Game 131, Mariners at White Sox

August 30, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

Edgar Olmos vs. Jose Quintana, 11:10am

A day after catcher John Hicks made his MLB debut playing 3B, a position he’d never played as a pro, Edgar Olmos makes his first major league start. Obviously, this is a much more familiar role for Olmos than the hot corner was for Hicks, but it’s still something of an adjustment. Before this year, Olmos’ last start came in 2012. He made two spot starts for Tacoma this year when roster shuffles left them a starter short, including his longest outing of the year, a 5IP game against Sacramento right before he was called up.

Among the myriad things I couldn’t have imagined before the year began, the M’s letting a LOOGY get a spot start is perhaps one of the least painful. But it’s still pretty remarkable when you step back: Olmos was acquired from Florida when the Marlins waived him. He needed a 40 man spot, but the M’s had plenty of them, so it seemed like a worthwhile gamble, particularly given Olmos’ 94-95mph velocity. Upon arriving in M’s camp though, Olmos wasn’t close to 94-95, and he had to be shut down with a shoulder impingement. When the M’s needed a 40-man spot, they waived Olmos and the Rangers picked him up in late February. After throwing for a few days with Texas, the Rangers asked MLB to reverse the waiver claim, essentially claiming that Seattle had sent them defective goods. MLB agreed, and Olmos returned.* That he didn’t really have a role went without saying: he was, apparently, too hurt to waive.

Olmos stayed in extending spring training rehabbing his shoulder, and only joined Tacoma at the very end of May. In his first outing, he gave up 5 hits and 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. After that outing, he took some family leave when his wife gave birth. So it’s June, and Olmos had been hurt, ineffective and waived. On the plus side, he had a new baby. Whether it was fatherhood or just some rest, Olmos has been effective since his return. He had some platoon splits, but he was an effective reliever who seemed to keep the ball in the park – he hasn’t given up a HR in 2015. That’s kind of interesting, given that HR problems were a big part of the reason Florida waived him.

Whether it was because of his injury or just something the M’s worked on with him, Olmos’ fastball doesn’t look much like the one he threw for the Marlins. A few years ago, he threw 96 routinely, and the ball had a lot of horizontal run and essentially average vertical rise. Now, Olmos throws 93 with a bit less armside run, and extremely low vertical movement. At over 2 standard deviations below average, Olmos’ four-seamer acts like a sinker. His sinker, which he’s thrown to righties thus far, has even less rise and Mike Montgomery-levels of horizontal movement. While he always had decent ground ball rates, they’re higher now and he’s getting some infield pop-ups. More importantly, whatever change he’s made seems to have improved his…uh, change. Olmos was a fastball/slider guy with Florida, but in the M’s org he throws two fastballs, a curve and a change-up. The latter pitch has radically different movement now than it did before (of course, the “before” sample is a handful of pitches) – it now has sink and it’s something he can throw righties.

Olmos’ story’s a good one, and he’s solid depth for the M’s, but it’s not like all the changes have made him a great pitcher. He’s just not missing enough bats, and his GB% isn’t elite enough to make up for that. It’s a bit early to tell if he’s been HR-lucky, or if he’s put his real HR issues behind him, and the same goes for his platoon splits. He’s making this start because Mike Montgomery couldn’t stop his slide, and was banished to Tacoma today (Mayckol Guaipe is up). Still, this is quite a reward for someone I never thought we’d hear from again this spring.

Jose Quintana’s the unassuming lefty who’s been remarkably effective and consistent for the White Sox. Quintana throws a rising FB at 91-92, a good cutter at 90 and an occasional change, but his best pitch is his curve, a slurvy offering at 81. The combination of a straight, high fastball and a curve has helped Quintana avoid platoon split issues – his career xFIP is essentially identical to RHBs/LHBs. This year, his splits are a bit more prominent thanks to some minor HR issues to righties. He’s given up more HRs on his fastball, which is probably just bad luck, but it’s got to be a bit concerning for Chicago. Perhaps as a result, Quintana’s throwing more of his sinker than he ever has, but that hasn’t really helped against righties. In any event, Quintana’s still only given up 12 long balls on the year. Last year’s incredible HR/FB luck wasn’t going to last forever, but he’s still given up remarkably few HRs given his home park and neutral GB rates.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Trumbo, RF
8: Miller, SS
9: Hicks, C
SP: Olmos

Congratulations to Hicks on surviving 3B last night and making his first big league start.

Tacoma’s game with Nashville was postponed yesterday. That probably won’t shock anyone in Western Washington given yesterday’s storms. They’ll play 2 today, with Adrian Sampson starting game 1. It’s a split-admission game, so ticket-holders from yesterday’s game can use their tickets for game 2, which starts at 5:35, and those who had seats for today’s game – the last home game of the year – can use those for game 1, which starts at 1:35.

Jackson shut out Pensacola 4-0 behind 6 one-hit innings from Misael Siverio. Paul Fry K’d 2 in the 9th, and Jabari Henry homered for the Generals as well. Fry now has 106 Ks against just 19 walks in 76 1/3 IP. The lefty out of a Michigan CC has 53 Ks and 5 walks against left-handed bats. Dylan Unsworth starts today against Tim Adleman, a 24th round pick out of Georgetown who was cut by Baltimore and spent two years in independent ball before resurfacing with the Reds this year. He’s been shockingly effective this year, and though he’s 27, he may get a shot at AAA next year.

After a 2-1 game the day before, Bakersfield and High Desert played a good old fashioned Adelanto special last night, with Bakersfield outslugging the Mavericks 19-10. The hitting star was RF Austin Wilson, who’s had a terrible season but is showing some signs of life. Wilson went 6-7, with 3 doubles and a HR; he was 6 for his first 6 and had a shot at a 7th hit before grounding out in the 9th. Ryan Yarbrough starts today.

Burlington shut out Clinton 4-0, who are now 16-45 in the 2nd half and 46 games under .500. Eddie Campbell shares the mound with Wisconsin’s Kodi Medeiros, a 2014 1st rounder and one of the Brewers top prospects.

