Game 19, Mariners at Tigers

April 25, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 175 Comments 

Hernandez vs Wilk, 4:05 pm.

Happy Felix Day!

With a lefty on the mound, the M’s run out a slightly altered version of their RHB-heavy line-up. Chone Figgins isn’t getting the start in center, as he has against some LHPs, and Michael Saunders is instead rewarded for his success yesterday with a start against a southpaw. As we assumed, Ackley would move up to leadoff when Figgins isn’t in the line-up – once he goes away for good, this is probably Ackley’s spot permanently.

Also, Montero’s behind the plate for the first time when Noesi or Millwood isn’t pitching, so this is new. Olivo’s still DH’ing, but the team doesn’t have many better options against an LHP – the guys on the bench are Seager, Jaso, Figgins, and Kawasaki, and against an LHP, there aren’t any legit DH options there. I don’t like Olivo playing regularly either, but when a southpaw is on the mound, there’s no point in complaining about him being in the line-up. There aren’t any better options.

Probably the weirdest part of the line-up, though, is Casper Wells hitting ninth. Wedge did this with Jaso too – it’s like he believes that every starter is a better hitter than every bench guy, so when they play, they hit last. It’s pretty weird, but whatever, batting order isn’t that big of a deal.

Oh, and the Yankees announced today that Michael Pineda has a torn labrum. It’s obviously terrible news for him, but this is why you build around bats and not arms.

Ackley, 2B
Ryan, SS
Ichiro, LF
Smoak, 1B
Montero, C
Liddi, 3B
Olivo, DH
Saunders, CF
Wells, LF

Game 18, Mariners at Tigers

April 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 174 Comments 

Vargas vs Scherzer, 4:05 pm.

Well, apparently, Justin Smoak won’t be trying to solve his contact issues today, as he’s getting the day off to rest up his hamstring. Performance issues aside, Smoak has been dealing with one kind of nagging injury or another for most of his Mariner career. Whether that is a mitigating circumstance for his poor performance or just means that the guy has durability issues, I’ll leave up to you to decide.

In Smoak’s place, Alex Liddi gets his first start against a right-hander. Also, Munenori Kawasaki gets the start at shortstop in place of Brendan Ryan. We haven’t heard anything about Ryan being hurt, but he’s probably not a guy you want to run out there for 150 games a year, so giving him a day off against a right-hander isn’t the worst idea ever.

Figgins, LF
Ackley, 2B
Ichiro, RF
Montero, DH
Seager, 3B
Liddi, 1B
Saunders, CF
Olivo, C
Kawasaki, SS

The Thing Justin Smoak Has To Fix

April 23, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

Since it’s an off day, and Jeff decided to write about Jesus Montero, I figured I should tackle Justin Smoak. After all, heading into this season, he was really the make or break guy on offense. We’re pretty confident that Dustin Ackley is going to develop into a good player. We think Jesus Montero might, but we were pretty sure that he was going to have some struggles this year and probably wasn’t ready to be a major offensive force. If this offense was going to take a big step forward this year, though, it was probably going to be because Justin Smoak finally started to hit like the guy he was expected to be.

Instead of taking a step forward, he’s actually showing signs of going the wrong way. He’s hitting just .203/.242/.322, hasn’t shown any real signs of improving his weaknesses, and has stopped drawing walks as well. It’s only 62 plate appearances, and you shouldn’t read too much into any kind of early season performance, but Smoak’s the guy with the most to prove this year, and right now, he’s not proving to anyone that his previous struggles were a thing of the past.

In fact, Smoak hasn’t made any noticeable adjustments at the plate that I have been able to pick up on. Throughout his big league career, he’s essentially had one serious flaw; he doesn’t make nearly enough contact for a guy with average power. The walks and doubles first baseman can be a good player, but they generally have to compensate for their lack of home runs by hitting for a high average, and the only way for a slow guy with moderate power to keep his average up is to make an awful lot of contact. Smoak has always struggled to make enough contact to make this skillset work, and he’s been even worse than usual through the season’s first couple of weeks.

