Game 1, Angels at Mariners
Felix Hernandez vs. Jered Weaver, 1:10pm
Happy Felix Day, and happy opening day 2015.
The M’s face the team that most see as their primary competition for the AL West title. Given the expectations, this is probably the most anticipated opening day in years, but then, some of us get a queasy feeling in our stomach any time national writers place expectations on this club. Still, after so many Aprils when it really felt like the M’s had no shot, it’s nice to see the pendulum swing and, if anything, care *too much* about each early match-up. The division’s tight, and the M’s need to get a leg up on Anaheim while Garrett Richards is out. This can lead to over-analyzing every bullpen move, every sacrifice, every 1-2 pitch call, etc. That’s not fun, but it does evidence some investment in the outcome.
As we’ve talked about, the Angels won 98 games behind a powerhouse offense and a surprisingly good rotation. And as I mentioned last night, that rotation has a number of question marks heading into 2015. CJ Wilson probably engenders the most, but tonight’s starter, Jered Weaver, is close. I mentioned Weaver’s declining velocity in last year‘s opening day post, but if anything, that decline is picking up speed. Spring training is for getting work in, and it’s not iron-clad evidence of decline, but Weaver’s one start with gameday data this spring occurred on March 11th, and in that contest, Weaver’s four-seam fastball averaged 83.9mph. Bad pitch fx calibration? No, I don’t think so, as the start occurred in a Trackman park. Like most pitchers, Weaver’s velocity is down a bit in the early months of the year before peaking in August or so. Last year, he came out of the gate at around 86 before getting back to 88 in September. Not coincidentally, he was average or so in April before settling in with a brilliant May and a strong finish to his season.
Beyond velocity, though, there’s the matter of his home/road splits that we talked about last night. Weaver’s known for his rising fastball and the extreme fly ball rates it produces. Like Chris Young, his game is based around managing fly ball contact and running low HR/FB ratios – it all adds up to a pitcher who routinely outpitches his fielding-independent stats. Given his home park, you might assume that this approach works well in any park that suppresses home runs; anywhere that a fly ball produces fewer runs would seem to be a great park for Weaver and Chris Young. For whatever reason, that hasn’t been the case for Weaver.
Weaver has started 17 games at Safeco field, and has faced some of the most anemic offenses in recent baseball history. If any park in baseball would seem tailor-made for Weaver’s approach, it’s Safeco. And yet Weaver’s career batting line against in Seattle is .286/.331/.486. In one of the toughest offensive environments in the game, the M’s have hit like Adrian Gonzalez or Justin Upton in 2014. Sure, Weaver’s career stats are pulled down by struggles early in his career (though that just meant he was getting hit hard by Yuniesky Betancourt). After several good years, the old pattern has returned. In his last six starts at Safeco, he‘s given up 8 HRs, including four in two games last season. These are the kinds of games the M’s need to win if they want to take control of the division. They were great in the second half last season, but this year they need to start faster than they have in the past.
The opening day line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, LF
9: Miller, SS
SP: KING FELIX
The Padres had one final trade in their off-season, trading for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin “BJ” Upton last night in exchange for prospects Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck and the expiring contract of Carlos Quentin. Much of the focus of the trade thus far has been on the Braves’ ability to shed the contract of Upton, who produced essentially 0 WAR in two seasons in Atlanta. People have questioned why the Padres would need a closer at this point, but given their busy off-season, adding the game’s best reliever (it’s him or Aroldis Chapman) seems like a decent move in a two-wild-card environment. The Braves shed a lot of salary in what’s now unambiguously a rebuild, and given the moves THEY’VE made this off-season, they had less need for a lights-out closer than just about anyone. But given their roster at the end of the year, I’m a bit confused about why they decided to tear the whole thing down. This wasn’t an aging ballclub by any means – many of the players they’ve shipped out, including Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Kimbrel and Evan Gattis were under 28. Alex Wood and Julio Teheran, two of their top young starters, were both 23 last year. Heyward, 1B Freddie Freeman and SS Andrelton Simmons were all above-average players at age 24 last season. They finished a bit below .500 in 2014, but this is the kind of young core most teams would kill for. Instead of building around it, they’ve traded it all away, and while they’ve achieved a modicum of cost savings, it’s not like Heyward or Kimbrel were costly players in this era. They’ve acquired plenty of minor league talent – given the two Upton trades, they now employ a good chunk of the Padres’ top end-of-2014 prospects, but they don’t have a signature, key guy that’s an obvious part of their next young core. Max Fried, part of the first Upton haul, has a very high upside, but the young lefty missed almost all of 2014 with a forearm problem, and then had TJ surgery late in the year – he won’t pitch at all in 2015. Last night, the Braves picked up the Pads new #1 or #2 prospect, RHP Matt Wisler, a guy with solid command and the kind of make-up scouts rave about. What that hasn’t yet translated into is dominant stuff, as HR problems in the admittedly-HR-friendly PCL pumped his FIP and ERA over 5 last year. You don’t evaluate prospects based solely on stats, but the Braves gave up a lot of MLB talent and have a large collection of prospects with some very solid attributes and a whole lot of question marks. Instead of a good young club with a few holes, they’re now a decent staff with a questionable line-up that needs Nick Markakis (signed to what looks now like a completely bizarre four-year deal) and Eric Young, JR to produce. Sure, if you’re rebuilding, it seems smart to shop your closer. I’m just not clear on why Atlanta recreated Sherman’s march to the sea on their own line-up.
As a working stiff, I’m not thrilled about the early start time. I’ve heard from plenty of fans who like it, and for those of you heading to the game, I’m sure it works well, but I doubt I can watch any of it, and that’s disappointing.
Go Felix, and Go Mariners!