Game 44, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · May 23, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Rich Hill, 7:10pm

Fresh off a sweep of the Reds, the M’s return home to face the A’s, who sit 8 games behind the M’s in the AL West standings. As we talked about the last time these two clubs met up, the A’s have been remarkably pitching-dependent on the year, thanks to an offense that’s been atrocious so far…and that was WITH a healthy Josh Reddick, something they won’t have for a while now. The A’s are dead last in the AL in OBP, at a 2010-2015 Mariners-esque .294 mark. They’re dead last in all of MLB in BABIP, which you could argue is just bad luck, or you could argue is the logical outgrowth of starting Chris Coghlan, Khris Davis, and Billy Butler. What they may lack in walk rate and line drives, they more than make up for in errors. The A’s defense has been abysmal as well, with the 2nd-most errors and the worst team defense by Fangraphs’ advanced metrics. It all adds up to a position player group that’s been essentially replacement-level so far (again, WITH Reddick), ahead of only the Braves.

I said it’s been their pitching that’s carried them to a non-Braves-like season, but it’s really only their bullpen that’s been decent. Their starting rotation has the worst FIP and ERA in the American League, and the 2nd lowest fWAR total in the majors. A big part of the problem has been the long ball, with Sean Manaea’s 1.38 HR/9 mark the best* and Kendall Graveman’s astonishing 2.11 the worst. Sonny Gray, the ace of the group last year, is seemingly in a free fall, with an ERA over 6 and a FIP over 5. The A’s rotation has the 2nd highest walk rate in the AL, and there’s precious little in the minor league system to turn to. They’ve already ditched Eric Surkamp, so Jesse Hahn and Sean Manaea, both of whom have looked shaky, ARE the reinforcements. Now it’s up to pitching coach Curt Young to refashion these arms into a non-embarrassing group.

The A’s rotation has been awful, but the thing that amazes me is that they’ve put up these putrid numbers with a brilliant start by Rich Hill. The guy who went six years between starts in affiliated ball. The guy who signed last year off the independent league Long Island Ducks roster. The guy who signed a free agent deal this off-season for his age 36 season. THIS is the guy who’s putting his younger teammates to shame. The entire A’s staff has HR problems, but not Hill: his 0.36 HR/9 mark is great. He’s walked a few more than he did in his 4-game what-the-hell-was-that call-up for Boston last year, but the K rate’s stuck around. You could fill a book with the standard baseball rules (“old school” or sabermetric, doesn’t matter) that Hill breaks. He essentially throws only two pitches, a four-seam fastball and a curve. He doesn’t establish his 90mph fastball – against the M’s he threw 54 curves, and he’s actually thrown more in subsequent starts. Some time this year, Hill will throw > 60 yellow hammers in a game. He throws high fastballs slowly and doesn’t pay the price in terms of long-balls the way Chris Young or Marco Estrada do. He has a long and varied track record of failure as a big league starter, but looks dominant now.

How? What? The Rich Hill from the Orioles and Cubs? Really? This great interview starts to shed some light on what’s happening, at least from Hill’s point of view. The takeaway for me was Hill’s belief in what he dubs “creativity” – or manipulating his curve ball depending on what’s working, the opposing batter, etc. That sounded interesting, and I’ll definitely be watching for it, but it’s kind of amazing to go back to his pitch charts once you’ve heard him describe it. Here’s his last start in Seattle:
Rich Hill release point
You can see he’s varying his release point, dropping down every once in a while against left-handed bats. In addition to release point, though, his curve is about as far as possible from a tight grouping in terms of movement and velocity. He doesn’t have one “curve ball” and I’d argue he doesn’t have two. He has a spectrum:
Rich Hill movement
Some of these curves are in the low 80s, touching 82. Some are in the low 70s. Some have essentially zero horizontal movement; they’re an inch or two to the left of the zero line in the chart. Others are at 12″ of gloveside break. Looking at vertical movement, you see the same picture (uh, trust me, that’s enough graphs already). One curve came in with a positive 1-2″ of vertical break, whereas others were around -12″. The average for the game of -5.86 doesn’t tell you nearly as much as the variance around it. If he’s able to do this consistently, and do it with some kind of plan, that’s really interesting. I’d love to hear Hill unpack that word “creativity” and how it relates to this. You’ll see some games where the variance is much lower, and other games, like this one, where he’s just all over the map. At the very least, you’d think that might give him a leg up when he’s seeing hitters for the 2nd and 3rd time, and he’s only showing them two pitches. In the interview he says it helps him get K’s later in the game, and looking at his (tiny) splits so far this year bears that out: he’s worst the first time through the order, and becomes damn tough to hit later on.

Taijuan Walker’s struggled a bit since his neck spasms, as a spate of HRs has pushed his FIP up near 4 (the ERA’s still pretty good). It may be nothing, but his pitch mix has changed a bit in that time. From his first start through May 1st against KC, Walker’s most-used secondary pitch was his split. That was true – to an extreme degree- last year, and while he was mixing in more curves and cutters, it was still true in April. Starting with that abbreviated start vs. Houston, that’s changed. Now, he’s throwing the cutter more often than the split, culminating in his last start when he threw 24 cutters to just 10 splitters. This isn’t necessarily a problem or anything; the damage against him has come on his fastball, not his cutter. But I wonder what accounts for the change, and if there’s anything about the cutter that’s easier for batters to distinguish from the FB. Here’s where I’d love to see what the M’s can in terms of sequencing. Does throwing a splitter at some point in an AB make subsequent fastballs “better,” however you want to define that? How about cutters?

To be fair, some of the pitch mix variance may be a product of the line-ups he’s facing; it makes sense he’d throw more splitters to lefties and cutters to righties, but while Baltimore’s line-up was somewhat RHB-heavy, Tampa’s sure wasn’t. And Oakland’s not buying Walker’s strong reverse-splits in 2016 (or his even career splits), as they’ve got five lefties in there against him tonight.

1: Martin, CF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Aoki, LF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Walker

Chris Taylor gets his first start of the year against the left-handed Hill. Shawn O’Malley remains on the bench, and may pinch hit if the A’s bring in a righty reliever.

Brad Mills made his second appearance of the year for the Rainiers in yesterday’s 8-1 trouncing of the Iowa Cubs. The lefty has sporadic MLB experience with Oakland, Toronto, and Anaheim. The Rainiers hit three HRs, one each from Boog Powell, Mike Zunino, and Stefen Romero. Luis Sardinas has done nothing but hit since his demotion; the 2 singles he hit yesterday have him hitting .429/.484/.464. After a dominant homestand, the R’s head out on the road today, where they’ll face Round Rock. Adrian Sampson takes the mound for Tacoma against MLB vet Kyle Lohse for the Express.

