Game 56, Tigers at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Max Scherzer, 1:10pm
The M’s held on to a big game yesterday, holding off the Tigers to win 3-2. That’s big, because the M’s could’ve been looking at a sweep – the Tigers are the clear favorites in this one, with the defending Cy Young winner on the hill. Yesterday’s game was also another object lesson in the unpredictability of the game; the M’s won a ballgame against a clearly-better team despite a line-up that featured hitters with a 78 and a 74 career wRC+ in the top two line-up spots. So hey, just because the M’s are starting Endy Chavez at DH today, it doesn’t necessarily m-Wait, come back!
Max Scherzer’s took the leap from “talented” to “really, really good” in 2012. In that year, he picked up a new pitch – a curve ball – that he credits with helping him against lefties. He used the pitch much more often in 2013, and walked away with a Cy Young award. He’d traditionally been a fastball/change-up/slider guy, and while his change-up was effective overall, lefties hit him fairly hard. Last year, Scherzer blew lefties away; they put up a .283 wOBA, and his curve was an important part of his approach. He still goes to the change-up as his put-away pitch, but he often used the curve to get ahead of lefties. That, along with improved fastball command, allowed him to pitch ahead in the count considerably more than the league average (42% vs. an average of 36%).
Still, the idea that he became great by overcoming his platoon splits doesn’t fully explain Scherzer’s emergence. In fact, he improved against *righties* every year from 2010-2013. Righties had an OBP against him last year of .219. He’s had a K:BB ratio over 5 against righties each year since 2011, and he’s driven his walks down and his K’s up. The curve’s nice, and he’s clearly more effective against lefties than he used to be, but Scherzer’s great because righties have essentially had no chance against him. There’s no new pitch, no change in mechanics – but as his command improved, his slider became unhittable. Last year, righties missed on about half of their swings against the slider (vs. a whiff rate to righties of 28% back in 2009). As many point out, platoon splits aren’t a kiss of death or a sign of a future bullpen arm as long as a pitcher completely dominates one side. Scherzer’s doing that now, so he can be effective even when his performance against lefties regresses a bit (as it’s doing so far in 2014).
1: Chavez, DH (I’ve checked it four times. I swear it’s true.)
2: Jones, CF
3: Saunders, RF
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Bloomquist, 2B
Again, the M’s have serious injury problems at the moment, with Robbie Cano missing his third straight start. Nobody goes into managing with the intention of one day writing Endy Chavez’s name in the DH spot and handing that to an umpire in front of thousands of paying customers. I get that. But man, the M’s are trying desperately to stick around the wild card chase and it’s harder to take that seriously right now. In their defense, the Blue Jays have used Ryan Goins and Munenori Kawasaki this year, and they’re leading the AL East. The Rangers are sticking around despite injury problems that have forced them to start Josh Wilson, JP Arencibia and others in the line-up and Joe Saunders and Tanner Scheppers in the rotation. This isn’t *uniquely* embarrassing, but it’s embarrassing.
Jordan Pries starts for Tacoma today as they start their road trip in El Paso.