Game 91, Cardinals at Mariners – Happy Independence Day

marc w · July 4, 2019 at 2:26 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Matt Carasiti/Tommy Milone vs. Michael Wacha, 1:10pm

Sorry for the late post; time got away from me this morning. The M’s look for a series win against the Cardinals today with new RP Matt Carasiti opening for Tommy Milone, perhaps the M’s most consistent starting pitcher this year. Last night’s sterling start by Mike Leake was spoiled by an ugly ninth-inning bullpen meltdown, but no single loss – however painful – can really get you down in a season like this.

A year after the Cardinals drafted high-floor, change-up and pitchability lefty Marco Gonzales in the first round, they picked Texas A&M righty pitchability guy Michael Wacha late in the first round. After dominating in a few starts that year (2012), he started 2013 in AAA, and looked just as dominant. About a year after the draft, Wacha was starting in the majors, and ended up pitching in the postseason in 2013. The following year, Marco Gonzales debuted, and he, too, pitched in the postseason in 2014. This was the heyday of the Cardinals player development system, when they either took guys that many expected to struggle or at least take a long time to develop and flew them up the chain and had them helping at the big-league level quicker than anyone thought possible (Wacha), or they got contributions from long-time org depth guys (Tommy Pham).

One thing they couldn’t control (no one else has, either) was health. Gonzales missed time with TJ surgery, and Wacha missed chunks of 2014 and 2016. But when healthy, he was a sneakily effective pitcher thanks to elite vertical movement on a 94 MPH four-seam fastball and a change that that some sink to it. Nothing really moved all that much horizontally, but it didn’t matter as long as he commanded his pitches. Over time, age and wear and tear seem to have sapped some of his spin, and thus Wacha’s fastball no longer has notable vertical movement. This year, with his vertical movement creeping towards average, and with the baseball creeping towards absurdly drag-resistant, Wacha’s in the midst of his worst campaign. Batters are slugging nearly .600 on his fastball, and the cutter he developed to get people off of the four-seam hasn’t been effective either. This is a real test for the Cards, as a wild card could’ve been in play this year. But without their renowned development and coaching, they’re just bouncing along at .500. That’s not what you want after acquiring Paul Goldschmidt in the off-season.

Tommy Milone’s approach is oddly similar to Wacha’s, in that he throws a rising four-seamer and a change-up most often, and there’s a similar gap in vertical movement between the two pitches for Milone and Wacha. Like Wacha, Milone’s lost vertical rise and velocity on his tepid heater, but unlike Wacha, it’s not hurting him. Some of this is clearly BABIP, as Milone’s .225 is low even for a guy like him who’s entire game is based on limiting BABIP. But that doesn’t explain the strikeouts. For that, we need to look to his third pitch, his recently-developed slider. He didn’t have that pitch coming up with Oakland, and while he never had reverse splits, he wasn’t putting lefties away. The slider, which he’s throwing a lot of to lefties, gives him a bat-missing pitch, and he’s never struck out so many same-handed batters. The opener strategy may allow him to see a few more same-handed batters, too.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Narvaez, C
6: Beckham, 3B
7: Nola, C
8: Moore, LF
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Carasiti/Milone

Welcome Matt Wisler. The M’s picked up the former top prospect in the Pads and Braves system for cash considerations in a minor deal with San Diego today. Wisler was ranked around the #50 prospect in all of baseball in 2015, and was part of the big haul Atlanta got when they traded Craig Kimbrel to the Padres. He’d been excellent in the low-minors as a starter but seemed to hit a wall in AAA. The Braves were rebuilding, so they gave him a full season in the rotation in 2016, but he struggled there, too. After a poor showing as a reliever in 2017, they moved him to Cincinnati, and he’s been a waiver wire guy since. Wisler has a four-seam fastball in the 93-94 range, but especially this year, he’s tried to reinvent himself as a latter-day Luke Gregerson, throwing his slider over *70%* of the time. It…hasn’t really worked all that well, but hey, it’s something new. That slider’s always had some sink, but it had more horizontal movement when he was a starter, thanks to a lower release point. He raised that release point in San Diego, and the slider had more gyro spin, with less gloveside run. We’ll see if the M’s tweak his mechanics, or see if they want to tap into his previous starting experience and make him a long reliever.


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