Game 4, Juggernaut at Athletics
Roenis Elias vs. Dan Straily, 7:05pm
In the Rainiers piece below, I talked about Blake Beavan as a guy who, paradoxically, has been killed in AAA and only severely maimed in the majors. Dan Straily is the perhaps more well-known opposite case: a guy who was unhittable in AAA, and is merely so-so in the bigs. Straily shot through the A’s system as an unheralded late-round draft pick, and he wasn’t just a BABIP fluke guy. He threw fairly hard, and struck out basically everyone in the minors in 2012, earning himself a mid-season call-up. There, he suddenly struggled with the long-ball. The guy who gave up 10 HRs in 160 innings in the Cal League yielded 11 in just 39 big league innings.
Straily’s four-seam fastball has a good deal of vertical movement, and it comes in around 91. So far, so Beavan. As I look at the repertoire and delivery, I’m not floored that he gives up about a HR per 9 (he was better in 2013 after that initial flurry of gopher balls). I AM floored that his HR rate was half of that in the altitude-and-bandbox-rich Pacific Coast League. I can see why a rising fastball and a willingness to pitch up resulted in MiLB strikeouts, but I’m still a bit surprised they didn’t come with a cost.
In fact, Straily’s rise reminds me a bit of what happened to Brandon Maurer last year. Like Maurer, Straily hadn’t dealt with HR problems, and like Maurer, he hadn’t shown ANYTHING in the way of platoon splits. When the two arrived in the majors, they were suddenly presented with two interlocked problems: lefties hit them, and hit them really, really hard. Straily’s splits from his very small-sample 2012 are kind of laughable, but they also look kind of familiar. In that sense, it’s telling that Straily’s become something of a normal, middle-of-the-rotation arm with sizable but not unheard of platoon splits. What happened? A part of the answer is regression, as that is a part of the answer to just about every question in life. But a part of it may be a change in approach.
Like Maurer, Straily came up a 4-seam, slider, change pitcher, and quickly found his 4-seam and change weren’t fooling lefties. So in 2013, he worked in the odd sinker, and also threw his slider more to lefties, particularly when ahead. The sinker in particular wasn’t a great pitch on its own, but having a few more options probably helped keep hitters off balance. It’s something I know Maurer tried to do last year post-callup, but it’s something for him to work on in Tacoma this year as well.
All of this gets us to Roenis Elias, the newest pitcher attempting to jump to the majors and hope his MiLB success carries over. Now, Elias is a completely different animal than Straily/Maurer, with very different concerns. I’ve mentioned that he’d be the most fly-ball dominant pitcher on the staff if the FO hadn’t brought in literally the most extreme fly-baller in baseball in Chris Young. The M’s OF has been mostly OK, but they’ve also had very little to do in the first series. Almonte looked pretty good, Ackley less so, but with Felix and Paxton throwing two of the games, it’s been all about Ks and GBs. Elias’ tendency to mix arm angles may help his deception, and should help against tough lefties, but it’s tended to come at the price of control/command. Maybe it’s just because I’m thinking about Maurer and Straily’s very early struggles, but at least for a while, that may be a price worth paying. The A’s have looked solid (except for their closer…yeeesh), but Elias shouldn’t feel like he needs to attack Cespedes or Donaldson with men on base. That said, the A’s have stacked their line-up with switch-hitters, so Elias isn’t going to get too many chances to breathe.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Morrison, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
The lefty-heavy line-up for today, with Hart and Zunino the only righties. Good move, though Ackley/Morrison/Almonte isn’t the *ideal* defensive OF for Elias’ major league debut. Hey, major league debut, wooooo!
At least he’s in a good park for his skillset.
The Fangraphs WE figures have this game basically a 50:50 toss-up. Not sure why, frankly…it can’t be reacting to the M’s offensive prowess so soon. Just feels odd that the M’s were severe underdogs last night and essentially 50:50 in another away game with a guy coming up from AA to make his MLB debut. Huh.
The start of the minor league season is always one of my favorite days of the year. Here’s your annual reminder that MiLB.tv is a bargain and it’s awesome. If you bought mlb.tv, I think you get MiLB.tv for free…use it. The Rainiers games are all televised, and the Jackson Generals should be on as well. They’ll head to Pensacola to face rising prospect RHP Robert Stephenson from 4/30-5/4, and they’ll face 3B Kris Bryant of the Cubs org from 4/14-4/18.