Game 86, Mariners at White Sox

marc w · July 4, 2014 at 11:44 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Roenis Elias vs. Chris Sale, 4:10pm

Happy Fourth of July. I’ve been away for several weeks wandering through a baseball desert, trying to bring the good news of Felix Hernandez to those who have never heard of, let alone been redeemed by, the Change-up Celestial.* It’s tough, but like any journey worth its own cost and hassle, that’s OK. I’m returning to an M’s team that’s 9 games over .500 – a record they’ve not seen since the end of the 2007 season. There are familiar issues; the team is hitting better, but they still can’t, you know, HIT the way other teams can. They brought up and then sent down Jesus Montero. They’re still playing a lot of Endy Chavez. But they’re winning, and they look like a team that can stick around the playoff race this season, and while it’s actually pretty great to just wake up and hear that the M’s won again, I’ve missed watching this team play.

Today, the M’s head to Chicago to take on Chris Sale and the White Sox. Jeff had a great post at Fangraphs talking about Sale’s evolution following some injury scares (including a DL trip that cost him a month earlier this season): he’s throwing a lot more change-ups and fewer sliders. What’s interesting is just how little it’s mattered. He still strikes out plenty, still shows good control, and is still devilishly hard to square up. That Sale is still an elite pitcher can’t be a huge surprise, but it highlights something that we M’s fans have known for a while. Great pitchers can throw any number of pitches and be successful. Young Felix was at least partially defined by the Royal Curve, the inhuman bender that hitters couldn’t adjust to after watching 97mph four-seamers. After his injury scare in April 2007, Felix hasn’t thrown THAT curve, and he hasn’t thrown as many overall. It didn’t really matter. Likewise, that Sale’s still Sale despite fewer sliders shouldn’t be that surprising. He still throws very hard and from a strange release point. He still faces overwhelmingly-right-handed line-ups, so you could argue that such a shift is overdue.

One thing Jeff pointed out in that article was that Sale’s generating a lot more foul balls this season. This has helped him pitch from favorable counts more than he has in previous seasons, and thus it’s not surprising to see that he’s posting his lowest walk rate. An underrated aspect of this development has been his sinker. He’s throwing fewer sinkers than ever in 2014, and it was never his main fastball. He’s throwing his change-up more, and he’s also throwing it harder than he has in previous seasons, all while his four-seam fastball velocity drops slightly. At this point, his sinker and change-up have essentially identical movement – both have tons of horizontal movement and very little vertical rise. The only difference between the change and sinker is velocity, and while it’s still substantial, it’s no longer the 10-11mph it was in 2013. With batters now expecting more change-ups, Sale’s used his sinker as a get-ahead pitch, throwing it first-pitch much more often than he does in any other count. And it’s his sinker that’s seen the biggest increase in foul%, moving from 16% fouls last year to over 20% this year. That’s still a tiny sample considering Sale’s missed time this year, but it’s an interesting adjustment, and it’s one we’ve seen from a few pitchers this year (Hisashi Iwakuma among them).

Roenis Elias has made his own adjustments. The first time we saw him in Spring Training, the thing that jumped out was his variable release points, especially against lefties. Versus righties, he was almost traditional, with a 3/4 to high 3/4 delivery. Against lefties, he’d occasionally drop down to an almost Sale-esque low 3/4 release. At the time, the M’s talked about how they’d clean that up and have him use the same delivery to everyone…and then Elias ignored that and maintained a couple of discrete, identifiable deliveries against lefties. But over the last month, he’s looking more and more, uh, normal. The gap in vertical release to lefties and righties is all but gone, and while there’s still a gap in horizontal movement, that looks more like a shift on the rubber (ie. moving towards first base a bit vs. lefties) than a change in his motion. I’m not even going to speculate why he’d do it, but while repeatability and consistency are prized by scouts, I love seeing pitchers adapt and react. It seems to me like a separate skill or tool, and while you certainly don’t want a pitcher to overhaul his delivery or pick up a new pitch every time he has a so-so start, when guy like Felix or Sale have fundamentally altered their approach, it’s important to demonstrate the ability and willingness to evolve.

Finally, I’m not the only one returning today. DH Corey Hart’s all better now, and will probably think twice about attempting a stolen base the rest of the year. LF Cole Gillespie was DFA’d to make room on the 25-man roster.

Go M’s! Baseball! America!

