Game 41, Mariners at Indians
Brandon Maurer vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 4:05pm
Dave mentioned it on twitter, and Matthew mentioned it in his series preview, but because the Indians can stack their line-up with quality left-handed bats, this game represents the toughest test Brandon Maurer’s faced since his abbreviated start against Baltimore. Maurer’s last start marked a noticeable change in approach, as he largely ditched his slider to left-handers and instead relied on his curve ball, a pitch without the large platoon splits that sliders carry. It wasn’t a great start by any stretch, but the new strategy looked quite promising. He fanned a few lefties, kept the team in the ballgame, and while he gave up another two homers, he didn’t look completely helpless against left-handed line-ups.
That Maurer’s still in the big leagues, overhauling his approach on the fly, speaks to both how injuries have ravaged the M’s pitching depth and to Maurer’s ability to learn and adapt, perhaps the best qualities a young hurler can have. On the one hand, it seems counterintuitive that this should work – that you could pick up a new pitch, or radically alter your pitch-mix from start to start in the majors. On the other hand, failing on a big stage can be a hell of a motivator. Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez should know – he’s gone from a 6+-WAR pitcher to replacement level in the past three years (!). The prime suspect for this mid-career collapse has been his diminished velocity. In 2010, his two- and four-seam fastballs averaged 97mph. In 2011, that fell to 94. In 2012, 93, and so far this year, he’s between 92-93. That’s a pretty big drop in a short time frame. Sure, King Felix’s velo’s dropped a similar amount, if not more, but it’s happened gradually, and his off-speed stuff and command mean he hasn’t paid a price in terms of results. Jimenez though…Jimenez has paid a price.
Jeff’s piece on him here and Kyle Boddy’s here have focused on the mechanical changes Ubaldo’s made since 2010. I’m not an expert on mechanics, though you can clearly see he’s made some changes. Whether they’ve in some way caused or accelerated the velocity drop, I couldn’t say, but recent changes haven’t (as yet) reversed it. Through most of April, Jimenez’s decline looked to be nearing a terminal phase, as he followed two awful starts against New York and Boston with a just-as-bad-in-context start against Houston. But since then, over the span of all of three starts, he’s been good again. Maybe he just needed Scott Kazmir to talk to him about how far it’s possible to fall, or maybe the raised front-shoulder thing that Jeff’s article mentioned actually helped in some way, but his K:BB ratio in those three starts is 20:6, and he’s given up only three runs.
Since I don’t know about mechanics, I thought I’d talk about his pitches. One way Jimenez has changed since his days as a Rockie is that he’s developed a split-finger fastball that’s all but replaced his change. He had one in 2010 with Colorado, but he started throwing it a lot last year, and that’s continued in 2013. He now throws it about 25% of the time to righties and lefties alike. The other change since 2010 is an increased utilization of his two-seam fastball, and this highlights how difficult it is to isolate variables in something like pitching. Not only did Jimenez use his sinker more with Cleveland, he used it in a specific way. Check it out in his usage tab at BrooksBaseball. Particularly against lefties, he’s used the pitch much more when he’s behind in the count. This may indicate he had more confidence in his ability to command the pitch, or it may be a decision to go for a grounder and not a K. Whatever the reason, it’s produced ugly, ugly results from the two-seamer – results that are ugliest this year. That’s to be expected in a way, though – every pitcher looks bad when they’re behind in the count, and if he uses a specific pitch in those situations, it’ll look like a bad pitch. Jimenez is perhaps more extreme than most pitchers in that the gap in his FIP in PAs that start 0-1 is about 3 full runs lower than it is when they start 1-0.
The M’s needed to make a 40-man move today to get some bullpen help. Yesterday’s spot start by Hector Noesi and 4+ innings of bullpen work that followed hollowed out the M’s pen, particularly righties. Thus, the M’s brought up Danny Farquhar today,* one of the two small righties they acquired in the Ichiro deal last year. Farquhar had a 30:4 K:BB ratio in just 20 innings, numbers which underscore how much he’s thrived since moving to the M’s org. Farquhar can touch 95 and has a funky delivery – something that’s helped him get lefties out as well as righties. But its his improved control since 2012 that’s really helped him get back to majors – he always walked too many, especially lefties, but the walks have dried up since moving to Tacoma (his combined K:BB with Tacoma in 36 2/3 IP is now 46:9). To make room, the M’s moved Stephen Pryor to the 60-day DL. Ryan Divish’s story on the move points out that a big part of his success has been trusting his curve ball more. Pryor was eligible to come back on May 30th, and though this move is retroactive, he’ll be out another month. He may be ready before then, but this allows the M’s to put off some potentially painful decisions – Francisco Martinez still isn’t hitting in AA Jackson.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Ackley, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Shoppach, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Ryan, SS
Michael Morse was scratched with “eye irritation.”
I had a great time in Tacoma last night, but I was gutted that Oscar Taveras didn’t play for Memphis. Sounds like he won’t play again tonight, but if you’d like to catch him, it sounds like he’ll play this weekend. Michael Wacha was really impressive last night, blowing away Mike Zunino with high fastballs. Zunino’s clearly struggled with breaking stuff, but he’s struggled against just about everything at home, fastballs included. He’ll get there, but he’s going to need some time. Stefen Romero impressed me, though, making hard contact a few times when no one else on the team could figure Wacha out. Andrew Carraway looks to quiet Kolten Wong and the Redbirds tonight.
* Full credit to Shannon Drayer for essentially calling this on twitter last night. I was wondering who they’d bring up and what the corresponding move was, and she called both sides of the equation. Again, twitter is awesome.