Game 126, Mariners at Athletics
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. AJ Griffin, 12:35pm
It’s refreshing to be reminded that other bullpens implode from time to time as well, and that the M’s are at least capable of being on the other side of someone’s painful late inning loss. It’s bittersweet to be reminded that while high-leverage relievers are always one outing away from serious decline, random waiver-wire or trade fill-ins are one outing away from becoming high-leverage relievers. Danny Farquhar looks amazing, and while sure, Tom Wilhelmsen looked amazing and Carter Capps looked amazing, the M’s are going with the amazing du jour. Oliver Perez was seen as a great lefty-killer for a contending team a month ago. He’s given up 13 runs in his last 6 1/3 innings. Maybe you’re only allowed one weird come-back/out-of-nowhere story at any one time.
AJ Griffin is an empty vessel in which debates about sabermetrics and pitching can play out. Let’s all take the AJ Griffin analysis quiz!
1: AJ Griffin is a right-hander who pitches off an 89mph four-seam fastball, a slow curve and a change-up around 81. If you think this sounds like someone who coached you in high school or the purported repertoire of 225 drunk guys in the bar who swore they were “this close,” then you’re probably a fan of pure stuff. Don’t talk to me about BABIP, tell me if he can blow fastballs by big league hitters. Sure, things look bad right now, but if you needed to close out a game 7, are you sure you’d take this 13th rounder over Carter Capps? Plenty of guys can post superficially decent numbers here and there if everything goes right. The Twins have one or two every year that turns into a pumpkin the next. Nick Blackburn, Scott Diamond, Scott Baker, etc. are all crappy now, and Francisco Liriano’s perhaps the most important signing of the off-season. Gee, I wonder who could’ve predicted something like that? It’s like batters not being able to hit a pitcher’s offerings are important or something.
2: AJ Griffin is an extreme, EXTREME, fly-ball pitcher. He’s given up a lot of home runs, but 20 of his 28 this season have been solo shots, and the upside of this batted ball profile is a very low BABIP. Not only are fly balls more likely to turn into outs (well, the ones that don’t become souvenirs), pitchers like this generally get more infield pop-ups, which are essentially as good as strikeouts. If low walks, “weak” contact (except when it’s not weak at all) and low BABIP sounds pretty good to you, you probably loved Barry Zito and thought Ryan Franklin never got a fair shake around here. You’re a BABIP fan, and just know that he’ll continue to post ERAs lower than his FIP, confounding all of the…
3: …FIP fans. He throws 89mph and gets ~30% ground balls. The counterargument seems to center on his ability to choose WHEN to give up his dozens and dozens of dingers, which, I mean, if he could CHOOSE, why wouldn’t he throw his allocation of meatballs in pregame warm-ups? There’s a reason FIP is a better predictor of next year’s ERA, and while there are reasons everyone else claims that this time, thisguy’s “different,” it hardly ever works out that way. Pop-ups are great, but Griffin’s aren’t extreme enough to overcome the innate disadvantage of throwing 89mph fastballs up in the zone. Griffin is some sequencing luck (and a better curveball, to be fair) from Blake Beavan. Remember how people used to say that Beavan’s 2011 was “real” (quality starts! Look at the quality starts!) because he just knew how to pitch to the score, or knew when to challenge, or whatever cliches otherwise-intelligent fans cling to when they’re pleading the case for an exception to a well-known rule?
4: AJ Griffin knows his home park, and the A’s knew how to wring value out of someone with his skillset. He’s striking out 7 per 9 for his 240-inning career, so this stuff about how he throws 89mph fastballs and hopes they’re hit 250 feet instead of 450 feet is a bit much – he can miss bats, and he can spot his fastball. He has essentially no platoon splits, and strikes out lefties and righties at ~ equal rates. Yes, he’s given up more HRs on the road, but batters are getting on base against him at a .277 clip on the road. The batted ball profile is a choice, not some sort of fatal flaw. He *chooses* to pitch up in the zone, and most batters have a hard time with that. It’s a way for his stuff to punch above its weight class, and instead of being derided for that, we should acknowledge it for what it is: smart pitching. The cookie-cutter approach “get grounders, keep it down” works well for a lot of people, but have you considered the prospect that it wouldn’t work for someone with Griffin’s stuff? Would an 89mph fastball at the knees be less likely to get hit out than an 89mph fastball above the hands, just out of the zone? If the preceding has you nodding your head, you’re an A’s fan. Er, a “pitchability” fan.
5: AJ Griffin was 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 2012. This season, he’s 10-8 with a 3.76 ERA. We don’t have the entire picture yet, despite what the stat-heads might tell you. But we’re getting there; the picture that’s emerging is that Griffin’s a more than solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, with an ERA under 4, and whose big body can withstand the grind of a big league season. He’s not flashy, he’s not an ace, but he’s *good*. He’ll give up home runs, but so did Bert Blyleven. Ervin Santana’s a guy who used a different approach to get to the same basic results for the Angels for years, then they let him walk when his HRs spiked. This year for KC, his ERA’s back under 4, and he’s been a great pick-up. Forget HOW the runs scored, just count the runs that scored. Except the unearned ones, because they’re gross. Does this sound like what you start thinking when you peruse Griffin’s stats? OK, you’re…uh, I’m not exactly sure how you found this website. Here you go.
(I’m actually a weird combination of 1,3 and 4. Yes, 2 and 4 are eerily similar.)
1: Miller, 2B
2: Saunders, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Morse, RF
7: Ackley, LF
8: Ryan, SS
9: Blanco, C
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma
Sounds like Nick Franklin will mis 5-6 games or so while recovering from a gash in his knee he picked up on a play at the plate. That same, relatively minor, collision resulted in a fractured toe for A’s catcher Derek Norris.
The aforementioned Blake Beavan starts this evening for Tacoma. Taijuan Walker had his best outing in a while last night in front of Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, throwing 5 shutout IP with 3H, 4BB, 6K. The control still isn’t dialed in, but he’s pitching out of jams instead of letting one bad inning ruin his night.
Trevor Miller and Cam Hobson get the starts in Jackson’s doubleheader today. It’ll be Hobson’s AA debut. Hobson’s spot in the High Desert rotation’s taken up by Scott DeCecco, who moves up from Clinton to start tonight in Adelanto.
Zduriencik may have received a one-year extension, apparently signed before the season. No one’s commenting, and of course a contract extension doesn’t necessarily mean the M’s will keep him, but that’s…something.