Jackson scored a 4-3 walk-off win over Chattanooga with a run in the 10th yesterday. Sam Gaviglio pitched 7 quality innings on his birthday, and Ian Miller tripled while DJ Peterson doubled to pace the offense. Dan Altavilla got the win in relief, throwing 2 perfect innings with 4 Ks. Ryan Yarbrough starts for the Generals tonight.

Bakersfield’s 9th inning comeback gave them a 6-4 win at Lake Elsinore. Down 4-3 in the top of the 9th, the Blaze hit three extra base hits around a walk and a single to come up with 3 runs. Jay Baum’s two run double was the big blow. Tyler Pike’s 5-IP start wasn’t great, but he kept his team in the game. Eddie Campbell faces off against the Storm’s Brett Kennedy tonight. Kennedy was an 11th-rounder last year, and has impressed thus far, striking out 86 in 67 2/3 pro IP. They’ve all been at low levels, as he just recently moved up from the Midwest League, but still – that’s a great start to his career.

Clinton lost to Burlington 4-3, as a late 2R HR by Jake Yacinich gave the Bees a lead they’d hold on to. Zack Littell pitched a very good 6 IP, with 7 Ks and just 1 BB. Nick Kiel gave up the big HR, and that was essentially that. Kyle Wilcox gets the ball for the Lumberkings tonight against what passes for an Angels prospect in righty Joe Gatto, BP’s #1 for the org. Of course, that’s a low, low bar, and John Sickels had Gatto at #6, but you get the point. Medium sized fish in miniscule pond.

* Besides Hill, of course. There’s nearly a full HR per 9 gap between Hill at #1 and Manaea at #2.

Game 43, Mariners at Reds

marc w · May 22, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade Miley vs. Alfredo Simon, 10:10am

The M’s go for a sweep today in Cincinnati, and they’ve drawn the Reds worst starter, righty Alfredo Simon. Simon was a reliever for the Reds for a few years before moving to their rotation in 2014. A decent strand rate and low HR totals propelled him to the All-Star game that year, and then they traded him to Detroit, where he was a bit less successful last season. This year, the wheels have come off. With 9 HRs allowed AND a .398 BABIP, Simon has given up 38 runs in 31+ innings.

The Big Pasta throws a sinker, a four seam FB (both around 93), a cutter, and his best pitch, a splitter at 85mph. That split was important for him, as it gave him something to throw to lefties, who’ve hit his fastball hard. At the moment, though, he can’t really get to it, as lefties just tee off on his fastball. We’ll see if he throws more cutters or makes more use of his curve, the way John Lamb did yesterday.

1: Martin, CF
2: Aoki, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Clevenger, C
8: O’Malley, SS
9: Wade Miley

Shawn O’Malley starts today at SS, as Ketel Marte’s thumb injury will require a stint on the disabled list. According to Ryan Divish, the M’s placed Marte on the 15-day DL and recalled Chris Taylor, who joined the team this morning.

Game 42, Mariners at Reds

marc w · May 21, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

FELIX vs. John Lamb, 1:10pm

Happy Felix Day!

Dan Straily somehow held the M’s in check yesterday, but then the Reds had to go to the bullpen, and…wow. It’s one thing to see their stats and how comprehensively bad each and every one looks, but it’s another to see a former prospect come in and plunk the tying run in, and generally turn a 3-1 pitcher’s duel into an 8-3 laugher remarkably quickly. Beyond the HRs, the walks and the total lack of command, though, that HBP to Cano really stands out. It occurred to me, however briefly, that maybe the Reds just never explained the rules to their relief pitchers. Tony Cingrani was once a fascinating, if divisive, prospect, with jaw-dropping strikeout totals despite a so-so fastball that he’d throw 90% of the time. Some saw him as a gimmick pitcher, a guy with a funky delivery that the league would figure out. Others saw a deceptive genius, who didn’t need secondary stuff because batters literally couldn’t see the ball. After a brilliant rookie season as a starter, he’s been in something of a free-fall, with walks rising and HR troubles. The “gimmick pitcher” school of thought is ascendant now, but he still seems like someone who might break out with a change of scenery.

The M’s struggled a bit against Dan Straily, but they’ll get their right-handed line-up in there today against lefty John Lamb. Swapping things around, and getting Dae Ho Lee more PAs sounds great, but it’s kind of amazing how similar Straily and Lamb are. Straily throws his FB at 90, and it gets 5″ of armside run and around 10″ or so in vertical “rise.” Lamb throws his fastball at 90, with 5″ of armside run and 10″ of rise. Straily’s best pitch is his slider, which comes in at 85, with 2″ of gloveside break and with 8″ less vertical movement than his FB. Lamb’s cutter is 85-86, with 0″ of horizontal movement, and 7″ less vertical movement than his fastball. They both also throw a change, though Lamb’s is quite distinct: it’s thrown in the 70s, and despite the fact that gravity can work on it a bit more, it has much less “drop” than Straily’s. It’s actually been Lamb’s best pitch, getting swinging strikes and IF pop-ups, while his cutter is more of a pitch-to-contact offering, that at least gets ground balls. Interestingly, Lamb’s big, slow curve has even better results, albeit in a tiny sample: Lamb doesn’t throw it much. When he does, it’s hard to miss, as its average speed this year is just 68mph.

It’s hard to remember now, but waaay back when, all the way back in the dark ages of 2013, the Royals weren’t known for beating sabermetric projections, or instilling deep doubts within Base Runs’ breast, or speedy outfields and shutdown bullpens. No, back then, the Royals were famous for taking tons of high draft picks, unreal low-minors performances, and the best farm system ever, and clumsily crushing it into dust and frayed tendon. Mike Montgomery led BA’s rankings in 2010, while Mike Moustakas took the top spot in BP’s list, but both had John Lamb near the top (he was BP’s top Royals pitching prospect). By 2011, the hype was deafening: this Royals group was the best set of prospects many had seen in one system in years, and Lamb and Montgomery were neck and neck at the top. And then it all starting falling apart: Montgomery’s ascent stalled out in AA, and that high minors transition was no easier for Chris Dwyer. Danny Duffy retired for a while, then came back, but command and injuries have limited his effectiveness. Johnny Giavotella hit well in AAA, but didn’t get much of a shot with the big club, and fell on his face when he did. Wil Myers didn’t stick at C, and then got moved in what seemed like a terrible deal at the time. What about Lamb? Shortly after making his first big league training camp, he blew out his elbow, missing most of 2011 and 2012 rehabbing after TJ surgery. The doctors proclaimed him healthy in 2013, but he got hit hard, and worse, never felt healthy. After ditching the Royals training regimen and getting his own from a late-night informercial (you should really read that Minda Haas Kuhlmann interview linked above), his shoulder/arm/elbow finally started feeling better, and the results returned…just in time for him to be a part of the Johnny Cueto deal last year.

