Archive for Mariners

On Liking Jean Segura

There are few things that can make us feel more anxious than when we realize that people we consider our friends don’t enjoy the same things we do. Music, comedy specials, how much to go outside. There’s a little daring in liking things, especially when we like them deeply. By professing that we like something, we invite someone else to say that they don’t like that something, and then suddenly, there is one less thing that knits us to that someone.

Not liking the same little somethings is fine; I like eggplant and I have friends who don’t and it has never mattered, not even one time. But it can be hard to suss out in advance which little things, when pulled open, will lead to the bigger somethings that do matter. And so sharing the things we like can make us feel nervous. Perhaps you, the eggplant disliker, don’t care for its texture. That’s fine; eggplant has divisive mouthfeel. But maybe you don’t like it because you prefer the meaty taste of the human persons you have folded up in your basement freezer. That’s considerably less good! I went in liking eggplant and came out knowing you’re a murderer. Friendship can be dicey in this way, but I guess we have to risk it.

So here’s what I like. I like watching Jean Segura play baseball.

I liked this single, on a ball just above the zone.

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The Mariners Are Trying to Be the Clutchiest Team on Record

The Rays lost a one-run decision in Miami Monday night, and it didn’t matter. I’m sure it mattered to the Marlins, and I’m sure it mattered to the Rays, but it didn’t really matter in the standings. Not as far as the playoff race is concerned. In the hunt for the AL’s second wild card, the Rays are in fourth place, but they’re separated from the first-place Mariners by 11.5 games. The Angels are 11 games back, and the A’s are the nearest competition, at eight behind. Nothing is actually yet set in stone, but it feels like we know the AL’s five playoff teams before we even reach the Fourth of July.

In some other universe, not much is different, except for everything. In this other universe, teams have win-loss records that match their run differentials. If you arrange by Pythagorean records, the Mariners still hold the second wild card, but they’re only one up on the Angels. They’re two up on the A’s, and they’re two and a half up on the Rays.

And then there’s the universe where everything goes according to BaseRuns. The inputs are the same as they are here, but the outputs simply make more sense. If you arrange by BaseRuns records, the Rays take over the lead for the second wild card. They’re a half-game up on the Mariners, and then there’s a little more room before the A’s and the Angels. According to the only standings that matter to us, the Rays are out of it. Basically everyone behind the Mariners is out of it. According to what you’d expect would have happened, there would be a tight race. In those other universes, there’s stress. There’s a far greater degree of uncertainty.

Not so. The Mariners have found a separator. They’ve pulled well away from all of their wild-card competition, and they’ve done so by being the clutchiest bunch of clutches that ever clutched.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 14

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the fourteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Yoshihisa Hirano, Joe Musgrove, and James Paxton — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Yoshihisa Hirano (Diamondbacks) on His Splitter

“I started throwing it when I turned pro in Japan. The truth is, when I was in college, I was able to get hitters out without having a splitty. A fastball and a slider was enough. When I got to the pros, there was a lot of talk of needing a pitch that comes down and about how there’s more success with that pitch. I started toying with it a little bit my last year of college, and when I got to the pros I started using it.

Kazuhiro Sasaki was a big splitty-forkball thrower. There are some books about him, and I studied those. No one really taught me anything. I just went out and started playing with it, checking the books on how he grips it. I found a grip that was comfortable for me. There are some guys who throw it the same way, but there are other pitchers in Japan who grip it differently, too. They have a different placement within the seams.

Hirano’s splitter-forkball.

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Why Wade LeBlanc Might Make Sense

The Mariners currently possess nearly a 70% chance of making the postseason, are six games clear of the Shohei Ohtani-less Angels, and are firmly in control of the American League’s second Wild Card.

Back at the beginning of the season, this looked unlikely. Back at the beginning of the season, the Mariners had less than a 10% chance of making the postseason by our methodology. In the meantime, the club has not only lost Robinson Cano to injury but also to PED suspension. Their one-time ace, Felix Hernandez, is nearly a replacement-level player. The club is leaning heavily on Wade LeBlanc.

The absence of Cano and the decline of Felix both count as serious hurdles to the club’s postseason’s hopes. It’s looking less and less, however, like Wade LeBlanc is a liability. It’s looking more and more, rather, like he’s someone who can continue helping this team.

