Game 52, Padres at Mariners
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
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.