Game 27, Angels at Mariners – More Roster Churn, and Gamel’s Gains

marc w · May 2, 2017 at 5:06 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Matt Shoemaker, 7:10pm

The M’s return home after a frustrating road trip that saw them on the precipice of winning a second straight road series, before falling in ugly fashion to the Indians. That game seems to have occasioned another series of roster moves, with the M’s returning to the 8-man bullpen that fans so loathed. The first move, and it’s not exactly a shock, is Dan Vogelbach heading back to Tacoma. Another 25- and 40-man spot was created when Casey Fien was once again knocked off the roster, this time through being designated for assignment. The M’s created one final roster spot by moving UTIL Shawn O’Malley from the 10- to the 60-day DL. So who are the beneficiaries of the new 40-man spots? Two Tacoma relievers, MLB vet Jean Machi and prospect Emilio Pagan.

Machi, 35, has thrown nearly 200 big league innings, and while he’s not a huge strikeout guy, he uses a sinking fastball to generate a lot of ground balls. While he throws a slider, his big putaway pitch is a splitter with good vertical movement, and that’s helped him produce reverse platoon splits over his career. Clearly, Machi’s not a righty-specialist, but could be used to get a lefty if they’re in a tough spot before they want to use Marc Rzepczynski, and he could be called upon in a double play situation. Emilio Pagan was a 10th-round pick back in 2013 out of a tiny college in the south, and has made steady progress since. He’s about to turn 26, so he’s not exactly a young phenom, but he’s posted gaudy strikeout totals at each stop, so neither is he just a AAAA veteran who’s posted a nice line in a couple week stint. He saw action in the World Baseball Classic, setting up for Edwin Diaz for Puerto Rico, a job he could one day reprise in the big leagues. His fastball comes in around 95 and has good vertical rise. His change-up has nowhere near the drop that Machi’s does, but, helpfully, his slider does. Machi’s FB’s nearly as fast as Pagan’s, but its totally different movement produces a totally different batted ball profile. Pagan’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, and whereas Machi’s got reverse splits, Pagan’s fastball/slider mix makes him very tough on righties, but somewhat vulnerable to lefties.

That last spot on the roster seems set for Steve Cishek, but not quite yet. The righty pitched a bullpen session in front of Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. today, according to Ryan Divish, as the M’s try to spot the mechanical problems that have produced 5 hits and 3 walks in just 4 IP between AA Arkansas and AAA Tacoma.

I mentioned it in the last post, but Vogelbach’s passivity at the plate was crippling his at-bats, and I’m hoping he can work on that in Tacoma. While we used to think of plate discipline and aggressiveness as being innate, we’ve learned over the past few years just how much hitters can change. Vogelbach was utterly unprepared to be a big league 1B this month, but he could be down the road. Ben Gamel had the exact same problem, and frankly, I thought his chances of making it in the big leagues were…uh, slimmer than Vogelbach’s. As a corner OF, Gamel needs to either hit for a very high average or hit for enough power to justify his position in the line-up. Last year, we saw a guy who was overly selective, working himself into pitcher’s counts, and swinging only reluctantly at strikes. When he did so, he didn’t strike them with enough authority to do worth while. More simply, his K rate was way too high to support a low ISO. This was Leonys Martin’s issue recently, and one of the things that crippled Ketel Marte’s M’s tenure. Every batter brings strengths and weaknesses in a few critical skills: contact, power, and batting eye. Jeff wrote about “the Gallo threshold” the other day at Fangraphs, which is a great way to envision one pole. Joey Gallo makes less contact than just about any player in the game, and like Chris Davis, doesn’t play enough a tough defensive position. He DOES hit for more raw power than just about anyone alive, so he’s just got to make enough contact for his power to carry his value. We saw this recently with George Springer; many teams were scared off after he posted high K rates in college and then again in the minors. When he hit the ball, it went a long ways, and unlike Gallo, he could theoretically play CF. But even so, he needed to make enough contact to make his power playable. Over time, he did. Ichiro’s perhaps the best example of the opposite pole – players who don’t hit for power and don’t draw a ton of walks, so need to make contact to add any value. Dee Gordon’s another. Gamel seemed on the verge of slipping through the gap: not enough power AND not enough contact (not because of whiffs, like Gallo, but because he stubbornly stared at called strikes). Like so many other players, Gamel seems to be changing that.

