Game 3, Mariners at Athletics
Joe Saunders vs. Tommy Milone, 7:05pm
There are a few ways to succeed as a fly-ball pitcher without top-shelf stuff. Today’s pitching match-up offers two very different ways to do so. The M’s Joe Saunders isn’t terribly worried about getting right-handed hitters out, and instead focuses on doing damage to lefties. Without a real outpitch, he doesn’t rack up strikeouts, so he’s got to limit walks and do whatever it is that lefties like this do to hold BABIP down. Overall, you get a fairly durable pitcher with a so-so to bad FIP and, ideally, good results in terms of runs allowed.
Tommy Milone’s fastball is in the 87-88mph range, noticeably slower than Joe Saunders, so not worrying about righties just isn’t an option. Instead, Milone’s developed a pretty darn good change-up – so good that he actually pitched better against righties than lefties last year. You could argue that an actual outpitch removes him from the category of a soft-tosser without much ‘stuff’ but c’mon, dude’s throwing 87 out there. Still, even with a great change-up, he’s also gets a pretty big assist from his home park. We could call this approach the Jason Vargas, with the reverse-split top-notes of “poor man’s Cole Hamels.”
Saunders took a step forward in terms of his K:BB ratio last year, though it’s not quite as impressive as it looks. Saunders K rate was a career high, but this was based almost entirely on his merciless treatment of his fellow pitchers while he pitched for Arizona. Similar to Gio Gonzalez, Saunders increased his K% (in this case from a career line of around 13% to 15%. In yet another indication of just how weird NL statistics can be, this was largely due to the fact that Saunders K’d 18 of the 40 pitchers he faced. His non-pitcher K rate was 13.4%. That’s an increase over his career rate through 2011, but it’s not exactly huge. On the other hand, the walk rate really was a significant drop that, unlike the K rate, made the transition back to the AL after Saunders moved to Baltimore. Saunders should see his FIP come down if he’s able to maintain this improvement without a corresponding increase in his HR rate. Given the AL West parks (er, not the Texas ones), this seems doable.
Today’s game marks Jason Bay’s debut, and his first start in the outfield as the M’s throw out a very right-handed line-up. Someone doesn’t believe in Milone’s reverse splits.
1: Gutierrez, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Montero, C
7: Bay, LF
8: Andino, 2B
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Joe Saunders
Dustin Ackley gets the day off against a lefty today, as the M’s say they wanted to get Robert Andino a start or two early on.
Yesterday’s game featured some decent performances from the M’s bullpen, but some possibly odd velocity readings. Carter Capps famously averaged – *averaged* – 99mph with his FB last year. It was slightly lower in the spring, which makes some sense as he stretches his arm back out, but last night his fastball averaged 93 mph, and by the end of his appearance, he was consistently at 92. Lots of caveats here – it’s a cold night in early April in Oakland, but that’s just not a level he approached at all in 2012. To be fair, we only saw him after he’d been stretched out in the minors. His arm slot looked to be very slightly lower than it was last year (which is saying something). In Capps’ defense, Oliver Perez was on the slow side too, but it’s just striking to see a guy who hit 100 with some regularity throwing 92-93.