Game 124, Mariners at Rays – Struggling Pitcher vs. Struggling Line-up

August 19, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Jake Odorizzi, 3:10pm

The M’s win last night pushed them closer to the 2nd wildcard, and continued a dreadful string for the Rays, who seemed to have the inside track at the wildcard a few weeks back. There’s really no mystery as to what’s gone wrong: the Rays have simply stopped hitting. In the 2nd half of the year, the Rays wRC+ is just 73, far and away the worst in MLB. Their team OBP in just .290 over that stretch, and the team that hit the 3rd-most dingers in the AL in the first half have the fewest in the second. Their big deadline acquisition, Lucas Duda, has been fine. The problem’s widespread among the rest of the Rays’ line-up. Brad Miller’s in a deep freeze, as was Tim Beckham, who seemed to snap out of it upon being shipped to Baltimore. Corey Dickerson, Adeiny Hechevarria, Logan Morrison, Mallex Smith – there are very few signs of life from 1-9. As a group, they’re better than their current form, as their first half form illustrates. But it’s got to be frustrating that the Rays positioned themselves really well to make a run and then fall into a team-wide slump like this one.

The M’s offense hasn’t been great themselves; Nelson Cruz’s hot streak has coincided some poor stretches for others, and thus the M’s offense is slightly below average in the 2nd half. The M’s pitching hasn’t been all that great either, thanks to their long-standing dinger issues, but they’ve been much better in pure strikeout and walk terms. It’s funny – the M’s and Rays pitchers have looked eerily similar since the trade deadline, with solid K rates and low walk rates. Both have had HR troubles, with the M’s predictably giving up more, and both have been GOOD at turning balls in play into outs (and thus both have ERAs below their FIPs). But the Rays offense has absolutely killed them while the M’s have been blessed by the sequencing fairy and have been a solid team despite a slightly worse than average offense AND slightly worse than average pitching.

Speaking of slumps, Ariel Miranda knows the feeling well. After being one of the M’s most unlikely heroes through June, he’s faltered badly since then. His last win and last quality start came on June 30th, and his RA/9 is 7.71 since then. The big problem, as we’ve talked about ad nauseum, has been the longball, as Miranda’s yielded the 2nd-most in baseball. As Bob Dutton’s preview notes, Jake Odorizzi’s been just as bad, as his HR/9 is actually the worst in the league (he just hasn’t pitched as many innings as Miranda). For the longest time, Odorizzi’s secret weapon has been his reverse platoon splits. Thanks to a great splitter – a pitch he throws about twice as often to lefties – he’s kept the ball in the ballpark and generally stymied left-handers. Righties have always been tougher for the right-handed Odorizzi, as his cutter’s not been great, and he doesn’t seem to trust his slider too much. He throws his splitter to righties as well, but it’s not quite as effective, and the bigger issue is that righties tee off on his fastball. Add it up, and his FIP is 1.5 runs higher against righties over his career. Those reverse splits are still there in 2017, but the ball’s just flown off of everyone’s bat, and thus he’s now giving up plenty of dingers to lefties…it’s just that righties are hitting even more.

This would be an interesting test of the M’s line-up construction, but as has happened far too often, injuries have made that impossible. Mitch Haniger’s back with the club after missing time after taking a Jacob DeGrom fastball in the face, but the M’s have lost CF Jarrod Dyson to a groin injury. The M’s also recalled Casey Lawrence, sending Sam Gaviglio back to Tacoma.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Miranda

Alonso 2nd against Odorizzi? At least Dyson’s injury forces Heredia in there, and Haniger’s return helps the right-handedness of the line-up as well. Good match-up for Nellie Cruz who’s never homered off of Odorizzi. Let’s see if that changes today.

