Cactus League: Iwakuma vs. Maeda
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Kenta Maeda, 1:05pm
Today’s game is a great pitching match-up between an NPB vet who’s made about as smooth a transition to MLB as possible, and another former NPB star who’s looking to do the same. It’s reductive and not-exactly-accurate to say they’re similar pitchers, as they’ve shown a different repertoire with differing strengths and weaknesses, but I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch and see if Maeda patterns his game more on ‘Kuma as the Spring or the 2016 season rolls along.
In NPB, Maeda was a fastball/slider/change guy, whose slider was seen as his best pitch. Iwakuma’s amazing splitter really is one of the best pitches in baseball, and it’s made up for his sub-standard fastball velocity and so-so slider. Of course, in Japan, Iwakuma was often seen as a fastball/slider guy, and it seems he’s ramped up his splitter usage in America. That’s the same pattern we saw with Masahiro Tanaka, too. The splitter is so important because batters swing at it – it’s not something you use to freeze a hitter and get a called strike, the way you might with a curve. It’s designed to be swung at, even more than sliders, and what’s important is that contact isn’t a bad thing. Iwakuma’s biggest skill, and it’s something we’ve talked about a lot around here, is that batters swing at – and make contact on – pitches below the strike zone. That boosts Kuma’s GB%, but more importantly, it’s allowed him to post a consistently-low BABIP. Remember, grounders go for hits more often than outfield fly balls, so if anything, you’d expect a low BABIP from fly-ball guys like Chris Young. But Kuma and Dallas Keuchel seem to have figured out how to induce weaker contact, and while they use different pitches to do it, the game plan is pretty clear: get hitters to swing at non-strikes and good things will happen.
Maeda’s change has some split-like movement, so it’ll be interesting to see if he starts throwing it a lot more, or if he’ll stick with the approach that worked so well for him in Japan.
1: Marte, SS
2: Sardinas, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Lind, 1B
6: Romero, LF
7: Clevenger, C
8: Iannetta, DH
9: O’Malley, 3B
Ex-Mariner Chone Figgins signed a one-day deal with Anaheim and officially retired today. I love the restraint in the last sentence of Bob Dutton’s piece about it here.
Donn Roach will throw an inning or two in this game. With some of the righties in the pen hurting, Roach still has a sliver of an opportunity to make the opening day roster. The club clearly likes Blake Parker, who’s pitched well overall, but scuffled in his last appearance. Roach had a disastrous appearance early in camp, but was throwing very well a week or so ago. Not sure if he missed time with the flu that still infecting M’s (Guti’s the latest victim) or what.
A couple of other candidates for a bullpen job were among the 5 cuts the M’s made yesterday. Ryan Divish reports Jonathan Aro, Adrian Sampson and David Rollins were, as expected, sent to minor league camp, along with Steve Baron and Ed Lucas.