Game 145, Astros at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Nick Tropeano, 7:10pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 49.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 47.7%
A tough loss against a surprisingly tough pitcher last night, and suddenly the M’s wildcard odds edge below 50%. A part of the issue is the Tigers closing schedule is fairly easy, with seven games against the Twins and another three against the White Sox. The Central teams have an advantage in the very last weeks thanks to the unbalanced schedule and the enduring mediocrity of the AL Central itself. That said, the Royals and Tigers are playing each other at the moment, and thus the M’s have to gain ground on SOMEONE. They’ll face off four more times including tonight’s match-up, which features James Shields and Rick Porcello.
The Mariners hope to get back on track behind #2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who’s sustained level of success is nothing short of remarkable. Given his sky-high strand rate and low BABIP in 2013, it really felt like there was no way to go but down. Indeed, his BABIP and strand rate have slipped a bit this year, but he’s compensated by improving his peripherals. He is a phenomenal starter and his acquisition and extension remain the two biggest feathers in this front office’s cap.
Nick Tropeano makes his big league debut tonight for Houston. The righty is a product of Stony Brook, where he put up two fantastic statistical seasons in 2010 and 2011, but fell to the fifth round due to pedestrian stuff. After signing with the Astros, his velocity took a bit of an uptick, and he’s been successful at essentially every level, rising through the lower leagues until spending an entire year at AA in 2013 and the whole year in the PCL in 2014. There’s nothing flashy about him; he flashed slightly above-average velocity in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, but that came in relief and the AFL data’s always a bit weird. He’s earned rave review for his change-up, and he also flashes a slurvy curve ball and, according to many scouts, a splitter. In the AFL, we saw just the four-seam, the change and the curve/slider thingy, and it seems a bit odd to throw BOTH a change and a splitter, but hey, it seems to be working for Tropeano.
He’s a fly-ball pitcher, and when he’s run into trouble in the minors, home runs have largely been to blame. His command may have improved, as his numbers overall look better in AAA than they did in the Texas League, despite the increase in altitude/skill level/video game ballparks. Tropeano reduced his dinger rate, and as a result, became one of the the PCL’s best/most consistent arms this year. He sustained a forearm strain early in the season, but was healthy down the stretch, and thus the Astros summoned him up to become the sixth starter in their rotation through the end of the year. Thanks to the change, he’s not shown much in the way of platoon splits. They’re there, but they haven’t been a major problem; while his K:BB ratio’s a bit worse, he still struck out about a quarter of lefties. All in all, the Astros have to be happy with the development of a guy many thought had a back-of-the-rotation (or 7th inning reliever) ceiling. He hasn’t proven he’s any of those things, but his bounce-back year in the PCL showed he could add some value if he can keep the ball in the park in the American League.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Saunders, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
9: Jones, LF
You may have seen/heard about the latest skirmish in the long-running battle about WAR, the comprehensive value stat for baseball players. Jeff Passan of Yahoo wrote a pretty good article about the incongruity of seeing Alex Gordon’s name top Mike Trout on the fangraphs leaderboard. Gordon’s value’s propelled in large part due to his defensive numbers, numbers which are out of line with his career averages (which were always good, just not great). Dave’s response was measured, and pointed to Robert Arthur’s work at BP and baseball’s own division of payroll to support the idea that the metrics absolutely need to include defensive numbers to get the total WAR numbers right for position players. Today, Tango (the inventor of WAR) has his own multi-part series explaining what WAR is and responding to criticisms about playing time, position adjustments and defense. It’s worth your time, whatever side of the fence you’re on.
One of the benefits of last night’s game, maybe the only one, was getting a longer look at rookie RP Carson Smith, who threw two great innings. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and think he could be a Zach Britton/Jeremy Affeldt type out of the pen at his peak, thanks to a freakish sinking fastball that should generate top-of-the-charts ground ball rates. He can pair it with a good breaking ball, allowing him to get some strikeouts too. The issue, for a side-arming sinkerballer, is going to be platoon splits. We all worried this would hurt Carter Capps’ ability to close long-term, and then Capps suddenly couldn’t get RIGHTIES out either, a fact that I still can’t quite fathom given his arm angle and velocity. Indeed, Smith’s platoon splits in the minors are fairly wide, though that’s mostly because he gave righties fits. This is also where the GB% can give him something of a cushion – if he can’t miss as many lefty bats, that’s OK as long as they’re hitting grounders. It’s also worth noting that his BABIP in the minors was always quite high, which could just be an artifact of lesser fields and fielders, or it could indicate some issues with hard contact. Still, Smith looks like a good one, and while the M’s don’t really have any vacancies for righties in their pen, having too many good big-league arms is a good problem to have.