Game 19, Indians at Mariners

marc w · April 15, 2019 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Yusei Kikuchi vs. Trevor Bauer, 7:10pm

Befitting a team whose mantra is to control the zone, Mariner starters lead all of MLB in walk rate, at under 5%. That’s quite an impressive mark, especially given the league-wide growth in walk rate this April. In part it reflects some choices in the construction of the rotation, but it seems to be the product of coaching as well, as tonight’s starter, Yusei Kikuchi, was never exactly a control pitcher in Japan. Thus, his projections showed a walk rate much higher than he’s demonstrated in his first few starts.

That said, all of this control has come at a cost. The M’s starters have the second WORST K%. They continue to lead the way in balls in play, and with this defense, that’s something of a problem. So while they have a nice ERA, just under 4, they lead the league in unearned runs, which is why the M’s runs-allowed is as high as it is despite the pleasing ERA totals. And here again, Yusei Kikuchi defies expectations. Armed with a lively fastball and a very good slider, he *should* generate whiffs and strikeouts. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Kikuchi’s walked just 3 in 21 2/3 IP, but he has also struck out under 18% of opposing hitters. That’s not awful; this sort of ratio made Hisashi Iwakuma a minor star for several years. Kikuchi’s even matching Iwakuma’s underrated skill of maintaining a very low BABIP. Kikuchi’s slider works a bit like ‘Kuma’s splitter, in that it generates a ton of swings and also some whiffs. The problem here is that Kikuchi’s fastball has played very hitter-friendly in the early-going, generating next to no whiffs and nearly all of the hits he’s given up. It’s not fooling anyone at the moment, despite the fact that his slider remains confusing to hitters. The lack of whiffs mean that more fastballs are put in play in front of this defense, and thus Kikuchi’s already given up 4 unearned runs himself.

On the positive side, though he’s already faced the rebuilding White Sox and Royals, and though the Red Sox have been awful at the plate this year, tonight’s opponent has been far, far worse. The Indians slash line as a team sits at .194/.282/.316, which is essentially tied with Detroit as the worst in the AL. It’s all the more remarkable given that short-time Mariner Carlos Santana has an OBP over .500 and playing like he did several years ago. Worse, they just got rid of one of their more successful hitters, though that’s obviously a very low bar, by DFA’ing Brad Miller. IF Jose Ramirez was one of baseball’s best players in recent years, but has cratered in the early going, and while BABIP is a big part of the problem with his line, the team as a whole is striking out at remarkably high rates. If Kikuchi could use some strikeouts to get going, this is the opposing line-up that can help with that.

His opponent is Trevor Bauer, the tireless pitching tinkerer and at times tiresome personality. After re-designing his slider last year at Driveline Baseball, his big offseason project this year was to refine his change, and it’s now a pitch he’s throwing much more often. I’ve caught a start or two of Bauers, and it’s looked like a great pitch, and it’s helped out when his slider command was off a bit. Iffy command has plagued him a bit this year, as his walk rate is up substantially. But as I’ve talked about a lot, the change-up is a great pitch in that it generates so many swings no matter where it’s thrown. It can get whiffs for Bauer, but it’s the pitch that’s put in play most often against him, and often on pitches below the zone. It’s one reason Bauer’s BABIP is miniscule, and thus he’s pitched better than his FIP would indicate. The M’s faced some very tough pitchers in the Astros series, and things aren’t getting a lot easier tonight.