Just to give some context on what Wade LeBlanc is, here are some figures of note. LeBlanc made his major-league debut with the Friars in 2008, and was worth -0.6 WAR in 21 innings with more walks than strikeouts. The next year, he posted a FIP of nearly 5.00 in 46 innings and walked nearly four per nine. The year after that, he started 25 games for the Padres, threw 146 innings, and had a 4.80 FIP. Before this year, LeBlanc’s best season was — depending on what metric you chose — either 2012, where he was worth a half-win across 68 innings as a swingman (despite a FIP once again over 4.00), or 2011, where he accrued 0.8 WAR despite a 132 ERA- and 107 FIP-.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. LeBlanc, now 33, has spent the last few years as an up-and-down depth arm bouncing across the majors and Triple-A, passing through Miami, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Toronto, among others, before landing with Seattle.

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It’s Time to Talk About the AL Playoff Picture

It might seem a bit premature, but I think it’s time to talk about the American League playoff picture. Even though we’re only in the middle of June, the field might already be rounding into its final form, so we ought to at least entertain the conversation. During the preseason, we thought we had this all figured out; the preseason is when we feel our most clever. And for the most part, things in this sortable table don’t look terribly different than we expected them to before Opening Day.

American League Playoff Odds
Team Preseason
Odds
Current
Odds
Win Div Win WC SOS Pyth.
Record
BaseRuns
Record
Astros 98.8% 100% 98.1% 1.9% 0.491 -5 -2
Indians 96.6% 95.9% 95.4% 0.5% 0.477 -1 -1
Yankees 89.7% 100% 74.8% 25.2% 0.489 +3 +1
Red Sox 84.2% 99.5% 25.2% 74.3% 0.509 +1 +2
Blue Jays 37.1% 2.7% 0.0% 2.7% 0.506 0 +2
Twins 28.7% 7.0% 4.4% 2.6% 0.484 -2 0
Angels 27.1% 14.0% 0.1% 13.9% 0.510 -1 0
Mariners 9.4% 74.9% 1.8% 73.0% 0.516 +8 +7
Athletics 9.2% 5.6% 0.0% 5.5% 0.508 +1 +1
Rangers 7.7% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.504 +1 +2
Orioles 4.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.523 -4 -3
Rays 4.9% 0.2% 0.0% 0.2% 0.515 -1 -5
Royals 0.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.501 0 -2
Tigers 0.7% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.506 +2 +1
White Sox 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.505 -2 -6

The Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox are the class of the league, with all three teams projected to win at least 100 games and the first two of those each projected to win 103. The Indians are worse than we thought they would be, but the presence of the Royals, White Sox, Tigers, and even the Twins means their pursuit of another division championship likely won’t be imperiled.

We expected the Indians to win, and it looks like they will. We expected the Yankees and Red Sox to kick the snot out of each other on their way to sterling records, and for one of them to end up a quite overqualified Wild Card teams, and that looks overwhelmingly likely, too. And despite their currently narrow two-game lead on the Mariners, we expected that the Astros would run away with the West. That still looks probable, as well. It all still mostly looks probable. We (or at least the projections) were pretty clever.

Except for one thing, that is — namely, that the Mariners are currently in sole possession of the second Wild Card and that the Mariners are 7.5 games up on the Angels.

This isn’t a post about the Mariners, per se, but it is useful to think about how they got to this point. As Jay Jaffe wrote, they’ve been both ridiculously successful in one-run games (currently 23-10) and ridiculously clutch in high-leverage situations. (Their current 7.17 Clutch Score still leads the AL.) Their bullpen is quite good (fourth in the AL). Mitch Haniger has taken a big step forward, Marco Gonzales a more modest one. James Paxton has a FIP in the twos. Jean Segura would deserve to be an All-Star if shortstop weren’t such a crowded position.

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The Mariners’ Bullpen Stayed Good

A little more than two months ago, I noted that the Mariners’ bullpen had been — through that point in the season — among the most improved in the game, relative to preseason expectations. Before the 2018 season began, we projected Seattle relievers to strike out 9.1 batters per nine innings and walk 3.5.

A couple weeks into the season, they weren’t doing that. They were performing much better than that, actually. At the time I wrote that first article, Mariners relievers had struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings and walked just 1.5, both of which were tremendously good numbers and perhaps merited further investigation at the time. But it was still early, so I kept the article general and cautioned that we shouldn’t necessarily expect the men in teal to keep up their early-season performance too much longer.

