Game 18, Mariners at Rangers: Mixed Signals

marc w · August 10, 2020 at 4:54 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Justin Dunn vs. Kyle Gibson, 6:05pm

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday, though I was kind of planning on writing about Justus Sheffield’s lack of development, and how he really needed to show some signs of being able to compete consistently at the big league level. Well, he certainly showed a sign. 6 scoreless, and no walks, 7 Ks? That’ll do nicely. Somewhat similar to Justin Dunn, I’d been growing concerned about Sheffield’s fastball. With the shift to a sinker, he’s lost velocity, and it’s now a below-average pitch in terms of release speed. It’s definitely picked up sink, and should be a ground ball pitch, but it can’t get grounders if no one swings. The slider’s great, but a slider-dominant pitcher seems destined for the bullpen.

But Sheffield showed a template of how to succeed as a starter yesterday. Yes, the pitch mix was tilted strongly in favor of the slider, but he was able to throw the sinker for strikes, getting 6 called strikes along with a smattering of fouls, and a couple of whiffs. He gave up just 7 balls in play off the pitch, which is probably just what he and the M’s want: get some swings, get a couple of grounders, but keep showcasing the slider that’s so troublesome.

Of note: that slider’s a flyball pitch, at least when batters can hit it. That’s helped drive Sheffield’s GB% down at least in the early-going this year. It’s kind of an anomalous result given the shift to a sinker, but it’s probably understandable if the M’s have Sheff throw more sliders than any other pitch type.

Dunn’s in a very similar situation to Sheffield last year. His four-seam fastball isn’t blazingly fast, it doesn’t have the high spin or rise that might help it play really well at the top of the zone, and worst of all, he hasn’t been able to command the thing at all. This year, the result is simply that no one’s swinging at it. Batters are still taking over 70% of his fastballs, an insanely high take% for a fastball (it’s usually about 50:50). Things are fine if they DO swing, as they’re hitting grounders or missing it entirely, but the problem’s that they’re content to take called balls and earn a walk.

Dunn’s slider looks great by movement data. It really sweeps across the zone, thanks to a 3/4 or lower 3/4 arm slot, and it has good vertical movement, too. That isn’t necessarily because of spin. Dunn’s slider possesses nowhere near the tight spin of Austin Adams’, Matt Magill’s, or even Taylor Williams. In fact, it’s a bit behind Justus “freakishly low fastball spin” Sheffield’s, and well behind league average. But given the slot, spin direction, and velo (low 80s), it gets nice two-plane break. Here’s the problem, though: batters don’t seem to care.

All three of the big league HRs he’s given up have come off of the slider, and he’s simply not putting away people at the rates you’d expect. It’s still early days for Dunn, but I’d like to see how this skillset is going to work consistently as a starter. Sheffield showed something yesterday, but Sheffield already had a weapon he knew worked against lefties and righties.

Evan White currently stands as the position player with the lowest WAR in MLB. To say that things have been rough is an understatement, and while he made more contact yesterday, he still looks kind of lost (he’s not the only M’s hitter that this could apply to). Yes, his BABIP is atrocious, but a 43% K rate won’t play at 1B or anywhere else. The M’s player development group is to be commended for the work they did with White and Dunn at AA Arkansas, but there’s plenty more to be done. The M’s desperately need White to take the 1B job for the next decade. If they’re going to compete in the medium term, they can’t have the kind of holes they have in their rotation and line-up.

That’s depressing, so let’s focus on the good stuff: Houston is having development issues of its own. For the second straight season, Josh James is struggling mightily. From a pure stuff point of view, he’s probably the most talented young pitcher in the AL West with the possible exception of Jesus Luzardo, but nothing’s working for him right now. The Astros turned an org depth guy into a star thanks to a sleep apnea diagnosis and good instruction, but as with Dunn, they need to take the next step, and it hasn’t happened…again. Chris Devenski’s 2019 struggles are back. Their young position player future stars in Kyle Tucker and Abraham Toro have face-planted early on.

No one expects everything to go right in player development (well, maaaaybe the Dodgers), but this has to be worrying for Houston. They let Gerrit Cole go, and now have lost Justin Verlander. After trading a number of pitching prospects these past few years, they made a big bet on their PD group to help them through. So far, it’s not exactly working. It’s very early, but the A’s are putting some distance between them at the top of the division.

The M’s head to Texas now for a series against the Rangers in their brand new ballpark. The new park is covered, which helps on these August days when the temperature’s 100 degrees. But after struggling at the plate this season, the Rangers and M’s have agreed to open the roof for today’s contest, where the temperature is…100 degrees. Hmm.

The M’s face long-time Twins sinkerballer Kyle Gibson. Gibson’s sinker (and four-seamer to lefties) comes from a high angle, which may make it harder for batters to really pick up, even though they’ve now faced him many times before. He’s not a strikeout guy, and battled inconsistency in the Twin Cities, which is part of the reason they let him walk. He gives up a fair number of HRs, and has battled some control issues off and on, but is a fairly dependable innings eater for a back-of-the-rotation starter. Texas may see if there’s something more in there, but so far haven’t really changed his arsenal. His best pitch is a slider that works against RHB and LHBs. As you’d expect, the righty has had more trouble against lefties, who K less and walk more against him than RHBs. But it’s righties who’ve hit HRs more frequently, so this isn’t necessarily a bad match up for Kyle Lewis.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Moore, RF
3: Lewis, CF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Nola, C
6: Long,
7: White, 1B
8: Vogelbach, DH
9: Lopes, LF
SP: Dunn

Ryan Divish had a story on Vogelbach’s slow start and how it could force a roster move soon. Vogie’s out of options.

Also per Divish: the M’s have put Carl Edwards Jr. on the IL, recalling Bryan Shaw. They’ve also picked up free-agent reliever Brady Lail, who’d just been released by the White Sox. In a just 2 games for the Sox and Yankees, Lail showed a really interesting change-up, a cutter, and a disappointing four-seam fastball at 90-91. Just from the movement, you can tell he was a Yankee farmhand; the telltale four-seam movement and change drop seem to be highly prized, and have worked well with some players. Less well with Nick Rumbelow and Nestor Cortes, Jr.


3 Responses to “Game 18, Mariners at Rangers: Mixed Signals”

  1. Stevemotivateir on August 10th, 2020 7:35 pm

    White just had a heck of a PA and was rewarded by, ironically, a brilliant defensive play that robbed him of extra bases.

    Dunn is looking more and more like a two-inning reliever. There’s value in that, but disappointment as well.

  2. Stevemotivateir on August 10th, 2020 8:46 pm

    Like I said, Dunn is looking more and more like a 6-inning reliever.

  3. Stevemotivateir on August 11th, 2020 6:19 am

    Seriously, I still question whether or not Dunn should be a starter, but it was good to see him get through 6 and out of trouble a couple of times.

    Moore’s dinger looked like it came off of Cruz’s bat.

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