Game 17, Mariners at Angels
King Felix vs. Hector Santiago, 6:10pm
Our valiant King is healthy and again ready to extend his rule over the insolent, rebellious southerners. Felix has had a strange year thus far; his control’s been off, but he’s missing bats, and batters can’t square him up. Last year, he wasn’t able to limit contact the way he had in 2014, and his HR rate and BABIP paid the price for it. This year, while he doesn’t exactly have great command, he’s been able to avoid the barrel of opposing bats.
Baseball Savant’s got a cool leaderboard showing the average exit velocity each pitcher’s given up. Near the top, you’ll find Felix, with below-average velocity on his fly balls/line drives, and extremely low velocity on his ground balls. It’s extremely early, but his numbers last year weren’t great. Now, obviously, we’d love some more context for all of this, and thankfully Russell Carleton of BP’s given us a bit. In this study, Carleton found that batted ball velocity “stabilizes” quite quickly, in that the R^2 gets to around .5 after only 50 or so balls in play. But that’s about as high as it goes: even if you add hundreds more balls in play, the exit velocity doesn’t get more “reliable.” It’s not exactly K rate, but Felix’s contact management may not be pure noise or small sample nothingness.
Looking at his pitches, Felix’s change looks just as effective as it’s always been. Batters swing at it over half the time he throws it, and their results aren’t great. They’re making slightly more contact on his curve, but hitting more grounders on it. What’s different is his sinker – batters have been laying off it more and more, but they’re just not swinging at it much in 2016. They’re not chasing it out of the zone, and they’ve hit it pretty hard when they have swung. Felix has talked about his fastball command being a bit off, so this may be something he wants to work on. But it’s kind of interesting: why would batters take his sinker when his change-up is thrown at nearly the same velocity and has similar armside run? If it’s something simple like “they can tell the difference between his fastball and change” then you’d see the results in his *change* – but we don’t. They’re as hapless against it as ever. In recent years, batters have battered Felix’s sinker – they hit 11 homers off of it last year, for example. But I wonder if that’s a price Felix is happy to pay to preserve the effectiveness of his change – does he *need* to throw hittable sinkers in order to prevent batters from really figuring out his change’s movement and finally adjusting to it?
I’ve mentioned it before, but Felix really doesn’t get enough credit for the continual adjustments he’s made. I don’t think they’re the result of hours of video study or match-up tendencies or the like, but he’s a cerebral pitcher in other ways. He’s survived and even flourished as his velocity’s fallen by disguising his out-pitch as a fastball. If he went back to throwing all four-seamers or something, he’d be using his “worst” pitch a lot less, but I don’t think pitching is that simple. Felix probably has a reason for throwing the sinker, and while I’m sure he’ll make some tweaks to it, I think he knows it’s a critical pitch to his overall gameplan.
Speaking of exit velocity, today’s opponent, Hector Santiago is another AL leader in inducing weak contact. Coming up as an unheralded guy who rode a trick pitch (a true screwball) to minor league success, Santiago struggled with his control, and his rising fastball led to tons of home runs. As a result, FIP hated him as much as the scouts. But Santiago’s figured out how to pull off a poor man’s Marco Estrada routine – getting lots of infield pop-ups and a low BABIP to beat his opponents AND fielding-independent stats. His ERA’s a full run under his FIP for his career, which now stretches over 550 innings. His control’s improved as he’s realized he can live within the zone even with a completely average fastball.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Gutierrez, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Lee, 1B
9: Martin, CF
The R’s dropped the final game of their road trip despite a 3R HR from Mike Zunino. Tacoma’s back home tonight hosting Sacramento, with Joe Wieland starting. Game starts at 5:05.
Dylan Unsworth threw 6 shut-out innings in Jackson’s 1-0 win over Pensacola. Big pitching match-up tonight, as Edwin Diaz faces off with rehabbing Reds starter Anthony DeSclafini.
The story in the minors was Andrew Moore’s brilliant start for Bakersfield. The 2nd round pick last year tossed 7 shut-out, no-hit innings before coming out of the game at 97 pitches. The outcome wasn’t in doubt, as the Blaze had a 10-0 lead. Ryan Horstman relieved and gave up a hit in the 8th, but it was still a great night for Bakersfield and the M’s system. Anthony Misiewicz starts for the Blaze tonight.
Clinton’s making up a rain out by playing a double-header today against Cedar Rapids. Lucas Schiraldi starts game 1, and Art Warren takes the hill in the nightcap.