Game 133, Mariners at Orioles – What Does Success Look Like?

marc w · August 29, 2017 at 4:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Dylan Bundy, 4:05pm

Yesterday on twitter, prospect writer and friend of the blog Chris Crawford posted an intriguing poll question for M’s fans:

It’s a tough question, as everything depends on how you define a half dozen or so terms. To me, the season would be a success if the M’s identified players they want to build around or build with in ~3-4 years time. That is, who’s going to be supporting the M’s future playoff efforts once Cruz and :sniff: Felix are either gone or aren’t contributing anymore? Kyle Seager and Jean Segura will be around, so what we’re looking for are pre-FA talent that can reliably provide above-average production and thus help pry open another window of contention. Near the break, the M’s looked like they wouldn’t be a factor in the wildcard chase, as they headed into the All-Star break 4 games below .500 and in 4th place in the AL West. However, the M’s had *three* pre-arb outfielders who looked poise to contribute for years to come. Ben Gamel was hitting line drives everywhere and had accumulated 1.9 fWAR at the break. Mitch Haniger was at 1.4 despite missing time with an oblique injury; his slash line was .273/.376/.472. Guillermo Heredia’d played the least, as he yielded playing time to twice-DFA’d Leonys Martin, but he’d put up 0.5 WAR and looked like he could bring his batting line to league average, which is not bad at all for a CF acquired for peanuts.

What’s happened since then is essentially an inversion of what we saw back in mid-July. In the second half, Gamel’s been worth -0.2 fWAR, while Haniger’s somehow been worse (-0.4). Heredia keeps ticking along, adding another 0.3, but it’s a bit tougher to say that any one of them is *clearly* going to be a net positive in 3 years. Haniger’s been injured – twice – and thus I’d guess most M’s fans are still bullish on his future. Gamel’s lack of power (despite yesterday’s 3R shot to CF) may limit his future, given he’s limited to the corner OF spots. Meanwhile, the team’s lifted themselves back into contention, at least sporadically, and benefited from the general weakness of their competition. The M’s could end up with a very different, but still successful, season, though that’s looking less and less likely. But I might actually prefer the timeline in which the M’s continued to fade from contending in 2017, but saw Haniger/Gamel/Heredia become an intriguingly balanced/potent outfield.

With his HR yesterday, Adam Jones has now hit at least 25 HRs in each of the last 7 seasons. This isn’t a big shock for M’s fans who remember him hitting 25 at age 21 for Tacoma back in 2007, and no, I am NOT over it yet. I’ve talked at length about his growth from game to game and even AB to AB back then, and the way he improved his batting line – and power numbers in particular – from 2006 to 2007 exemplify that ability at a macro level. Of course, it came at a cost, as Jones’ K rate crept up a bit; not enough to be a huge red flag, and hey, his overall production and even his walk rate improved as well. But the famously K-averse Bavasi regime saw that and his 29%+ K rate in his two MLB call-ups and probably thought he’d K too much to be a regular contributor. Oops.

Instead, he pretty much immediately settled in as a high-contact hitter, with a K rate well below league average. No, his patience has never really developed, but a low-K, moderate-to-better-than-moderate power combination is a wonderful thing, especially at an up-the-middle defensive position. A lot of the credit for this goes to Jones himself, who stood out back in 2006-7 for his willingness (and aptitude) to learn. But some of it should probably go to the Orioles organization, who saw a red flag and respectfully lowered it. I was thinking about that as I perused the bonkers numbers that SS Tim Beckham’s put up in the month or so that he’s been a member of the O’s. Beckham’s average pop played up from the shortstop position, and it was an encouraging sign for a guy who put up a lot of sub-.100 ISOs in the minors. But in two nearly full years at the big league level, he was striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances. That level of Ks is tough to get around, and although he put up astonishingly high BABIPs, he was still a below-average hitter because of it. Since moving to Baltimore for a single-A right-hander, Beckham’s hitting .386/.407/.667. His K rate isn’t just below 30%, it’s below *20%* at 17.8, and he’s put up 1.8 fWAR in less than 30 games. Yes, yes, lots of players have hot streaks, but Beckham’s looked like a different player, and seems to have given himself the inside track at the starting SS job in Baltimore for the next few years.

