Game 149, Mariners at Rangers

September 19, 2015 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 7 Comments 

Vidal Nuno vs. Cole Hamels, 5:05pm

Yesterday’s M’s win snapped the Rangers 5 game winning streak, but it didn’t do too much damage to the Rangers’ division and playoff odds. Thanks to the Astros’ on-going collapse, the Rangers maintained their 2.5 game lead. The Astros’ allowed an 8th-inning go-ahead HR to Danny Valencia of the A’s and lost 4-3 in a game they once had a 3 run lead. That’s five in a row for Houston, and they’ve now won just 2 of their last 11.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Cole Hamels’ HR rate has crept up since being traded to Texas, but his BABIP’s been high over his first month and a half in the AL, too. That’s something of a rarity for Hamels, who has a lifetime BABIP of .286. With the Rangers, it’s at .313; the last time Hamels had a BABIP that high was 2009. Hamels hasn’t been bad – he’s been worth about 1 fWAR over 8 starts – but his RA/9 WAR isn’t great. The Rangers have made a lot of savvy moves in this playoff race, but it’s kind of funny how few of them have worked out (Will Venable is slugging .236 for Texas). It’s also funny how little it’s mattered.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Montero, 1B
8: O’Malley, CF
9: Hicks, C
SP: Nuno

Game 27, Mariners at Astros

May 2, 2014 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 108 Comments 

King Felix vs. Brad Peacock, 5:10pm

Happy Felix Day! For the first time in a while, M’s fans are probably capable of happiness coming into a Felix start. We’re not stuck in a long losing streak, and nothing puts a spring in your step like beating the Yankees. If anything DID, it would probably be a rookie pitcher striking out 10 in 7 effective innings.

Brad Peacock’s the spot-starter the Astros got from Oakland as part of the Jed Lowrie deal – a deal that looked balanced at the time, but has turned out to be something of a steal for Oakland. Peacock was lousy in the PCL for Oakland in 2012, then lousy in 80-odd innings for Houston last year, and he’s been differently lousy so far this year. Peacock throws a 93mph fastball with 10″ of rise and gets a fair number of whiffs on it, but that also generates a lot of loud contact and free baseballs for fans sitting in outfield bleachers. This year, he’s only made two starts and a handful of relief appearances – his HR rate is down, whatever that means, but it looks like it’s down because he’s been scared right out of the zone. His zone% cratered, and he’s now walking nearly 8 men per 9 innings.

He’s also got a slider/change and his primary breaking ball, a slow curve. Interestingly, these pitches actually can generate ground-ball outs, and the slider in particular looks like it could be a good pitch for him. He didn’t throw one when he came up (briefly) with the Nats, and he didn’t throw that many in 2013, but it’s now his go-to pitch against righties. That said, it’s not righties he has to worry about. Last year, lefties posted nearly a .400 wOBA off of him, and his career wOBA allowed isn’t much prettier. The M’s have seven lefties in tonight line-up, so this won’t be easy for Peacock. Of course, there were seven lefties in the M’s line-up the last time he faced Seattle, in September of last year, and he threw 6 innings of 3H, 1R ball and walked away with his second win of the year against them.

Felix’s last two games haven’t been up to the ridiculous standard of his first four, but Felix’s 2014 numbers are still pretty breathtaking. Fangraphs’ daily odds show this game as the biggest statistical miss-match of the day, with the M’s given nearly 2/3 chance of winning.

1: Saunders, RF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Almonte, CF
SP: Felix.

You may have seen this, and I enjoyed this piece of Dave’s at the Hardball Times on baseball economics.

And hey, if I’m going to link to the boss, I may as well get a few more in. This article at Fangraphs on run differentials is awesome. Essentially, this is a better way of looking at luck/true-talent than comparing actual won/loss records to pythagorean formulas. By stripping out sequencing, you’re left with a better overall estimate of a team’s real ability to score runs. I understand many believe certain teams are just inherently better at hitting with RISP, for example, but the change in the Cardinals fortunes from 2013 to 2014 may be instructive. Same with the Orioles incredible bullpen of 2012 that somehow wasn’t able to apply their real and totally-not-made-up skill in sequencing and strand rate the following year. Dave’s work shows that the M’s have been pretty fortunate to have amassed 101 runs already, which makes sense given their low team OBP or the performance of their ex-leadoff hitter. That said, the pitching staff looks pretty good for a team that hasn’t started two of their best pitchers at all yet. On the other hand, the M’s divisional opponents, especially the A’s, look incredible by this measure. We said before the season started that the M’s needed to stay close through April and not get buried while they waited for Iwakuma/Walker and then Paxton to heal. They’ve largely done that, and that’s great. But the M’s still need to keep their eye on a couple of specific teams if they want to be relevant later in the summer, and this measure shows that they’ve got their work cut out for them. So does that old-fashioned measure called the division standings, of course.

