Game 59, Mariners at Indians
Taijuan Walker vs. Trevor Bauer, 4:10pm
Today’s game is a rematch of the M’s 2-1 victory back on May 29th. In that game, Taijuan Walker used a great high fastball to dominate not only a good hitting team, but a team that swings less than any other. Think about that – a guy who’s had control problems this year, and a guy who gets a below-average number of out-of-zone swings threw his best game as a big leaguer by throwing more pitches at the top edge and above the zone. So, is that it? He needs to use his fastball up? It can make sense when you compare his last few starts against the game in Baltimore, say, but it’s harder to see a difference from the approach Tai took into the season. In 2015, 55% of his fastballs have been in the top 1/3 of the zone or out of the zone up/away. This isn’t a new thing, but it may be a more *consistent* thing. I’m not sure what went through the M’s head when Walker struggled in April, and I’m not sure what was going through Taijuan’s head, either. But Walker, by all rights, really should be successful pitching up with his rising fastball. Why he’s only successful in fits and starts better be keeping the M’s coaching staff up at nights. The swings he got in the Cleveland game on both the FB and splitter looked nothing like the way batters reacted to those pitches in his bad games. I still wonder/suspect that he was somehow tipping his pitches, and if the coaching staff corrected that, then they’ve all earned their pay and more on the year. Nice job with Mike Montgomery, too, if we’re handing out plaudits here.
Walker again faces off with the Indians Trevor Bauer, a pitcher who seems tailor-made for baseball bloggers to talk about incessantly. I talked about his contact management last time, and I talked to Kyle Boddy, a coach who works with Bauer, about his approach last year, and just for good measure, I talked about his famous warm-up routine when he was in the minors. Bauer is a guy whose relentless tinkering and study both made him the #3 overall draft pick, and got him unceremoniously dumped by the team that drafted him. We stat-inclined bloggers are often accused of somehow taking away the soul of the game by viewing it almost as a series of engineering problems to be solved rather than a game between people that’s emotional, beautiful, and which balances individual and team in a nuanced way. I’d disagree with the premise that looking at baseball analytically robs it of its non-analytical power. Further, I’d say that if you care about who wins the game, then you better be interested in solving particular problems – and a reliance solely on “fighting spirit” or “belief” or “establish the fastball” or any nostrum, whether sabermetric or not. And that’s why Bauer’s so interesting – he’s that rare player that not only uses data to inform his pitching, but won’t stop talking about it while he’s doing it.
And that brings us to Bauer’s new pitch for 2015, his sinker, or, as he and Kyle Boddy call it, the Laminar Express. I know I’m not the first to notice this by far, but this is, to my knowledge, the first pitch developed on twitter. It started with a gif of a Marcus Stroman pitch. Bauer noticed something about the angle of rotation, and from there a baseball question morphed into a physics question, thanks to the indispensable Alan Nathan. Nathan was flummoxed by a Freddie Garcia splitter from April of 2011 that seemed to move in the opposite direction he expected. A ball’s spin is largely the result of the Magnus force, which is created when the seams disrupt the airflow over the ball, pushing the ball in the opposite direction. For pretty much any pitch with lots of spin – and that’d be all of them except the knuckleball – the Magnus force essentially determines the direction of the break. Because of the pattern of the seams, a fastball thrown with lots of backspin will “rise” (technically, it will fall more slowly) more than a ball thrown without that spin. A slider breaks gloveside thanks to the sidespin on it, and a curve breaks down because the angle of rotation points that way. But if the seams are positioned just right – so one side of the ball is *always* “smoother” than the other, then the ball’s break can get magnified, or even break in the opposite direction of the spin. Garcia’s “splitter” broke gloveside, which is just not a thing that splitters are supposed to do. Stroman’s, as you see in the gif, breaks armside, and it does so in a way that almost looks explosive. Nathan’s estimates of the magnitude of the forces acting on Garcia’s pitch shows what he calls “roughness” is roughly twice as strong as the magnus force produced by the spinning of the ball itself. That’s why, in that case, the ball moves in the direction opposite of the spin.
