The Mariners welcome the Tigers into town today for a three-game set. The series opener features an interesting matchup in which we are far more familiar with the opposing pitcher than our own. But we’ll get to pitchers soon enough.
Seattle’s offense has been dinged up of late. Michael Saunders found his way to the DL with a shoulder sprain after an impressive catch introduced him to the new wall, and Mike Morse and Franklin Gutierrez are both listed as questionable for today’s opener due to such things as broken pinkies and tight groins. The lineup could very well include Raul Ibanez and/or Endy Chavez, which may not be quite the downgrade it appears on the surface.
Detroit’s current professional baseball team employs only right-handed starters, and its three southpaws in the pen—Drew Smyly, Phil Coke and Darin Downs—have accounted for just 18 percent of the Tigers’ innings pitched. So those stats up there come from the last three seasons against righties only (except for UZR). Though Guti’s numbers are possibly weighed down by his injuries, what he’s done since 2010 against righties is no better than what Chavez has done. We expect him to do better moving forward, but maybe not by much. And because Ibanez hits righties well, he can hold serve in Morse’s absence, and the Mariners could survive a series without Guti and Morse. If we need to call on the bench for the series, the losses won’t be as costly as I originally thought.
To close up the offensive portion of this preview, I want to introduce a color chart. As the season progresses, certain statistics become more and more stable; they explain what the player can really do with greater precision. With so few plate appearances in the books this season, my first chart of the year is for two of the fastest-stabilizing offensive results according to Baseball Prospectus’ Russell Carleton. Those would be strikeout and walk rates.
The numbers in the chart represent the players’ actual statistics this seasn, and the colors represent levels of certainty, I guess you could say. Comparisons are made against each player’s preseason ZiPS projection. A dark green box indicates that the player is significantly outperforming his projection (in a good way), while a dark red box indicates the exact opposite. Yellow is neutral, and the lighter colors are pretty close to neutral, meaning that the player is doing about what we expected. The sample size plays a key role in the level of certainty, and thus Kelly Shoppach’s mammoth walk rate is just light green since we can only be so sure about anything from just 18 plate appearances. So without further ado, the chart:
About the best signal in this chart comes from Kendrys Morales, who has outperformed his projections in both rates. Because Morales has missed so much time to injury, his preseason projection probably stands on shakier ground than most. This could be a sign that he has significantly improved his approach, but even with the darker greens, there is still enough room for doubt that I’m not placing any bets just yet.
If Ackley’s reduced strikeout rate is for real, then a little regression to the mean could go an even longer way toward improving his pitcher-like slash line of .122/.182/.122. We’ve seen two different Dustin Ackleys, and it’s gotten difficult to tell which is the real one. As we get into May and our sample sizes get large enough, I’ll be able to comfortably throw in power stats like ISO and HR rate, and then we can start to monitor overall improvement—or lack thereof—of this young group.
Now, a quick preview of the pitching matchups. That opening matchup I talked about pits former Mariner, Doug Fister, up against new Mariner, Aaron Harang. I wrote a few words about Harang last week, but right now I’m just happy to not watch another Blake Beavan start. Beavan has been demoted to the bullpen, and that’s probably a good thing. Lookout Landing’s Brendan Gawlowski showed us recently that pitch-to-contact guys like Beavan tend to be subpar going forward.
Felix Hernandez takes on Max Scherzer on Wednesday, and then Justin Verlander and Hisashi Iwakuma face off in Thursday’s series finale. So basically we get Detroit’s best three pitchers. Here are the ZiPS rest-of-season projections for all starters in the series, followed by the series schedule.
Game 1: Tuesday, April 16, 7:10 PM PST; TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Aaron Harang vs. Doug Fister
Game 2: Wednesday, April 17, 7:10 PM PST; TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Felix Hernandez!!! vs. Max Scherzer
Game 3: Thursday, April 18, 12:40 PM PST; TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Justin Verlander
Radio affiliates in your area can be found here, and sometimes on 910 AM in the Portland area (in addition to the listed 1080 AM).
*Chavez’s UZR stat comes from only 544 innings in center field since 2010. However, between 2005 and 2009, Chavez put up similar UZR figures in center field over about 600 innings. In any case, Chavez is a plus-defender in the outfield.