Game 103, Twins at Mariners
King Felix vs. Scott Diamond, 7:10pm
Happy Felix Day! The King returns to bask in the adoration of his subjects, and his royal will (and the savvy importing of a new middle infield) has his Mariners playing legitimately good baseball. No longer do we have to marvel at Felix, then suffer through painful half-innings of Brendan Ryan popping up, basically every catcher ever striking out, and Franklin Gutierrez grimacing and holding something. I’d say “I could get used to this,” but to this point, I haven’t. Jeff mentioned it on twitter, and I have to concur: feeling happy about the Mariners, not Felix, but the entirety of the team, feels alien and at some level uncomfortable. I’m getting there, because this team is suddenly fun to watch, but….years and years of conditioning don’t just drop away because Brad Miller hit some doubles.
Yesterday I mentioned that while Scott Diamond was a righty, he wasn’t a perfect match-up in the vein of Bud Norris, a guy with huge platoon splits against lefties. In Scott Diamond, the M’s have a sneaky good match-up. Diamond is a lefty, who throws a fastball and a curve, with the occasional change he’ll throw to the single batter in the line-up who bats righty. The FB’s right at about 90mph, but his curve’s something of an oddity, as it’s thrown at 82. Indeed, everything about Diamond’s curve looks off – it’s thrown at a velocity that’d be about two standard deviations from the 2010 average. In large part because of this, its vertical movement is similarly unusual, and it exhibits virtually no horizontal movement at all, especially when compared to his four-seam fastball. By pitch fx, it doesn’t look like a curve ball at all. Does the novelty trouble batters? No, not particularly. In his brief career, he’s given up 12 HRs on it and batters are slugging .412 – on a pitch that he uses primarily when he’s ahead or has two strikes.
More than an oddly ineffective curveball, Diamond’s biggest problem has been an inability to get lefty hitters out. With a straight fastball and a curve that doesn’t, er, *curve*, he doesn’t really have a weapon that breaks away from them, like a slider or, you know, a normal curve ball. The results aren’t pretty: again, the “career” sample is tiny, but lefties are hitting .311/.356/.538 against him. This season, they’re slugging .646. This is not a good match-up for Mr. Diamond. Especially with a sample this small, we should regress these observed splits, and given his short career, that ameliorates these huge gaps. But given his arsenal and the way he uses it, I think Diamond’s always going to have problems against lefties. OPS over 1.000? Slugging .650? No, but problems nonetheless. Sadly, the M’s may not have been aware, and stacked the line-up with as many RHBs as possible. This isn’t the end of the world, as Diamond isn’t great against anyone, and regressed splits, etc. etc. but that still doesn’t address the drop off in batting ability between Brad Miller and Brendan Ryan.
I mentioned that Kevin Correia was the walking embodiment of the Twins’ pitching philosophy, but Diamond isn’t far off. Correia has the advantage of being someone the Twins signed to a multi-year free agent contract, which illustrates just how committed the Twins are. Diamond was picked up in the Rule 5 draft out of the Atlanta organization. The Canadian lefty opened some eyes last year with an ERA and a FIP under 4 for a last-place Twins team, but looking at his entire career, it’s looking a lot like an outlier. Diamond gets a good number of ground balls by relentlessly targeting the bottom of the strike zone. His fastball’s movement shouldn’t produce grounders, but his location makes up for this. Grounders plus essentially no walks is a good starting point for a pitcher, but it’s just a starting point – Diamond hasn’t yet developed an out pitch to help him get strikeouts, and he doesn’t need to miss his location by much for batters to start driving balls. 2012 was a career best (including the minors) for Diamond’s walk rate, and he also generated more GBs than you’d expect given his minor league rates. His HR/FB ratio was normal, but few walks and few fly balls of any kind made his overall stats look pretty good.
