Game 41, Mariners at Blue Jays
King Felix vs. Marco Estrada, 4:07pm
Happy Felix Day / Bonne Fete de la Roy Felix
Another day, and another tough loss after the M’s offense scrabbled together a few runs to get out of an early hole. I’ll have a post on that coming up, but the M’s bullpen has struggled in very different ways than, for example, the A’s remarkably terrible one. At least the loss didn’t hurt, as both the Astros and Angels lost as well. The Astros came back late against David Price and the Tigers only to lose in extras, so it wasn’t just the M’s who saw comebacks nullified by a bullpen slip-up.
Today’s game pits our valiant King against Marco Estrada, who features a low-90s four-seamer with tons of vertical rise, leading to high fly ball rates and lots of home runs. Seriously, didn’t I just write this preview yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that? I know managers sometimes like to structure their rotations to balance lefties and righties, but this is kind of amazing. If there’s anything to the idea that a team can adjust to the movement on a fastball, the M’s should be in good shape. I’m not sure there IS anything to that idea, or if it’s just an idea I made up this morning, but we can hope.
Estrada came up with the Nationals, but is best known as a solid part of the Brewers staff from about 2011-2014. He broke out in 2012, compiling a K-BB% over 20%. He had swing-and-miss stuff, great control, and if he gave up a few too many HRs, that was an acceptable price to pay. Fangraphs had him at 3.2 fWAR that year in only 23 starts and 138 IP. Injuries limited him to less than 130 IP the following year, but he was still effective, if not quite the potential star he’d looked like in 2012. Each of his peripherals were trending the wrong way, and by the end of 2013, he didn’t have much room to fall and still be effective. Unfortunately for Estrada, he fell off markedly – his K% dropped from 23% to 20%, his walk rate increased, and his HR rate spiked to 1.73HR/9. That all added up to a sub-replacement-level season, and got him shipped out of town for Adam Lind. So, a pitcher struggling mightily with HRs prepared to head not only from the NL to the AL, but to one of the few parks that boosts HRs as much as Milwaukee’s Miller Park: Rogers Centre. When it became clear that Estrada would get some time in the rotation, Joe Sheehan tweeted a reminder that the MLB record for HRs in a year was 50. Estrada’s making only his fourth start today, and has thrown just 25 innings, so Bert Blyleven’s record is probably safe for now. But he’s already yielded 5, or one every 5 IP, so the idea that Estrada would struggle to be effective in Toronto is still very much alive.
Unlike the Orioles troika of high-FB, high-HR, surprisingly low-ERA hurlers, Estrada’s never really “beaten” his FIP. In fact, his FIP’s actually a bit better than his ERA over his career. When he’s on, he uses his rising FB with a curve and a good change to rack up strikeouts, and that makes it easier to pitch around the occasional homer. His K% is actually back *up* this year after years of decline, though that’s probably got something to do with the fact he started the year in the bullpen. Since 2012, he’s gone away from his curve – which used to be his second-most-frequent pitch behind the four-seam – to his change-up, which he now throws nearly 40% of the time. It’s a good swing-and-miss pitch, unlike the curve, but while it’s not quite as much of a fly-ball pitch as his fastball, it’s still easy for batters to elevate. The curve tends to get hit on the ground, which seems like an attractive option for a guy with a dinger problem. On the other hand, strikeouts are perhaps the only way for Estrada to balance things out. If he can keep his K rate near 25%, he’s got a shot to stick around like his ex-teammate Carlos Villanueva. Of course, Villanueva never could last in a rotation full time, so maybe the better approach is to focus on keeping his walks under 5%, like late-period Dan Haren.
Using that straight-over-the-top delivery that so many Brewers pitchers favored (Yovani Gallardo being another good example), Estrada’s platoon splits have always been pretty even. The change-up helps with that, but it’s something of an all-or-nothing pitch: it generates more swinging strikes than any of his other pitches, but it’s also got a higher HR/FB ratio than his FB, which is a HR pitch in its own right. This does not seem like a game where the M’s need to focus on stacking the line-up with lefties…
1: Miller, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Castillo, C
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: King. Felix.
…and yet Welington Castillo, DH? Sure, Estrada doesn’t have big platoon splits, but Castillo does. No one’s looking to see Dustin Ackley’s bat at DH, but Ackley actually has a higher wRC+ in his career against righties than Castillo does. Or if you want to give Ackley a rest, and I’m for that by the way, what about Justin Ruggiano, who has a higher wRC+ against righties than either Castillo or Ackley?
So, Brad Miller is officially a big league CF now. This should be interesting. I’m still skeptical of the Miller-as-Zobrist idea, just because no one has made it clear to me why he shouldn’t be a shortstop. His value takes a hit with a number of starts in OF corners, but CF has been a problem for the M’s, and if Miller can help cover it, I guess that’s making the best of a bad situation.
Mike Montgomery picked up his fourth win last night as Tacoma beat the I-Cubs 5-3. Old friend Yoervis Medina pitched in that game, giving up a hit to Austin Jackson (who promptly stole 2nd) and walking James Jones and Jesus Montero, but he didn’t give up any runs. Jackson, Pat Kivlehan and Jesus Sucre each had two hits, and Tony Zych pitched a scoreless inning in relief. Picked up from the Cubs org a while ago, Zych is putting together a solid run in recent games. Zych uses a plus fastball at 95+ and a slider. He’s yet to allow a walk on the year, either in Jackson or Tacoma, and has struck out about a batter an inning, something he struggled to do consistently with the Cubs. Today, Stephen Landazuri steps up from AA to make the start for Tacoma.
Jackson lost to Pensacola 8-5, as the Blue Wahoos bats finally came alive against Edwin Diaz. Diaz was great through 4, then gave up 2 runs in the 5th, and left after the first two batters reached in the 6th. The Generals bullpen let those two score and added four more of their own, and that was essentially that. DJ Peterson is still in deep freeze, going 0-4 with 3 Ks. Jordy Lara had three hits. One-time intriguing draft pick Jordan Shipers – who threw a no-hitter for Clinton in 2012 – continues to struggle. He looked solid in High Desert after a move to the bullpen, but he struggled with Jackson last year, but he’s taken it to a new level in 2015. In 21 innings, he’s given up 39 hits and 12 walks for 24 runs (not counting the inherited runs he’s allowed, of course). Something’s wrong here. Anyway, Misael Siverio tries to break out of his own personal slump against Pensacola tonight.
Bakersfield beat Stockton 8-3 thanks to 6 scoreless IP from Carlos Misell and a 2B and HR from Tyler O’Neill. The Blaze were up 8-0 after 2 and coasted to the easy win. Eddie Campbell starts tonight against High Desert. Campbell didn’t make it out of the first inning in his first career Cal League start, so there’s nowhere to go but up from there.
Zack Littell threw 6 shutout innings as Clinton blanked Quad Cities 3-0. Jefferson Medina leads the L-Kings against Burlington today.