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Screw it, let's talk about the good Mariners stuff
Notes, analytical and otherwise, on the positives from the first seven games.
I’ve had the intro to a post about the Mariners’ spending and fan perception of it sitting in drafts since Monday evening. They won Tuesday and I was glad I didn’t run it but Wednesday was Wednesday and I tacked on another sentence or two.
But it’s freaking April 7th. I don’t want to write that post right now. Most people don’t want to read that post right now.
This is, of course, not that post.
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At time of writing, it’s a blegh off day, it’s bleak as hell out in Seattle and we’re going to talk about the stuff that’s fun and good.
Julio Rodríguez is the real deal because of course he is
The youth doesn’t know what it was like to see Dustin Ackley put up 3.0 fWAR and a 117 wRC+ in his 90-game rookie year only to never look like that guy ever again.
Julio is the same dude we saw last year. If not better. And I’m going to be honest, from a numbers perspective, I almost forget how quantifiably great Julio was last season. Guy put up a 146 wRC+ and a cool 5.4 fWAR.
Here are the players since 1950 who matched or exceeded both those wRC+ and fWAR totals in their 21-year-old (or under) rookie campaigns since 1950.
That will play.
As I mentioned a couple posts ago, he’s cruising into his sophomore season like it’s nothing. He’s barreling the ball among the best in the game and trying to set the tone for the lineup every game.
He may not last in the leadoff spot all season, though he’s not falling lower than third so this will still be relevant—but check out his numbers in the first inning in 2023.
4-for-5 with 5 R, 2 2B, HR, 2 BB, SO
Luis Castillo is what acquiring elite talent looks like
There is a difference between good players and elite players. There is also a difference between acquiring elite players and receiving elite production. You can get one without the other.
But Luis Castillo is what it looks like when you go to the market for elite talent, you successfully acquire it and the production matches or exceeds the expectations.
What a goddamn capital-D Dude.
Since Luis Castillo’s debut with the Mariners—an eight-K dub vs. the Yankees, lol—he’s tied for 11th among qualified starters in fWAR at 2.1. In regular season starts, he’s gone 5-2 as he threw 77 innings and struck out 89 batters while walking only 19. A very nice 2.69 ERA.
That doesn’t include the two playoff starts, either.
The Mariners have won two games, and bother were started by Luis Castillo. And it isn’t too surprising.
That’s what elite guys do. When everything isn’t clicking quite right, these guys are—appropriately—your rocks. They’re always there, you can count on them.
It’s not only the ceiling of the performance, but the consistency.
The Mariners got exactly what they paid for with La Piedra.
I could just generally gush about Logan Gilbert but we’ll narrow it in just a bit. Or a lot. Let’s talk about a pitch Logan threw eight times, his new splitter.
It’s a new pitch, and one the Mariners are excited about. Here are a few quotes from a piece by Shannon Drayer earlier this spring.
“It makes you say ‘wow’ when it comes out of his hand,” [Mariners GM Justin Hollander] said. “The slot that he throws from, it just looks natural for him to throw that pitch. It’s a really exciting new offering.”
“I’ve always tried to throw a changeup and just kind of struggled with it. It just wasn’t natural for me,” Gilbert said. “So we just tried to find basically a variation, a splitter, that I can throw like a fastball and should be able to throw it to hopefully lefties and righties just as well.” […]
“He’s going to miss a ton of bats,” [Mariners Pitching Coach Pete Woodworth] said. “Right, left, he’s not going to have to rely on a breaking ball to get some swing and misses or lean on his fastball to punch guys out at the top. It’s another dimension. If you have to cover his fastball at the top, anything moving down that looks like that? That’s what it was built for. That’s the idea behind creating this pitch.”
I think most people know this but I’ll lay it out here to be extra clear—Logan, being a righty, is going to have traditional breaking stuff that breaks in towards lefty hitters (and by proxy, their barrels). Both the slider and the curve. It’s good for him, and any pitcher, to have something that works the other way. A change and or a splitter will do that, breaking away from left-handed hitters and taking a bite out of the platoon advantage.
