Tag Archives: cano

Seattle Mariners 50 Game Check-in Starring: The Back End of the Starting Rotation

 

The Mariners have played 50 games of the 2014 season. We have seen some players fall well short of expected production (read: Brad Miller) yet we have also seen players exceed expectations and step into larger roles (read: Michael Saunders). We have seen players perched oddly in the middle of the disappointment-to-pleasant-surprise spectrum (Read: Robinson Cano). The middle of most visible light spectrums is greenish. Robinson Cano is green. Ish.

That being said, if you had asked me prior to this season’s beginning where the Mariners would be after 50 games, I would likely have given a far more modest projection than where they presently sit in this reality.

In an alternate reality, the Mariners could be much, much worse. Their pitching staff could easily have crumbled under the weight of a combined lack of depth coupled with a reasonable dose of the league-wide “all young pitchers must die” epidemic. Thankfully this alternate universe exists parallel to ours and does not cross it. In this parallel universe, I don’t even like the Mariners, but am rather an exquisite Russian Ballerina with skills that marvel fans yet private reservations regarding my unique but voracious sexual appetites.

We do not live in that universe, as my browser history suggests. We live instead in a universe where the Mariners have neither a losing record, nor a winning one. The Mariners, according to record, are neither bad nor are they good. We are decidedly average. Yet, I can’t help but translate this averageness to optimism. After all, the M’s are undermanned- having only had Hisashi Iwakuma for a month and having both James Paxton and Taijuan Walker on the injury block as well. When people argue that the Mariners are doomed towards negative regression, it is those 2 names I bring up as bullet points subsumed under my list of arguments for the rebuttal.

Think about Brandon Maurer, Roenis Elias and Chris Young for a bit. These are the 3 guys who round out the Mariners’ starting rotation following the one-two punch of Felix and Iwakuma. None of these guys were expected to be contributors at the beginning of the season. All of them have had to fulfill important roles for this team. This team has not tanked completely. That alone provides a space for positivity.

Let us start with Brandon Maurer. Maurer has been the one pitcher of the aforementioned 3 to come out every 5 days and basically suck every time. His ERA is presently above 6 and, despite having what appears to be excellent and projectable stuff, he has yet to show an ability to locate his pitches and has done a bad job of limiting damage once things begin to unravel. This has been documented in the past. Maurer, in a fashion similar to other young pitchers with throbbing libidos and a taste for Taco Bell, lacks the wisdom of age.

This is OK. We all didn’t expect Maurer to be a contributor this year and if things went according to plan, he wouldn’t be. Unfortunately, things seldom do go according to plan where Major League pitchers are concerned. The number of injuries to pitchers this year has been record-setting, and the Mariners are just one of several teams to have suffered through this irksome trend. The reality is that Brandon Maurer was a stop-gap measure who is merely holding a spot for James Paxton’s return. If Paxton is anything remotely akin to what he was before he went down to injury earlier this year, this is a huge upgrade and therefore instance 1 of the Mariners having reason to expect positive regression.

Next up: Roenis Elias.

Elias was a no-name left more or less completely off any of the prospect lists headed into the 2014 season. A defector from Cuba having never pitched at a level higher than AA, Elias went into the season requiring major mechanical tweaks. He had previously thrown from about 30 arm angles. When asked why he was pitching like an idiot, his response was “I’m from Cuba.” Needless to say, this does not fit the profile of a guy from whom one could expect big things.

Until we all actually saw him pitch.

Elias has the look of a pitcher whose ceiling is even higher than what we have seen thus far. He does not fit the traditional profile of a lefty throwing junk and trying to fool everybody. Rather, he comes at guys with strikeout stuff—a great lefty fastball that he throws anywhere from 92-94 MPH and a big curve that generates plenty of whiffs and standing strikes as well. Watching him drop down from the left side to get Brett Gardner looking was one of the better pitches I have seen executed in awhile. Observe.

