The Mariners lost another heartbreaker Friday. In the aftermath, the thing a lot of people want to talk about is the latest case of the new transfer rule rearing its controversial, impossibly stupid head. I don’t know why — it was pretty obvious to me that Kyle Seager didn’t catch the throw from Yoervis Medina at all. Of course everybody was safe on the play; why would you expect anything otherwise?
Incidentally, I’m not sure what the Marlins were doing. If that play is called in a not-stupid way, the Marlins lose the lead baserunner. But if that play goes as intended, the Marlins move runners up to second and third with one out. That would bring up Giancarlo Stanton, who is the team’s good hitter, but then Stanton would just be walked intentionally to bring up Garrett Jones, who is not the team’s good hitter. By bunting in front of Stanton, the Marlins were effectively taking the bat out of the hands of both Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. But Stanton still got to swing away in the end, because the play didn’t go as intended for either party.
And so Giancarlo Stanton faced Yoervis Medina with nobody out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. Medina was up against it, through only partial fault of his own. He allowed a leadoff single, but then Justin Smoak messed up a sacrifice bunt, and then Kyle Seager
messed up didn’t mess up? technically messed up a sacrifice bunt. At that point the Mariners were a long shot, and the story was almost certain to be the reviewed play at third no matter what. But I do think something has to be said about just how terrible a decisive pitch Medina threw. The ninth inning featured controversy and misplays and heroics from a predictable source, but it also featured one of the Mariners’ worst pitches of the young season.
Medina got ahead. He got ahead, and he got to two strikes. Getting that far was kind of a miracle — at 1-and-1, Stanton swung right through an elevated breaking ball. He wasn’t tricked; he just swung under the ball, but he swung very comfortably. Stanton was on the pitch. If the pitch were to be thrown again, it would have to be thrown low and away, in an area where the worst-case scenario would be a called ball. Medina needed a strikeout, and strikeouts come from breaking balls out of the zone.
The problem is…well, let me tell you a little story. When I was young, in elementary school, we took a family trip to Europe and at one point we stayed with friends of a relative in a rural town in France. One afternoon my brother and I were out front in the yard, playing whatever we were playing, when a car pulled up and the passenger window rolled down. I walked over and, in French, I presume the driver asked for directions. I presume that because, after a brief pause, the driver subsequently asked in English for directions. Let me just make sure you’re getting this — I was a boy, and I obviously wasn’t in a familiar setting, because I was in a country that speaks a language I couldn’t speak. The driver requested my help anyway. I must have looked like a reliable child.
(1) I definitely didn’t know where the thing was that he wanted to get to.
(2) I definitely wasn’t going to not give him directions.
I thought for a moment and then very confidently instructed the man to go this way, then this way, then this other way, and then that way for a little bit before hanging a final turn. I didn’t want to seem like a know-nothing idiot, so I acted like a know-something idiot, and the driver thanked me, rolled up the window, and drove off. My brother and I resumed playing, and now that I think about it, I think we were playing with walkie-talkies and laser toy guns. I don’t know if the driver ever reached his destination. I don’t know where I led him to. For all I know he’s still there, driving around, lost, considerably older, and slightly less trusting of the area youth. I’m pretty sure I was too young to have the capacity to feel guilt. I just wanted to be a helpful boy.
To bring this back to the Mariners, Yoervis Medina is me, and the baseball is a lost driver in rural France, asking an American boy on vacation for directions. Medina knows he can’t direct the baseball properly, but he also knows he has to direct it somewhere, lest he look like a fool. No man wants to look a fool, and no developing man wants to look a fool, so a man gives directions, even if he doesn’t know quite where he is himself. The result is that Medina’s baseballs take a lot of turns, but it’s always a mystery where they end up. He just sends the baseballs on their way, and once the baseball is out of Medina’s hand, the baseball is…out of Medina’s hands. He has no command, and sometimes that means he throws terrible balls, and sometimes that means he throws terrible strikes, even with the count 1-and-2 against one of the best players in the league in a necessary strikeout situation. It’s a credit to Medina’s raw stuff he’s even a little effective. It’s no mystery why he isn’t more effective.
This is the first time Medina’s slider has been taken deep in the majors. It deserved it. Looking at Stanton’s player card, the slider was thrown to an area where Stanton’s slugged…oh, .856, all right. What Medina couldn’t have done was just stand there, on the mound, never throwing. What Medina ultimately did was the worst. Maybe the literal worst. So that’s something, that he accomplished.
Chris Young vs. Nate Eovaldi, 4:10pm
The M’s face the Miami Marlins, this time in *actual* Miami.
