Game 14, Felix vs. Darvish
King Felix vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm
Today’s slate of games features three former Cy Young winners, a couple of players most see as near-locks to win one in the future, and a smattering of all-stars, ROY-candidates and solidly above-average guys. It’s an astonishing array of talent, but I think we can safely say without any M’s or Rangers bias that the eyes of the baseball world will be on this game.
I’ve talked a lot recently about middle-tier or even journeymen types refining their approach and trying new things to stay a step of hitters – or just to stay on big league rosters. We kind of expect that from guys who weren’t blessed with loads of natural talent, but while it’s not like we haven’t noticedFelix making adjustments before, I don’t think it gets enough attention. In part, it’s not in Felix’s nature to discuss this – his public utterances don’t seem to indicate a relentless tinkerer, or someone thinking about how to adjust to batters’ adjustments. It’s almost as if his little adjustments are another form of muscle memory – that he can adjust without consciously doing so. A slew of pitching coaches and catchers may have had something to do with it too, but of course the team itself hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in any of them (except Zunino, of course).*
Logan noted the change in his K:BB at LL recently, but it bears repeating. Felix’s K/9 has gone up each year since 2011, but K/9 somewhat undersells it: the gain in K% is larger because Felix has done this while also dropping his walk rate. This has led to much lower FIPs than he used to run, right at a time when we expect to see some of Felix’s effectiveness curbed by aging and declining velo. As we’ve seen this year, challenging more sometimes means home runs, but of course if he had been pulled earlier (many would argue “at the correct time” not just “earlier”), he’d only have given up one on the year, and his FIP would be miniscule. But even with 3 HRs allowed, what we’ve seen of Felix this year has been jaw-dropping. Think about how hard it is to surprise all of *us* about Felix Hernandez, and how easily he’s done so this year. The A’s won their 10th game last night, and despite facing very good pitching, are 4th in the league in runs scored. The Angels are 2nd. Both are in the top 5 in wRC+ thus far. It’s not like Felix was facing the Astros or even the beat-up Rangers. And he made them – ok, all of them but Trout- look lost.
That brings us to Yu Darvish, who hasn’t given up a run yet in 15 innings. Like Felix, he’s improved his control, and has yielded only two free passes through two starts. Despite throwing an array of pitches, Darvish was known mostly for his slider, especially last year. In his last start, he didn’t throw a single one, opting for curve balls instead. It’s too soon to know what to make of it, or if he’s just been working on things while brushing off the Astros. This is what a large repertoire can do, though. You can tailor your offerings to what feels good that day, to the opponents’ weaknesses, or just give an opponent who’s seen you often an entirely different look. That said, the M’s have had a lot of success against Darvish – as the M’s radio broadcast discussed last night. Many of you will remember the last USSM/LL meet-up at Safeco, when these two hurlers matched up and the M’s walked away with a 7-0 win. Ackley and Saunders doubled that game, and John Jaso hit a HR (to left, as I recall). It’s not like Darvish has large platoon splits or anything, but they’re there, so the M’s lefty-heavy line-up is a good countermeasure.
This is fun.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Franklin, DH
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: El Rey
Joining the team tonight, as you see above, is IF Nick Franklin. Logan Morrison’s heading to the DL; apparently Morrison’s hamstring was bandaged up today. Franklin was on an absolute tear in AAA, going 17-43 with 6 walks and 10 Ks, and 4 HRs (mostly in chilly, damp Tacoma – this isn’t an altitude-driven mirage) on his way to a formidable slash line of .295/.469/.744 (small sample, blah blah).
While Felix exists as a living, breathing, dominating exception to the rule that all pitchers get hurt, the M’s have obviously struggled to keep their non-Felixes healthy. While we were still reeling from the news about Walker last night, this morning brought word that another M’s pitching prospect is headed to the DL. This time, it’s AA righty Victor Sanchez, who’ll head to the DL with “forearm tightness.” This is *not* fun.
We now have some indication of why Blake Beavan was pulled after an uneventful 4th inning last night as opposed to after his 2-HR 2nd. Surprise! He’s hurt! Beavan to the DL, with CF/RF James Jones coming up to take his 25-man spot. Jones is a lanky 6’4″ OF with a cannon arm (most teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher out of LIU), but his power hasn’t quite developed the way many thought it might after he hit 12 HRs for Clinton in the pitcher-friendly MWL in 2010. He cracked the back of a top-100 prospects list once, but wasn’t able to make the leap into true prospect status last year. And frankly, the M’s could use an OF prospect. Jones (like a lot of Rainiers) got off to a solid start this year, but he’s essentially neck and neck with Xavier Avery right now. Avery came off the 40-man this spring, but he’s scuffled a bit so far. So, despite being a bit older and possessing a less than awesome 96:43 SB:CS ratio, Jones it is. Jones probably has more upside than Avery, and despite the CS numbers, has decent speed. Jones (like Avery) is a lefty hitter. No word yet on the corresponding 40-man move.
* He seems to have made some sort of leap in the 2012 season, after a – by his standards only – lackluster 2011. That’s the year the M’s catchers were Olivo, Jaso and Montero, not exactly guys you’d peg as receivers who can help their pitchers with quality receiving and high baseball intellect. It was Jaso, of course, who caught the perfecto and also saw Felix’s highest K:BB ratio that year, but a part of me desperately wants to believe that it was Jesus Montero passed on some simple, effective tip and essentially caused Felix to morph into the Ur-Felix we’re seeing now. Not because I want to “get something” from The Trade, but because it would be so powerfully ironic, that irony itself may collapse in on itself like a dying star.