Shohei Otani and Three Magic Words

My junior year of undergrad I had a professor, we’ll call him Mr. Williams. He was in his early 30’s, energetic, passionate, and opinionated. His class at my small bible college was one on the Book of Revelations, the Bible’s lowkey signing off on recreational drug use.

A major topic in Revelations, one debated by scholars for centuries, is whether the Rapture, the event in which God calls his still living faithful from earth to heaven to create a new heaven and new earth, is to occur before or after The Great Tribulation, a period cataclysms and horrors set to wipe out a vast swatch of humanity, and signal The End Times.

The two camps of this argument are shorthanded in Evangelical scholarly circles as “Pre and Post-Trib”. Mr. Williams was Pre-Trib, and was to such a passionate degree that you could almost forget that brilliant men had been arguing over this, a prophesy written in a foreign language scribbled down by a guy most likely under the effect of hallucinogens while sitting around on a small Greek island, for hundreds of years. In all that time there has never been a consensus opinion to emerge, and that probably has something to do with the fact that Koine Greek is a bit of a bitch, and that the future is, per my experience, inherently unknowable.

Nonetheless Mr. Williams was unshakable in his belief that the only possible reality was that God would spare his Faithful the horrors of the Tribulation. It was in that class that the largely dormant, but very much alive, seeds of speculation in my mind began to grow, and has led to a philosophy of stubbornly resisting passionate argument, probably too much so.

It was in that class I formed the opinion that the best and most correct answer for something as unknowable as the Tribulation/Rapture debate was one Mr. Williams seemed unable to see, let alone arrive at:

“I don’t know”

***

Shohei Otani is a unique player, in a unique situation. The perplexing and shortsighted willingness of the MLBPA to negotiate away the earning power of future players has put a cap on what teams can pay international free agents. As such Otani, who has made it mostly clear that he intends to come to MLB during this offseason, will most likely make the decision on where to play based on factors that have little or nothing to do with the terms of his initial contract.

As financial compensation is traditionally motivating factors 1-10 for deciding where an athlete is going to play, the absence of it in Otani’s case leaves a vast, gaping, crater in which we can pour our speculations, dreams, and hopes. This is a natural instinct. Humans like to know, and when we can’t we grow uncomfortable and oftentimes try to shape reality to our will.

We have seen plenty of exactly that with Otani this week: “Seattle is close to Japan”, “The Mariners have a strong track record with Japanese players”, or “Otani doesn’t care about money”. The latter is particularly fraught, as it can lead to assigning a moral superiority to a player accepting less money than he can theoretically extract from cutthroat billionaires, where in fact it’s easy to posit that getting every last cent possible out of them in order to use it for the ease of the suffering of the impoverished is at least as, if not more in line, with a highly-aspiring moral code.

The reality with Shohei Otani is we do not know. It’s entirely plausible Otani himself doesn’t know. We have no reason to believe the Mariners are any more or less desirable to him than any of the other 29 major league baseball teams. We do not know how much money means to him, nor should we ascribe a sort of Sunday School Morality to the possibility that he is almost assuredly giving up short term financial gain with the timing of his arrival in MLB.

We should allow Otani the dignity and mystery inherent in all the wildly complex depths of each human soul, and admit that we do not know why he is coming to America at this exact moment, and we do not know where he will choose to play. To attempt to distill the human spirit into simple cultural and/or moral archetypes to fit our predispositions does him and us a disservice. This is the most honest appraisal of the situation, and as it is so often with honesty, the most freeing.

Shohei Otani could become a Mariner, and he most likely will not. While we can read whatever we like into how much money he lives off of in Japan, or channel a Western understanding of Japanese culture into motivations for him to feel honored/dishonored by this or that, doing so plays into many of our worst American/Western/Imperialistic instincts. Real information will come in due course. For now, the best course of action is to embrace the three magic words:

We don’t know.

