Game 33, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · May 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Vargas vs. Smyly, 7:10pm

Marc and I both put up game threads, so I’m just copying the contents of mine over here. His contents are below.

All season long, we’ve been advocating for Eric Wedge to deploy John Jaso more often. We hailed his contact rate and ability to hit from the left side as positives that the team needed from the catching position, and we pointed out that Jaso’s on base skills actually convinced Joe Maddon to use him in the leadoff spot while he was in Tampa Bay. As he’s gotten more playing time since Olivo’s injury, Jaso has continued to show that he can be a useful offensive piece.

So, I’m thrilled to see Eric Wedge promote Jaso to the leadoff spot for tonight’s game, acknowledging that on base skills should trump speed at the top of the line-up. I want to applaud him from the rooftops and tell the world what a great thing he’s done.

There’s only one small problem – the Tigers starting pitcher tonight is Drew Smyly. Drew Smyly is left-handed. John Jaso is also left-handed, and he’s been pretty awful against southpaws during his big league career. While 101 plate appearances isn’t a huge sample, Jaso’s .183/.320/.268 line against lefties isn’t exactly encouraging, and his primary skill against RHPs – contact ability – hasn’t been present against lefties, as he’s struck out in 19.8% of his PAs against LHPs. He’s managed to draw 17 walks, so he hasn’t been totally helpless, but he’s not a guy who is likely to have much success against quality left-handed pitching.

So, hooray for Jaso hitting leadoff. I just hope that if Jaso looks awful in that spot tonight against a lefty, it won’t preclude him from hitting near the top of the order against a right-hander in the future, since that’s the role where Jaso is actually capable of providing real value.

You may remember the name Drew Smyly, as he was one of a few potential “players to be named later” to complete the Doug Fister trade. As it turned out, Chance Ruffin headed west, and Smyly resumed rocketing through the Tigers minor league system. The 6’3″ lefty made his MLB debut on April 12th, and he’s reeled off four quality starts in a row from 4/17 to 5/4. His primary pitches are a four-seam fastball at about 92mph, a cutter at around 87 and a slider at 80. He’s got a change-up, but he hasn’t used it all that often. Thus far in his month-long MLB career, he’s been excellent, with a K% over 25% and a walk rate of just over 7%. At this point, it’s probably better to just say that he’s got 29 Ks to 8 free passes. Given his arsenal, it’s probably not a big surprise that he’s tough on lefties. He’s struck out 10 of the 31 lefties to face him and hasn’t walked any of them (though he plunked one). He’s been surprisingly tough on righties, though, thanks to a better-than-average strikeout rate. Some look at his shiny ERA and ridiculous strand rate (94%!) and see a guy who’s lucked his way into the rotation. But while he’s certainly benefited from luck, he’s been a very effective pitcher from the moment he got to Detroit.

The most interesting thing about him isn’t his arsenal – it’s the way his pitches move. As we all remember from hearing the M’s (and, briefly, the Yankees) discuss Michael Pineda, baseball folks think it’s important to have pitches that move in on same-handed hitters as well as pitches that move away from same-handed hitters. Pineda had a great slider, and the M’s wanted him to develop a change-up with arm-side run that could move away from lefties. His slider was great against righties, but the M’s worried about left-handers teeing off on the pitch. Jason Vargas is a classic example – he came up with a good slider, but then worked on his change-up so much that it’s now his best pitch, and so his K:BB ratio is as good or better versus righties. Developing pitches with very different horizontal movement is so ingrained, so routine, that it seems like a truism. The only exceptions have been guys with nuclear-grade stuff – the young Randy Johnson who used a 100mph fastball and a slider so good, to complain about the fact that it broke in on right-handers was to miss the point entirely. But even RJ developed a splitter/change-up later on (and he became one of the greatest pitchers in history). Pineda was successful last year despite not having an MLB-quality change-up, but many thought the lack of the pitch would hamper his development.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this. Here’s Smyly’s horizontal movement graphed against velocity, thanks to Brooks Baseball:

Drew Smyly's horizontal movement versus velocity

Only speed changes, not horiz. movement

Compare that to his opponent tonight, Jason Vargas:

Vargas horizontal movement versus velocity

Lots of variation in horizontal movement between pitch types

Vargas’s horizontal movement stretches quite far, from pitches like his curve that break away from lefties to his change-up that break surprisingly far from righties. Compare that to Smyly’s movement; nearly all of the variation in Smyly’s graph is in velocity. Both pitchers throw a cutter, but while Vargas uses the pitch to get a different break from his fastball (the horizontal movement is 8″ different), Smyly’s cutter’s movement is indistinguishable from his fastball. It’s a bit slower and has different vertical movement, but fundamentally, he throws a cut-less cutter. Lucas Apostoleris brought this up on twitter and it touched off an interesting conversation.

