Game 116, Mariners at Athletics
Wade LeBlanc vs. Zachary Neal, 1:05pm
After last night’s win, the M’s are 7 games over .500 and 2 games behind Boston for the 2nd AL wild card. The Tigers’ shutout of Texas keeps them ahead of the M’s for now. Despite that loss for the Rangers, they’ve still got a healthy lead in the AL West, thanks both to the distance they’d put between themselves and Seattle and Houston’s 2nd half struggles. It’s been a pretty remarkable run in the West, as this playoff odds graph shows:
After defeating one A’s starter featuring a low-spin sinker, the M’s face another one today in Zach Neal. He’s not on the Pitch FX leaderboard for some reason, but if he *was*, the vertical movement on his sinker would be the lowest of any starter in the game, at just under 1.8″. That’s almost no backspin, and while Neal’s delivery is low 3/4, it’s not quite at Justin Masterson levels. That exceptional movement figures like it’d make him somewhat tough to hit, or at least make him an extreme grounder guy, but with below average velocity and low-spin breaking balls, that’s not really what we see. Clearly, he’s a ground ball pitcher, but he doesn’t have Zach Britton’s velocity or bite, and thus Neal’s K rate is far below league average. His GB rate in the mid 50s is well above average, it’s nowhere near Britton’s or some of the truly dominant grounder guys.
He also throws a (sinking) four-seamer, a change-up at around 83 (that sinks *less* than his sinker), and his best pitch, a slider at 86. He’s induced a fair number of whiffs with that slider, especially for a guy with a K/9 3.38 and an overall K% under 10%. So is this just a poor man’s Aaron Cook? Perhaps not. Neal has very good control, and he’s walked all of one batter in his 29 1/3 IP for Oakland. That’s a trait he showed in the minors as well, walking 8 in 61+ IP in AAA this year.
With a profile like this, you’d figure Neal to have serious trouble with left-handed bats, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. Lefties are slugging .536 off of him, while righties are at .397. He’s given up 5 dingers thus far, 4 of them to lefties. This is something that I think needs further research, and given the relative rarity of HRs, it’s going to be tough to make any robust conclusions, but: a lot of sinkerballers DON’T show the kind of HR prevention that teams might expect. When things go as they’re supposed to, even a mediocre sinker guy can get grounders, but their mistakes may not be hard-hit grounders and line-drives, they’re HRs. For marginal velo and “stuff” guys, it kind of makes sense that this problem would show up only in the minors – their stuff may be good enough to get mishits in the minors, but not in the majors. But we’ve seen this even from established ground ball guys this year: Dallas Keuchel’s HR/9 is over 1 this year, and then there’s Sonny Gray, who’s given up 18 dingers despite a GB% over 54%. So why are some guys – Jeremy Jeffress, Sam Dyson, Brad Ziegler, Zach Britton – able to limit HRs consistently (though with their reliever workloads, we may not even be able to say that with confidence) while others struggle? Velocity is probably involved, but that doesn’t explain Ziegler. Is it movement, arm slot, command, or a combination? Whatever it is, let’s hope Neal continues to search for it in vain today.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: O’Malley, SS
Tacoma beat Memphis 6-5, with the R’s bullpen doing some solid work behind Taijuan Walker. Walker was knocked out in the 5th, giving up 4 runs in 4 1/3 IP, but one of those runs scored when Pat Venditte walked in an inherited runner. Venditte was great after that, though, tossing 2 scoreless for the win. Tacoma’s Zach Lee starts today in Memphis.
Jackson beat Biloxi 5-3 thanks to a big 3R HR from Tyler O’Neill, who now leads the Southern League in all three triple crown categories. Last week’s SL pitcher of the week, Ryan Yarbrough, starts for the Generals today.
Bakersfield mounted an unbelievable comeback in yesterday’s 14-13, 11 inning win against Lake Elsinore. Trailing by 8 going into the 8th, the Blaze scored 4 to make it 12-8, and then Justin Seager hit a game-tying grand slam in the 9th, sending the game to extras. After the Storm took a lead, Jay Baum’s 2-run single walked it off for the Blaze. Seager hit 2 HR and knocked in *7* on the day. Anthony Misiewicz starts for Bakersfield today.
Ronald Dominguez and Clinton were hard-luck losers yesterday, as Burlington won 1-0. Dominguez pitched a complete game in the loss, striking out 9 and walking 0 in 8 IP. Kevin Gadea starts today’s game for the Lumberkings.
Everett lost to Salem-Keizer 11-7, despite a grand slam from Nick Zammarelli. 4th rounder Thomas Burrows continues to pitch well for the AquaSox, striking out 29 in his first 17 1/3 professional innings. Brandon Miller starts today’s game.