Game 29, Orioles at Mariners
Brandon Maurer vs. Jason Hammel, 7:10pm
I keep thinking about Jeff’s post yesterday about Carlos Peguero. We’ve all written him off a bit in part because his flaws seem too significant to overcome. Like, he could make huge strides in his contact rate over the next couple of years and that would get him to “severe problem” level as opposed to “hopeless.” Jeff mentions Chris Davis, who, once upon a time, *was* Carlos Peguero (albeit with small-sample success in the major leagues as opposed to small-sample comedy). Even last year, Davis put together a solid season despite a 30+% K rate. This year, his K% is way down at 23%, his contact rate is up over 5 percentage points, and he’s off to a brilliant start. It’s not just Davis – Eno Sarris has a good piece on platoon LF Nate McLouth whose swing rate is way, way down in the early going, leading to a halving of his K% so far (it’s also netted him a lot more walks). Sure, part of the way the Orioles have gone from a bottom-10 to a top-10 team in K% was just jettisoning Mark Reynolds, but it certainly appears that the Orioles have helped some of their players make some significant plate discipline changes.* I’d love to figure out what, if anything, the Orioles did, or if it’s just a case of players maturing on their own.
The Orioles line-up is a pretty good one, and they’re the reason Baltimore’s 15-11. The line-up seems particularly well-matched to right-handed starters, where McLouth can play/lead-off, and then the middle of the order includes Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters – that’s three lefties in the middle, with another lefty leading off. All of this is to say: this is a much tougher test for Brandon Maurer than the Texas Rangers were. The Rangers and Angels are absurdly weighted towards right-handed hitters. The Orioles are a bit more balanced, as Nolan Reimold can sub in for McLouth against lefties. That’s not to say the task is hopeless – I’m sure Maurer is more confident than he’s ever been, and he’s pitching in a park that saps power, which is still a strength of the O’s line-up. Maurer still has just one strikeout against a lefty, versus a FIP darn near 8. It’ll be interesting to see if he goes to his change-up more; his slider’s been poor against lefties, even as a change of pace, so even showing the change-up may help set up his fastball.
The Orioles start Jason Hammel, the reclamation project (they’ve got a lot of those, looking over the roster) whom they turned into a sinkerballer last year. The major change in his approach make career numbers less relevant, but he’s essentially a sinker/slider guy now, with the occasional change-up and curve to lefties. Last year, his slider was a swing-and-miss weapon, generating strikeouts and grounders alike. This year, it’s not generating whiffs, and thus his strikeout rate has tanked. It’s only been a month, and god knows a few struggling Angel pitchers got back on track in this park last week, but it’s possible Hammel’s still not 100% from the knee injury that sidelined him last year. It’s not just the strikeouts and whiffs: his GB% and velocity are also way down. He’s been reasonably successful thus far thanks to a low BABIP, but he doesn’t appear to be the breakout pitcher he was in 2012.
Having Michael Saunders back at the top of the line-up makes me a lot more confident. The M’s wOBA against righties and lefties is about the same, but that’s driven by BABIP. The M’s hit for more power, strikeout less and walk more against lefties. Saunders brings balance to the line-up and can actually get on base for Morales and Morse. In fact, Saunders/Seager/Morales at the top of the line-up is a pretty good way to start off against a guy like Hammel.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Bay, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Shoppach, C
9: Ryan, SS
Wonder if that whole “Andino is now the starting SS” experiment is already over?
The M’s signed OF Corey Patterson to a minor league deal today.
Jimmy Gilheeney’s pitching for Tacoma tonight at Cheney Stadium; he’s up from AA taking Danny Hultzen’s spot while Hultzen rests his ailing shoulder. M’s are saying all the right things about the rotator cuff strain, and that Hultzen will be back in a few weeks to a month, but I’m still nervous about anything in the shoulder area.
Victor Sanchez made his second start for Clinton today, and had another solid start, going 6IP and giving up 3R on 6H with 3Ks. Not a lot of missed bats, but two quality starts for an 18-year old in full season ball is nothing to sneeze at. Why you’d sneeze AT a stat line, I have no idea. Just seems like a really odd reaction.
* So what about Adam Jones, whose K% is higher than it’s been in years? Well, his swing and o-swing rate is down, his whiff rate is down, and his contact rate is higher than it was last year.