In his brief debut in 2010, Smoak made contact 77.6% of the time he swung the bat. Last year, that fell to 75.4%. This year, that’s down to 71.3%. You can be a good hitter with a contact rate that low (Josh Hamilton also has a 71.3% contact rate this year, for instance), but you better be able to hit the ball really, really far when you do make contact. Smoak just doesn’t have that kind of thump, so he needs to put the bat on the ball more often in order to be useful. He probably needs to be more in the 80-85% range in order to make his skillset work.

Of course, it’s not just as simple as to tell Smoak to stop swinging and missing so often. If it was simply a directive that he could follow, this would be easy to fix. The low contact rate, though, is a symptom of the problem – the real issue is that he simply hasn’t learned how to hit anything that isn’t a fastball.

Thanks to the magic of Pitch F/x data and the tools available from, we can look at how Smoak is faring against all different types of pitches. The classification system isn’t great at distinguishing between fastball types (four seam, two seam, cutter, etc…), but is generally pretty solid at identifying whether a pitch is a fastball, a slider, a curve, or a change. For this exercise, I’ve combined all the fastball types into one category. Here’s how Smoak is doing versus the four main pitch types:

Type Count Frequency Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FA 102 52% 63% 42% 3% 17% 23%
SL 33 17% 64% 39% 24% 9% 6%
CH 32 16% 63% 41% 16% 3% 22%
CU 29 15% 62% 38% 24% 7% 7%

Smoak has been thrown about a 50-50 mix of fastballs and off-speed stuff, and there’s not a ton of variance in how often he swings at them. But look at those whiff rates – 3% against fastballs, 16% against change-ups, and 24% each on sliders and curves. If you throw Smoak a fastball, he’s almost certainly going to hit it (though he also has a good chance of hitting it foul), but if you toss something soft up there, you stand a really good chance of having him swing right through it.

I mean, look at the slider break down. He’s seen 33 of them and put two of them in play. If you click through to the link, look at the two charts for pitch locations on swings versus takes – he’s swung at every low-but-down-the-middle slider he’s seen this year. He’s managed to lay off a lot of the ones down-and-in and several of the down-and-away sliders, but if you throw it over the plate but low, he’s chasing it. And he can’t hit that pitch.

It’s even worse with change-ups. Here’s the plot of change-ups he’s swung at so far this year.

Four times, a pitcher has thrown a change-up low enough to nearly hit the ground and Smoak has swung anyway. He did manage to lay off a low change-up once, so I guess we’ll give him credit for that, but this is still an area where he regularly swings at pitches he has no chance of touching.

Now, compare that to the chart of four seam fastballs he’s swung at this year.

It’s hard to believe this is the same guy – when a pitcher has thrown him a four seam fastball and he’s chosen to swing, it has almost always been in the strike zone. He’s not just passively staring at strikes, either, as he’s swung at a great majority of the four seam fastballs that have been thrown in the strike zone. And remember, he’s only swung and missed at two of the 55 four-seam fastballs (as categorized by Pitch F/x, anyway) he’s seen this year.

Against the fastball, Smoak has been able to correctly identify whether the pitch is a ball or strike, recognize whether or not he should swing, and almost always put the bat on the ball when he does. Against non-fastballs, though, Smoak is as lost as an eight-year-old. If you want to get him out, you just throw something over the plate but breaking down and out of the zone, and odds are good that he’s going to swing right over the top of it.

This kind of problem is generally referred to as plate discipline, but in this case, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was more pitch recognition. Smoak doesn’t have the kind of swing-at-anything approach that suggests that he just doesn’t understand that getting into good hitters counts is the best way to get pitches to drive, but he simply seems unable to recognize that certain pitches that start off in the strike zone aren’t going to stay there after he starts to swing at them.

If I knew how to fix this, I’d be a Major League hitting coach and I’d make a lot of money. For all we know, it might not even be fixable. But if Smoak is ever going to turn into the hitter the Mariners are hoping for, they’re going to have to figure out how to mitigate his weaknesses against off-speed pitches down and out of the zone, because right now, he’s seeing a steady diet of sliders and change-ups down at his feet and he just can’t do anything with them. The easy answer is to stop swinging at those pitches, but the solution is almost certainly more complicated than that. The Mariners just have to hope they can figure out what it is and get Smoak to implement the changes. Right now, this version is just too easy to pitch to.

