Game 32, Padres at Mariners
James Paxton vs. Ian Kennedy, 7:10pm
Everything feels better after an intra-division sweep. Dave had a great article on the star-crossed A’s and their horrible luck at Fangraphs yesterday, but it’s worth your time. You get much the same picture by looking at raw team stats – the A’s have a team wRC+ of 101, and are scoring 4.6 runs per game. The M’s, thanks to a poor OBP, are at 94 and 3.8, respectively. For pitching, the M’s have a better K:BB ratio, but the A’s edge in HRs-allowed means they’ve got the superior team FIP. They’re both awful by UZR, but the A’s have a sizable advantage in DER. The A’s even have the edge in run differential. They looked out of sorts for the reasons Dave highlighted (awful performance in high leverage situations), but they aren’t awful. This isn’t to minimize what the M’s did this past weekend – it magnifies it. The M’s swept a decent club, a team that won’t be in the cellar the whole year. In a tight division, that has added meaning.
Today, the new-look Padres come to town with their overhauled roster and high expectations. They’re currently second in the NL West behind the juggernaut in Los Angeles, and they’ve done it through a combination of A’s-like sequencing luck and solid raw power. It’s kind of interesting that both the M’s and Padres – two teams that inhabit extremely HR-suppressing parks – find themselves in the top half of the league in ISO this season. It’s not THAT surprising, given that both teams very consciously sought to improve that aspect of their club, but the M’s have been trying for years without a lot to show for it. The Padres compressed years of personnel moves into one incredible off-season, as new GM AJ Preller made blockbuster trade after blockbuster trade. Instead of hoping that Chase Headley’s power comes back, the Padres now have Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Matt Kemp in the middle of the order. Upton and Norris have been great thus far, and Myers’ start is much more reminiscent of his 2013 than his 2014. On the other hand, Will Middlebrooks has disappointed again, and Matt Kemp’s slow start in the field and the plate have him near the bottom of the league in WAR. It’s all added up to a team scoring 4.64 runs per game, good for 7th in baseball, right behind the Twins (?) and just ahead of the A’s.
Unfortunately, the offense isn’t the only group that’s getting used to more in-game power. The pitching staff has the second worst HR rate in baseball, and therefore an abysmal FIP. While their ERA is a bit better than that, 4.07 in 2015, playing half your games in Petco is simply not getting it done. Ian Kennedy is one of the prime offenders (along with James Shields), giving up 5 HRs in less than 20 innings thus far. Kennedy went 21-4 for Arizona in 2011, using a located 91mph fastball, a curve and a good change-up to a solid season that looked even better than that by “wins” and ERA. He wasn’t able to maintain that level of performance, as HR issues plagued him occasionally, and the D-Backs cut bait, shipping him to San Diego for a lefty reliever and an A-ball closer. Kennedy rebounded with a brilliant 2014 and was the subject of lots of trade rumors down the stretch. The Pads ended up keeping him but this is his last arb year; Kennedy will likely be a free agent at the end of 2015.
Like a number of other pitchers, Kennedy’s fastball has actually gotten *faster* since his career year of 2011. It’s now around 93, thrown from a lower angle, giving it run along with plenty of vertical rise. That rise has helped push his GB rates down below 40% for pretty much his entire career, but he’s up around 47% in the early going this year. That doesn’t seem to be related to any changes in his pitches; it may just be the result of keeping his fastball lower than he did in the past. In 2011, Kennedy’s out pitch was his change, which he threw at 81, and which he used as his putaway pitch to *right handers*. It’s always had great whiff rates, and it still does, but he’s liable to make mistakes with it. He’s given up 27 HRs on the change in his career, which has pushed his ISO on the pitch up, despite the fact that he uses it more in favorable counts.
Since 2011, his FB velocity’s up over 1mph, but the real change has come with his, uhhhh, change. These days, it’s touching 85. It was up 3mph from 2013 to 2014, and it’s maintained (and even extended) those gains in 2015. He’s given up 2 HRs on it out of 40 total cambios though, so it’s not like the velocity has cured his tendency to hang the odd pitch. In his career, he’s got essentially zero platoon splits – by wOBA and FIP, there’s just nothing there. A four-seamer and change-up-heavy pitch mix is part of the reason, as is his curve ball, which looks great despite the fact he doesn’t throw too many of them. It’s not imperative to stack the line-up with lefties, but it IS imperative that the M’s look for and punish fastballs that stray over the heart of the plate and centered change-ups.
