Game 125, Athletics at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Felix Doubront, 7:10pm
Hisashi Iwakuma takes the mound against the team that failed to sign him back in 2010, the Oakland A’s. The M’s are hosting a special celebration of the no-hitter today as Iwakuma takes the mound in Seattle for the first time since blanking the Orioles.
The M’s face Felix Doubront, a well-traveled lefty who’s now firmly in the weird spiral that often affects guys who’ve run out of options: The A’s are the 4th team he’s suited up for in a little over one calendar year. Doubront came up in the Boston org as a guy with a solid, rising fastball (averaging 91-92), a sinker, a change-up, a curveball and a cutter with sharp downward break. He flashed some promise, but HR issues and a persistent inability to strand runners caused him to burn through some options, and ultimately Boston let him go midway through 2014. The Cubs then picked him up, as so many in the Cubs FO had been in Boston when Doubront was moving through that system , and fans waited for a sign that the Cubs brain trust could figure something out that would allow him to realize his potential. That didn’t happen, and thus the Cubs cut Doubront after the year when it became clear he wasn’t going to be competing for a spot in the upgraded Chicago rotation. This season, his signed a minor league deal with Toronto and moved up to the big club at the beginning of July.
A game or two into his Blue Jays tenure, Doubront finally started looking like a changed pitcher, though the actual tweaks are so small they’re practically invisible. After getting by on a four-seam fastball with very little horizontal movement and 10+ inches of vertical rise, Doubront started throwing a four-seamer with a bit less rise. The release point’s essentially the same, but for whatever reason, Doubront’s generating less spin. That sounds bad if you believe that high spin rates are strongly correlated with success, but in Doubront’s case, it’s been a good thing. Last season, just under 25% of the balls in play off of Doubront’s four-seamer were ground balls. This year, that fraction’s more than doubled to over 56%. As you’d imagine, that’s had a big impact on his GB rate overall, which shot up from 38% in 2014 to nearly 57% this season.
All of that was interesting, but it didn’t actually help Doubront keep his job. When the Jays needed a 25-man roster spot for some infielder named Tulowitzki, Doubront was traded to Oakland for cash considerations. This wasn’t simply a case where the loaded Jays had to part with a contributor – despite his lack of HRs this year, Doubront *still* had big problems pitching out of the stretch, and thus had an RA/9 of over 5 at the time of the trade. This’ll be only his fourth appearance with the A’s, and while he’s pitched effectively, it’s always tough for back-of-the-rotation arms without options.
So is the ground ball spike the result of Doubront throwing lower in the zone? No, he’s not – he moves the ball around quite a bit, and still loves getting hitters to chase pitches up and out of the zone, as he did successfully against the Dodgers in his last start. That’s reflected in his career-best infield-fly rate; it’s a pretty neat trick to have career highs in both pop-ups AND grounders, especially if you’ve had HR problems in the past.
It all sounds great, but let’s be clear: Doubront still has issues. For one, he’s never overcome his platoon split problems. His FIP against righties is a full run higher than it is against lefties, and that gap has actually grown this year. Doubront’s cutter, which has some remarkable movement to it, is essentially his main breaking ball to lefties. With the pitch’s natural sink, he’s inducing lots of grounders from lefties. But because his change has much less sink, righties elevate the ball much better. And as we’ve talked about, he’s still much less effective with runners on base. With the bases empty this year, batters are slugging .302 off of him, but with men on, that rises to .507. The sample size makes it hard to take a whole lot from that stat other than hilarity and schadenfreude, but batters have always fared better against him if he’s pitching from the stretch. His command and control tend to come and go, as we saw recently when he walked 6 in 6 IP against the Dodgers his last time out, so the M’s should have some opportunities with men on and with RISP, so they should….oh man, forget I mentioned it.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Montero, 1B
9: Zunino, C
Mike Zunino’ll catch ‘Kuma for the first time since the 3rd of August; Jesus Sucre’s caught 3 of Kuma’s last 4 starts. As I mentioned before, Kuma’s struggled with Zunino behind the plate, although that’s a tiny sample, and Zunino’s has better numbers than Sucre overall. Still, I do wonder what all impacts how well a battery performs, and if there are aspects of pitch calling that might be better suited to one pitcher versus another.
James Paxton made his initial rehab start for Tacoma yesterday and felt good after tossing 36 pitches. The pitches themselves weren’t all that effective, as Paxton only made it 2/3 of an inning, giving up a run on 2 hits and a walk. Still, it’s a solid start, and Hisashi Iwakuma gave up a HR in his first rehab start this year…in short-season ball. Tacoma lost the game 8-2, by the way, as the R’s couldn’t do much against Redbirds starter John Gast – a Patrick Kivlehan HR and a Stefen Romero 2B were the only XBHs he allowed. Adrian Sampson takes the hill at Cheney Stadium tonight.
Jackson lost yet another tight game, dropping a 1-0 contest in Montgomery. Rays prospect Jacob Faria was lights-out, striking out 11 without a walk in 7 shutout innings. After dominating the FSL, Faria’s pitched very well in AA at the age of 21. Guillermo Pimentel doubled for the Generals, and starter Stephen Landazuri was sharp, but they just couldn’t figure out Faria. The Generals are emulating the poor Clinton Lumberkings, as they’re now 21 games under .500 *in the season’s second half*. After finishing the first half at 29-39, they’ve gone 17-38 since – nearly as bad as Clinton’s 14-41 slide. Misael Siverio starts today and tries to end the skid.
Bakersfield lost to San Jose 6-4, as Dan Altavilla was victimized by a couple of errors and a passed ball. Tyler O’Neill had a pair of singles and a walk. Tyler Pike starts for the Blaze as they head to Visalia to take on the Rawhide.
Clinton used an 8 run inning to pull away from Cedar Rapids, winning 11-7. Gianfranco Wawoe and Adam Martin each had 3 hits and a HR to pace the Lumberkings. Jarrett Brown gets the ball for Clinton today.
Everett beat Salem-Keizer 7-2 thanks to 7 shutout innings from Nick Wells and Rohn Pierce and Ryan Uhl’s 4th HR of the year. Wells has given up just 6 hits in 18 innings in the org, and is looking like a real find. Luiz Gohara’s scheduled to start for the AquaSox today against 6’8″ righty Nolan Riggs of the Volcanoes.