Game 23, Mariners at Angels

marc w · April 19, 2019 at 5:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Felix Peña, 7:07pm

The M’s look to shake off their first real struggles of the season by winning a second consecutive game tonight, perhaps one that doesn’t expose their bullpen quite so much as last night’s bizarre late-inning victory. They turn to opening day starter Marco Gonzales, and while I’ve been harping on this all year, I can’t overstate just how bizarre I find his transformation in 2019.

Baseball Prospectus has a cool stat where they measure a pitcher’s 95th-percentile velocity – or an approximation of “peak” velocity. They call it, uh, peak mph. If you look at pitchers this year and set the IP limit to 10, you’ll find 185 pitchers qualify. Of these, Gonzales ranks 182nd (his good buddy Wade LeBlanc comes in last at 185).* Gonzales’ average sinker is around 88 this year, or several MPH below the 91 he was at in 2017, and the 90 he sat at last year. In April of 2018, he was at 90.5, so this isn’t just a normal progression where he’s slower in April and works his way up. But his *peak* velo is just 89, which suggests to me that he’s not taking something off the pitch to accentuate movement; when he rears back and adds something extra, he’s *still* 1.5 MPH slower than his average from last April.

This seems to have plenty of other impacts, as his K rate has dropped markedly from last year’s career high. This year’s is essentially a career low. What’s the point of this? Is this intentional? If so, what’s the point? His average exit velocity and the other newfangled Statcast metrics aren’t that impressive, but it’s worth pointing out that his expected wOBA-allowed is even lower than his actual wOBA-allowed. Statcast thinks he may be UNlucky, whereas I’m out here wondering how he’s not a left-handed Blake Beavan. He’s clearly managing contact, and his old struggles with BABIP seem to have been tamed somewhat, and that’s saying something with a defense that doesn’t look too hot by any measure. He seems to have a plan out there, and that plan is mostly working, so I’ll just say that I have no firm ideas on what that plan might be, and that I worry he took that “crafty lefties” commercial a bit too literally.

My half-formed idea is that he’s good at getting called strikes. Is that a repeatable thing? Maybe? I don’t really know. If there’s additional deception in his delivery now, that could help explain the low expected-batting-average numbers from MLB and also the called strikes, but I’m still not really sure why it doesn’t result in whiffs.

Felix Peña was a fungible bullpen arm in the Cubs org before popping up last year as a starter for the desperate-for-starting-pitching Angels and turning in a pleasant half-year for them. He cut his walk rate, and armed with a so-so 92mph sinker and a very good slider, he ended up striking out 21% of batters. In addition to the FB and SL, he’s also got a change-up at around 85. All in all, he reminds me a bit of a right-handed…Marco Gonzales. At least, the Marco from 2018. Seriously: in 2018, their sinkers had almost identical movement, and Marco’s K% overall was 21.1% compared to Felix’s 21.9%. Their change-ups are different, though, as Pena’s plays a bit more like a splitter, with less armside run, and Marco’s is all about maximizing that armside movement. The slider is a true outpitch, something Marco doesn’t quite have yet. But then, Marco had better control. Peña’s not great at limiting HRs, though it’s really too early in his career to say much about that yet; his elevated HR/9 in 2019 is the result of precisely two dingers yielded. What he HAS shown is platoon split issues, as you might expect from a sinker/slider guy. This is a good match-up for the M’s lefties like Vogelbach and Bruce.

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

…Polo. I guess it’s time to retire that joke, as the M’s released OF Tito Polo who’d been with Tacoma. He spiked El Paso 1B Alex Dickerson in a game and had been suspended by the PCL. The R’s added SP Christian Bergman, who’s seen time with them the past few years, and sent SP Nabil Crismatt and erstwhile M’s RP Dan Altavilla to AA, replacing them with new-to-the-org guys RP Parker Markel and RP Aaron Northcraft. Tacoma edged El Paso 7-6 in the finale of that series on a 9th-inning HR from Eric Young, Jr. They kick off a series in Albuquerque tonight with Bergman on the hill.

