Pre-Holiday Bullet Points
1: James Paxton’s finally got his knee problem sorted out and returns from the DL to start tonight’s game for the Jackson Generals. He’s been the forgotten prospect in the M’s system, with so much attention focused on Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen, and now new guy Victor Sanchez. It’s going to be interesting to see how much of his command problems were the result of his injury, as he said the knee had been painful for a while before it finally forced him to the DL.
2: JY mentioned it, but Mike Zunino’s officially in the M’s organization now after signing a contract and collecting a $4m bonus. The under-slot bonus gets the M’s under the 5% threshold, thus safeguarding next year’s #1 pick. As Mike Snow mentioned in comments (yeah, I’m really working hard here), the M’s could spend up to $514,000 to sign their 8th round pick – and the only pick in the first ten rounds who hasn’t signed – Nick Halamandaris, without exceeding a 5% overage. The M’s had a press conference with Zunino today at 1pm, so you’ll probably get to see plenty of that on the broadcast tonight. Edited to add: Just heard via Greg Johns that Zunino will report to Everett, so northwest fans, rejoice.
3: We expected the M’s to be a good fielding ball club this year, with Brendan Ryan anchoring a solid infield. So far, so good: the M’s have the 5th best defensive efficiency (the percentage of balls in play they convert into outs) in baseball. What I certainly didn’t expect was that 5th in baseball is also 3rd in the AL West. The #1 defense by this measure is the Oakland A’s – the team whose construction does not indicate that defense was much of a consideration. Their opening day 3B was a catcher last year. At one point in the offseason, they had one legitimate outfielder on the 40 man (Ryan Sweeney), so they included him in the Andrew Bailey deal to really start fresh. Josh Reddick, the OF they got in exchange for Sweeney/Bailey, has been brilliant in RF, and the A’s trade for a seemingly washed-up Brandon Inge probably helped solidify the infield. Or at least, solidified it as much as possible given that the A’s were bringing in a new first baseman per week at one point. The A’s pitchers have the 2nd lowest K% in the American League (ahead of only the philosophically whiff-averse Twins) and a walk rate that’s 4th highest, and yet they’re giving up 3.7 runs per game. The Oakland A’s payroll is 2nd lowest in baseball, which actually seems high if you watch them hit. They’re near .500, having won 17 of their past 30 games, and sit 4.5 games ahead of the M’s.
4: The Mariners designated catcher Adam Moore for assignment on Sunday- technically a day before they signed Mike Zunino. The former prospect battled a truly astonishing number of injuries, and is now 28 years old. His arm behind the plate looks quite good this season – he caught Mike Trout trying to steal in April – but his bat hasn’t come around. Given this, he may slip through waivers. It’s been painful to watch Moore’s struggles; he’d had so many expectations placed on his shoulders a few years ago when he was seen as the best hope for a Rob Johnson-free team. The M’s struggles to develop a catching prospect (despite always having a position-specific instructor on the payroll) stretches on. Uh, good luck, Mr. Zunino!
5: Jeff Sullivan’s got a typically interesting post on Felix Hernandez today at Lookout Landing. Sullivan notes a possible slight change in Felix’s release point and more “sink” on his fastballs in the past month and a half, but what jumps out at me is just how amazing Felix’s fastball(s) is (are?). Felix can throw a pitch from 89-95mph and get it to break just about any direction he’d like, at any time. His 2-seamer/sinker has about 8-9″ of armside run (moving in to a right-handed batter), and his cutting fastball’s got a half inch or so of glove-side break.* He also throws a more traditional four-seam fastball with horizontal movement that’s essentially right in the middle of the other two. Check out the gifs Sullivan posted for how different Felix can make his “fastball” look.
I’m not sure I buy the idea that Felix is getting more sink on the fastballs; Safeco’s pitch fx calibration looks like it’s still off by 2-3″, and the majority of his recent starts have been at home (just as six of his first nine came on the road). Instead, he’s throwing a lot more of his cutting fastball than he ever has – further proof that the guy who doesn’t study video is capable of reinventing himself on the fly. This pitch doesn’t look anything like, say, Dan Haren’s, which is much more slider like. Instead, it’s just a four-seam fastball with less arm-side break. Other “fastball-like” cutters include Brandon McCarthy’s and Roy Halladay’s – these seem distinct from the “slider-like” cutters of Haren, Cliff Lee and Jake Peavy (there are plenty in between, of course).
* The various pitch fx sites out there differ in how they classify Felix’s pitches. The 9″ of armside run comes from Brooks Baseball, which has done yeoman’s work in separating Felix’s change-up from his sinker, which tend to get lumped together elsewhere. On the other hand, they’re not showing any “cutters” from Felix this year; they lump what I’m calling his cut fastball in with his four-seamer. They’re separated out at Fangraphs or TexasLeaguers.
6: Speaking of Felix, the King’s Court’s been expanded to four sections today. I’m still stunned by how fast this idea took off, and I’m stunned by its staying power. I thought M’s fans – even Felix fans – might get bored of it in the last weeks of a lost 2011 season, but this seems to be one of the few things that get fans excited. Felix deserves as much adulation as we in Seattle can muster, and if t-shirts and turkey legs help with that, then that’s great. Do any of you always try to sit in the Court? Anyone sick of it?
7: Nick Franklin forced his way up to AAA with a brilliant half-season for Jackson, but, like fellow prospect Danny Hultzen, he’s finding the transition a bit tricky. He struck out in 7 of his first 10 at bats and now has 18 total K’s in 47 at-bats (against just three walks). He’s always had some swing-and-miss in his game, and it’s showing now. That said, his reputation as a hard-working “baseball rat” type certainly seems accurate – he’s taken batting practice hours before the rest of the team, and went back to the cage to take more swings *after* some recent games.
8: Cincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton‘s known for his speed, and the young shortstop made headlines last night by stealing his 100th base of the season last night for Cal League’s Bakersfield Blaze. In just 78 games, Hamilton has attempted 121 steals and been successful 100 times. I’ve thought for years that we’d never see a season like Rickey Henderson’s record-breaking 1982 or Vince Coleman’s rookie year; stolen bases are down considerably since the 1980s, as power’s grown and since more managers are aware that it’s often not a smart play. Apparently I was wrong.