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Series Preview: Mariners (11-17) vs. Athletics (12-18)

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The Mariners return home after a tough road trip to host the Athletics over the weekend.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, May 8

7:10 pm

Athletics

RHP Sonny Gray

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Saturday, May 9

6:10 pm

Athletics

RHP Jesse Hahn

Mariners

LHP J.A. Happ

Sunday, May 10

1:10 pm

Athletics

RHP Jesse Chavez

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Mariners

Athletics

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

95 (11th in AL)

105 (5th in AL)

Athletics

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-14.4 (13th)

-17.9 (15th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

104 (8th)

95 (5th)

Athletics

Bullpen (FIP-)

108 (13th)

109 (14th)

Mariners

Just a month ago, these two teams faced off in the second series of the young season. The Athletics had split their opening series with the Rangers and the Mariners had lost two of three against the Angels. Two extra-innings wins later, the Mariners were leaving Oakland with a series win. Since then, both teams have almost identical records (M’s went 8-14, A’s went 9-14).

In many ways, the early struggles of these two teams have been quite similar. Both teams are close to last in the league in team defense and in bullpen FIP-. The A’s are just 1-8 in one run games and their bullpen has suffered through 16 meltdowns already this year (the Mariners’ bullpen has suffered 17 meltdowns, the worst in baseball).

The Athletics:

The A’s have played 30 games in 32 days, they have just one off day in May, and they will fly across the country four times without a travel day in the first two months of the season. That difficult schedule has a real effect on their play on the field and it doesn’t let up until June. They’re 3-4 on their current road trip and just lost three of four against the Twins.

Key Players

IF/OF Ben Zobrist Ben Zobrist underwent left knee surgery in late April after injuring himself sliding into second. He'll miss all of May but could be back in the lineup by early June. Before the A’s traded for Ben Zobrist, they were in the midst of an incredibly confusing offseason. After they acquired Zobrist, everything fell into place. He’s the glue that holds this roster together and was a perfect fit for what Billy Beane built in Oakland. Despite losing most of his power, he’s maintained his 5.4 fWAR production level over the last two years. His plate discipline numbers are among the best in the game and that should allow him to continue to be productive into the latter half of his career.

3B Brett Lawrie Brett Lawrie has never been able to replicate the gaudy numbers he put up in 43 games during his rookie year. His high energy playing style has led to a myriad of injuries that have forced him to miss 38% of his games over the last three years. The Athletics are hoping that getting him off the turf in Toronto will lead to a healthier year for Lawrie. When he is on the field, Lawrie has provided league average offensive production. A career low walk rate last year is particularly concerning. He isn’t particularly known for his patience, but if he’s not getting on base more often and isn’t hitting for as much power, it’s hard to see how he’ll produce an above average line at the plate.

1B Billy Butler Signing Billy Butler was a perplexing acquisition at the time. Butler had seen two straight years of declining offensive production in Kansas City and wasn’t about to provide any value in the field or on the basepaths. Throwing money after a declining bat-only player seems like a fool’s errand. Yet, the Athletics might have added some diversity to their lineup with a relatively rare offensive skillset. Billy Beane obviously sees something in Butler—if he’s able to return to his previous offensive levels, it would go a long way towards pushing the Athletics towards contention.

C Stephen VogtI believe in Stephen Vogt. He made his major league debut when he was 28 and didn’t start receiving regular playing time until he was 30, but the A’s traded away Derek Norris so that Vogt could become their everyday catcher. His walk rate has jumped up to match his low strikeout rate this year (a rare feat in this strikeout rich era) and he’s hitting for more power than ever before. His home run rate should fall from its lofty heights but the plate discipline looks like it’s for real—he swinging at a much lower rate but still making contact at a rate similar to his career average.