1: Bloomquist, SS
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Saunders, RF
9: Ackley, LF
SP: Elias

Tacoma heads to Fresno for the 4th of July Game – Andrew Carraway starts tonight. Last night’s big fireworks show at Cheney Stadium was preceded by a brilliant start from Jordan Pries, who’s come out of nowhere to be an important prospect for the M’s. The Rainiers won 5-1, as Pries went 7IP giving up 1R with 7Ks.

Other starters tonight include Tyler Olson for Jackson, David Holman for High Desert and Jefferson Medina for Everett – Everett’s the only local team playing today, so if you want to push your intake of America to its fullest, check out the AquaSox.

* “Wait, so he plays in the city where DeAndre Yedlin plays? Right, so, uh, can we talk more about Yedlin again?”


48 Responses to “Game 86, Mariners at White Sox”

  1. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 11:51 am

    Welcome back Marc! And a huge thanks to Jay for all the informative and interesting game threads during the interregnum.

  2. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 11:53 am

    It’s also nice to see Lloyd isn’t bound by convention, and doesn’t feel compelled to put his best hitters at lead off or even high in the order.

    Giving more at bats to your best hitters is obviously overrated.

  3. stevemotivateir on July 4th, 2014 12:02 pm

    I feel the same, Westy.

    So watch, they’ll put up 10 runs, with Willie scoring 3 or 4 of them–just to shut us up.

  4. Dennisss on July 4th, 2014 12:14 pm

    Yeah Westside, my first thought with Hart back is that we can finally put out our best lineup — no more Endy at DH.

    OK, leading off, Wille Bloomquist…oh forget it. The M’s just don’t have good right-handed hitters.

    On a positive note, I have been watching Fangraphs to see when (if ever) the Mariners playoff odds got over 50%, and they now show them at 55.7%. Fangraphs has not been a big cheerleader for the Mariners, so I put some stock their projection. We might have to start accepting that this team has a good shot at getting to the postseason.

  5. Will on July 4th, 2014 12:16 pm

    As a long-time reader but sporadic poster, can someone tell me what happened to Dave?

  6. Dennisss on July 4th, 2014 12:30 pm


    Others can probably tell you more about what Dave has done. I know he helps run Fangraphs and has done other writing that actually helps pay his bills, and those things keep him busy.

    What I can tell you is that I read a chat transcript on Fangraphs in which someone asked him if he was going to go back to writing about the Mariners, and he said he was not sure he would. I think maybe the team wore him down, and he has other interests now.

  7. Seatt101 on July 4th, 2014 12:39 pm

    I am so pleased with the M’s at present I am reluctant to seek change but I wondered if the club might trade Montero for Pineda? I am so convinced about the M’s ability to develop pitching and really would like the old Pineda back for Montero. Is this wishful thinking, am I unaware of issues vis Pineda which make this a dumb idea or should we be offloading Smoak for Pineda – would the Yankees do the deal?

  8. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 1:03 pm

    Hey, Smoak just got activated – and optioned to Tacoma!

  9. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 1:04 pm

    Isn’t Pineda injured again? I’m not sure trading anything of value for him is a good idea right now.

  10. Paul B on July 4th, 2014 1:04 pm

    Why would any team give up someone valuable for Smoak or Montero?

    Toss Ackley on that pile.

    of those 3 the only one with a chance to be good is Montero, imo.

  11. Dennisss on July 4th, 2014 1:16 pm

    “Iā€™m not sure trading anything of value for him is a good idea right now.” Hence Montero.

  12. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 1:19 pm

    Activated and then optioned to Tacoma, huh!

    I like it. It may just be wish-casting on my part, but it sounds like they are saying “we think you are healthy enough to come off of your rehab assignment, just not good enough to be in the Majors.” If that is the case, it’s refreshing – because I am tired of having the org jam Smoak down our throats and telling us he is a good player. He’s not a good player. Just a roster clogger. Can’t win with him. Don’t need him. Please get rid of him.

  13. Dennisss on July 4th, 2014 1:23 pm

    I’m with you Mike. Giving Morrison a shot at first makes sense to me. He’s only a marginal improvement at best, but he might be an improvement. Smoak is not the answer.

  14. Paul B on July 4th, 2014 1:47 pm

    It does seem Morrison has taken Smoak’s job.

  15. Liam on July 4th, 2014 1:59 pm

    The way Tony Blengino and others were treated by Jack Zduriencik probably makes it hard to write about the Mariners until he is fired. Dave even hired Tony as a part-time writer at Fangraphs because Jack Zduriencik was actively preventing him from getting another job in baseball.

