Game 55, Mariners at Twins

May 31, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Mike Pelfrey, 5:10pm

When Hisashi Iwakuma was posted by his NPB team back before the 2011 season, I looked at his pitch fx scouting reports by the likes of Mike Fast and tried to find a major leaguer with similar pitches. The mix and movement of his four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, the occasional curve and splitter looked a heck of a lot like one National Leaguer in particular – Mike Pelfrey. At the time, Pelfrey was coming off a solid run, racking up 6.5 fWAR in the three previous years (2008-10). Then, the Athletics (who’d won the rights to Iwakuma) couldn’t agree on a deal, and Iwakuma went back to Japan. And got hurt.

Fortunately for the M’s, he came back the next year and accepted a fraction of the money he’d have earned in Oakland, then looked pretty broken in the spring. Pelfrey was terrible in 2011 himself, then underwent Tommy John surgery and missed essentially all of 2012. The point of all this is that I thought Mike Pelfrey represented ‘Kuma’s *ceiling* way back when. Now, Mike Pelfrey is basically the extremely poor man’s version of Iwakuma. Baseball! Pitchers!

Pelfrey throws a splitter, though not as much as he used to, but he seems to use it for a very different purpose than Iwakuma. Iwakuma uses his to humiliate and dominate hitters. Pelfrey uses it to show hitters something different, not as a true purpose pitch. With two strikes, he’s still much more likely to throw a fastball than the split. As a result, he gets very few whiffs with it (kind of like Cashner’s change), and hitters don’t have much trouble putting it in play – and in his career, they’ve hit .300 when they do. Like Iwakuma, he gets a fair number of groundballs with it, but unlike Iwakuma, that’s the extent of the “pro” side of the ledger. This is paragraph is essentially a modern way to say that a pitch sucks. Pelfrey seems to intuit that, and he’s thrown it sparingly this season.

To fit in with his new team, Pelfrey’s not striking anyone out, and his GB% dropped markedly as well. His strand rate’s atrocious, so he hasn’t “earned” the entirety of his 6.85 ERA, but not much has been working for him this season. It also doesn’t help that the Twins are one of the worst fielding teams in all of baseball. Matthew’s measure has them near the bottom in fielding. UZR has them dead last (and has the M’s close by in 28th). DER has them in 29th. Whatever you use, the conclusion is pretty clear: the Twins have added ‘outfield defense’ to ‘strikeouts’ on the list of over-rated, sabermetric-puffery stats. The Twins IF hasn’t been awful, but Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks have not impressed fielding metrics. Pairing a pitch-to-contact staff with allergic-to-leather OFs hasn’t worked out well in the Twin Cities, though I’m aware that the M’s OF may end up worse than the Twins defensively. Still, at least the M’s get strikeouts. And Pelfrey’s splitter still sucks.

This has been an uncharacteristically combative game preview. Felix plus dingers just arouses the fire that’s dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul.

1: Chavez, RF
2: Bay, LF
3: Seager. 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Ibanez, DH
6: Saunders, CF
7: Franklin, 2B
8: Sucre, C
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Still no Justin Smoak, whose oblique is still a bit sore.

Robert Andino cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Tacoma. That’s nice, but he’s not in line for more playing time or anything. As Mike Curto noted, he’s probably not going to move either Dustin Ackley or Brad Miller out of the starting line-up. Tacoma returns from their road trip to take on Sacramento this weekend.

Another week, another good crop of articles on pitch framing. I mean, we all knew we’d see more of it after Mike Fast’s groundbreaking article, and I would’ve purchased pitch framing futures if they were real, but it’s getting kind of crazy. Good crazy, though. Here’s Ben Lindbergh’s interview with museum-quality framer Ryan Hanigan for Grantland. Here’s Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs looking into why we don’t see massive runs-allowed differences with ‘great’ framing catchers. Jesus Sucre’s framing looks good from what I’ve seen, but it seems to me that the M’s care much more about game-calling and leadership than framing, and I’d guess that’s where they’d say Sucre shines. I’m still sort of amazed that Sucre, a no-hit catcher they got from Atlanta essentially for free, is now the de facto starting catcher.