Well, we’re now more than a third of the way through the major-league schedule, and the Seattle bullpen has stayed improved. In fact, the Seattle bullpen has been among the top three or four in the game, no matter which way you slice it, but this piece is about improvement against expectations. Here’s an updated version of a chart I included in my original article, which plots each teams’ actual relief K/9 and BB/9 (adjusted so that positive figures are good in both cases), through games played on Friday, against our preseason expectations of the same:

Observant readers will note that there is another happy story to tell here about the Astros’ pen — featuring Héctor Rondón and Chris Devenski — and a sad one about the Orioles, featuring almost every Oriole. But, again, this article is about the Mariners, whose improvement relative to projections in both K/9 and BB/9 has been outstanding — and key to the club’s outrageous performance in one-run games, which was detailed here by my colleague Jay Jaffe. Maybe it’s finally time to dive a little bit deeper into what they’ve been doing and why it’s been successful.

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The AL West and One-Run Success

Sunday’s Mariners-Rays game in Tampa Bay ended in memorable fashion, with Seattle right fielder Mitch Haniger failing to make a sliding catch on Carlos Gomez’s bloop, mishandling the ball while attempting to pick it up, but recovering in time to throw home, where Johnny Field, who had been running on contact from first base, was out by a country mile. Catcher Mike Zunino could have paused to make an omelette between receiving the ball and applying the tag:

The play preserved the Mariners’ 5-4 lead and gave them not just their 41st victory of the season but their 21st in games decided by one run. With the Astros also winning, 8-7 over the Rangers, Seattle and Houston remained tied atop the AL West. If you haven’t been paying attention lately, the Mariners — while missing the suspended Robinson Cano and overcoming a 5.70 ERA/4.77 FIP from Felix Hernandez — have spent every day since June 2 with at least a share of the division lead. They’ve done this despite the fact that the Astros have by far the better run differential — the majors’ best, actually:

AL West Leaders
Team W-L WPct Run Dif 1-Run W-L WPct Other W-L WPct
Mariners 41-24 .631 20 21-9 .700 20-15 .571
Astros 42-25 .627 127 6-12 .333 36-13 .735

Now there’s something you just don’t see every day: two teams whose run differentials differ by more than 100 but are basically even in the standings. Those one-run games are the reason. The Astros, who would be on a 109-win pace if they had merely gone .500 in such games to this point, actually won a pair of ’em on Saturday and Sunday, but when it comes to such those contests, they’re still tied for the majors’ fourth-lowest winning percentage and fourth-lowest win total in one-run games. The Mariners, on the other hand, have five more one-run wins than any other team and eight more than any other AL team, though they’re merely third in winning percentage:

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Mariners First-Rounder Evan White on Being Atypical

Evan White doesn’t fit a traditional mold. As a matter of fact, the 22-year-old University of Kentucky product was, in the opinion of Eric Longenhagen, “perhaps the 2017 draft’s most unique player.” As Longenhagen explained when putting together our Mariners prospect list, White not only bats right and throws left, he’s a first baseman whose athleticism and offensive skill set are arguably more akin to that of center fielder.

Last June’s 17th overall pick doesn’t project to hit for much power, but the Mariners were certainly enamored of what he accomplished as a collegian. In his three seasons as a Wildcat, White slashed .356/.414/.527 while playing exemplary defense. In the opinion of many scouts, he possesses Gold Glove potential — assuming he remains at his current position.

A native of Columbus, Ohio who grew up rooting for the Cincinnati Reds — Joey Votto remains a favorite — White is currently slashing .284/.356/.407, with three home runs, for the Modesto Nuts in the High-A California League. He discussed his game, including the ways it differs from the norm, in mid-May.

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White on throwing left and batting right: “I have an older cousin, and when I was a little kid, my grandpa cut down a golf club for him. It was a right-handed golf club and I started picking it up and swinging it. Ever since then — from around maybe four or five years old — I’ve swung right-handed. I’ve always thrown left-handed.

“My dad kind of messed around with me being a switch-hitter when I was growing up. He tried to get me to do it, but I never liked it. To be honest, I kind of like the thought of being unique. You don’t see many guys throwing left and hitting right. It’s something that’s always appealed to me.”

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The Mariners Are Bucking a Trend

We’ve talked a lot in these pages about stadium deals. We’ve talked about the Marlins and how Miami’s deal with the team deteriorated into a lawsuit. We’ve talked about the Diamondbacks and how their search for a stadium deal resulted in a lawsuit. And in recent years, teams like the Braves and Rangers have decided to construct new stadiums even where the existing buildings were relatively young. Leave it to the Mariners, of all teams, to buck the increasing trend. Per the Associated Press:

The Washington State Major League Baseball Public Facilities District has approved terms of a new 25-year lease with the Seattle Mariners for Safeco Field.

