Game 64, Yankees at Mariners

marc w · June 10, 2014 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Vidal Nuno, 7:10pm

This is fun. The M’s are playing like a very good team at the moment, and they’ve completely dominated some good clubs in the process. They’re not simply beating up on the dregs of the big leagues – if anything, the dregs are proving stubbornly tough. But against the Angels/Yankees/Tigers, two teams they’ll compete with for the Wild Card, and one team that’s one of the elite squads in the AL, the M’s are a combined 11-4.

Today’s opponent, Vidal Nuno, is a lefty with a pretty good backstory. Drafted in the 48th round out of noted baseball powerhouse Baker College, he pitched in the Indians org for a year and a half before he was cut in 2011. He caught on with the indie league Washington WildThings, then moved into the Yankees system whereupon he shot through the ranks, posting excellent numbers at each level. He made his MLB debut last year in a handful of starts, and has bounced between the pen and the rotation with New York throughout 2014.

Physically, nothing really stands out about Nuno; you can see why he went in a draft round that no longer exists. He’s under 6′, and his fastball clocks in around 88-89mph. He throws a slider to righties and lefties alike, and also has a curve ball and a change which he’ll reserve for right-handers. None of these pitches generates a lot of whiffs, but the overall package isn’t completely awful – he’s barely below the league-average K rate at 18.5%, and his walk rate is just a touch below average as well. In the minors, he shut down lefties, striking out over 35% of them. In his miniscule big league sample, he’s struggled a bit. It may be due to his lack of deception and fastball velocity (lefties have done most of their damage off Nuno’s heater), and it may just be terrible luck – again, he nuked lefties in the minors, and has faced only 59 lefties in just over 300 career batters faced. Teams are aware of what he did in the minors, and they’re aware he’s primarily a FB/SL pitcher, and they’ve set their line-ups accordingly.

His approach seems to be to throw his two-seamer away to righties, and then throw his slider (and to a lesser extent his curve and change) down and in. He’ll aim his four-seam fastball a bit more ecumenically, and has thrown it up in the zone fairly often – a fact which helps explain his awful HR rate at the moment. It’s an interesting inversion of the old pitching coach wisdom of throwing hard stuff in and breaking stuff away, and quite frankly, the jury’s out on whether it makes sense for Nuno to blaze this particular trail, but you’d have to assume it’s a continuation of his approach in the minors – the approach that got him from the Frontier League to the bigs in about a year and a half.

Hisashi Iwakuma’s off to another great start in 2014, with just three unintentional walks and 36 strikeouts in over 50 innings pitched. His K rate’s down a bit, but it seems like an intentional change, as he’s thrown far more two-seamers this year, while throwing very few four-seamers. In his first season, about 6 of every 10 fastballs he threw were four-seamers. That was down to just over 5/10 last season. In 2014, it’s more like 2 of every 10 fastballs. This blizzard of sinkers has produced Iwakuma’s highest GB%, and while it hasn’t eliminated his HR problem, it certainly hasn’t exacerbated it. More interesting to me is that by featuring the two-seamer so much, he’s all but eliminated the velocity and horizontal movement gap between that pitch and his primary weapon, the splitter. His sinker comes in at 88-89, while the splitter’s at 85. This is the kind of thing standard baseball theory typically sees as a problem, but Iwakuma’s had an up-close look at what can happen when you ignore this old saw. Felix Hernandez has cut through the league by throwing a sinker and a change-up at essentially the same speed, and if anything, his change-up is *more* effective now than it’s ever been. Similarly, Iwakuma’s splitter’s been all but unhittable this year despite the gap. Interestingly, at least to me, is the fact that both of them have posted somewhat poor results on their sinker – batters are hitting .353 on Felix’s sinker, and they’re at .347 against Iwakuma’s. Sure, a lot of that has to do with the fact that both use the pitch when they’re behind; it’s their alternative to walking anyone.* Still, both pitchers have arguably never been more effective, and it’s great to see Iwakuma incorporating this lesson from Felix.
1: Bloomquist, 1B
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Gillespie, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Saunders, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Miller, SS
SP: Iwakuma

SIX lefties in the line-up today, though the M’s injury issues don’t leave them a whole lot of choice. It’s not the worst match-up in the world, especially if they look to get to Nuno early in the at-bat. He throws a lot of first-pitch fastballs, and lefties have seen that pitch better than righties – again, with the caveat that the sample size for lefties is vanishingly small.

The Rainiers are in Memphis today, with Matt Palmer on the hill against Zach Petrick. Clinton’s at home against Burlington with Jose Flores on the hill for the Lumberkings.

* This is actually an interesting strategic problem; what level of damage can you accept on one pitch if it makes another bullet-proof? I’d love to see the swing rates and whiff rates on change-ups/splitters immediately after a sinker as well.


28 Responses to “Game 64, Yankees at Mariners”

  1. kenshabby on June 10th, 2014 6:46 pm

    Aw, man! I thought that we were getting the Iwakuma/Tanaka matchup tonight. Instead, we get Vidal Nuno from Baker University, where he majored in Pastry Arts. Bummer.

  2. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 6:47 pm

    Hoping all is well with Saunders’ shoulder. His swing and follow through (in particular) will be tell tale signs of how it is feeling.

