Game 33, Padres at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. James Shields, 7:10pm
After tieing a club record with six HRs yesterday against a HR-challenged Padre Starter (and their HR-challenged bullpen), the M’s face a guy who’s having even more trouble with the long ball this year. James Shields has yielded seven HRs in his last two starts. His season total of 11 leads MLB, and he’s facing an M’s team that’s making up for a poor OBP by clubbing a few baseballs senseless.
Shields has been remarkably durable and consistent over his career. As Eno Sarris mentions in a great interview with Shields, the righty has made the most starts in baseball since 2007, and he’s just six IP behind the leader in IP since then (the leader, or perhaps the King, in total IP? Felix, of course). His repertoire has been the same since he joined baseball, too – a four-seam fastball, a great change-up, a curve ball and a cutter (and a two-seamer he very rarely throws). Over time, his pitch *mix* has changed a bit, but we’re really getting marginal now – in the main, he’s a guy who throws 1/3 four-seam fastballs and 2/3 change/curve/cutter.
Obviously, the change-up is his signature pitch. He gets whiffs on 20% of them, or 35% of swings against it, and he’s racked up over 700 punchouts on change-ups in his long career.* It’s helped him neutralize lefties, as he throws the pitch more often to them. It’s probably also helped him stay healthy – Shields fastball results aren’t all that great. Hitters appear to see his four-seamer pretty well, and thanks to above-average “rise,” they elevate the ball pretty easily on it. That’s led to some of the home run problems that have dogged Shields since his Tampa days, and without the change, he’d either have to throw more of a pitch batters hit hard, or throw a lot more breaking balls. The change seems easier on his arm, and again, it’s been a consistently good pitch for him.
But it’s not perfect. Like basically all pitchers, Shields like to keep his change low in the zone, or below the bottom edge of the zone. When he doesn’t, bad things happen. It’s similar to the issue we talked about yesterday with Ian Kennedy – when everything works just the way it’s supposed to, he’s fine. But mistakes are costly, and he’s essentially hoping that hitters miss the mistakes – either that they’re looking for something else, or mishit the ball. That’s true of literally every pitcher, so it’s not like some great insight, but I think it matters to certain pitchers more. To a degree, this is “more” true for fly-ball pitchers like Kennedy. But because Shields *fastball* is a flyball pitch, it matters to him even when his overall GB% (pushed higher by the change and curve) is at or above league average. Making mistakes with his fastball results in more damage (in the long run) than it does for Felix for a variety of reasons. But when hitters sit on his change, the same thing can happen. Last night, the M’s were ready for every Kennedy mistake. Here’s hoping they’re ready again tonight.
1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
Man, it was nice seeing Mike Zunino get into a couple of pitches last night. Essentially recreating last year’s season line isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the decline-on-all-fronts we’d seen before. Gradually, his O-swing% has dropped below last year’s frightening mark of 40%, and he’s actually making a bit more contact than last season. We couldn’t say that two weeks ago.
After another solid performance this week, the M’s have promoted righty Edwin Diaz from Bakersfield to AA Jackson. This is a well-deserved promotion; Diaz has 42 strikeouts in 37 IP against 9 walks, and he’s limited hitters to just 21 hits. At 21, it’s not too aggressive, and I’ll be interested to see what he learns from longtime AA pitching coach Lance Painter.
Tacoma lost to Salt Lake yesterday 4-3, on two HRs from the delightfully named Jett Bandy. Angels top prospect Andrew Heaney was tough for 7 IP, but was matched by Sam Gaviglio, who gave up 1 run in 6 IP. But Lucas Luetge gave up a three run shot to Bandy in the 8th, and that was essentially that. Forrest Snow starts for the R’s tonight against minor league veteran Zach Stewart.
Misael Siverio disgorged another clunker of a start, giving up 6 runs in 5 IP in Jackson’s 6-3 loss to Biloxi. The hitting star of the day was old friend Steve Baron, who went 2-3 with a triple. The two teams played an early game today, which evidently disrupted the pitchers’ circadian rhythms, as Jackson lost by a score of 14-10. Perhaps it’s not a big surprise that just as Bakersfield’s team batting stats were off the charts bad, Jackson’s pitching staff is last in the league in ERA by *1.24* runs. They’re at 5.25, as a team, in a league where 8 of 10 teams have ERAs below 4, and the team in 9th place is at 4.01. Anyway, Jabari Blash hit 2 HRs today and knocked in 7 in a losing effort.
Bakersfield lost 6-3 to Rancho Cucamonga, as Ryan Yarbrough gave up 6 runs in 2 2/3 IP. Reliever Paul Fry had 5 Ks in 2 scoreless innings. Tyler Marlette had two hits, a double and a triple – here’s hoping his long slump is over.
Clinton takes on Wisconsin tonight, with Tyler Herb starting for the L-Kings. The TimberRattlers send LHP Kodi Medeiros to the hill. The Hawaiian was a 1st round pick in last year’s draft, and someone scouts thought might make a big impact right away. But he got destroyed in the Arizona league, showing lower velo, poor command and general hitability that he hadn’t shown before. He’s been slightly better, all things considered, this year, as he’s jumped straight to full season ball, but the results are still not there.
* Shields is often credited, as that Sarris piece notes, as having the best right-handed change in the game. At this point, I think Felix has the superior claim due not just to equally solid K rates, but because hitters have done so much less damage on it when they DO make contact.