Erasmo Ramirez makes his first start for Tacoma tonight as they welcome Las Vegas to town. Lars Huijer starts for Clinton. Top-10 prospect Tyler Pike starts for High Desert in Adelanto against Visalia. Pike’s avoided HR trouble (one on the year so far), and he’s been tough to hit, but it’s odd to see him with 16 walks and 14 Ks on the year. His walk rate was a bit higher than it should’ve been last year in Clinton, though he didn’t really pay for it in runs allowed. That’s been the case thus far, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Frankly, it’s such an odd environment to pitch in that I’d give him a lot of latitude with it, but it’s something to watch, particularly if it persisted into AA. He’s got some stability in coaching, at least, as his pitching coach this year – ex-M’s/Rainiers pitcher Andrew Lorraine – was also his PC in Clinton last season.

Game 19, Astros at Mariners

April 21, 2014 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 97 Comments 

King Felix vs. Dallas Keuchel, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day – may it end happier than last Felix Day.

About a decade ago now, Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” came out and changed the way many fans looked at the game, and, importantly, got businesses and organizations around the country to think about market inefficiencies and how they balanced things like tradition and organizational memory with data-driven analysis. For a while there, Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane and Lewis were popular on the lecture circuit, talking about opportunities and threats and how corporations like baseball teams or car companies or government departments evaluate claims and make decisions.

Whatever you think of the book, whether you think it gave short shrift to Tim Hudson and Miggy Tejada, or whether you thought it was a landmark in the appreciation of and realization of the power of data, it was a pretty big deal. The fact that firms paid to discuss these concepts showed just how transferable certain skills and approaches could be. With the right message, an executive in a ball club could conceivably help an executive in manufacturing or marketing. Admittedly, I’m somewhat biased; I’m sympathetic to the specific message that Beane/DePo like to talk about, but they’re just one example, and I feel like baseball’s richness has interesting concepts hidden within it.

This is actually not a complaining-about-the-M’s-FO post, this is about Felix. Look, the whole “use data” thing is really important, and if it bent the curve in industry even slightly towards rationality, cool. But I’ve been just stunned watching Felix this year, and I keep thinking there is an incredible story that Felix himself probably isn’t equipped to tell. The A’s had to contend with competitors with far more resources. Felix has to contend with aging, regression to the mean, and the fact that everyone on every team gets to prepare for *him*. He’s a known entity, and it’s not like he’s become a knuckleballer or shifted to a sidearm delivery. Felix has a target on him every time he pitches, and he’s lost several ticks on his fastball since debuting in 2005.

And to this point in 2014, he’s gotten better. Every small sample size caveat applies; we’re still in March. But at least in the early innings, Felix has thrown four games of Pedro-in-2000 ball at his divisional rivals. As you know, many advanced pitching stats like FIP and xFIP have smaller spreads than ERA/RA. That’s because by ignoring aspects of performance that are more influenced by luck – strand rate, BABIP – they tend to pull pitchers back to the middle. Any truly amazing performance, like any completely abysmal one, is a combination of true talent and luck; winning 116 games means you had an amazing team AND you got a bit lucky. So, Felix right now has an xFIP – a measure doubly-insulated against “lucky” stats – is 1.84.

