Game 161, Athletics at Mariners
Brandon Maurer vs. Jarrod Parker, 1:10pm
So we’re in the familiar spot of searching for hopeful signs amidst the wreckage of the 2013 season – a season that’s cost the M’s a manager, and may yet cost them their GM. It’s tough to take much from a handful of appearances, but Brandon Maurer’s turnaround or at least improvement is something to watch today. Since returning from Tacoma, he’s still posted spotty results (especially in the pen), but he’s put together two good starts against some good offenses in Kansas City and Detroit. More importantly, he’s made some mechanical changes that may pave the way for a much better 2014.
In April, his average four-seamer’s release point was about a foot and a quarter towards 3B, and it got a moderate amount of arm-side run and slightly lower than average ‘rise.’ I use ‘average’ advisedly, because I can’t remember seeing anyone with a less consistent release. Some of this may have been an attempt to change things up, or to move on the rubber against righties and lefties, but whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working. Some times his horizontal release would be about one foot different…within a single at-bat.
Since returning from AAA, he looks to have tightened up his consistency, and he’s moved that release point up – slightly more over the top than the 3/4 he started the season with. It’s always dangerous to attribute results to small changes in release point, but I’d certainly LIKE to think that Maurer’s made lasting improvements. From April-June, Maurer threw over 100 four-seamers and sliders to lefties, and had whiff rates below 10% with both – remember, this was when lefties were slugging something like .700 off Maurer. Since returning, his whiff rate to lefties on his slider’s roughly doubled and he’s not given up an extra-base hit on it. His curve may still be his best weapon against lefties long term, but it’s nice to see that the slider isn’t a massive, easily-exploitable flaw.
Jarrod Parker’s April was just about as bad as Maurer’s, but he’s bounced back to post nearly 2 WAR. It’s still not what A’s fans expected from him, and it’s stunning that the A’s have won so many games without a big year from Parker (or Reddick or Cespedes etc.), but his second-half performance helped them pass the Rangers and take control of the AL West. The change-up specialist struggled against lefties in the early going, yielding six HRs to lefties alone in his first eight starts. Since then, he’s been much better against RHB and LHBs alike. Improvement in his sinker since suffering a neck strain (perhaps after watching four HRs fly out of Cleveland in a disastrous May start) seems to have been the key, though that’s clearly hindsight talking. Whatever the cause, Parker’s again holding lefties to a below-average wOBA.
1: Miller, SS
2: Almonte, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Franklin, 2B
SP: Brandon Maurer
That’s EIGHT lefties in the line-up to face Parker. The M’s aren’t a great offense, but they can certainly stack the line-up against righty starters. Of course, that’s less effective against Parker than it is against others, but still.