Game 54, Rockies at Mariners

May 31, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Antonio Senzatela, 7:10pm

After doing what they should, and spraying extra base hits around Denver, the M’s beat up on the soft underbelly of the Rockies starting 5. Now, the action shifts to Seattle, with a great pitching match-up between the newly-returned James Paxton and surprising Colorado rookie Antonio Senzatela.

Writing about the minors a lot means certain names keep popping up in the match-ups with M’s affiliates. Antonio Senzatela was one of them 2 years ago. He faced the dearly departed Bakersfield Blaze 4 times in his Cal league season. He seemed to have a great fastball – he averages 95 with it – but not much else, hence the good but not great stat lines in the minors. He didn’t walk anyone, but he didn’t get the kind of K’s you’d expect for a guy in the low minors with a fairly accurate 95 MPH fastball. This year, with all of 7 starts above the Cal League, he’s suddenly pitching Colorado to contention. So did he finally get the hang of a breaking ball? Death-dealing change-up?

No, Senzatela is a two-pitch pitcher in a very loose sense. He complements his fastball – which is arrow-straight without much rise – with a slider. He technically has a change-up as well, but he throws it less than 5% of the time. His pitch mix is essentially the opposite of a Lance McCullers: instead of chasing whiffs by throwing a blizzard of breaking balls, Senzatela throws his fastball over 3/4 of the time. By pitch FX, he throws more fastballs than anyone in the game, and it’s not close. There’s Senzatela at 76%, and then there’s Kevin Gausman, Eduardo Rodriguez and Vince Velasquez at 67% or so, and then there’s a bunch of pitchers in the mid-50s-60%. The game’s moved away from fastballs, but no one told Senzatela.

He’s still walking very few, but thanks to his Bartolo Colon approach, he’s not getting strikeouts, either. He’s given up his fair share of HRs, although nothing extreme like we saw with Tyler Anderson. Add it up, and his FIP looks underwhelming. His ERA’s great thanks to a high strand rate and low BABIP. Rockies fans love his command/composure, but there are other signs pointing to luck being a big factor in his first few months. Tyler Anderson’s extremely low average exit velocity wasn’t enough to produce great expected results on balls in play. Anderson gave up a lot of hard hit balls amidst a flurry of choppers. Senzatela does the same thing, and by Statcast, it’s actually Senzatela who’s given up a higher xwOBA than Anderson. It’s just that Anderson’s actual results have been about equally worse than that expected value as Senzatela’s have been better. He’s pitched a bit worse than Anderson on the year, but produced very good results nonetheless. Here’s hoping regression comes tonight.

Seeing Senzatela succeeding in MLB after writing about him in the Cal League makes me lament the M’s ability to develop starters. Edwin Diaz wasn’t long out of the Cal League last year, sure, but that’s with a change to reliever. The M’s have been very deliberate with their pitching prospects, like Andrew Moore and Nick Neidert, and that’s a valid way to go. But Senzatela joins a decent list of players who faced Bakersfield and are now in the big leagues. The M’s groomed James Paxton, but that took quite a while, and it happened years ago, under a different FO. Since then, much of the pitching depth’s been traded away, and while Ariel Miranda’s cool, he spent his minor league seasoning in the Orioles org (and Cuba, of course). All of the SP depth that the M’s have been forced to deploy this season is similar – Christian Bergman came up with the Rockies, Dillon Overton with the A’s, Chris Heston with the Giants, Rob Whalen with the Braves. Maybe the M’s didn’t have much in-house SP depth, but I’m not exactly sure what it means that the org essentially went out and bought someone else’s high-minors starters.

Speaking of guys at the opposite end of Senzatela’s quick rise, I wanted to give a tip of the cap to ex-Mariner prospect Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who’s making his first MLB start tonight. He was drafted by the M’s out of the University of Portland in 2006, and thanks to a 2017-style pitching crunch in Tacoma, made his debut at AAA before settling in with Everett. He was great as a reliever in the system, but injuries and alternatives closed his options, and with a new FO in place (he was drafted in the Bavasi-era M’s), he was moved off to Chicago and began a really, really long journey to the big leagues. He’s now 32, and has played in 2 Indy ball leagues, both the Dominican and Venezuelan summer leagues, and bounced just about everywhere in the affiliated minors. He was a favorite of mine back before I started here in 2010, and I’m stunned to see him get this chance. Happy, but still stunned. Congrats, Austin.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Heredia, LF
8: Dyson, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: PAXTON IS BACK YEEEAAAAAHHHHHH

Reggie McClain, Lindsay Caughel and Nick Wells start today.

The MiLB performance of the day yesterday goes to Andrew Moore, whose 8 shutout IP paced Tacoma in their 4-0 win in Salt Lake. Joe Rizzo went 3-3 with a HR in Clinton’s loss to Beloit.

Game 53, Mariners at Rockies

May 30, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Tyler Anderson, 4:10pm

I didn’t know much about Tyler Anderson, the Rockies lefty starter in today’s game, so I pulled up his Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs pages to see if anything jumped out. Very good year last year, struggling this year, especially with the long ball. GB% down a bit. Rising fastball at 92, change-up at 83 and hard cutter around 87. Throws the cambio plenty, but still has sizable platoon splits. So far, so normal.
The Fangraphs page had a link to a contact management post by ex-M’s employee Tony Blengino, wherein Anderson’s 2016 season was proclaimed the best of the 2016 pitchers who didn’t qualify for the ERA title – just ahead of some guy named Kershaw. “The highlight is [Anderson’s] ability to suppress contact authority across all BIP types,” wrote Blengino, “This guy is for real and is part of an organizational effort to put strong contact managers in place.” I checked the Statcast leaderboards for 2016, and sure enough, there’s Anderson in 3rd place among all pitchers with at least 100 batted balls, and #1 among starters. So Anderson was great at limiting contact authority in 2016, particularly on ground balls. How much of that carried over into 2017? If you sort this 2017 table for average exit velocity, Anderson is now #1.

