Game 2, Mariners at Rangers
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Martin Perez, 5:05pm
What a strange, strange game we had yesterday. Felix’s command was awful, but he was still difficult to square up. The M’s new-look defense largely did OK on balls in play, but made critical errors in the 5th inning. Adam Lind in there against a tough lefty looked bad in hindsight, but I wonder if that wasn’t a slightly modified version of the old Joe Maddon “Danks Rule” – trying to take away a change-up specialist’s best pitch by hitting SAME handed hitters against him. Robbie Cano still looks great at the plate, and Mike Montgomery was something of a revelation, at least for a day.
We now have a whole game’s worth of pitch fx data, which is both fun to look at and too small to mean much. Following on gameday, Montgomery’s numbers were so anomalous that it looked like he was throwing a new pitch. Now, a day later, and after BrooksBaseball’s cleaned it up and recalculated stuff… it looks like he’s throwing a different new pitch. What I initially saw were a group of four-seam fastballs with sky-high – like, outrageously high – vertical movement. That’s *never* been a strength of Montgomery. He’s generated plenty of horizontal movement with his arm action and mechanics, but he doesn’t get big time spin rates or backspin. Yesterday, it looked like he did…at times. Brooks shows just a single change-up, but two really odd “sinkers” thrown around 90 with sub-0 vertical movement. I’m skeptical that such a pitch can actually be thrown (unless it’s thrown sidearm), but there they are. Do I think Montgomery can vary his fastball vertical movement by well over a foot? No, but… that’d be cool. And whatever he was throwing, it was working. Unfortunately for the M’s, the Rangers bullpen looked equally good.
Which means it’s all the more important that they get to lefty Martin Perez early today. Perez is a former hyped uber-prospect who’s never quite been able to get over the 4th-5th starter hump. He’s got solid velocity, decent-ish command of five pitches, and he keeps the ball on the ground (important when you play in Texas). Unfortunately, he’s got a couple of big problems that stand in the way of growth. First is simply health. Perez has missed time due to TJ surgery, which killed off nearly his entire 2014 season and much of his 2015 as well. But beyond that, he’s *always* struggled to strand baserunners. This is why a guy who yields suspiciously few home runs can *still* put up ugly ERAs in the current low-run environment. For his career, he’s stranded fewer than 70% of baserunners. His opponent today, Hisashi Iwakuma, sits at the other end of this distribution, with a career mark of nearly 79%, which is one reason FIP consistently under-values Kuma.
Why would this be? How real is this? That’s hard to tell, frankly, especially when Perez’s career been marred by an injury and a long rehab. And he was great at it in 2013, somewhat randomly. But this pattern was present in the lowest levels of the minors, and it’s what drove his AAA numbers into the toilet. With runners on, Perez walks more and strikes out fewer opponents, and that’s a big deal for someone who doesn’t miss many bats to begin with. Maybe he faces more hitters counts with runners on? Maybe he’s just not comfortable out of the stretch? Maybe it’s dumb luck? Let’s hope it keeps up today.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Gutierrez, RF
7: Iannetta, C
8: Lee, 1B
9: Martin, CF
Rosters for the M’s minor league clubs were set yesterday… we’ll have a look at the clubs in the next day or two, as the full-season minor league teams begin their season this Thursday.