Game 67, Mariners at Red Sox

June 17, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

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
SP: Iwakuma

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.

2016 Everett Aquasox Preview

June 17, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

While my current annual schedule could make the full-blown, four-team minor league previews impossible, the good news, if you’re an aficionado of giant walls of text, is that I’m almost certainly going to be free to do Everett Aquasox previews. I figure it’s helpful for a team that draws on the regional Northwest to have a team preview for their affiliate in the Northwest League.

As is typical of NWL rosters, this one has more players than you could shake a wood bat at, which makes projecting who ends up where tricky at times. I feel like I could maybe draw up the first five of a lineup card, but thereafter it would be scribbles and assorted ciphers. “SS Brigman, RF Filia, 3B Zammarelli, RF Lewis, DH/IF Greer, (wingdings) C Goldstein, LF Leal? (further wingdings).” I’m also not at all confident in my projection of the rotation and am using the precedent of not having college guys rank up too much extra mileage to presume that the whole rotation is former HS draft picks and an international signing. We’ll see, I guess.

But outside of what looks like a young rotation, the rest of the lineup has a pretty veteran appearance and looks like they’ll get on-base and swing bats. I would say that run-scoring isn’t a concern for me, but that the success of the team is likely to be dictated by how well the rotation performs under the circumstances. How I ended up writing in the neighborhood of 3500 words is also a mystery, but one of these mysteries will be resolved while the other will be nodded at and kept at a respectful, out-of-earshot distance. Read on to hear who the emergency catcher will be!
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Game 66, Mariners at Rays

June 16, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Blake Snell, 10:10am

I completely understand that many fans might need a mental break from the M’s for a bit, and that 10am games aren’t helpful for many over here on the West coast, but if you can, this is a game to watch. James Paxton is pretty much appointment television at this point, and his opponent is Shoreline native turned uberprospect, Blake Snell.

We talked about Snell briefly last year in some minor league recaps, as the lefty made the leap from ‘solid lefty arm’ to ‘dominant.’ He started the year in high-A, and didn’t give up a run in 21 IP, so he moved up to AA. After a brilliant campaign for Montgomery, he ended in AAA Durham. All told he K’d 163 in 134 IP with an ERA of 1.41. He had a solid spring, but began the year in AAA to work on his command (like Kris Bryant needed to work on his defense) and, let’s be honest, give the Rays another year of club control.

He did make one spot start for the Rays, a 5 IP teaser in Yankee Stadium. There, we got to see what his stuff looked like against big league hitting, and what we saw was kind of intriguing. We talked a lot about rising fastballs yesterday, with Nate Karns and Drew Smyly matching up, and we talked about the Orioles love of rising four seamers with Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen (when he was there last year). Those guys feature fastballs with 10-11″ of vertical “rise” – meaning backspin prevents the ball from falling as quickly as a ball thrown the same speed but without spin. What’s this got to do with Snell? In that one outing in New York, Snell’s FB had more rise than any starter’s in the game.

Jeff Sullivan talked about it here, and you should click that to see gifs of Snell and his lanky, over the top delivery in action. With that kind of movement, Snell should be an extreme fly ball guy, but it any pitch that’s several standard deviations from the mean should get more whiffs as well.

The bullpen could use a rest, so the M’s may bring up an arm from AAA Tacoma, reports Ryan Divish. No word on that yet.

1: Marte, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Aoki, LF
9: O’Malley, CF
SP: Paxton

Game 65, Mariners at Rays

June 15, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 34 Comments 

Nate Karns vs. Drew Smyly, 4:10pm

Nate Karns gets the added incentive of facing his former time, while Drew Smyly makes his first start in ten days, after the Rays skipped him to give him a “mental break” following a spate of awful starts. This is a winnable game, despite the way Smyly started his 2016 campaign, and if the M’s want to reinvigorate their playoff odds, they’re going to need to take advantage.

There’s no real mystery to this M’s skid. Hell, we saw a textbook example last night. The M’s losing streak has coincided with a dreadful stretch of performances by the M’s great-in-April-and-May bullpen. Looking just in June, the M’s bullpen is far and away the worst in baseball when measured by Win Probability Added, and M’s relievers have the worst ratio of shutdown (“really good”) appearances to meltdown (“really bad”) ones, a fact that probably won’t shock anyone who’s watched the Texas series or yesterday’s debacle.

