Game 51, Yankees at Mariners, Pineda at El Rey

marc w · June 1, 2015 at 5:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Michael Pineda, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day

The broadcasts have emphasized this match-up throughout the Indians series, and with good reason. This is as interesting a pitching match-up as we’ve seen in a while, and we JUST saw Felix vs. Chris Archer. Pineda was Felix’s heir apparent, and I acknowledge the oddity of discussing the succession plann of a kid in his mid 20s, and seemed poised for a long run of success after making the All-Star team in his first big league season in 2011. Then came The Trade, and the strange back-and-forth feelings about who “won” it, or who lost it less, or whatever. For the first year, Yankee fans must’ve been wondering what the M’s knew and when, as both Pineda and 2nd piece Jose Campos went down with serious arm injuries. Fast forward a year or two – a time period marred by suspensions, whatever the hell Hector Noesi was, and flying frozen snacks, and suddenly M’s fans were wondering what the Yankees knew back in early 2012, and lamenting that Pineda was back, suddenly, in the New York rotation.

This will be Pineda’s first time facing the M’s, and it’s sad but inevitable that The Trade will figure so prominently. We’re three-plus years from the date it went down, and Pineda’s spent most of that period rehabbing from shoulder surgery and then a strained muscle in his back (near the shoulder). As a result, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Pineda of 2015 is substantially different from the one we knew in 2011. With the Yankees (or ‘post-rehab’ if you prefer), Pineda has refined his always-good control into one of the league’s elite tools. Pineda’s walk rate this year is under 2% – he’s walked 5 in 64 1/3 IP thus far. Last season, he walked 2.4% in 76+ IP – this is a skill, and Pineda has honed that skill remarkably well. He always had it, but consider that with the M’s, his BB% was just under 8%. The strikeouts have returned this year, as his K% is 25%, which is fractionally better than it was in 2011.

His arsenal has changed in one important way, though. With the M’s, he had a very good four-seam fastball – it featured plus velo at 95-96, and average movement. Coupled with his control, it was a very effective pitch. He threw it for strikes, it got more whiffs than the average fastball, and batters hit .229 off of it, thanks in part to a low BABIP. Despite not having a ton of rise, it was a clear fly ball pitch, and given Pineda’s reliance on it, Pineda was thus a fly ball pitcher. Today, Pineda’s scrapped the four-seamer entirely, and instead features a cutter. With basically no horizontal movement and clear “sink,” it’s made Pineda a ground ball pitcher all of the sudden, and may help him avoid HRs in the compact new Yankee Stadium. It’s no longer the big velocity fastball he had with Seattle – it comes in at 92, and while it still gets some swinging strikes, it’s more of a set-up pitch. On its own, the pitch can be a little underwhelming. Batters are hitting about .300 on it since he developed the pitch, including .356 this year – that’s the highest BA-allowed on any starter’s cutter. And yet: Pineda has a FIP of 2.50 and a K:BB ratio of 13.4:1, easily the best in the league. He’s essentially become the ace M’s fans thought he would, but he simply doesn’t *pitch* the way we thought he would.

The small changes he’s made to his slider accentuate the point. The slider was his outpitch in the M’s system and in 2011, and it still is – it’s his best 2-strike pitch, and he’s been able to throw it to lefties as well as righties since he came up. In 2011, we focused on the horizontal movement of his slider because it was so different from his four-seamer’s. That distinction between FB and SL is less true now that his “fastball” is a cutter with essentially no horizontal movement at all. To compensate, his new slider has even more movement in both planes. It’s the same speed it was in 2011, so the velo gap has shrunk, but it now sinks more and cuts away from righties slightly more. Because he’s always around the zone, it’s harder for batters to lay off the pitch, and as a result, his slider’s swung at very often – the 3rd most in baseball thus far in 2015. Perhaps because of the increased “drop” on it, it’s always being hit on the ground more than it was in 2011, too. So, it’s tougher to lay off of, more likely to be hit on the ground, but still has the same whiff rate as before. Not bad.

