Game 34, Rays at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Chris Archer, 12:40pm
Early one today, as the M’s go for a sweep of Tampa Bay. The pitching match-up is a great one: Archer’s young, but unquestionably the ace of the Rays (good) staff, albeit one who finished 2015 in a bit of a slump, and is off to something of a slow start in 2016, too. Walker was the frustratingly inconsistent would-be star who got absolutely destroyed early in 2015, before starting to figure things out down the stretch. What we’ve seen from Walker thus far in 2016 has blown even our high expectations out of the water.
Archer was originally an Indians prospect, and while he had great stuff, his abysmal command held him back. After moving to the Cubs org, his walk rate improved a bit, but after walking 39 (and hitting 2) in his first 70 IP of AA, the Cubs moved him to Tampa in a deal for Matt Garza. Even in the Rays system, the walk rate was disconcertingly high, but Archer’s one of the rare guys whose control has continued to develop/improve at the big league level. So after solid seasons in 2013 and 2014, the Rays looked like they had a solid #2-#3 – a guy whose pure stuff limited runs and hits, but who didn’t miss enough bats to make the leap. In 2015, he greatly simplified his pitch mix. Out went the sinker that had been his primary fastball, and he replaced it with a blizzard of sliders. He had a change-up, but it was mostly a show pitch, used less than 10% of the time. He became a FB/SL guy, and it *worked*. Archer’s strikeouts spiked, and his walk rate stayed low as well. In the first half of 2015, he was one of baseball’s top starters, and that’s saying something considering the performances we saw last year. But more and more walks started creeping into the box score down the stretch, and they’re showing up in the early going this year as well.
In the first half last year, Archer’s K-Bb% was 24.2%. In the second half, that fell to 17.9%, and it’s only partially recovered to 18.8% thus far in 2016. Let’s be clear: those are still good numbers, and any team in baseball would take that from a starting pitcher. But any team in baseball would also ask why their 27-year old ace fell off from a level of performance he’d sustained for over 100 IP just last year. Everyone’s trying to figure this out, and the theories range from mechanical issues to wildness to dumb luck. I’d like to see the guy figure things out and get back to where he was a year ago, but I’d also like him to wait until after this game to do so.
Speaking of control and improved walk rates, Taijuan Walker’s on an incredible run right now. His BB/9 is under 1, and second in baseball only to Clayton Kershaw (among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 30 IP). That low walk rate means his K-BB% is 11th in the league, just ahead of Chris Sale. Encouragingly, he’s gotten much better pitching with men on – this was his achilles heel last season, when batters slashed .318/.361/.575 against him with men on. This year (and yeah, I know the sample’s tiny, let’s just move on), they’re hitting .236/.255/.321.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, RF
7: Lind, 1B
8: Iannetta, C
9: Martin, CF
The big news in the minors last night wasn’t any of the games, but rather the news that the M’s have decided to move SP Edwin Diaz, currently laying waste to the AA Southern League, to the bullpen. Jerry Dipoto mentioned that his change-up wasn’t really developing, but his FB/SL combo could be deadly in short stints (and we’ve already seen Diaz’s velo shoot up out of the bullpen in the Futures Game), and could even help the big league club this year. That’s nice, and I know the M’s bullpen has been hard hit by injuries, but it’s a bit tough to understand the urgency here. Diaz is 22, and is #1 at the AA level in K-BB%. As a starter. Sure, he could help the big league club this year out of the bullpen, but so will Joaquin Benoit and Tony Zych. The M’s bullpen has been very good, and while you’d always want more talent, more shut-down pitchers to turn to, it seems odd to say that Diaz can’t be a starter long-term when he’s excelling as a starter in AA at a young age. Hmmm.
Tacoma lost a lead late, but scored a run in the 10th to hold off Fresno 7-6. Cody Martin had a quality start. The two clubs face off again today at noon – no word on the Tacoma starter.
Jackson beat Birmingham 3-2. Dylan Unsworth got hit hard, but limited the runs, and Tyler O’Neill had 3 hits to pace the Generals offense. A hot streak from DJ Peterson is helping, too. Great to see that. Today, Andrew Kittredge gets the spot start, moving in from the bullpen as the Generals suddenly have a hole in the rotation, and he’s facing top prospect Carson Fulmer of Birimingham.
San Jose beat Bakersfield 4-3, as a four-run 5th doomed Anthony Misiewicz and the Blaze.
Clinton and Wisconsin play two today, with Art Warren and Zack Littell starting the games.