Game 14, Astros at Mariners

April 21, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. Collin McHugh, 7:10pm

The M’s had an improbable comeback to beat the Rangers on Sunday, and then missed a great opportunity to gain some ground last night. Asher Wojchiechowski was predictably mediocre, and the M’s lefties (and Cruz) made him pay, but some shaky bullpen work and a lack of timely hits resulted in a loss. Today, the pitching match-up appears to be against them, as struggling Taijuan Walker faces Collin McHugh, the AAAA reject turned all-star level starter.

McHugh announced his rebirth as a bona fide MLB pitcher almost exactly a year ago today (it was April 22nd, to be precise) at Safeco Field. The righty was called up from AAA to make a start around three weeks in to the season. At that point, he’d made a handful of unexceptional starts for Oklahoma City, and he was a few months passed getting waived by the Colorado Rockies org after putting up 19 sub-replacement level innings for the big club. That night in Seattle, however, McHugh struck out 12, walked no one, and went 6 2/3 scoreless innings, yielding only 3 hits. He had his ups and downs, but finished 2014 with 3.2 fWAR in just 154+ IP; by ERA-based WAR, he was even better, at 4 full wins above replacement.

As Neil Weinberg talked about at Fangraphs recently, McHugh looked like a new pitcher right from that first start, even if that was the low point for the 2014 M’s – they were mired in a losing streak and looked god awful. But down the stretch, he changed again and became even more effective. Somewhere during the 2nd half, something clicked for McHugh, and both his walk rate and his home run rate fell markedly. It’s still only 300 batters faced, but every single component is different/better. He’s been effective in two starts thus far, so McHugh’s doing all he can to show that last season wasn’t a fluke (Matt Shoemaker, on the other hand…).

The first big change McHugh made last year was to develop better fastball command. By keeping the ball away from lefties, he started finding some success against southpaws for the first time in his brief big league career. But down the stretch, McHugh changed again, and began featuring his slider much, much more. At this point, McHugh is throwing fastballs less than 1/3 of the time. The pitch he throws most is his slider, at 40%. He’s also got a curve ball he throws 1/4 of the time versus lefties and 1/5 of the time to righties, and a change-up that he’ll go to infrequently to lefties. McHugh is the anti-Ross Detwiler, but he’s nearly as extreme. His approach looks most similar to Madison Bumgarner, another pitcher who makes liberal use of a slider to opposite-handed hitters, but even Bumgarner still throws 50% FBs (if you combine 4- and 2-seamers). The three pitchers most similar to McHugh’s approach last year were Francisco Liriano in Pittsburgh, Hiroki Kuroda in New York and Kevin Correia in the Twin Cities. This isn’t about creating a list of comps, and it’s not to suggest that McHugh will bounce out of the bigs the way Correia has, or that this is a late-career move, or anything like that. This observation is merely descriptive: McHugh has been incredibly successful of late, and McHugh’s approach is pretty unlike that of most other MLB starters.

Taijuan Walker is also at one end of the results distribution, unfortunately. Walker’s been hit hard repeatedly, and that’s got a lot of fans looking to the minors for help. Roenis Elias is on the 40-man, but he’s been shaky thus far. Jordan Pries was a good candidate to show up eventually, but he’d require a 40-man move and he’s been worse than Elias. The pitching depth in the system hasn’t been able to develop just yet – Danny Hultzen’s still in instructs, and a 40-man move this early feels like an overreactive response. Walker may be best off in MLB with Rick Waits working on both his fastball command and his mental approach to yielding a few hits, but that doesn’t mean his starts are practice games. The AL West is still tightly bunched, unlike, say, the NL East. That alone buys the M’s a bit of time. But that also means that the division is still just as tight as the predictions thought it’d be, and other teams reinforcements are already moving in (Garrett Richards in Anaheim, Josh Reddick in Oakland). Walker has some time, but not a ton of it.

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

Tacoma kicked the Chihuahuas last night by a score of 5-4. Roenis Elias still wasn’t sharp, going 5 IP with 7 hits and 4 runs allowed, but it was enough thanks to two 5th inning HRs, one from Chris Taylor and the other from Jesus Montero. Today, Sam Gaviglio gets the start against Carlos Hernandez of Albuquerque.

Jackson beat Tennessee 7-1 yesterday, as Misael Siverio was sharp over 5 2/3 IP, giving up 2 hits and 1 run (a HR by zaftig 1B prospect Dan Vogelbach). The Generals were held scoreless until the 7th, but they made up for lost time with Leon Landry notching 3 RBIs in his first game of the season. Stephen Landazuri makes his third start tonight; he’s yet to give up a run in 8 IP, though his last start was shortened to just 2 IP due to rain (they finished the game the next day).