Combined with options for two three-year extensions as part of the agreement approved Wednesday, the new lease could keep the Mariners at the stadium through the 2049 season.

As part of the lease terms, the Mariners agreed to pay 100 percent of maintenance and operations costs at the stadium and “contribute to ongoing capital improvements that will be needed in the decades to come.”

The new lease is five years longer than the original 20-year agreement when the ballpark was constructed and opened in 1999. The current lease was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season.

There are a couple of interesting facets to this deal. Remember when we talked about the Diamondbacks’ lawsuit? That was about stadium maintenance costs, with the team arguing that Maricopa County was responsible for maintaining the facility. But here, the Mariners voluntarily agreed to assume all of the maintenance costs and 80% of required capital expenditures. On one hand, it seems like a great deal for the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD), which owns the ballpark. On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that Safeco Field cost about $520 million, of which $390 million was paid by taxpayers. Unlike some teams, however, the Mariners are making a legitimate effort to repay taxpayers for their initial investment, as Ryan Divish explains:

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How James Paxton Had His Incredible May

In James Paxton’s final start in the month of May, he didn’t have it. Or at least, he didn’t have it like he’d had it before. Nevertheless, over five innings, he allowed just two runs, while striking out five and throwing two-thirds of his 89 pitches for strikes. Paxton has graduated to the point where even his mediocre outings are kind of all right. The four walks in five frames tell a misleading story; Paxton wasn’t wild. Paxton wasn’t wild because Paxton isn’t wild.

Paxton’s month began with 16 strikeouts against Oakland. That game was followed by a no-hitter in Toronto, and then, the next three times out, Paxton issued only one total walk while whiffing 23. Over six starts in May, Paxton went 43 innings and allowed eight runs, with opponents batting .143 and slugging .240. It’s quite possible this wasn’t even the best month of May for any pitcher — Justin Verlander also started six times, and he allowed five runs, to go with a .195 wOBA. But Paxton shook off a roller-coaster April, and established himself as one of the top starters in either league. If, that is, he wasn’t yet established.

Under the hood, as Paxton wrested greater control of his at-bats, he made some changes to his game plan. The month of May saw Paxton throwing a different fastball. And, as well, the month of May saw Paxton throwing a different curve. He does have a third pitch that’s in between the two, but it was the heater and the curveball that drove the bulk of Paxton’s success.

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Trading Season Is Open Early

It’s funny the way little, unpredictable things can change the course of a season. Baseball is about more than BaseRuns, of course, but, according to BaseRuns, the Rays should have a winning percentage of .528. The Mariners, meanwhile, should have a winning percentage of .529, and both team would be looking up at the .539 Angels. It would be a half-game separation from the second wild card. Despite everything the Rays have experienced and encountered, they might say they should be in the thick of the hunt.

BaseRuns sometimes has only a loose relationship with reality. According to what has actually gone on, the Rays have a winning percentage of .479. The Mariners, meanwhile, have a winning percentage of .592. The Mariners are 5.5 games ahead of the Rays, and, in between them, there are also the Angels and the A’s, to say nothing of some other teams in the neighborhood. Thanks to the early standings, the Mariners’ playoff odds have increased from 9% to 30%. The Rays’ playoff odds have decreased from 5% to 1%. As similar as the Rays and Mariners have arguably been, their current circumstances are undeniably different.

The Mariners also found themselves in a recent bind, requiring an outfielder after Robinson Cano was both hurt and suspended. The Mariners want to win, and they’ve been desperate for help. The Rays have become increasingly willing to shed short-term help. Given everything, it makes sense that we have a pre-draft trade. Such deals are uncommon, but when you have these two front offices in these two situations, you should never allow yourself to be shocked.

Mariners get:

Rays get:

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Jerry Dipoto Does Not Care About Your Friday Plans

Whatever else you might say about Jerry Dipoto, he’s demonstrated an indomitable desire to engage in trades. Big trades, little trades, all sorts of trades. And with injuries and Robinson Canó’s suspension forcing Dee Gordon to move back to the infield (before going on the disabled list himself), and with an extra $11 million of loose change suddenly freed up by Canó’s absence, it seemed likely that Dipoto would ride again, provided he could find a willing partner.