The main reason the M’s relievers have been so atrocious is simple: home runs. The M’s lead baseball in reliever-allowed dingers this month with 10, in just 42 2/3 IP. On the positive side, they can’t keep up this pace. On the down side, part of the reason the pen was so successful early was their insanely low BABIP; now that the BABIP pendulum’s swung the other way, they look awful, but even when the BABIP bad luck subsides, they may not revert to April/May results. This bullpen was, in some sense, cobbled together with a few plan B types. With so many guys hurt, the M’s have had to give a lot more high-leverage innings to Nick Vincent, Joel Peralta and others than they may have wanted. But right now the M’s have severely under performed their base runs (or plain old pythagorean) winning percentage, and that can’t happen if they want to climb back into the race and hold off a good Houston club. It doesn’t help, of course, that Texas has, for the second consecutive year, taken a page from the Kansas City Royals’ playbook and essentially demolished their “expected” wins via base runs: they’re a .500 team using that method. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so aggravating: even Prince Fielder, the expensive albatross with a putrid batting line has saved seemingly every one of his few base hits for a key situation. Meanwhile, the M’s offense, which is lighting up the scorebook, seem to fade a bit when the game’s on the line, resulting in a poor “clutch” rating. It’s insane: Texas hasn’t been good in extra innings (the M’s are 5-2), and neither team’s been solid in one-run games. Tom Wilhelmsen’s absolutely lost it, and their closer’s lost his job. The typical ways you might expect a team to outplay base runs just don’t work in this case. If anything, you might think the M’s would have a chance to “beat” the context-neutral numbers. And yet it’s Texas that now has a 5.5 game lead. Baseball is always cruel…to someone.

Sooo, Drew Smyly. As homer-prone as the M’s relievers have been recently, Smyly’s about matched them dinger for dinger. He was given a mental break after a stretch of four starts that saw him give up 7 HRs. Despite his over-the-top delivery and four-seam/curve-focused repertoire, he’s always had some platoon split issues, but they seem to be worsening. He’s now a much better strikeout pitcher than he ever was in Detroit, but it seems to be coming at a cost. Smyly’s game is focused on a trade off between whiffs and fly ball contact. This year, Smyly’s 2nd only to (who else) Chris Young in the percentage of fly balls he allows, but he pairs it with a very not-Chris-Young-like 26% K rate. But for whatever reason, righties seem to get a better look at his curve, and his 3rd pitch to show RHBs, a cutter, simply doesn’t work.

I mean that in two senses: first, it’s generated bad results. Righties are slugging .667 against it, and he’s thrown it 20% of the time against them. Second, it…doesn’t cut. We’ve talked a lot about cutters that are slider like, with lots of horizontal movement and a big gap in velo from the fastball, and we’ve talked about more fastball-like cutters that are only 2 MPH slower, with less vertical break and 4-5″ of “cut” compared to the four seam. Smyly’s “cutter” almost calls for a new category. Smyly’s straight four-seamer gets 4″ of armside run. His cutter gets…4″ of armside run. There’s less than a half inch of difference despite a big 7 MPH gap in speed. It doesn’t have the same vertical rise as his FB, but I’d wager that has more to do with the pitch’s velo than any spin Smyly’s imparting. It didn’t use to be this way: in Detroit, Smyly’s four-seam riseball had a foot of vertical movement, whereas the cutter (which he didn’t throw much) was around 5″ or so. These days, his fastball’s about the same in vertical movement, while this…other pitch has crept up to 7″ of rise. I mean, just as a thought experiment, if a pitcher like Smyly were to throw his regular fastball at 90% intensity, wouldn’t it look exactly like this “cutter” thing? Isn’t this just rebranding a batting practice fastball as some sort of breaking ball? You can’t… that’s not how cutters work, Drew.

Karns is the opposite, in that he’s had persistent *reverse* platoon splits. They’re not huge now, but anyone who’s interested in how deception works on hitters would do well to study these two pitchers. They have the exact same repertoire, more or less, with both relying on rising fastballs and a curve. Karns has a change, while Smyly has that BP fastball type thing, but ignore that for a minute: study how hitters react to their curve balls. Karns’ curve has been deadly against lefties, even though Karns himself is a righty. He’s always maintained better K rates against opposite-handed bats, so the reverse splits are not just a BABIP mirage. Smyly’s curve, for whatever reason, while effective overall against righties, has yielded 10 HRs to them (and none, ever, to a lefty). Karns has similar splits with his curve, with 7 HRs allowed to RHBs, versus just 1 to a lefty. I’d love to know why.

