Game 55, Mariners at Twins
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
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.