Game 25, Mariners at White Sox – Marco Gonzales is Figuring Things Out

marc w · April 25, 2018 at 9:30 am · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. James Shields, 11:10am

Happy Felix Day. It’s always a little happier when the M’s are coming off of a great pitching performance, and are not looking to Felix to staunch some bleeding. Yesterday’s start from Marco Gonzales – especially on the heels of a successful game 5 days earlier – couldn’t have come at a better time. After a disastrous start from Mike Leake, the M’s team numbers were atrocious, and with a tired bullpen, a short start yesterday could’ve snowballed on the M’s. Frankly, short starts are pretty much the norm from Gonzales since the trade, as he’s struggled the 2nd and 3rd time through a line-up. Instead, Marco mixed pitches masterfully, worked out of a first-inning jam, and then pretty much dominated an overmatched White Sox line-up.

Against Houston on the 19th, Gonzales tried to go away from the scouting report on him, and relied heavily on his curve ball, throwing it more than any of his other pitches. Yesterday, against a more free-swinging, fastball-hunting club, he went back to the change, throwing it 28 times against 31 sinkers. Mixing pitches and tailoring the mix to a specific line-up is great, but traditionally, it hasn’t been enough for Gonzales. As great as his change-up *looks*, visually, it’s produced mediocre results for years. He’s needed something to keep right-handers honest, and as I’ve talked about a bit, he needs a pitch that comes between his fastball and change, which have had dangerously distinct release points. Gonzales’ cutter seems to have transformed him, and it’s a pitch that right-handers can’t seem to figure out.

Platoon splits have always been a problem for Gonzales, going back to his Cardinals days. Dropping his arm angle, which mostly seems to have happened before he got to Seattle (though it’s dropped a tiny bit this year), shouldn’t really help with that – combined with a new sinker, that should *exacerbate* his splits, not solve them. But that’s why the cutter’s so interesting: his new arm angle and new sinker produce a lot of arm-side run. His change-up always had that, but with the new angle, it’s got even more – often over 10″. Years ago, his old slider didn’t have the bite you’d want, and so it still had minimal armside run, not true glove side movement. His cutter spins enough that it can get to 0 or even an inch or two glove side despite being thrown harder than his old slider. From the new angle, at that speed, that’s an intriguing pitch – it’d be more slider-y than his old slider if it wasn’t thrown with fastball velocity. Anyway, that horizontal movement gives him tremendous separation between sinker/fastball and the cutter, and since it’s thrown from a release point in between his change and fastball. If you’re a righty and you read change-up on it, the cutter’s speed, while unremarkable in a vacuum, will mess up your timing. If you’re swinging at a pitch you expect to move a foot armside that then doesn’t, even if you DO hit it, you’re likely to need a new bat.

Gonzales is still learning, and we need to seem him do this consistently, but these last two starts have been revelatory. I’d assumed that even a really good version of Gonzales wouldn’t include a lot of missed bats. I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Today, the M’s face veteran James Shields. Shields was something of a canary in the coal mine for the home run explosion, as he got destroyed by the long ball back in 2015, just before the entire league did in 2016. Shields came up with the Rays as a fastball/change-up guy, and his change was his outpitch for a decade. Until last year. Perhaps tired of seeing its results drop, or tired of batters looking for it, because hey, it’s James Shields’ outpitch, he started throwing it much, much less last year. It’s now his fourth pitch by usage, behind his fastball, cutter, and especially his curveball. His curve has maybe been overlooked a bit, as it’s been a solid pitch for years. The cutter *should* be good – it’s got slider-like movement, and while BrooksBaseball lists a cutter and a slider, they certainly look like one pitch to me. It’s thrown a bit softer than Gonzales’ cutter, but it’s got that same wide gap in horizontal movement that Marco’s developed. The problem is, batters see it really well. Since the start of last year, he’s thrown it over 500 times, and batters are slugging .564 on it. It’s not the cause of his suddenly concerning platoon splits (this is a good day for the M’s lefties), but it’s not helping solve that problem.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Vogelbach, 1B

I watched the end of the Modesto Nuts 6-0 loss to Inland Empire, and while it wasn’t good to see them get shut out yet again by the Angels affiliate, Wyatt Mills looked great in the 9th. His funky sidearm angle produced tons of armside run on his fastball, and that fastball got as high as 94. As a senior-sign who took a massive discount when he signed his contract, I guess I kind of assumed he’d top out as org depth. It doesn’t look like it at this point. 91-94 isn’t quite Carson Smith-level velocity, but I was struck by just how much the arsenal *looked* like Smith’s. It’s been a solid start for Mills, and he’s definitely one to watch.


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