This afternoon, Dipoto found his man, or men rather. Per Marc Topkin.

The Mariners will also receive $4.75 million in cash considerations, so not all the Canó money is spent. The deal makes all the sense in the world for the Mariners. Denard Span and his heretofore 114 wRC+ will provide additional depth in a suddenly thin outfield, with Dipoto indicating that the initial plan is for Span to spend his time in left field, while Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger roam center and right, respectively. Ben Gamel will remain in the mix for the left-field spot. Span also gives the team additional options in center should Heredia falter against right-handed pitching.

Alex Colomé, meanwhile, reinforces a bullpen that, outside of closer Edwin Diaz, has been shaky at times. James Pazos and Nick Vincent have pitched their way to a respectable FIPs, but offseason signing Juan Nicasio’s velocity has declined slightly, as has his effectiveness. According to Pitch Info, his average fastball has climbed back closer to 95 mph rather than the 91 mph Mariners fans were seeing in spring, but he’s still lost a tick, which may help to explain the increase in his home-run rate. Colomé’s season got off to its own rough start, marred by inexact command that lead to an 11.7% walk rate, but May has gone considerably better, with his FIP dropping to 1.35. He represents an additional option in late innings and beyond making the ball more likely to get to Diaz, should also allow the Mariners to rest Diaz a bit more.

Tampa’s side is bit stranger. For a team with the Rays’ pitching strategy, it seems odd to trade a good closer, an oddity that isn’t lessened by the acquisition of Wilmer Font. The Rays do get Andrew Moore and prospect Tommy Romero, which isn’t nothing. As with any set of young arms, there’s always the risk that they’ll bloom into something Seattle regrets giving up. Moore pitched big-league innings with middling results last year, and started the season in Double-A, but he’s still thought to have back of the rotation potential. That isn’t useless, but it also isn’t likely to help the Mariners win right now. And as Jerry and this trade show, winning right now is what Seattle is interested in.


The Mariners Have to Thread a Very Small Needle

Tuesday night, the Mariners started a game without Robinson Cano, Dee Gordon, and Nelson Cruz. I should say they also started without James Paxton, since it wasn’t his day to pitch. Eventually the Mariners ended the game without Mitch Haniger. Nevertheless, they beat the A’s in extra innings, improving to 28-19. It’s tied for the fourth-best start in franchise history, if you just focus on the first 47 games, and the Mariners own the fourth-best record in the American League. They own the sixth-best record overall. If the playoffs started today, people would be very confused, but also, the Mariners would be included, for the first time since 2001. For all intents and purposes, Ichiro Suzuki is retired. In 2001, he was a major-league rookie. This is, as you know, the longest active playoff drought out of the four major North American sports.

Cano suspension aside, the Mariners couldn’t have asked for a much better first two months. They’re on a 96.5-win pace, and it probably shouldn’t take 96 or 97 wins to make the playoffs, so there’s a little bit of built-in wiggle room. Without question, it’s good for the Mariners that they have sole possession of a wild-card slot. They’re 2.5 games ahead of the Angels. They’re 3.5 games ahead of the A’s, and they’re 5.5 games ahead of the Rays and the Blue Jays. The Twins trail six games behind. The early results are in the bag; since opening day, the Mariners have dramatically improved their position.

Yet the path to the playoffs remains narrow. With a dominant starter and a dominant closer, the Mariners would make for a challenging wild-card opponent. There’s just a lot of work to do first, before any of that even matters.

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Cano’s PED Suspension Resonates Beyond This Season

Tuesday was supposed to be the day that Robinson Cano learned of the prognosis regarding the fractured fifth metacarpal he suffered on Sunday. Instead, both he and the Mariners suffered a bigger blow, as MLB suspended the 35-year-old second baseman for 80 games for violating baseball’s joint drug agreement. The news is quite a shock, to say the least, given Cano’s standing within the game. It’s also quite a coincidence given his injury.

Cano will not be paid during the suspension, which means that he stands to lose about half of his $24 million salary. If the Mariners were to make the playoffs — something they haven’t done since 2001, giving them the longest postseason drought in major North American sports — he would be ineligible to participate. He can, however, serve the suspension while on the disabled list, a loophole that should have been closed a long time ago but for some reason has not been. Edinson Volquez (suspended in 2010) and Freddy Galvis (suspended in 2012) are among the players who served their PED suspensions while on the DL. Cano will be eligible to return for the Mariners’ 121st game of the season, on August 14.