Game 123, Mariners at Rays – Stuck in Neutral

August 18, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Austin Pruitt, 4:10pm

The M’s face yet another of their many wildcard rivals tonight as they head to St. Pete for a series with the Rays. Both the M’s and Rays made some interesting moves to shore up their clubs for the playoff push, with the Rays acquiring 1B Lucas Duda from the Mets and Steve Cishek from, uh, the M’s, while the M’s upgraded their rotation with Erasmo and their bullpen by acquiring David Phelps. Teams like Baltimore, Toronto, Texas and Anaheim did nothing, rationally seeing that their odds were miniscule and that it didn’t make sense to give up young talent for a quixotic push for a one-and-done game. Since that time, the M’s have risen and then fallen back to the pack (and then behind it a bit), and the Rays have fallen from 2 games over and about 1/4 odds for the wildcard to 3 games under, with WC odds of just 9%. These teams did the “right” thing and have seen several teams that all but announced they were giving up pass them in the standings.

Today’s game marks Erasmo’s first return to Tampa since his trade from the Rays, and making it even more interesting is that Austin Pruitt essentially joined the rotation thanks to the series of moves culminating in the Erasmo-for-Cishek swap. The M’s acquired Erasmo on July 28th, and later that day, Austin Pruitt made his first start. Pruitt’s stuff isn’t all that remarkable: he throws an arrow-straight four-seam fastball at around 92, a slider with primarily downward movement, a 12-6 curve, and a change. Movement-wise, you’d expect him to be an over-the-top, Andrew Moore-style arm, but there’s nothing remarkable about his release points, either. This is about as generic as it gets, with the possible exception being that he gets very, very little horizontal movement on anything he throws. But he’s been OK for the Rays, first out of the pen and now in the rotation. A low walk rate helps, of course, and he’s kept the ball in the park pretty well, especially by 2017 standards. Like so many young Mariner hurlers, his fastballs (he also has a sinker he’ll throw on occasion) have been hit pretty hard – as I’ve mentioned, a lot of the revolution on elevated contact has been the result of batters waiting for an attacking fastballs. But UNlike so many Mariners, Pruitt’s attempting to work around it by throwing these problematic pitches less and less. On the year, he’s thrown a slider, curve or change-up 57% of the time. As a result, he’s given up far more balls in play on bendy stuff than on his fastballs. This isn’t exactly a recipe for greatness: Pruitt’s BABIP’s very high, and that’s a big reason why his ERA’s way higher than his FIP. Maybe his breaking stuff simply isn’t good enough to do this long term, I don’t know. But this is a prescription I’ve urged some M’s to take a look at.

Not sure what to make of it, but he’s put up ridiculously backwards platoon splits on the year. He’s a rookie, so you’d expect that to regress; it could be noise. But the lack of movement and the fact that his change seems to be his best pitch make you wonder where it’ll regress towards.

Erasmo’s pitched pretty well for Seattle, particularly given his need to stretch his arm back out after being limited to bullpen duty this season. One thing seems a bit strange, though, and that’s a drop in his K rate of late. It’s only a few games, but he’s only K’d 3 of the past 45 batters he’s faced. Why? I’ve been wondering about this as Andrew Moore’s K rate tumbled upon his promotion to MLB, and Marco Gonzales has K’d just 1 of the last 38 hitters he’s seen. That’s a bigger issue, and one we’ll need to dive into soon, but for now, I wonder about the M’s approach to the fastball. Before his move to Seattle, Erasmo threw four-seamers and sinkers a combined 41% of the time; four-seamers were particularly rare, at under 9% of his pitches. Since moving back west, Erasmo’s throwing more than 51% four-seam+sinkers, with his four-seam usage doubling to 16.5%. His four-seam’s been good this year, so maybe that’s a good idea, but it’s just a striking example of how different the M’s and Rays approach to pitching seems to be.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Erasmoooo Ramirez

Newfangled line-up with Danny Valencia in RF – the M’s won’t hesitate to make defensive subs later in the game, of course. Kyle Seager returns from an illness that kept him out a couple of games.

It’s been a while, so let’s do a quick check of the M’s affiliates. At present only one of them, Modesto, is in line to make the playoffs. Modesto won their division’s first half title, so will get to go to the California League playoffs despite a so-so second half of the year. Tacoma, Clinton and Arkansas are all but eliminated at this point. Everett’s only a game back of Vancouver for the division lead, but they’re 29-31. Tacoma’s 61-64, while Clinton’s 12 games under .500 and Arkansas is 13 under.

Randy Bell, Steven Ridings, Tyler Jackson, Nick Neidert and Christian Bergman are your pitching probables today in the system. Mike Curto notes that yesterday snapped a string of 13 consecutive days with a Rainiers roster move. Yikes.

