Game 99, Indians at Mariners
Aaron Harang vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 7:10pm
Last time these two teams faced each other, the M’s came in red hot, and with a good chance to hit .500. A 4-game sweep later, the M’s were in a tail-spin they’ve only recently showed signs of emerging from. So, uh, beat the Indians, Mariners. That weird thing with all of the walk-off losses? Less of that.
I talked about Ubaldo Jimenez at length back when he faced Brandon Maurer and the M’s in mid-May. At the time, he’d just started to show signs that he wasn’t an imminent DFA candidate, and that there was still some talent left in the guy the Indians traded for in 2011. Since then, he’s been mediocre to solid, which isn’t great for a team that’s actually in playoff contention, but again, is a heck of a lot better than the Jimenez of 2012-April of 2013. Yes, his velocity is still down, and yes, his sinker’s still got awful results (in part because he always goes to it when he’s behind). But he’s sticking around, with a FIP on the year of 4.5, and if his walks are elevated, at least he’s getting a few more Ks again.
From his call-up in 2008 through 2010, Jimenez and his 97mph fastball and big slider gave him a nearly insurmountable advantage against righty bats. As his velocity started to drop, he ditched his change-up for a splitter to try and keep lefties off balance. Without premium velocity, lefties were starting to batter Jimenez’s sinker, and the splitter is a great pitch to attack opposite-handed-hitters, as Hisashi Iwakuma knows well. From 2010 to 2012, Jimenez’s wOBA-against to lefties went .265 to .311 to .371. This shows just how bad lefties were hitting the sinker, and that his new pitch wasn’t exactly a panacea. The funny thing is that, as soon as he developed the pitch, he started getting a lot more K’s against lefties than righties. In 2009, he had a better K/9 against lefties, but his K% was still better against righties (as you’d guess). That k% shot up in 2010, to nearly 27% of lefties. It was still around 26% in 2011, even as his results against *righties* were going down the drain. It’s at 24% now, and his K:BB ratio looks pretty good. And that’s helpful, because he’s walked about as many righties as he’s struck out. His command’s essentially gone against righties, but he’s kept the ball in the park. Against lefties, he’s like a very poor man’s Iwakuma: He’s striking them out, keeping walks more-or-less in check, but giving up HRs like it’s 2000 and he’s back in Coors Field.
Aaron Harang’s probably sympathetic. Like Jimenez, he’s had terrible results with his two-seam/sinker, and that’s in part due to the fact that he throws a lot of them when he’s behind in the count to lefties. In 2013, batters (righties and lefties) are slugging .800 on Harang’s sinker. That’s not an OPS, that’s a slugging average. Eight-hundred. It’s slightly higher vs. just lefties, and in any event he hardly throws it to righties. Now, it’s easy to look at a half-season’s results, or a half-season’s results *broken down by batter handedness* and say he needs to change his pitch mix. Of course it’s not that simple – batters might crush the four-seamer if he threw it instead, and Harang’s certainly been around long enough to have some sense of the trade-offs involved, not only for balls in play, but how a sinker may or may not set up other pitches in his repertoire. All of that said, Harang may want to rethink this. His results on the two-seamer since 2007 have been much worse than his other pitches, and sinkers tend to have larger platoon splits than other fastballs (and it’s sort of amazing how many pitchers throw mostly sinkers to opposite-handed batters). 2013 has been unlucky, but at this point, I think it’s looking like the anomalies are those years in which he HASN’T been burned on the pitch.
Unlike Jimenez, Harang’s platoon splits look quite normal. He’s not walking much of anyone, and he’s striking batters out (especially righties) at a decent clip. His problem is focused on HRs, and especially HRs to lefties. It’s easy to say that he needs to pitch around lefties and perhaps trade more walks for HRs, but it’s not that he’s throwing balls down the middle when he’s behind. He’s given up four HRs on the first pitch and another two on 0-1 pitches. Five HRs have come in any at-bat that started 1-0, but five HRs have come in any at-bat starting 0-1. He’s just made some mistakes, and batters have crushed them. That could indicate that this is just terrible luck, and his freakish HR/9 will start to regress if his HR/FB moves back to where it’s been in previous years. But this doesn’t exculpate his sinker, either. It doesn’t prove that’s the problem, either, but the clear majority of his HRs have come on that pitch, and they haven’t all come in 3-1/2-0 counts. Sometimes a pitch looks bad when you strip it from its context. Other times a pitch looks bad because it’s bad.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, CF
SP: Aaron Harang
In the minors tonight, James Paxton starts for Tacoma as they host Tucson. Pulaski’s Eddie Campbell makes his third start in the Appy League. Campbell was drafted in the 15th round out of Virginia Tech, where the lefty had an up-and-down junior season, but a solid stretch towards the end of the year convinced the M’s to draft him. Yes, he’s a major college guy in a rookie league, but Campbell’s struck out 17 batters in his last two appearances, covering 9 2/3IP, and he’s walked two. He’s always been a big strikeout pitcher, but walks and struggles with men on base left him with unsightly runs allowed figures. We’ll see if he moves up soon.
Victor Sanchez followed up his CG no-hitter with another solid game this morning, throwing 5 IP of 1 R ball in a no-decision. He gave up 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 3 Ks, to run his season K:BB to 44:8. That’s impressive, but it’s not the best on the team. South African Dylan Unsworth was working on a 44:2 ratio over ten starts, before arm trouble sidelined him in June. Get well soon.
Jackson looks to be rained out yet again. Early this year, it looked like Clinton would have to play 4-5 double-headers a week to get their season in. Now, I think Jackson’s caught them (or passed them) in games lost due to weather. Meanwhile, Tacoma quietly gets nearly every game in, even in April/May.
The first of the biogenesis penalties was handed down today, with MLB suspending Ryan Braun of Milwaukee for the rest of the 2013 season.
The on-again, off-again Matt-Garza-to-Texas trade was finally consummated, with the Cubs getting 3B Mike Olt, P Justin Grimm, and P CJ Edwards from the Rangers. Grimm’s been a back-of-the-rotation starter this year for Texas, while Olt fought through an odd eye problem to resume his power-hitting, strikeout-prone career in the PCL. Olt was a gem of the Rangers system, but that elevated K rate and some statistical stagnation (which may have been caused or exacerbated by that bout of double-vision) cause his stock to fall a bit. CJ Edwards opened eyes in 2012, blasting through Spokane of the NWL with 60Ks in 47 IP. The unheralded righty out of a South Carolina HS was drafted in the *48th* round, but he’s followed that up with an even better 2013. In 18 starts for Hickory, he’s got an ERA under 2 and 122 Ks to 34 BBs in just 93 1/3IP. This is what I’m talking about when I say that I’m basically in awe of the Rangers player development machine. Garza figures to add just shy of 1 win over the rest of the season; not a massive upgrade over Grimm, but an important one for a Ranger club that’s trying to overtake Oakland for the division lead. And as valuable as Olt was, he’s scuffling this season and has no real place to play in Texas with Adrian Beltre at 3B and a rotation of Mitch Moreland, Jeff Baker and maybe Lance Berkman at 1B.