Game 106, Blue Jays at Mariners

July 31, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 85 Comments 

Jason Vargas, yes, Jason Vargas vs. Aaron Laffey, 7:10pm

So Vargas is still here. How about that? Hopefully he learned something watching Hisashi Iwakuma carve through this line up last night, and he’ll keep the Jays off-balance. Opposing him is ex-Mariner reliever, Aaron Laffey, who is essentially a poor man’s Vargas. A slow fastball (less velocity than Vargas), a slider/cutter and a change-up. While the M’s saw Laffey as a left-on-left reliever (essentially seeing his slider as his out pitch), the Jays have been forced to use Laffey as a starter (where he’s been forced to use his change-up against righties). None of his pitches match Vargas’ offerings, so it’s not surprising to see Laffey put up a 4.76 FIP. He’s got a decent ERA thanks to a very low BABIP and a correspondingly high strand rate, but this is Aaron Laffey here.

To his credit, Laffey’s cut his walk rate thus far in 2012, and that’s helped him pitch around 7 home runs in less than 45 innings. But even that seems somewhat strange, given that he’s actually throwing more balls than he did last season, and his first-strike percentage is down accordingly. That said, he appears to have picked up a cutter this year, and it’s suddenly the pitch he throws the most (according to Brooksbaseball; MLB Gameday and BIS all show that he picked up the cutter this year, but they vary on how often he throws it). The sample is laughably small, but he’s able to throw it for strikes (far more than his fastball), it gets a decent number of whiffs (which, if you’re Aaron Laffey, must seem like magic), and it generates ground balls. It’s not some miracle pitch; he’s given up some HRs on it, and it’s still just an 85-87mph pseudo-fastball, but it’s different. This pitch – even more than his change-up – seems to be the key to surviving against righties in the rotation.

Today’s line-up – the M’s start five right-handed batters tonight against the lefty Laffey, and the M’s go for their sixth straight win against a lefty.
1: Ackley
2: Wells (RF)
3: Saunders (CF)
4: Montero (DH)
5: Seager
6: Carp
7: Olivo (C)
8: Robinson
9: Ryan
SP: Jason Vargas is ours, (would you like our Jason Vargas? No really, you don’t want him? No? Last chance here…) and you can’t have him.

Danny Hultzen’s still not dominating the PCL the way many expected, and now the M’s are going to limit his innings going forward. Ryan Divish spoke to Jack Zduriencik who’s given the directive to the Rainiers and minor league pitching coordinator Rick Waits: fewer innings, fewer starts, fewer pitches in his starts and fewer pitches between starts. This seems like a good move to me, as something’s just not right with Hultzen. Command issues aside, we haven’t seen really good stuff on a consistent basis; the change-up looks like a plus pitch intermittently, while fastball command has been more “off” than “on” since moving up from AA Jackson. This would seem to put an end to any talk of Hultzen getting a cup of coffee in September. Again: that’s probably a good thing. There’s no sense in using him in a high-pressure game (and his first MLB experience will be high-pressure by default) at the end of his longest season by far in the midst of command problems. Shut it down, and work with him in the winter.
(Incidentally, for a guy who’s nominal beat is covering the Huskies, Divish is absolutely killing it on M’s news these days.)
Big night in the system as Taijuan Walker starts for Jackson, and new guy DJ Mitchell pitches for Tacoma at Tucson. Even newer-guy Leon Landry may make his system debut for High Desert at Lake Elsinore, and Logan Bawcom could relieve Walker in Birmingham.

M’s Make No Further Trades

July 31, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

While there was some talk that the team would move either or both of Jason Vargas and Kevin Millwood, the Mariners didn’t make any more trades today, and I’m just fine with that. These are not the type of guys who bring back significant returns, and in reality, both are probably capable of being traded in August if they continue to pitch well and circumstances change. Neither of these guys are impact pitchers that teams were prioritizing, and players of this caliber get traded through the waiver process every year. So, it’s possible the M’s could still move either one over the next month, but again, you’re not looking at getting much in return for either.

