Cactus League Game 4: M’s at Cubs

marc w · February 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Tyler Chatwood, 12:05pm

Happy First Felix Day of 2018.

The M’s blanked the Dodgers yesterday, and so far, their pitching’s been decent. I’d love to dive into it a bit more, but after years of odd, surrealist pitch fx data from Peoria stadium, MLB’s turned off the tap, and we’ve got to go by TV and radio notes on what pitchers are throwing and how hard. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it’s kind of frustrating. I do kind of wonder if last year’s Hisashi Iwakuma experience may have influenced the decision to just turn off a system that pretty much nobody used and one that was clearly never calibrated. I’m still bummed about it. Onward! We will find new ways to nerd out, friends.

Today the M’s head on the road to take on the Cubs and their new FA acquisition, former Rockies sinkerballer Tyler Chatwood. I say sinkerballer because he runs a great ground ball rate and has very little rise on his fastball, but, like everyone else on the Rockies last year, Chatwood actually threw a bunch of four-seamers. He came up with the Angels before getting traded by GM Jerry Dipoto in one of his first moves after taking the reins in Anaheim (in one of the many, many times Dipoto has acquired Chris Iannetta), and initially he really WAS a sinkerballer. He threw very hard, but lacked anything like an out pitch, and thus put up abysmal K rates and K:BB numbers (you can see why Dipoto wasn’t buying it). But beginning in mid 2016, he’s made his four-seamer his primary fastball. It’s arrow straight, and averaged over 95mph last year – pretty exceptional for a starting pitcher. It’s got a decent amount of rise, but Chatwood’s placement and velocity combine to give him far, far more ground balls than you’d expect. In fact, since switching over to a much more four-seam-heavy approach, his ground ball rate has gone *up* and he’s now an elite GB guy.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs do with him. All of those grounders didn’t make him more effective last year. The poor HR/FB ratio figures to get better now that he’s not pitching at altitude, but he’s also never figured out how to avoid walks, either. Chatwood’s breaking balls help boost his GB rates, too, and there again, Chatwood’s made some changes. He now throws a ton of sliders to righties, after coming up as a sinker/curve/change guy.

More importantly for the M’s, there are some intriguing pitchers who’ll get some time once King Felix leaves the field. Shawn Armstrong, the reliever the M’s got from the Indians earlier in the offseason, makes his second appearance. Later on, we may get to see Seth Elledge, a 4th round pick out of Dallas Baptist last year. Elledge is a hard-throwing reliever who figures to get lots of closing opportunities in the minors this year, and who could move pretty rapidly this year. I don’t know how much it matters, given the state of the M’s system, but I think he’s being overlooked a bit, and would probably be in my system top 10, though he isn’t in BA’s or Fangraphs’. If you’ve listened to the M’s Wheelhouse podcast, you may have heard about the competition the M’s run, in which the pitcher and hitter with the best “control the zone” stats (generally K:BB ratio) get some time in big league camp in spring training. I believe Ljay Newsome won that award this year, and he figures to get in a game today as well. The youngster out of a Maryland high school was drafted in 2015, and has walked just 31 in 201 professional innings since, with 179 Ks. He’s not going to blow anyone away, and he’s struggled with HRs as an extreme fly ball guy, but he’s clearly on board with the M’s approach, and has been pretty young for his league.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Romine, SS
3: Perkins, DH
4: Lake, LF
5: Nieuwenhuis, RF
6: Motter, 3B
7: Hague, 1B
8: Freitas, C
9: Beckham, 2B

A 3-4-5 of Perkins/Lake/Nieuwenhuis (all waiver claims/MiLB signings) is peak spring training. We’ll see a few more of them coming up, as the M’s have their first split-squad day tomorrow.


3 Responses to “Cactus League Game 4: M’s at Cubs”

  1. Westside guy on February 26th, 2018 5:44 pm

    Any word on how Felix is doing after he took that line drive off his arm?

  2. mrakbaseball on February 26th, 2018 7:13 pm

    A precautionary X-ray of Félix Hernández’s right forearm was negative. He is day-to-day. Hernández will be re-evaluated tomorrow
    Via @MarinersPR twitter

  3. LongDistance on February 27th, 2018 4:17 am

    So … that explains the lack of info, other than the box score, this year.

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