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Series Preview: Mariners (1-3) at Angels (2-2)

The Mariners continue their opening road trip with a stop in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Mariners Angels
Mariners Angels
Game 1 Friday, April 7 | 7:07 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo RHP Jesse Chavez
50% 50%
Game 2 Saturday, April 8 | 7:07 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez RHP Ricky Nolasco
49% 51%
Game 3 Sunday, April 9 | 12:37 pm
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma RHP Matt Shoemaker
47% 53%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Mariners (2016) Angels (2016) Edge
Mariners (2016) Angels (2016) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 100 (7th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -24.9 (13th) 36.5 (1st) Angels
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 116 (15th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (11th) 106 (14th) Mariners

Though the final tallies might not reflect this, the Mariners just played an extremely competitive series against their primary rivals. The pitching staff held one of the better offenses in the league to just three runs per game. Unfortunately, just four games into the season, the bullpen is pretty taxed already. The Mariners open the season with 10 games in a row so there’s no respite in sight. They’ll wrap up their initial road trip with a weekend series in Anaheim.

The Angels were a popular dark horse pick this offseason after adding a few interesting pieces to support Mike Trout. It’s hard to count out the team with the best baseball player in the universe on it. While they should improve their disappointing record from a year ago, I just can’t see how they’ll be competitive unless everything breaks their way. If anything goes wrong, their depth is so thin that even Mike Trout won’t be able to carry them back to the postseason.

The Angels:

For the Angels, everything begins and ends with Mike Trout. Their goal this offseason was to plug in league average players around him to lessen the load he bears each season. Danny Espinosa was brought over from the Nationals to play second base, Cameron Maybin was added to be the everyday left fielder, and Luis Valbuena was installed as the strong side of a first base platoon. Their offense should be a little bit better with these two taking the place of a couple of positional black holes.

Their pitching staff is another matter. Two of their best starters are out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have recently returned from elbow injuries. If any one pitcher goes down with an injury (like Richards who might be dealing with a bicep issue now), it’s unclear who will step up into the rotation. We won’t even begin to think about what might happen with two pitchers on the shelf. Their bullpen might be in worse shape than their starting rotation.

Key Players

CF Mike Trout – Barring a major catastrophe, Mike Trout will again be the best player in all of baseball by a wide margin. And he’s just 25 years old. He’s just six years into his career and they’re already reserving a spot for him in Cooperstown. Last year, Trout showed off one of his more underrated skills (if that’s even possible) by stealing 30 bases, more than the previous two years combined. He was just one home run away from a 30/30 season and odds are he’ll get there this year. He might even have it in him to go 40/40. Wouldn’t that be something?

RF Kole CalhounDespite hitting eight fewer home runs, Kole Calhoun raised his wRC+ by 14 points last year. He did so by lowering his strikeout rate and raising his walk rate to career bests. He should continue to be an excellent table setter in front of Trout and Albert Pujols. In the field, things are a little less clear. The advanced defensive metrics have considered him an above average outfielder since becoming a regular in 2014. But the new catch probability metrics don’t see it that way; he’s made ten fewer plays than we’d expect over the last two years. He makes up for some of that with a great arm in right.

LF Cameron Maybin – Last year, the Angels left fielders combined to post an anemic .216/.282/.346 slash line. Cameron Maybin should have no problem besting that line. Despite missing a third of the season, Maybin accumulated almost as much fWAR in 2016 as he did the previous four years combined. Much of his offensive success was driven by an extremely high .383 BABIP however. He was able to cut his popup rate by more than half and was more successful spraying line drives and ground balls around the field, playing into his excellent speed. Still, we should expect some regression closer to league average.

Probable Pitchers

If you’ve been reading these series previews the last few years, you’re probably familiar with the pitch arsenal scores I’ve calculated for opposing pitchers. In short, I calculate z-scores for whiffs per swing rate and ground ball to fly ball ratio for each pitch thrown by a particular pitcher, giving us a quick look at which pitches are more effective than others. This year, instead of z-scores (which can be hard to read if you’re unfamiliar with them), I’ve calculated these scores using a +/- scale (similar to wRC+, where 100 is league average and every point above or below is a percent above or below league average). I’ve also added pop-up rate to a pitch’s ground ball rate since the previous version heavily punished fly ball pitchers and a pop-up is almost always as good as a strikeout; I’ve called this new metric BIP+.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

RHP Jesse Chavez (2016)

67 22.3% 6.4% 15.4% 42.9% 4.43 4.49

Pitch Arsenal

Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.1 26.6% 100 121 107
Cutter 92.1 44.8% 87 66 80
Changeup 87.3 9.5% 59 99 72
Curveball 79.5 11.4% 147 120 138

Jesse Chavez has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his career. Last year was a bullpen year for him as he split time between the Blue Jays and the Dodgers. The Angels signed him to a one-year deal this offseason and installed him as their fifth starter. As far as fifth starters go, they could certainly do worse. He’ll probably lose the velocity gains he saw as a reliever last year, dropping his average fastball velocity to around 92. His curveball is a plus pitch by whiff rate and batted ball types but his usage of it has dwindled year by year.

RHP Ricky Nolasco (2016)

197 2/3 17.6% 5.4% 11.1% 43.1% 4.42 4.14

Pitch Arsenal

Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.2 24.7% 20 65 35
Sinker 90.9 23.8% 56 -6 35
Splitter 80.0 7.3% 98 75 90
Slider 81.8 32.9% 114 90 106
Curveball 73.8 11.1% 72 73 72

The Angels are counting on consistency from Ricky Nolasco since their pitching depth is so thin. He’s made at least 26 starts in eight of his last nine seasons. His ability to generate strikeouts has declined as he’s aged, though his walk rate hasn’t been affected yet. He hasn’t lost any velocity off his fastball but it’s effectiveness as a pitch has completely waned. Last season, opposing batters launched 11 home runs off his four-seamer and 10 more off his two-seamer. Without a decent secondary offering to keep batters honest, they’re just sitting on his fastball, waiting to punish it.

RHP Matt Shoemaker (2016)

160 21.4% 4.5% 10.3% 39.8% 3.88 3.52

Pitch Arsenal

Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.4 23.6% 147 68 121
Sinker 91.9 25.8% 105 80 97
Splitter 85.0 36.6% 155 103 138
Slider 83.4 12.7% 113 92 106

Matt Shoemaker’s future was in question after he took a line drive to the head last September. Thankfully the damage wasn’t lasting and he made his way back to the mount this spring. A full, healthy season from Shoemaker is critical to the Angels’ success. You’re probably familiar with the adjustments he made to his repertoire last season that led to a 3.10 ERA from May onwards. His splitter really is quite good. Opposing batters whiffed more than a fifth of the time he threw it and slugged just .276 off the pitch last year.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 3-1 0.750 -- W-W-W-L
Angels 2-2 0.500 1.0 L-W-W-L
Athletics 2-2 0.500 1.0 W-L-L-W
Mariners 1-3 0.250 2.0 L-L-L-W
Rangers 0-3 0.000 2.5 L-L-L

The Angels and the Athletics split their four-game opening series while the Rangers were swept at home by the Indians. The A’s travel to Texas and the Astros host the Royals this weekend.