Arkansas beat Tulsa for what feels like the 28th time this year by a score of 8-2. HRs from Dom Thompson-Williams, Logan Taylor, and Donnie Walton helped, and the bullpen kept the Drillers in check until the Travs exploded for 6 in the 6th IP. Reigning Texas league pitcher of the week Darren McCaughan starts today for Arkansas.

Modesto came from behind to beat the Stockton Ports 6-4 last night, scoring 2 in the 7th and 2 in the 9th to make a winner of closer Sam Delaplane, who now has 18 Ks in 9 2/3 IP. Luis Liberato was 2-3 with 2 walks for the Nuts.

West Virginia beat the Asheville Tourists 12-7, with the Power belting out 18 hits. I don’t know much about the Sally League, but one thing many long-time minor league fans know about are the insane park factors in Asheville. gave the park a 1.7 HR park factor in 2016, which makes it kind of stunning that a total of only 2 dingers were hit last night. Today’s game was rained out. More worrisome was the news that top prospect Julio Rodriguez hand injury was more severe than first thought. He’ll hit the IL with a hairline fracture, which contradicts earlier reports that x-rays were negative for fractures. He’ll be out 4-6 weeks.

Finally, the long Gareth Morgan experiment is at an end. The powerful Canadian slugger signed with the M’s out of high school in 2014, but scuffled in the AZL complex league, striking out in 41% of his PAs. Still, he was just 18, and a bit raw. He was better in 2015 at the same level, with a low BA, but a K rate down below 40%, but in 2016, it was up over 46%. Pushed up to the Midwest League in 2017, he had his best season, hitting 17 HRs, but still striking out over 40% of the time and unable to get hardly any non-HR hits. Promoted to high-A in 2018, things went from bad to worse. His K rate soared past 50% (187 in 342 PAs), and while 19 HRs are nice and all, they can’t support a slash line of .157/.246/.382. A slow start this year (he was 2-27 with 20 Ks in the early going) doomed him, and he’s now free to sign elsewhere. The M’s stuck with him, but it’s got to be tough. He was a classic Jack Zduriencik high-ceiling, low-floor slugger, and one of many guys the old FO scouted out of Canada. Much of that didn’t work out, though Tyler O’Neill would make the majors for St. Louis after netting the M’s Marco Gonzales in trade. Morgan was something of an object of macabre fascination for prospect watchers, and I legitimately feel bad for the kid. I hope he finds success somewhere, or goes back to school and has a great, quiet life in something else, where every day’s minor failures are tabulated and broadcast to everyone.

* Mike Leake is #181.


7 Responses to “Game 23, Mariners at Angels”

  1. Stevemotivateir on April 19th, 2019 5:29 pm

    Take a look at the map from Marco’s last start. He got a couple first pitches on the border, but had multiple called balls inside the zone. Cole had better luck that night (and he didn’t need it).

    My money’s on the deception theory.

  2. Longgeorge1 on April 19th, 2019 9:08 pm

    When I see things like what Steve mentions and “pitch framing” stats it is just time to get rid of umpires calling ball and strikes. Everyone in the ball park knows the right call and games change because of it. It is about time to give the umpire what he needs to make the right call.

  3. WTF_Ms on April 19th, 2019 9:49 pm

    Whew. I’m not the only one commenting tonight! I agree with better calls in the zone. HOWEVER…that removes the “human” element. The hitters and pitchers BOTH have to adjust to the umpire.

    That being said, maybe remove the “strike zone” chart things and the umpire grading using the cameras. Maybe add an umpire? I don’t know.

  4. Longgeorge1 on April 19th, 2019 10:19 pm

    “Every” sport including baseball uses video to correct “bad” calls. Anyone can miss a call, really tired of umps with their individual zone. Bottom line – Get the call “right”
    PS. GREAT WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. schwingy on April 19th, 2019 10:35 pm

    Can someone help me? Why wasn’t the infield fly rule called on that play in the 8th? Was that only because the batter didn’t run?

  6. Longgeorge1 on April 19th, 2019 10:44 pm

    Infield fly is only called with runners on 1st and 2nd or bases loaded. With just a runner on 1st there would normally be no advantage to “drop’ the ball as only one out would be recorded if the batter had run out the pop fly.

  7. schwingy on April 19th, 2019 10:47 pm

    Thanks !

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