Game 33, Mariners at Mets: Lots of Changes

marc w · May 13, 2022 at 3:58 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Max Scherzer, 4:10pm

Sooo, the M’s head to Flushing to take on the Mets, the team with the most wins in the National League. It was also going to be the series where Jarred Kelenic finally went back to face the team that drafted him, and perhaps bat against the big prize in the deal that sent him west: closer Edwin Diaz. This afternoon, though, we learned that wasn’t to be. Kelenic was optioned to Tacoma after starting the year .140/.219/.291. His K rate’s ballooned this year, and swing changes weren’t working or, worse, producing confusion at the plate, so the M’s will send him down to mow down PCL pitchers the way he did last year.

I’m not sure what to think about this. As others have pointed out, the pitchers he needs to figure out aren’t in AAA – they’re in the Majors. My sense is that the quality of opposition in the PCL is down a bit, as teams are more loathe to let top prospects play in a league where half of the teams have team ERAs above 5 (the Rainiers are nearly at 7) – the M’s certainly kept George Kirby away. But Mike Curto reminds me that not all teams are doing this, and clubs from Reno (Arizona) to Salt Lake (LAA) have some good pitching prospects down there. So, hopefully Kelenic will see some big-league caliber breaking stuff and firm fastballs, so he can work on his swing against something approximating big-league arms.

It’s still something of a damning move. The M’s had the (admittedly abbreviated) spring and the first month plus to help Kelenic settle in, and the kid drew raves about his improvements in not letting frustration get the better of him. But, you know, .140/.219/.291. He’d be less frustrated if they could just nudge him back towards the hitter he was at the end of 2021, but that just hasn’t happened. As with Matt Brash, it seems like it’s something of a judgment about the big league instructional staff. Maybe it’s not meant to be, and maybe it is just about getting reps out of the MLB spotlight, but it’s too bad. Kelenic still can be a great player, but as I’ve said before, I’m not sure there’s a player impacted more by the double-whammy of the pandemic and then the work stoppage.

On the other hand, you could make the case that the most important thing to consider isn’t Kelenic, but rather the M’s. This is a team that wants to contend, and cannot give starts to a guy with Kelenic’s line, however good his defense has been. The M’s may spin this as a move to bolster their own offense and competitiveness as they enter a very difficult road trip. To help do that, the M’s have brought up Steven Souza, the former big leaguer with Tampa and others, whom they signed as a minor league free agent in the spring. Also up is Mike Ford, the now extremely well-traveled 1B who’d been up in April, but didn’t see game action (before being traded to SF and getting a game with the Giants).

To make room, the M’s have churned through the back of their roster again, DFA’ing Stuart Fairchild and, in something of a surprise, Yohan Ramirez, the former Rule 5 guy they brought in from the Astros org. Ramirez had a superficially good ERA in 2020 and 2021, but FIP thought it was a mirage, and seemed to be proved right after Ramirez struggled mightily in April with Seattle. Still, as a very hard-thrower with a decent slider, I thought he may stick around longer. Danny Young will head down to AAA and take Ramirez’s spot with the R’s, while Sergio Romo’s finished his rehab stint and will re-join the Mariners in New York.

It’s a great pitching match-up between contrasting styles tonight, as consummate power-pitcher Max Scherzer faces off with change-up maven, Marco Gonzales. Scherzer will turn 38 this season, but remains a top-tier starter thanks to a great combination of a four-seam fastball and a death-dealing slider that’s been his out pitch for many years. But as Jarrett Seidler and others have pointed out over the years, Scherzer doesn’t even throw his best pitch to lefties. Not like “infrequently,” more like “never.” As a low-slot righty with a FB/SL mix, how does he avoid platoon splits? By utilizing a completely different repertoire. To lefties, he pairs his fastball with a good change-up and a cutter. He’s almost a two-pitch guy to righties, who have still not figured out the slider. To lefties, he mixes in more pitches and keeps them off-balance.

To be clear: this approach does not *eliminate* platoon splits. He’s way better vs. righties. But it means he’s still effective against lefties, and you can’t just stack your line-up and hope to win. Marco Gonzales actually has equal platoon splits for his career, but the wOBA of both lefties and righties is a lot higher than it is with Scherzer. That’s not to say Gonzales is chopped liver, but I think even he would allow he just doesn’t have the top-end stuff that Scherzer has. Even though Marco can throw change-ups to righties and cutters and curves to lefties, the fact that he’s a lefty makes it easier on teams to game-plan, and the fact he throws 89 makes it easier on individual batters. Still, the one similarity for both starters is a top-of-the-charts competitiveness.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Winker, LF
6: Rodriguez, CF
7: Ford, DH
8: Souza, RF
9: Torrens, C
SP: Gonzales

The M’s face the Mets for three, and then head to Toronto for a series against the Jays. It’s a pretty tough swing, even though they get to end up with a series against the struggling Red Sox. The Sox remain a talented group, so I don’t think those are easy wins by any stretch.

The M’s top 31 prospects went live at Fangraphs today. Disappointing but understandable to see 2020 draftees like Zach DeLoach and Kaden Polocovich tumble, but glad to see some of the other international guys move up. I’d have Joseph Hernandez on the list, and probably Devin Sweet, but that’s just me. I might have Isaiah Campbell on there and drop out some of the low-minors lottery tickets. But hey, they know more than me!


6 Responses to “Game 33, Mariners at Mets: Lots of Changes”

  1. Stevemotivateir on May 13th, 2022 4:35 pm

    I wondered if Seattle would make some moves before this series in NY, but I wasn’t anticipating what we saw.

    I guess they had to do something. Kelenic can’t stop tinkering. It’s as if he’s expecting to find the perfect tinker just as Ponce de Leon is expecting to find the fountain…at T-Mobile.

    Meanwhile, Julio trust-the-process Rodriguez has slashed .329/.389/.457 with a 155 wRC+ over the last 3 weeks.

  2. eponymous coward on May 13th, 2022 5:19 pm

    I’m curious: how many great players have had starts to their careers like Kelenic?

    I know Mays had an infamous slow start in 1951 (1-27), but he was Willie Mays by June/July.

    I did some cursory poking around and the guys who had starts like Kelenic were closer to Michael Saunders than great players… though they also tended to be older (and Saunders had some injury history that dragged his career down too).

  3. Stevemotivateir on May 13th, 2022 6:19 pm

    There are only 4 hitters aged 22 or younger with more PAs than Kelenic’s 96 this season (one of them is Julio) and Franco is the only one who hasn’t struggled, though Julio looks like he’s on track.

    Perhaps young players like Kelenic should spend (more) time in AA.

  4. Stevemotivateir on May 13th, 2022 7:17 pm

    Seattle beats NY with one of their aces on the mound.

    Credit to Gonzales and the Mariners for a heck of a fight.

  5. bookbook on May 13th, 2022 8:55 pm

    Mike Schmidt is the hope. His numbers were superficially similar through his first year plus (480 PAs). (.196/.324/.373 in his full year of 400+ PAs) Schmidt’s OPS+ was higher, but the struggle is real.

  6. heyoka on May 14th, 2022 1:40 pm

    I think of rusty staub – came up with Houston at 19 to have some really below average production his first couple years, went on to hit well for a while.

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