Batista vs Halladay, 7:05 pm.
M’s look to make it 7 in a row.
Washburn vs McGowan, 7:05 pm.
The Blue Jays are better than people think. This is a pretty big series for the M’s.
Originally, I was planning on bringing this up in the Future Forty update on Monday, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it deserves its own post. Jeff Clement, the #3 pick in the 2005 draft, is absolutely killing the ball in Tacoma right now. After going deep yesterday, his June line stands at .374/.446/.744, and the horrible April he had looks like a distant memory.
However, if you remember back to the last Future Forty update, I talked about how the scouting reports on him from the first two months of the season were horrendous. The main center of the discussion was about Clement’s batspeed, which most informed observers agreed was significantly slower than it was in college. There are no scenarios where a slow bat is a good thing, so I offered up this scouting information as a reason why I was worried about Clement, despite some positive statistical markers.
Well, obviously, Clement’s doing just fine right now. So, last week, I had another conversation with one of the scouts who saw Clement earlier in the year and told me about his slow-ish batspeed. Since he was now killing the ball, I went into the conversation with an attitude of “what did we miss, or what has changed?” Scout Friend’s answer was pretty surprising to me, and led me to think about the subject and do some more research the last few days.
Essentially, here’s what he said – Clement’s bat is still slow, and those same concerns about his abilities from April and May (“canâ€™t get around on fastballs on the inner half, chases pitches up in the zone, and is only effective when he knows heâ€™s getting a fastball from a guy who canâ€™t get it up there faster than 92”) are still true. I was pretty surprised at this answer, honestly, and pressed him for how he explained Clement tearing apart the PCL the last month if he had a slow bat. His answer, somewhat paraphrased:
“He’s destroying soft-tossing left-handers who don’t have major league stuff. I don’t care if he can hit the ball over the wall against guys who won’t ever see the majors – I want to see him get around on a major league fastball. Look at his numbers – they’ll back me up on this.”
Now, to me, this sounded like a bit of a defend-my-previous-position-at-all-costs argument, but I have a lot of respect for this guy, and I know him well enough to feel that he wouldn’t take a stance on something that he doesn’t believe in. So, I took him up on his challenge, and tried to figure out if I could find some evidence to prove or disprove what he’s saying. Looking into Clement’s line, there’s one thing that just glares at you:
Vs LHP: .373/.462/.776, 25 for 67, 15 XBH
Vs RHP: .249/.332/.436, 45 for 181, 20 XBH
Jeff Clement is left-handed. That’s one of the most striking reverse platoon splits I have ever seen. Against right-handed pitchers, Clement has been a mediocre hitter. Against lefties, he’s been Babe Ruth. There have been huge amounts of research that show that the normal platoon advantage is about 9% when facing other-handed pitchers, and the amount of players who have true talent reverse platoon splits are extremely rare. In almost every case, left-handed hitters will hit righties better than southpaws.
Even though it’s a small sample size, the difference in performance between Clement vs LHP and RHP is still staggering. And you know what? It supports the scout’s claim. He really is feasting on left-handed pitchers. The entirity of his success this year can be credited to his ability to mash LHPs.
So, the conversation continued. I told Scout Friend that the raw numbers actually did support his claim, but that I still couldn’t believe that all of this success was coming off of guys throwing Triple-A fastballs. He says he’s convinced that Clement’s bat isn’t fast enough to get around on high velocity pitches, and every pitch he’s seen him drive this year has been below 90 MPH. I was still struggling with accepting this, so I decided to dive into the Rainiers box scores. Here’s a list of all the pitchers Jeff Clement has taken yard this year.
