Game 72, Mariners at Athletics – And Opening Day in the Northwest League

marc w · June 14, 2019 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Chris Bassitt, 6:37pm NOT 7:05 as I had previously posted!

There are not a lot of surface similarities between tonight’s two starters. Bassitt’s a righty, Gonzales a lefty. Bassitt throws 94 with a lollypop curve that may be the game’s slowest non-knuckleball pitch. Gonzales throws 88 with a change-up that was once a true weapon, or at least projected to be. And that made Gonzales a first-round draft pick, while Bassitt lasted until the 16th round out of a non-power-conference school.

All of that said, I think it can be kind of interesting to view them as two sides of the same coin, or maybe as a couple of different pathways through a pitching career in the modern game. Both debuted in 2014, at the tail end of the little batting ice age, when run scoring and home runs were way down. Both posted ERAs right around 4 that year, with Bassitt’s mediocre K:BB offset by the fact he didn’t allow any dingers. Gonzales missed more bats, but missed the strike zone too much, leading to a surfeit of walks. He also allowed a few HRs, but his fly-ball ways and a good defense behind him limited BABIP and runs-allowed. Gonzales’ injury woes kicked off the next year, and he was lost to TJ surgery until 2017. Bassitt had a fine 2015, as it marked his highest IP total, split between AAA and Oakland, the team the White Sox traded him to in the Jeff Samardzija deal.* His line was again helped by HR-avoidance, and his K:BB and overall stuff weren’t much to look at, but he produced. And then he, too, followed Marco into TJ surgery and rehab.

At this point, Bassitt’s 30 years old, three years older than Gonzales. His velo’s finally back up to the 94 he sat at in 2014-15, and he’s made some subtle changes – like taking some velo off of his curve, using a few more four-seamers, and turning his slider into more of a cutter – but he’s now pitching better than ever. His whiff rates are up to career highs on essentially all of his pitches, and that’s pushed his K rate way up as well. He’s stopped walking so many batters, so his K-BB% is 4 percentage points higher than last year, and about 9 percentage points higher than when he broke in in 2014. We’ve learned so much about player development since 2014, and Bassitt may be a great example – a non-prospect, or minor prospect, late-bloomer with lots of time missed due to injury and no real stand-out pitch becomes a serviceable middle-rotation guy thanks to velo development/maintenance and a new plan of attack. Meanwhile, Gonzales, who’s further from his surgery, younger, and more of a heralded prospect, is stuck in neutral, with an RA/9 over 6 (thanks defense!), and a velocity down at least 2 MPH from 2017. His last start was encouraging – as was Yusei Kikuchi’s – but you can’t keep looking at opponents like Bassitt and feeling good about what’s going on with the M’s. Gonzales (and Kikuchi) are flat-out better than they’ve pitched this year, and I expect they’ll climb out of this slide at some point. But when his velocity, K%, BB%, and GB% all decline, and when there’s no recognizable sense that things are changing, you tend to adjust where you think he’ll regress towards once he does pull out of this tailspin. This doesn’t look like a #2 starter, any more than Kikuchi does. And while there was considerable marketing puffery from the M’s in making Marco out to be more of an ace than he realistically is, it’s undeniable that some team could get solid #3 production from him. I hope the M’s can one day.

In happier news, the Everett AquaSox open the Northwest League season today. The Sox start with a series in the Tri-Cities to face the Dust Devils, a Padres affiliate. Everett’s roster’s worth watching, largely due to the pitching infusion the draft’s brought the org. #1 and #2 picks George Kirby and Brandon Williamson will suit up for Everett, as will Bellingham-native and 5th-rounder Austin Shenton. Today’s game’s started by Juan Mercedes, who’ll face off against Dust Devils’ Nick Thwaites, a 19-year-old 2018 draft pick who was solid in the AZL last year. Mercedes is 19 as well, but only got a handful of AZL innings last year. He had more of a track record in the DSL, where he pitched the previous two seasons.
Speaking of teenage hurlers, Deivy Florido gets the start for West Virginia today against Hagerstown.

The biggest story of the minor leagues today involves the Rainiers, who’ll start Felix Hernandez (Happy Felix Day) against new AAA team, the San Antonio Missions. Old heads remember the M’s had San Antonio as an affiliate back when they were a AA Texas League franchise, and they were one of the stops Felix made on his way up to Seattle, pitching for them in 2004. The 2003 Missions was one of the better MiLB teams the M’s had; they went 88-51, posted nearly a +200 run differential, and featured a young Jose Lopez and Chris Snelling. Aussie lefty Travis Blackley went 17-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 160+ IP, Clint Nageotte was a huge prospect, Cha-Seung Baek was solid in 50 IP, Bobby Madritsch came out of the indie leagues to dominate on his way to the majors, and their second indie league steal, George Sherrill, started his ascent by being essentially untouchable in 27 IP (his ERA was 0.33). Shin-Soo Choo was around with Felix in 2004, and 2005 brought Adam Jones and Ryan Rowland-Smith, and then 2006 saw Jeff Clement, Wlad Balentien, and Matt Tuiasosopo (Asdrubal Cabrera skipped AA and went right to Tacoma). Fun times!

1: Smith, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Santana, RF
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Narvaez, C
6: Beckham, DH
7: Crawford, SS
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Williamson, LF
SP: Gonzales

Welcome back, JP Crawford! He’ll take the 25-man spot of Brandon Brennan, who hits the 10-day IL with a sore shoulder. Felix starts his rehab assignment, and Shed Long’s been optioned back to Tacoma in exchange for Matt Festa.

Every time Edwin Encarnacion’s not in the starting line-up from here on out, we’ll all frantically search twitter to see if a deal’s announced. Nothing yet.

* It’s never going to get as much attention as one of those huge, franchise-making deals, but holy crap has this deal turned into a massive steal for the A’s. Samardzija was in his last arb year, meaning the Sox were only paying for one year. The A’s got a so-so 2B in Marcus Semien, who went from nearly-unplayable SS to defensive ace and lead-off hitter. They got C Josh Phegley, who’s (finally) putting it together, with a batting line north of league average as the A’s primary backstop, and they got Bassitt, who’s showing that he’s perhaps more than rotation depth. The Sox got a down year, and then watched Samardzija leave in free agency in the off-season before 2016, one marked by open feuding between players and management, and a hastily-organized rebuild that continues to this day.


One Response to “Game 72, Mariners at Athletics – And Opening Day in the Northwest League”

  1. heyoka on June 17th, 2019 11:12 am

    I dunno…pay a bunch to get rid of a guy who’s hitting the dingers and get back a mid range prospect

    Unless the goal is the highest draft pick possible, seems like the M’s just threw away more $ (in revenue from people watching) than in savings on salary…..maybe not.
    Maybe no one is going to watch with or without the parrot.

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