Mariners End Road Woes Streak and Continue to Minnesota

May 31, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 
MARINERS (23-31) ΔMs TWINS (23-28) EDGE
HITTING (wOBA*) -9.7 (20th) -0.1 -26.4 (25th) Mariners
FIELDING (RBBIP) -4.4 (19th) 6.1 -16.3 (27th) Mariners
ROTATION (xRA) 12.0 (7th) -1.2 -22.7 (26th) Mariners
BULLPEN (xRA) 6.2 (6th) -0.2 10.4 (2nd) Twins
OVERALL (RAA) 4.1 (16th) 4.6 -54.9 (28th) MARINERS

So close to taking three of four against the Padres which would have been more encouraging than a series split.

Carlos Triunfel might already be lost in the infield shuffle on the Mariners. Brendan Ryan has surged offensively and is putting on a defensive show as though his baseball life depended on it. And early though it is, Nick Franklin already seems ready to assume the bulk of second base playing time. I realize this will probably be the peak of how we feel about Franklin, but so what? The Mariners are 23-31. Let’s just enjoy this for as long as it will last.

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What Brendan Ryan Has Done

May 30, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

First, a brief selection of screenshots from Brendan Ryan’s last two days:





In fairness, Ryan didn’t complete the first play, as the batter reached safely, but the defensive effort still included something amazing, something few shortstops would’ve been able to do. I’ve long believed we don’t give enough appreciation to amazing defensive plays that don’t result in outs. They’re anticlimactic, but amazing’s amazing. Brendan Ryan grabbed a sharp grounder between his legs, and not in the way that you usually do, facing forward.

Now then, some slash lines. Who doesn’t like randomly selected slash lines?

  • .336/.368/.523
  • .340/.375/.528
  • .296/.370/.556
  • .312/.371/.532

One of those is Manny Machado, one of those is Mike Trout, one of those is Evan Longoria, and one of those is Brendan Ryan over the last two weeks and change. Of course, for Ryan, that’s an arbitrary window, selected to make Ryan look as good as possible. But it’s still a stretch that’s happened. For more than two weeks, Ryan has played like one of baseball’s elite. Yeah, today’s homer easily could’ve been foul, or caught in a different ballpark. Homers are homers. Ryan’s WAR is back in the black, and he’s still been terrible at the plate overall. He’s a bad hitter who can be a decent contributor, and he’s a bad hitter who’s recently hit like a superstar.

Interestingly, this stretch has immediately followed a different stretch in which Ryan went hitless over 20 consecutive plate appearances. No. 20 was an out against CC Sabathia on May 14. Then Ryan legged out an infield single, and he arrived at first base smiling. Since then, he’s been awesome, right after people most wanted him to go away and yield to Nick Franklin.

I don’t have a greater point, here. Brendan Ryan is pretty well understood, even if it isn’t understood why he isn’t better. He’s 31 years old and he’s been in the bigs long enough to play against Craig Biggio. He’s not going to be a Mariner much longer, probably, since his contract is up and this year’s Mariners will want to audition younger players. His performance is another knock against believing in the predictive value of streaks, since his hot streak immediately followed a miserable cold streak. It’s a reminder that slumping players regress, and that sometimes “regression” can be a good thing instead of a bad thing. It’s a reminder that just about anyone in the majors can play like one of the elites for a few weeks at a time. Vernon Wells had a four-digit OPS on April 21. Since then he’s made almost three-quarters outs. It’s a reminder that you shouldn’t predict this game. You shouldn’t try, and you definitely shouldn’t try with money on the line. No matter how smart you are, baseball, if you give it a chance, will make you look like an idiot. Baseball’s great in that it makes sense and doesn’t. It offers, genuinely, something for everyone.

Brendan Ryan isn’t good, now. He wasn’t bad before. He was and still is Brendan Ryan, and Ryan, sometimes, is incredible. At his worst, he’s still a rare pleasure to watch half of the time, and if we’re coming up on his departure from Seattle, I’m glad to see him no longer scuffling. I hope he leaves having left a positive impression, and his defense will be most appreciated when it’s no longer there. Ryan’s one of the fun ones. He doesn’t deserve to have people mad at him. Hopefully, from here to the unknowable end, nobody’s mad, not anymore. They don’t make many like this one.

