Robinson Cano

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!

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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.

Mariners fill my glass

Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead

I tell friends of mine, most of which are non-baseball fans, that the end of the World Series isn’t a joyous occasion. It most certainly is for the winners and the fans of the winning team, but while the unkempt Red Sox were celebrating last October I was in a somber mood. The final out of the World Series signifies the imminent wet, cold winter ahead. The final pitch is the start of a long break with no baseball.

After baseball, the sports landscape becomes dominated by the Neanderthal sports that rely more on sheer athleticism and size than skill; racing against a clock in confusing sports that is mostly defined by running in a straight line. Oh, and hit someone. Play physical.

But yesterday that all came to a crashing halt, sure basketball will still be played well into June and the general public shifts into football come September. But for the months in between, only the thinking man’s game remains and for many baseball fans, that is all there is.

***

I worked during most of the day games, another gentle reminder that I need to start taking that day off in the future. Yet I was available during the Mariner game, Felix day! and sunshine and lollipops (credit: Lookout Landing).

It was a weird feeling throughout the game, I’ve become numb to this team from year to year because…Mariners. So while a lot of the Mariner community is feeling optimistic about the signing of Robinson Cano, Taijuan Walker starting his first full season, Kyle Seager still being a boss and Brad Miller projected to be a high-end starting SS, I feel level. The glass isn’t half full or half empty, there is simply half left. The Steamer and Oliver projections that have this team around 80 wins seem fair. And through the first six or seven innings of the first game it felt exactly like that.

The Mariners boringly manufactured a run in the second after Justin Smoak doubled and was moved to third after a productive out, he later scored on a Saunders sacrifice. In the sixth Seager doubled off the wall and scored Smoak but Logan Morrison thieved a run from his own team with his glacial movements around the bases as he was thrown out at home. Mix in some suspect defense from Dustin Ackley in left and an error from Seager at third base and it was 2013 all over again. Especially when coupled with the fact that Felix was absolutely dealing while getting little support from his offense.

But then something happened, Mike Zunino TRIPLED! to bring home Ackley and was later scored by an Abraham Almonte hustle double. In the ninth Smoak absolutely crushed a 3-run homerun, no doubt stringing along the desperate fan base just a little bit longer. Ackley hit a bases loaded triple in the same inning to extend the lead to 10-3, also stringing along hopeful fans. (Man, the Mariners must keep a large supply of yarn in the basement of Safeco Field.) Even the bullpen looked dominant as Tom Wilhelmsen was able to complete four outs without completely imploding.

Sure it’s early and it’s wise to temper expectations especially given the extreme small sample size of only a single game. But maybe this was the long game of Jack Zdurienik, build up a strong prospect base, fortify the ever important bullpen, make a splashy signing and lean on your stars until the youngsters come along. Only time will tell if it’s sustainable, but my glass might be half full now.

***

On to some bullet points!

  • Almonte hit in the leadoff spot for most of Spring Training and there were thoughts about whether that would be a good move going into the season, especially with more appropriate choices (Miller). But Almonte worked a seven pitch at-bat in his first appearance and later singled in that at-bat. He finished the day 2-5 with a double and drove in a run. He also attempted to steal a base in the first inning, perhaps representative of how Lloyd McClendon plans to use him.
  • Mike Trout hit a 2-run homerun off of Felix in the first inning that seemed impossible. A breaking ball that landed in the lower inside corner. But dude is strong and good and shit man, why can’t he be in another division?
  • Smoak doubled in the second and nearly doubled again later in the game that went just foul. McClendon said during Spring Training that Smoak could lead the league in doubles. It’ll be interesting to see how this progresses.
  • Ackley took a horrible route to a ball hit by Albert Pujols in the third that ended up scoring a run. This defense will still be an adventure from time to time, although not quite as bad as Raul Ibanez.
  • Speaking of Raul, he K’d three times and looked silly doing it. At least they’re DH’ing him.
  • Cano’s first hit was cued off the end of his bat and went about 35 feet. He hustled to first and was safe. So much for that no hustle thing.
  • I hustled, lulz.
  • Morrison looked out of sorts. Missing everything thrown his way while striking out three times. To his credit, Jered Weaver is a crafty dude. And also, Morrison looks like Private Pyle.
  • Felix was, is and will always be the man. After the Trout homerun he got visibly mad and then mowed down most everyone in the Angels’ lineup. He threw 30 pitches in the third that included Ackley’s terrible route in left and Seager’s error but he still made it through six innings while striking out 11 hitters. His changeup was filthy all night.

CJ Wilson versus Erasmo Ramirez next time out, hoping the glass stays full. ‘Til next time.

Mariners sign Corey Hart

Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead

The Seattle Mariners signed Corey Hart today on a one year deal for a base salary of $5 million. There are several escalators in the deal based on performance as well. Hart missed all of last season while with the Milwaukee Brewers but profiles as a good signing for the Mariners if they can keep him healthy. And a one year deal carries zero risk for the team.

