Game 103 – Mariners at Angels – Welcome, Sam Tuivailala, an Odd Sort of Situational Reliever

marc w · July 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Andrew Heaney, 7:00pm

Before we talk about tonight’s game, let’s talk about the big news of the day: the M’s made their long-awaited trade for relief help today, bringing in former Cardinals RHP Sam Tuivailala for RP prospect Seth Elledge.

Tuivailala has been someone I’ve had my eye on for a while, as he showed plus-plus velo a few years ago. He came up to the big leagues averaging over 98 MPH on his fastball, and had the rudiments of a good slider to pair with it. He’s developed a sinker as well, which he uses well to right-handed bats. He absolutely has the raw stuff to be a late-inning reliever, and while his command has failed him at the big league level, it’s nice that his raw stuff is way, way above some of the more traditional situational relievers on the market. This is not Marc Rzepczynski; if everything breaks right, he could be more than a situational reliever in a year or two.

That’s good, because while his platoon splits scream “situational righty” the peripherals are a bit weirder. Lefties have torched him, hitting a combined .279/.380/.461 against him, and it’s even worse this year. Meanwhile, righties have a career OBP under .300 against him. Sounds great, right? Well…I’m not so sure. In his career, *every pitch he throws* has a lower whiff rate against righties than lefties. As a result, his K% is better against lefties. He keeps the ball in the ballpark against righties, to be fair, but BABIP is doing a ton of work in those raw platoon slash lines. How can that be, for a plus velo (it’s not plus plus anymore) righty whose primary breaking ball is a slider?

Well, for one thing, his fastballs have almost perfectly average movement. He has a solid spin rate, but something’s not working in translating that into spin efficiency. I’d say there may be a deception thing with righties, but then you’d expect them to miss the ball more than they do (this brings to mind his old teammate Jordan Hicks’ weird mismatch between raw stuff and K% earlier this year). His slider in particular would have to grade pretty poorly against righties, as they simply don’t swing and miss at it as much as other same-handed sliders. It gets grounders, and that’s worth something, but it’s not the kind of putaway pitch you’d typically want from a situational reliever. Luke Gregerson he’s not.

I said it on twitter and I’ll reiterate it here: for this to really make sense, they can’t be thinking about “developing” Tuivailala. The M’s are in a playoff race *today*, and Tuivailala lacks options in any case. If this works out, it’ll be because the M’s have already identified something in his delivery that they can tweak and improve. In his career, Tuivailala’s been a near replacement-level RP, which is why he’s bounced up and down between the majors and AAA. The M’s do not need a ~ replacement-level RP, no matter what kind of potential he’s got. Thus, they need to know what they’re going to do and that that intervention has a good chance of succeeding. What are some of those potential changes?

Right now, Tuivailala throws a sinker and four-seam fastball. He’d been primarily a four-seam guy until this year, when he’s shifted to throwing the sinker more. He’s also reduced his overall FB usage from ~60% in 2016 to the low 50s now. The M’s could simply amp that trend up and have him throw a ton of sliders and his slurvy curveball to righties, using him to avoid lefty match-ups, and putting him in when they need a grounder from a righty. That’s easiest, but I’m not sure it’ll get them a whole lot. The bigger lift would be to drop his arm angle, both to try to get back some of the 1-2 MPH he’s lost since 2015, and to increase the horizontal movement on the pitch. Not only that, but with some hard work, it could help make his delivery a bit tougher to pick up. Clearly, righties are getting a better look at the ball than they “should,” and the M’s should probably work on that. Third, his “Effective velocity” isn’t great – he doesn’t have a long stride that shortens the reaction time hitters have. Fourth, and perhaps most intriguingly, they could work on his slider. The M’s has success changing Marco Gonzales’ curve, which is a big reason he’s throwing it so much more (as JY mentioned). When he came up, it had a noticeably lower release point than his FB. The Cards have largely fixed that, but adjusting the shape of the pitch (which may come with a release point drop), could help disguise it and produce more whiffs.

JY’s have you the run-down in Elledge, but as in any truly fair trade, losing him hurts. He’s got great numbers, has shown the ability to work more than a single inning, and the scouting reports are great. You can’t get a guy with Tuivailala’s promise for a C prospect, and thus the M’s are sending over probably their top RP prospect.

Today, the M’s face familiar for Andrew Heaney in Anaheim as the red hot A’s travel to Colorado.

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


4 Responses to “Game 103 – Mariners at Angels – Welcome, Sam Tuivailala, an Odd Sort of Situational Reliever”

  1. WTF_Ms on July 27th, 2018 9:36 pm

    And Ben Gamel for the trade? What’re the rumors? I haven’t heard much.

  2. WTF_Ms on July 27th, 2018 10:03 pm

    The breaking point was tonight. Our run of winning one run games is over. It was nice up until now.

  3. marc w on July 27th, 2018 10:34 pm

    Yeah, this felt bad. I’ll give them credit for a scrappy comeback, but the Gordon steal of home was, frankly, bizarre, no matter how close. And Nicasio…:shakes head:.

    The one run thing was never going to last, at least not with the same ‘pen. The last few years, guys have seemed really gassed in the 2nd half…Pazos one year, Vincent a bit last year. That makes the trades for Colome and Tuivailala understandable, but we’ll see how it works in practice. The bigger worry of course is the offense. This team needs Canó desperately.

  4. JMB on July 28th, 2018 10:43 am

    I’m not saying Gordon was safe. But he was called safe initially and I didn’t see an angle that said definitively otherwise. Even in the one shot that made Blowers say “oh, he’s out”, the catcher was obstructing the view of the plate.

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