Cactus League Game 4, Mariners at Brewers
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Yovani Gallardo, 12:05
I’m dropping the ‘.5’ which denoted the charity game. Like you, I’d just assume forget about that game and all of the Noesi it contained. Since then, the M’s are unbeaten. Today, for the first time, they venture out of Peoria and play somewhere else. This also means that we won’t have pitch fx on the web or in GameDay. Couple that with the fact that the radio broadcast is being delayed until 7pm on KIRO and you’ve got a recipe for a productive afternoon spent on things other than analyzing Iwakuma’s velocity and Aaron Goldsmith’s mellifluous baritone.
(If you’d like to listen to the game live, it’s up at Mariners.com here)
Dave mentioned it in his ‘Spring Training doesn’t matter’ piece a few days ago, but it keeps coming up: the conventional wisdom is that Iwakuma came to camp still on the mend from his 2011 shoulder injury. He certainly gave up a lot of hits, and his start in the Tokyo Dome against a Japanese team was abysmal, but evidence that his arm was weak is actually fairly hard to find. Here’s Iwakuma’s velocity chart throughout the 2012 season. Not much going on there. “Sure, but he was used as a reliever at the beginning,” you say. This is true, but a pitcher typically gains a bit of velocity as the weather warms up, so the two effects may cancel each other out. More to the point though, Iwakuma showed pretty normal velocity in the spring last year. He started against the Dodgers on March 10th, and pitched 4 innings. In the 4th, his FB was generally 89-91. That’s…that’s pretty much what he was like in July.
I’ve been much more willing to give the M’s a break on Iwakuma, as they were watching him throw, and could assess how we was feeling after his spring starts. There must’ve been a reason for the way he was handled. The team has several sets of highly experienced eyes on players in the spring, after all. But while I can’t question their effort, it remains to be seen whether all of this intent looking reliably identifies players whose arms can’t handle the rigor of regular duty and those who can. This isn’t a knock on the M’s specifically, at least not necessarily. I just wonder what the best way to improve the process might be. I know the M’s have been using TrackMan data (which is, sadly, proprietary) – perhaps there’s a way to integrate rotation data with qualitative reports from pitching coaches or the pitcher himself. Maybe there are better ‘tells’ than simple fastball velocity, and velocity loss throughout a game – something like movement on breaking balls. To be clear, many actually are studying this, and teams are clearly doing even more (the author of the linked article now works for the Rays). A few years ago, I’d assume the M’s were doing so, and in even more ingenious, well-designed ways. I don’t assume that anymore.
Anyway, Iwakuma! Mariners, versus the hated Brewers (if you remember the series of epic brawls between the M’s and Brewers in the 80s, you know that’s not ironic spring training puffery)!
1: Gutierrez, CF
2: Saunders, LF
3: Morse, RF
4: Smoak, DH
5: Shoppach, C
6: Jacobs, 1B
7: Andino, SS
8: Catricala, 3B
9: Triunfel, 2B
Other pitchers today include Joe Saunders, Kameron Loe, Carson Smith and, if we’re all lucky, Hector Noesi.