Game 24, Mariners at Indians, plus Hisashi Iwakommentary

marc w · April 28, 2017 at 1:16 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Ariel Miranda vs. Carlos Carrasco, 4:10pm

The Mariners got a much-needed series win on the road in an at times frustrating, but ultimately very encouraging win yesterday in Detroit. Hisashi Iwakuma outdueled Justin Verlander, and while the M’s bats scuffled occasionally, they got a timely hit in the 9th to win 2-1.

So was Iwakuma’s velocity mostly back, the way it was (according to the data we have) in his previous start? Well, no, it wasn’t. Instead, Iwakuma was able to consistently avoid big innings and loud contact. Even without his “old” fastball, this was Kuma’s first start of the year without allowing a home run. Critics, and I remain terrified each time he starts, point to his sky-high FIP and abysmal K:BB ration. The M’s will no doubt point to the fact that he hasn’t allowed all that many runs to score.

Whether or not that’s sustainable, it’s worth remembering that when Kuma was at his best, he always looked average-ish by FIP. Kuma’s game is built on beating his fielding-independent measures, so maybe the fact that his FIP screams “not major league quality” isn’t the final word on the subject. Specifically, Kuma’s posted a very good strand rate over his career, and while it dipped in recent years, it’s currently right back where it was in his 2012-13 heyday. Sure, at 84 MPH, we can expect that to perhaps decline a bit, but the point is that he’s beating his FIP in the exact same way he always has.

But if that’s true, why are some of his key stats so different? One of the reasons he was so effective was his sterling control and K:BB ratio. Now, by both of those measures, he’s among baseball’s worst starters. It seems odd to hang your optimism on his strand rate’s consistency if everything else about him is different. So, I decided to see if Iwakuma was locating differently, and perhaps targeting the edges of the strike zone. At a much lower velocity, he’s going to get fewer swings and misses, but maybe if he locates well, he can induce crappy contact.

The new Statcast database has expanded their strikezone…uh, zones beyond the old 14-zone grid used in the Gameday app. The new set includes more than 20 zones, with a set that defined as a ball’s width on either side of the strikezone border. That is, pitches on the edge (and just off) of the zone. My guess was that Kuma was throwing more pitches here, and perhaps getting more balls called on them. What do the data say? Nope, that’s not it. Iwakuma’s nothing special in terms of hitting the edge of the zone, and he’s worse than average by exit velocity when batters contact such pitches. He hasn’t really been punished for it, but that’s not what’s driving his runs-allowed success.

A little while ago, I mentioned this Jeff Sullivan article about Dallas Keuchel, and how the sinkerballer who’s always targeted the low strike is now throwing pretty much nothing but low pitches. If Iwakuma’s results are the product of a strategy, it’s the Keuchel strategy. Kuma’s throwing nearly everything low, including a lot of pitches well below the edge of the zone. You can see this in his plate discipline numbers at Fangraphs. By the Pitch FX-based zone, his zone% has dropped nearly 10 percentage points from last year. It’s as if he got burned by staying too MUCH in the zone, and has taken the opposite tack this year: he’s going to try and make you elevate really low pitches, and expand the zone southward to try and get poor contact. As we’ve seen this year and last year, at his velocity and level of command, he’s not getting ground balls even with this strategy – Keuchel throwing 90 with good command can do this, while Iwakuma throwing at 84 with meh command can’t. But while this strategy has greatly increased his walk rate, his BABIP is still pretty good (another strength of Iwakuma’s since his first day in the US). Despite decent exit velocity and angles (ie., batters aren’t just topping all of these low pitched), it’s still somewhat hard to do real damage on them. The grounders that batters HAVE hit have been anemic, which has made his BABIP on grounders astoundingly good. While they’ve hit fly balls hard, the distribution is skewed by the 6 HRs he’s already allowed. He’s induced quite a few in the “donut hole” area: 90 MPH hits that are elevated are some of the easiest balls in play to turn into outs. The HRs will be a part of his game now, even more than they already were. If his command increases a bit and he can limit walks, then while I don’t think he’ll be a GOOD starter, he can be a very odd #4-#5.

Given the drop in velocity and the fact that slower pitches are more affected by gravity, it’s worth considering that this apparent change in approach isn’t a conscious strategy, but rather the result of applying physics to his OLD approach. If that were true, we’d see his zone% increase and his walks decrease as he learned to adjust for his slower fastballs. Something to look for in his next few starts. I’ve made a bunch of claims here about statcast but haven’t linked to it; I did some research yesterday, but I tried to re-run it and link it now and none of the queries run. Uhhh, trust me, or better yet, wait until his next start and hopefully I’ll have links and pictures.

