Game 80, Orioles at Mariners
Wade LeBlanc vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:10pm
Taijuan Walker threw a great game, and helped the M’s beat their long-time nemesis, Chris Tillman, last night. He also said that his foot pain was still bothering him, but he’d gut it out knowing there was no structural damage. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the M’s season so far: there’s some real good things happening, but they’re always followed up with something concerning. The M’s bullpen’s great, except for that Joel Peralta guy. Ok, great, he’s gone…and now Nick Vincent’s shaky. We have Edwin Diaz now! Aaaand Joaquin Benoit’s having control problems. Wade Miley’s back! Aaaand he’s still ineffective.
Maybe the M’s can follow up their win yesterday by going on a bit of a run. Wade LeBlanc’s success makes no sense, but hey, James Paxton picking up several MPH on his FB somewhere between Tacoma and Seattle makes no sense either, so let’s just roll with it. Maybe Paxton shared a detailed map with Zunino, and he’ll have a similarly-sized improvement in his K:BB ratio.
Today’s match-up is a fun one, in that these two pitchers are so dissimilar, but share a statistical oddity. Kevin Gausman went a couple of picks after Mike Zunino early in the 1st round of the 2012 draft, and with velocity that sits at 96 with ease, you can understand why. Wade LeBlanc’s velocity is… well, LeBlanc was not drafted for his velo, and even after showing some signs of adding a tick or so recently, his average FB velo will always start with an 8. LeBlanc’s calling card has always been a solid change-up. It’s a pitch without dramatic movement, and it comes in at a curveball-esque 75MPH, but his arm action’s good enough that it works for him. In his career, batters hit worse against LeBlanc’s change than any other pitch. Gausman’s primary non-fastball is his splitter, a pitch which averages 86mph. Like LeBlanc, he’s enjoyed some success with the pitch, and it plays well with his ultra-fast four-seamer.
Their physical tools are so different, but this looks like a pretty similar approach, and it leads to a similar problem. Without an effective breaking ball, both depend on their fastballs and offspeed stuff to attack same-handed hitters. And, to date, they haven’t been effective. Righties are hitting .254/.327/.411 off LeBlanc, which, if he had *normal* splits would make him a pretty good starter. But he doesn’t: lefties are hitting .313/.369/.532. Gausman’s the same: lefties are hitting .238/.301/.380 off of him, but righties have feasted to a .274/.321/.463 line, and they’re doing even better this year, with a slugging percentage right at .500.
Gausman uses his splitter to lefties and righties alike, and that shouldn’t be a big problem. But for whatever reason, righties just see the pitch better, and tee off on it. It’s a devastating weapon to lefties, though. LeBlanc tries to get lefties out with breaking stuff, but it simply doesn’t work, and neither does his fastball. Gausman’s got an intriguing curve/slider thing that seems like it’d be an average-ish pitch, but righties are teeing off on it like they know it’s coming.
1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Lind, DH
8: Iannetta, C
9: Marte, SS
Noooo, not the standard lefty line-up, nooooooo!
I still can’t get over the fact that Wade LeBlanc is on the team and in the rotation and Nate Karns is in the ‘pen. If you told me that would happen in 2016, I would assume the club was 35 games under .500. They’re actually above .500, and still on the fringes of contention. Baseball is amazing.
Tom Wilhelmsen is back in place of Donn Roach. Mike Zunino’s up, replacing Steve Clevenger, who’ll have surgery on a broken bone in his hand.