And, if you’re not getting anything of real value back, you might as well keep running out the most competitive team you can over the final two months. The Mariners have won five straight and pulled to within eyeshot of .500, so if they play really well down the stretch, an 80 win season isn’t out of the question. No, they’re not making the playoffs, but getting back to .500 might re-establish some credibility with fans that have turned away from the franchise, and that could have a more significant long term effect than adding any more marginal minor leaguers to the system anyway.

The Mariners traded Ichiro, they traded Brandon League, and they acquired a serviceable outfielder that let them ship Carlos Peguero back to Tacoma. They created roster spots for both Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, and now will have a bullpen full of guys throwing 95-100. This was a successful month for the Mariners, even if it wasn’t all that sexy.

Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor –> Seattle

July 31, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

The recent trades left the M’s with one open 40-man roster spot, and today the M’s decided to give that spot to hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps. Ryan Divish of the TNT reports that Capps will be added and called up to Seattle on Tuesday, along with Pryor. Pryor was in Tacoma on a rehab stint initially, but was officially optioned 10 days ago; this doesn’t matter so much, though obviously it’d be great if they didn’t need to use an option with Capps.

As we’ve mentioned, both have elite velocity, but very different mechanics – Pryor is an over-the-top pitcher, while Capps utilizes a weird, low-3/4 delivery that I can’t wait to see in action. Would’ve liked to have seen Capps in Tacoma, but it’s getting harder and harder to argue that he needs more work. As it stands, he faced four batters in AAA, with one flyout and three K’s.

M’s Make Two Trades

July 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

The Mariners have made the two obvious trades that we knew they were going to make before the deadline – they shipped out Brandon League (to LAD for two prospects) and acquired that young-ish left-handed hitting semi-interesting outfielder that we talked about earlier in Eric Thames (from Toronto for Steve Delabar).

Quick reaction on the Delabar/Thames move – it’s worth a try, but don’t get your hopes up. Thames is 25-years-old and has flashed some decent power at times, but he’s got some contact issues, doesn’t have a very good approach at the plate, and is not a good defender. He’s also had some problems against left-handers, so his upside is probably as a platoon outfielder, but he’s a kinda interesting bat against right-handers. He’s not a guy that is likely to turn into a regular on a good team, but he’s vastly better than Peguero/Robinson, and the M’s have a couple hundred at-bats to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle with him.

He’s probably a bench player long term, but the Mariners gave up a middle relief prospect to get him, so it’s not a trade they’re likely to regret. Delabar could find his slider and turn into a solid reliever, but the M’s have a lot of solid relief prospects, and they had a major shortage in the outfield. Most likely, this deal ends up as a footnote in history, but it’s a deal that allows the M’s to trade from a surplus to help fill a hole. Worth doing if just to not have to watch Peguero and Robinson play anymore.

Of course, that’s the minor deal of the two. Brandon League was considered the M’s best trade chip going into the season, and while his stock has dropped, they were still able to get a couple of prospects for him – outfielder Leon Landry and pitcher Logan Bawcom.

Landry’s a small, speedy outfielder with good contact skills who has gotten the Cal League Power Boost that fools people into thinking players are better hitting prospects than they really are, so ignore his raw stats from this year. He never walks and the power is questionable, so he’s gonna have to stick as a CF. The arm is fringy but the range is good enough to play there, so if he hits, he might turn into an okay center fielder in a few years. Probably more of a future fourth OF if he makes it.

Bawcom is a future bullpen arm, and potentially a good one. 90-95 on the fastball with a good slider, already in Double-A and missing a lot of bats. Could be in Seattle as early as next year. Probably more of a right-on-right reliever than a future closer, but if the command improves, could be more than that.

It might seem like an underwhelming return, but Brandon League is an underwhelming trade chip. You just weren’t going to get that much for a couple of months of a guy who can’t get lefties out. The Brandon League trade was one of Jack’s worst, and they got about what you’d expect to get for a middle reliever with some issues who is due for free agency at the end of the year. It’s just too bad that they overpaid so badly to get him in the first place.