Today’s game looks like a mismatch on paper, with Ariel Miranda facing off against one of the Indians’ best starters, Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco’s been using the ol’ Iwakuma method to succeed this year, with a sky-high strand rate and low BABIP. Unlike Kuma, though, neither has ever really been a strength of his. His career ERA’s over his career FIP thanks to a poor career strand rate and average BABIP, but it must be nice to see how the other half live this April. His repertoire actually looks like a super-charged version of Iwakuma’s: he has a four-seamer without a ton of rise, but which comes in at 94, a sinker with plenty of horizontal/arm-side run, and then a change with very good vertical drop. He also throws a lot of sliders, and then has a curve that’s not that great, but gives batters a different look. The gap in vertical and horizontal movement from his change to his sinker look very much like Iwakuma’s…they’re just both thrown much harder.

Another way in which Carrasco’s struggled at times is that he hasn’t been able to make that change-up solve his platoon split issues. They were always a problem for him before his mid-career renaissance in Cleveland, but after a few years in which he seemed to have “solved” them, they’re back. They’re not overwhelming or anything, but lefties have fared better, while he continues to dominate righties. This is a day for the disappointing-so-far Dan Vogelbach to make his presence felt.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Motter, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, LF
7: Vogelbach, DH
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Miranda

Tacoma had a rain-shortened game in Tacoma that featured the return of CF Leonys Martin. Steve Nelson and I debated the likelihood of Martin sticking in the org, and I have to tip my cap here: Steve was totally right. I’ll admit I’m still surprised, but it may be the M’s want another crack at “fixing” Martin more than they want salary relief. Anyway, Martin went 0-2 with 2 Ks and a walk, while Mike Freeman had the only 2 hits of the night for Tacoma. How’d Tacoma win 4-0 on just a pair of singles? Walks. Lots of walks. The R’s got 2 bases-loaded walks plus a bases-loaded wild pitch in the 2nd off of Ricky Romero, whose Blass disease recurred. Christian Bergman continued his run as one of the most effective starters in the PCL with 5 scoreless. Ryan Weber starts for Tacoma tonight against Michael Roth at Cheney Stadium.

Tulsa beat Arkansas 6-3 as the Drillers jumped on Lindsey Caughel for 4 runs early and held on. Ian Miller doubled and Ryan Casteel homered for the Travs, who got 2/3 of an IP from Steve Cishek. The Drillers bullpen was excellent, tossing 4 IP of scoreless baseball with 8 Ks and just 1 walk. Andrew Moore starts tonight as the Travs open a series in Springfield. Speaking of Cishek, this was his first time pitching in back to back games, generally a last test before recall. Today, though, the M’s transferred his rehab to Tacoma, suggesting he has some more work to do. We’ll see. (Hat tip: Bob Dutton of the News Tribune).

Modesto shut out Inland Empire 6-0 behind a great game from prospect Nick Neidert. The Georgian went 5 IP, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5. Braden Bishop and Gianfranco Wawoe both had two hits, and Donny Walton homered. Joe DeCarlo is back in the Cal League for Modesto, but that supposed position switch we heard about in the spring, where the erstwhile 3B was going to catch? Yeah, that’s not happening. He’s made a number of starts this year, but has donned the tools of ignorance in none of them -:Edit: Oops, reader Lailoken notes that De Carlo got a start behind the plate on 4/25. He’s played 5 games; 1 at C, 2 at DH, and 2 at 3B. It may not be that the pos. switch is entirely off, but it’s not really on, either. Pablo Lopez starts tonight against Visalia, the team he posted his first good start of the year against 5 days ago.

Clinton doubled up on Quad Cities 10-5, posting a 9 run 3rd inning in the process. Ljay Newsome struck out 8 in 5 innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 runs. Newsome now has a K:BB ratio of 30:1 on the year, which is unsurprisingly one of the league’s best. Two Lake County Captains hurlers, Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale, have 28:1 and 25:2 marks, but both are college draft picks and thus older than Newsome. Jon Duplantier’s 28:4 mark is great, but again, he’s a relatively high draft pick from Rice, not a 26th-rounder out of a northern state HS. Among 20-21 year olds with similar marks, I can only find Sam McWilliams of Kane County, who’s repeating the league, and Jesus Castillo of Burlington, an IFA out of Venezuela in the Angels system, who also had a month or two in the MWL last year. Their ratios are 20:1 and 22:2, respectively. Anyway, tough test tonight, as Danny Garcia leads the L-Kings against Quad Cities and Astros top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley.


24 Responses to “Game 24, Mariners at Indians, plus Hisashi Iwakommentary”

  1. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 2:38 pm

    So, your best hitter is on the DL and your clean up hitter has cramps and is out of the lineup with a dominant opposing pitcher.

    What’s the big deal?

  2. Lailoken on April 28th, 2017 3:16 pm
  3. marc w on April 28th, 2017 3:46 pm

    Yes, you’re right Lailoken – I’ve updated it. Sorry.

