And right back to last place.
Biggest Contribution: Jose Lopez, +6.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Felix Hernandez, -19.5%
Most Important "Hit": Sexson DP#1, -8.4%
Most Important Pitch: Melhuse grand slam, -17.3%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -19.7%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -30.3%
Please note that it is a television remote next to the Moose's right paw, and not a gun. We fully support the Mariner Moose being embarrassed about himself and his affiliation, but we don't support suicide. I suppose he could've been hitting himself over the top of the head with that baseball bat until he was rendered unconscious, but that's not so much an attempt to end his own life as it is a desperate effort to make sleep come sooner, since, while the team most definitely ruins our afternoons and evenings, I have yet to hear a story about how the Mariners haunt anyone's dreams. Note: it's also possible that the Moose got himself blackout plotzed.
Anyway, this was one of the biggest letdown games of the year. Not because Felix got outpitched by Joe Blanton - God knows we've heard that tune before - but because Felix was outpitched by Joe Blanton just when it seemed like all the momentum was in the Mariners' favor. The M's took a weekend series in Anaheim, and Felix was coming off a spectacular start against Tampa Bay, probably his best game of the season. It felt like he'd turned a corner and was ready to unleash an overwhelming fury of crazy awesomeness all over the rest of the league. Meanwhile, the A's came in losers of four out of five, featuring a depleted lineup and a starting pitcher who's looked like total crap ever since shutting down these same Mariners on April 7th. Everything looked in order for the M's to pick up a win and maybe go on a little tear for a week or two, pulling closer to Texas in first.
And then Blanton came out strong, the Mariner hitters didn't, and Felix looked awful. For all intents and purposes, this game was over in the bottom of the third, when Melhuse's grand slam made it 6-0. Win Expectancy tells me the M's still had roughly a 5% chance of winning the game after that happened, but I think we all saw the writing on the wall and were looking for a reason to stop watching and enjoy the rest of our nights doing something less self-defeating. For some, Melhuse's homer was enough. For others, Sexson's (second) double play in the next inning did the trick. The majority of the remainder probably shut the game off when Kendall singled to make it 10-1 and Jake Woods entered the mix, because at that point, why bother? A few fans hung around until the bitter end, but these people are really weird and, at this point, probably beyond repair.
How big was Beltre's error in the third inning? With the score 1-0 Oakland, Bobby Crosby came to the plate with two on and two out. His groundball to third rolled straight through Beltre's legs and under his glove, scoring a run and setting up absolute disaster. Melhuse crapped all over a Felix fastball two batters later. Here's where we get to see one of the important differences between conventional game scoring and Win Probability Added - where traditional scoring calls all five runs that scored in the inning "unearned," Win Probability Added charges Beltre with a -13.6% rating for the error and leaves Felix on the hook to soak up the rest. Honestly, I'm not really sure which is better. On the one hand, it was Felix who allowed the big hit, but on the other, it never would've happened had Beltre been able to convert the routine grounder into the third out of the inning, so you're left with a bit of a dilemma. I've always been the kind of guy who says that pitchers should be able to work around defensive miscues, since they're inevitably going to happen, but the more I think about it, the more I think that the blame should be split between the pitcher and the fielder, rather than dumping all of it on one or the other. Neither deserves 100% of the responsibility.
With all that said, if Felix was determined to suck tonight, it's probably better that Beltre made that error, opening the door for all kinds of further problems. Had Felix gone, say, six innings and allowed four or five runs, team officials would've blown it off, saying it was just a rough start where "he missed his spots" and that he'll get back to business next time out. In watching their star young pitcher allow ten guys to cross the plate in just 4+ innings of work, though, these guys have to realize that something isn't right, and that they need to figure it out as soon as possible so they can get Felix back on track. Consider it a kick in the shorts for the coaching staff, if you will. You can't just ignore a game where a guy's runs allowed total reaches double digits.