Again, that average is driven primarily by his ability (if it is an ability, and not just weird results two years in a row) to smother ground ball contact. The problem is that he’s no longer magically able to dampen air ball contact – hence the 12 HRs he’s given up this year. Dallas Keuchel’s in 4th spot for lowest exit velocity, and like Anderson, it’s driven by a sub-80 MPH average for grounders. Anderson’s average GB comes out *6 MPH slower* than Keuchel’s. Anderson’s not giving up ground balls, he’s giving up swinging bunts. His OPS-against on grounders is under .400. While he’s not the ground ball pitcher Keuchel is, or even that Anderson himself was in 2016, you’d think a GB rate north of 40% paired with that kind of results on GBs would mean he’d have a really low BABIP. You’d be wrong.

His BABIP in 2016 was .318, and it’s .309 this year. His “Expected WOBA” given launch angle and velocity this year is an above-average .320, meaning that while he’s a *bit* unlucky on balls in play, he really is giving up a lot of contact that goes for hits. If everything goes right and Anderson induces a grounder, he’s golden. If batters elevate the ball at all, they all turn into Mike Trout. I looked at the xwOBA for all non-grounders this year, and he’s in the top – er, bottom, I guess – 20 with a mark of .566. His *actual* wOBA on air balls is worse: .686, 2nd worst behind Steven Wright.

These leaderboards of air contact results are a mixture of the already-demoted and some very good hurlers. Keuchel’s up there, as is Marcus Stroman. Felix would actually lead the league if you reduced the thresholds for balls in play. You can kind of get with this profile, but you absolutely have to keep the ball down more. Keuchel can, but Anderson’s failing this year, and it’s killing him. His K/9 and K-BB% are very good – he doesn’t *need* elite contact management to survive. But he may need to rethink how he uses his four-seamer going forward.

The whole package reminds me a bit of another pitcher who debuted last year and rode solid contact management to a solid year: Kenta Maeda. Maeda had one of the best GB exit velocities of 2016, just behind Anderson, and posted a low BABIP of .283. His average fly ball EV was higher, so he gave up a “normal” amount of home runs and XBH, but posting a very good K-BB% and being death to rolling things is a pretty good combination. But this year, his HR rate has spiked, and his ERA’s over 5 despite another extremely low average EV. As we’ve talked about this year, exit velocity isn’t everything – having a low one doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful, and having a high one doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Some pitchers who are great at getting weak ground balls really struggle if batters adjust and put the ball in the air, and now Maeda and Anderson are going to need to make some adjustments of their own.

Anderson’s been better in May (his April was pretty awful), but he’s still giving up the long ball. This isn’t a Coors field thing, either: 9 of his 12 HRs-allowed this year have come on the road. The M’s should look to elevate his four-seamer, which seems like it’d be an easy thing to do given its high “rise” movement. A line-up of righties would help, too, given Anderson’s struggles with them.

1: Segura, SS
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, LF
7: Zunino, C
8: Dyson, CF
9: Miranda, P

Hmm. Interesting order shuffle, but this kind of seemed like a Heredia-to-CF-Motter-to-LF sort of a deal. Not a big deal, and it’s understandable to want your best defensive CF in the game with Nelson Cruz trying to patrol Coors’ area code-sized RF.

Tacoma lost a pitcher’s duel in Salt Lake 2-1 last night on a walk-off hit by CJ Cron. Dillon Overton was solid though 5, but the bats couldn’t figure out Alex Klonowski or the Bees Bullpen. Tacoma got its revenge in the early game today, as Andrew Moore hurled 8 shutout IP in his best start in AAA. He gave up 4 hits, walked 1 and K’d 3. DJ Peterson supplied the offense with a 3R-HR. 4-0 was the final score.

Arkansas travels to Midland, TX to play the Rockhounds today. Tyler Herb gets the start opposite Grant Holmes, who’s coming off his best start of the year…against the Travs.

Down 4-3 late, the Modesto Nuts got 2 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th to pull away from San Jose 6-4. Joe DeCarlo and Logan Taylor both homered in the 8th, and Taylor also added a HR in the 4th. Anthony Misiewicz struggled, but Lukas Schiraldi and Joey Strain teamed up for 4 2/3 IP of scoreless relief with 7 K’s. The Nuts are off tonight.

Clinton dominated Wisconsin again, winning 11-3. The Lumberkings got HRs from C Yojhan Quevedo and Luis Liberato. Quevedo got a nice write-up on MiLB.com on his hot streak in May. SP Brandon Miller K’d 8 in 6 solid IP for the win. The L-Kings open a series in Beloit today with Ronald Dominguez on the mound opposite 2016 A’s draftee Dalton Sawyer, who’s been very good this year in the MWL.

