Game 11, Athletics at Mariners – Hit Enough, And You Won’t Have to Worry About Pitching

marc w · April 13, 2018 at 3:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Andrew Triggs, 7:10pm

The M’s return home to kick off intra-divisional play, and they await the imminent return of guys like Ben Gamel, Mike Zunino and Nelson Cruz. All of them should play at some point on this homestand, and while the timetable for Gamel’s been pushed back a day or two, Cruz may be ready to go this weekend at some point. As this TJ Cotterill piece at the TNT lays out, the M’s will have some roster decisions to make as their starters return from injury. At least initially, this “problem” can be solved by going back to only an 8 man bullpen, and sending a pitcher back to Tacoma. After that, it gets a little trickier. Would the club ditch Ichiro, who’s a platoon bat and who leaves for a defensive replacement most nights anyway? Would they option someone like Guillermo Heredia, which would mean eliminating a natural platoon partner for Gamel? Or :gasp: go to a 7 man bullpen, something seen as luxurious only a few years ago, but which might give Scott Servais night terrors today?

While the A’s and Mariners had vastly different expectations and payrolls, the two teams’ overall plans for 2018 look remarkably similar: put together a tough line-up, get just enough pitching, and then hope one of the front-runners stumbles a bit. Neither team is built to take on the Astros, and I expect both front offices would admit as much (off the record, of course). Both teams ended 2017 with very good offenses, and both teams returned most all of those players for 2018. The M’s look to have made a tremendous upgrade in CF, with Dee Gordon taking to the outfield and really taking to AL pitching. The Athletics’ offense was buoyed by a crop of somewhat under-the-radar prospects who hit the majors at the same time; their big off-season addition was picking up Jonathan Lucroy to catch. The M’s want their core to hang on while hoping for improvements in production and health from Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, and Dan Vogelbach/Ryon Healy. The A’s just need their young core’s strikeout rates to moderate a bit with experience, while hoping the vets they’ve brought in around them (Lucroy, Jed Lowrie) don’t collapse. They’re almost inverse tactical approaches to the same strategic goal, but in the end it’s remarkable how well it’s worked out for both.

The M’s offense was a 110 wRC+, and is keeping the M’s afloat. The A’s offense has been even better, with a 117 wRC+, and that’s against some of the better teams in the league. The A’s have scored a few more runs thus far, and Fangraphs’ projections think that’ll continue, despite the offense-suppressing stadium they call home; the A’s youngsters, led by Matt Chapman, are simply really, really good. The A’s seem to have a fatal flaw, and it’s not their hitters’ whiff rate. It’s that none of those youngsters can pitch. I’ve been wondering if Shohei Ohtani’s success might change the way MLB thinks about two-way players (“it’s a distraction” “it can’t be done” “you delay development”), and I especially wonder if the combination of exposure to Ohtani AND desperation might lead the A’s to see how well Chapman’s amazing arm would play on the mound.

The A’s and M’s both entered 2018 with a few reasons to expect that their pitchers would hold up their (short) end of the bargain. The M’s had a full year of Mike Leake, more bullpen options, and expected growth from guys like Marco Gonzales. The A’s hoped for better health, and then bounceback/regression-to-the-mean years from Jharel Cotton/Daniel Mengden, while their top prospect, AJ Puk, cooled his jets in AAA. Yes, at one point, it looked like the A’s might have the superior starting pitching depth. Unfortunately for both teams, that depth would soon get tested. The M’s lost Erasmo Ramirez to a lat injury, and then their bullpen took a hit with injuries to David Phelps and Nick Rumbelow. The A’s had it even worse, losing Cotton to a blown elbow, and then losing Puk to TJ surgery as well. The M’s get Erasmo back momentarily (he pitched in AAA last night), but A’s fans will see a whole lot of mediocre Daniels Gossett and Mengden this season.

With opening day starter Kendall Graveman looking terrible through 3 starts, this club desperately needs someone to step up. Sean Manaea has shown signs that he might finally develop into a better-than-average starter, but the A’s best chance at darkhorse contention is a full, healthy, solid season from tonight’s starter, Andrew Triggs. Triggs was a reliever in the Royals and then Orioles system, which makes sense given his lack of velocity and sidearm release (he profiles as a ROOGY type). But some tweaks to his delivery have made him a shockingly deceptive pitcher, which is essentially the only way to explain how a sinkerballer throwing 89 and releasing the ball from near the third base line can be as effective against lefties as Triggs has been. The problem is that Triggs hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He started out 2017 like an out-of-nowhere star, then spent his last 10 or so innings hurting and getting pounded mercilessly, and spending most of the year on the DL. His sinker has essentially the same movement as ex-M’s reliever Carson Smith’s, albeit without Smith’s velocity. He backs that up with a sweeping curve that again looks a bit like a slower, even more frisbee-like, version of Smith’s slider. Like Smith, Triggs’ pitch movement and pitch mix looks like it should produce huge platoon splits, but it…doesn’t.