Tri-City beat Everett 9-3 despite Alex Jackson’s first 2-HR game. Luiz Gohara was shaky again, and reliever Jefferson Arias wasn’t much better. Jake Brentz starts for the AquaSox today.

* His return meant that the M’s had to make another roster move, but the day they needed to DFA someone, Ji-Man Choi broke his leg in a Cactus League game and got the news he was being outrighted while in the hospital.

Game 130, Mariners at White Sox

August 29, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jeff Samardzija, 4:10pm

The M’s look for a series win tonight against Jeff Samardzija, one of the White Sox disappointments. Acquiring him from Oakland was one of a series of bold moves aimed at jump starting their rebuild and making a play for a wild card spot.

Instead, players like Samardzija have regressed right along with the Sox returning players like Jose Abreu. With the Royals running away with the division, even a great year from Shark may not have mattered, but his decline may be a concern as he hits free agency. Lefties have teed off on him this season, and his K%, GB% and HR% all went the wrong way. He still throws 95 with good control and flashes elite potential, but he hasn’t quite harnessed those tools yet.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Smith, LF
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Miller, CF
9: Sucre, C

James Paxton’s 2nd rehab start was mediocre, as he gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, but the bullpen and bats bailed him out. Jabari Blash’s HR led the way, and the R’s won 8-3. Adrian Sampson starts tonight.

Jackson’s anemic offense was back after their 11-run outburst the other day as Pensacola shut them down 7-1. Misael Siverio starts tonight in Jackson.

High Desert beat Bakersfield 2-1. Former 3B Ramon Morla pitched a scoreless inning for the Blaze and struck out 3 around a walk. Something to keep an eye on; I love ex-position player pitchers. Tyler Pike faces off against Reed Garrett in Adelanto.

Clinton shut out Burlington 4-0 with Tyler Herb going 5 IP for the win. The L-Kings had 10 base hits. Jarrett Brown takes the hill for Clinton tonight.

Everett beat Tri City 4-1 on a bullpen day with Rohn Pierce, Spencer Herrmann and Joey Strain all tossing multiple (effective) innings. Taylor Zeutenhorst homered for the AquaSox. Luiz Gohara makes the start tonight – one of his last in yet another disappointing season.

Game 129, Mariners at White Sox; Game 1 of the Post-GMZ Mariners

August 28, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. John Danks, 5:10pm

Zduriencik’s last action as GM was the long-overdue demotion of C Mike Zunino to AAA. Given rosters expand imminently, it seems he’ll be with Tacoma for about 72 hours or so. Replacing him on the roster is John Hicks, the M’s 4th round pick in 2011 out of Virginia. Hicks had a reputation as a good defender (he leads the PCL in CS%), and has moved up the chain steadily, albeit with wildly inconsistent offensive lines. He was great in the Cal League, then fell apart in AA. Repeating the level in 2014, he put up a 121 wRC+ in 200+ PAs, but struggled after a promotion to Tacoma. This year, which he’s spent platooning with Steve Baron, has been his worst as a pro. It is the first day of the Jeff Kingston era, and the Mariners starting catcher is officially Jesus Sucre. 2015 is a hell of a drug.

We just saw this matchup back in Seattle 5 days ago, with the M’s winning a slugfest, 8-6. The M’s torched Danks for 7 runs in 5 IP, but the White Sox fared well against Taijuan Walker as well. Jose Abreu’s HR highlighted the fact that Walker is having real problems with right-handers recently; his FIP vs. RHBs is 4.87, well over a run higher than his FIP vs. lefties. His fastball *should* be effective against RHBs, but hasn’t been, perhaps because his breaking stuff still isn’t quite ready for prime time.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Morrison, 1B
9: Sucre, C
SP: Walker

With team president Kevin Mather signalling that he’s not interested in an inexperienced GM, interim guy Jeff Kingston’s in an awkward position (as is Lloyd McClendon, of course). Ownership/Mather may want a veto over personnel moves, as we saw when Frank Mattox was interim GM. What Kingston can do is really focus on figuring out what the M’s have in Hicks, Ramon Flores, Ketel Marte and the rest of the high-minors talent the M’s have. That’s tough, as getting a look at, say, Jabari Blash and Forrest Snow come September would mean 40-man roster changes. There are some spots the M’s could conceivably swap out, but they may be loathe to do so right now. Beyond that, I’d imagine his main job is figuring out what the heck’s going on with Jackson and Clinton, and where the player development strengths in the org really are. Zunino’s demotion may just be a way for him to work on things in a low-pressure environment, but there’s simply not enough time to get a lot of meaningful work in, whatever you think of Cory Snyder as a hitting instructor.

The Rainiers hit another 5 HRs last night in a big 12-5 win over the Nashville Sounds. The R’s lead the PCL in home runs, which is pretty amazing given how their home park stacks up with some of the launching pads in in the PCL. Forrest Snow was the beneficiary of all the run support, but he gave up 2 HRs of his own. He’s given up 22 HRs of his own, good for 2nd most in the PCL behind converted OF Jason Lane, who’s also pitched about 40 more innings. Something to work on going forward for the local product, who’s had a solid year despite the gopheritis. James Paxton makes rehab start #2 tonight against Nashville. Go see him if you’re in the area.

Jackson’s bats came alive yesterday in an 11-3 win over Montgomery. Jabari Blash and Guillermo Pimentel homered. Edwin Diaz pitched a solid 6 IP for the win. Stephen Landazuri starts tonight as Jackson opens a series with Pensacola

Visalia downed Bakersfield 4-1 behind a great pitching performance from Dormagen, Germany’s Markus Solbach. The lanky righty gave up an unearned run in 6 IP with 6 Ks and no walks. Scott DeCecco gave up 10 hits including 3 HRs in 6 IP for the loss. Bakersfield heads to Adelanto to face High Desert today; no word on their starter.