Game 52, Mariners at Rockies

May 29, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Sam Gaviglio vs. Tyler Chatwood, 12:10pm

Happy Memorial Day. Let’s all remember that this is more than just a Monday for day-drinking and baseball.

The M’s visit the surprising Colorado Rockies, owners of the second-best record in the game, and the best in the National League. They’re scoring 5.13 runs per game, so is this team just a throwback to the 2000-era sluggers of Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker? Well, no – they’re a high scoring team, but far behind the Yankees and Nationals. Their slash line of .267/.323/.443 looks decent enough, but Fangraphs gives that a wRC+ of just 83, one of the worst in the game. Park effects matter, of course. The real story is on the run *prevention* side of the ball, where the Rockies are giving up just 4.27 runs per game, about 7-10ths of a run less than the Mariners *every game*.

The pitching staff has been decent, and even by BaseRuns, their runs allowed are quite low. There are a few reasons why. The first is one I talked about a week or two ago in the article about fastballs and home runs: the Rockies are near the lead in ground ball rate despite the fact that they’re ALSO leading the league in high fastballs. Their home park is rather famous for yielding home runs (you may have heard of this before), but its dimensions make it the most difficult park in baseball to defend: they’re so much area, that doubles and triples flourish as well. By Statcorner’s park factors, the park inflates 2Bs/3Bs significantly more than HRs, in fact. The remarkably high GB rate is critical in that it lowers the opportunity for extra base hits, counteracting the park’s tendency to produce tons and tons of extra base hits. I’m not sure *how* they’re doing it, but the results say it’s happening.

The second reason for their surprising run prevention is that the team’s been very good at turning batted balls into outs. The outfield defense is solid, but again, there’s no way anyone can cover that much ground. Thus, their outfield defensive efficiency is fair to middling – they rank 15th in fly ball defensive efficiency. Look at ground ball defensive efficiency, though, and they’re #2, just behind Zack Cozart and the Reds. The pitching staff induces a bunch of grounders, and the infielders turn those grounders into outs. By BBREF’s hit trajectory splits, the Rockies are allowing a .436 OPS on grounders, good for an OPS+ of 71. It’s a nice little system they have. Add it up, and the Rockies have allowed a remarkably low BABIP.

The final reason is that their bullpen’s been dominant. Greg Holland and Jake McGee make up a formidably one-two punch at the back of the pen, and they’ve gotten serviceable innings from Adam Ottavino and Chris Rusin, too. They lead baseball by two full WINS in WPA thanks to the most shutdown appearances in the game. I’ll admit I was one of the many people who thought it was strange for a team seemingly in a rebuild to spend money and talent to bring in a closer like Holland (one coming off injury at that) and a set-up guy like McGee, but after watching the 2017 Mariners, I’m just jealous. The M’s didn’t need a closer, but the Rockies sent a surplus OF to Tampa for McGee and they’ve reaped the benefits of it. The M’s weren’t really a good trade fit with Tampa in that case (the M’s have obviously made plenty of trades with the Rays), but man, McGee would fit nicely here.

Today’s starter, Tyler Chatwood, is a familiar player to M’s GM Jerry Dipoto. Dipoto became the Angels GM in the fall of 2011, and one of his first big moves was shipping Chatwood to Colorado – where Dipoto’s worked years before. Chatwood wasn’t great, but he’d logged 140+ innings as a rookie with the Halos in 2011, his awful K and BB numbers ameliorated by his ground ball ability. In return, the Angels got Chris Iannetta, who Dipoto had presumably seen as head of pro scouting for the Rockies (he’d acquire him again with the M’s, of course). In Colorado, Chatwood kept his GB profile, but has been stung by the long ball, a product of persistently high HR/FB ratios. More worryingly, he’s missed lots of time to injury. He’s always had good stuff, if you like velocity and sink, but hasn’t quite put it together as a consistent big league starter.

This year, his fastball’s averaging 95 MPH, faster than it was when he came up with Anaheim. He’s throwing it all over (and out of) the zone, and, like the rest of his teammates, getting GBs with it wherever he throws it. He hasn’t been as extreme as teammates Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, who’ve racked up nearly 30 ground balls on fastballs at least 3′ high (the physics of this baffles me), but then, Chatwood’s real GB ability manifests itself on his secondary pitches. He throws a slider at about 89 and a big breaking curve at 79 that both generate plenty of ground ball contact. To top it off, he throws a change-up that’s even more of an extreme GB pitch.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Dyson, CF
9: Gaviglio, P

Tacoma beat Salt Lake 9-7 thanks in part to a 4-run 7th. Kyle Hunter got the win in relief of Tyler Cloyd. Tyler O’Neill doubled twice. Today, Dillon Overton takes the hill in SLC.

Arkansas was locked in a close game with Frisco but then decided that pitcher’s duels are lame and uncorked a 13-run 6th inning. Highlighted by a Grand Slam by Tyler Marlette, the Travs sent 14 men to the plate, and had 11 consecutive reach base. Thyago Vieira’s still scuffling a bit, but coming in with a 15-run lead is a good way to get some extra work in. The Travs are off today.

Modesto’s bats couldn’t back up a brilliant effort from SP Nick Neidert, as the Nuts lost to San Jose 1-0 in 10 IP. Neidert went 6 hitless innings, striking out 9 against just one walk. Spencer Herrman kept it going with 2 more hitless IP in relief, and then Bryan Bonnell completed 9 no-hit innings with three groundouts in the 9th. He gave up 3 hits in the 10th, though, and that was that. The Nuts had 4 hits and *7* bases on balls, but couldn’t push a run across. Anthony Misiewicz starts today and hopes to get a bit more run support than Neidert got.