Game 121, Orioles at Mariners – Women in Baseball Night

August 15, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

Andrew Albers vs. Wade Miley, 7:10pm

The game last night continued a slide that’s seen the M’s fall from sole possession of the 2nd wildcard to being a team tied for 4th behind Anaheim. Last night’s win elevated Baltimore into a tie with Seattle in the wildcard chase, and cut Seattle’s playoff odds from over 20% about a week ago to 8% now. It’s been a rough week.

It may get rougher. For tonight’s game, the M’s turn to newly acquired lefty Andrew Albers, the latest in a line of Wade LeBlanc knock-offs. You could argue that Wade Miley was the real model starter Dipoto’s been after, with LeBlanc just a handy (and beguiling) fill-in. Either way, the idea has been to get a lefty with enough stuff to hang around in MLB, but not enough to make them universally desired. Fly balls are a feature, not a bug, and plus command is plus awesome. We’ll see how Albers fires the mold; he was essentially freely-available, but was having a nice year for Gwinnett in the Braves system.

Beyond the frisson of seeing a new Mariner make his debut, the big reason to go to tonight’s game is to check out the Women in Baseball night organized by Meg Rowley of BP and the M’s. Shannon Drayer will be there, along with the Orioles director of analytics, Sarah Gelles. This sounds really cool, and something I hope they do every year. I’d take my family, but I find myself on the wrong coast. If you go, please let me know what you think below in comments or on twitter.

1: Segura, SS
2: Heredia, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Valencia, 1B
6: Zunino, C
7: Martin, RF
8: Espinoza, 3B
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Albers

Game 120, Orioles at Mariners – Two Struggling Rotations Collide

August 14, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Yovani Gallardo vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:10pm

So I’ve just flown off on vacation, and to make things interesting, I’ve come down with some stupid illness, so I don’t think I can watch this one. Did the series against the Angels literally sicken me? We can’t rule it out, friends.

The Orioles were supposed to be a team that could win despite a lackluster rotation. They had a great offense last year, and a dominant bullpen, headlined by closer Zach Britton. With steady if uninspiring guys like Chris Tillman and Wade Miley around, this really could’ve worked. Instead, everyone in the rotation regressed, including tonight’s starter and perennial ‘Maybe he’ll put it together this season’ tease, Kevin Gausman.

The M’s kind of liked their rotation coming out of spring training. Felix had done strength training, Paxton turned into PAXTON midway through last year, and Smyly/Iwakuma could add some innings. A whole lot went wrong there, and now the O’s and M’s are among the league’s worst rotations. The O’s actually have it worse, because while the M’s defense drives a low BABIP and thus fewer runs than FIP would think, Baltimore’s defense adds fuel to the dumpster fire that is their rotation, pushing their ERA to a steroid-era-esque 5.53.

I mocked the O’s inability to develop pitchers yesterday, but Gausman’s the new example of this longstanding phenomenon. The 26 year old throws 96, and has two different fastballs along with a splitter and slider. This should be enough to do some damage, and he’s put together two good partial years, but then he’ll have a season like this one. Homers have always been an issue, but they’re not appreciably higher than last year. Gausman’ been hurt by his defense and a problem putting away lefties.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, LF
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Gallardo

Game 119, Angels at Mariners – Battle of Baltimore Cast-offs

August 13, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Parker Bridwell, 1:10pm

The M’s try to salvage a game from this ill-fated series today behind Ariel Miranda. The M’s three-game slide certainly feels like a gut punch, but it hasn’t doomed the M’s playoff run as much as you might think, thanks to the Royals’ and Rays’ poor form. Of course, that’s balanced by the fact that these Angels are now a game ahead of all three. BP’s playoff odds still likes the Rays to end up with the 2nd wildcard, while Fangraphs thinks the Angels have the edge; BP likes the M’s chances better than Fangraphs, but both have the M’s with a slightly worse than 1 in 5 shot.

