Game 45, Athletics at Mariners
Nate Karns vs. Kendall Graveman, 7:10pm
Last night’s game was no fun, from the offense’s complete inability to figure out a guy throwing a blizzard of slow curves (all while looking like a bookish middle manager) to Chris Taylor’s two key errors. All that said, the M’s open today’s game in first, and the A’s just used their only bullet. As I mentioned in yesterday’s preview, the non-Rich Hill parts of the A’s rotation have been dreadful. Coming into today’s game, 114 pitchers have thrown at least 40 innings in 2016. Kendall Graveman’s FIP ranks 113, ahead of only the enigmatic Shelby Miller. Graveman’s ERA is slightly better, but it’s still below replacement level, the ugly product of a bunch of home runs and too many walks.
The home run problem is an interesting one, as you wouldn’t assume Graveman would have that issue thanks to his good sinker and well above-average ground ball rate. Indeed, Graveman gave up a grand total of 6 HRs in his entire minor league career, spanning about 200 innings. In 42 2/3 IP this season, he’s given up 10. Why? Most of the damage has come against his fastball. Graveman throws a sinker around 92-93, with average sink, but he really buries it on the corner or just below the strikezone, and in to right-handers. It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch, but it’s allowed him to run great ground ball rates, and it sets up his best pitch, a hard cutter at 88mph that he locates like a slider, down and away to RHBs. The cutter has en even higher GB% when batters make contact, and it also generates more whiffs. All in all, it’s a pretty solid pitch.
But Graveman’s having trouble getting to it. He’s already given up 8 HRs on his fastballs, and batters are slugging around .800 on them (including his rarely used and rarely good four-seamer). Without a real putaway pitch, batters can look for his fastball, and if they guess right, they can adjust to its movement. This shows up in his statcast numbers, where his overall average exit velocity hides a stark difference between grounders and balls in the air. He’s perfectly fine on grounders, but when batters elevate the ball, they *average* over 95mph in velocity. This same pattern shows up in a number of players, from Sonny Gray this year (whose HR rate has also spiked this year) to guys like Nate Karns’ old teammates, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Erasmo Ramirez. It’s not a kiss of death, necessarily. Karns and Archer get away with it because they strike out enough batters that they don’t need to be perfect at contact management. Odorizzi and Ramirez don’t walk many, and post high strand rates…as long as they can keep doing both of those things, some scary fly balls won’t hurt. But Graveman isn’t a strikeout guy at all – his K rate’s lower AND he walks more batters. He can be successful only if he’s getting guys to hit it into the ground. When they elevate, bad things will happen. He was solid against the M’s back in early May, but even then, the M’s had a number of 100mph liners and fly balls turn into outs, and they had Robbie Cano’s deep drive clank off the wall instead of fly over it. The M’s won nonetheless. Here’s hoping they have an easier time of it today.
1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: O’Malley, SS
9: Aoki, LF
Kyle Lohse and old friend Tom Wilhelmsen shut down the Rainiers offense in a 4-3 win for Round Rock. Adrian Sampson was solid through 6 IP, but gave up a 3R HR to ex-A’s 1B, Ike Davis. Lefty Kraig Sitton made his 13 appearance on the year, and his 6th for Tacoma. I mention it because Sitton is yet to allow a run on the year. 17 2/3 IP, 13 hits, 14 Ks, 2 unintentional walks, and zeroes on the board. Donn Roach starts tonight against Rangers prospect and MLB rotation depth, Chi Chi Gonzalez.
Jackson blanked Chattanooga behind a great start from Ryan Yarbrough. The righty went 7IP, with 3 hits allowed, no walks, and 7 Ks. DJ Peterson continued his hot streak with a double and HR, while Tyler O’Neill tripled. It’s a travel day for the Southern League today, but they’ll start a series in Montgomery tomorrow.
Bakersfield got blown out by Lake Elsinore, 14-5. Eddie Campbell struggled a bit, and then Thyago Viera struggled a lot in relief. Tyler Marlette was the player of the org for the day, hitting two HRs in the game – that’s the second time in a week he’s done that. Marlette’s been very good in May after a dreadful April; good to see. Lukas Schiraldi starts today’s game.
Clinton lost the finale to Burlington 8-3. Kyle Wilcox gave up 6 runs in 4 2/3, and Burlington couldn’t string together many hits. James Alfonso doubled, while Alex Jackson went 0-4. Jackson’s just 3-18 on the year (with 2 HRs, so his BABIP is terrible), but there are encouraging signs, too. His K:BB ratio is even at 3:3 – much better than last season, when he K’d 96 times in 76 games.