35-53, Game Thoughts

Sun glare can affect even the headless

And with that, Ryan Rowland-Smith's record falls to 1-9.

We never cite pitcher won/loss records around here, and for good reason - they hold minimal predictive value, and aren't even particularly indicative of how a pitcher's already performed. If we want to talk about how a pitcher's going to do, we have about a thousand better ways of going about it. If we want to talk about how a pitcher has done until now, we have about a thousand better ways of going about it. The correlation between W/L and past or future effectiveness is not zero - it's actually fairly strong - but it's weak relative to other numbers, so we ignore it.

But bear with me, because I'm going somewhere with this. From the beginning, there was a blueprint:

  1. Win roughly two-thirds of the games started by Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee
  2. Win roughly half of the games started by everyone else

That's not what Wak or Z would've told you word-for-word, but that was the general idea. Dominate with the aces and hang on with the rest. Doing so would put the M's in line to win about 90 games and contend for the playoffs.

It hasn't gone exactly right. The M's were 9-5 with Lee and are 8-9 with Vargas, which isn't great, but it's acceptable. Being 9-10 with Felix and 5-8 with Fister is lousy, and not what the team wanted. But here's the kicker. Here's where everything's completely gone to hell. RRS and Ian Snell have combined to make 24 starts this year. Their personal record, together, is 1-14, and the Mariners as a team are just 4-20 when they start, having been outscored 142-63, an average margin of 3.3 runs per game.

4-20. It isn't just the starters. The bullpen has been bad. The offense has averaged fewer than three runs a game. The starters have been a big part of the problem, but not the entirety of it. It's not a very meaningful individual stat. It's just one of those things that you look at and think, oh, yeah, this sucked. Behind all their other starters, the M's have a run differential of 0. When RRS and Snell have taken the hill, the M's have a run differential of -79. These have just been miserable games, and today's was the latest. This is why last week's loss with RRS against Sabathia didn't feel so bad. Sure, the Mariners lost, but at least they almost didn't. Almost not losing with RRS or Snell on the mound just about feels like a win.

RRS deserved a better fate today, as he didn't throw a six-run/four-inning kind of game, but what a perfect way to wrap up the first half of the season. With Ryan Rowland-Smith on the mound, everything went to hell and the M's got blown out. We've seen it with him and Snell so often that at this point it barely prompts a response.

  • RRS only lasted four innings and didn't throw enough strikes, but if there's a story here, it's this: for the fourth start in a row, now, we saw him generate groundballs.

    Through 6/20: 32%
    Since 6/25: 51%

    For his career, RRS' groundball rate is just 38%, making him an extreme flyball pitcher. Lately, that's reversed. 51% isn't extreme the other way, but it leans in that direction. Felix's GB%, for reference, is 53%. RRS has gone from allowing two balls in the air for every one on the ground, to evening everything up.

    Nevermind whether this is something he needs to do. Nevermind whether pitching for grounders will help or hurt RRS' overall performance. I just find it interesting, and it's important to find things to capture your interest in a miserable season. This isn't something pitchers do. Groundball rates stabilize very quickly. RRS, then, has almost certainly been doing something differently of late.

    What has he been doing differently, then? This is where PITCHfx really comes in handy. My suspicion is that there's something different about his fastball. What does the PITCHfx data show us?

    -Since June 25th, RRS' fastball has been about 0.4mph slower on average
    -Since June 25th, RRS' fastball has averaged about 1 more inch of tail
    -Since June 25th, RRS' fastball has averaged about 2 more inches of sink

    I don't think RRS has actually changed his fastball. What we're seeing instead, I believe, is a different mix of two- and four-seamers. RRS throws both, and lately he's been throwing a lot more of the former. Two-seam fastballs, you'll recall, have more run and sink to them than four-seamers, and usually a little less speed. This is why his average fastball PITCHfx numbers have changed.

    So how's it been working? If my suspicion is correct, then the fastball(s) won't only show different movement - they'll also show different, GB-friendly results. If my suspicion is wrong, then the GB% hike will be coming from the offspeed pitches instead.

    Fastball GB% through 6/20: 28% (33/117)
    Fastball GB% since 6/25: 53% (31/58)

    Bingo. It's the fastball. Or, more specifically, it's the two-seamer. I don't want to say that RRS has been a better pitcher - it's too soon to tell - but by mixing up his fastballs more in favor of the two-seamer, he's nearly doubled the frequency with which balls put in play off his fastball have stayed on the ground.

    That, to me, is just a remarkable change. Even if it doesn't end up helping very much, RRS has gone from one extreme almost to the other, and he's done it on the fly. Insane.

  • In the top of the seventh, Franklin Gutierrez lost a Jorge Posada fly ball in the sun, allowing the ball to drop and Posada to scamper to second base. In the middle of the seventh, they ran the Guti team commercial. "That guy catches everything."

  • RRS allowed two runs in the first in large part because of a pair of errors on groundballs. He allowed a run in the third in large part because Michael Saunders lost a fly ball in the sun. And though the three runs he allowed in the fourth were more earned, there was still the matter of Josh Bard failing to keep two balls in front of him, surrendering three extra bases. When I say RRS didn't deserve his results today, this is what I mean. Though he was by no means terrific and didn't miss bats, he did keep the ball on the ground, and he was done in by poor defense and two badly-timed line drives. There is nothing quite as low as performing below your own standards and also being unlucky. It's a wonder RRS manages to remain so unflappably positive whenever he shows up on Twitter, because if I were going through what he's been going through, I'd have resorted to the all-caps/fuck-off approach months ago.

    Follower: Had to take Princess to the vet today, she's been limping all weekend :(
    LookoutLanding: @Follower FUCK YOU FUCK YOUR DOG

  • Chone Figgins' error in the top of the first came when he took his foot off second base too soon on a would-be force play. Though Figgins didn't turn and throw to first to attempt the DP, since Alex Rodriguez was fast down the line, it was still the classic neighborhood play, only umpire Ron Kulpa called the runner safe. I hate the neighborhood play and how often it's called, so seeing it not called today puts me in an awkward position. On the one hand, I want to complain, because for whatever reason that's usually an out. On the other hand, it's a stupid play to begin with, and the rules should be enforced without exception all game long, so, dammit. I wish umpires would at least inform the middle infielders whether they'll be calling the neighborhood play or not before the first pitch. Figgins looked rather confused by the whole thing.

  • Casey Kotchman over his last 34 trips to the plate: .414/.500/.897, with four home runs. With his effort today, he's now up to .218/.299/.370 on the year, and given his .219 BABIP - one of the lowest in baseball, and well below his career mark of .270 - one is almost tempted to forget all about his miserable slump and say that he's been fine and unlucky. You know, the way Matthew's been talking about Kotchman for weeks. It's worth noting that he has the same HR/FB as Magglio Ordonez and an above-average isolated slugging percentage.

    It's all very frustrating, because you see Kotchman do some of the things he's done and you get why the Mariners gave him a chance. With some better luck, we might even be talking about him as a success story, rather than a disappointment. It's a bad break for the Mariners, and a worse break for Kotchman, who is now going to need to rely on someone overlooking his poor raw numbers and recognizing that he's arguably been decent if he wants a shot at a future regular job. That's an unenviable position to be in. Ask Kenny Lofton how good it feels to rely on intelligent front office analysis to keep up a career.

    Kotchman ripped his double, and he launched his home run today. The timing of his hot streak has been both good and really, really awful.
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