Series No. 7 Recap: Mariners @ Astros

The Mariners lost another series to the Astros, a series in which they were outscored 14 – 12, leaving Seattle with the worst run differential in the American League. If Seattle were 8 – 15 with an even run differential, it would be easier to be optimistic, but they’re not, and I’m not optimistic. Nate Silver and his boys at Baseball Prospectus have Seattle projected at right around 75 wins for the season, which is dropping with every loss to the Astros.

Besides losing, maybe the biggest news from the series came when manager Eric Wedge benched Brendan Ryan, not just for the rubber match of the series, but indefinitely. Casey came to work today prepared with anatomical analogies for this decision, and if you know Casey like I know Casey, then you know that assholes are part of the discussion.

When commenting on what Ryan and his replacement, Robert Andino, needed to do going forward, Wedge wrapped it up eloquently and clearly: “Of course, with Brendan, what I feel he needs to do to get to where he needs to go.” I’m not sure that’s even a complete sentence, so let’s delve into this decision a little more deeply.

Despite a career-low .194 average in 2012, Ryan walked a career-best 9.4% of the time, allowing the M’s to at least keep his glove in the lineup. That’s not to say that his offense was acceptable in and of itself, only that it wasn’t as bad as his fielding at shortstop was good. wRC+, the park-adjusted wOBA stat, rated his offense at 61% of league average production, even after controlling for SafeCo Field’s pitcher-friendly ballpark factor. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what the wRC+ metric rated Andino’s 2012 season. In the past, Andino has been merely an average defensive shortstop by UZR standards, so this move really only makes sense if we think Andino is a lot better than Ryan offensively right now.

Because offensive figures like batting average, and even wRC+, are quite fickle—that is, players vary a lot from season to season—it’s worth looking at some of Ryan’s underlying plate discipline and batted ball outcomes.

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% LD% Popup% BABIP
2009 Cardinals 30.00% 61.70% 18.86% 3.89% 0.332
2010 Cardinals 26.40% 62.00% 17.87% 4.27% 0.253
2011 Mariners 25.80% 62.70% 20.17% 5.40% 0.299
2012 Mariners 27.80% 63.10% 19.75% 10.19% 0.244
2013 Mariners 27.80% 55.10% 19.05% 9.52% 0.186

Since 2012, Ryan has begun doing a few things that have hurt his offensive numbers. He is swinging at more pitches outside the zone, and he is popping up quite a bit more often. However, even considering this slippage in plate discipline and contact, Ryan has maintained his line drive rate (LD%), and it would be hard for him to continue putting up BABIP figures south of 0.250. Those declines are slight, and it’s hard to believe that they would pull his BABIP down 60 or 70 points. In fact, ZiPS takes all of this stuff and more into account, and ZiPS projects Ryan’s BABIP to be 0.269 the rest of the season.

With increased BABIP, everything else will come, and Ryan will go back to being a less-sub-par hitter with the best glove at the most difficult defensive position being paid just $3.2M to keep a spot warm for the best of Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. Minus his occasional mustache, Ryan is not sexy, but he’s the right man for the Mariners’ temporary need at short.

Sometimes I think we get so caught up focusing on what we remember from the recent past—in Ryan’s case, the 2012 and 2013 seasons—that we forget about everything else. What Ryan did in 2010 and 2011 is still relevant, and we should expect his 2013 outcomes to improve. ZiPS expects Ryan to contribute about a full win above replace (WAR) over his next 400 plate appearances. Andino? A third of that in as many plate appearances. I think it’s too early bench Brendan Ryan indefinitely.

On the other side of the ball, we have this Joe Saunders character that has pretty much sucked. I thought Saunders was a solid, cost-effective addition to the team in the off season, but he’s trying hard to prove me wrong. After giving up eight runs in today’s drubbing, Saunders’ ERA stands at 6.33. ERA is a pretty terrible discussion ender, but when we delve into some more stable statistics early in the year, the picture doesn’t get much rosier. 12 strikeouts to 12 walks is nothing like his typical 2-to-1 ratio, so let’s just hope that’s a small sample size quirk. At least his velocity isn’t down, so some positive regression should be expected from Mr. Saunders just as we expect from Ryan.

I’ll wrap things up by celebrating the King’s 100th win. Felix Hernandez blanked the Astros over six innings on Monday, leading to his milestone. The fact that Felix has won just 41% of his career starts should remind us again to think about other ways of measuring a pitcher, so here are a few little tidbits that I think are more telling of his career.

When pitching away from the friendly confines of SafeCo field, Hernandez has allowed just 3.73 total runs per nine innings to cross the plate. Over that time, the entire league has averaged about 4.5 runs per nine. When he pitches on the road, the King shaves two-thirds of a run off the differential. Two-thirds of a run turns a .500 team into a 0.580 team 34 nights a year—that is, an 81-win team becomes an 86.5 win team. That 5.5-win difference is essentially WAR in a simplified nut shell.

Hernandez has struck out three times as many batters as he has walked, and he’s given up homeruns to less than 2% of opposing batters on the road. Those compare to league averages of just two strikeouts per walk and a 2.9% dinger rate. I’m throwing in road stats to point out that Felix can do it away from the pitcher’s haven he has called home for his entire career.

Felix should be celebrated for more than what a convoluted “wins” statistic says, but I probably didn’t need to say that to a bunch of Mariners fans.

Here’s to more skill, or luck, against the Angels.

  • Harrison_Crow

    Nail meet head. What aren’t you good at Matt?

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Curling. Air hockey. Writing about air hockey sabermetrics. Sky hooks. Folding clothes. Etc.