  16. TheMightyMariner on July 4th, 2014 2:03 pm

    I think Morrison has been a very nice improvement over Smoak. I was hoping Smoak would show us something but he hasn’t. Not at all. He needs to stay at AAA for a while, IMO.

    Ackley has also been a mess. I’d rather see Montero up and send Ackley down to AAA. I think the Ack-Attack is getting closer to bust status when you consider where he was drafted. Too bad.

  17. Paul B on July 4th, 2014 2:21 pm

    The team is short a position player right now, and with Hart and Morrison both on the team there is no room for Montero, unless the send a pitcher down.

  18. djw on July 4th, 2014 2:56 pm

    Chavez out of the lineup, finally, thankfully. Please be good Hart.

  19. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 3:35 pm

    Mighty Mariner-
    I’m pretty sure if the M’s make a move for a position player before the deadline, it’s gonna be a right-handed hitting Left Fielder. That’s the most obvious place to upgrade at this point– to trade a slap hitting, marginal defense left handed LF for a more “pop”-laden RH hitting left fielder… Lloyd has said he’d really like to move Seager to 2nd in the order, but doesn’t have the hitters to move him up yet. He’s said that many times in interviews.

    I think ideally he’d like it to be:

    (new left fielder)

    And at this point, much as I never expected to say it, I think Endy is more deserving of a spot than Ackley… The Ackley AND Smoak experiments may be nearing an end, with them both becoming replacement/roster depth, or trade tack ons at this point… Maybe “change of scenery” swap candidates with some other team’s underperformers?

    I think Montero, Smoak, and Ackley are poster children for the “Beware of ‘Can’t Miss’ Prospects” Foundation. And sadly, Hultzen and Paxton could be heading in that direction– shoulder injuries in pitchers are scary.

  20. Paul B on July 4th, 2014 3:51 pm

    I don’t think Bloomquist is a better leadoff hitter than Endy.

  21. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 4:14 pm

    Chris Sale is awfully good. If they can beat him, I will be a Beliebvre.

    I like the rosterbating hopes – in advance of the trade deadline – of adding Rios, Zobrist and our very own James Paxton. With those three additions, I think this team could make a legitimate run at the Division.

  22. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 4:16 pm

    Willie Ballgame’s 2014 OBP is .287, while Endy’s is .286. Bottom line is – neither of them should be leading off.

  23. Longgeorge1 on July 4th, 2014 4:43 pm

    What is Saunders’ OBP vs. lefties? Is it better than WFB against lefties? I think our best left fielder is playing SS in Tacoma, Taylor not Franklin. I thought it was interesting that Hart was not in the Rainers’ line-up last night, my hunch was right for once. Go M’s

  24. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 4:56 pm

    Open base … Be smart with Abreu.

  25. Seattleguy527 on July 4th, 2014 5:29 pm

    This year Saunders has a .327 OBP against lefties, which is much higher than I thought it would be because he’s always struggled against them, while Bloomquist has a .286 OBP vs. lefties. That being said, this year’s numbers are probably too small of a sample size to matter.

    Over their careers Willie has a .337 OBP vs. lefties while Saunders has a .275 OBP against them. But Willie is nearing the end of his career and really isn’t a guy you want in the lineup too often, while Saunders is *hopefully* hitting his stride. I guess time will tell.

  26. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 6:02 pm

    Saunders OPS against lefties 2012, 2013, 2014: .774, .654, .654.

    Willie Ballgame’s numbers against lefties: .797, .745, .625.

    Also – Chris Sale is really good.

  27. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 6:15 pm

    Well that was a quick inning.

  28. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 6:19 pm

    There are folks in the writer world saying the Mariners are in talks with the Tigers for Viciedo (along with San Francisco after him too)… Talks include Maurer, Franklin and/or perhaps others… I know it’s just one game in front of us tonight, but I think I’d be okay with that.

  29. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 6:24 pm

    (scratch Tigers… Meant White Sox, obviously– oops… I’m on my 5th day of taking the kids to Disney World, so my brain is fried at this point… *laugh*)

  30. Seattleguy527 on July 4th, 2014 6:27 pm

    I was responding to the poster that asked specifically about OBP. I hadn’t even looked at OPS. I think if you look at OPS between Saunders and Bloomquist it’s basically a wash.

    Am I the only one who’s suprised by that? I know Saunders had some bad offensive years in the past but man, I didn’t think his OPS would be virtually identical to Bloomquist’s. But obviously there are things Saunders does better — defense, baserunning, etc.

