Friday, September 14, 2012 @ 11:03am
By Gary Hill
Felix Hernandez steamed into September as a clear frontrunner for the 2012 Cy Young Award. He had only given up 5 runs in the month of August and his season ERA had plummeted to 2.43. His last two starts have been a different story. Felix has given up 11 earned runs in his last 8 2/3 innings pitched. To put his recent two game struggles in perspective, he only yielded 11 earned runs from July 8th to August 27th in 10 full starts. His ERA has jumped half a run to 2.92. However, he has not been the only AL elite pitcher to struggle in September. With just a handful of starts left in the season where does Felix stand in the Cy Young competition?
4. Jared Weaver- LAA- 17-4 2.74 ERA
Weaver has been sensational this year. He is 2nd in the AL in ERA (2.74), 1st in WHIP (1.00) and 1st in batting average against (.212). He has a no-hitter to his credit and has not given up a run in nine starts this year. The problem with Weaver's candidacy is that he is running a hefty inning deficit. He missed nearly all of June and parts of September. He has thrown 167 1/3 innings this year which is 22nd in the AL. His inning tally is 43 behind Justin Verlander and trails Felix Hernandez by 45 1/3. Weaver is averaging 6.4 innings a start which puts him over 6.5 average starts away from the leaders.
3. David Price- TB- 17-5 2.54 ERA
Price is the AL ERA leader in the AL by a significant margin- 2.54. He is 5th in Ks, WHIP and Batting Average Against. He has thrown 180 2/3 innings which is 7th in the AL. However, he is rapidly losing ground in innings pitched because he has not thrown since September 2nd.
2. Felix Hernandez- SEA- 13-8 2.92 ERA
Despite the recent struggles Felix is still 5th in the AL in ERA, 3rd in K's, 4th in WHIP, and 1st in innings pitched. He has five shutouts including a perfect game this year.
1. Justin Verlander- DET- 13-8 2.91 ERA
Verlander has struggled in the month of September as well (1-1 4.50 ERA). However, his season numbers are sensational with the 4th best ERA, 2nd in K's, 2nd in Batting Average Against, 2nd in WHIP, and 2nd in innings pitched. He leads the league with six complete games.
There is another helpful way to analyze the three pitchers. Here is what an average start for each pitcher looks like this year when you boil down their numbers:
Weaver- 6.4 IP 5 H 2.1 ER 1.5 BB 5 K
Price- 6.6 IP 5.5 H 1.8 R 2 BB 6.4 K
Felix- 7 IP 6.2 H 2.3 R 1.6 BB 6.6 K
Verlander- 7.2 IP 5.8 H 2.3 R 1.8 BB 7.3 K
The race is tight and three of the competitors pitch for teams desperately trying to pry their way into a postseason birth. Any of the four competitors have a chance to win it with a strong start, but Weaver and Price will have a difficult time closing the inning gap.
Monday, September 10, 2012 @ 2:43pm
By Gary Hill
The Seattle Mariners are set to tackle a serious challenge the rest of this baseball season. It is fitting with kickoff of the NFL season over the weekend that this challenge is usually only spoken of in football terms. The M's have 21 games left in their season and all but three of their remaining contests will pit them against teams with at least 77 wins.
Texas- 83 wins- 6 games remaining
Oakland- 79 wins- 3 games remaining
Baltimore- 78 wins- 3 games remaining
LA Angels- 77 wins- 6 games remaining
Toronto- 64 wins- 3 games remaining
The Mariners have struggled against teams above .500 this year (35-52 .402%). After their next three games they will exclusively be playing teams above .500 the rest of the way which will make finishing strong in the win/loss column a giant challenge. On the other hand, they have excelled versus teams below .500 on the season (33-21 .611%).
The Mariners record against teams above .500 has been an issue this year, but the problem has been exacerbated by the volume of games against top tier teams. Right now the Mariners have played 87 games against teams above .500 and 54 games below .500.
