Game 136, Angels at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Matt Shoemaker, 1:10pm
The M’s allowed 5 HRs last night, and saw Taijuan Walker’s worst year as a pro reach what we all hope is the nadir, as the young righty gave up back-to-back-to-back HRs and couldn’t get out of the first inning against the Angels. I and others have said that Walker’s development would be critical to the M’s chances at contention; if Walker became a great #2 starter, the M’s would look a lot different than if he was still figuring things out as an inconsistent #4-#5 guy with loads of unrealized potential. Unfortunately for the M’s, Walker hit a wall right when the M’s needed to make a move, and while I don’t necessarily agree with their methods, I can forgive the M’s and Scott Servais’ frustration with Walker in July and August. I can see the M’s player development staff wanting to try and do a complete rebuild in 2017, the way they did with both Mike Zunino and James Paxton this year. No one expected Paxton to start the year in Tacoma, but it turned out well. Ok, EVERYONE thought Zunino should start the year in Tacoma, but I think that worked out much faster than we all anticipated. Trying something like that with Walker seems attractive, especially if they can work on that whole “throw 100mph with command” projects like they did with Paxton. That’s why it was odd that the M’s decided to burn an option year and make a point of sending Walker down for all of 2 weeks in early-mid August. I don’t think that alone constricts their ability to develop Walker, but it was an odd move that doesn’t look any better in retrospect.
Today we get another installation in the always fun “Iwakuma versus American Iwakuma-ish Pitcher” series. We’ve seen this match-up several times before, of course, the last a few weeks ago on August 18th. Shoemaker got the best of the M’s in that one, yielding just 2 solo HRs in the Angels’ 6-4 win. The righty’s season’s been a successful one, as he shook off a poor 2015 to post his highest career fWAR, and his best rate stats since his breakout 2014. One reason why is that he’s essentially doubled down on his splitter. In 2015, he threw it about 21% of the time, and while it was still his big whiff pitch, and something he’d use with 2 strikes, he also gave up 9 dingers off of it. This year, he’s throwing it 37% of the time, and his results are even better: batters are slugging .282 off of it, a year after slugging over .400.
That all sounds positive, and it is, but kind of like with Mike Zunino, the deeper you go, the less you see. In 2015, batters swung at the splitter more than in 2016, and they put it on the ground at about the same rate. Their whiff rate (whiffs per swing) is up slightly in 2016, but not by much, and while Shoemaker’s o-swing rate overall is much better this year, it’s hard to see whether that’s due to throwing more splitters or something else (he’s throwing more sinkers and sliders this year too). With Shoemaker and to a lesser extent Iwakuma, so much depends on how many well-struck fly balls leave the park, and how many settle into an outfielder’s glove. In Shoemaker’s brilliant 2014, batters had a terrible HR/FB ratio against his splitter, and Shoemaker’s overall numbers were good. They had a great HR/FB ratio in 2015, and Shoemaker looked terrible. In 2016, it’s a repeat of 2014. This isn’t to suggest pitchers themselves aren’t *doing* anything to “deserve” their numbers; Shoemaker’s true talent level has probably ebbed and flowed since he came into the league. But it’s hard to know how all of the relevant factors interact. Is Shoemaker’s increased use of the splitter somehow driving a change in HR/FB? Were batters stalking the splitter in 2015 because he’d fall into familiar pitch sequences? Who knows. Let’s just hope that whatever devil magic has turned Safeco Field into Coors Field by the sea is still operating today, and that the M’s can stop worrying about where their playoff run went and just focus on knocking Shoemaker out of the game.
1: Gamel, RF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Iannetta, C
9: Marte, SS
Chris Iannetta’s 2017 option vests if he makes 100 starts this year. This’ll be #82, and it’s looking pretty doubtful he’ll get another 18.
Drew Storen’s back in the Seattle clubhouse and will be activated off of the DL today. The M’s also added David Rollins and back-up catcher Jesus Sucre from Tacoma. Tacoma’s got a playoff run to work on, and so they’ve added Mayckol Guaipe from his rehab assignment in Peoria. Guaipe was part of the AZL M’s championship run, along with fellow 2016 Mariner Steve Clevenger.