Morse Returns, Bay Goes Away

July 29, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

As expected, the Mariners activated Michael Morse from the DL today, and he’ll join the team in Boston for the series with the Red Sox. To make room for him on the roster, Jason Bay was designated for assignment.

This wasn’t too terribly hard to see coming. Bay was moderately decent for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, but has been awful the last few weeks, and had basically played himself out of the OF rotation. It was pretty telling that Endy Chavez pinch hit for him last week. Endy Chavez. When a washed up speed-and-defense center fielder pinch hits for you, you’re done.

Bay’s final line as a Mariner: .204/.298/.393, .305 wOBA, 92 wRC+, -0.2 WAR. He was basically a replacement level scrub, which is what all the pre-season forecasts projected him to be before the season began. Despite all the talk about his health and his career resurgence and his good spring training, Jason Bay was the 34-year-old version of Jason Bay.

It will be interesting to see how much time Morse gets in the outfield. You’d hope that Ackley and Saunders will be given the final two months of the season to make an impression and play themselves into the 2014 plans, which would only leave one spot and some extra time for Ibanez and Morse to share. But, even with Ibanez’s recent regression to planet earth, it’s still hard for me to imagine that he’s going to get relegated back to a reserve role. And, given how enamored the organization is with Morse’s skillset, it’s hard for me to imagine Morse not being in the line-up when he’s healthy.

So, don’t be too shocked if Ackley and Saunders end up sharing time in center field sooner than later, especially if Ackley keeps not hitting. The Mariners aren’t in a playoff race, but they’re clearly still prioritizing the present over the future, and Dustin Ackley isn’t a very good player right now, given that he’s still learning to play the outfield. With his lack of power and minus defense, he’s hurting the team, and if the Mariners are committed to this finish-at-.500-so-we-can-say-I-told-you-so plan, Ackley’s not going to stay in the line-up if he’s not producing.

In the grand scheme of things, though, none of this really matters that much. Ackley’s likely trade bait at some point, as he’s more valuable at second base than he is in the outfield, and Saunders looks more like a fourth outfielder than a starter on a winning team. Ibanez and Morse aren’t part of any future here. Endy Chavez shouldn’t even be part of the present. The Mariners need an entirely new outfield next year, so rearranging the ones they have now isn’t likely to have a huge long term impact.

Game 105, Twins at Mariners

July 28, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 43 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Kyle Gibson, 1:10 pm

Sorry about yesterday’s unannounced day off – glad it worked out on a game that 1) wasn’t televised and 2) featured one of the worst offensive performances of the year. Kind of felt like a lot of took yesterday off.

The M’s look to get a split in the series with Erasmo Ramirez facing off against the Twins’ top pitching prospect coming into 2013, Kyle Gibson. Gibson’s a projectable 6’6″ righty with a hard sinker thrown at around 93-94mph. He pairs this with a slider at 85-86 and a change-up vs. lefties that comes in at the same speed as the slider. Coming up through the minors, the college-trained Gibson (U. of Missouri) posted only so-so strikeout rates and RAs, giving rise to some concerns that he couldn’t miss bats at higher levels despite above-average velocity and command of two other pitches. Beyond the raw stats, he had a string of serious arm injuries as well – a stress fracture during college and then Tommy John surgery in 2011. He returned near the end of the 2012 season, and then played in the Arizona Fall League (for the same team as the M’s prospects James Paxton and Nick Franklin). Any concern that he’d left a few MPH on the operating table were quickly erased, as he came out throwing FBs by some good hitters and getting tons of grounders. He carried that impressive stint into 2013 as well, posting a better FIP in AAA than he had in AA.

It’s probably not a big surprise that a sinker/slider pitcher in the Twins organization is not going to be challenging any strikeout records. When he’s on, he uses the sinker to get grounders, though he can get plenty of strikeouts to righties with his slider. The problem is that his change isn’t really a swing-and-miss pitch, and the sinker’s got larger platoon splits than a four-seam fastball. Thus far, he’s given up 8 free passes to lefties against just 3 strikeouts (negligble sample size alert). In the minors, he had similar issues, with a K rate far, far greater against righties. His overall splits don’t look all that extreme, however, because of either an odd fluke or a problem with hanging sliders: Since 2011, at all levels, he’s given up 18 home runs to right-handed batters against just 2 to lefties. Again, he can’t strike lefties out, and he has no problem getting righties to swing and miss, but when they DO make contact, righties have occasionally hit it a long way. Again, this is a small sample including minor league data, so it’s not like Gibson is conclusively “good” at limiting HRs to lefties, but it’s an interesting/counterintuitive stat.