Unfortunately for Pineda and the Yankees, all of that ground ball contact hasn’t been converted into outs. With Seattle, lots of fly balls and a solid defense helped Pineda run a low BABIP. This year, Pineda’s BABIP is an unsightly .335. Batters are hitting .280 on grounders against him, despite glove-first SS Didi Gregorius leading the Yankees in SS innings. Chase Headley’s 3B defense has been shaky, but it’s still somewhat surprising to me that Pineda’s struggled so much on balls in play. Less surprising, though, has been Pineda’s issues out of the stretch. Even in 2011, this was a problem for Pineda. Batters were helpless with no one on (wOBA-against of .253), but if one of them found his way aboard, Pineda became almost average (wOBA-against of .321) – his K rate fell, and his HR rate rose. This led to a poor strand rate, and an ERA a bit worse than his FIP. So far in 2015, the gap’s reduced, but his strand rate’s still a bit below average, which has pushed his ERA well above his fourth-in-MLB FIP. So: get aboard, M’s, and it might not be worth waiting for the perfect pitch. He’s thrown cutters on nearly 70% of his first-pitches – if it’s there, take a whack at it.

1: Morrison, 1B whaaaat?
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smith, DH
6: Jackson, CF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, LF

Well, that’s a different order. Of M’s lefties, LoMo actually has the top walk rate, tied with Brad Miller at 10.2%. It’s not as crazy as it looks at first glance, I suppose, though Smith and Miller both seem like good, familiar choices.

The Rainiers beat Round Rock 6-3 yesterday, as Jimmy Gilheeney got the win in a spot-start for Mike Montgomery, fueling more speculation that the lefty is headed to Seattle to start tomorrow. Franklin Gutierrez and Leon Landry homered for the R’s. That’s Landry’s 3rd HR in 2 days, after 2 on Saturday. Early game today – a before-noon start time to allow thousands of school kids to attend. The kids were treated to a terrible beat-down inflicted by Round Rock, as the Express compiled a 10-0 lead in the 4th, scoring all 10 off Tacoma starter Stephen Landazuri. Rangers prospect Anthony Ranaudo was solid, and pitched 6IP giving up 2R on a HR by Patrick Kivlehan. Leury Bonilla hit a double, but the game was long decided. It finished 14-3, with Bonilla pressed into duty on the mound. The utility IF/OF gave up 3 runs in his inning, including a HR by Jake Smolinski.

Jackson faces the Mississippi Braves today, as Edwin Diaz tries to get accustomed to AA living. He’ll face off with right-hander Greg Ross, one of those unheralded org guys who puts up remarkably good numbers. Ross put up solid numbers (though without a lot of K’s) across multiple levels in 2013 and 2014. He hasn’t been as effective this year, but he’s still been pretty valuable for an 18th round pick.

Bakersfield lost to Rancho Cucamonga 3-1 yesterday, as Jharel Cotton, just called up from the MWL, threw 5 solid innings (1R allowed, 7 Ks) for the Quakes. He was followed by Ivy League-educated reliever Michael Johnson, who struck out 7 in 3 scoreless innings. Bakersfield’s TEAM OPS this year is .616. Since 2010, only one team has had an OPS under .700 – Modesto put up a .690 mark last year. Bakersfield will try to get things going with a double header against the Quakes today.

Cedar Rapids edged Clinton 6-5 in 11 innings yesterday. The Kernels got 2 to tie the game in the 8th, then walked it off with a 2-out single in the 11th. Clinton blew a 5-0 lead in the game. Today, Clinton was held hitless for 6 2/3 IP by Twins prospect Stephen Gonsalves, who came into the year as a 10-20th prospect, but is clearly in the top 10 now after dominating the Midwest League. The final was 5-0, as Gonsalves struck out 11 in 7IP, giving up 2 hits.

