to right, even deeper than Ackley’s.

AlmonteHR

And that was all the scoring that the Mariners would need. Felix got into a bit of trouble in the ninth by giving up a solo shot to Jed Lowrie followed by a Brandon Moss single to put the tying run on base. But Fernando Rodney came in with his Bugs Bunny changeup, saved his first game as a Mariner then proceeded to shoot arrows in the sky.

Game over and a 3-1 victory for the Mariners who move to 4-1 on the season. 4-1 guys!

 

On to the bullets!

  • Last night’s game was cancelled because the A’s grounds crew sucks and didn’t put the tarp out overnight and the infield became flooded. There were discussions to have the double header today but it has instead been scheduled for the series starting on May 5th. Of note, both Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma are expected back by this time. The Mariners are sneaky.
  • It seemed that Zunino was missing on a lot of fastballs and Brooks Baseball confirms that assumption as he whiffs on 28% of the fastballs he swings at.
  • Felix and Josh Donaldson had some words in the sixth in what appeared to be mostly a miscommunication of body language. Either way, after the conversational scuffle Felix struck Donaldson out on the next pitch. Owned.
  • Robinson Cano now has a 5 game hit streak, today he checked in with two hits, both singles. He’s hitting .421 in this young season.
  • Lloyd McClendon communicated his awareness that his outfield defense isn’t very good and has made adjustments late in the game to bring in Michael Saunders. The past few games has seen Saunders spelling Logan Morrison in right field to play the final few innings. Today it paid off as Saunders made three good plays that Morrison would have surely flubbed.

 

Tomorrow the Mariners have a chance for their second consecutive series win as Erasmo Ramirez opposes Sonny Gray.