Nick Franklin One Game Scouting Report

May 30, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

Nick Franklin (Nicholas Edward)




Seattle Mariners



First-impression suggested nickname(s)
Li’l, Hercules Godsmash

Date scouted

Quiet, from the left side. Quick, with quick wrists; little movement. Surprising pop. Simple swing allows him to wait longer to commit, which should aid both walks and batting average. Capable of turning on an inside pitch and driving it to right or up the middle. Swings as if he has a limit — no swings wasted. Good coverage, can go out of the zone if necessary. Plenty of contact. Makes the ball carry deeper than it looks like it ought to. Most batted balls turn into home runs. Good hand control leads to frequent barreling-up.

Rather joggy

Didn’t notice, probably fine

Batted balls don’t get by him if they’re within his range. Good to his right, good to his left, good straight on. A capable turner of double plays; doesn’t stop and watch shortstop partner, no matter how spectacular. Will underhand to first base even if runner’s approaching, implying confidence. Confidence backed by performance.

Said to switch-hit but didn’t switch-hit — is a liar. Looks funny in a big helmet.

Likely superstar, probable Hall-of-Famer. “Dustin who?” Lying is a concern, but might also convey confidence, and it’s hard to overlook all of the home runs. Player is a constant dinger threat and can hit the ball out of any ballpark. Doesn’t make defensive mistakes. Mostly hits homers. Could/should be part of dangerous offensive core with Brendan Ryan, Endy Chavez. Shot to be greatest second baseman in baseball history. Shot to be greatest player.

Prime Jeff Kent, on the moon

Game 54, Mariners at Padres

May 30, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 30 Comments 

King Felix vs. Andrew Cashner, 12:40pm

Early game today as the M’s fly to the Twin Cities after this game.

Andrew Cashner could be a dominant starting pitcher. The odds are stacked against him, in that we’re talking about pitchers, and it’s something of a wonder every MLB hurler’s arm doesn’t dislocate monthly. But Cashner’s got plus-plus velocity that he can pair with average-ish control as well as a change-up and a slider. The tools are all there, but injuries have slowed his development. The Padres, who acquired him from the Cubs in the trade that sent Anthony Rizzo to Chicago, used him as a reliever for the first half of 2012, where his average – AVERAGE – fastball was 99.4mph, then moved him to the minors to prepare to start. He was up last year, but was shut down in September with pain in his shoulder.

As Matthew’s chart illustrates really well, Cashner’s fastball gets far more whiffs than the average heater; there are advantages to throwing 96mph as a starting pitcher. But the other thing that jumps out at you from his chart is the change-up. He’s able to keep it in the zone pretty much at will – he throws fewer balls with the change-up than he does with his fastball. But there’s a problem: it’s also his most hittable pitch. He gets fewer whiffs and fouls on the change-up than he does with the fastball as well, and while he gets ground balls with it, if he misses his spot, batters are able to time the pitch and punish it. As a result, his K% doesn’t really match the pure stuff. His slider’s effective, so he’s still extremely tough on right-handed batters, but lefties are a bit more trouble than they should be given that he’s pitcher who can throw 96-97mph and drop a change-up in whenever he wants.

You can see it in his pitch usage chart – he throws more change-ups than sliders to righties, and relies on it heavily when he’s behind in the count. That’s what he goes to when he falls behind. Against lefties, his results have been mixed. In his favor, they don’t hit for a lot of power on the change, but essentially no one’s fooled by it. You can chalk some of the poor results up to BABIP luck, but when he can’t get whiffs and everyone can put it in play, there’s only so far for that BABIP to fall. If his shoulder doesn’t act up, I think Cashner figures this out – if his command of the change improves (either by spotting it low and out of the zone some times or by improving his arm action to disguise it better), he’s going to be an elite pitcher. But he isn’t yet, and as the M’s have Felix on the mound, this is a big game for them, particularly after last night’s heartbreaker.

1: Chavez, RF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, 1B
5: Saunders, CF
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Sucre, C
8: Ryan, SS
9/SP: Felix

That’s about as lefty-dominant as the M’s can get. Makes sense today.

Some of you have asked about the MLB draft – no worries, the annual draft preview article posts later today.

The Rainiers scored 25 runs in Colorado Springs, essentially mocking the recently-installed humidor. Abe Almonte went 6-6, and Dustin Ackley’s swing rehab looked great after a 5-6 night with a HR. Righty Andrew Carraway was effective in the windy-Colorado-Springsy conditions, continuing his fine run of form after a clunker or two in April, and keeping his ERA under 3, which is kind of miraculous for a fly-balling right-hander without much velocity.