Chris Young and Nathan Eovaldi have very similar repertoires, as both rely heavily on 4-seam fastballs, and pair it mostly with sliders. They both mix in occasional curves, though Young’s heart clearly isn’t in it, and they both have change-ups, seemingly just to be able to tell pitching coaches that they do. Fastballs and sliders, platoon splits be damned. Both have OK K rates and somewhat poor walk rates. Peas in a pod, right?
As you probably know, this is a match up between one of the league’s hardest throwing starters and one of its softest tossers. Eovaldi has averaged – AVERAGED – about 97mph on his four-seamer this year while Young’s at 86.5mph. This gap of about 11mph doesn’t sound incredible, but it’s actually tough to find games with a larger disparity. If you exclude RA Dickey, whose “fastball” functions more as a gimmick pitch or a change-up to his knuckler, about the maximum gap you can have nowadays is around 12-13mph – between Eovaldi/Garrett Richards/James-Paxton-on-a-good-day/Jose Fernandez on one end and Mark Buehrle on the other. But these guys don’t match up all the time, and thanks to the miracle/curse of regression, baseball itself seems to abhor such gaps; Stephen Strasburg isn’t throwing 98 anymore, and Livan Hernandez is out of a job (though given all the injuries, he may not be for long).
So if Young’s velocity’s down a bit from 86+, and if Eovaldi is amped up to face, uh, the…ok, nevermind…we could see something we don’t often get to see. It’s by no means unprecedented, as Buehrle faced off against a hard-throwing Sonny Gray last year. Rookie year Strasburg opposed Bronson Arroyo back in 2010 too, but these games are actually rarer than you’d think. Buerhle faced off against Yu Darvish last year, but Buerhle averaged a respectable-for-him 85 while Darvish sat at 93. Anthony Vasquez opposed guys like Everett Teaford and Colby Lewis, not Strasburg or Verlander.
There you have it. A safe, identifiable thing to watch when you can’t bear to actually get invested. This is poor example of a kind of post that Jeff does so well, I know. Part of the reason I love things like this is that Jeff’s a good writer, but part of it is for the reminder that some odd and occasionally remarkable things occur that we don’t even notice at the time. We’re caught up in the at-bat, or the game, or the race, and we miss something fascinating, something lesser men will demean with the adjective “quirky.” For some, these things are a distraction from the things that matter. For others, these things are a distraction from the things that hurt. The M’s scored six runs in an INNING yesterday, and even as that inning came to a close, I knew how the game would end. I bet a lot of you did too. So yes, I’m going to find some strange angle to this game and the next few until Brad Miller reminds me that I wrote this without trying to be satirical.
The M’s are better than they *feel* right now, and they’re facing a mediocre team with an Angels-grade bullpen. But holy hell did that Texas series suck.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, 1B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Young, P
Riiiiiiight, this is where the pitchers hit for some reason. Got it.
Sooooo, 1B prospect and current Tacoma Rainier Ji-Man Choi was suspended 50 games for testing positive for methandienone, an anabolic steroid. As Todd Milles writes, this opens the door to Jesus Montero, who is now the clear starter, and not in a job-sharing role. Sooooo…..yeah. Choi’s had trouble staying on the field, but has hit very well – the stocky lefty had a .500 OBP through 10 games this season, after posting a .377 OBP for Jackson last year. With his suspension, Choi moves to the restricted list, which opens up 40-man roster spot. We’ll see who grabs it.
Speaking of good-hitting, injury-bedeviled prospects, OF Julio Morban’s also been called up to Tacoma. Not sure if it’s just a paper move, as Morban hasn’t yet played this season due to…wait for it…injury.
Brandon Maurer will be called up to make a spot start against Miami on Sunday. The probable starter’s been labeled “TBA” for a few days, but with Beavan’s injury, the M’s didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. It really came down to Maurer and lefty Anthony Fernandez, and Maurer’s the right call there.
For a while now, I had thought about what kind of post I would write about Ji-man Choi when the time came. There seemed to be no lack of interesting material to cover. I could talk about how he was a third baseman in high school and how there was this big fuss when he signed because people were worrying about the KBO not being able to retain its homegrown products. I could talk about how the M’s converted him to catcher and even added an average-ish Korean pitching prospect so that he could have a battery mate.
I could talk about the Arizona League MVP he won, followed by the struggles catching, how his back locked up, and how they moved him to first base. I could talk about how they sent him to Clinton, not really intending to keep him there, and how he held his own and the next year moved up from High Desert to Jackson to Tacoma, all the while with limited expectations. I could talk about how he just kept hitting and walking until he forced his way into the discussion. It would mean that Smoak still didn’t get it together, or that one of the DH crew likewise couldn’t hold down, but it would be something new, a story of redemption, and a labored-for reward going to a prospect that I’ve just plain liked for years.