Roenis Elias is here to stay. Taijuan and Paxton are returning, but I do not see either of them unseating Elias. While Chris Young has performed well—Elias has the kind of stuff as a young pitcher that makes you salivate. A rotation of Felix-Kuma-Paxton-Walker-Elias would be one of the better staffs in baseball.

When you add Chris Young to the mix, that’s just gravy. But not just any gravy! This is gravy that is only gravy until it becomes necessary, congealing into meat in a matter of moments out of the saucer of long-relief, if any such gravy exists.

Back to normalcy! Let’s look at the final third of our injured starting pitcher replacement roundup: Chris “Unique Gravy” Young.

Watching Chris Young pitch is hilarious. If you ever get the chance, I suggest you seize it. Young has some of the most “whatever” looking stuff I have seen from a Major League starting pitcher. He goes up there and throws 84 MPH fastballs up in the zone that get crushed for warning track flies. It kind of makes you cringe sometimes, but in a good way. Sort of like the face that precedes male orgasm.

Young was a former all-star pitching in the spacious confines of San Diego’s Petco Park and has quickly seized upon the opportunity to pitch in Safeco’s delightfully offense-suppressing marine-layer. When Young is on, he is pitching up and down in the zone, inducing weak contact and suppressing runs-scored by simply making people hit the ball a wee-bit less hard than usual.

To provide some context- FIP is a stat used to measure expected runs allowed by a pitcher, taking into account only such events that are obviously in the pitcher’s control. For this reason, it emphasizes whiffs, strikeouts and walks. The flaw of the stat is revealed only when pitchers are good at controlling and limiting effective, strong contact without generating whiffs and strikeouts.  

Young appears to be one such outlier. His xFIP sits at a hilariously shitty 5.85 and yet his ERA is at a sparkling 3.30.

Since FIP is the statistic used to calculate fWAR (the most common stat used to measure a pitcher’s value in terms of wins), his fWAR is -.01. Yet we, having watched Young go out and limit teams to 2 or 3 runs over and over know his value to exceed that.

He is a player whose unique skills are so unconventional that they break the statistical system used to quantify them. “Chris Young is meta as fuck” your little sister might say, assuming she exists, reads at around a 7th grade level and has Pinterest as her MacBook Pro’s homepage. That being said, it is fascinating as a baseball fan to watch expectations unravel in the face of a unique set of skills. While not a particularly sexy player, (think Bob Saget on stilts) Chris Young has been a remarkably interesting player insofar as he breaks the mold of any I have seen before. While I would recommend moving Chris Young to long relief when Taijuan Walker is ready to play, I have no problem with him as our 5th starter.

The Mariners are average. The faces of this team are not the faces we expected when the year began. The names accompanying those faces have similarly changed. Rejoice in this fact because the Mariners have hung in there in the face of diversity—and help is on the way.

Now if only that Brad Miller guy could figure his shit out…

The Seattle Mariners, reclaimers of optimism

The Mariners recently decided to take 3 of 4 games from the Oakland A’s. They wrapped the series with a completely unnecessary doubleheader yesterday brought on by a situation earlier in the year where Oakland’s poverty literally leaked on to the field of play, turning it into a Swamp of Sadness-equivalent and resulting in several of the Mariners’ ponies losing the will to live, languishing in the muck adrift in their own sense of desperate apathy, the faint call to carry on muted through the mufflers of their own helplessness until they were utterly submerged.

 

Yesterday’s doubleheader played itself out in about the oddest way imaginable. The Mariners picked up a win in the first game, going to extras following a weird start by Felix Hernandez in which we didn’t appear to have any of his pitches working. Felix surrendered eleven hits and 3 runs, yet the Mariners, behind a couple well-timed dingers by team strongmen Hart and Zunino managed to make it out alive from a game where Yoervis fucking Medina was credited for the win. Oddness.

