Game 39, Mariners at Orioles
Roenis Elias vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 4:05pm
Soooo, with the Angels pushing a game over .500, they’ve overtaken the M’s in Fangraphs playoff odds, albeit fractionally. It just reaffirms BP’s pre-season opinion that the Angels were the class of the division, as the Angels and Astros now have identical end-of-season records there, with the Angels’ odds a tiny bit higher. The Angels started slow, as we thought they might, and have picked up their game since Garrett Richards returned. The M’s started slow, as…ok, wasn’t really expecting that, and they have… what, really? They’re better, as they’re 6-4 in their last 10 games, but that streak has left them a game further out than when they started. They’ve shored up their catcher spot disaster area by bringing in Welington Castillo, but they haven’t solved the riddle of Taijuan Walker or Robby Cano’s possible decline. There are always signs of life, from James Paxton’s improvement to Brad Miller’s resurgence to Carson Smith’s emergence as a true late-inning stopper. But the M’s need to make a move here as June looms. The A’s can lament their luck and wonder how a bullpen that was relatively effective last year has turned into a squad of lead-incinerating pyromaniacs, or they can work the phones and remake their team again for the third time in 12 months. I’m not saying the M’s are there – Oakland does what they do because they have to – but they need to figure out what they want to do a month from now. Are they going to focus on acquiring MLB rotation depth, or are they going to retool for 2016? I’m sure many will argue – not least the M’s themselves – that the two shouldn’t be seen as polar opposites: if the team moves on from Dustin Ackley, are they getting better now, or rebuilding? It *can* be both, and that’s nice and all, but it’s also a big, big problem.
Today would be a decent time to start a nice stretch of wins against potential Wild Card foes. The Orioles are 27th in the league in FIP, play in a tough division, and still have a better record at this stage (though, for now, worse playoff odds). The Orioles have been better against right-handed pitching this year than lefties, which is interesting given their RH-heavy line-up. In any event, Roenis Elias will seek to keep that trend going. He’ll face off with Wei-Yin Chen, who is essentially a left-handed Miguel Gonzalez. This isn’t an original thought exactly, but that’s just because it’s true. Chen pitches off a 91-92mph four-seamer with lots of vertical rise, creating plenty of elevated contact. If you look at all starters who’ve thrown 400 IP since 2012 (the year Chen joined the league) and sort them by fly ball rate, Miguel Gonzalez ranks 10th (of 92). In 11th spot sits Wei-Yin Chen.* Just as with Gonzalez, there’s no weird Chris-Young-like ability to give up fly balls but avoid HRs. Chen gives up lots of homers, nearly the same number as Gonzalez. And like his teammate, Chen’s ERA has trailed his FIP, though not to the same degree. With Chen, there’s no BABIP magic (his career .285 mark is lower than average, but about what you’d expect for a fly-balling lefty), no HR/FB magic, or “clutch” pitching magic.
Chen survives because he’s been pretty good at avoiding walks. His career BB% of around 6% is significantly better than average, which is good. It’s a trait that essentially makes him a poor man’s Hisashi Iwakuma. Kuma’s K% is about 1% higher, and his BB% 1%+ lower, and he’s given up fewer HRs thanks to higher GB rates, but you’re looking at a control pitcher who limits baserunners, and thus doesn’t pay as big of a price for the HRs he gives up as FIP thinks he “should.” Let’s be clear here: Iwakuma’s much, much better and that’s because at these margins, marginal differences matter, and marginal differences in pretty much every category makes a bigger-than-you’d-think difference overall. But both of these guys have been better than their FIP, and both of these guys have similar arsenals. Chen throws his four-seamer around 50% of the time, and he’s got a sinker that he’ll throw around 10%. He’s also got a splitter, but it’s got very different movement than Kuma’s. Chen’s isn’t a swing-and-miss pitch, but it does generate ground balls (again, not as well as Kuma’s, but that should pretty much go without saying), and it’s a good pitch to use against righties, and it clearly limits HRs. He doesn’t use it all that much, though – only about 15% of his pitches *to righties* and essentially never against lefties. Against same-handed hitters, Chen features a slider that may be his best pitch. It comes in around 83, and features good two-plane break; it actually drops, while his splitter (oddly) doesn’t. It’s made Chen effective against lefties, or, if you prefer, it’s produced the totally normal platoon splits that he’s shown since 2012. As a result, Chen’s faced heavily skewed line-ups: just one quarter of the batter’s he’s faced have been lefties.