June 28th: Ryan Ketchner, LHP
June 22nd: Dan Meyer, LHP
June 13th: Tim Stauffer, RHP
June 9th: Bob Keppel, RHP, and Mike DeJean, RHP
June 5th: J.R. Mathes (twice), LHP
May 27th: Evan McLane, LHP
May 20th: Enrique Gonzalez, RHP
May 15th: Paul Mildren, LHP
May 10th: Miguel Ascenscio, RHP
May 6th: Joe Saunders, LHP
April 28th: Mark Alexander, RHP
April 7th: Shame Komine, RHP
He has seven home runs against righties and seven home runs against lefties. But, out of that entire list, there are three guys on there that regularly top 92+ with their fastballs: Bob Keppel, Miguel Ascenscio and Enrique Gonzalez. The lefties on the list? A veritable collection of junkballers and soft-tossers. Ryan Ketchner, Dan Meyer, J.R. Mathes, Evan McLane, Paul Mildren, and Joe Saunders – all guys who couldn’t break glass with their fastballs. Saunders is the only major league pitcher in the bunch, and he’s a guy who succeeds with command and changing speeds.
Looking at the data, Scout Friend was right – Clement has been destroying the ball off of lefties who don’t have major league fastballs.
Now, I’m not presenting this post as any kind of reason to jump off the Jeff Clement bandwagon. He was the #3 pick in the draft two years ago, so this isn’t some guy who scouts universally hated. He hit at USC, he hit in the Texas League, and now he’s hitting in the PCL. There’s too much history that says Jeff Clement can hit for me to buy the idea that he’s just a guy with marginal batspeed and his success won’t translate to the majors.
But I do find the entire conversation extremely interesting. I think it’s relevant information that Clement is loading up on Triple-A junkballers and struggling against pitchers with major league fastballs. I’m not sure what it means, but I don’t think it’s something we should ignore.
So, to be honest, I don’t know what to think about Jeff Clement. The numbers say I should be a fan – he’s a power and patience left-handed guy that looks like a perfect fit for Safeco Field, and after a long struggle, no one has been able to get him out for the last month and a half. But, traditional scouting can still see a lot of things that statistical analysis cannot, and in this case, there’s valid evidence of the scouting claim.
Is Jeff Clement going to hit in the majors? I don’t know. I think so, but I’ll be a lot more confident if he starts whacking the ball against some high velocity right-handers.
In the spirit of a surprising three game sweep of the best team in the American League (and yes, I know that they threw Gabbard and Tavarez at us, but we threw Weaver and Feierabend at them, so call it even), this post is for one thing – to give credit to the performances that have carried the M’s to a 42-33 record. These are the guys who have put the team on their backs and are keeping the team in the playoff race.
A great player who has put together a first half that is better than any full season he’s had in the U.S. The shift to center fielder has taken an all-star and turned him into an MVP candidate. He’s third in the majors in runs created, only 8 runs behind the slugging combo of Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, 5 runs ahead of Vladimir Guerrero, and a mind-numbing 29 runs ahead of Raul Ibanez, who is #2 on the M’s RC list. Ichiro is, right now, the best center fielder in baseball, and the main reason the Mariners are in playoff contention. If the season ended today, he’d be #1 on my theoretical AL MVP ballot. He’s had that great of a first half.
Calling Ichiro the AL MVP is somewhat controversial. Calling J.J. Putz the best reliever on the planet is not. Or it shouldn’t be, anyways. There isn’t even anyone who has a very good case for being in the argument. I could throw all kinds of stats out there, showing J.J.’s dominance, but we’ve all seen it on a daily basis – this guy is absolutely lights out. So, here’s my favorite number regarding Putz this year – yesterday was the first game all year where he was lifted for another pitcher, and I’m sure he would have pitched the last two innings yesterday if Hargrove would have let him. The first 33 games he appeared in, he was the last pitcher the M’s sent to the hill. When you put J.J. in, the game is over, and you can tell the rest of the bullpen to go take a shower. He’s the best relief ace in the game, and it isn’t particularly close.
Putz gives the M’s the best right-handed reliever in the game. Sherrill is arguably the best left-handed reliever alive as well. Hideki Okajima could make a pretty good case as well and Billy Wagner’s still awesome, but Sherrill is certainly part of the discussion. Lefties are 5 for 45 with 3 walks and 17 strikeouts against GS52, pretty much turning every LHB into an easy out. But right-handers aren’t touching him either, posting a .222/.216/.278 line. Overall, the league is posting a .419 OPS against George Sherrill. When you can bring a lefty out of the pen in high leverage situations with runners on base, and he turns opposing hitters into an average hitting pitcher, that’s a remarkably valuable player.