Today’s game features a pair of pitchers whom the perpetually pitching-starved Orioles essentially gave away. Miranda came to the M’s last year in exchange for Wade Miley, who’d pitched his way off the M’s, and has gone on to post a replacement-level year or so with Baltimore. Parker Bridwell, like Miranda, was a lower-tier prospect in the O’s org until this year when Baltimore gave up on him and sold him to Anaheim for cash considerations. Baltimore’s starting rotation makes the M’s look decent, as they’ve compiled a 5.49 ERA and just 4.5 fWAR this season. They are the primary reason Baltimore’s not in playoff position despite a hot start. Meanwhile, they’ve traded away legitimate starting pitchers in each of the last *5* seasons, as this Baltimore Sun article from earlier this year mentions: Jake Arrieta in 2013, Eduardo Rodriguez in 2014, Zach Davies in 2015, Miranda in 2016, and now Bridwell in 2017 (this last one came too late to be included in the article). Those five traded guys have put up 6 fWAR this season, so, uh, nice one, Baltimore.

Bridwell has a 92-93 MPH four-seam fastball and a 90 MPH cutter that he uses a lot of against righties. His outpitch is a true slider at 80, but he’s also got a change and curve. While he’s been effective for the Angels thus far, his FIP’s a lot higher, and he’s shown troubling platoon splits – lefties are pounding him. In the O’s system, Bridwell always struggled with his control, but he’s been surprisingly decent in that department with the Angels; his walk rates plummeted immediately after joining the Angels organization. He’s also a fairly extreme fly ball guy, which helps explain his somewhat high HR rates. Miranda’s home run rates are a much bigger concern, of course, and they’ve killed his effectiveness after an eye-opening start to the season. If the M’s want to re-take the wild card lead, Miranda’s going to have to figure out how to keep the ball in the park. Seriously, Ariel: use your splitter. A lot.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Dyson, CF
7: Heredia, LF
8: Martin, RF
9: Ruiz, C
SP: Miranda

Tacoma won an incredible game last night in Cheney 10-9 in 11 IP. Mike Curto details it in his blog post, but the short story is that the R’s scored 4 in the 9th to tie the game at 6. After Reno scored 3 in the 10th to take a 9-6 lead, the R’s got two HRs in their half to tie it back up, and then won it on a Dan Vogelbach walk-off hit in the 11th. The win got the Rainiers back to .500 at 60-60. Bryan Evans, whom the M’s recently got out of the indie leagues to fill in for Arkansas, will come up to AAA to make the start today.

Arkansas beat Midland 5-4 thanks to a decent start from Nick Neidert and a two-run shot by longtime MiLB catcher Steven Baron.

Modesto and Clinton kept the streak going with one-run wins of their own, but Everett lost a one-run game to Boise, an 11-10 affair in extra innings. The AquaSox Greifer Andrade had the batting line of the night, going 4-6 with 3 2Bs. Pitching line…I guess we’ll go with Ljay Newsome’s 5 shutout innings for Clinton.

Game 118, Angels at Mariners

August 12, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. JC Ramirez, 6:10pm

Eeeeedddddddddgggggaaaaaaaaarrrrrr

As disappointing as the first two games of this series have been, Edgar was ours, and you can’t have him.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Gamel, LF
7: Dyson, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Martin, RF
SP: Erasmooooo

Game 117, Angels at Mariners – Sometimes Nostalgia Is A Welcome Distraction

August 11, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Ricky Nolasco, 7:10pm