These player development success stories on the position player side are balanced by the Orioles’ remarkable, historic, comprehensive failure to develop pitchers. It’s not about poor draft position, or a bad eye for talent. Jake Arrieta’s done fine for himself, and after washing out of the rotation, Zach Britton’s actually contributed some value to the O’s. But their record is dotted with seasons lost to injury, failures to develop, and washouts. Brian Matusz was a guy with advanced command, until he lost it all overnight. Radhames Liz could never find the strikezone. Hunter Harvey can’t stay on the mound. And today’s starter, Dylan Bundy, is a strange mix of injury woes and stunted development. It’s tough to overstate the hype around Bundy in mid-2012. After being drafted 4th overall out of high school, Bundy was pushed to full-season A ball in 2012 and made 8 starts, yielding 0 earned runs and striking out 40 and walking 2 in 30 IP. He’d continue up the ladder and actually make 2 appearances for Baltimore that year as a teenager. And then things started to go wrong. He missed 2013 with TJ surgery, and after making 9 appearances in the minors in 2014, he had a setback and missed nearly all of 2015 as well. Finally healthy, he pitched over 100 IP for Baltimore last year, and while his ERA was better than league average, a high FIP and so-so K rate suggested he wasn’t back to his old self, the guy who threw 95-97, had a great change and curve, and a slider/cutter that was his best pitch and that the O’s wouldn’t let him throw due to a perceived higher injury risk. He also bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, and averaged under 95 with his fastball.

This year, pitching exclusively from the rotation, his velocity’s down 2.5 MPH to 92+, and as a result, his K rate’s down again. It’s essentially tied with Ariel Miranda’s, which is ironic given that the pitching-starved O’s pretty much gave Miranda away to the M’s, the same way they gave away Arrieta, Matusz, and Parker Bridwell. Having already BEEN injured several times, it seems Bundy’s worn down the O’s player development group’s objections, and he’s now throwing his slider. Compared to last year, Bundy’s throwing fewer four-seamers, a few more sinkers, and a bunch of sliders – again, he threw precisely none of them last year. It’s a good pitch, like his change: it gets whiffs, it gives him a weapon against righties, and it helps boost his K rate now that his fastball’s not fooling anyone. HRs are still an issue, though, and they blunt his platoon advantage over righties. In his career, lefties strike out a lot less and walk more; that’s to be expected. But righties have hit for a bit more power… not enough to reverse his platoon splits, but enough that he’s not able to dominate them the way everyone expected back in 2012. It’s impossible to know what Bundy would’ve become in another org. His high school rival and fellow 1st-rounder that year Archie Bradley’s had his own developmental hiccups in a different org. But watching the O’s flail with pitchers for a decade has been compelling as an accident on the side of the highway. The M’s PD work over that time span is worthy of jeers too, and I’ve done my fair share of jeering. But maaaaan, the Orioles have struggled. The end result? This year’s birds rank 27th in MLB in pitching WAR, and their rotation sports a collective ERA of 5.55, worst in the AL by a mile.*

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

Max Povse starts for Tacoma at Cheney Stadium tonight. Go see the big fellow take on Salt Lake. Brian MacAfee (Everett), Tyler Jackson (Modesto) and Bryan Evans (Arkansas) are your other pitching probables in the system. The full season clubs lost their games last night, as did the AZL M’s, but Everett won 5-4 on their first walk-off of the year.

* Their FIP looks very similar to Seattle’s rotation total, and it’s easy to see why: their HR/9 are identical at 1.70, and while the O’s hurlers strike out a few more, they walk more, too. The one saving grace for the M’s is defense: the M’s can turn balls in play into outs (offer not valid in New York, apparently), while the O’s struggle. This was forecasted rather easily, as the O’s have had to play Mark Trumbo in the field a bunch, and got yet another 1B/DH/OF in Trey Mancini, another young hitter who’s developed nicely, but another guy without a real position with Chris Davis at 1B.


5 Responses to “Game 133, Mariners at Orioles – What Does Success Look Like?”

  1. mrakbaseball on August 29th, 2017 4:07 pm

    Consider the injuries. Now consider how flawed the contenders are.

    Can this season be a “success” for Seattle without a playoff spot?

    — Christopher Crawford (@Crawford_MILB) August 29, 2017

    It’s currently 77% Nah and I agree.

  2. Grayfox3d on August 29th, 2017 6:45 pm

    1 hit. Great showing tonight for a team on the wildcard bubble.

  3. eddieranch on August 29th, 2017 6:53 pm

    I’m not a regular contributor so apologize in advance for naive comments but how do you consider — missing the playoffs for 16th consecutive season in a year that the window is wide open to grab at least the 2nd wild card — a success? The schedule has even been friendly — 4 home games against the non contending (until after our series) with the Angels. Series with NY after their brawl in which they committed how many errors? And tonight coming up with one hit against a good but not great pitcher. I get it we’ve had crazy injuries. But something is seriously amiss with this team.

  4. mrakbaseball on August 29th, 2017 7:11 pm

    1 measly hit, a bunt hit at that. Yuck.

  5. LongDistance on August 30th, 2017 2:01 am

    I’d also add, given the streakiness of the team, the timing of their oscillating competitiveness will be as much a factor as anything else. Witness.

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