Game 107: Mariners at Rangers – Catching Up on the Deadline + Gratuitous Beltre Appreciation

July 31, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

King Felix vs. Cole Hamels, 5:05pm

Happy Felix Day! Take an extra well-deserved sigh of relief/pint of beer as baseball’s trade deadline has now passed, too. The M’s, to no one’s surprise, did not land Sonny Gray. Instead, the erstwhile Athletics ace will head to the Bronx in exchange for three highly regarded but red-flag-laden prospects. The Rangers just traded Yu Darvish today, and sent C Jonathan Lucroy and RP Jeremy Jeffress out for prospects last night, as they are clearly playing for the future and not 2017. Both the Yankees and Red Sox ended up getting pitching help, which is relevant to the M’s, who’ll have to pass whichever of the two doesn’t win the AL East, and the Astros got creative in patching an emergent black hole in their bullpen by adding Francisco Liriano. Still, the story of this series for many M’s fans isn’t Texas’ role as spoiler, but rather celebrating Rangers 3B Adrian Beltre, who notched his 3,000th MLB hit yesterday, becoming the first Dominican-born player to do so.

Beltre’s tenure in Seattle was an odd one, as Safeco’s dimensions crippled his power production, but he became something of a fan favorite by being, well, himself. He was the perfect antithesis for Ichiro’s effortless cool. He was the animated, funny, almost goofy partner for Felix while Ichiro calmly made play after play and got hit after hit without displaying emotion of any kind. Both Beltre and Ichiro attracted the irrational kind of hate from fans who are frustrated at a team’s lack of progress and aim their brickbats on players who are playing well, as opposed to those who aren’t. At the same time, Beltre was always set up to fail, as he was one of the biggest free agent signings in M’s history (given his age, you can make the case it was a bigger ‘get’ than Robinson Cano) for a franchise that had no idea how to build a winning team. That wasn’t Beltre’s fault, of course, but when he put up a .303 OBP in his first year, many blamed him anyway. Beltre was, by far, the best defensive third baseman the M’s have ever had, which is no slight to the Gold glove winning Kyle Seager. He’s clearly one of the top defensive 3Bs of his generation, and he overlapped with some all-timers, including Scott Rolen. Given the value of his defense, he’s tailor-made to be underappreciated (again with the Ichiro parallels), and that’s what he’s been. The 3,000 hit plateau isn’t intrinsically magical; it doesn’t make him a hall of famer (in my book, he was an inner-circle guy already), but it’s a tidy bow on a remarkable career, and one that’s remarkably back-loaded in terms of performance. When he left Seattle, he seemed destined to be a Kenny Lofton player – a true great who gets very little recognition for it, or worse, a guy who’s unfairly categorized as a one-season wonder. Instead, he went out and built an unassailable hall of fame resume. I don’t like the Rangers, but I’ll be cheering for Adrian Beltre today. And most days, if I’m honest.

The M’s made a series of personnel moves while I was gallivanting around Mt. Rainier yesterday. After taking a Jacob DeGrom fastball to the face, Mitch Haniger returns to the DL, and, as you saw yesterday, has been replaced by Leonys Martin. To get Martin a 40-man spot again, the M’s DFA’d their 2013 first round pick and one-time top prospect, DJ Peterson. Peterson’s production tailed off upon promotion to AA back in 2014, and then utterly collapsed in 2015, a year that’s looking more and more important in M’s history. Despite taking the highest-floor bat at worst and best college bat, period at best in 2013 and then the consensus best high-school bat in 2014, the M’s watched them flail miserably in 2014 and could never really figure out why, or help them out of it. The fact that Alex Jackson immediately started hitting this year for the Braves system may just be a coincidence, but while Peterson’s earned this DFA with 2.5 years of marginal play (with the possible exception of early 2016 in Jackson), I won’t be shocked at all if he starts hitting again somewhere else. Do you blame the Zduriencik era PD group who supervised a collective faceplant by the M’s top prospects? Is it the new regime, who saw some improvements but weren’t able to overhaul Peterson/Jackson last year? What then to make of Tyler O’Neill, who developed nicely under both groups? How much blame to the players themselves need to shoulder here?

However you apportion the blame out, that 2015 season seems pretty pivotal in hindsight. Peterson’s flameout meant that the M’s didn’t have high-minors depth to turn to in their playoff run in 2016, and the lack of development from Jackson and Luiz Gohara meant that their value in trade wasn’t all that high; they’d be moved in the offseason instead. Daniel Missaki got hurt, then shipped to Milwaukee in a deal for Adam Lind that presumably neither fanbase looks back on fondly. Austin Wilson didn’t hit. Ryan Yarbrough took a step back, Gabby Guerrero was so-so and then traded, and all of this was preceded in March by the death of Victor Sanchez.

The M’s DFA’d SS Tyler Smith, who’s been picked up by Texas, and they’ve recalled RP Casey Lawrence from Tacoma. To presumably add depth in the Rainiers’ pen, the M’s have also picked up ex-UW player and Everett native Aaron West. West had been with Fresno in the Houston system before being released a few weeks ago. This may shock you, but he’s a command/control righty who’s put up absurdly low walk rates in the minors working out of the bullpen. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who’s managed the rare feat of keeping the ball in the park, too, so his fangraphs page scratches many/most of Jerry Dipoto’s personal itches. And like many such pitchers, a lack of an outpitch has made him somewhat hittable in the PCL, as he’s yielded 72 hits in 43 2/3 IP. Again, the problem for the M’s is that their competitors have all made sizable upgrades, as New York now has Sonny Gray, and the Red Sox improved their bullpen by picking up Addison Reed from the Mets. The Astros and Indians got bullpen help too, making them a bit more formidable for whoever manages to win the Wild Card game. As good as they are, and as well as they’ve played against Boston/New York (thank you Big Maple!), the M’s are still stuck right around .500. A few weeks ago, that was enough, but since then, the Royals essentially haven’t lost, the Yankees won so much they took over the AL East lead, and even the Rays made some pretty big additions. The M’s are a talented, exciting team, who now need to string some wins together. The August schedule has them on the road nearly the entire month. That unfortunate, but it can’t be an excuse. The M’s need to go on a run, particularly as they’ll face their big wild card rivals in Kansas City and Tampa this month.

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

With Peterson’s DFA, LookoutLanding’s Ben Thoen noted:

Batting line of the night in the system goes to Everett 1B Onil Pena who hit his 6th homer and went 2 for 3 with 2 walks in a loss to Spokane. Gareth Morgan also homered and went 2-3. Slim pickings for pitching lines, but we’ll go with Oliver Jaskie of Everett, who really needed a good outing, and put up 3 hitless innings with 5 Ks.

Today’s match-ups are headlined by the Rainiers in Oklahoma City, where ex-Dodgers prospect Chase de Jong faces off with Dodgers current #1 pitching prospect Walker Beuhler, who’ll be making his 3rd AAA start. Beuhler and de Jong never played together in the Dodgers system, as both moved up fairly quickly, and Beuhler’s a 2015 draft pick.