Bakersfield started slow, but they’re on a bit of a roll now. They beat Stockton 5-1 yesterday behind prospect Ryan Yarbrough’s best start of the year – he went 6 scoreless, and didn’t walk anyone. That said, with just a single K, I’m starting to wonder about his bat-missing. It’s really early, of course, but Yarbrough shot up rankings by racking up 53 strikeouts (against just 4 walks!) in less than 39 IP for Everett. This year, he’s got 6 Ks (and 2 walks) in 16 IP. Something to watch, I suppose. And hey, Tyler O’Neill showed further signs of breaking out of an early slump with a triple, and Austin Wilson, who’d looked lost in the early going, went 2-4 with his first Cal League HR. Dan Altavila starts tonight against Stockton and their Aussie SP, Tim Atherton. Atherton was originally signed as an OF by Minnesota, and then released by both the Twins and Padres. He moved to the mound, and pitched well in the Australian league before the Twins signed him again, this time as a pitcher. Oakland then acquired him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

Daniel Missaki got hit fairly hard yesterday in Clinton’s loss to Beloit 7-5. Missaki K’d 7 in 5 IP, but also gave up 8 hits and 4 runs. Nick Kiel, of Everett’s Jackson HS and Bellevue College, pitched the final two frames in his first game action of 2015; Kiel was an 18th rounder last year and played in Peoria and Everett late in 2014. Today, Tyler Herb starts for Clinton against Kane County’s Jeferson Mejia, a D-Backs prospect who came from the Cubs org in the Miguel Montero deal. Mejia had a good year in the Arizona League last year, and while he got destroyed in his first class A start, he’s 6’7″, and probably bigger than his listed 195 – shades of Michael Pineda, a bit, or, for the pessimists, shades of Michael Ynoa.

Podcast: Nelson Cruzzzzzzzzzzzzz

April 20, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

So many ding-dongers you guys. So many!

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner┬áin general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

Game 13, Astros at Mariners

April 20, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Asher Wojchichowski, 7:10pm

Baseball seasons are famously long and grinding, and it’s difficult to take time to really bask in a win like yesterday’s. What’s more, since you can’t predict baseball and all that, you can’t see them coming – you just have to stick it out, through 12-0 drubbings, and 6-3 losses you’ve forgotten before they end. You stick it out and suddenly you get a game with Willie Bloomquist starting at SS, a game in which the team is down 5 to Ross Detwiler and down 5 again to the Ranger bullpen that becomes something you’ll remember for years. I will be in line at a market, and I will think about Cruz’s reaction to the walk-off hit, and I will conveniently excise the 3rd inning and feel slightly happier. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s pretty great. That, nice weather, beer, tradition, cultural norms, etc. are why we follow the game religiously. Felix, too, of course.

Today’s game doesn’t look all too promising, but it might look better on paper than yesterday’s, and look what happened! Asher Wojciechowski is a right-hander who was a supplemental-1st round pick of the Blue Jays in 2010. The Jays reworked his delivery with spotty results, and finally sent him to Houston in a July 2010 deal that’s been characterized as the most boring ten-player trade ever. The headliner, I suppose, was JA Happ, and the return was six fair-to-middling prospects to add depth to an Astros system still hollowed out by the last few Ed Wade years. Nobody Houston received was a clear blue-chip player – this was the exception proving the rule that you can’t just add more so-so players to make a deal appealing – but Wojchiechowski had that first-round pedigree and some initial success in the lower levels of the Jays system. The only other prospect in that deal with a strong shot at the majors was David Rollins, the guy the M’s selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft and who’d be in the bullpen now if it wasn’t for a PED suspension.

Before the trade, Wojciechowski was probably best known for his peripatetic childhood, as his missionary parents moved from state to state, and also briefly to the Dominican Republic before spending Asher’s little league years in Bucharest, Romania. Luckily, Bucharest somehow had a little league team. After spending several years in Michigan, the family moved to the southeast for his final year of high school to help the recruiting process. Wojo’s got prototypical size at 6’4″ 235lbs, and he rewarded Houston initially with a stand-out 2013, faring reasonably well in the PCL after a quick stop in AA. Unfortunately, his 2014 was marred by a bad lat strain – the kind of injury that nuked ex-M’s reliever Stephen Pryor’s 2013, and that sidelined James Paxton last year as well. When Wojciechowski returned, he was mediocre, giving up 89 hits and 46 runs in 76 PCL innings.

Now fully healed, he made the Astros rotation as the 5th starter, though he’s made just one start and one relief appearance to date. His fastball’s completely unremarkable – a four-seamer at 91 with average rise and horizontal run. He also throws a change-up and a slider, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to say about them. To date, Wojciechowski has found it extremely difficult to get MLB hitters to swing and miss at any of his pitches, which makes his 6 Ks in 8 IP all the more impressive. We don’t have much info to go on, but the thing that jumped off the page to me was his extremely low GB rate. He doesn’t throw a sinker, and his fastball doesn’t have much natural sink, so I wondered if it was a fluke. Probably not – he’s posted very low ratios in the upper minors as well. The key is how he uses his pitches. He seems to like keeping his fastball up, preferring to miss up and out of the zone than to try to target the (expanding) lower reaches of the zone. We’ve talked about this approach in recent years, thanks to high-strike maven Chris Young’s 2014 and Trevor Bauer’s twitter rants against the “aim for the knees” doctrine. It’s true – you can get lots of whiffs, infield pop-ups and a lower BABIP if you can reliably pull off the high strike. The problem, of course, is what happens if you can’t reliably pull it off. He’s had two four-inning appearances this season. In the first, he surrendered two HRs to the Indians. In the second, he avoided mistakes and struck out 4 without giving up a run. We’ll see how good the righty’s command is tonight against an M’s line-up that’s probably feeling a bit better about itself after yesterday’s 11-run barrage.