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
SP: Karns

Nick Neidert heads up the pitching match-ups in the minors today, as he’s leading Clinton against Peoria. Cody Martin starts for Tacoma, with Ryan Yarbrough on the hill for Jackson.

Draft Recap, Part II

June 14, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

In this iteration of the unending process that is recapping a draft (we won’t really know what to think of it for 5 years or so!), I’d like to talk about a couple of outstanding questions about the draft and the bonus pool amount the M’s can spend. First, which players beyond the top 2 or 3 look interesting? Second, who might the M’s be saving money for; that is, where might the M’s spend some of the bonus pool that they save in the first ten rounds? Third, what have the 2nd and 3rd days taught us about the M’s draft philosophy under Jerry Dipoto? While we won’t know much about the complex interplay between amateur scouting and professional player development that ultimately produces results, we CAN idly speculate about why certain players were drafted and cobble together theories of meaning from them. It’s…questionable stuff, really, but, hopefully, fun.

1: So, the M’s selected 40 players, loading up on collegiate talent in the first 21 rounds, and then taking some flyers on high schoolers late in the draft. This is a bit more college-focused than Tom McNamara’s last draft under Jack Zduriencik, though the dynamic of the 2015 draft was considerably different, with the M’s not picking until #60 – something we’ll get into later. 2016’s focus on the collegiate ranks seems like a continuation of Jerry Dipoto’s philosophy with the Angels. The Kyle Lewis pick seems like a slam dunk – a dominant college bat who fell into the M’s lap, but you have to imagine the M’s were thrilled to still see one of the top bats available. With Corey Ray, Nick Senzel, AJ Puk and Zack Collins all off the board, I really wonder what the M’s would’ve done if, say, the Tigers took Lewis at #9 instead of a HS pitcher. Suck it up and take high schooler Jason Groome? Or dip down to take a less highly regarded collegian? THAT would tell us something about the intensity of the new regime’s preference for college-trained talent, but ultimately, I’m glad it didn’t come to that.

Starting in the 5th round and extending throughout the next few days, the M’s went bargain shopping for college seniors – the guys who have very little leverage in the signing process – drafting a grand total of 14 of them. Many of these, including Eric Filia, Ryan Fucci and Reggie McClain, are older than even most seniors, having missed time due to injuries or transfers. Filia’s name may have been called in part because he’s old enough to have overlapped with Andy McKay in the collegiate Northwoods League, back in 2012. Ryan Fucci’s another collegian who was born in 1992, and offers some HR power along with some mildly alarming strikeout totals. The one I think might add value quickly, even if only at the org level, is McClain. A right-handed pitcher out of Georgia, McClain attended the University of Georgia for his freshman year, then transferred to a community college in Florida for two years. As he redshirted at UGA, he had two years of eligibility remaining, and thus he pitched two full seasons, and over 200 IP in total, for the University of Missouri. He doesn’t have a ton of pure stuff, but he has exceptional control, as his 94:9 K:BB ratio in 2016 attests. If you want a zone controller, that’s your guy, though while he may not miss the zone much, he’ll need to prove he can make pro hitters miss every once in a while.

11th round pick Michael Koval was a DII All-American selection out of Cal Poly Pomona, and stands out as one of the view college players (outside of Lewis, obviously) to post some gaudy stats in 2016. The righty has a sparkling ERA, though he wasn’t a true strikeout guy. Interestingly, his teammate, swing man Peter Bayer (a Driveline Baseball trainee), went in the 9th round thanks to an off-the-charts K rate paired with a much worse ERA. Guile and pitchability work in college baseball, but pro teams really aren’t willing to pay for it.

2: With all of those college seniors and with the M’s having inked two of their top picks at or below slot, the M’s figure to have a decent amount of money they *could* spend on a late-round flyer. Where might they splurge? At one point, some thought that Lewis, who may have thought he’d be a top 3-7 pick, might hold out for slot value at where most thought he’d go. But the M’s quickly inked him to an at-slot bonus, so that’s obviously not the case. Much was made of Lewis’ small school, but Mercer’s Southern Conference ranked ahead of bigger names like the Big 10 when Jeff Sackman looked into it years ago. Moreover, it’s the sort of thing that becomes a catch 22: what could Lewis possibly do to prove he was worth more? If he transferred, he’d lose a year of eligiblity and that’d kill his leverage (and development). He could stay, but hitting even better wouldn’t make the “small school” talk go away, and his senior status would nuke his leverage too.

