Game 41, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · May 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Christian Bergman vs. Jesse Hahn, 7:10pm

With the M’s bullpen still in free-fall, we’re perilously close to calling an end to the M’s playoff chances in 2017. They’re not far below .500, and hey, look, the Cubs are struggling, but the M’s chances were always based on a number of things going right, and not enough of those things show signs of happening. As I mentioned yesterday, that’s not to say it’s been a total bust; this season’s been awesome for you if you’re in the physical therapy business, of course.

The growth/development of the M’s newcomers may be the most important thing to come out of 2017, and that’s why it’s important that the M’s really see where they are in July. As I’ve mentioned, the M’s don’t have much to sell, but if they really saw the situation as bleak, I wonder if they’d take calls on Jean Segura? Segura’s proven that his 2016 wasn’t a fluke, and wouldn’t be a rental – he’s signed through 2018. The problem is, the likely buyers at the deadline don’t need shortstops. The Venn diagram of the best clubs in baseball and teams with awesome young shortstops is essentially a circle. The M’s/Reds have a great SS, but aren’t competing, while the surprising Brewers and D-Backs are competing despite poor SS production.* There’s also too much supply, as former M’s target Zack Cozart is finally hitting on a go-nowhere Reds club. As such, there’s no compelling reason to move Jean, and thus the M’s need to think about how to carve out some money to extend him this off-season. That’s going to be tough, given the clear need for more pitching depth, but hopefully the M’s can get it done. A core of Segura and Haniger isn’t ideal, but it’s a very good start.

Jeff Sullivan had a good article about the dearth of high fastballs in a league that’s seen batters change their approach to hit *low* fastballs in recent years. Over time, the percentage of all pitches that are high fastballs has dropped, and the percentage of *fastballs* that are thrown up in the zone has also dipped, although it’s ticked upwards a bit over the last year plus. This year, the Twins and Red Sox are throwing a lot more high fastballs, but the real story – it jumps off the page in Jeff’s graphs – is the Astros all but abandoning the pitch, and locking in on the bottom of the zone. That’s a big reason why Dallas Keuchel’s GB% – which was already very high – has risen by over 10 percentage points this year. As I mentioned the other day, one factor that might be keeping the league GB% steady even as hitters like Ben Gamel, Francisco Lindor and Yonder Alonso hit far more fly balls, is this monomania for low pitches.

That’s all a fairly long prologue for this somewhat mundane observation: Christian Bergman turned himself into a ground ball pitcher. As a guy with well below average velocity and pitching in Colorado, being a fly-ball pitcher would seem to complete the trifecta of woe, and indeed, Bergman struggled there. But immediately after latching on with Tacoma, he started producing ground ball rates unlike any he’d shown in the high minors or in Colorado. He’s maintained them thus far in Seattle, as he’s essentially been the anti-Gamel. Bergman’s average launch angle has dropped by over 10 degrees from 2015-16, and his GB% has skyrocketed by about 16 percentage points. Remember, Gamel *increased* his launch angle by 10 degrees, cutting his GB% by around 18 percentage points.

Part of the reason is, yes, that he’s throwing more low fastballs. He threw 16-19% of his fastballs (four-seam, cutter, sinker, whatever) in the upper third of the zone and above in Colorado. In his brief time with Seattle, that figure’s dropped to 8%. That’s significant, I guess, but it’s not like Bergman’s pitching like Keuchel now; he’s not filling the bottom of the zone with fastballs. He’s thrown a few more low pitches, but his zone profile doesn’t look that different.

The same’s true of his pitch movement. He’s always had lower vertical “rise” on his four-seam, cutter, and sinker, and he still does. He HAS made a slight tweak to his release point, dropping it down a bit and lowering his vertical movement and increasing his armside run. That alone should increase his GB%, but we’re talking about fractional/marginal changes. Maybe this is all a fluke, and he’ll settle in with GB rates in the low 40s again, but that wouldn’t explain his very high AAA GB%. Maybe the big change has something to do with Colorado’s thinner air, but that hasn’t stopped the now-Bergman-less Rockies from posting baseball’s highest GB%. The takeaway here once again is just how mutable players are. One of sabermetrics important insights has been that some statistics are less volatile than others, and that a player’s results may differ quite a bit from his “true talent” this or that. It started with velocity, where pitchers just started picking up 3 MPH right when received wisdom would predict a decline. You had hitters whose batted ball profile seemed very, very steady suddenly turn themselves into completely different guys. And while different pitches or arm slot changes can transform a pitcher, some guys seem to milk fairly radical changes to some pretty key, fundamental attributes – things I might’ve assumed were more innate a few years ago.

I don’t know if Bergman can keep this up, and worse, I don’t know that it’ll matter. At some point, if you throw a lot of 84-85 MPH cutters, you run the risk of blending in with a Jered Weaver or 2017 Hisashi Iwakuma. Those two had interesting secondaries and lots of experience, too. Still, running a very high GB% might be a way to make it as an underpowered righty in a homer-happy league.

I should point out that after a somewhat slow start, Safeco hit the league average for total HRs per game at 2.39. Back to back nights of 4 and then 5 HRs will do that for a park. Safeco may still be something of a pitcher’s park, but its days as a HR-suppressing park really do appear to be over.

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

Tacoma was rained out in Omaha yesterday, so they’re playing two today. Kyle Hunter pitched the R’s to a Game 1 win with 5 IP of 1 run ball, and Dan Vogelbach, Dario Pizzano and Leonys Martin homered in a 7-2 win. Chris Heston starts the nightcap.