RF Josh ReddickJosh Reddick suffered through an injury-plagued season last year. He’s returned with a vengeance this year but he looks like a completely different player at the plate. His strikeout rate is a miniscule 6.5% which is around 13 points lower than his career average. Like Vogt, he’s swinging at the lowest rate of his career but he’s making more contact than ever before. His BABIP is fairly high but it matches his 26.3% line drive rate. The Athletics promoted a new hitting coach this year and it looks like he’s been able to instill a new hitting philosophy that values swinging selectively to make hard contact. Both Vogt and Reddick have benefitted from this new approach and I’d be interested to see who else on the team is drinking the Kool-Aid.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Sonny Gray

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

43

21.0%

7.8%

2.3%

47.4%

1.67

2.86

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.3 mph;

27.7%

93.8 mph;

32.1%

92.5 mph;

2.9%

87.8 mph;

5.4%

86.4 mph;

14.5%

82.7 mph;

17.4%

Gray_PAgraph

Sonny Gray established himself as a front line pitcher in his first full year in the majors last year. He’s been able to carry that success over into this year, starting the year with four wins in six starts and a 1.67/2.86/3.97 pitcher slash line. His high xFIP is due to his miniscule home run rate despite an average fly ball rate. Historically, he’s been able to avoid a home run problem by running a high ground ball rate, but this year, his ground ball rate has fallen to just average. The change in his batted ball profile is probably a result of his shifting arsenal. He’s added a cutter that he throws occasionally and is throwing more sinkers than ever before. His signature pitch is his curveball but he’s now throwing two versions of it: one is the familiar 12-6 curve that we’ve seen since he was first called up, the other is more of a slurve with a little more velocity. PITCHf/x is labeling it a slider but he says he uses the same grip for both pitches.

RHP Jesse Hahn

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

27

14.3%

3.6%

4.8%

49.4%

4.33

3.21

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.9 mph;

39.9%

93.1 mph;

25.7%

86.2 mph;

9.4%

83.1 mph;

4.4%

76.9 mph;

20.0%

Hahn_PAgraph

Jesse Hahn was acquired from the Padres this offseason and has the highest upside of all the pitchers acquired by the Athletics. His minor league track record shows a high strikeout rate combined with an ability to avoid the walk, but in his first year in the majors, his walk rate spiked to over 10%. Much of his success will come down to his ability to control the strike zone. He won’t have much trouble racking up strikeouts. His sinker generates whiffs almost one and half standard deviations above the league average sinker. He primarily uses it against lefties leading to a fairly even platoon split. His curveball is his other plus pitch and it’s used against both lefties and righties.

RHP Jesse Chavez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

25

24.8%

7.9%

3.3%

39.7%

1.80

2.74

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

94.0 mph;

9.6%

93.8 mph;

18.9%

92.3 mph;

48.0%

85.8 mph;

13.7%

77.2 mph;

9.3%

Chavez_PAgraph

Jesse Chavez has pitched for five different teams in his eight years in the Majors but was never really given a shot to start until last year. He made 21 starts for the A’s last year and his results didn’t suffer as much as might be expected from a career reliever. Much of his success can be attributed to his willingness to change his arsenal to maximize his strengths. With the A’s, he started to rely heavily on his cutter and it’s been a decent pitch for him. His other two fastballs are used to give batters different looks with good velocity and he’s able to generate a ton of whiffs with his four-seamer. He throws a curveball and a changeup as his offspeed offerings with his curveball being the better of the two. His arsenal is flexible enough that he’s able to throw all of his pitches no matter the batter handedness and that’s allowed him to run a small, reverse-platoon split as a starter.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

19-10

.655

-

W-L-L-L-W

Angels

13-16

.448

6.0

L-L-W-W-L

Rangers

12-16

.429

6.5

L-W-W-W-W

Athletics

12-18

.400

7.5

W-L-W-L-L

Mariners

11-17

.393

7.5

L-L-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Tigers

18-11

.621

+2.0

W-W-L-L-W

Twins

16-13

.552

-

W-W-L-W-W

Rays

15-14

.517

1.0

L-W-L-W-L

Blue Jays

14-15

.483

2.0

W-L-W-L-W

Red Sox

13-15

.464

2.5

L-L-L-W-L

Despite being swept by the Rangers, the Astros maintain their lead in the AL West. They started a four-game series against the Angels yesterday and won after a ninth inning comeback. The Rangers are in Tampa Bay for four games and won their fourth straight last night.