Loved this quote from Jerry Dipoto in this Bob Dutton story regarding the Marco Gonzales trade:

“Clearly, we like Marco Gonzales better than the mainstream media,” Dipoto said, “but the mainstream media hasn’t been familiar with Marco Gonzales for a year-and-a-half. “You know what happens? Sometimes pitchers have Tommy John (surgery), and sometimes they come back and they’re good.”

Logan Davis’ tweet alerted me to the quote, and like him, I think the candor here is great, especially after the famously tight-lipped Zduriencik regime. But I’d point out that when you believe you have an information advantage, something few know, that should obviate the need for an overpay. The M’s and Cards have so-so farm systems, and the M’s sent their #2 prospect for the Cards’ #15-16, and the reasoning here seems to be that he’s better than people think after major arm surgery. He’s defending the deal, as he should, and he’s pointing to a specific reason Gonzales may be undervalued right now by the like of, well, me, and that’s great! I’m not entirely convinced, but this is way more detail and specificity than I’m used to getting from quotes like this. Kudos to Dipoto, and also to Dutton.

Game 104, Mets at Mariners: M’s Pitchers and the Limits of Low BABIP

July 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Rafael Montero, 7:10pm

The M’s start a rare series against the Mets today, and we’ve got an interesting match-up between two pitchers who flew way under the radar before making it to the majors. Miranda signed a minor league deal with Baltimore when he was 25. Despite his close-to-the-majors status, he was passed over in Orioles prospect lists, which took some doing. Pitchers ranked ahead of him by BP included such luminaries as David Hess and Gray Fenter. Rafael Montero signed with the Mets in 2011 as a teenager in the Dominican; so far, so normal, but Montero didn’t sign until he was past 19. In a place where elite talent is working out deals at 15 before officially signing them at 16, a guy getting all the way to 19 is not a sign of a future major leaguer.

Montero immediately garnered attention for some absurdly low walk rates; his walks-per-9 started with a 1 in most of his years in the minors, but he wasn’t *just* about avoiding walks. He was an above-average strikeout pitcher as well. He was never going to be a Noah Syndergaard, but he wasn’t Yusmeiro Petit, either (to sabermetric fans of a certain age, the scouting/stats wars surrounding Petit will be very familiar). Montero throws 93-94, occasionally 95. He’s got a pretty good change-up and a slider as well. So if he’s a starter with above average velo and brilliant control, why wasn’t he a big prospect? It’s the same question I have about Miranda. Sure, neither of them are incredible, but they seem like the kind of pitchers that scouts usually like. To be fair, BA had Montero as the #3 Mets prospect once, but dropped him to 8th the next year (and he dropped out of BP’s top 10 altogether). A big part of it is that, despite control of a varied arsenal, neither guy had a standout weapon, a vaunted putaway pitch.

I’d argue Montero’s change-up is pretty close, as is Miranda’s split-change. Both pitches are difficult to square up and allow them to post decent strikeout numbers while keeping opposite-handed batters off balance. Despite their velocity, neither guy’s fastball is all that special, and in fact, it’s their fastballs that give rise to their shared HR problem. Miranda in particular seems to want to induce elevated contact – something that the M’s have prized this year. It’s working; like a Cuban Andrew Moore, Miranda’s GB% is in the low 30s, and that’s helped keep his BABIP in absurdly-low territory. That’s great! But when you give up as many HRs as he does, that kind of caps how far you can go with that BABIP.

Miranda is, in that sense, a microcosm of the M’s pitching staff. As I mentioned way back in April, the M’s clear plan was to get a bunch of pitchers who wouldn’t walk many and who’d give up fly balls. The trade for Jarrod Dyson was critical to this; by getting fly ball pitchers and assembling an all-world defensive outfield, they’d run really low BABIPs and allow their staff to out-pitch what even the M’s assumed would be a fair-to-middling FIP. I think there’s a critical assumption underlying all of this: that Safeco would help keep fly balls in play for Dyson to run under. Unlike that post in April, I have to say that every element of their plan has worked, and worked beautifully. The only problem is that assumption the whole thing rested on.

Since April, the M’s team defense has been on a rapid rise, and their outfield defense in particular has been better than advertised. Back when the M’s acquired Dyson, I worried that there might not be enough chances for a great OF to convert into outs; given that most fly balls are routine, it’s really only the marginal ones that can add or subtract from average. Unless the M’s really amped up the number of chances, they’d have a great OF without opportunities to demonstrate their skill. Well, I was wrong. The M’s lead baseball – comfortably – in the number of balls their OF has had to field. They’re neck and neck with Boston in UZR, and DRS. By defensive efficiency and BABIP-allowed they rank #1, too. The key is that they lead baseball in fly ball percentage. Sure, losing Felix and Iwakuma helped the M’s push up the rankings there, though of course if Drew Smyly’d been healthy, then maybe they would’ve been even higher. This has been the plan, and it helps make sense of some of the minor trades and free agent pick-ups we’ve seen from Dipoto and crew.

So with the best BABIP in the game, the M’s are probably giving up far fewer runs than their FIP, right? Right! But they’re still giving up waaaaay too many runs. The M’s HR/9 is 1.50, third-worst in the game, and the primary driver of a FIP that’s inching close to replacement level. They allow nearly 4.8 runs per game, and that’s simply hard to do when you have a defense playing at this level. The M’s had an elite defensive efficiency not that long ago. It was 2014, and a great outfield anchored by…uh, Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson? pushed the M’s to a .275 team BABIP. Their pitching staff put up a FIP of 3.61, but the defense pushed their ERA down to 3.17 (this is another reminder of just how much the game has changed in a few years thanks to the HR revolution).* The M’s were merely average in preventing HRs, but their defense and a strong bullpen made them elite run-preventers. The M’s have gotten worse at controlling the zone (K-BB%) thanks to age and injuries to some of their best pitchers, but it’s actually *hard* to find teams with BABIPs this low who struggled like this. The examples I can find are way back in the height of the steroid era – the 2002 White Sox, the 2003 Devil Rays.

The M’s may have banked on HRs regressing after surging in 2016, but after rising in mid-2015, the league-wide HR/FB just keeps going up. Unless some change to the ball or bats occurs, I’m not sure it’ll just go down on its own. And if it doesn’t, the M’s may need to rethink this fly-ball-centric strategy. The M’s OF defense has been a treat to watch, but baseball in 2017 is all about the HR.

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

Tacoma and Colorado Springs played a classic at-altitude game last night, with the SkySox winning 16-9. This is the Rainiers final trip to Colorado Springs, as the franchise is leaving the PCL after 2018. Tulsa put a beating on the Arkansas Travellers and recently-promoted pitcher Nick Neidert. Neidert allowed 3 HRs in 4 IP with 7 runs allowed; he’s now made 2 starts in AA, covering 9 1/3 IP. In that time, he’s yielded 14 hits, and 9 earned runs. Whatever weird mojo that allowed Anthony Misiewicz to improve his High-A numbers has not alighted upon Mr. Neidert.