James Paxton’s now on the DL with a strained pectoral muscle; he’s expected to miss 3 weeks or so. Felix is on the DL. Iwakuma is on the DL. Drew Smyly’s Mariner career will be a single, unbroken DL stint. The M’s are still tied for the lead in the chase for the 2nd wildcard, but the news over the past 24 hours or so has been unrelentingly bad. Today, the M’s honor Edgar Martinez with a bobblehead giveaway and the start of Edgar Martinez weekend – Edgar’s #11 will be retired tomorrow, and then Sunday will be replica jersey day. Like many, I’ve sometimes been frustrated at a team that seems to peddle nostalgia when it struggles to sell an actual, competitive team. But today, it feels particularly welcome to celebrate a singular talent, and someone who seemed to will himself to greatness. Paxton can’t stay healthy, it’s true, but let’s remember that Edgar’s career didn’t properly begin until he was 27, just a year younger than Paxton is now. He survived a debilitating injury to his knee, shoulder surgery, and battled strabismus in his eyes. His own body seemed to be sabotaging him, so he worked tirelessly to improve it and his approach. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Great players always seem to make the game look easy – Ken Griffey Jr. is the classic example. Edgar never seemed that way; there were always too many signs that he was anything but a superhuman hero: the way he always flinched at high pitches (the product of the fact that he really couldn’t see them well at all), and of course his speed, or lack thereof. That’s what made his seven year peak from 1995-2001 one of the most remarkable runs I’ve ever seen. He was just clearly the best, most complete hitter around, and he did it despite all of these disadvantages. Griffey looked effortless, while Edgar seemed the product of years and years of careful, meticulous self-improvement. Griffey sprang, fully-formed, from some higher plane of existence. Randy Johnson was the most talented pitcher I’ve ever seen, but one who needed to work a bit to figure out his mechanics to become the inner-circle HOF’er he became. Edgar carried the M’s to new heights and became the heart and soul of some historic line-ups and he did it in a completely different way. He seemed like a one-man rebuke to the idea of the can’t miss prospect, of the generational talent. This probably isn’t fair either to Edgar (who was pretty clearly naturally talented) or to Griffey (who put some work in to become an icon), but it felt incredible – almost revolutionary.

It’s both shocking and almost fitting that the M’s haven’t made the playoffs since Edgar led the offense. This year’s group is good enough to get them there, but it’s looking like the pitching staff may not survive long enough to help. Marco Gonzales desperately needs a great start here to spare a bullpen that’s pretty clearly overtaxed. Andrew Moore’s been recalled to help that bullpen, but if he’s spent in long relief, I’m really not sure who’s going to take Paxton’s turn in the rotation. As I’m typing this, the M’s seem to have answered that: the M’s have just acquired LH pitcher Andrew Albers from the Braves. You’re…you’re never going to believe this, but he’s a lefty throwing about 87-88 who fits the command/control mold to a tee. I’ve seen him compared to Wade LeBlanc a few times. At 31 years old, he doesn’t quite fit in the Braves youth movement, but he’s dominated the International League. He’s seen a bit of MLB time, mostly with Minnesota, and pitched for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but gets a few more grounders than Moore and that ilk. This is the most Mariner move I’ve seen in some time, but it’s hard to complain when injuries have wiped out so much of the M’s rotation. Sure, I’d love to see them expand their search beyond “poor man’s Jason Vargas,” but I recognize that beggars can’t be choosers.

I’ve spent far too much time over the past several years detailing the specific ways in which Ricky Nolasco is a steady, below-average baseball player, but one thing stood out for me today. In the past several years, his fastball’s declined to the point where it gets battered pretty regularly; he’s given up 20 dingers on fastballs (sinkers+ four-seam) this year, for example. His breaking stuff isn’t great, but he’s got a moderately interesting splitter that he reserves for lefties only. That’s produced some reverse platoon splits, as he’s essentially doing what I accused Ariel Miranda of doing: sidelining his best pitch and choosing to live or die on his fastball. It’s a common thing, but it doesn’t make it any more intelligible for me.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Gamel, LF
7: Dyson, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Martin, RF
SP: Gonzales

Game 116, Angels at Mariners

August 10, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Tyler Skaggs, 7:10pm

Happy Big Maple Day? I think we kept waiting for some young pitcher to emerge and become the prince to Felix’s King, but it didn’t quite happen. I’d call Paxton the Governor General, but that force-fits him into the King Felix template, and at this point, we all know who the ace of the staff is. So here’s to the group of fans who created the Big Maple cheering section and saw it took off. I’m glad Paxton’s getting the adulation he deserves from fans, particularly as he carries the M’s rotation on his back.