Erasmo Ramirez was better in his last start against Cleveland, but he’s still not back to his 2012 form. The biggest culprit thus far has been his change-up, a pitch that looked dominant at times in 2012 and has looked like a work-in-progress this season. In 2012, he gave up one HR on his change in 187 pitches, and batters missed on nearly 50% of their swings on the pitch. They still miss quite a few (~40% of swings), but batters have hit two HRs out of 55 HRs, and he’s missed the zone more frequently (from 33% balls in 2012 to 51% this year). I think we all assumed *some* amount of regression from a pitch that looked like a cheat code last year, but I bet his struggles this year have a lot to do with his injuries and the time off he spent waiting for the all-clear on his elbow. I’m hoping we see the healthy, effective version of Erasmo in September.

1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Ibanez, DH
6: Saunders, LF
7: Chavez, RF
8: Ackley, CF
9: Blanco, C
SP: Erasmo Ramirez

I’m guessing Erasmo Ramirez knows that fellow Nicaraguan pitcher Dennis Martinez pitched a perfect game on this date in 1991. El Presidente’s Expos beat the Dodgers 2-0 at Chavez Ravine.

James Paxton continued his fine run of form last night, but took the hard-luck loss as Tacoma lost to Reno, 1-0. It was Paxton’s second CG of the year. Paxton’s looked lost for most of the year, combining wildness with a lack of stamina, but he certainly seems to have figured something out. He’s averaged 7IP in July, and has 27Ks to just 6 BBs in the month.

Brandon Maurer was recalled in exchange for Hector Noesi. Maurer’s struggled in AAA, but Hector Noesi’s struggled more, so…

Today’s MiLB starters include Victor Sanchez for Clinton, Eddie Campbell for Pulaski, and Andrew Carraway for Tacoma.

An Interview With The Hamate Bone

July 26, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Interviewer: Hello, please sit down.
Hamate bone: sup douche
Interviewer: Thank you for taking a few minutes.
Hamate bone: thank you for not being even more of a douche
Interviewer: So, first things first.
Interviewer: What is it, exactly, that you…
Interviewer: …do?
Hamate bone: break
Interviewer: Pardon?
Hamate bone: break
Hamate bone: we break
Interviewer: Is there anything else? Any function?
Hamate bone: naw
Hamate bone: breakin
Interviewer: Why?
Interviewer: I mean, what’s the point?
Hamate bone: one of us breaks, hitter don’t hit
Interviewer: Right, exactly. Players get hurt.
Hamate bone: hurt players aren’t players
Interviewer: So you break on purpose? To injure hitters?
Hamate bone: thank you for joining us
Interviewer: Why on earth…?
Hamate bone: hate baseball
Interviewer: Hate baseball?
Hamate bone: we hate baseball
Interviewer: And this is how you make your statement?
Hamate bone: not enough people playing jacks
Hamate bone:
But in surgery, you just get removed.
Hamate bone: yes
Interviewer: And there are only two of you, per player.
Hamate bone: yes
Interviewer: You break, and then you’re usually just gone.
Interviewer: Forever.
Hamate bone: yes
Interviewer: And somehow this is worth it?
Hamate bone: martyrdom dude
Interviewer: What’s your cause?
Hamate bone: kill baseball
Interviewer: You understand that is literally impossible for you to accomplish.
Hamate bone: jacks!!
Interviewer: All you are is an annoyance.
Hamate bone: we’re all dedicated
Interviewer: You get removed. You disappear.
Hamate bone: you can take us out, but you can’t break out spirit
Interviewer: You know, you guys really suck.
Hamate bone: mission accomplished
Interviewer: Mission not accomplished! There’s still baseball!
Interviewer: There’s always still baseball! You’re powerless!
Hamate bone: you have a favorite hitter?
Interviewer: Yes, of course.
Hamate bone: he still got hamate bones?
Interviewer: As far as I know.
Hamate bone: huh
Door: /knock
Door: /opens
Ulnar collateral ligament: sup douche
Hamate bone: wrong room
Ulnar collateral ligament: oh sorry

Game 103, Twins at Mariners

July 26, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 95 Comments 

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.

Game 102, Twins at Mariners

July 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 90 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Kevin Correia, 7:10pm

The Twins look terrible right now, and it’s hard to imagine that it was just a few years ago that they won 94 games and the AL Central title. Injuries have played a big role in their collapse, but as Matthew points out, so too has their fondness for pitch-to-contact mediocrities in the rotation. Their staff has a combined K/9 from 2011-2013 of 5.92, far and away the lowest in baseball (Baltimore’s #29, at 6.79). Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re near the bottom in pitcher WAR too, and if you restrict it just to starters, they move even closer to the bottom. This is an organizational philosophy, and it’s really hard to find any evidence that it’s working. It’s as if Twins management is standing athwart this long-running trend towards increasing K% yelling, “Stop.”

