Game 18, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · April 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Sean Manaea, 7:05pm

Hmmm. This series takes on a different look now that the M’s dropped game 1 – the one pitching match-up that looked completely lopsided in the M’s favor. Now it gets a bit trickier, as the M’s face a decent young pitcher and have to hope that Iwakuma brings the best command of his life to the hill to work around his vanishing fastball.

Sean Manaea’s had a fascinating start to 2017. He currently leads the major leagues in contact rate, with batters making any kind of contact on just less than 66% of his pitches. He still throws a swerving four-seam fastball that acts like a sinker, and has a good slider that’s essentially all gyro spin: it generates ~ zero movement. Both his horizontal and vertical movement are within a fraction of an inch of a ball thrown without any spin at all. The lefty is very tough on LHBs, given the above, so he sees line-ups that are tilted towards righties, and that’s why the development of his change-up has been so important. He didn’t really need it as a small college pitcher (Indiana State), but it’s been the focus of his development both in the Royals system and then with the A’s (he was traded for Ben Zobrist a while ago). His change kind of reminds me of Cesar Valdez’s last night, with its splitter-style movement, but it’s thrown harder. It’s produced remarkably good results for him, though he sometimes struggles to command his non-fastballs.

That’s been a concern since his MiLB days. Manaea’s walk rate this year is over 12%, and while it was good last year, it’s been inconsistent throughout his career. Inconsistency in general has been a problem, really. After dazzling in the Cape Cod league heading into his junior season, he seemed destined to be the #1 overall pick, but lower velocity, lost slider command and some nagging injuries pushed him down to #34. He struggled mightily out of the gate in 2016, and has reprised that in 2017, giving up 12 runs despite giving up only 8 hits in 71 batters faced. Odder still has been his variable ground ball rate; he’s been a ground ball guy at times in the minors, and average-to-fly-ball leaning at others. After a 44% GB rate last year, he’s kicked off 2017 by increasing that nearly 20 percentage points. Yes, it’s definitely early, but I wonder if this is the product of an organizational emphasis on the low pitch – something we talked about in yesterday’s post.

Speaking of odd results and the potential influence of org philosophies, we need to talk about Dan Altavilla. The righty was again something of a mess yesterday, giving up 3 runs on 2 walks and a 3-run HR. After starting off the year remarkably well, and getting plaudits for his new, high-octane slider, he’s fallen back significantly. To me, one key problem is that he looks like a different pitcher with men on base. Thus far in his brief MLB career, he’s got a 13:2 K:BB ratio with no one on – that works out to a K rate of 28%, and a K-BB% of over 20% (yes, yes, I know the samples are too small). With men on, that plummets to a 7:5 ratio, or a 17% K rate and a K-BB% in the neighborhood of 5%. This was something of an issue last year in AA, too, where he had a 40:13 K:BB ratio in just 29 IP with the bases empty, but just 25:9 with men on, and like in the majors, his K rate dropped while his walk rate crept up. In general, EVERYone has fewer Ks and more BBs as they start to nibble a bit with runners on, but Altavilla seems like an exceptional case, like he can’t quite find his release point when he’s distracted by runners.

I mentioned this on twitter, and LookoutLanding’s Kate Preusser mentioned that the problem she sees is that his slider command’s completely out of whack. While batters aren’t *hitting* his slider, his lack of command means they can effectively ignore it, and wait for fastballs once they’re safely ahead in the count. That sounded interesting, and looking into it, there’s definitely some evidence of it. The percentage of sliders he threw for a ball last year was under 30%, but it’s spiked to over 45% in the early going in 2017. To righties, he likes to keep it low, and that reminds me a bit of what the M’s told Felix this off-season: batters recognize a pitch and just wait for it to fall below the strike zone. The walk to Ryon Healy right before the Plouffe home run was a great example – it wasn’t a bad pitch at all, and wasn’t *that* far out of the zone. If Altavilla’s pitching well, he might get a chase on that pitch, but Healy was unmoved, and didn’t look like he contemplated a swing, even with 2 strikes.