Of the eight times Logan threw the pitch in his first start, it was put into play twice, a pop out and a lazy fly out. Of the seven swings batters took at it, four whiffed, there were those two hits and then a foul.
Insanely small sample, but the 50 percent whiff rate on the splitter was higher than the whiff rate on any pitch in any start in his career to date.
Here are those—I know, I know, I knowww—gulp, four swings and misses.
Looking forward to seeing more of it in the opener in Cleveland.
Chris is Flexen on ‘em just a bit?
Losing Robbie Ray is not ideal. Obviously. As I wrote on the other day, it knocks out some of the higher-percentile outcomes for this team. But, like, you gotta see this really funny stat.
Chris Flexen is getting a ton of swings and misses. An almost weird amount. He has notched 29 swings and misses in his nine innings pitched. I kid you not, here is where the total ranks heading into Friday’s slate:
Jacob DeGrom - 39
Jesús Luzardo - 35
Gerrit Cole - 33
Pablo Lopez - 32
Dylan Cease - 32
Luis Castillo - 30
Literally Chris Flexen - 29
Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on.
But Mikey Ajeto—Mariners Twitter’s resident pitching expert—does. Follow him, or ask to, if you’re not already.
He’ll probably have an article on Flex up soon, so look for that.
But it’s ridiculous.
Of guys who have thrown at least 150 pitches, only Jacob DeGrom has generated swings and misses at a greater rate than Chris Flexen.
Jarred Kelenic looks better.
If you have a group chat that talks Mariners baseball, someone in there—probably everyone in there—has at one point or another said something along the lines of “Kelenic just looks so much more comfortable at the plate.”
They may even toss in a “The results may not be there yet but—”
And I am right there with them. Borrowing some terminology from golf, he’s playing baseball—not baseball swing. It’s a looser, more athletic and confident approach at the plate.
As alluded to, the results may not be there, but it isn’t as if there aren’t numbers pointing to a better approach.
A whole lot of good stuff. And I’ll note, small percentages may seem small but say if you’re looking at chase rate and saying “Oh well, that’s a 5.4 percent drop, that’s not that much,” hold on. Those are the points but that is a 15 percent drop. And that isn’t the biggest shift.
I’ve always found O-contact, described above as “Making contact when swinging outside the zone,” as super interesting. It can matter a lot when you start to trim down how many of your bad swing decisions are straight-up whiffs. You foul off a pitch that you shouldn’t have swung at, you may be buying your AB an extra life.
Even trying to picture the pitches that stat would encapsulate, you imagine Kelenic tracking and staying on a ball just a little bit better. That matters.
Teo is strong
This isn’t anything we don’t know. But it’s fun to underscore in a little different way.
Something many folks don’t realize, because it isn’t talked about a ton, is that the Mariners moving in the fences before 2013 may have changed the complexion of the offense played within the park’s dimensions—but it is still so offensively challenging.
Though the fences may be in, the temperature is still cold. The infamous marine layer is still present. But now, there’s less square footage in the outfield, so the outfielders can move in a bit and there’s less space to land a knock.
It’s who guys who can’t hit the crap out of the ball—contact-centric hitters or finesse-pop launch angle wonders—who get chewed up a bit. There just isn’t as much space to land non-homers but the homers still have to be powered through often-cold air.
You don’t power a ball through the cold Seattle sky much better than this.
The ball was hit 109 mph and traveled a project distance of 419 feet. To right-center. On a cool night in April.
That is not easy to do for a right-handed hitter. Or anyone.
In the Statcast era, only 13 right-handed hitters have driven a home run to center at TMo in March or April that’d measure 415 feet or more. Everyone had one such homer except for Tim Beckham, who had a pair. (Good excuse to watch this nuke vs. Chris Sale.)
Here’s the spray chart of those 14 homers.
Of the guys doing it with the fade to the right of center/second base, without any pull power, nobody hit it further than Teoscar.
❖ ❖ ❖ ❖
Is there some cherry-picking in here? Oh for sure. I know it and you know it.
The Mariners are 2-5 and it isn’t that serious. Not quite yet it isn’t.