Game 73, Tigers at Maruninos

marc w · June 20, 2017 at 5:58 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Ariel Miranda vs. Jordan Zimmermann, 7:10pm

Last night’s win was keyed, of course, by the two big HRs hit by Mike Zunino, baseball’s RBI leader in the month of June, and, for the second time, seemingly resurrected after a demotion to Tacoma. Zunino’s resurgence remakes this line-up. When the bottom of the line-up is a walking, talking 1-2-3 inning, the team is wholly dependent on its core. When Jarrod Dyson and Zunino are hitting, the opposing team doesn’t get a breather, and that not only helps the M’s run total directly, it has a knock-on effect on the 3-4-5 hitters, too. Thus, answering the question, “Is Zunino fixed?” is a pretty important one.

The short answer is that it’s way too soon to tell. Last year, Zunino came up from Tacoma because the team was desperate, particularly on the heels of the historically awful performance of M’s catchers in 2015. For his first 91 plate appearances (carefully chosen endpoint alert!), Zunino batted .280/.396/.707. The rest of the year, over 101 plate appearances, he collapsed to a .146/.248/.270 line. This has continually been the issue with Zunino. We have a view of him as a high-K, high-HR hitter, and over his career, that’s probably true. That overall average masks the fact that he’s extremely streaky, and subject to long periods without power at all. That is, the Zunino of 2016 (and 2017!) comprises a long stretch of high-K, low-power awfulness, and some high-K, high-power awesomeness. The key is to get more of the latter and less of the former, particularly as his minor league options run out and he can go re-charge and get right in AAA.

It’s interesting, because the one thing Zunino is *extremely* consistent on…well, yes, ok, good point, he’s consistently a risk to strike out. But over many years, he’s had a very consistent batted ball profile, borne of a consistently high launch angle. Mike Zunino is not, and has never been a ground ball hitter. Even in his powerless stretches, he’s hitting the ball in the air. His average launch angle when he was awful in 2016: 21.9 degrees. In his superhuman stretch in the middle of 2016? 21.7 degrees. Early 2017? 19.3 degrees. Recently? 18.7. In every period, he’s amongst the leaders in baseball in this metric, and while they’ve gone down slightly, I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is how those angles are distributed.
Here’s Zunino early in 2017:
Zunino through may 22

There are some batted balls at that great 30 degree angle, but also a bunch above 60 degrees (pop-ups), and a few at 0 (grounders). Overall, it averages out to 19 degrees.

Here’s Zunino more recently this year:
Mike Zunino since May 22

Now, the batted balls are more tightly grouped from about 10 to 30 degrees. There are still some pop-flies, and a few grounders, but the grouping is much tighter, and it’s bunched around the angles that are conducive to batting average and slugging. Mike Zunino may be slightly lucky during this hot streak, but he’s doing all he can and hitting a lot of dangerous balls in play. In the previous stint, he was probably UNlucky, but even if he got all the expected hits you’d get from a batted ball profile like that, he’d still have been an awful hitter. When Zunino’s on, he’s tracking the ball and putting consistent swings on it, leading to consistently good launch angles and exit velocity (that’s the great thing about consistent contact – it naturally increases exit velocity. The obvious flip-side: pop flies reduce exit velocity). When he’s not, he’s swatting at the ball and producing a lot of mis-hits. The focus for Edgar from here through 2017 MUST be to isolate what he’s doing and how to replicate this. Zunino and Edgar need to know what it looks like when he loses this consistency, and how to get it back. Given the massive swings in production and even expected production based on angle/exit velo, it’s remarkable how minor many of these changes are. That’s nice, I guess, but as we’ve seen, it’s easy to slip back into old habits, and given their subtlety, it’s harder to spot when he does.

Jordan Zimmermann’s having a rough year. We had some fun at Anibal Sanchez’s expense, but Zimmermann’s been the biggest culprit in the Tigers’ rotation’s struggles. He’s allowed 17 HRs thus far (tied with Clayton Kershaw, oddly), which has pushed his FIP up to 5.77 and his WAR down to 0. This isn’t what you want from a pitcher in year 2 of a 5-year, $110 million contract. His velocity dropped ominously in 2016, but it appears to be back, more or less. He still averages 93+ on his fastball, and while he’s dropped his release point, he’s getting more vertical movement. The problem is that his strikeouts have dropped dramatically since his days in the NL with the Nationals. A specific concern has to do with his fastball: batters slugged .465 off of his four-seamer in 2015, and then .604 in 2016, rising to .746 this year.

