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Entries in Seattle Mariners (36)


Belt-High Pitches Hurting Jason Vargas

As a finesse, fly-ball lefty, Jason Vargas was a perfect fit for Seattle's Safeco Field. Vargas will still pitch in a plum environment after being traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Kendrys Morales, considering that Angel Stadium kills right-handed power hitters and he'll have Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos covering the gaps behind him. However, Trout and Bourjos can only help Vargas if he keeps the ball out of the cheap seats. That has become a serious problem recently, as the former Long Beach State star has left more pitches over the middle of the plate.

Vargas' home run rate has climbed three years running, from 0.8 per nine innings pitched in 2010 to one per nine in 2011 and 1.4 HR/9 this past season. He coughed up 35 home runs in 2012, tying Phil Hughes for second-most among starting pitchers. Vargas got burned when he tossed belt-high pitches:

Location of Vargas' home runs allowed in 2012:

Vargas allowed 20 homers on pitches thrown to the vertical middle of the strike zone, a total topped only by New York's Ivan Nova (21). The lefty gave hitters more chances to tee off on belt-high pitches, too: He threw about 38% of his pitches to the middle of the plate, up from 36% in 2011 and 32% in 2010. For context, the three-year average for starting pitchers is slightly over 31%.

Safeco provided a safe haven for Vargas, who was highly successful at home during his M's career (3.34 ERA, 0.9 HR/9) but an also-ran on the road (4.85 ERA, 1.5 HR/9). L.A. is a great landing spot, with Angel Stadium suppressing home runs for righty batters by 20% compared to a neutral park (Safeco cuts righty homers by 30%) and Trout and Bourjos running down everything in play. That said, Vargas can't rely on Trout bringing back balls destined for the rocks every night. Great park and outfield defense aside, Vargas must sharpen his command to limit those long drives.


King Felix Reaches New Heights by Staying Low

Felix Hernandez froze Sean Rodriguez with a hard changeup at the knees for a called strike three, raised his arms skyward and got mobbed by his fellow M's Wednesday afternoon, throwing the 23rd perfect game in MLB history. That Felix clinched his perfecto with a well-located low pitch was fitting -- he tortured Tampa's lineup all day by keeping the ball down.

Hernandez threw 57 of his 113 pitches (50.4%) down in the zone. Those low offerings generated 11 of his 12 strikeouts. Evan Longoria fanned twice on low curveballs, while Elliot Johnson and B.J. Upton each did so once. Matt Joyce, Jose Lobaton, Johnson, Ben Zobrist and Rodriguez were rung up on changeups. Rodriguez also whiffed on a slider, as did Desmond Jennings on an inside fastball:

Location of King Felix's Ks, 8/15/2012


Of the 26 swings and misses King Felix had yesterday, 21 of them came on low pitches:

Location of King Felix's swings and misses, 8/15/2012


Felix is usually dominant when he keeps the ball low -- he ranks fifth among qualified starting pitchers in slugging percentage on low pitches (.221) and has the 12th-best miss rate (39.3%) -- but he and the M's might have also known that the Rays struggle when pitchers pound them at the knees. Tampa is slugging a collective .270 on low pitches this season, which is 65 points below the MLB average, and has a 39.2% miss rate (31.5% average).

Even among perfect games, King Felix's was special: According to Baseball-Reference, his 99 Game Score during his perfect game trails just Matt Cain (101 Game Score in June), Sandy Koufax (101 in 1965) and Randy Johnson (100 in 2004) among those thrown since 1918. Strangely enough, the Rays have been on the wrong end of perfect games in three of the past four seasons (Mark Buehrle in 2009, Dallas Braden in 2010 and Hernandez) and now have more perfect games thrown against them than any other franchise in MLB history, despite only being around since 1998.


#RoyalPerfection in a Heatmap

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