According to MLB, Cano tested positive for furosemide, a diuretic better known as Lasix. Via WebMD, the drug can be used to treat high blood pressure, fluid retention and swelling caused by congestive heart failure, liver disease, kidney disease, and other medical conditions.

Via a statement by Cano issued through the Major League Baseball Players Association, Cano claimed that the substance was given to him by a licensed doctor to treat an unspecified medical ailment. (MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports that it was an episode of high blood pressure.)

Here’s the statement in full:

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A Bad Break for Cano and the Mariners

The Mariners own the longest postseason drought among major North American professional sports teams, and their chances of breaking that streak, which began in 2002, only got longer on Sunday. Robinson Cano was hit on the right hand by a pitch from the Tigers’ Blaine Hardy and suffered a broken metacarpal. While the full prognosis won’t be known until he sees a hand specialist on Tuesday in Philadelphia, the team will be lucky if he’s back before the All-Star break.

“They didn’t say anything about how long I might be out, but it is broken bad, so there might be surgery,” Cano told reporters after Sunday’s game.

Though they had merely been alternating wins and losses over the course of their past 11 games, the Mariners entered Sunday with a 22-16 record, matching their best start since 2004, and just 1.5 games behind the Angels in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot; with Seattle’s loss to Detroit and Anaheim’s win over Minnesota, the gap is now 2.5 games. Their Playoff Odds were at 13.9% entering Sunday. Without Cano for the foreseeable future, however, they’re down to TK.

The 35-year-old Cano has been the Mariners’ top position player thus far in terms of WAR (1.4) and second best in terms of wRC+ (128, on a .287/.385/.441 line) behind hot-starting Mitch Haniger. He’s been a remarkably durable player, averaging 159 games per year from 2007 to -17, visiting the disabled list only for hamstring strains in 2006 and 2017; he still played 150 game last year. That day-in, day-out durability has helped him rack up 2,417 career hits and 305 homers. Yes, he’ll be a Hall of Famer some day. He’s already seventh in JAWS among second basemen.)

Cano’s loss is a shame, first and foremost, for what it means to his team, but secondarily because he’s in the midst of a couple is-this-for-real trends about which we won’t get satisfactory answers for months. Inquiring minds want to know now!

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Paxton’s No-Hitter Was Something Special

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in Major League Baseball history, continental North America is fully accounted for on the no-hit front within a single season. The United States of America checked in with its first no-hitter of 2018 on April 18, when the A’s Sean Manaea held the Red Sox hitless in Oakland. Mexico got on the board for the first time last Friday, May 2, when the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler and three relievers no-hit the Padres during the Mexico Series opener in Monterrey. And on Tuesday night, Canada completed the sweep when the Mariners’ James Paxton no-hit the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Paxton, who was born and raised in Ladner, British Columbia, made history by becoming just the second Canadian-born pitcher to throw a no-hitter and the first to do so on Canadian soil. Toronto-born Dick Fowler, pitching for the A’s, no-hit the Browns on September 9, 1945 in Philadelphia. While we’re dispensing with ordinal trivia, it seems appropriate to mention that Paxton is third pitcher to throw a no-hitter at the Rogers Centre (previously the Skydome) after the A’s Dave Stewart (June 29, 1990) and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander (May 7, 2011); no Blue Jays pitcher has ever done it there. Paxton threw the sixth no-hitter in Mariners history, after Randy Johnson (June 2, 1990 against the Tigers), Chris Bosio (April 22, 1993 against the Red Sox), Kevin Millwood and five relievers (June 8, 2012 against the Dodgers), Felix Hernandez (a perfect game on August 15, 2012 against the Rays), and Hisashi Iwakuma (August 12, 2015 against the Orioles).

(While the record books are silent on the matter, Paxton is assumed to be the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in a season where a bald eagle landed on him.)

