Game 23, Mariners at Astros
Roenis Elias vs. Sam Deduno, 5:10pm
Not only did the M’s drop yesterday’s game in extras, but they lost Carlos Quentin, who left the Tacoma Rainiers two days ago and is now officially retiring. That obviously sounds worse than it is – Quentin was stuck behind Jesus Montero, Pat Kivlehan and Chris Taylor as likely RHH call-ups, and he needed to absolutely mash to have any shot. He didn’t absolutely mash, and he’s going to spend more time with his family, which is admirable, and something I should probably do myself. And the game, while frustrating, offered a few rays of hope. Yesterday was James Paxton’s best start of the year, combining some swing-and-miss stuff with command that, if not exactly plus, was good enough to get grounders and stay out of trouble. With Hisashi Iwakuma hobbled a bit, it’s imperative that the Rainiers get some production from Tai Walker and James Paxton, and both showed real promise in their last outings. Roenis Elias, essentially the #6 starter on the 40-man, can’t replace Paxton if he’s already replacing Iwakuma, so it’s nice to see continued signs of a James Paxton that isn’t in imminent need of rescuing.
Today, Elias faces off against righty Sam Deduno, who has always fascinated me more than an ex-Twins pitcher without a lot of control or bat-missing ability should. As you know, I talk about each pitcher’s arsenal through a pitch fx lens, and as a result, you get pretty familiar with the ranges you expect to see. FB velocity is generally in that 89-96 range, and thus, if someone’s outside of that 1-2 standard deviation range, you notice it. Well, Sam Deduno’s fastball is a pretty rare bird. It’s (appropriately) classed as a four-seam fastball, and has essentially no horizontal movement. It some in at 89-90, but it has essentially zero rise. Its vertical movement is like nothing I’ve seen before, and so I always kind of look forward to seeing the guy (another example of how this job really messes with your head – you look forward to a guy with a career walk rate of 11% because his vertical movement numbers are pleasingly puzzling).
A fastball, and in particular one without horizontal movement, typically has a lot of backspin on it. Imagine the ball coming off of your hand, and how your fingers and wrists point down after release – that motion creates backspin, and it’s that spin that means that a fastball doesn’t fall as much as it would if it had no spin. This is where the “vertical movement” number comes from in the first place – it’s the difference between where the ball would’ve been with no spin, and where it is WITH all that backspin. Guys who throw straight over the top, like James Paxton or Chris Tillman, typically impart a ton of vertical movement because essentially *all* of the spin is going in the same direction – there’s not much sidespin, all the force is creating backspin. Carson Smith, on the other hand, has a funky sidearm delivery, and thus tons of side spin, so he gets much more horizontal movement on the ball, with relatively little rise (this is more true of his sinker; even Carson Smith’s four-seamer, which he very rarely throws, has about twice as much ‘rise’ as Deduno’s). So how do you get a baseball to go 90mph, straight ahead (with little to no horizontal movement), without just heaps of backspin? I still don’t know. Felix Hernandez’s four-seamer used to look something like this – particularly a few years back. But with 6-8″ of rise, and more horizontal movement, it’s not a particularly useful comparison. Anyway, I’m hoping now with statcast data around that we might start to learn more about what he does – I assume that he simply imparts much less spin than normal, but it’d be nice to know exactly how much less, and how/why he does that. His old catcher Joe Mauer has said that his FB moves like a knuckler, and if it’s got very low spin, you can kind of squint and see what he means. On the other hand, Deduno’s always dealt with injuries – he had TJ in the minors and has missed bits of pieces of several seasons. Is THAT partially the result of his motion? No idea, and it’s essentially impossible to find out. Still, I’d love to see what statcast has to say about the guy – that and an extreme slow-mo shot of his delivery.
As you’d expect with a ball that appears to sink more than normal, Deduno’s typically been a ground-ball pitcher, with a career rate of about 57%. Walks have killed him though, and without Ks to balance them, it’s pretty easy to see why his FIP’s 4.51. His career platoon splits are reversed, but he hasn’t pitched enough for that to be definitive proof of anything. They’re driven by some HR problems he had with righties for a while; righties have fared much better on Deduno’s fastball. But he didn’t have reversed splits last season, and hasn’t shown them this year either, and his HR issues have been much better since his first few call-ups. That’s not to say he’s “normal” – this is Deduno we’re talking about – but it’s probably better to assume he’s got smaller than normal splits than to think stacking the line-up with righties makes sense.
1: Smith, RF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Miller, SS
8: Ackley, LF
9: Sucre, C
The suddenly Quentin-less Rainiers dominated the Fresno Grizzlies yesterday, torching the rehabbing Brett Oberholtzer (that name just cries out for umlauts) for 7 runs in the first inning. The R’s just held on until they exploded again for 6 runs off Alex White, the guy who was supposed to start. It ended up at 13-3, with Chris Taylor staying hot, going 2-4 with a 2B, and Jesus Montero and Franklin Gutierrez also chipping in with 2 hits. Stefen Romero had 3, and the R’s got HRs from Julio Morban and Carlos Rivero. Jordan Pries got the easy win, and Logan Bawcom pitched another sharp 2IP in relief – the Texan had a terrible year last year, which ended in him losing his 40-man spot this December. He’s been better so far, and hasn’t given up a run in his last 5 games, covering 9 1/3 IP, and he’s missing a few more bats than he did in 2014. Today, Justin Germano gets a spot start against the Grizzlies and lefty starter Luis Cruz.
The big story in the minors today is Danny Hultzen, who’ll be making his first appearance of the season for Jackson as the Generals face Pensacola. He’ll face off with Reds prospect Robert Stephenson, a fireballing 22 year old who cruised through the low minors, but had an inconsistent season in AA last year. This is one to watch if you’ve got MiLB.tv, though it starts 5 min. before the M’s game. Two screens, people. Pensacola beat Jackson 3-1 yesterday, as ex-Padres prospect Keyvius Samson threw 4 solid innings. Spot starter Jimmy Gilheeney was pretty good, but took the loss. DJ Peterson went 0-4.
Ryan Yarbrough starts for Bakersfield as they face Visalia for the first time.
Daniel Missaki gets the ball for Clinton, who ALSO get to face a new team – the Cedar Rapids Kernels.