Starters in the minors today include Dylan Unsworth, Reggie McClain and Andres Torres.

* That 2014 team had Chris Young, who posted a BABIP of .238 that year. He was signed by the Royals the next year and Dyson and Co. helped him drop that to .209. It’s funny; pretty much every team Young pitched for (when healthy) posted very low BABIPs. Young’s pretty much the only guy who was able to allow a ton of fly balls and not pay too high a price for it…up until these past two years.

M’s Swap Steve Cishek for Erasmo Ramirez

July 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

When the M’s acquired David Phelps from Miami, I thought it seemed like an odd move: the M’s clear need is in the rotation, not in right-handed set-up men. With Phelps’ starting experience, I thought they could change his role and address the issue, but Jerry Dipoto went another route: Phelps arrival meant that the glut of RHRPs could be used to acquire SP help. And that’s just what he’s done – by sending Cishek to Tampa, he’s allowed the M’s to reunite with SP/RP Erasmo Ramirez, who the M’s traded for Mike Montgomery right at the end of spring training in 2015. Another command/control righty without plus stuff? Well, yes, fair point, but this seems like a great move for both teams.

Since that trade in March of 2015, Erasmo’s worked mostly out of the pen as a newfangled kind of long reliever, somewhat similar to the role that Emilio Pagan’s now playing in Seattle. He’s also made 36 starts for the Rays, and that’s the role the M’s will likely use him. He’s made some adjustments since last we saw him in an M’s uniform: he picked up a cutter last year, and is now throwing it over 25% of the time. It’s an arrow-straight pitch that results in elevated contact, and he essentially uses it as his fastball to lefties, pairing it with his best pitch, the change-up many M’s fans remember from his debut back in 2012. That change has, er, changed as well. When he came up, it was about 11-12 MPH slower than his fastball. It’s now much firmer, at 84 MPH, it’s 3 MPH faster than it was in 2012, and as his fastball velocity’s dropped, the gap between them is down to about 7-8 MPH. The slider and curveball that were so ineffective for him in Seattle have been re-worked, with the curve all but gone from his arsenal, and the slider a very occasional pitch he’ll use to righties to steal a strike.

He was never a really high strikeout guy, and he’s not now. His ground ball rate shot up in Tampa due to a much heavier reliance on his solid sinker. That said, HR problems – one of the reasons Seattle gave up on him – is still a part of his game. That’s one of the reasons his FIP’s been pretty high these past two years, and while Erasmo’s ERA came in much lower in 2016, it hasn’t this year. That’s why he’s available, of course, and it’s why his rest-of-season projections aren’t all that great. Still, there’s upside in there, particularly if his strand rate regresses anywhere close to his career averages, and Erasmo is a far sight better than the M’s current 4th-5th starters. And all it cost them in trade was a righty set-up guy made superfluous by Phelps.

I’ve been one of Erasmo’s biggest fans since scouting his stat line in the old Venezuelan summer league, and was pretty frustrated with the M’s inability to help him out of his struggles in 2014-15, frustrations evidently shared by ex-M’s staffer Tony Blengino. I understood and even liked the trade to Tampa, as Erasmo was clearly never going to get either a) better or b) a real shot under the previous regime. I’m glad he’s developed elsewhere and can help the M’s now. Even as irrationally fond of him as I am, I understand this could fail to do much of anything for the M’s playoff chances. Erasmo’s HR struggles aren’t likely to be improved by Safeco Field, and Erasmo’s developed some odd platoon splits over the past couple of years, as lefties have learned to batter his fastball. He’s been awful in the rotation this year for Tampa, as well. Still, while I’ve had my issues with the last few trades, this one is a no-brainer, and a solid move by the front office.

They help cover their biggest weakness, while Tampa gets a righty reliever better than Sergio Romo. The emergence of Jacob Faria meant Erasmo really had no chance to start anymore, and they’re looking for more traditional set-up guys as they make their own playoff push. Steve Cishek’s death-to-righties arsenal is perfect for a team in their position. As a command/control righty, you have to assume Dipoto’s been longing to get Erasmo back for a while. He’s much further along than Marco Gonzales, but the same issues with development are still relevant: the M’s need to make some tweaks to get the most out of him, and that’s a bit of a concern. Can this team that couldn’t help, say, Christian Bergman/Chase de Jong help Erasmo now? We’ll see, but for now it’s nice to see the M’s upgrade their command/control depth so easily and so comprehensively.

More Thoughts Than You Need on That Trade

July 27, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 

Being of a somewhat ruminatory disposition without the requisite number of stomachs to make that useful, the trade of last Friday has remained stuck in my craw. I’d like to use a new, off-day post, then, to address some comments that came up in the original post, because visibility and all sorts of marketing buzzwords that belie the fact that I haven’t been paid to do this in years.

One comment that came up was that we have the appearance of an outfield that looks fairly set with young cost-controlled players, ergo, who would be displaced? Were we not trading from one position of strength into an area of dearth? I mentioned some of my misgivings with that type of analysis earlier, specifically that Gonzales (who again, I’m not here to trash) has no options remaining after this year and still has some endurance and breaking pitch repertoire questions which he would invariably have to answer in the major leagues on a competing team rather than in a lower-stress, controlled environment.

But to speak more specifically to the point of “where would we put O’Neill?”, this is the type of question that needs to be answered with an assessment of what we have. It goes without saying (but here I go saying anyway) that to assess the strength of one position area, the outfield, is going to present different roster construction issues than those that led us to trade away Jason Vargas and Doug Fister because we had a bunch of high-quality pitching prospects on the way of which only Paxton remains. However, one ought to be careful not to overvalue present configurations. For one thing, we need a center fielder. Dyson is effectively a rental, we may never see Leonys Martin again (we may though!), and Guillermo Heredia will likely remain a fun player but not exactly a starting CF on a contender. Both Gamel and Haniger can fit in CF and have done so in the past. It’s not perfect, but it does allow you to maneuver an O’Neill into a corner without much loss as he’s a pretty decent defender on his own there. If it doesn’t work right away, you still have three option years! Neat!

As a corollary to this point, we ought to be careful not to overvalue our major league assets simply because they’re in the majors. Haniger has had a small sample size of success where he remade his swing going into this year. I would argue that what we’ve seen of him slumping (hey, his OPS is still better than former RotY contender Andrew Benintendi) is probably brought about by the oblique issue he had more than any other physical deficiencies, but we should bear in mind that nailing down swing mechanics may only be slightly less difficult than nailing down pitching mechanics and once muscle memory gets involved, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Haniger will have to work hard when/if he puts the oblique issue behind him to get back on track again. To speak to Gamel, he’s been great so far. My mom even knows his name and uses it to try to talk to me about baseball and I don’t know that she’s been able to recognize anyone post-Ichiro. But Gamel also is running a .420 BABIP right now and there are risks involved. I could tell you about the troubles of expecting long-term positional security based off a sample size even of a year, but you should know this. After all, I am speaking to Mariners fans.

