Game 139, Mariners at Royals

marc w · September 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Taijuan Walker vs. Ervin Santana, 5:10pm

This should be interesting. Taijuan Walker’s MLB debut was excellent, and the poise he showed in pitching around some serious Mariner defending can’t be overstated. But, many have pointed out, it’s a lot easier to pitch around Raul-being-Raul when you’re dealing with the Astros. And that’s true: the Astros have a team wRC+ of just 88, and they have the lowest contact rate (by far) in MLB. Today’s opponent comes in at #1 in all of baseball in contact rate, which means more might be asked of Mariner defenders – a group Walker’s probably not all that confident in right now. But what level of production have the Royals gotten from that best-in-baseball contact rate? Their wRC+ is, er, 88. The Royals hit everything, but they hit everything poorly. The Royals have some actual hitters, so I’m not going to say that this is an identical test, especially as the Royals can review tape and prepare for Walker a bit more than the Astros could. But this is not a fundamentally more difficult test, it’s just fundamentally different. It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches this start.

Ervin Santana could come home with the Comeback Player of the Year award in the AL this year, as he’s posting a lovely RA/FIP for the Royals – the team lambasted for picking up his salary this offseason. Santana’s always had HR problems, and while he’s not exactly eliminated them, it’s instructive to see what can happen when a player takes a peripheral from “lol” to “OK” or “decent.” Santana has always essentially been a three pitch pitcher, with a four-seamer, a slider and an occasional change. He occasionally worked on a sinker, but not terribly often. His slider’s his bread and butter pitch; he throws it to RHB and LHBs alike, and he’ll throw it in any count. Over his career, it’s consistently gotten low batting-average-on-contact as well as whiffs, but that many sliders mean a lot of opportunities for hangers. As such, he’s given up a number of HRs on it. That’s actually not a huge problem; he’s given up *10* HRs on sliders this year, which is kind of astonishing, but as I mentioned, his overall HR rate is OK. His problem has come in years when his *fastball* gets annihilated. Last year, he gave up 22 HRs on his four-seamer. This year, he’s at 8.

Is it a change in approach, a change in luck? I can’t see much change in how he uses it, but the one thing that jumps off his BrooksBaseball pitcher card is the use of a sinker. Last year, the manually-reclassed pitch type system Dan/Harry use picked up no sinkers. This year, he’s using it for over 20% of his pitches. Is it a great pitch? No, not really, but it’s another look for hitters. This is pure speculation, but this would seem to be a much more important factor in Santana’s improvement than the ballyhooed return of some velocity; Santana’s four-seam velo is up less than 1mph from 2012 to 2013. Santana was just extremely predictable in 2012, using a four-seamer to lefties over 70% of his first pitches and over 70% of the time the batter was ahead in the count. To righties, it was a fairly consistent 60:40 split in those situations. With the re-introduction of a sinker, it’s a lot harder for a batter to guess fastball. This may help his HR rates, and his GB% is up this season as well, which lends some credence to the idea that he’s throwing a lot more sinkers.

All of that said, having the kind of bullpen the Royals have can’t help but make their starters look a bit better than they are. The M’s saw it on Labor Day, when Will Smith came in to strike out Kyle Seager in a key situation, and then stuck around for another 4 innings of dominant relief. As such, it’d be lovely if the M’s got to Santana early. The M’s have faced lefty starters in the past four games, and seven of the past nine, and as you know, the M’s are terrible against lefties. So much of the hand-wringing about situational hitting, or the lack of offense, etc. can be explained by this run of lefty starters. Of course, knowing what’s causing the problem and having a solution are two different things. The M’s are very left-handed right now, and until they acquire actual right handed threats, they’ll be vulnerable to teams rejiggering their rotations to give the Travis Blackleys and Bruce Chens of the world a spot start or two.

1: Miller, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Franklin, 2B
SP: Taijuan Walker wooooooo

As you may have seen on TV, twitter, or however it is that you access noteworthy baseball feats these days, A’s 3B Josh Donaldson made a sublime catch of a foul pop-up last night against Texas. The debate about whether baseball itself or certain baseballing acts rise to the level of art is ultimately unresolvable, but I can now point to this poem by Seattle’s own Patrick Dubuque as proof that baseballing acts can inspire art.

The Royals have been staring at the contact rate leaderboard too, it would appear. Today, they called up Carlos Pena from AAA Omaha – the man who was a little bit too three-true-outcomes for even the Houston Astros has arrived to shake things up and get his teammates to live a little, much in the manner of an 80s teen comedy. The article notes that Omaha qualified for the playoffs with a 70-74 record, while the solidly-above-.500 Rainiers’ season is done. Even in the minors, division strength is a huge influence on playoff odds. (hat-tip: Divish).


37 Responses to “Game 139, Mariners at Royals”

  1. Westside guy on September 4th, 2013 3:44 pm

    Zduriencik is “a big fan” of Eric Wedge – so you’re going to continue seeing these sorts of lineups throughout 2014.

    Get used to it.

    Actually the only spot I take issue with is Raul… but, seriously, it’s a BIG issue. And since Z has “nothing to worry about”, I expect we’re going to see another Morse-like pickup in the off-season. So, yeah, get used to it. Defense doesn’t matter.

  2. scraps on September 4th, 2013 3:54 pm

    Yes, baseball can inspire art. On the other hand, baseball can inspire bad art. Just yesterday, I discovered Ben Gibbard’s (as in Death Cab for Cutie) “Ichiro’s Theme”.

