Game 47, Twins at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Ricky Nolasco, 1:10pm
Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. Contrary to rumors, I was not sulking after the near-perfect inversion of everything I wrote – I was busy, and got home too late to write one. I *was* however, thinking about the fact that Pat Dean shut down the offense, that pretty much each Twin I ID’d as underpowered launched HRs. There’s nothing really to do about it; weird things happen, and you move on. That said, I’d love to understand more about exactly what type of pitcher the M’s struggle against and why. I’d like to understand what’s going on when a no-stuff pitcher with no record of sustained success starts to, er, sustain success. I’m not saying Dean or Graveman or whoever has done so, but there comes a point when a pitcher’s historical record isn’t just irrelevant, but actively deceiving. Mets fans talk about this a lot with Jacob de Grom, whose stuff got a ton better and allowed him to cut through the minors and then majors despite a so-so low-minors track record. Mike Montgomery is doing something similar now, though these are two cases where their raw stuff improved, as opposed to some kind of mental or pure command tweak. The problem is that every pitcher who throws a BABIP-lucky quality start thinks it was superior command, mental toughness, guile, etc., and that obviously isn’t always so (it’s probably vital that they DO believe this noble lie). But somewhere hidden in the haystack of false positives is…something. Some combination of mechanics and insight into hitters’ psychology that allows a pitcher to make a leap in results without making a leap in velocity.
The tough thing is that the new statcast stats seem not to illuminate the idea of a clear, definable, measurable “true talent” obscured by variance, luck, and chance, but rather to question its existence. That’s not to say that Ricky Nolasco might actually be a really great pitcher. He’s not. But rather that luck and variance are obscuring something that is itself variable and constantly shifting. This shouldn’t really be a shock to anyone whose experienced being human, but it seems like an interesting problem. What do we mean by true talent? If it’s always shifting, how do we push it towards improvement and not regression? What is Clayton Kershaw *doing* getting better despite a much slower FB than he had years ago?
This seems like a random philosophical aside, and it kind of is. I indulge in it not only because it’s better than cursing Pat Dean’s name but because it’s a distraction from last night’s debacle. Given the circumstances, last night’s baserunning…uh…thing may have been one of the costliest and ugliest in M’s history. That it came innings after the M’s failed to score on a bases-loaded, no out situation made it hurt all the more. Many fans took the opportunity to castigate the coaches and players, and I get that, but it feels so crazy and stupid that blame is almost besides the point. It was getting shut down by Pat Dean compressed into 5 seconds. That’s insane, and there are so many people looking sheepish and stupid and uncoordinated that blaming people is both easy and feels like it misses the forest for the trees. The M’s are not cursed, the M’s are not historically awful at baserunning or competing with bad Twins teams, or anything else. But every good team will look like it sometimes (the 2001 M’s losing That Game to Cleveland, for example), and all we can do is move on.
At the risk of tempting the baseball fates, I should point out that this is another very good match-up for the M’s. We’ve talked a lot over the years about those pitchers who seem to have some sort get out of DIPS free card, some ability to consistently post lower ERAs than FIP would predict. There are a number of ways to do this, from posting consistently low BABIPs, by stranding a ton of runners, or allowing only solo HRs, etc. Given that these guys seem to exist, that implies that there must be a group of pitchers at the opposite end of the distribution – guys who seem consistently worse than their FIP. Javy Vazquez was once the posterboy for this group, a guy who missed bats, limited waks, but had a lot of trouble stranding runners. Brandon Morrow was another for a few years. For many years now, Ricky Nolasco has suffered from the most severe case of DIPS sickness I’ve ever seen. In his career, covering over 250 starts and 1500 innings, his FIP is around 3.8, which isn’t too bad, and gives him 22.2 fWAR. By RA9 WAR, or fielding dependent WAR, he’s down under 9 WAR.
Worse, while this problem used to wax and wane from season to season, it’s really settled in after he signed a 4 year, $49m contract with the Twins. With Minnesota, he’s tossed 44 starts over 2+ years with an RA9 of 5.91. His strand rate is now abysmally low despite decent strikeout totals and an average walk rate. The problem is that his BABIP is consistently sky high. In his career, it’s .315, and it’s over .350 in his Twins tenure. Nolasco isn’t throwing any slower than he did in his most recent “Good” year of 2013. He’s still a guy with a fastball at 91 and a junkballer’s mix of 5 pitches. If anything, he’s become more reliant on his slider, which he now throws near half the time against righties. That increase has come at the expense of his splitter, but it’s not like lefties are causing his troubles: his platoon splits don’t look much different now, and if anything, have improved since 2013. It’s just that righties and lefties alike keep hitting him hard. It’s tempting to point to pitch sequencing or something like that to explain it, but you’d imagine if that was true, Nolasco would shake off more pitches, or the Twins would start to question their own (or Kurt Suzuki’s own) game plan.
1: Aoki, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Gutierrez, DH
8: Iannetta, C
9: Sardinas, SS
Donn Roach starts today for Tacoma in New Orleans. Roach has clearly made some improvements, and it’s showing up not only in his runs-allowed, but his strikeout rate. In his first five starts combined, he K’d 7 hitters. He K’d 7 Iowa Cubs on May 19th, then K’d 6 in his last start. Speaking of pitchers who seem to have turned a corner, Adrian Sampson fired 7 shutout innings at the Zephyrs last night in Tacoma’s 7-3 win. Mike Zunino homered.
Jackson swept a DH from Montgomery. DJ Peterson homered again and Tyler O’Neill doubled in each game. Jackson has the best record in the Southern League at 31-18 and a 6.5 game lead in their division. They’re the biggest reason why the M’s have the 5th best organizational record in baseball. Ryan Yarbrough starts today.
Bakersfield continues to struggle with Inland Empire, losing 5-1 last night to the celler-dwelling 66’ers. Lukas Schiraldi starts for the Blaze today.
Clinton beat Burlington 11-4 behind an Alex Jackson 3R HR, and Logan Taylor added 3 hits and a HR of his own. Jackson’s average is still atrocious, but his K:BB ratio’s looking a lot better than last year. Starting to worry that the hit tool might be a long-term problem, though.