Game 131, Rangers at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Derek Holland, 7:10pm
Thanks to the unbalanced schedule and the fact that the baseball season is 162 games long*, I get to write about certain opponents a lot. I feel like I’ve written more about Derek Holland – his volatile HR rate, his taste in music, his splits – than I have about, I don’t know, Joe Saunders. That’s not necessarily bad – it’s somewhat fun to follow a career trajectory without fandom layering on things like disappointment, wildly inflated hope, etc. So hello again, Derek Holland. It’s been nearly two months since I’ve looked at your Fangraphs page.
As you no doubt remember, Holland’s a lefty with a 94mph+ fastball and a big slider that he throws to righties and lefties alike. After struggling with HRs and nebulous injury concerns last year – he gave up 32 HRs in less than 180 IP – he’s putting together a brilliant 2013 campaign. His FIP is a career low by a mile, his ERA’s under 3, and his K% is at a career best. What’s changed? In terms of pitch mix, he’s relying on the slider much more often this year, essentially ditching his curve ball and using fewer change-ups. It’s an interesting move, but it’s been very successful. Unlike Travis Blackley, righties never had trouble elevating and punishing Holland’s curve, as they’ve slugged .553 on it in his career. Meanwhile, they’ve struggled with his slider, with a much higher whiff rate and poor quality of contact (viewed by ISO/SLG, which isn’t great, but hey). Overall pitch-type platoon splits are useful, but Holland smartly adduced that continuing to watch his curve get blasted was no fun, and it’s paid off for him.
Like many lefties, Holland sees line-ups stacked with righties, so figuring out how to minimize his platoon splits is critical. The M’s aren’t able to stack their line-up with credible righties, however, so it’s less important now than it would be if he was facing someone else. The M’s are hitting .228/.294/.375 against lefty starters this year, well below what they hit against RHSPs. This isn’t shocking, of course, as the M’s have a number of lefty bats, and a fair number of switch hitters who hit worse from the right-hand side. Theoretically, Michael Morse was supposed to stabilize the line-up against lefties, giving the M’s righty power to punish any mistakes. Injuries and ineffectiveness scuppered that plan, though. Seriously: this is essentially what Morse is here for, and he’s batting 6th tonight. It has not been a good year for Mr. Morse.
The M’s *are* trying to get as many righties in the line-up as they can, it’s just that when they do… Brendon Ryan is starting, is what I’m trying to say. All in all, not a bad move to get Nick Franklin a day off. He came back a bit earlier than expected from his injury, and he looked completely lost against a journeyman lefty with an OK breaking ball last night. He’s going to need to compete against the Derek Hollands and CC Sabathias of the world eventually, but there’s no need for him to take some meaningless lumps right now.
1: Miller, 2B
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Morse, LF
7: Ackley, CF
8: Quintero, C
9: Ryan, SS
James Paxton starts tonight for Tacoma, as he tries to make a good impression in his last few outings of the minor league year. It’s been a very odd, somewhat frustrating year for the Canuck; the door was wide open for him to get a chance at the big league level, and he’s not been able to take advantage. He’s shown flashes, but then that’s never been the problem. Consistency is, and in that respect, it’s harder to find evidence of growth and improvement. I really like his curveball, though.
The M’s announced their selections for the Arizona Fall League. They’re sending Carson Smith, Dominic Leone, Danny Hultzen, Brandon Maurer, Patrick Kivlehan, Stefen Romero and Chris Taylor. Smith and Romero both played in the AFL last year, while Hultzen was a Peoria Javelina two seasons ago. For whatever reason, the M’s are fond of repeating that league; Dustin Ackley went twice too. Maurer’s the interesting pick, though it certainly makes sense to get him right back into game action after the big league season’s over. Smith has been a dominating reliever after a shaky April, and could pitch credibly in the majors right now. I’m hopeful that another solid AFL campaign will position him to make a run at the big league bullpen in 2014. Chris Taylor’s the UVA-trained shortstop who hit his way to AA this year. Drafted as a glove-first player, he’s hit quite well in the M’s system. Leone’s a small righty reliever out of Clemson who pitched well in High Desert and made it to AA in his second year in the org. Kivlehan’s the ex-Rutgers football player who hit well in Everett last year, despite a worrying strikeout rate. Moved up to Clinton this year, his strikeouts dropped, but so did his overall offensive production. He was promoted to High Desert anyway, and like many, found the Cal League much more to his liking. As a 23-year old in the low minors (due in part to his comparative lack of baseball experience), this is a great opportunity to show that he belongs in the high minors, and that his improved contact skills are real. I’d say no one has more to gain from this assignment than Kivlehan. I’ll be interested to see where Stefen Romero plays. He’s done a bit of everything in the system, moving from 3B to 2B to LF. He played IF and DH with Peoria last year, but I’m guessing he’ll focus on LF this go-round. We’ll see.
* I’ve long been a fan of the marathon 162-game schedule, and the meaningfulness of MLB’s regular season. These past 3.67 years have given me pause, however. The M’s haven’t been good, and that’s fine. Rebuilds are fascinating from an intellectual point of view, and they take on the patina of character-building, weren’t-those-the-days nostalgia when you look back once a team’s actually a contender. All of that is true, but watching a team scuffle for…600+ games can get to you.