Game 138, Astros at Mariners – Checking In On M’s Newest Pitchers

marc w · September 4, 2017 at 1:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Dallas Keuchel, 3:40pm

The M’s continue their homestand by hosting the first-place Astros. The Astros were in on several players at the deadline, and after failing to land any of them, made a big splash later in August by acquiring Justin Verlander and reliever Tyler Clippard, and then getting OF Cameron Maybin as well. Houston got off to a scorching start to the year, with Dallas Keuchel looking like he’d recaptured his Cy Young form from 2015, Lance McCullers was untouchable at times, and Chris Devenski was making a bid for a historic season out of the bullpen. Then things fell apart for a while: Keuchel hit the disabled list for a few months, McCullers was awful and then hit the DL (he hasn’t pitched in over a month, but he’ll be activated for this series), Devenski fell back to earth, and top prospect Francis Martes came up and struggled. It’s easy to say that the Astros depth saved them, as pitchers like Brad Peacock held the fort until the injured were ready to pitch again. But it’s worth noting that there was nothing spectacular about the depth that they’ve used: Brad Peacock’s preseason ZiPS projection was essentially identical to Christian Bergman’s, and worse than Max Povse’s. The story of the Astros’ rise isn’t just about high draft picks; Carlos Correa’s been great, but HE’S missed a bunch of time, too. Rather, it’s how much production they’ve squeezed out of the kinds of minor acquisitions that the M’s have made dozens of this year. Collin McHugh was a waiver claim. Peacock was a throw-in in a deal with the A’s. Jose Altuve was ignored by many because of his stature, Chris Devenski was a PTBNL, and Charlie Morton was signed to a two-year deal for a bit more than Marc Rzepczynski got. Their pro scouting group seems to know what it wants, and their player development staff seems to know how to turn those skills/attributes into MLB production. If I sound a bit jealous, I am.

The M’s seem to know what they want, but turning things like “fly balls, but not HRs” into on-the-ground production is hard. I’m sympathetic to the argument that ground ball pitchers are now costlier to acquire, but then I see a guy like Erasmo Ramirez, whom the M’s acquired for very little and who IS an effective GB% hurler. And as soon as he came to Seattle, the M’s seem intent on reducing his GB ability. I talked about the uptick in his four-seam usage back in mid-August, but with that month complete, we have a better idea of what’s it’s done to his batted ball profile: August saw his second-highest fly ball rate of any month since 2014. If the M’s wanted him to avoid GBs, then I guess job well done and all, but then it seems odd to lament the fact that ground ball pitchers cost more than you can afford. Erasmo’s change-up movement looks a bit different too, and less likely to get either whiffs or grounders, but I will say that sequencing a four-seam and change seems better than just sinkers/change-ups; the movement on them is too similar, and Erasmo’s velocity difference isn’t big enough.

Speaking of recent acquisitions, the M’s finally got to see RP Shae Simmons make his M’s debut in yesterday’s win. Lookout Landing’s John Trupin had a great article/interview with him that posted today, and he notes that Simmons’ command isn’t quite back to normal after his injury woes. Simmons throws his fastball very hard, at 95-98, and sat at 96+ yesterday. It’s always been a very odd duck – not a sinker thanks to very little horizontal movement, but with sinker-like “rise”. In all, I’d call it most similar to a cutter, but it’s not a textbook cutter, either. Whatever you call it, with sinking action and plus velocity, it looks pretty good. He pairs it with a slider in the mid-low 80s, and with his low release point, it moves an awful lot like Carson Smith’s, a point Trupin notes. He used to throw a split-change that looks like a great complement to his fastball, but he didn’t throw it yesterday – instead, he debuted a NEW pitch – an actual cutter that comes in about 6-7 MPH slower than the fastball, and has less vertical drop than the true slider. Compared to where Simmons was when he debuted in 2014, his fastball was even straighter and with more rise, and his slider was slower with more horizontal run. He seemed to be releasing the ball a bit higher, which may account for the movement on his fastball, but we’ll have to see more of him to know for sure.

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

Today’s the final day of the MiLB season; it hasn’t been a great one overall for the M’s, but Modesto’s first half qualifies them for the Cal League playoffs. Tacoma ends up their campaign in Las Vegas today, while Arkansas hosts NW Arkansas (who I swear they’ve played roughly half their games against), Modesto hosts Visalia, while Clinton’s in Burlington. Modesto’s the only affiliate to end with a better-than-.500 record.

Fittingly for a post titled like this one, the M’s have added a new pitcher since I began writing today. They picked up RHP Seth Frankoff off waivers from the Cubs, along with OF Jacob Hanneman. David Phelps has been moved to the 60-day DL, ending his season, and Zac Curtis has been DFA’d.


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