Speaking of fly-balling righties, Cardinals prospect Michael Wacha makes his MLB debut today against the Royals. The tastefully-named Marc Hulet runs down the scouting report at Fangraphs here. That report matches what I saw almost perfectly. Wacha works up in the zone and his fastball seems to have a lot of vertical movement, leading to a flurry of fly balls and pop-ups, and also more whiffs than you might expect given his velocity. A lot’s been made about his lack of Ks in AAA, but that may have been due to the Cards instructing him to work on specific pitches; he certainly didn’t have trouble striking out many Rainiers. Still, it’s always interesting to see how a pitcher who’s made his living throwing up in the zone fares when he comes to a league that selects in part for the ability to send high fastballs far, far away. It’ll also be interesting to see if the deception in his delivery ‘works’ against MLB left-handers.

2013 MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford of MLB Draft Insider

May 30, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Major League Baseball’s amateur draft – or at least the first round of it – kicks off one week from today. The M’s have three picks in the first 100, starting with the twelfth pick overall. The pick was evidently important to the front office, as they seemed hesitant to sign free agents that would’ve resulted in forfeiting their first-round pick. To be fair, that same scenario played out for other teams too, resulting in Kyle Lohse waiting a long, long time to sign. So who are some of the players that could shoot up prospect lists a year or two from now? Like last year, I reached out to Chris Crawford, proprietor of the draft-focused site to get the scoop on the draft class overall and some of the players the M’s might grab at #12. You can check out Chris’ latest mock draft here, ask him questions on twitter there, or dive into the rather lengthy Q and A below.

1: Who do you think the M’s pick? Who *should* they pick?

It’s really difficult to project who the Mariners are going to select this year since they are 1. notoriously tight-lipped about their process and 2. aren’t picking in the top five, which they seem to be every year. That being said, there’s quite a few players tied to them, including Lakewood High School (Calif.) shortstop J.P. Crawford, New Mexico first-baseman D.J. Peterson, Grayson High School (Ga.) outfielder Austin Meadows and Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek. If I was going to guess which of those the Mariners select right now, I’d lean towards Crawford.

Would I have a huge problem with the Mariners taking Crawford? No, he’s a shortstop with good defensive instincts who’s bat would play above-average at short or if he had to move over to second base. The only name I would be disappointed with in that range is Peterson, as I just don’t think he has the upside to justify taking in the first round, though many scouts disagree with me.

How do you compare the hit tool and power tool of Crawford and Meadows? Meadows has been ranked higher the whole year (and last year too), but Crawford’s obviously had a good year to put himself in the conversation. If they’re both available, do you lean Meadows, or does an above-average bat at SS trump the pedigree?

Offensively, Meadows is the far superior player. He’s got good bat speed and if he adds some loft he’s going to hit for power. Crawford’s offensive game is much more limited; he’s not very big (6’2″, 175) and while he has good bat speed its difficult to project big power numbers. I lean Meadows simply because the upside is too good to ignore, especially at pick No. 12.

2: How do you think this draft class stacks up with other recent years’? Last year, you mentioned that the 2012 class was a step behind 2011 and 2010’s…do you still think that’s the case? Overall, do you think talent evaluators are able to forecast this (draft class quality) reliably? Or is it something that can only be judged in hindsight?

It’s a case of quality or quantity. The top five prospects in this class are really good, with two future aces in Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray, a plus-plus power hitter in Kris Bryant who I think can play third base, a pitcher with two 70 pitches in Kohl Stewart and a very intriguing athlete in Meadows. After that, the quality wanes quite a bit, with very little available in terms of college bats and not a single left-handed starter who will go in the first round assuming Sean Manaea’s injuries push him out.

As far as judging this class accurately, I think it’s an interesting question. This was the year of the pop-up; Gray was considered more of a second-third round guy when the year began, and names like Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley and Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe coming from no where to being possible top ten picks. Pop-up’s help increase the depth in the class, but also make scouting difficult as there isn’t the pedigree that some of the other top names have. Guys like Peterson, Renfroe and Reese McGuire have a ton of varying positions from the scouts and talent-evaluators I talk to, but there does seem to be a sort of consensus in this year’s draft compared to others.
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Game 53, Mariners at Padres

May 29, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 91 Comments 

Joe Saunders vs. Eric Stults, 7:10pm

The M’s begin the road portion of this home and home with San Diego with a battle of lefty pitch to contact guys. It’s not appointment television, but the M’s could use a few wins, and while they’re hobbled and beset by bottom-of-the-rotation problems, Joe Saunders in a big park is what passes for a good match-up these days.

