Game 87, Mariners at Royals
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Yordano Ventura, 5:10pm
It’s been a rough week, for the M’s and for the country, and I can’t blame anyone who tunes out the rest of the campaign, or checks in a lot less frequently. I can’t do so (I think I need baseball more than ever, just due to how depressing the news has become), but I don’t want to demean those who will. As a .500 team, the M’s aren’t far out of contention, but the volume of clubs clogging their path forward and the sheer pain that bullpen collapses bring mean there’s a case for taking the under on Fangraphs’ now-under-10% playoff odds.
Yordano Ventura was supposed to do a lot of things. Build on his promising 2014-15 and anchor the rotation. Grow up a bit, stay out of trouble. Take the leap from high-velo prospect to vital #2 starter on the Royals’ thin rotation. Well, maybe next year. Ventura’s regressed in pretty much every way he can – his walk rate’s shot up, his strikeouts are down, he’s giving up HRs, and he’s already been suspended for beaning Manny Machado last month.* After FIPs right around 3.60 in his first two MLB seasons, he’s sitting at 5.12 now, and his ERA’s even higher. If the Royals had anyone else, he might move to the bullpen.
The problem for him this year is his fastball. It no longer averages 98 the way it did in 2014, but at 96+, it’s still got above average velocity. That hasn’t mattered though, as he’s given up 11 HRs on his four-seamer already, more than he gave up in either 2014 or 2015 – seasons he threw 80-100 more IP in. In a stat so odd you wonder what’s going on with KC’s pitching instruction, here’s a table showing the pitchers that have given up the most HRs on four-seamers this season. In first place by a mile is Chris Young, with 19. In second place is Ian Kennedy. Tied for 5th is Yordano Ventura, who’s thrown hundreds fewer pitches than some of the guys he’s tied with or behind (Scherzer, Verlander, Sale). Three Royals in the top 5. His change-up and curve still seem solid, and batters – especially lefties – are having real trouble with them. But he can’t *get* to those pitches when batters have an ISO in the .330s against his primary fastball.
Ventura’s never been great at getting batters to chase, but he’s now struggling to miss bats anywhere – batters are making more contact against Ventura than the league average, and they’re obviously doing more damage when they put it in play. Despite a lower BABIP, Ventura’s slash line against and OPS against are the worst of his career. Why? Part of it is the apparent velocity on his pitches isn’t quite up to his pure pitch fx readings. Thanks to a short stride and therefore release point, the 97mph pitch Kyle Seager hit for a HR back in late April “appeared” to be only 94, according to Statcast. That helps, but it doesn’t quite explain what’s going on – why is he getting hit hard in pitcher’s counts, why are lefties and righties alike destroying his four-seamer, etc.? I wondered about tipping pitches, but then I wouldn’t think his results on NON-fastballs would be as good as they are. If batters just ambushed fastballs in obvious-fastball counts, that’d be one thing, but they’re hitting fastballs wherever and whenever they find them.
James Paxton had a stretch like this recently, but in that case, the problem seemed more due to an inability to command his other pitches. His results aren’t great on his cutter, and his FB’s getting hit hard too – at least when batters catch up to it – but that seems like it could be related to finding his command/release point after altering his mechanics and release as much as he did.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s given up 5 HRs on his best pitch, his splitter. That’s one more than he’s given up in any other MLB season.
1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Marte, SS
8: Sucre, C
9: Robertson, RF
Welcome back, Sweet Jesus!
Charlie Furbush makes a rehab start tonight in Everett, so go check that out if you can. Tickets are still available, unlike for Sunday’s game, when King Felix makes HIS first rehab start. He’ll be in Tacoma after that.
Zach Lee faces off with Chris Stratton in Sacramento tonight, while Brett Ash faces Rays prospect Taylor Guerrieri in Jackson. Osmer Morales and Bakersfield are in Visalia, while Luiz Gohara makes his second start for Clinton today at Quad Cities. That game’s apparently on MiLB.tv, too, so you can watch it and then shift over to the Rainiers/RiverCats game. Danny Garcia makes the spot start for Everett tonight.
* The pitch that hit Machado was his 2nd fastest pitch of the entire season, one of only 2 that Statcast measured above 100mph. He really reached back for something extra when he wanted to plunk Machado.