One player with a bit more leverage than many in the draft is M’s 3rd rounder Bryson Brigman, a draft-eligible sophomore. While the SS made some contact and hit for average, he didn’t log many extra-base hits, something that could send him up draft boards next year. Dansby Swanson’s sophomore ISO was just .142, but a power spike in his junior year helped him go 1-1 the next season. Brigman’s never going to have that kind of power, but an ISO of just .052, down from near .100 in his freshman year, limited his bargaining power. In the end, he signed for just under slot at $700,000. Fourth-rounder Thomas Burrows was a closer at Alabama, but as a lefty reliever with a low arm angle and an oblique injury this year, his leverage figures to be pretty limited as well. After that, the M’s seemed to go for money saving picks like Donovan Walton, Matt Festa and Jason Goldstein.

So who’s it for? One guess is 2nd rounder Joe Rizzo, who JY mentioned as a great hitting prospect. But as a guy without much of a defensive position, and whose MLB.com profile states that he may not have the “athleticism” to play LF, I can’t imagine he could command more than the $1.252 million slot value for pick #50. M’s 10th rounder David Greer may offer a cautionary tale: the 3B played at a major conference school and hit the snot out of the ball, but concerns about his position let him fall to the 10th round despite outhitting several teammates who were drafter earlier. Instead, the M’s may seek to book any savings they get from their haul of college seniors and direct it to their many late-round high school picks. Chris Crawford calls suburban Portland HS pitcher Kenyon Yovan one of the Day 3 standouts, and his slider registered was flagged as possessing one of the highest spin rates of any prospect at the Perfect Game showcase in Jupiter Florida last fall. Of course, Crawford also says he’s almost assuredly going to honor his commitment to the University of Oregon, but if the M’s offer enough, you never know.

Another Oregon commit is West Seattle HS SS Morgan McCullough, who went a round after Yovan. McCullough is small, and many see him as a pro 2B instead of a SS, but he can hit. Pitcher Will Ethridge ranked higher than Yovan and McCullough on Baseball America’s “BA 500” list, but lasted to the 34th round thanks to a strong commitment to Ole Miss. The M’s may not have enough for any of these three, or they could offer a bonus to the first one to agree to it, but we’ll have to wait and see what they can offer. As all of these picks were past the 10th round, there is no slot value for their selections, but any bonus above $100,000 counts towards their bonus pool cap.

This highlights one of the many morally suspect aspects of the process. As you can see from the BA 500 list, or Washington state’s top HS prospect Christian Jones, teams seem to have figured on a strategy to help push bonuses down for the second tier of HS players. The top 50 or 100 prospects on BA’s list generally went within 10-30 spots, or roughly on par with their talent. Right around 100 or so, things start to diverge. Many of the collegians are still picked around the “expected” slot, but several high schoolers start tumbling. #107 Zack Linginfelter fell to pick 488. Christian Jones of Federal Way (#140) was drafted at #928. Ethridge (#135) had to wait until pick 1,047. It goes both ways, of course, as a few picks around 100 found their way into the first round (perhaps after agreeing to lower bonuses), but the trend is clear: don’t sign good HS guys in the first 10 rounds when you can wait until the 20s-30s to do so. Why? Because once teams know how they can allocate their bonus pool, they can make take-it-or-leave-it offers to these players, effectively taking leverage out of the equation. The teams can honestly say that they cannot exceed an offer of $X, while the process means the HS player can only negotiate with one team. Teams may be gun-shy about negotiating with HS players before the draft after Houston’s Brady Aiken fiasco scuppered big-money deals they’d signed with late-round high school arms: when Aiken didn’t sign, his 1-1 bonus amount went with him, and that was the source of money the Astros “committed” to their late-round draft picks.

