Just So We’re Clear

September 19, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 52 Comments 

In the 10th inning, after Michael Saunders got a leadoff walk, we got the following sequences.

Miguel Olivo vs an RHP, runner on first. No pinch hitter, calls for a bunt, fails.

Casper Wells vs an RHP, runner on first. Trayvon Robinson pinch-hits, Saunders steals second, walk.

Brendan Ryan vs an RHP, runners on first and second. Mike Carp pinch hits, Baltimore counters with LHP, strikeout.

Dustin Ackley vs an LHP, runners on first and second. Walk.

Franklin Gutierrez vs an RHP. No pinch hitter, pop-out.

Instead of pinch hitting for Miguel Olivo with John Jaso, Eric Wedge called for a sacrifice bunt in a 2-0 count. Instead of pinch-hitting Jaso for Casper Wells, Wedge went with Trayvon Robinson. Instead of pinch-hitting Jaso for Brendan Ryan, Wedge went with Mike Carp. Instead of pinch-hitting Jaso for Franklin Gutierrez, Wedge stayed with Gutierrez versus a righty.

At this point, I decided that there was no explanation besides Jaso being hurt or unavailable for some unspecified reason. There’s no way you’d go through that inning with your best hitter on the bench, choose two other pinch-hitters to come in, and then not pinch hit for a right-hander with a right-hander on the mound.

Then, in the 11th inning, now down by two runs, the first two batters reach, and Justin Smoak is allowed to hit versus an RHP. He grounds into a double play. Again, Jaso must be unavailable. After a Michael Saunders walk puts the tying run on base, Wedge finally calls for John Jaso to pinch-hit for Olivo.

And then Saunders is promptly thrown out trying to steal second base. Had he been successful, they likely would have just walked Jaso and pitched to Trayvon Robinson instead.

Yeah, in-game strategy isn’t the only thing managers should be evaluated on, but come on – unless Jaso had diarrhea in the 10th inning and was temporarily unavailable, this was just a disastrous series of decisions by Eric Wedge. Seriously, if you have Jaso available, and you don’t use him in the 10th inning, and then you don’t use him to hit for Smoak in the 11th, and then when you do use him in the 11th, you end the game with a needless SB attempt so he doesn’t get a chance to hit, you screwed up.

We already know Eric Wedge is lousy at evaluating talent. He can’t afford to also be lousy at this kind of stuff too.

Game 150, Orioles at Mariners

September 19, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 77 Comments 

King Felix vs. Joe Saunders, 7:10pm

Ok, admit it: who here predicted that Joe Saunders would be an “important trade deadline acquisition” in 2012? By the Orioles?

Felix could use a solid game after a couple of comparative clunkers.

Saunders is a lefty, so that explains Wells reappearance as well as Olivo “DH”ing.
The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Gutierrez
3: Seager
4: Montero (C)
5: Smoak
6: Saunders
7: Olivo (DH)
8: Wells
9: Ryan
SP: El Rey

Welcome to the 2013 Rotation, Erasmo Ramirez

September 18, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 28 Comments 

Forget all the talk about him coming to camp with a chance to compete for a spot in next year’s rotation – Erasmo Ramirez has pitched himself firmly into a spot in the team’s starting five next year. Yeah, we’re dealing with less than 50 big league innings, but come on – a 5/1 K/BB ratio while getting some groundballs and destroying left-handed hitters with an out-pitch change-up?

The Erasmo Ramirez we talked about as a prospect the last few years first threw 86-90, then 88-92, then 90-94. This year, he’s sitting at 93 and hitting 95 in the eighth, as he did tonight. He’s no longer an interesting strike-thrower. With his new found velocity and the movement he’s getting on his change-up, he’s a legitimate Major League starter, and maybe a pretty good one.

Ramirez should get a few more starts before the season wraps up, but he doesn’t have to do anything else to earn a job in next year’s rotation. He’s shown enough this year. He’s in.