Speaking of the minors, Ben Lindbergh (of Grantland) and Sam Miller (of Baseball Prospectus) got the chance of a lifetime to essentially run the baseball operations department for a pro team this year when they were hired by the Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association, an independent league in California. Ben/Sam get to make up the roster, tinker with strategy and try to win professional games using sabermetrics/data/gut-feel/whatever they choose, and then they’ll collaborate on a book about their year. You may have heard about this on NPR this morning, when David Greene interviewed Lindbergh. For fans of the Effectively Wild podcast, you’ve been anticipating this for months – today is opening day, and the Stompers face Pittsburg at 6:00pm. Does sabermetrics work in the Indie Leagues? Do you need to know more about the indies to know what talents are undervalued? They’re the indie leagues, with teams and, as we saw this week, LEAGUES operating on a shoestring. How can any team OVERvalue a skill in these conditions? What kind of market inefficiencies operate when teams are forced to watch every penny? I’m curious to find out. If you need an M’s tie-in to the Stompers, the club features pitcher Mike Jackson, jr., the son of former Mariner Mike Jackson.


23 Responses to “Game 51, Yankees at Mariners, Pineda at El Rey”

  1. Paul B on June 1st, 2015 5:40 pm

    Chris Taylor sent down for a reliever.

  2. Westside guy on June 1st, 2015 6:00 pm

    Well your best hitter should be batting second, right? So the whole blind-squirrel-finding-nut thing strikes again…

  3. Kazinski on June 1st, 2015 6:12 pm

    I think we need a reliever now more than we need Chris Taylor. I like Chris a lot, but Miller should be playing everyday, and SS is his best position.

    I’d have been happier with Bloomquist being the odd man out, but I understand, Willie ran out of options a decade or more ago.

  4. californiamariner on June 1st, 2015 6:16 pm

    I’m all for this lineup!

  5. Longgeorge1 on June 1st, 2015 7:00 pm

    If insanity is doing the same thing……blah, blah. This line-up is not insane.

  6. kaleyk on June 1st, 2015 7:02 pm

    Take a lineup that is hitting poorly, shuffle and get …. A lineup that hits poorly! For the sake of the King, I sincerely hope it pans out. The team continues to employ a left field black hole while Gutierrez smashes at AAA.

  7. msfanmike on June 1st, 2015 7:45 pm

    The org has to be getting close to bringing up Guti – don’t they? I mean they HAVE to be getting close to doing it, right? He can help the team more than Ackley and Weeks and a laundry list of others. Can he stay healthy for 10 straight days? Who knows, but it’s time to find out.

    Free Guti!

  8. Grayfox3d on June 1st, 2015 7:49 pm

    Cano has been nothing short of terrible thus far this season, something has got to give!

  9. Grayfox3d on June 1st, 2015 7:59 pm

    Well that was unfortunate!

  10. Grayfox3d on June 1st, 2015 8:02 pm

    C’mon Felix! get it under control.

  11. kaleyk on June 1st, 2015 8:32 pm

    Hey Dustin Ackley …… That’s what you are supposed to do with a 2-0 pitch …. Instead of rolling over to 2B every time.

  12. mrakbaseball on June 1st, 2015 8:36 pm

    Please don’t use the mound as an excuse.

  13. kaleyk on June 1st, 2015 8:41 pm

    Felix cannot be so fragile that a wet mound destroyed his game … Maybe a pitch or two, but that’s all. How about that “dive” by Ackley? Looked just like Gutierrez…..

  14. Woodcutta on June 1st, 2015 9:29 pm

    Not sure I would call it fragile if he can’t keep his footing. I would call it moronic if that was the case and he kept refusing to allow the grounds crew to fix it. Anywho…why is Weeks still on this team?

  15. kaleyk on June 1st, 2015 9:44 pm

    How embarrassing is it that the team has someone in the lineup so bad that Rickie Weeks is a better option? Weeks is one of those roster decisions that may cost the GM his job. Weeks has no defensive position, he cannot run, he cannot hit right handed pitching. His only value is as a pinch hitter against left handed pitching. Jack Z puts a lot of faith in his Brewer relations.

