Game 124, Yankees at Mariners
Cody Martin vs. Michael Pineda, 7:10pm
The trade was so long ago now, but it still feels weird. You want to move on, but the Jesus Montero career arc won’t let you.
So, the Yankees are in town, with a 63-60 record that leaves them with almost no chance of a playoff spot, and a roster in transition. With guys like Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller traded away, A-Rod retired, and new RF Aaron Judge now installed, the Yankees are in a transition period, and for once they’re not trying to jumpstart the process by bringing in more veteran guys.
If the Yankees were realistically going to challenge for the AL East this year, the key was going to be their starting pitching. In Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, they’d built one of the most fearsome bullpens in history, but with an aging line-up, they needed their starters to hand the ball off to their reliever cerberus with the Yankees close enough for that late-inning dominance to matter. That didn’t quite happen; though their starting pitching FIP is middle-of-the-pack, their ERA ranks 21st. The big culprit has been HRs, as their K-Bb% is 7th best. Masahiro Tanaka’s been solid, and CC Sabathia has fought the demons of aging and attrition to a draw, but the back of the rotation’s been something of a mess.
Michael Pineda was a pivotal player, in that he was supposed to be a strong #2, bridging the gap between Tanaka and the questionable arms like Nate Eovaldi or Ivan Nova and the youngsters like Luis Severino who started the year in the minors. Fully healthy now, Pineda’s velocity is creeping back to the 95 or so he sat at with Seattle all the way back in 2011, and he’s destroying his previous career high in K%. But like so many of his teammates, the batters who have put the ball in play have hit it really hard. Pineda’s given up 21 HRs on the year, along with 41 doubles-and-triples, meaning he’s surrendered an extra-base hit to 10.6% of all batters he’s faced. That’s absurdly high for someone with his skills and K rate.
Pineda statline yields a bunch of these seeming contradictions. His o-swing rate is at a career high, approaching 40%, showing that he’s fooling batters like never before. His overall swinging strike rate is also up. But his BABIP is .334, almost dead on last year’s mark of .332. In his past 300 IP, Pineda has looked like an absolute ace at times, and like a batting practice guy at others. Over that period, he’s got a K-BB% of 20%, well above average – but batters are slugging over .600 every time they’ve put the ball in play off him, way above the league average, which was .547 in 2016 and .523 in 2015.
When he was coming up in Seattle, a worry was that given his FB/SL repertoire, lefties might be able to hit him, but that’s not what’s happened. In pretty much every year, he’s had very even platoon splits, and that’s still true today: lefties are hitting him better in 2016, but then, so are righties. He’s changed his primary fastball from the four-seamer he had with the M’s to a hard cutter. It’s got similar velocity, but has very little horizontal movement. All told, it’s not a pitch with great results – he’s given up some loud contact on the cutter, and it gets fewer whiffs than his old four-seamer did. That said, it’s more of a ground ball pitch, and that can be important for a guy whose HR/FB is spiraling out of control. Still, I just wonder about the cutter-slider combo; if you’re going to essentially use two pitches – and Pineda throws 50+% cutters and *40+%* sliders – then you’re minimizing the gap between your pitches. You’re taking armside run out of the equation. Given Pineda’s injury issues, if the cutter’s any easier for him to throw, then sure, you use it. But absent that, it just seems like the cutter/slider combo means the hitter can quickly rule out certain zones: if the ball looks like it’s on the inside corner, then you just don’t have to worry about it running in and off the plate. If it looks like it’s off the plate away, you can forget about it perhaps running back over the outside corner.
Cody Martin will make his second start tonight for the M’s. The righty’s velocity’s down a bit from 2015, though that makes some sense, given that he was used out of the pen in the first half of last year. The cutter he developed with Oakland’s still a part of his arsenal, but it looks like he agrees with me on the whole cutter/slider combo deal: he ditched the slider in favor of his curve once he started throwing the cutter. He throws the cutter low and away to righties, so it kind of functions as a hard slider, which further differentiates the pitch from his four-seam, which he throws up in the zone, much the way he did in Atlanta at the start of last year.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
Big news in the minors today, as the California League announced they’d be contracting two teams, the High Desert Mavericks and the Bakersfield Blaze. That’s the M’s last affiliate and their current affiliate. It sounds like the Carolina League will add a couple of teams, one in Fayetteville and one in Kinston. High Desert’s already clinched a playoff berth and Bakersfield’s close, so they’ll go out with some post-season games, at least. It’s looking likely that the M’s may have a team in the Carolina League for the first time in team history.
Nick Neidert highlights the pitchers starting tonight for M’s affiliates. Last night’s games featured an org sweep, 2 players with 2 HRs (Joe DeCarlo and Kristian Brito), and Jake Brentz extending his scoreless streak since joining Clinton to 7 1/3 IP, with 1 1/3 scoreless in relief of Luiz Gohara.