Game 149, Orioles at Mariners

September 18, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 195 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 7:10pm

Well, it’s gotta be better than yesterday’s unwatchable contest. How’s that for a game thread introduction? Hey, it’s true. This game is going to be Noesi-free, and I think that makes it easier to get into, despite the playing-out-the-string aspect of it. And if Hector Noesi doesn’t show any improvement, then tonight’s starter is one of the clear beneficiaries. Erasmo Ramirez could be the half-decent #3 we wanted Noesi to be, and Ramirez’s development is one of the few remaining items of interest in Marinerland this month.

Opposing Erasmo is Wei-Yin Chen, the Taiwanese pitcher who came over from the Japanese leagues this season to give the Orioles a crucial, steadying 2-3 win season. The Orioles starting pitchers, especially once Jason Hammel went down, have been bad (not that the M’s have noticed), and Chen’s solid lefty stuff (combined with his durability) is a key reason the Orioles are in a playoff race. He dominated the M’s back on July 3rd, going 7+ and striking out 9 while walking none. The game ended up a contest between bullpens, with Pedro Strop blowing a lead before Charlie Furbush gave up a game-winning HR, but on that day, Chen outpitched King Felix.

He’s uses a good rising four-seam fastball along with a slider and change-up to post slightly better than average K rates and slightly better than average BB rates. He’s given up a fair number of home runs, but he doesn’t have exceptional gopheritis. He’s a solid pitcher who succeeds because he can put himself in pitchers counts. In fact, his splits by count are one of the most interesting things about him. If you just read Dave’s post about John Jaso, you know how important getting ahead is to a hitter. When Chen gets to 0-1, batters post a .244 wOBA and Chen luxuriates in a FIP of 2.54. If he starts 1-0, the story’s a bit different: batters have a .375 wOBA and his FIP’s over 6. Most any pitcher is going to have extreme splits between 0-1 and 1-0, but Chen’s are remarkable. (For the other end of the spectrum, check out Blake Beavan). He’s been successful because he’s able to *get* to 0-1 counts. Go back to his last outing in Seattle – how many batters put a ball in play when they were ahead in the count? Zero. The M’s put 14 balls in play against Chen that day (not including one HR), 3 came on the first pitch of the at-bat, 4 came in even counts, and 7 came in pitcher’s counts. Add those to his 9 strikeouts and it’s pretty clear that Chen was ahead of the M’s all night (2 of the ‘even counts’ were 2-2 counts, where the batter had to expand the zone to avoid a K). If the M’s want to avoid a repeat, they’re going to have to be smart. Don’t let him get first-pitch fastballs over.

Erasmo Ramirez is easily one of the most likeable M’s prospects in a while, and his growth from low-velo control artist to a guy who can hit 95 with some regularity while maintaining solid walk rates is perhaps the M’s player development system’s biggest success story in recent years. Here’s the righty-heavy line-up behind him (at least Jaso will be available as a PH? Right?):

1: Ackley
2: Gutierrez
3: Seager
4: Montero (DH)
5: Saunders
6: Smoak
7: Wells
8: Olivo (C)
9: Ryan
SP: Erasmoooooo

John Jaso Will Not Cool Off

September 18, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

John Jaso homered again last night, his ninth home run of the year. Hitting nine home runs might not sound like much, but keep in mind that Jaso only has 329 plate appearances this year, since he spent April on the bench and doesn’t play against left-handers. And, of course, John Jaso does things besides hitting home runs, like drawing walks, hitting doubles, and avoiding strikeouts, so he’s a much better hitter than his raw home run totals suggest.

And, at this point, his continued production throughout the season suggests that he might just be a better hitter than anyone has given him credit for. While there was some thought that his early success would be exposed as a fluke through additional playing time, that simply hasn’t proven true in any way, shape, or form.

Mar/Apr 20 5.0% 15.0% 0.333 0.286 164
May 67 13.4% 10.4% 0.161 0.240 103
Jun 52 17.3% 19.2% 0.140 0.406 162
Jul 65 15.4% 16.9% 0.200 0.333 164
Aug 81 19.8% 11.1% 0.188 0.264 146
Sept/Oct 44 15.9% 9.1% 0.139 0.290 145

His walks are up, his strikeouts are down, his power is basically holding steady, and his BABIP fluctuations are pretty normal. September is the fourth consecutive month where Jaso is running a wRC+ over 145 – for comparison, Prince Fielder‘s wRC+ this year is 146.