Strength of schedule is often cited as an important factor of analysis for a team playing in the NFL. However, SOS is not often a discussion point in baseball. There are so many games in a baseball season that a common thought is that strength of schedules evens out. They often don't. The Seattle Mariners play in a division where every single team in above .500. Meanwhile, in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds have feasted on the two worst teams in baseball. The Reds are 19-8 combined against the Cubs and Astros this year. The Washington Nationals have the most wins in baseball and they have won 13 of 15 against the same bottom two teams in baseball. In the M's own division, the Rangers have beaten the Astros 5 of 6 times thanks to their status as Natural Rivals.
Take a look at the following chart to see how much the Reds and Nationals in particular have used their schedules to their advantage:
What if the splits between the above/below .500 teams the Mariners have played looked more like the balance the Nationals have enjoyed? If the Mariners had played 47 teams above .500 and 92 teams below .500 and won at the exact same rate in both categories they are doing right now their record would be 77-64.
The argument is not that they would be a playoff team if their schedule were different. The point is that schedules matter and should be taken into account when analyzing performance. This exercise also points out the major difference, if only for the short-term, the Astros shifting to the AL West will impact all of MLB.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012 @ 8:56pm
Can Brendan Ryan win the Gold Glove? This is a very different question than whether the Mariners shortstop should win the Gold Glove.
Ryan has been a wizard at shortstop this year. He gobbles up baseballs like he is playing a human version of "Hungry Hungry Hippos." He patrols his position like a Cheetah, bolting from side to side and pouncing on any baseball that enters into his vast domain. He fires balls to first with such accuracy they appear to be equipped with some sort of advanced guidance system. He makes all the plays from routine to spectacular. He has been the best defensive shortstop in baseball this year.
Defensive statistics have been gaining in popularity over the past few years and the numbers back Ryan's claim to the Gold Glove. Go to ESPN.com and find Defensive Wins Above Replacement (DWAR) and you will see Brendan Ryan at the very top (2.7) for shortstops. A metric developed by John Dewan called Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) also finds Ryan at the top (20). Visit FanGraphs.com and Ryan maintains the best Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150) in the American League (15.1).
If Ryan passes the eye test as the best shortstop in the American League and the numbers suggest the same, then why wouldn't he win the Gold Glove? Keep in mind that Rafael Palmeiro won the 1999 Gold Glove at first base while playing a grand total of 28 times there. He appeared as the designated hitter 128 times and put together a monster offensive year, hitting .324 with 47 home runs and 148 RBIs.
Offense has traditionally been a strong factor in an award that is supposed to consider only defense.
Let us look at the history of AL Gold Gloves at shortstop through the eyes of UZR. UZR is the attempt to measure the number of runs a player is worth above or below average. In this case an average shortstop is zero. UZR/150 measures the rate per 150 games to help make the date more comparable. The problem is that the number is derived from where balls are hit so the data does not go back very far.
Since 2002 only one player who finished first in UZR actually won the Gold Glove at shortstop. For the past decade the award has essentially been a reward for offensive achievement, which is why Derek Jeter has claimed so many. Five of the past 10 winners have actually performed at a level below average according to UZR. In the table below you will find the Gold Glove winner by year along with their offensive numbers and UZR. You will see where they ranked in the AL along with who actually finished first in UZR.
UZR is not an invincible stat, but it firmly expresses the narrative of offense impacting Gold Glove voting the last 10 years.
However, offense has not always been a factor when looking at the Gold Glove winners at shortstop. Omar Vizquel captured the AL Gold Glove from 1993-2001. Vizquel had some nice offensive seasons during that stretch, but he also had years like 1993 (playing for Seattle) when he hit .255 with two homers and 31 RBIs. In 2001, he again batted .255 with two home runs and drove in 50. Longtime Baltimore Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger won the award in each season from 1973 to 1978. He hit .226, .225, .226, .270, .206 and .213, respectively. He tallied 11 homers total in those six seasons and drove in an average of 29.3 runs.
