Game 135, Mariners at Astros

marc w · August 31, 2013 at 3:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Joe Saunders vs. Dallas Keuchel, 4:10pm

So, a game featuring Joe Saunders and Dallas Keuchel, going up against the first Saturday of College Football season, with a Sounders game kicking off around the bottom of the 1st/top of the 2nd inning. This one may not grab a big ratings share.

Dallas Keuchel is a lefty with an 89mph sinker, a change, a curve, a slider and a cutter. He generates plenty of grounders, but the lack of an outpitch to righties and some HR issues mean…OK, no. I understand you want to read about Dallas Keuchel as much as I want to preview a late-August game between these two clubs. The M’s are going for a sweep, but we’ve got more important things to talk about; namely, Taijuan Walker.

There’s only so much you can read into a single start, but we certainly know a bit more about Walker’s repertoire and how he uses it. In a couple of spring training games in Peoria, he threw a 95mph four seamer with fairly normal armside horizontal movement and an above-average amount of “rise” or vertical movement. His curve came in at 76-77 with solid but unspectacular break on both planes. We knew he’s been working on different grips and speeds with his curveball, with his “spike” curve in the spring coming in faster than the one he showed in the minors this year. But it’s pretty stunning to see how much he’d changed through the pitch fx lens. His fastball averaged 95 again, but with much less horizontal movement. It’s very straight, with a lot of rise – meaning that the pitch *should* have lower platoon splits, as Max Marchi’s work found “rising” fastballs had the lowest platoon splits of any type of fastball. Was this a deliberate change in arm slot/grip, or just a case of the notoriously weird Peoria pitch fx system giving us a flawed view of his baseline? Not sure, but it’s telling that the curve ball looks quite different as well. As we thought, Walker’s 9 curves last night came in around 72-73, consistent with his AAA velocity. He didn’t get any whiffs with it, but batters beat it into the ground. Most impressively, the pitch moved nearly a foot more toward gloveside than his fastball, while dropping ~19″ vertically below the heater. That’s an astonishing amount of horizontal break. This is where I’d love to see the trackman data on its spin; part of the horizontal break may come from the angle he throws it at, but I’m guessing he’s got a well above-average amount of spin on it.

Ultimately, the rising fastball and big slow curve probably help ameliorate any platoon splits, because the change-up didn’t look like a finished product, and he had very little command of his cutter. Still, the amount of horizontal break he generated without slowing it down to slider speed was very impressive. Eventually, he’s going to have to command it, but again, many evaluators have seen him on nights when he HAS, and they speak of this pitch in reverent tones. His cutter came in at 90-91mph with over 6″ more gloveside movement than his fastball. David Price’s gets about 5-6, while Phil Hughes and James Shields get 6-7″. This kind of break is nice, but by itself doesn’t guarantee success. Hughes cutter couldn’t induce whiffs, and it was homer-prone, a combination that led him to ditch it this season. Still, for a pitch that’s essentially coming up on its first birthday, there’s a lot to like about the way Walker throws it.

Here’s his chart from showing the huge gap in speed and horizontal movement between his curve/fastball, and his intriguing if inconsistent cutter:
Walker horzspeed.php

So who does he look like overall? That’s tough, as Brooks Baseball’s similarity scores have been taken down. To me, there are a few pitchers that look similar. Zach Greinke comes to mind, as he combines a very similar fastball with a big, slow curveball. Greinke’s doesn’t move quite like Walker’s, though Greinke’s has a track record of generating whiffs, of course. Greinke’s gets plenty of ground balls, so that’s something to watch going forward. Greinke has a similar cutter as well. It’s not a perfect match, as Greinke has a change that gets far more armside run than Walker’s. Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez throws a touch harder than Walker, and doesn’t have many similarities, but he *does* generate an incredible amount of horizontal break on his curve as well (though it’s thrown about 10mph harder). Clayton Kershaw had a very similar four-seam fastball a few years ago (well, except for the whole left-handed thing), but his curve is much more 12-6, and his slider isn’t comparable to Walker’s cutter. Chris Tillman has a similar fastball (albeit slower) and cutter, though his curve looks very different. James Shields looks somewhat similar, just shifted a few inches towards the armside. He’s got a similar cutter, though his curve is nothing like Walker’s, and of course he’s got a great change while Walker…doesn’t, at least not yet. Greinke’s probably closest overall, though that’s perhaps not saying a whole lot.