Well, if you liked the “redemption” part of that story, the good news is that he has even more to redeem himself from because there was an announcement yesterday that Choi would be suspended for 50 games due to a PED positive. I’d curse the Monkey’s Paw, but it’s been done, and with all the Bad News that has been Mariners prospects over the past couple of weeks, I just don’t have the levity to pull it off.
The Tacoma News Tribune got some quotes from Choi in response to the suspension. It’s the usual, “I don’t know what I could have taken that would cause this to happen, but I will serve the suspension, lacking any other explanation.” There was a time when you could lean on that old adage that one could be innocent until proven guilty, but after all that fun stuff with Ryan Braun in recent years, with all the talk of him staring deep into people’s eyes and saying things as sincerely as possible, I think some of the general naïveté has burned off. At this juncture, I can only be glad that the talk of worse suspensions, as have been floated in discussions lately, are not already in effect.
The substance detected in Choi’s system was methandienone. It has its own Wikipedia page, in which we learn that it was previously given to women as a tonic. Ah, mid-20th century science. More recently, it was something used by body builders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, prior to its being banned about thirteen years ago. As substances go, this is pretty serious stuff. This is a big boy steroid.
Here’s another consideration though. You can go down the list of PED suspensions over the last five years or so and what you’ll see, disproportionately, is that foreign minor league players are going down. Before you prepare your conspiracy tinfoil hats, the explanation is actually rather simple: other countries don’t have the same regulations on supplements that we do. Another consideration is that baseball organizations have warned their own for years that picking up a supplement at GNC or wherever is not necessarily the best course because we don’t actually know what’s in there. What we’re seeing often is a system of punishment tested against an under-regulated substance with little global oversight. Fun, huh?
As stated earlier, the usual offenders are Latin American prospects who knowingly or unknowingly get into this stuff either to recover from injuries or not. Have fun with that Punnett square of potential moral culpability, baseball. In Choi’s case, there are any number of places he could have ended up with something that was graded by different laws. Choi did some of his rehab work in the Australian Baseball League. He’s probably been in Korea sometime recently. He has a bunch of teammates who have been in other places, acquiring other things. Also there’s the stuff manufactured in the good ol’ U.S. of A. There’s no easy thread to pick up and follow to the answer, and even if there were, you’d have to then answer questions of intentionality. Enjoy.
Major League Baseball has convinced us at present that PEDs are morally wrong and something to be condemned with harsh punishment, quite unlike the future and blernsball in which steroid injections are mandatory. As a fan of and guy who sometimes still writes about baseball I’m supposed to unambiguously condemn this stuff even when a player I like is implicated. But minor league baseball is hard. Dudes are on buses most of the time, the per diem for food is pretty laughable even if you aren’t a professional athlete (PB&J, ahoy!), and it’s difficult to find offseason jobs when employers know it’s a temporary endeavor and players know they need to keep in shape. Without shadowing any doubt on one player or the next, I could see why a player might get into this sort of thing. We can all stand on our boxes and say we’d never do something like that, but without being in that position, it’s hard to say. Fortunately in my field, there aren’t performance-enhancing drugs, just regular drugs. *rimshot* Kidding, of course.
Choi has been suspended. He’ll be out until early or mid-June I guess. It sucks, but considering that his game has never been particularly about power, nor did he see any notable increase in his slugging, nor was he recovering from any weird injury that I know of, maybe it’s just some fluke thing. I’ll keep telling myself that as I can. Just keep walking and hitting doubles, and try not to get too down as Montero lumbers embarrassingly about the first base bag.
Erasmo Ramirez vs. Tanner Scheppers, 11:05am
The first day game of the year comes uncomfortably close to the first really painful blown save of the year. The less said about last night’s ending, the better.
Today, the M’s face another converted reliever; hopefully this game goes a bit better than Tuesday’s shutout. Scheppers was a first-round talent out of college, but he fell a bit due to injury. That’s essentially been the story with him ever since. His stuff never quite missed enough bats in the rotation, but he’s been a solid reliever…when healthy.
Scheppers sat in the mid/upper 90s as a reliever, and while his velo’s down a touch in his first few starts, it’s still 94-95. He relies overwhelmingly on a sinker and a slider, though he’s got a change up that he’ll break out occasionally to lefties.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, DH
4: Hart, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Buck, C
Andrew Carraway starts for Tacoma tonight, while the Jackson Generals play 2 against the Tennessee Smokies – Stephen Landazuri and Moises Hernandez start. Carlos Missell starts in Clinton, but the biggest prospect taking the hill in the system is Tyler Pike, who’ll navigate the treacherous waters of Lancaster, CA and a pretty good Jethawks lineup.