 

To Know Someone

(In the spirit of this post we wish to direct our readers to where they may donate to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, an excellent charity working to defeat cancer for all.)

As we stumble through life we have slowly, haphazardly, developed a rough system of determining the quality of a person. Of course, we acknowledge that perfect knowledge of a human’s personhood is practically impossible, thanks to the incredible depth and complexity of the human spirit. This is part of its appeal, and a great contributing factor to many of our trials and tribulations, in our estimation. However, with what little time and exposure is afforded us, here is the cribbed version of our person evaluation process:

How does the person treat other persons when no other persons are watching?

Some years ago we were traveling on the ferry, heading home after a Mariner game. We had consumed somewhere between one and ten beers, and the way we were feeling indicated it was toward the upper levels of that range. At departure from the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal our traveling companion sat up with a start and said, “That is Angie Mentink, you must go talk to her.” Having just started writing about the Mariners on the internet at the time, we and the beers were in no position to disagree, and so off we went.

Introductions were barely completed when Angie said, politely though briskly, “Great. Can you walk and talk?” Due to our beers this was more of an open question than is typical, however we said yes. During the 20 minutes between Fauntleroy and Vashon Island, Angie did two things ceaselessly: She did not stop walking in circles VERY quickly, and she did not at any point treat us as a hassle or unwelcome interruption, although we surely were.

We have no illusions that Angie remembers this interaction, or a single word we spoke, but we do not care. In the busy excrutiations of adulthood, there is a very real kindness and charity to projecting the illusion of care, whether or not care actually exists. Angie was extremely kind to us in this way, for no other reason other than we were there. We do not forget that.

How does a person respond to the unexpected, and/or that which is out of his/her control?

We have some mild experience with public speaking, stage place, and public performance. The process demands the utmost exactitude, combined with the ability to make everything seem organic and natural. When things go sideways, and surprises pop up, it can be extremely jarring, and we believe reacting to such things with grace and humor belies a strength of spirit, and peace with oneself. These are excellent qualities, and ones we wish we contained to a greater degree.

On July 22nd, after a walkoff win, Angie Mentink was doing her job and interviewing Mariner outfielder Ben Gamel, when:

Danny Valenciea’s poor aim, far from throwing Angie off her game, led to one of the great moments of the season, and perhaps the finest tweet of 2017:

As a mild postscript we remember that, after a walkoff home run on June 7th Angie, a former softball player at the University of Washington and no stranger to how athletes congratulate each other, smacked Mariners catcher Mike Zunino on the ass. This was, in the absurd modern world we exist in, cause of some consternation. We like to think Angie has not spent one moment worrying about that, and we also acknowledge we would very much also like to smack Mike Zunino on the ass.

How does a person react to hardship?

In the case of Angie Mentink, it’s just grace and humor, all the way down:

It has been said many times and ways, but we will repeat it here: A local baseball team’s broadcasters, more than any other sport, become family. They are daily guests in our home and lives, part of the rhythmic routine that marks our days. In this way we grow to appreciate their presence, a comforting salve which we apply over the aches and pains of existence. Their words are like a nightly nip of brandy for the soul, and we are very grateful for that.

***

We said at the top of this that a human’s capacity for layers and depth makes them all but unknowable, at least in the fullest sense. The act of choosing to love will always contain risk, because the possibility of darker, previously unseen nature is always lurking, regardless of how much time we have spent with a person. But we still choose to love, and sometimes we don’t need to see much to feel comfortable making that decision.

Angie, we love you. We believe you to contain a strength and fire that burns hotter than any disease or malady can defeat. Whether we do so in person, or from afar, we look forward to celebrating your triumph over cancer, and we stand by you in your journey to do so.