One way to see Triggs’ deception is to look at his swing rate. As this FG post explains, Triggs’ generates fewer swings overall than league average. With a healthy called-strike percentage and solid out-of-zone swing and contact rates, and a low contact rate overall, Triggs would seem to check every box as an uncomfortable AB: batters struggle to recognize where the ball is, and thus struggle first with the decision to swing or not, and then with the putting-the-bat-on-the-ball part, too. Triggs has tossed 130 MLB innings from 2015-2018. I’m not sure the A’s would LET him throw 200, but a full year from Triggs would do wonders for the beleaguered A’s rotation.

As a staff, the M’s have famously gone for fly balls and whiffs by pitching up in the zone. Do the A’s have a strategy? I’m not sure how much is intentional and how much is the product of cost-control and injuries, but the A’s simply won’t walk people. The A’s have the lowest BB% in the game, and their relievers are especially stingy with walks. This isn’t backed up by the traditional reliever attribute, the big K rate. The entire staff looks like it was ripped from a 2009-ish Minnesota Twins roster. For years, the Twins opted for pitchability and zone control – perfectly traditional things, but which looked more and more anachronistic as league-wide K rates spiked. Other teams had fireballing phenoms, but the Twins opted for Nick Blackburns and Scott Diamonds. It occasionally went well, but the lack of Ks was tough to overcome *especially* when mixed with lots of HRs (which was the undoing of Blackburn/Diamond/etc.). The A’s may have this problem, though A’s fans would probably point out that the A’s HR/9 is *still* lower than the Mariners’.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Marjama, C
8: Ichirooo, LF
9: Romine, 1B
SP: Leake

The Rainiers’ 9th inning comeback fell short last night in Fresno, as the Grizzlies held on for a 5-3 win. Grizz starter Cy Sneed went 5 scoreless, but Erasmo Ramirez gave up just 1 run in his 4 IP of work. The R’s bullpen wasn’t sharp, as Mike Morin and Ryan Cook gave up two runs each before Erik Goeddel pitched another scoreless inning. Goeddel’s thrown 2 scoreless on the year with 2 Ks. John Andreoli was the hitting star again, and had half of the R’s 6 total hits, including their only XBHs, a 2B and a 3B. He’s now hitting .407/.467/.741, which is rather good. Tonight, Rob Whalen faces Tyler Herb in a rematch of the April 8th game up in Tacoma…a game neither starter wants to remember.

Arkansas dropped a close one to San Antonio 3-2 thanks to two HRs from Missions’ 1B Josh Naylor. Naylor, a Canadian power prospect built like fellow Canuck Tyler O’Neill, struggled a bit coming up through the minors, but is off to a very hot start. Chase de Jong tossed 6 very good innings for the Travelers, but the Missions’ bullpen day largely matched him. Johendi Jiminian, who was brilliant in his first start, takes the mound tonight against lefty Logan Allen, part of the Padres’ return when they dealt Craig Kimbrel to Boston.

Modesto’s probably ready to move on after losing to Inland Empire 7-0. Griffin Canning, one of the Angels’ top pitching prospects, flummoxed them through 4+, and they couldn’t get anything going against the 66ers bullpen, either. Meanwhile, Ljay Newsome, who looked good in the Cactus League, had a much better outing, giving up 3 runs in 6 IP with 6 Ks and 0 BBs. The Nuts lost two of three to Inland Empire, and were shut out in both losses. I miss the days when the Angels had essentially no farm system, and you’d look forward to playing their affiliates. Tonight, the Nuts take on Visalia, a D-Backs affiliate, and one that’s been quite good the last few years. Danny Garcia starts for Modesto, opposite Riley Smith of Visalia, a 2016 late-round draft pick out of LSU.

Clinton lost the final game of their series with Wisconsin 6-4, despite a 3-R HR from OF Dimas Ojeda. Wisconsin starter Alec Bettinger K’d 9 Lumberkings in 5 IP, giving 3 runs on the aforementioned dinger. Nick Wells continues to struggle with his control, walking 4 in 4 1/3 IP. The L-Kings kick off a series with Cedar Rapids tonight, with Tommy Romero on the hill against 2017 Twins draft pick Bryan Sammons, who’s now posted 72 strikeouts over the course of his 54 1/3 professional innings.

Of note, 2017 top pick Evan White’s joined Modesto from extended spring training. He’s now 1-11 with a walk in 3 games.

The position players of each of the M’s full-season affiliates has the oldest average age in each league they play in: Midwest League, Cal League, Texas League, and PCL. I’m not making a value judgment, just an oddity that popped up when doing research for a post a few days ago. This is unlikely to change if/when Jayson Werth joins the Rainiers.


One Response to “Game 11, Athletics at Mariners – Hit Enough, And You Won’t Have to Worry About Pitching”

  1. pdome01 on April 14th, 2018 2:09 am

    Nice Win!

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