Game 110, Mariners at Royals – Competitive Windows

August 3, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Yovani Gallardo vs. Trevor Cahill, 5:10pm

The M’s begin their biggest series of the year against the team currently in control of the 2nd wildcard, the Kansas City Royals. The Royals were in an odd spot this year – they faced the looming departure of most of their core players in free agency after this year, but they didn’t have the prospects to go all-in one last time. After they an atrocious start, it seemed like the final year of the Cain/Davis/Moose/Hosmer Royals would be a quiet one. But a blistering June/July pushed them back into playoff position, and so they’ve made some small moves to improve their odds this year, like picking up Trevor Cahill from the rebuilding Padres.

The Royals opening day payroll this year was $143 million, just a tiny bit less than the Mariners’. But while the M’s will return most of their core – their vets signed long contract extensions, and they’ve got a group of pre-arb players as well – the Royals are hurting. They owe a combined $59 million next year to the less-than-inspiring group of Ian Kennedy, Alex Gordon, Joakim Soria and Danny Duffy. Duffy, Sal Perez and Jorge Soler are all under reasonable-ish extensions (especially if Duffy can stay healthy), but pretty much everyone else is either unmovable (Gordon, Kennedy) or bad (Brandon Moss). They have holes all over the roster, and it’s not clear how they’ll fill them. All of that’s next year, though. For now, they’ve upgraded their rotation with Cahill and their bullpen with Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter. They don’t look like a contending team on paper with a worse-than-average offense AND pitching staff, but then, that hasn’t stopped them in recent years. They have one more year to perform one of their odd Royals magic tricks, and then it’s over.

The Royals predicament reminds me a bit of what the Rangers might be facing. For years, I’ve seen them as a formidable organization due to great player development married with elite amateur and pro scouting. It’s not enough that their prospect coffers always seemed to be overflowing, it’s that they’d go out and get diamonds in the rough from other orgs, too (Nelson Cruz comes to mind). If their prospects couldn’t quite turn potential into production, or if they got hurt, they could trade their prospects for Cole Hamels or whatever else they needed. That gave them a tremendous advantage, and they used it to go to the playoffs 5 out of the past 7 years. It wasn’t enough that they’ve been consistently, easily, better than the M’s – it’s that I couldn’t figure out when it was POSSIBLE for the M’s to overcome that deficit. It’s pretty clearly happened, though, as the Rangers magic touch with their farm system doesn’t appear to be working anymore. Trades for guys like Hamels, Jonathan Lucroy and others have shipped a ton of production elsewhere, and injuries to guys from Jurickson Profar to Chi Chi Rodriguez have played a role as well. After the trade of Yu Darvish, they have essentially no rotation outside of Hamels, and their top 4 prospects – *all* of whom were in BP’s top 101 – have struggled this year. Hamels, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo and Rougned Odor are signed long-term, but their flexibility going forward looks pretty constrained. I’m not trying to bury them; Jon Daniels is a capable GM, and things looked bleak a few years ago. But the team was able to keep turning high-risk, high-reward prospects into hugely valuable trade chips, and if that’s not true anymore, or LESS true than it was, they’re in a bit of trouble. Nomar Mazara’s essentially repeated his rookie year, Odor’s OBP is .259, Martin Perez remains below-average and Profar seems destined to be a utility guy. The Astros emergence would’ve made it essentially impossible for the Rangers to keep controlling the West, but it really looks like their run as perpetual contenders is over.

All of this stands in contrast to the M’s push for controllable players. I haven’t liked all of Dipoto’s deals, but it is absolutely to his credit that the M’s have a better 2018-2020 outlook than they did before he got here. I mentioned the looming crisis last year, in that the M’s would lose several players to free agency, and clearly didn’t have replacements ready on the farm. Their core was/is aging, and it’s not clear that they’ll get star-level performances from Felix or perhaps even Cano in the years to come. But the emergence of Jean Segura, Ben Gamel and James Paxton means they’re not looking at a Royals-style apocalypse. They have plenty of holes to fill too, so it’s not like all is well, but the path from here to contention is navigable.

Enough about the future. Tonight, the M’s make a play for 2017 against the suddenly-vulnerable Royals. After a long winning streak, the Royals are coming off a sweep at the hands of the Orioles. The famously bad O’s rotation even shut them out yesterday. Trevor Cahill makes his second start in Royal blue; his first was something of a clunker, as he gave up 5 runs (and 2 dingers) in 4 IP to the Red Sox. Cahill came up with the A’s as a sinker/change-up/curve pitcher who got ground balls to overcome a lack of bat-missing stuff. He averaged 89 or so with the A’s in 2010-11, but his velo picked up by about 1 MPH after a trade to Arizona. Unfortunately, it didn’t help his results. After a great first year in the desert, he was hurt and then ineffective, and ended up losing his rotation spot in 2014. Time in the bullpen for Arizona and then the Cubs remade him, and he’s been a bat-missing expert since. His fastball velocity was up again in the bullpen, but he seems to have remade his change and curve, using them much more often and getting a lot more K’s. Even after moving back to the rotation this year, he’s set a career high in K% and K-BB%, and his change/curve combo is a big reason why.

