Game 148, Orioles at Mariners
Hector Noesi vs. Chris Tillman, 7:10pm
The Orioles come to town with a 2.5 game lead over the Angels for the second wildcard. In a critical week in the American League, the Angels/Rangers face off beginning tomorrow, while the A’s and Tigers meet in Detroit. The White Sox and Detroit just played a make-up game today, and the White Sox won their 4th in a row to take a three game lead over the Tigers.
Meanwhile, the Orioles have to like the match-up; they get to face a sub-500 team while their Wild Card rivals play each other. They’re 5-1 against Seattle this year, and they start Chris Tillman, who’s been very good against Seattle (and not so great against everyone else). They’re also facing Hector Noesi, who was demoted after his last start, on the 4th of July. Back then, he gave up 4 runs in 5 innings – a line that was both bad and somewhat encouraging at the time. The Orioles have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Angels, a fact that will lead to conflicting emotions in the mind of many M’s fans.
Noesi’s obviously been bad in the rotation; his once-promising season* wrecked by home runs, two-strike lapses and the worst kind of command problem a pitcher can have. The M’s want to see more of him this September to see if what he worked on in Tacoma has made a difference, as he’s going to be a fairly important piece for 2013. The M’s may not be able to resign both Jason Vargas and Hisashi Iwakuma, and they’re going to need a good starter for much of the year, especially if Hultzen and Paxton aren’t ready to go out of the gate. The M’s have some less-sexy candidates for that role if Noesi continues to disappoint, but Noesi offers a lot of added potential – the ability to be a decent #3, not just a stopgap #4/5 like Blake Beavan. If he wants to reach that potential, however, he’s going to have to improve his fastball markedly.
Pitch fx sources aren’t agreed on the border between Noesi’s two- and four-seamers, but Brooks lists the majority of them as four-seamers, which helps explain his fly-ball tendencies and his lack of ‘sink’ on most of his FBs. Using their pitch-types, Noesi’s given up a horrific 13 HRs and 26 total extra-base hits on just 158 fastballs put in play. This all adds up to a slugging percentage of .608 *despite* a low BABIP. That gives him one of the worst ISOs in baseball on the pitch. This is not a huge sample, of course, as we’re only looking at the results of balls hit in play. But this is his *fastball* here. There are 158 balls in play, and expanding the data to include 2011 doesn’t really help much. Last year, opponents hit .329 with a slugging percentage of .588 off his fastball. This is a problem.
The most notable change the M’s seem to have made with Noesi is getting him to use his change-up more. This is partially the result of the fact that he’s facing more lefties now than he did as a bullpen arm in the Bronx, but it seems to be at least partially strategic. He’s used the change-up more frequently to lefties this year, and he’s using it against righties as well, something he didn’t do last year. His slider’s still a decent pitch too. Despite the fact that he’s been punished for mistakes with both the slider and the change-up (three HRs each), they don’t seem systematically flawed the way his FB does. The slider/change generate whiffs and grounders – the fastball outcomes seem divided between several species of bad. This is bizarre, almost Henderson-Alvarez-level puzzling. It doesn’t *look* bad per se, it’s not slow, and it’s not straight. Here’s where the M’s pitching coaches can earn their pay. If he’s tipping the pitch, they need to figure that out. If he needs to work on his 2-seamer, then that work needs to start happening. If the movement of the pitch is taking it into too many sweet-spots, then he needs to talk to Felix or even Jason Vargas about getting more cutting action on his four-seam. What he’s doing isn’t working, and the offseason rumor of increased velocity hasn’t really panned out either. He’s been bad, but he seems fixable, and it’d change the outlook for the team in 2013 if they’re able to actually fix him.
Just as Yu Darvish predictably regressed to the mean and had a good outing against the M’s, I’d love it if Chris Tillman stopped coasting to easy wins off the M’s. I know he’s wanted to, as he put it, “stick it up [the M's] butts a little” but he’s made his point. Time for the M’s to hit him. In his career, he’s actually had more trouble against righties than lefties, so it’s good to see Montero behind the plate and Guti in CF.
4: Montero (C)
5: Jaso (DH)
SP: Hector Noesi
* – Literally once. One time. It was promising on April 14th, 2012.