Kevin Correia is perhaps the walking, breathing, pitching embodiment of this philosophy, a pitch-to-contact journeyman with a 91mph fastball and a cutter he throws more than any other pitch. And he was signed as a free agent this offseason to a two-year, $10m contract, more guaranteed money than Joe Saunders signed for, and a contract that makes him one of the highest paid Twinkies. Correia isn’t terrible (he was an All-Star in 2009! Whether that says more about Correia or the All-Star game says a lot about you), but he’s evidence that it’s not clear that the Twins are saving any money by pursuing this strategy. Sure, the highest paid pitchers – the Verlanders and the Felixes and the Kershaws – miss bats and strike people out. But it’s not clear why they found Correia’s brand of mediocrity more enticing than one of their home-grown pitch-to-contacters, and it’s not clear what the Twins (who lost nearly 100 games in 2012 and didn’t figure to contend in 2013) thought they were getting for their money.

Home runs are still plentiful, so perhaps the Twins have been trying to figure out how to replicate the bizarre HR/FB “skills” of guys like Matt Cain. If so, then Correia wouldn’t seem to fit the bill. He’s been fairly consistent over his career; he gives up slightly more HRs than average, as one would expect for a pitch-to-contact guy without Yoervis Medina’s walk rate. And again, that makes him fairly normal for the twins: Nick Blackburn always had a HR/9 over 1, Kevin Slowey’s HR-mania nearly knocked him out of the big leagues*, etc. Their starters have averaged 1.22 HR/9 since 2011, 3rd most in the majors. I’m a simple guy, so maybe there’s a long-term strategy at play that drive-by analysts like me can’t discern. With that said, I have no idea what the Twins think they’re buying.

Correia’s got essentially even platoon splits in 2013 and over his long-ish career, which is too bad as he faces a lefty-loaded line-up tonight. But those splits are even solely because Correia gives up so many HRs to righties. It’s not like he’s got a great change-up to neutralize lefties, he’s just an equal-opportunity offender. He put his slider on the shelf late in 2010, and since 2011 has thrown over 30% cutters. It’s thrown at around 88-89 mph, and it functions like a fastball in many ways. Initially, the new look may have disrupted some hitters, who may have become used to his more traditional slider. Since then though, hitters have been doing steadily more damage against it. He’ll throw some change-ups as well, and he also has a curve ball. The cutter’s still somewhat effective to lefties, but when you factor in that he throws it when he’s ahead in the count, it begins to look as middle of the road as everything else about Kevin Correia. Righties destroy his cutter, so Mike Zunino is in a pretty good match-up despite the righty-righty aspect of it. Lefties feast on his fastballs, and also walk more often, so while this isn’t quite as good a match-up as, say, Bud Norris, this looks promising for the M’s.

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: Iwakuma

Word on Eric Wedge’s mysterious illness is that he suffered a mild stroke. While the modifier “mild” is somewhat encouraging, that’s a serious issue for a young man (Eric Wedge is just 45). Anything in the brain should be treated cautiously, and while I’m glad the M’s think he’ll be back soon, I’m also glad that he’s going to be on bed rest at home for a while. It’s just the Twins, Wedge – Robby’s got this for a while. Again, best wishes for a complete recovery as soon as possible.

Taijuan Walker leads the Tacoma Rainiers against Tucson tonight at Cheney, while Lars Huijer starts at home for Everett. Good night to check out a ballgame in the Puget Sound region. It’s Sounders night at Cheney, with local boy Lamar Neagle throwing out the first pitch and signing autographs.

* Since Slowey now toils for the Miami Marlins, some may argue that it has.

Mariners Have Chance to Near .500

July 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 
MARINERS (48-53) ΔMs TWINS (43-55) EDGE
HITTING (wOBA*) 16.4 (11th) -0.2 -23.1 (23rd) Mariners
FIELDING (RBBIP) -23.2 (25th) -1.1 -20.7 (24th) Twins
ROTATION (xRA) 8.6 (12th) -1.8 -45.4 (29th) Mariners
BULLPEN (xRA) 0.2 (17th) -1.6 5.3 (11th) Twins
OVERALL (RAA) 1.9 (12th) -4.8 -83.9 (29th) MARINERS

With a four-game set against the quite awful Twins, the Mariners could climb even further toward that break even .500 mark. Even though the playoffs are a miracle away, it’s still enjoyable to have the team winning more than losing and not feeling like every deficit is insurmountable, every opponent a potential powerhouse.