To say that that number will rise is trite and missing the point entirely. Of course it will. But a 28 year old Felix, after over 1,800 major league innings, started off this season with the same 92-93 MPH velocity and ripped off 39Ks to 3 walks. By xFIP, he’s been UNlucky. The point is that Felix has adapted and is now lethal to batters, and *I can’t figure out how.* The movement on the pitches is the same, the velocity’s essentially the same. He seems to throw the same number of strikes*. He doesn’t have a new pitch. He’s throwing the same pitches to hitters who’ve seen him dozens and dozens of times – Coco Crisp has faced him 66 times! Howie Kendrick has 73 PAs! – and they’re reacting like they’ve never seen a pitch before, let alone a Felix change-up. How’s this possible? To be fair, it’s not just Felix. Clayton Kershaw debuted as a young fireballer with an unreal curveball and command issues, and over time turned himself into clearly, unquestionably the best hurler in the NL. He did it despite losing some velocity and despite throwing his curveball far less (sound familiar?). Command is a crucial part of the equation to be sure, but so is limiting contact. Do they make trade-offs consciously? Do coaching staffs help them plan their attack, and do they tailor it to specific line-ups? Or do they get to a point where they stop thinking about the other team entirely? If so, what do they think about instead? There are cliches to fill the space here, like take it one pitch at a time, or trust your stuff, or focus on the gameplan, but to be pithy about it, that won’t sell on the lecture circuit. What IS Felix’s gameplan? The fact that his change-up and sinker are now 2 MPH apart in velo and with similar arm-side run…that runs counter to decades of accumulated pitching wisdom. It’s also clearly “the gameplan.” Does Felix think about this? Does he sequence them differently now than he did three years ago when the velo gap was nearly as small? Does he target different parts of the zone? Felix is extraordinary and Felix is way more extraordinary than we thought.

This weekend for reasons I can’t even remember, I was reading about the evolutionary dance between rough-skinned newts and garter snakes, two animals that are pretty common around here. The newt secretes a very, very powerful toxin (TTX, the same stuff in blowfish livers that scare sushi-lovers off of fugu) from its skin. Garter snakes developed a way to process that poison that allows them to eat slow, docile newts (you don’t have to run fast from predators when you are literally built of tetradotoxin). Many newt populations have responded by growing ever more toxic. The snake apparently required fewer genetic steps to develop immunity (since the process only happens in its stomach, as opposed to its skin), and so has pulled ahead even in areas in which the newts are many times more toxic than poison dart frogs. I keep thinking of that story when I look over Felix’s early 2014 stats – all of the work hitters can do to make themselves more toxic. Stacking line-ups with lefties, or watching tons of video. The A’s add a bunch of fly-ball hitters who hit *better* than average against sinker-baller/ground ball pitchers. But the snake makes a tweak and swallows the newt, and slithers off unaffected.

Oh, uh, Dallas Keuchel is a ground-balling lefty who is nothing like Felix at all. Fastball/slider/change-to-righties.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Ackley, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Romero, RF
7: Seager, 3B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS

* Here BIS and pitch fx differ. To pitch fx, Felix has thrown FEWER pitches inside the zone, and gotten batters to chase many more of them. To BIS, he’s thrown MORE pitches in the zone. This is essentially the opposite of the discrepancy with Paxton, where BIS thought he had an extremely low zone%, but got swings anyway, while pitch fx saw him as pounding the zone while hitters were powerless to punish him for it. Early in the season, these discrepancies are larger and perhaps more numerous; it’ll be interesting to see if they converge over time.

Game 16, Mariners at Marlins

April 18, 2014 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 66 Comments 

Chris Young vs. Nate Eovaldi, 4:10pm

The M’s face the Miami Marlins, this time in *actual* Miami.

Chris Young and Nathan Eovaldi have very similar repertoires, as both rely heavily on 4-seam fastballs, and pair it mostly with sliders. They both mix in occasional curves, though Young’s heart clearly isn’t in it, and they both have change-ups, seemingly just to be able to tell pitching coaches that they do. Fastballs and sliders, platoon splits be damned. Both have OK K rates and somewhat poor walk rates. Peas in a pod, right?

As you probably know, this is a match up between one of the league’s hardest throwing starters and one of its softest tossers. Eovaldi has averaged – AVERAGED – about 97mph on his four-seamer this year while Young’s at 86.5mph. This gap of about 11mph doesn’t sound incredible, but it’s actually tough to find games with a larger disparity. If you exclude RA Dickey, whose “fastball” functions more as a gimmick pitch or a change-up to his knuckler, about the maximum gap you can have nowadays is around 12-13mph – between Eovaldi/Garrett Richards/James-Paxton-on-a-good-day/Jose Fernandez on one end and Mark Buehrle on the other. But these guys don’t match up all the time, and thanks to the miracle/curse of regression, baseball itself seems to abhor such gaps; Stephen Strasburg isn’t throwing 98 anymore, and Livan Hernandez is out of a job (though given all the injuries, he may not be for long).

