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Series Preview: Mariners (0-0) vs. Cleveland (0-0)

The Mariners start the 2018 season at home with a three-game series against the baseball team from Cleveland.

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this opening of spring days.

We all felt it. The toiling and boiling during the offseason that would seemingly never end. But all that distress is replaced by nervous excitement on this day. The King has returned to familiar fields. The hem of his cloak is a little frayed, his armor dented and bruised. Reminders of past campaigns, won and lost. But with those scars comes a yearning for better autumn days. Those days are far off, and there are many dangers and snares along the way. But the King has returned and with him great expectations are renewed. On this day we are filled with hope again.

At a Glance

Cleveland Mariners
Cleveland Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, March 29 | 7:10 pm
RHP Corey Kluber RHP Felix Hernandez
61% 39%
Off Day Friday, March 30
Game 2 Saturday, March 31 | 1:10 pm
RHP Carlos Carrasco LHP James Paxton
54% 46%
Game 3 Sunday, April 1 | 1:10 pm
RHP Trevor Bauer RHP Mike Leake
55% 45%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Cleveland (2017) Mariners (2017) Edge
Overview Cleveland (2017) Mariners (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (3rd in AL) 103 (4th in AL) Cleveland
Fielding (UZR) 8.4 (7th) 10.5 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 77 (1st) 115 (14th) Cleveland
Bullpen (FIP-) 73 (1st) 99 (9th) Cleveland

For the tenth consecutive season and eleventh time overall, Felix Hernandez will toe the rubber for the Mariners on Opening Day. In those eleven starts, he’s averaged almost seven innings pitched with a strikeout per inning and a 1.85 ERA. And because of the quirks of MLB scheduling, he’s facing a non-AL West team for the first time since 2008.

The baseball team from Cleveland won 102 games last season on their way to their second consecutive division title. Their pitching staff was the best in baseball by a wide margin. By park and league adjusted FIP, their starting rotation was 23% better than league average. Their bullpen was even better than that. Their offense has been a great compliment to their dominant pitching staff, though there are some familiar faces missing this season. They should have no problem claiming their third division title in a row.

Welcome to another year of series previews. If you’re a regular Lookout Landing reader, welcome back. If you’re a new face, welcome home. Above, you’ll see a brief overview of the upcoming series: probable pitchers, game times, and a rundown of the Mariners and their opponents. Below, you’ll see the Mariners’ opponents laid out in more detail: projected lineups, key players, and pitcher analysis. Finally, you’ll get a view of the big picture: AL West and Wild Card standings. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope that these features continue to be helpful and educational.

After four seasons of previews, I decided to revamp the way I present the opposing team’s position players. Instead of featuring a few key players, I’m including another table with the projected lineup for the opponent. This allows me to give a broad overview of the opposing offense while also still calling out a few interesting players in the blurb below. Hopefully this will give you a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team.

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. Last year, I started calculating whiff rate (Whiff+) and contact quality (BIP+) 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). Those pitch scores return with a few adjustments on the backend. New this year are spin rates. Alongside them, I’ve calculated z-scores per pitch type giving you a comparison to league average (a z-score of 1.0 is one standard deviation above average for that pitch type).

Projected Cleveland Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Francisco Lindor SS S 723 0.275 118 4.7
Jason Kipnis 2B L 373 0.256 82 3.5
Jose Ramirez 3B S 645 0.319 148 -0.9
Edwin Encarnacion DH R 669 0.271 132 -8.4
Yonder Alonso 1B L 521 0.302 132 -2.5
Lonnie Chisenhall RF L 270 0.326 129 0.0
Tyler Naquin LF L 330 0.358 131
Yan Gomes C R 383 0.283 87 0.3
Bradley Zimmer CF L 332 0.328 81 6.7
All stats from 2017. Tyler Naquin’s stats from Triple-A.