The Twins rotation is terrible. Their highest individual strikeout rate is 14%, which is in the Joe Saunders and Blake Beavan territory. Collectively, their 12% strikeout rate is the lowest in the majors by over three points.

That’s long been the stereotype for Twins pitchers, but before they’d make up for that somewhat by not walking hitters. Now, their walk rate is only middle of the pack, giving them baseball’s worst K to BB ratio among starting rotations.

The Mariners, by contrast, have baseball’s fourth best K to BB ratio among starters.

Read more

Game 101, Indians at Mariners

July 24, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 33 Comments 

Joe Saunders vs. Scott Kazmir, 12:40pm

Early game today as the Indians continue to try to figure out the suddenly invincible M’s. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game turn on a base running error like Drew Stubbs’ last night. They looked certain to tie the game, at minimum, against a struggling Tom Wilhelmsen, but then Stubbs decided to make that kamikaze dash for home.

Today’s game features Scott Kazmir, perhaps the feel good story of the spring, and I suppose the feel-good story of the summer now that Jeremy Bonderman got DFA’d. It’s just stunning to see how much Kazmir looks like, well, “classic” Scott Kazmir. His release point’s the same, the pitch mix is essentially the same (though he’s got a new curve), and his velocity’s better than it was in 2008. He’s striking people out again, and if his walks are a bit high, well, they always used to be back when he was good. On the other hand, the problems he had back in 2008 are still the same problems he has now.

Now, I said the problems he had in *2008*. His problems from 2009-2012 (all filed under the overarching category of “being a terrible pitcher”) were much, much bigger, and he would happily trade garden variety MLB pitching problems for “I’m-really-letting-down-my-fellow-Sugarland-Skeeters” problems. But even when he was an exciting young talent, Kazmir had big platoon splits and an on-again, off-again home run problem that went with those splits. Elite velocity kept things manageable early on, as he gave up 11 HRs to righties in 2005 out of 648 batters faced. His walk rate improved in 2006 and then he put it all together in 2007, maintaining a decent walk rate and HR rate to righties. All told, he held them .334 wOBA/3.42 FIP, which is great for a fastball/slider pitcher facing opposite-handed batsmen. Then 2008 happened. A low BABIP makes the wOBA look OK, but 22 HRs in 500 batters faced pushed his FIP vs. righties over *5*. He’s always been dominant against lefties, so his results hinge on what righties do. So far in 2013, it’s looking like a repeat of 2008. Like Ubaldo Jimenez and last night’s starter, Zach McAllister, Kazmir keeps the ball down and away from same-handed batters, while trying to go up and away to righties. And like them, he’s got very different GB rates to RHB/LHBs. Given his problems, I’m surprised that he’s employing this strategy, but I’m not a pitching coach. To be fair, when he reaches up and away zones, righties have fared poorly. The problem is when he misses his spots and leaves when up and out over the plate; not surprisingly for a guy without top-flight command, Kazmir’s done this rather often.

Righties have 13 HRs in 276 PAs, and a .374 wOBA. Lefties are still hitting like Brendan Ryan against Kazmir, but righties are hitting like Raul and Yadier Molina. You have to figure Kazmir’s circled this game on his calendar as a potential good match-up. He got knocked around by the M’s back on May 20th, but that line-up was heavily right-handed, with Kelly Shoppach, Jesus Montero, Mike Morse, Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino and Jason Bay. Only one of that group suits up today, and if the M’s are much more left-handed now, they are also not irredeemably awful (Andino AND Montero AND Ryan. Ouch). This is not a great match-up for the new-look Mariners, but I would rather watch the new-look Mariners than see if Robert Andino can slap another single off of Kazmir.

1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Bay, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, CF
8: Chavez, LF
9: Blanco, C
SP: Saunders

The M’s are going for their 9th straight win, something they haven’t done since 2003. You may recall they also won 8 in a row in the second half of last season.

Edwin Diaz is the notable pitcher in the system tonight, as he starts for Pulaski in the Appy League against the Princeton Rays.

Ex-top 10 M’s prospect Vinnie Catricala was DFA’d by Oakland today after putting up a .219/.292/.297 in 128 ABs for Midland of the Texas League. Have no idea what happened to the guy who tore through the SL a few years ago, and hope Catricala can get back to that form with someone. Man, that collapse was as thorough as it was quick.

Jack Z mentioned on the radio that he still doesn’t know what happened with M’s skipper Eric Wedge. This is as good a time as any to say that while we’ve all had our issues with Wedge, the pale in significance to a health scare like this. Get well soon, Wedge.