Kenji’s not going to make the all-star team, but he’s been a terrific player for the Mariners this year. He’s hitting .307/.340/.482 as a right-handed extreme pull hitter in a park that punishes right-handed pull hitters like no other in baseball. He hits for average and power while playing practically every day, and he’s not having the same problems behind the plate – primarily, stabbing at the ball – that he had last year. It’s amazing to think that two years ago, the M’s were cycling guys like Miguel Ojeda and Wiki Gonzalez behind the plate. Not anymore. Now, it’s all Kenji.
Okay, to be fair, it’s not all Kenji. Jamie Burke plays once a week, too. And man, has he ever taken advantage of his opportunities. In general, the backup catcher isn’t a vital cog in the machine. But, at the extreme ends of the performance spectrum, they can make a pretty big impact. Last year, the M’s had something like the worst backup catcher in major league history, letting Rene Rivera suck the life out of their line-up. This year, on a per at-bat basis, Jamie Burke has been their best hitter. The difference in value has been staggering, honestly. Burke already has more hits than Rivera had in all of 2006, and he’s made 54 less outs. Upgrading from Rene Rivera to Jamie Burke has already been worth a win in the standings, and the season is only half over. And he plays once a week! That’s remarkable.
Mike Hargrove’s Bullpen Usage
It’s not a person, so I’m making an exception here. Grover does too many other things wrong to be on this list as just himself, but this one aspect of in-game management, he’s done exceptionally well at, and he seems to be getting better by the week. He’s using J.J. Putz for multi-inning saves, letting George Sherrill face right-handers (sometimes, anyways), giving high leverage innings to Eric O’Flaherty and not sticking with struggling veterans like Chris Reitsma. Yesterday, he even used J.J. Putz in the 9th inning of a tie game at home, realizing there was no point in saving his closer for a save situation that could not happen. Bob Melvin used to drive us insane with his bullpen usage, and while I don’t think I’m ever going to be much of a Mike Hargrove fan, I’ll gladly stand and applaud the way he’s used his relievers this year. The M’s bullpen is, by far, the strength of the team, and Hargrove has leveraged this strength into a lot of wins.
There are other guys who are helping keep the team in contention by having solid years, such a Adrian Beltre, Jose Lopez, and Jarrod Washburn, but the guys listed above are the reasons this team is nine games above .500. These guys are the stars of the first half, and a first half that has the Mariners thinking about a playoff race in September.
Matsuzaka vs Feierabend, 1:35 pm.
Coming off the worst start of his life, Feierabend looks to rebound by trying to get out Ortiz, Ramirez, and company. Ouch. I’m rooting for him, because the last thing I want to see is Horacio Ramirez taking the hill again anytime soon, but you take a kid who pitches up in the zone and put him against a line-up of guys who drive the ball, and the Red Sox could put up some crooked numbers in bunches today.
Turbo is still hitting third, which is great, because it allows him to set his sights on Jim Rice’s GIDP record again. With 13 double plays in 299 PA, he’s fallen off the pace quite a bit, so it’s nice of Hargrove to give him as many chances to bat with a runner on 1st and less than 2 out as possible.
Also, Broussard in left, Guillen in right, Jones in Tacoma.
By most accounts, your reputation among pitching coaches in the organization is second to none. People talk about your great rapport with the guys on the staff, especially Felix, and your willingness to listen in an attempt to make sure you get the best out of the guys on your staff.
So, I’m appealing to that second virtue – the ability to listen. I know, I’m just a fan, a guy who watches games from thousands of miles away, and I have no contact with the guys in the locker room. But I think, if you’re willing to hear me out, you might find that what I have to say is of interest to you.
You have a couple of 21-year-old kids in your rotation right now, the younger of which is the prize of the organization and the best arm the team has ever developed. Felix Hernandez, we all recognize, has limitless potential. His stuff is top notch, and his level of major league success at his age is extremely rare in the history of baseball.
However, there are still stretches where Felix looks eminently hittable, especially at the beginning of games. Last night, we saw another example of this, where the first four batters reached base and the Red Sox had scored a run and loaded the bases before the Mariners were able to record an out. This has been a common theme all year, as Felix is allowing a .370 batting average in the first inning, and it’s actually unusual for him to get out of the first inning without already being behind.
