Game 16, Twins at Mariners

marc w · April 24, 2015 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Phil Hughes, 7:10pm

Last season, King Felix finished 4th in baseball in pitcher WAR. Slotting in 5th was Phil Hughes, Yankee cast-off, budget signing, and a guy who’d never come all that close to 3 WAR in a season before 2014’s 5.7. He set an all-time record for K:BB ratio, got his home runs under control and was rewarded with a generous contract extension that’ll run through 2019. There were a number of keys to his breakout season, but the most obvious one was a determination – really a single-minded obsession – to stick to the strike zone. Hughes has always had solid control, but in 2014 he all but stopped throwing balls. Not only was his walk rate the lowest in baseball, but his zone%, the percentage of pitches thrown in the zone, led all qualified hurlers by a mile. These days, this really is a side contest between Hughes and Bartolo Colon, and Hughes took it handily last year (Colon leads in the early-going of 2015, however – game on). This is interesting, because Hughes’ big problem in New York was the long ball. It seems odd that one could cure a meatball problem by throwing more strikes, but it seemed to work for Hughes (as did moving out of new Yankee Stadium, of course). Now, as a legitimate rotation ace, Hughes is attempting to show that his adjustments can last, and that his 2014 wasn’t a fluke.

Ah, adjustments. If there’s one thing Hughes is known for, it’s that he can’t stop making adjustments. Jeff’s talked about it, I’ve talked about it, and it seems like there’s a story about some change Hughes is making to his pitch mix or his arm angle. Hughes reacts to the ways batters react to him – if a pitch isn’t working, he drops it and uses another. Traditionally, this has taken the form of swapping out a slider and cutter, or curve and slider. In general, I think this sort of a thing is laudable, and it speaks to why scouts remark on a prospect’s “coachability.” There’s a humility to it all that you’d think guys with 4+ ERAs would have, or anyone in baseball, really, but in general, humility isn’t correlated too well with succeeding at the upper levels of baseball. Hughes’ adaptability seemed like a good proof of concept for how to bring sabermetrics into player development, and not just GM development – if you’ve got a guy who’ll follow the data, and someone capable of making changes to his repertoire based on data (and do so quickly), that sounds pretty cool. Now, however, Hughes faces a very different challenge.

Is Phil Hughes physically capable of NOT changing? Hughes tinkered so much because he hadn’t found an approach that’s led to consistent success as a starting pitcher. Righties annihilated his curve ball in 2012, so he ditched it and went to the slider. So, in 2013, lefties torched him, hitting .294/.354/.509 off him. 2014 brought the focus on the strike zone and he swapped the slider out again, this time going with a cutter and a slightly harder curve. A 5.7 fWAR season resulted, and I’m sure Hughes – and the Twins – would love to see him maintain the same approach. So how’s that going? Not so well. So far in 2015, he’s still throwing strikes, but the curve is all but gone, as Hughes almost out-Colons Colon, throwing a mix of 60% four-seamers, 16% sinkers and 18% cutters – all have average velocities between 90 and 92.2mph. Moreover, he’s changed his arm angle *again*, releasing the ball closer to the 3rd base side than he did last season (but similar to his 2012 arm angle). I have no idea how much of this is intentional, but it’s the most Phil Hughes thing ever.

Thus far, this new and…uh…different Phil Hughes hasn’t been able to recapture last year’s form. In 18 2/3 innings on the young season, he’s given up 11 runs on *4* HRs. The walks are still low, but he’s a quarter of the way to his 2014 HR total already. Like last season, it’s actually *righties* who are doing the most damage, and like last year, his BABIP’s still on the high end of normal. FIP loved his K:BB ratio and low HRs last year, but his actual runs allowed came in quite a bit above his fielding-independent stats.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ackley, LF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: El Cartelua