He’s shown normal platoon splits over his career, but a lot of that is the result of two awful campaigns against lefties – one of them his rookie year of 2009. In many years, he’s been pretty even, and they’re even reversed a bit this year. That’s the power of a decent change-up, and it highlights that the M’s shouldn’t be too doctrinaire about platoon splits in setting their line-up.

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

Bryan Evans was staked to an early lead in NW Arkansas, but couldn’t hold it, giving up 3 HRs and 7 runs to the Naturals. That was enough for Josh Staumont, who’s still struggling a bit, but righted the ship after a tough first inning. CF Braden Bishop went 3-5, and is now batting .383 in AA in a bit more than 50 PAs.

Reggie McClain had a much-needed solid start in Modesto’s win over Rancho Cucamonga. McClain gave up a run in 5 IP, striking out 4.

Wisconsin edged Clinton 2-1, with Tim Viehoff a hard-luck loser in relief of Steven Ridings. Wyatt Mills K’d 2 in 2/3 IP, and has been lights out in Clinton the past few weeks.

Christian Bergman, Anthony Misiewicz, Tyler Jackson and Anjul Hernandez are probables in the M’s system today.

Game 109, Mariners at Rangers

August 2, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Andrew Cashner, 5:05pm

It wasn’t easy, but the M’s got a win they absolutely needed to have last night. Nick Martinez was predictably bad, but the M’s hurlers weren’t great, either. The back of the M’s bullpen – which has been remarkable over the past month – calmly dismissed the Rangers, ending any hope of a comeback, though.

There’s been some discussion on twitter about the true impact of deadline deals involving relievers. Because of chaining, does getting an elite reliever end up adding *more* production than his WAR would suggest, because you essentially knock each existing reliever back a place (8th inning guy to 7th, 7th to 6th or specialist role, etc.) with the end result being that you replace your *worst* reliever with a great one. Plausible, but it seems to me that what you really get is a fight over a limited number of very high leverage situations, and if the gap between the newcomer and your existing closer/set-up man isn’t huge, then I’m not sure the overall impact is all that big. When David Phelps was acquired, I noted that he wasn’t projected to be all that much more effective than Emilio Pagan, and Pagan’s absolutely on fire right now. But there’s another consideration: if you’re a team that, for whatever reason, has a LOT of high leverage situations, then you can still get a pretty big boost by bringing in a new set-up pitcher. The M’s have seen this the past few days, where they’ve been able to stagger Phelps and Nick Vincent, hopefully keeping both fresher/more effective than they’d otherwise be. The M’s rotation (outside of Paxton) may give up some runs, and the M’s offense is very capable of getting them back into games, so it’s possible that the M’s have enough situations where this surplus of set-up men is actually an effective strategy.

Today’s starting pitchers are among the league leaders in an odd stat: Ariel Miranda currently has a FIP 0.84 runs higher than his ERA; that gap ranks 10th in baseball. There’s no big mystery about why: Miranda’s yielding an absurd .227 BABIP, tied for 2nd best in MLB, but he’s also allowing buckets of home runs. FIP ignores the former, and is greatly alarmed by the latter, and you get this huge gap in actual versus predicted runs allowed. Cashner’s a different beast, but if he qualified, he’d rank even higher than Miranda, with a FIP over a full run higher than his ERA. The issue with Cashner isn’t HRs – Cashner’s somehow managing to keep the ball in the park in Arlington – but rather a dreadful K:BB ratio. His K-BB% is under 2, which puts him squarely in the “replacement level” camp by FIP, but a .207 BABIP with men on base means his ERA doesn’t look replacement level at all.

As I mentioned when the M’s saw him before, he’s a completely different pitcher to the 97-98 MPH guy he was several years ago in San Diego. He’s now around 92 with his sinker and four-seam, and complementing them with a change, cutter, and a rare curve. Those secondaries aren’t swing-and-miss pitches (refer again to his K rate), but they help him get ground balls, which is one reason he’s able to limit HRs. While his platoon splits don’t look too out of whack, lefties should enjoy a pretty big advantage. For one, his K-BB% is actually *negative* against lefties, and he’s got huge batted ball splits: righties pound the ball into the ground, while lefties are able to elevate it.

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

The M’s are generally always active on the minor league free agent front, and today’s no exception, as they’ve signed – re-signed, actually – SP Bryan Evans, who’ll start today for Arkansas opposite Royals prospect Josh Staumont. The extravagantly bearded Evans pitched briefly for Jackson last year, and has pitched in just about every Caribbean league as well. He was drafted way back in 2008. Good luck, Bryan!

