Game 2, Mariners at Athletics
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jarrod Parker, 7:05
Jarrod Parker was one of the most important reasons the A’s were able to beat expectation by a cool 20, 25 wins or so in 2012. The key acquisition in the Trevor Cahill trade, Parker was a top prospect who’d lost some luster following Tommy John surgery. His velocity had mostly returned, but the A’s needed him to rack up innings, and that seemed like a tall order. As it happened, the A’s top two pitchers in innings pitched were the rookie hurlers they got in two less-than-lauded trades. Parker (and Tommy Milone) steadied the rotation while Bartolo Colon went down for performance-enhancing drug use and Brandon McCarthy went down with a skull fracture. By the end of the year, they were effectively veterans alongside the mid-season call-ups like AJ Griffin and Dan Straily.
Parker uses a low-90s four-seamer and sinker, a slider and the rare curveball, but his bread and butter pitch is his change-up. When batters swung at it, they whiffed nearly half the time. Half! It’s a major reason why Parker, unlike so many young phenoms, doesn’t exhibit any real platoon splits. He throws it some against righties, particularly if he’s ahead in the count, but lefties get a steady diet of the pitch, and they struggled against it, tallying 20 hits (no HRs) and 8 walks against 58 Ks. The M’s are going to have a lefty-heavy line-up out there, since that’s the by-the-book play, but the hitters need to look for a fastball early and not have to expand the zone later in the at-bat. Helpfully, Parker throws first-pitch fastballs almost 70% of the time to lefties.
One guy who might want to look first pitch fastball and swing the bat is Dustin Ackley. I know, I know, part of the reason he’s valuable is that he’s got a discerning eye and he can make pitchers work by fouling off pitches and laying off borderline balls. But Ackley hasn’t been able to utilize those skills to regain his footing if he falls behind. If he puts the first pitch of an at-bat in play, he’s great – he’s hit .377 with a .597 slugging percentage. But he’s done so only 78 times. He’s got 13.6% of his total bases from the 7.5% of the time he’s put a first pitch in play. After falling behind 0-1, his OPS is only .580, though of course *Everyone* has a crappy OPS after falling behind. But even if he takes the first pitch for a ball, he’s hitting .235/.364/.358. With two strikes, his OPS is .473, which looks a bit like Brendan Ryan’s .490. The standard caveats apply: his career is still in the “small sample size” realm, and splitting it up by count or whatever just magnifies that. So take the preceding as something to watch, rather than as something we *know.*
Hisashi Iwakuma is going to be critical to the M’s chances this year. As the best blend of talent and experience in the rotation behind Felix, the M’s need him to pitch the way he did after taking a rotation spot last year. I know I’m a bit more sanguine about pitcher depth than Dave, but that doesn’t mean Iwakuma’s replaceable. He’s the biggest ground-ball guy on the staff, which is huge if you plan to trot out Morse or Bay in LF. The M’s combination of Hultzen and Ramirez can slot in for someone at the back of the rotation, but replacing a #2 is tough for any team in baseball. All of this to say: Iwakuma’s right shoulder needs to hold together this year. The veteran righty is now over a full year removed from shoulder soreness, but he’s also about to turn 32. Fingers crossed.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Montero, C
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Ryan, SS
2nd game, and the first without Gutierrez, as the M’s continue to bring along slowly following his leg tightness. Again, if you’re going to make the fateful Ibanez-for-Gutierrez move in the line-up to face a righty starter and get Guti some rest, *this* is the day you do it. Keep it on the ground, Hisashi.
The M’s had a successful open house at Safeco Field last night, using the new video board to broadcast the game to about 15,000 fans. The weather undoubtedly helped, but I’m stunned there were what sounds like long lines to get into Safeco to watch a game on TV (albeit a really, really big one) and check out the new park. The pictures and comments I saw via twitter and blogs were universally positive. With the next ‘Supreme Court’ for Felix taking place on the 11th, it seems like a decent time to point out that the M’s communications/outreach staff seem like the best in baseball. This is not a bad attempt to curry favor or anything; with the comments Dave and I have made about the Jaso trade, it’d take a hell of a lot more than this to restore their view back to ‘indifference.’ It’s not the front office advantage I’d most prefer, but it’s the front office advantage we’ve got, and I feel like we should acknowledge them. Nice work, Kevin/Jeff/Rebecca/Randy/et al.
Your reminder: the full-season minor leagues open on Thursday. The Rainiers start the year in Fresno, while the Jackson Generals begin 2013 in Jacksonville, FL. High Desert begins in the almost-as-crazy conditions of Lancaster, while Clinton starts in Burlington. All of the full-season clubs and the M’s began the year on the road. Hmmm.
Some quick numbers from Felix’s opening day gem: Felix threw 24 change-ups in the game (the pitch fx pitch selection numbers mentioned during the broadcast were way off, a product of the algorithm having trouble differentiating Felix’s change and sinker), and got 10 swinging strikes. He got three ground-outs and one pop-up when the A’s put the pitch in play. As Felix’s FB has gotten a bit slower, it’s also gotten straighter. His four-seamer’s horizontal movement’s dwindled until he essentially had none to speak of for much of last year; his four-seamer acted more like a cutter, which presumably made the arm-side run on his sinker look more impressive. At least for last night, his four-seamer had more run than we’ve seen. I have no idea if this was a conscious adjustment, a pitch fx calibration error or just an outlier based on just 14 pitches. I can’t wait for Felix day again.