If you think this is way too much to read into a handful of pitches in someone’s adrenaline-fueled MLB debut, well, you’re probably right. It’ll be fun to refine this as we see more of him, though we probably won’t see too much more in 2013. It’s just nice to talk about a real M’s success story. With Wlad Balentien killing it in Japan, with Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak’s path to stardom taking Mike-Morse-in-LF routes, and with Danny Hultzen suffering a lost season, the M’s player development system comes in for some criticism. Some of this is reactionary and poorly informed, and I say that who’s lobbed some reactionary/ill-informed criticism their way. But Walker (and to a much lesser extent, Brad Miller) represents an absolute coup by the player development group, and given how much flak we throw at the FO, it’s only fair to give them a standing ovation in this case. How much of it was the staff and how much was Walker the perfect combo of talent, teachability and heart? I don’t know, but Walker was a risk that seems to have really paid off.

OK, Joe Saunders and Dallas Keuchel. Right.

1: Miller, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Ibanez, DH
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Almonte, LF
9: Quintero, C
SP: Saunders

Smoak gets a day off, while Almonte moves from RF to LF. This isn’t the best possible defensive OF the M’s could run out there, but it’s not bad.

The Rainiers are in their final series of the year, with Blake Beavan on the hill tonight against Sacramento. Head on out to a game this weekend. After tonight’s 7pm game, Sunday and Monday’s games will be 1:35 starts…and that’s it for the year. Anthony Fernandez starts for Jackson, while prospect Edwin Diaz starts for Pulaski today.


54 Responses to “Game 135, Mariners at Astros”

  1. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 3:07 pm

    Report is Condor has a tight hamstring. Not sure if I buy it, but there it is.

  2. Typical Idiot Fan on August 31st, 2013 3:19 pm

    This isn’t the best possible defensive OF the M’s could run out there, but it’s not bad.

    I don’t know. I’m struggling to come up with a better one having watched a small dose of Almonte last night and a big dose of Ackley improving his jumps and route running. Saunders has more experience, so I suppose that’s going for him, but I don’t discount Guti in anything, bum body and all.

  3. GLS on August 31st, 2013 3:29 pm

    Why baseball insists on extending the regular season through September is completely beyond me. If your team isn’t in contention, the games are completely meaningless after July and once into September, baseball is competing against college and NFL football, Pro Soccer, back to school activities and fall high school sports. I probably watched 80 to 100 games this year, but I hit a fatigue point right around the second week of August. Seriously, this makes no sense.

  4. scraps on August 31st, 2013 3:37 pm

    Well, it makes no sense for you.

  5. terryoftacoma on August 31st, 2013 3:39 pm

    Makes sense to me. I don’t watch any other sport but baseball.

    Just my opinion but NO baseball game is completely meaningless.

  6. scraps on August 31st, 2013 3:51 pm

    I think we get depressed with baseball in September because in Seattle we always play mostly meaningless baseball. But if we play playoff-bound baseball — I know that’s a pipe dream in Seattle, but think about it as a real possibility — we will be very, very interested in baseball in September.

  7. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 3:54 pm

    The forced viewing of baseball games shall continue!

  8. scraps on August 31st, 2013 3:59 pm

    Except half of Houston!

  9. mrakbaseball on August 31st, 2013 4:06 pm

    Where is Ackley’s future, in the OF or back at 2B? He’s hitting as well as anyone and looking more comfortable in the OF. Perhaps more importantly, who makes that decision?

  10. scraps on August 31st, 2013 4:07 pm


  11. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 4:14 pm

    Atta boy, Seags!

  12. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 4:38 pm

    Boy, given how the Mariners look right now says something about just how bad the Astros are.

    They’re so bad they make the Mariners look good!

    They’re so bad they make Joe Saunders look like a decent pitcher!

  13. juneau_fan on August 31st, 2013 5:01 pm

    Does the Astrodome sell beer in the can or did the M’s fans sneak it in?

  14. jordan on August 31st, 2013 5:07 pm

    Anyone see the recent stories about Wlad Bakentien? Apparently he has become a legend in Japan sitting just 3 long balls shy of the single season record right now and slugging over 800. Crazy stuff.

  15. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 5:22 pm

    I thought Miller was the one with attention issues…

  16. scraps on August 31st, 2013 5:27 pm

    Wlad Balentien was already a good hitter in Japan before his monster season.

    When he sits at 55, he’s going to get an interesting place as a American hitter chasing a Sadaharu Oh-held record. All three times, when chased by American sluggers, the pitchers didn’t throw a good pitch to hit.

  17. MissouriMariner on August 31st, 2013 5:31 pm

    What was the error on Franklin? Gameday said it was a missed catch?

  18. MissouriMariner on August 31st, 2013 5:34 pm

    These game threads have sure gotten slow….another losing season is winding it’s way toward completion….

  19. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 5:41 pm

    Line drive right to Franklin, but he took his eyes off the ball to look at a runner – and clanked it.

  20. scraps on August 31st, 2013 5:44 pm

    Even a gold-glove-quality outfielder every once in a while clanks one. Sigh.