Trading Delabar and League creates two open spots in the bullpen, and you’ll likely see Stephen Pryor rejoin the team to fill one of the two spots. You could potentially see also-throws-100-guy Carter Capps as the other, as he struck out three of the four batters he faced in his Triple-A debut tonight, and was absolutely destroying Double-A Jackson before his promotion. Pryor and Capps are two best bullpen arms in the organization, and both profile as potential future closers. Getting a look at them for two months could be a nice way to see how close they are to helping setup Tom Wilhelmsen next year.

Oh, and Thames will take Carlos Peguero‘s spot on the roster. He was seen shaking hands with his teammates after the game – at least, when he was able to make contact with their hands.

Game 105, Blue Jays at Mariners

July 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 124 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Ricky Romero, 7:10pm.

A line in Matthew Carruth’s series preview caused me to open up a new tab and bring up Ricky Romero’s fangraphs page: “[Ricky Romero’s] pitched like a replacement-level player this year.” I guess I hadn’t had cause to take a good look at Romero’s 2012 numbers, but I’m actually shocked he’s only at 0.1 fWAR. In the past calendar year, Romero’s gone from an all-star game invitation* to an RA over 6. This isn’t about bad luck with home runs, either – his xFIP’s bad too.

In 2010, Romero used a great change-up to get hitters off balance (and in the ballpark) and work around his mediocre command. When hitters swung at a Romero change-up, they whiffed 35% of the time, and this fueled an above-average strike out rate. It all added up to a solid 3.64 FIP and 4 fWAR.** In 2012, Romero’s change is getting whiffs on only 35% of swings, while his whiff rate on his fastball has gone…up?

Romero’s problem isn’t that his stuff is any worse (his velocity’s the same as it was in 2010, too). His problem is all about what happens when batters *don’t* swing. His command’s slightly worse this year, meaning he’s throwing more balls and ending up in more 1-0 counts. In 2010, his ratio of 1-0 to 0-1 counts was 0.93:1 (obviously, PAs that end when the batter puts the first pitch in play aren’t included). This year, it’s 1.17:1. And batters that get to 1-0 are putting up a .947 OPS in their plate appearances. Look at his swinging strike rate or his whiff rate (whiffs per pitch) and it looks like he’s lost a lot of ground, but if you focus solely on whiffs per swing, you might guess that Romero’s pitching as well or better. This marks something like the fifth time the whole whiffs/pitch vs. whiffs/swing distinction’s come up in the past few weeks. They’re different! They tell you different things!

You know who else has been essentially replacement level this year? Hisashi Iwakuma. He’s been better in recent starts, so let’s hope he’s able to keep that going, especially given that he’s pitching in HR-suppressing Safeco Field.

Here’s the line-up that really should take some first pitches tonight:
1: Ackley
2: Saunders
3: Montero (C)
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Seager
6: Wells (LF)
7: Carp
8: Peguero (RF)
9: Ryan
SP: Iwakuma

* – I initially thought it was sort of odd that Romero’s gone from All-Star to replacement level in one calendar year, but have you *seen* the 2011 All-Star game rosters? Let’s just say Romero’s got company. The NL included Jair Jurrjens (-1.4 rWAR), Heath Bell (-0.8), Tim Lincecum (-2.0), Scott Rolen (-0.5) and Kevin Correia (Kevin Correia). The AL included Brandon League (-0.1), Jon Lester (-0.8), Jose Valverde (0), and Romero (-1.5 rWAR). I know every year’s going to have things like this, given the number of late-career ‘legacy’ picks and due to injury (though I’ve specifically excluded the guys who’ve been hurt like Ellsbury and Rivera); mostly, this was an excuse to remind you that Kevin Correia was in the All-Star game last year and may pitch in the postseason in 2012. Baseball!

