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Series Preview: Mariners (4-3) at Royals (2-5)

The Mariners wrap up their first road trip of the season in Kansas City.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s bizarre looking at the standings and seeing just seven games played next to the Mariners. Three scheduled off days plus a postponement has made for an irregular start to the season. The Royals are the only other team in baseball who have played just seven games—two scheduled off days and two postponements have derailed the start to their season. I guess the benefit is a rested bullpen and fewer games missed for the crew on the disabled list. All that rest will hopefully help them in the second half of the month when they play 17 games in a row.

At a Glance

Mariners Royals
Mariners Royals
Game 1 Monday, April 9 | 5:15 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Jake Junis
50% 50%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 10 | 5:15 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez LHP Eric Skoglund
59% 41%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 11 | 11:15 am
LHP James Paxton LHP Danny Duffy
57% 43%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2017) Royals (2017) Edge
Overview Mariners (2017) Royals (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (4th in AL) 92 (14th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 10.1 (5th) 1.1 (9th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 115 (14th) 107 (8th) Royals
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (9th) 96 (8th) Royals

Escaping the frigid cold of Minnesota with a series split was probably the best the Mariners could have hoped for. They’ve yet to drop below .500 this season and should be able to get a series win in Kansas City.

It’s been a steep drop off for the Royals after their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and their championship in 2015. They’ve hovered around .500 the past two seasons, making a little noise in the Wild Card race but ultimately falling well short. This offseason, they faced an exodus of the young talent they had accumulated to make that championship run. Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain left via free agency but Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar returned on one-year deals. Unfortunately, the two players they managed to retain were the least valuable of the four.

Projected Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jon Jay LF L 433 0.368 101 2.8
Whit Merrifield 2B R 630 0.308 105 4.4
Mike Moustakas 3B L 598 0.263 114 -5.4
Lucas Duda DH L 491 0.238 113 -4.0
Cheslor Cuthbert 1B R 153 0.301 56 0.0
Jorge Soler RF R 110 0.203 32 -0.9
Alex Gordon CF L 541 0.261 62 0.9
Alcides Escobar SS R 629 0.291 62 3.5
Drew Butera C R 177 0.286 60 1.4
All stats from 2017

Not only did the Royals lose a bunch of talent this offseason, their All-Star catcher Salvador Perez injured his knee during spring training via an unfortunate luggage accident. One of the lone bright spots for the Royals has been the development of Whit Merrifield. In his sophomore campaign, he cut his strikeout rate by a third, added 10 points to his fly ball rate, and stole a career high 34 bases. Jorge Soler, the prize acquisition from the Cubs in the Wade Davis trade, has languished in Kansas City. But reports of a swing change and a strong spring training have revived the potential that made him such a valuable trade piece. The problem has always been his strikeout rate but if he can get that under control, there’s a lot of power in his bat that could go a long way towards replacing some of the production the Royals lost this offseason.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians

RHP Jake Junis (2017)

98 1/3 19.0% 5.9% 12.3% 40.1% 4.30 4.55

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 42.2% 91.7 2017 (-1.19) 84 101
Sinker 14.4% 90.7 1960 (-1.19) 51 138
Changeup 6.0% 82.3
Slider 32.5% 81.7 2282 (-0.05) 119 91
Junis’s changeup did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Jake Junis was never a heralded prospect nor were his scouting reports very glowing, but as he ascended through the Royals organization, he just continued to improve. Reaching the majors last season, his peripherals were better than his overall line suggest. His good command carried over from the minors but his strikeout rate dipped a little. With an outstanding slider that possessed the fourth highest horizontal movement among all sliders thrown last season, there some room for growth. He’ll need to improve his fastballs if he’s going to find that success though. His sinker is probably the better of the two, but only because it induces ground balls 60% of the time batters put it in play.

LHP Eric Skoglund (2017 - Triple-A)

100 2/3 23.3% 6.6% 11.5% 41.0% 4.11 4.46
Skoglund pitched 18 innings in the majors in 2017.

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 62.2% 92.2 2207 (-0.03) 92 143
Slider 15.8% 86.3
Curveball 19.7% 79.9
Skoglund’s slider and curveball did not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Eric Skoglund breezed through three levels of the Royals organization last year, making his major league debut in late May before being demoted to Triple-A until September. The fast track he’s been on might say more about the state of the Royals pitching depth than his actual pitching prowess. To be fair, he did post a 5.7% minor league walk rate, though that trademark control completely eluded him in the majors last year. Despite two inconsistent breaking balls, he finds his success through an excellent rising fastball. That’ll help him get some strikeouts and easy fly balls, but without his command, he’ll be very prone to the long ball. Skoglund will be making his 2018 debut on Tuesday.

LHP Danny Duffy (2017)

146 1/3 21.4% 6.7% 7.6% 39.5% 3.81 3.46

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 30.2% 93.4 2192 (-0.35) 100 110
Sinker 18.0% 93.2 2156 (0.31) 119 108
Changeup 22.3% 84.2 2410 (3.15) 111 158
Slider 28.8% 83.5 2310 (0.17) 101 93

Danny Duffy’s breakout season in 2016 was built on a huge increase in fastball velocity. He averaged almost 97 mph on his fastball for most of the season until it started deteriorating late in the season. His velocity never reached those lofty heights last season, averaging just 93 mph throughout the year. It’s down to 91 mph across just two starts this year. Luckily, Duffy has excellent secondary pitches to fall back on. His changeup has the highest spin rate of any changeup thrown last year. That’s backwards from convention—usually a changeup is thrown with less spin so that it drops more. Duffy’s “rises” like his fastballs but it also has a ton of horizontal movement as well. It’s a unique pitch that generates both whiffs and a ton of popups.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 8-2 0.800 -- W-W-L-W-W
Angels 7-3 0.700 1.0 W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 4-3 0.571 2.5 W-W-L-L-W
Athletics 4-7 0.364 4.5 L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 4-7 0.364 4.5 L-W-L-W-L

After winning two of three against the Padres, the Astros have to face the cold, cold Minnesota weather (and the Twins too). The Angels won two of three against the Athletics over the weekend and look just as good as we feared. They travel to Texas to face the Rangers to start the week. The A’s are in LA for an interleague series before traveling to Seattle this weekend.