Clinton jumped all over Wisconsin in an easy 9-2 win. Clinton led 6-0 after 2 and coasted after that. Bryson Brigman and Rayder Ascanio homered, 2 of the L-Kings 6 extra base hits. Robert Dugger and Danny Garcia teamed up for the win; Dugger started and went 3, and then Garcia went the next 4 IP. Brandon Miller starts today’s game.

Game 51, Mariners at Red Sox

May 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

Christian Bergman vs. Rick Porcello, 10:35am

The M’s have now faced a hard-throwing lefty and a soft-tossing righty and scored a grand total of nothing in the series. Will they break out of their slump against the defending AL Cy Young winner? Actually, maybe. Rick Porcello’s having a much worse year than last year, which makes sense, as he’s not a true-talent ace; everything broke his way last year.

He’s not bad, of course. As the consensus top HS pitcher in his draft, his bonus demands made a bunch of teams pass on him, until Detroit – a team that did this a lot (Andrew Miller, for another example) – drafted and paid him his money. With Detroit, he was a sinkerballer with GB rates in the 55% range. Boston picked him up and instantly asked him to change – to throw more four-seamers and throw up in the zone more than he ever did. He’s done so, and while his 2015 and 2017 weren’t earth-shattering, he’s been a solid pitcher. It’s before and after picture time. Here’s a heat map of his fastballs (four-seam and sinker) from a random year when he was with Detroit. It’s representative of his approach with the Tigers:
Porcello FB 2011

Aaaand here’s the same thing from this year with Boston:
Porcello in 2017

Pretty clear change in approach. It’s helped Porcello – who’s always had solid control – cut down on his walks to the point where he’s consistently walking less than 5% of batters faced. He’s striking out many more batters as well – he’s got 9 K’s per 9 IP this year, after years and years in the 5’s with the Tigers. But this change in approach isn’t without risk. He’s also giving up a lot more home runs, something he did in 2015, too. His sinker’s yielded a number of home runs, just like always, but this year it’s his breaking balls and change-up that are getting hit a bit harder. The M’s need to jump on hanging cutters and change-ups today; Porcello won’t walk them, so they’re going to need to be proactive.

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

Today’s roster move: Rob Whalen’s been optioned back to Tacoma after his start yesterday, and up from Tacoma is Ryne Harper, another RHP that the M’s picked up out of the Braves organization a few years ago. Harper’s been a bullpen arm in the Tacoma pen and has been very effective this year, though it’s worth pointing out that everyone the M’s have brought up has been successful in the PCL…it just hasn’t translated. Harper’s 28 and this is his first time in the bigs – congratulations to him. The 40-man spot was opened up when the Dodgers grabbed Mike Freeman on waivers.

James Paxton’s set to begin a rehab assignment with Arkansas.

Former Phillies RP Tyler Cloyd starts today for Tacoma (who lost in Salt Lake city last night). Cloyd’s now made 3 starts for the Rainiers and has yet to allow a run – he’s coming off of injury, so he’s only pitched 12 2/3 IP, but that’s still not bad. At this rate, we’ll probably see him in Seattle in a month or two.

Dylan Unsworth starts for Arkansas tonight, Robert Dugger starts for Clinton, and Nick Neidert takes the hill for Modesto.

Yesterday’s best MiLB performance goes to Tyler Marlette of Arkansas who homered twice off of big time Rangers prospect Yohander Mendez in the Travs 5-4 win.

Game 49, Mariners at Red Sox

May 26, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Yovani Gallardo vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 4:10pm

Avoiding the sweep was nice, as was seeing the bullpen throw 4 scoreless innings in a close game. I don’t know that it changes my view of the club, but it’s nice not to be mulling over another 10-1 loss. The M’s now head into Boston to face the somewhat underwhelming Red Sox. Underwhelming just in the sense that they were pretty much everyone’s pick as the best club in the AL East (and maybe the AL as a whole), and find themselves in third place in their division. They’re a few games over .500 and in very good position to make the playoffs, but while everyone thought Houston was good and they responded by running away with the West, Boston took a while to get going.

There are extenuating circumstances of course: they lost prospective ace David Price for the year this spring, and Jackie Bradley Jr. has turned back the clock to his pre-breakout past, slashing .204/.284/.359. But just as the Dodgers’ depth allows them to overcome missed starts by guys like Rich Hill, I think no one was better able to get past the loss of Price than Boston. Chris Sale is absolutely dominant right now, and would be the ace of the staff even if Price were healthy. He’s taken his level of production from great to better-than-great, and then today’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez, has gone from promising enigma to really productive #2. What’s interesting is that both are doing it in a similar way.

We’ve talked a lot this year about team-wide approaches, and how the Astros throw way more low pitches than any club. The M’s are now facing the anti-Astros. No club in baseball has thrown more high pitches than the Red Sox, especially high fastballs. You can define “high” however you want, and you’ll essentially see two teams: the Tigers and Red Sox. The Sox lead in the percentage of fastballs above the midpoint of the zone, the top ~ third and the very top, and it’s not all that close. Here’s a leaderboard of high fastballs – defined here as above 3′. This is the very top of the zone and above. The Tigers were near the top if we use 2′ or 2.5′, but for really, truly high fastballs, there is Boston and then there is distance. Boston’s at 21.5% of all of their pitches qualifying as high fastballs, and you go all the way below 19% to find second-place Washington. The M’s talked about the high fastball this spring, at least in Felix’s case, but they’re still not throwing many of them; they’re way down at 14.4%, or 22nd place. So, does Boston have a bunch of Drew Smyly-types with straight, high “rise” fastballs? Not really, no.