Great stat article from Bill Petti here about when pitchers get strikes called on “Edge” pitches – those on the outer portion of the strike zone. Most interesting, at least to me, was the finding that RHPs get more “Edge” strikes called when facing LHBs. We’ve known about the “left hand strike zone” for a little while, and this is a complimentary but distinct finding. If sabermetrics ruined you, Dustin Ackley, they can also really help you understand why sticking to your own sense of the zone on outside pitches wasn’t working. So, we’ll call it even, right?

What You Knew I Was Going To Write About Mike Zunino

July 24, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

I’ve never seen an episode of The Wire. I’ve never seen five minutes of an episode of The Wire. I have seen one clip, hosted on YouTube, but I didn’t know it was going to be a clip of The Wire when I went there, so in that sense it was an accident. I’m not bragging and I don’t have anything personally against the series. My understanding is that the series is supposed to be fantastic — one of the best series put together in at least the recent history of television. That’s what everybody says. But that’s the problem: that’s what everybody says. The show is too beloved, too popular, too often talked about on the Internet in which I exist. I do intend to watch The Wire someday, but for now I’m already sick of hearing about it, and I’ll watch it when no one’s gushed about it to me for a calendar year. I mean, I ride the tide with Breaking Bad, and I live with it, but the Internet’s been on The Wire like the Internet’s been on bacon and I just don’t care. Shut up and let me learn to care on my own.

So I wouldn’t blame you if you’re already tired of reading about pitch-framing, or pitch-receiving, or whatever you want to call it. Over the years since pitch-framing was really quantified and made public, it’s taken baseball analytics by storm, and the community has turned Jose Molina into a cult hero. People are hyper-aware of framing now, they’re looking for it on every pitch, and people talk about framing like nothing else a catcher has to do matters. At least, like nothing matters as much. Because framing research still has that new-car smell, it’s a popular thing to talk about, and maybe that makes the discussion repetitive and overwhelming.

But, whatever, I’m here to talk about framing, and I’m here with a positive message, that you’re free to accept or ignore. Mike Zunino has been up with the Mariners for a short while, now. It’s too soon to know what to make of his offense, and that part of his game is still being polished. His defense, though, has long been considered his strength, and based on the evidence to date, receiving is one of his skills.

That shouldn’t be surprising, in that Zunino’s always been billed as a plus defender. That should be surprising, because Rob Johnson was supposed to be a good defender too until it turned out he sucked. That should be surprising, because the Mariners haven’t had a decent framer for a while, excepting Jesus Sucre, who was never supposed to be in the plans. For years, the Mariners pitched to a shrunken strike zone. Now, this is a whole new experience.

Let’s look just as last night, for a moment. A good indicator of good framing is when the hitter responds to a call all angry-like. Last night, Zunino was the Mariners’ catcher, and here are some selected screenshots:




Zunino, yesterday, seemed to buy the Mariners some calls. The final pitch of the game was one such call. But, all right, when you’re looking at one game, you can be influenced by any number of variables, most obviously the home-plate umpire. You need to look at a broader range of information. I want to show you something. Using plate-discipline data available at FanGraphs, I’ve been able to come up with a home-brewed receiving metric. It isn’t catcher-specific, but it is team-specific, and it compares actual strikes against expected strikes, based on pitches in the zone and whatnot. A positive number means more strikes than expected, suggesting good catching. A negative number means fewer strikes than expected, suggesting bad catching. Let’s look at where the Mariners have ranked in this statistic, broken down by month:

April: 30th (last)
May: 24th
June: 12th
July: 4th

Zunino arrived in the middle of June. In April, Jesus Montero got 52% of the starts, and the Mariners were dreadful. In May, the playing-time leader was Kelly Shoppach, at 42% of starts. In June, Zunino was the playing-time leader, at 41% of starts. In July, it’s been 83% Zunino and 17% Henry Blanco. As Zunino has played more and more often, the Mariners have pitched to a strike zone more and more generous, or at least more and more fair.

Of course, it isn’t all Zunino. Sucre received well before he got hurt, and Blanco has a strong reputation. In order to focus on Zunino specifically, I called on Matthew, who keeps his own pitch-framing numbers. Matthew generously helped me out. Zunino has caught some thousands of pitches. Matthew calculates his own strike zone, based on what umpires actually call, as opposed to what the rule book dictates. With Zunino, 91% of pitches taken in the zone have been called strikes. The league average is about 86%. With Zunino, also, 7% of pitches taken out of the zone have been called strikes, which is right on the average. It’s not so much that Zunino gets extra calls by the barrelful; it’s that he gets the calls the team deserves, mostly. Compared to an average catcher, Zunino’s averaged better than one more strike per game. That ranks him highly among his peers, albeit below the very best.