It’s possible that both of these explanations work together, and that his command *really* worsens with men on. Whatever the cause, the M’s need to get him straightened out soon. After a good spring and a dominant performance in his first game, Altavilla looked set to take on higher leverage innings. His competition kept dropping off, as Casey Fien was soon outrighted, Evan Scribner’s looked a bit off, and Nick Vincent’s velo was a bit off in the early going. With Vincent emerging, the M’s may not need as many high-leverage IP from Altavilla, though last night’s meltdown wasn’t super high. Altavilla simply needs to get comfortable again, and work on his location. It’s way too early, but I do wonder if he’s trying to adapt to the new fly-ball doctrine the M’s have talked about, and if that’s gotten him out of his comfort zone. His pitch location maps don’t look that different, though there are a few pitches up and out of the zone. That could simply be a manifestation of his command problems (they’re fastballs, though, not sliders), or it could be he’s struggling to implement a game plan that’s somewhat new to him. *Update* He’ll get to work on re-locating his command in Tacoma, as he was just optioned to AAA.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Motter, SS
7: Valencia, 1B
8: Ruiz, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Iwakuma

Ryan Divish reports that Chase de Jong’s on his way to join the team in Oakland. It was his scheduled start day in Tacoma, so he’d be ready to pitch whenever the M’s need him. We’ll see what the roster move is; kind of wondering if they’re going to sit Iwakuma for a while. *Update* Ok, now we know: Altavilla’s the one going down.

*Update 2* Chooch Ruiz has been added to the lineup in place of Mike Zunino. Doesn’t sound like anything’s wrong w/Mike, just a late call to give Ruiz the start.

Tacoma had a great comeback last night, and beat El Paso 6-5 in extras. The R’s fell behind 5-0 as Dillon Overton struggled, and the R’s could not figure out Pads prospect Dinelson Lamet (who K’d 13 in just 5 1/3), but the M’s got a run in the 6th, and then tied it up in the 7th on a grand slam by 1B Dan Vogelbach. It went to the 10th, where a Tuffy Gosewisch double brought in Boog Powell. Today, it was supposed to be Chase de Jong on the mound for Tacoma against Bryan Rodriguez, but that’s obviously not going to happen. We’ll see if someone’s up from Arkansas to make this one, or if they’ll go with a bullpen day – tougher to do that after an extra-inning game, of course. They could also push Christian Bergman’s day up, but that seems riskier. Steve Cishek will pitch an inning tonight for them, that much is certain.

Dylan Unsworth’s return to AA wasn’t all that bad, but Austin Gomber held the Travelers in check, and Springfield emerged with a 6-3 win. Unsworth gave up 3 R in 5 IP, while Thyago Vieira gave up another 2 on 2 walks and a hit. Ian Miller had 2 hits and 2 stolen bases. Today, Arkansas takes on Dakota Hudson, the Cardinals first-round pick last year out of Mississippi State. The Travs counter with Tyler Herb, who *just* missed pitching on 4/20.

Reggie McClain and Modesto edged out Stockton 3-2 last night. McClain gave up 2 runs in 5 2/3 IP, and the bullpen made it hold up, despite team totals of just 4 Ks and 4 BBs on the night. Braden Bishop led the offense with 3 hits (incl. 2 2Bs) from the lead-off spot. Today, Nathan Bannister leads the Nuts in to Visalia and a series against the Arizona affiliate.

Clinton fell behind early and couldn’t ever get back into it in an 8-2 loss to Quad Cities. Nick Wells takes the hill tonight opposite Brett Adcock, a 4th rounder out of Michigan last year. He’s made 2 MWL starts, and K’d *16* in 9 innings.


25 Responses to “Game 18, Mariners at Athletics”

  1. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 4:42 pm

    Still can’t get over that “error” by Haniger last night. If anything, Motter should have went up to get it, rather than assuming it would naturally hop right over the bag. But really, it was just a freak incident on a perfect throw. His on-base streak remains alive despite the hitting streak coming to an end.