Eric Stults is, and I checked on this, NOT Eric Stoltz. Who he IS, is a lefty fly-baller who throws a ‘rising’ four-seam fastball, a good change-up, and a curve and slider. He’s used to righty-dominated line-ups, and his career platoon splits are essentially even, just like Edinson Volquez’s. He’s got a solid FIP, though again, some of that’s to be expected pitching in Petco. Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to see how the hitters fare in the new, fairer park. Both teams hit a number of homers in Seattle, but it remains to be seen how much of that was park-related and how much was Clayton Richard/Brandon Maurer related.

1: Bay, LF
2: Chavez, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Shoppach, C
6: Saunders, CF
7: Franklin, 2B
8: Ryan, SS
9/SP: Saunders

The big story of the day is the promotion of Alex Liddi and the option of Brandon Maurer. While it may be a very brief swap, it’s obvious at this point that Maurer has some things to work on, and I’m fairly optimistic about his chances in the long term. He showed some flashes in his M’s tenure, especially against righties, and he’ll be able to talk to coaches and – importantly – other players in Tacoma about developing his change. Brian Sweeney is essentially another pitching coach on the roster, and he may be able to pick Erasmo Ramirez’s brain a bit too. Alex Liddi’s had a strange season – he started off OK, then went into deep freeze (along with Zunino and Thames, to be fair). He’s showing some signs of coming out of it, but Liddi’s K% has jumped over 10 percentage points in Tacoma this year. I liked some of the changes he made last season, but he’s looked absolutely lost at the plate some times this year. Hopefully he’s figured something out, though he may not get too many opportunities right now.

The other big story is the continuing fall-out from Eric Wedge’s ‘sabermetrics destroyed my second baseman’ comments. Yesterday was the day for disbelief, ripostes and, yes, some snark. Today marks the more contemplative period of reflection and trying to understand where Wedge was coming from. Larry Stone’s got a good piece trying to build some more context for the quotes, and Lance Rinker (At Beyond the Box Score) and Ian Miller (at Baseball Prospectus) urge caution and begin to evaluate Wedge’s claim dispassionately. I think this is all to the good, even if I don’t agree with 100% of it. Sabermetrics or the blogosphere or whatever you want to call it often has a reputation for being a single-minded entity, out to quash dissent. At our best, I think we can lead by example in coolly evaluating claims. Not to say we have all the information, or know with certainty, but to try and figure out what data tells us about some baseball question. It’s going to be really tough to do that in a case like this where the problem (or the question) is tied to a particular player’s mental state. But we can look into Ackley’s struggles and attempt to figure out what’s happening. We can be forward looking, and then evaluate how well any changes in approach have worked. Who knows. Maybe we’ll get credit for fixing him as well as ruining him.

An Actual Post About Jesus Sucre

May 29, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

Used to be you didn’t know anything about Jesus Sucre. That’s fine. There wasn’t much reason to, and he was one of those catchers who’d go to spring training with the big leaguers just because the big leaguers needed catchers. I don’t know how Sucre wound up in the Mariners organization, and I know I never expected to see him in the majors. He just struck me as filler that would eventually become veteran filler. But now he’s on the team. Jesus Montero isn’t catching for the Mariners, because he’s bad at it. Mike Zunino isn’t catching for the Mariners, because he doesn’t know how to walk and not strike out. Kelly Shoppach can’t catch for the Mariners every day, because he’s old and not an everyday catcher. So Sucre could stick. He could make an impression, on the team and on you.

Based on Sucre’s numbers, I could’ve guessed he’s a defensive specialist. That’s also what I’ve heard, and that would explain why some other teams were interested in him in March. Now we’ve seen Sucre in action, as he’s started behind the plate three times. Following, a series of screenshots, showing called strikes that Sucre and the Mariners got in their favor:

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Brandon Maurer, Meet Tacoma

May 29, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

Update: And there you go – Maurer is being optioned to Tacoma, though it’s Alex Liddi, not Franklin Gutierrez, who is replacing him. Liddi is probably only up for a few days.

