Game 146, Astros at Mariners
Brandon Maurer vs. Brad Peacock, 7:10pm
Man, is this series still going? :sigh:. Ok, Felix was supposed to start this one, but he’s been scratched due to back tightness. That sounds, and actually is, a bit concerning, but it’s also somewhat comforting to see the M’s take it easy with their ace. Felix wanted to pitch, because Felix always wants to pitch. In this game, at this point, it’s probably a good idea that he doesn’t.
This opens the door for Brandon Maurer, who’ll make his first start since late May, when he was demoted to AAA Tacoma. At that point, we thought we had a good handle on Maurer and his problems. His FB/Slider arsenal was good against righties but terrible against lefties, who killed him. Dave’s post was written May 1, when Maurer had allowed a .250/.304/.359 mark to righties (with 16Ks to 2BBs), and a 359/.424/.717 line (with 2Ks and 6BBs) to lefties. Clearly, this wasn’t going to work, and a few weeks later, the M’s agreed. Some argued that his line against lefties was absurd, and was inflated due to bad luck on HR/FB and the like – essentially, that he was nowhere near a 1.030 pitcher, true-talent, against lefties. Regression would take care of these extreme platoon splits – the question was always going to be: how much?
Maurer’s returned with an altered delivery and more curve balls, and he’s brought his splits against lefties down to a .321/.377/.588 mark, so yes, there’s been a touch of regression there. The problem, however, is that he’s not pitching like a situational righty. Right-handers season line is all the way up to .320/.393/.496. His splits have evened out all right, just not the way we wanted. He’s been a bit better since his call-up, improving his strikeout rate markedly, for example. He’s also improved his GB%, though again, this is all small-sample stuff produced entirely out of the bullpen. At some point in the year, I think we’d all have been pretty interested to see Maurer’s first game back as a starter. At this point, I think a lot of us will watch this game through our fingers.
Maurer never had a really odd angle, but he’s moved over a bit on the rubber (I think) and now throws more over-the-top as well. That’s not a bad thing to try, as the more sidearm or the further out towards 3rd/1st base you release the ball, the higher your platoon splits should be (all other things being equal).* It’s altered the movement of his pitches, though it’s probably still within the margin of error. It’s simply a good idea that may not be working.
I was thinking of a very similar situation watching last night’s game. Carter Capps was facing a few, uh, let’s just say ‘flawed’ right-handed batters, and three straight reached base. Carter Capps had large platoon splits last year, but it was something we could live with because RHBs had *no chance* against a ball released over 4 feet to the right of home plate, travelling 98MPH. Lefties got a long look, but they didn’t exactly drive the ball against him. This year, for whatever reason, *everyone* is driving the ball off Capps. Dave mentioned that he was worried about Capps’ splits coming into the season, and those splits were the proximate cause of Capps’ demotion. He returned with a similarly altered delivery. Similar not in that it now looks like Maurer’s – of course it doesn’t. But he clearly got the same advice. He moved his release point about a foot back towards the plate (by moving about a foot on the rubber), and he’s releasing the ball higher as well. It’s a perfectly good move in theory, given his main problem. But righties now have an above-average wOBA against Carter freaking Capps, and it’s not like lefties find him particularly troubling now either.
Jeff mentioned it in his piece on Capps, but change is actually pretty easy for pitchers – easier than I think is traditionally assumed, I think. The problem is that we don’t really know what changes are going to lead to substantially better outcomes. Pitchers come to the big leagues because whatever they do has worked. Maurer blew away MiLB lefties with his slider, just the same as Madison Bumgarner did. Carter Capps destroyed righties a year ago, and didn’t allow a HR at any level. Ichiro’s stance was so odd, that many evaluators thought he’d never hit MLB velocity. Any change can produce unforeseen consequences, but any change may take a while to stick – to go from something you’re consciously trying to remember to do to something your body does automatically. Brandon Maurer’s changes haven’t had the desired effect (or rather, they’ve had a minor desired effect, and what’s starting to look like some big side effects), but it’s possible that they can “work” with yet another tweak. It’s also possible that the only way Maurer can be effective is to go back to what got him to the big leagues and work on his actual pitches, not how he throws them. I have absolutely no idea which approach is best for Maurer or Capps. I’d really, really like to think the M’s do. But it’s hard.
1: Miller, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, 2B
This’ll be Ackley’s 4th start at 2B since August 1st, or the 4th since his official position switch. Nick Franklin has been awful at the plate in the 2nd half, so this is the M’s attempt to get both Ackley and Saunders’ bat in the line-up. Dave’s made it clear that he thinks Ackley’s the better 2B bet going forward, which probably necessitates a trade of Franklin. I’m still unsure, given that Ackley still doesn’t show much pop (which means he’s going to be dependent on BABIP). Given the roster, the M’s can’t keep both long term, and whoever they trade is going to command far, far less than we’d have assumed a while ago. Franklin isn’t the guy with a low K rate and surprising HR pop right now, he’s the guy who can’t hit a curve. Ackley’s the guy with terrible career numbers and a demotion/position switch on his resume. Other teams positional battles are much more fun than ours.
* If you’ve been curious WHY this is true, read this piece at BP.