Burlington scored 2 in the 8th to beat Clinton 4-2. Zack Littell’s solid start (6 IP, 2R, 7Ks) was spoiled as the Lumberkings bats couldn’t do much. Clinton’s runs scored on a passed ball and a throwing error. Tyler Herb starts for the L-Kings tonight.

Everett beat Salem-Keizer 4-3 behind great outings from Enyel de los Santos and reliever Joe Pistorese. De los Santos went 7, yielding 2 runs, and then Pistorese tossed the final 1 1/3 with 3 Ks. Drew Jackson had 2 hits, including a double. Rohn Pierce gets the ball tonight for Everett.

The Jack Zduriencik Era is Over

August 28, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

December 18, 2009 at roughly 10:40am Pacific. The rumor that the M’s had swapped Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley of the Cubs had just been confirmed, and there were unconfirmed stories and quotes from unnamed sources floating around on the still-new platform of Twitter. One of those rumors, one that no one could actually source, was that the deal was a straight swap – despite somewhat unequal contracts and even more unequal 2008 stats, Zduriencik possibly rid himself of the entirety of Silva’s contract. Jon Heyman harshed our buzz and said the M’s were sending $6m to the Cubs, but that wasn’t until 10:45. About 48 hours before, Zduriencik pried Cliff Lee away from Philadelphia for a package headlined by Phillippe Aumont and JC Ramirez. He turned the M’s worst starter into a Cy Young favorite at a cost of a couple of decent prospects AND somehow come out with a league-average bat with the potential for a lot more. It still sounds impossible, even when you know exactly how bad everything went on and off the field. At 10:40am on 12/18/2009, I, and I suspect many other M’s fans, thought the only real worry the M’s had about their GM is that he might ascend to another plane of existence, or force MLB to make rule changes to restore competitive balance (“Jack, you’re not allowed to look directly into other GMs eyes anymore, because wheeeeennnn ok, MLB will allow the Mariners to begin each game with a 2 run lead.”).

For those who’d suffered through the previous GM’s tenure, or for those who came later, all of this optimism must seem pretty strange. We’re the fanbase that’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the next punch to land. There are fans who sincerely believe 2015 is the most disappointing season in M’s history, but I don’t think anyone who lived through 2010 dizzying fall could see 2015 as comparable. The M’s have had plenty of disappointment, even in their greatest years. But there was something about watching a team we believed in too much become the laughingstock of the league – from WS expectations to historically inept – that’s made it hard to invest too much in any M’s team that’s come after it. Let’s be clear: this is MY fault, OUR fault and not Jack’s. But while we all high fived and breathed a sigh of relief when Bavasi left, my feeling’s different now. The intensity of my fandom’s been permanently restricted; I simply can’t be the kind of fan I was at 10:40am, December 18th, 2009 anymore.

A big part of that might be age and life and the way 518 losses in 5.5 years rewires your brain to spare you some pain. But a part of it is that we fell too hard for the idea that the right executive is all you need. That a General Manager can remake an organization, from top to bottom, relatively quickly and have everything just work out. We see this all the time – Cardinals fans believe in their org, and Astros fans will tell you more than you wanted to know about their vaunted Process. But the more you look into them, the more you see just how extensive change needs to be. The Cards aren’t the Cards because of their GM, they’re where they are because of dozens or hundreds of people. A leader can be vital in creating and nurturing a culture that works for player development or pro scouting, but it takes an entire organization to make it work. As fans, we thought at one point that Zduriencik was a kind of cheat code – his blend of scouting acumen and willingness to listen to newfangled metrics would blend the best of old school and new and make the Cardinals look like the St. Louis Browns in short order. Instead, what we saw was a front office that seemed to be at war with itself. Instead of creating a culture, the GM created a growing list of enemies. Nearly every group – from Pro Scouting to Player Development was overhauled, and nothing much seemed to change.

Today, Ryan Divish tweeted out the two words that felt inevitable and overdue.

Kevin Mather released the kind of statement that always accompanies moves like this, and so the M’s search begins in earnest. The new guy (or gal) inherits a farm system in the bottom third in baseball, and with a very good but aging and expensive core. There are a number of strategies the new group could employ, from Astros-style teardown to using their new revenue to essentially buy their way out of rebuilding years. I’ll be a fan, and I look forward to writing about the differences between the new crew and the old one, but I think we’ll all going to look at the early moves – and feel differently about the early moves – than we did back in the heady days of 2008-2009. For now, Jeff Kington will lead the team, while Kevin Mather reviews his list of experienced candidates. Kingston won’t be the permanent GM, which recalls the days in the Bavasi-Zduriencik interregnum when ownership blocked a trade and the M’s couldn’t really begin to retool in earnest. The M’s and fans just have to get through a string of games that feel even more useless than most Septembers’. After that, we’ll try to feel optimistic again.

I’ll end with a stab at optimism: The M’s front office was incapable of building a team to reliably compete in the AL. The M’s realized this and made a change. Realistically, the M’s are further from their goal of competing in the medium term than they were before the year started, but even this helped clarify things and point a way forward. We knew before the year that the M’s had risks at the catcher spot, the bullpen and CF, and those risks have ended up sinking the season. The risks have turned into a shopping list or a player development challenge. Someone else will figure out what to do about these issues, and I’m excited to see what they do. I’ll just never be excited as I was in December of 2009 again.*

* Seriously, what does it say about the M’s that the best many of us have felt about the club in a decade or so came in the offseason?

Game 128, Mariners at White Sox

August 27, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Carlos Rodon, 5:10pm

Welcome back, Roenis. The Cuban lefty evidently wasn’t terribly happy about being in Tacoma and stunk up the PCL for a while before his recent recall. He’s obviously been much better in the big leagues, although exactly why is an interesting question for someone to research. Unlike many (most?) M’s prospects to come up, Elias has done this over a somewhat reliable sample – this isn’t a guy who had a hot month.