  4. Notfromboise on April 28th, 2017 3:48 pm

    Perhaps the most frustrating part of this season has been the neutralization of the M’s biggest strength. Mr. Diaz got his 3rd save last night.

    When i think of all the games the Flaming Arrow got blow the last couple of years, the fact that Diaz has only gotten 4 save situations in 23 games feels like one of those old school Jayson Stark oddity stats.


  5. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 4:58 pm

    ^Stark was laid off because of those stats.

  6. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 5:06 pm

    Atta boy, Ben!

    Atta baby, Robbie!

  7. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 5:06 pm

    Nice hit there by Gamel.

  8. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 5:07 pm

    –and now Cano.

    Way to waste a double, Robbie.

  9. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 5:14 pm

    Did they ban rain delays for this game?

  10. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 5:34 pm

    Nice job by Dyson getting the 3rd out.

  11. Sportszilla on April 28th, 2017 5:36 pm

    Marc, I know you mostly look at pitchers, but if you can stomach it, how about a look at Mike Zunino’s continued failure to do anything at the plate, and if there’s any reason for hope…because I’m not seeing it.

    Or you could just look at how Ariel Miranda might actually be a mid-rotation starter, since that would be a hell of a lot more fun.

  12. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 5:42 pm

    Atta boy, Ben!

  13. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 5:45 pm

    AAA player of the year in the International League (2016) and that’s not nothing.

    He will get some development time opportunity with Haniger out – and maybe carve out his niche. He certainly impresses me a lot more than Vogelbach. Vogelbach reminds me a little too much of Bo Gentry at this point in time.

  14. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 5:58 pm

    The Gamel Show has been fun tonight.

    Nice job by Pazos as well.

  15. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 6:23 pm

    Mike, this will sound un-USSM of me, but Vogelbach just doesn’t seem to have that killer instinct. I see it in Haniger, Gamel, Motter, Heredia, and even in Freeman and O’Malley. They don’t look scared; they look like they believe they can focus and do some damage. Vogelbach looks more like a nervous robot just trying to do things by the book, if that makes any sense.

  16. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 6:33 pm

    Burn! Diaz!!

  17. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 7:48 pm

    It makes some sense to me Steve, but I see it more as a “1 tool” players who’s alleged “1 tool” isn’t ready. Sometimes you don’t need a large sample to see slow trunk turn, back foot lift, arm flick swings. He’s guessing and he’s casting his bat. The only portion of his “1 tool” that works is that he has a very good understanding of the strike zone. However, he can’t yet hit a quality breaking ball on the outer edge. He pokes at it because he either can’t control his swing turn (because his girth is, well … girthy) or he is just “in-between” with his guesses. One tool – and it’s not yet ready for prime time play IMO.

    If he doesn’t find a way to “get on time” He may some day be an answer to this question: who is the best slow pitch softball hitter you ever saw?

  18. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 7:50 pm

    I’ll bet that he can hit the piss out of an 86 mph fastball right down broadway, though. He’s just not going to see any.

  19. stevemotivateir on April 28th, 2017 8:10 pm

    I would give him credit for having power as a tool as well, though not the kind of power you would typically look for at 1B.

    His size could very well be part of the equation, but I seriously question whether or not he even recognizes MLB pitching well enough (yet).

    But Motter’s been a pleasant surprise and I’d really have no problem with him at 1B when we get Haniger back…or Cruz.

  20. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 9:06 pm

    He might have 5:00 power currently (approx time they take BP), but has he hit a ball hard yet? Either this year or last when he got called up – has he hit a ball hard yet?

    I can’t say I’ve seen every one of his at bats, so he probably has hit something hard, but I can’t recall one. Nary a one.

    Time to check the sss exit velo’s, I guess. But the eye test …..

  21. msfanmike on April 28th, 2017 9:07 pm

    The “Goose” dude over at LL would have the data in a split second. He’s good at understanding it, too.

  22. stevemotivateir on April 29th, 2017 9:09 am

    He apparently hit a lefty hard at least once, but his exit velocity is well below average.

    What’s more interesting, or disheartening, is that he has yet to get a hit off a fastball (statcast).

  23. stevemotivateir on April 29th, 2017 9:17 am

    You’d never guess that he hit a 508ft HR in a showcase before he was drafted.

  24. msfanmike on April 29th, 2017 10:01 am

    You are correct – I never would have guessed that, but I do remember having read about it.

    It was probably one of those center cut 86 mph fastballs I referred to above (probably 70 from the front of the mound during a BP situation). No doubt he can square it up and get “full girth” behind it when he knows what’s coming and can pick and choose where it should be.

    In an actual game though – he’s caught in between is guessing and can’t square up diddly poo. At least not yet.

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