Game 45, Mariners at Rays
JA Happ vs. Alex Colome, 4:10pm
Yesterday’s game worked out pretty well, and the game plan for today’s pretty similar. Alex Colome’s a right-hander with a good fastball, a four-seamer with lots of vertical rise and almost no horizontal movement. In that respect, he’s likely roughly EVERY OTHER STARTER THE M’S HAVE FACED ON THIS TRIP*. Seriously, this is kind of interesting to me. The M’s recently faced the Orioles, whose starters feature an abnormally high average “rise” on their fastballs, and now they face the Rays, who actually lead the league in rising fastballs. The Rays take it a step further in another way, though. The Orioles rotation features guys with big four-seamers, but many of them (like Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen) mix in some sinkers as well. Not too many, as the Orioles rank 3rd in MLB in the percentage of four-seamers (FA in Fangraphs’ leaderboards) thrown by starters. The Rays again lead the league in four-seamer percentage, as they’ve all but eliminated sinking fastballs. If you add sinkers and two-seamers together (I still don’t know that there’s an actual distinction here), you find that the average team throws about 23% sinking fastballs, with the Pirates nearing 40%. Only the Rays are under 10%, at just over 7%, and much of that’s come courtesy of Erasmo Ramirez, who clearly isn’t endearing himself to the Rays or their fans at this point, and Drew Smyly, who’s out for the year. The gap between the Rays and Yankees in 2nd place is larger than the gap between the Yankees and Marlins, down in 9th place.
So the Rays – even more than the Orioles – clearly put a premium on establishing rising four-seamers. It’s an interesting approach, as you might expect it to reduce BABIP and contact, but result in tons of HRs. You can kind of see the opposite approach at work down in Houston, where the Astros rank last in four-seamers thrown overall, and 2nd in GB% behind the like-minded Pirates. The Astros HR/FB is a bit higher than the Rays, but by limiting the denominator, they rank fairly well in HR prevention, and as a result, they’ve got a team FIP of about 3.6. The Rays give up fly balls, but also get more strikeouts and have fewer baserunners, and, thanks to the likes of Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria, run a low BABIP. The puts and takes are quite different, but the Rays end up with a team FIP of 3.7, and an ERA that’s a bit better than that. Neither team spends a ton of money period, and the Rays spend little on their rotation. They just cut their highest paid pitcher overall (Grant Balfour), and with Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore rehabbing, the most expensive starter is Chris Archer, pulling in just over $1m per year. This pitcher type might be a way to cobble together a decent rotation – or rotation depth – on the cheap. I don’t think the Rays went into the year planning on Alex Colome and Nate Karns getting a ton of innings, but they’ve been decent when the Rays needed them.
So, back to Colome: his FB comes in around 95, and in prior years he’s been a change-up/slider pitcher. He developed a curve ball in 2014, and has been throwing that a bit more in 2015, particularly to lefties. But the big change in Colome’s repertoire is a move away from a slider and towards a firmer cutter (yes, the same move Odorizzi’s been making too). He always had a very hard slider – it was 88mph last year and it’s 87 this year, but the cutter’s even harder than that. It has very little horizontal movement, and as you’d expect, a bit less vertical drop. In 5 starts thus far, Colome’s control’s noticeably better – his walk rate’s under 3% despite throwing an average number of pitches in the zone. He can apparently throw a strike when he needs to. That said, his contact rate’s been rising, and he’s not the swing-and-miss guy he seemed like he might be when he debuted back in 2013. His splits have been all over the place in a very small sample (this’ll be his 12th big league start), and given the changes he’s made to his pitch mix, there’s just not much to go on there.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Castillo, C
8: Miller, LF
9: Taylor, SS
The M’s are sending down Danny Farquhar to Tacoma to make room for Austin Jackson. That makes some sense, but it’s really just prolonging the big decision point facing the M’s. The club doesn’t want to go with six bullpen arms indefinitely, so this just buys them some time while they figure out if they want to option someone like Chris Taylor or jettison a vet like Dustin Ackley, Rickie Weeks or Justin Ruggiano. Bob Dutton’s blog post covers the options quite well.
Yesterday’s late loss dropped the Rainiers to 18-27. They face Omaha today, but haven’t named a starter at this point. With Taijuan Walker struggling, many would like to see the struggling righty switch places with someone in the Rainiers’ rotation, but that’s a bit tougher than it looks. Mike Montgomery’s on the 40-man and has pitched fairly well, but the team may want to get him more work in AAA – he’s struggled at the AAA level since 2011, and the M’s may want to take it slow with the talented but enigmatic Montgomery. Justin Germano would require a 40-man move (which isn’t THAT big of an impediment at this point thanks to the maybe-still-dinged-up Edgar Olmos), but hasn’t logged significant MLB time since 2010. McClendon favorite Jordan Pries was ineffective and is now hurt and another guy with big-league experience, Mike Kickham, was ineffective and then cut, so after that you’re looking at very short-term solutions like giving someone a spot start or two. If you’re going to do something like that, you may as well just have a bullpen day with Tom Wilhelmsen starting, so the M’s are in something of a bind here. The M’s need Walker to improve, and there just isn’t much depth behind him at this point.
Jackson, who you’ll remember rank last in the Southern League in ERA, face Montgomery today as Edwin Diaz tries to figure out AA. The righty’s had two sub-par starts in his introduction to the high minors, and now faces the SL’s 2nd-ranked offense.
Bakersfield lost the series finale to High Desert by a score of 4-3. Today’s an off-day, and then they’ll take their last-place offense to league leading Visalia. Austin Wilson hit his 3rd HR yesterday, which is something.
Clinton’s got the best record of the M’s affiliates at 21-24, and they’ll have Zack Littell – coming off a strong start where he threw 6 scoreless – on the mound against Peoria today. The L-Kings swept a double-header yesterday, taking game 1 5-1 over Burlington behind Lukas Schiraldi, and then winning the nightcap 2-1 on a 7th inning walk-off single from Chris Mariscal.
* Except Mark Buehrle, who at this point isn’t terribly similar to anyone.