Game 120, Twins at Mariners
Not Felix vs. Not At All Felix, Like Pretty Much the Anti-Felix, 7:10pm
The Minnesota Twins visit Safeco for a three game series and a reminder that, however bleak things look in Seattle, they’re worse in the Twin Cities. Minnesota has the worst record in the American League, and it’s not terribly close. Their opening day payroll exceeded $100 million. While they’ve gotten surprisingly decent years from their oft-injured, highly-compensated stars, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, the team’s sunk about $20 million into guys they hoped would stabilize the starting rotation: Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and tonight’s starter, Nick Blackburn. Baker’s out for the year with Tommy John surgery, and Pavano and Blackburn have combined for 156 replacement-level innings.
Amongst all pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched this year, Blackburn has the worst xFIP, the worst FIP, the worst WAR, the worst ERA, the 2nd worst HR/9 (thanks, Tommy Hunter), and the 3rd worst K%. His FIP is comfortably more than double Felix’s (it makes me uncomfortable to even associate Felix with Blackburn’s 2012). Pitch-type run values can be problematic for a variety of reasons, but just for fun: Blackburn’s two-seam fastball (his bread and butter pitch) has been, the worst pitch – any kind of pitch – in baseball this year. Nick Blackburn’s had a sub-par season, is kind of what I’m getting at.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s still given up 1 HR in each MLB start, and while his ground ball rate’s down a tad from his (brief) stint as a reliever, his K% and K:BB ratio’s improved. True, almost all of that’s due to his out-of-nowhere 13 strike-out game against the Jays, but he’s been a solid starter – his RA’s just under 4 over the course of 7 starts. He’s still somewhat homer-prone, though he’s been a far sight better than Blackburn in that department. Still, he’s got to avoid fastball counts, as MLB is simply destroying Iwakuma’s fastballs. His four-seamer’s the pitch he uses most frequently, and when hitters have put it in play, they’ve hit .300 with a slugging percentage of .650. His sinker’s amazing by comparison, but hitters have gone .280/.400 off of that. His slider’s been bad too, as hitters are slugging .571 on it, and when you remember that it’s thrown predominantly to right-handed batters, it looks even worse. Weakness in his four-seam and slider are two direct causes of his poor performance against right-handed batters. Sure, luck (in the form of his freakish HR/FB ratio) has played a role too, but that’s gone both ways (his ERA’s much lower than his FIP, and he’s got what looks like an unsustainable strand rate). He’s an intriguing pitcher, and I could see him adding some real value in 2013, but I’d love to see some real progress in his slider before I contemplate a multi-year free agent deal for Iwakuma.
4: Jaso (DH)
6: Olivo (C)
The M’s made a roster move today, optioning Shawn Kelley to Tacoma to make room for Charlie Furbush, who came off the DL. Kelley’s been quite effective by FIP and K% this year, but he’s struggled a bit if you look at win probability. He’s got the worst Win Probability Added of any player on the team (now that League and Delabar play elsewhere), and he’s got the worst WPA/LI. The reason’s pretty simple: Kelley’s has racked up the most “meltdowns” on the team (again, excluding League), and he has the worst ratio of “shutdowns” to “meltdowns” in the ‘pen (excluding Steve Delabar). (Meltdowns are a great stat-geek alternative to the ‘blown save’ and are calculated as a reliever who dropped his team’s chance of winning by 6% or more in his appearance). I think most stat-savvy fans would argue that the strikeout and strikeout-to-walk ratio numbers are “truer” than the WPA stuff, which is almost 100% the product of sequencing. But even the geekiest of fans were getting nervous when Brandon League came into the game, and I’m pretty sure the M’s coaching staff is feeling the same way about Kelley right now. Brandon League had a FIP of 3.39 with the M’s this year – exactly the same as Kelley’s. I’m sure plenty of people would agree that he was partially – partially – the victim of bad luck, but I don’t recall anyone objecting to his trade. I like Shawn Kelley, and think he’s going to be a solid mid-inning reliever, but I’m not exactly dumbfounded that the M’s chose to send him down instead of Carter Capps. Josh Kinney would’ve been a possible candidate if he had options left, but he doesn’t. And Kinney’s been tougher on righties than Kelley – Kinney’s fanned 40% of RHBs he’s faced, compared to Kelley’s 25%. Shawn Kelley’s probably frustrated right now, and I get that, but I think this has more to do with how deep the M’s are in right-handed relievers. Kelley’s a major league arm who may get the chance to be a 7th inning guy somewhere else next year.