Game 67, Giants at Mariners
Mike Montgomery vs. Ryan Vogelsong, 7:10pm
Two great out-of-nowhere stories face off today at Safeco. Montgomery was the ex-prospect, dealt by his 2nd org in a meaningless end-of-spring deal. Vogelsong was the guy who was never a great prospect, and who toiled as one of the worst pitchers in the NL for several years in Pittsburgh before going on to three mediocre years in Japan. After another mediocre year in the minors, he seemed like a guy who’d be selling insurance very quickly, but a new start with the Giants turned into one of the most head-scratching years in recent memory, when he went 13-7 with an ERA under 3 in 2011. Now, that was pretty unsustainable – boosted as it was by a ridiculous strand rate and a so-so K:BB ratio. He regressed in 2012 somewhat, but was still an effective, important hurler for the WS champs. His K:BB ratio even improved thanks to a decline in his walk rate; even in the minors, Vogelsong always had issues with free passes, so that was an encouraging sign. What’s more, he seemed to have a legitimate strikeout pitch – a better-than-average curve ball. He also threw a sneaky fastball at 92 and a cutter that was effective against righties.
Early on in his bizarre renaissance, his change-up seemed to be an effective pitch against lefties, too. He had regular platoon splits, but his change allowed him to battle lefties to a draw, and then his curve/cutter/FB combo made him especially tough on righties. Starting in 2013, though, everything fell apart. The change that had been so good was terrible. Lefties swung and missed less, and put it in play more. And when they did, they were hitting fewer grounders and way more line drives. Overall, Vogelsong got fewer grounders AND gave up HRs on a higher percentage of fly balls – a bad combination for a guy who was no longer missing many bats, and whose velocity had dipped noticeably, perhaps impacted by the broken hand he suffered at the plate in a May contest against the Nats.
Nothing will top the surprise of Vogelsong’s 2011 season, but 2014 was remarkable in its own way. Fully healthy, his velocity ticked up by 1 mph, and he was suddenly effective again. There didn’t seem to be any change in approach or arsenal, it’s just that everything clicked for a while. He posted a career low walk rate, and his K% crept up near 20%. The incredible strand rate was clearly a one-year phenomenon, so he’s clearly a back-of-the-rotation starter, but for a twice-buried journeyman, another effective year – and another WS title – was a hell of a reward for years and years struggling in the baseball wilderness. This year, he’s actually made a significant change in approach. He’s throwing fewer change-ups, and he’s replaced it with more reliance on his four-seam fastball. His curve’s no longer even an average breaker, but he’ll still throw it about 1/5th of the time. It’s still a decent ground-ball pitch, but he tends to hang them. The cutter’s his two-strike pitch to *lefties* these days, while righties get fastballs. His platoon split issue is more acute now, and this is another game – like we saw against Hudson – where the M’s really need to get lefties into the line-up.
Montgomery faces a team that’s worse against lefties – they’re still better than average, but it’s a distinct advantage. The problem is that Montgomery’s an odd kind of lefty. As I mentioned last time, he’s much better against righties than lefties thus far, and that pattern held true in the minors as well. The key to this match-up is how he’s able to control the troika of Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. In Montgomery’s last start, the Astros’ lefties, Colby Rasmus and Jason Castro were 3-6 with 2 BBs, but he kept them in the park, and did enough against the rest of the line-up to be the only Mariner to walk out of Houston with his head held high.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cruz, DH
4: Smith, LF
5: Trumbo, DH
6: Miller, SS
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Bloomquist, 3B
9: Zunino, C
[EDIT] Whoa, sorry, big (late) revision to the line-up with Cano and Seager sitting. When’s the last time Ackley played 2B? Looks like May of 2013 – not sure, though. Did he have the odd game at 2B after shifting to CF back then?
Colin O’Keefe had a good article at LL about an odd paradox: the M’s offense is terrible, despite the fact that the M’s rank highly in the percentage of balls they’ve hit at least 100MPH. The Giants offense has been great, despite the fact that they’re awful at hitting the ball hard. This *is* odd, and since ball exit speed data is so new, we don’t really know how it correlates with hitting stats. But for obvious reasons, there has to be *some* positive correlation there, and it’s probably sizable. One thought is that while the M’s are hitting the ball hard, they’re hitting a number of 100mph smashes on the ground, where they do less damage. Jeff had a great post a month or so ago about Robbie Cano’s poor start, and how he’s hitting the ball hard, but hitting more grounders. The other obvious issue concerns what happens when the M’s don’t make contact at all. The M’s strike out a lot, the Giants don’t. The M’s ISO is great, particularly once you factor in their home ballpark, while the Giants have the 24th-best ISO. The M’s hit the ball hard, but don’t hit it enough. The Giants put it in play, and good things have tended to happen as a result. There’s got to be more to it than that, of course (the M’s platoon splits are another problem, as the M’s are much better against lefties than righties) – but those are a couple of contributing factors, I’d think.
Tacoma beat Reno 9-6 to win their first series there…ever. Franklin Gutierrez extended his hitting streak to 20 games. The Rainiers head to Albuquerque, where Sam Gaviglio faces off with John Lannan.
Jackson got smoked by Birmingham 8-1 yesterday. Jabari Blash had 2 doubles in the contest, and DJ Peterson tripled, but the rest of the Generals couldn’t figure out Barons starter Myles Jaye. Edwin Diaz starts for Jackson against the White Sox #7 prospect, right-hander Tyler Danish. The sinkerballer posted a brilliant ERA last season across two levels, but that hides (as ERA is wont to do) a bunch of hidden un-earned runs. In his minor league career of 225+ innings, Danish has a 2.44 ERA, but a 3.23 RA. Lots and lots of grounders plus low-minors fields and low-minors fielders probably explains a lot of that gap.
Bakersfield beat Inland Empire 7-2 behind a solid start from Dylan Unsworth and 6 hits from the 1-3 hitters in the line-up. Today, the Blaze heads to Stockton to take on the Ports and starter Raul Alcantara, who had been the A’s #3 prospect heading into 2014, but an injury-plagued year pushed him down to #9 this year.
Clinton lost to Quad Cities 2-0 in 10 innings; Jamie Richie hit a 2-r walk-off homer to win it. Pat Peterson was great, but got no run support from the L-Kings. Reliever Hawtin Buchanon, who’d struggled mightily thus far, had an encouraging outing, throwing 1 2/3 hitless IP and getting all 5 outs as Ks. He mixed in 2 walks, but he gave the fielders a nearly 2-IP break, which is considerate of him. Lukas Schiraldi starts for Clinton tonight against Brock Dykxhoorn which is an extremely Dutch name. The Canadian faced Clinton back in May.
And today’s opening day for the Everett AquaSox. You’ve read JY’s preview, and you can listen in to Pat Dillon’s call here, or on AM 1380 in Everett. Luiz Gohara gets the opening day start this year. In his first NWL start of last season, he gave up 5 runs in 2 1/3 IP. Tonight will probably be better than that. He’s actually made one start on the year already – a 5 inning appearance for Clinton, in which the big Brazilian scattered 4 hits and a walk and kept Cedar Rapids off the scoreboard. Alex Jackson will bat 3rd tonight and play RF. DII slugger Ryan Uhl starts at 1B, and bats 8th. UW-product Braden Bishop bats 7th, while local kid Jordan Cowan leads off.