My question is still: why? Is there an advantage in this approach (everything looks the same until after batter’s begun his swing?), or is it purely the result of his delivery? Looking for comparable pitchers, Harry Pavlidis of Brooks Baseball came up with another guy with an over-the-top delivery, Josh Collmenter. Collmenter throws a curve ball, which is so different from a cutter that there’s no way he’d get similar horizontal break on a curve and his fastball, but I’d guess that if he threw a cutter, it’d move like Smyly’s. Collmenter was one of the better stories of 2011 for Arizona, coming out of nowhere to win the #5 starter job and putting up a sub-4.0 FIP and over 2 wins. This year, he’s been crushed and he’s lost his starting job already. A “different” delivery is often effective for a pitcher – until the league learns how to read it. Smyly’s been great, and he’ll probably have a successful season, but he’s probably already working to improve his change-up in preparation for next year. Funky delivery mirage or intriguing prospect who gets more out of his talent than most, I just wish the M’s got him last year.

The line-up features several interesting twists – not only has Wedge “freed” John Jaso, he’s batting him lead-off. In addition, with the M’s throwing out their RH line-up, Ackley gets the day off with Seager at 2B and Alex Liddi at 3B. Chone Figgins gets a spot start in CF and Mike Saunders had the day off.
1: Jaso (C)
2: Ryan (SS)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Montero (DH)
5: Seager (2B)
6: Smoak (1B)
7: Liddi (3B)
8: Wells (LF)
9: Figgins (CF)
Sp: Vargas

Go M’s!

Taijuan Walker had a shortened, somewhat mixed outing today, going 4 IP and giving up 2 R and 2 BB against 4 Ks. Jackson lost to Huntsville, 4-2.
The Rainiers were undone by long balls today in their game against Albuquerque, but Forrest Snow still had one of his better starts of the young season, getting 8 Ks in 6+. Chance Ruffin still doesn’t look quite right, giving up 2 runs in the 7th and picking up the loss in a 9-7 defeat. Vinnie Catricala showed some tentative signs of life on the R’s recent road trip, but went 1-5 with a single and a GIDP. Still only 6 XBH on the season.


84 Responses to “Game 33, Tigers at Mariners”

  1. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:02 pm

    The org stated they believed his quickest path to the show was at 2B At the time they made the decision. I was parroting what was states at the time. They had cf and rf locked up and probably thought they had LF options with guys like Saunders

  2. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:03 pm

    Way to follow my script, Michael!!!

    Now it’s time for a single… er… Chone… er, Jaso, after Chone’s up it’s time for a 1 out single!

  3. stevemotivateir on May 9th, 2012 9:03 pm

    of course Wedge has him bunt!

  4. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:04 pm

    Speaking of Saunders. Welcome to this week in baseball, Michael. Good bunt foggy. Go get Vargas a win!

  5. just a fan on May 9th, 2012 9:04 pm

    I have no problem with Figgins bunting, since having a pitcher bunt is generally appropriate.

  6. BillyJive on May 9th, 2012 9:05 pm

    Saunders…good young Canadian lad…heh heh

  7. stevemotivateir on May 9th, 2012 9:05 pm

    I didn’t have a problem with it either. Saw it coming a mile away though!

  8. WTF_Ms on May 9th, 2012 9:06 pm

    I think I heard Dave screaming at the TV when Figgy came up to bunt!

  9. BillyJive on May 9th, 2012 9:06 pm

    so did Fielder apparently…

  10. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:07 pm

    Steve, you weren’t expecting Figgins to get a hit were you? Playing do 1 run in this situation is a good move. Figgins was the right guy to do it with. Much different circumstance than last nights bad decision.

