Game 140, Mariners at Rangers
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Scott Baker, 5:05pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 46.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 47.3%
Only Detroit’s seven-run 11th inning against Cleveland marred a dominant night by two Seattle sports teams, with the M’s drubbing a Texas team featuring two players making their MLB debuts, and Jon Edwards, who was apparently a failed OF in the Cardinals organization as recently as 2010. They are shattering the record for most players used in a season, and despite a universally-praised system, nothing’s been able to staunch the bleeding. Not the kids, and not the veteran stop-gaps like Joe Saunders or today’s starter, Scott Baker.
When the M’s signed Baker on a minor league deal, it seemed like a great low-risk pick-up. Baker’s road back from Tommy John had been unusually long and winding, but he’d come back to make a handful of appearances for the Cubs in 2013. If his velocity continued to rebound, he seemed like a decent 5th starter candidate. Not good enough for the M’s, of course, who opted first for Randy Wolf and then, at the 11th hour, for Chris Young. Baker’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher, and with Texas, his GB% is a Chris-Young-esque 26%. In his best years with the Twins, he was able to get a decent number of strikeouts thanks to a solid slider and by working up in the zone with his fastball, and he’s always had good control. The problem, even in those good years, has been home runs. Pitching up works well for some, and on balance it probably was the right move for Baker, but he (like everyone else in baseball) didn’t have Chris Young’s magical HR/FB suppressing ability, and so he’d give up a fair number of long balls, which meant his ERA and FIP weren’t as pretty as his K:BB ratio.
An important part of his ability to last despite an elevated HR rate was the fact that he really didn’t display any platoon splits, or at least he didn’t show constantly wide splits. For his career, he’s got a FIP of 4.02 against lefties and 4.00 against righties, and he’s done this despite using primarily fastballs and sliders. That said, this is not the same Scott Baker anymore. While his velocity’s up a tick from where it was last year, it’s just 90-91, or 1.5-2mph down from his peak in Minnesota around 2010-2011. That’s part of the reason why his K% has stayed around 15% this year as opposed to the 20%+ figures he ran years ago, despite the fact that he’s been used in relief a lot this year. That relief usage has allowed him to face more right-handed bats, which is somewhat lucky, given his problems with lefties this year. Given his career numbers and the fact he hasn’t pitched much, it’s easy to see those splits as an Arlington-driven, small-sample oddity, but I’m not so sure. Lefties are destroying his slider these days, and given that he’s used his change-up so sparingly, it’s not clear what Baker can do about this.
Obviously, it’s possible that Baker’s issues with BABIP and the ugly line drive rate he’s given up have something to do with the quality of the OF defense behind him. Balls that fall in for hits are more likely to be scored line drives than those that are caught, so who knows. But the M’s aren’t terribly interested in Baker’s “true talent” today – they just want to beat him. And given his struggles against lefties, his HR problems, and the fact that the M’s have fared better against fly-ballers overall, they’ve got a pretty good shot to do that, especially with Hisashi Iwakuma on the hill.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Miller, SS
Detroit hosts the Giants tonight in a game pitting Jake Peavy against Rick Porcello. The Royals send James Shields to the hill against the Yankees and old friend Michael Pineda.
Texas has seen so many players lost to injury, and now they’ll have to struggle on without their manager. Ron Washington resigned before today’s game, saying that he needed to focus on, “an off the field personal matter.” No idea what that is, and have zero interest in speculating, but I sincerely wish you well, Wash.
In much less surprising personnel moves, the Arizona Diamondbacks fired their GM today. Kevin Towers was widely seen as a lame-duck, especially after the DBacks brought in Tony LaRussa as their chief of Baseball Operations back in May. Towers’ deals over the past two seasons drew criticism from the Fangraphs crowd and from more traditional baseball folks, and while his insistence on grit was always going to get him some barbs from the sabermetric community, the team he put together has been a disappointment by any measure. I’m a bit surprised they made the move now, with less than a month to go in the season, but given that his firing seemed inevitable, I guess there was no point in keeping him around. Towers had a very good run as GM with the Padres, and had some initial success in Arizona, but it’s been a very rough couple of years.
Jeff’s got an article at Fangraphs today showing how Mike Zunino’s power and hit-by-pitch acumen have him in select company. Or, uh, the company of Miguel Olivo. “Select” can have many implications. Jeff went with the term “unusual,” and Olivo DID chew a teammate’s ear off, so we’ll go with Jeff’s term. This is in no way a comparison between the two in overall value; Zunino’s a great defender, while Olivo remains *a guy who chewed a teammate’s ear off.* But yeah, neither of them are overly fond of taking pitches.