Arkansas lost to NW Arkansas 7-6, as Max Povse got knocked out after 2 innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 runs. New/returning pitcher Justin DeFratus gave up 4 runs in 5 2/3 of long relief. NW Arkansas is now 6-0 against plain ol’ Arkansas. Dylan Unsworth tries to change that tonight.

Lancaster jumped all over Modesto starter Nathan Bannister, scoring 9 runs in 5 1/3 off of him in their 9-5 win. Chris Mariscal had 2 hits and 2 walks, and Braden Bishop and Jordan Cowan each doubled and walked. No word on tonight’s starter.

Clinton, as mentioned yesterday, won 15-3 against Wisconsin. They’re back at it tonight, with Ljay Newome matching up with Thomas Jankins of the Timber Rattlers.

* The Orioles have received nothing from the SS position, but they wouldn’t trade much for a SS, as they employ Manny Machado, whom they can move to the position and instantly have one of the best SS – maybe THE best – in the game.


23 Responses to “Game 41, Athletics at Mariners”

  1. Grayfox3d on May 17th, 2017 7:24 pm

    It can’t get any worse than last nights game can it? Guess we will have to wait and see what tonight’s game holds in store.

  2. mrakbaseball on May 17th, 2017 7:38 pm

    Since Safeco is no longer a home run suppressing environment, I wonder how different history would be if it had opened with the 2013-present dimensions originally?

  3. mrakbaseball on May 17th, 2017 7:49 pm

    It would be nice one of these years for Seager not to take a quarter of the season to get his bat going.

  4. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 7:51 pm

    I was surprised to see Marc’s comment about moving Segura. Moving Dyson, Valencia, and Cishek would make sense if they’re all playing decent and the M’s are out of it, as they have expiring contracts. But it would seem far more likely that they’re stuck with this core and would take another shot in 2018, in which they would need Segura as much as they would need a healthy pitching staff.

    I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Segura was extended.

  5. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 7:55 pm

    How about Bergman so far? Not bad work at all through 3.

  6. Westside guy on May 17th, 2017 8:04 pm

    One would hope that, with all of the pitchers that’ve taken the drive from Tacoma to Seattle this year, at least one of them would end up making the most of their opportunity.

    Maybe Bergman will be that guy?

  7. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 8:07 pm

    Weber with a “stretch of the musculocutaneous nerve”.

    Doesn’t sound like 10 days off will cut it.

  8. Westside guy on May 17th, 2017 8:21 pm

    Sounds like something that might require euthanasia, Steve.

  9. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 8:28 pm

    Euthanasia, yikes!

    I was simply thinking of amputation.

  10. Jake on May 17th, 2017 8:30 pm

    Tuffy did something with the bat that was beneficial!

    He’s still the drizzling shits.

  11. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 8:33 pm

    There we go!

  12. Westside guy on May 17th, 2017 8:36 pm

    Okay, Nelly, let’s drive a couple in.

  13. Westside guy on May 17th, 2017 8:37 pm

    Well, we got one… but weak grounders aren’t what I want to see from Nelson Cruz.

  14. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 8:53 pm

    Great to see some innings from a starter. Really needed this.

  15. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 9:00 pm

    Would never have guessed when the season started that within 6 weeks, we would see an outfield of Powell, Heredia, and Gamel.

  16. Jake on May 17th, 2017 9:03 pm

    He’s still the drizzling shits. 1-21 with 12 strikeouts. Why not bring up Baron? He’s still on the 40 man; this is ridiculous.

  17. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2017 9:07 pm

    Baron isn’t on the 40, he’s a shitty defender and has shitty pitch recognition (or no discipline).

    I’m sure Jerry’s scanning waivers and making calls, though.

  18. Westside guy on May 17th, 2017 9:50 pm

    Woo hoo!

  19. Notfromboise on May 17th, 2017 9:55 pm

    I don’t know if the he’ll even keep it up, but it’s refreshing as heck to have a kid on the roster who even has the potential to pitch into an 8th inning.

    I agree with stevemotavatier, we’ve had some pretty WTF lineups.

    And yeah, the fact that every catcher we’ve had has been the drizzles is quite troubling… Thats over multiple administrations, too. Can Don Slaught be talked out of retirement? Hitting .270 shouldnt be the impossible dream.

  20. Jake on May 17th, 2017 9:58 pm

    Don Slaught, I remember his 1990, or 1991, Upper Deck card, I think Jose Lind was jumping over Slaught as he was standing up.

  21. Notfromboise on May 17th, 2017 10:28 pm

    On another note, it’s really weird to drop Diaz from the closer role when there isn’t some other pitcher thats been pitching better to step into the role.

    If I’m thinking im part of the mariners organization 5 years from now, I really would rather give Diaz a chance to be a long term asset then hoping for a temp fix from a bullpen by committee.

    Just saying this feels far more like a change made at the skipper’s level than the front office move of choice.

  22. mariner_funk on May 18th, 2017 7:06 am

    Supposedly our catcher depth allowed us to get rid of Sucre for PTBNL or cash considerations. What exactly was that depth. We got tuffy because he had options left and sucre didn’t. Now sucre is doing a fine job as a back up catcher at 29, zunio is still learning at 26 and our “has been” ruiz, is terrible and our “never was” goseshitz is just effing horrible. I would rather have zunino flail at balls outside and down at .191 and be a pretty decent backstop game caller and pitch framer, then the black holes that ruiz and tuffy bring.

  23. LongDistance on May 18th, 2017 11:23 am

    Not to be argumentative or anything, but Zunino’s flailing around was one thing in 2016 … but in 2017 he can’t get away with it.

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