Game 60, White Sox at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dylan Axelrod, 12:40pm
The M’s go for the three-game sweep this afternoon behind Hisashi Iwakuma. The White Sox have hit a bit better than we thought coming in, but they’ve pitched worse – long may this continue. Righthander Dylan Axelrod shut the M’s down for 5+ innings in early April this year, and was tough against them in the cactus league as well. Back then, I talked about his slider being his outpitch and that he may struggle against lefties. : Pulls at collar and laughs nervously : So uh, forget that. It’s absolutely true that he’s gotten more whiffs and more strikeouts on the slider than any other pitch (he also throws a four- and two-seam fastball, a curve, and a change-up). But as a guy who doesn’t strike many batters out, that only tells us so much.
This year, Axelrod’s best pitch has been his change-up, a pitch he throws less than 20% of the time, and pretty much solely to lefties. He’s faced a lot of lefthanders (61% of opposing baters), so in part he’s *had* to develop something besides his slider. But his change-up isn’t used to get strikeouts or swinging strikes – or rather, if that’s what he’s trying to do, it’s not working. Instead, he uses it to get ground balls and weak contact. If *that’s* what he’s trying to do, so far so good. He’s not given up a home run on his change-up in his brief career, and while judging pitches based solely on their results with a guy who hasn’t pitched a full season is dicey, he’s given up two doubles on his 200+ change-ups. And he’s done it without making anyone miss. He’s recorded three strikeouts ending with a change, but giving batters something else to think about and having a pitch that generates choppers and fly-outs isn’t bad.
It would sound horribly unsustainable (look at that BABIP!) if we haven’t watched Hisashi Iwakuma and his amazing splitter. Iwakuma’s pitched a bit more, so he’s thrown three times as many splitters, and like Axelrod, he’s yet to give up a HR on one,* and has a career ISO-against on splitters of .037, which looks like Axelrod’s .039. Let’s be clear, here: Iwakuma’s splitter is miles better than Axelrod’s change. It gets whiffs AND grounders. It’s been tested much more, and it’s passed each test. It also helps to explain why both have reverse platoon splits. Again, these should be regressed severely, so maybe the best we can say is that they’re unlikely to have extreme platoon splits, with opposite-handed hitters crushing them. But we have some reason to think that their reverse splits aren’t just dumb luck.
Today’s big story is the apparent promotion of Tacoma back-up catcher Brandon Bantz to Seattle to replace Jesus Sucre who was struck in the finger by a batter’s follow-through in last night’s game and had to be replaced by Kelly Shoppach. With Jesus Montero injured (he’s apparently having surgery today), that left the M’s with only one catcher on the roster. Their options seemed to be to have 41-year old Raul Ibanez as the emergency catcher or to make a move. Bantz is essentially a paler version of Sucre. He hasn’t hit at all in the minors, but the organization loves his arm (he made probably the best throw I’ve seen all year in Monday’s game to catch Jemile Weeks) and he’s been a solid defensive back-up for years after the M’s drafted him out of Dallas Baptist University in 2009. Mike Curto noted the similarities to 2011, when the M’s brought up Jose Yepez to essentially be the emergency back-up for a week; Yepez unfortunately never got into a game. Yepez could hit, sort of, with a good K:BB ratio making up for a lack of power. But he clearly wasn’t around to hit, and everyone knew it. Same thing with Sucre, of course. Bantz is now the second catcher that essentially no one thought would ever sniff the majors to make the 30-mile trip north from Tacoma, and I’m hoping that Sucre essentially taking the starting job from Shoppach means the club will think about getting Brandon into a game. He’s not going to hit worse than Sucre. And while we think of ballplayers being impossibly rich, spoiled jocks, it’s probably worth noting that guys like Bantz (and Sucre) make very, very little money playing year to year without being on the 40-man roster. Unlike high draft picks, Bantz went in the 30th round, so his bonus probably went towards rent for a fraction of one minor league season. Just being on the active roster for a week or so will get Bantz more money than he’d earn in an entire minor league season, even at the AAA level.
The corresponding move? The M’s abandoned their plan to get Franklin Gutierrez another 20-day rehab assignment and instead moved him to the 60-day DL. That got a 40-man spot, and to make room on the 25, they’ve optioned Carlos Triunfel to Tacoma. Sure, they could’ve done that a week ago when they brought up Bonderman, but they didn’t. I know some fans are miffed that they had to lose a player (Catricala in that case) to bring in Bonderman for one or two starts, but at some point, they’ve got to start culling their 40-man. They’ve moved off Catricala and Francisco Martinez, but more decisions loom with Erasmo Ramirez and, hopefully, Danny Hultzen on the mend. I’m somewhat sympathetic to them, as needing to clear a roster spot to bring in Brandon Bantz (because Jesus freaking Sucre was hurt) just wasn’t something they could’ve anticipated in April. Franklin Gutierrez getting hurt, well, that IS something that could’ve been anticipated.
1: Chavez, RF
2: Bay, LF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Ibanez, DH
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Saunders, CF
8: Shoppach, C
9: Ryan, SS
Rainiers are off today, but they’ll host Las Vegas from Thursday-Sunday. Friday’s game looks like the prospecty-est, as Vegas may go with Mets’ top prospect Zach Wheeler. Tomorrow’s game features DJ Mitchell starting for Las Vegas; he opened the year in Tacoma’s rotation.
AA Jackson’s off too, but open a series tomorrow with an early game against Tennessee. Er, they’re scheduled to play tonight at Tennessee, with Anthony Fernandez starting, but it’s raining heavily. Tomorrow’s game may be a double-header.
* With Iwakuma’s velo down a bit in early April, it was a bit tough to separate out the splits and two-seamers. BrooksBaseball has the most questionable pitch, the long HR he gave up to Adam Dunn in Chicago, as a two-seamer. MLBAM had it as a splitter. We’ll go with Brooks, but if you thought that pitch looked like a bad splitter, well, you weren’t alone.