So if Young’s velocity’s down a bit from 86+, and if Eovaldi is amped up to face, uh, the…ok, nevermind…we could see something we don’t often get to see. It’s by no means unprecedented, as Buehrle faced off against a hard-throwing Sonny Gray last year. Rookie year Strasburg opposed Bronson Arroyo back in 2010 too, but these games are actually rarer than you’d think. Buerhle faced off against Yu Darvish last year, but Buerhle averaged a respectable-for-him 85 while Darvish sat at 93. Anthony Vasquez opposed guys like Everett Teaford and Colby Lewis, not Strasburg or Verlander.

There you have it. A safe, identifiable thing to watch when you can’t bear to actually get invested. This is poor example of a kind of post that Jeff does so well, I know. Part of the reason I love things like this is that Jeff’s a good writer, but part of it is for the reminder that some odd and occasionally remarkable things occur that we don’t even notice at the time. We’re caught up in the at-bat, or the game, or the race, and we miss something fascinating, something lesser men will demean with the adjective “quirky.” For some, these things are a distraction from the things that matter. For others, these things are a distraction from the things that hurt. The M’s scored six runs in an INNING yesterday, and even as that inning came to a close, I knew how the game would end. I bet a lot of you did too. So yes, I’m going to find some strange angle to this game and the next few until Brad Miller reminds me that I wrote this without trying to be satirical.

The M’s are better than they *feel* right now, and they’re facing a mediocre team with an Angels-grade bullpen. But holy hell did that Texas series suck.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, 1B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Young, P

Riiiiiiight, this is where the pitchers hit for some reason. Got it.

Sooooo, 1B prospect and current Tacoma Rainier Ji-Man Choi was suspended 50 games for testing positive for methandienone, an anabolic steroid. As Todd Milles writes, this opens the door to Jesus Montero, who is now the clear starter, and not in a job-sharing role. Sooooo…..yeah. Choi’s had trouble staying on the field, but has hit very well – the stocky lefty had a .500 OBP through 10 games this season, after posting a .377 OBP for Jackson last year. With his suspension, Choi moves to the restricted list, which opens up 40-man roster spot. We’ll see who grabs it.

Speaking of good-hitting, injury-bedeviled prospects, OF Julio Morban’s also been called up to Tacoma. Not sure if it’s just a paper move, as Morban hasn’t yet played this season due to…wait for it…injury.

Brandon Maurer will be called up to make a spot start against Miami on Sunday. The probable starter’s been labeled “TBA” for a few days, but with Beavan’s injury, the M’s didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. It really came down to Maurer and lefty Anthony Fernandez, and Maurer’s the right call there.

Game 96, Mariners at Astros

July 19, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 63 Comments 

Joe Saunders vs. Bud Norris, 5:10pm

The Mariners begin the 2nd half (sic) of the season tonight in Houston against the woeful Astros. There’ve been a few points in the season at which fan opinion swung from typical cynicism to palpable optimism. The M’s had a hot spell to get up to about .500 in May and many fans, desperate for something to cheer about, bought in. As you know, the M’s promptly tanked and haven’t been terribly close to .500 since. This time’s slightly different, though, in that the personnel have changed and because the M’s are actually hitting. As Jeff’s mentioned, it feels different tuning in to watch the team these days, and if they’re all but eliminated, that just takes some pressure off of Miller, Zunino and Franklin. That’s great. But how different is this, really? Weren’t we here in 2011, when Dustin Ackley came up and looked like a perennial all-star at his new position? Kyle Seager shot through the minors and made his MLB debut. Justin Smoak, who’d looked lost for a few months, had come back from AAA Tacoma and looked like a different player. Their 2nd half record was marred by a bad September, but they looked almost good in August, and at least the team was getting production from guys who’d be around in a few years.

In 2012, the team fell out of the race early, but they’d made some changes and looked like a completely different team in the second half. Hisashi Iwakuma moved to the starting rotation and was brilliant in that role. Kyle Seager became a very good player at age 24. Michael Saunders…MICHAEL SAUNDERS…finally looked like he could play at the big league level. It was easy to spot some glaring problems that they wouldn’t have to deal with going forward: Miguel Olivo wouldn’t tempt Eric Wedge with his veteranness. John Jaso could get more playing time, and Chone Figgins would finally just go away. Jesus Montero held his own, and if he wasn’t much of a catcher, some improvement at DH would come in handy in the years to come. Justin Smoak, who’d looked lost for a few months, had come back from AAA Tacoma and looked like a different player. Their 2nd half record was legitimately good, and the team was getting production from guys who’d be around in a few years.

