Cactus League – 5th Starter Competition in Focus
M’s at A’s in Mesa, 1:05pm
James Paxton vs. Kendall Graveman
James Paxton gets stretched out to 5 innings today, and he’ll have RP Tony Zych throwing behind him. Jerry Dipoto was on the broadcast yesterday, saying that he still sees the 5th starter fight between Paxton and Nate Karns as an equal one, with both pitchers landing some shots. Looking only at spring training, it really is pretty even, though maybe not what we would’ve wanted or expected. In fact, neither pitcher is at or near the top of his game. Paxton’s velo is still low, averaging 91 according to BrooksBaseball, which corrects for all of the fastballs mislabeled as cutters, and also measures velocity at 55 feet, not the 50 used by MLB Advanced Media’s gameday. I know that many/most people pooh-pooh early March velocity concerns, but this has been studies, and yes, it really does seem to matter. On the other side, while Karns’ velo is right where you’d want it, he’s just not missing many bats, and that’s kind of odd for a guy who K’d nearly a batter an inning last season. Part of it may be a slight change to his approach – he’s using his sinker a bit more this spring, maybe as a way to avoid HRs in the punishing heat/winds of Arizona (yesterday’s game was kind of funny for the number of routine fly balls that got pushed to or over the wall) – and maybe he’s just not feeling his curve just yet. But he’s pitched 9 IP thus far with just a single K, even worse than Paxton’s 4 in 9 IP. Unlike velo or what have you, this really does feel like kvetching about tiny-sample stats, but it’s a half-raised, very small red flag. Someone needs to WIN this competition, not just back their way into the rotation.
Kendall Graveman is in many ways the anti-Paxton (or anti-Karns!). While Paxton and Karns have high-spin, rising four-seamers that they can/should use up in the zone, Graveman has one of the lower spin rates you’ll find. That’s not necessarily bad, it’s just different, and it means Graveman needs a different approach to be successful. The righty came to Oakland as part of the big Josh Donaldson deal as a fairly polished, MLB-ready 4th-5th starter. Thus far, that’s pretty much what he’s looked like. The lack of spin means his FB sinks a bit more than most, and thus he’s a very good ground ball pitcher. When he elevates the ball, batters can hit it a long way – without rise, and without much velo, Graveman needs great command. His high HR rate despite being a ground ball guy and playing in Oakland can attest for his slim margin of error.
1: Powell, CF
2: Sardinas, 3B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Romero, 1B
5: Clevenger, DH
6: Navarro, LF
7: Robertson, RF
8: Marte, SS
Steve Cishek AND Tony Zych, two relievers who’ve been delayed by a forearm strain and the flu, respectively, figure to get some innings today. The M’s bullpen corps got trimmed down a bit yesterday when the club released Justin DeFratus, the ex-Phillies righty. The club wants to resign him to a minor league deal, but we’ll see what DeFratus elects to do. Today, the M’s grabbed ex-Rangers reliever Steve Johnson, another Dipoto-style arm with a rising FB that’s not super-fast and a big, high-spin curve ball. He’s on a minor league deal.