I posted an older version of this list a few months ago, but again, here are the batters who are hitting right-handed pitching better than John Jaso this year:

Robinson Cano, 192 wRC+
Joey Votto, 189 wRC+
Miguel Cabrera, 175 wRC+
Mike Trout, 173 wRC+
Andre Ethier, 164 wRC+
Prince Fielder, 164 wRC+
John Jaso, 160 wRC+

Jaso is hitting right-handers better than Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, and Ryan Braun, to name just a few. And while his track record suggests that this is likely a career year, there’s just nothing in his profile that looks like a big red flag for why this can’t continue.

We know that Jaso only swings at strikes, posting the fourth lowest O-Swing% in all of baseball at 20.8%. While this kind of patient approach at the plate has come under fire for its passiveness in local media coverage over the past year or so, the reality is that not chasing pitches out of the strike zone is directly responsible for Jaso’s production. Here are the percentages of his plate appearances this year that have ended in either a batter’s count, a pitcher’s count, or an even count, with the league average in the next column.

Player Ahead Behind Even
John Jaso 38.3% 26.4% 35.9%
AL Average 28.6% 35.1% 36.2%

If Jaso had league average rates of hitters and pitchers counts, he’d have had 31 more plate appearances end with a pitcher’s pitch, rather than a hitter’s pitch. How big a deal is that? The league average hitter in the AL this year hits .299/.464/.512 when ahead the count, but just .206/.214/.308 when behind in the count. So, essentially, Jaso’s patience has resulted in 31 plate appearances where even an average hitter performs like an MVP candidate instead of like a decent hitting pitcher. And since Jaso is a better than average hitter, he’s received even a larger benefit, hitting .261/.568/.536 when ahead in the count compared to just .226/.233/.321 when behind in the count.

This is absolutely a repeatable skillset. This isn’t Mike Carp getting a bunch of balls to fall in last year. This is more Michael Saunders driving the ball to left field. This is a real thing, and a proven way of success for Major League hitters. It’s overly simple, but letting pitchers fall behind in the count and then whacking their fastball is basically the best plan any hitter can have at the plate. And that’s Jaso’s plan, which has been exceptionally productive and consistent this year.

Jaso’s not a perfect player. His problems against lefties mean that his overall numbers would decline if pushed into an everyday role, and apparently pitchers still grumble about the way he catches the ball, but yet the pros so far outweigh the cons that Jaso has established himself as one of the better catchers in baseball at this point. Even just taking his career numbers, he has a 115 wRC+ in 1,000 trips to the plate, which only eight catchers with 300+ PA have been able to beat this year. And if any of his power improvement this year is real, maybe he’s more of a 120 wRC+ guy, which puts him in the same category as guys like Miguel Montero or Carlos Santana.

We talked about Mike Zunino last week, and how he’s showing that he might get to Seattle at some point next year. But, while we can be excited about what Zunino might be pretty soon, we should remember that the Mariners currently have a pretty good catcher right now, and one who deserves a dramatically expanded role next year. John Jaso is this team’s best hitter, and is a well above average Major League bat. He should be in the line-up against every right-handed pitcher, and with frequent pinch-hitting appearances, he should probably be pushing 500 plate appearances next year.

While there’s been a lot of focus on the guys who haven’t developed this year, John Jaso is the thing that has gone most right for the Mariners. They have a catcher of the future coming, but they also have a catcher of the present that’s already here, and deserves a chance to show what he can do as the primary catcher of a big league staff. If Zunino forces his way onto the roster next summer, then they’ll figure out what to do with too many good catchers. For right now, though, Jaso has established himself as a key piece of the team’s future.

Game 148, Orioles at Mariners

September 17, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 71 Comments 

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.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Gutierrez
3: Seager
4: Montero (C)
5: Jaso (DH)
6: Saunders
7: Smoak
8: Thames
9: Ryan
SP: Hector Noesi

* – Literally once. One time. It was promising on April 14th, 2012.