Minor League Wrap (4/16-22/12)

April 23, 2012 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 

In the second wrap of the season, I still don’t know what to say for intros aside from thank you all for being active participants last time around. I’m trying to remember how best to go about writing these things. For now, the status quo from last week remains the same: two of the teams are awesome (it’s the middle two), two of the teams are really struggling, but Clinton is actually pitching really well. High Desert, bless their little hearts, they try.

To the jump!
Read more

Game 17, White Sox at Mariners

April 22, 2012 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 59 Comments 

Danks vs. Millwood, 1:10 pm

There was the perfect game yesterday and then Tacoma was one-hit. The report is that the Mariners wanted to go down swinging, but instead they went down check swinging. Technicalities can be kind of a bummer.

I didn’t mind it all that much. With how bad the offenses of recent years have been, it seemed like it was going to happen eventually, and thus an ordinary loss that I would have listened to anyway became a historic event. I probably will think about it now and then, just not too much in the coming weeks. I didn’t really think of Armando Gallaraga much before his almost perfect game and I certainly haven’t thought of him after it outside of that one particular context. Oh look, he’s a free agent. And was with the Diamondbacks last year. When did these things happen? All in all, I would have preferred that this would have happened two years ago before we had promising young players in the offense, but even with the perfecto and offense seemingly down in a lot of places, we’re still on pace to score 567 runs, which is eleven more than last year and fifty-four more than two years ago. Today is another game of baseball.

CF Figgins
2B Ackley
RF Ichiro
DH Montero
1B Liddi
3B Seager
C Olivo
LF Wells
SS Ryan

Rainiers Game Thread, Somebody Get a Hit Edition

April 21, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

I’m not trying to take anything away from Philip Humber, who pitched an exceptional game (14 swinging strikes, including 7 on 29 curves) and can’t be blamed for the line-up Wedge threw at him, but today’s M’s matinee didn’t look like history in the making. It looked like a collaborative effort – a pitcher with good command, and an opponent committed to chasing every out-of-zone breaking ball. It’s a great story- Humber was designated for assignment by Oakland in January of 2011 (when they signed Guillermo Moscoso), but I’m ready to see some offense. As the M’s don’t face the A’s in a while, we’ll need to look to the minors.

The Rainiers return home tonight to begin a series against Fresno. Mike Carp made his return to the OF last night in Sacramento, and Vinnie Catricala knocked in a run in his hometown. But both Carp and Catricala are mired in slumps, and both get the day off tonight. Carp’s 4-30 with 2 walks and a HBP, while Catricala is 11-62, and the pair have 3 XBH (all doubles) between them. This isn’t exactly playing Miguel Olivo at DH against a righty, but this line-up is a little different. I’d hoped the Rainiers would get new signee Chris Pettit, but the team’s sent him to AA Jackson instead, and the Rainiers get more Johan Limonta in left.

The Rainiers’ line-up looks like this:
1: Trayvon Robinson (CF)
2: Chih-Hsien Chang (RF)
3: Carlos Triunfel (SS)
4: Luis Jimenez (DH)
5: Guillermo Quiroz (C)
6: Johan Limonta (LF)
7: Luis Rodriguez (2B)
8: Scott Savastano (1B)
9: Leury Bonilla (3B)
SP: Jeff Marquez

If you want a better chance for runs, check out High Desert’s game at 7. They’ve got three of the top hitters in the Cal league in Brad Miller, Steven Proscia and Jack Marder and play in the most extreme hitters park in affiliated pro baseball. Check for a gameday link here around 7.

My prediction for a good pitcher’s dual in Jackson today looks about as good as my prediction that today’s M’s game “can’t be worse than yesterday’s game.” James Paxton didn’t make it out of the 3rd inning, giving up 7 hits and 5 walks in only 2 1/3. He struck out only one batter. About as ugly as Justin Smoak’s at-bats today.

C’mon, Rainiers. Score. Do something interesting.

Game 16, White Sox at Mariners

April 21, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 121 Comments 

Well, it can’t be worse than last night’s game, huh?
Philip Humber starts for Chicago against the surprising back of the rotation star, Blake Beavan. Humber’s a FB/SL/CU guy who finally put together s solid season in 2011 after being labeled a bust in pro ball after a brilliant college career at Rice. M’s go with their lefty line-up today, meaning Kawasaki starts in place of the struggling Brendan Ryan.