 

The second game saw a resurgent Erasmo Ramirez return briefly from AAA in order to turn in possibly his most serviceable effort of the season, going 6 innings and allowing only 2 earned runs in the process. The problem in this second game was offense, which seems to hardly be surprising when the lineup includes the corpse of Brad Miller, Willie Bloomquist, John Buck, Cole Gillespie and Stefen Romero. I understand we want righties in the lineup but you need to have quality right handed hitters for this to make sense. If I want beer but don’t have any beer I don’t start fermenting my own urine. The Mariners are fermenting their own urine. It smells like Bloomquist’s grit.

 

A big positive to come out of the 1st of these two games is James Jones’ play in center field. The guy looks infinitely superior to anybody else the Mariners have wheeled out there since Franklin Gutierrez was patrolling center. He made a fantastic diving catch in the seventh inning and made a few excellent plays in the early innings besides. His routes look rather…sober…compared to those we have become accustomed to with Abe Almonte scurrying about. To cap it all off he flashed a plus throwing arm and was able to reach base a few times as well.

 

I still have no fucking clue why McClendon went ahead and slotted him in the 2 hole for his first start in the Major Leagues, but I am willing to suspend my disbelief if the guy continues to play well because frankly, the Mariners need good defensive outfielders to man center and if he can make the tiniest bit of noise at the plate and on the base paths I think he could be a valuable addition moving forward. The tools are there, if the polish can come with it on the job, then welcome to the squad Mr. Jones.

 

The Mariners are heading home following a road trip that took them to a game above .500 where they will be taking on the Kansas City Royals who presently mirror the M’s location around the mythical .500 line. Royals fans probably expected more from their squad moving into 2014—they experienced one of their better seasons in recent memory last year and have been posturing as though gripped by a win-now mindset as evidenced by their (probably idiotic) trade of former No.1 prospect in all of baseball, Will Myers, for serviceable former Rays’ starter James Shields.

 

The trade reeked of the same desperation-spunk surrounding the Mariners’ trade for disgruntled Canadian injury-enthusiast Erik Bedard in which we gave up Adam Jones, now a perennial All-Star for the Orioles and emerged no closer to “winning now” than we had been before, with the added caveat of lacking even the “winning then” that perhaps Jones could have helped with.

 

In that sense—I feel for the Royals’ fan base as a similarly afflicted bunch. The Royals also have several home grown positional prospects-turned-regulars who have taken forever to develop and often developed into something that rested well below their perceived ceilings as prospects. Eric Hosmer never became really as cool as he seemed, Alex Gordon didn’t figure it out until he was like 26, etc.

 

I suppose both of those players are better than their Mariners’ counterparts in Smoak and Ackley, but regardless, the results have not been there with a similar organizational approach.

 

So hey Royals, throw us a bone here. We can’t both make it to the playoffs can we? And you had George Brett once! Your franchise has even won/been to the World Series before!

 

At this point, as a Mariners fan, it is cool to even be able to care still. I have seen optimism dwindle so much faster than it has this season and for the team to remain afloat at this point in time is a revelation. I look forward to going home and seeing the Mariners play baseball and I have been able to do this for more than a month. I think this is what it must feel like to be a fan of a team that is good. I like the feeling. It makes it easier to sleep at night and it saves me money on liquor.

 

Go Mariners.

Robinson Cano, ceilings, floors and the potential to reach either

The Mariners didn’t feel very Mariners last night.

Opening day (read: night) is a perennial renewal of fandom- a time where wearied fans can spin extrapolated narratives from a single good night of baseball. We can exult in the possibility that meaningful (insofar as someone can really call any sort of professional sport “meaningful”) baseball may be played late in the year.

Opening night offered Mariner’s fans several narratives to cling to. I am going to cling to one of the more obvious ones: Fuck me, Robinson Cano is a Mariner.

