Game 95, Mariners at Rays
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. James Shields, 4:10pm
Hisashi Iwakuma’s two recent starts haven’t been awful (especially not compared with Hector Noesi’s two recent AAA starts), but they’re somewhat concerning. The sterling K:BB ratio hasn’t translated to the rotation, and there’s still the manner of his ugly HR rate. His xFIP is better looking, though it’s still not exactly good. That said, given the problems Noesi’s had and the injury to Erasmo Ramirez, I’m glad Iwakuma’s getting the chance to show what he can do. He doesn’t have a whole lot of time to showcase that he’s worth a longer term deal in MLB, so let’s hope he starts making that case tonight.
Opposing him is James Shields, the change-up specialist who’s been an extremely valuable member of the Rays rotation for a while now. His brilliant 2011 campaign was blighted only by three encounters with the dregs of the AL West – two starts against Seattle in which he gave up 15 runs total, and one against the A’s in which he gave up 10 (in 4 IP!). He seems to be throwing a tick faster than he did last season, up closer to 93 than 92. He throws his change-up around a third of the time; he throws it roughly the same amount to lefties and righties. That’s actually a hallmark of his – he throws the same pitches in the same percentages to everyone. And hitters respond in kind: over his career, he’s now got a 3.91 FIP against lefties, and a 3.91 FIP against righties. Of course, if you use xFIP, then it’s 3.64 and…3.64.
These dead-even splits are anomalous, as we’d expect a pitcher to have a platoon advantage against same-handed hitters. That he doesn’t shows you how effective a good change-up can be in evening the playing field. It also shows you that, while it’s hard to complain about a guy worth nearly 5 fWAR last year, a slider/curveball would make a lot of sense. He’s toyed with a slider in the past, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck. He’s always had something of a HR problem, so hopefully the M’s can continue driving pitches the way they did in Kansas City. And while James Shields is hardly Jonathan Sanchez, the M’s managed to hit SIX HRs off of Shields last year. The 2011 M’s, in total, hit something like 9 HRs. I’m not a big fan of the style of analysis that says that the M’s “own” this guy or that “they’re in his head” but I would love some additional data to build questionable narratives on.
Speaking of Jonathan Sanchez, the countdown to the deadline began in earnest today when Sanchez was traded to Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie. Two of the worst (possibly THE two worst) starting pitchers in baseball in 2012 were traded for each other. I’m not sure I’ve seen something like this before. Both joined new teams this offseason, and both had been MLB regulars for many years. Sanchez always had a nice K rate going for him, and Guthrie was going to Colorado, but both were generally speaking seen as good candidates to put up league average numbers. Not great, and they’d get there in different ways, but average. In both cases, the players they were traded for simply went nuts and putting up video game numbers. Melky Cabrera is still hitting .357, and has already amassed 3.5 WAR (excluding defense). Jason Hammel went to Baltimore, and put up 2.8 WAR before going down with knee surgery (not arm related!). Meanwhile, Sanchez and Guthrie both have FIP’s over 6.
What a perfect move to get the uncomfortable reminder about how each team got “fleeced” in the results-based, hindsight-enabled view of each team’s fanbase. What a perfect chance at a salvaging something, however unlikely, from these disastrous trades. I really hope it works out. Having just seen Sanchez, and given the ZIP code Sanchez is moving to, I have a whole lot of doubts. But it’d be fun.
Any good parallels out there? By WAR, it’s not the trade of the two worst players – Pedro Feliz was traded a few years back, and had run up -2 WAR all by himself that year (the return in that deal, David Carpenter, was himself traded today in the 10-player swap between the Astros and Blue Jays). But that deal was rather typical of one team just jettisoning a bad veteran for a minor league lottery ticket. I’ve seen awful players traded for “cash considerations” or what have you.
The one precedent many M’s fans will think of is the Carlos Silva-for-Milton Bradley trade before the 2010 season. However, in that case, while Silva had stunk up the joint in Seattle, he’d only pitched in 30 innings in 2009. Meanwhile, while Bradley was hated in Chicago, he wasn’t an *awful* player in 2009 – a disappointment, sure. Overpaid? Yeah, perhaps. But he was a league-average hitter in 2009, so while both sides felt nothing but relief at the time of the trade (like the Guthrie/Sanchez swap), it’s not an apples to apples comparison.
So, my takeaways from this dumpster-diving trade:
1: Fans and teams still occasionally overrate the “safety” of veteran players. That is, they believe veteran performance is less variable than those crazy rookies; the orbit around true-talent is much tighter. As we learned from both Carlos Silva AND Milton Bradley, that’s not always true.
2: Teams don’t do this enough. It really helps that you had two guys in virtually identical situations for similar lengths of time, but I’m a bit surprised that teams don’t trade bigger-named flops for other bigger-named flops. I know, I know: it sucks to buy high and then look to sell low, but are we done with Figgins yet? Please?
Oh yeah: the line-up:
3: Wells (CF)
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Montero (C)
8: Peguero (LF)