Game time is 1:10 – here’s the line-up

1: Figgins (LF)
2: Ackley
3: Ichiro!
4: Smoak
5: Seager
6: Montero (DH)
7: Saunders (CF)
8: Olivo (C)
9: Kawasaki (SS)
SP: Beavan

Game 15- White Sox at Mariners

April 20, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 80 Comments 

The M’s take on another AL Central foe as they try to put last night’s collapse behind them. Hector Noesi gets the start for the M’s in his first game since his brilliant 8-shutout-innings performance against Oakland on April 14th. On the hill for Chicago is lanky left-hander Chris Sale. He’s listed at 6’5″, 170 which honestly looks too high by about 40-50 pounds. Sale was drafted in 2010 and made his MLB debut in the White Sox pen that same year. After another very good year as the set-up man last year, he’s moved to the rotation. Sale features a very good sinking two-seamer that sits in the low-90s, a four-seamer in the mid-90s, a change-up and a good slider.

As a reliever, he was death on a stick to lefties; his FIP was just over 2 against lefties, compared to just over 4 against righties. As such, the M’s are going with a lot of right-handed hitters tonight. That may put more pressure on Sale’s change, though to be fair, he’s always thrown it to both lefties/righties, and it’s been effective. He doesn’t have pinpoint command, so the M’s should make him throw a lot of pitches and take a walk if they can. Sale’s going to be a test for an M’s team that’s dominated by lefty hitters. While the sample’s tiny, the M’s have struggled mightily against lefties thus far, and they haven’t faced one with the kind of velocity that Sale brings. A Jesus Montero home run would be nice.

1: Figgins
2: Ackley
3: Ichiro
4: Smoak
5: Montero
6: Olivo
7: Liddi
8: Wells
9: Ryan
SP: Noesi

Notes: In today’s installment of dog-bites-man, sun-rises stories, Hisashi Iwakuma has become the last injury-free MLB player not to appear in a game despite being on the big-league roster since March. The Sox had held starter Philip Humber back a while, but he’s got a start under his belt. Now it’s only Iwakuma, who once – ONCE – got close enough as warming up.

The Rainiers signed OF Chris Pettit who’d been cut by the Dodgers at the end of spring training. He spent years in the Angels organization and had a very good 2009 for Salt Lake, hitting .321/.383/.486 and playing all three OF positions. This landed him on several Angels top-10 lists, and after a cup of coffee with Los Angeles and the departure of Vlad Guerrero, he was poised to get a lot of time in 2010. Instead, he missed essentially the entire year with a shoulder injury and by the time he returned in 2011, Peter Bourjos was ensconced as the everyday CF, the Angel had acquired Vernon Wells (hahaha) and 19 year-old Mike Trout was poised to make his MLB debut. He was a solid if unspectacular player, and the Rainiers could use him. With injuries to Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson and Daren Ford, the R’s have had to use some non-traditional OFs – Utility IF Scott Savastano played in LF last night, and actually made a game-saving, HR-denying catch in the Rainiers 1-0 win. They’ve brought up Chih-Hsien Chang, but haven’t wanted to get Johermyn Chavez or Denny Almonte, so a minor-league pick up like this one makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense for Pettit, as playing AAA in affiliated ball’s preferable to playing in the independent Atlantic League.

Felix’s Change-Up

April 19, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

Most of the talk about Felix so far this year has centered around his missing velocity, and as a result, the mediocrity of his fastball. But, the fastball has always been Felix’s worst pitch, even when he used to throw 98 with regularity. His curve is very good. His slider is one of the best in the game. But his change-up… that’s the pitch that makes him King Felix.

Change-ups get a bad rap a lot of times, as people think it’s just a slow fastball that throws off a hitter’s timing by fooling them into swinging too early. That’s part of it, but the really good change-ups are so much more. They don’t just float up to the plate – they dive and fade, tailing down and away from opposite-handed hitters, which is why they’re such an effective weapon for RHPs against left-handed batters (and vice versa). They not only get a batter out in front because of the lower velocity, but the tailing, sinking movement causes hitters to swing over the top, so they can be lethal groundball/strikeout pitches.