The Perfect Pitcher

4-11-06

There are a few things I want you to keep in mind about today, so in the interest of brevity, and rather than trying to sound like someone with a lot to say, or a poet, or someone else that I’m not, I’m going to just list them here:

1) Felix was coming off his first Opening Day start of his career, an 8 IP, 12 K obliteration of the Oakland A’s. In between those two starts he would turn 21 years old. Think for a moment about how preposterously young that is. Here are the ages of some of baseball’s current bright, young, pitching stars:

Luis Severino – 23
Jimmy Nelson – 28
Aaron Nola – 24
Marcus Stroman – 26
Michael Fulmer – 24
Gerrit Cole – 26
Kevin Gausman – 26
Dylan Bundy – 24

Felix Hernandez was 21 years, and 3 days old when he took the mound at Fenway Park. It was the 45th start of his major league career.

2) This was a coronation, but for once Felix had nothing to do with it. The Yankees and Red Sox were in the middle of their decade-long blood feud over the AL East, and the Red Sox were debuting their newest weapon of war, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka threw something called a “gyroball”, which legend made sound like a cross between Sid Finch and black magic, and he was making his second start of the season as well, after demolishing the Kansas City Royals on the road in his first start.

ESPN was on hand, Fenway was packed, and one of baseball’s glamor franchises was prepared to celebrate their newest hero.

In the middle of the 7th inning I was scrambling to a church youth function I’ve volunteered for and I was screaming at the guy there “You HAVE to get this game on TV! I am not missing a Mariner pitcher no-hitting the Red Sox in Fenway!” He got the game on, and as I walked in I saw Jose Lopez diving as J.D. Drew’s groundball finds center field.

Damn.

One inning later, Fenway is empty, figuratively if not literally. Its soul has been swallowed by the all-encompassing totality of Felix’s genius. There are two outs in the ninth, and two strikes on Kevin Youkilis. The play-by-play marks it as a swinging strikeout, but that was no swing. It was surrender.

Felix_Youkilis__2_

4-24-2015

When you’ve seen it, you know you’ll never see it again. But, you’re a hopeful kind of idiot, so you think, maybe, just maybe.

The 2015 Twins are supposed to be atrocious. It’s through three and not only has no one reached base, Minnesota’s hitters are approaching the batter’s box like meek, contrite, sinners come to suffer god’s judgment. Felix has six strikeouts, five swinging. The Mariners are winning at home, early into their most anticipated season in half a decade. New DH Nelson Cruz has homered. There is a crescendo building, a feeling that burns through the television, that something may be happening.

We’re into the fifth, and I’m writing the recap, and I’m thinking about writing a game story about the first pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. This is the power of Felix Hernandez. His youth and talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, made anything seem possible. Every achievement left unlocked for a pitcher in baseball history could be viewed with Felix as, “No pitchers has ever done X……yet”.

There is still, of course, no pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. With two outs in the fifth Brian Dozier got a running, buzzing, chainsaw-with-seams on his hands and dumped it into rightfield for a single.

Damn.

Felix finished it out, he would not be denied his shutout. He spent the first three innings surgically removing the Twins’ heart, and the next six slowly feeding it back to them.

9 IP, 5 H (all singles), 9 K, 0 BB, 0 R, 102 pitches. Dominance upon dominance.

8-15-12

Like many, I left work. Though I was too far from Safeco to get there in time, Gameday and the radio were simply not sufficient. After the 7th I closed my computer, walked to an empty Mexican restaurant bar, and ordered a Dos Equis.

They were tolerant of me in there, if mildly annoyed. I got them to turn off a car race, and helped them find the channel the baseball game was on. Someone the bartender knew sat down, and they started talking about nothing in particular. There was no audio, and no music. No real sound other than the constant, ceaseless tapping of my feet on the ground.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

The 8th is where it was going to live or die, you just knew it. Tampa’s best hitters were due up, Felix’s pitch count was approaching 100 and, Mariners being Mariners, the team had managed only one run on the day. Everything; Perfect Game, No-hitter, shutout, complete game, win, hung in the balance of the next three hitters.

