Game 21, Mariners at Royals

April 27, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 157 Comments 

Snell vs Greinke, 5:10 pm.

Slumping offense faces one of the game’s best pitchers. This will go well.

Snell makes his last start before heading to the bullpen. Here’s to hoping he goes out with a bang. Otherwise, the M’s will head into tomorrow’s game looking to avoid a winless road trip.

Ichiro, RF
Figgins, 2B
Gutierrez, CF
Lopez, 2B
Griffey, DH
Bradley, LF
Kotchman, 1B
Moore, C
Wilson, SS

Pitching staff moves, philosophies

April 27, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 28 Comments 

According to Larry LaRue at the News Tribune, the M’s are indeed sending Ian Snell to the bullpen, sending Jesus Colome to Tacoma, and freeing up a spot for Cliff Lee in the M’s rotation. That makes sense given the early season – Snell’s struggled, while Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have pitched well.

The decision doesn’t surprise me in light of the results so far – both Vargas and Fister have been surprising to date. They run together for me as fringy rotation starters who saw significant time with Tacoma in 2009. Both are primarily FB/Change-up pitchers, with fastballs in the 87-89 range (Fister’s got a touch more velocity, but Vargas is a lefty). Through four starts, both have made big changes to their pitch mix. With samples this small, it may not mean anything, but it’s interesting to ponder.

Doug Fister’s fastball got poor results in 2009 according to Fangraphs‘ pitch type linear weights. This shouldn’t really surprise anyone, given that he’s a righty with an 88 MPH ‘heater.’ He generated well below-average swinging strike rates in AAA and MLB last year as a result. His change-up, however, generated more swinging strikes and better results. So what’s changed in 2010? To date, he’s throwing a lot more… fastballs. And it’s working! Intentionally giving up swinging strikes in favor of batted balls isn’t generally a smart play, but with this defense, it’s *almost* understandable. He appears to be trading swinging strikes/K rate for fewer walks. The cost of this shift is an awful lot of balls in play, which, with this defense, sort of makes sense.

The results look odd: Doug Fister’s FB fools exactly no one. His sub 2% whiff rate with the pitch is almost unheard of, as is his FB frequency: a league-leading 80%. So far, so good – his results on the pitch are quite good, though the pitch results with a sample like this essentially act as a proxy for his BABIP, which is an absurdly low .241. More encouragingly, he’s getting a few more swings outside the strike zone (O-swing%), which typically result in poor contact (the best result you can hope for if you’ve given up trying to generate swinging strikes). That’s all well and good, but a glance at pitchers with sub 5% swinging strike rates doesn’t inspire confidence. Essentially, you’ve got high-GB pitchers like Joel Pineiro (who was still above 5% last year), and guys like John Lannan and Livan Hernandez. These days, if Livan Hernadez shows up as a comparable pitcher, you’re doing something wrong. This approach doesn’t make sense, but it IS familiar.

Last year, Sean White threw FBs about 75% of the time (for reference, his FB% in 2007 was under 60%), and got similar results: 3.7% swinging strikes on a pitch he threw almost exclusively. So far in 2010, he’s purged a few more swinging strikes with his FB. David Aardsma found success for the first time in his career by increasing his FB percentage significantly last year, and so far in 2010, he’s essentially trying to make people forget he even has offspeed pitches. This is interesting given that these three pitchers don’t resemble one another in any way. If this is something Rick Adair preaches, what’s the idea? White and Aardsma throw hard, but Fister doesn’t. White and Aardsma have battled some control issues, but Fister was always a control artist. White was a ground-ball guy, while Fister and Aardsma have yielded more fly-balls.

So what about Vargas? The other FB/Change-up pitcher with no velocity had decent results on his change last year, and, pace Fister, has increased his change-up frequency by nearly 10 percentage points in 2010. He’s also generated more swinging strikes and a higher O-swing percentage. Why the stark differences in approach by Fister and Vargas? Some may point to their catchers; Fister’s FB-dominance has coincided with his last three starts with Rob Johnson catching, while Vargas has had Adam Moore behind the plate for his starts. Another possibility is that the M’s think certain pitches (technically, certain FBs) have lower average HR/FB rates, and essentially punt Ks to get more balls in play. If you don’t walk anyone (like White and Fister) and don’t yield HRs, this makes sense, but it runs counter to sabermetric wisdom that HR/FB rates regress towards the mean. That’d be a fascinating result, given not only the amount of data we have on HR/FB variability but also Fister’s so-so HR/FB rates in 2009. That said, I’m not aware of many studies on HR/FB by pitch type – and our current pitch types may be too broad in any event (See this interesting study on pitch-type platoon splits by Max Marchi).