Last year, Gamel’s average launch angle was just 3.7 degrees, and came off the bat under 86 MPH (the sample is ridiculously small, I know). This year, those figures are 13.8 degrees and 91 MPH, respectively. Are players capable of increasing their angle by 10 degrees? All while increasing exit velocity? Sure – his teammates did it. In 2015, Jean Segura had an average launch angle of 3.9 degrees with an average of 86 MPH off the bat. The very next year,he was at 7 degrees, and this year it’s at 10.5. Robinson Cano was at 5.5 in 2015, and then about 11 in 2016. And while it wasn’t as dramatic, Ryan Zimmerman’s launch angle change has transformed his production this year. After talking with Daniel Murphy, the Nats slugger has 11 HRs thus far after increasing his launch angle.

James Paxton starts for the M’s tonight as he tries to continue the most dominant run of his career, and one of the most impressive months a Mariner’s produced in a while. I’d mentioned earlier that Hisashi Iwakuma was throwing more balls this year as hitters were destroying the ball when he threw it in the zone. Responding to that, Iwakuma’s throwing fewer and fewer strikes. In recent games, he’s actually become much better at locating around the edges, which is why his walks are starting to come down, but he’s still got to avoid the heart of the zone, because he’s getting killed there. And as you’d imagined, Chase de Jong’s getting hit even harder. The point of this elaborate set-up? James Paxton doesn’t need to nibble. When Paxton throws a pitch in the zone, not even the edge of the zone, but the middle of it, batters are slugging .241 off of him. No starter’s lower thus far this year.

I’d be happier if this seemed like a more stable skill; if you remember, Paxton gave up tons of loud contact, and batters slugged .510 on these pitches in 2016. Still, this seems an indicator not only of his good fortune, but his improved command. With a better cutter and better location, batters can’t load up and target pitches within the zone. Kind of like the Gallo threshold, power pitchers give themselves some wiggle room through high velocity (producing weaker, more defensive swings) and great stuff (producing swings and misses and pitcher’s counts). Paxton doesn’t NEED to hit the edges as much as Iwakuma. If he can keep batters on the defensive, they’ll need to cut down their swings and just try to stay alive. The Angels come in with the lowest isolated slugging in the AL West, and they rank 28th in MLB (ahead of only the Red Sox – huh? – in the AL), so this seems like a good match-up for Big Maple.

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

The Rainiers looked like they’d kept their winning streak alive and completed a 5-game sweep with a comeback win over Sacramento, but they showed that they’re not the only team with bullpen issues in the Northwest. Down 2-1 in the 8th, they loaded the bases with no outs against Giants prospect Tyler Beede. But Beede induced 2 infield pop-ups and looked on the verge of wriggling off the hook, until Zach Shank singled in 2, and then came in on another 2-run single. That 4-run inning gave them a 5-2 lead headed to the 9th. But Mark Lowe gave up 4 hits and a walk, leaving Nick Hagadone to come in with the bases loaded and a tie game. Hagadone let one run score, and that gave the RiverCats a 6-5 win. Yuck. Lowe’s given up 18 hits and 14 runs in just 8 1/3 IP. Rob Whalen started, pitching 4 2/3 scoreless with 4 Ks and 1 BB. Tacoma’s Christian Bergman leads the R’s into Las Vegas tonight.

Arkansas scored 5 runs in the 7th to come from behind and beat Springfield 8-7. Dylan Unsworth was so-so, giving up 4 runs in 4 2/3 IP, but got some offense from Marcus Littlewood and Ryan Casteel, and then Zac Curtis tossed 1 1/3 perfect IP to save it. Tyler Herb starts tonight for the Travs.

Modesto had THEIR big inning in the first, scoring 5 to take over the game against San Jose and cruising to a 7-3 win. Braden Bishop and Jordan Cowan each had 2 hits, and Gianfranco Wawoe doubled in 2. Joe De Carlo started at catcher again, by the way. SP Nathan Bannister now has given up just 3 walks in 5 starts, but he’s also given up 35 hits in 25 2/3 IP, including 6 HRs. Nick Neidert tonight!