With both Justin Smoak and Michael Morse unable to play at the moment, the Mariners need to add a position player to the roster, especially headed into an NL park where they will need to pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot. The most likely call-up would be Franklin Gutierrez, who has been playing everyday down in Tacoma without breaking himself. His rehab assignment could theoretically last another week, but with the M’s in need of an outfielder while Morse is more unable to run than usual, I would expect Guti to join the team sooner than later.

And, really, there’s a pretty easy swap for the M’s to make today. Since they’re short on position players for the next few days, they could add Gutierrez to the roster without getting rid of a hitter by optioning Brandon Maurer to Tacoma. Since his turn in the rotation doesn’t come up again until Sunday and he shouldn’t be the one making that start, he doesn’t really need to be on the roster right now.

For all the talk of Maurer learning on the job, there’s just no real evidence that he’s actually improving in a meaningful way.

Brandon Maurer, April: 128 batters faced, .299/.359/.521, .380 wOBA, 5.15 FIP, 4.97 xFIP
Brandon Maurer, May: 93 batters faced, .369/.435/.646, .458 wOBA, 6.32 FIP, 4.60 xFIP

Back on May 1st, I wrote about Maurer’s problems with left-handed batters, as they hit .359/.424/.717 against him in April. In May, he’s introduced more curveballs to try and combat lefties, but they’ve hit .335/.410/.542 against him this month. That’s improvement of the “it had nowhere to go but up” kind, and shows that he still can’t get big league left-handers out on a regular basis.

Maurer simply isn’t ready for the Major Leagues. The Mariners rushed him because they got overexcited about spring training performance — stop me if you’ve heard this before — and the in-house alternatives weren’t particularly good. He’s never pitched in Triple-A before, and there was no real reason to expect him to be good enough to skip a level and compete against Major League hitters without the necessary weapons. Despite all the talk about how he “has the stuff”, Maurer is not currently a big league starting pitcher. He is against right-handers, and he could have success in a relief role similar to Carter Capps, but he’s not cut out for starting right now. His secondary pitches need work. His command needs work. He needs time to develop.

It’s in his best interests, and the organization’s best interests, to let Maurer develop at a natural pace rather than let him get his brains beat in by left-handers he’s not ready to get out yet. Send him to Tacoma, and use the roster spot to get another position player on the team for the next few days. When Maurer’s spot in the rotation comes up on Sunday, they can create a roster spot for the new 5th starter by either DL’ing an injured player or putting Chavez through waivers. As much as I don’t think he’s ever going to amount to anything, I’d probably give the roster spot to Blake Beavan. Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t shown anything to earn a 40 man spot, and Beavan or Noesi can fill-in for Maurer and give a similar performance without harming the long term development of one of the team’s young arms.

The M’s need a roster spot. Maurer needs time in Tacoma. This shouldn’t be too hard.

Game 52, Padres at Mariners

May 28, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 38 Comments 

Brandon Maurer vs. Edinson Volquez, 7:10pm

It’s been a crazy week here in Marinerland. Harang pitched well, King Felix didn’t, Ackley’s not hitting, Brendan Ryan’s hitting, bloggers driving personnel moves and player development trajectories.* It’s insane. Until Sunday, the M’s appeared to be a roiling cauldron of frustration, disappointment, churn and attrition. And while it’s nice to beat up on an obliging Clayton Richard, Brandon Maurer’s still probably feeling a bit of pressure tonight. It never would’ve occurred to me to make sure everyone knew where sabermetrics stands on Maurer and pitching in general, but I’m not going to take much for granted anymore. Great power, great responsibility and all that. So: Maurer should limit walks, get strikeouts, and seek to avoid home runs. He should understand that sometimes hitters have good results on good (‘pitcher’s’) pitches, and that, at other times, a centered fastball will get popped up or lined directly into a glove. Mostly though, sabermetric outcomes aren’t different or competing with, I don’t know, ‘traditional’ outcomes. I would’ve thought this would be common ground.**

