Game 39, Mariners at Orioles
Taijuan Walker vs. Chris Tillman, 4:05pm
Happy Mt St Helens day to you all. I’m not as into volcanoes as my one-time co-blogger Jeff Sullivan, but they are pretty cool, and the 1980 eruption is one of my earliest memories. I had a lot of fun camping down in that area a few weeks back, and I’m just struck at how much it’s changed. I’ve been going every few years, but the pace seems to have accelerated (or I hadn’t been down as recently as I thought).
I just want to thank Wade Miley for last night’s USSM game post-affirming performance. Using his four-seamer over twice as much as his sinker, Miley induced a bunch of harmless fly balls, and BABIP’d his way to a great outing. By FIP, it wasn’t great at all, thanks to his 1:3 K:BB ratio, but the whole thing seemed pretty deliberate. Miley wanted a specific kind of contact, and he was able to get it again and again.
Today, Taijuan Walker will try to get back to the form he was showing before missing a start with neck spasms. Of course, it’s worth remembering that Walker’s faced two fly-ball hitting teams in Tampa and Houston recently, and he’s been a huge ground ball pitcher this year. That said, Walker’s getting grounders this year NOT with his fastball, but with his split. His rising four-seamer looks a lot like Miley’s (albeit better, and coming from a right hander), and Miley may be able to talk about locations that work against a tough line-up like Baltimore’s. It’s not a real GB pitch. Instead, the reason Walker’s GB% has surged from 38% to over 50% this year is his splitter. Last year 59% of splitters in play against Walker were grounders. This year, it’s 85%. He’s throwing it a bit less, but it’s still a pitch that batters have a hard time laying off of, so it gets more swings and more balls in play than his other offerings. That’s important because the Orioles haven’t been great against splitters either this year or last (they were a touch above average on them in 2015, and well below in 2016).
He’ll face Chris Tillman, who’s off to a fast start in 2016. He’d settled into a role as a quiet middle-of-the-rotation guy who could use a low BABIP to “beat” his fielding-independent metrics and keep his team in a game. After a great 2013 seemed to indicate he could develop into a strikeout pitcher, his K% settled back down in the years since. With a good, not great walk rate and constant HR issues, Tillman always seemed like some bad luck away from collapse. Well, bad luck came in 2015, and his BABIP rose to a perfectly normal .293. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it sunk Tillman’s year. More baserunners, a few more HRs and a few more walks, and suddenly Tillman’s ERA was 5, above even his elevated FIP. It wasn’t HR/FB luck; his HR rate was actually lower than it was in 2013. But without the weird mojo that suppresses BABIP, Tillman couldn’t strand runners, and so he gave up runs in bunches.
This year, Tillman’s BABIP has crept over .300 AND his walk rate is currently at its highest level since his 50 IP 2010 season. So, he’s toast, right? In a strange development in a season full of them, Tillman’s refashioned himself as a strikeout pitcher, with 47 Ks in his 45 IP. Instead of bad luck, he’s gotten incredibly lucky on his HR/FB ratio, and the resulting mix of strikeouts and just 1 HR allowed have his ERA and FIP hanging out together in the mid 2’s. This isn’t all luck: Tillman’s FB velocity is up noticeably, and that helps. He’s altered his pitch mix substantially, too – he’s throwing fewer four-seamers, and more cutters and curves. The cutter’s an interesting pitch, as he’s able to get a lot of drop on it relative to his rising fastball. After years of so-so results, it’s been an effective pitch this year, particularly against righties. With a K rate of 26%, Tillman’s got another way to strand runners besides hoping for a lazy fly ball, and this he’s left many more runners on base. These changes are all quite striking, and quite sudden, so I’d welcome the M’s proving that they’re just small sample noise.
Speaking of small sample factoids that are still too good to ignore: Tillman remains undefeated against the M’s. In 8 career starts, Tillman is 6-0 with a 2.98 ERA. Against everyone else, he’s 55-43 with a 4.18 ERA.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Martin, CF
The Rainiers beat Omaha 7-5 behind a great start from Adrian Sampson and some late-inning heroics from Rob Brantly. The Rainiers bullpen blew a lead in the 8th, but the R’s second catcher’s key 2-run single in the bottom of the 8th put the R’s back on top. Brantly also homered and doubled in the game. Sampson’s now pitched at least 6 IP in his last 5 starts, and has yielded just 6 walks in 51 IP this season. Tacoma’s off today.
Jackson dropped a 5-4 decision to Mobile. Tim Lopes and Leon Landry had two hits each. Early one for the Generals today on getaway day, and they beat Mobile 3-1 behind a solid (6 IP, 1 R, but no K’s) start from Ryan Yarbrough and a solid day at the plate by Guillermo Heredia. Emilio Pagan got a 2 IP save.
Bakersfield’s Tyler Pike started off the season strong, before a recurrence of his odd control issues. That’s why it was great to see him get back on the right track in last night’s 12-2 win in High Desert. Pike K’d 8 in 6 1/3, with 2 walks allowed. The Blaze hit four HRs, one each by Austin Wilson, Drew Jackson, Joe DeCarlo and Kyle Petty. High Desert IF Travis Demeritte’s hot start had him leading the minors in dingers, but he’s now one back. I mention this only because Demeritte was Kyle Petty’s teammate this winter in the Australian Baseball League, and I would like to credit the ABL for both players’ hot starts in 2016. Early game for Bako today, with Eddie Campbell on the mound.
I mentioned Clinton’s shutout win yesterday, but they’ll face Quad Cities tonight with Kyle Wilcox on the bump.