Game 53, Yankees at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 12:40pm
Early game today, as it’s getaway day for the Yankees. In the M’s last getaway day, Felix shut down the Rays at Tropicana. This is a very different situation, but c’mon Taijuan…you got this.
Mike Montgomery was effective yesterday, but the bullpen bullpenned, and the M’s playoff odds took another hit. In the past week, the M’s playoff odds have dropped by about 17% according to Fangraphs, and by about 12% according to BP. Essentially all of the drop has been in their odds of winning the AL West. Their wildcard odds haven’t really changed, but there’s less chance of the M’s catching both the Angels and Astros now. The last time I said the M’s needed to make a move was two weeks ago, and they did, finishing their road trip strong and heading home on a roll. Of course, even then, at something of a low ebb, their playoff odds were better, as less of the season had been played, and thus the M’s preseason expectations were driving more of the final win total. It’s time to make a move that lasts longer than a week, guys.
Masahiro Tanaka was supposed to be Hisashi Iwakuma plus – great control, unhittable splitter, plus a few ticks on the fastball. What he’s been is…ok, what he’s been is injured, but over his first 150IP in the US, he’s been more or less equivalent to Iwakuma. Now, the Yankees paid a boatload of money for Tanaka, and I think many expected a true ace, but being more-or-less-equivalent-to-Iwakuma is a damn good outcome for a pitcher. If there’s a problem, besides the whole injury thing, it’s that his fastball isn’t any better than Iwakuma’s. Tanaka’s four-seam is coming in around 91 this year, and he throws a sinker at about the same speed. But for whatever reason, it’s not as effective as Iwakuma’s 90mph heater. Iwakuma gets far more whiffs on his, and it’s taken deep less often. In his brief MLB career, batters are hitting .316 on Tanaka’s four-seam fastball, and are SLUGGING .614. On the sinker, it’s .322/.521, respectively. That’s…bad. Of course, Tanaka’s split is a legitimate weapon, and he throws it often enough that he can still be effective despite a pedestrian fastball. Tanaka’s breaking balls are also a bit more effective (thus far) than Iwakuma’s; Tanaka has an effective slider, while Iwakuma’s is mediocre.
Like Iwakuma, Tanaka has run reverse platoon splits thus far. It’s righties who do the most damage on his fastball, and they’re less likely to see a split. As a result, they’ve hit more HRs off of Tanaka despite facing him less often than lefties. Reverse platoon splits are often a weird anomaly, a byproduct of a small sample, but every once in a while, they’re meaningful. In Tanaka, all we have is a small sample, but I’m willing to bet that his splits are, for lack of a better word, “real.” Iwakuma has run essentially equal (his FIP against righties is a tiny bit worse than it is against lefties) splits over his career, after all. No, righties won’t continue to slug .700 on Tanaka’s fastball, but as long as he throws his best pitch to lefties more than righties, righties will have a slight comparative advantage.
Taijuan Walker’s fastball has essentially the same shape – the same movement – as Tanaka’s. Both more horizontally about 5″, and have 10″ of vertical rise due to backspin. Both have hard cutters with similar movement as well – a difference in horizontal movement of about 6″ or so from the FB, and 3-4″ less rise. As you might imagine, though, their splitters are very distinct. What Tanaka does that Walker hasn’t yet figured out how to do is generate serious drop with the pitch. Tanaka’s drops 8″ more than his fastball, while Walker’s is a bit less than 6″. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and the fact that Walker’s is fastball may have something to do with it, but it makes a difference. With more drop, batters see the pitch as a strike longer, and that leads to more swings out of the zone. Against Tanaka’s split, batters swing at *most* splitters in the zones below the bottom of the strike zone. Against Taijuan’s, they’re more likely to hold off. And that’s a big reason why Taijuan’s o-swing% is nothing special, while Tanaka’s is above average. The splitter is such an effective pitch because it can be thrown for balls and STILL generate swings. In 2014, Tanaka had the 3rd best swing rate on splitters, one spot ahead of Iwakuma, with a 63.3% mark, *despite* the fact he throws it out of the zone far more often than he leaves one IN the zone. When they’re not whiffs, swings at balls tend to generate bad contact, and thus it’s not a surprise that Tanaka (and Iwakuma) have run lower than average BABIPs – this is something Taijuan Walker really needs to learn how to do.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, RF
7: Miller, SS
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
Six lefties. Damn.
Happy 40th birthday to the Seattle Times M’s beat writer and friend of the site Ryan Divish. Everyone have some Crown Royal in honor of a hell of a writer/twitterer.
Danny Farquhar’s first start was so-so – he went 3 2/3, giving up 2 runs on a HR to Derek Dietrich. He blanked New Orleans for three innings before the HR, so that’s somewhat encouraging. The Rainiers won the game 11-2, thanks to some great relief work by Justin Germano and a 4-5-with-a-HR day from Jesus Montero. James Jones, Pat Kivlehan and Shawn O’Malley also homered, and the Rainiers scored 8 runs off Justin Nicolino, who’d been excellent thus far. Today, Sam Gaviglio gets the start against the Zephyrs.
Jackson was swept in their doubleheader against the Mississippi Braves yesterday, losing 3-0 and 5-2. Victor Mateo blanked them for 6 innings in the first game despite not striking anyone out, and the Braves got 3 runs in the first (on a 3R HR) off Scott DeCecco, and then neither team scored after that. Gabby Guerrero had one of the Generals three hits, and also threw a runner out at 2nd. Moises Hernandez took the loss in the nightcap, giving up 4 runs in 3 1/3IP. DJ Peterson had two singles and C Marcus Littlewood had 3, but the Generals were held without an extra-base hit in both games. Today, Jake Zokan faces off against Tyrell Jenkins, an up and coming prospect who moved to the Braves as part of the Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller swap. Jenkins had shoulder surgery in 2013, but returned in time for the Arizona Fall League last year, where he threw 93-94.
Bakersfield’s bats came alive yesterday in a 13-8 win over Rancho Cucamonga. Nelson Ward doubled and homered, and the Blaze pounded out 15 hits. Eddie Campbell struggled again, but had plenty of run support. The Blaze knocked opposing starter Zack Bird out in the first inning; maybe it helped that they’d faced him twice before. The Blaze are off today.
Clinton hosts Dayton tonight, and Tyler Herb will start for the LumberKings.