  3. The_Waco_Kid on September 4th, 2013 4:45 pm

    Honestly, I’m more interested in Raul setting HR records than winning meaningless games. Much as I like Condor. Seeing Almonte instead of Guti would be nice though. I’m concerned that Guti and/or Ibanez are in our long term plans.

  4. Snuffy on September 4th, 2013 4:52 pm

    MSaunders on the bench again. I’ll check the boxscore after the ‘game’ to see how things went for Walker.
    Wedge & Jack must go.

  5. Eastside Suds on September 4th, 2013 4:55 pm

    Deep resigned sigh……….

  6. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 4:59 pm

    In Wedge’s defense, Raul has not had a platoon split this year. However, this is overwhelmed by:

    1. Having a horrible fielder behind a very young pitcher against a team that puts the ball in play a lot
    2. Thinking about next year, which of these three player is likely to help out next year: Ibanez, Saunders, or Almonte? And which of those three is playing?

  7. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 5:03 pm

    Ah well, at least Morse is gone. Maybe next year we will only have 2 DH’s instead of 3.

  8. scraps on September 4th, 2013 5:09 pm

    They’re not “meaningless games”. I don’t care about Raul setting a meaningless age-related home run “record”; I want something to care about the Mariners’ future in the last 24 games.

  9. Westside guy on September 4th, 2013 5:14 pm

    Raul has sucked big-time since the all-star break. It’s very unlikely he’s going to reach Teddy Ballgame’s age 41 record at this point.

  10. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 5:19 pm

    Raul has sucked big-time since the all-star break


    So, yeah. Although his value in the field makes up for it.

  11. jordan on September 4th, 2013 5:21 pm

    Ervin Santana and Tai Walker pitch very similarly.

  12. msfanmike on September 4th, 2013 5:23 pm

    You are killing me, Paul. Nicely done.

  13. Sports on a Shtick on September 4th, 2013 5:24 pm did an article today about which MLB team is the next Pirates, so to speak. The writer had the Mariners pegged as contenders by 2017. That sounds about right.

  14. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 5:25 pm

    What do we think about Walker? Off to a good start tonight in the first.

  15. californiamariner on September 4th, 2013 5:25 pm

    Nice first inning Taijuan!

  16. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 5:26 pm

    Maybe if I dis Raul some more he will hit a homer.

  17. Westside guy on September 4th, 2013 5:34 pm

    In the Olympics, all of the karate matches occur over the course of one day. They do this because, if they space it out, the competitors’ bodies get too beat up and sore, making them unable to continue.

    I wonder if 41-year-old Raul had that problem. As long as he was kept moving every day, he was fine – but, after four days off in a row, his body locked up and can’t function any more. 😀

    I know I’ve had that happen to me…

  18. mrakbaseball on September 4th, 2013 5:34 pm

    2017? 40th anniversary party!

  19. californiamariner on September 4th, 2013 5:37 pm

    Walker pitching and Zunino behind the plate. This is very refreshing

  20. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 5:44 pm

    Walker pitching and Zunino behind the plate. This is very refreshing

    On this day in 2011, the Mariners lost 8-5 to the A’s. Beavan went 5 innings, Olivo was the catcher.

    So, yeah.

  21. jordan on September 4th, 2013 5:46 pm

    Olivo… I miss that guy

  22. californiamariner on September 4th, 2013 5:55 pm

    Ok Paul this is weird. I looked up the 2012 starters on this day and it was also Beavan and Olivo. Glad we broke that September 4th tradition.

  23. Paul B on September 4th, 2013 5:59 pm

    I was looking at 2011 because I was hoping it was Vasquez. But then I thought, hey, Blake is close enough.

    Too strange that it would be the same battery. In 2012 it was a 4-3 loss to Boston.

  24. WTF_Ms on September 4th, 2013 6:12 pm

    Good thing Raul had new tennis balls on his walker! No pun intended.

  25. WTF_Ms on September 4th, 2013 6:35 pm

    Well, 4 run lead blown. Welcome to the big league Tai! Good thing a base running mistake saved him.

  26. Sports on a Shtick on September 4th, 2013 6:58 pm

    Nick tends to do silly things like that poor bunt there. There are a lot of… blunders with him.

  27. juneau_fan on September 4th, 2013 7:00 pm

    This f-ing bunting is going to the be f-ng death of me.

  28. Breadbaker on September 4th, 2013 7:42 pm

    That was definitely the old, bad Ackley.

  29. msfanmike on September 4th, 2013 7:48 pm

    Watched three pitches (all strikes) and swing at none … With the go-ahead run on base. No excuse for it. Hard to believe, yet not too hard to believe.

  30. msfanmike on September 4th, 2013 7:50 pm

    Good golly – swing the bat you choked up chumps.

  31. Westside guy on September 4th, 2013 7:51 pm

    I wonder which of Wedge’s old man rules Saunders broke? He’s obviously not hurt.

  32. msfanmike on September 4th, 2013 7:55 pm

    That last defensive play by Franklin … Ackley does not make, IMO.

  33. msfanmike on September 4th, 2013 8:06 pm

    AFT someone gets a big hit.

  34. Breadbaker on September 4th, 2013 8:06 pm

    Kendrys decided station to station baseball wasn’t going to work this time.

  35. Longgeorge1 on September 4th, 2013 8:07 pm

    Give that man a contract! (ugh)

  36. Breadbaker on September 4th, 2013 8:12 pm

    I love totally uneventful bottoms of the ninth on the road.

  37. Longgeorge1 on September 4th, 2013 8:14 pm

    How strange was that?

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