It really does feel fresh at the beginning. No matter what happened the season before, no matter what the expectations might’ve been in spring training, every season feels like a new season until it feels like a familiar season. And in the beginning this season, the Mariners didn’t just sweep the Angels — the Mariners obliterated the Angels, on the Angels’ own field, and that allowed us a certain set of feelings one doesn’t come across very often. We knew what it was like to watch the Mariners blow a team out. We didn’t yet remember what it was like to watch the Mariners struggle. So for a few days, we got to feel not just confidence, but overconfidence, in the Seattle Mariners.
Reality would start to set back in with losses. Losses are inevitable, and even the best teams ever lose literally dozens of games every year. The Mariners lost and we came down from our initial high. They lost a little more, and they won a little more. In a lot of ways baseball ends up the same gift in different wrapping paper. It’s something to get excited about at the start, but it isn’t long until you’re like, “oh yeah, this.” Not always necessarily in a bad way, but it takes no time at all for baseball to go back to feeling like routine.
But now — now — baseball’s officially back. Mariners baseball is officially back. Thing about those earlier losses is they were easier to take. The first loss was weird, and corrupted by a terrible umpire and a Hector Noesi, but you don’t look for much from the debut of Roenis Elias. Then the other losses were just run-of-the-mill losses, mostly losses in which the Mariners didn’t hit. Those games suck, because those games do nothing to get you excited about baseball. Watch one and it feels like it was a complete waste of time. But now we have our first loss that makes us dread baseball. It isn’t displeasure because a game was boring and pointless. It’s displeasure because a game genuinely hurt, and we’re the ones who put ourselves in that position.
These are the ones that hurt the most. Throw in the Felix factor and these are the ones that hurt the very most. The team wasted unhittable brilliance, and now it has the maximum wait until the next opportunity to try to not waste that. You can shrug off a blowout loss. A blowout loss is just one of those days. A blown-save loss? A blown-save loss is a loss that gets you just as you start to assume the victory. A blown-save loss is a fire-everybody loss. It’s the most devastating sort of loss for the emotions, and it’s the kind of loss that makes you actually, legitimately hate baseball, if only for as long as you sit there blankly.
These are the losses that make you want to lash out and blast every single thing that isn’t going well. Lash out at Brad Miller, obviously. Lash out at Fernando Rodney. And maybe lash out at Lloyd McClendon. Lash out at Robinson Cano. Lash out at Justin Smoak. Lash out at Abe Almonte and Kyle Seager and whoever else. Basically, these are the losses that make you want to vent. Which is a funny thing in a way, since this loss was an underhand toss from Brad Miller away from being a victory on the road over Yu Darvish. The games that hurt worst are the almost-wins, the should’ve-wins.
At the beginning, you start fresh. You don’t yet remember what it’s like to love baseball. You don’t yet remember what it’s like to be annoyed by baseball. And you don’t yet remember what it’s like to hate baseball, to hate every last part of it, to wish that baseball would just crawl into a gutter and die. Now we’ve officially checked off all the boxes. Now we get to go back to being ourselves, equipped with all the appropriate emotions, and we’ll think of Mariners baseball the normal way until Mariners baseball stops being so god-damned normal.
No part of me even wants to think about the fact that the M’s get back at it early Thursday. But they do, and I will, too, because that’s how this works. Out of my own experiences with therapy I’ve come to understand that things are never as bad as they seem when you’re upset, and things are never as good as they seem when you’re giddy. That’s a rule to keep in mind, with sports and all things. Before all else, recognize and acknowledge your own mood. Then apply the necessary adjustment to your evaluations. Wednesday made us hate baseball, and it made us hate the Mariners, and when you hate something you go looking for flaws. The Mariners are better than your storm-cloud thoughts and unsavory language. Acknowledge that. The Mariners are worse than they seemed when they wiped the floor with the carcass of the Angels’ simian figurehead. Acknowledge that. The clearest thinking will have to be done on off days. Gamedays will bias us, and this gameday biased us quite a lot.
Games like this do happen, even to the good teams, and as an example you can consider the first-place A’s and the issues they’ve already had at the closer position. Odds are, the Mariners will end up winning a few of these over the next five and a half months. But that doesn’t make the day-of experience better, because nothing changes the fact that this loss was avoidable. It’s simultaneously senseless and sensible when people reflect on all the almost-wins, because those were almost wins, and what if the team got one or two more breaks? How much better would the record suddenly look? This feels like too much of a wasted opportunity, and now the Mariners have done this to Felix almost 20 times. Let’s not pretend like his unwavering loyalty to this organization isn’t probably a sign of some sort of worrying neurological disorder.