He seemed to thrive in the Reds org, striking out 58 in just under 50 IP for Cincinnati last year. That said, his ERA ballooned thanks to a sky-high BABIP and a few too many walks. This year, the BABIP remains, but the strikeouts are conspicuously absent. His K/9′s almost been cut in half, with his cutter especially getting fewer whiffs than last year. Not sure what’s going on there. In any event, his FIP is completely unchanged from last year: it was 4.16 in 2015, and it’s 4.16 last year. Unfortunately for Lamb, without a change in batted ball luck, his ERA’s not changing either: it was 5.80 last year, and it’s 5.79 coming into today’s game. The BABIP thing looks like horrible luck, but it’s never really been a strength. It was .326 in AAA for the Reds last year, and .480 in just three starts for Louisville this year. He’s the anti-Straily in that regard, I guess. Still, I always kind of root for the supposed “busts” from that insane Royals system. I’m glad Mike Montgomery’s found a home in the bullpen here, and I still want to see Lamb toss some 68mph curveballs for strikes…against someone else. Go M’s.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Lee, 1B
6: Iannetta, C
7: Gutierrez, LF
8: Martin, CF
9/SP: King. Felix.

I need another Felix HR. Great ballpark for it today.

Tacoma won their 4th straight, 9-4 over Iowa. The R’s broke open a tense 5-4 game with a 4 spot in the 6th. Mike Zunino homered, and Stefen Romero had 3 hits to bring his season line up to .373/.434/.611. Boog Powell added 3H from the leadoff position. James Paxton starts tonight for Tacoma against Iowa’s Alex Sanabia (a former Marlins starter).

Jackson dropped a 3-2 contest to Chattanooga. Reining pitcher of the week in the SL Dylan Unsworth took a hard luck loss, giving up 1R in 4 IP with 4 Ks and 0 BB. Kyle Hunter let two more score, and the Generals 2 run rally in the 6th fell short. Tyler O’Neill hit his 10th double, and Leon Landry made two incredible catches in the OF. Jordan Pries starts for Jackson today.

Bakersfield was on the wrong end of a one-run game too, losing 5-4 to Lake Elsinore. Kyle Petty homered for the Blaze, and Anthony Misiewicz pitched fairly well, but Misiewicz tired in the 7th, and reliever Vinny Nittoli couldn’t shut the door. Tyler Herb looks to shake off a bad outing in his last start and get back to what’s made him one of the more eye-opening minor leaguers thus far.

Speaking of one-run losses and hark luck decisions, Burlington shut out Clinton 1-0 despite getting only 4 hits in the game. Nick Wells went 5 2/3, but clearly didn’t have his best command, walking 4 to just 1 K. Overall, the L-Kings walked 8 Bees. Art Warren starts today’s game.

Game 41, Mariners at Reds

marc w · May 20, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dan Straily, 4:05pm

Ah, the Reds. It’s a rebuilding year, and no one really expected much from them. It’s actually kind of *nice* to go into a rebuild when you share a division with a club that’s peaking, and is laying waste to the entire league. You probably weren’t going to compete with the Pirates/Cards this year anyway, Cincinnati, let alone the Cubs, so good on you and Milwaukee for building for the future. That sounds okay and all, but kind of like with Atlanta, you worry about poisoning the well with putrid play. The Reds pitching staff has been historically awful. Their ERA is nearly 0.6 runs per game worse than Colorado’s. Their FIP is the worst in baseball by even more than that. They have the worst walk rate in baseball by a mile, as well as the worst home run rate. And somehow, their bullpen has taken these anti-qualities and honed them, turning dog crap into crap-diamonds.

The A’s bullpen last year was famously bad, but they were bad in some specific ways. They gave up HRs, and they gave them up at the worst possible times. They weren’t historically bad *pitchers*, which is why Jerry Dipoto poached Evan Scribner from them, they just made their fans *feel* that way because they reserved their worst pitches for the times they’d hurt the most. Cincinnati’s might be historically bad. The Reds bullpen ERA and FIP starts with a 6. They’ve already accumulated -2.3 fWAR. In run expectancy terms, they’re worst in WPA, but that actually undersells them, because the rotation’s been bad enough that the bullpen sometimes comes in when the game’s already out of reach. By RE24, which measures the change in run expectancy after each plate appearance, the true magnitude of the Reds problem becomes clearer. Because it includes inherited runners, it’s probably a better measure than just ERA or FIP. The Royals (duh) lead MLB bullpens with a 23.06 mark as a group, meaning the sum of all plate appearances they’ve been in have made 23 runs less likely to occur, and Baltimore’s a fraction of a run behind. Anyway, at the other end of the spectrum sit the Rangers, at -17. Think of Tom Wilhelmsen’s repeated meltdowns, or how Shawn Tolleson’s lost his closing job. They’ve been up and down, but when they’ve been down, they do it comprehensively. The Reds are well over twice as bad, at a mind-altering -46, getting close to three times worse than the #29 team. The gap between the Reds and the 2nd-worst Rangers is the same as the gap between the Rangers and #9 Angels.

So, Dan Straily. The former pop-up prospect for the A’s has become a peripatetic journeyman, moving from the A’s to the Cubs to the Astros and now Reds, all since 2014. He came out of nowhere in 2012, an unheralded, late-round draft pick who led the minors in strikeouts by a mile. He never had a great walk rate, but it was average to a bit better, and he did it without an overpowering fastball. At 92-93, it wasn’t bad, but his slider and change meant he had weapons against lefties as well as righties. By 2013, his first full season in the majors, his fastball was down a tick or two, settling in at 91, but as it fell, his control got worse and worse. After a month in the rotation in 2014, his velo averaged 89+ in a start against the M’s, and the A’s sent him to AAA immediately after. Soon after *that* he was dealt to the Cubs in the Samardzija deal that sent Addison Russell to Chicago.

He got in a few games for Houston last year, but wasn’t all that effective, with a walk rate stubbornly above 10%, just as it was in 2014. This off-season, he worked with Kyle Boddy and Driveline baseball, as detailed in this August Fagerstrom piece at FG. In it, Boddy notes that it’s not uncommon for pitchers’ walk rate to go up as their velo drops.