Maurer’s start coincides with Jeremy Bonderman’s start for AAA Tacoma tonight in Colorado Springs. It’ll be Bonderman’s final appearance before his June 1st ‘opt-out’ date in his contract. I have no idea what Bonderman’s thinking about 6/1/13 (or if he’s secretly reading USSM to get info on how to tweak his approach on the mound), but it seems like it could be a big start for both hurlers. Both are pitching for a spot, but both of them may be keeping the rotation slot warm for Erasmo Ramirez, who’s been recuperating from a forearm strain since March. Like many of you, I’d interpreted the silence surrounding his progress as a bad sign, but look who’s popped up on the pitching probables in the minors today? Erasmo gets the start in Jackson tonight, as the Generals host Huntsville. Danny Hultzen’s also going to Peoria and extended spring training. The M’s pitching depth, which looked solid in March, has been incredibly thin since. It’d be nice to see that change.

OK, today’s game. Edinson Volquez is having a season nearly as bad as Richard’s. I’d be tempted to blame the new, less pitcher-friendly Petco park, but in Volquez’s case, there’s a better explanation. He’s lost about 2mph on his fastball this year; he was at 94+ in May of 2011 and 2012, but is down to 92mph now. He’s throwing more curveballs to righties and fewer change-ups, but that’s a minor change (and one that seems to have helped, albeit a tiny bit). His change-up hasn’t dropped by nearly as much, but it’s clearly less effective when it’s backed by average velocity as opposed to the plus velo Volquez has worked with. The change reliably got whiffs more than 20% of the time he threw it, but that’s down under 15% now, and it’s one reason his K% has dropped. It too was reliably over 20%, and is now under 15%. The curveball’s still pretty solid to righties, but with a so-so fastball, and with lefties figuring out his change-up, Volquez has been hit hard.

Volquez’s solid change led him to post even splits or even reverse platoon splits for much of his career. Even with the curve, this isn’t a bad match-up for the M’s right-handers. And, even with the pitch generating worse results than it ever has, I would pay money for Brandon Maurer’s change to be as effective against lefties as Volquez’s is now. He’s been somewhat better in recent games, but left-handers are still hitting a cool .359/.438/.648 against Maurer. That this represents regression to the mean shows just how big the problem is. The curve’s been decent in fleeting glimpses, but Maurer (and his catchers) still seem to like to go back to the slider with two strikes. I’d say something here, but we’ve been blamed for one prospect, so I’ll just keep it banal: just focus on your game; take it one pitch at a time; Execute your pitches, in the figurative and not literal sense.

1: Chavez, LF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Ibanez, DH
4: Morales, 1B
5: Morse, RF
6: Saunders, CF
7: Franklin, 2B
8: Sucre, C
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Maurer

Erasmomania in Jackson tonight. That’s some unexpected good news pretty much on par with “Aarong Harang, complete game shutout.”
The Rainiers scored 5 in the 9th to beat Reno 11-10 yesterday. Alex Liddi drove the offense with a 4-5 day including a HR.

* I fully understand that part of Wedge’s job is to protect his players by deflecting blame. It’s just – for that to work, it has to be remotely plausible, doesn’t it? What exactly is the causal chain here? M’s saber-bloggers, drunk with jealousy, attempt to scuttle the talented golden boy by urging passivity? That our misguided ideas proved too tempting for a young player, and overcame the advice his coaches provided? I just don’t see what the theory is; this is an insult (‘stopped playing at age 9’), not a theory. I will say this: the insult/prototheory depends on the idea that advice from the outside had a chance to wreak its effects because players have stopped listening to the staff. That…well, that’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

** Full disclosure: I saw Ackley hit a flurry of 4-3 groundouts in Tacoma and thought he might be better served to lay off tough breaking balls and drive pitches he was able to drive instead. His bat control allowed him to stay on a hard slider, say, even as it dropped into a location that would produce weak contact. The Rainiers coaches at the time argued instead that he was often too passive, and urged him to look for and drive strikes. If Ackley overheard my musings in the stands and decided to pay attention to them and not those of his coaches, I’d like to apologize unreservedly, and point out that everyone from Dave Cameron to Alonzo Powell to Dave Hansen just want you to smack doubles off the right field fence. Again, I apologize for any confusion. For the record, sabermetrics would point out that a walk is, in fact, NOT as good as a hit – it is simply much, much better than an out. OK, that’s about enough snark wrung out out of one very, very bizarre quote for today.

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