  3. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 6:51 pm

    I have a work colleague from D.C who is going to be in Seattle tomorrow night. He wants to get to Safeco from a hotel “near sea Tac.” What are the best options for him? He will have a rental car, but he asked about “public transportation” and I said I would ask around for the best options.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    And he said he would be rooting for the Mariners – as a committed Orioles fan.

  4. Grayfox3d on June 10th, 2014 7:23 pm

    This is not exactly starting off on a good note.

  5. islandan on June 10th, 2014 7:25 pm

    Base hit? reaally?

  6. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 7:31 pm

    Nice work Cole!

  7. Paul B on June 10th, 2014 7:37 pm

    Taxi is fstest and most expensive. Otherwise take light rail from the airport and get off downtown.

  8. juneau_fan on June 10th, 2014 7:40 pm

    Nice job of cursing Iwakuma, Rizz. “He’s walked only 4 batters this whole season…Why look at that..”

  9. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 7:42 pm

    Thanks paul.

  10. juneau_fan on June 10th, 2014 7:51 pm

    I’d say it’s worth the cost of parking to save the time of using public transportation. I’ve never found the driving that crazy to spend an extra hour of time to avoid it.

  11. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 7:55 pm

    Saunders grimaced after that last follow through. Looks like that shoulder is barking.

  12. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 7:57 pm

    Thanks Juneau. I will pass along the transportation options.

  13. absolutsyd on June 10th, 2014 7:59 pm

    Gotta love Buhner with the “Awe fuck” on the air.

  14. MrZDevotee on June 10th, 2014 8:06 pm


    Some of the downtown Hotels have shuttles to and from the airport… Don’t remember which ones, off hand, or if you can get away with not having a reservation, but he might try hopping one, before paying for a taxi…

    Also, these guys: $18 one way, or you can buy a round trip ticket for not much more and use the trip back to the airport after your stay…

  15. bookbook on June 10th, 2014 8:31 pm

    A DC guy isn’t going to be impressed by the Pacific Northwest idea of “traffic.” Let him drive.

  16. Grayfox3d on June 10th, 2014 8:34 pm

    Quick question, Is the home plate ump not calling anything on the inside part of the plate? because according to the Gameday cast alot of good pitches are being called balls.

  17. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 9:05 pm

    Tanaka tomorrow … Need a win tonight!

    Get some runs boys!!!

  18. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 9:13 pm

    Damn, Willie.

  19. ivan on June 10th, 2014 9:18 pm

    Hmmmm. He hits for Gillespie but won’t hit for Willie.

  20. EastsideSteve on June 10th, 2014 9:27 pm

    Bloomquist channeled his inner Smoak on his last at bat.

  21. msfanmike on June 10th, 2014 9:28 pm

    Grooved an 0-2 pitch. Come on Charlie.

  22. Kazinski on June 10th, 2014 9:45 pm

    Did Lloyd really substitute Endy for Gillespie as DH?

    I didn’t mind him playing Endy so much with Saunders injured, by subbing Endy in as DH makes me think he’s taking crazy pills.

  23. kfrei2 on June 10th, 2014 10:01 pm

    I like Llyod. But I can not wrap my mind around his pinch hitting decisions tonight.

  24. kfrei2 on June 10th, 2014 10:01 pm

    That was an awful, awful, awful at bat by Buck. I can’t believe that our mediocre back up catcher is our pinch hitter in that situation.

  25. MrZDevotee on June 10th, 2014 10:01 pm

    (mouth agape)

    John Buck.


    John Buck.

    (face turning red)

    Swung at 2 grounders?

    (smoke out the ears)

    Never came close to touching a pitch in 3 swings.

  26. Westside guy on June 10th, 2014 10:03 pm

    Just came in.

    Light rail goes straight to the stadium – you get off at the International District Station (it’s the stop right at the entrance to the downtown tunnel) and Safeco is a block away.

    Note that there is a previous tunnel on the line – the Mt. Baker tunnel. I wouldn’t want the guy to see it get dark and go “oh crap I missed it”.

  27. Westside guy on June 10th, 2014 10:13 pm

    Really the main question would be how to best get between the hotel and the light rail. As was mentioned earlier, if the hotel has an airport shuttle he could get on light rail at the airport – it’s on the fourth floor of the parking garage (if I recall correctly), and it’s right next to one of the walkways between the garage and the airport ticket counters.

  28. MKT on June 11th, 2014 12:27 pm

    re: traffic. Although DC has the worst traffic of any US city that I’ve experienced (LA is usually rated as the worst, but on a per mile basis it’s not as bad; LA residents spend so much of their lives in traffic because the distances are so huge), I’d rate Seattle as about tied with LA for second worst. Any day of the week, any time of day, Seattle’s freeways have a non-trivial probability of being gummed up. Partly because there’s basically only 3 of them, so any tie-up anywhere leaves drivers with few alternatives.

    I’ve gone to Safeco both driving and using public transportation. I’d say it’s about a toss-up, with each having strong pros and cons. Someone who lives in Seattle will have the advantage of knowing, or at least eventually learning, where to go to find the type of parking that they prefer (cheap vs expensive, close vs far, fast getaway vs waiting in line for 20 minutes to get anywhere). A visitor won’t have those advantages.

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