“The first thing you see from guys who lose velocity is that they start not throwing strikes, not because of any mechanical problem they have, but because they’re just like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m throwing 88, I don’t want to throw anywhere in the zone,’” Boddy said.

Also mentioned in the piece were reports from the spring, in which Straily was hitting 94 again, so I’ve been very curious to see him now that we’re a quarter of the way through the season. It’s just… if he was throwing 94 in Florida, he hasn’t brought that north with him. In his first game of the year, he averaged nearly 92 and touched 93, which is a clear improvement over last year, and would put him on pace to hit 94 in the warmer months. But since then, he’s regressed again, averaging 90 in his last outing vs. Philadelphia and hitting a top velo of 92. He hasn’t averaged 92 since April, also the last time he touched 93+. I don’t say all this to impugn his work, or Driveline’s efforts at improving him. He is, or at least WAS, throwing a touch harder. But it’s probably a sign of how hard it is to maintain not only gains you make in the gym, but maintain the work rate you used to get them, all while playing a big league schedule.

Straily’s tried to reinvent his FB, and move away from the disappointments of last year, but here’s the funny (if you’re not Straily) thing: he’s having the *exact same season*.

Season K/9 BB/9 HR/9 HR/FB GB% FIP xFIP ERA
2015 7.56 4.32 1.08 10 41.5 4.63 4.85 5.40
2016 7.84 4.35 1.09 10.9 38.2 4.6 4.78 3.05

Every number is eerily similar except, of course, ERA. Straily’s stranding runners now, instead of letting them in, buoyed by a much lower BABIP (of note: Straily’s BABIPs have always been low, maybe due to his rising FB, dropping SL combo). And yes, BOTH years are stupidly small samples, but it highlights just how much ERA can vary from a nearly fixed set of peripherals.

Despite the fact that lefties have not hit him well this year, Straily remains pretty platoon-able. His best pitch is his breaking ball, a slider, and that’s made his K% much better against righties. At the same time, he’s still walking a lot more lefties…it’s just that lefties have put up a a BABIP of .118 against him this year. This is a game for the lefties, and hoping Adam Lind can keep his hot streak going.

1: Marte, SS
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9/SP: Iwakuma

The Rainiers beat Iowa 2-1 on a solo shot from Mike Baxter and an RBI single from Luis Sardinas. Donn Roach had his best game of the year, going 6 2/3, striking out 7 and walking none. Joe Wieland starts for Tacoma tonight.

Jackson got a 3 run 5th and made it hold up for a 3-2 win over Chattanooga. Brett Ash was solid through 6, giving up 2 runs and K’ing 6. Edwin Diaz pitched the 7th, a 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout and some 98mph fastballs. Dylan Unsworth starts today’s game for the Generals.

Andrew Moore was predictably good for Bakersfield, but the story was the offense, who scored 17 in a 17-2 win in High Desert. Even weirder, three starters were held hitless, which shows you how much damage the other guys did. 9th hitter Gianfranco Wawoe had 4 hits, including a 2B and HR, and 8th hitter Arby Fields had 6 RBIs on 3 hits (including a HR).

Clinton lost 9-4, so we didn’t get an org sweep, but we did get something better: top prospect Alex Jackson made his full-season debut after starting the year in instructs and crushed a 450′ HR. Clinton opens up a series with Burlington today with Nick Wells on the hill.

Game 40, Mariners at Orioles

marc w · May 19, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Nate Karns vs. Tyler Wilson, 9:35am

Early game = abbreviated game post.

It’s funny the way we associated teams with a certain style of pitcher, or at least starter. The Orioles of the past few years were a great example: Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen all came from different countries, threw at various speeds, Chen was a lefty, Tillman a righty, etc., but there were all basically the same pitcher. They threw rising fastballs, gave up tons of fly ball contact, and used the resulting low BABIP to work around the home run issues that were a byproduct of this approach. I think most fans here would probably point to the Twins as well. Minnesota’s staff famously ranked last in baseball in strikeouts for a few years. It seemed that all of baseball followed the trend towards more and more whiffs, and the Twins decided that 1987 was great, and that they’d just like to stay. This is the club that signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to free agent deals. The club that brought us Nick Blackburn, (the bad version of) Liam Hendriks, and Scott Diamond.

Given all of that, the only thing I think when looking over Tyler Wilson’s repertoire and results is: how did Minnesota miss this guy?

Wilson throws a straight fastball without much vertical rise, and he pairs it with a slow slider (MLBAM calls it a curve) and a change-up that’s remarkably whiff-proof. It all adds up to an extreme pitch-to-contact guy with above-average ground ball rates. This is Nick Blackburn reincarnate. Thus far, though, Wilson’s been fine as a 5th starter. In 66+ big league innings, he’s only given up 25 runs thanks to a very low HR rate that makes up for that fact he’s only struck out 28. That’s interesting, because in the minors, Wilson gave up tons of HRs. Is he going to get exposed the more hitters see him, the way Blackburn and, I don’t know, Blake Beavan were? I think so, and that in this era, it’s damn near impossible to be even a fifth starter with a K/9 under 4.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Clevenger, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Martin, CF
SP: Karns

Rainiers open a home series against the Iowa Cubs today. In recent years, fans would’ve had this one circled on the calendar for months, as the Cubs high minors have been overflowing with big prospects, but that’s less true now. Still, it IS a good opportunity to see old friend Munenori Kawasaki, who’s now with the I-Cubs. They also feature CF prospect Albert Almora, as well as 1B Dan Vogelbach, RP Carl Edwards, Jr., and NPB single-season hit king Matt Murton. Donn Roach takes the hill for Tacoma against his former team.

Jackson opens a series against Chattanooga today with Brett Ash facing off with DJ Baxendale.

Tyler Marlette wins M’s affiliate player of the night last night with two HRs and 6 RBIs (one HR was of the grand variety). It’s been a rough year, but maybe this’ll get him going. Bako beat High Desert 10-3, by the way. Andrew Moore’s on the mound for the Blaze tonight.

Quad Cities beat up on Clinton, 9-3. Lukas Schiraldi starts today for the L-Kings against the Bandits’ Makay Nelson, who’ll be making his first career appearance above rookie-ball.

Game 39, Mariners at Orioles

marc w · May 18, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Chris Tillman, 4:05pm

Happy Mt St Helens day to you all. I’m not as into volcanoes as my one-time co-blogger Jeff Sullivan, but they are pretty cool, and the 1980 eruption is one of my earliest memories. I had a lot of fun camping down in that area a few weeks back, and I’m just struck at how much it’s changed. I’ve been going every few years, but the pace seems to have accelerated (or I hadn’t been down as recently as I thought).