Evan Longoria – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap

Ben Zobrist – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap tap

Carlos Pena – Strikeout Swinging. “YES! HELL YES!” Tap tap tap tap

***

Felix Hernandez has known, seemingly his entire life, the abundance of ability he possesses. You can, and many people have, debate the various nuances between cockiness and confidence, but I don’t intend to do that here. Felix Hernandez has spent his life believing he is the best, and whether it’s fate, hard work, good luck, genetics, or something else the simple fact is that for a very long time he was absolutely correct.

I have often thought about the picture of him finding out he won the 2010 Cy Young Award:

Felix

There are tears, yes. And joy. There is also something else, and who knows if it’s actually there or if I am, always the slave to narrative, simply reading too much into it. But I see relief.

Felix Hernandez spent his childhood and early career believing he was absolutely going to win awards and set records, and the 2010 Cy Young was confirmation he was not wrong. Preposterous talent brings preposterous standards, none more so than his own. He had met them. Partially.

***

In the 9th it was the split-change, or whatever that pitch actually was, that carried him through. Felix Hernandez’s changeup at its peak is unlike anything the game has ever really seen before or since. He used it to strike out Desmond Jennings for out number one, got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to shortstop with it for out number two, and you know, with two strikes, it was a hot-breathed demon sitting in the back of Sean Rodriguez’s mind.

tap tap tap tap tap

Felix stepped back, lifted his leg, and pivoted his torso slightly past 90 degrees from home, showing Rodriguez the 3 and maybe half the 4 on the back of his jersey. Perhaps the first pitcher since peak Pedro Martinez to possess four true out pitches, a player whose insistence on overusing his fastball famously got him an open letter written by a now famous baseball blogger, Felix Hernandez had worked his entire life to get one pitch from a perfect game. What is the one pitch he wanted at that moment, more than anything else?

Fastball, inner half, with movement. Hit it if you can.

Damn.

Five years ago, today. Perfect. No one has been since.

Hail to the King.

 

Jerry Dipoto presents: Return of Erasmo

It’s late-July and I’ve started to do that thing where I’m worrying about Summer someday ending. The same is true for MLB teams all over this nation, and for their respective executives and managers. It’s high-time for big moves to make a splash, one last chance at summer romance, and maybe by the end of the whole thing we’ll have some great memories to embellish and share with our friends when school starts back up again. In a transaction that is sure to move the “swoon” barometer approximately one tick towards “hard swoon” and then another tick back towards “hard pass”, Jerry Dipoto traded Steve Cishek for former-now-again Mariner Erasmo Ramirez. I always hate when I start thinking about Fall again.

Acquiring Erasmo Ramirez has a million different angles that I can think of but let’s start with the obvious one. If the Seattle Mariners are going to Do The Damn Thing they need live arms that can throw strikes that are not in turn hit over a fence. This is not necessarily what Erasmo Ramirez is in 2017, but he has run out a GB% slightly above league-average this year in 69 nicely pitched innings. Ground balls are something the Mariners are rather good at dealing with. This site would like to put itself forward as a pro-grounders blog. Erasmo is, however, also running HR/9 and HR/FB numbers that are both slightly above league-average, so really what the M’s received is someone who is a bit better than league-average (his FIP agrees). But just barely.

What has to be said is that the acquisition of David Phelps clearly made Jerry feel comfortable in giving up a ~late-inning bullpen piece to potentially stabilize an often frightening rotation. This may or may not prove to be prudent, but this was certainly not a case of dealing from a position of strength. The bullpen has recently felt more stable, but the idea of Phelps-Cishek-Diaz as all potential shutdown arms at the back end of a close game felt a lot better, stuff-wise, than Phelps-(insert like four names)-Diaz does now. The Mariners are a bat-first team and it is 2017. Wake up, Sheeple.

