Game 113, Orioles at Mariners
Vidal Nuno vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 7:10pm
The Orioles head to Seattle today, and the first game features a battle of fly-balling left-handers with rising – but not exactly blazing – fastballs. When these two clubs met back in May, I talked a lot about the Orioles predilection for fly-ball starters – guys whose FIPs might look pretty bad (thanks to the fact that some of those fly balls will turn into HRs), but who might post better runs-allowed numbers for a variety of reasons. I seriously don’t understand how they DIDN’T end up with Chris Young, but hey, they’ve got Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and tonight’s starter, Wei-Yin Chen.
To refresh your memory, Chen’s got a 4-seam fastball at about 90-92 that gets more horizontal run than most, and a lot more vertical rise. His best overall pitch is probably his slider, a two-plane breaking ball that helps him shut down left-handers. To righties, he’ll throw a splitter, though the pitch has oddly little drop. Despite the lack of movement, there’s enough separation from the four-seamer that it still functions as a GB pitch, and that helps him try and keep righties in the ballpark, something that’s traditionally been a problem for him. He’s given up 22 HRs on the year, 9th most in baseball, and that’s the biggest reason why his FIP sits at an ugly 4.45 thus far. His ERA is over a full run better, though. As a guy with platoon splits and a low BABIP, this would normally scream fluke, and that would be that. But it’s worth thinking about how FIP could underestimate guys like this.
First, as a lefty and a fly-ball pitcher, it’s possible Chen might run a lower BABIP than normal, and thus have fewer baserunners-against. He already limits baserunners thanks to excellent control, but FIP’s already accounting for that. Second, there seem to be some pitchers – and Hisashi Iwakuma is probably the best example – of guys who clearly pitch differently with men on base. Iwakuma has given up a lot of home runs, and thus FIP undersells him, but not because of Chris-Young-style HR/FB ratio magic. Instead, it’s because Iwakuma pitches differently from the stretch and gives up far fewer HRs. With no one on, he’ll groove a fastball. With men on, he’s much less likely to do that. In 2015, *18* of Chen’s 22 HRs have come with no one on. The league as a whole gives up HRs at a rate of 1.05 with no one on and 0.88 with men on. For Chen, those ratios are 2.03 and 0.72, respectively.
Chen’s also sporting a remarkable strand rate of over 80% this year – his career rate’s good, but it’s not THAT good, and that highlights the volatility in these supposed skills. I think Chen’s is *better* than his FIP shows, and that given his park, he’s been an above-average pitcher. But his true-talent probably isn’t all the way down at this year’s 83 ERA-. The ability to give up HRs only when no one’s on? He’s shown that over his career, but not to this extent. The lefty/fly-ball BABIP-suppressing combo? Well, his career BABIP isn’t remarkable or anything. And no matter what, 1.52 HR/9 – Chen’s overall rate this year – is scary enough that he should make some adjustments. Still: Chen’s an example of someone FIP might miss on.
Kind of like Vidal Nuno – a lefty who throws even slower, but with a similar four-seam fastball with tons of rise. Nuno’s four-seamer has much less run than Chen’s, but his change has similar movement to Chen’s split. Nuno also has a good slider, which has made him quite effective against lefties over his career – but with the same sorts of platoon issues Chen faces. Like Chen, Nuno’s currently running a vertiginously high strand rate, which, combined with the fact that he’s been in the bullpen, helps explain why his ERA is so much better than his FIP. They’ve even got nearly identical GB and FB% numbers. Nuno’s fastball has actually fared a bit better overall, which is odd. For Nuno, his problem’s been what to throw to back it up. Righties have struggled against his slider this year, but killed it in 2014. His change has never produced great results. Chen’s *fastball* is his big problem to righties, but Nuno needs good command of his slider – a pitch he still throws frequently, even to righties. We’ll have to see how many sliders Nuno throws overall. Working out of the pen for most of 2015, Nuno’s thrown an amazing 66% sliders to left-handers – he’s essentially been Sergio Romo. As a starter, that pattern may not be advisable.
Tacoma blasted Reno 13-6 behind four HRs yesterday. Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t great, but the offense bailed him out. Chris Taylor homered and doubled, while Jabari Blash continues his hot August. The native of St. Thomas blasted by far the longest HR of the day, giving him four in his last 4 games, but he also sprayed some line drives around on his way to a 3-5 day. I’d essentially given up on him as a prospect, and at 26, the odds are not favorable. But his swing no longer looks as out-of-control as it did last year, and his K% has settled in under 30%. Paired with a solid walk rate, that’s down into “concerning” territory from “noooope” territory. He’s struck out only 1 time in his past four games, too. The pure hit tool is never going to allow him to hit for average, but this is a guy the Astros would stash on their bench. In a year without much to cheer about in the minors, Blash is a bit of a bright spot.
Tennessee handled Jackson easily, 8-3. Edwin Diaz starts today for Jackson as they finish up their intra-state series.
Bakersfield beat Modesto behind 6 solid innings from Tyler Pike. Tyler O’Neill hit his 26th HR, which leads the Cal League by 3.
Clinton scored 4 in the 8th to beat South Bend 9-5. Gianfranco Wawoe and Joe DeCarlo homered for the Lumberkings, who seriously needed a win. Their winning percentage of .313 is the lowest of any full-season club, and is much lower than we typically see in the affiliated minors. There have been some remarkably bad seasons in the long history of the minors, including Portland’s miserable 1921 team and perhaps the worst ever PCL club, the Sacramento Solons, who posted a .265 WP% in 1943. Salt Lake and rookie manager Don Zimmer had a sub-.300 WP% back in the early 70s. But these days, we don’t tend to see teams lose this often. In recent history that I’ve been able to scrounge through, there are a couple of clubs that have gone through what Clinton’s going through now. In 2006, the Kannapolis Intimidators intimidated no one on their way to a 42-94 record, for a WP of .309. Future Mariners Dan Cortes and Kanekoa Texiera, as did current Astros DH Chris Carter. The very next year, the Mets affiliate, the Savannah Sand-Gnats did slightly worse, at 41-94, or a WP% of .304 (current Met Juan Lagares was on that club). Those marks are in jeopardy this year.
Everett beat Vancouver 6-3, with Joey Strain pitching 3 solid innings for the win. Drew Jackson had the day off, but Alex Jackson pitched in with 2 hits and Braden Bishop added 4 of his own. Andrew Moore takes his 29:1 K:BB ratio into Vancouver tonight against lefty Evan Smith.