  31. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 6:27 pm

    Do you mean white sox? Viciedo plays for the white sox. Had a career day today, too. WAR is no fan of Viciedo – but he is right handed and probably a good platoon bat with Ackley in LF … If not a replacement for Ackley until the seance, shave and jersey number change voodoo have worked their magic. Viciedo is barely above replacement level talent according to his 3 ish years of fwar, so borderline Ackley’ish.

    Ackley has never been able to grove that front foot hitting stomp with major league pitching for any length of time. Too bad, too … Because he sure did arrive with a lot of advance hoopla.

  32. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 6:28 pm

    I see you self-corrected before my post got to press. Good for you Z … Good for you.

  33. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 6:28 pm

    I know we’re having a really good year to this point, and I have ZERO experience as a MLB manager– but how does someone pencil in Willie Bloomquist as their leadoff hitter without throwing up in their mouth a little? I couldn’t do it.

  34. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 6:29 pm


  35. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 6:30 pm

    I know, Seattleguy – I was just curious to see their OPS too. And I was surprised that Bloomie’s was as high as it was, given his lack of power during his old Mariners days. It might have something to do with going to the NL, though, and playing in a bandbox.

  36. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 6:33 pm

    Maybe Viciedo knows about the talks and it trying to show off a little… “Look, this is what I could do for a contender!”

    He fits what I wrote earlier about it being a nice move to trade slap-happy Ackley for a righty with a little more pop… And I stand firm on the just “okay” with it, part. Not drooling or anything, but he just looks like someone more fulfilling to watch than Ackley at this point. Watching Ackley bat and field anymore is like watching the awkward guy try to start up small talk with a girl at the bar… You really want him to do well, but the signs just don’t look promising…

    (And in BOTH situations, I’m pretty sure shaving would help his chances)

  37. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 6:35 pm

    OPS isn’t a “clean” stat. It’s a combo stat. Better offensive stats to look at are WOBA and WRC+

    And Saunders hit .149 in 2011 before his skull had fully hardened, so as a young player with little service time, I don’t think a comparison of him to WB is going to accomplish much. Saunders has a future. Willie has a bit of “present” remaining.

  38. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 6:36 pm

    Hey Z, are you “fulfilled” with Viciedos defense? He is a known bad defender. Real bad.

  39. msfanmike on July 4th, 2014 6:40 pm

    No surprise, Sale is awesome. Still have a series that is winnable, though.

  40. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 6:41 pm

    Well… No. That’s true… The outfield defense has been a pleasant change so far this season (with the current roles)…


    Back to the drawing board.

  41. Seattleguy527 on July 4th, 2014 6:41 pm

    Oh yeah, Westside, I certainly wasn’t complaining. The more info the better. And you’re right about the NL factor. I didn’t even think to factor in Willie’s NL years. His two highest OPS seasons were in AZ.

  42. ivan on July 4th, 2014 6:44 pm

    I always stop whatever else I’m doing any time I get to see Sale pitch.

  43. MrZDevotee on July 4th, 2014 6:44 pm

    I also didn’t notice that Ackley’s numbers are surprisingly good in the outfield this year. Looks are deceiving, I guess…

  44. Westside guy on July 4th, 2014 6:51 pm

    I know OPS isn’t the best stat, but I like it because it’s still reasonably good in terms of the information it provides and is easy to wrap one’s head around intuitively. šŸ˜€

  45. HighlightsAt11 on July 4th, 2014 6:51 pm

    M’s get mowed over in Chicago by a good pitcher.

    Smoak will eventually return as a starter with the Mariners (as McClendon was quoted).

    Which is more likely?

  46. stevemotivateir on July 4th, 2014 9:59 pm

    Wow! So the M’s got decked by both Chicago teams tonight.

    The A’s are apparently taking this season very seriously.

  47. Grayfox3d on July 4th, 2014 10:43 pm

    So this is my non professional opinion, but it seems that Elias has lost a little bit of whatever made him so good to start the year, and I don’t really see any adjustments being made by him.

    Does anyone else besides me think that when/if Paxton is ever ready to come back, that Elias is the one sent down to work on furthering his development.

  48. MrZDevotee on July 5th, 2014 5:17 am

    I think that probably makes the most sense, because Young obviously isn’t going to be sent down (although maybe traded– since he hasn’t pitched a full season in awhile, and his value will probably never be higher than now– although same argument could be made for moving Elias instead).

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