A bit of a conversation from last night, after Yoervis Medina and Mike Zunino froze Nick Swisher:

Blowers: …think you give Mike Zunino some credit on that strike, that pitch looked like it was just off the plate, running off the outside corner, but Zunino does a good job of framing it and holding it there on the corner for umpire Adrian Johnson.

Wilson: Yeah, outstanding job to kinda…stick that pitch on the outside corner, fool the umpire a little bit.

So Dan Wilson did that thing he does where he talked without introducing any new information, just repeating the guy who talked before him, but Blowers spotted the receiving and Wilson — a good defensive catcher! — agreed. In that case, Zunino bought the Mariners an iffy strike. More often, he just gets the strikes that probably ought to be strikes, where a lot of catchers give them away near the edges.

Framing is probably one area where we don’t need to worry about age-related decline or sudden other changes. How you catch is how you catch, and though Zunino isn’t flawless and entirely motionless, the results are the results and he looks more good than bad to the eye. He keeps his body quiet and there’s hardly anything in the way of pointless motion. Because it’s only been a handful of weeks we will, of course, need to look at this information again down the road, but I feel good about this. To the eye, Zunino knows how to catch, and by the numbers, that statement is supported.

And oh, by the way, Zunino’s shown a better hitting approach in July than he did in June, not that those samples can really tell you much. He’s dropped his swing rate from 53% to 45%, and he’s gone from two walks and 11 strikeouts to seven walks and 15 strikeouts. That’s a positive step, but it might be nothing, and we’ve known for a while that Zunino’s hitting is a work in progress. What he is now, he shouldn’t be later on. At the plate, Mike Zunino is still learning, and he should be a better hitter a year from now.

Behind the plate? Zunino’s still learning about the majors and about a major-league pitching staff, but he seems to do most everything right. I liked Jesus Sucre simply because he was defensively capable. Mike Zunino is defensively capable, but he’s also an actual prospect with overall upside. This one should be a good one, and already, he’s a good one in a way in which the Mariners haven’t been good for a while.

Seattle Mariners Trade Deadline Preview

July 23, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

The Seattle Mariners haven’t lost for a while, and if they keep that up, they’re certain to make the 2013 MLB playoffs. Partially as a consequence of the team’s recent success, the front office has gone on record as saying it’s not really that interested in selling pieces off. But there are people who want to see moves, specifically because the Mariners probably won’t keep not losing for the next couple of months. The Mariners’ MLB playoffs odds are all but equivalent to the Mariners’ NHL playoffs odds; though they are equal in the standings to the Angels, which would’ve been exciting to know in March, the twist is that it’s the Angels who’re bad more than it’s the Mariners who’re good, and bad teams who aren’t going to the playoffs are supposed to sell present value for future value. That’s what we think we know — that’s what we think we understand.

Okay, so the Mariners aren’t bad. But the Mariners might not sell. And that might frustrate you, as a fan who likes transactions. But when you examine the Mariners’ roster, it would make sense for them to more or less stand pat. They don’t actually have all that much flexibility. We begin!

Aaron Harang
In April, the Mariners got Harang from the Rockies for Steven Hensley. Right before that, the Rockies got Harang from the Dodgers for Ramon Hernandez. Both times, Harang was packaged with cash, albeit not literally. As a Mariner, Harang has posted interesting peripherals, but also an ERA over 5. The Mariners might be able to dump him if that’s something they wanted to do, but there’s no value that would be coming back.

Hisashi Iwakuma
Hypothetically, this would be the Mariners’ big piece, as Iwakuma would have a lot of trade value were he put on the market. Over the past calendar year, among 135 starters with at least 100 innings, Iwakuma ranks 6th in park-adjusted ERA, 47th in park-adjusted FIP, and 16th in park-adjusted xFIP. He’s really quite good, even if he has a bit of a dinger problem. But the Mariners have expressed zero interest in moving him, as they like him, and he likes it here, and Iwakuma is a bargain potentially under contract through 2015. He’s in line to provide the Mariners with a lot of excess value, and while maybe they could get more value from moving him, it’s basically a coin flip and I’d be more than happy to keep him around. If the Mariners aren’t far away from being all right, then Iwakuma could be a part of a potential playoff contender.

Oliver Perez
Here’s a good piece I think the Mariners could and will move, because not only is Perez a left-handed reliever who’s a free agent to be, but he’s also been effective against righties, which is a rare and desirable quality. And the Mariners already have Charlie Furbush, and Lucas Luetge if you care about Lucas Luetge. Brian Moran has posted absurd numbers with Tacoma. Perez is desirable and expendable, and he should get dealt, but he’s also a non-closer reliever and as a return you’re talking about a second- or third-tier prospect. Last year, Edward Mujica got Zack Cox, and Mujica had another year of control. Jonathan Broxton got minor-league relievers. Craig Breslow got Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik.