Sale and Rodriguez rank #2 and #4, respectively, in fastball velocity for left-handed starters (no huge surprise who tops the list – it’s James Paxton). Unlike Paxton, or Clayton Kershaw, Robbie Ray or Blake Snell, though, they have far *below* average rise. Sale, with his low arm slot, has the fastball movement of a sinkerballer, with lots of horizontal run and comparatively little rise. Rodriguez is somewhat similar in terms of movement – look at that list of lefty fireballers, and Sale/Rodriguez really stick out as having lower vertical movement. And yet, Sale’s running his career low GB% at 38.5% (he was around 50% when he came up as a reliever with Chicago), and Rodriguez is waaay down at 32%, one of the lower rates in the league.

If they’re going to essentially counteract or overcome the natural tendency of their fastball to get topped, they have to use it differently, and that’s just what we see. Rodriguez is in the top 10 among starting pitchers for high FB (over 3′) percentage, behind guys like Trevor Bauer and current Red Sox Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz. But go back a few years, and Sale and Rodriguez weren’t even close to the top. They ranked 190th and 149th, respectively, or 67th and 50th among starters (Bauer was #1 still). This is a clear, obvious plan of the Red Sox. Think about Porcello, who came up as a sinkerballer with one of the highest GB% rates in the game, and how his GB% has dropped every year in Boston to the point now where it’s under 40%. It’s worked pretty well for them; the Sox have one of the game’s lowest team GB%, but also the second best FIP and THE best K-BB%. They’re missing a perennial Cy Young candidate, Steven Wright’s been abysmal, and they haven’t missed a beat.

Their offense is right next to the M’s in terms of team WAR and wRC+. The Sox, like their pitching colleagues, are the best at what the M’s front office would call controlling the zone. Low K hitters like Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia help, but their walk rate’s a bit better than the M’s, too. The M’s are now the better power-hitting team, which always seems weird to say, but the M’s have been fairly homer-dependent for a while now.

Rodriguez, who came to Boston from Baltimore in a deal for Andrew Miller, had a mid-high 90s fastball in the minors, and averaged nearly 95 in his first big league season in 2015. He’s lost a tick or so since then, but it’s still pretty fast for a lefty starter. His best secondary pitch is a great change-up at 85-87, and that’s one reason why he’s actually run reverse splits in his big league career: the change is just far, far ahead of his slider. Now, by FIP, his splits are even, and we can’t say a whole lot simply because as a lefty throwing that hard, he’s seen very few lefties in his career. The point though is that the M’s don’t need to worry that the match-up’s awful for their big lefty hitters. It’s not ideal, but Rodriguez isn’t a clear lefty-killer.

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

I said I’m not too worried about Cano/Seager, but I’m not too worried about Servais sitting Jarrod Dyson in favor of Guillermo Heredia.
Let’s all hope Gallardo got whatever it was that caused his last start out of his system.

Sorry I missed it the day it happened (I’ve been in jury duty this week), but the M’s made another minor trade, picking up ex-Astros prospect Andrew Aplin, a CF, for a PTBNL. Aplin had been DFA’d when the Astros needed a pitcher on Tuesday, and the M’s got him the next day. Aplin’s plate discipline got him noticed, but his pure hitting ability has lagged behind a bit. After walking more than he K’d in the low minors, he hit a bit of a wall in AAA, with an awful season for Fresno last year, and another disappointing one this year. To make matters worse, the Astros had another CF moving up the system behind him, Derek Fisher. Fisher’s now in AAA, which made Aplin surplus to requirements. The more you look at him, the more you see Boog Powell. Like Aplin, Powell walked more than he K’d in the low minors, and like Aplin, Powell had essentially zero power. To make a sub-.100 ISO work, you need to maintain a decent batting average, and both of them did that in the low minors, but then struggled a bit in AA-AAA. Aplin’s K rate rose a bit more than Powell’s, although both still walk a ton, and that’s meant Aplin’s projections look a lot like Powell’s…just a bit worse. Making matters worse for Aplin, he’s nearly two full years older than Powell. Still, with Powell up in Seattle, Aplin can settle in as Leonys Martin’s back-up in Tacoma.

It was handy that the M’s made this trade given that Fresno’s in town to play Tacoma. The Grizzlies beat Tacoma 5-2 last night, scoring 3 in the 8th after Andrew Moore tossed 6 solid innings. Moore gave up a HR, but pitched effectively outside of that. That sentence could apply to every one of his starts, as he’s running a gaudy K:BB ratio but has given up a homer in each PCL appearance he’s made. Tonight, the Rainiers take on the Astros’ top pitching prospect, Francis Martes, who tossed 9 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run to start the season, and then struggled mightily after that. We’ll see how he does tonight; when he’s on, he brings a plus fastball and breaking ball and a developing change. He’s still only 21, but the Astros thought his delivery may make it hard to display consistent control; his walk rate’s sky high thus far in 2017, so they may have more work to do.