The tertiary point that I want to bring in was really the one that I came for, which is that if I’m setting myself as being against the “trade volatile upside for more modest, predictable returns,” then what exactly is the alternative that I’m proposing as a course of action. I do believe that constantly emphasizing something resembling safety is a quick way to get you a roster which will yield you regular season wins and a post-season whooping, but I really want to take a look at this in terms of the field of DiPoto’s transactions so far.

Not all trades are going to burn us. Sending Elias and Smith for Miley and Aro ended up being okay because we spun Miley off into Ariel Miranda and Smith has been hurt. Trading away two rookie league pitchers for Ben Gamel, whatever he is going forward, looks smart now. I still like the trade in the offseason with Arizona. It doesn’t immediately look like Chase de Jong for Drew Jackson and wild thing Aneruys Zabala is going to be the subject of lament. The results have sucked with Smyly, but the process made sense. However, when you give volume away and scatter your talent over a number of transactions, you’re going to get burned eventually.

Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta got us the frustration that was a season of Adam Lind. We turned Enyel de los Santos into Drew Storen after an intermediary period of Joaquin Benoit, and then decided we weren’t going to keep Storen. Zach Lee for Chris Taylor didn’t look bright even when Taylor was still only a competent defender who could control the zone. Chris Heston sort of turned into Tyler Herb and it’s debatable which would have been better to start. Alex Jackson and Tyler Pike turned into Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Jason Goldstein was flipped for Dillon Overton. And now, in a higher profile move, we have O’Neill for Gonzales. MLB trades are not Baseball Mogul or name-your-simulator where you can send off an amount of “stuff” that reaches a certain threshold and, bam, here’s your good player. However, you can look at other recent transactions like what the Royals did with the Padres a few days ago to get Cahill and more or even the Twins getting Jaime Garcia and wonder about the differences in return. Odds are, if we had kept certain talents for longer and developed them more, we would now be in a position to make a good trade that would damage our farm system but give us a more certain short-term contributor without emptying us out completely. If you’re committed to trading guys off to improve your team regardless, you may as well target good players as opposed to several different versions of something that you can hope patch the back end of the rotation.

To return to my earlier quip of last week’s post about sending good money after bad, it’s a lot of talent that we’ve sent away, mostly for potential back-end starters but also the occasional first base project and veteran relievers for added stability. Last night over twitter feeds, there came Ken Rosenthal’s rather dour prediction of a Sonny Gray trade to the Mariners that included another needle: ““I’ve never gotten it,” one rival executive says. “It feels like he has made 348 trades to turn a .500 team into a .500 team.”” Like most snappy and strongly-worded opinions built on hyperbole, it’s not accurate, but neither is it entirely false. It’s been a risk-averse approach that leaves us hoping to occasionally find a diamond and then sending more resources away when we fail to get that diamond. I can’t help but think that if we had just stood by our resources over the past several years rather than compulsively making transactions, we would have enough now to pick Gray and Alonso or your trade of choice without totally wrecking our future outlook. Instead, we may make a desperation move that will leave us without rebuilding materials once our window closes. That’s not the type of process that I find comforting.

Game 103, Red Sox at Mariners

July 26, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Andrew Moore vs. Chris Sale, 12:40pm

Last night’s extra-inning win was huge, as it allowed the M’s to keep pace with the Yankees and Rays, and ensured a big series win ahead of today’s game…which looks like it might be a tough one.

Chris Sale’s having his best year in the majors, and has established himself as the AL’s preeminent starting pitcher. After consciously trying to induce more contact last year as a way to get deeper into games, he’s implemented Boston’s get-whiffs-with-high-fastballs plan and it’s worked incredibly well for him. His K% – which was still plenty good last season – is up by over 10 percentage points, to 36.4%. That figure leads baseball, which means he’s outpacing Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer in strikeouts despite the fact that those two get to face pitchers a few times a game. Not only that, but Sale’s working on a career-low walk rate, at just 4.7% (yes, his K-BB% leads baseball as well). Escaping Chicago’s small-ish park has meant that his HRs rate is down, too.

But wait, wouldn’t a lefty pitching half his games at Fenway be MORE likely to give up HRs thanks to the short LF dimensions? It doesn’t look like it – Boston’s actually giving up the fewest HRs of any park in the AL this year. Yes, Sale/Price/Pomeranz have something to do with that, but it’s still pretty remarkable. That gives rise to the one bit of hope about today’s game: Sale’s worse on the road, and Safeco’s now a much more HR-friendly spot than Fenway. Sale’s dominating right-handers like never before – they’ve got an OBP of just .235 this year – thanks to a wholesale change in how he attacks them. When he came up, there was nothing special about where he threw his fastball – it had elite movement and all, so being intentional about where to put it may not have been a huge priority. Now, his fastball comes in up and away to righties, and then he buries breaking balls down and in.

I talked about Andrew Moore learning from Drew Pomeranz, but Sale’s another great lesson in the importance of *how* to use one’s fastball. Of course, he throws nothing like Sale, so he can’t straight-up emulate the guy. Still, having a (different) plan should really help, as the natural movement on his fastball is already pretty remarkable. Of all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 pitches this year, Moore’s vertical ‘rise’ ranks 4th in baseball. Fellow rookie Jacob Faria (of the Rays) is 3rd, and like Moore, throws in the low 90s. Faria’s K rate is double Moore’s, and he’s gotten great results in his first few MLB starts. The king of fastball “rise” – and a guy who’s fought serious HR problems at times – is Marco Estrada, who throws even slower than Moore. There are precedents here, and guys who’ve shown this overall skill set can work. But what Moore’s done in his first 5 starts hasn’t quite worked, and it’s time to make some changes.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, LF
3: Cruz, DH
4: Valencia, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, CF
7: Haniger, RF
8: Ruiz, C
9: Danny Espinosa, 2B
SP: Moore

Speaking of guys who need to make some changes, welcome to the line-up, Danny Espinosa. Shawn O’Malley’s rehabbing in AA at the moment, so we’ll see if Espinosa’s just keeping a seat warm, or if they’re intrigued enough by his power/defense profile to keep him around as an Edgar project.

A day after Anthony Misiewicz’s 8 shutout IP earned him the M’s MiLB pitching line of the day, Lindsey Caughel nearly matched it, tossing 7 shutout IP against NW Arkansas in a 5-0 win. Caughel’s peripherals were even better, actually, as he K’d 7 and walked 0, giving up just 3 hits. Batting line will go to Everett’s Eugene Helder. The Aruban 2nd baseman went 4-5 with a 2B and a 3B.

Game 102, Red Sox at Mariners

July 25, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

King Felix vs. Drew Pomeranz, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day! It’s always great to have a Felix Day after a dominating pitching performance like Paxton’s last night. He’s really putting that injury and mechanical hiccup from May/June behind him and reestablishing himself as one of the AL’s top starters. I also wanted to say hi to the relatively new “Maple Grove” cheering section, populated by a bunch of familiar faces to anyone in the M’s blogosphere/twittersphere. They featured prominently on the broadcast last night and then got a mention on ESPN, too. The team’s getting into it, and went so far as to give them an actual maple tree, and reporters asked Paxton about it after the game (he’s pro, unsurprisingly). They’ll be in section 182 for Paxton’s next start, which looks like it’s Sunday.