And no one throws a better diving, tailing change-up than Felix. He doesn’t even bother with the whole deception part of the pitch. His change-up is 87-89, just a couple of ticks below the fastball he’s currently throwing at 90-93. It doesn’t matter. The pitch has so much movement that opposing hitters don’t have a chance, even when they know it’s coming.

And tonight, the Indians had to know it’s coming. Every time he needed a punch-out, he went to the change-up. And not just to left-handers – he was not shy about throwing it at righties either, letting it fall off the table and end up at their ankles. You generally don’t want to throw a pitch that breaks down and in towards a hitter, but his ability to start it in the strike zone and end it outside of the strike zone makes it a swing-and-miss pitch even against same handed batters.

From a quick perusal of the Pitch F/x data, I have him throwing 23 change-ups. Nine of them were swung at and missed, a ridiculous 39.1% swinging strike rate. Six others were fouled off, so 15 of the 23 he threw convinced the opposing batter to chase and yet failed to lead to any kind of quality contact. In fact, not one single change-up was put in play all night long – the other eight were taken for a ball. That’s absurd.

Never was the pitch more on display than in the eighth inning. After one clean single and two cheap infield hits, Felix had the bases loaded and only one out with a one run lead. Left-handed batter Jason Kipnis stepped in. Felix needed a strikeout or a double play, but given that a ground ball could score the run even without leaving the infield, a K was Felix’s best bet to preserve the lead.

Curveball, taken, strike one.
Change-up, swinging strike, strike two.
Fastball, taken, ball one.
Change-up, swinging strike, strike three.

Then, up stepped Shin-Soo Choo. He’d been watching Felix throw change-ups all night long. He just watched Felix put Kipnis down with two deadly change-ups. He had to know what was coming, especially if he got behind in the count.

Curveball, taken, ball one.
Fastball, foul, strike one.
Fastball, taken, strike two.
Change-up, swinging strike, strike three.

There was no doubt that Felix was going to throw Shin-Soo Choo a change-up on that 1-2 pitch. I knew it. Felix knew it. Choo knew it. He still couldn’t touch it.

Mariano Rivera’s cutter. Justin Verlander’s fastball. Clayton Kershaw’s slider. Felix’s change-up is right there with them, and in the discussion for the best pitch in baseball.

Yeah, he didn’t get a “win” tonight, but anyone watching the game saw Felix at his best. Even without his best velocity, it didn’t matter. His change-up is that good.

Game 14, Indians at Mariners

April 19, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 199 Comments 

Hernandez vs Tomlin, 7:10 pm.

Happy Felix Day!

From Shannon Drayer’s blog:

“Miggy is our starting catcher, Jesus is going to get time as well, it is going to be tough to get Jaso back there,” he said. “Not that I am against it but right now I feel like I need to give the time to Miggy and Jesus. I still want to get Jaso’s bat in the lineup from time to time if I can so that is what we are trying to do.”

I asked Wedge going with Olivo was more about what he does behind the plate or getting his bat going.

“We’re trying to get it going,” he answered. “I have had conversations with him. I was really pleased with what he did this spring he’s working up the middle more, he is trying to go the other way which is against what you have seen from him in the past typically. He has done a nice job with it. I think he has been a little anxious here early on I think he has been pressing a little bit but his confidence hasn’t wavered and I feel he is going to hit but he just has to do some things in an adjustment period to make that happen.”

I guess my kudos towards Wedge were premature. He really has no idea that Miguel Olivo is a terrible baseball player, or that John Jaso would give the Mariners a better chance of winning. Fantastic.

By and large, managers don’t really matter much. They really only need to be able to do a few things decently well – correctly identify the guys on the team who should play the most often, keep order in the clubhouse, and don’t be a total tool to the media. Wedge seems to be just fine at the last two, but he’s awful at the first one. He’s not the only problem with this team, obviously, but just pretending that he isn’t one isn’t useful either.

Figgins, LF
Ackley, 2B
Ichiro, RF
Smoak, 1B
Seager, 3B
Saunders, CF
Olivo, C
Jaso, DH
Ryan, SS

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