As for what's currently wrong, Felix is sort of like Adrian Beltre in a way, in that we can identify what the problem is, but we have no idea where it came from or why it is the way it is. Talking to David Cameron a little bit during the game, we agreed that Felix's two major issues right now are:
(1) Terrible pitch selection, and
(2) A worse fastball than the one we saw last summer
I have no idea why these two issues are the way they are, and I don't think Dave does, either (although you should check USSM tomorrow since he was charting the game and generally paying closer attention to Felix than I was), but theories about - for #1, it could be Johjima, or Rivera, or Hargrove, or Felix, or Chaves, or a broad organizational philosophy, and for #2, it could be an injury, an arm angle adjustment, a grip adjustment, a release point adjustment, or a case where last year was sort of flukey in that Felix's fastball really isn't as good as it looked. Or maybe he's still building up arm strength and looking to be fully loose and awesome by July. Who knows. What matters is that, as long as Felix is having trouble with these things, I look like an idiot, because this past winter I was telling everyone and their mother about how some 20 year old kid in Seattle was going to win the Cy Young Award, and after this they'll probably never listen to me again. I try to tell them that it wasn't a case of me being biased for a player on my favorite team, because there really wasn't any reason to be concerned coming into the season - and there wasn't - but that argument usually falls on deaf ears.
So what do you do? Assuming an injury isn't the problem, it's really on Felix to get things sorted out. If his fastball isn't working as well as it did seven months ago, he needs to figure out why, and what adjustments he needs to make to get back to where he was. And while it's either the catcher or the dugout who're calling pitches, Felix has the final say, and he's the one who needs to realize that he can be more successful throwing changeups and curveballs instead of pure gas. That's going to take a little time, and he's going to get smacked around a little as he develops. We just have to hope that he comes out of the whole process a better, smarter pitcher in the end. Hopefully he watches a lot of tape of his Eric Chavez at bat in the third inning, where he threw nothing but curves and changeups and wound up with a strikeout. That's the sort of thing that needs to stick in the back of his brain, because he had the perfect approach, and wound up with the perfect result. More of that would be perfectly welcome.
A quick note: based on early 2006 numbers, an average hitter has a BABIP roughly .100 points higher than his line drive percentage. So, if you have Player X hitting line drives 20% of the time (.200), his BABIP shoud be somewhere around .300. I bring this up only to point out that both Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre have been significantly undershooting this estimate so far.
Sexson expected BABIP: ~.318
Sexson actual BABIP: .250
Beltre expected BABIP: ~.341
Beltre actual BABIP: .264
(Not including today.)
Those are just wildly different numbers, in each case, and while I don't know of enough research on the subject to jump to any conclusions, I'd say it's highly unlikely that both these guys will continue at anything close to their current paces. For lack of a better term, I'm reasonably comfortable calling Sexson and Beltre "unlucky." While it's far from the only thing wrong with them - they're both striking out more than they ever have before in their careers - it's something, it's significant, and it's going to fix itself if you give it enough time. Worry about the strikeouts, and worry about the lack of power. Don't worry as much about the low batting averages. Those are going to come up before much longer.
Jamie Moyer and Barry Zito tomorrow at 7:05pm PDT. In the words of Oakland's primary announcer, Zito is the "most intriguing lefty in the league," where "intriguing" must not mean talented (Santana), smart (Moyer), enormous (Wells), intimidating (Johnson), or perplexing (Lilly), but may mean eccentric. Is that really a quality you look for in a starting pitcher, though? Jose Lima is batshit crazy, and he's one of the worst pitchers of all time. I guess he could've been talking about more of a Bill Lee kind of weirdness, but still, between Lee and Lima, you've got a 50/50 chance that your eccentric pitcher turns into a rotten pumpkin after a miracle year in a friendly ballpark, and those aren't very good odds. Might be better to emphasize one of Zito's other traits, like how he's kind of good, and the Mariner hitters aren't, and that makes for a favorable matchup. But then, I'm not in the business, so what do I know?