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

Six lefties against Wojo, who struggled with lefties in his minor league career. Nicely done.

The Rainiers look for their first home win tonight against El Paso, with Roenis Elias on the hill. His first outing against the Chihuahuas was not…good, but he’s got another shot, and this time he’ll face them in a pitcher’s park. The park didn’t help Jordan Pries yesterday, as he coughed up a 5 run lead thanks to a 5 run 5th that ended his day. Joe Saunders gave up four runs in relief, and that was essentially that. Franklin Gutierrez homered, and Julio Morban had two hits in his first game since being promoted from Jackson. Ketel Marte is hitting over .300 and he drew two walks yesterday, bringing his OBP over .350, which sounds great, until you see that his SLG% is just .326. It’s an encouraging start, but the ceiling still looks really low.

Jackson got rained out again on get-away day for the second straight time. They face the Tennessee Smokies today, with Misael Siverio facing Cubs reliever-turned-starter Frank Batista.

Bakersfield, coming off back to back shutouts of San Jose, handed the ball to ace Edwin Diaz yesterday, but the scoreless inning streak stopped pretty suddenly. Diaz just wasn’t sharp, giving up 4 R in 2 2/3 IP, but the offense bailed him out, as the Blaze won 10-7. Tyler O’Neill homered, which is great to see after the Canuck’s slow start. The Blaze face Stockton tonight, with Ryan Yarbrough opposing Dylan Covey, an A’s 4th rounder from 2013.

Clinton beat Beloit 9-4 thanks to three hits from Gianfranco Wawoe, a hit and two walks by Joe DeCarlo and a decent game from pitchers Jefferson Medina, Ryan Horstman, Rohn Pierce and Peter Miller. Horstman, the rare freshman-eligible collegiate player the M’s got from St. Johns, has been good in the early-going, with 8Ks and 2BBs in 6 scoreless innings. Clinton faces the Snappers again tonight with Daniel Missaki on the hill against Brett Graves – a rematch of the game on April 10th that the L-Kings lost 4-3.

Game 12, Rangers at Mariners

April 19, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Ross Detwiler, 1:10pm

Felix did his job. As staff ace and de facto psychologist, Felix stymied the Rangers and assuaged the fatalism and disappointment surrounding the club, if only for a few days. Every fan base does this – it’s not just M’s fans who go “here we go again” after a bleak 3-4 game stretch – but it’s nice that Felix’ greatness is such that he seems to quiet the concerns about the *offense* by making offense look unimportant. Instead of elite athletes at the far, far edge of the talent distribution pummeling pitches all over the park, Felix makes hitting look like a series of pratfalls – mistimed lunges, tepid swatting (as if at a persistent bee), and confused stares. The M’s really should’ve done more against Colby Lewis, but it just didn’t matter.

Today, the M’s go for the series win against let-hander Ross Detwiler, the one-time 6th overall pick of the Nationals who came over in a minor trade in December. Detwiler’s battled a series of injuries over the years, including a surgically repaired hip and a pinched nerve in his back. After throwing a career-high 164 1/3 regular-season IP in 2012, those injuries and the Nationals suddenly stacked rotation pushed Detwiler to a long-relief/swingman role, but he’s back in the rotation with the, uh, unstacked Rangers.

There’s nothing that really stands out in Detwiler’s repertoire – he’s got a four- and two-seam fastball at about 93-94, a curve at 80 and a change-up that he uses, rarely, against righties. So, a FB/CU pitcher – not that much different from Paxton, right? Despite the surface similarities, Detwiler’s actually got more in common with Bartolo Colon. Combining four- and two-seam fastballs, Detwiler is extremely fastball-reliant. In his big year of 2012, fully 80% of his pitches were fastballs. Last year, that number was even higher, at around 84%. Against lefties, he’s pushing 90% fairly regularly, and he was over 80% last year against righties as well. Given that approach, it’s a bit odd to see that he’s got persistently high platoon splits. Lefties just don’t seem to see his fastball well, and have a career .302 SLG% against Detwiler. Thus, Detwiler typically sees more righties than lefties, and righties have fared fairly well. So that’s great, right? The M’s can throw out a righty-heavy line-up, and they’re just *fastballs* right? Aw, man.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Weeks, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, LF
7: Bloomquist, SS
8: Morrison, 1B
9: Sucre, C
SP: Paxton

I like the top of that line-up, but it peters out towards the end. Bloomquist is at SS, and is the official back-up for a while as the M’s took Chris Taylor off the DL and optioned him to Tacoma.