The 2013 Bullpen

September 17, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

When discussing a team’s core building blocks, we generally focus on the position players and starting pitchers. They produce a majority of the value on any given club, and because of the fickle nature of relief pitching, it’s foolish to think that your good relievers today are still going to be good relievers tomorrow. They’re inconsistent, they get hurt, and they’re just generally an unpredictable bunch. There’s a reason why so many teams treat their bullpens as fungible assets.

But, I have to say, I don’t remember any team in recent years putting together a bullpen that is both as good, as deep, and as young as the Mariners have right now. There are certainly other good bullpens out there, but the Mariners actually have so many useful relievers right now, they’re going to have to dump someone before the 2013 season opens, and figuring out who that should be isn’t exactly an easy task.

For reference, the average swinging strike rate of American League relief pitchers this year is 9.8%. The Mariners currently have eight relievers above that line.

Stephen Pryor – 14.0%
Carter Capps – 12.8%
Charlie Furbush – 12.3%
Josh Kinney – 12.3%
Lucas Luetge – 11.9%
Shawn Kelley – 11.5%
Oliver Perez – 10.8%
Tom Wilhelmsen – 10.1%

Yes, that’s right, the team’s best reliever — the guy who throws 99 and has perhaps the best curveball in baseball — has the worst swinging strike rate of the regular relief corps. Of course, swinging strike rate isn’t the be-all, end-all of pitching, as there’s also throwing strikes, getting ground balls, and in Wilhelmsen’s case, freezing people with ridiculously good curves in the strike zone. However, getting swinging strikes is a huge part of a bullpen’s success, as outs are significantly more important than efficiency out of your relievers, and the ability to generate a swinging strike is a pretty good proxy for high quality stuff.

The M’s essentially have two types of relievers right now: flamethrowers (Wilhelmsen, Capps, and Pryor) and slider-heavy match-up guys (Luetge, Furbush, Perez, Kinney, and Kelley). This is, to some extent, an ideal bullpen, in that you have three guys who have the kinds of fastballs that should allow them to pitch full innings without worry too much about the match-ups, and then you have five specialists who are pretty tough on same-handed batters, and can be mixed and matched effectively when needed. Of course, eight relievers is one too many for April-August, so someone will have to go away before the start of next year. The best bets there would be either Oliver Perez (free agent) or Josh Kinney (arbitration eligible), though if Perez is willing to re-sign for $1 or $2 million, I’d rather have a third lefty with some velocity rather than a situational right-hander. Cost will likely be a factor there, though, and some other team might offer Perez enough money to make that decision easy for the Mariners.

Either way, though, the Mariners essentially have a full, deep, talented bullpen for 2013 ready to go. They don’t need to add any free agent veterans to help mentor the youngsters. They don’t need to go looking for a middle guy who can soak up innings. While it’s unlikely that each of these pitchers will perform as well next year as they have this year, the foundation is in place for a pretty terrific bullpen, and it’s unusual in that none of them are anywhere close to making any real money.

Kinney and Shawn Kelley are the only two under team control for 2013 who will be eligible for arbitration, meaning that the other five can all have their contracts renewed for something close to the league minimum. Kinney and Kelley probably won’t make more than $750,000 to $1 million, given their service time and MLB performances to date, so they won’t be far from the league minimum either. In reality, the Mariners should be able to put an entire bullpen together for next year at a total cost under $5 million in salary.

Lots of teams have put cheap, young bullpens together before. Lots of teams have put good bullpens together before. It’s a bit more rare to put a bullpen together that that is good, cheap, and young at the same time, however.

The Mariners still have a lot of work to do with their position players and in the starting rotation. However, when it comes to the bullpen, they’re essentially set, and this does give them a pretty nice advantage heading into the off-season.