Midland destroyed Arkansas 8-1. Oakland prospect Grant Holmes got the win, which he needed, as he’s scuffled thus far in 2017 (after a poor 2016). The Travs start a series against Frisco tonight. The RoughRiders will start David Ledbetter, a former 3rd round pick of the Rangers. Frisco’s notable in that David’s twin brother was also a pitcher, and was also drafted by the Rangers in 2013 – 16 rounds after David. In fact, Ryan Ledbetter pitched for Frisco last year. He doesn’t seem to have pitched this year, otherwise I’d be hoping Ryan would come in for David tonight. The two pitched together for High Desert in 2015, where they put up nearly…uh…identical ERAs of 7.50 and 7.46.

Modesto walked off Rancho Cucamonga last night 4-2 on a 2-R shot by Joey Curletta. Reggie McClain gave up a run in 6 strong innings, and is now one of just 5 qualified Cal League pitchers with an ERA under 3. Braden Bishop was on base 3 times. Nathan Bannister starts tonight. Bannister’s given up 10 hits in 10 2/3 innings in AAA, but the Cal League’s rudely knocked 54 hits off of him in 35 1/3 IP.

Cedar Rapids easily dispatched Clinton last night 9-2. Anthony Jimenez, a 21-year old OF prospect, hit his 3rd home run, and is something of a bright spot on the L-Kings. Clinton hosts Wisconsin tonight, with Tim Viehoff on the mound.

Game 47, Mariners at Nadir…uh, I mean Nationals

May 25, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Gio Gonzalez, 9:05 am (?)

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian passed along this fun fact on twitter this morning:

It’s one of those highly specific, carefully-worded jobs, but it sums up what it’s felt like to follow this team this past week. I’m trying to keep a more even keel, and remind myself that they’re simply not as bad as they’ve looked: no one’s as bad as the M’s have looked. But they are clearly flawed, and that’s setting aside their obvious and important injury woes. The team felt like a team that could compete for the playoffs if they got a few lucky breaks. All the breaks they’ve gotten have come to important players’ soft tissue, and I acknowledge that, but it’s still harder to see them as a serious challenger to the Astros. The second wild card has reduced the threshold for “competitiveness” of course, but I’m just not sure it would’ve been enough. Before they sell or re-tool or whatever Dipoto wants to do with this group, they need to take a serious look at what they are and how 2017 happened. Is something amiss in how the pitching staff attacks hitters? Is there some way to ensure that command lapses don’t happen/spread to teammates like the flu?

1: Segura, SS
2: Heredia, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Motter, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miranda, P

The Tacoma Rainiers have the PCL’s best record, and have an astonishing 18-4 record at Cheney Stadium. They beat Fresno last night 5-3 thanks to a solid start from Kyle Hunter and a HR by Tyler O’Neill, who’s starting to pull out of a long slump. Andrew Moore starts for the club tonight.

Arkansas lost to Midland 7-5 in a game in which both starters (Tyler Herb and Joel Seddon) struggled. Midland’s bullpen was great, while Arkansas’ was so-so, and that proved to be the difference. Tacoma-native and Carson Cistulli favorite Max Schrock went 2-3 for the Rockhounds, while Nelson Ward homered for the Travelers.

Modesto got a run in the 8th to edge Rancho Cucamonga 7-6. Joe DeCarlo and Jay Baum homered for the Nuts, who lead their division by 4 games and have the best record in the Cal League. Rancho leads *their* division, and have the league’s 2nd best record. Reggie McClain leads Modesto against Rancho today.

Clinton beat Cedar Rapids 3-2 after a great start from Brandon Miller and a HR from SS Rayder Ascanio. They scored the winning run in the 9th on that most anti-climactic of scoring plays, the run-scoring-GIDP. The two teams are back at it tonight; no word on Clinton’s starter.

Game 47, Mariners at Nationals

May 24, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Sam Gaviglio vs. Tanner Roark, 4:05pm

It was really great for a while to see the replacement M’s – Gamel, Bergman, etc. – tread water while the first-stringers were out injured, but there were always two problems looming. First, they simply weren’t as good, and that level of performance wasn’t sustainable, and second, treading water wasn’t closing the gap that needed to be closed. Now that the pendulum’s lurched back the other way and each replacement starter gives up 4 HRs per game or whatever, we at least have clarity. The M’s aren’t catching the Astros. The M’s probably aren’t catching whoever loses the AL East, and may not catch either the Angels or Rangers. They’re up against it now.

Hence all of the discussion on the radio, on twitter, and elsewhere about the wisdom of a big sell-off. It’s true: the M’s have more to sell now than they have in the past. However, most of what they have to sell either won’t net a huge return (Nelson Cruz) or doesn’t help the M’s get better down the road (Jean Segura). If the M’s were 20-26 and had Drew Smyly healthy and effective, that’s one thing. But the single best trade chip they have is Segura, whose track record of success is much longer than Haniger’s, say, and plays a premium position. But selling a great 27-year old for 2 20-year old prospects who might one day become great 27-year olds doesn’t really help. Of course there’s a level of offer that you might feel comfortable pulling the trigger on, but I doubt the M’s are going to be blown away. They can’t fall into the trap of deciding that because the needs right now are greater at pitcher than in the infield that it’s necessary to trade their valuable IF for a pitcher.