  16. Westside guy on June 1st, 2015 11:01 pm

    I didn’t watch the game, but I was hoping to find video of Ackley’s dive… from the sound of it, he was almost Liddi-esque. But alas, it’s not on…

  17. WestyHerr on June 2nd, 2015 12:48 am

    Fire Zrderrndeinziclk

  18. Seatt101 on June 2nd, 2015 6:36 am

    If Felix was not pitching as well as he has been and Cruz was still an Oriole this team would be the worst team in baseball.
    I think any thought of being a 500 mark team is utter nonsense. The team is composed of players who are not capable of doing their jobs at an above average replacement level and the farm system seems to be incapable of turning prospects into talented performers.
    I have followed the Mariners since inception and whilst I will continue to support them they are clearly going to be the source of far more disappointments in the coming months; so what’s new!
    Oh to be fortunate to draft Rendon, Harper and others instead of Ackley and Hultzen. All we have done since 2008 is traded Fister, Pineda, Maurer, Tillman and Jones to name but a few. Can anyone tell me what we have for these guys other than Montero and Smith (albeit he is no longer a platoon player and occasionally a clean up hitter!)
    Always a Mariner but very sadly disillusioned at present!

  19. jak924 on June 2nd, 2015 7:18 am

    Weeks and Ackley still on the roster. Any other GM would have been fired by now.

  20. heyoka on June 2nd, 2015 8:20 am

    I’m not angry. I’m just very disappointed.

  21. WestyHerr on June 2nd, 2015 8:21 am

    I love how the psychology of a Mariners fan is “Oh well, shucks, golly jeez, Felix just didn’t have his stuff tonight.”
    When it should be, “We needed 8 runs tonight. Why didn’t that happen? Why didn’t we have the fire to beat Pineada and score double digits? This was national stage stuff. Sportscenter will probably lead with this. Score 8 runs.”

  22. dc24 on June 2nd, 2015 10:34 am

    I am disappointed like most, but I don’t think there are many teams in baseball that can drop eight runs whenever they want, especially against a pitcher like Pineda. I’m disappointed because I feel the team is better than they have shown. Cano, Cruz, and Seager is about as good a middle of the order as you’ll find, but they haven’t all been hitting, especially Cano. It’s baseball. They showed that we are/were 27th in hitting with runners in scoring position a couple of nights ago. If we were even just 15th in that, or maybe 20th, we’d be over .500. Hell, maybe even four or five games over and we aren’t having these conversations. And, if the pitching wasn’t so bad at the beginning of the season, who knows? If Iwakuma was healthy.

    Lots of ifs, and it’s the GM’s responsibility to have reliable backups and a farm system in place. I liked most of our moves this offseason, except trading Saunders, but that’s not turned out half bad for us this year at least.

    That being said, it’s time to let Dustin Ackley go. I feel that Jack Z may be holding on to him because of the reasons many have mentioned, which is sad and kind of pathetic. I would like to see Ruggiano more because I cast him off. We need to let Willie B. go too. I’d like to see Weeks get some more starts at DH against lefties, but I don’t know if it’ll happen.

    I don’t think we can all blame Z though, very much a team effort from the top down. I mean, Ackley was supposed to be a sure-fire thing and Hultzen was too. Can’t blame injuries on them, but Ackley’s development I’m not sure who to blame, or maybe it’s all on him. At the end of the day, players have to play and perform and ours aren’t right now. I still think they have the ability to, but time is running out with each passing game. Good news is that there’s a lot of games left. Go M’s.

  23. kaleyk on June 2nd, 2015 11:23 am

    You’re right, WestyHerr, the correct attitude is “ok, we’re going to need eight tonight”. But it’s hard to develop that attitude when we know the team is 20th in OPS, 27th in hits, 29th in hitting with RISP, 29th in OBP, etc. A third of the lineup (Cano, Jackson, Ackley) has seriously underperformed making the offense terrible.

    The team cannot dump the poor performers without better options available. At $24M a year, Cano is going to play. There isn’t a valid center fielder in the organization after Jackson. There are options for left field, namely Gutierrez or give Ruggiano a chance. It is time for Ackley to not be in the starting lineup.

    Marte is hurt or I would advocate giving him a chance and moving Miller to wherever. At least until Marte is healthy or Taylor de-funks, WFB is the utility man.

    The team should definitely swap Gutierrez for Weeks immediately. I watched the game last night on Root and listened to the Yankees broadcast on At-Bat. The Yankee broadcasters, without being rude, were laughing at our bench … all right handed and all hitting under .200.

    The competitive year of 2015 is quickly fading. The “kids” are on the roster, there is a dearth of talent at AAA; a third of the veterans are not performing; it’s not “early” anymore; thus 2015 is looking more and more like a disappointment.

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