Game 35, Red Sox at Mariners
JA Happ vs. Clay Buchholz, 7:10pm
So the M’s had some ugly LF miscues and they had nothing to do with Miller! Let’s keep in mind that Miller isn’t the only guy getting used to the position. Rickie Weeks has Miller beat by all of about 3 months. Meanwhile, the M’s couldn’t figure out Joe Kelly, who wriggled free time and again. I know the M’s issues with RISP have been ugly, but I thought Kelly made some impressive pitches when he needed to. The M’s have fared much better against ground-ball pitchers this year than they have in the recent past, but I get the sense that the M’s are still struggling with plus velocity – we’ll have to check that out. The M’s have struggled against fastballs for years, and that’s still true this year, despite their improved overall batting line.
The M’s have had frustrating talents over the years. Jose Cruz Jr. Justin Smoak. Hell, Dustin Ackley. You can add any number of your own from whatever era M’s clubs you cheered for: Carlos Guillen, maybe. Depending on your definition, you could argue for Dave Henderson. For the M’s, much of this disappointment has been a failure of observable talent to translate into consistent production. We’d get solid months from Ackley or Smoak, but we didn’t get sustained growth. It’s been one of the most frustrating aspects of the team the past few years, and it’s a big reason why they’ve struggled – if that core group of Ackley/Smoak/Montero actually developed, the M’s would be in a very different place. Today’s opposing starter, though, illustrates a different path to gut-churning frustration.
Clay Buchholz burst onto the scene in 2007, throwing a no-hitter in one of his first big league starts and giving the World Series champs one of the most valuable commodities in baseball heading into 2008. And in 2008, Buchholz had an RA/9 over 7 thanks to HR problems and an absurdly low strand rate. He was slightly better in 2009, because how could he not be, but his walk rate kept climbing and he was missing far fewer bats. He looked like your average prospect bust, an east coast Roger Salkeld or something, and then, suddenly, he was effective again. His K% wasn’t a whole lot better, but his HR/FB dropped and that led to a big improvement in his FIP. Even better, his strand rate got better, and his ERA was a gaudy 2.33. The strand rate stuck around in his injury plagued 2011, but his HR luck didn’t, so he was only good as opposed to great, but nothing worked in 2012. HRs and sequencing pushed his FIP back up over 4.6, and I think expectations must’ve been pretty low in 2013. Despite further injury problems, Buchholz tossed 108 innings and put up an ERA of 1.74. Was it lucky? Of course, but at least he was missing some bats again to go along with an insanely high strand rate and equally crazy HR/FB rate. Just as Sox fans must’ve thought the prospect had regained the promise of 2007, he collapsed again in 2014, as a bad strand rate again pushed his ERA over 5.
Maybe the moral of this story is that ERA is too volatile, and that strand rate luck can make a guy look like the second coming of Pedro Martinez one year and a AA org guy the next. That’s very clearly a part of it. Buchholz’s FIP certainly didn’t swing as much from 2013 to 2014, but that’s what FIP’s designed to do. The more interesting side of this is that Buchholz has an almost Phil Hughes-like* capacity for tinkering and self- uh, self-improvement doesn’t sound right in this context. A capacity for change, we’ll call it. When he came up, Buchholz had an extreme over the top delivery and a four-seam FB at 95 with plenty of vertical rise. He paired it with the oddest change-up ever, a sort of hybrid cutter/change that came in extremely slow with zero horizontal movement. He dropped his release point a bit after that, and that altered all of his pitches – less vertical rise, a bit less cutter-action on his change (which was now harder), and a sinker with plenty of armside run. By 2013, he’d moved a foot over on the rubber, but his four-seam fastball (now 92-93) now had less horizontal movement and more vertical. The change was still there, and still weird, but he now had a cutter that he threw to RHBs and LHBs alike – the odd thing of course is that the cutter and change sort of blurred together, with relatively similar movement but a 7mph difference in velo. This year, that oddball change-up is gone, as it the splitter experiment. In their place is a regular old change-up – one that’s still a bit slow (although it’s faster than it was in 2007), but that moves like other cambios. It’s his putaway pitch to lefties in the early going – and his strikeouts are up sharply in the first month and a half. His fastball’s movement changed back to where it was a few years back, helped again by another drop in release point. The results HAVEN’T been there, though, as both of his fastballs have been hit hard this season. His strand rate won’t stay this low for long, and it may be he’ll start regressing towards his FIP, but Buchholz is still reeling right now, with an ERA approaching 6. Boston’s defense probably hasn’t helped, as their BABIP-allowed is 7th worst in baseball.
1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, CF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Weeks, DH
9: Zunino, C
The Rainiers split their doubleheader with SLC yesterday, losing the opener 2-0, but winning the nightcap 4-0 behind a spot start from Andrew Kittredge and a HR from Stefen Romero. Mike Montgomery, originally scheduled to start last night’s 2nd game, will get the start today against Nick Tropeano, the ex-Astros hurler and the PCL pitcher of the year in 2014.
Jackson beat Biloxi 2-0 as peripatetic reliever Trey Cochran-Gill got the win in relief in his first AA appearance. Jake Zokan started and went 5 2/3 scoreless, and then TCG went 2 1/3, before handing it over to Tony Zych for the save. Jordy Lara and Dan Paolini had two hits for the Generals. Moises Hernandez gets a spot start today as all of the affiliates juggle their rosters after a spate of promotions/relegations and injuries.
Bakersfield was rained out, so Tyler Pike will go today against his old club/former M’s affiliate, the High Desert Mavericks.
Clinton dropped a 9-3 contest to Wisconsin (another former M’s affiliate), as Pat Peterson got knocked around a bit. The L-Kings had 9 hits, but none for extra bases. Lukas Schiraldi gets the start tonight in Burlington.
* It’s funny, because Hughes and Buchholz were the two big pitching prospects of 2006-7, and both debuted in the 2nd half of 2007. At any given time, one or the other has been deemed to have “won” this non-existent competition, only to have the other one come back with a great season. Both are fascinating pitchers to follow, though I’m pretty happy neither is on the team I care about.