The half-way world of starting pitcher "insurgence" that we've seen in 2014--marred as it is by a rash of injuries--has had one salutary benefit: the return of the glamorous, anticipation-inducing "starting pitcher matchup." Those ever-appropriative hipsters at Fangraphs have pushed into this territory with their consumerist "Watchability Index," which begs (as usual) for follow-through data measuring whether such measures actually track with what happens in the games that their system anoints.
But tonight (7/19), in what's now slotted in consumer-o-nomic lingo as "the second game of the second half," we do have a matchup with massive "anticipation potential." (The preceding sentences, BTW, have been sponsored by our good friends at "Fright Quotes R Us.")
What's that square-off? It's purely (and refreshingly) a West Coast phenomenon, with the upstart Seattle Mariners, defying some as-yet determined precepts of various loosely-related natural laws, are trying to compete with the money machine that "Anaheim Artie" Moreno (oops, another nickel residue-al to the feckless FQRU ex-felons...) has assembled down in the wilderland of Orange County. Many cylinders are firing for the Angels of late (.750 WPCT in their last 36 games), and one of these pounding pistons is pitcher Garrett Richards, who is nearing the crossroads where hot streaks meet genuine stardom.
Richards has had a serious uptick in performance that QMAX (aka the Quality Matrix...sorry, no fright quotes!) can help anatomize for us. Last year, Garrett scuffled around as the Halos remained purgatory-bound. As a starter (in 17 GS), he was hittable (just under 4.2 in the "S" score). His "top hit prevention" (S12) was just 29%, his "hit hard" (HH) was 35%. QMAX graded him out as a sub-.500 pitcher (.496).
That has all changed dramatically thus far in '14. Garrett is now the king of the "power precipice" (PP, the region at the upper right of the QMAX chart). His hit prevention figures have improved from 4.2 to 2.7 (yes, lower is better here, just like ERA). That improvement, should it hold up over the course of the whole season, would be one of the most dramatic in baseball history.
Richards has gotten wilder than was the case previously, but not in a way that is particularly alarming. Apparently, what he's done to induce lack of contact (and Garrett's K/9 is a prominent part of his improved hit prevention, rocketing up from 6.3 to 9.1) has had some effect on his command. Right now, though, he's living proof that power pitching can accommodate rough edges.
Tonight, however, Richards will match up against an undisputed ace. (You know someone is in that category when he can be referred to by his first name.) That name? Felix.
The M's kingpin is seemingly on his way to his best season yet, pushing his way into the sub-5 region of the QMAX measures (2.70 S/1.95 C = 4.65 T) and a series of QMAX range data values that have their own category of "fright quotes": 5% "hit hard" (HH), 75% "success square" (SS), 50% "elite square" (ES).
The ultimate QMAX measure, the QMAX Winning Percentage, which we (as you would expect) abbreviate as "QWP" (or "quip," for those who like vowels with their phonemes...) shows that Felix is raking at better than a .700 clip this season (.704 to be exact). That's enough to create some noticeable separation from Richards, who's cruising just a bit above .650 in the "gospel according to QWP."
Both pitchers have been scalding in their last seven starts. ERA comparison: Felix 1.36, Richards 1.45.
The M's, coming off a tough 16-inning loss last night in Anaheim, need their Kingpin to bowl over the Halos tonight. For Richards, it's a chance to make a statement about where he belongs in the pantheon of starting pitchers.
Don't miss it.