It’s also hard to say, and I’m sure by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will be foolish because some quote will have come out from the front office, exactly how Ramirez fits into the 25-man. Does he straight swap out Moore or Gallardo? Does he immediately move to the bullpen as a three-inning swing arm? Does he convert to an 8th inning guy and blow 99 mph fastballs under the chin? I’d bet against at least one of those.

It feels mostly like a lateral move for this season. While Erasmo has eight starts in 2017, he certainly isn’t a massive upgrade over Moore or Gallardo. The same problems are there, really. Stuff that can be thrown for strikes, but maybe too many strikes. The Big Inning being the downfall, or being bled to death by spreading four dingers over six innings. While the cost is relatively low in giving up a bullpen arm with only three months left on his contract (plus $1M), in exchange for an arm with 2.5 years of club-control, it has to be said that the Mariners kinda already had this arm before 2017 began in the form of Vidal Nuno. Vidal was, of course, flipped for Carlos Ruiz to shore up a backup catcher position after Jerry decided to let Chris Iannetta walk. It all just feels lateral, maybe almost revisionist, to go get a league-average swing arm in late-July.

There is another angle here that expands beyond 2017, though. With acquisitions like this and David Phelps, Dipoto could be pre-empting a 2018 trade market that should value swing arms. Erasmo’s 2015 season is well-behind him at this point, and maybe he is a guy that steals a couple wins by locking down the 6th and 7th for the Mariners in August, but this could also be a play to acquire future value for the 2018 season. It could also just really do nothing.

It’s Summer – go have some fun, you knuckleheads.

A muted and quiet look at the Tyler O’Neill and Marco Gonzales trade

The Mariners traded Tyler O’Neill for Marco Gonzales. Is this good or bad?

Just before lunch on Friday, July 21, the Mariners shook their very foundation to the core, trading uber-prospect Tyler O’Neill for the St. Louis Cardinals’ leftover trash starting pitcher Marco Gonzales.

Or, as to be expected, this is how much of the fandom reacted, because that is what fans do, they react.

But now that we have had a little bit of time to do things, like breathe, eat, breathe some more, maybe even drink, we can take a look at the trade that Jerry Dipoto, self-proclaimed wildest of the wild out in the west, just processed.

Let’s start with the good:

Marco Gonzales went to Gonzaga. I also went to Gonzaga. This is a good thing.

Now the legitimately good, Gonzales can throw many pitches decently, and he can throw a change-up rather well. He is a high-volume strike-throwing kind of guy, which he tends to both feast and famine on. His numbers are completely unremarkable in AAA, but he has the potential to be an end-of-the-rotation kind of guy. Perhaps even a No. 3 in a horrible year where everyone gets injured (and then your team is bad so who cares). Gonzales gives up quite a few fly balls and infield fly balls. He will probably be alright in Safeco Field, particularly if ol’ Manfred siphons the juice out of the baseball

Perhaps the most important piece of this puzzle is Gonzales is not a short-term rental. Gonzales was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. He is under team-control for eons.

Of course, nothing the Mariners do is ever good, and there are some definitive bads to look at. Let us take a look.

Tyler O’Neill was one of the more exciting prospects in a farm system that is as exciting as the proposed idea of a sequel to Suicide Squad. Most recently, O’Neill has been on an absolute tear in the minors, hitting /330/.432/.723 with 11 home runs in 94 at bats. He is still striking out as if his life depended on it, but there was at least enough offensive firepower to help offset all of that. O’Neill is only 22 years old, and overall has (had) one of the higher ceilings in the farm system.

So at the end of the day, it looks like the Mariners traded a high ceiling outfielder for a low ceiling pitcher. This has the makings for a bad trade, and people were quick to condemn Dipoto for it. That said, maybe making a boring ass trade is exactly what this squad needs.