If high schoolers don’t have leverage, and if college seniors don’t have leverage, and if juniors can’t really dig in their heels because that just turns them into college seniors, uh, who has leverage in this arrangement?* The short answer is the clubs do. The draft pools were instituted to reduce spending in the amateur draft, and it’s succeeded. I think the focus of the changes were to prevent big names like Andrew Miller slipping down the draft thanks to his bonus demands, and it was partially a reaction to the sky-high bonus discussions around Stephen Strasburg and, later, Gerrit Cole. The second-tier HS player impact wasn’t really the point of the new bonus pool format, but it worked great for owners nonetheless. Think of Matt Tuiasosopo signing for $2.29m way back in 2004 as a 3rd rounder, or Josh Bell signing for $5m in the 2nd round in the final year before the pools were put in. That’s all but impossible now, and because of the strategy surrounding the pools, even the #1-2 picks can’t really hold out for much money. In fact, no 1-1 draft pick has ever signed for slot since slot values were created, let alone *more* than slot.

3: As mentioned, the M’s seemed to focus on up the middle defenders and contact in this draft, while preferring pitchers who throw strikes over guys with great arms but more developmental challenges. JY metioned the fact that the regions/schools line up pretty well with drafts past, with the M’s getting a number of guys from smaller northeastern schools, or small schools in the southeast. That said, there’s clearly more of a premium on contact and defense. In 2014 draft, the M’s went overslot for raw Canadian OF Gareth Morgan after taking Alex Jackson at #6. In 2013, they splurged on Austin Wilson at #49, then grabbed another raw Canuck in Tyler O’Neill at #88 (to be fair, this pick looks like an absolute steal now), then slugging Texas prep 1B Corey Simpson in the 8th round. Joe Rizzo has some pop, but he’s not this kind of player – he’s more polished and doesn’t have the contact worries that came with the ’13-’14 picks.

The pitching side looks more like a continuation of past practice, with plenty of high-floor arms from similar places. A few years ago it was Dan Altavilla, and this year it’s Brandon Miller and Matt Festa. The M’s liked strike-throwing Ryan Yarbrough a few years ago, and like strike-throwing Brandon Miller or Reggie McClain this year. It’ll be interesting to see how player development works with this group – they had a lot of success with Yarbrough, Andrew Moore and others in recent years, so this seems like a comparative strength.

The challenge in hitting is a bit different, and so we’ll see how the new player development instructors react. Is there something obvious they can correct to unlock some power in a Bryson Brigman or Donovan Walton? It seems easier to develop a guy like Rizzo than a more free-swinger with light tower power, but O’Neill shows that the latter group can make a big impact. Ultimately, the success of the draft comes down to these instructors, from Peoria through Tacoma, who try to shape these players. “Drafting well” may have as much to do with hiring well than it does with identifying talent.

* Driveline’s head honcho Kyle Boddy’s often talked about an alternative to college for pitchers, and his proof of concept was Christian Meister, a guy who didn’t go to college and ended up drafted by the Indians. Phil Bickford or Bryce Harper going to junior college (for different reasons) to pick their draft year and maintain leverage is another option. Some college juniors, including our own James Paxton, signed with indie league teams in lieu of signing or getting trapped in the senior-year pickle. It’ll be interesting to see if any seniors turn down $10,000 bonuses and just go the showcase route that worked for Meister, but it’s obviously a demanding path, and the lack of in-game looks may create another cap on bonuses.

Game 64, Mariners at Rays

June 14, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Tai Walker vs. Jake Odorizzi, 4:10pm

So, the M’s have a Texas Rangers problem. We’ll see how the Rangers’ loss of Yu Darvish affects them, though of course, it hasn’t hurt them yet in either 2015 or 2016.

Tonight, the M’s take on Tampa, a team that’s off to a bit of a slow start, but could potentially figure into the wild card picture with a strong second half and a collapse or two in their (tough) division. Jake Odorizzi continues to develop his rising four-seam, sinking splitter game, and he’s now in his second year of holding opponents’ BABIP well below average, thanks to lots of pop-ups and lazy fly balls. But I think the Rays are still waiting on him to make the leap from nice-to-have middle of the rotation guy to strong #2. Somewhat like with Drew Smyly, Odorizzi’s been hurt by home runs, and while his ERA’s better than his dinger-inflated FIP, it’s still not great for 2016 (it’s not bad, either). Odorizzi shows flashes, but he’s lacked consistency and still struggles to get out righties.