Game 145, Mariners at Rangers

September 14, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 99 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm

This battle of former Sawamura Award winners (including the midly controversial 2008 award, when Iwakuma beat out Darvish) is an intriguing one. Iwakuma’s been very good recently, and his recent comments about wanting to stay with the M’s underscore the fact that he’s pitching for a contract; avoiding HRs in Arlington will help his case for a longer-term deal. It doesn’t make logical sense that keeping the Rangers in the ballpark in September should help Iwakuma get a third year on his contract, but we’re now at a point where we can see how well Iwakuma’s shoulder’s holding up, and how he adjusts to the grind of the 5-day rotation. So far, he’s passed these tests with aplomb.

Darvish already has his long-term deal, and in the Mariners, he has his bizarre kryptonite. It may not last, just as Bob Uecker’s great season against Sandy Koufax was followed by utter failure against the Dodger ace, but it’s bizarre. Darvish has made three starts against the M’s, and pitched a total of 16 innings. In those 16 IP, he’s yielded 20 hits, given up 14 walks (and plunked two batters) to 14 strikeouts and he’s given up 17 runs. His RA on the year is 4.46, but take the M’s out, and it falls to 3.92. His overall K:BB ratio is 2.31:1, but remove his three games against Seattle and it’s 2.56:1. These aren’t wild swings, but they’re not negligible either. He’s given up 20% of his runs and 16% of his walks in his 9% of playing time against Seattle – the team that’s last in the AL in runs scored, OBP and 5th from the bottom in BBs.

Despite his struggles against the M’s, he’s still a remarkable pitcher to watch and think about. His pitch fx profile here lists seven distinct pitches, and it could be at least 8 given the fact that he has two different curve balls. His velocity is very good, the movement he generates looks physics-defying, and he has a plethora of pitches with which to attack lefties or righties. Why isn’t he elite yet? By Fangraphs, he’s already racked up 4 wins, so you could make a case that it’s just bad luck that prevents us from acknowledging his greatness. His fielding-dependent stats reflect the fact that he’s been awful with men on – his strand rate is under 70%, which is tough to do when you strike out so many hitters.

Some may point to relative struggles against lefties, but he’s given up fewer HRs to them, and their success could be BABIP-driven. His K% is virtually identical against righties and lefties. Lefties clearly have a better slash line/wOBA against him, but righties have hit more HRs. There’s not a lot there. While an RA near 4.5 isn’t great, especially for someone making so much, context matters. Darvish is playing against major league hitters for the first time, and he’s striking a hell of a lot of them out. Against everyone but Seattle, he’s limited HRs and hits. While there’s some potential that his HR rate may increase, it’s easier to see him improve. But here’s hoping the M’s batter him one final time.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Saunders (CF)
3: Seager
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Montero (C)
6: Carp
7: Peguero
8: Robinson
9: Kawasaki
SP: Iwakuma

Assorted Minor League News

September 14, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

The Jackson Generals, the last Mariners affiliate standing, faces elimination tonight against the Mobile BayBears in the Southern League championship. Taijuan Walker struck out 9 yesterday in just 5-1/3 innings, giving up no runs and (even better) no walks, although he did leave after 80 pitches with what were reportedly blister issues. It might well have been his last inning anyway, but unfortunately the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead for him, and then Matt Davidson hit a 2-run homer off Jonathan Arias in the 10th.

Mike Zunino, now Baseball America’s short-season leagues Player of the Year, had two hits in the game. Others recognized by BA include Carter Capps as the reliever on their Minor League All-Star team, with Stefen Romero as a second-teamer at 2B. Classification all-stars in the system include Capps at AA, Zunino and Patrick Kivlehan for Everett, and Tyler Pike (the guy they got for not signing Kevin Cron) from the AZL squad for the rookie leagues.

Also announced by the Mariners is that they have extended their agreements with the rest of their affiliates so all of them will be sticking around through at least 2014. It would be great if they could get away from the distortions of High Desert, but I don’t know that there were any better options, only Lancaster which is just as bad if not worse.

Game 144, Mariners at Blue Jays

September 13, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 32 Comments 

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.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Gutierrez
3: Seager
4: Jaso (C)
5: Saunders
6: Smoak
7: Jimenez (DH)
8: Peguero
9: Ryan
SP: Felix
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.

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