** – Ah, a good old fashioned WAR fight, which simplifies to just “a WAR.” Both fWAR and rWAR agree that Ricky Romero had one league average season and one solid 4-WAR season in 2010-2011 – they just can’t agree which is which. FIP-based fWAR loved 2010’s lack of HRs and declares 2010 the good season, while RA-based rWAR’s quite impressed with the batting average-against in 2011. fWAR complains that said BAA is driven by an absurdly low BABIP, and rWAR tells fWAR to take its head out of a spreadsheet and watch what happens in real baseball games. fWAR complains that its head, and really every aspect of its incorporeal self, *IS* a spreadsheet, and that rWAR *IS* a spreadsheet too. rWAR replies that it’s not a spreadsheet, it’s a database, and the debate continues.

John Jaso Appreciation Post

July 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

This post has no real point beyond simply pointing out how good John Jaso has been this year, especially against right-handed pitchers. Jaso currently sports a 165 wRC+ against RHPs, which ranks #10 in all of baseball for hitters with 100+ PAs vs RHP. To put that in context, here is every hitter in baseball with a wRC+ between 160 and 170 vs RHPs this year.

Andrew McCutchen, 168
Carlos Gonzalez, 167
David Wright, 166
John Jaso, 165
Mark Trumbo, 160
Miguel Cabrera, 160
Paul Konerko, 160
Andre Ethier, 160

Every single person on that list besides Jaso was an All-Star this year. McCutchen is the clear frontrunner for NL MVP. That’s the company that have hit righties as well as John Jaso in 2012.

And remember, this is a guy who didn’t play for nearly the entire month of April because Eric Wedge convinced himself that he couldn’t hit based on bad results in spring training. If ever anyone tries to convince you that spring training stats mean anything, remember this.

Minor League Wrap (7/23-29/12)

July 30, 2012 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 9 Comments 

Tacoma had a doubleheader on Sunday that didn’t start until six, so I was piecing together the last of this rather late. Gosh I hope it makes sense. Anyway, I was in Everett earlier in the week and have brought back with me some notes on the Aquasox. Anyway, there are a fair number of names this week that are popping up as Hitter or Pitcher of the Week for the first time and there were a lot of transactions going around. Imagine what next week will be like if we trade people! Given historical precedent, I imagine trades to happen early today and push this post off the front page in short order.

To the jump!
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Don’t Be Surprised if the M’s are Buyers

July 29, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 53 Comments 

The trade deadline is tomorrow, and the Mariners are widely expected to trade off several veteran players to contending teams today or tomorrow. Brandon League, Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas, and Oliver Perez all could hold some value to teams looking for second half pitching depth at a low cost, and while I don’t think the organization will trade all four, I’d expect at least two of those guys to be in another uniform on Wednesday. In that regard, the Mariners are clearly sellers.

However, don’t be surprised if the team is also an unconventional buyer. No, Jack won’t be bidding for the usual hired guns who are acquired a few months before they hit free agency, but after trading Ichiro to New York last week, the team is suddenly in need of an outfielder, or at the very least, someone who can fake it out there for a while. With Franklin Gutierrez on the shelf, the team is essentially running a Carlos Peguero/Trayvon Robinson platoon at one OF spot, which is perhaps the worst combination of players to share a job in the history of baseball. That might be hyperbole, but neither of them are Major League players, and the reality is that the team can’t count on Gutierrez to stay healthy enough to hold down an everyday job. Even when he comes off the DL, they’ll need to have a guy on the roster who they can feel comfortable writing into the line-up.

This afternoon, I noted on Twitter that I’d been told by a friend in the game (not with the Mariners) that the M’s were trying hard to get Brandon Belt from the Giants. While they may not have the pieces that SF would want for a guy like Belt, this is the type of guy I fully expect Jack to acquire within the next 48 hours – a left-handed 1B/OF type who has some offensive potential, is under team control for several years, and could be acquired without giving up one of the big name prospects on the farm.