Speaking of Tacoma, Mike Montgomery had a forgettable home debut last night as the Rainiers dropped the second game of their series against El Paso 6-3. Montgomery gave up 5 runs in 2 2/3 IP. Patrick Kivlehan homered. Today, Jordan Pries tries to make some adjustments and get back to where he was last season against the Chihuahuas and Jason Lane in an opening day re-match.

Jackson lost 7-3 to Mississippi yesterday, with Dylan Unsworth taking his 2nd loss; Jordan Shipers also got tagged for 2R in 2 relief innings. Braves prospect Mallex Smith, who came over from SD in an Upton trade went 3-5 with a triple. In the series, the lead-off man and CF is 10-20 with a HR. Cuban lefty Misael Siverio starts today for Jackson in the final game of the series.

Bakersfield won another 3-0 game behind Jake Zokan and Trey Cochran-Gill. The latter, another short righty from an SEC school with a good fastball, has had a brilliant start to his pro career, with 24 hits and 3 total runs in 45 2/3 IP, along with 55 Ks amd just seven un-intentional walks. We saw him a bit in spring training, where he showed a side-winding, sinking FB and a slider. Things aren’t going to get any easier today for San Jose as Edwin Diaz, who’s yet to surrender a run this year, makes his third start.

Clinton’s comeback fell short against Beloit yesterday, 6-5. Alex Jackson and Joe DeCarlo went 0-7 with 4 Ks, which isn’t what you want from your #3-4 hitters. Jefferson Medina starts today for the LumberKings against Dan Gossett, a 2014 2nd rounder for the A’s out of Clemson.

Game 11, Rangers at Mariners

April 18, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

King Felix vs. Colby Lewis, 6:10pm (Note the odd start time)

Happy Felix Day. This one couldn’t come at a better time – when the M’s have lost four in a row, with an offense sputtering to the lowest OBP in the league, and a pitching staff that’s put up the third-worst ERA in baseball. I always love Felix starts when the M’s are on a bit of a roll, and it feels like they’re up 2-0 before the game even starts. Those have been the exception, of course; we’re all a bit more familiar with these “Save us, Felix” starts in which it falls to Felix to halt a slide. It’s early, and Lloyd McClendon isn’t necessarily wrong when he says the team will click eventually – their FIP is a full run lower than their ERA, and the club’s worst-in-baseball BABIP means luck has played a role in the awful OBP. Still, this isn’t the start anyone wanted, and the Oakland series feels ages ago now. After putting up another poor performance against Gallardo last night, the M’s face long-time Rangers junkballer Colby Lewis.

Lewis famously reworked his mechanics and repertoire during a stint in Japan with Hiroshima, and returned to the AL in 2010 as a surprisingly good starter. Injuries and age have sapped some velocity and the bite on his slider, and his platoon splits have become more and more of an issue, but he’s giving Texas innings at a time they desperately need them. He was worth a bit over 1 fWAR last year, despite an ugly ERA, thanks to a consistently good K:BB ratio. That said, as a fly-baller who plays in Texas, he’s always had home run issues. And as he’s aged, that problem’s getting a bit worse.

Lewis’ four-seamer is now in the 88-89mph range, and his best pitch is a slider that comes in around 83. It’s got a lot of drop for a slider, and that two-plane movement has helped it be effective against lefties as well as righties – since 2012, he’s had better results with it to lefties, though that’s due in part to sample size and the situations he uses it in against southpaws. He throws about 1/3 sliders to righties, but he’ll mix it in with a curve and change to lefties; neither pitch is particularly effective, but they give batters something to think about. Despite the slider and a five-pitch mix, he continues to struggle against lefties. In his career, lefties have a .361 wOBA against him, while righties are at .318. This is an opportunity for the M’s to use their lefty-heavy line-up to good effect.

Felix scared us all a bit with his quad problem in Oakland. It obviously isn’t too serious as he’s making the start tonight, and it also provides a convenient excuse for Felix’s poor game in Oakland. If he’s healthy, this *should* be a decent match-up, and yes, I realize I said that yesterday.

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

Zunino in the 9th spot for the first time. Can’t say I mind. Smith started hot, but has yet to draw a walk on the season – hell, even Zunino’s got two of them.

As Jeff pointed out a week or so ago, the Angels are weighing their options to rid themselves of the Josh Hamilton contract. Ken Rosenthal mentions that the Angels are looking to trade him, but could buy out Hamilton – not sure how much savings they’d get on the $83 million they still owe him. It’s been a rough few months for Hamilton, who filed for divorce recently as well.

Pete Rose will join Fox as a studio analyst, according to, er, Fox. I guess they should know.