Robinson Cano has been a model of consistency throughout his career. Sure, there has been a bump or two in the road naturally—but for the most part Robinson Cano has been a consistent, durable lefty with a smooth swing, gap power and a batting-title-worthy hit tool. He does all of this while playing great defense at a premium defensive position.

His one main criticism (his apparent lack of hustle) is basically just a byproduct of how easy he makes the game look. Cano hit an infield single last night. Poo-tee-weet.

Therefore, when “baseball people” preach ceaselessly about building “up the middle,” Robinson Cano is the kind of player that they salivate over But Robinson Cano isn’t a steak, he’s a human being. And a real hero. #Drivesoundtrack

Let’s take a quick look at Cano’s last 5 years in WAR according to Baseballreference.com:

Year

WAR BB%

2009

4.5 4.5

2010

8.1 8.2

2011

5.7 5.6

2012

7.0 8.8

2013

6.8 9.5

 

I went ahead included Cano’s BB% for funsies. An interesting aspect of that facet of Cano’s game is that his BB% for his first 5 years in the league was never above 5% which validates the perception he carries as somewhat of a free-swinger.

For a Mariners team that has been notoriously awful at getting on base for quite some time- his uptick in BB% is encouraging and probably stands to improve if only by virtue of the free passes he will inevitably be receiving, the first taste of which we experienced last night. It is also worth noting that his better years in terms of overall value were the years in which he posted a higher BB%. Could be coincidence, but it may not be. Mysteries abound.

Mainly we see consistency. Cano has consistently produced at an all-star level for 5 years. As you can see, there is some fluctuation in his WAR numbers year-to-year, but that fluctuation has been between that of an All-star and MVP contender. The Mariners have not had an everyday player like Cano in quite some time. As a point of comparison, the Mariners’ best everyday player for the past two years has been Kyle Seager. Kyle Seager has never been worth more than 3.7 WAR, his value last season. Cano’s worst season in the last 5 years is nearly a full win more than our most valuable position player the past 2.

In terms of familiarity, that makes Cano to the Mariners what a breakfast menu is to Taco Bell. Glorious. And yet the times are changing, Cano is in Mariners green, and I can get a waffle-sausage-taco for less than 3 dollars. As Professional Baseball Hat Enthusiast, Fro-yo Magnate and Sportsketball Agent Jay-Z once said during a private, unsuccessful negotiation with Hank Steinbrenner: “That’s the anthem, get ya damn hands up.”

There have been those who have argued that the money spent to land Cano would have been better spent distributed among a number of lesser players to make up for some of the question marks the Mariners roster still has.

I disagree with this notion. It seems to me that, given the relative youth and volatility of this roster, signing Cano makes sense if the organization maintains the belief that the younger guys have the potential to figure it out following 2 or 3 years of big league experience.

Cano’s consistent value allows the Mariner’s baseline to hover more closely to respectability. The volatility and potential upside of the rest of the roster is the projected gray area that can fill the gap between that baseline and a potential playoff contender, should a portion of the younger guys outperform what have been largely skeptical projections.

And there is the gamble upon which our season hinges: the young guys.

The great “if.”

We have been fed this narrative before, but it has never been nearly as plausible as it seems now in the post-coital embrace of last night’s victory.

The young guys are not as young as they used to be. This is a group that has less time to prove itself, but also a more realistic opportunity to do so. Rather than a group trying to carry a team on their inexperienced shoulders, they are instead a group with multiple seasons of big-league experience trying to bridge the gap between a slightly-less-lackluster-than-usual floor and a rather exciting ceiling.

Let us hope our young guys will be the moon-shoes to Cano’s feet, as long as he doesn’t hit his head on the ceiling fan!

That analogy was so fucking bad. I am sorry. Go Mariners.

Note: As a quick reference for various stat definitions and other baseball-y things, check out the glossary on fangraphs.com. If you scroll down they have some cool articles that detail the ins and outs of advanced statistics. Definitely worthy of a read.