I’m still in the camp that the M’s don’t have much to sell, because selling their aging core who are all locked into long term contracts (except Cruz, who makes up for that by being the oldest) doesn’t really help. If the M’s kick in money to get a better prospect, they are paying to deduct wins from the current and maybe 2018 teams for very little gain. It’s true that 2017 and 2018 wins may not be worth a ton, a team with the payroll that the M’s can afford should not simply light near-term wins on fire for the sake of lowering the current payroll. The M’s never really did a tear-down rebuild, and at this point, with hindsight, it’s easy to say that they should’ve. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s best for this team, right now, is strip everything and turn things over to Dan Vogelbach or whatever.

1: Segura, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Valencia, 1B
5: Gamel, RF
6: Heredia, LF
7: Zunino, C
8: Dyson, CF
9: Gaviglio, P

Game 46, Mariners at Nationals

May 23, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

Christian Bergman vs. Joe Ross, 4:10pm

The end of the M’s last homestand could’ve gone better. I’ve heard the M’s brought up in more conversations these past few days than I have in months. Not for good reasons, unfortunately. People are on the verge of tuning out, which is why this road trip – a really tough one – is so important.

The M’s activated Robinson Cano from the DL, and that’ll help, but this team needs some pitching performances right now. Christian Bergman rekindling whatever magic he had in his last start would really help.

Joe Ross was a great pick up for the Nats out of the Padres org, and he posted two very encouraging half-seasons in 2015-16, but has also fought injuries. This year, his K and walk rates were about the same, but a serious HR problem has his stat line in tatters. He made a few starts in AAA, and is being recalled to make this start.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Dyson, CF
9: Bergman, P

Nelson Cruz is in there at RF. This’d be a good day for Bergman to rediscover his ability to get a lot of ground ball contact.

Zunino and Emilio Pagan are back up, Tuffy Gosewisch and Dan Vogelbach are in Tacoma.

Game 45, White Sox at Mariners

May 21, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

Chris Heston, sure, why not vs. Derek Holland, 1:10pm

The M’s lost last night 16-1, and their most successful pitcher was probably Mike Freeman, the back-up utility infielder, who threw a bunch of 65-70 MPH “fastballs”* and somehow only gave up 1 run. The loss dropped the M’s into last place in the admittedly competitive AL West, and knocked their Fangraphs’ wildcard odds below 10%. It’s been a rough couple of days. Jose Quintana dominating this line-up you can kind of understand, but Mike Pelfrey?

I mentioned it on twitter, but M’s catchers now have all of 19 hits on the season – that’s Zunino, Gosewisch and Ruiz combined. Ex-Mariner Rene Rivera – actually Rene Rivera – had 17 hits in his 11-game hitting streak that was sadly snapped last night. The same Rene Rivera who used to play for the Mariners now has 24 hits on the season. Chris Taylor is hitting .338/.454/.588. This isn’t a “why do they always get better” lament – it’s just pointing out that baseball is getting surreal. I’d be happier about it if the Mariners were benefiting a bit more, but it’s hard to be too disappointed that the M’s aren’t winning at a game that’s obviously drunk.

Derek Holland’s a familiar foe, having pitched for Texas for so long. The oft-injured lefty’s the same as ever by fielding independent metrics, but has a shiny ERA thanks to a low BABIP. His velocity’s down a couple of ticks from where it was from 2013-2015, but he can still sit at 92. Chris Heston’s still down 1-2 MPH, and unlike Holland, he wasn’t starting at 94-94.5. With a sinker that’s averaging just shy of 88, Heston’s command has to be pinpoint, and it just hasn’t been this year. He’s pitched fairly well in AAA, but even there, his walk rate is about 3.4 per 9, and including HBPs with walks pushes it to about 4/9 IP. He’s pitched around that in AAA by getting ground balls and getting somewhat lucky on fly ball contact, but both of those things are much harder to do here. This isn’t to say that the M’s shouldn’t have called him up; there’s essentially no other options (everyone else who could’ve come up pitched in the last day or two). It’s to say that Heston still isn’t quite “back” from his TJ surgery. I hope he gets there eventually – that he can sit at 90 and that his sinker can rack up ground balls. But he’s always had essentially no margin for error, and at 87, even *good* command might get punished.

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

As you can see, Dan Vogelbach’s been recalled with Freeman heading to Tacoma. Maybe to stretch out his arm?

Heston’s recall sends Overton back to Tacoma.
The Rainiers stunned the I-Cubs with a 9th inning comeback last night, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 7-4 lead that they held on to for a 7-5 win. Mike Zunino’s HR was the big blow in that fateful 9th inning. All of the runs, heck, all of the baserunners, came with 2 outs, too. Andrew Moore went 7, giving up 4 runs and striking out 9 with no walks. They’re back at it today, with Modesto call-up Nathan Bannister on the hill.

Arkansas edged Tulsa 6-5. Brett Ash got the win and former M’s prospect Edward Paredes took the loss. Lindsey Caughel’s on the mound for the Travs today.

Modesto dominated San Jose 14-4.