  11. stevemotivateir on May 9th, 2012 9:08 pm

    If Figgins didn’t strike out so much, I’d rather see him bat. Maybe even a hit & run. Don’t have a lot of confidence in him getting it done… but he can bunt. And he did it well. Nearly got a hit out of it.

  12. stevemotivateir on May 9th, 2012 9:08 pm


  13. stevemotivateir on May 9th, 2012 9:09 pm

    Damn, got a little greedy!

  14. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:09 pm

    Man, this is cool when they do exactly as I ask… Okay, Brendan… HOMERUN!

  15. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:10 pm

    Greedy. No needy, but yay!!!

    Vargas pitch count is low. Send him back out there. Crap … BLT


  16. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:10 pm


  17. Kazinski on May 9th, 2012 9:11 pm

    That wasn’t a bad sacrifice bunt. It increased our chance of winning by .008, so it was basically neutral.

  18. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:12 pm

    In contrast to our 9 hits, 0 runs game last week, how nice is it that we batched our four hits in groups of 2, leading with doubles and driving them in with singles…

    Nice job tonight, boys.

  19. bookbook on May 9th, 2012 9:13 pm

    The average 3rd round pick produces something like 2 WAR over a career. By the end of the first round, the odds of getting a good player are down to 10% or so. (Or so say the quants over at BaseballAnalysts.) By the 3rd round, the chances must be closer to 5%, I would guess. Don’t be too harsh on the Mariners’ brain trust for not planning Ackley’s career around the expected arrival of Seager. It would have been presumptuous, to say the least.

  20. lalo on May 9th, 2012 9:13 pm

    League is gonna blow thi up, I can feel it.

  21. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:14 pm


    Man, I HATE IT when League puts the first guy on base… Drives me nuts. Unacceptable from a closer, as often as he does it. (sigh)

  22. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:16 pm


  23. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:16 pm

    Effective and potentially brilliant ,,. Even if accidentally.

    Careful with this guy

  24. MrZDevotee on May 9th, 2012 9:18 pm

    Nice win, kids. On something we don’t get to say too often– timely hitting.

    A good series win.

    Guys keeping to their roles, and getting the job done.

    Yay baseball.

  25. WTF_Ms on May 9th, 2012 9:18 pm

    Wow…good game! Vargas pitched a great game, and the offense came through (Jaso) when they needed it! Go M’s!

  26. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:18 pm

    Pheeeeew! That is not where he wanted to throw the 0-2 pitch.


    Nice ball game.

  27. georgmi on May 9th, 2012 9:19 pm

    Boy, the Tigers’ fans must find the Mariners both infuriating and confusing.

  28. Kazinski on May 9th, 2012 9:21 pm

    The walk wasn’t Brandon’s fault, the umpire called two strikes as balls, including that ball four on the sith pitch. Unless you are saying that League needs to throw the ball over the middle of the plate, the blame shouldn’t be on League.

    That’s some good defense by Ryan.

  29. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:22 pm

    Take your time, Miguel. No rush. Take it easy. Long rehab assignment, afterward. Patience is a virtue.

  30. BillyJive on May 9th, 2012 9:23 pm

    I hate to watch Ryan hit…his defense tonight was outstanding…
    Smoak to the minors tomorrow before the road trip??

  31. msfanmike on May 9th, 2012 9:24 pm

    And … Ryan was great on defense.He might have won them the game with his glove today.

  32. Kazinski on May 9th, 2012 9:31 pm

    Its nice to hear Wedge call out Ryan’s defense in his postgame comments. Say what you will about Wedge and some of his decisions, not getting distracted by Ryan’s BA, and keeping him in the lineup is something Wedge should get a little credit for.

    The double plays tonight were critical for the win. Seager did a nice job at second too, not to mention his double.

  33. justdave on May 10th, 2012 2:10 am

    I really hope we don’t trade Vargas for a couple dubious prospects… I think he’s proving that teams can’t “figure him out” all that easily.

  34. stevemotivateir on May 10th, 2012 8:31 am


    Since when has batting average ever distracted Wedge?! It was a lefty on the mound. Having Ryan in the game should have been a no-brainer. That’s not something he deserves special credit for, it’s what’s expected of him. Put the best team on the field!

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