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Series Preview: Mariners (5-8) vs. Marlins (7-5)

Ichiro Suzuki returns home as the Marlins make a rare trip to Seattle.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Marlins Mariners
Marlins Mariners
Game 1 Monday, April 17 | 7:10 pm
RHP Tom Koehler LHP Ariel Miranda
44% 56%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 18 | 7:10 pm
LHP Wei-Yin Chen RHP Yovani Gallardo
47% 53%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 18 | 12:40 pm
RHP Edinson Volquez RHP Felix Hernandez
43% 57%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Overview Mariners (2016) Marlins (2016) Edge
Overview Mariners (2016) Marlins (2016) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 97 (10th in NL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -24.9 (13th) 22.9 (4th) Marlins
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 103 (9th) Marlins
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (11th) 94 (8th) Marlins

Seeing the Mariners show some signs of life after their slow start was certainly heartening. The two dominant pitching performances by Felix and Paxton were great to see but even more encouraging was the come-from-behind walk-off win yesterday afternoon. The offensive struggles of this ball club have been well documented so to see them rally from a 5-run deficit and then rally again after coughing up the lead in the ninth provided a sigh of relief.

The Mariners take a short break from their divisional matchups to begin their interleague slate this week. The last time the Marlins traveled to Seattle was in 2011, when a three-game series had to be moved from Miami to Seattle because of a U2 concert. The series was played in Safeco with National League rules and the Marlins as the home team. This series won’t be nearly as weird and wonky.

The Marlins:

The tragic death of Jose Fernandez made baseball a little less joyous and drastically changed the trajectory of the Marlins organization. Since his debut in 2013, the Marlins had been steadily building a core around him and Giancarlo Stanton and had been making some gains in the standings. His talent and personality could never be replaced and will never be matched. In spite of this tremendous loss, the Marlins are the early leaders in the NL East, after winning two series against the Mets, including two walk-off winners over the weekend.

Key Players

RF Giancarlo Stanton – At some point, the mystique of Giancarlo Stanton’s power will be surpassed by his inability to stay healthy. Maybe we’re already there. Sure, he could probably hit 50 home runs in a full season but he’s averaged just 118 games per year in his seven-year career. More worrying is the spike in strikeout rate and the corresponding drop in walk rate the last two seasons. His raw power more than makes up for this downward trend, but his isolated power dropped by 100 points last season leading to the worst offensive season of his career.

CF Christian YelichFor the first three seasons of his career, Christian Yelich put up a metronomic 118 wRC+. His bat-to-ball skills have never been in question, but what happened after contact wasn’t exactly ideal. His 61.9% ground ball rate from 2013-2015 was the highest in baseball and held his isolated power to just .114. Last season, he dropped his ground ball rate to 56.5% and started hitting more fly balls. The result: he hit more home runs in 2016 than he had in the first three years of his career and his wRC+ jumped up to 30% above league average.

LF Marcell OzunaMarcell Ozuna started off hot in 2016, before cooling down in the second half of the year. His stocky build helps generate impressive power and his plate discipline has improved steadily over the course of his career. His strikeout rate has dropped each season, falling to just 18.9% a season ago, and he also posted a career high 9.4% walk rate in 2016. The 26-year-old outfielder is has destroyed the baseball through the first 12 games of the season, launching five home runs and batting a cool .404. Although his first two seasons had positive UZR/150 grades, the last two years were less effective on the defensive side. Transitioning from center field to left field should be beneficial, though his strong throwing arm might be wasted a bit.

Probable Pitchers

New York Mets v Miami Marlins

RHP Tom Koehler (2016)

176 2/3 19.0% 10.7% 12.1% 42.2% 4.33 4.60

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.7 42.2% 59 92 70
Changeup 85.6 7.2% 127 77 110
Slider 86.2 23.6% 115 111 114
Curveball 79.5 22.6% 68 130 89

Tom Koehler has made almost 30 starts per year since his first full season in the majors in 2013. That kind of reliability makes him valuable for a club in the midst of a rebuild. He has a pretty decent slider that generates a decent amount of whiffs but his fastball is mediocre at best. As a result, his strikeout rate sits just below league average. He walks too many to be anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. He’s benefitted from the spacious confines of his home park in Miami; his career FIP on the road is more than a half a run higher than when he’s pitching at home.

LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2016)

123 1/3 19.2% 4.6% 14.9% 40.5% 4.96 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 91.6 50.7% 113 99 108
Sinker 90.8 9.7% 37 77 50
Changeup 84.3 11.5% 61 108 77
Slider 85.0 16.0% 50 76 59
Curveball 75.4 11.0% 155 85 132

To say that Wei-Yin Chen’s first year with the Marlins was a disappointment might be an understatement. After signing a five-year deal worth $80 million, he lost almost all of his effectiveness in an injury-shortened season. In his four years with Baltimore, he averaged 2.4 fWAR and utilized his rising fastball to generate harmless fly balls and pop ups. Last season, he lost about a mile per hour off his fastball velocity and batters took advantage. His ERA ballooned to 4.96 and his home run rate was the highest it’s been in his career. So despite a decent strikeout rate and an elite walk rate, he probably won’t ever be the front-of-the-rotation starter the Marlins are paying him to be.

RHP Edinson Volquez (2016)

189 1/3 16.3% 8.9% 12.8% 51.2% 5.37 4.57

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.2 3.5% 294 55 214
Sinker 94.0 49.4% 94 92 93
Changeup 84.1 22.4% 113 117 114
Curveball 80.7 24.7% 46 122 71

At one point in his career, Edinson Volquez was striking out almost a quarter of the batters he was facing. That ability to miss bats has slowly deteriorated as he’s aged and his strikeout rate now sits comfortably below average. With all those strikeouts, his lack of control at times could be forgiven. Now, he’s simply a league-average pitcher with a decent sinker/changeup combo. The whiff rate on his four-seam fastball isn’t a mirage, though he only threw the pitch 119 times last season. He would throw the four-seamer much more often earlier in his career, now it’s a pitch he’ll pullout every once in a while when he needs to get a whiff.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 8-4 0.667 -- L-W-W-W-W
Angels 6-7 0.462 2.5 L-L-L-L-L
Athletics 5-7 0.417 3.0 W-W-L-L-L
Mariners 5-8 0.385 3.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 4-8 0.333 4.0 W-W-L-L-L

The Astros swept a rare rain-shortened series in Oakland over the weekend. They’ll return home to host an Angels team that was swept by the Royals in Kansas City. The Athletics stay at home and play host to the Rangers to start this week.