The Mariners have a very limited window to make the playoffs with the pieces in play they have at the moment. Eventually, Felix Hernandez’s arm is going to fall off. Eventually, Robinson Cano will no longer be worth the $124 million he is due each year. Eventually, Nelson Cruz will regress to some version of Nelson Cruz where he is not worth the money. Eventually, Kyle Seager will be worth more as a bargaining chip on a flailing team than the starting third baseman. If you are looking at what area of the current squad the Mariners need to bolster to make any semblance of a playoff run, it is starting pitching. Gonzales fits that bill.

Secondly, perhaps we view this trade in two ways: 1) Jerry Dipoto and a lot of other GMs don’t have much faith in O’Neill, and this is all the Mariners would get for him; 2) Jerry Dipoto really believes that the current Mariners outfield is sufficiently established enough to compliment the rest of the pieces of the team. In both cases, O’Neill becomes a highly expendable player.

There is valid criticism in saying that just because he is a highly expendable player doesn’t necessarily mean he has to be traded. The trade becomes a bit more confusing because Gonzales will start his Mariners career with the Tacoma Rainiers, and if that was always going to be the case, why not wait 10 days to pull the trigger on this? Maybe you can get something else out of the No. 2 prospect in the M’s farm system.

What the trade, for me, seems to establish is Dipoto views the window of opportunity to win as something worth pursuing, and pursuing quickly. Time is never on your side in these sorts of scenarios, and having Gonzales as a back end rotation guy bolsters the Mariners for next season much more quickly than having O’Neill loiter around the farm system does.

The timing of this trade is odd, there is no getting around that. This would be a classic trading from an area of strength for an area of need if it wasn’t a 22-year-old exciting outfielder for a 25-year-old rather bland pitcher. There is a chance that this trade bites the Mariners in the ass later in life, but this will probably not go down in the history books as “worst trade the Mariners made in the 2000s.” That list is too long to even crack.

M’s Acquire Bullpen (P)Help(s)

David-Phelps

Before reading this, I apologize if I go full redundancy in here if you’ve listened to the latest podcast. Last night while recording, I jammed my stick in the mud and essentially advocated for the Mariners to stay put outside of making a move almost identical to the one they just made, trading for RH reliever David Phelps from the Miami Marlins. Phelps is a converted starter/swingman, spending the first four years of his career averaging 90mph on his heater, all while being a perfectly fine, but middling major league player. After his conversion, Phelps saw his average velocity jump into the 93-94 range, with the latter being his number this year. He’s throwing harder than ever, and while he’s taken a step back from his big 2016 breakout season, he’s still been a quality arm.

Phelps was outstanding in relief for the Marlins last year, and he even managed to duck back in and start five games for the Marlins in August, and they were pretty damn good starts too – allowing a .563 OPS against, but also averaging less than 5 innings a start. There was no real stretch period for his transition, and he hopped back into the bullpen in September and crushed it, only allowing 5 hits across his 8 innings while striking out 13.

This year, Phelps hasn’t been quite as good, though the results are still solid. He’s never been a man of great control, and that’s continued into this year. He’s still missing bats, but at a lesser rate (9.77 K/9, down from 11.84 in ‘16). The xFIP has landed at 3.74, and his resulting contribution to the Marlins has been a perfectly fine 0.3 WAR.

From a fit perspective, it’d be hard to find somebody who makes more sense than Phelps. He’s been durable during his career, and he’s shown the ability to get “rubbery”, i.e.  throw multiple innings when asked without much consequence immediately following. The velocity is still rising, and he’s under club control for 2018 as well. At 30, he’s right in that dry-aging meaty part of the curve. Phelps has no discernable red flags, and he comes to the Mariners filling their greatest (black) hole – people who can throw baseballs.

There will be clamoring that Phelps isn’t the starter the team needs, and while that’s true, the Mariners also cannot make a playoff push while throwing Edwin Diaz and Nick Vincent every single time they play a close game they’re on track to win. Diaz has thrown his damn arm off lately, and while he’s been Jekyll instead of Hyde lately (that’s the good one, right?), it’s more than likely that he’s going to hit another valley before the season is over, leaving the team void of quality late-inning options. Phelps is a classic late-inning power arm, and while he hasn’t been awesome this season, they paid a price that represents that dip.

