Game 83, Tigers at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Alfredo Simon, 7:10pm
The M’s ended their 9-game west coast road trip 5-4, but are still stuck at 9 games behind Houston, right where they were before leaving. A bad series of games for teams like the Rays and Twins has meant that Fangraphs’ playoff odds went up a bit, but then, those odds rest-of-season projections still have the M’s as the 2nd best team in the AL. I’m…I’m not seeing that. On the plus side, the M’s welcome Hisashi Iwakuma back to the rotation, and if Iwakuma’s able to go 7 innings per game, that should help a suddenly formidable rotation. Of course, the rotation was already performing well; the M’s need runs, and that’s not something they can address in the short term.
Jeff had a great article today at Fangraphs about the M’s opponent tonight, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have fallen short of expectations as well, and while they’re above .500 (barely) and thus right in the thick of the wild card race, the injury to Miguel Cabrera means that they’re going to need a lot to go right if they want to pass Kansas City for the division or whoever’s 2nd in the AL East and West. As an aging team, they could conceivably be sellers at the deadline – David Price would get a lot of interest, of course, and you just KNOW the Mariners would ask if Yoenis Cespedes was getting shopped. It’s an interesting puzzle, and I’m not sure what choice I’d make if I was in the Detroit front office. I will say, though, that it’s kind of nice to have a choice to make. The M’s are trapped too, but there’s just not a whole lot they can do about it. The M’s are comprised of four really high-cost, high-talent stars in Felix, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz. The M’s won’t sell Felix and Seager who are young, good and cornerstone-type pieces. They can’t sell Cano because his recent struggles now have a medical component to them, and they wouldn’t get as much for Cruz given his contract. At the other end of the roster, they’ve got several intriguing pre-arb players like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brad Miller and Carson Smith. These are the guys they won’t sell, because there’s no point in selling pre-arb producers for pre-arb prospects. Robinson Cano’s struggles have clearly hurt the M’s, but there problem isn’t with the stars, and it’s not with the prospect-emeritus guys like Walker (at least not anymore). The problem’s the roster’s flabby midsection.
Logan Morrison’s going into his final year of arb next year, as is Mark Trumbo. The market for those two, even considering the paucity of sellers this year, is *not irrationally exuberant*. Iwakuma’s a free-agent-to-be, but hasn’t thrown a big league pitch since April 20th. JA Happ (also a free agent after this season) isn’t a bad mid-to-back-of-rotation starter, but you don’t give up a ton for a half-year of JA Happ. Austin Jackson is not going to fetch as much this year as he did last year, and contenders are probably not calling about Fernando Rodney. If the M’s really, truly wanted to sell, and I don’t think they do at this point, they could talk up Cruz or they could deal, say, Charlie Furbush or a pre-arb starter. Those aren’t great options.
The other option is to go all-in and swap out some pitching depth for another bat. That’s a dangerously short-term gamble, as 5 years of, say, Tai Walker is incredibly valuable and potentially critical to the NEXT decent M’s team. But short of that, they don’t seem to have the prospect pieces to move to get a bat better than the Trumbos and Morrisons of the world. They were able to get those two quite cheaply in terms of prospects, but as we’ve seen, they’re not the kinds of players capable of lifting on offense on their own. Worse, the market’s going to be full of teams who’ll bid up the likes of Adam Lind – the market is starved for bats, and other teams can probably outbid Seattle. The M’s are only on the periphery of the race if you believe their rest-of-season projection’s close to right. BP is much more bearish about both Seattle and Boston, as both have a ton of ground to make up in less than half a season. The M’s may stand pat because that’s all they can realistically do.
