Postseason/Winter League Odds and Ends
I’ve been taking a break from Marinerland recently. Instead, I’ve been following the post-season, watching football and soccer, and attempting to communicate with my family without making analogies to ex-M’s prospects, or lapsing into Eric Wedge imitations. In the spirit of attempting to re-establish communication with this wordpress window and thus with all of you, please accept these bullet points.
1: Jeff’s already mentioned it, but this postseason has been, for the most point, a joy to watch. You can certainly quibble with the teams that have advanced thus far, but the games have been great to watch from this neutral fan’s point of view. There have been several brilliant pitching performances, from Verlander’s last night, Wainwright’s complete game, Sonny Gray’s first appearance versus Detroit, and Gerrit Cole’s first game against St. Louis. But I wanted to talk about Wacha’s for a moment. Even after seeing him in person this year, I’m still a bit surprised by his ability to both miss bats and generate some sickly looking swings by elite hitters. He’s primarily a fastball-change pitcher, but it was his use of the curveball against Pittsburgh that gave a partial explanation.
Pace the TBS announcer who weirdly announced late in the game that Wacha had thrown *only* FBs and changes, Wacha threw 14 curves to Pittsburgh. It was never used leading off an at-bat; instead, up until his final inning, he always used it after a fastball. Specifically, after a *high* fastball. Why? As Josh Kalk (now with the Rays) pointed out back in 2009, it’s a great way to delay the point at which batters are able to pick up the difference in movement. In general, a fastball and a curve are so different in trajectory and velocity that it can be easy for hitters to differentiate the pitches. But a high fastball and a curve look similar for longer from the batter’s point of view. This helps to explain how lost Starling Marte and Marlon Byrd were against the Cards rookie.
What’s kind of amazing is how the more I look back on the game, the less command of the hook Wacha appeared to have. And he threw it to 10 batters, only one of whom reached base – that’d be the last batter he faced, Russell Martin, who walked. That was the only time in the game Wacha wasn’t able to set up the hook with a high fastball. To every other batter who saw a yellow hammer, Wacha had previously thrown a fastball at or above 3′ off the ground. Many were well out of the strikezone and were taken for balls – like a ball to Byrd in the 2nd, and the first pitch to Martin in the 3rd. At other times, like the first pitch to a completely flummoxed Byrd in the 5th, Wacha threw the pitch for a high strike, setting up a garbage swing on a curve low and in the dirt. But even in that at-bat, Wacha threw one curve very high and out of the zone (which Byrd laid off of). He threw another such curve to Charlie Morton, and one to Andrew McCutcheon – both were put in play, as their trajectory should’ve been easy to see. But both were fairly routine outs, as you might expect when a batter makes contact with a ball out of the zone.
I’ll be fascinated to see if he repeats this pattern in his next game against the Dodgers. With better command, five days rest, and pitching at home, it could be quite a game for Wacha – despite LA’s rampaging offense. Wacha reserved his curve ball to right-handers against Pittsburgh – giving lefties a traditional course of fastballs/changes. The Dodgers (like most good teams) have lefties who can hit – Adrian Gonzalez, for example, but the middle of their line-up is very right-handed: Puig, Ramirez and Uribe are all righties.
2: The Arizona Fall League’s already underway, and several M’s prospects have put in appearances with the Peoria Javelinas. Brandon Maurer got the start today, and the ex-prospect was again knocked around early. He looked much better down the stretch, but apparently looked fairly ordinary today, as he gave up three hits and two walks (no Ks) in 1 2/3 IP. It could’ve been worse; Maurer’s catcher, Austin Hedges, picked off a runner in the first who would’ve scored otherwise later in the inning. Hedges is routinely tabbed as the best defensive catcher in the minors, so it’s unlikely that Maurer’s control problems were due to lackluster receiving.
Carson Smith, Dominic Leone and Kyle Hunter have pitched in relief for the Javelinas. We’re most familiar with Smith who played for Peoria last year and looked unhittable in spring training with the M’s back in March. The sidewinding righty throws a hard, hard sinker at around 92-93, and has a wipeout slider. Dominic Leone had a great season, rising to AA in his first full season in the org after being drafted in the 16th round out of Clemson. The short right-hander showcased a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider/cutter thing in the high 80s. Hunter’s a left-hander who replaced Danny Hultzen on the roster after Hultzen’s shoulder unpleasantness. He’s used a very straight 85-88mph fastball, a cutter, a curve and a change/split-type pitch. Way too early to tell much on the hitters, but SS Chris Taylor, LF Stefen Romero, 3B/DH Patrick Kivlehan have all appeared to date.
3: The Venezuelan Winter League started yesterday, with several M’s and ex-M’s in action. Logan Bawcom got the hard-luck loss in Lara’s opener when a throw to the plate was dropped by ex-M’s catcher Jose Yepez, allowing the winning run to score. M’s farm-hand Gabriel Noriega played SS in the game, but the oddest line score came from Brodie Downs, the surveyor-turned-unlikely-draft-pick turned retired minor leaguer. Downs pitched an inning for Lara, after (apparently) not pitching competitively for three years. Jesus Montero’s obviously the guy to watch on the club, as he attempts to restore a modicum of his prospect sheen and I’m finding it difficult to care too much about that given that Chris Jakubauskas is also on the roster.
4: As they did last season, MLB’s got a handy page of winter league stats by MLB organization, so if you’d like to keep tabs on the M’s players, go here.