Game 114, Mariners at Rangers
Furbush vs. Harrison, 5:05pm.
*UPDATE* Shannon Drayer reports that Brendan Ryan’s going on the 15 day DL, and he’ll be replaced by Luis Rodriguez.
The M’s head to a sweltering Arlington for three games against the first-place Rangers in what’s shaping up to be a rather interesting series – at least, it’s as interesting as it can be considering the M’s are in last place and Felix isn’t pitching.
Charlie Furbush makes his second start for the M’s tonight, coming off a very encouraging start against the A’s in Safeco. Granted, facing the A’s in Safeco is a great training-wheels start, and about as far removed as facing the Rangers in Arlington as you can get without involving the AL East powers. But he missed a lot of bats in his 62 pitches and showed an arsenal that has some real promise.
The first thing you notice about Furbush is that his arm angle and velocity should help him get left-handed hitters out. The angle coupled with a deceptive (though complicated) delivery make it hard to pick up the ball, and then his fastball comes in a bit faster than advertised. Furbush is generally credited with a FB in the 88-91 range, and if you look at pitch fx charts at Fangraphs or Texasleaguers, that’s what you’ll see. But take a look at the fourth graph here: Furbush’s two-seam fastball/sinker is essentially split into two groups – one averaging around 91 mph, and another mixed in with “sliders” at around 83 MPH. The problem is that the pitch fx algorithm doesn’t know what Furbush throws, as he just debuted this year. Thus, the algorithm is missing the fact that Furbush throws a change-up. Pitch fx gurus Mike Fast (of Baseball Prospectus) and Josh Smolow (of The Hardball Times) put him at 16 change-ups out of his 62 pitches in the Oakland start.
This is not only good news in that it can help him get right-handers out, it also means his sinker/two-seam velocity isn’t 88.9, it’s 91. That doesn’t sound like much, but it should give him more margin for error. That’s important, because Furbush still struggles against righties and he’s going to need to develop this pitch if he wants to be more than a fringe starter (Furbush gave up 40 HRs in his MiLB career – 35 of them to righties). But the tools are there; he’s not another lefty soft-tosser that the M’s have trotted out in a futile attempt to find another Jamie Moyer. I’m not expecting great things from a guy with a HR problem facing Texas in Arlington, but I’m intrigued by Furbush’s potential long term.
Today’s line-up features Jack Wilson at SS and in the 2nd spot in the line-up as Brendan Ryan continues to nurse a sore shoulder (*see update above*). I have no problem with Wilson playing; he’s a good defensive back-up. But must he take Ryan’s line-up spot just because it’s Ryan who got hurt? If Ackley takes a day off, would they bat Kennedy (or Wilson) 3rd, because hey, our #3 hitter’s got the day off?
4: Carp (1B)
6: Wells (DH)
7: Kennedy (3B)
Other weekend news bullets:
* The M’s outscored the Angels 6-4, but lost the series two games to one. The Rainiers split a 4-gamer with Albuquerque in which they were outscored by the Isotopes 39-35. The Rainiers have now scored an even 750 runs this season in 116 games; the Mariners have scored 374 in 113. This isn’t a different level, this is an entirely different sport. Note: the Rainiers put up 12 in their win at Round Rock last night, so the results against the Isotopes aren’t purely park-effect driven. Erasmo Ramirez gave up 6 runs in 5 innings, which should count as a quality start in the PCL.
* In prospect news, while the national attention focused on Stephen Strasburg’s return for the Hagerstown Suns, James Paxton‘s racking up strikeouts and moving up the rankings of the top lefties in the minors. Kevin Goldstein makes the point here ($). While many had Paxton on their radar, few people had him in the M’s top 10 lists pre-season. This isn’t a big oversight – he held out a long time and the reports on his velocity in the indie leagues weren’t exactly reassuring. The breakout seasons from Paxton and Walker are probably the best development in the minor leagues this year, and Paxton could make an impact next season. Another reason why it was easier for Zduriencik to deal Doug Fister, I suppose.
* Rockies reliever Juan Nicasio fractured his neck after being struck by a line drive off the bat of Ian Desmond. Certainly one of the more horrific on-field injuries in recent years, and it comes about four years after minor league coach Mike Coolbaugh died after being struck by a line-drive. Doctors give Nicasio a decent chance to play again, as he didn’t sustain damage to his spinal cord – the fracture occurred on the C1 vertebrae.
* Buster Olney discussed WAR, and the Fangraphs leaderboard on twitter yesterday which occasioned some interesting discussion of the positional adjustments in the metric as well as some snark about Olney as he poked around the new metric. Predictably, Dave Cameron offers the former in a good piece here. There’s a lot of concern about the use of UZR in WAR, though of course you can get a UZR-free WAR over at B-Ref if you want. The point is that it’s best to use the same measuring stick for everyone. WAR is just attempting to frame the debate in a systematic way – that a SS hitting 20 HRs is *different* from a 1B hitting 20 HRs, and that defensive excellence can make a so-so hitter a valuable player. We all know these things, but it’s still valuable to lay out the assumptions before hand (a SS is X runs more valuable than a LF, for example). If people have misgivings about one or more components of WAR, they’re free to ditch them and substitute them with something else. WAR is a process for attempting to summarize a player’s value; it is not a “number.” I know some people lament the fact that there are so many different versions of it – from Baseball-reference’s rWAR to Fangraphs’ fWAR to Baseball Prospectus’ WARP. Putting aside any mathematical issues, (which’d be over my head anyway) I actually like the different iterations. Let’s see the impact of tweaking an assumption here or there, that can sharpen our understanding and maybe point out areas to research. But just make sure you apply the tweak to everyone; putting your thumb on the scale isn’t “tweaking” an experiment.