Game 70, Mariners at Athletics
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Bartolo Colon, 1:10pm
Happy fathers day to all the dads out there. Thanks especially to my own dad for taking me to the Kingdome in the early 80s, and helping to wrangle my kids when we head to Cheney stadium now.
A day after the M’s 41-year old Henry Blanco broke up a scoreless tie with a late grand slam (!), the Athletics counter with their 40-year old ace, Bartolo Colon. I still can’t quite believe that Colon is still pitching, effectively, in the big leagues. I can’t fathom that the fire hydrant-shaped fireballer who came up with the Indians is now a command pitcher whose game is based to a ridiculous degree on spotting a 90-mph fastball. The guy who walked around 4 per nine in the late 90’s/early 00’s now walks almost no one, especially right-handers. And of course, the guy who was busted for performance-enhancing drugs (finally, an explanation for this sorcery!) comes off his suspension, turns 40 and is posting one of the best seasons in his long career.
Many pitching coaches preach the value of simplicity and not trying to do too much. Colon would seem to be the poster child, or perhaps poster grandpa, for that principle. He throws about 80% fastballs at this point, most of them sinkers. He’ll throw a slider to righties and he’ll use the slider and a change to lefties, but they’re not exactly put-away pitches. With two strikes on a righty, he’ll throw a fastball 75% of the time. With two strikes on a lefty, it’s over 80%. When he’s behind in the count, it’s essentially a guarantee that the batter will see a sinker. There’s no ‘pitching backwards,’ no ‘out-thinking the hitter’ – none of those things that pitchers with tons of experience are often said to rely on. Colon has become successful not by taking the Jamie Moyer/Frank Tanana/Freddie Garcia route, but by giving up any pretense of ‘craftiness.’
Of course, by not throwing his change-up much at all, and relying on a sinker whenever he’s behind (and even when he’s not), he’s got platoon splits. This is actually a good match-up for fellow 40+ player, Raul Ibanez. By wOBA, he’s run about 80-point splits since his A’s debut. By FIP, it’s even more stark, with the gap at over 2 full runs. But the gaps are so big in large part because right-handers are just neutralized. And again, he’s annihilates righties despite not striking them out. His K% against righties in his year-plus with Oakland is right about the same as Joe Saunders’ career K% rate; that is to say, it’s low. He makes it work by not walking *any* of them, and by limiting home runs. His HR% to righties is under 1%, and that’s helped to keep his FIP against them well below 3. Lefties are another story, of course, though again, limiting his walks has helped limit the damage they can do against him. Against lefties (and, perhaps, when he’s away from the spacious Coliseum), his approach changes a bit – he gets more strikeouts, walks more, and pays a higher price for mistakes. But ultimately, he knows his own stuff and knows his home park, and he’s made his limited skillset work.
Hisashi Iwakuma turned himself into an elite pitcher, though he utilizes the tried-and-true method of using a knockout breaking ball to strike a bunch of people out. It’s not as bizarre as Colon, but everything about Iwakuma is more fun to watch that Colon, so there’s that.
1: Chavez, CF
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Morse, 1B
7: Bay, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Ryan, SS
The M’s are going for a three-game road sweep of the first-place Athletics, which is almost as insane as Henry Blanco winning game two with a grand slam. Baseball often makes no sense, and I love that about it.
On a day the M’s face a righty with big platoon splits, Michael Saunders gets a day off and Jason Bay’s in the line-up. What’s sad is that it may be for the best. Saunders had a rough day yesterday, with some WPA-killing failures with men in scoring position against AJ Griffin, and his long slump doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon.
These two teams’ AAA affiliates play today in nearby Sacremento with 39-year old Brian Sweeney getting the start for Tacoma.
The bigger story in AAA yesterday was a huge brawl between Memphis and Albuquerque. The Redbirds’ Maikel Cleto (ex-M’s prospect who went to St. Louis for Brendan Ryan) and Rob Johnson (well, you know) were involved. Video here. Hat tip to Mike Curto.