Game 24, Angels at Mariners
Brandon Maurer vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm
I’m sure everything’s going to be different now that the M’s had a closed-door meeting. Manager Eric Wedge ranted, changed color, refused to mince words, etc. The M’s return home with a much greater understanding of what it is their skipper expects from them; “playing awful baseball” isn’t in the enumerated list of expectations. So now players, manager, the front office and fans are all on the same page, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a completely different team going forward. (I mean, they closed *all* of the doors for their meeting. This was not a casual chat, with random people filing in and out of the room. This was a focused, controlled, information-rich confab).
Tonight’s starter, Garrett Richards, has never made much sense. Blessed with a fastball in the 95-96mph range and a visually impressive slider, Richards has disappointed at virtually every level of baseball. At the University of Oklahoma, he got strikeouts but yielded way too many walks and homers. In the minors, his command improved, but it came at a cost: his strikeout rate’s been decent but uninspiring for a guy who throws as hard as Richards does. In the majors, he’s been worse – very few K’s, mixed with too many walks and a well-deserved lack of a defined role. He appeared destined for another year as the long-man in the bullpen, but Jered Weaver’s elbow injury gave Richards another shot at the rotation, and in a couple of starts he’s been excellent.
He throws a four-seam fastball to righties and a sinker to lefties, and uses his slider as his out-pitch to both of them. While his arm angle and arsenal suggest huge platoon splits, they haven’t really shown up yet. While he doesn’t strike out a ton of lefties, he’s K’d a shockingly low number of right-handers. While it’s way too early to know if something’s really changed, he’s been sharper against both so far. Really, he’s not too dissimilar from Brandon Maurer. Maurer doesn’t throw as hard, but he too combines above-average velocity with a sharp slider, but hasn’t yet been able to put many hitters away with it. While Richards looked like he *should* have platoon splits, Maurer’s actually shown them, despite a more over-the-top delivery. Again, SSS caveats abound when we’re talking about two pitchers without much MLB experience, in April. But Maurer’s struck out only *one* of the 43 lefties he’s faced (that’d be switch-hitting Rangers utility infielder Leury Garcia), while giving up four walks, three homers and eight total extra-base hits. Lucky for Maurer, the heart of the Angels order bats right-handed, but he needs to take Matthew’s advice and not throw Josh Hamilton a strike. Literally zero sliders should be in the zone against Hamilton.
The other big story in M’s land is the fortuitous alignment of minor league rotations that offers a stunning syzygy of pitching prospects. M’s top-10 prospect Victor Sanchez makes his 2013 debut with the Clinton Lumberkings at the ripe old age of 18 (he’s the second youngest player in the league) against Indians top-10 hurler Mitch Brown. A little bit later, M’s #2 prospect Taijuan Walker takes the hill for Jackson against Dodgers #2 prospect Zach Lee. Finally, Danny Hultzen and the Rainiers are in Las Vegas to take on the 51s and #2 Mets prospect Zack Wheeler.* The game was supposed to feature the top two catching prospects in the minors in Mike Zunino and Las Vegas’ Travis D’Arnaud, but the latter’s on the shelf due to injury. If you wanted to tune out the M’s for a day and gorge yourself on hope, well, today seems like a good day for that.
1: Chavez, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Ackley, 2B
6: Shoppach, C
7: Peguero, RF
8: Bay, LF
9: Andino, SS
SP: Brandon Maurer
The M’s outfield tonight is Jason Bay, Endy Chavez and Carlos Peguero. Would you like the audio link for the Rainiers game again? Sure thing.
I think the defining moment of the Astros series was Chris Carter’s home run against Saunders in the final game. It was just a solo shot, the game was clearly still in doubt, and Chris Carter’s always had light-tower power. According to hit-tracker, it didn’t even make it 400 feet (wait, seriously?), but the *sound* of that shot was unreal. Sure, it helps to have the roof closed in a deserted ballpark, but it was a neat little summary of other clubs ability to extract value from marginal players and the M’s inability to do the same. I’ve been following Chris Carter since 2009 when he arrived in AAA Sacramento in time for the PCL playoffs and basically single-handedly eliminated the Rainiers. It was a performance that still gives Mike Curto flashbacks and cold sweats. But I have never seen a player look as lost at the plate as Carter did in his cup of coffee in 2010. Not Peguero, not Brendan-Ryan-in-2013, not Wlad Balentien. He was back in 2011 and was somehow even worse, striking out in over 40% of his PAs, and just looking like the definition of a AAAA slugger (and even there, Carter’s still not put up a AAA season as productive as Peguero’s 2011 OR 2012). The A’s were a combination of patient and lacking in better options with him, but while he still struck out an alarming rate, he combined with Brandon Moss to generate Albert Pujols-level production from the 1B slot last year. This isn’t a miracle or anything. His speed, defensive problems and position meant that even with an 860 OPS in 67 games, he was worth just one win above replacement. Thus far with Houston, it’s more of the same – he’s struck out 35 times already in just 87 plate appearances – but five home runs and decent number of walks add up to, well, not a whole lot, but the Astros have a cheap 1B with some promise. I’ve been incredibly pessimistic about Carter now for years, and I think a big part of that is because, being an M’s fan, I’ve *never seen* a flawed hitter improve and become productive.** That violent crack reminded me that it actually *is* possible, and that many teams acquire flawed hitters with the idea that their staff can ameliorate some of the deficiencies and their manager can put the player in a position to succeed. That’d be nice.
I am pretty jealous of Matthew right now.
I’m also jealous of Ranger fans, not just because of all of that ‘winning’ and ‘pennants’ and stuff, but because they get to watch Yu Darvish. This gif shows five of Yu Darvish’s many, many pitches. It is amazing. (Hat tip to Lone Star Ball, everyone in my twitter feed, and LSB user ‘DShep’ for creating it).
* For the sake of completeness: High Desert plays Bakersfield in a California League game featuring several baseball players.
** Ok, Jose Lopez counts, but only for one year. If Carter is just a 2012 mirage, then I take this overwrought paragraph back.