The Rainiers dropped their home opener to El Paso last night 4-2 after starter Mike Kickham walked 7 in 5 IP. It’s a gorgeous day today, and the Rainiers game starts at 5pm – plenty of sunlight left. Mike Montgomery gets the start after an encouraging 2015 debut. Very curious to hear how he looks and how hard he’s throwing these days.

Jackson lost 6-5 in 12 innings yesterday, but that’s OK. The Mississippi Braves scored the winning run off Carlton Tanabe, the catcher, who was pressed into service on the mound after the Generals had run through so many pitchers in the first week. More importantly, DJ Peterson showed some signs of life, going 3-6 with a double. Dylan Unsworth starts tonight’s contest.

The Bakersfield Blaze shut out San Jose, with Carlos Misell, Emilio Pagan and Brett Ash combining for 9Ks and just a single walk. Tyler O’Neill and Austin Wilson both had hits, but the offensive star was Tyler Marlette, again. He’s now at 12 for 24 on the year, with a pair of HRs. I was a bit surprised he started in high-A; maybe Marlette’s taking his frustration out on the Cal League, and maybe they wanted to give him some confidence for when he moves back up to AA. Jake Zokan starts tonight against DJ Snelton, a 9th rounder in 2013 out of Minnesota.

Clinton won 3-2 yesterday behind six shutout innings from Pat Peterson, who struck out 7 along the way. Joe DeCarlo continued his hot start with another HR – that’s 3 in 2 days for him. Clinton faces the Beloit Snappers today, and send Lukas Schiraldi to the mound.

Game 10, Rangers at Mariners

April 17, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

JA Happ vs. Yovani Gallardo, 7:10pm

Great night for a ballgame tonight, and you head to Safeco to see the M’s and Rangers, or go south to Cheney for the Rainiers’ home opener. The M’s gut-wrenching sweep in LA hurt, but the M’s now get 16 straight games against the Rangers, Astros and Twins, the teams projected to rank 15th, 14th and 12th in the AL this year. The M’s Fangraphs projections haven’t taken too much of a hit thanks to that faceplant in Chavez Ravine because the Angels were swept by Kansas City a bit before. The Baseball Prospectus odds haven’t changed much, because the M’s were never favored in them – they saw the Angels as the clear favorite, and still do.

The Rangers acquired Gallardo from the Brewers to solidify the middle of their rotation. They had Yu Darvish and Derek Holland ahead, and would be bringing in some youngsters for the back, so getting a veteran #3 seemed like a great move even for a team that wasn’t ready to compete in 2015. Thanks to the injuries that continue to ravage the club, Gallardo’s now the de facto ace, and that’s asking a lot from the 29 year old. As I mentioned when the M’s faced him this spring, one of the issues facing Gallardo as he moves to the AL is the plethora of left-handed hitting thanks in part to the DH and in part because that’s just how the AL West rolls. The A’s have been platooning for years, the M’s have moved from a bunch of switch-hitters to a more Oakland-style of platooning. Gallardo’s straight-over-the-top delivery minimzed his platoon splits, but he still had some, and in the NL Central, he still got to face more righties than lefties.

When he’s on, his four-seam fastball’s a weapon against all hitters, and he can mix in a slider and a curve as well. Even as his strikeout rate has fallen, he’s maintained a level of effectiveness because he’s been able to get ground balls and limit walks. That’s what’s going to be interesting to see if he can maintain in the new league – his walk numbers are worse against lefties, but he’s balanced it by limiting HRs and getting K’s. If neither of those two things hold, and limiting HRs in Arlington is kind of a challenge, his stats may tumble. It’s early yet, but he’s been hit fairly hard, and by lefties in particular (and as you’d guess, he’s now facing more lefties than righties instead of the other way around). To counteract this, it looks like he may make more use of his change-up. He threw all of 20 of them in 2014, and he’s already at 12 just 9 innings and change into 2015. It’s something he’s been toying with for years, and his success with it will go a long way towards his overall value.

Among the fun things you can do with one week of data is scan through the list of each team’s most valuable player of 2015. The M’s most valuable position player has been Nelson Cruz, of course. The Rangers’ most valuable player has been ex-Mariner Carlos Peguero. The big Dominican didn’t get a shot last year in Kansas City, so he’s moved to the Rangers org, and he’s been forced into duty with injuries to Shin-Soo Choo and opening day LF Ryan Rua. Prince Fielder looks great at the plate, and he’s struck out just twice in 44 plate appearances this year, but he’s not hitting for power at all. But at least he’s hitting *something*. The Rangers come in with a slash line of .210/.290/.335 thanks to slow starts from Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Leonys Martin. The splits are even more meaningless given the sample, but they’ve been worse against lefties, which makes sense given that only Fielder and Peguero are hitting, and they’re both southpaws. Fielder’s got sneaky large platoon splits over his career too, so it’s not a bad match up for JA Happ tonight.

