Game 144, Mariners at Blue Jays
King Felix vs. Henderson Alvarez, 4:07pm
Henderson Alvarez is a mystery. The M’s have enough mysterious underachievers, so I’m particularly glad that Alvarez’s bizarre hittability is someone else’s problem. Alvarez gets ground balls, and at this point throws harder than Felix Hernandez. Alvarez has taunted Jays fans by touching the high 90s with his fastball on (rare) occasion, but has posted a replacement-level season. This isn’t a Daniel Cabrera situation, where good stuff is undone by wildness. This is a case where stuff that looks decent on TV (or pitch fx) produces consistently bad results.
Alvarez has 0.1 fWAR, or 0.3 fielding-dependent wins – both his FIP and his ERA are awful. But there isn’t a clear, Hector Noesi-style culprit at work. Just about every component is bad, outside of his GB%. Among qualified pitchers, Alvarez’s K% is dead last. His K/9 and contact rates are also dead last (he’s tied with Bartolo Colon in contact rate, but Bart’s not in baseball anymore). His HR rate is 12th worst. His walk rate is solid, but it isn’t in the neighborhood of other very-low-K pitchers from Blake Beavan to Scott Diamond to Clayton Richard. This produces the 2nd worst K:BB ratio; only his teammate Ricky Romero (whose fall-off-a-cliff 2012 is truly amazing) has been worse. The guys who are most similar in terms of low-K, meh K:BB pitchers are boring back-of-the-rotation guys like Kevin Correia or classic sinkerballers like Tim Hudson or Jake Westbrook. Alvarez gets grounders too, but gives up so many HRs it hardly matters.
The bigger question is why. Correia’s a righty who throws 90mph. Alvarez routinely reaches back for 95, and sits at 93 comfortably. His slider looks OK, and while he’s been slightly better against righties, he’s still been bad. He’s got even less to attack lefties with, which explains how he gave up a lead-off homer to Chone freaking Figgins the last time the M’s visited Toronto. I’m tempted to compare him to other pitchers whose stuff looked better than their results, from Brandon League to Miguel Batista to Yu-Darvish-against-the-Mariners. But all of those guys put up good numbers from time to time even if they perhaps fell short of what many thought they *should* do. Alvarez is fascinating in an Aaron Cook sort of way, despite his pitches looking absolutely nothing like Cook’s. Cook is a pitching machine draped in a uniform; I’m half-convinced that his 2012 season is a Folger’s-style hidden camera prank on MLB (“We’ve replaced the Red Sox #4 starter with a batting practice pitcher from a nearby community college. Let’s see if anyone notices.”). Alvarez is the guy who looks amazing in side sessions, and the kind of guy who will never lack a job. But both are remarkable for the way that they’ve opted out of baseball’s ever-increasing K% style. They do their own thing, and as unsuccessful as it is, there’s something admirable about that.
Felix Hernandez is pitching for the M’s, so I don’t even need to push the fiction that Alvarez is worth watching just because he’s different. Felix Hernandez is a mystery, and he is exceedingly rare as well. He is also 500x more watchable than Alvarez, or really any other pitcher in baseball save the Verlander, Strasburg, Kershaw elites.
4: Jaso (C)
7: Jimenez (DH)
That’s 7 lefties in 9 spots.
The Southern League Championship Series continues tonight between Jackson and Mobile, with Tai Walker on the hill for the Generals against ground-baller Bradin Hagen of the BayBears. The Generals dropped
game 1game 2 last night by a score of 7-2 despite two hits from both Stefan Romero and Brad Miller. They won game 1 8-1 behind a dominant James Paxton start. As an aside, I find it somewhat disappointing that Bear Bay hasn’t pitched for the BayBears.
High Desert’s season ended on Tuesday with a Cal League playoff loss to Lancaster. In all, the M’s affiliates in the Northwest League, Midwest League, Cal League, and Southern Leagues made the playoffs.