On Wednesday, baseball reminded us that it can really suck. We knew that, but we couldn’t readily recall the feeling. Now we’re bleeding from fresh wounds, and the reason is because baseball’s back, and sometimes it can be a real bitch, and we know that now, officially, for 2014. Today we hate baseball. Tomorrow we give baseball another chance, because these things are always temporary. But boy do they ever not feel temporary. Boy does the hate just feel like it’s going to burn on forever. If we could actually leave baseball, we would’ve by now, but in my dreams I’ll be launching the Mariners into the sun. And I’m going to make damn sure they have enough fuel to get there.
King Felix vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm
Today’s slate of games features three former Cy Young winners, a couple of players most see as near-locks to win one in the future, and a smattering of all-stars, ROY-candidates and solidly above-average guys. It’s an astonishing array of talent, but I think we can safely say without any M’s or Rangers bias that the eyes of the baseball world will be on this game.
I’ve talked a lot recently about middle-tier or even journeymen types refining their approach and trying new things to stay a step of hitters – or just to stay on big league rosters. We kind of expect that from guys who weren’t blessed with loads of natural talent, but while it’s not like we haven’t noticedFelix making adjustments before, I don’t think it gets enough attention. In part, it’s not in Felix’s nature to discuss this – his public utterances don’t seem to indicate a relentless tinkerer, or someone thinking about how to adjust to batters’ adjustments. It’s almost as if his little adjustments are another form of muscle memory – that he can adjust without consciously doing so. A slew of pitching coaches and catchers may have had something to do with it too, but of course the team itself hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in any of them (except Zunino, of course).*
Logan noted the change in his K:BB at LL recently, but it bears repeating. Felix’s K/9 has gone up each year since 2011, but K/9 somewhat undersells it: the gain in K% is larger because Felix has done this while also dropping his walk rate. This has led to much lower FIPs than he used to run, right at a time when we expect to see some of Felix’s effectiveness curbed by aging and declining velo. As we’ve seen this year, challenging more sometimes means home runs, but of course if he had been pulled earlier (many would argue “at the correct time” not just “earlier”), he’d only have given up one on the year, and his FIP would be miniscule. But even with 3 HRs allowed, what we’ve seen of Felix this year has been jaw-dropping. Think about how hard it is to surprise all of *us* about Felix Hernandez, and how easily he’s done so this year. The A’s won their 10th game last night, and despite facing very good pitching, are 4th in the league in runs scored. The Angels are 2nd. Both are in the top 5 in wRC+ thus far. It’s not like Felix was facing the Astros or even the beat-up Rangers. And he made them – ok, all of them but Trout- look lost.
That brings us to Yu Darvish, who hasn’t given up a run yet in 15 innings. Like Felix, he’s improved his control, and has yielded only two free passes through two starts. Despite throwing an array of pitches, Darvish was known mostly for his slider, especially last year. In his last start, he didn’t throw a single one, opting for curve balls instead. It’s too soon to know what to make of it, or if he’s just been working on things while brushing off the Astros. This is what a large repertoire can do, though. You can tailor your offerings to what feels good that day, to the opponents’ weaknesses, or just give an opponent who’s seen you often an entirely different look. That said, the M’s have had a lot of success against Darvish – as the M’s radio broadcast discussed last night. Many of you will remember the last USSM/LL meet-up at Safeco, when these two hurlers matched up and the M’s walked away with a 7-0 win. Ackley and Saunders doubled that game, and John Jaso hit a HR (to left, as I recall). It’s not like Darvish has large platoon splits or anything, but they’re there, so the M’s lefty-heavy line-up is a good countermeasure.
This is fun.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Franklin, DH
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: El Rey
Joining the team tonight, as you see above, is IF Nick Franklin. Logan Morrison’s heading to the DL; apparently Morrison’s hamstring was bandaged up today. Franklin was on an absolute tear in AAA, going 17-43 with 6 walks and 10 Ks, and 4 HRs (mostly in chilly, damp Tacoma – this isn’t an altitude-driven mirage) on his way to a formidable slash line of .295/.469/.744 (small sample, blah blah).
While Felix exists as a living, breathing, dominating exception to the rule that all pitchers get hurt, the M’s have obviously struggled to keep their non-Felixes healthy. While we were still reeling from the news about Walker last night, this morning brought word that another M’s pitching prospect is headed to the DL. This time, it’s AA righty Victor Sanchez, who’ll head to the DL with “forearm tightness.” This is *not* fun.