* Gameday initially classified Freeman’s pitches as “knuckleballs” because it’s not used to 65 MPH fastballs, but Freeman told Ryan Divish after the game they weren’t knuckleballs. It’s obvious from their spin, too, but while some neutral observers may be upset that they didn’t get to see the very rare combination of position-player-pitching with a knuckler. I’d like to suggest that Freeman tossing slow pitches – one of which was about 59 MPH – that ARE NOT knuckleballs is actually more special, more rare. Position players pitching are pretty much all the same: a lot of mid-80s fastballs, and the occasional change or slider-type-thing. Freeman reared back gently leaned back and slung balls designed to be slower than batting practice. It…well, it didn’t exactly work, but it wasn’t a disaster. A knuckleball, even a bad one, is an attempt at deception. There was absolutely no guile or deceit in what Freeman did, and I think it was remarkably brave. I’m not saying Dillon Overton should try it now, but I kind of hope another position player gets weird instead of throwing 82 MPH straight pitches.
I’d be remiss without noting that while Brooks Baseball classifies all of Freeman’s pitches as “fastballs,” I think there were two cutter/slider-y things. With a pitch at ~59 and one approaching ~79, I just don’t think he was trying to do the same thing with each pitch. Two of them had a kind of gyro spin that make me think they were breaking balls.

Game 43, White Sox at Mariners

May 19, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Jose Quintana, 7:10pm

Yesterday’s game featured two of the least likely starters to throw quality starts, and despite the fact that neither *technically* did, it was a remarkably well-pitched game (until the bullpens got involved). Today’s game features what looks, on paper, like a mismatch: one of the game’s most sought-after, very-much-available starters in Jose Quintana, against Ariel Miranda, who was supposed to be Seattle’s #6 starter and finds himself in the #2 role all of the sudden.

Quintana was nearly traded in the offseason, when teammates Chris Sale and Adam Eaton moved on, but the White Sox held out for a better package, and thought Quintana could build value through the season. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, as Quintana got off to a horrible start, and still sports a walk rate that’s *double* what it was in 2015. He’s striking people out, but walks and HRs have left him with a FIP and ERA well into the 4’s. Quintana was never the kind of guy who’d command a princely haul in trade just because he looks so…normal. There’s no premium velocity, no clear out-pitch. He’s just been remarkably consistent for several years, pitching like a very different kind of #2 starter. He reminds me a bit of Hisashi Iwakuma’s good years, where he’d post a vanishingly low walk rate, a good but not great K rate, and sneak up on people as an extremely effective pitcher. Iwakuma’s age and injury history prevented him from developing really demonstrated consistency, but Quintana’s essentially matched Iwakuma’s line, but over more IP and starts. That’s why it’s so damaging to have a season like this, even when it doesn’t look like anything’s glaringly wrong. If your primary selling point is consistency, a bad patch looks a lot worse.

It’s weird- Quintana isn’t throwing that many more balls, and batters’ average exit velocity is down a bit from last year. His K rate’s still a career high. His BABIP’s higher than it was in 2016, but still lower than his 2015 mark. Even his pitches per plate appearance are down from career averages. He shouldn’t *be* struggling like this, especially with his control. As you can probably guess, a big part of the problem has been that he’s been much worse with men on base. In his career, he’s given up a .319 wOBA with men on base (including 2017). It was under .309 every year from 2013-2016. It’s .353 now, with both HRs and walks increasing. His career FIP w/men on is 3.57; it’s nearly two full runs higher than that in 2017. He’s never had sequencing or situational issues before, so it’s not like this is a long-standing problem. He’s still unlucky if you compare the expected outcome of the balls in play he’s given up versus what actually happened, but there’s some evidence he’s slipping a bit against righties. As a lefty, he’s always had platoon splits, but they’re normal, and he held righties’ performance down such that it wasn’t a problem. Righties are hitting him much better this year, and while that could regress a bit, it indicates that good right-handed hitting teams might give him some problems. Cruz/Segura/Valencia/Motter (man, I want Mitch Haniger back) might give him some problems.

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

Tacoma split a double-header with Omaha despite having a patched-together pitching staff. They won game 1 1-0 on a Josh Staumont wild pitch. That gave Emilio Pagan the win in relief of Tyler Cloyd, who went 4. Game 2 featured MiLB Rule 5 pick-up Paul Paez starting, giving up 2 runs in 4 IP, and 2 IP of relief from Steven Ridings, who was recently called up to Arkansas from extended, and who’d pitched less than 9 IP in total in his pro career. Fun times! Rob Whalen starts tonight in Iowa against the I-Cubs.

Arkansas finally beat the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, as Tyler Herb tossed his best game of the year, limiting NWA to 1 run on 7 hits in 7 IP (with 7 Ks and 0 BBs). Kyle Waldrop homered for the Travs in a 7-3 win. Brett Ash starts tonight for Arkansas in Tulsa.

Nick Neidert pitched around a 2-HR, 4-R first inning to lead Modesto to a 12-7 win against Lancaster. Neidert managed 5 IP, and benefited from *9* extra-base hits by the Nuts offense. He also helped himself by getting two pick-offs. Chris Mariscal had 3 hits, including a 2B and a HR. Top Rockies prospect Brendan Rogers doubled, but it was CF Wes Rogers, who (like many on Lancaster) played for Modesto last year, who HR’d off of Neidert. Today, it’s Anthony Misiewicz on the hill, taking on Matt Krook and the San Jose Giants. Krook’s yielded quite a few krooked innings this year; he’s somehow given up 27 runs in 17 2/3 innings.

Clinton lost to Burlington 8-5, as the Angels top prospect, OF Jahmai Jones, had 3 extra-base hits out of the leadoff spot to pace the Bees. Luis Liberato homered for the Lumberkings. SP Danny Garcia got bombed, yielding 11 hits and 8 runs in 3 1/3 IP. Brandon Miller toes the rubber for Clinton tonight.

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