Rob Arthur of had a great article yesterday about pitchers adjusting to the HR surge by throwing more high fastballs. I’ve talked a bit about this as it related to Felix, and then a bit about Boston, Detroit and Minnesota trying to use this strategy to limit HRs. But while DET/MIN have failed, Boston’s been great. No team in baseball throws higher fastballs than the Red Sox, and the Red Sox have the 2nd-lowest ground ball rate behind Detroit. But while the Tigers/Twins/Mariners give up tons of HRs, Boston’s actually got a lower-than-average HR rate as a staff – they’re tied with the Yankees, and only surpassed by Cleveland and Kansas City among AL teams. It’s not that they’re generating a ton of pop-ups, either – the M’s are actually way better at that. Instead, they’re simply generating weak contact among all hit types – they have the highest average fastballs, the highest average pitches put in play, and the lowest wOBA on fastballs in baseball.

Now, some of this is a function of employing the likes of Chris Sale, David Price and others, but you can see the Sox strategy by looking at how it’s changed recent acquisitions. Drew Pomeranz, tonight’s starter, throws the highest average fastball of any starter besides Jake Odorizzi – it’s over 3′. Chris Sale’s a bit behind him at 2.85′. For reference, Felix’s average fastball is just
Last year, Sale’s average was 2.65, and Pomeranz was at 2.78 as a member of the A’s in 2015. The Sox take very good pitchers, make some tweaks to their approach, and let a very good defensive outfield do the rest. Rick Porcello, erstwhile ground ball pitcher, is the best example of the Sox new mania for high fastballs, but the whole team’s taken it to heart.

Pomeranz, a lefty, throws that super-high four-seamer at 92 MPH and a big breaking curve at 79-80. Pomeranz gets some rise on his fastball, as it looks like the Sox have him throwing a bit more upright, but the story’s the movement on his curve. He gets absurd vertical movement despite a below-average spin rate, meaning the spin he imparts is incredibly efficient – almost all of it goes towards movement, with very little gyro or bullet spin. This is somewhat reminiscent of Andrew Moore’s fastball, which, despite sub-par spin rates ranks among MLB’s best in terms of vertical movement. Pomeranz is probably a good guy for Moore to watch and maybe model himself after. While Moore’s average fastball’s pretty high – maybe the 90th percentile in the league – he may need to go higher. Right now, he’s around the plate so much that batters are hitting fastballs right in the zone. Even if it might mean risking more walks, I think Moore needs to use that vertical movement to throw pitches that look like they’ll drop into the zone only to stay a few inches higher. Moore’s curve is never going to break like Pomeranz’s, so I’m not quite sure what to do there, but a better fastball game plan may help everything else play up a bit.

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

Casey Lawrence, Lindsey Caughel, Spencer Herrman and Oliver Jaskie take the mound for M’s affiliates today. The pitching star of the system yesterday is an easy call: Anthony Misiewicz of Arkansas fired 8 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. Misiewicz was so-so in the Cal League, but has been great in AA in 5 starts. For position players, we’ll go with Joe Rizzo of Clinton, who had three hits, including a HR off of former #1 overall draft pick Brady Aiken.

In scarier news, M’s top prospect Kyle Lewis had to come out of Modesto’s game in the 4th with a knee problem. It’s not expected to be serious – more of a bruise – but everything knee-related is worrying with Lewis, who’s struggled to stay on the field this year following last year’s serious leg injury. Get well soon, Kyle!

The M’s Record in Pitcher Trades

July 25, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

I’ve seen/heard a lot of commentary about the M’s two trade deals last week, and much of it has been far more positive from the M’s point of view than my rather bleak assessment. One of the reasons is that I’m perhaps subconsciously discounting the eventual production of a guy like Marco Gonzales due to the M’s record when acquiring pitchers in trade. Is that fair? I obviously think so, but I’m open to counterarguments. This is one of the key bits of context for this or other trades that I didn’t spell out as well as I could’ve in the articles on the trades. So let’s fix that now!

Jerry Dipoto and company have made 27 separate trades (not waiver claims, not free agent deals) to acquire a grand total of 30 pitchers.* These range from blockbusters like the Tai Walker for Jean Segura/Mitch Haniger (it also included Zac Curtis, remember!) to the instantly forgettable, like acquiring Bryan Bonnell from the Rays for cash. Of these 30 pitchers, 21 have thrown at least one pitch for the Seattle Mariners. The sum total of their FIP-based WAR contributions to the M’s is less than 4; it’s slightly worse using ERA-based WAR. In other words, every pitcher the M’s have acquired in trade in the Dipoto era have produced roughly as much WAR as Chris Taylor has this year for the Dodgers. Depending on the WAR framework you prefer, 8-10 of them have put up *negative* WAR for the M’s. In return, the M’s have given up roughly 15-16 WAR in major league production in 2017 plus 6 prospects ranked in the system’s top 10. They’ve given up another 9 or so players ranked in the 10-20 range, too. The M’s haven’t gotten a whole lot from any of these deals; you’re talking about James Pazos’ first half, Evan Scribner’s 2016 and David Phelps first appearance. The trades that have produced the most pitching WAR for the M’s are not ones that most M’s fans feel unambiguously positive about: they’re the Seth Smith for Yovani Gallardo trade (using fWAR only) and the two deals involving Wade Miley.

I don’t want to oversell this. The M’s *do not* have wholesale issues in pro scouting or player development. While they didn’t get much when trading Erick Mejia for Joe Wieland, flipping Jio Orozco for Ben Gamel has worked out rather nicely. The M’s farm system wasn’t great, so that limits their ability to acquire talent in trade – they’re shopping in the bargain aisle, so of course there aren’t as many clear wins. Injuries have hurt, too, as Shae Simmons and Drew Smyly might’ve been great if they were healthy. And of course, guys like Gonzales may contribute for 6 years later on, but haven’t had the opportunity to produce for the M’s yet. The same works in reverse, though, too; the M’s have traded/sold several pitchers who are now interesting prospects for other teams, and if you want to feel more positive about the history of this FO, you should absolutely not look at the stats of guys like Luiz Gohara or Zack Littell.

Still, this is a pretty appalling record when you consider what the M’s gave up. Like DMZ, I’m all about evaluating a trade based on what we knew at the time, but a team’s track record starts to matter as the sample of trades grows. Part of the reason, as I mentioned in the post about the O’Neill/Gonzales swap, is that Dipoto seems to target low-ceiling/high-floor command guys, perhaps because that’s what’s available in his price range. But just as the Zduriencik-era M’s had a big disconnect between the scouting group’s love of power-hitting right-handed bats and the player development group’s ability to develop such players, I worry that the M’s PD system hasn’t been able to do a ton with command/control guys throwing 88-92. I don’t want to pin too much of this on PD; guys like Lance Painter have done an admirable job getting a ton of AAA production out of the odds and ends handed to him by the FO, and of course, there’s the small matter of James Paxton turning into JAMES PAXTON on his watch. Another factor could simply be that the players Dipoto loves to target have been the most impacted by baseball’s HR binge – command guys who “should” see their HR/FB regress have seen them rise instead as the entire league’s HR/FB gets ratcheted upwards.