We now have some indication of why Blake Beavan was pulled after an uneventful 4th inning last night as opposed to after his 2-HR 2nd. Surprise! He’s hurt! Beavan to the DL, with CF/RF James Jones coming up to take his 25-man spot. Jones is a lanky 6’4″ OF with a cannon arm (most teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher out of LIU), but his power hasn’t quite developed the way many thought it might after he hit 12 HRs for Clinton in the pitcher-friendly MWL in 2010. He cracked the back of a top-100 prospects list once, but wasn’t able to make the leap into true prospect status last year. And frankly, the M’s could use an OF prospect. Jones (like a lot of Rainiers) got off to a solid start this year, but he’s essentially neck and neck with Xavier Avery right now. Avery came off the 40-man this spring, but he’s scuffled a bit so far. So, despite being a bit older and possessing a less than awesome 96:43 SB:CS ratio, Jones it is. Jones probably has more upside than Avery, and despite the CS numbers, has decent speed. Jones (like Avery) is a lefty hitter. No word yet on the corresponding 40-man move.
* He seems to have made some sort of leap in the 2012 season, after a – by his standards only – lackluster 2011. That’s the year the M’s catchers were Olivo, Jaso and Montero, not exactly guys you’d peg as receivers who can help their pitchers with quality receiving and high baseball intellect. It was Jaso, of course, who caught the perfecto and also saw Felix’s highest K:BB ratio that year, but a part of me desperately wants to believe that it was Jesus Montero passed on some simple, effective tip and essentially caused Felix to morph into the Ur-Felix we’re seeing now. Not because I want to “get something” from The Trade, but because it would be so powerfully ironic, that irony itself may collapse in on itself like a dying star.
Some of the absolute worst news to come out of camp was that Taijuan Walker was dealing with shoulder discomfort. Ain’t nothing for a young pitcher quite like shoulder discomfort. Shoulder discomfort can be nothing but a little setback, and shoulder discomfort can also be the beginning of the end of a promising career. If that’s a little over-dramatic, it isn’t a lot over-dramatic, and we’ve all been worried about Walker for weeks.
The word we got was that Walker was dealing with bursitis. Which left us in a certain position: if it was really just bursitis, Walker would be fine with rest and anti-inflammatories. But the thing about shoulder exams is that imaging doesn’t always pick up things that are actually wrong in there, and sometimes issues are only revealed upon surgical intervention. So with Walker, we all hoped it was just bursitis, but I don’t think anyone was going to breathe easy until Walker was back on a big-league mound.
Walker was making some great progress. Tonight his rehab was to advance to Triple-A Tacoma. The thing about that is:
Taijuan Walker was scratched from his rehab start tonight in Tacoma due to stiffness in his throwing shoulder.
— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) April 15, 2014
The other day, it looked like Walker was on the verge of a return to the Mariners rotation. Now he’s in a place where he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow, and while it’s possible this could be nothing but a little random, insignificant stiffness, the Danny Hultzen flashbacks are vivid and looping over and over in every part of my brain.
I’m told Danny Hultzen had trouble getting loose, and his scratch was precautionary.
— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) April 26, 2013
We are told Danny Hultzen couldn’t get loose, was scratched for precautionary reasons.
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) July 3, 2013
Danny Hultzen had surgery today in Pensacola to clean up his labrum and partial tear to his rotator cuff.
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) October 1, 2013
Check out the time-stamps, in case you’d forgotten. The Hultzen saga started as something that was “not worrisome“. Just needed some time. Then he needed more time, then he needed major surgery that threatens a pitcher’s career and therefore livelihood. Hultzen required one of the worst possible operations, and the parallels between his case and Walker’s are chilling. Granted, Hultzen wasn’t diagnosed with bursitis, and granted, they have very different shoulders, but when it comes to a pitcher’s shoulder, the less you hear about it, the better. We’re hearing more about Walker’s, just as it looked like he was past his issues, and it doesn’t take much of a mental leap to imagine the worst. We’ve seen the worst, and we know how the worst plays out. Taijuan Walker could be okay, but if he had real shoulder trouble, this is how that would be going.