    Regarding Altavilla, he wouldn’t have been available tonight, and he would have gone down immediately when Cishek returns from the rehab assignment, so his demotion comes as no surprise. Hopefully some simple tinkering to his stretch gets him back on track.

  2. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 7:21 pm

    Lot of balls from Iwakuma early, but I’ll take the results.

  3. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 7:36 pm

    Heck of an at bat by Valencia with a runner on base. Barks at the ump after watching strike 2 and strike 3 … that’s awesome.

  4. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 7:37 pm

    If Iwakuma is really hitting 88 on the gun – that’s a great sign.

  5. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 7:44 pm

    Had the same thoughts, Mike. Both pitches were in the zone. No reason for Valencia to be whining, and that immediately had me wondering if Motter shouldn’t shift over to 1B when Segura returns with Valencia moving into a utility role with Freeman.

    This has been a lingering question, and normally I would argue that Valencia should be given more time. But damn, we’re in a hole, and Motter’s offering legitimate power and speed that’s lacking from Valencia right now.

    Iwakuma hitting 88 is good as well. Was steady at 85 in his last start.

  6. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 7:47 pm

    I think when segura is ready – Dejong probably goes down and then Servais ends up with a slightly deeper bench – made shallower with Valencia on it.

    Btw are you still in Brazil, Steve?

  7. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 8:02 pm

    Yep, still here. It’s midnight. West Coast start times are 11pm here.

  8. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 8:07 pm

    Worth noting, the M’s have been scouting Brazil more and more. They brought a couple of locals to the Dominican Academy for workouts recently. Will be interesting to see who they pluck in the international draft.

  9. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 8:08 pm

    Actually, most of the AL West has been fairly active here.

  10. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 8:12 pm

    Someone searching for the next Yan Gomes no doubt. I can’t think of any other Brazilian born MLB players. Have there been any … there must be at least a few, right? Maybe??

  11. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 8:17 pm

    Don’t let Vogt or Rosales hurt you

    It seems like they usually do.

  12. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 8:20 pm

    Nasty pitch to get Vogt out. Perfect!

  13. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 8:22 pm

    Yeah, there’s been some, but no real stars. Yet. Paulo Orlando is another. I think he was demoted today. Andre Rienzo’s another, though I’m not sure if he’s still in the league.

    Lots of prospects, with Vieira and Gohara being the most notable among M’s fans.

  14. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 8:23 pm

    Barry Larkin has been active here. Coached the last WBC team.

  15. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 8:24 pm

    Iwakuma looking much better tonight.

  16. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 8:46 pm

    Cano has been looking an awful lot like first half 2015 Robbie

  17. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2017 8:48 pm

    Heredia has been a nice little suprise, a few gaffe’s in the outfield but I’ll take it if he’s getting speed on the base paths.

  18. Westside guy on April 21st, 2017 8:48 pm

    Cruz with a steal – don’t see that every day.

  19. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2017 9:03 pm

    I’ll still rate this as a decent start by Iwakuma.

  20. msfanmike on April 21st, 2017 9:03 pm

    Nice throw by Haniger!

  21. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2017 9:16 pm

    Why can’t we beat Oakland! I mean come on Mariners!

  22. Westside guy on April 21st, 2017 10:05 pm

    I know it’s only April, but – these games do count, and we’re already 5.5 back.

  23. mrakbaseball on April 21st, 2017 10:08 pm

    Well, they have already lost more games in Oakland the past 2 nights than all of last season.

  24. Notfromboise on April 22nd, 2017 9:56 am

    Keeping the Haikus coming

    Kuma Hits 88.

    Cruz Steals Second. Oakland Steals Win.

    Valencia sucks.

  25. Westside guy on April 22nd, 2017 11:02 am

    6-8-5? 😉

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