A righty himself, his four-seam and split combo has been death to lefties for a few years. The strongly reverse splits looked like a fluke, or due for some regression at least, but Odorizzi’s doubled down in 2016, with a FIP of 2.33 vs. lefties and *5.28* against righties.

1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Aoki, LF
9: Marte, SS
SP: Walker

A lefty-heavy line-up. Hmm.

One Possible 2016 Mariners Draft Wrap

June 13, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

That was fun, wasn’t it? Being Mariners fans, we’re never spared anxiety even when getting what we thought we wanted (Ackley, the recently-retired Phillippe Aumont, Alex Jackson so far), but not picking until #11 and landing a consensus top five talent is usually the type of boon that we see other teams getting. I don’t know that I have the same level of investment with the rest of the picks, but I will be excited to see Kyle Lewis in Everett once I get an opportunity to drive up there.

But let’s talk about the draft as a whole. All told, the Mariners selected forty players and only eleven of those were high schoolers, most of which appeared to be flier picks after round thirty. The team went slightly off radar a few times in their selections, but the general trend was to take advantage of the strengths of the draft, which were pitching and outfielders. The team drafted fifteen right-handers (plus a two-way guy), four left-handers, and nine total outfielders. That’s most of your picks right there.

Beyond that, it was intriguing to see what Tom McNamara was up to under the new front office, particularly as one of the few guys who was retained. My guess is that DiPoto’s thinking was that the farm system’s results were less based in identifying the wrong guys as failing to develop them. Whatever the case, DiPoto probably encouraged college drafting, as was his earlier preference, as one means of restocking and the Mariners came away with a draft that incidentally addressed a number of their weakness. We’re still looking for viable corner infielders and the draft didn’t do much to address catching depth, but there’s always NDFAs I guess.

You’re going to see quite a few “best tools” lists for the draft coming out sooner or later, but I think that sometimes those lists don’t tend to yield much in the way of surprises. Lewis has the best raw power. Astonishing. Rizzo is probably the most polished hitter. Do tell! Burrows and Festa have good fastballs! Wow! I feel like I have an okay grasp on a lot of the basics listed, but that’s not often where the interest resides for me, so with that in mind, I’m going to give out a few “awards” here and maybe hang out in the comments section after and we’ll see what happens. You can talk draft stuff some more with me, if you so choose, on this merciful off-day.
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Game 63, Rangers at Mariners

June 12, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 34 Comments 

Wade Miley vs. Cole Hamels, 1:05

Paxton continues to impress, but the M’s keep finding ways to waste his starts. Now they’re going to need to beat one of the Rangers better starters.

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: O’Malley, LF
SP: Miley

Game 61, Rangers at Mariners

June 10, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 40 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Derek Holland, 7:10pm

We’ll get to the M’s haul in the second day of the MLB draft later, but for now, the M’s open the most important series of the season so far against the AL West-leading Rangers. The Rangers swept the M’s in Arlington, and in the process have pushed their playoff odds above 67%, according to Baseball Prospectus – a one-week gain of 25%. Much of that’s come at the M’s expense, but the M’s have a shot at revenge.

Five days ago, Iwakuma clearly outpitched a surprisingly effective Derek Holland, but the M’s lost due to a series of defensive lapses. With the primary culprit now in Tacoma, can the M’s defense atone for those mistakes? The Rangers boast one of the league’s best defenses, with great numbers across the board (even fielding percentage!), while the M’s have struggled by UZR/DRS. The M’s and Rangers are essentially tied in good old defensive efficiency, but they’ve gotten there in different ways. The Rangers have an elite infield, which makes sense given their 3B, and have been incredibly good at turning double plays. The M’s strength is, er, at least WAS, in the OF. Missed you, Leonys…welcome back.

Derek Hollland had his best game of the year against the M’s five days ago, working 7 IP with only a HR to Nelson Cruz given up. He missed more bats than expected, and one reason why was that he kept the M’s designated lefty killers off balance. Dae-ho Lee, Franklin Gutierrez and Stefen Romero were held hitless, and that let the Rangers win the match-up battles later on (you may still be fuming about the Adam Lind vs. Jake Diekmann move). Romero isn’t around to blame anymore, so Lee and Guti need to step up and produce. Or, you know, Robbie Cano’s hot streak can just steamroll any platoon split issue and carry the M’s to victory. I’d take that.