Tacoma’s Jordan Pries looks to avoid the big inning today and put together his first really good outing of the year. He’ll face off against Albuquerue starter Leuris Gomez, a swingman who came up as a position player, then toiled away as a starter who got big K numbers, but couldn’t keep teams off the board, to an intermittently successful reliever to…this. Mike Montgomery (and the R’s bullpen) combined on a 3 hit shutout of the Isotopes yesterday, winning 3-0. Montgomery gave up 1 hit in 6 IP, with 5 Ks, and Chris Taylor hit his second HR. As you may have heard, the M’s signed ex-White Sox RF Carlos Quentin to a minor league deal, and he was in the line-up for Tacoma, going 0-3 in his first game. He’s going to DH mostly, but may play 1B a few times a week. Quentin was traded to Atlanta recently purely to even out salaries in the BJ Upton deal, but was released immediately. ZiPS has him projected for a .340 MLB wOBA in limited duty.

Jackson faces off against the Tennessee Smokies today with Dylan Unsworth taking the hill against former 2nd round pick Rob Zastryzny. Tyler Pike walked 6 in 3 2/3 yesterday, half the Generals total of 12 free passes. As you might imagine, it didn’t go well, with the Smokies winning 9-2. Ex-M’s relief prospect Matt Brazis made his debut for Tennessee yesterday – he’s the guy the M’s sent to Chicago in exchange for Justin Ruggiano. Speaking of M’s/Cubs stuff, the Rainiers signed pitcher Tony Zych, who played parts of three seasons with the Smokies, and he’s made two appearances out of the pen for Jackson, the last one coming against Tennessee.

Edwin Diaz starts tonight as Bakersfield takes on San Jose. Bakersfield nipped the Giants 3-2 yesterday, with Tyler Marlette’s HR tying the game in the 6th, and a walk, 2 wild pitches and a single producing a walk-off win for the Blaze. Trey Cochran-Gill pitched a grounder-filled inning in relief for the win. The righty has yielded 2 hits and 1 run in 11 2/3 IP thus far with 12 Ks. As a major-college guy, he’s probably in line for a call-up in a while.

Clinton beat Kane County 7-1 yesterday, with Lukas Schiraldi and Osmer Morales pitching well, and Alex Jackson tallying two hits. German native Markus Solbach took the loss. Today, Jeferson Medina faces off with Daniel Gossett – it’s a rematch of the game 5 days ago that Clinton won easily.


25 Responses to “Game 16, Twins at Mariners”

  1. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 6:41 pm

    You have to think the Mariners should beat these guys, but Twins fans may be looking at the series with similar expectations, at least for the games Felix doesn’t start.

  2. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 7:20 pm

    3 up, 3 K’s. Felix is starting off strong.

  3. mksh21 on April 24th, 2015 7:33 pm

    Good lord, Cruz is out of his mind.

  4. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 7:37 pm

    Thanks to Jeff, I noticed that Rizzs said “Holy smokes!” after that home run. Oh damn, he did it again when Ackley flied out. Now I’m always going to hear that. Morrison’s fly out too. Aaaahhh!

    Thanks, Jeff.

  5. ensignofcommand on April 24th, 2015 7:38 pm

    Schafer can’t hit but man can he cover some ground.

  6. hidalgo on April 24th, 2015 7:40 pm

    Seager! Firmly planted on second channeling his inner John Olerud.

  7. MrZDevotee on April 24th, 2015 7:40 pm

    That’s a shame we didn’t get Felix another run… Tag and tag and that was an easy sacrifice fly on LoMo’s smack…

    Baserunning bites us again… I know Seager wants to score on Ackley’s hit if it hits the grass, but you have to use better judgement, both Seager AND the 3rd base coach…

    It’s really not fun to see us leave so many runs on the field that we should have scored.

  8. ensignofcommand on April 24th, 2015 7:57 pm

    I don’t mind the conservatism. Seager ran into a lot of outs last season due to over-aggressiveness and lack of speed.

    Plus, Ackley killed that ball. I thought it was extra bases off the bat and then Schafer channeled his inner 09 Guti and stabbed me in the balls.

  9. MrZDevotee on April 24th, 2015 8:01 pm

    Yeah, but “conservatism” would be tagging up… In this case “conservatism” would have scored a run.

  10. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 8:04 pm

    Hughes is living dangerously, or Rizzs is getting a little overwrought about some fly balls. He started getting warmed up for a home run call on three different fly outs so far.