So. Hultzen’s already had his shoulder opened and touched, all over the place. Now Walker’s shoulder is giving him the business, for reasons people haven’t yet nailed down. James Paxton is on the disabled list with an injury near his shoulder, and while there’s some optimism there, there was optimism with Walker, too. Erasmo Ramirez is healthy but pitching like he isn’t. Brandon Maurer only just got returned to a minor-league starting rotation. The dependable youngster in the rotation right now might be Roenis Elias, and a few months ago almost literally no one even knew who he was. If I’d told you the name “Roenis Elias” in January I bet you would’ve stared at me blankly. Now, granted, it’s great that Elias is here and pitching all right, and he has one hell of a phenomenal story. His stuff could actually play in the majors long-term. But consider the circumstances under which Elias was able to make this rotation in the first place. Consider the circumstances under which Elias now seems like a rotation lock for the foreseeable future. I don’t know if this counts as a nightmare quite yet, but we’re at least going to bed after watching a scary movie, and it’s windy outside this big empty house. Also, hold on a second, nightmares aren’t real. Pitching injuries are extremely real. Upsettingly real in upsettingly elevated numbers.
It seemed like Taijuan Walker was going to be okay. For all I know, he might still be okay, and just a little sore for reasons no one has to worry about. Young pitchers can make one feel like an over-anxious parent. But then, the children of over-anxious parents get in trouble like all the time, which is why they’re over-anxious in the first place. The 2007 Mariners managed to bum us out while being over .500. The 2014 Mariners are finding a different way to do the same thing. May all your sweet Mariners feelings be both sweet and bitter. May the good never be unaccompanied by the dejecting.
Blake Beavan vs. Robbie Ross, 5:05pm
Ah, Blake Beavan is *back*. I anticipate this game will get a ton of attention, so you may experience some site issues or load-time problems during the game.
Beavan doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence thanks to a steroid-era HR rate and an inability to miss bats. I’d argued a few times that antipathy to his low-K style made him seem much worse than he actually was, but 2013 made it a lot tougher to continue believing Beavan’s anything but a replacement-level (or worse) fill in. The problem’s the same: his low-walk skillset is predicated on throwing fastballs in the zone, and without an ability to miss bats (or get a ton of ground balls), that’s going to lead to HRs. I’ll give the guy credit – like most pitchers, he’s publicly made several changes, but they don’t seem to have helped. In fact, one of those changes may have made things worse.
When he first came up, Beavan enjoyed a string of quality starts driven largely by a very low BABIP. He gave up HRs here or there, but they were often solo shots. Perhaps in response to the home run problems, and perhaps because he posted some horrific platoon splits in 2011, Beavan decided he’d substantially increase the use of his sinker in 2012. He threw about 2 four-seamers for every sinker overall in 2011, but threw more sinkers than four-seamers in 2012. Against lefties, he used the sinker more than twice as often as the four-seamer. The problem was that Beavan’s sinker just isn’t very good, and he compounds that with the fact that sinkers naturally have *higher* platoon splits than four-seam fastballs. If the choice was simply trading more singles for fewer HRs, you could understand it a bit. But in his career, he’s given up a homer on 7.6% of all sinkers in play (not just in the air), while just 3.4% of his four-seamers put in play have left the yard.
This is something I’ve talked about before, but I just don’t understand why there’s clearly such a focus on getting pitchers to throw 4-seams to same-handed batters and 2-seams to opposite-handed batters. It’s completely backwards, at least according to the data we’ve looked at. Again, you can argue that an informed trade-off of OBP for SLG may be appropriate in certain cases – especially in cases where the pitcher’s giving up too many homers. But in Beavan’s case (and in many others), this advice has been disastrous.
Robbie Ross is a converted reliever who’s primarily – overwhelmingly – a fastball/slider guy. He’s seems like a classic LOOGY or a guy with massive platoon splits of his own, but he’s actually run reverse splits thus far. That’s probably just small-sample noise, but it shows why Ross was effective even when facing predominantly right-handed bats. A part of the reason for his success is that he’s adept at getting right-handers to hit the ball on the ground. His K:BB ratio isn’t great against them, but even in Arlington, they can’t hit home runs when they’re just hitting grounders. So far, his FB velocity’s right where it was in the bullpen – around 92-93mph.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Romero, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Bloomquist, LF
9: Zunino, C
The M’s reaped the benefit of another controversial transfer-rule call overturn. It put a run on the board, as Ackley was originally called out on the field. The rule’s interpretation is odd, and the potential for strategic hijinks is high, as Dave’s recent Fangraphs article explored. But that inning really put a spotlight on just how bad a defensive team Texas is right now. They’ve slipped a few years in a row since a good 2010-11, but without Beltre or Profar, they’re struggling. The A’s massive advantage in D has been an important, somewhat underrated, reason they’ve held off the Rangers the past few years.
In the minors tonight, there’s really only one story: Taijuan Walker pitches for Tacoma. If you’re in the area, GO.