Belt’s more of a first baseman than an outfielder, but he’s played 32 games in the OF for San Francisco this year, and he could handle a few months out there if the team wanted to keep taking a look at Mike Carp as a first baseman. He’d also give the organization some flexibility and some depth at both positions for 2013, and while he hasn’t hit as expected in the Majors just yet, he’s a patient 24-year-old left-handed bat with some power who has never really been given a regular opportunity for consistent playing time. I have no idea if the M’s are going to be able to land Belt, but he’s the kind of player that the organization could desperately use right now. They have a few hundred at-bats to hand to a young player who needs a good run of playing time, and right now, they’re wasting those on the Peguero/Robinson Platoon of Suck.

Other potential (though lesser) options for a player in this category would be guys like Lucas Duda (Mets), Tyler Moore and Corey Brown (Nationals), Daniel Nava (Red Sox), or Nate Schierholtz (Giants), each of whom represent different kinds of players but all are in that kind of kinda-interesting-worth-a-flyer type of player. Belt has the most potential of the bunch, but he’s also probably the most expensive and hardest to acquire, and these guys would probably be easier to get in a trade if the team couldn’t find common ground on a deal for Belt.

I’ve also heard rumblings that the Mets have talked to the Mariners about Adam Loewen, who is currently playing first base for Triple-A Buffalo. Loewen is a Vancouver kid who was selected #4 overall in the 2002 draft as a pitcher, but arm injuries have forced him to give up a career on the mound and try his luck as a hitter instead. He made the switch back in 2009 at age 25, and now 28, he’s hitting fairly well in the International League. His lack of early experience as a hitter means he’ll probably never turn into more than a raw platoon guy (he can’t lefties at all), but there’s a chance that he could be the new Rick Ankiel, providing some power and serving as a useful outfielder for a couple of years. My guess is that the organization doesn’t see him as an upgrade over Peguero, who is younger, toolsier, and also has good Triple-A numbers, but he’s a local kid and he’d probably be next-to-free, so it’s something to at least keep in mind.

I’m sure the organization has about 20 other guys they’re looking at besides the names I’ve listed here, and I’m not saying the team is going to deal for any one of these guys specifically, but I do think you’ll see the Mariners acquire a player of this type at some point in the next 48 hours. They’re going to be sellers on pitching, but they’re also trying to buy a young 1B/OF type who deserves a few hundred at-bats to show what he can do.

Game 104, Royals at Mariners

July 29, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 133 Comments 

Happy Felix Day as the Mariners go for a sweep against the Royals. Hernandez vs. Smith, 1:10 pm.

If you’ll recall the last road trip, the lineup took advantage of the opportunity to pound Kansas City’s AAA-caliber pitching. The schedule kept both teams’ rotations in sync to have the same spots come up in the second 4-game series. However, this is only the second rematch of starting pitchers. Bruce Chen from yesterday was the Royals starter in the only game they won, and the Mariners got their revenge even though Chen pitched about the same, but this time Kevin Millwood did much better than in Kansas City. Of the losing pitchers, only Will Smith remains in their rotation, and he was fairly effective in his one intervening start to beat the Angels.

Today’s lineup is identical to yesterday’s. That’s basically just a function of facing consecutive lefthanders, though, more than any idea that the hitters have done enough to have earned any particular spot.

2B-L Ackley
RF-R Wells
CF-L Saunders
DH-R Montero
3B-L Seager
C-R Olivo
1B-L Carp
LF-B Robinson
SS-R Ryan

Game 103, Royals at Mariners

July 28, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 46 Comments 

Millwood vs. Chen, 1:10 pm.

2B-L Ackley
RF-R Wells
CF-L Saunders
DH-R Montero
3B-L Seager
C-R Olivo
1B-L Carp
LF-B Robinson
SS-R Ryan

Aside from helping win today’s game, a good start from Millwood would help marginally increase his trade value. Most of the talk has been about whether to trade Vargas, but Millwood is an even more obvious choice to trade, since there’s no reason to bring him back next year. Of course, even if he is traded he won’t fetch much in return, probably a low-level, second-tier pitching prospect.

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