Game 67, Mariners at Red Sox
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Roenis Elias, 4:10pm
The M’s head to Boston to take on the highest scoring team in baseball. David Ortiz’s remarkable final season is a big reason why they lead baseball in runs scored, but it’s far from the only one. Boston’s remarkable in that they combine a high ISO with a very low K rate – they’re 28th in K%, but #1 in SLG% and 4th in ISO. It shouldn’t be a shocker that a team that puts so many balls in play would have a high team batting average (they’re #1 in that, too), but there really isn’t much of a correlation between a low K rate and any kind of overall batting success – the Angels are baseball’s toughest club to K, but their offense is more annoying than good. The Braves are above average in K rate, but historically below average in basically everything else.
Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia have aged well, and combine contact ability with power, so that’s helped, but the Sox offense in 2016 has been the story of the massive developmental leaps made by a trio of young players: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Xander Bogaerts. Bradley’s the only one with a K rate over 20% (and it’s barely over it), but that’s down from 29% and 27% in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Bogaerts had a K rate of 23% a few years back, but he’s trimmed that to about 15% now, a major reason he’s hitting .352. But more than just more contact, all three are doing more damage on that contact than they have before – often at levels their minor league track records never hinted at. The diminutive Betts has an ISO of .228 and 14 HRs already, while Bogaerts has raised his own ISO from .101 last year to .161 now. And Bradley’s is at a stratospheric .268 despite never surpassing .200 in the minors. The Astros, Cardinals, and Rangers get well deserved credit for their impressive player development groups, and have turned many later-round draft picks and projects into real prospects. But I’m not sure I can think of a better example of turning solid prospects into regulars, and from *there* turning them into stars. They progressed plenty in the minors, but these huge jumps a few years into their big league careers is really impressive. Maybe that’s just the M’s fan in me, but that’s a facet of development that just killed the M’s under Zduriencik.
The Red Sox have the run scoring thing down pat, and even with Carson Smith hurt for most of the year, they’re doing fine as a bullpen; you put Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa in the same pen, and you’re going to strike plenty of dudes out. The starting pitching, however, has been pretty dicey. By FIP and ERA, they’re in the bottom third, but it doesn’t look too bad (in part thanks to the more comprehensive dumpster fires in the Minnesota and Oakland rotations), but the *distribution* of their WAR is quite remarkable. At the top, the Sox have an expensive ace in David Price, who’s struggled, but whose FIP is still more or less OK. There’s Rick Porcello, who never quite made the leap Boston clearly anticipated him making, but is having a perfectly normal, boring, Rick Porcello-y season. Even better, they’ve stumbled on to a valuable, finely aged knuckleball savant in Steven Wright, who’s kicked around as their swingman for a few years, and has looked brilliant in the rotation this season. That’s 40 starts at around a combined FIP in the high 3s. Price has underpeformed his, while Wright’s overperformed, so it kind of nets out. Unfortunately, that’s not enough starters. The REST of the rotation, covering 25 starts, has been breathtakingly bad. In 122 2/3 IP, these back of the rotation guys have given up 95 runs, good for an RA/9 of 7. *7*.
Clay Buchholz was so bad, he’s been banished to the bullpen, and Joe Kelly remains enigmatically bad, striking out more but giving up a run per inning. Pitching prospect Henry Owens gave up 3 HRs and walked 12 in 12+ innings. Former top prospect and solid pitcher last year Eduardo Rodriguez has given up 6 HRs in 20 1/3 IP. If you’re wondering why Roenis Elias was summoned from AAA to make this start, let’s just say the incumbents in the rotation haven’t solidified their spot in the rotation. Elias has been better in the IL than he was in the PCL last year, as his K rate’s up a bit. He’s still walking a few too many, and he still has platoon splits, but at this point, if he can just give the Sox what he gave the M’s last year, it’d be a tremendous upgrade.
The M’s rotation has been frustrating at times, and clearly Wade Miley has underperformed, but *no* Mariners starter has been below replacement level by fWAR. Karns has underperformed his FIP, and thanks to their HR rates, neither Iwakuma nor Tai Walker’s season lines look all that great, but there aren’t any ERAs starting with 7s and 8s here. There’s something to be said for avoiding black hole performances, and while it’s a low bar to get over, the M’s sure couldn’t do it in the recent past.
1: Marte, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Aoki, LF
Tacoma bludgeoned Salt Lake yesterday 12-7, behind HRs from Daniel Robertson and Mike Zunino. A day after his first five hit game, Chris Taylor singled and walked, too. Interesting Astros prospect Joe Musgrove starts tonight as Fresno head to Tacoma to take on Joe Wieland and the Rainiers.
Jackson beat Tennessee 3-2 thanks in large part to another solid start from Ryan Yarbrough. Tim Lopes and DJ Peterson doubled in the game. Andrew Moore makes the start in Game 1 of a twin bill for the Generals today, who’ve already clinched the first half title, and even after taking their foot off the gas a bit (they’re 5-5 in their last 10 games) lead the SL by a mile. Andrew Kittredge makes a spot start in Game 2.
Bakersfield blew another 9th inning lead, but redeemed themselves by winning 6-4 in 12 innings. Aaron Barbosa and Chantz Mack both had 3 hits, and both tripled. Anthony Misiewicz pitched a good 6 IP (with 7 Ks).
Clinton blew a 6-2 lead in their 7-6 loss to Kane County. Alex Jackson went 3-5 with a dinger, and that probably means a bit more to us than the game’s result. He’s still struck out 32 times in 100 ABs, but he’s hit in 5 straight games and seems to be coming around. Zack Littell starts Game 1 of another double header for the L-Kings today, with Pablo Lopez on the mound in Game 2.
Speaking of the minors, one guy who’s certainly looked impressive in the early going is OF Brayan Hernandez of the M’s Dominican Summer League team. Hernandez was a big name, and the highest ranked international free agent the M’s signed in many years, but he’s been progressing a bit slowly the past few years. Thus far, he’s had about as good of a 50-PA or so start as you can, with a line of .362/.400/.702. He’s tied for the league lead in HRs. Now, there are quite a few guys hitting well, so his stat line alone doesn’t qualify him for uberprospect status, but it’s great to see all the same.