The ol’ rumor mill stated that the Marlins weren’t in love with the Mariners farm system, and well, yeah. The centerpiece from the M’s teenage wasteland is Brayan Hernandez, that not-so-small Venezuelan child the Mariners paid a pretty penny for back in 2014. Hernandez is 19 now, and isn’t doing much of anything in Everett. He remains a long-term project with some amount of unknown upside, but at best he’s still three years away from contributing to a major league team in any fashion. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that even somebody Ben Gamel could be a free agent before Hernandez ever dons an MLB uniform. He is, kindly put, a project who hasn’t shown any signs of translating tools into production.

The other arms lost are Brandon Miller, Pablo Lopez, and Lukas Schiraldi. The latter two are having horrible seasons in Modesto and will be lucky to ever make an MLB roster, and while Miller is doing fine in Clinton, his odds are still poor at best. Lopez and Miller both appear in the middle of the Mariners top 30 prospect list on MLB.com, but make no mistake, these players would not be similarly placed in an average farm system. Their loss should not be deeply lamented – outside of some unforeseen breakout, which could happen to anyone, there isn’t an MLB arm in the bunch. They are, more than anything else, throw-ins and lottery tickets to complete this deal.

Maybe this is a tiny bit of an overpay considering Phelps’ step back and Hernandez’s unknown upside/tools combo, but it fits just fine into a win-now strategy without much damage to the limited farm system. Phelps’ 2018 control give the M’s a chance to try him as a starter again to see if the velocity sticks, or they can flip him right back around for their own batch of lottery tickets that Dipoto likes. We’ll see how this affects the rotation, but Gallardo could move back into the #5 slot and Sam Gaviglio, who is decidedly not a MLB pitcher, could head back to AAA. Either way, Phelps slots in nicely as a late-inning option, especially as a person who can throw two innings when the bullpen is gassed. The Mariners have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs, and they’ll need an arm like Phelps to help carry the load.

Andrew Moore: The First Three Starts

Andrew Moore is one of the Mariners’ best stories of 2017. We should just get that out of the way. A PNW-born, slight, no-velo kid who starred at the region’s best baseball college, Moore is one of only a handful of 2015 draft picks to have already reached the major leagues. Most of the others (Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, etc.) are upper 1st round, consensus top prospect talents. What Moore and the Mariners have managed to do in successfully rocketing him to Seattle is a fine achievement, and we can all be happy about that.

The Mariners rotation is a disaster, and looks to be a disaster through at least the rest of the year. Moore is being asked to do more than he probably should, which is to arrive as a 23-year old rookie and shore up the rotation for a team that’s desperately trying to make the playoffs. With that in mind, even though it has only been three starts, let’s take a look see

CAVEAT ALERT: I am not a mechanics or pitching expert in any way, and if you want a place to learn the building blocks of Moore’s game I highly recommend reading Kate Preusser’s exhaustive breakdown here. I’m just here to do some Small Sample Size Sizin’ Up. So, through three starts, what has Moore done well?

Pacman, but innings 

In two of Moore’s three major league starts, he has managed to go at least seven innings. This sounds like low praise, but it’s not an easy thing, and in the context of the 2017 Mariners rotation, it’s rarified air. Here’s the leaderboard for starts of 7+ innings:

Ariel Miranda7
James Paxton5
Andrew Moore2
Christian Bergman (!)2

Moore’s economy of motion, very quick pace, and well-advertised ability to pound the strike zone is a huge plus for this team, which features one of the American League’s scariest bullpens. No, not like the Astros bullpen is scary, the other scary.