  21. Eastside Suds on August 31st, 2013 5:49 pm

    Lots going on today away from baseball….especially the start of NCAA Football. Watching the Cougs play Auburn right now. Sorry, but this Wazzu grad has to watch that game rather than # 135 of the M’s.

  22. mrakbaseball on August 31st, 2013 5:54 pm

    Balentien’s not American.

  23. Eastside Suds on August 31st, 2013 5:56 pm

    No, but he’s still a gaijin.

  24. Eastside Suds on August 31st, 2013 6:01 pm

    Nice job CC!

  25. scraps on August 31st, 2013 6:04 pm

    Balentien’s not American.

    You’re right. North American, then. (If you counter that he’s Caribbean not North American, then I will also acquiesce.)

  26. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:08 pm

    It wasn’t a line drive hit to Franklin. It was a throw from the catcher. With runners on 1B and 3B, the runner at 1B attempted to steal 2B – the throw came to Franklin and he took a peak at the runner(s) and didn’t catch the throw. They had an easy out at 2B if he had caught the ball.


  27. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:12 pm

    Wazzu still has a football team? I ask my fellow tri-city cougar grads the same thing every year. Who knew

  28. scraps on August 31st, 2013 6:15 pm

    WSU had the worst running team last year in Div-1. The worst. On the other hand, there’s nowhere to go but a cliche.

  29. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:16 pm

    Amen brother.

  30. Section329 on August 31st, 2013 6:31 pm

    What!! Q?

  31. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:32 pm

    Quintero is getting in some good nap time at 3b. The passed ball got all the way to the on deck circle and he stays put? What was the 3B coach doing?

  32. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:33 pm

    These two teams were made for each other.

  33. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 6:36 pm

    Guess I need to pay more attention, eh? I looked up and saw the clank off Franklin’s glove, with the runner standing there looking at him… :-D

    I’m finding it hard to focus on this particular game.

  34. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 6:39 pm

    Oh good grief.

  35. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 6:41 pm

    Okay, Brad, you’re forgiven.

  36. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:42 pm

    Nice glove work by Franklin on that play. Miller, too.

  37. juneau_fan on August 31st, 2013 6:45 pm

    I’m watching!

    …from the couch…from behind my closed eyelids.

  38. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 6:49 pm

    That dude can scoot!

  39. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 6:49 pm

    Astros are playing Mariners Baseball! Good job Almonte!

  40. juneau_fan on August 31st, 2013 6:50 pm

    When I kept hearing how fast Almonte was, I was expecting someone a bit less fireplug shaped.

    Still, anyone coming up with speed is appreciated.

  41. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 6:56 pm

    Quintero may have been “battling”, but if he’d lay off some of those he’d have been on first base rather than the third out.

  42. juneau_fan on August 31st, 2013 7:00 pm

    This team can’t just go efficiently into the night, can they?

  43. Eastside Suds on August 31st, 2013 7:03 pm

    Msfanmike…….hope you aren’t a Fuskie fan, cause I will pile on after last year’s Apple Cup. And….hope you aren’t a Beaver fan. Our Eagles just beat them in Corvallis. Go Eags!

  44. juneau_fan on August 31st, 2013 7:06 pm

    Cool! Now to flip over to Too Cute!

  45. Westside guy on August 31st, 2013 7:08 pm

    WOO! We’re better than Houston!

  46. scraps on August 31st, 2013 7:09 pm

    I just noticed that, Eastside Suds! Every Div-1 team should worry when playing the Eagles. Like North Dakota State, too.

  47. scraps on August 31st, 2013 7:13 pm

    (Well, the Eagles are Div-1, too. I’m excited, okay?)

  48. Eastside Suds on August 31st, 2013 7:15 pm

    First time a FCS team had beaten a FBS ranked team. Ever!

  49. scraps on August 31st, 2013 7:15 pm

    Go, Eagles, Go
    Put all you have in every play
    We’ll let you know
    That we are with you all the way
    So then it’s fight, Eagles, fight,
    Show us the fight we’d like to see
    Red and white just fight, fight, fight
    And Eagles will win the victory!!

  50. Eastside Suds on August 31st, 2013 7:17 pm

    Love it. GO EAGS!

  51. scraps on August 31st, 2013 7:23 pm

    (I think of Muncie College fight song presented by the Coen Brothers in The Hudsucker Proxy.)

  52. msfanmike on August 31st, 2013 8:13 pm

    East side, I could almost care less about college football. One slight notch above caring less.

  53. scraps on August 31st, 2013 8:33 pm

    Well, you care enough to needle WSU fans. Is that your notch?

  54. scraps on August 31st, 2013 8:42 pm

    First time a FCS team had beaten a FBS ranked team. Ever!

    Suds, ESPN says it’s the third time. Still fun, though!

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