1: Marte, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Smith, LF
9: Martin, CF
SP: Iwakuma

The M’s made another 8 picks in today’s 3rd-10th rounds of the draft. Remember that it’s the first 10 rounds that count against the M’s $7.136 million draft pool. The M’s selected three college seniors, which typically means they can save quite a bit compared to the slot value of those picks. The M’s went for a draft-eligible sophomore in the 3rd round, so they may use some of the savings to get Bryson Brigman to sign, or buy Joe Rizzo out of his University of South Carolina commitment. My overall impression was that it was very much a Tom McNamara draft, with one important twist. The M’s selected two players from small, Div II schools in the northeast, something they’ve done repeatedly in recent years. A few years ago, it was Dan Altavilla, and they went to small PA schools back to back in the 6th and 7th round this year. They also looked at smaller schools in the southeast, both to grab Kyle Mercer in the first round (who almost doesn’t count, considering he was in the running to go 1-1), and then 3B Nick Zammarelli out of Elon in the 8th. The M’s have signed guys out of small, southeastern schools like Mount Olive, Belmont Abbey and others in recent years, and they’ve used early round picks to do it – not just 30th round senior-sign flyers.

The twist is that the M’s clearly put more of an emphasis on contact and athleticism. Instead of saving on seniors like slugging DII first baseman Ryan Uhl, they grabbed Oklahoma State SS Donnie Walton. Their third-round SS has essentially no power, but makes a lot of contact. Their bat-first project, 2nd rounder Joe Rizzo, has much more present hitting ability than some other “reach” picks in recent years, where it was clear the M’s prioritized power over bat-to-ball skills. This isn’t a shock, given everything the M’s have said about controlling the zone, but it was interesting to see it play out.

Game 60, Indians at Mariners

June 9, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

Nate Karns vs. Josh Tomlin, 7:10pm

**Welcome to the organization, Kyle Lewis. The M’s selected the OF out of Mercer (college) with the 11th pick in today’s first round.**

It was nice to see Taijuan Walker have another dominant start last night. I’m not sure if it was the plan going in, or if he and Chris Iannetta kept going to it after they saw the kind of swings Cleveland had on it, but Walker threw a *ton* of fastballs. 84 of them, in fact, leading to 52 strikes without a ball in play, including 14 whiffs. Even better, none of the 11 heaters the Indians put in play went for a hit. It all added up to one of the better single-pitch outings I can remember from a Mariner starter. You may remember I said something similar back in April after today’s starter, Nate Karns, tossed a bajillion curve balls at Houston in a dominant win of his own. I talked afterwards about Karns’ impressive pitch type linear weights of -2.86, meaning that the change in run expectancy after each curve totaled up to -2.86 runs for the Astros. The curve was “worth” nearly 3 runs on its own, the highest mark (at that point) of any M’s starter in the year. I mentioned in that piece that Tai Walker’s fastball was the last single pitch by a Mariner starter to best that -2.86 mark, when he shut out the Twins a year ago, and I mentioned that Jose Fernandez of the Marlins turned in an astounding -4 run performance with his curve in a 14K shutout in 2014. Why am I harping on this? Last night, Walker’s fastball tallied -5.85 runs. It’s a counting stat, not a rate stat, so it shows that Walker went to it a lot, and essentially every single one did something good for the M’s, whether a foul ball, a grounder at an infielder, a swinging strike, etc. Amazing. I haven’t checked too much, but that’s got to be at or near the top of the single-game scores in the past…I don’t know how many years. Kershaw doesn’t throw enough of any one pitch to get there, nor does Arrieta. Syndergaard might, and a homerless game from Max Scherzer might get there, but I haven’t found one yet (Scherzer got up to -4.44 in 2015).

So, Karns. Did he take a lesson from that game against Houston and refine his high-fastball, low-curve arsenal? Er, no, he’s kind of reinvented himself since then. While he’ll still throw his rising four-seamer, he’s now picked up a sinker, and is using it even more than his four-seam. Ok, it’s not exactly NEW – he threw it going way back to his debut with Washington. But over his time in Tampa, he relied more and more on his elevated four-seamer to get fly balls and limit BABIP – and to hide his curve. He’s gone back to the sinker now, at least according to BrooksBaseball, presumably to give hitters a different spin and also to limit home runs, a long-standing issue for him. This year, he’s kept his HR rate under 1 per 9 IP, which is solid for a fly baller like Karns, and he’s had better results over his career with his sinker, so this isn’t an ill-considered shift. That said, as he’s thrown more sinkers, he’s thrown fewer curves, and I’m not sure what to think about that. The curve sure looked like his best pitch. To be fair, he probably can’t throw 50+ per game the way he did against Houston in April, and it’s possible the increased fastball usage may give each curve a bit more impact. But he hasn’t been noticeably better since using the sinker, so it’s hard to say.

