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Series Preview: Mariners (51-31) vs. Royals (25-55)

The Mariners begin a nine-game homestand with a series against the Royals.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners return home from their long East Coast road trip with a 5-5 record. That’s pretty good considering how poorly it started off. They begin a long, nine-game homestand with a series against the Royals. Because of the quirks of the MLB schedule, the Mariners won’t travel further east than Texas for the rest of the season. And with the NL West on the interleague schedule, the remaining road trips on the schedule are pretty manageable. There are two 10-game road trips left, one in August and one in September. The most grueling part of the schedule left is a 20-game stretch in late July and early August, including that 10-game road trip. Otherwise, it really feels like the schedule lightens up from here on out.

At a Glance

Royals Mariners
Royals Mariners
Game 1 Friday, June 29 | 7:10 pm
RHP Ian Kennedy LHP Marco Gonzales
32% 68%
Game 2 Saturday, June 30 | The Future
RHP Jason Hammel RHP Félix Hernández
31% 69%
Game 3 Sunday, July 1 | 1:10 pm
RHP Brad Keller LHP James Paxton
29% 71%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Royals Edge
Overview Mariners Royals Edge
Batting (wRC+) 108 (4th in AL) 82 (15th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -0.1 (11th) 9.7 (5th) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 99 (6th) 119 (13th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 90 (5th) 125 (15th) Mariners

The Mariners played the Royals in Kansas City all the way back in April. They escaped with a series win despite a 10-0 drubbing in the first game of the series. It’s weird to think back about the state of the team just two months ago. Ichiro! was still on the roster, Dee Gordon was playing center field, and Robinson Canó was still in the middle of the lineup. That feels like a lifetime ago.

It must feel like an eon for Royals fans. The beginning stages of a rebuild are always the most painful. The Royals have already dealt Jon Jay to the Diamondbacks and Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals. They’re not done downsizing and should be pretty active on the trade market in July.

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Whit Merrifield CF R 335 0.332 109 3.8
Alex Gordon LF L 254 0.314 90 0.4
Mike Moustakas 3B L 332 0.255 107 -0.9
Salvador Pérez C R 249 0.220 74 -1.6
Lucas Duda DH L 161 0.311 98 -0.8
Jorge Bonifacio RF S 58 0.513 167
Hunter Dozier 1B R 145 0.302 80 -1.2
Alcides Escobar SS R 306 0.221 44 0.9
Adalberto Mondesí 2B S 133 0.291 97
*Bonifacio’s and Mondesí’s stats from Triple-A.

The lingering veterans from the Royals 2015 championship team have really struggled to provide any value to the team this season. Mike Moustakas hasn’t been able to replicate his massive power outbreak from last season and Salvador Pérez has suffered through some extremely poor batted ball luck. A resurgence from these veterans won’t matter for the Royals win-loss record, but it will affect the return when they inevitably trade these players away in July or August. As for the youngsters, Hunter Dozier and Adalberto Mondesí were recently called up and Jorge Bonifacio will return from his PED suspension today. Those three will probably be just role players on the next great Royals team but they’re some of the only prospects who are near the majors at this point in the rebuild.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros

RHP Ian Kennedy

86 2/3 20.9% 8.4% 13.2% 30.0% 5.09 4.65

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 59.8% 92.7 2359 (0.98) 85 79
Changeup 11.6% 85.8 1975 (1.01) 109 102
Slider 11.7% 87.9 2079 (-0.91) 73 72
Curveball 16.8% 78.9 2601 (0.39) 75 118

From a 500 foot view, Ian Kennedy’s career is actually quite fascinating. Between 2010 and 2014, he posted a park adjusted ERA four percent better than league average backed by a 2.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio. During those five years, he accumulated 13.2 fWAR or 2.6 fWAR per year. Of course, those years were also the peak of modern offensive ineptitude where strikeout rates were soaring and batters had no recourse. Over the next four years, the ball itself changed and batters started attacking pitchers with high launch angles and swing changes. Ian Kennedy hasn’t been able to keep up with the changing offensive environment. His park adjusted ERA has been eight percent worse than league average and his FIP has ballooned with his home run rate. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher but that’s become a weakness rather than a strength in the era of the “juiced” ball and launch angle. With a “rising” fastball that doesn’t get as many whiffs as you’d expect and is prone to be launched out of the park, he’s had to rely on his secondary pitches to generate strikeouts. But none of his secondary pitches are all that effective either. Kennedy has just been unable to make the necessary adjustments to survive in the modern offensive era.

RHP Jason Hammel

94 1/3 14.6% 7.1% 8.0% 38.0% 5.34 4.21

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 10.3% 92.1 2087 (-0.83) 103 78
Sinker 42.3% 92.2 2039 (-0.86) 95 90
Changeup 4.8% 85.5 1658 (-0.35)
Slider 36.4% 85.2 2533 (1.10) 91 99
Curveball 6.2% 77.2 2322 (-0.33)
*Hammel’s changeup and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

It looks like Jason Hammel has entered the twilight of his career at age 35. His average fastball velocity is at the lowest point of his career and he’s tried to compensate by throwing his sinker far more often than his four-seam fastball. That hasn’t really worked out for him. Opposing hitters are batting .330 off the pitch and it just doesn’t generate enough whiffs to support a healthy strikeout rate. The only saving grace has been his ability to suppress his home run rate. Perhaps it’s because of his sinker or maybe he’s just gotten lucky. Whatever it is, his 4.21 FIP is only so low because of his low home run rate, not because of his cratering strikeout-to-walk ratio.

RHP Brad Keller

48 15.4% 9.2% 3.1% 60.7% 2.25 3.31

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 48.3% 95.6 2301 (0.05) 113 136
Sinker 23.3% 94.4 2154 (-0.75) 139 115
Changeup 3.9% 90.2 1894 (0.29)
Slider 28.6% 86.9 2554 (0.88) 87 81
*Keller’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Brad Keller is one of two Rule 5 picks stashed on the Royals roster this year. He was selected from the Diamondbacks organization after making 26 decent starts for their Double-A affiliate last season. He started out this year in the Royals bullpen but has made the leap into the rotation and will be making his sixth start on Sunday. He has a pair of fastballs that he can manipulate to generate whiffs and ground balls. If he qualified for the ERA title, his ground ball rate would be the best in the majors. Along with his fastballs, he throws a couple of average secondary pitches, a changeup and diving slider. So far, he’s acquitted himself well in the rotation. He’s allowed just seven runs across his five starts and spun a seven inning shutout against the Angels his last time out.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 55-28 0.663 -- W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 51-31 0.622 3.5 L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 44-38 0.537 10.5 L-W-W-W-W
Angels 41-41 0.500 13.5 L-L-L-L-L
Rangers 36-46 0.439 18.5 W-L-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 52-26 0.667 +3.0 L-L-W-W-L
Mariners 51-31 0.622 -- L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 44-38 0.537 7.0 L-W-W-W-W
Angels 41-41 0.500 10.0 L-L-L-L-L
Rays 39-41 0.488 11.0 W-W-W-W-L

The Astros won their series against the Blue Jays earlier this week and started a four-game series in Tampa Bay with a win last night. In more important news, the Angels have fallen behind the Athletics in the standings. They were swept in Boston and have lost six straight, pushing their record all the way down to .500. The A’s on the other hand have been played excellent baseball recently. They’re 8-2 over their last 10 games and just completed a four-game sweep of the Tigers. The Angels should get back on track with a series in Baltimore while the Cleveland baseball team travels to Oakland this weekend.