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

Zunino’s now struck out 14 times in 30 at-bats, and has just a single XBH. He’s never going to be a high-contact guy, so he needs to hit for power to (partially) offset all the whiffs. His o-swing has actually improved a bit this year, only to have his IN-zone contact plummet. Right now, pitchers are beating him with fastballs in the zone, and that simply can’t happen. Not sure what needs to change, but the poor kid is totally out of sorts thus far.

The Rainiers kick off their home schedule tonight with a 7:05 start against the El Paso Chihuahuas. Mike Kickham starts for Tacoma opposite James Needy; these two faced off five days ago in a forgettable 7-6 El Paso win. Needy gave up two HRs in that one, to Carlos Rivero and Patrick Kivlehan. The R’s picked up a win in extras yesterday, getting a great performance from Sam Gaviglio, who went the first six, and then 5 scoreless innings from the ‘pen.

AA Jackson continued their rained-out home opener yesterday, then played a 7 inning game after it. They lost the continuation game, but won the nightcap behind HRs from Gabby Guerrero and Jabari Henry. Moises Hernandez capped off a bullpen day to get the win. DJ Peterson’s slow start continues; after notching a single in game 1, he went 0-3 in game 2, dropping his season line to .080/.115/.080. Tyler Pike starts tonight against Mississippi.

Everything about Bakersfield’s game last night was terrible, with the exception of Tyler Marlette’s 3-3 night. They send Carlos Misell to the hill tonight against San Jose in the hopes of giving me something good to say tomorrow.

Clinton won 7-6 yesterday thanks to two Joe DeCarlo HRs. The over-slot 2nd rounder from the 2012 draft has taken a loooong time to get going in pro ball, and he’s moved down the defensive spectrum, but he’s off to a respectable start in the pitcher-friendly MWL. Alex Jackson went 0-6, but his line of .111/.219/.185 is better than Peterson’s. Tonight, Patrick Peterson gets the ball against Kane County.

The most anticipated baseballing event of the day had nothing to do with the M’s or its affiliates. Instead, the eyes of baseball fans were on Wrigley Field for the MLB debut of top prospect Kris Bryant. His brilliant spring and the Cubs decision to send him to the minors for service time manipulation seasoning/defensive work has been the talk of baseball for a month, perhaps even overshadowing much of the majors’ first week. He debuted in the clean-up spot, just like legendary Mariner prospect Al Chambers, and went 0-4 with 3 Ks. Bryant will always have some Ks, but he looked pretty lost against James Shields’ great change-up.* It was something of a let down for a crowd that was there to heap praise on the rookie. Bryant’s first AB became a sustained standing ovation, as the entire crowd stood and positioned their cell phones to capture Bryant’s first AB, which was over after 3 consecutive whiffs. I know it was a home game, but it struck me how things have changed that an entire crowd would be hanging on Bryant’s arrival. M’s fans didn’t do that with A-Rod, though in hindsight, we really should’ve. We probably WOULD have done it with Griffey, but of course he started off on the road. Mike Trout’s debut came at home (against the M’s), but I don’t remember anything like what Bryant got. Felix debuted on the road in a game that wasn’t even televised, so that definitely wouldn’t compare. Can you think of another MLB debut that’s been so anticipated? And who was the first prospect you were really, really excited to see join the big club?

* You know who never had a problem with James Shields’ change-up? Carlos Peguero, that’s who. The M’s weren’t a lot of fun in 2012-2013, but THAT – Peguero’s mastery of James Shields – always brought a smile to my face.

Roll The Die

April 17, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

The Mariners are in a state right now. They’re 3-6, tied for the worst record in the American League, and they’re fresh off a road series sweep. It was a road series sweep, granted, at the hands of probably the best team in baseball, but then a sweep is a sweep, and, worse, it was a series the Mariners easily could’ve won with just a little bit better execution. The Dodgers lucked out by missing Felix Hernandez. The Mariners lucked out by missing Clayton Kershaw. One guy the Mariners didn’t miss was David Huff. Didn’t matter; Mariners lost. No one looks good after getting swept, no matter the location and no matter the opponent, and you’d like the Mariners at some point to start clicking and playing cleaner baseball. If they don’t shape up soon, they could lose control of this whole thing.

The Mariners are in a state I feel obligated to respond to. I know my role, and I’m supposed to chime in when people are getting emotional and reactionary. But I have to tell you: writing about a single team can be difficult, especially when you’ve been doing it for well more than a decade. You start to feel like you’re getting predictable, and you start to feel like everything you want to say, you’ve already said. In fairness, pretty much everything we say everywhere is something we’ve already said, because all we are are warm-blooded recycling machines, but I’m conscious of balance. What’s the sense in writing something if everyone already knows what you’re going to write? You have to stay fresh.

