Cactus League Game 3: Let’s See Motter

marc w · February 27, 2017 at 10:30 am · Filed Under Mariners 

M’s Versus Royals

Yovani Gallardo v. Jason Vargas, 11:10pm. Radio Only. Note the earlier start time.

Yesterday, Shawn O’Malley got to make his case for the utility role, and today the M’s will get a look at newly-acquired UTIL, Taylor Motter. Both were drafted by the Rays, and both have a lot of experience in both the infield and outfield. O’Malley has the incumbent’s advantage, as the M’s staff and front office have seen him play; Scott Servais penciled his name in the starting line-up at *6* different positions last year. On the other hand, Motter is younger and shows a bit more promise with the bat, as indicated in his superior projections and minor league ISO numbers. Motter has much less big-league experience, but he too got starts at 6 different positions last year.

As position battles go, this one doesn’t matter a whole lot. With guys like Cano/Segura in the middle infield and with 5 or 6 guys capable of playing CF already on the roster, you could make the case that this role is LESS important to the M’s than it is to just about any other club. That said, it could be a window into how the M’s make roster decisions and what they value. Taylor Motter’s projections show a player ever so slightly better at controlling the strike zone, but O’Malley is probably the better defender.

Today, Yovani Gallardo makes his first start with the M’s. The trade Jerry Dipoto made to acquire him was panned by most saber-inclined fans. Gallardo’s coming off his worst year as a pro, and after missing time with scary-sounding shoulder pain, you don’t have to be a pessimist to see how this year could go south on him. On the other hand, he recovered after a slow start, and was averaging 91 on his fastball down the stretch, up from 87+ in April. He missed 6 weeks in May/June to recuperate and work on things in the minors, so he may be healthier/more mechanically sound now than he was a year ago. But while he was throwing harder in July/August last year, he was not necessarily throwing better. His walk rate spiked after his return, and while it too was better down the stretch, it highlights the fact that there are multiple red flags with Gallardo. A lot of people are going to be scrutinizing Gallardo this spring, and for good reason.

It’s February, so the temptation to over-analyze is huge, but the M’s rotation is so intriguing, you pretty much can’t help it. James Paxton spent 6 weeks in Tacoma last year, and came up looking unrecognizable – throwing 100, different arm-slot, etc. Felix Hernandez just had his worst season, and spent the offseason working harder than he’s ever worked. Drew Smyly is talented, but coming off a down year and his fourth consecutive increase in HR rate. As a group, there’s a tremendous amount of talent and upside here. There’s also a lot of risk…I mean, even more than you’d have with 5 random pitchers.

I mentioned yesterday that the pitch FX readings on Chris Heston may be more important than for most, as he’s continuing his recovery from TJ surgery. It’s still February, but his old velocity wasn’t back, as he peaked at 89 and averaged about 88. He pitched well, so this isn’t a damning indictment of his 2017 chances, but poring over his numbers has another benefit. As I’ve mentioned many times, Peoria’s pitch FX system is miscalibrated, and has been for years. It seems to be reasonably good for velocity, but the movement numbers frequently take on a surrealistic quality. Sometimes, the natural movement is greatly exaggerated, and you’ll see pitchers throwing fastballs with 20″ to 2 feet of vertical movement. Yesterday, though, Heston threw a slider that went 79mph, had essentially no horizontal movement (so far so slider-y) but 13″ of vertical rise, far more than his average fastball. This is incredibly nerdy, and I apologize to those who’ve read this far, but let me be clear: that pitch is impossible. You can’t throw a pitch that slow with movement like that. But, noting that this pitch does not exist, I’m wondering if we might need to invent it. Some readers might point out that it looks suspiciously like a slow Chris Young fastball; a Chris Young 45 played at 33rpm. That’s true, but as the pitch slows down, gravity has more time to work on pulling it towards the ground. To maintain Young-like rise with 5-6mph off the velocity requires a lot more spin. Ok, ok: long story short: I know it isn’t real, but I would love to see this inverted splitter thing in the wild.

Today’s batting order:
1: Dyson, LF
2: Segura, SS
3: Seager, 3B
4: Valencia, 1B
5: Haniger, RF
6: Zunino, C
7: Motter, 2B
8: Marlette, DH
9: Martin, CF
SP: Gallardo

It’s good to see 2011 draft pick and perpetual marc w fave Tyler Marlette get a look early in camp. Like most of the org, he had a dreadful 2015 and seemed at risk of losing his roster spot, but improved markedly in 2016. He capped it off with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. The catcher figures to start with AA Arkansas this year.

It’s easy to be cynical about Spring Training, pointing out that the stats aren’t predictive, lamenting injury risk, and looking out at a field full of org depth and A-ball prospects by the 6th inning, but M’s prospect Dylan Unsworth provides an antidote in this video from his twitter feed. In it, the 24 year old righty from Durban, SA speaks about his excitement at being called up to his first big league spring training game. Note: he did not play in the game, and we’re still talking about ST, but he got to be in the locker room with Felix, Cano, Seager, etc. While I imagine it can be easy to focus on small improvements and take joy in each promotion, I bet toiling away in the minors can seem pointless at times. A sisyphean torture, in which the high draft pick with worse stats gets the promotion. Every no-bat catcher you’ve ever seen gets to be in big league camp while you strike out this year’s crop of 19-year old Arizona League hackers. I hadn’t imagined, but should of, what it would mean to walk across the parking lot and suit up with the big league club, even just once or twice. The sense of validation, the sense of acknowledgement. The fact that the pre-game spread might actually fill you up and not sink your per-diem might help, too, but maaan. To leave your home, try to make it in baseball while learning a new culture, trying to shut out everyone who’s telling you it’s pointless and you’ll never make it…spring training kind of validated itself the other day. Good luck, Sharkie.


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