It’s impossible to disentangle all of these factors, and when we’re talking about 2-dozed+ players, many of whom were acquired for cash considerations, it’s entirely possible that the entire record is dumb luck, and it shouldn’t impact our evaluation of Gonzales at all. But as well as some of his trades have worked out, the team really seems to have struggled to add pitching. This isn’t blaming Dipoto for not landing Cy Young candidates. Rather, it’s wondering why there are so many negative WAR figures dotted around the 2017 stats for the guys the M’s traded for. Dipoto’s work in free agency is a mixed bag, but the trade record is so important because it’s pretty much the only way Dipoto’s filled out the M’s rotation. He inherited Felix and Paxton (and sort of inherited Iwkauma), but pretty much everyone else who’s started this year has been acquired in trade – Miranda, Gallardo, Heston, Whalen, Gaviglio, Overton, de Jong were all trade guys. Only Andrew Moore (drafted), Christian Bergman and Ryan Weber (waiver claims) weren’t trade targets. If his clear MO is to build a rotation through deals, then it’s imperative that the M’s actually succeed at that strategy. They haven’t yet.

* I tallied this up manually by scrolling through transaction logs; I’ve probably missed something(s). Here’s the list, for those interested:

Traded Acquired
7/3/2017 Tyler Herb Cash
7/20/2017 Brayan Hernandez, Lukas Schiraldi, Pablo Lopez, Brandon Miller David Phelps
7/21/2017 Tyler O’Neill Marco Gonzales
7/24/2017 Jean Machi, Mark Lowe cash
5/9/2017 Cash Bryan Bonnell
4/14/2017 Paul Fry Cash
3/1/2017 Drew Jackson, Aneuris Zabala Chase de Jong
3/2/2017 Pat Venditte Joey Curletta
1/6/2017 Seth Smith Yovani Gallardo
1/6/2017 Nate Karns Jarrod Dyson
1/11/2017 Carlos Vargas, Ryan Yarbrough, Mallex Smith Drew Smyly
1/11/2017 Luiz Gohara, Thomas Burrows Shae Simmons, Mallex Smith
1/26/2017 Jason Goldstein Dillon Overton
12/7/2016 PTBNL Chris Heston
12/9/2016 Tyler Pike PTBNL
11/7/2016 Vidal Nuno Carlos Ruiz
11/12/2016 Paul Blackburn Danny Valencia
11/18/2016 Andrew Kittredge, Dylan Thompson, Dalton Kelly Taylor Motter, Richie Shaffer
11/18/2016 Zack Littell James Pazos
11/23/2016 Taijuan Walker, Ketel Marte Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Zac Curtis
11/23/2016 Alex Jackson, PTBNL Max Povse, Rob Whalen
9/1/2016 Jake Brentz, Pedro Vasquez Arquimedes Caminero
9/13/2016 Wade LeBlanc PTBNL
9/14/2016 Joe Wieland PTBNL
8/6/2016 Tim Lopes Pat Venditte
8/31/2016 Jio Orozco, Juan De Paula Ben Gamel
7/20/2016 Mike Montgomery, Jordan Pries Dan Vogelbach, Paul Blackburn
7/26/2016 Joaquin Benoit Drew Storen
7/31/2016 Wade Miley Ariel Miranda
6/11/2016 Justin de Fratus Pat Kivlehan
6/19/2016 Chris Taylor Zach Lee
6/22/2016 PTBNL Wade LeBlanc
3/30/2016 PTBNL Nick Vincent
1/12/2016 Erick Mejia Joe Wieland
12/2/2015 Mark Trumbo, CJ Riefenhauser Steve Clevenger
12/4/2015 Jose Ramirez Ryne Harper
12/7/2015 Carson Smith, Roenis Elias Wade Miley, Jonathan Aro
12/8/2015 Trey Cochran-Gill Evan Scribner
12/9/2015 Daniel Missaki, Freddy Peralta, Carlos Herrera Adam Lind
12/18/2015 Tyler Olson Cash
11/5/2015 Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, Danny Farquhar Nate Karns, CJ Riefenhauser, Boog Powell
11/12/2015 Enyel de los Santos Joaquin Benoit
11/16/2015 Tom Wilhelmsen, James Jones, Pat Kivlehan Leonys Martin, Anthony Bass

Game 101, Red Sox at Mariners

July 24, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 7:10pm

Sorry for the radio silence over the weekend; I was extremely busy with family stuff. I had fun, and didn’t mind (too much) that the M’s limped into the Red Sox series having lost 3 of 4 to the Yankees.

The Red Sox come in with a 2.5 game lead over New York in the AL East. Clearly a playoff-caliber team, they’re kicking the tires on deadline acquisitions, but their biggest move was an internal one. Today, the Red Sox have called up their top prospect, 20-year old 3B Rafael Devers. He’s not starting tonight, but is expected to tomorrow. Devers takes over for Pablo Sandoval, who was DFA’d a little while ago. In less promising news, lefty David Price was in the news on the flight up to Seattle for berating Red Sox color commentator Dennis Eckersley for some comments the latter made on air about a rehab start made by tonight’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez missed essentially all of June and half of July recovering from a knee injury.

Rodriguez is a hard-throwing lefty the Sox acquired for Andrew Miller in what was widely seen as a steal – for Boston. Miller left for greener pastures while Rodriguez turned heads in the minors, often sitting in the high 90s with his fastball and dominating lower-level hitters. After a couple of up-and-down seasons, he seemed poise to make the leap to #2 starter this year, and put up solid numbers in April and May, leading to a flurry of stories about him turning a corner. The injury and a so-so start in Toronto have put that supposed developmental leap in question, as he struggled with command in the minors (hence Eckersley’s Price-enraging comments) and walked 4 in 5 1/3 IP in his return to the big leagues. He was great against the M’s back in May, when he shut them out over 6 IP, but even then, he walked 3 and K’d just 4.

His velocity is, at this point, down significantly from the perhaps-over-enthusiastic reports of 97 MPH. He’s averaging a bit under 94 now, and it gets less-than-average vertical movement. Movement-wise, it reminds me of Thyago Vieira’s fastball, though Vieira of course throws 1) much harder and 2) right-handed. Rodriguez’s best pitch may be his running change-up, thrown around 87 MPH. Like Marco Gonzales/Mike Montgomery, it has 10″+ of armside run, but gets more drop than either of them. This pitch is the primary reason he’s shown essentially no platoon splits over his big league career. He has a cutter and slider, too, with the slider his primary breaking ball to lefties. It’s nothing much to write home about, but then he doesn’t see enough lefties for it to matter much. The most notable thing about him is his reliance on his four-seam fastball; he’s in the top 10 in baseball in the frequency he throws it, at just under 65%.