But Stroman, and now Bauer, throw their sinkers with much, much more spin and velocity. And, as determined by another physicist, Rabi Mehta, the direction of the break when a pitcher successfully creates a “smooth” side depends on the pitch’s *velocity*. That’s why Bauer’s “Laminar Express” moves like this, and not the way El Jefe’s splitter did. Once you see this, you start seeing it everywhere. I think most pitchers aren’t setting out to figure out and replicate this – I think it just sort of happens here and there on certain kinds of pitches, but when it does, you get some insanely giffable moments. Many of these occurred too long ago to know for sure – we’re lucky that the Garcia pitch was captured on an HD broadcast in super-slo-mo, but after seeing all of the above, I instantly thought of perhaps the most amazing M’s pitch I’d ever seen. Those of you who’ve been around for years will remember this, and Jeff Sullivan’s memorable post about it back at LL five (!) years ago. In a late-season game against the Rangers, King Felix uncorked a change-up unlike anything we’d ever seen. For one, it was thrown at *93 miles an hour.* For another, it broke horizontally so much that it nearly hit poor Elvis Andrus in the thigh, and it broke so late that Andrus thought it was a strike, and swung and missed. To me, the same force that violently yanks Stroman’s sinker or this Lance McCullers sinker *must* be what was going on with that infernal change-up.
So, OK, Trevor Bauer has a new pitch this year. Dog bites man. Like literally everything else about the guy, the #laminarexpress is something of a work in progress. The angle has to be just right or it’s just a fastball* and that just-rightness of it may make it similar to a knuckleball, which moves for the same reason. Maybe it’s a “feel” pitch, and maybe it’s about the line-ups he’s faced, but he threw a bunch of them in his first start of the year against the Astros, then none in his next start against the White Sox. The next time he saw the White Sox? He threw 30. He threw a handful against the M’s, but while he controlled it, two of the M’s three swings on it were hit for singles. Look for it today and see if it’s something he’ll use more of as the M’s line-up saw him fairly recently.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smith, DH
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
The draft rolls on, and the M’s will finish up their 40 picks today. Through 30 picks, the list looks like this (from M’s PR). Of particular note is Yelm High School’s Parker McFadden, whom the M’s selected in the 20th round. McFadden had a lot of buzz through the spring, and is a guy Chris Crawford brought up in our pre-draft piece as the cream of the northwest crop this year. He hurt his hamstring late in the year in what the Olympian called a “non baseball injury” so you wouldn’t figure that’d cause BA’s #81 prospect in the draft to fall so far. May be a tough sign down there, but it’s a great pick.
Tacoma beat Sacramento 6-3 behind another solid start from Forrest Snow. Danny Farquhar vultured the win after blowing the lead. Stefen Romero had 3 hits and a double. The Rainiers have the day off.
Chattanooga swept a double-header from Jackson, winning Game 1 6-2 behind Jose Berrios and a big game from LF Adam Brett Walker. Andrew Kittredge threw three scoreless IP in game 2, but Matt Anderson gave up 3 runs and that was that. Byron Buxton, one of the best prospects in the minors, had a single in each game and totaled 3 walks on the day. Jordy Lara went 3-3 in Game 1 for the Generals. Misael Siverio starts today. The Cuban began the year with three very good starts, but has been up and down – and frankly, pretty much all down – since then.
Bakersfield beat San Jose 5-2 with 3 runs in the 10th. Dan Altavilla was solid again, but the Blaze struggled against Keury Mella, then got to the San Jose bullpen. The two clubs played an early game today, and San Jose extinguished the Blaze easily, knocking out Tyler Pike in the 2nd. Tyler O’Neill has a double and a HR, though.
Patrick Peterson leads the Clinton Lumberkings into Lake County today to face Anderson Polanco, a Dominican lefty with decent stuff but serious control issues.
* OK, but then why does it break *less* than Carson Smith’s regular old two-seamer? I think it’s the angle – Smith imparts so much sidespin because of his arm angle that the Magnus force is all he needs to generate 10″ of run. Bauer’s much more over the top, so getting to 7-9″ of run is pretty damned impressive. It’s not unheard of, though, by any stretch. Moreover, Bauer’s over-the-top delivery still has lots of backspin, so his “sinker” has some rise to it – but Stroman’s doesn’t. Instead, it moves more like that Felix change-up and dives down. As is so often the case, I think I have more questions than answers here about whether this is truly distinct from a two-seamer, and how it could be best deployed.