So I’ve developed a little tool, intended to help myself, and intended therefore to help you, the reader. The idea: I can identify times when I want to write a response to recent events. That part’s easy. It’s a feel thing. But then there’s the matter of the content. And what shapes the content is the angle of the content. The tool I’ve developed determines the reaction angle, and it’s completely out of my hands. Following, an explanatory image:

roll-the-die

What we have here is an image of a six-sided die. Beside, smaller images of all six sides, with corresponding recommended article approaches. So, when I want to write about something, I can just roll the die, and then that guides how I’m going to follow through. Now, to be completely honest, I don’t actually have any dice in my apartment. But I do have Microsoft Excel in my apartment, so what I’ve done is just use a simple random number generator, picking from between 1 – 6. There’s something I want to address? I generate a random number, and then the tiny spreadsheet tells me how I’m going to address it. The words are entirely up to me, but the overall message is determined by electrons and circuits and whatever the hell goes on underneath my laptop keyboard.

It’s time to put this to use. The Mariners are 3-6. They were once 3-3, but they just got swept in agonizing fashion by the Dodgers. The closer looks like a wreck, the rotation looks not even a little bit better, and the offense is pretty much entirely Nelson Cruz dingers off the end of the bat. People are freaking out. This year was supposed to be different. Everything was supposed to be in place. Observers in Arizona predicted that the Mariners would be the best team in the league. Almost to a man, the team has stumbled out of the gate. What’s to be said? Let me roll the die.

Random number: 6!

COOL OWL FACT

A group of owls is called a parliament, a wisdom, a stare, or a study. As for baby owls? Baby owls are known as owlets.

Game 9, Mariners at Dodgers

April 15, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. Brett Anderson, 7:10pm

Last night’s game going to sting for a while. Another late lead blown, and a lack of offense after David Huff came out of the game doomed the M’s, and they head into tonight’s game looking to avoid a sweep behind a pitcher who gave up 9 runs in 3+ innings in his first start.

Fangraphs’ odds give the Dodgers a 60% chance of winning, but despite Walker’s rough outing, that may be overstating things a bit. Walker was hit fairly hard by the A’s, and most of the damage came on fastballs. Walker’s command in Oakland was poor-to-nonexistent, so some improvement in that regard might help his results look different. And for whatever reason, Walker’s gone away from his curve a bit, and might need to mix a few more in to give hitters something else to think about. His split and cutter/slider are thrown hard enough that hitters can be expecting a fastball, react and still drive the ball – as Ben Zobrist did in the first inning in Oakland. A few more curves may make it harder for the Dodgers to sit on his fastball.

Brett Anderson, the oft-injured ex-Athletic gets the start for the Dodgers. Anderson spent a season rehabbing and occasionally pitching for Colorado, managing all of 43 1/3 IP in Denver.* With the A’s, Anderson was a ground-ball machine despite a four-seam and slider-heavy pitch mix. As time went on, he threw his sinker more, and that may have helped push his GB rates from the mid 50s up over 60% in very, very limited action in 2013-14. When healthy, he’s displayed great control, and though his velocity’s down from where it was 5 years ago, he’s not yet a soft-tossing lefty. In addition to his slider, he’ll use a change-up and a curve.

Despite his repertoire, Anderson’s run reverse platoon splits over his unfortunately brief MLB career. I wouldn’t want to bet on anything involving Anderson, but it’s odd that it’s persisted in every year except one of his career, and it’s true for slash lines and FIP as well. The reason is that his slider’s been much more effective on opposite handed hitters, which is just not something you see every day. There are a number of pitchers, Madison Bumgarner in particular, whose slider is effective against both, but I’m not sure I can think of too many players who have a breaking ball like this (as opposed to a change/splitter) with reverse splits. Maybe it’s luck, but righties whiff on the pitch more, swing at it more, and put it in play less than do lefties. Anderson’s a very effective pitcher, but he’s not the guy you want to overhaul your line-up to face.

Let’s see here….
1: Weeks, LF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Miller, SS
9/SP: Walker

Not bad, I suppose. Ackley would help the defense, but Weeks’ own platoon splits come into play as well.

The Rainiers take on Albuquerque as Roenis Elias takes the hill. Jordan Pries had another rough go yesterday, and the M’s lost in the 9th, 6-5. Carlos Rivero continues to rake, while Chris Taylor went 1-5 with 2 Ks as the DH.

Jackson takes on the Mississippi Braves with Stephen Landazuri getting his second start. The righty went six scoreless IP in his first game, striking out 5.

The performance of the night came from Edwin Diaz, who went six scoreless innings against Modesto, giving up just one hit and striking out 8 in a 1-0 Blaze win. The two teams played today, with Modesto taking it by a score of 3-2, with Ryan Yarbrough getting a no-decision after 6 IP, giving up a run on 2 hits, a walk and 1 K. The 2-3-4 hitters of Tim Lopes, Tyler O’Neill and Austin Wilson all have slugging percentages under .200, so runs have been at a premium in Bakersfield.

* Anderson was traded from Oakland to Colorado for Walker’s adversary back on Friday, Drew Pomeranz.