Does anybody have any alternate theories of why Vargas and Fister’s approach would diverge like this? Why would the M’s look at Fister’s 2009 results by pitch and instruct him to throw fewer change-ups? Why would they do so while telling Vargas to throw *more* change-ups? Vargas has faced more opposite-handed hitters, so that’s probably a factor, but one noticeable change from last year is Varas’ willingness to use his change (and not his slider) to lefties. He threw change ups to lefties fewer than 4% of the time last year, and now it’s about 15%. What do you think is going on here? Are the M’s actually harming Fister’s chances of sticking in a major league rotation with this pitch mix strategy, or have the M’s using a novel approach that might make Fister serviceable at this level? Given the sample sizes we’re looking at, there are no definitive answers – but what do you think’s going on here?

(Edited to add Vargas change-up % by handedness and correct weird error about throwing change-ups to same-handed hitters. It was late.)

Game Twenty Recap

April 26, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

Boo, 9-11.

That’s four losses in a row to two bad baseball teams. First time the team has lost on Felix day all season. Yeah, I don’t expect this to be a fun comments thread.

Nothing overly interesting to say tonight. Felix struggled with command problems, though how much of that was the rain we’ll never know. His stuff was good enough to get a ton of groundballs (14, to be exact), but enough of them found holes that it created some problems. Obviously, though, he’s not at fault tonight.

The offense, once again, sucked. The line-up doesn’t work when Figgins and Bradley aren’t hitting, and even with his late 9th inning double, it isn’t enough. On nights where those guys make seven outs in eight trips to the plate, runs won’t be very plentiful. The Mariners built this team to score despite a lack of power, but they can’t also overcome a lack of getting guys on base. There’s nothing the team can do but wait for those two to start hitting.

We’ve talked enough about Griffey, so I’ll leave that alone. I’d imagine a few leashes got shorter tonight, though.

Two more walks for Rob Johnson, giving him seven so far. He still can’t hit, but his improved approach at the plate is a boon. A lot of bad hitters never realize that they need to swing less frequently, but kudos to Johnson for figuring that out.

Greinke vs Snell tomorrow. Not really what you want to see when you’re coming in with a four game losing streak.

Game 20, Mariners at Royals

April 26, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 123 Comments 

Hernandez vs Davies, 5:10 pm.

Happy Felix Day.

After a rough weekend, the M’s should be able to rebound somewhat against a bad Royals team. With Felix on the hill, tonight will feel like a disaster if the M’s lose. The line-up returns to semi normality with the return of both Bradley and Wilson, though the batting order is still going to make you want to throw something.

Ichiro, RF
Figgins, 2B
Gutierrez, CF
Lopez, 3B
Griffey, DH
Bradley, LF
Kotchman, 1B
Johnson, C
Wilson, SS

Minor League Wrap (4/19-25/10)

April 26, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 17 Comments 

I can’t say that this will entirely wash away the stain of this past weekend’s performances, but it will help, and if not, just look at Marc’s report from Tacoma again and remember that Cliff Lee will be back soon. Hannahan and Langerhans might be too.

To the jump!
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How Long Is Your Leash?

April 25, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 141 Comments 

Not with the team – with Junior.

From all the threads we’ve had each time Junior has signed on with the club, I know there are two distinct camps about Griffey being here. For those who never wanted him to sign, or re-sign, feel free to skip the comments. We know your answer – you want Junior out as early as humanly possible. Noted, often many times over.

But for those of you who wanted him to come back for 2010, whether it was because you thought he might hit better after yet another knee surgery or you liked the idea of having him in the clubhouse or whatever, you’re the ones I’m curious about. How long do you want Ken Griffey Jr to be this team’s DH versus RHPs? When is your breaking point, where you say “you know, it’s been a year and change, and the bat speed just isn’t there, so he probably shouldn’t play much anymore.”?