Reggie McClain starts for Modesto, looking to end a loooong slump he’s been mired in. After posting sub 3 ERAs in the early going, he’s been lit up since mid-June or so. Is any of this related to his All-Star game hijinks or his chicken chasing championship? I can’t rule it out, dear reader. His ERA is 8.78 since the All-Star break.

Andrew Moore lost a pitcher’s duel to OKC yesterday 3-1 despite a HR from Taylor Motter. Moore yielded 1 HR in his 4 IP of work.

Modesto lost a heartbreaker to Rancho Cucamonga 2-1 in 12 IP, wasting a brilliant start from Robert Dugger, who went 7 shutout with 9 strikeouts. Eric Filia went 4-5 for the Nuts.

Nick Neidert was cruising through 5 for Arkansas when errors, a few bad pitches, and poor relief led to an 8 run inning for NW Arkansas and an eventual 9-8 win. Neidert K’d 4 in 5 1/3 IP, but gave up 5 runs (only 1 earned).

Cedar Rapids pulled off a remarkable extra-inning win over Clinton by doing one of the toughest things in the low-minors: putting the ball in play off of JP Sears. A hit and then an error put runners on 1st/3rd with no out, and then after a strikeout, the Kernels won the game on a walk-off passed ball. Sigh. Sears still had 3 K’s in 1 1/3 IP.

Filia’s 4 hits was the batting line of the day, and Dugger’s 9 K performance wins pitching line of the night.

Game 108, Mariners at Rangers

August 1, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Nick Martinez, 5:05pm

Thanks to the trade deadline, we’ve got a very different match-up today than when the pitching probables initially came out. This was supposed to be Yu Darvish for Texas, but he’s off to Los Angeles in a fascinating trade. And instead of Andrew Moore, the M’s turn, again, to Erasmo Ramirez. Ramirez has been working out of the pen most of the year, and has been limited to about 60 pitches by the Rays. Even in his starts for them, he’s gone 3-4 IP at the most. The M’s may give him a bit more rope – 75-80 seems to be the outer limit according to this story from Bob Dutton – but not a ton more. If he’s going to start long term, he’ll gradually build his arm strength to get up to 90-100 pitches.

Nick Martinez has been in AAA for most of the month, and was recalled for this start once the rotation spot opened up. A righty, he’s got a four-seam fastball at about 93, a cutter that’s a decent ground ball pitch, a change-up and a curve. The repertoire is varied, diverse, perfectly reasonable from a movement/velocity standpoint…and wholly inadequate. In his first few years, a low K rate and high-ish walk rate was partially overcome by a low BABIP and not-bad-not-great HR-avoidance. But as HRs picked up around the league, Martinez was pretty vulnerable: not enough bat-missing ability to avoid balls in play, and not enough raw stuff to induce poor contact or tons of ground balls. As a result, he’s been a classic AAAA guy, riding the shuttle between Arlington and Round Rock – he’s perfectly decent rotation depth at AAA, but the HRs and low Ks are tough to play in the big leagues.

A move to the pen might not be in the offing, as the lack of stuff means he doesn’t hold promise as a righty specialist. He’s got a career FIP of 5.49 vs. lefties, but it’s 5.17 against righties. In short, this is a mismatch on paper, even given Erasmo’s own struggles this year as a starter (he’s already lost to the Rangers in that capacity). These are the kinds of games the M’s absolutely need to win as the prepare to face better teams and better starters as the road trip winds on. Anything can happen, and any minor league call-up can have a career day, the spirit of Doug Waechter laughs at the overconfident, etc. but the M’s need to win this game. The M’s playoff odds stand at 21.9% on Fangraphs and 27.6% on BP. This game matters.

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

The Rainiers lost to Dodger prospect Walker Beuhler last night 3-1, despite Dan Vogelbach’s 14th HR. Mike Curto reports Beuhler sat 96-99 through 5 innings, which…wow. Obviously, the Dodgers didn’t need to move him to get Darvish – who’s only a rental for 2017. Instead, they gave up bowling-ball shaped 2B Willie Calhoun, who sounds like an absolutely fascinating prospect.

Batting line of the night goes to rehabbing utility man Shawn O’Malley, who went 4-4 with a HR. Kyle Lewis went 2-4 with a HR for Modesto as well. Chase de Jong was solid through 7 for Tacoma, but we’ll give the pitching line of the night to 17-year old Juan Mercedes down in the Dominican Summer League who one-hit the Orioles through 6, walking none and striking out 6.

Nick Neidert tries to get on track in AA as he starts against hated rival NW Arkansas, and suddenly on-the-radar guy Robert Dugger starts for Modesto. Ljay Newsome and Andrew Moore round out the probables.

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