I point this out NOT to engage in needless cynicism. I blog about this team almost daily. Cynicism is essentially hard-wired, but indulging in it – wallowing in it- isn’t helpful to anyone and it’s often harmful to any attempt at analysis. The point is that optimism in the second half isn’t new, though – it’s what we do. The M’s haven’t been good enough to seriously challenge the top teams in the division, and at some point mid-year, the team realizes this and at least makes the team interesting and/or fun to watch. For the moment, I’m not terribly upset about this pattern. We never thought the M’s would contend this year anyway. What we’ve seen is that the first “franchise core” the M’s tried to build around failed them, and that cost them big time in the first half. But they’ve got another shot now with a completely different franchise core, and at least this time, the players they’re trying to build around play premium defensive positions (and actually play them, not what Jesus Montero was doing with the catcher’s gear on). So while these optimistic feelings are nothing terribly new, and while the signs of life we’ve spotted in years past haven’t been enough to get this franchise out of critical condition, they’re welcome and encouraging all the same.

I mentioned it when Bud Norris faced the M’s in June, but the Astros righty’s been a very different pitcher than he has been in the past. He’s always had an above-average K%, but he gave up too many home runs. This year, his K% is down substantially, but he’s given up far fewer HRs. Norris is primarily a fastball/slider pitcher; against righties, he’s basically at a 50:50 split. He throws a change and a sinker as well, both of them primarily to left-handed batters. While he has the pitches to succeed against lefties, his sinker and change haven’t worked at all against them, and both his four-seam fastball and slider haven’t been good enough against them that he could ditch the sinker/change entirely. Against righties, his fastballs have been excellent (even the sinker, which he hardly ever throws to them), and his slider’s functioned as a real wipeout pitch. He’s a flyballing pitcher (thanks to his rising four-seamer) in Houston, so he’s given up too many HRs to righties, but he’d been effective overall against them.

This year, lefties are still troubling him, with a .376 wOBA and a slugging percentage near .500, but he’s kept the ball in the ballpark against righties. There been no observable change, at least to a guy looking at BrooksBaseball and the two games he’s thrown against Seattle this year. He still throws righties a four-seamer and a slider, it’s just that no righties have homered on Norris’ fastball this year. None. It’s the same speed it was in 2011, he throws it in the same location (down and away from righties). To be fair to Norris, righties are hitting the ball on the ground more than they have in the past, but you’d never guess that from looking at the pitch’s movement. If the Astros coaching staff (or Mike Fast; to any saber-inclined observer, anything good the Astros do seems like it could be the product of some Mike Fast discovery) has made a tweak to Norris’ fastball, it’s a subtle one. If this is great luck, well, congratulations Bud Norris. Now knock him around the park, M’s.

The M’s don’t really need luck – they’ve got left-handers. Today’s line-up includes the best stories from the first half, like Brad Miller and Raul Ibanez – guys who can tee off on Norris’ sub-par sinker/change. The M’s have faced Norris twice – the first time, Norris was so-so, but kept the team in it and they beat a red-hot Hisashi Iwakuma in a close game. The second time, Norris was *still* so-so, but didn’t have much of a chance when Aaron Harang threw a CG shutout. Still, this is a much tougher test for a righty with platoon splits. In June, Norris saw an M’s line-up that included righties Alex Liddi, Kelly Shoppach, Brendan Ryan and Mike Morse. Those guys aren’t here tonight; instead, only Zunino will bat from the right side against Norris.

1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, 2B
SP: Joe Saunders

The big news from the minors over the break was the first 9-inning no-hitter of the year for the M’s system, thanks to teenager Victor Sanchez. Sanchez’s linebacker (some might say nose-tackle) body doesn’t set scouting hearts aflutter, and his lack of strikeouts in the pitcher-friendly MWL has been something to watch, but there are plenty of positives, too. Sanchez was born in 1995, and just threw a CG no-no against a college-heavy line-up, with no walks (though he did hit a batter) and 8 Ks. The Venezuelan doesn’t have top-flight stuff, but he’s walked only 8 on the year in 60+ innings. He’s battled injuries and fitness issues, but he’s succeeding at the level, and he’s more than proven that his eye-opening debut for Everett last year (at age 17) wasn’t a fluke.