Joe Saunders
Joe Saunders is basically Joe Saunders, as much as he’s ever been. He got traded last August, for Matt Lindstrom and money. To that point, he’d been a decent starter for the Diamondbacks. To this point, he’s been a decent starter for the Mariners. Saunders could easily be moved to someone looking for a back-of-the-rotation starter, but all the Mariners would really get out of that is a little extra money, or a half-interesting prospect we convince ourselves at the time is more interesting than he actually is.

Kendrys Morales
Here’s an interesting one, because Morales is reliable and good and set to be a free agent. But a National League team probably wouldn’t trust him to play first base all the time, making him mostly desirable to AL teams. And right now there are eight contending AL teams. The Red Sox don’t make sense, the Rangers don’t make sense, the Tigers don’t make sense, the A’s don’t make sense, and the Rays probably don’t make sense. That would leave maybe the Orioles, maybe the Yankees, and maybe the Indians. But the Orioles are said to be tapped out of money, and the Indians are sort of shuffling between Jason Giambi, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Swisher. The Yankees would be an obvious fit, but here’s the other point: what if the Mariners want Morales back? They could try to trade him for value, sure. Or they could keep him and extend a qualifying offer. If he accepts it, that’s a good player on a one-year contract. If he doesn’t, he’ll have a depressed market, and maybe the Mariners could re-sign him for a couple years. Sure, you could say that blocks Jesus Montero, but, oh no. Worry about that when Montero doesn’t suck. Morales has been solid this year, especially so if you consider that he played through a hurt back in parts of June, when he was ineffective.

Brendan Ryan
It would be great if the Mariners were dangling a starting shortstop around deadline time. Unfortunately what they might be dangling is Brendan Ryan. All Ryan’s fetching is a low-level nothing and a sigh.

Jason Bay
Jason Bay is still around! And his overall numbers show something! He’s a bench player, though, who’s batted just 38 times since the middle of June, and as much as he might attract some attention as a leader and as a quality teammate, people don’t pay out the nose for these guys, so there’s little incentive for the Mariners to dump Bay just because. Of course, he could get forced out in a roster crunch.

Endy Chavez
The Mariners signed Chavez for pennies in March. He’s subsequently posted a negative WAR.

Franklin Gutierrez
Maybe an August trade, maybe if Gutierrez comes back and actually plays some. I could see him as a high-upside gamble for a bench behind a questionable starter or two. But all you get for Gutierrez is salary relief. Nobody’s going to trust him. Franklin Gutierrez probably doesn’t trust him. Teams want to acquire certainty this time of year, not fliers.

Raul Ibanez
Another guy who’d fit with the Yankees in some capacity, but Ibanez, like Morales, is basically a DH, and despite the numbers he’s 41 years old and this has been one big ol surprise. Plenty of teams would love to have Ibanez on the bench, but no one’s going to cough up much value for a bench bat, and there just aren’t really teams that would see Ibanez as a starter. Throw in the fact that the Mariners aren’t motivated to trade Ibanez and that Ibanez isn’t motivated to leave, and this doesn’t look like a developing story. So the Mariners might get nothing in return for Ibanez, instead of a lower-tier prospect or two. They’ll hope that Ibanez’s continuing influence is of greater value than the lower-tier prospect(s). It’s not really a missed opportunity if it isn’t an opportunity for much.

Michael Morse
Morse hasn’t started since June 19, and he’s only now beginning a rehab assignment. He’s a DH facing the same issues as Ibanez and Morales, in terms of market, and while Morse had that enormous first go with the Mariners, he’s posted a .692 OPS since April 16. He’s a guy who’s been hurt and relatively ineffective and even before getting hurt he wasn’t a capable defender at any position. The Mariners sold Morse as a big splash when they got him, and that’s what they were hoping he was going to be, but there’s no second big splash. The Mariners could probably move Morse if they wanted, but not only might they not want to — there’s not much they could get. Teams love dingers and personality, but they also love durability and defense. Morse is no one’s idea of a season solution.

There are moves that the Mariners could make, and I expect that some will be made. But the big ones? I don’t see the big ones panning out, either because I don’t think the Mariners would do them, or because I don’t think the return would be substantial. The Mariners aren’t sitting on a potential prospect haul. If they have a pretty underwhelming deadline, it’s not because they missed a chance. It’s because, whatever. What the team has been, it’s probably mostly going to be.