Paxton was nearly unhittable the last time he took the mound, striking out 16 in seven shutout innings on May 2 against the A’s. In that contest, during which he threw 105 pitches, the 29-year-old southpaw got 31 swinging strikes, 25 of them via four-seam fastball, many of them at the top of the zone. On Tuesday, he was more efficient, needing just 99 pitches for the entire night, and inducing “only” 15 swings and misses, eight with the four-seamer. He got squeezed a bit at the top of the zone and walked three, but faced just two batters over the minimum thanks to a double play, and threw more than five pitches to just one batter. In only two innings did he use more than 12 pitches, and in four innings, he needed 10 or fewer pitches, including the eighth and ninth. Thus, when he needed to reach back for more gas, it was there. The pitch speed graph from Brooks Baseball tells the story:

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Edwin Díaz Has Been Nearly Unhittable

This is Jake Mailhot’s first post as part of his May Residency at FanGraphs. A lifelong Mariners fan, Jake now lives in Bellingham, Washington, just a little too far away from Seattle to make it to games regularly, which is sometimes for the best. He is a staff editor at Mariners blog Lookout Landing. He can be found on Twitter at @jakemailhot.

There has been no shortage of remarkable relief performances during the first month of the season. Jordan Hicks and Tayron Guerrero are playing a game of one-upmanship with their fastballs. Josh Hader is striking out basically everyone he faces. Adam Ottavino resurrected his career in an abandoned storefront. But the most impressive performance of all might be what Edwin Díaz accomplished in April.

The ninth batter Díaz faced this season was also the first to actually put the ball in play — he’d struck out the first eight. Seven appearances into the year, he finally gave up his first hit, a single to Jed Lowrie. He gave up just one other hit the entire month. Among pitchers who’ve thrown 10 or more innings, possesses the fourth-highest swinging-strike rate and has produced the lowest overall contact rate when batters actually swing. If you prefer more traditional accolades, he’s also leading the majors in saves. His performance earned him the April AL Reliever of the Month Award. Any way you slice it, Díaz has been pretty great so far.

Díaz has shown flashes of dominance like this before — his 2016 rookie campaign was good for 1.9 WAR on the back of a 2.04 FIP — but he’s always been a little too erratic for his own good. Some of his success in April came despite the inherent chaos of slinging a projectile at 98 mph. He’s already walked nine batters and hit three more, and he’s given up a pair of home runs in May already. A quick look at his plate-discipline stats reveals that Díaz is throwing in the strike zone at the lowest rate of his career, around six and a half points lower than last season. And he isn’t really inducing any more swings on those pitches out of the zone — in fact, batters are swinging far less often at his pitches overall. But again, when batters do swing, they just cannot make consistent contact. Díaz’s contact rate of 55.2% is better than Aroldis Chapman’s, Josh Hader’s, and everyone else’s.

So what has made Díaz so effective this year when he does find the zone?

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Matt Harvey Is Now a Reclamation Project

When Matt Harvey burst onto the scene in 2012 — yes, it has been six years — there was every reason to believe he was destined to lead the long-maligned Mets back to the promised land. Over a 10-start camero, he struck out 28.6% of the batters he faced, good for nearly eleven strikeouts per nine innings. And while he walked more than 10% of his opponents, the future seemed limitless: Eno Sarris wrote before the 2013 season that “Yu Darvish might be his floor.”

Then Harvey went out and blew the doors off Queens in 2013.

However good you remember Harvey being in 2013, he was probably better. His ERA? It was 2.27. His FIP? Even lower than that. He cut his walk rate down to 4.5% while preserving his strikeouts (27.7%). He recorded an average velocity of 95.8 mph with his fastball, which was an incredible 30 runs above average. But his slider, and curveball, and changeup were all plus pitches, too, which is what has to happen to be 50% better than league average.

In the 2013 campaign, Harvey accrued 6.5 WAR in just 178.1 innings. To understand that in context, consider that, last year, Clayton Kershaw threw 175 innings and accrued 4.6 WAR. The mighty Noah Syndergaard was worse in 2016 than Harvey was in 2013. Harvey was, in 2013, the best pitcher in baseball.

Then Harvey tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss all of 2014. Still, Derek Ambrosino wrote before the 2014 season that “there isn’t a great reason to worry that he won’t regain form as soon as he regains health” — and, a year later, before his return, Eno called him a “top-15 pitcher” even with the uncertainty of the surgery.

Matt Harvey circa 2015 wasn’t the same pitcher he was in 2013, but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. After the All-Star break that year, Harvey posted a 25.7% K rate, a 3.6% walk rate, a 48.6% ground-ball rate, a 2.28 FIP, and a 7.18 K/BB. In other words, post-TJ Matt Harvey in 2015 looked an awful lot like prime Cliff Lee.

Then the postseason happened, and the World Series happened.