It’s remarkable: over the past 30 days, the M’s rotation has an ERA of 5.00 and a FIP of 5.35 thanks to a HR/9 mark of 2.24, the worst in baseball. Dingers you say? Yes, there’ve been some dingers, but the offense has actually been poor as well, with an OBP of just over .300. The M’s offense has a wRC+ of just 90, and their starters (aside from Paxton, of course) have tossed 30 days of replacement-level baseball…and they’ve kept on winning. The M’s have felt fated to lose for a while now; I didn’t come by this disposition naturally, it was beaten into me since Jim Beattie and Matt Young played for Seattle. Even when they didn’t seem horribly unlucky, other teams reaped all sorts of ill-gotten gains from the sequencing gods. Remember Texas last year winning 95 games with a pythag record of 82-80? Or the Royals destroying their BaseRuns projections year after year? This past month it’s finally happened to the M’s, and it is glorious.

Yes, the bullpen’s been lights out, and that’s a key reason why teams can “beat” their assumed records. But even there, the Red Sox and Yankee bullpens have been even better, but it hasn’t stopped the M’s from gaining ground on both clubs. With David Phelps hurt and Edwin Diaz getting a ton of action, it may not last forever. But that’s actually OK: the bullpen may regress, but you have to think the offense will, too. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are finally riding hot streaks, and Yonder Alonso figures to help the M’s line-up versus righties. Meanwhile, the M’s probably won’t have a BABIP of just .278 in the next month. The M’s are now in control of the 2nd wild card, and they have the talent to hold off Tampa and Kansas City. To do so, they need to continue to rack up wins against poor teams, just as they did these past two days. That’s why the series that starts tonight is so big: the Angels are lingering around the wild card chase just as the M’s were. Games like this one strongly favor the M’s, and they need to continue to dominate when their ace is on the hill. But more than that, they need to figure out how to put together a competent rotation behind him.

The M’s starting pitchers since Paxton last pitched have thrown 18 1/3 innings in 4 games. They allowed 19 runs in that time. Only one of them gave up fewer runs than innings pitched. That’s…that’s not good, or sustainable, or fun. The bullpen’s been incredible, but they’ve had to be perfect, and it’s hard to keep that up. In a twitter conversation yesterday, John Trupin of LL asked what I’d do to fix it (excluding things like trade for Chris Sale, etc.). This may be a classic case of fighting the last war, but it’s plainly obvious where the M’s struggles lie: they give up way, way too many HRs. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum this year, and believe the M’s plan of getting low-walk, high-FB pitchers as undervalued matches for the park and defense would’ve been amazing in about 2013. But given the ball and context the M’s hurlers have to work with, it’s not a winning strategy. It’s one that’s driven the construction of the staff, though, and the M’s need to go with the guys they have. Thus, I’d suggest that the M’s take a page from the Yankees/Astros book and start throwing a ton of breaking balls/offspeed pitches. Ariel Miranda’s splitter has been great this year, but it’s overlooked because his fastball’s getting rocked.* Yovani Gallardo’s curve hasn’t been great, but he should still be throwing it more than 20% of the time. Marco Gonzales should be throwing his change more, etc. Pretty much everyone (save Andrew Moore, whose secondaries were beaten to a pulp) in the M’s rotation should give it a go and see if they can’t keep the ball in the park a bit more. We’ve established that Safeco’s no longer, er, safe for fly ball pitchers and that it hasn’t regressed anywhere near enough from last year to really suppress fly ball contact. The M’s pitchers give up a ton of fly balls, but that’s at least partially under their control.

That reminds me of my discussion of Ben Gamel from 6 or so weeks ago. At the time, he was one of the AL’s leading hitters thanks to his utter dominance on fastballs, and *in spite of* his poor performance against anything other than fastballs. At the time (I published it on 6/22), pitchers were still giving him a steady diet of fastballs – more than league average, actually. As a moderately high-K guy without power but with a discerning batting eye, it made sense: give him fastballs, since he wasn’t a big HR threat – let him ground out and focus on the next guy. Early in the season, Gamel, like so many others, dramatically reduced his GB% and rode a flurry of line drives to that hot start. He’s *still* an effective hitter, but his ISO’s down to .130, and pitchers finally caught on: since 6/22, he’s seeing non-fastballs (four-seam, two-seam, sinker) about 50% of the time, and he’s still struggling with them. He’s still doing pretty well against fastballs, but seeing FBs about 9 percentage points less has been a big driver in the return of his high-GB ways. After hitting a grounder in just over 1/4 of his balls in play in April+May, he’s nearing 60% in July+August. That’s a big reason his production’s tailed off a bit despite hitting a bunch of singles. The same thing’s happened to Yonder Alonso, who was around 25% grounders in April/May and has been at 46% in July+August. Alonso’s FB% hasn’t changed much since earlier (though it’s way down from prior years), but he’s putting fewer FBs in play and a few more breaking balls. This strategic shift won’t solve everything. Miranda’s splitter wouldn’t be as effective on a rate basis if he started throwing it half the time. If batters sit on something, they can do a lot of damage on it. But the M’s should try *something* and throwing their best pitches a bit more seems like a good place to start.

