Game 7, Mariners at Dodgers
James Paxton vs. Brandon McCarthy, 7:10pm
I’m not sure that was a fun series, but I’ll certainly take an intra-divisional series win on the road. Sure, the Fernando Rodney Experience remains terrifying at times, but there’s a reason fairground rides simulate danger and not, I don’t know, reclining. Seth Smith’s nether-regions have prevented the M’s from deploying their OF in a mathematically perfect way, but McClendon’s made substitutions in critical at-bats, and he was rewarded yesterday with Rickie Weeks huge pinch-hit 3R HR. That said, Smith’s injury has led to Nelson Cruz playing four out of the six games in the OF, and the A’s seemed to take advantage of the sub-optimal defense. In any event, the M’s are back at .500 as they head to Los Angeles tonight to take on the Dodgers.
If you think the M’s had high expectations for 2015, think about the Dodgers. With their record-setting payroll, a star-studded rotation and a willingness to lay out tens of millions to players who now play for different teams, the Dodgers have been building front runners for a while, and after coming up short last year, they need to start turning revenue advantages into championships. The Dodgers added to their rotation in December by bringing in RHP Brandon McCarthy, the ex-Athletic and D-Back who rejuvenated his career after a July trade to the Yankees last season. With Arizona, McCarthy’s xFIP remained stellar, but his ERA soared thanks to a spate of HRs. How’d the guy who famously re-worked his entire game to *avoid* HRs return to giving them up in bunches? His home park may have played a role, but after the trade, McCarthy himself fingered the advice he got from Arizona: shelve the cutter and stick with the sinker. In this telling, the D-Backs changed McCarthy’s game plan either because they thought it might prevent flare-ups of the shoulder injuries that have plagued McCarthy, or because they preferred his sinker. After the trade, his new club told him to bring back the cutter, a pitch that he used more than any other in his successful 2-year run with Oakland.
It all sounds so convincing, and the dates line up, but there’s more to it than a club taking away a pitcher’s best tool. The problem with McCarthy’s cutter in Arizona wasn’t that he wasn’t allowed to throw it, the problem was that the pitch was absolutely terrible. In Oakland, McCarthy threw his cutter around 40% of the time to righties and lefties alike, and the pitch was successful against both. Agains righties, he gave up a total of 4 HRs in two years on the cutter, leading to a SLG%-allowed of just .369. As you might expect, McCarthy was very tough on righties in those years, holding RHBs to .279 and .278 wOBAs in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2013, in his first year with Arizona, McCarthy’s cutter usage was still over 30% to righties and lefties, but his results started to falter. Righties hit over .300 on the pitch, after managing a .238 average in Oakland. He gave up three HRs to RHBs in 2013 alone, and while you can’t put all of the blame for McCarthy’s results on the cutter, it certainly didn’t help. Suddenly, *righties* were McCarthy’s big problem – they put up a .353 wOBA in 2013, and McCarthy’s K% against them tumbled to 10%. His sinker was getting far more grounders than it ever did in Oakland, but McCarthy was looking a lot more like Aaron Cook or late-career Derek Lowe than he did Roy Halladay, the guy he modeled his game on back in 2010.
It’s with that context that Arizona’s advice to McCarthy looks a bit more understandable. In the first half of 2014, McCarthy threw almost no cutters to RHBs. He’d use it occasionally to lefties, but he’d become a sinker/curve pitcher, primarily. I say *almost* no cutters, because he did throw a handful, and the results were comically bad. McCarthy threw a total of 34 cutters to righties. Only ten were put into play, and four went for extra bases, including three HRs. It’s the ultimate in small-samples driving absurd numbers, but I have to point out that righties were slugging 1.231 on cutters before the trade. Without the cutter, he became more reliant on his sinker. Paired with his sudden jump in velocity, McCarthy was now generating elite GB rates, but righties still punished mistakes once they knew they didn’t have to worry about the cutter.
