Game 101, Royals at Mariners
Jason Vargas vs. Luis Mendoza, 7:10pm
Ballplayers have an array of well-worn cliches to deploy whenever they’re asked about trade rumors: “Focus on the game” “Can’t worry about that stuff” “I’m committed to this team/the guys in this clubhouse.” I think it must be true at some level that they need to compartmentalize things, and really concentrate on the game, but it has to creep into their minds during warm-ups or on off-days. Jason Vargas has to know that he’s on the trading block, and watching Ichiro high-fiving his new teammates must have been quite a sight. The M’s aren’t going anywhere. Ichiro’d had a sub-par season, and he’s virtually guaranteed to play in the postseason. Jack Wilson – Jack Wilson – nearly made the postseason last year.
There will be quite a few teams looking closely at Vargas’ start tonight. Teams that lose out on Greinke/Shields/Dempster will be interested, and with Vargas approaching his last arb year (and a large-ish increase in salary), the M’s will listen to offers. This isn’t news, and Vargas has been in a similar position last year, when some thought the M’s would trade him instead of Doug Fister. But it’s got to be weird that while, say, Felix and Dustin Ackley absolutely know that they’re headed for another last place finish, Vargas might be in a pennant chase next month. I don’t want to ignore the disruption that players have to deal with when they’re traded to a team across the country, but….last place finish versus pennant race.
Luis Mendoza’s a sinkerballing right-hander who kicked around in the minors for years, getting an occasional game or two in the majors and then heading back to AA/AAA. He’s always had good velocity and generated a good number of grounders, but poor control and the lack of a putaway pitch seemed to relegate him to the role of minor league veteran. Then in 2011, something clicked. He wasn’t striking out more, and his walk rate actually increased, but limiting his HRs led to a sparkly ERA and got him a shot with the Royals. He’s had an up and down season this year, but he’s now made 14 starts and seems to be settling in as a FIP-defying back of the rotation pitcher.
He’s given up 40 free passes (10.6%) to only 54 strikeouts (14.3%). He’s struggled to keep breaking balls/change-ups in the zone, and they haven’t gotten too many whiffs when he has. He’s a pitcher who gets ground balls and has essentially no other skills. 14 starts and a handful of relief appearances aren’t much to go on, and it’s not like he’s throwing a bunch of shut-outs, but this doesn’t look like a pitcher who should have a FIP of 4. Depending on your point of view, Mendoza is either 1) an extremely lucky pitcher whose GB and HR rates are bound to regress, 2) an object lesson in why ground ball pitchers are worth keeping around, or 3) more evidence that DIPS theory may be flawed/incomplete. If we can’t have interesting baseball in July, we can at least have philosophical baseball.
3: Wells (LF)
4: Jaso (DH)
7: Olivo (C)
8: Peguero (RF)