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8/4/19: Open Game Thread and Assorted Thoughts on Astros Pitching Development

This time it’s only Justin Verlander

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Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros
Really? We’re playing again? Really now?
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

If you would have asked me at the beginning of this series which Astro would be most likely to no-hit the Mariners, Aaron Sanchez would have ranked right behind Alex Bregman partly because I would have forgotten he was an Astro, partly because it’s Aaron Sanchez. That whole game had real Phillip Humber stench to it and I didn’t care for it.

The reason I bring up this fresh wound is because there was once again a narrative tied around a hitless Mariner game. This time the story was that “The Astros Can Fix Anyone in One Start or Your Service Time Back!” Now, obviously this isn’t true and it is only one start and the Mariners will forever be a doormat to middling talent pitchers, but in this game Aaron Sanchez changed his pitch mix and found instant results.

Baseball Twitter was quick to point out that in Ben Lindbergh’s and Travis Sawchik’s new book The MVP Machine covers the shock players felt when sitting down for a meeting with the Astros organization and hearing data-based reasons on why they should change their approach to some aspect of their game.

The player, Garret Cole in this case, made the changes and the rest is history.

The issue I have with this anecdote and the narrative around it yesterday (not the book, though, read the book!) is that it implies that no one else is doing this kind of meeting. Except, we know the Mariners Brian DeLunas and company are having these kind of meetings with players, backed up by data. From where I sit (admittedly not in a Front Office), the issue is less that the Astros are doing things the league isn’t, the issue is now that the Astros did it first. They got a jumpstart with data-based and tech-infused decision making and that helped rocket them to success and now that success yields a feedback loop of helping: recruit high-end talent, get players to buy-in to making changes to their routines and methods, and develop a culture of learning in the organization.

It’s not that no one else can do this, it’s just that no one seems to have done it as well so far. Imagine you are a veteran player with one year left on your contract and the Mariners sit you down and say, “we see all of these things with your methods, and if you change X you’ll be great.”

And you, having done things your way your whole career might say, “How do I know this will work? My career is on the line—I can’t just change everything before I hit free agency without a guarantee.”

“Um,” they say. “Austin Adams did it?”

I know this isn’t a comprehensive breakdown of the situation, it’s more a speculation on how the Mariners seem to be doing and saying the right things, but they are new at this. The coaches delivering the messages are new at this and the organization does not have a reputation for being good at this. The good news is there is time. Time to develop young players who have thus far been thriving in the minor leagues. Time to create our own success stories with players from our system to help change the perception of the franchise. It’s no guarantee it will work, we might have the wrong guys, the wrong methods, the wrong front office to pull it off, but I believe we are headed in the right direction.

The Bad News?

We still have to play baseball against the Astros this year.

Sam Tuivailala gets the start against Justin Verlander. Tim Beckham is the starting left fielder and Dylan Moore is the starting right fielder. This should be good, this should go well.