I just want to thank Wade Miley for last night’s USSM game post-affirming performance. Using his four-seamer over twice as much as his sinker, Miley induced a bunch of harmless fly balls, and BABIP’d his way to a great outing. By FIP, it wasn’t great at all, thanks to his 1:3 K:BB ratio, but the whole thing seemed pretty deliberate. Miley wanted a specific kind of contact, and he was able to get it again and again.

Today, Taijuan Walker will try to get back to the form he was showing before missing a start with neck spasms. Of course, it’s worth remembering that Walker’s faced two fly-ball hitting teams in Tampa and Houston recently, and he’s been a huge ground ball pitcher this year. That said, Walker’s getting grounders this year NOT with his fastball, but with his split. His rising four-seamer looks a lot like Miley’s (albeit better, and coming from a right hander), and Miley may be able to talk about locations that work against a tough line-up like Baltimore’s. It’s not a real GB pitch. Instead, the reason Walker’s GB% has surged from 38% to over 50% this year is his splitter. Last year 59% of splitters in play against Walker were grounders. This year, it’s 85%. He’s throwing it a bit less, but it’s still a pitch that batters have a hard time laying off of, so it gets more swings and more balls in play than his other offerings. That’s important because the Orioles haven’t been great against splitters either this year or last (they were a touch above average on them in 2015, and well below in 2016).

He’ll face Chris Tillman, who’s off to a fast start in 2016. He’d settled into a role as a quiet middle-of-the-rotation guy who could use a low BABIP to “beat” his fielding-independent metrics and keep his team in a game. After a great 2013 seemed to indicate he could develop into a strikeout pitcher, his K% settled back down in the years since. With a good, not great walk rate and constant HR issues, Tillman always seemed like some bad luck away from collapse. Well, bad luck came in 2015, and his BABIP rose to a perfectly normal .293. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it sunk Tillman’s year. More baserunners, a few more HRs and a few more walks, and suddenly Tillman’s ERA was 5, above even his elevated FIP. It wasn’t HR/FB luck; his HR rate was actually lower than it was in 2013. But without the weird mojo that suppresses BABIP, Tillman couldn’t strand runners, and so he gave up runs in bunches.

This year, Tillman’s BABIP has crept over .300 AND his walk rate is currently at its highest level since his 50 IP 2010 season. So, he’s toast, right? In a strange development in a season full of them, Tillman’s refashioned himself as a strikeout pitcher, with 47 Ks in his 45 IP. Instead of bad luck, he’s gotten incredibly lucky on his HR/FB ratio, and the resulting mix of strikeouts and just 1 HR allowed have his ERA and FIP hanging out together in the mid 2′s. This isn’t all luck: Tillman’s FB velocity is up noticeably, and that helps. He’s altered his pitch mix substantially, too – he’s throwing fewer four-seamers, and more cutters and curves. The cutter’s an interesting pitch, as he’s able to get a lot of drop on it relative to his rising fastball. After years of so-so results, it’s been an effective pitch this year, particularly against righties. With a K rate of 26%, Tillman’s got another way to strand runners besides hoping for a lazy fly ball, and this he’s left many more runners on base. These changes are all quite striking, and quite sudden, so I’d welcome the M’s proving that they’re just small sample noise.

Speaking of small sample factoids that are still too good to ignore: Tillman remains undefeated against the M’s. In 8 career starts, Tillman is 6-0 with a 2.98 ERA. Against everyone else, he’s 55-43 with a 4.18 ERA.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Martin, CF
SP: Walker

The Rainiers beat Omaha 7-5 behind a great start from Adrian Sampson and some late-inning heroics from Rob Brantly. The Rainiers bullpen blew a lead in the 8th, but the R’s second catcher’s key 2-run single in the bottom of the 8th put the R’s back on top. Brantly also homered and doubled in the game. Sampson’s now pitched at least 6 IP in his last 5 starts, and has yielded just 6 walks in 51 IP this season. Tacoma’s off today.

Jackson dropped a 5-4 decision to Mobile. Tim Lopes and Leon Landry had two hits each. Early one for the Generals today on getaway day, and they beat Mobile 3-1 behind a solid (6 IP, 1 R, but no K’s) start from Ryan Yarbrough and a solid day at the plate by Guillermo Heredia. Emilio Pagan got a 2 IP save.

Bakersfield’s Tyler Pike started off the season strong, before a recurrence of his odd control issues. That’s why it was great to see him get back on the right track in last night’s 12-2 win in High Desert. Pike K’d 8 in 6 1/3, with 2 walks allowed. The Blaze hit four HRs, one each by Austin Wilson, Drew Jackson, Joe DeCarlo and Kyle Petty. High Desert IF Travis Demeritte’s hot start had him leading the minors in dingers, but he’s now one back. I mention this only because Demeritte was Kyle Petty’s teammate this winter in the Australian Baseball League, and I would like to credit the ABL for both players’ hot starts in 2016. Early game for Bako today, with Eddie Campbell on the mound.

I mentioned Clinton’s shutout win yesterday, but they’ll face Quad Cities tonight with Kyle Wilcox on the bump.

Game 38, Mariners at Orioles

marc w · May 17, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade Miley vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 4:05pm

It’s raining in Baltimore, but it’s supposedly supposed to dry up by game time.

Both clubs come into today’s game tied for the lead in their respective divisions, the Orioles with the Red Sox, and the M’s with the Rangers. Baltimore was supposed to have a powerful but whiff-prone offense, and they’ve delivered: they lead MLB in home runs, but while they’re above average in K%, they’re only at 13th – far below other similar teams like Tampa, Houston or Detroit. Manny Machado is proving that his break out was no fluke, and Chris Davis is off to a solid start, too. The surprise of the offense somehow isn’t CF, leadoff man and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard, though I do wonder how often a Rule 5 pick gets to lead off for a good ballclub. Instead, it’s ex-Mariner disappointment Mark Trumbo, who shares the lead in HRs with Machado at 11, and is hitting .306/.362/.593 thus far. He’s penalized a bit for his defense, but he’s already produced 1.1 fWAR, or his season total from last year across the M’s and D-Backs.

The Oriole offense is tough because they combine a high HR/FB ratio with a whole lot of FBs. They’re #1 in baseball in HR/FB, and have the 10th-highest FB%. That’s going to be something for Wade Miley to think about tonight. A few years ago, you may have heard about this Andrew Koo article at BP noting that the Athletics had stockpiled fly-ball hitters, which, the thinking went, gave them an advantage against all of the ground-ball pitchers in the AL West at the time. On the cheap (of course), the A’s assembled a line-up that gave over 60% of its PAs to fly-ball hitters, by far the most in the majors in 2013. Those fly-ball hitters hit *best* against ground ball guys, and thus the A’s put together a solid offense by keeping an eye on a very different kind of platoon advantage.

