Happy Felix Day(?)

Games started by Felix Hernandez always brings with it feelings of joy, well-being, and hope for a win, especially during a season like this, and tonight was certainly no exception after the crushing loss the Mariners took last night.

Felix absolutely cruised until the seventh inning, allowing only four hits and striking out three Rangers in the first six frames.  Vladimir Guerrero singled to lead off the inning, however, and two batters later David Murphy swung at the first pitch he saw and launched it out to left that just barely scraped by the glove of a leaping Michael Saunders for a two-run homer.  Felix’s pitch count was starting to get up a little bit at this point and he started to scuffle a little, ultimately giving up another run and getting lifted for Jamey Wright with two outs in the inning and runners on first and second, and Ryan Langerhans would come in to replace Saunders after the inning as well after Saunders was apparently dinged up after crashing hard into the wall trying to save the Murphy homer.

Wright would, of course, throw a wild pitch on his first throw to home plate, allowing both runners to advance, but no further damage was done as he quickly got Michael Young to ground out to end the inning.  The eighth inning was a different story, however, as Wright allowed the first four batters to reach base (though the fourth was an intentional walk) before Bengie Molina recorded the first out on a sacrifice fly that made the score 5-0.  Chris Seddon was brought in with runners on first and second, and also promptly tossed a wild pitch, advancing the runners.  He would walk the batter to load the bases with still just one out, and Nelson Cruz would score to make it 6-0 from third on, you guessed it, yet another wild pitch.

I’m sensing a theme for the evening.

Thankfully, Seddon managed to work his way out of his jam, and the game wouldn’t get any worse.  It didn’t get any better, though, and ended at 6-0 on an Ichiro groundout to defensive whizkid shortstop Elvis Andrus.

During the course of the game, Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune gratefully reminded Mariner fans everywhere that tonight is the nine-year anniversary of one of the lower single nights in Mariners’ history.

On August 5th, 2001, in the midst of Seattle’s historic 116-win season, the team was in Cleveland playing the Indians.  Things got off to a roaring start for the M’s, ripping off a 12-0 lead by the end of the third inning.  The Mariners settled in and put themselves into cruise control at that point, and the game stood at 14-2, and victory was well within reach… unless you asked the Indians, of course.  They would blast the Mariners for 12 runs over the last three innings to tie the score at 14-14 in the bottom of the ninth inning, and ultimately won 15-14 in the eleventh.

That game would ultimately serve as a catalyst for the downfall of that great club, that would fade badly down the stretch of the regular season, struggle through the first round of the playoffs against those same Indians, and get beaten down by the Yankees in the Championship round with barely a whimper.

Kind of fitting for that night to get brought up in the middle of such a badly lost season…

The Rangers were throwing Tommy Hunter, bearer of an 8-1 record and a shiny 3.31 ERA coming into the game, and one of the pitchers many traditional journalists point to when they talk about the revival on the mound in Texas.  As any baseball fan with knowledge  of some of the more advanced statistical metrics know that a pitcher’s record is a very poor way to judge his performance, and that his basic ERA isn’t much better. Looking at his full numbers on Fangraphs, we can see that his success, like beauty, is only skin-deep.

The first two numbers I look at to see how much of a pitcher’s success is luck or not are his Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) and the percentage of runners that he keeps from scoring (LOB%).  In Hunter’s case, both numbers indicate that he’s been fairly lucky on the year.  His BABIP stood at .248, forty points below his career mark and fifty under the major-league average, and his LOB% was at 79.5%, well over the average of 70%.  Another good indicator of a pitcher’s “true” results is Fielding Independant Pitching, or FIP, a metric similar to ERA in how it reads, but that completely removes all possible defensive contributions from the equation, meaning you’re only getting what the pitcher himself is in control of.  Hunter’s FIP stands at a pretty mediocre 4.77, almost a run and a half higher than his ERA.

Those three numbers together suggest that Hunter is a pretty average pitcher who looks a lot better thanks to some good luck and the stellar Rangers’ defense.  That suggestion is aided by the fact that he just does not miss many bats, getting just over four and a half strikeouts per nine innings, and generating a paltry 4.9% swinging strike rate, sixth-worst in the league among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched this year (interestingly, Seattle’s Doug Fister has the second lowest number at 4%. Minnesota’s Nick Blackburn is the worst at just 3%).  When you’ve got such a great defense behind you, a pitcher can get away with those sorts of numbers.  Take away that defense, however, and that same pitcher will look very ordinary, and sometimes downright terrible.

Tonight was a good showing of that results/reality disparity.  Hunter held the Mariners without a run over his six and a third innings, but gave up eight hits while doing so and leaned heavily on his defense, which provided him with several timely double plays.  The Mariners helped as well, with several bad pop-ups and strikeouts with runners in scoring position (in fact, the M’s were 0-12 with RISP tonight).

Jose Lopez also had a couple more gaffes this year, including screwing up an easy out in the ninth by throwing a ball no-where near first base on what should have been a ground out.  I’m so tired of Lopez’s constant mental mistakes at this point that I can’t even talk about it any more.  Heck, I don’t even care about them anymore, not really.  I’m just counting down the days until the team (hopefully) declines his option for 2010 and kicks him to the curb.  Maybe he can get traded for a broken bat before the waiver deadline at the end of this month and we don’t even have to wait till the offseason to wave goodbye.  That’d be stellar.

Megan should be back tomorrow for your regularly-scheduled sunny optimism.  Apologies, but mine ran out two months ago…

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