The M’s saw Carlos Rodon 5 days ago and got to see Rodon’s strengths and weaknesses up close. Rodon walked too many (4 in 7 IP), but missed tons of bats. He confused the heck out of Kyle Seager, while Franklin Gutierrez hit him hard. Unless and until Rodon gets his platoon splits figured out, he won’t take the leap to one of the game’s elite starters that some observers believe is coming.

1: Marte, SS
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Trumbo, 1B
7: Montero, DH
8: Miller, 3B
9: Zunino, C
SP: Elias

At this point in their respective careers, I think I’d rather see Montero play 1B with Trumbo DHing. Never thought I’d see the day where I commented that I think Montero putting a glove on would give the M’s a better chance, but here we are.

Fangraphs had an article on white-hot Tacoma OF Jabari Blash today, which kind of tells you the kind of tear the 26 year old from St. Croix is on.

Tacoma beat Memphis in a slugfest, 13-7. The game was notable in that two former Gonzaga pitchers, Tyler Olson of Spokane, WA and Arturo Reyes of Warden, WA (it’s in Grant County) started opposite each other. Both hurlers were drafted in 2013, the year that Gonzaga’s ace, Marco Gonzalez, went in the first round. Anyway, neither Zag brought their A game, as Olson was knocked out in the 3rd after giving up 7 runs, while Reyes held on until the 4th, when he’d given up 9 runs. Ji-Man Choi’s grand slam in the 1st set the tone, as the Rainiers pounded out 16 hits in the game. Forrest Snow starts for the R’s tonight.

Jackson scored 2 runs off Taylor Guerrieri, but unfortunately, they settled for 2 runs and eventually lost 4-2 in extras. Jimmy Gilheeney was excellent in a losing effort. Edwin Diaz gets the ball in today’s game in Montgomery.

Bakersfield edged Visalia 8-6, winning their second straight against a very good Rawhide club. Tyler O’Neill, per usual, was the hitting star, knocking 3 hits including 2 doubles. Scott DeCecco starts for the Blaze today, opposing Markus Solbach, the German pitcher who pitched effectively against Clinton when he was in the Midwest League earlier this year (who HASN’T pitched effectively against Clinton, though?).

Clinton surrendered 3 runs in the first and never really recovered, losing to Quad Cities 6-3. Clinton’s 45-games-under record is now attracting more attention, lest you think it’s just me banging on about how bad they’ve been. Mike Curto found this tweet noting that Clinton’s now 40.5 games back in the MWL. I would just note that Clinton, at 45 games under, and Quad Cities at 36 games OVER, make for quite a lopsided pairing – a combined 81 games apart vis a vis .500. Zack Littell starts today, attempting to chip away at that chasm.

Everett lost a heartbreaker to Salem Keizer 3-2 in the 10th. The Volcanoes held a 1-0 lead heading into the 9th inning, and scored an insurance run in the top of the frame. But with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, pinch hitter Corey Simpson singled in two runs to tie and send the game to extras…whereupon the Volcanoes retook the lead in the 10th and made it hold up. Anthony Misiewicz and Andrew Moore were outstanding on the mound for the AquaSox. Enyel de los Santos starts tonight.

Game 127, Athletics at Mariners

August 26, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

King Felix vs. Chris Bassitt, 12:40pm

Happy Felix Day. The M’s and A’s played a game in which both bullpens logged a lot of innings without giving up a run. That’s kind of incredible, given their track records.

The M’s face right-hander Chris Bassitt today, a part of the big Jeff Samardzija trade that also netted the A’s SS Marcus Semien. Bassitt wasn’t a big prospect, but was big-league ready thanks to a solid four-seam and sinker, a slider and slow curve. While his brief cup of coffee with the White Sox hadn’t gone well, the A’s talked him up as a rotation candidate in the spring, and after starting the season in AAA and then moving to the A’s bullpen, he’s been the 5th starter for a few months now. After getting stretched out a bit, he’s been on a roll, with quality starts in his last 7 outings – the last time he failed to make it 6 IP was the last time he faced Seattle, back on July 5th – and that was only his 2nd start of the year.

Bassitt’s a fly-ball pitcher despite the fact that none of his pitches have much in the way of rise. Looking at the movement on his pitches and his arsenal, you’d expect an above-average GB%, but that’s not what we see – his rate of 41.3% is well below average. Since arriving in Oakland, he’s done two things that have helped him figure out MLB. First, he’s added over 1mph on his fastball – he now throws 94 pretty routinely and touches 97. Second, he’s developed a plan of attack against left-handers. With the White Sox and in the minors, Bassitt’s sinker/slider-heavy repertoire produced big platoon splits. He had – and still has -a change-up, but it hasn’t been very effective and he doesn’t use it much. Instead, Bassitt’s now throwing lefties a lot of four-seamers, a pitch with much lower platoon splits than the sinker. In addition, he mixed in his slow curve so lefties can’t sit on his slider. That slider’s tightened up a bit too – it’s thrown around 85, and has more horizontal movement than it did last year – and while neither breaking ball is all that great on its own, using the two in combination seems to work for Bassitt. This is exactly why Taijuan Walker needs to work on a true slider this offseason.

Part of the reason for Bassitt’s grounder-averse ways is that he’s pretty comfortable pitching up in the zone. And this isn’t limited to his four-seam; he’ll throw low and away sliders to righties, but against lefties, he’ll often target the top of the zone with his breaking balls, which isn’t something I’ve seen many pitchers do. Working the sides of the zone instead of the bottom may produce more fly balls, but it might also help him avoid pulled contact. His 29% opposite-field contact rate would be well above average for starting pitchers, and the percentage of hard-hit balls he’s allowed ranks 2nd in baseball, behind only Dallas Keuchel. This helps explain why his actual runs-allowed are so much lower than his FIP and xFIP would suggest, but it also leaves fans with a choice: by the newfangled quality-of-contact stats, he looks like a very good pitcher. By good old fashioned DIPS-stats, he’s only average. We know how well DIPS metrics like xFIP predict future ERA, but we don’t know as much about what “hard hit%” *means* for a pitcher going forward, or how reliable it is. Some pitchers, like Keuchel, clearly have an ability to generate weaker contact, but just as many supposed “FIP-beaters” fail to maintain their DIPS-defying ways, plenty of pitchers can’t seem to maintain elite levels of contact management. So we’ll see; for the A’s, even if he’s “just” average, that’s still a great return for the 2nd piece in the Samardzija trade.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Smith, LF
6: Trumbo, DH
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Miller, CF
9: Sucre, C
SP: The King

Tacoma’s Chien Ming Wang was coming off two stellar outings heading into last night’s game against Memphis, but he couldn’t make it three straight. Wang gave up 8 runs in the first 3 innings in Tacoma’s 8-2 loss. Ji-Man Choi, who’s rejoined the Rainiers following surgery and rehab on his leg, had 2 hits. Tyler Olson starts for the Rainiers tonight.