Roenis Elias vs. Colby Lewis, 5:05pm
If you were asked to come up with a list of starters with huge platoon splits, there are a few obvious names – guys who’ve garnered some attention (really, really nerdy attention) for their issues with LHBs or RHBs. Justin Masterson was essentially the face of this phenomenon (a really, really nerdy phenomenon), Joe Saunders is another, less talented example, and Bronson Arroyo may qualify. Then, of course, you’ve got tons of relief specialists whose platoon splits essentially define their role. To make this work – to carve out a career while ~half of the opponents you face see the ball really well – you really have to dominate same-handed hitters. Masterson, with his low arm angle and tough slider, clearly does this. Joe Saunders does this, though how remains somewhat cryptic to those of us who watched him last year. Bronson Arroyo wasn’t as hurt by his splits thanks to his division, which shelters quite a few pitchers with large splits (Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Charlie Morton).
Tonight’s starter, Colby Lewis, is another pitcher with deceptively high splits. I say “deceptively” because his career numbers are skewed a bit from his very early years with Texas – 2003 in particular – in which he pitched a lot and was terrible against everyone. Since returning from Japan, so 2010 through mid-2012, he was a very different pitcher. A much better one, to be clear, but also a guy with noticeable platoon splits. These two things are related, of course. He stuck around and made something of an impact in the AL in his second tour of duty because he suddenly got very tough on right-handed batters. He wasn’t doing it with fastball velocity, or with an odd angle, and his slider isn’t the kind of pitch that you think of when you think of a wipeout pitch. It’s not its movement or velocity that’s made the difference for Lewis – when he’s on, the key’s been his location. When he came over, many talked about the cutter he added, but it’s not clear if that’s what’s now called his slider or some other pitch he decided he didn’t need. His change never quite developed, so Lewis ends up throwing a lot of sliders to lefties, especially ahead in the count.
But this isn’t a Brandon Maurer situation where lefties have just teed off on a pitch breaking in to them. Instead, they’ve nuked his fastball. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive given his delivery (traditional, not at all sidearmy like Masterson’s) and his very high vertical movement (it’s the high horizontal movement pitches like sinkers that tend to have more platoon splits). That “rise” means that most hitters can elevate his fastball, and obviously contact in the air can be injurious to a pitchers’ FIP – especially if they pitch in Arlington a lot. The more I think about it though, it’s not that lefties have fared fairly well and hit plenty of home runs. It’s that Lewis is so sneakily good against right-handers. From 2010-2012, his wOBA-allowed to righties went .277, .268, .276. For reference, Masterson from 2010-2012 went .307, .259, .277, before annihilating righties last year to the tune of a .238 wOBA. And this highlights one of the reasons Lewis struggled to get back to a 4-5 WAR pitcher like he was in his first year back: now teams know how to build their line-up. No one would leave righties in their line-up against Masterson if they had a choice. Now, people stack lefties against Lewis too. In 2010, he faced essentially identical numbers of righties and lefties. In the 1.5 years before his arm exploded, he faced about 1.38 lefties for every righty.
His arm strength/velocity are back, but the Rangers didn’t take Lewis north, er, east with the team out of spring training. Whether that was to let him build up strength or because they really wanted to see what Nick Martinez could do, I’m not sure. The Rangers’ rotation has been decimated, but they’re on the mend. Matt Harrison returns soon, Yu Darvish is back, and eventually they should see Derek Holland again. That means Lewis has a limited window to show he can add value. The M’s aren’t a good match-up, thanks to lefty-swinging SS, 2B, CFs. Let’s see if they take advantage.
Roenis Elias is still fascinating to me. Part of it is just the teams he’s faced, but Elias has seen only 8 left-handed bats this season. That should change tonight, as he’s got Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder – two lefties who have platoon issues of their own – in the line-up for Texas. It’s not a cakewalk by any stretch, particularly in Arlington, but at least some of the Rangers’ bigger offensive threats are lefties.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Morrison, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
Not quite as LH-heavy as it possibly could be, but the decision basically comes down to Hart vs. Saunders, and Saunders is not helping his cause at the moment.
Jordan Pries faces off against ex-Rangers, now Cubs prospect CJ Edwards in AA tonight. Matt Anderson opposes even-bigger-prospect Mark Appel in the Cal League, while Brandon Maurer starts for Tacoma in Albuquerque. Tommy Burns pitches for the Lumberkings in the MWL.
Monday morning podcast(s) continues/begins.
James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and nearly the entire Mariners’ offense disappoints us. But the defense is still good! And other teams have injuries too! And s’mores! S’mores?
Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner work in general last week. It’s really appreciated.