Cactus League: M’s at Brewers; Bloggers vs. Information Gap

marc w · March 2, 2018 at 12:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Junior Guerra, 12:05 (radio on 710, delayed until 7)

The M’s head to Maryvale to take on one of the most intriguing teams of 2018, the Milwaukee Brewers. After getting a jump-start on their rebuild by swapping current M’s SS Jean Segura, the Brewers made a series of deals in 2016 and have turned themselves into a contending team faster than anyone would’ve hoped. After a near miss last year, they’ve added CF Lorenzo Cain and traded for OF Christian Yelich. Their offense was solid last year, and looks to be even better now. The key is going to be pitching. While they were excellent last year, the projection systems simply aren’t buying the impressive seasons of guys like Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. That they’ve now got Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley for depth doesn’t help their projections, either.

Today’s starter, Junion Guerra, may help pitch the innings that went to Matt Garza last year (who’s left in free agency), and may prevent the Brewers from needing to squeeze serious innings out of Gallardo. Guerra’s an interesting story, having been drafted as a catcher and not starting to pitch until he was in his early 20s. Even from that point, it took him years to reach the majors, getting 4 innings with the White Sox in 2015. Claimed off of waivers, the Brewers made him a starter, and after a solid half-year with them in 2016, became the club’s opening day starter last year at age 32. 2017 was a rough one, however, as he logged just 70 IP, and lost his starting job. Plagued by shoulder injuries for a few years, Guerra’s velo was off noticeably in 2017, with his four-seam fastball down about 2 full MPH from 2016.

It’d be cool for Brewers fans to see how he’s doing, and as a Mariner fan, I’m really intrigued by the cutter Marco Gonzales is re-introducing this spring. The problem is that one of the key information sources for things like this – pitch fx – has been switched off. No longer can we get real-time data on what pitchers are throwing and how it’s working. Mike Leake’s tweaked his changeup to increase the velocity gap between it and his fastball, as this great Ryan Divish piece details. I’d love to see more stats on how many times he’s thrown it and what batters have done, but in 2018, that’s no longer possible. It’s tough to complain about access to data now that every game has statcast and gobs and gobs more data than we could ever really use. But getting information on pitchers in the spring was awesome – a great way to see who might be on the verge of a breakout and who might be slowing down.

To be clear, reporters are notifying everyone of these pitch/repertoire changes, and you can see snippets of them in highlight clips, but it’s still really, really useful to get a record of what batters do against a pitch. Leake and Gonzales are absolutely critical to the M’s playoff chances this year, and any kind of change to their arsenal may make it more likely that they can contribute the way Jerry Dipoto believes they’re capable. But every spring is full of stories like this, and many of them are left behind in Peoria when the season starts; not sure how many years we’ve heard about Felix experimenting with a cutter, for example.

Leake’s change is a fascinating example. It’s always been thrown extremely hard – it’s averaged 85-86 since Leake entered the majors, and his fastball’s been around 91. That small gap in velocity should lead to very low whiff/swinging strike rates, and that’s indeed what we’ve seen. That said, it’s been his best groundball pitch, better even than his sinker. Early in his career, it was hit quite hard, with batters often slugging over .500 against him on cambios. In recent years, Leake’s results on his change have improved markedly. It’s a nice weapon to have to pair with his cutter, especially against lefties, who’ve troubled him from time to time over his career (not too surprising for a sinkerballing righty). So Leake was already doing something with his change; some adjustment between 2015 and 2016 generated much more drop at more or less the same velocity. Will the new, larger, velocity gap make Leake more of a strikeout pitcher? I guess we’ll see – it’d be cool to see his whiff rates on it thus far, but I guess that’s not in the cards.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Romine, SS
3: Zunino, DH
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Lake, LF
6: Motter, 3B
7: Beckham, 2B
8: Marjama, C
9: Bishop, CF
SP: Gonzales

Vogelbach’s, uh, back in the field and starts at 1B. The M’s have been oddly consistent in where their utility-IF candidates play – Romine’s essentially only been at SS, while Motter’s played 3B. Huh.


One Response to “Cactus League: M’s at Brewers; Bloggers vs. Information Gap”

  1. stevemotivateir on March 2nd, 2018 6:17 pm

    Gamel was a late scratch with a sore back. Maybe they should swap out some of the games/toys for yoga?

    Good to see Gonzales with another solid start. Vogelbach did his part as well.

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