Jackson was shut down yet again by another Rays hurler, this time it was Austin Pruitt’s turn. Pruitt went 8IP, giving up just 2 hits, walking none and striking out 8. In the three games of this series, the Biscuits starters tossed 21 innings, gave up 0 runs on just 7 hits and struck out 29. It won’t get any easier for them today, as they now face one of the Rays actual top prospects in Taylor Guerrieri. The former 1st rounder suffered TJ surgery in 2013 and then a suspension for a drug of abuse, but he’s put up great numbers when healthy. Jimmy Gilheeney takes the mound for the Generals.

Bakersfield beat Visalia 9-6 thanks to two HRs from OF Chantz Mack. Ryan Yarbrough was solid for 5 IP, and while the bullpen was a little shaky, the Blaze torched ex-M’s minor leaguer Brett Shankin for 8 runs in 2 2/3 IP. Tonight, Brett Ash shares the mound with Visalia’s Ryan Doran.

After getting 1-hit twice in the span of 3 days, the Clinton Lumberkings finally went out and silenced another team’s bats. Eddie Campbell pitched well, tossing 8 shutout innings, surrendering only 3 hits against Quad Cities. Lukas Schiraldi faces off with Astros’ prospect Agapito Berrios, which is a name you don’t see every day. The Panamanian righty has given up just 2 runs in 4 midwest league starts.

Everett beat Salem-Keizer 4-1, with Jake Brentz tossing 6 innings of 1-hit, shutout ball. Braden Bishop had 4 hits in the game, and has been red hot since beginning his pro career a bit slowly. He’s the NWL’s player of the week, and has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 games. Drew Jackson had 3 hits of his own, pushing his OBP to .466. While Jackson has little in-game power, his speed is a real asset: he’s stolen 42 bags this year and been caught only 3 times. Anthony Misiewicz starts for the AquaSox tonight.

Game 126, Athletics at Mariners

August 25, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

Mike Montgomery vs. Jesse Chavez, 7:10pm

Last night’s game was a painful one, as Safeco welcomed Hisashi Iwakuma back to Seattle and then watched as his defense failed him. Let’s be clear: Iwakuma was as responsible as anyone for a rough 7 run inning that turned a 5-0 lead into a 7-5 deficit they’d never recover from. Danny Valencia’s HR scraped the wall, but Kuma was giving up plenty of loud contact in that inning. That only made it worse: yet again, there’s plenty of blame to apportion around, and unfortunately, the M’s got a mediocre performance from one of their stars. It happens, and it’ll happen again. I saw some fans on twitter took this one particularly hard, but it wasn’t close to some of the Felix disaster starts or a good old fashioned bullpen meltdown. The problem is that the field of “painful M’s losses” is so crowded that it’s hard for each game to stand out. There are as many ways to be frustrated about this team as there are M’s fans, apparently.

Today, the M’s face familiar foe Jesse Chavez. The righty’s had a solid season again after beginning the year in the bullpen, and this’ll be his third start against Seattle on the year. As I mentioned last time, Chavez is constantly tweaking his repertoire. Back in early July, he’d thrown very little of what had been his primary breaking ball – a curve – and instead threw a slider he’d just developed. He was also throwing a lot of the four-seam fastball he’d put on the shelf when he reinvented himself as a sinker/cutter guy. In the past six weeks, though, the curve is back, and it’s the *slider* that’s become quite rare. Similarly, he’s cut back on the four-seamer and now looks more like what he was a year ago. This is obviously natural for him, but it’s also somewhat interesting because his most successful pitches based on results had been his slider and four-seamer. As he’s thrown his cutter more often, it’s been less effective, as lefties are now hitting it fairly hard – he’s given up 5 HRs to LHBs on his cutter, with 4 of them coming since July 1st.

Your philosophical-fx question of the day is: What IS a cutter? If it’s a fastball-like-thing that breaks gloveside, then Chavez’s doesn’t qualify – it breaks armside, albeit only a tiny bit. If it’s a half-slider/half-fastball hybrid, then Chavez is out of luck again, because at 90-91mph with very little horizontal break and with essentially no sink, there’s no discernible trace of a slider in the pitch’s DNA. Last night’s starter, Felix Doubront, throws a “cutter” with a lot of natural sinking action – it has 4″ or so less rise than his *sinker* and comes in at about 4mph slower. Chavez’s cutter is only 1 mph or so slower than his sinker, but it actually has fractionally more *rise*. Both of these guys, and Dan Haren, and Brandon McCarthy and Collin McHugh – they all may call the thing that they throw a cutter, but there’s very little that tangibly ties these offerings together. Their shape is different, as is their speed. The word “cutter” is now a catch-all term, and that can make it difficult to evaluate and compare them. This may make very little difference when watching the game, but I hope it doesn’t affect instruction. I don’t know if players and coaches really discuss what they want a pitch to DO, and why they want it to do X and not Y, but that seems like it could be a fruitful conversation to have. It’s just a conversation that needs a shared vocabulary, and that’s where catch-all terms like cutter and, yes, “fastball” have the potential to confuse more than they clarify. So, uh, M’s, take advantage of Chavez’s decidedly un-cuttery…pitch and make him pay if he leaves one in a bad location.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Smith, RF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: Montgomery

Austin Jackson apparently cleared waivers and is now garnering some attention from other clubs. Seems like a no-brainer move for a guy who’ll be walking at the end of the year.