Jesus Montero (remember him?) had been playing in the AZL, but he’s back with Tacoma. Franklin Gutierrez began his 58th rehab assignment for Tacoma last night as well, and Stephen Pryor joined the team after two successful simulated games with Seattle. Fittingly, Montero tripled in his return to AAA because nothing makes any sense.

Brandon Maurer made an important start for Tacoma yesterday in Fresno. He’d been awful in recent games, and thus his merely mediocre performance was something of a step up. Still, this is starting to get concerning. He’s got a new pitching coach to talk to, as the M’s flipped the AAA and AA PCs. This allows Tai Walker to work with the same guy he started 2013 with in Jackson, and may help Chance Ruffin stay on track in his first year of starting. And, it may be time for a different set of eyes on Maurer. None of this is to put the blame for Maurer’s struggles on Dwight Bernard; the M’s made it clear this move was more about getting Terry Clark to AAA to work with guys he’d spent half a year developing. But it couldn’t hurt to see if he notices something in Maurer’s mechanics.

Taijuan Walker starts tonight – so flip over to when the M’s game’s over. Anthony Vasquez starts for Jackson, trying to build on a brilliant outing a week ago.

Mike Curto asks a legitimate question when he wonders if the pitching coach swap mentioned above might make it harder for the Rainiers to attract and keep quality coaches if they know they could get moved mid-season. He also points out that Tai Walker’s numbers were better in AAA than in AA, in an admittedly small sample.

Game 81, Cubs at Mariners

June 29, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 203 Comments 

Aaron Harang vs. Jeff Samardzija, 4:15pm

Odd start time, and odd uniforms today. The M’s and Cubs are wearing uniforms from 1909 – the Cubs sporting the, er, Cubs uniforms of that year and the M’s donning Seattle Turks jerseys. The Turks were in the old Northwest league, then categorized as class B. With the Pacific Coast League pulling back from the northwest, the B-division NWL was pretty advanced, and it wasn’t too rare for players to jump from the NWL to the majors. There were plenty of local teams in the league – Tacoma’s original Tigers played in the league from 1906-1917, Seattle joined in 1907, and over the 12 or so years the league operated, there were teams in Bellingham, Spokane, Victoria, Vancouver, Grays Harbor, Aberdeen, Everett, Butte and Great Falls.

Seattle’s club was known as the Siwashes for its first two years, but they changed it, perhaps realizing that “Siwash” was a racist, derogatory term for Native Americans.* So, in 1909, they became the Turks** (sensitivity isn’t a light switch you just flick on, apparently) and the club won an astounding 109 games to win the league title. Maybe because they wanted to go out on top, and maybe because the Ottoman Empire was both far away and fading, they changed their name again the following year – this time to the Giants. The Northwest League had some pretty good names, if you look past things like ‘Siwashes’ (they probably went with that since Spokane was already in the league as the Indians). The Vancouver club’s name in the inaugural season was the “Horse Doctors.” “Veterinarians” was apparently too hifalutin. Victoria was the “Legislators” which is the sort of name that probably wouldn’t make anyone’s short list these days (though Sacramento had a similar name, the Solons, around this time).

Minor League baseball was in flux around the turn of the century, trying to stay profitable in the sparsely populated far west. There’d been a Pacific Northwest League years before, which then merged with a California league to form the Pacific Coast League. The Seattle Indians were a part of that first season in 1903, but the league contracted in 1906, and Seattle merged with the four-year old Northwest League. Tacoma migrated to the PCL for just one season before essentially re-joining the Northwest League. Portland also moved from the PCL (where they were the Beavers) to the NWL (where they became the Pippins).

OK, enough history. The M’s face the Cubs’ immensely talented right-hander Jeff Samardzija today. The Cubs famously bought Samardzija away from the NFL (he was a great wide receiver at Notre Dame) and then watched in horror as he moved through the minor leagues with Blake Beavan-ish strikeout numbers. He threw a darting 95-98 sinker, a slider and a splitter, but these generated contact, not whiffs. Something clicked for him in 2008, and he started getting K’s – he struck out over a batter an inning in is initial cup of coffee that year. In 2009, his K rate fell again, and paired with his poor control and home run problem, he regressed to a sub-replacement-level pitcher. In 2010, he was actually even worse, with fewer K’s, more BBs and HRs. He’d dumped his sinker, become an extreme fly ball pitcher, and changed his delivery from a whippy three-quarters to more of an over-the-top release. He looked like he was well on his way to becoming a very expensive bust.