In order for the Mariners to keep him healthy they will have to limit him defensively, this signing likely means that he will share the 1B/DH platoon with Justin Smoak and maybe Kendrys Morales*. It also creates the opportunity for the Mariners to rid themselves of Smoak, a player that has underperformed since his first days on a major league roster. Although I imagine moving Smoak would come in conjunction with another separate deal.

*If he accepts his qualifying offer.

Hart will supply some much needed right handed power in a punch less, lefty heavy, Mariners lineup while likely hitting behind Robinson Cano. Hart does strike out a lot and does not walk enough to balance his K% rate thus his better than average OBP is mostly sustained by batting average. But he does provide some pop with an ISO and Slugging percentage well above major league norms. At his best Hart has been worth close to 4 wins per year and Steamer projects that he will be worth about half of that in 2014.

Overall, this is a boom or bust signing for Seattle and the risk is low considering the one year deal. We know that Jack Zduriencik likes his homers, I imagine more moves are coming similar to this one to supply those.

Mariners do something!

Jared Ellis

Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead

So it finally happened. Not necessarily that Robinson Cano signed, which also finally happened as this rumor has been floating around for a week plus. But the Mariners finally signed a big name, high priced free agent. After two straight winters of the Mariners trying to give gobs of money away to several superstar baseball players, they finally succeeded. They failed last winter to give Josh Hamilton way too much money (thank god) and luckily avoided giving away half of their farm system for Justin Upton in the same offseason. The year before Prince Fielder got way too much money from Detroit. It started to feel like every Mariners rumor would end the same. The beaten down fans would get excited for a couple of weeks only to find that the Mariners were outbid again or the next superstar free agent in line would prefer not to come to the northwest corner of the United States. But it happened guys, it finally fucking happened. But Christ, what does it mean?

I don’t know. I’m still getting over the shock as it only happened a mere 6 hours ago. But I think it means that Seattle is finally trying. Or maybe it means that Jack Zduriencik is panicking and doesn’t want to lose his job. Or maybe this is just to put butts in seats as SAFECO Field has lost fans all but one year since 2007 and more than 20,000 less than the glory years of 2001. Shit, I don’t know. But this, Cano signing, feels different.

I am going to get the obvious out of the way first, Cano probably cost too much money. The 10 years for $240 million deal is a shit ton of years and money for a baseball player. Maybe he deserves it and maybe he will earn it but it does not change the fact that Cano could support my whole family and not even notice. He could probably buy the San Juan Islands for Christ’s sake. Yet, this is the way it had to be for a team and a market like Seattle to get someone as awesome as Cano. Rebuilding in an organic way can take a lifetime, or in the case of the Pirates it can take about 21 years. A lot of fans were probably running out of time and patience to wait that long for a winning season and it seemed that ownership is now starting to feel the same way. Bravo to the Mariners for taking a leap and a risk but desperation may not always be a bad thing. Thing is, I think this only scratches the surface on this offseason.

So in addition to their Cano signing in this offseason, the Mariners also signed…Willie Bloomquist. Ok, so maybe that is not the key that fans were hoping for. But if you dig a little bit deeper, the Mariners are linked to virtually every free agent that exists and even some more folks that are not free agents. The most rumored are outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz. Ellsbury has obviously signed with the Yankees, but similar to last season and most other recent seasons, the Mariners are interested in finding impact bats. And all of those rumors would provide that sort of impact. I’ll get into the specifics in a future post but the quick and dirty is that each rumored player has a wRC+ of at least 132, with Choo as the high of 151. The highest wRC+ for Seattle last year, Kendrys Morales with 116. Oh and Cano…wRC+ 142.

In addition to finding impact bats that are sorely needed on this team, Seattle has also been rumored on several pitchers to help improve upon a starting pitching group that was in the middle of the league in FIP. First and most importantly is the recent and widely talked about trade rumor that would bring David Price to Seattle. He would require a hefty price via trade but proves that the Mariners are interested in winning now. To accompany Price in the rumor mill are free agents Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bartolo Colon. Whereas last year it looked as though they were looking for stop gaps, innings eaters and number three starters the Mariners are now looking to add a number two starter to complete a formidable trio with Felix! Hernandez and Hishashi Iwakuma.

All of these rumors are coupled with the fact that the Mariners have not done a terrible job of drafting and growing their own players. Taijaun Walker, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller all look poised to contribute in the coming years and were highly rated prospects. Kyle Seager is a boss and even the shit storm of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders do not look so bad if they are platoon players surrounded by actual major league talent.

This is not new to Mariners fan though, we hear rumors every offseason and very few of them come to fruition. And the ones that do are usually uneventful. But Cano’s reach is longer than a baseball diamond. He was also signed to be a recruiter of sorts. A marketing ploy. So often players will sign with the intent of winning a championship and playing with the best. The Mariners announced to the league that after all these dreadful years, they are ready.

And you know what, maybe this has been the plan all along. The inside fan talk for years has been that 2014 was the year that the Mariners may make the leap and become ready to compete. But we also knew that the farm system has not produced as expected or as quickly. But if the Mariners could convince just one big time free agent to be a Mariner, it might be all it takes for the dominos to start falling. Cano is a pretty damn big domino, as a fan let us hope that the others are not too far off.