The Rainiers smashed 5 HRs as they took out the Memphis Redbirds 10-6. Jabari Blash, Justin Ruggiano, Chris Taylor, Stefen Romero and Patrick Kivlehan all went deep, with 4 of them coming off Memphis starter Nick Greenwood. Chien Ming Wang faces off against just-demoted Tyler Lyons, who’d been effective as a back-of-the-rotation guy for the loaded Cardinals. The minor league season wraps up very soon, so head down to Cheney to check it out.

As you remember from yesterday, the Jackson Generals were shut out and Montgomery Biscuits starter Jacob Faria K’d 11 in 7 IP. In last night’s game, Biscuits starter Jaime Schultz held the Generals scoreless through 6 IP and struck out 10. The Biscuits are a good team, but these aren’t the Rays top prospects – Blake Snell already dominated this group months ago. The problem is that the Generals had the league’s worst pitching staff in the first half, and through a lot of hard work, have brought their offense to the bottom of the league as well (as measured by runs per game). Losing Jabari Blash hurt a tiny bit, but there’s not been a wave of promotions or injuries that could explain this. They’ll endeavor to correct this tonight against Montgomery starter Austin Pruitt, a control artist who’s been solid in the SL this year. Dylan Unsworth starts for Jackson.

Bakersfield let a 6-3 lead slip away as they lost the opener of their series with Visalia 9-7. Today, the Blaze send Ryan Yarbrough to the mound against Brett Shankin of the Rawhide. True die-hards of these recaps might remember Shankin’s name – he was a 28th round pick by the M’s in the 2011 draft and played a few years in the org, reaching AA briefly, and was released after 2014. After a brief stint in the independent leagues, Shankin signed with the D-Backs organization and dominated in the Northwest League (which, to be fair, he should). He’s made one pretty good start in the Cal League 5 days ago, and now faces the org he played for last year, though of course he played for High Desert last year, not Bakersfield.

Look, I don’t mean to slam Clinton and I don’t take any pleasure from their remarkably bad 2015 season. This can’t be any fun for the players, and it has to be brutal on the coaching staff. Some of their players are improving, and that’s all you can ask. But then there are games like yesterday’s and you wonder if all the losing isn’t getting to people. Quad Cities is probably the class of the MWL, and the Astros are doing impressive things in player development, but… sigh… Quad Cities beat Clinton 18-0. Clinton was one-hit for the second time in 3 games. They were hitless until Gianfranco Wawoe singled with one out in the 9th, as QC starter Dean Deetz K’d 9 in 7 no-hit innings. It’s ugly right now. Eddie Campbell tries to get a win against QC’s Justin Ferrell, who’s posted a low ERA despite so-so peripherals.

Salem-Keizer scored 4 runs in the 2nd inning against Luiz Gohara and made it hold up, beating Everett 4-3. Drew Jackson had 2 hits, because of course he did, and Darin Gillies was excellent in relief, tossing 4 2/3 scoreless with 7 Ks (though he did allow 2 inherited runners to score). Alex Jackson’s been struggling since dealing with a hand injury; he’s 5 for his last 32 with 15 Ks. Jake Brentz, another lefty the M’s got in the Mark Lowe deal, starts today.

Game 125, Athletics at Mariners

August 24, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Felix Doubront, 7:10pm

Hisashi Iwakuma takes the mound against the team that failed to sign him back in 2010, the Oakland A’s. The M’s are hosting a special celebration of the no-hitter today as Iwakuma takes the mound in Seattle for the first time since blanking the Orioles.

The M’s face Felix Doubront, a well-traveled lefty who’s now firmly in the weird spiral that often affects guys who’ve run out of options: The A’s are the 4th team he’s suited up for in a little over one calendar year. Doubront came up in the Boston org as a guy with a solid, rising fastball (averaging 91-92), a sinker, a change-up, a curveball and a cutter with sharp downward break. He flashed some promise, but HR issues and a persistent inability to strand runners caused him to burn through some options, and ultimately Boston let him go midway through 2014. The Cubs then picked him up, as so many in the Cubs FO had been in Boston when Doubront was moving through that system , and fans waited for a sign that the Cubs brain trust could figure something out that would allow him to realize his potential. That didn’t happen, and thus the Cubs cut Doubront after the year when it became clear he wasn’t going to be competing for a spot in the upgraded Chicago rotation. This season, his signed a minor league deal with Toronto and moved up to the big club at the beginning of July.

A game or two into his Blue Jays tenure, Doubront finally started looking like a changed pitcher, though the actual tweaks are so small they’re practically invisible. After getting by on a four-seam fastball with very little horizontal movement and 10+ inches of vertical rise, Doubront started throwing a four-seamer with a bit less rise. The release point’s essentially the same, but for whatever reason, Doubront’s generating less spin. That sounds bad if you believe that high spin rates are strongly correlated with success, but in Doubront’s case, it’s been a good thing. Last season, just under 25% of the balls in play off of Doubront’s four-seamer were ground balls. This year, that fraction’s more than doubled to over 56%. As you’d imagine, that’s had a big impact on his GB rate overall, which shot up from 38% in 2014 to nearly 57% this season.

All of that was interesting, but it didn’t actually help Doubront keep his job. When the Jays needed a 25-man roster spot for some infielder named Tulowitzki, Doubront was traded to Oakland for cash considerations. This wasn’t simply a case where the loaded Jays had to part with a contributor – despite his lack of HRs this year, Doubront *still* had big problems pitching out of the stretch, and thus had an RA/9 of over 5 at the time of the trade. This’ll be only his fourth appearance with the A’s, and while he’s pitched effectively, it’s always tough for back-of-the-rotation arms without options.