Well, the Orioles have enjoyed some success against pitches classified as sinkers and two-seamers, as have other FB teams like the Mets and Blue Jays. Wade Miley’s been a ground ball guy for a while now, but unlike, I don’t know, Dallas Keuchel, he doesn’t *need* to be. Miley throws a rising four-seam fastball that, on its own, seems like a strong fly ball pitch. He’s also using it more this year than he has in the past; he was throwing his four-seam and sinker about equally often in his first few starts of the 2016 regular season, but he’s now throwing 2 four-seamers for every sinker. The Orioles’ linear weights against four-seamers is currently negative. This isn’t about getting Miley to go out of his comfort zone to combat an opponent’s weakness – it’s more that his recent shifts would seem to give him a better chance than might think (HR-plagued pitcher faces HR-slugging offense).

Ubaldo Jimenez is coming off a solid 2015, when a drop in his walk rate allowed him to post an above-average season after a poor 2014. Jimenez started 2015 strong, and kind of tailed off down the stretch, and unfortunately, he’s still not looking great. He’s given up a lot of the gains he made in walk rate, and his K% has dropped below 20% for the first time in years. He’s getting more ground balls thanks to using his splitter a lot more, but it hasn’t yet impacted his HR rate – when batters DO elevate the ball, they do damage. Thanks to the splitter, a curve, and an extreme over-the-top delivery, Jimenez never really had much in the way of platoon splits. But lefties are torching him this year, with a .386 average and a SLG% near .600. That’s BABIP-driven, sure, but it may be a sign that his fastball’s not able to keep them honest any more. Lefties and righties are teeing off on his fastballs, and at least *righties* can hit his splitter (lefties still struggle with it).

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Martin, CF
SP: Miley

Tacoma enjoyed a walk-off 7-5 win over Omaha last night, scoring 4 in the 9th in the process. James Paxton started and posted a great K:BB ratio of 8:1 in 4 IP, but gave up 5 runs in a disastrous 2nd inning, giving up 4 extra-base hits in the frame. The bullpen made it hold up long enough for the Rainiers to mount a comeback. Ed Lucas homered twice (including the walk-off shot in the 9th), Luis Sardinas had 3 hits in the leadoff spot and Chris Taylor had 2 more. Oddly, Mike Zunino/Stefen Romero going a combined 0-9. The two clubs have a day game today on getaway day. Adrian Sampson’s going for Tacoma.

Mobile beat up on Jackson last night, scoring 6 in the first on their way to a comfy 10-3 win. Tyler O’Neill homered and walked for the Generals, but it wasn’t enough, as Jordan Pries (just sent down from Tacoma) gave up 9 runs in under 3 IP. Of note, Edwin Diaz pitched two innings for the first time, and was lights out: 1 hit, 0 BB, 5 Ks. Sam Gaviglio starts for the Generals in Mobile tonight.

The Stockton Ports smoked The Blaze’s Tyler Herb for 4 runs in the first and came away with an 8-4 win over Bakersfield. In Herb’s worst outing of the year, the RHP walked 6 after not walking more than 2 in any other 2016 start. Drew Jackson and Jay Baum both had 2 hits for Bakersfield. The Blaze head to High Desert tonight, with Tyler Pike on the mound-in-a-wind-tunnel in Adelanto.

Clinton was off yesterday, but kicked off a series against Quad Cities with a 6-0 win today. Zack Littell had his best outing of the year, with 7 2/3 scoreless IP and 8 Ks. Dalton Kelly singled and doubled, and Rayder Ascanio had 3 hits for the Lumberkings.

Game 37, Angels at Mariners

marc w · May 15, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Hector Santiago, 1:10pm

Happy Felix Day.

I started this series mentioning that I felt bad for the Angels, and that somehow, through their cavalcade of injuries and awful luck, they seemed less detestable. Yeah, so that lasted all of 48 hours.

Today’s match-up is a repeat of the game back on April 23rd, when Hector Santiago worked his high-fastball, hard to square up magic for 6 solid innings. As I mentioned then, Santiago’s in the Marco Estrada/Wei-Yin Chen family of pitchers who throw a lot of rising four-seam fastballs, and attempt to pitch around the occasional home run that this approach produces. Like Estrada, Santiago’s ERA’s been much better than his FIP, which is sky high due to an elevated HR rate. The key to this approach is that the rising FB seems to help Santiago maintain a very low BABIP (something ignored by FIP). One reason why is a consistently high pop-up rate. Even those fly balls that find the outfield tend to have a low BABIP.

Santiago’s fastball is only 92mph, and he doesn’t throw a ton of breaking balls. Instead, his secondary offering is a big change-up, that kind of reminds me of Mike Montgomery’s. It’s a decent pitch, and it gives him something to use against right-handed hitters. That said, he’s not able to reduce or eliminate his platoon splits the way some high-rising, over-the-top FB guys can – righties have hit him much harder over his career than lefties. The change-up allows him to post essentially equal K rates to RHBs/LHBs, but righties’ HR/9 is triple that of lefties. Why? For whatever reason, Santiago has vastly different batted ball profiles depending on the handedness of the hitter. Against lefties, he’s essentially league average – a few more GBs than FBs, and an overall GB% of 44%. But against righties, he’s about as extreme a FB hitter you’ll find, with a GB% under 30% over his career. All of those fly balls mean more HRs, and that’s why you’ll see a righty-stocked line-up today. The gap in batted ball outcomes is consistent between his FB and CH, but it’s still striking: lefties have a GB% on Santiago’s four-seam of 44%. For righties, it’s 20%.

Felix’s fastball velocity seems to be trending up again, as he averaged 91 against Tampa and 90-91 against Oakland in his last two starts. That’s not to say everything’s back to normal. He’s still struggling a bit to miss bats, but the contact he allows has never been better. He’s still getting great results with his change and curve, and he’s mixing in a bit more of his four-seam fastball in recent starts. His FIP’s still ugly thanks to that weirdly high walk rate, itself a product perhaps of batters’ increased patience against him. Batters’ swing rate against Felix has dropped by 5 percentage points this year, which is odd, and bears watching. Has Felix just thrown a few more obvious balls, or is this part of a deliberate strategy, especially when Felix’s command appears to be off?