In New York, the Yankees allowed McCarthy to throw the cutter to anyone again, but the bigger change was taking McCarthy’s old four-seamer off the shelf. In that ESPN profile, a lot of blame was heaped on that arrow-straight, rising FB that led to sky-high fly ball rates and tons of HRs allowed, but even in the tight confines of new Yankee stadium, New York got McCarthy to turn back to a pitch he hadn’t used much at all since 2009-10. The results were pretty remarkable. Not only did his velocity continue climbing, but it seemed that having the four-seamer disguised his two-seamer a bit. As you’d expect, his GB rates dropped a bit, but that was balanced out by an increase in his K rate and a drop in his already microscopic walk rate. What the new approach couldn’t do, though, was salvage his cutter’s effectiveness. With New York, righties slugged a mere .795 on his cutter. Despite that, McCarthy’s overall results were stellar just as he hit free agency. Though he expected the Yankees to snap him up, the Dodgers stepped in with a four-year offer – not bad for a guy with a congenital shoulder defect.
In his first start with the Dodgers, McCarthy faced San Diego. His four-seamer now touches 95 with some regularity, and by mixing four pitches, McCarthy racked up 9 strikeouts in just 5 IP. He also gave up two HRs, including one on a cutter to RHB Will Middlebrooks. McCarthy’s been incredible to follow for many reasons – he mixes humor with actual insights about his approach and how it’s changed on twitter. He seems so open to data, and he’s the best example (only example?) of a pitcher utilizing sabermetrics to make himself better. Like many hurlers, looking at his year by year (or month by month) numbers shows a willingness to adapt and change. He’s now a wealthier man because of this willingness, but I’m kind of curious to see what becomes of his cutter. He may not need it, but if righties start to hit him hard again, he’ll need to make further changes.
James Paxton doesn’t yet have to worry about same-handed batters. No one lets lefties face him, and given the results of the few lefties who’ve tried, that seems like a good approach. Curves in general don’t have big platoon-splits (as we see with McCarthy), and Paxton’s hook is an equal-opportunity weapon. The samples are too small to mean much, but lefties have actually fared a bit better against his fastball than righties, though this may just be an artifact of the *kind* of lefties that remain in line-ups when Paxton’s on the hill – guys like Adrian Gonzalez tonight.
1: Ackley, CF (!)
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, LF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Miller, SS
The NL, man. Ackley in CF for the first time since 2013.
One roster move today as Dominic Leone was recalled from Tacoma. Tom Wilhelmsen’s been placed on the 15-day DL.
The Rainiers fell to El Paso yesterday, evening their record at 2-2. They head to Albuquerque tonight to take on the Isotopes, who ground out a clean, PCL-style 16-10 win against Reno yesterday. Mike Kickham didn’t make it to 5 IP yesterday for Tacoma, but the offense kept things close thanks to Patrick Kivlehan’s 2nd HR. Chris Taylor DH’d and went 0-5. Today’s game marks the org debut for Mike Montgomery, the return in the Erasmo Ramirez deal. It’s kind of a tough place to play for a guy with HR problems, but I think Jaime Navarro and the Rainiers staff just want to see what they have in the lefty. Game time’s 6:05, and the Isotopes send out MLB vet Jair Jurrjens for his first start of 2015. James Jones hurt his shoulder after running into the El Paso wall yesterday, but it sounds like he’ll be ready to go today.
AA Jackson played an early game today, but rain washed it away in the 7th, with the score still tied at 0. DJ Peterson knocked a single for his first hit of 2015 (he started the year 0-17), but the story was Misael Siverio’s 5 scoreless innings with 5 Ks. The game won’t be made up.
Bakersfield got into the win column yesterday, beating Rancho Cucamonga 7-2 behind C Tyler Marlette’s two HRs. Burt Reynolds, the 26-year old single-A outfielder more famous for being Robbie Cano’s cousin, hit a HR of his own as well. Tonight, lefty Jake Zokan gets the start against Modesto (now a Rockies affiliate).
Clinton lost to Quad City yesterday 7-2, as Alex Jackson went 0-3 and Patrick Peterson had a shaky 5th inning to blow the game open. Today, Lukas Schiraldi (yes, Calvin Schiraldi’s son) takes the hill for the LumberKings.
In the minor league transactions compiled by Baseball America, you’ll find ex-R’s and M’s Bryan LaHair was released by Boston and Mike Carp by Washington, while Matt Tuiasosopo was picked up by the White Sox org. Maikel Cleto, the man swapped for Brendan Ryan in a trade that felt like it’d mean a lot more than it did, was outrighted by the White Sox.