Game 82, Orioles at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jason Hammel, 7:10pm
Iwakuma makes his first MLB start tonight after injuries and ineffectiveness have pushed aside his competition. As Dave points out, Iwakuma’s been very consistent by xFIP; what’s varied considerably has been his success on balls in play and his HR rate. Now, it’s quite clear that HR rate is much more variable than what’s measured in xFIP (essentially, walks and strikeouts with a league average HR rate), but it’s also not yet clear that league average is the mean we should regress Iwakuma’s HR rate to. In the absence of any alternative that we could support with data, looking at him through the xFIP prism is the sensible option.
And yet…Iwakuma’s shown that he’s got a legitimate MLB-caliber weapon in his split-finger fastball. His two-seam fastball/sinker is also a solid pitch – we don’t have a lot of data, of course, but he’s able to rack up ground balls at an impressive clip. The problem’s his four-seam fastball. He’s thrown it a bit more than 1/3 of the time, but you’d be hard pressed to say why. It doesn’t get grounders and it doesn’t miss bats. Given we know so little about Iwakuma, I’m open to an argument that throwing this pitch makes his other pitches more effective – that he needs a four-seam or rising fastball to maximize the impact of his split-finger pitch. But as it stands, he’s got two decent pitches and what seems like an irrational attachment to a third, minor-league one. Right now, he’s getting Steve Delabar-like results, though again, he simply hasn’t faced enough batters to know if he’s going to be homer prone long term.
Still, while he’s facing the O’s in a park that’s seriously suppressed home runs, the Orioles have hit the 4th most HRs in baseball thanks to a number of high-K, high-HR hitters. Iwakuma’s splitter isn’t as effective against righties, but he’s got a slider that’s a lot more advanced than Delabar’s, so he’s got options.
Jason Hammel came over from Colorado in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie in what’s looking like an incredibly lop-sided trade. Hammel’s swing-and-miss stuff, which was AWOL last year, is back in a big way. He’s running a career high K rate, which then drives a career low FIP. He’s been excellent all year, with the exception of his last start, in which he gave up 8 runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Angels. One big reason for his transformation is the development of a two-seam fastball that he didn’t have in Colorado. His velocity’s up around 1 MPH, but that wouldn’t explain the fact that his *four*-seam fastball’s generating twice as many whiffs as it did last year, despite moving to the league with the DH. The Orioles will take it, I assume.
Smoak and Montero get the day off in light of their recent struggles, and Munenori Kawasaki gets the start because he was in top form last night.
2: Wells (CF)
3: Jaso (DH)
5: Olivo (C)
6: Ackley (1B)
7: Figgins (LF)
8: Kawasaki (2B)
Today’s the big July 2nd signing deadline for international free agents – meaning the 16 year old Dominican and Venezuelan ball players. Just like the amateur draft, this is the first year that a yearly bonus cap’s been imposed on the July 2nd signings – another product of the recent CBA. The M’s haven’t signed any of Baseball America’s Top 20 international free agents, but we’ll see if that changes over the next few hours/days.