Game 127, Angels at Mariners
King Felix vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm
Happy Felix Day. In isolation, it’s a great day to be an M’s fan. The team’s returning home from a tough road trip (to Tampa, Texas and Oakland) with a 5-4 record, they give the ball to their ace today, and they welcome Eric Wedge back to the dugout. Danny Farquhar’s looking like an excellent late-inning reliever, the team’s battling at the plate, and they come in with a better record than the Angels. M’s fans are good – maybe TOO good – at selective end-pointing, or excising chunks of the season from their mental record, but who am I to tell you how to be a fan? The M’s are at least as good as the Angels, that team that most experts thought would be playing in October. The M’s get two Felix starts on this brief homestand.
As I’ve mentioned probably too many times before, Garrett Richards really ought to be better than his stats indicate that he is. The righty throws a 96mph four-seamer, along with a 96mph sinker, as well as a sharp 87mph slider. He’s got the occasional change and curve, though these don’t figure much in his arsenal. He’s not a command guy, but….two 96mph fastballs. An above average o-swing rate. Decent HR rates. This year, just to collect pretty much the entire saber-fanboy set, he’s running an extremely high ground ball rate. Finally, years after it seemed he was a shoo-in for the 5th rotation spot, is he finally a decent MLB pitcher?
I can give only that most common answer of the saber-inclined baseball fan: maybe. After another lackluster spell as the long-man in the Halos bullpen, he’s made five consecutive starts, throwing 32 IP with 23 Ks to just six walks. His 3+ RA in that time period matches his 3+ FIP on the year, so he’s got that going for him. At the same time, that K% just doesn’t match up to someone throwing 96 and getting batters to chase a bit more than the norm and posting a better-than-average contact rate over all. It’s not that he’s trading Ks for ground balls, either. He uses his four-seamer to righties and throws lefties a steady diet of sinkers, but his K rate is actually better against lefties. If anything, this is due to his shocking inability to strike out righties, but it’s worth mentioning that lefties are no longer destroying him.
Last season, he walked as many lefties as he struck out, while yielding a .482 slugging percentage to them. This year, the walk rate’s under 6% and lefties have been hitting grounder after grounder – a Brad Ziegler-like 63.5%. Instead of putting the ball just off the plate to lefties, he’s bringing the ball into the zone and letting his fastball’s movement help him.
So why is Richards able to use his slider to get Ks (and grounders) against lefties while Brandon Maurer got annhihilated? Well, it’s taken Richards years to get to this point, and by “this point” I mean a fill-in starter on a crappy team, so let’s not get carried away. But Richards made adjustments after lefties drove the ball on him, and after coaches noticed he was tipping his pitches. He’s also changed his horizontal release point, moving over on the rubber to limit his extreme 3B-side arm angle. I’m not sure which of these changes helped and which are baseball placebos. I’m not sure if Maurer was tipping his pitches, or just giving lefties too good of a look, but it’s good to be reminded that young pitchers with a lot of talent make adjustments, and that your first few views of a pitcher aren’t dispositive. Unless that pitcher is Felix Hernandez, who came up in 2005 looking like some sort of God-Man and continues to look like that today. All hail King Felix.
1: Miller, SS
2: Saunders, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Chavez, RF
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Blanco, C
SP: El Cartelua
A very warm welcome back to Eric Wedge. Brain injuries are terrifying, and it’s great to see that Wedge has progressed enough for a return to the dugout so soon. We’ve all had our differences with Wedge from time to time, but I can honestly say I’m very glad to see him back tonight. Not a bad guy to have on the mound for your first game back, either.
Andrew Carraway starts for Tacoma tonight, while King Felix’s older, less royal, brother Moises gets a spot start for AA Jackson. Victor Sanchez is the big prospect name to watch, as he pitches at home for Clinton. Lars Huijer’s starting in Everett tonight, too.
M’s first rounder DJ Peterson was hit in the face by a pitch last night and was taken to the hospital for monitoring and a concussion test. The blow didn’t knock him out, but it did fracture his jaw, and today we get word via Shannon Drayer that he’ll need surgery on it. That’ll end the promising IF’s 2013 season.
Speaking of injured M’s, Mike Zunino looks close to returning soon; he’ll begin a rehab stint with Tacoma soon. I mentioned in my radio hit today w/KGA Spokane that I really hope they take it easy with Zunino. There’s absolutely no sense in rushing the rookie catcher, as hand injuries can linger. Remember too that the minor league season is almost over, so while he’ll rejoin the M’s when rosters expand, there’s no sense in trying to maximize his PAs in September. The M’s really need a 100% healthy Mike Zunino in 2014.
Great article from our fearless leader on the results of a poll asking what you’d pay for one year of Mike Trout. To play baseball for your team, I should clarify, not what you’d pay him to do your job or to be in your entourage or whatever.
Jason Cole of BP had some nice things to say about Tacoma righty Taijuan Walker here ($), though again I’m struck by how much Walker’s cutter seems to differ from night to night. When I’ve seen him, he simply hasn’t had great command of it and used it somewhat sparingly. In the game Cole saw, he used it a lot, perhaps in part because rain made it tougher for Walker to get a feel for his curve. In any event, Walker’s progress with the cutter this year makes MLB success more likely; I love it when I’m not sure which offspeed/breaking pitch to pick as a prospect’s best.