Swing the bat or walk (back to the dugout)

Going in tandem with the previous point is Moore’s almost total unwillingness to walk anyone. After his first 21 major league innings he has only walked two batters, or a BB% of 2.4. Of all pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings that puts Moore 4th, behind only Kenley Jansen, Noah Syndergaard, and Roberto Osuna.

This is, again, as advertised with Moore. He has never run a BB% higher than 6.5% as a professional, and was running a rate of 3.9% in Tacoma prior to his callup. The dude throws strikes, and then some strikes, and then more strikes. You gotta swing it.

Ok, that’s some good stuff to build off. Let’s look at the concerning parts

Oh lordy please miss some bats

Major league hitters are terrifying, earth-destroying, pitcher-swallowing demigods, sent to this planet from the cosmos with the sole purpose of reconfiguring our perception of the atrocities that can be committed to baseballs. As such, it’s really in a pitcher’s best interest to just have them not hit the ball altogether. Thus far, Moore is one of the worst in baseball at this.

Through three starts Moore’s K% is 12.2% 12.2! That is 12th worst in baseball, two spots better than the tanning corpse of Jered Weaver, and three places worse than poor, poor Hisashi Iwakuma. This is a concern I expect to alleviate at least partially. Moore will never be even a league average strikeout pitcher, but his current MLB rate is almost half what it was in Tacoma.

I certainly hope it rises, because after factoring in the annually increasing league-wide strikeout rate Moore’s inability to generate strikeouts starts to look a lot like, um, well, you all won’t like this comp I know.

 

 

 

 

I’m sorry. You can stop reading now.

 

 

 

 

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Carlos Silva. It’s a lot like Carlos Silva. There, I said it. The thing with Silva, who actually scraped together a few 2+ fWAR seasons in Minnesota, despite striking out less than 10% of batters, is he ran above average to good groundball rates. And, well……

Bombs over Safeco

Andrew Moore’s inability to generate strikeouts is doubly concerning when we notice that over 70% of the balls hit off him are in the air. His GB% of 29.4% is 12th lowest in baseball, tied with AJ Griffin, and a few spots worse than Francisco Rodriguez. Here, Moore’s rates lineup with his minor league numbers very well. He has always allowed a very high number of fly balls, with a GB% under 35.0 in every level above A ball.

Not surprisingly, Moore has already allowed 5 home runs, and there has been plenty of hard contact hit foul or to the warning track in addition to that. The HR/FB% of 13.5 should theoretically decline, but allowing so many balls to get hit in the air is not a traditionally repeatable model for quality major league pitching.

Summary

Andrew Moore is smart, and probably knows everything I just said way better than I do. He knows his .188 BABIP is going to regress in the bad way. He knows his ERA of 3.86 is almost two runs worse than his FIP. He might even know his DRA is 6.34, which, yikes.

Moore is a tough, intelligent, savvy competitor. He has dedicated his life to gaining every bit of pitching skill out of his talent that he possibly can, and by all accounts has done so while remaining a grounded, humble, likable person who teammates adore. However, even with his ability to work deep in games, and refusal to walk batters, he will quickly need to show an ability to miss bats, or generate more groundballs.

It’s possible he could be an exception to the idea that a low strikeout, low groundball pitcher can succeed as a starting pitcher. Baseball’s greatness shines brightest when players gleam through the cracks in our ascertations and rigid stereotypes. However, I see no compelling reason to believe that at this time.

I have little doubt that Andrew Moore is one of the Mariners organization’s five best starting pitchers. He belongs in Seattle, even if that is partially due to the organization’s utter lack of MLB quality pitching depth. The primary concerns remain, however, and they are large enough to potentially overshadow everything else.

Without more strikeouts and/or fewer flyballs (which, again, could absolutely come. It’s three starts Nathan, you idiot) it’s very difficult to see Andrew Moore as anything greater than a useful, cheap backend starter at his very peak. To my admittedly layman’s eye, it’s hard to see much more than a Brian Bannister-style career.

As always, may I be wrong.