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Series Preview: Mariners (15-18) vs. Red Sox (16-18)

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Red Sox Nation comes to town for a four-game series over the weekend.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Thursday, May 14

7:10 pm

Red Sox

RHP Joe Kelly

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Friday, May 15

7:10 pm

Red Sox

RHP Clay Buchholz

Mariners

LHP J.A. Happ

Saturday, May 16

6:10 pm

Red Sox

RHP Rick Porcello

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Sunday, May 17

1:10 pm

Red Sox

RHP Steven Wright

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Mariners

Red Sox

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

102 (8th in AL)

87 (13th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-16.6 (13th)

-13.6 (11th)

Red Sox

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

104 (8th)

108 (11th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

107 (12th)

117 (15th)

Mariners

After reeling off four straight wins, the Mariners fell to the Padres last night in disappointing fashion. There was some impressive offensive output in those four wins which pushed the Mariners’ offense above league average. They’ll wrap up their homestand with four games against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox spent a ton of money this offseason in an attempt to go from last to first to last to first. They added over $300 million in future commitments, signing free agents Pablo SandovalHanley Ramirez, and Justin Masterson and signing trade acquisitions Rick Porcello and Wade Miley to contract extensions. Despite all those acquisitions, the Red Sox have struggled out of the gate. They’re actually lucky to be just two games under .500 since their run differential is one of the worst in the Majors and 14th in the AL.

The Red Sox:

Much of the Red Sox’s early woes can be attributed to the starting rotation. It seems like every one of the Red Sox’s starters has suffered through poor batted ball luck, bad sequencing, and trouble with the homer. The difference between their ERA and their FIP is the second highest in the Majors (behind the Indians who have had it much worse). Despite this poor discrepancy, their starters only rank 8th in FIP and 9th in xFIP. The Red Sox have already fired their pitching coach, but even when their results regress towards the mean, they’ll be left with a mediocre rotation.

Key Players

CF Mookie Betts Mookie Betts is one of the most exciting young players in the Majors right now. He’s combining excellent fielding in center field with speed on the basepaths and a league average bat to great success. His advanced plate discipline is uncharacteristic for a 22-year-old in his first full season in the Majors. His strikeout rate is the lowest among batters under 23-years-old and he’s patient enough to work an above average amount of walks. He also has a bit of pop in his slight frame which should help him push his production above league average.

SS Xander Bogaerts A top prospect in the Red Sox system since 2010, Xander Bogaerts disappointed in his first full season in the Majors last year. There wasn’t any one area where Bogaerts really struggled either. His walk rate was down from his minor league average but his swing rate and his contact rate were near league average. He wasn’t whiffing at an extreme rate either despite a strikeout rate over 23%. This year, he’s already cut his strikeout rate down to 15% and his walk rate is up a little bit. He also needs to work on his defense. He was one of the worst defensive players in the Majors last year and he hasn’t looked much better this year. He’s still just 22-years-old so he has a lot of time to develop.

LF Hanley Ramirez – Hanley Ramirez has gotten off to a hot start, launching ten home runs in the first month and a week of play. It’s been feast or famine for Ramirez as those ten homers are his only extra base hits. His .532 slugging percentage is completely driven by home runs. Despite all those dingers, Ramirez has been one of the worst defenders in the league per both UZR and DRS. He was never a good defender at shortstop and that poor play has continued in the outfield. He’s been so bad in the field that he’s actually been below replacement level, costing the Red Sox -0.4 fWAR already.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Joe Kelly

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

34

22.8%

10.1%

14.7%

44.4%

6.35

4.48

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

97.2 mph;

24.5%

96.9 mph;

44.1%

86.4 mph;

5.1%

86.3 mph;

15.6%

80.2 mph;

10.6%

Kelly_PAgraph

Joe Kelly has always had a blazing fastball but his strikeout rate has never matched what you might expect from someone with his stuff. He added two ticks to his fastball velocity this year and it’s now the fastest among all starters in baseball. With that extra velocity, his strikeout rate has jumped over 22%, a seven point increase over his previous career norms. Unfortunately, poor luck, bad sequencing, and the homer have all conspired to drive his ERA way up. To be fair, his walk rate isn’t sparkling either and he isn’t generating as many grounders despite throwing a much higher number of sinkers this year.

