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Open Game Thread: 5/6/2019

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Happy Felix Day and I mean that sincerely

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
Felix gazing up at his dreams
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Welcome to a game against the Yankees who, rumor has it, are from New York. If you are anything like me, a person, you probably have found your attention waning during the most recent losing streak. This is fine and good because we are fairly smart and often choose to close ourselves off to negative stimulus.

What amazes me is that it has been literally one game since the losing streak ended and my gambler’s fallacy mind is already expecting more rewards to follow. It occurs to me that Mariners fans need to expect wins in the face of unlikely odds or they would not remain Mariners fans. I am ready. Bring on the pain.

Braden Bishop is still in at center, Healy is back at third, and the Mariners are back in action against a Yankee’s lineup that has lost some of its thump.

Anyway, if you were not cured of cyncism yesterday, here are a few Reasons to Watch:

A Resurgent King

I assumed that CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez have faced one another directly several times. They’ve both been playing since the dawn of time, after all, but I could only find one other game in which they faced off: April 16th, 2016 (a 3-2 Felix Win). Regardless, they make for an interesting matchup as both are at the denouement of their careers and both are enjoying some success this season.

Felix has made two distinct changes that have improved his play this year and we can track them today to see if he keeps them up.

Will he continue to trust the curve?

The biggest breakthrough with felix has been accepting that his curveball, not his changeup, is his most valuable pitch. Throughout his career he’s thrown his changeup (20%) more than his curveball (16.2%). Beliefs and habits are hard to shake. Though last year he threw the curveball a bit more than the changeup (27.9% vs. 24.2), this year he’s truly embraced the curveball, throwing it at a career high 34.8% of his pitches. It, along with his slider, are now his only pitches with positive value according to Fangraphs. Let’s see if he continues to trust his breaking stuff.

Will he continue to work ahead?

Felix’s current 1.84 BB/9 rate is the lowest of his career by a fair margin. Part of that is because he’s been in the strike zone more than last year (43% vs. 40%), but that’s still below his career average. How is he limiting the walks without throwing the ball in the zone?

Apparently by throwing first-pitch strikes at a 73% clip. This is the highest rate of his career and over 10% higher than his career average. This is also likely the reason he’s gotten hitters to chase more outside the zone (35% O-Swing) than at any point in his career despite reduced stuff.

Felix pitching in advantageous counts allows the wicked movement to generate swings on better pitches, leading to improved results. It’s not complicated, so let’s hope it continues. Let’s also hope that the Yankees, knowing this, don’t demolish his get-me-over strikes.

Jay Bruce is Impossible

Jay Bruce’s grand slam yesterday tied him with Joey Gallo for the AL dinger lead. Despite this, Jay Bruce is hitting at only a slightly above average rate, 110 wRC+—right in line with his 2016-2017 numbers before his injury shortened 2018. It’s also about where I expect him to end up.

How he’s gotten to be just-above-average, is, and I don’t use this term lightly, bananas.

In short, like so many dads, Jay Bruce wants to keep up with the kids and is trying way too hard in the process.

Jay Bruce has a league-leading 58 FB%, and is in the top 2% in Barrel Rate at 20%. Combined these two things mean home runs. You proved your point. You’re a “cool dad.” Great.

But his .132 BABiP(!!!) is bottom by a very healthy margin. He’s also striking out over 30% of the time, hitting under .200, and barely walking. That’s not how it works, dad! You’re embarrassing me in front of the Marinerds!

None of this will last, of course. This is a funhouse mirror version of a slugger. This is a Three True Outcomes player if one of the outcomes is flying out lazily to right field.

Why is this happening?

Here’s a guess: Jay Bruce is Feasting on Hanging Breaking Balls. He’s slugging over .800 off of breaking pitches and is seeing more of them than at any previous point in his career. No one will throw him anything unless it’s bendy (9th lowest fastball rate in the league) and if you leave one up? Bruce will hit it out or not at all. Jay Bruce in the Yankee’s ballpark against a pitcher who gives up contact could be very, very entertaining.

Braden Bishop Offense Watch

After his two hits yesterday, it would be great if he can build off of those plate appearances with another knock or two and continue to gain confidence going forward. I just love rooting for good people. Braden is Good People.

A Happy Felix Day to all.

Game Time: 3:35 PM PT
Radio: 710 AM ESPN
Online: MLB.TV