Losing Carlos Santana to the Phillies is bound to hurt the Indians offense but they’re hoping former Mariner Yonder Alonso can replicate a lot of that production. The rest of the core pieces in the lineup are still here. Francisco Lindor is one of the most entertaining players to watch and he more than doubled his home run output last season. Along with that power explosion came a career high contact rate but he still suffered a 50 point drop in batting average on balls in play, likely due to too many fly balls. Jose Ramirez continued to build on his breakout campaign in 2016 by posting a wOBA 40 points higher in 2017 and increasing his fWAR to 6.6. There are some indications that his newfound power could be a mirage—his expected wOBA was more than 50 points lower than his actual wOBA—but even if his power regresses a little, he should be one of the best hitters in the American League anyway.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians

RHP Corey Kluber (2017)

203 2/3 34.1% 4.6% 13.5% 44.5% 2.25 2.50

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 93.0 2372 (1.01) 14.4% 96 83
Sinker 92.9 2225 (0.73) 27.8% 77 96
Cutter 89.2 2580 (1.49) 24.3% 156 98
Changeup 86.1 1707 (0.03) 6.2% 119 106
Slider 84.7 2589 (1.05) 27.3% 151 129

Through the first month of last season, it seemed like Corey Kluber had finally broken down. His FIP was over four and he soon went on the disabled list in early May. But the Klubot was fully repaired when he returned in June. Over 23 starts from June 1 onwards, he posted a 1.62/2.06/2.22 pitcher slash line, backed by a 36.2% strikeout rate and a miniscule 3.7% walk rate. That stretch alone helped him earn his second Cy Young award. His two standout pitches are his cutter and his slider (or curveball or whatever). Last year, he started throwing both of them far more often and the results speak for themselves. It’s not that his fastballs aren’t good—they’re effective enough—but those two plus plus pitches are enough to elevate him into the elite stratosphere.

RHP Carlos Carrasco (2017)

200 28.3% 5.8% 12.4% 45.2% 3.29 3.10

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 94.8 2257 (-0.40) 36.1% 83 86
Sinker 91.1 2060 (-0.89) 12.7% 113 90
Changeup 88.9 1478 (-1.15) 16.1% 115 90
Slider 85.7 2495 (0.82) 21.0% 163 123
Curveball 83.4 2655 (0.82) 14.1% 145 117

For the first time in his career, Carlos Carrasco reached the 200 inning mark and he hit it on the nose. He also posted the second highest strikeout rate of his career. Like Kluber, Carrasco’s breaking pitches are outstanding. He’s able to generate a higher whiff rate off his slider than Kluber’s and adds a curveball that’s almost as good. He’s got another weapon in his repertoire that Kluber doesn’t have: a devastating changeup. Because it has such a low spin rate, the amount of drop he gets is much higher than an average change piece. Batters put the pitch on the ground more than 75% of the time they make contact leading to a miniscule ISO allowed off the pitch. His three excellent secondary offerings make up for a rather lackluster fastball, a common theme for Cleveland’s pitching staff.

RHP Trevor Bauer (2017)

176 1/3 26.2% 8.0% 16.1% 46.4% 4.19 3.88

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate (z-score) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate (z-score) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 94.4 2276 (0.09) 39.7% 96 105
Sinker 93.9 2263 (0.65) 9.6% 68 61
Cutter 88.0 2561 (0.93) 7.8% 143 68
Changeup 87.4 1639 (-0.43) 6.5% 94 94
Slider 84.7 2539 (0.90) 5.6% 135 63
Curveball 78.8 2548 (0.31) 29.8% 107 112

I bet you can guess what led to a major turnaround for Trevor Bauer in the middle of last season. In August, he stopped throwing his cutter and started throwing a slower slider with a ton of downward action instead. Leaning on that new pitch and throwing his renowned curveball more often helped him shave two and a half runs off his ERA in the second half of the season. His FIP was mostly unchanged though, despite a better strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half. Bauer ran into the same problem almost every pitcher had to deal with last year: dingers. Still, he has to be encouraged by the improvement in his other peripherals after adjusting his repertoire and I’d expect to see even more breaking balls this season.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros-x 101-61 0.623 -- Champions
Angels 80-82 0.494 21.0 Not Champs
Mariners 78-84 0.481 23.0 Standing Pat
Rangers 78-84 0.481 23.0 Rebuilding?
Athletics 75-87 0.463 26.0 Intriguing
2017 Final Standings

The AL West is looking like it’s going to shape up exactly the same as it did last year. The Astros are so far above the rest of the division, it almost feels like their playoff spot is already wrapped up. The Mariners and the Angels start the year basically even as far as the projections are concerned. Both teams have above average offenses and a lot of question marks in their pitching staffs. The Rangers are sitting on the razor thin edge between competing for the Wild Card and hitting the soft reset button. And the Athletics have built an exciting, young offense but need their pitching staff to take some major steps forward this year.