Now, I know that you guys believe that his struggles are directly related to his command, or lack thereof. When he keeps his fastball down and gets ahead in the count, he does fine, but he struggles when he falls behind hitters and leaves the fastball up at the belt. There’s no doubt that if Felix could just put his fastball in better spots, he’d be significantly more successful.
But he can’t.
Felix’s command of his fastball has never consistently been there. He didn’t have fastball command in Everett, Wisconsin, Inland Empire, San Antonio, or Tacoma, and he doesn’t have it in Seattle. At this point in his development, he’s simply not able to repeatedly put his fastball where he wants it. We all hope that his command improves as he gets more experience, but it could take him years to learn how to spot his fastball. It may never happen. It certainly won’t happen overnight.
This team needs Felix to be better in 2007 than he has been. Since it’s unlikely that you can fix his command before his next start, there has to be another way you can help Felix get over his first inning struggles. Thankfully, I believe there is. It’s pitch selection.
Last night (6/26), Felix threw 10 straight fastballs to start the game. Coco Crisp singled on an 0-2 fastball. Dustin Pedroia singled on the first pitch he saw, a pitch he knew was going to be a fastball. David Ortiz drew a four pitch walk, all on fastballs. The bases were loaded with nobody out after 8 pitches, all fastballs.
In his previous start against the Pirates (6/21), Felix threw 13 consecutive fastballs to start the game. Those 13 pitches turned into 5 outs, as the Pirates hitters aren’t very good.
In the start against Houston (6/15), he threw 7 straight fastballs to start the game, tossed in a hanging slider to Carlos Lee, and then threw four more fastballs. 12 of his first 13 pitches of the game were fastballs. The Astros went 3 for 4 off Felix in the first inning.
In the start against San Diego (6/10), he threw 7 straight fastballs to start the game, which resulted in a leadoff walk to Marcus Giles and a first pitch strike to Jose Cruz Jr. He then went change-up, fastball, slider, curve and got Cruz to ground out back to the mound.
In the start against Baltimore, he actually threw a slider on the second pitch, getting a called strike and leading to an 0-2 count. He then threw a fastball that got ripped for a double.
Through extensive charting of the games Felix pitches in, supplemented by the data culled from MLB Advanced Media’s Pitch F/X system, it has become apparent that Felix throws an extraordinary amount of fastballs in the first ten pitches of each game. In June, here are his pitch selections by game date:
Pitch 6/26 6/21 6/15 6/10 6/4 FB% 1 FB FB FB FB FB 100% 2 FB FB FB FB SL 80% 3 FB FB FB FB FB 100% 4 FB FB FB FB FB 100% 5 FB FB FB FB FB 100% 6 FB FB FB FB SL 80% 7 FB FB FB FB SL 80% 8 FB FB SL SL CH 40% 9 FB FB FB FB CH 80% 10 FB FB FB SL FB 80%
10 straight fastballs last night. 10 straight fastballs the start before. 9 out of 10 in the start before that. The game against Baltimore on 6/4 is the massive outlier, where he went to the breaking ball early after giving up a lead-off double against, what else, an 0-2 fastball. And it worked, as he gave up just a Nick Markakis single the rest of the inning.
This is taking “establish the fastball” to an entirely different level. This is predictability beyond comprehension, and every team in baseball has caught on. Felix put four guys on base by chucking fastballs last night, then struck out J.D. Drew with four consecutive offspeed pitches.
You’re the pitching coach. You have a 21-year-old pitcher who badly needs coaching. Intervene. Take over control of the pitch selection to start the game. Make Felix throw a change-up or a curve ball to the first batter. Throw a first pitch slider in the first inning.
What you’re letting him do is simply not working. By throwing nothing but fastballs to the first several batters of the game, every game, he’s asking hitters to come to the plate and sit on a straight, high velocity pitch that they know they’re going to get. Is it any wonder the league is hitting .370 off Felix Hernandez in the first inning?
Pitch selection won’t fix Felix’s command, and it won’t make him a Cy Young contender. Command is a problem, but so is his pitch selection. You can fix the latter.