Josh Tomlin is a righty throwing an 88mph fastball and an 86 mph cutter. Especially to righties, he’s essentially a cutter-first guy, throwing it more than his fastball. To lefties, he’ll mix in a change and curve. Coming up as an unheralded, underpowered guy, Tomlin made a name by posting incredibly low walk rates. But in general, he was only as successful as his BABIP, which bounced around as it does for many pitchers. In 2011, he was a savvy, intelligent guy who just knew how to pitch. In 2012, he was pitching scared, and needed another weapon. His results could vary wildly, but one thing never changed: Tomlin’s always given up a lot of home runs. That’s kind of a big thing to overcome, especially for someone who’s never going to rack up strikeouts, but when his BABIP allows, Tomlin will run an ERA that, while not exactly great, at least beats his HR-driven FIP, which is fairly consistently ugly. He’s going for the Chris Young package, in a convenient travel size, but there’s a reason I call Chris Young a magical giant (at least until this year…yeesh): 99% of pitchers can’t count on *consistently* low HR/FB ratios or *consistently* elite BABIPs. Tomlin’s BABIP in 10 starts last year was an incredible .199. It’s .262 this year, so his results have been OK, but he’s given up 23 HRs in 20 starts over just 126 IP. Even a “good” BABIP as opposed to “insane” is going to make it tough to hang on, and remember that Tomlin allowed a .320 mark as recently as 2014 (when he also missed bats somehow…weird). It’s a winnable game, M’s, so go win it.

1: Aoki, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, DH
6: Lind, 1B
7: Marte, SS
8: Iannetta, C
9: Sardinas, 3B
SP: Karns

As I mentioned yesterday, Tacoma opens a homestand tonight against Reno, and Bob Dutton says Leonys Martin will start in CF for the R’s. Sinkerballer extraordinaire Donn Roach is on the hill.

Jackson’s magic number is down to 1 after a thrilling 8-4 win over Pensacola. The star of the game was…let’s see, few different guys had 2 hits…walk for Heredia…I’m going to give it to Tyler O’Neill, who doubled and won the game with a walk-off grand slam. O’Neill had *all 8* RBIs. The kid has been unreal in 2016. The Generals host Pensacola again tonight. What do you do for an encore, Tyler?

Bakersfield hosts Stockton tonight, and are attempting to win their 9th straight. Eddie Campbell takes the mound for the Blaze.

A day after shutting out Wisconsin, the Clinton Lumberkings found themselves on the wrong end of a 9-0 whipping. Art Warren suffered his first loss of the year. Pablo Lopez starts tonight for the L-Kings opposite rehabbing big leaguer Matt Garza.

Here’s an interesting article on the M’s new draft strategy at MLB.com. Tom McNamara’s been the head of the scouting side under Zduriencik, and kept the role under Dipoto, and he spoke fairly candidly (for the M’s) about the changes. The discussion of “risk metrics” was interesting, and matched up a bit with this article at THT, showing that early first round college bats are still a bit better than HS ones. The other finding was that by the end of the first round, the college bats got worse, but the HS ones didn’t. It’s always tough to know what to make of these studies, especially given how much a single player *coughMikeTroutcough* can influence the results. Some of the best players in the game were drafted out of HS, like Trout, Kershaw, Machado, McCutchen, but Trout was the 5th HS position player taken in 2009, and McCutchen was the 3rd HS position player taken in 2005. There’s clearly a higher floor with college arms/bats, but the generational talents, at least recently, have mostly come from the HS ranks. As Chris Crawford mentioned, it’ll be interesting to see how this picture changes over time. The THT study looked at the 02-09 drafts, meaning Machado, Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa weren’t included. That’s not a knock on the methodology; to do it right, you have to give players time to demonstrate performance in MLB, but it’s possible the same methodology will produce dramatically different results on the 2010-2017 draft classes.

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