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Series Preview: Mariners (2-8) vs. Rangers (4-5)

After a much needed off day, the Mariners host the Rangers over the weekend.

Texas Rangers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Friday, April 14 | 7:10 pm
LHP Martin Perez RHP Felix Hernandez
44% 56%
Game 2 Saturday, April 15 | 6:10 pm
RHP Andrew Cashner LHP James Paxton
38% 62%
Game 3 Sunday, April 16 | 1:10 pm
LHP Cole Hamels RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
47% 53%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Overview Mariners (2016) Rangers (2016) Edge
Overview Mariners (2016) Rangers (2016) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 98 (10th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -24.9 (13th) 6.8 (7th) Rangers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 109 (11th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (11th) 102 (13th) Mariners

Boy, that day off was desperately needed. After starting the season with ten games in a row, including seven on the road, the Mariners finally got a breather to try and get things straightened out. The gauntlet of AL West opponents hasn’t ended yet though. The Rangers are not the same team as they were last year. Not because of new acquisitions, injuries, or a new coaching staff, simply because there is no possible way their performance last season could be sustainable. Their expected win-loss record based on runs scored and runs allowed pegged them as a team just above .500, but they won 95 games instead. Their record in one-run games was an otherworldly 36-11. Already this season, the Rangers bullpen has faltered on multiple occasions. Their closer Sam Dyson has blown three saves in spectacular fashion.

The Rangers:

After losing to the Angels in extra innings on Tuesday, the Rangers have won back-to-back games and have won their last two series after being swept by the Indians to open the season. Despite winning the division last season, the Rangers didn’t do much in the offseason to improve their roster. They added Mike Napoli to play first base, resigned Carlos Gomez to play center, and added Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross to their starting rotation. Cashner will be getting his first start of the season on Saturday and Ross has yet to return from his injury sustained last year.

Key Players

2B Rougned OdorDespite his plate discipline stats trending the wrong ways, Rougned Odor found a way to make his hyper-aggressive approach at the plate work. He packs a huge amount of power into his small frame because he’s rarely cheated out of a swing. Of course, his swing-happy ways result in a walk rate that dwindled to just 3.0% last season. Combined with his lackluster defense at a premium position, his overall value has been limited to around 2.0 fWAR per season.

RF Nomar MazaraNomar Mazara made his major league debut just before his 21st birthday and his season came with all the ups and downs you would expect from a player that young. He ended up with a respectable .266/.320/.419 slash line with 20 home runs but he definitely struggled as the season wore on. In August and September, his strikeout rate jumped up to 26.2%, almost 10 points higher than what he ran during the first half of the season. Still, it has to be encouraging to see him put up 1.2 fWAR as a 21-year-old with lots of room to continue developing.

SS Elvis AndrusFor much of his career, Elvis Andrus developed a reputation as a light-hitting, defense-first shortstop. But something changed in 2016. He posted the best offensive season of his career while his defensive metrics took a meteoric tumble. Offensively, his retooled swing—adding a big leg kick and buying into the swing plane changes sweeping baseball—led to more pulled fly balls hit with authority. And like Josh Reddick, those changes to generate more power didn’t result in a loss of plate discipline.

Probable Pitchers

Texas Rangers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

LHP Martin Perez (2016)

198 2/3 12.1% 8.9% 10.4% 53.2% 4.39 4.50

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.0 18.6% 37 66 47
Sinker 93.7 43.1% 105 138 116
Changeup 85.3 16.9% 131 99 120
Slider 85.6 11.7% 59 139 86
Curveball 81.0 9.7% 48 42 46

Among all qualified starting pitchers last season, Martin Perez’s strikeout rate was the worst by a large margin. His high contact approach works because he’s able to generate an above average ground ball rate with his heavy sinker usage. But that kind of approach is dependent on a lot of batted ball luck. With a poor walk rate and so many balls in play, he’s historically run a very poor strand rate and is prone to allowing big rallies.

RHP Andrew Cashner (2016)

132 19.1% 10.2% 14.5% 46.5% 5.25 4.84

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.9 40.1% 89 85 88
Sinker 94.0 25.3% 54 97 68
Changeup 86.0 6.3% 5 135 48
Slider 87.7 19.8% 101 121 108
Curveball 82.3 7.4% 34 97 55

Andrew Cashner was one of the big offseason signings by the Rangers and they’re hoping that they’re getting the 2013-2015 version, not the 2016 version. While with the Padres, Cashner averaged 2.4 fWAR per season with a 3.43/3.48/3.68 pitcher slash line. But everything fell apart last season. His walk rate jumped up to 10.2% and he ran into the same home run problems that the entire league faced last year. The result was the worst season as a starter in his career. It was a little curious when the Rangers signed him so early in the offseason when there were other viable options on the market still. He’s dealt with some arm troubles during spring training and will be making his first start of the season on Saturday.

LHP Cole Hamels (2016)

200 2/3 23.6% 9.1% 14.0% 49.6% 3.32 3.98

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.7 23.7% 124 80 109
Sinker 93.6 19.8% 151 122 141
Cutter 90.1 23.3% 114 106 111
Changeup 85.3 18.7% 181 97 153
Curveball 80.3 14.6% 204 124 177

Despite a nice shiny ERA last season, Cole Hamels’s FIP was the highest it’s been since his rookie year in 2006. That doesn’t bode well for a pitcher who just turned 33-years-old. The effectiveness of his pitch repertoire hasn’t deteriorated, but his control has taken a step back. His walk rate increased by two points last year as his Zone% fell to the lowest mark of his career. He’s also had problems with the long ball since moving to the Rangers in 2015—though that shouldn’t affect him while pitching in Safeco.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 6-4 0.600 -- L-W-L-W-W
Angels 6-4 0.600 -- W-W-W-L-L
Athletics 5-5 0.500 1.0 W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 4-5 0.444 1.5 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 2-8 0.200 4.0 L-L-W-L-L

The Athletics ruined the Royals first series at home, winning two of three earlier this week; they’ll host the Astros this weekend. The Angels will take the A’s place in Kansas City.