Hernandez vs Gabbard, 7:05 pm.
Happy Felix Day.
I’m going to be honest – this game scares me. Felix owned the Red Sox in his second start of the year, but his stuff hasn’t been the same since. His velocity is down, he’s not getting the same movement on his two-seam fastball or slider, and he hasn’t been able to keep his change-up consistently below the belt. Felix, with less than his best stuff, is most effective when the opposing hitters are willing to swing early in the count, chase pitches out of the zone, and generally focus on putting the ball in play.
That’s not the Red Sox. They have a line-up full of guys who will stare at strikes to get into deeper counts, lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone, and swing for the fences when they expect a fastball. If Felix doesn’t have better command than he usually does, he’s going to fall into a lot of three ball counts, which will let the Red Sox lefty hitters aim for the short porch in right field.
Jeff Weaver, for all the crap we’ve given him, put on a pitch selection clinic last night, throwing curveballs, change-ups, and sliders in almost any count, and mixing the off-speed pitches in with his fastball to keep the hitters off balance. We know from experience that Felix isn’t going to do that for the first 15-20 pitches, which will be overwhelmingly laden with fastballs. If he’s not peppering strikes in the first inning and getting easy groundball outs, it could get bad in a hurry.
As for the offense, Kason Gabbard isn’t anything special, but he’s another one of these guys with a below average fastball that gives the Mariners fits. He’s a lefty, and the M’s hit those better than most, but Hargrove continues to run out asinine line-ups, sticking Jose Vidro (.297/.329/.344 vs LHPs) in the 3-hole and Jose Guillen (.359/.438/.641 vs LHPs) in the 6-hole. For a guy who plays the L/R matchups by the book in making bullpen changes late in the game, Hargrove has no regard at all for platoon splits when setting a line-up, and his suboptimal positioning of the hitters costs the team runs. How hard is it to take the guy who destroys lefties and hit him higher in the order against southpaws, while taking the guy who leads the team in sac bunts and double plays out of the middle of the line-up? Even nine-year-olds with their Playstations have a better understanding of line-up construction than the Mariner manager.
But, I’m going to try not to think about Mike Hargrove, because after all, it’s Felix Day. Here’s to a happy one.
The July 31st trade deadline occurs on a Tuesday this year, and is always one of the busiest days of the year, traffic wise, for the blog. Everyone has an opinion on what happened, what should have happened, and what might have happened in a dream world. So, what if you had the opportunity to get together with a large group of Mariner fans a couple of days after the trade deadline, talk about the recent events, and watch some Mariner prospects at the same time?
Well, you just might. Jeff Sullivan and I are looking into the feasibility of flying into Seattle during the first few days in August and hosting a pair of USSM/LL events – one up in Everett for the northsiders, and one down in Tacoma for the southside folks. We’re looking at August 2nd/3rd as the potential dates, which is a Thursday night in Tacoma and a Friday night up in Everett.
Cost for each would be likely somewhere in the $20-$25 range and would include your ticket to the game. If you’ve been to a USSM get together before, you know we’ll do our best to make it worth your time and money.
Since planning this involves some airfare purchases for Jeff and myself, I’m putting this thread up to gauge interest and make sure it’s something you guys would want to attend. We also want to get a good feel for how many people would want to attend the Everett vs Tacoma events. So, in the comments, here’s what I’m asking for:
Number of people – bringing friends/family?
Level of interest – definitely in, probably in, or maybe in.
Which site – Everett or Tacoma (or both is fine too).
I have an idea of what I think the response will be like, but before I throw down a good chunk of cash and buy a plane ticket back to Seattle, I’d like to make sure this is something you guys are in for. The events are always a good time, and we’ll get to prove that Jeff and I are indeed two seperate people.
Weaver vs Tavarez, 7:05 pm.
Jeff Weaver threw a complete game shutout in his last start. It was one of the most shocking developments in recent baseball history. If he throws one tonight, I’ll retire from blogging and prepare for the end of the world.
I take a road trip to Atlanta for a couple of days, take in a Braves-Tigers game, and get reminded in person that Carlos Guillen and Rafael Soriano are both still awesome, and I apparently missed quite a bit in Mariner-land.
