Game 115, Orioles at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Kevin Gausman, 12:40pm
Early one in Seattle as well as in Tacoma.
The M’s walk-off win was a lot of fun, in that it prevented more anguish at the M’s bullpen, which blew a 3 run lead. But it was also a measure of brightness in a dark, dark campaign. I can’t have been alone in thinking Zunino’s at-bat in the 10th was headed for disaster, and had only marginally more faith in Austin Jackson. But all’s well that ends with Felix kicks.
Today, the M’s face Kevin Gausman, the young righty the Orioles selected 4th overall in 2012. Dominant at times in the minors, Gausman hasn’t been able to pitch well consistently in the majors despite a 97mph fastball, a visually stunning slider that he’s since abandoned for a curveball, and a good splitter. Despite the top-shelf stuff, Gausman’s K% is slightly below league average, while his HR% remains above average. In addition, he’s struggled out of the stretch, particularly this year. Some is luck, but essentially every peripheral stat goes to hell as soon as someone’s on base. Gausman has nearly 5 Ks per walk with no one on – but his K:BB ratio plummets to below 2 with men on. Maybe he’s trading some walks for really hard contact? No; his HR rate spikes with men on, too. All of this means that his strand rate is below 70% for his career, and that’s left him with some uninspiring fielding-dependent WAR figures.
Of course, there’s another confounding variable here: health. Gausman was on the DL this year with shoulder tendinitis, and then he spent some time in the minors getting stretched out. He began the year in the O’s bullpen, so some of his struggles may be related to the change in role – though of course he started in 2014. Clearly, using him in the pen didn’t prevent soreness from developing, but it might tighten the leash with him – I can’t imagine they’d want him racking up high-stress pitches the rest of 2015.
This year, Gausman’s worked on pitching up in the zone with his fastball, presumably to hide his new curve a bit better. Since April, though, the picture’s a bit more muddled. He’s still throwing some four-seamers at or above the top of the zone, but the heatmap doesn’t look radically different from 2014’s: last year, a bit over 18% of his fastballs were “up” – the top third of the zone or above. This year, it’s 24%. After talking so much about pitching up, why is he doing so only sporadically? This may be the result of continued worries about HRs, or it may be the byproduct of pitching to contact to keep his pitch-count lower – he’s dropped his pitches per PA from 4.1 to 3.9 this year. In any event, Gausman has plenty of time to put it together, and avoid the fate of so many Orioles pitching prospects before him. Jake Arrieta was great in the minors, then struggled for the O’s before becoming an elite starter with the Cubs. Brian Matusz, another #4 overall pick, was untouchable in the minors before regressing from “disappointing” to “make it stop” in the O’s rotation. He’s a decent bullpen arm now, but that’s not what the O’s thought they had. Zach Britton was another guy with a great MiLB track record who stalled out in the rotation, though at least he’s been an elite reliever. And that’s not even counting Dylan Bundy, one of the better prospects in baseball in 2012 who missed all of 2013 with TJ surgery and is now “shut down indefinitely” with tendinitis, which doesn’t sound terribly encouraging.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Gutierrez, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Smith, RF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Trumbo, 1B
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
Nelson Cruz came out of the game last night with neck spasms, hence the off-day today.
Tacoma lost to Sacramento 9-4 after holding a 4-0 lead through 5. After Edgar Olmos’ 5 shutout IP were up, the RiverCats feasted on the R’s bullpen, including Forrest Snow and especially Tony Zych. Jose Ramirez couldn’t stop the bleeding either, and thus Sacto scored the final 9 runs of the game. Ramon Flores homered again and continues to impress at the plate. He’s also playing a lot of CF for Tacoma. Today, Jordan Pries takes the hill (at 11:35am!) against Ty Blach of Sacramento.
Jackson blanked Tennessee 8-0 behind Stephen Landazuri and Andrew Kittredge. Guillermo Pimentel homered and doubled in his first AA game – he was just called up from high-A Bakersfield. The Generals face the Jacksonville Suns today in West Tennessee – no word on the starter at this point.
Speaking of Bakersfield, the Blaze won their 6th consecutive game, which is pretty impressive for a club that’s spent much of the year 20+ games under .500. Yesterday, they scorched struggling Lake Elsinore 11-1 behind a solid start from Brett Ash and 4 hits from lead-off man Nelson Ward. Scott DeCecco’s scheduled to get the start today in Game 2 of the series.
Clinton dropped the first game of their series to the Lansing Lugnuts 6-4. SP Ryan Yarbrough continues to struggle, as he went just 2/3 of an inning, giving up 5 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. It’s been a lost season for the Old Dominion product. Gianfranco Wawoe doubled for the Lumberkings. No word on today’s starter.
Vancouver walked-off Everett 7-6 despite HRs from Alex Jackson and C Adam Martin. Drew Jackson’s 2 hits and a walk brought his line up to .395/.453/.500 on the year. The AquaSox head down to Eugene today for a series against the Emeralds.
Friend of the blog Jonah Keri has a depressing read on the M’s inability to develop prospects today at Grantland. From Ackley to Zunino to Smoak, the M’s have certainly not gotten much production out of prospects that were universally regarded as MLB-ready. And he’s absolutely right to contrast this dubious record with Cardinals, who plug in unknown guys most people pegged for org depth and get solid production from them. You can probably mention the Astros as well as another team that’s turned some high draft picks and some also-rans into a solid young core. So player development has absolutely been a problem for the M’s, and it’s an area where other clubs are clearly doing something better. But the frustrating thing about the M’s is how multi-faceted their struggles are. A year ago, we lamented that in addition to player development, their eye for *pro* talent was equally bad. The complementary players brought in to stabilize the club for the youngsters were pretty much universally awful – from vets like Joe Saunders, Mike Morse and Miguel Olivo to MLB-ready youngsters like Hector Noesi and Trayvon Robinson. After an off-season in which the M’s signed Seth Smith and Nelson Cruz, that pro-scouting problem looks a whole lot different, but it hasn’t mattered.