Perhaps the most striking example of an offensive season being completely ignored occurred in 1972. Ed Brinkman was a 30-year-old shortstop for the Detroit Tigers. He hit .203 with six homers and 49 RBIs. He only walked 38 times and did not steal a base. He was so special defensively that not only did he win the Gold Glove, but he finished ninth in AL MVP voting. Catfish Hunter won 21 games in 1972 and finished two spots behind Brinkman in voting. Hunter, as a pitcher, had a higher batting average than Brinkman (.219). Brinkman established the record for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop with 72 until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1990.
Brendan Ryan is hitting .195 with two homers and 28 RBIs this year. He is having a season defensively that deserves to be stamped in gold. Will he win the award? Voters will need to shake off the trend of considering offensive production and recall the days of Vizquel, Belanger and Brinkman.
Ironically, if Brendan Ryan is to win the Gold Glove then only one aspect must be considered ... defense.
Friday, August 31, 2012 @ 1:28pm
By Gary Hill
The Seattle Mariners will again grace the grounds of Safeco Field tonight for the first of a nine game homestand. The Angels, Red Sox and A's will all take their cracks at the M's and their near invincibility at home. The Mariners have won 15 of their past 16 at Safeco including a clean 7 game sweep in their last homestand. The M's struggled to start the year at home (18-29), but the recent surge has pushed them over the .500 mark (33-30). The M's are first in ERA (2.84), Batting Average Against (.220), WHIP (1.09) OBP Against (.280) and OPS Against (.606) in all of MLB at home.
Since the All-Star break the Mariners are 28-17 overall which is good enough for a .622 winning percentage. To give you an idea of what that means, the Washington Nationals have the best record in baseball at 79-51 and that is a winning percentage of .608. Their run differential is +28 in the second half of the year. They have played two full months of very good baseball- 15-11 in July and 15-11 in August.
Their pitching has been outstanding since the break with a 3.26 ERA which is 3rd in baseball and have only been coughing up 3.4 runs a game. They are scoring 4 runs a game in the second half. They scored 3.8 runs a game in the first half and gave up 4.2. The improvement in their record in the second half has been due to a slight increase in runs scored a game and dropping runs allowed by 0.8.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 @ 1:42pm
By Gary Hill
The Seattle Mariners have thoroughly dominated the Minnesota Twins this season. After losing the first meeting between the two teams on May 4th, the M's have ripped off 7 wins in a row. The M's pitching staff is 7-1 with a 1.13 ERA and 0.96 WHIP on the season versus Minnesota. The starters have been even more dominant (6-0 0.81 ERA). Jason Vargas has only given up 3 runs in 13 innings against the Twins this year which is good enough for a tidy 2.08 ERA. However, the rest of the starters combined have only yielded 2 runs in 6 starts. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have held Minnesota scoreless in 30 innings. The M's have outscored the Twins 33-13 in 8 games this year.
-Did you know that the Mariners have more wins against the Minnesota Twins (210) than any other team in baseball outside of the current AL West?
- The Mariners have a .519 winning % vs Minnesota which is the second highest among AL teams behind Tampa Bay (.541).
- The M's beat the Twins 9 straight times from May 23, 2001 to July 4, 2002.
- On June 11, 1996 the M's clobbered the Twins 18-8 at the Metrodome. Dan Wilson went 5-6 with 3 RBIs. Joey Cora and Alex Rodriguez combined to go 8-13 with 6 runs scored at the top of the order. Edwin Hurtado picked up his second save of the season. Rick Aguilera started the game and was torched for 10 runs in 3 innings.
- On May 4, 2004 Seattle beat the Twins 4-3 in 16 innings. Ron Villone pitched 3 scoreless innings for the win.
- Brendan Ryan is hitting .409 against the Twins this year.
- Eric Thames is hitting .400 vs the Twins this year with a 1.171 OPS.
- The Twins have won the World Series twice in Minnesota (1991, 1987). They beat the M's in the season series 9-4 each time. This has nothing the do with the M's enjoying playing the Twins, but there you go.