Game 100, Indians at Mariners

July 23, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 65 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Zach McAllister, 7:10pm

Wooo, 100 games! Through 99 games last year, the M’s were 43-56. Through 99 games in 2011, the M’s were 43-56. In 2010, they were 39-60. It’s been rough in recent years, and the play of Brad Miller/Nick Franklin and the incremental improvement to today’s 47-52 mark is welcome. The M’s recent hot streak has seen them retake 3rd place from the Angels, and while that’s a somewhat meaningless consolation prize, I suppose we’ll take it. There have been no prizes in recent years, with the exception of every day of Felix Hernandez’s existence.

Erasmo Ramirez gets a second chance to lay claim to a rotation spot today. His first start wasn’t good, as he was wild and largely pitched without his change-up…the pitch that got him to the big leagues and that he used to great effect after joining the rotation in 2012. Only ten of his 100 pitches against Boston were cambios; he used it on over 22% of his 2012 pitches. Could’ve been a one-game fluke, but it was a pattern I noticed in his last start in AAA Tacoma, immediately prior to his start against the Red Sox. I’m not sure if he’s having trouble getting a feel for the pitch after his injury layoff, or if he’s not commanding it, or what. After that game in Tacoma, I speculated that Seattle may have asked him to throw more curves/sliders, but that obviously wasn’t it. In any event, that’s a pitch he’s going to need if he wants to get back to where he was down the stretch in 2012. His command is obviously critical as well – the Red Sox (a good hitting team, of course) didn’t chase pitches and forced Ramirez into bad counts (last year, 38% of his pitches came when he was ahead in the count compared to just 28% the other day).

I feel like I’ve talked more about Zach McAllister in these game previews than just about any other pitcher, with the exception of Jerome Williams. If you’ll remember from last year, McAllister garnered some attention by posting an almost absurd gap between his ERA (4.24) and his RA (5.60). His ERA and FIP were dead on, but McAllister allowed a ton of unearned runs. You can argue that this wasn’t his fault, but he’s now pitched 208 MLB innings, or about a full season. And in that time, he’s allowed 29 unearned runs. 29! CJ Wilson’s another guy who racks up unearned runs, but not even CJ can match McAllister’s pace. Ok, ok, this has nothing to do with the game, or his performance against the M’s, but for reasons I don’t really understand, I find this fascinating.

McAllister’s a fastball/slider/change pitcher who throws his four-seam around 70% of the time. In that respect, he reminds me a little of Doug Fister, who came up throwing nothing but fastballs and gradually morphed into a (very good) pitcher with command of several breaking balls.* He throws his FB about 92, and has fairly normal movement for a guy with a 3/4 delivery. Somewhat unusually, he uses it differently to righties and lefties. Against right-handed bats, he’s strictly by the book: he likes to keep the pitch down and away, though he throws middle-away too (perhaps because his command isn’t exactly pinpoint). But against lefties, he keeps the fastball UP and away, not down. As a result, his batted-ball profile changes a bit. Righties hit a few grounders, lefties almost none. It’s a somewhat unusual pattern, but something his teammate Ubaldo Jimenez has employed this year as well. Both of them have GB% that are lower vs. lefties than against righties. As of yet, it hasn’t really hurt him – that is, he hasn’t yielded a flurry of HRs to lefties, and his fastball’s appears to be one reason why. When the batter’s ahead, they are essentially guaranteed to see a four-seam FB. Despite this AND the platoon advantage, lefties haven’t annihilated his fastball. His change isn’t used enough to say much, but in the tiny sample, lefties haven’t had much of a problem driving it. It’s the FB that they’re only so-so against. That’s going to be interesting to watch tonight, as the M’s lefty-dominant line-up will see quite a few fastballs. And after years of being historically futile against FBs, the M’s are suddenly 2nd in MLB in pitch type run value against them.**

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: Erasmooooo

In the minors tonight, Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Jackson, who would just like to play a $#@%ing baseball game one of these days. Steven Ewing starts for Everett who play host to Tri-Cities. Tacoma played this morning, with Andrew Carraway starting against Tucson. Perhaps inspired by Erik Bedard’s bizarre outing against the M’s, the command artist walked five in five innings but didn’t give up a hit. He left with a 4-0 lead, and before the quips about his “guts” or pain tolerance, he’s just back from injury. Unfortunately, the bullpen allowed six runs to score in the sixth, and the R’s are currently behind. Josh Kinney did most of the damage, though the just-demoted Bobby LaFromboise let all three inherited runners score, then gave up a HR in the following inning. Ouch.

Today’s rehabbers include Mike Morse, who knocked a double vs. Tucson, and Franklin Gutierrez, who’s 0-3 as the DH today.

* And, I’d guess that part of Fister’s fastball-reliance was due to pitching coach Rick Adair’s belief in establishing/commanding the FB.
** Yes, I’ve been wary of using pitch type run values in the past, but at a team level I think it could be relevant.

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