So is the ground ball spike the result of Doubront throwing lower in the zone? No, he’s not - he moves the ball around quite a bit, and still loves getting hitters to chase pitches up and out of the zone, as he did successfully against the Dodgers in his last start. That’s reflected in his career-best infield-fly rate; it’s a pretty neat trick to have career highs in both pop-ups AND grounders, especially if you’ve had HR problems in the past.

It all sounds great, but let’s be clear: Doubront still has issues. For one, he’s never overcome his platoon split problems. His FIP against righties is a full run higher than it is against lefties, and that gap has actually grown this year. Doubront’s cutter, which has some remarkable movement to it, is essentially his main breaking ball to lefties. With the pitch’s natural sink, he’s inducing lots of grounders from lefties. But because his change has much less sink, righties elevate the ball much better. And as we’ve talked about, he’s still much less effective with runners on base. With the bases empty this year, batters are slugging .302 off of him, but with men on, that rises to .507. The sample size makes it hard to take a whole lot from that stat other than hilarity and schadenfreude, but batters have always fared better against him if he’s pitching from the stretch. His command and control tend to come and go, as we saw recently when he walked 6 in 6 IP against the Dodgers his last time out, so the M’s should have some opportunities with men on and with RISP, so they should….oh man, forget I mentioned it.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Montero, 1B
9: Zunino, C
SP: IWAKUMA!

Mike Zunino’ll catch ‘Kuma for the first time since the 3rd of August; Jesus Sucre’s caught 3 of Kuma’s last 4 starts. As I mentioned before, Kuma’s struggled with Zunino behind the plate, although that’s a tiny sample, and Zunino’s has better numbers than Sucre overall. Still, I do wonder what all impacts how well a battery performs, and if there are aspects of pitch calling that might be better suited to one pitcher versus another.

James Paxton made his initial rehab start for Tacoma yesterday and felt good after tossing 36 pitches. The pitches themselves weren’t all that effective, as Paxton only made it 2/3 of an inning, giving up a run on 2 hits and a walk. Still, it’s a solid start, and Hisashi Iwakuma gave up a HR in his first rehab start this year…in short-season ball. Tacoma lost the game 8-2, by the way, as the R’s couldn’t do much against Redbirds starter John Gast – a Patrick Kivlehan HR and a Stefen Romero 2B were the only XBHs he allowed. Adrian Sampson takes the hill at Cheney Stadium tonight.

Jackson lost yet another tight game, dropping a 1-0 contest in Montgomery. Rays prospect Jacob Faria was lights-out, striking out 11 without a walk in 7 shutout innings. After dominating the FSL, Faria’s pitched very well in AA at the age of 21. Guillermo Pimentel doubled for the Generals, and starter Stephen Landazuri was sharp, but they just couldn’t figure out Faria. The Generals are emulating the poor Clinton Lumberkings, as they’re now 21 games under .500 *in the season’s second half*. After finishing the first half at 29-39, they’ve gone 17-38 since – nearly as bad as Clinton’s 14-41 slide. Misael Siverio starts today and tries to end the skid.

Bakersfield lost to San Jose 6-4, as Dan Altavilla was victimized by a couple of errors and a passed ball. Tyler O’Neill had a pair of singles and a walk. Tyler Pike starts for the Blaze as they head to Visalia to take on the Rawhide.

Clinton used an 8 run inning to pull away from Cedar Rapids, winning 11-7. Gianfranco Wawoe and Adam Martin each had 3 hits and a HR to pace the Lumberkings. Jarrett Brown gets the ball for Clinton today.

Everett beat Salem-Keizer 7-2 thanks to 7 shutout innings from Nick Wells and Rohn Pierce and Ryan Uhl’s 4th HR of the year. Wells has given up just 6 hits in 18 innings in the org, and is looking like a real find. Luiz Gohara’s scheduled to start for the AquaSox today against 6’8″ righty Nolan Riggs of the Volcanoes.

Game 124, White Sox at Mariners

August 23, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. John Danks, 1:10pm

The Mariners have been cycling through bullpen arms at quite a clip; Rob Rasmussen has been up and down a few times just within the last week, and now Charlie Furbush and Joe Beimel are on the shelf with shoulder injuries. With Carson Smith tiring, the M’s need fresh arms. But after last night’s bullpen implosion, they decided they’d seen enough of Fernando Rodney and Danny Farquhar. The Fernando Rodney Experience will be some other fanbase’s thrill ride, and Danny Farquhar will return to Tacoma just 8 days after leaving. Bullpens are notoriously volatile, but the M’s in 2015 seem to have suffered every possible problem. In context-neutral stats, the Mariners bullpen has the worst walk rate in baseball, the 7th worst HR rate, the 4th-worst ERA and the 5th worst FIP. But if you add context to the picture, things look even worse somehow. They’ve had the most meltdowns of any group in the AL, meaning that they’ve had *64* relief appearances that have dropped the M’s win probability by at least 6%. By RE24, or the sum of the run-expectancy changes of each plate appearance, the M’s bullpen has been the worst group in MLB - worse than the dumpster fire in Oakland.

The M’s face veteran lefty John Danks today, the White Sox highest-paid player in 2015. Despite suffering from injuries and ineffectiveness since 2011, his five year extension that covered 2012-16 will net Danks $65 million, or DOUBLE what Chris Sale’s 5-year deal will pay him, or $10m more than the *combined* outlay for the 5-year deals for both Sale ($32.5m) and Jose Quintana ($21m). It’s a bad contract, is what I’m getting at. To his credit, this looks somewhat better less awful than it did a year ago, when Danks velocity continued to slide under 89, and when control problems cropped up. He’s not throwing hard now, but his FB velocity’s slightly higher than it was last year, and his walk rate’s under his career average. That’s helped his FIP look better than it has in some time, hence his decent fWAR figure, but unfortunately problems with righties and stranding runners have led to a very familiar RA/9.