How about tonight?
1: Weeks (DH)
2: Bloomquist, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, CF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
6 of 9 are righties, but… man, that’s an odd line-up.
The M’s made a couple of minor moves today, reinstating lefty reliever Edgar Olmos, and assigning him to Tacoma. Joining him there will be righty reliever Kevin Gregg, the veteran reliever the Reds DFAd a little while ago. Gregg has been a big league closer, but he’s also been at or below replacement level six of the past seven seasons. He’s thrown 20 IP in the bigs since the start of 2014, which is obviously a tiny sample, but he’s given up 12 runs on 10 walks and 5 HRs. It’s been rough, is what I’m saying.
Tacoma’s off today, but they’ll start a road-trip tomorrow in Iowa. Austin Jackson’s first rehab appearance yesterday – he went 1-4 – apparently resulted in some swelling in his injured ankle.
Jackson was blanked 3-0 by Ivan Pineyro and the Tennessee Smokies yesterday. Jabari Blash had the only XBH for the Generals, a double, but the team couldn’t capitalize on six walks – 3 from Pineyro and 3 from big prospect Carl (CJ) Edwards. The righty suffered a shoulder injury last year, so he’s now working from the pen after 230+ brilliant innings as a starter. His stats have actually slipped a bit this year, but he did strike out 3 in 2 IP yesterday. Jackson got their revenge in today’s getaway day match-up, with reliever Trey Cochran-Gill earning his 3rd win despite a so-so 2 1/3 IP. Since moving to AA, he’s given up more hits, and his K:BB ratio is now even, but everyone’s still hitting the ball into the ground. Over 3 levels this year, Cochran-Gill’s sporting an ERA of 1.57 and 4 ground-outs for every air out. Dario Pizzano homered, and Blash added two more, giving him 6 on the year for Jackson and 8 total.
Bakersfield takes on Stockton tonight with Tyler Pike on the mound against Joel Seddon. The Blaze beat the Ports last night 8-7, racking up 12 hits including a HR from DH Guillermo Pimentel, and knocked out starter Kyle Finnegan in the 1st inning.
Clinton lost to Quad Cities 8-5, as Patrick Peterson gave up all 8 runs in 5 1/3 IP – a 4 run sixth ended his day. Daniel Torres (a catcher the M’s drafted back in 2013) had the L-Kings only XBH. The two teams face off again today, with Lukas Schiraldi facing the league’s top offense in Quad Cities, and SP Akeem Bostick, a solid prospect the Astros picked up from Texas in the Carlos Corporan trade. Bostick played 3 sports in HS, and his cousin is Brandon Bostick, a back-up Packers tight-end whom everyone may remember from his rather important touch in the NFC championship game. Akeem’s a big guy at 6’6″, 215, and is something of a scout’s dream with the frame and building blocks to be a solid MLB starter. The results haven’t been there yet in his pro career; he got knocked around in the Sally league last year, and he’s only thrown 9 IP in the pitcher-friendly MWL so far.
* Use the same cut-offs and sort for HR/9, and you’ll find Gonzalez at 4th in MLB and Chen at 10th. Oh, and if you sort by the gap between ERA and FIP (ERA-FIP), no one in baseball has had a larger gap since 2012 than Gonzalez, and Chen’s not TOO far behind at 11th, one spot behind Hisashi Iwakuma.