Like many of his teammates, Rodriguez is targeting the high strike these days, and his ground ball rate and GB/FB ratios have dropped as a result. That’s made him somewhat vulnerable to home runs, but it should also keep his BABIP low – which it is, at .278. What’s remarkable is that he’s put up that BABIP despite a terrible infield pop-up rate; he’s been good at inducing pop-ups before, but they’re just not showing up this year.

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

I was going to use this space to write about how great Emilio Pagan’s been recently. The extreme fly-balling long reliever has been working not just in low-leverage situations, but in some close games, as he did twice in the Yankees series. Anyway, no need for me to go on about him, as Bob Dutton did it in the News Tribune. Check it out.

The M’s acquired former Nationals and Angels IF Danny Espinosa yesterday, a move that sent Taylor Motter to AAA. I’d assume the M’s will activate Espinosa before tonight’s game. Espinosa hit 20+ HRs for the Nats twice, but problems, er, controlling the zone led to abysmal batting averages and OBPs, which made him tough to play, even though he’s a good defender at SS. He cratered in Anaheim this year, slashing just .162/.237/.276 with the 2nd-lowest zone-contact and overall contact rates in the game. Once a high-ISO, high-K guy, Espinosa’s spent 2017 as Joey Gallo-but-without-power, which is not a bankable skill. Still, I understand the M’s desire to see if Edgar can coax some zone-control into a guy who hit 24 HRs as recently as 2016.

The long-rumored, on-again, off-again trade between the Twins and Braves involving LHP Jaime Garcia finally went through today, with the Twins getting Garcia in exchange for a package headlined by RP prospect Huascar Ynoa, 19, who’s scuffled a bit in the Appy League but throws hard and is already 6’3″, 220. Garcia’s a free agent at the end of the year, so it’s not really comparable to the Marco Gonzales deal, but… this isn’t going to make M’s fans feel any better about losing Tyler O’Neill. Ynoa was the Twins #22 prospect, and he returned a league-averageish starting pitcher, who’ll slot right into the Twins rotation. The Twins, of course, are a bit ahead of the M’s in the wild card race, and just acquired a rent-a-starter for live-armed peanuts, while the M’s traded for a guy who one day might pitch about as well as Garcia will down the stretch. I acknowledge that Jerry Dipoto is not playing for 2017 *alone* and that getting a contolled starter -not a rental- was a priority. That’s understandable. But paying inflated, deadline prices for cost-controlled depth looks suspicious not only in light of what such pitchers go for in the off-season, but what rentals cost. Sure, you’d RATHER have a pitcher under contract for 5 years rather than 5 months, but the M’s had already signaled that they wanted to make a run in 2017. Garcia would’ve worked pretty well, and now he’ll be pitching for a wild card rival. Great.

Speaking of the trade market, this piece says that the M’s are trying to get involved in the Sonny Gray market. There are a number of reasons this is unlikely, starting with the fact that Tyler O’Neill is now a Memphis Redbird, but extending to the fact that teams with deep farm systems are also likely to be involved. Gray’s a free agent after 2018, so he’s more than just a rental. If the M’s DID want him, it’d take pretty much every other big prospect they’ve got…so, Kyle Lewis and Nick Neidert.

This report says that the M’s have inquired with the Giants and Padres about pitching help, and with Giants’ farm team Sacramento in Tacoma, that’s where Jerry Dipoto was today. The day game in beautiful Tacoma was also Marco Gonzales’ first start in the M’s system, and the Gonzaga product got the win, pitching 6 IP, giving up 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB and 5 Ks. A perfectly solid game, and while I’m trying not to be too pessimistic, it’s the kind of start Christian Bergman’s thrown roughly 78 of for Tacoma this year. Dan Vogelbach homered in the R’s 4-3 win. One of the Giants’ top pitching prospects, Tyler Beede, was scheduled to start this game, but hurt his groin during warm-ups, so it was a bullpen day for the RiverCats.

Other probables in the M’s system tonight include Danny Garcia, Anthony Misiewicz and Jose Garcia.

Game 98, Yankees at Mariners

July 21, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 28 Comments 

Andrew Moore vs. CC Sabathia, 7:10pm

I’ve had a few hours to deliberate, calmly reevaluate my assumptions and take another, deeper, look at Marco Gonzales. With the benefit of time and reflection, I can now… nope, sorry, still don’t get this one.

I talked the other day about the boom-and-bust M’s, and how maybe a team like this *shouldn’t* be searching for stability – they should own their own volatility. Andrew Moore is not a high ceiling guy, but in turning over the slot to a rookie, the M’s acknowledge that they’ll get some good games and some clunkers, as they’ve seen. That’s fine – that helps Moore’s growing process and Moore’s unfamiliarity to AL hitters might help him sneak up on some teams. That said, with the Gonzales acquisition, the M’s have shown that they are completely obsessed with this template of command pitchers with so-so velocity. I’ve said plenty about the M’s getting value for MiLB talent, and I’d argue that this has been a serious, on-going problem, but part of the issue is what they’re *buying* with that talent. This came up in Dave’s write-up of the trade at Fangraphs; the M’s have spent a lot of effort and a good chunk of their top prospects gathering pitchers that kind of look like fungible depth. From the trade for Wade Miley forward, the M’s seem to value #3-5 starters very highly. While the league has placed a pretty high value on established #3-4 guys in free agency, they’ve not generally commanded much in trade, and for good reason. The M’s have traded upside for depth (in Dave’s words) for approximately the 1,346th time, which itself is a good argument that either the M’s should stop trading for depth or take a very healthy reexamination of their process for identifying depth. Something isn’t working.

The idea of trading upside for stability or trading ceiling for floor only works if you accurately identify both. That’s a truism, but seriously: even MLB teams can be really bad at this. You can’t predict the future, or baseball, so you *really* can’t predict future baseball. This is why you see teams draft Brian Bullington and Greg Reynolds. Anyone who thinks it’s somehow safer to get low-velo, command and control guys should proceed directly to Dillon Overton’s baseball-reference page.

Andrew Moore could use a good start. He had three straight quality starts, but after a terrible 4th start in which he gave up 3 HRs in 3 1/3 IP, the M’s are going to need to see him make some adjustments. For a guy so often praised for his competitiveness and savvy, that’s probably a strength of his. All of that said, Moore represents another, closely linked, fixation of Dipoto and Co over the past year or so: a preference for fly-ball pitchers who pair with a spacious park and a phenomenal OF defense. The theory makes great sense, but as we’ve seen with the Tigers and Twins, in this day and age, there is no park that can cover a pitcher in the new live-ball era. I’d go so far as to say that we’ve now seen enough to know with pretty good certainty that Dipoto’s attempt to build a top-10 pitching staff on fly balls has failed. Boston can get away with it, because they can go grab David Price or Chris Sale. High fastballs themselves aren’t the issue. They may actually be effective at *limiting* HRs. The problem is rising fastballs thrown in the middle or down in the zone. Moore’s smart enough to see where he’s been punished, but his arsenal is pretty much always going to result in elevated contact. A shift towards high (really high) fastballs and curves might help, as his change is still a bit straight (and has a ton of rise).