This isn’t an insinuation that the point should be today, this week, or this month. I’m just asking a question. For those of you who wanted Griffey on this team, at what point will you stop wanting him to be the reguar DH? When do you need to see some offense by before you give up on the franchise icon as a major league hitter? And what do you want them to do with him once everyone agrees that he’s just a bench guy?

How long should we wait? That’s my question to those of you who think he should have been on the team to begin with.

Cliff Lee’s Mariner (organization) Debut

April 25, 2010 · Filed Under General baseball, Mariners, Minor Leagues · 12 Comments 

Cliff Lee made his eagerly anticipated 2010 debut today, pitching six scoreless innings against an overmatched Salt Lake Bees roster. He yielded 3 hits, an infield hit that Jack Hannahan couldn’t quite handle, a bunt (that Lee didn’t cover first base on), and a fly ball that Ezequiel Carrera lost in the clouds.
Lee got through six innings in 68 pitches, with his change-up looking like the best of his offerings. His fastball was between 89-91 on the stadium gun today, with his change-up in the low-mid 80s. Tony Blengino was on hand to watch the M’s big off-season addition, and it looks like Lee’s on track to make his next start on 4/30.

Pictures from Cheney below the jump…
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Game Nineteen Recap

April 25, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

Boo, 9-10.

There’s nothing this team can do about the home runs the bullpen has allowed the last three days. The right pitchers were in the game, but they just threw bad pitches. It happens. It’s really annoying when it happens three days in a row, but so is life. League, like Aardsma and Lowe, is a good reliever, and will help the Mariners win games this year. He’s just not perfect, and that bad pitch to Konerko came at a pretty lousy time.

The offense, there’s not much to say. When Milton Bradley isn’t in the line-up, this offense stinks. Sweeney saw 12 pitches the whole game and was just as useless as always. Figgins swung at the first pitch twice, and only saw 10 pitches in four trips to the plate. The M’s continually chased pitches out of the zone, giving Danks outs he didn’t need. The offense is just good enough when Milton’s in the line-up, but when he’s on the bench, it’s a joke. They don’t stand much of a chance against good pitchers when they’re running out today’s line-up.

For me, Vargas has done enough to keep his rotation spot. Even though he only got three strikeouts, he got 10 swinging strikes today, and he was smart enough to keep the ball down in this park, getting nine groundball outs. The three walks are a bit misleading, as he wisely pitched around Konerko, since AJ Pierzynski’s struggling left-handed bat was behind him. At this point, unless Snell throws a perfect game on Tuesdsay, he should probably be the one going to the bullpen.

Game 19, Mariners at White Sox

April 25, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 149 Comments 

Vargas vs Danks, 11:05 AM.

Vargas gets the bad draw of the guys trying to retain their rotation spot, as a lefty flyball guy in a HR friendly park facing a line-up that is almost entirely right-handed. This may not be pretty. On the other hand, if he can pitch well in this context, he’s earned a rotation spot, so maybe he’ll take it as a challenge.

Ichiro, RF
Figgins, 2B
Gutierrez, CF
Lopez, 2B
Mascot, DH
Kotchman, 1B
Byrnes, LF
Moore, C
Tuiasosopo, SS

Game Eighteen Recap

April 24, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 66 Comments 

Boo, 9-9.

Well, you can cross Doug Fister off the list of guys who might be coming out of the rotation when Lee returns. After another strong performance today, there’s no way Wak will send him to the bullpen right now. It’s down to Vargas and Snell at this point.

Did you know the ball carries pretty well in Chicago? Like Rowland-Smith yesterday (and Vargas tomorrow), Aardsma relies on fly balls staying in the yard, and this park is one of the worst spots for him to pitch. It also doesn’t help when his command abandons him.

These one run losses suck, but as long as the M’s continue to run out a JV line-up to accommodate the hugging DH tandem, it’s hard to argue that they deserve to win. The M’s started four guys who are essentially replacement level today. You can’t expect to win too many games when you’re running Eric Byrnes out against a right-hander and starting Tuiasosopo at shortstop, especially when the DH and catcher positions were both chosen for their personality rather than their abilities. The M’s will eventually have to get serious and fix this roster, or they’re going to keep losing games that they should have won.

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