Game 16, Mariners at Angels
King Felix Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Nick Tropeano, 7:05pm
Citing an “illness” – quotes around the word in the original Bob Dutton story – the M’s have pulled King Felix from his start tonight, though it’s mild enough that he may start tomorrow. We’ll have to wait a day or so until he supplants Randy Johnson as the M’s all-time strikeout king.
The M’s head to Anaheim for their first regular-season look at the Angels. You know, the team that employed Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto last season, and the team that’s fallen on hard times after being one of the division’s toughest in the first few years of Dipoto’s tenure as GM. The Angels and M’s are in some ways similarly situated: both have offenses that haven’t quite clicked yet, with the Angels’ OBP at .294 and the M’s’ at .295. Both have committed a ton of money to aging superstars in their decline phase, with the M’s payroll tied up in Felix/Cano/Cruz, while the Angels paying Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, and Josh Hamilton. Obviously, the M’s are getting more out of their old guys right now than the Angels, but the Angels have Mike Trout which tends to even things out pretty quick. Moreover, both teams have been hamstrung by a brutal BABIP – the M’s and Angels are turning only a quarter of their balls in play into base hits; the M’s are 29th in baseball by that metric and the Angels are in 30th.
The biggest problem for the Angels right now is at once easy and difficult to discern. In the short term, the problem is that they can’t hit for power at all – their ISO is second-worst in baseball to Atlanta, and the Braves aren’t really a big-league team right now. Organizationally, from a macro point of view, the Angels biggest problem is depth. They have nothing to speak of in the minor leagues, and after swinging a trade with the Braves to bring Andrelton Simmons to the club, there’s really nothing they can do to bring in talent short of draft and develop it. That’s a good strategy, obviously, but it takes a long time. You know what else takes a long time? Waiting for their mega-contracts to start falling off. The back-loading that enabled the club to be so aggressive a few years ago is now a pretty clear problem, and it may shut them out from another non-traditional way to bring in talent: agreeing to take on “bad” contracts.
The short-term, wins-in-2016 problem is linked to the longer-term, front-office-centric problem in the person of Albert Pujols. The Angels have an aging, injured slugger who hasn’t, as of yet, done much slugging. That’s an issue, because given the state of his legs, Pujols isn’t going to be turning many balls in play into hits. To his credit, he’s not hitting many grounders, but Pujols is a microcosm of the team right now: they’re not hitting their fly balls hard enough to matter. By BBREF, the Angels have just two HRs on fly balls this *season* which is why their BABIP on fly balls is well under .100. Ok, ok, but they can adjust: the Angels lead MLB in GB%. True, but their production on grounders is nearly as bad as it is on fly balls. I don’t think Albert Pujols is sub-replacment level in true talent, so the Angels will get better. But they’ve got to show they’re more than just Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, and this start isn’t helping. Their pitching has done a remarkable job of keeping them near .500 considering the offense is scoring fewer than 3 runs a night, but regression in the rotation might eat up some of the gains they’ll get from positive regression at the plate.
The M’s get a look at Nick Tropeano, the one-time Houston Astro who pitched fairly well down the stretch for the Angels after a shaky campaign in the PCL. The righty’s put up decent numbers in the minors (for the most part) and has a low ERA in short stints in the majors, but doesn’t do much to impress scouts. Armed with a 90-91mph fastball, a change-up about 9mph slower, and a kind of in-between curve/slider breaking ball, he doesn’t have a clear “plus” pitch. The FB has rise, but not a ton. The change-up has armside run, but not much sink and isn’t really a swing-and-miss pitch. The slider gets some whiffs, but isn’t a real putaway pitch and gets elevated pretty easily. The closest comp I’ve got is the starting-pitcher version of Mike Montgomery. Monty’s change is just flat out better, with more run and much better results, but movement-wise, they’re sort of similar.
The Angels seem to be stocking up on guys who out-pitch scouting reports. Tropeano hasn’t really been harmed by a lack of a GIF-worthy pitch; his FIP is under 3 in his first 70 IP. Similarly, Hector Santiago’s riding a 90mph elevated fastball and the occasional screwball to some early success and even Jered Weaver, he of the 80mph fastball, pitched relatively well the other night and has a Chris Young-style line of a 3.12 ERA and a 5.69 FIP. The Angels – well, Garrett Richards aside – have been about as fly-ball dominant as their offense has been ground-ball fixated, and so it’s not a huge surprise that they’ve given up 19 HRs (while their offense has all of 7). Still, the club’s getting by in part because a small fraction of their fly balls have left the park. Some of that’s related to their HR-suppressing yard, but it seems to be a belief that they can identify and/or teach whatever HR/FB magic Chris Young has, and that Jered Weaver’s been known for since he came into the league. The bullpen’s led by Huston Street, another ultra-low FB guy, and thus a low BABIP guy. Tropeano’s GB% was low to begin with, but it’s essentially non-existent thus far in 2016.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma
Sorry about the lack of a game post yesterday – I was pretty sure the game was going to get rained out, and was too busy once I find out it wasn’t. Fortunately (or unfortunately? I don’t know), the game turned out to be one of the most entertaining in a while, with Cano’s extra-innings 3-R HR capping things off.
The Rainiers were shut out by El Paso 5-0, but Chris Taylor extended his hitting streak to 11 games. The two teams finish their series – and the R’s road trip – tonight as Donn Roach faces off with Greg Reynolds.
Jackson held off Birmingham 4-3, taking a 4-1 lead in the 2nd and then holding on. Brett Ash got the win, throwing 5 IP of 1 run ball with 5 Ks, and DJ Peterson and Leon Landry doubled for the Generals offense. Dylan Unsworth starts tonight.
Bakersfield beat Lake Elsinore 7-4, with Eddie Campbell striking out 8 in 6 solid innings. Of note, the starting pitcher for the Storm was ex-Rockies lefty Christian Friedrich. Friedrich impressed me back in 2012 on his way up to the majors, and had some initial success before getting rocked along with every other Rockies hurler in 2012-2013. Some of those struggles may have been related to a back injury he suffered – a fracture of his spine. After rehabbing that, he suffered a hamstring injury, which ended his 2nd year prematurely. He made it back to Denver in 2014 and pitched out of the bullpen for Colorado last season, though not terribly well. He was DFA’d after the Corey Dickerson/Jake McGee trade, and so the Angels made a waiver claim on him and brought him in to camp. After his physical, they reversed the waiver claim, sending him back to Colorado, who immediately released him. Apparently, he ended up with the Padres, as Lake Elsinore’s a Pads affiliate. Hope he’s healthy and can make it back – he’s still only 28. Andrew Moore starts for Bakersfield tonight.
Clinton and Cedar Rapids got rained out yesterday. Nick Wells is scheduled to make his 3rd start of the year tonight.