In 2011, everything changed. He moved his delivery back closer to where it was when he came up, ditched his sub-par curve that he threw in 2009-10, and his velo played up as a reliever. He had a very good year, so it surprised me when the Cubs moved him back to the rotation in 2012. His fastball is still oddly hittable for a 96mph pitch with plenty of movement, but his splitter is a real wipeout pitch, especially to lefties, and his slider’s very good against righties. But one of the biggest things that helped Samardzija take his big step forward was refinement in his location. Both lefties and righties have punished Samardzija on middle-in pitches, and they still do. Early in his career, his command was terrible, so he mixed a ton of walks with centered pitches (and, I’m guessing, some ill-advised advice to “control the inside corner” and push people off the plate). As his command improved, he was able to pitch to the outside edge much more effectively, and that’s helped him get to his breaking balls – his first strike percentage moved from about 56% from 2008-2011 to 62% these days.

The M’s send Aaron Harang to the hill, with Nick Franklin getting an off-day. You’re looking outside and really considering blowing this one off, aren’t you?

1: Chavez, RF
2: Miller, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Harang

Franklin’s off-day isn’t just to give him a rest – he’s got a stiff neck, but is still available to pinch hit. Michael Saunders hurt his finger, so he’ll be out for a few days.

* – It’s amazing to look back at something like ‘Siwashes.’ I mean, it’d be inconceivable that you could get away with naming a sports team something like “Redskins” today, right? Wait, what?

** – The Young Turks revolution in 1908, which led to the restoration of Parliament that had been suspended in the 1870s and the re-imposition of the constitution of 1876, may have led to the somewhat strange-seeming decision for Seattle to have a club named the Turks. This situation held until the Young Turks coup of 1913 after the Empire’s lost nearly all of its possessions in the Balkans. I always wondered if that, and then the Empire’s participation in World War I got that line about the Dardanelles included in UW’s fight song “Bow Down to Washington.” Maybe the guy really just needed a rhyme for “excels.”

Cactus League Game: M’s at Padres

March 22, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 10 Comments 

Felix Hernandez vs. Tyson Ross, 7:05pm

So have the day’s revelations (really assumptions, but likely *correct* assumption) got you down? You didn’t really envision Erasmo going to the minors a week or two ago, did you? Jason Bay started in CF yesterday, but today Franklin Gutierrez is back and…oh, Jason Bay is *still* playing CF today. Huh.

If there’s one thing that makes being an M’s fan OK – more than OK – it’s King Felix. So King Felix is starting tonight, and that’s going to have to do.

1: Gutierrez, DH
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, 1B
4: Morse, LF
5: Wells, RF
6: Bay, CF
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Shoppach, C
9: Ryan, SS
SP: King Felix

It’s possible Bay’s in CF not because they actually anticipate using him there this season, but because Franklin Gutierrez’s leg ‘tightness’ still hasn’t fully un-tigh…you know, nevermind.

I mention this just about every time I see him, but Tyson Ross is an intriguing SP who just can’t stay healthy. He flings the ball across his body, and his stride length is as long as a toddler’s, if that toddler really needs to pee. But 95-96mph! An interesting change! I know, I know: the stride length help his 95-96mph appear more like 92 to hitters, and the whole across-his-body thing may have contributed to oblique injuries that sapped his effectiveness with Oakland. But I’ve consistently overrated him for years, and I’m going to gambler’s fallacy my way to being right (er, less wrong) one of these days.

[Breaking: M’s don’t guarantee Garland a roster spot, so he opts out of his contract. Sooooooo, about those assumptions….]

It’s People. The CACTUS LEAGUE IS MADE OF PEOPLE! Mariners at Athletics

March 18, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 21 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. AJ Griffin

The M’s 5th starter/last pitching roster spot continues tomorrow as Brandon Maurer gets one last shot before presumably heading over to minor league camp. If that “battle” is a bit overblown, today’s game may produce gale-force ennui. Today, it’s just Hisashi Iwakuma getting some work in opposite AJ Griffin of Oakland. I’ve written about Griffin already this spring, and while reports of Iwakuma’s stamina and recovery time are encouraging, he’s something of a known entity, and thus the only way this game would capture our attention is if something bad happens. Perhaps it’s for the best that we get no local radio broadcast and no pitch fx data today.