Game 8, Mariners at Dodgers

April 14, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 38 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. David Huff, 7:10pm

The M’s managed to lose a game in which they hit four HRs. Even in the recent low-scoring, fewer HR environment, we probably shouldn’t be too surprised. The M’s have hit at least four HRs in a game and lost 31 times now, including two games in which they hit 5.* James Paxton didn’t look too sharp, though the M’s defense wasn’t all that sharp. Today, the M’s try to even up the series behind Hisashi Iwakuma, who’ll try to avoid the slow start that doomed his first start against the Angels.

The Dodgers called up David Huff from Oklahoma City (still getting used to all the new affiliations) to make the start today. Huff’s 2014 will sound a bit familiar – last year, Huff had a poor half-year for an NL West club, but then seemed to reinvent himself after getting picked up the Yankees. Brandon McCarthy got a four-year deal out of his reinvention, but Huff got a minor league deal with a spring training invite. So what *was* he, and what *is* he, after the Yankees got through with him? Huff came up with the Indians as a guy with a so-so fastball, but a solid change and great control. As I mentioned back in March, Huff’s change wasn’t good enough to reliably get major league righties out, but without a good breaking ball, he was equally lost against lefties. Getting hit hard chased him out of the strikezone, so his sparkling walk rates were gone too.

In his career, Huff’s allowed lefties to hit .298/.366/.474 against him, while righties have hit .275/.329/.462. Some of that is BABIP related, but even looking at fielding-independent stats, he has essentially even splits. As a starter with Cleveland, he had a FB around 90mph, his change, a slider and the occasional curve. Back then, he was a fly-ball pitcher, whose fastball simply wasn’t good enough to rely on. He continued to bounce between MLB and AAA, but he could never get a handle on his HR rate. He started off last year with San Francisco, and produced career-best ground ball rates, but it didn’t help him get outs. The Yankees picked him up on waivers, and he performed quite well out of the Yankees bullpen. Fangraphs readers would probably note that his FIP was the same for both teams, and a closer look at his pitch fx data shows that he didn’t really make any big changes. Sure, he’s no longer a four-seam/change-up guy – he’s now a four-seam/cutter pitcher, but he picked up the cutter a few years ago, and he used it extensively with the Giants. Its downward break was the big reason for his GB% improvement. Nothing much changed when he got to the Bronx, except he had much better results on balls in play. More interestingly, the cutter seems to have helped him get a handle on lefties.

Thus, Huff’s not the same guy who’s faced the M’s three times and yielded an ERA over 10. That’s not to say he’s great, however. This is a game the M’s should win.

1: Weeks, LF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Miller, SS
8: Bloomquist, 1B
9/SP: Iwakuma

Ah, the M’s righty-heavy line-up.

Dave’s got a good article on our old friend Carter Capps’ reworked…uh..delivery. In case you missed it, Capps was recalled last night, and his new delivery stretches the bounds of some remarkably vague rules on what constitutes a “legal pitch.” Capps now takes Jordan Walden’s old “hop” delivery and magnifies it; he’s essentially leaping forward a few feet, and then resuming his delivery. He’s received some guidance from MLB, so it looks like this is legal. *This* is why we need the statcast data, complete with pitcher extention. The perceived velocity of Capps’ fastball has to be off the charts.

The Rainiers lost to Albuquerque last night 4-3 as the bullpen couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead. Mike Montgomery looked pretty good for Tacoma, showing reasonable control and generating plenty of GB outs. Today, Jordan Pries will try to erase memories of his opening day start. Chris Taylor played some SS yesterday, but will stick to DH’ing today.

AA Jackson has the day off.

Bakersfield’s opening day starter Edwin Diaz makes his second start of the year against Modesto. The Nuts dominated yesterday’s game, winning 11-3.

Clinton last 6-2 yesterday, with Lukas Schiraldi taking the loss. Today, Jefferson Medina makes his first start against Quad Cities again.

* The M’s hit 5 HRs in a 16-10 loss to Toronto in May of 1999. The M’s hit 3 off David Wells, and then 2 off of reliever Tom Davey, who they would acquire a few months later in exchange for David Segui. The M’s also hit 5 HRs in a 14-8 loss to Boston back in 1988. The M’s got to Oil Can Boyd for 3 HRs, but they were already behind 12-2 heading into the 5th, so Boyd’s approach (throw strikes) was understandable. It’s still impressive to see a 5HR game from any team in 1988 – the AL SLG% that year was .391, essentially the same as 2014’s mark of .390. In 1999, the M’s led the league with 244 HRs, and the league as a whole was slugging .439. In 1988, they managed 148 total dingers – led by Steve Balboni’s 21 in 97 games – good for 4th in the league. That was still more than they hit in 2014. Only 136 last year? Steve Balboni is unimpressed. Steve Balboni is unimpressed

Game 7, Mariners at Dodgers

April 13, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 22 Comments 

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.

Line-up:
1: Ackley, CF (!)
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, LF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Miller, SS
9/SP: Paxton

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.

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