1. The Richie Sexson Annual Second Half Tear looks to be just about underway. .300/.364/.900 in his last 7 games, including 4 home runs. This is why the team didn’t bench him. He’s a ridiculously streaky hitter, but when he’s running hot, he’s the most effective power hitter the offense has, and they can’t win without him driving the ball.
2. After the Friday night debacle, Hargrove responded with more line-up changes. Last time he shook things up, he did well, moving Lopez to #2 and dropping Vidro to #8. This time? Not so much. Vidro brings his pathetic little .721 OPS back to the #3 hole. Becuase clearly, this team needs more Turbo.
Hargrove may be noticing that Guillen is having problems with RHPs, however, as he got Broussard into the line-up on Sunday in RF. Apparently, Guillen and Ibanez are both too hurt to play. Hello Adam Jones! No? Arghh. I don’t love Broussard in the outfield, but RF at Safeco is the easiest spot to play, and Guillen doesn’t have much range with his bad ankles either, so the offensive upgrade against right-handers is probably worth the experiment. He really needs to be in the line-up more often, as the team just can’t afford to keep a .295/.349/.487 left-handed hitter against RHPs on the bench.
4. Also, from the box score, it looks like Hargrove made two terrific moves yesterday – the suicide squeeze is my favorite play in baseball, and should be used far more often than it is. Kudos to Grover for calling it in the perfect scenario, with Betancourt on 3rd and Bloomquist at the plate in a tie game. Also, for handing the ball to J.J. Putz to get the final out in the 8th inning. Sherrill’s good enough to get tough righties out, but since he’s set on playing the L/R matchup game with his bullpen, going to Putz instead of Morrow could have been a game-saving decision.
5. And, finally, the big one – Ken Griffey Jr gave an interview on Fox Sports Northwest where he said he wants to retire as a Mariner, and that Seattle will always be home. You have no idea how happy I am that I wasn’t around the blog for this, because I’d have been pounding my head against a wall trying to keep the trade-creating-posters at bay.
So, what does his statement mean? Well, obviously, he had a good time in his return to Safeco, and the numerous standing ovations meant a lot to him. There’s no doubt he’s going into the hall of fame as a Mariner, and the idea of playing his last game with the team that he broke into the majors with holds significant appeal to both him and a large portion of the fan base. And we know that the M’s organization absolutely loves stuff like this, so the executives will push hard for a Griffey return when it becomes possible.
But as far as making a move right now? Let’s look at this from a realistic perspective. The M’s currently have a better player than Ken Griffey Jr biding his time in Tacoma waiting for a spot in the line-up to open up. They have a quality left-handed hitter sitting on the bench, unable to get as much playing time as he deserves. And they have another outfielder in Tacoma who continues to take a significant step forward in development and, because he’s out of options, he has to be on the team next year or be in another organization.
We already can’t find room for Ben Broussard and Adam Jones right now (again, this is why the Vidro trade was so ridiculously awful), and next year, you have to add Wladmir Balentien to the mix. Between the three outfield spots and designated hitter, you’ve got four line-up spots for Ichiro, Ibanez, Guillen, Vidro, Broussard, and Jones. Toss Balentien into that mix next year, likely replacing Guillen, and you’ve still got six guys for four spots. And that’s not including Jeff Clement, who is making a huge push to make sure he’s not forgotten about as a source of LH power.
Yes, Junior is better than Broussard and Vidro. And he’s a better fit for this team than Guillen, as the team needs a LH bat in the line-up more than a right-handed bat. But the marginal improvement of trading for Griffey isn’t as large as you’d think, looking at his numbers. He’d be another guy blocking Adam Jones, who really needs to be in the Mariners line-up right now, and would make a larger difference in improving the team than Junior would. He’d be another guy blocking Wladimir Balentien next year, giving the organization yet another high salaried player at a position where they had a low salaried option, taking more money away from the budget and preventing the club from improving at other positions.
For the huge portion of the fanbase that loves Griffey, I hope he does retire a Mariner. It just makes more sense for that to happen in 2009 and not 2007.