RHP Clay Buchholz

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

37 2/3

24.9%

7.5%

9.4%

50.9%

5.73

3.11

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.1 mph;

17.5%

92.4 mph;

28.0%

88.8 mph;

23.4%

80.5 mph;

14.4%

79.0 mph;

16.7%

Buchholz

In the intro, I talked about the great discrepancy between the performance of the Red Sox’s starters and the results they’ve suffered through this year. No other pitcher embodies that discrepancy than Clay Buchholz. The difference between his ERA and his FIP is the highest in the league and much of that is driven by the second highest BABIP among starters in the Majors. The results should eventually fall into line with Buchholz’s peripherals which are greatly improved this year. He’s striking batters out at the highest rate of his career and his ground ball rate is greatly improved. He completely scrapped his splitter and has reinvented his changeup. That pitch now breaks in towards lefties by four more inches and it’s been devastating. Batters are whiffing a third of the time they swing at it and when they make contact with it, they aren’t doing much with it—just a .080 AVG off the pitch.

RHP Rick Porcello

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

44

20.1%

5.8%

12.5%

41.9%

4.50

4.09

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

92.3 mph;

30.7%

91.0 mph;

32.1%

87.3 mph;

12.4%

82.9 mph;

9.0%

77.1 mph;

15.9%

Porcello_PAgraph

At just 26-years-old, it’s hard to believe that Rick Porcello has been in the league for seven years now. He’s developed a reputation as a mid-rotation, control artist who has been one of the most durable pitchers since he started his career. Late last year, Porcello started throwing his slider a bit harder and now PITCHf/x is classifying it as a cutter. He’s also tinkered with his four-seam fastball and his curveball. Both of those pitches have gained some additional movement this year and it’s led to a big increase in strikeouts. He’s still limiting walks but his batted ball profile has skewed towards giving up fly balls. That could be a result of his changing arsenal and could also explain why he’s been uncharacteristically hurt by the homer this year.

RHP Steven Wright (2014)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

21

25.6%

4.7%

16.7%

58.6%

2.57

2.85

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Knuckleball!

85.4 mph;

6.1%

83.4 mph;

9.0%

74.4 mph;

84.7%

Wright_PAgraph

A veteran minor leaguer, Steven Wright finally got a shot in the big leagues in 2013. He’s bounced between the Majors and Triple-A since then, making a few spot starts each year, including this weekend. Justin Masterson was scheduled to pitch on Sunday but arm fatigue is pushing him to the disabled list and Wright will be called up to make the start. Wright is a traditional knuckleballer who almost exclusively relies on the floater. He tosses it at a similar speed to R.A. Dickey, much faster than Tim Wakefield’s knuckler. Last year, he was able to throw his knuckler for strikes at a higher rate than ever before and was able to cut his minor league walk rate in half. That will be the key for Wright—does he know, generally, where his knuckleball is going. If the answer is yes, he should find some success.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

21-13

.618

-

L-W-L-L-W

Angels

17-17

.500

4.0

W-L-W-W-W

Mariners

15-18

.455

5.5

W-W-W-W-L

Rangers

15-19

.441

6.0

L-W-W-L-W

Athletics

13-23

.361

9.0

L-L-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Tigers

20-14

.588

+1.0

W-L-L-W-L

Twins

19-15

.559

-

W-W-L-L-W

Rays

19-16

.543

0.5

W-L-L-W-W

Angels

17-17

.500

2.0

W-L-W-W-W

Blue Jays

17-18

.486

2.5

W-L-L-W-L

The Angels have gained some ground on the Astros, not because they've been playing well—they're .500 in the month of May—but because the Astros have gone 3-6 since their 10-game win streak. The Astros take on the Blue Jays at home this weekend while the Angels travel to Baltimore. The Rangers have won two of three against the Royals and they play a fourth game today. The Athletics and Red Sox just finished a three-game series in Oakland where the Sox took two of three.