1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
Still no Hisashi Iwakuma, who won’t start throwing for another 10-14 days, apparently. Roenis Elias has been solid in his stead, but man, the M’s could really use another top-flight starter. James Paxton, if you wanted to start pitching the way you did last year, this would be a good time.
Jeff’s got a fun article about Carlos Peguero’s strangely solid start this year in Arlington. As I mentioned over there, while the patience and swing rate are new, and real improvements, we still haven’t seen Peguero fix his old struggles with velocity. At this point, Peguero *still* hasn’t hit a HR on a pitch over 90mph. I took a look at a random smattering of hitters at Baseball Savant and looked at their slugging percentage on contact. For pitches between 90-94, Nelson Cruz is up over .700, and Brad Miller and even Chris Taylor are over .500. Dustin Ackley looks shaky at .432, but Peguero comes in last at an absurd .310. But what happens when he look at pitches thrown between 80-90? Now it’s Peguero at the top of the heap, with a SLG% over .800. I would honestly be happy for Carlos if he keeps up this weird poor man’s John Jaha thing going for a going-nowhere Rangers ballclub. Still, I think it’s going to be tough to hack it if you can’t drive even mediocre fastball velocity. Punishing mistakes is great, and not swinging at balls is even better, but this flaw may still be a fatal one in a league with record high average velos and ever-improving advanced scouting.
The story in the M’s affiliates last night was Danny Hultzen’s second start, this time against Biloxi (who hired radio guy Chris Harris away from Jackson). Hultzen went 2 2/3 IP, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks. He struck out 2. Jimmy Gilheeney was again brilliant in long relief, and the Generals won the game 8-3. DJ Peterson went 2-4 with a 2B. Misael Siverio starts tonight for the Generals against Tyler Wagner of the Shuckers. Wagner’s a 2012 4th rounder who’s cruised through the minors, posting great ERAs and extremely low HR totals thanks to a very good sinker. He finished 2nd in the FSL last year to uberprospect Tyler Glasnow, but Wagner’s never going to get a lot of hype thanks to a lack of Ks (and the bat-missing stuff that produces them). Sickels had him as the #8 Brewers prospect, for what it’s worth.
DJ Peterson’s brother, who plays for high-A Carolina in the Braves organization, was on the bus that flipped over in a late-night accident last night. He, and the rest of the team, seems to be OK, but tonight’s game has been postponed.
The Rainiers built a big lead and got 7 great innings from Justin Germano, but had to hold on for a 9-7 win over Fresno. Dominic Leone’s AAA debut didn’t go too well, as he gave up 4 runs on a Jon Singleton grand slam in his one inning of work. Yoervis Medina pitched the 9th, and gave up a solo HR of his own, this one to Luis Flores. John Hicks and Leury Bonilla homered off of Grizzlies starter/ex-A’s starter Dan Straily. Sam Gaviglio takes on Andrew Heaney of Salt Lake tonight at 6:05.
Edwin Diaz gave up 2 runs (on 2 HRs) in 6 IP, but Visalia came back to beat Bakersfield in extras. Tyler O’Neill hit his 7th HR, and Tyler Marlette’s slump continued with another 0-4. Bakersfield’s gotten amazing pitching, but their *team* OPS is under .600. In the California League. That’s…well, it’s last in the league by a mile, of course. The team with the shortest CF wall that I’ve heard of has a slugging percentage of .309. Onward and upward though – tonight Ryan Yarbrough faces off with John Richy of Rancho Cucamonga.
Clinton topped Wisconsin yesterday 8-3, getting Eddie Campbell a win in his first appearances of the season. Alex Jackson had a double and 3 RBIs, and the L-Kings got HRs from Kristian Brito and Taylor Zeutenhorst, a 34th rounder out of Iowa last year who was playing his first game for Clinton since moving down from Bakersfield. The L-Kings played Wisconsin this morning, and came away with another win – this one by a score of 4-3. Brito homered again, his 3rd on the year, and Joe DeCarlo doubled. Jeferson Medina had his best start of the year, yielding just 1 hit (but he walked 5) in 6 scoreless IP. The L-Kings scored 2 off of Wisconsin starter Cy Sneed, whose name and visage mark him as someone dropped into uniform directly from 1895. The Brewers apparently had a rule about lawless frontier-style mustaches in their affiliated minors, but that picture shows him in uniform this year, so maybe the Brewers had a change of heart.
In other, sadder, M’s minors news, Daniel Missaki, the Brazilian kid who started Clinton’s team no-hitter a few weeks back just had Tommy John surgery today. He (and Ramire Cleto) had the procedure in Seattle, according to Bob Dutton of the TNT.