- Felix owns a career 2.17 ERA against the Twins which is second to Tampa Bay (2.04).
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 @ 1:35pm
By Gary Hill
Last night Felix Hernandez baffled the Minnesota Twins on his way to another complete game shutout. He continues to dominate Major League hitters as he surges towards his second Cy Young award.
At this point one can begin to feel badly for the hitters. What does a hitter do without hope?
They do have one alternative. Hitters need to pressure Bud Selig into implementing the following 11 rules starting the next time Felix takes the mound. These new rules will give hitters an opportunity to not be completely overwhelmed every single time they step to the plate.
1- Teams will start every inning with a "ghost runner" on second base
If childhood taught us anything it was that ghost runners were really fast and would tend to score in even the most absurd situations. The American League needs the help. Felix boasts the best ERA in Major League Baseball (2.43) and scoring on him in the second half has been as rare as spotting a Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat in the wild (7-0 1.23 ERA since the All-Star break).
2- The Little League World Series walls will be placed in the outfield when Felix pitches.
Teams are slugging a microscopic .304 against him which is best in baseball by 9 full points. To give you an idea of exactly what that means Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies maintains a .304 slugging % as a hitter. Felix has essentially turned all of MLB into a hitting pitcher. Furthermore, cleanup hitters against Felix are hitting .181 with 0 Homers and 2 Doubles in 86 plate appearances. That is a slugging % of .208. Felix has a career slugging % of .296. The premium power producing spot in every MLB lineup has been transformed into a wasteland of punchouts, cracked bats and broken spirits.
3- Opposing batters will now get four strikes instead of three
Felix has fanned 184 batters which is 3rd best in all of baseball. Opponents are hitting .138 when down in the count to Felix with exactly 4 extra-base hits in 249 plate appearances. Four!
4- Felix will be banned from facing the Minnesota Twins
Felix has faced the Twins twice and yielded 0 runs in 17 innings. The Twins scratched out a grand total 5 singles and 1 triple. He K'd 14 and only issued 3 free-passes.
5- Opposing teams will automatically get a run before the game even starts
Felix leads all of baseball with 5 shutouts. There have only been two pitchers since 1990 who have thrown more than 5 shutouts in a season (Cliff Lee- 6 2011 and Randy Johnson- 6 1998). Felix has more shutouts this year than the entire combined pitching staffs of the Red Sox, Tigers, Marlins and Twins.
6- Felix will no longer be allowed to pitch in the ninth inning
Teams should at least be given the chance to take a crack at another pitcher. The King has finished his work five times this season which happens to be more than all but seven entire baseball teams this year. The Milwaukee Brewers have 5 complete games in the last four seasons combined. He also has thrown 196 2/3 innings this year which is tops in baseball.
7- Bases on balls will move from four balls to three
Teams are only hitting .218 against The King this year which is 3rd best in the AL. To make matters worse for AL hitters, he only offers 2.11 free passes every 9 innings which is 9th best in the league.
8- The second inning will be skipped all together
Felix has coughed-up exactly one run in a second inning this year which translates to a 0.33 ERA. Opponents are hitting .185 in second innings with 0 HR 1 2B 0 3B in 97 PA. His first inning ERA is 3.00, so the opposition is advised to try and score then.
9- The M's offense will be required to score more than 1 run in Felix starts because it feels too much like taunting
So close…..yet so far away. One run is all Felix has needed four times this year. Only Ferguson Jenkins in 1974 and Bert Blyleven in 1976 have four wins in 1-0 ballgames in a season since 1969.
10- Teams will be allowed to expand their rosters for a day to include as many lefties as they can
Stuffing the lineup with lefties will not get teams very far (.230 BA/ .603 OPS), but righties have helpless against him (.199 BA/ .540 OPS). Here are the right handed hitters who have homered off of Felix this year- Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Gordon Beckham twice. So yes, Gordon Beckham has as many homers as the rest of right-handed hitters in baseball combined off Felix.