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Ichiro Bows Out

Seattle’s new Special Assistant to the Chairman, Ichiro. (Photo: Keith Allison)

On Thursday, the Mariners announced that Ichiro Suzuki would transition to the role of Special Assistant to the Chairman, effective immediately. While the agreement covers only the 2018 season, it appears quite likely that we’ve seen the last of the wiry, slap-hitting international superstar in a playing role, even given his stated desire to play “at least until I’m 50.” At 44 years old, he was hitting a meager .205/.255/.205, and with outfielders Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia now both on the roster, his continued presence created a crunch whose resolution couldn’t even wait until this weekend’s series with the Angels, which might have included a possible encounter with the pitching version of Shohei Ohtani.

From the Mariners’ PR department:

“We want to make sure we capture all of the value that Ichiro brings to this team off the field,” [general manager Jerry] Dipoto said. “This new role is a way to accomplish that. While it will evolve over time, the key is that Ichiro’s presence in our clubhouse and with our players and staff improves our opportunity to win games. That is our number-one priority and Ichiro’s number-one priority.”

Ichiro will work in collaboration with the Mariners Major League Staff, High Performance Staff and Front Office personnel. He will assist, based on his experience, with outfield play, baserunning and hitting. And he will provide mentorship to both players and staff.

The plight of Ichiro wasn’t far from my mind as I wrote about Albert Pujols’ crawl to 3,000 hits, and the struggles of other players when they made the push for that milestone. Back in 2013, when Ichiro was playing for the Yankees, I had the privilege of covering his 4,000th hit — his combined NPB and MLB total — for SI.com. At the time it was clear that his offensive skills had faded, and the celebration felt like a stand-in for that of an increasingly unlikely 3,000th major league hit. At 39 years old, he didn’t figure to collect the 278 he still needed. I even asked the question myself as to whether the more conventional milestone was in his sights. “I don’t make goals that are so far away,” he said through his translator. “What I do is do what I can every single day and build off that and see where that takes me.”

Lo and behold, Ichrio built off enough days to reach 3,000 while enjoying an unexpected renaissance with the Marlins in 2016. Even having not debuted stateside until he was 27 years old, he was the fourth-fastest player to 3,000 hits in terms of plate appearances, and sixth-fastest in terms of at-bats. As with the 4,000th combined hit and his long-awaited MLB pitching debut from October 4, 2015, the milestone 3,000th, a triple against the Rockies on August 7, 2016, brought a good bit of joy to the game. It also sealed the deal, once and for all, on his future enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. While his anachronistic slash-and-run style rarely produced the value to rival that of the era’s top sluggers, it was a vastly entertaining one nonetheless, and he staked his claim on a plaque via his initial decade-long run, during which he annually made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove and cranked out at least 200 hits. He led the AL seven times in that category, setting a major league record with 262 hits in 2004 and claiming two batting titles as well as his AL Rookie of the Year/MVP combo in 2001. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2024 if he doesn’t return, although Seattle’s 2019 season-opening series in Japan offers a tempting possibility for a cameo.

Ichiro’s awe-inspiring total of 4,367 hits (1,278 in Japan, 3,089 here) will stand as the signature accomplishment for a player who has spent more than a quarter-century serving as a wonderful ambassador for the sport on two continents. Here’s hoping he can continue that ambassadorship in a non-playing capacity for years to come.


James Paxton’s One Simple Trick for Absolute Dominance

Wednesday night, in a game against the A’s, the Mariners started James Paxton and received one of the most dominant starts in the franchise’s whole entire history. A couple innings after Paxton was removed, the Mariners lost, and the conversation deteriorated into an argument over bringing in the closer in a non-save situation. Thursday has brought the additional news that Ichiro Suzuki is transitioning into a non-roster advisory role, so it would be easy for Paxton’s start to get lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t the most important story of the game, and the game is no longer the most important story of the day.

But I won’t turn down many opportunities to write about James Paxton. I have the freedom to write what I want. And Paxton wasn’t only good against the A’s. He wasn’t only overwhelming. He was almost genuinely unhittable, collecting 16 strikeouts over the span of seven innings. Paxton issued one single walk, and he allowed a handful of hits. Nobody scored. Of Paxton’s 105 pitches, an incredible 80 of them were strikes. I know that, through the lens of ERA, this year’s Paxton has been modestly disappointing. That ERA misleads, and Wednesday provided a reminder that Paxton is almost as good as it gets. And as he went about setting down the A’s one by one, Paxton followed a pretty simple game plan. It’s one that could hint at even more to come.

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