CC Sabathia’s in his second year of an odd, late-career renaissance. After getting destroyed by the longball and right-handed bats, he’s changed his pitch mix significantly. He’s ditched his four-seam fastball, and he’s now throwing nearly 3/4 (!) breaking balls to RHBs – a cutter, a slider, and a change. Righties still fare well against his sinker/cutter, but they can help set up his slider – still his best pitch.

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

Okaaay, more trades. The M’s shipped non-40 man relievers Mark Lowe and Jean Machi to the White Sox org. They’ll report to Charlotte, according to Mike Curto, who also notes that the two MLB vets are huge clubhouse leaders for Tacoma. No word on the return, but it’s not going to be much.

So Tyler O’Neill’s last action in a Rainiers jersey was his 2-HR performance last night. Fare thee well, Tyler.

Chase de Jong starts for Tacoma tonight, with Brett Ash going in Arkansas, Nate Bannister in Modesto and Ryne Inman in Everett. No word on Clinton’s starter.

A Hater’s Guide to the Recent Trade

July 21, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 4 Comments 

One probably shouldn’t write analysis while still somewhat angry, although that’s what I find myself doing as a means of processing. In the hours following this morning’s trade, I’ve had a lot of back and forth with fellow fans, so I thought I might take the opportunity to share my thoughts since I technically have a platform to do so. I want to disclaim at the outset a few things that I think will help clarify my position a little. One is that I have been a Tyler O’Neill fan since he was drafted and regard him as a player who has a high potential to be Fun and this trade has depleted important Fun reserves. We all overvalue our own assets, particularly relative to what’s previously unknown to us, and time is necessary develop a coherent assessment that isn’t tinged with our own personal fondness. The second is that I don’t at all intend this as an attack on Gonzales, whom I hope does well. My problem with this trade tends to be more around the philosophies behind it.

A good starting point for commentary here would be Dave’s piece at FanGraphs, which has some important information I’d like to borrow. This trade, as Dave identifies, is part of a larger constellation of trades that has involved far too many pitchers: Miranda, de Jong, Bergman, Weber, and guys that are no longer even in the organization like Overton and Heston. Another helpful point I’d like to point to is that DiPoto admits to his involvement with the trade market and how the demand for pitching, with a good many teams clustered around the wild card standings, has resulted in a situation where you have a seller’s market. It’s easy to say we should go out and knock on our interleague rival’s doors and ask what they might need in exchange for Cahill or Chacin, but harder still to come up with something that works as a solution because so are maybe a dozen other teams of various strengths who are similarly making calls in their Sunday best. In this sense, it’s good that we saw one of DiPoto’s favorite qualities, team control, crop up in this particular exchange, as I think a lot of us would be more miffed if we were going all in and giving up prospects for impending free agents, especially since we follow a team with an aging core.

The Mariners in their present, healthy configuration don’t appear to be all that bad, or at least not so bad that making moves looks necessarily foolish. The team has been strong on offense and most of its liabilities there, Martin, Vogelbach, Gosewich, are no longer with the club nor necessarily expected to help in the stretch run. The value we’ve gotten from pitching, however, is of a far different nature and our position is more to hope and pray that the same guys we used in April and May are not integral to our playoff chase. As Greg Johns noted, the team has used a historic number of pitchers so far, breaking established team records, and we’re not even into August yet. Thus, while on average, our pitching looks pretty vulnerable, those averages are also dependent on guys that are not on the team right now, your Hestons and your Overtons and your Fiens. The superficial take is that it’s Paxton + maybe good Felix again? + Vincent/Diaz + mooks, but it’s not really as bad as all that and we appear to have gotten into something more stable that could also be productive. That being said, it’s not wrong to want to look around and try to come up with someone who isn’t Sam Gaviglio to start every fifth day.

The philosophical problems I have with this is the general sensation that we’re trying to throw good money after bad. The team was interesting enough coming out of the offseason, as we expected Smyly to solidify the rotation and maybe we’d get bounce-backs elsewhere and Paxton would figure out his stuff. Paxton has been pretty rad, but otherwise our luck has been terrible. Not only did Smyly’s injury leave us scrambling (the injury to Shae Simmons shouldn’t be undersold either, even if it’s not something we pay much lipservice to), what options we’ve had to replace him and others have done as much harm as good. If any of these pitchers had managed to contribute at a competent level, we probably wouldn’t have to make this trade today. Mind you, even with the rep as a minor league analyst, I don’t have as much of an issue with the Zach Littell for James Pazos trades as long as they contribute, what I take issue with are the trades that resemble Enyel de los Santos for Joaquin Benoit. From my vantage, we’re giving away good assets in an attempt to patch over bad luck. All playoff teams need good breaks in order to get where they’re going, but buying at a premium to offset a series of bad breaks doesn’t seem to be the right way to go, particularly when the market has already set its own premiums.

Beyond the rather curious use of internal resources, there’s the matter of trying to evaluate O’Neill versus Gonzales in their respective prospect statuses. O’Neill is very much a boom or bust prospect who has been booming lately. He’s often been portrayed as one-dimensional for that by outside evaluators, a guy who is going to be striking out a lot and maybe get you some longballs in exchange. He could be anything from a middle of the order hitter who plays competent defense for a slugger to a guy that you keep as a platoon hitter whom you sometimes use as a pinch-hitter and cross your fingers. What Gonzales provides you is more stable, in theory, because pre-injury he was regarded as a potential plus #3 starter, but those qualifiers are awfully important. Gonzales has already had Tommy John surgery, and while a version of Tyler O’Neill that doesn’t reach his potential can still be somewhat useful, a version of Gonzales that is injured and unable to pitch is not.

Furthermore, the Cardinals will be getting three option years with which to figure out what they need to do with O’Neill and are in no rush to get him into the lineup. Last I checked, Gonzales is out of options after this year and if his recovery or the development of a viable breaking ball takes some time, it’s something that we’d have to let him do in the major leagues. This doesn’t even touch on the likelihood that we will have to use him soon while simultaneously trying desperately not to overwork him and screw up his arm again. I’d like to hope that this year has helped demonstrate the virtues of patience in player development, as there’s only so much you can teach a guy who is trying to help you win games now.

The Mariners were operating under a series of constraints both internal and external. They’d had bad luck in the major leagues, a farm system that has ranked in the bottom third for a long time, and needed pitching at a time when pitching was going to go for a premium. In light of this, they still decided to send off one of their more interesting assets in a swap of skillset risk for injury risk. That’s not an exchange I feel terribly confident in us coming ahead on, and it’s telling that even with a farm system that rates ahead of ours, most flash analysis put O’Neill higher internally with the Cardinals than Gonzales is rated with us.

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