Soooo, this series is going to be fascinating. Today the M’s face righty Alfredo Simon, who’d been a reliever for several years after failing as a starter. But he made a few starts for Cincinnati late in 2013 and got the chance to work in the rotation there full time last season and the 33-year old ended up making the All-Star team. The Reds traded him for prospects in the off-season, as the Tigers needed rotation help with Justin Verlander’s health status uncertain. Simon’s done fairly well – he’s striking out more batters despite the NL-to-AL move, and thanks to his big new home park, he’s giving up fewer HRs which have helped his FIP. Coming into the year, Simon may have looked like a big regression candidate thanks to a sky-high strand rate, low BABIP and huge platoon splits that were masked by playing in the righty-heavy NL Central, but he’s been decent despite it all. The strand rate fell, his BABIP is normal now and his platoon splits are as high as they’ve ever been, but he hasn’t fallen apart.
Instead, he’s decided to throw like a reliever. He’s got 4-5 pitches – a four-seam FB at about 93, a sinker, a cutter at 88, and his standby pitch, a splitter. He’s thrown a curveball as well, but he’s not throwing much of it at all this season. Instead, he’s just loading up on splitters – he’s not quite like Fernando Rodney, but especially to left-handers, Simon is pretty much a sinker/split pitcher right now. As I’ve mentioned many times, the splitter should be a great pitch against lefties, as it’s basically a species of change-up – these pitches either don’t have much in the way of platoon splits or even have reverse splits (look at Iwakuma’s career splits, for example). So why does Simon have such huge platoon split issues? It’s not the splitter’s fault, it’s the sinker. Like a lot of pitchers, Simon uses his sinker to opposite handed hitters and throws a few more four-seamers to righties. This advice must be pretty standard, particularly for those who’ve had HR issues, but I’ve never seen any evidence that it’s useful. Lefties have always feasted on Simon’s sinker (career SLG%: .549), and they’re destroying it this year (SLG%: .705). It’s not like he doesn’t have another option – he’s got TWO. This year, he’s trying to get around the issue by throwing blizzards of splitters – he’s thrown it more than his sinker to lefties, and 33% of his pitches overall, or about double last year’s frequency.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Smith, RF
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
Tacoma beat Fresno 7-4 to make Vidal Nuno a winner in his first game for the club, and just-reactivated Logan Kensing picked up the save. Steve Baron was the hitting star, getting three hits including two doubles. Baron’s been a defense-first catcher since he was drafted, and he’s been around long enough that his status as a first-round bust seemed secure. There’s nothing about a BABIP-driven 60 at-bat sample that can change that perception, but I’m pulling for him because Baron turning into a big leaguer would be kind of hilarious – the ultimate “You Can’t Predict Baseball” kind of outcome. Baron played most of 2013 at High Desert and had an OPS under .600! But he took some walks in AA this year, and is now sporting an OBP of .380 across two levels and nearly 200 plate appearances. PCL All-Star Forrest Snow gets the start tonight at Chukchansi park.
Jackson scored three in the first to take control of the game, and cruised to a 9-2 win over Mississippi. Anthony Fernandez went 4 IP giving up just one run, and then Cam Hobson came in and faced 7 batters – he struck out 6 around 1 walk. DJ Peterson had 3 hits for the Generals and Jordy Lara had 2, including his 4th HR. Edwin Diaz takes the mound tonight, and he’ll be facing Greg Ross – a rematch of their 6/1 match-up (the Generals won that one).
Bakersfield bombed the Stockton Ports 7-1 thanks to HRs from Guillermo Pimentel and Burt Reynolds. Eddie Campbell starts tonight for the Blaze against TBD of Stockton.
Kane County downed Clinton 7-1. Zack Littell had his worst start of the year, and Clinton couldn’t figure out Markus Solbach, a pitcher who’s gone 14 IP against them on the year and yielded just one run. Clinton’s game today was rained out.
Everett’s relievers were lit up in an 11-4 loss to Hillsboro. Joselito Cano walked 4 in 2/3 of an inning, and then Spencer Herrmann gave up 5 runs in 1 1/3 of work. Braden Bishop had 2 hits from the lead-off spot for the AquaSox. Today, Lane Ratliff gets the start opposite lefty Cody Reed, Arizona’s 2nd round pick in 2014 out of an Alabama high school. He’s a strikeout pitcher; not sure about the quality of competition, but in his senior year of HS, Reed struck out 226 batters in 92 innings.