1: Segura, SS
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, LF
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: PAXTON!

For the past several days, I’ve actually been down in Oakland for family stuff. It’s been years since I’ve flown to Seattle and seen as many M’s hats/jerseys as I did yesterday. I’d worried the fanbase would’ve tuned out after the M’s poor start, but this town really wants to care about the M’s. This hot streak, however unlikely, has been great for that.

If you want to go see the M’s, there are two great nights coming up. The first is this weekend, when the M’s salute Edgar Martinez with a bobblehead/light-bat giveaway. Tickets for that game are available here.

The second has gotten some press, and deserves every bit of it. Ex-Lookout Landing and current Baseball Prospectus writer Meg Rowley’s organized a Women in Baseball night highlighting the contributions of women in a variety of roles, from broadcasting to scouting to statistical analysis. The panel sounds really interesting, and it’s just a great idea for an event. This isn’t just a pink hat or a free drink ticket, but insight for fans about the game, and I wish my daughters were a bit older. Let’s make this one annual, M’s! I’m going to be out of town, otherwise I’d be there. It’s on the 15th, and tickets are here.

Speaking of John Trupin, he’s got a post today detailing that the M’s are in uncharted waters as far as their rotation goes: no team’s made the playoffs with a rotation this bad. By fWAR, the M’s would be in uncharted territory, though of course by ERA it’s not quite so dire. The M’s defense pulls their ERA+ (Baseball Reference’s park-adjusted ERA compared to league average) up to 95, so a bit worse than average. The Giants won the Series in 2012 with a team ERA+ of 96, and the Angels won 89 games that year at 95. The M’s themselves won 88 games in 2007 despite a 5.01 ERA, good for a 92 ERA+ – that’s the club with Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez combining for 47 well-below-replacement-level starts. The Angels and M’s didn’t make the playoffs, but 87-89 wins would do the trick this year. There’s hope! But please pitch better!

* Miranda’s pitch-type linear weights are good on his FB, but that’s BABIP driven. Batters are slugging .518 on it, compared to .310 on his splitter. His change-up, which is similar but distinct to the splitter, has actually been his worst pitch on a per-pitch basis.

Games 112+113, Mariners at Royals

August 6, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

Game 1: Marco Gonzales vs. Danny Duffy, 11:15am
Game 2: Erasmo Ramirez vs. Jake Junis

The M’s schedule this month is already brutal enough, so this double-header-on-getaway-day feels extra cruel. The M’s now face an important day of baseball with a guy making his M’s debut and another pitching his 2nd game for the M’s, and who may be limited to 70-80 pitches. Kind of like Andrew Moore’s first game, it is imperative that Marco Gonzales give the M’s some innings today.

I talked about Danny Duffy in yesterday’s game post, so let’s review Jake Junis. He throws a sinking four-seamer from a low-ish arm slot, which he uses to set up a slurvy slider with a ton of horizontal movement. Brooks says he throws a curve as well, but it’s so similar to the ‘slider’ it may just be reclassifying the slowest of them as a different pitch. Whatever you call it, Junis’ slurve is an effective pitch, especially to righties. In his short career though, he’s struggled against righties just as much, as his fastball’s been destroyed by them.

Game 1:
1: Segura, SS
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, CF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Martin, RF
SP: Gonzales

Cody Martin’s been recalled as the 26th man today. That’s not the big story on the transaction wire, though. The M’s just traded R’s CF Boog Powell to Oakland for A’s 1B Yonder Alonso. I know the market for bat-first players is as low as it’s been in…ever, and I know Alonso’s struggled after a red-hot start, but holy crap. Like Tyler O’Neill, Powell was always going to struggle for consistent playing time here. Yonder Alonso will immediately start each game vs. RHPs, and maybe a few vs. lefties. The M’s got better today.

