Game 103, Orioles at Mariners
King Felix vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:10pm
This is as high-profile a pitching match-up you’ll see in a game involving Baltimore. Kevin Gausman went #4 overall in the 2012 draft and his fastball averages over 96mph. He pairs it with the au currant splitter and the occasional slider, and despite less-than-stellar minor league numbers, he shot through the system, reaching the big leagues a bit under one year after being drafted.
That said, he’s not in that Sonny Gray/Jose Fernandez category of young pitchers who’ve made an immediate big league impact. He’s thrown 90 innings thus far in his career, and while the FIP’s pretty good, he’s been a bit over replacement level by RA9. Gausman just allows more runs than anyone with a 96mph fastball and a working splitter should. To break his career down into even less statistically significant chunks, he was burned by the long ball in 2013, but changed his approach and hasn’t had much of a problem this year. However, his command’s taken a step back in 2014, and coupled with a high BABIP, even the lack of HRs can’t push his RA9/ERA under 4.
The big problem looks like his strand rate, which cracked 70% this year, but remains mediocre. In this respect, he reminds me of Brandon Morrow, who struggled with runners on after moving to the rotation, and thus disappointed relative to his FIP (and his velocity). Of course, that problem abruptly went away in 2012, when Morrow flashed elite-level talent before falling victim to injury. Like Morrow, Gausman doesn’t have big platoon splits if you just look at his raw results. That’s pretty much what you’d expect, given that Gausman’s got a splitter to keep lefties at bay. But those narrow splits are partially the product of some weird BABIP issues against righties. Like some other pitchers we’ve looked at recently, Gausman’s a very different pitcher against lefties. Against righties, he walks few and gets an above-average number of grounders. Against lefties, he’s a bit more wild, and gives up Phil Hughes-like fly ball rates. Lefties elevate the ball, and thus, lefties have hit HRs against him.
And, as it happens, the M’s have a new lefty in their line-up to try to take advantage of that fact. Welcome back, Kendrys Morales. The M’s acquired the DH from Minnesota in exchange for reliever Stephen Pryor, who simply never looked the same after his torn lat muscle last April. Minnesota wasn’t going to get much for Morales, as he’s hitting just .234/.259/.325 thus far in the Twin Cities, good for a 57 wRC+. What they got was some salary relief and the ability to take a look at younger players in what’s become a lost season.
Morales isn’t *this* bad, as we all know. His rest-of-season ZiPS projection at Fangraphs is much better – a 105 wRC+. which is a far sight better than what the M’s have received from the DH spot, and a bit better than the 98 that ZiPS sees Corey Hart regressing towards. Kendrys is just 31, about a full year younger than Hart; neither of them are really at the age when skills just fall apart. Of course, plenty of hitters *have* actually lost it around 31, and the fact that Kendrys Morales’ top bbref comparison is Erubiel Durazo is not pleasant. Predictably, acquiring Morales pushes Montero back to AAA Tacoma.
It’s been a very interesting 24-48 hours in Mariner-land.
1: Chavez, RF
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ackley, LF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: King Felix
The M’s talked about platooning Morrison and Hart at 1B, and with a righty on the hill, the M’s now get eight lefties into the line-up without doing weird stuff like playing Endy Chavez at DH. Endy Chavez is still leading off, so it’s not sunshine, rainbows and lollipops here.
The combination of Miller and Taylor allow the M’s to mix and match a bit more, and play the platoon advantage more than they did previously, but as with previous M’s teams, the problem isn’t that they’ve got tons of hitters facing same-handed pitching, the problem is that their hitters haven’t been good. This was always the issue with Justin Smoak, who obviously had the platoon advantage every PA, but couldn’t exactly turn that into a REAL advantage. The two best hitters on the M’s are lefties, and they’ll struggle – at least at the margins – against lefties until Zunino becomes a more complete hitter, until Kendrys Morales starts hitting like it was 2009, or Corey Hart wakes up.
King Felix is awesome.
Matt Palmer starts tonight for the surging Rainiers as they welcome the Sacramento Rivercats. If you can’t go see Felix, maybe see
Matt Palmer the red hot Rainiers. Tyler Pike takes the mound for Jackson, Lars Huijer for High Desert, and Everett’s got a doubleheader featuring Dan Altavila in game one and big-time prospect Luiz Gohara in game two.