Game 18, Mariners at Angels
Wade Miley vs. Matt Shoemaker, 12:35pm
The M’s finish up a three game set in Anaheim in this match-up between disappointing middle-of-the-rotation starters. With Matt Shoemaker, the problem’s been pretty clear since his first season, but his ability to mitigate or compensate for it has steadily dwindled. Armed with a very good splitter, an improving slider and a below-average fastball, Shoemaker can miss bats, but batters have consistently punished mistake pitches. His HR rate was acceptable in his rookie campaign, and his splitter allowed him to post a near-elite K:BB ratio. Last year, the HR rate crept up to 1.6 per 9 innings, at the very fringe of what any pitcher can allow and remain on the plus side of replacement level. His K:BB ratio regressed a bit too, and thus Shoemaker was worth less than 1 fWAR in 135 innings. After giving up just 2 HR on his plus splitter in 2014, resulting in a SLG%-against of just .227, batters hit 9 on it last year, good for a SLG%-against of .435.
It’s still his big swing-and-miss pitch, but he’s using it less this year in favor of a slider. It doesn’t have much horizontal break, but it’s got some vertical drop, meaning it’s actually a bit more split-like than most sliders. That’s going to be a big pitch for him, as his split, for whatever reason, has been more effective against lefties, and he uses it much more like a traditional change-up. For Hisashi Iwakuma, the splitter is a great equal-opportunity pitch, but Shoemaker’s FB/SL to righties and FB/Splitter to lefties. Last year, that slider wasn’t quite good enough for that approach to work, and he put up reverse splits. In the tiny sample we have thus far, Shoemaker’s now throwing a blizzard of sliders at righties, but it hasn’t quite solved his problems with same-handed bats. When righties swing at the slider, good things happen for Shoemaker. The problem is that they’re taking too many, and that’s put Shoemaker behind in too many counts, leading to a lot of walks and a lot of hard-hit balls. I don’t mean to suggest that the M’s stack the line-up with righties; in his career, his splits are just about even.
Wade Miley’s been a problem for different reasons. No starter in baseball’s got a worse BABIP than Miley; after three starts, his BABIP sits at a credulity-straining .480. He’s got a K:BB ratio of 4, and all of the obvious “bad luck” boxes are checked, so we should just await regression, right? I’m not so sure, actually. Miley’s made some notable adjustments this season, presumably under the direction of the M’s staff. In years past, he was a solid ground-ball pitcher, which had less to do with the movement on his pitches or the pitches themselves and more to do with how he used them. This year, he’s using his four-seam fastball a bit more, and he’s using it in a completely new way. Take a look at this chart of the vertical location, on average, of his hard (fastballs), breaking and offspeed pitches over his career:
He’s never thrown his fastball above the middle of the zone…until now. It kind of makes sense – he was moving from Boston, a place where elevated lefty fastballs were punished severely, to Seattle, a park that suppresses right-handed contact. The move to elevated fastballs has gotten him more whiffs, and that may be helping his K%, which would be great if it weren’t for all of the runs he’s allowing. The sample’s still small that you don’t want to overreact and change a gameplan too early, but I’m always a bit suspicious of attempts to improve a pitcher by telling them to overhaul their entire approach. I mean, it works for some guys, but for every Brandon McCarthy, you hear about plenty of pitchers who get into trouble by abandoning an approach they’d honed over many years.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lind, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Clevenger, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
A few days after Bakersfield played a 15 inning contest, the Clinton Lumberkings one-upped them by beating Cedar Rapids in an *18 inning* pitcher’s duel, 2-1. To make matters worse (or better, I guess?), it was game 1 of a double-header. Clinton wrapped up a split by winning the nightcap 3-0. Thus, in 25 innings yesterday, Clinton held the Kernels to just a single run. It’s Sunday, so the LumberKings and Kernels are already back on the field – Zack Littell is pitching for Clinton.
Also in the minors, Tacoma lost their third straight, dropping the opener of their homestand 8-4 to Sacramento. Chris Taylor extended his hitting streak and Mike Zunino doubled, but Joe Wieland had another poor start, failing to get out of the 2nd inning. Cody Martin starts for Tacoma this afternoon.
Edwin Diaz got BABIP’d to death, and the Generals lost to Pensacola 10-4. He struck out 8 to just one walk, but gave up 8 hits and was victimized by a couple of fielding errors as well. On the plus side, Tyler O’Neill swatted two home runs. The Canuck’s season line is up to .304/.385/.571. Ryan Yarbrough starts today.
Bakersfield lost to Lake Elsinore 4-2, as they couldn’t figure out the Storm’s starter, Dinelson Lamet. Lamet struck out 9 in 6 scoreless innings, and while the Blaze managed two late runs, they couldn’t pull off the come-back. Drew Jackson had 3 hits, and RF Chantz Mack had 3 of his own, including a home run. Tyler Herb starts for the Blaze today.