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Brandon McCarthy Preserves FIP Lead, Still Loses To Mariners

I've written, here and elsewhere, about the mechanical changes behind Brandon McCarthy's breakthrough season. So have a lot of other people. McCarthy's earned himself considerable attention this year - first because he re-invented himself and found success, and then because his Twitter exploded. McCarthy became something of a fan favorite, albeit a different kind of fan favorite, and along the way, he kept on throwing more good pitches than bad pitches.

Yet as supportive as I've been of McCarthy, and as plugged in as I consider myself with the numbers, I was still floored to learn the other day that McCarthy had the lowest FIP in the American League. Not Justin Verlander. Not CC Sabathia or Jered Weaver or Dan Haren or Felix Hernandez. Brandon McCarthy. Brandon McCarthy, who was hurt and in the minors in 2010, who had a 4.70 FIP in 2009, who had a 5.22 FIP in 2008, and who had a 4.73 FIP in 2007. That Brandon McCarthy.

McCarthy came into action today with an FIP of 2.76. Behind him, there was Sabathia at 2.87, then Haren at 2.98, and then Verlander at 2.99. Sabathia's done throwing for the regular season and the other guys are too far away, meaning all that stood between McCarthy and the 2011 AL FIP title was the Seattle Mariners, tonight. All he'd have to do was pitch just well enough against a bad lineup, and the title - the admittedly uncelebrated and trophyless title - would be his.

The results?

8.0 8 4 4 0 6 2

It's interesting the way a baseball fan can look at that sequence of numbers and figure out exactly what it means. But anyway, McCarthy worked an eight-inning complete game, and didn't walk anybody. He struck out six. These things are all great for his FIP. The issue is that 2. McCarthy allowed two home runs tonight, and anybody who's familiar with the FIP equation can tell you that home runs are the most influential factor. Anybody not familiar with the FIP equation can probably also tell you that home runs are the most influential factor. McCarthy hurt his league-leading FIP by allowing those home runs. The only question was, did he hurt it too much?


I have to warn you, this is unofficial. This is my own calculation, since Fangraphs doesn't update until morning. But from where I sit, it looks like McCarthy leads Sabathia by 0.02 points, which means, barring some complete and utter surprise, McCarthy has the FIP title locked up.

And that's awesome. Not for us as Mariners fans, since as Mariners fans, we should want for McCarthy to be terrible. But it's awesome for us as baseball fans, because McCarthy is a great guy and a great story, and this makes for a great little one-liner. After spending the 2010 season in triple-A and missing time due to injury, the next season McCarthy led the American League in FIP. You know who's led the AL in FIP the last four seasons? Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee again, and Josh Beckett. That's some company.

The best part? Not only did McCarthy seemingly hang on to his FIP lead - he hung on to his FIP lead, and still lost. McCarthy pitched well and the Mariners still beat him, which is pretty much the perfect outcome.

It's hard to care much. Obviously, it's hard to care much. I would be concerned about anyone over the age of six who really cared about this game. But it was a fun game. It was a quick game, thanks in part to the starting pitchers, and thanks in part to it being the end of September. And it was a nice game to see the Mariners win. It's always nice to see the Mariners win, but especially in the final few days, when you realize how soon it's all gone. Driving back from Whidbey Island this morning (ed. note: and this afternoon, because fuck that drive), it finally dawned on me that there were only three days left. It's not that I'm not ready, because I'm ready, but the realization that this Thursday isn't a conventional off day kind of stopped me in my mental tracks. Darkness is coming. Savor the light.

How did the Mariners win? Three main reasons, each of some satisfaction. Miguel Olivo hit a home run. It was his 19th home run, which gives him the Mariners team record for home runs in a season by a catcher. It's easy to poke fun at Olivo's ghastly discipline and OBP, mostly because Olivo's discipline and OBP are terrible, but the man has clearly hit for power, and as a person he's hard to dislike. I'm happy for him that he has this record, and it's worth noting that he now has a .211 average and .388 SLG at Safeco, versus .240 and .393 on the road. He hasn't been killed to the degree that many thought he'd be killed.

Justin Smoak hit a home run. A big, tie-breaking, three-run home run, from the left side. What we wanted to see from Smoak in September was evidence that he could mash again after getting time to heal up. He's hit .318, and he's slugged .470. They aren't eye-popping numbers, but after Smoak went 42 games without a homer between June and August, he's hit three this month, and he's hit a number of other balls on the button. He's made us all feel a hell of a lot better about his 2012.

And Jason Vargas spun eight brilliant innings. This was a late September game between two teams going nowhere, so numbers and salt and everything, but Vargas set a career high in strikeouts with ten, and he didn't walk a soul. He also set a career high in missed bats with 19, four more than his previous best. Of those whiffs, 15 came on his fastball. Vargas has talked about how adding the twist to his mechanics has added some life to his heater, and never has it been more evident than it was tonight, when the A's had all kinds of trouble finding a pitch that never used to befuddle.

It goes without saying that this has been something of an up-and-down season for Vargas. By game score, Vargas is the author of the Mariners' best start of the year, and also of their worst. Four times he allowed no runs in nine innings, and three times he allowed at least seven runs in no more than four. But he finished strong, and he seemed to finish strong with a reason, which is a nice way to leave things off. It leaves all parties feeling more positive about what's to come when the lights turn back on.

There are two more baseball games. They will be started by Blake Beavan and Anthony Vasquez. They might feature Adam Kennedy and Jamey Wright and Josh Bard and Jeff Gray. It doesn't matter. Watch them like you haven't watched in a while. Watch them like it's April. Watch them like it's March. Watch the baseball games to enjoy the baseball games. Soon there will be no more baseball games to enjoy.