Your line-up:
1: Saunders, RF
2: Wells, CF
3: Ibanez DH
4: Morse, LF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Montero, C
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Andino, SS
9: Miller, 3B
SP: Iwakuma

Players Remain Trapped in Cactus League They Do Not Understand: Rangers at Mariners

March 17, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 45 Comments 

Blake Beavan vs. Justin Grimm, 1:05pm

Yesterday Erasmo Ramirez pitched six excellent innings, showing he could remain effective deep into games and logging the longest pitching performance of the Spring. Blake Beavan tries to match that today in a home start versus Texas. Felix Hernandez will get some innings in, but he’ll play in a minor league game so the Rangers don’t get too familiar with him, though there is the matter of him having faced the Rangers dozens of times in his career. Still, Cactus League can’t be understood using traditional logic. MLB logic is to spring training as Beethoven is to Indonesian gamelan.

Blake Beavan is clearly a step behind Jon Garland and/or Jeremy Bonderman in the race for the #5 spot (I’m going to tell myself that Erasmo has the #4 spot locked-up. I don’t believe it’s that cut and dried, but I don’t want to worry about that today.), but he’s had a very interesting spring. For the second straight season, he’s increased his arm angle, meaning he’s delivering the pitch from a more over-the-top angle and less side-arm. I’d forgotten this, but when he came up, his pitch fx-recorded release point was under 6 feet (5.6′). That’s kind of remarkable given Beavan is 6’7″ tall and starting from a mound. He moved that average release point up significantly last year (to 5.9-6′), and so far in Spring, it’s up even more – to 6.3′. That doesn’t mean that his pitches have less horizontal movement though – the way Stephen Pryor or even Felix Hernandez’s do. Instead, he’s getting more armside run on his sinker and fastball. Whether this is good, bad or indifferent remains to be seen, but Beavan wanted to change in this offseason, and thus far, it looks like he’s actually changed. His sinker always generated some groundballs, but his four-seamer was an extreme fly-ball pitch, and since it was put into play so often, Beavan was a fly-ball pitcher overall. The sample’s tiny, but Beavan’s four-seamer is getting a few more GBs thus far. It’s something to track, even if he starts the year in Tacoma.

Some good news: Franklin Gutierrez returns to the line-up today. The M’s have helpfully put Ibanez and Jason Bay in the OF corners to give Blake more motivation to stay on top of the ball and keep it down in the zone, however.

Today’s line-up:
1: Gutierrez, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Ibanez, LF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Bay, RF
7: Shoppach, C
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Andino, SS
SP: Beavan

Cactus League Games 13/14 -Split Squad blah blah blah FELIX!

March 7, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 10 Comments 

M’s vs. A’s:
Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, Jeremy Bonderman vs. Tommy Milone

M’s vs. Royals:
FELIX vs. Ervin Santana

I’ve been waiting to say this: Happy Felix day.
El Rey gets two innings vs. the juggernaut known as the Kansas City Royals today in Surprise. Behind him are Lucas Luetge, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, and Tom Wilhelmsen. Surprise is a Pitch FX park, so we’ll get some data on what he’s throwing, which we can then obsess over. The non-Felix M’s are in Phoenix facing divisional rivals Oakland, as Maurer/Paxton and Bonderman are scheduled to pitch three innings each.

KC is undefeated in the Cactus League, but while they’ve teed off on spring pitching, they haven’t faced Seattle and they haven’t faced Felix. The M’s line-up for that game is:
1: Seager, 3b
2: Wells, LF
3: Smoak, 1B
4: Morse, DH
5: Peguero, RF
6: Shoppach, C
7: Morba, CF
8: Triunfel, SS
9: Romero, 2B
SP: King Felix

In Phoenix, the line-up behind Maurer is:
1: Andino, 2B
2: Thames, LF
3: Bay, RF
4: Morales, DH
5: Jacobs, 1B
6: Zunino, C
7: Miller, SS
8: Catricala, 3B
9: F. Martinez, CF
SP: Brandon Maurer

No live radio, though KIRO 710am is broadcasting Felix’s start at 7pm. As we’ve seen quite a bit, that game will be available live as an audio stream live at

Go M’s, and welcome back, Felix

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