1: Aoki, LF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Iannetta, C
6: Seager, 3B
7: Lee, 1B
8: Gutierrez, RF
9: O’Malley, CF
SP: El Cartelua

Welcome back, Shawn O’Malley, who’s swapped places with fellow utility man, Luis Sardinas.

Tacoma beat Omaha 3-2 thanks to a solid start from Joe Wieland and another HR from catcher Rob Brantly. Today, Cody Martin takes the mound against Omaha’s Brooks Pounders.

Jackson beat Mobile 3-2, as Brett Ash pitched into the 7th IP. Ash had blanked the Shuckers for 6, but gave up a game-tying two-run HR to Kevin Cron in the 7th (Cron’s CJ’s brother, and a guy who spurned the M’s when they drafted him out of HS). Undaunted, the Generals got a bases-loaded walk in the 8th to re-take the lead, and Emilio Pagan made it hold up. The Generals play two today, with Dylan Unsworth and Andrew Kittredge starting today.

Bakersfield took a 9-1 lead, and then held on for a 9-6 win over Stockton. Andrew Moore was sharp for 6 IP, with only a solo HR sullying his line, but Thyago Viera had a bad time in his 1+ IP, giving up 5 runs. Kyle Petty and Daniel Torres each had three hits for the Blaze.

Clinton was swept in their double header against Peoria, with Nick Wells taking the hard-luck loss in game 1′s 3-2 game, and Joey Strain absorbing a well-deserved L after giving up 5 runs in the 9th in Peoria’s 7-2 win. Art Warren starts today’s game.

Game 36, Angels at Mariners

marc w · May 14, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jhoulys Chacin, 6:10pm

The M’s will try to get the awful taste of last night’s loss out of their mouths by beating the Angels’ newly-acquired starter, Jhoulys Chacin. Chacin made his debut for Colorado in 2009, but enjoyed his first sustained big league campaign the next year (he started 2010 in the PCL, where he started on opening night against Tacoma). He looked like a junkballer, but a *good* one. Not a command and control guy (he walked way too many for that), but someone who made up for his lack of raw stuff by throwing 4-5 different pitches, trying to induce half-swings and bad swings in the process.

Injuries and inconsistency dotted his tenure with the Rockies, but for a while there, he really was an effective pitcher. He racked up nearly 4 fWAR in 2013, and had a pair of 2+ win seasons earlier on, which isn’t too shabby for a guy walking 4 per 9 at altitude. In those “good” years, he pitched around the walks by running a very low BABIP and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Befitting his junkballing ways, he seemed to do this differently each year. In 2011, he was an extreme ground ball pitcher. He’d give up walks, but he kept the ball in the ballpark with two different fastballs, a slider, and an odd change-up (I say odd, because it rises more than his sinker, which is kind of amazing given that it’s slower).

He suffered a pectoral injury the next year, which may have had something to do with a completely different batted-ball profile. In 14 starts, his walk rate plunged nearly 18 percentage points, leading to a predictable increase in HRs-allowed. In 2013, again healthy, he enjoyed his best season thanks to a drop in walk rate. His GB% rebounded, but ended up splitting the difference between his 2011 and 2012 seasons. After injuries doomed his 2014 season, the Rockies released him, and he spent 2015 pitching for the Cleveland and Arizona systems, ultimately making a few starts for the Snakes late in the year.

At some point last year, he picked up a cutter, giving him a sixth pitch. Despite some ugly results with it in 2015, it’s become a pretty important pitch for him; he throws it more than any breaking/offspeed pitch. It’s thrown pretty hard (88mph), and has similar vertical break to his sinker. Taking his arsenal overall, Chacin’s able to get the ball to move quite a lot horizontally. The four-seam and cutter have very little, but his sinker has 8″ of armside run, while his slider and curve get 7-8″ of gloveside movement.

The slider’s his best pitch, and for a guy who’s struggled to miss bats, it’s kind of stunning to see the whiff rates he gets on it. In 2016, over half of the swings on it have come up empty, and he’s induced whiffs on over 40% of the 2,500+ he’s thrown throughout his career. Of course, sliders generally come with platoon split issues, and that’s just what we see with Chacin: in his career, his FIP is 1.2 runs better vs. RHBs than LHBs. Chacin started 2016 with the Braves, and had an up-and-down month. He was brilliant in his first start, tossing 6 shutout IP and striking out 8. In his last start, he gave up 8 runs in 4 2/3 IP, yielding *4* dingers in the process after not allowing one in his previous 4 starts. I have no idea what to expect from Chacin going forward. This is a decent move by the Angels to get a competent starter for nothing (they dealt ATL an org guy, since that’s pretty much all they’ve got), but no one thinks Chacin’s going to replace Garrett Richards’ – or even Andrew Heaney’s – production.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Clevenger, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Martin, CF
SP: Iwakuma

Wanted to mention this Prospect Insider piece yesterday, but I forgot. Jason Churchill goes over the standouts in the M’s system over the year’s first month, including Tyler O’Neill and Tyler Herb. It’s a great overview, and I essentially agree with all of it. I’ve been really bullish on Tyler Marlette for years, but that’s getting tougher and tougher to sustain. Meanwhile, Churchill tabbing O’Neill as the #1 prospect before the year is looking better and better. It’s hard to overstate how out-of-step that move was with the consensus pick of Alex Jackson, and the M’s have had such terrible luck with high-HR, high-K guys hitting AA (Johermyn Chavez, anyone?). O’Neill’s transition to AA has been remarkable, and it’s definitely been one of the young season’s highlights.

The Rainiers dropped the series finale in Fresno, 4-3 in 10 innings. Astros prospect Joe Musgrove was tough for 5 IP, and the Grizz bullpen was pretty stout the rest of the way. Donn Roach pitched well for Tacoma, yielding 2 runs in 6 IP, but Jonathan Aro gave up the tying run in the 7th, and Paul Fry gave up a walk-off fielder’s choice in the 10th. Rob Brantly homered for Tacoma. Today, it’ll be Joe Wieland opening a homestand for Tacoma as they host Omaha. Today’s game’s at 5:05. Royals prospect Hunter Dozier was recently promoted, and has hit very well this season.

Jackson blanked Birmingham 2-0, thanks to 6 shutout innings from Ryan Yarbrough. Yarbrough K’d 7 without a walk. DJ Peterson doubled in a run, which made up for Tyler O’Neill going hitless for the 2nd time in 3 games after a 14 game hitting streak. Emilio Pagan notched the save; he’s given up 8 hits and 6 walks in 16 IP with 22 Ks and only a single run allowed. Brett Ash starts tonight’s game in Mobile against ex-D’Backs prospect Charles Brewer.