The Rainiers beat Memphis 5-4 thanks to a 9th inning comeback and a walk-off single by Taylor Motter. The big hero of the comeback was speedy CF Ian Miller, who got a bunt single and a stolen base. Andrew Moore starts today.

Tulsa destroyed Arkansas 13-1. The less said the better. Nick Neidert takes the hill today for the Travs.

The Nuts won 11-10 behind four hits by Eric Filia. Robert Dugger starts today.

Clinton lost 5-1 despite a 2B and 1B from Jhombaker Morales. Ljay Newsome takes the mound for the L-Kings today.

Game 112, Mariners at Royals – Kingless Again

August 5, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Danny Duffy, 4:15pm

It wasn’t easy, but the M’s won yesterday’s must-win game. That should’ve given them a bit of a boost heading into tonight’s game, but instead the M’s have more injury problems to deal with. The M’s placed Felix Hernandez on the 10-day DL today with biceps tendinitis, and they’ve called up lefty Marco Gonzales to make tonight’s start.

Jerry Dipoto has talked about Gonzales being an undervalued arm due to his injury history and apparently improved stuff since coming back from TJ rehab. Those apparent improvements may be real, but they’ve been stubbornly slow to reveal themselves to hitters, as Gonzales got blasted in his 1 start for St Louis, and has been so-so in two starts for Tacoma. He had a nice ERA for Memphis, but his FIP was above 4.

Gonzales was a top prospect a few years ago, and may become a solid #4, which is not a slam on his ability at all. The problem, as you’re all probably sick of hearing me say, is that the M’s haven’t really shown a lot of aptitude in getting as much production as they can for pitchers like him. Andrew Moore and Sam Gaviglio had HR problems plague their big league tenure, Christian Bergman was up and down (but mostly down), and Dillon Overton/Chase de Jong were completely overwhelmed. Gonzales has better stuff than most of this list (with the exception of Moore), but the same questions remain: can his change-up become a weapon at this level and neutralize righties? Can he avoid HRs?

There are some positives here: the park suppresses HRs, and the Royals are a bad line-up vs. lefties. On the other side of the ledger, the M’s face Danny Duffy, the ace of the Royals staff. The lefty is somewhat Paxtonesque in that his undeniable talent is often obscured by disabled list stints. Fresh off a contract extension, Duffy’s been mostly healthy (he’s only missed a month thus far!), and he’s been very effective on the year thanks to low walk and HR rates.

Duffy throws a rising fastball at 93-94, and a pair of 84-MPH secondaries: a change-up and a slider. Both are very good pitches, and he’ll throw both a quarter of the time or more. Despite the quality of his change, he’s shown pronounced platoon splits, so it’s not a shock to see Danny Valencia up at #2 again.

1: Segura, SS
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, LF
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Gonzales

Moore took advantage of the league’s unfamiliarity with him and had a few solid starts before the bad started outweighing the good. Let’s hope Gonzales can do the same. Actually, let’s just hope Dipoto’s right and he’s throwing way, way better than he has in the recemt past and he’s a clear, obvious upgrade. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of hope.

Tyler O’Neill homered off of Sam Gaviglio to lead Memphis to a 5-4 win over Tacoma. Boog Powell went 3-4 with a HR, but the story was Shaw Simmons pitching a perfect inning and touching 97. I’ve been a big fan of Simmons since seeing him pitch against the M’s years ago, and really hope he stays healthy enough to contribute.

Lindsay Caughel’s 7 shutout innings win the pitching line of the night and helped Arkansas beat Tulsa, a team stacked with Ex-M’s minor leaguers. Reliever Brian Moran, one-time Rainier, took the loss in relief, and the Drillers boast not one but two ex-M’s minor league shortstops with Drew Jackson and Erick Mejia. C Marcus Littlewood homered for the Travelers.

Spencer Herrman K’d 9 in 6 IP, but the Nuts still lost 4-1. JP Sears got the save in Clinton’s 8-7 win.

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