My initial thought was that he’d bought into the Tigers approach of pitching up in the zone. This was what gave Justin Verlander’s career a second lease on life, and it would make sense for Zimmermann, as he was someone who threw in the top of the zone pretty frequently in the NL: about 44% of his pitches in 2015 were in the upper third of the zone or above. That’s fallen to under 25% this season. That’s odd, as those high pitches aren’t the ones batters are crushing. He does well in the bottom of the zone, but that’s entirely due to his (still good) slider. Low *fastballs* are getting crushed to the tune of a .678 wOBA (“low” defined here as below 2.25 feet, or about the middle of the zone and below). Fastballs HIGHER than the middle of the zone are still hit hard, but a .436 wOBA, while still pretty bad, is a far sight better than .678.

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

Hisashi Iwakuma’s rehab start in Cheney did not go well. He gave up 4 runs in 2 IP, walking 2 and striking out 3, and he gave up a solo HR. As Mike Curto notes, though, some portion of it was due to bad luck in the big 2nd inning in which Salt Lake scored 3 runs. Chase De Jong starts for Tacoma tonight against Dustin Ackley and the Bees.

The damn Naturals from NW Arkansas, always messing things up. Arkansas took a 2-0 lead into the 7th and final inning last night, with Dylan Unsworth pitching a gem. He faltered in that inning, and he and a reliever ultimately coughed up 3 runs, losing the game 3-2. In the 2nd game of the doubleheader, the Naturals jumped ahead early, holding on for another 3-2 win.

Modesto and Clinton were off, as the all-star festivities in their respective leagues kicked off. Both leagues had HR derbies, which are way, way faster than the big league versions, but the story of the game was that players in Visalia for the Cal League game participated in some livestock-related challenges. The planned pig race had to be cancelled, as pigs apparently faint in the 107 degree heat of Visalia, so they replaced it with a chicken race. Modesto’s Reggie McClain, a huge reason why the Nuts won the first half title, took home the coveted title of champion chicken chaser. And they say the minors aren’t very glamorous. Congrats, Reggie.

Everett got blitzed by the Hillsboro Hops, 9-2. 2B Joe Rosa and OF Greifer Andrade are off to good starts, while CF Brayan Hernandez is still getting his timing right.


9 Responses to “Game 73, Tigers at Maruninos”

  1. stevemotivateir on June 20th, 2017 7:36 pm

    Miranda can stop giving up dingers now.

  2. stevemotivateir on June 20th, 2017 7:55 pm

    There should be a limit on how many times McCann can appeal strikes. Reminiscent of Posada.

    Good to see Motter can still turn on that inside pitch on the rare occasion he sees one.

  3. stevemotivateir on June 20th, 2017 8:01 pm

    By the way, great write-up on Zunino, Marc. Much appreciated, as always.

  4. stevemotivateir on June 20th, 2017 8:17 pm

    Bullshit call on Haniger.

  5. Westside guy on June 20th, 2017 8:57 pm

    Wow, Michael Saunders got DFAed today. He’s seen quite a drop off from the first half of last season.

  6. Westside guy on June 20th, 2017 9:29 pm


  7. Westside guy on June 20th, 2017 10:17 pm

    Nice at bat, Mikey…

  8. Westside guy on June 20th, 2017 10:18 pm

    I am rapidly falling out of love with Taylor Motter. Hurry back, Jean Segura!!

  9. Notfromboise on June 21st, 2017 6:49 am

    Motters role is to take the sting out of losing Segura.. The fact that it took this long to truly miss him is a testament to Motter’s future as a solid utility guy.

    Love seeing more Zunino discussion. I was at work watching on the big screen the other day, but i wanted to note that not only did Zunino launch 2 homers in the same game.. He launched a 400ft ball that was foul by about 15 feet to start the atbat he got beaned on in between the home runs.

    It’s fun to see. Lets get Iwakuma and Felix and Smyly and Segura back into the swing of things.

    Much love to Dyson and Haniger and co. in solidifying our outfield this year.

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