    All followed by “Holy smokes!”

  11. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 8:07 pm

    Damn, a base runner!

  12. msfanmike on April 24th, 2015 8:10 pm

    That’s certainly not going to help LoMo’s BABIP issues.

  13. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 8:10 pm

    Hey, Morrison finally gets one.

  14. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 8:11 pm

    Way to put a good spin on it Mike!

  15. WTF_Ms on April 24th, 2015 8:22 pm

    When is Taylor due to come back up? I do not like Miller.

  16. Dennisss on April 24th, 2015 8:32 pm

    I read today that Taylor is ready any time they want him. With Willie still on the roster, it seems like a no-brainer to me to call up Taylor, but wtf do I know?

  17. djw on April 24th, 2015 8:36 pm

    Taylor is fine; he’s been playing regularly for a couple weeks, but as long as Miller is hitting as well as he is, there’s no reason to think Taylor is coming up (as it should be). Miller’s looked OK on defense until today and he’s been the team’s 3rd best hitter. No reason to mess with that.

    With Willie still on the roster, it seems like a no-brainer to me to call up Taylor

    They (correctly) recognize it’s a bad idea for Taylor to play once a week at this point.

  18. WTF_Ms on April 24th, 2015 8:51 pm

    Mike Z CAN.NOT.HIT.

  19. smb on April 24th, 2015 9:09 pm

    Oh, Felix. I love you.

  20. nvn8vbryce on April 24th, 2015 9:20 pm

    Damn, how often do you see not one but two complete games? Good thing Felix eats innings for breakfast, because I’m afraid we’ll be hitting the bullpen early and often.

  21. ensignofcommand on April 24th, 2015 9:52 pm


    I was agreeing with you. Didn’t come off that way with my phrasing on the second paragraph. Should’ve said “but” instead of “plus.”

    I was trying to say it was more understandable than some of the baserunning mistakes he made last year given how hard the ball was hit.


    That error was a tough play deep in the hole. No excuses, the mistakes are grating and Taylor’s more sure handed, but Miller’s offensive upside is too great to ignore. If he caters again make the switch, but right now he’s one of the best hitters on the team.

    If anything I’m more frustrated with Lloyd being so stuck in his left/right alternating ways that he’s batting him ninth instead of Zunino.

  22. mksh21 on April 24th, 2015 10:19 pm

    I had to get a spinal tap today. I thought that was an outdated thing like lobotomy’s. Sure enough real. And I was miserable.

    Thank you Felix and Nelson for making me feel better.

  23. MrZDevotee on April 24th, 2015 11:41 pm

    Ahh… Got ya ensign… Wasn’t frustrated with you, just frustrated about blown opportunities.

    With Felix going all 9 innings, who cares– Great win!

    Quote from a Twins player after the game:

    “He can throw any pitch in any count wherever he wants and they are all plus pitches,” Schafer said. “Thank God every guy you face isn’t like that.”

  24. LongDistance on April 24th, 2015 11:47 pm

    Molitor probably felt like HE was getting the spinal tap watching an ace outing by Hughes get aced out of existence. I shouldn’t be amazed, but I’m amazed at how spot on Marc was about Hughes. 96 pitches, 72 were strikes, and of the 30 bats in front of him 26 first-pitch strikes. Somewhere, that’s sort of phenomenal. But somewhere else, despite the phenomenal confidence needed to pitch like that, I can’t help feeling it’s eventually asking for trouble. Since everyone basically knows everything’s going to be in the zone, it would be reasonable for everyone to be expecting that sooner or later he’ll slip and tee one up for at least a one shot. And he did. And the result was what we seem to do best: dingers. And, no, I’m not being snide about that. But we all know a +.500 season isn’t going to happen on home runs, alone. Thank you, indeed, Felix, and yeah, Nelson.

  25. mariner_funk on April 25th, 2015 12:02 pm

    AAAAARGH I didn’t even see that Iwakuma hit the DL till today. That sucks. Recalled Luetge? Odd Choice to replace Kuma. Figured Elias.

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