Game 2, Mariners at Angels
Erasmo Ramirez vs. CJ Wilson, 7:05pm
Coming off of a disappointing 2012 with the Angels – his first year of a 5-yr $77.5m deal – and with so much uncertainty in the Angels rotation last year, CJ Wilson needed a return to his 2010-2011 form. When he kicked off 2013 by walking way too many, it looked like he was on the decline phase of his career, just as the escalators in his contract hit (he’ll be paid $16m this year, up from $11m last year). But by mid/late May, Wilson had worked out the kinks and settled in to post a 3-fWAR season, his best since his last year in Arlington.
Wilson gets a fair number of strikeouts and has average walk rates, so he seems like a guy whose FIP could swing significantly based on how many long fly balls go over the fence. In fact, Wilson’s consistently good HR rates are a key to his success. He’s done it in HR-haven Arlington, and he’s continued to do it in HR-suppressing Anaheim. He’s done it as a high-GB% guy, as he was most years in his career, and last year he did it despite a steep drop in his GB%, which seems to have been driven by throwing fewer two-seam fastballs and relying on his four-seamer more (again, this makes sense given his home ballpark, and divisional haunts like Oakland and Seattle). His breaking pitches tend to be hit on the ground, which helps, but another factor may be the sheer number of pitches he throws.
As you probably know, a starting pitcher tends to lose effectiveness each time through the line-up. MGL (Mitchel Lichtman) did a study recently that found that pitchers with more pitches in their repertoire tend to suffer *less* from this penalty. That is, they retain more of their overall effectiveness the 2nd/3rd/4th times through the line-up. Intuitively, this makes sense. It would certainly be advantageous to have a pitch in your back pocket that a particular hitter hasn’t seen yet, and Wilson throws 5 pitches with some regularity. It’s a similar result to one found by Joe Roegele at the Hardball Times, who measured the increase in each hitter’s wOBA each time they see a certain pitch from a pitcher (that is, they hit better on the 5th four-seamer they see from a pitcher in a game, and slightly better again on the 6th, and better still on the 7th). Another recent study – this one from Robert Arthur – found that throwing a number of different pitches, and throwing them without a clear, repetitive pattern, has a small but significant impact on K%.
So that’s presumably why Wilson and his 91mph fastball, and an array of so-so to pretty decent breaking pitches can be effective and consistent. Some pitchers don’t need a bunch of options. Randy Johnson might have been a HOF hurler with only one pitch. But diversity is pretty important to the guys without overwhelming stuff or plus-plus breaking balls. Incidentally, this might be something to watch with Erasmo Ramirez, who gets the start tonight for Seattle. Ramirez threw more breaking balls last year – especially sliders – and used his very good change-up less. This wasn’t because of batter handedness; he saw a much HIGHER percentage of lefties in 2013 than he did in 2012. He just stopped throwing the change to righties. All of this is speculative, as he hasn’t pitched enough in total for us to really get a sense of how the M’s want him to attack hitters, and the new coaching staff’s a confounding variable too. But while his slider’s results weren’t great, the fact that he throws one (and an occasional curve) may help him stay effective overall. Now he just needs to stay healthy.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Romero, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Buck, C
SP: Erasmo Ramirez
The M’s RH-heavy line-up takes its first turn of 2014, with Corey Hart at DH and Stefen Romero making his big-league debut in RF. Miller and Ackley are the only lefties in the line-up. A good, early test of the M’s off-season plan to get better against left-handed pitching.