11- The catcher will be required to tell the batter which pitch is coming and if it is the change up then the batter will have the option of using a cricket bat
Cricket bats are wider and may be more useful to go after a baseball that is swooping down in the zone like an Eagle descending from the skies on its prey. According to the pitch values on fangraphs.com, Felix achieves the rare feat of having all four of his pitches ranked in their individual Top-10's.
Thursday, August 23, 2012 @ 3:22pm
By Gary Hill
The red hot Seattle Mariners have won eight games in a row. It is the thirteenth time in franchise history the M's have won eight or more. One more win will make it a tie for their fourth longest streak in team history. They have won eight games in a row for just the seventh time in their history. During their eight game streak in 1996 they scored 76 runs (which is the high) and in 1985 they plated 41 runs (which was the previous low). In '85 Edwin Nunez pitched 6 1/3 innings in the 8 games and nailed down 5 saves. In '96 Dan Wilson paced the M's by hitting .392 (11-28) with 3 HR 13 RBIs and 8 R scored in the streak. They also won eight games in a row in 2007, 2001, 2000 and 1991.
In this particular streak M's pitching has been sensational and the catalyst to the impressive play- 8-0 1.50 ERA 72 IP 55 H 12 ER 21 BB 56 K 3 HR. Their pitching has been so good they only have needed 30 runs scored during the course of the streak which blows away the previous low of 41 in 1985. The bullpen has been absolutely dominant- 4-0 1.02 ERA 3 SVs. They have only given up 2 runs in 17 2/3 IP during the streak. Solo homers by Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham in the 8th inning last Friday have been the only runs coughed up. This is what the bullpen has done in the last 8 games:
Tom Wilhelmsen (1-0 3 SVs) 0 runs in 3 1/3 IP
Stephen Pryor- (2-0) 2 runs in 4 IP
Lucas Luetge- (1 SV) 0 runs in 2 IP
Charlie Furbush- (1-0) 0 runs in 2 2/3 IP
Oliver Perez- 0 runs in 1 2/3 IP
Josh Kinney- (1 SV) 0 runs in 2 2/3
Carter Capps- 0 runs in 1 1/3
For the season the bullpen boasts an ERA of 3.17 which is the 8th best in all of baseball. They have been even better since August 10th (4 runs 24 2/3 IP 1.46 ERA).
Of course, the starters have not been bad during the streak either. Felix has yielded 1 run in 16 2/3 IP and Iwakuma has given up 1 earned in 12 2/3 IP. In fact, during the last 8 games Kevin Millwood has given up 5 earned runs and the rest of the pitching staff combined has only been scored on 7 times.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 @ 1:20pm
The impressive second half surge for the Seattle Mariners continued on Monday night as they ripped off their sixth straight win. The M's have claimed thirteen of their last fourteen games at Safeco Field. They are also tied with Tampa Bay for the best record in the American League since the All-Star break (23-13). The M's are just 13 wins behind their total from the first half of the season. What has been the difference? Here are the first half numbers compared to those in the second half:
The Mariners scored 3.87 runs a game in the first half and they have bumped it up to 4.05 in the second. They coughed up 4.19 runs a game in the first half and chopped it to 3.28 runs in the second.
The offense has improved enough for the M's to score over four runs a game which is an important benchmark for them. However, the tremendous pitching has been the catalyst for second half surge. The Mariners have peeled away almost a run a game from the first half to the second.
The numbers coincide nicely with an argument I have been making for a while on the Mariners postgame show and on this blog. I have said many times that the Mariners do not have to improve a tremendous amount offensively to win games. They need to get better, but not at a rate most people would think. The key is pitching and defense. There are twelve teams who are division leaders, wildcard leaders or.5 behind the wildcard leaders. The Chicago White Sox are the only team of the twelve who are not in the top twelve in team ERA. The Mariners are the only team with an under .500 record in the top twelve in ERA and they are the only team more than 1.5 games out of a division or wildcard race. It is going to be very interesting to see where the numbers go with the remaining games this month against Cleveland, Chicago and Minnesota.