In 2013, his walk rate’s crept up a bit while his K% is down in Blake Beavanland. A drop in GB% AND K% means he’s giving up more fly balls, and an uptick in HR/FB really isn’t necessary, and is just sort of piling on. Add it up, and he’s been below replacement level by both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs. No Ks and a lot of HRs has Blake Beavan pitching for Tacoma, but the Twins keep running Diamond out there, as their other option is Liam Hendriks – essentially the same guy, just without the ground balls (who’s not exactly tearing up AAA right now). This should’ve been as good a match-up, on paper, as the Mariners would see this season, and the M’s have played the Astros 12 times. Unfortunately, this is a standard platoon split line-up which helps Diamond greatly. Well, that and Mike Zunino’s injury (see below).
1: Bay, RF
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Ryan, SS
9: Blanco, C
SP: King Felix
The big story of the day is that Mike Zunino’s been placed on the 15-day DL with a broken hamate bone. He was hit on a foul ball last night in the same spot he was hit a few games ago. Not sure if he had a small fracture and played through it or if the two knocks were just a coincidence. Ryan Divish has a post about the injury here. The M’s appear to have signed Humberto Quintero, who was DFA’d by Philadelphia two days ago, to take Zunino’s spot on the active roster. Helpfully, there’s an open 40-man spot available. If Jesus Sucre, Brandon Bantz and Humberto Quintero all play C for the M’s in a single year…I wish I had a clever punchline for something so improbable. Gotta sting for Jason Jaramillo, though. He was already in the org and three years younger, but Quintero’s considerable edge in big league experience was probably the difference-maker. (Hat tip to Ryan Divish for the Quintero news)
I missed yesterday’s satisfying win over Minnesota, as I went to see the Rainiers. They were green uniforms for a Sounders promotion, and perhaps we can blame the unfamiliar duds for Taijuan Walker’s subpar performance. He gave up 5R in 5IP, walking 3 while striking out 8. He struggled, particularly in a terrible 4th inning in which he gave up 4 runs, but it was encouraging all the same. He was nearly unhittable through three, mixing his excellent mid-90s FB with a very occasional curve and occasional cutter. The problem was FB command, and it showed up early, but he just had too much talent for it to matter the first time through. He went to three-ball counts on 3 of the first 6 hitters, and while none of them walked, it was running his pitch count up *and* getting him a little miffed at the home plate umpire. From my vantage point (not directly behind HP; parallax alert) the calls looked OK. It was a small zone, but I don’t think he was straight up blowing calls the way the ump in his first AAA start was. Still, if the zone was a tiny bit bigger, the game may have turned out quite differently. In the 4th, batters seeing him for the second time laid off early FBs and either knocked sharp singles when ahead in the count or waited for the curve and hit line drives on that. Not sure if the sequencing was too obvious or if he had a “tell” in his delivery, but several Tucson batters looked like they knew when a curve was coming. The first batter to do anything off of Walker was ex-Rainier Mike Wilson, who blasted a HR on a curve ball for the Padres first hit. The Rainiers stuck around thanks to Rich Poythress and Jason Jaramillo and won the game in the 10th on Poythress’ walk-off HR, his second HR of the game.
I just couldn’t stop myself from rechecking my camera and blinking deliberately every few minutes. Taijuan Walker is wearing green, and Mike Wilson is wearing grey. Up is left, down is itchy, dogs and prawns tweeting together. Surreal.
The M’s gave Michael Morse the start in RF for Tacoma, and had him play 9 innings for the first time on his rehab (Carlos Peguero replaced him for extras). Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great night at the plate for Morse. Tucson lefty Robbie Erlin has a good change and hides the ball a little bit by pivoting over his front foot, which comes down on the 1b side of the center line. For whatever reason, Morse obviously wasn’t seeing the ball at all, and he struck out swinging all three times he faced Erlin. In his first two PAs, he whiffed six times – three swinging strikes per K. He mixed in a foul ball the third time, however. Somewhat oddly, those were the only three strikeouts Erlin had in the game.
Blake Beavan pitches for the Rainiers tonight as they open a series in Reno. He’ll face Brandon McCarthy, who’s rehabbing with the Aces before rejoining the D-Backs. Anthony Vasquez leads Jackson against Chattanooga, and Tyler Pike starts for Clinton against ex-affiliate Wisconsin.