Bakersfield beat Stockton 4-1, getting a solid start from Eddie Campbell who held the Ports hitless into the 6th. Chantz Mack homered, and Ivan Sanchez picked up the save. The ex-Pirates minor leaguer now has 26 Ks in 18 2/3 IP. No word yet on today’s starter.

Clinton was rained out, so they’ll play two today. Nick Wells and Lukas Schiraldi start against the Peoria Chiefs.

Game 35, Angels at Mariners

marc w · May 13, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Nate Karns vs. Nick Tropeano, 7:10pm

The first-place M’s host the reeling Angels tonight, a team facing the loss of their starting shortstop, and big off-season acquisition, Andrelton Simmons. They’ve gone from a rotation headed up by Garrett Richards to one relying on Andrew Heaney (whoopsadoodle) and whatever BABIP mojo Jered Weaver has left. All of this has led to a spate of stories about the possibility of trading the Angels superstar, Mike Trout. Will this actually happen? No. But Trout self-evidently can’t make the Angels contenders on his own, and there sure as hell aren’t any reinforcements coming from the minor leagues. His value to the Angels is high, as he’s their marketable superstar, but not as high as it would be to other teams, who could use Trout in a playoff race. It’s all very logical, and in the final analysis, it’s just for fun. But it has to feel familiar: how many years have we endured the idle speculation of national writers about the necessity of moving Felix Hernandez to a contender, or musing on the prospect package that might get the M’s attention. As an M’s fan/Felix fan, that sort of thing was excruciating, even as people would say it was for the club’s own good. This memory, and this Meg Rowley piece at BP about how the Angels struggles and what M’s fans do about them, has me in the weird position of feeling bad for the Angels. I didn’t think it was possible either.

Today’s game features an interesting pitching match-up between two somewhat similar pitchers. I wouldn’t have picked them as similar before today, but hey, that’s research for ya. What leaps out at you from Nick Tropeano’s Fangraphs page is the way that so many peripherals are essentially cranked to 11, Spinal Tap style. K/9? Over 10! BB/9? Sky-high! Home runs? It’s rainin’ dingers! This is a Rob Deer-style, er, Joey Gallo-style for you younger folks, line-up. Fully 41% of his plate appearances end in a K, a walk, or a homer. That’s odd to me, because when Tropeano first came up with Astros, he seemed like an unremarkable, pitch-to-contact 5th starter. OVer time, he’s figured out how to use his slider to miss bats, which is great, but he likes missing bats so much, he’s also missing the strike zone. Despite the great slider, he doesn’t get batters to chase all that much. It’s just that when they do, they’ve got no hope. It all adds up to a right-hander throwing 90-91, and posting an overall contact% this year of 68.8%. After his 20-K game, Max Scherzer’s contact% was 72.2%. Noah Syndergaard’s is 69.9%. Only Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez have lower contact% numbers.

But it’s not just that his three-true-outcome stats are cranked up. His BABIP allowed is .345! He ranks in the bottom 20% in expected linear weights given his batted ball velocity/angle – that is, even the contact he DOES allow is similarly jacked up. Strand rate? Insanely high. Fly ball rate? Top 5 in baseball, ahead of Jered Weaver, and within range of Chris Young’s. Nick Tropeano doesn’t do half-measures, apparently.

So, how many pitchers are there that, like Tropeano, have K’d over a quarter of batters they’ve faced, and walked at least another 10%? There are 9 thus far, and tonight’s match-up features two of them. Yes, Nate Karns has a *higher* K% (lower K/9, because Tropeano gives up more hits, walks, homers, everything), and a high walk rate. Whereas Tropeano’s three-true-outcome percentage was 41.2%, Karns’ is 39.7%. While Karns’ BABIP is a boringly average .295, the contact he’s allowed is among the loudest in baseball. Remember how Tropeano’s in the bottom 20% for contact quality? Karns ranks 486 out of 492 in expected linear weights per ball in play. Both Tropeano and Karns have been fly-ballers, and they’re lucky enough to play in parks that suppress fly ball damage. That said, their contact rates should account for park, so by these statcast numbers, they’re still giving up a lot of loud outs.

Looking at Jeff’s post about Drew Pomeranz made me think of Karns, too. Pomeranz is another of the 9 high-K, high-BB pitchers, and he’s off to a hot start with San Diego. He’d been a swingman for Oakland for a few years, and was then traded to SD for the about-to-be-non-tendered Yonder Alonso. This year, Pomeranz started throwing his curveball much more than he had in the past, and mixing it with high fastballs. Sound like anyone on the M’s? This year, Karns’ curve usage is up over 10 percentage points, throwing a fair number of high FBs, and reaping the benefits of both high Ks and low BABIP. Karns’ ERA is 0.70 runs better than his FIP while Pomeranz’s is 0.82 runs better. (Tropeano’s is 1.20 runs better, because of course it is).

1: Aoki, LF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, RF
7: Lind, 1B
8: Iannetta, C
9: Martin, CF
SP: Karns

News from the minors today includes the call-up of Gary Sanchez to the Yanks. The power-hitting Sanchez has been a big prospect for many years, and makes his debut tonight. The other call-up is former #1 overall draft pick and long-time cautionary tale, Matt Bush, who’ll join the Rangers tonight *12 years* after going #1 overall in the 2004 draft.

Adrian Sampson pitched well for Tacoma, and the Rainiers clung to a 3-2 lead before blowing it open with a 9th inning grand slam and a 9-5 win over Fresno. Chris Taylor had three hits and a walk, and Daniel Robertson had the aforementioned salami. Sampson gave up just 2 hits and 1 earned run in 8 IP. Donn Roach starts for the R’s tonight.

Jackson scored 3 in the 5th to take a 3-0 lead over Birmingham, but the Barons put up a 7 spot in the 7th to win, er, 7-3. Ryan Horstman gave up 6 runs without recording an out, which really stings the old stat sheet. Tyler O’Neill doubled for the Generals, who send Ryan Yarbrough to the hill tonight.

Sam Coonrod and the San Jose Giants confused Bakersfield en route to an easy 6-0 win. The Blaze managed three singles all night. Tyler Pike’s weird control problems had something of a relapse last night, as he walked 4 in 5 IP with just 1 K. The Blaze host Stockton tonight, who start Casey Meisner, an Oakland pitching prospect, and the main return in the Tyler Clippard deal a year ago.

Clinton downed Peoria 5-4 thanks to three hits from Dalton Kelly and a home run by Connor Hale. Art Warren starts for the Lumberkings tonight.

Next Page »