Clinton starts a series against West Michigan today, and Tigers prospect Kyle Funkhouser. Funkhouser pitched collegiately at Louisville, and seemed like a candidate to go in the high first round after his sophomore year, but after a down year as a junior, he decided to return for his senior year. His walk rate crept up again, and that pushed him down to the 4th round. He’s been solid as a pro, but not as dominant as you’d think for a college senior draft pick who’s striking out tons of young hitters. And, wouldn’t you know it, the LumberKings just knocked him out of this one in the 3rd, after getting 6 hits and 3 walks in just 2 2/3 IP. It’s 5-0 L-Kings at this point.


25 Responses to “Game 27, Angels at Mariners – More Roster Churn, and Gamel’s Gains”

  1. stevemotivateir on May 2nd, 2017 7:42 pm

    Fully anticipated Fien DFA and Vogelbach demoted. That was the extent of my vissions.

    Just glad they did something.

  2. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 8:16 pm

    They went back to the eight-man bullpen because, of course they did.

    2-0 Mariners so far!

  3. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 8:19 pm

    Bases are loaded for Danny Valencia…

    does not excite anyone, except maybe Valencia’s mother.

  4. stevemotivateir on May 2nd, 2017 8:21 pm

    Not true, Westy.

    The Angels were just as excited.

  5. stevemotivateir on May 2nd, 2017 9:23 pm

    There ya go, Danny!

  6. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 9:28 pm

    There’s a break for our guys! He was out by about 10 feet…

  7. stevemotivateir on May 2nd, 2017 9:32 pm

    Would be good to see Zunino make contact with pitches right down the middle. He’s stunk them up in each PA.

  8. WTF_Ms on May 2nd, 2017 9:42 pm

    If Zunino was anything other than “decent” behind the plate, and we had someone in the system, he’d be gone. He couldn’t hit the barn door if he was in the barn.

  9. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 9:45 pm

    Seeing Zunino try to hit just makes me sad – I think Jack Z ruined him permanently.

  10. WTF_Ms on May 2nd, 2017 10:12 pm

    Here we go again…

  11. Grayfox3d on May 2nd, 2017 10:13 pm

    Ouch… this one is gonna sting.

  12. msfanmike on May 2nd, 2017 10:15 pm

    So Pazos doesn’t come in to face the lefty (Calhoun). Did he pitch earlier in the game and I just missed it? Wtf.

  13. WTF_Ms on May 2nd, 2017 10:30 pm

    See my username. It’s versatile! Works when the M’s manage a win, and also in these type of games!

  14. msfanmike on May 2nd, 2017 10:44 pm

    Pazos was up and warm and ready to come in the game. Good left-handed hitter comes to the plate – and he faces a righty in Diaz. Makes no damned sense. Bad call, Servais

    Gotta give Calhoun for turning around a 100 mph heater on the inner third – but a low inner-third fastball is exactly what most left-handed hitters want.

  15. msfanmike on May 2nd, 2017 10:48 pm

    Jeeez Segura … what was that?

  16. msfanmike on May 2nd, 2017 10:55 pm

    Atta baby, Robbie. Nice at bats by Gamel and Dyson.

  17. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 10:56 pm

    I love watching Cano hit.

  18. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 11:11 pm

    Okay, Valencia, make me look foolish!

  19. msfanmike on May 2nd, 2017 11:12 pm

    Someone must have gotten on Sims about his lethargic home run call on Sunday (Cruz) because most anything near the warning track tonight is getting him overly excited.

  20. Grayfox3d on May 2nd, 2017 11:33 pm

    at least they tried.

  21. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 11:36 pm

    Good grief.

  22. msfanmike on May 2nd, 2017 11:38 pm

    Great stolen base by Pujols. His max speed can’t be much more than 12 mph – and he steals third. Hahahahha

    Poor Pazos threw about 100 warmup pitches in the pen tonight (he got loose at least 3 times). He’s probably worn out.

  23. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 11:49 pm

    Yeah, Trout seemingly got a big kick out of Pujol’s steal.

  24. Westside guy on May 2nd, 2017 11:51 pm

    … And that’s the ballgame.

  25. WTF_Ms on May 2nd, 2017 11:52 pm

    Well, that was a disaster. Maybe salvage the next two? Doubtful, given our starting staff.

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