1: Smith, CF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Santana, LF
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Encarnacion, 1B
6: Narvaez, C
7: Beckham, SS
8: Healy, 3B
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Kikuchi

The Rainiers took an 8-0 lead into the 7th inning last night, and ended up losing the game 17-9 in a true PCL classic. RP Taylor Scott, who’d been so successful early on this year, took the loss in one of those cautionary tales about what can happen in the PCL when your command goes wonky. Tim Lopes homered and JP Crawford doubled. The R’s got their revenge today in an early start, winning 10-0 behind 7 shutout innings from Tommy Milone and 2 from Dominican teenager Deivy Florido, who went the final 2 IP, gave up 3 hits, walked one and K’d one. Who the heck is Deivy Florido? Early on, the full-season teams often need extra players when they’ve got a lot of personnel moves, so they’ll pull up players from short-season teams. We saw this in the home opener when Penn Murfee came in to give them some innings despite only pitching for short-season Everett. Florido’s even more remarkable, as today’s game was his stateside debut; he’s only ever pitched in the DSL, and then instead of starting off in the AZL, he gets thrown up to AAA. Cesar Izturis Jr. played a bit for Tacoma and Arkansas before starting in the AZL (he’s with West Virginia now), and going back many years, future major leaguer Austin Bibens-Dirkx made his debut with Tacoma before starting up the chain in Everett. Why is all of this roster shuffling necessary? In the Jerry Dipoto era, the answer is always minor trades. Yesterday, the M’s traded away catcher David Freitas to Milwaukee in exchange for RP Sal Biasi, a Royals draft pick from a few years ago, who’s 23 and had been in the Midwest League. In addition, the R’s lost a couple of relievers to bolster Seattle’s pen, and then lost SP Erik Swanson when Wade LeBlanc hit the IL with a Grade 2 oblique strain. Anyway, Joey Curletta and Ian Miller homered for Tacoma today in the easy win.

The most interesting game in the system last night took place in Arkansas. The bad news is that the Travelers were no-hit in 10 innings by several Tulsa pitchers. The good news is that they won it on a walk-off walk, as the all-important MiLB rule of a runner starting on 2B doomed Tulsa. Tulsa couldn’t score on 5 hits, as Darren McCaughan dominated in 6 IP, striking out 8 without a walk allowed. Not much to talk about hitting-wise, as you’d expect. Justin Dunn starts for the Travs tonight as they host separatist movement Northwest Arkansas and former 4th-round pick and classic MiLB named pitcher Jace Vines. The Travelers were clearly one of the most talented of the M’s affiliates, and, with West Virginia, one of the more prospect-laden groups. They’re playing like it; they’re 8-2, and the only M’s affiliate to be above .500 (the WV Power are 5-5).

Modesto beat Stockton 5-1 on yet another dominant start from righty Ljay Newsome. Newsome’s been a command-control guy, who’d alternate solid starts with some disastrous ones, as he didn’t have the kind of stuff that reliably got strikeouts. That left him to the whims of the BABIP gods, and that partially explains his volatility. He…he appears to have found the kind of stuff that reliably gets strikeouts. The 22-year old struck out 10 against no walks in 6 2/3 IP, and in three starts on the year, he’s now struck out *30* against just 2 walks in only 16 2/3 IP. That’s pretty remarkable, and a great sign. Tonight, the Nuts host Visalia, the D-backs affiliate that’s been a tough team in recent years, and they’re 7-4 in the early going.

West Virginia got rained out, so Augusta couldn’t hit any more Mariners prospects. Logan Gilbert leads the Power today as they host the Lakewood Blue Claws.


3 Responses to “Game 19, Indians at Mariners”

  1. Sportszilla on April 15th, 2019 6:53 pm

    Marc, it’s obviously super early, but at what point do we look at Newsome’s stats and try to figure out what he might have, well, figured out?

  2. marc w on April 15th, 2019 7:03 pm


    Yeah, I’d love to try to figure that out, but this is one where the scouts will be way ahead. Guess I might need to watch his next start on MiLB. He’s gone on some good runs before, and has really, really limited the walks (to make his K:BB awesome), but this thing with *dominating* hitters and striking out everyone? This seems new.

    He had a solid start to 2017 in the Midwest League, racing out to a 30:1 K:BB ratio, but never had games with 11Ks. 9 was his career high, and it came back in may of 2017, until you get to this April…when 9 is his lowest total of the season.

  3. WTF_Ms on April 15th, 2019 10:39 pm

    Three words: regression, rebuild, expected. Not what I like, but here we are. The first month was fun though!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.