When he was a good starter – 2008-2011 – Danks used a good change-up to neutralize right-handed bats, and gave his name to the Danks theory, or line-ups in which the Rays would stack with *lefties* to make it harder for Danks to use his best pitch. From 2008 through 2010, Danks posted reverse splits each year. In more recent years, though, his change-up hasn’t been nearly as effective, and righties have been teeing off. Righties have 5 HRs off his change, and he’s never really found an effective breaking ball against them. Danks’ GB% has been trending down as well, as righties learn to elevate his change. In his heyday, Danks’ change was something of a ground ball pitch. It didn’t show natural sink, but the difference in movement between his FB and change was large enough that batters would swing over the top of the latter. The percentage of balls in play off of change-ups has dropped by over 10 percentage points since then, though, and that’s meant more fly balls in total…and thus more HRs. The M’s could really use enough runs to put the game out of reach, and to ease the pressure that’s mounting on their beleaguered bullpen.

1: Marte, SS
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, DH
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Trumbo, 1B
8: Miller, 2B
9: Sucre, C
SP: Walker

The most important appearance for the M’s today won’t take place in Seattle. James Paxton makes his first rehab start for Tacoma today, his first game action since going on the DL with a strained tendon in his finger. If the M’s are going to be good at some point in the near future, Paxton figures to be a contributor.

To replace the roster spots of Rodney and Farquhar, the M’s have brought up Roenis Elias and reliever Logan Kensing. Elias will work out of the pen for now.

The Rainiers host Memphis, who’ll start lefty John Gast. Gast had TJ surgery as a high school senior, and after shooting through the Cardinals system, made his MLB debut in 2013. Unfortunately, he then suffered a serious shoulder injury, and has been inconsistent this year as he attempts a second major comeback. The Rainiers won the finale in Colorado Springs 7-4. Jabari Blash hit his 27th HR of the year, and Chris Taylor had 3 hits. Logan Kensing pitched a scoreless inning in relief of Forrest Snow, and then learned he’d be headed to Seattle after the game.

Jackson lost to Biloxi 2-1, despite getting 6 scoreless innings from starter Edwin Diaz. Tyler Smith singled and walked, making it 17 straight games in which he’s reached base. Stephen Landazuri starts today.

Bakersfield beat San Jose, thanks in part to yet another HR from Canadian slugger Tyler O’Neill. The RF has now homered in four straight games and has an even 30 on the year. Dan Altavilla starts today for the Blaze against Christian Jones, a sinkerballer who was drafted out of the U of Oregon in 2013; it’ll be Jones’ first start of the year after 34 relief appearances in the San Jose pen.

Zack Littell threw 8 scoreless innings for Clinton, but it wasn’t enough as Cedar Rapids scored 2 in the 9th to win 2-0. Kernels starter Sam Gibbons had quite a day, throwing 8 scoreless of his own, and yielding just 1 hit and no walks while striking out *12*. A single by 9th hitter Arby Fields was the only offense of the day for the L-Kings. Tyler Herb shares the mound with Cedar Rapids’ Randy LeBlanc, another sinkerballer who’s spent most of 2015 in the bullpen.

Everett edged the Tri City DustDevils 3-2, picking up the eventual winning run in the 7th on an error by the DustDevils pitcher. Drew Jackson went 4-4 with a walk, pushing his OBP on the year to .460. Joe Pistorese got the win in relief, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless, giving up a single and a walk while striking out 5. The ex-WSU cougar now had 40 Ks to just 6 walks in 37 2/3 IP on the year.

Game 123, White Sox at Mariners

August 22, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

Vidal Nuno vs. Carlos Rodon, 6:10pm

Felix wasn’t sharp, but he didn’t look obviously hurt last night. He had some issues maintaining his velo late, so we’re not out of the woods here, but Felix’s performance wasn’t clearly off. The bullpen, on the other hand…

Today, the M’s face 2014 draft pick and one of the White Sox best young players, Carlos Rodon. The lefty was a consensus 1-1 pick heading into his junior year at NC State, but some velocity fluctuation and inconsistent performances allowed him to drop a few spots to the Sox at #3 overall. He’s got above-average velocity with both his four-seam fastball and sinker, and generates loads of movement on both. His signature pitch is a sweeping slider that breaks away from his sinker by about a foot. That kind of separation is impressive, and demonstrates the kind of spin Rodon’s able to get on all of his offerings. To righties, he’ll throw a pretty good change-up that’s been better than advertised at this stage – he’s getting whiffs on nearly half of the swings on his cambio.

As promising as he is, though, Rodon’s not a finished product. Walks troubled him occasionally in college and the minors, and he’s walked over 12% of the big league batters he’s faced. Worse, he’s showing extreme platoon splits in the early going. Lefties have struggled, particularly against Rodon’s fastball, which is released from way over towards 1st base. But that fastball hasn’t troubled righties, and that’s led to some problems. While his slider is a big swing and miss pitch -even to righties- RHBs have 3 HRs off of it, more than any other of his pitches. At this point, he’s given up 9 HRs to righties and none to lefties, which is magnified by his higher walk rate to righties as well. Already, Rodon’s seeing line-ups that are stacked with righties, kind of like his teammate Chris Sale. Command improvements would help, as would learning how Sale uses his slider against righties. In the meantime, he could probably use his change-up a bit more often than he has thus far.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Trumbo, 3B
7: Jackson, CF
8: Montero, 1B
9: Zunino, C
SP: Nuno

Colorado Springs scored 5 runs late to win what had been a good pitchers duel by a score of 5-2. Tyler Olson was great, but ran into trouble in the 7th, and the bullpen couldn’t bail him out. Ariel Pena, the Sky Sox starter, K’d 10 in 5 1/3 scoreless IP. Forrest Snow starts today’s game against Zach Davies, a Puyallup native who grew up in Arizona, and was the Orioles #3 prospect when he was traded at the deadline to Milwaukee as part of the Gerardo Parra deal.

Biloxi shut out Jackson 3-0, as Tyler Wagner outdueled Jimmy Gilheeney. Wagner’s now faced Jackson twice, and throws 7 scoreless innings in both appearances. Edwin Diaz faces off with Hobbs Johnson of Biloxi today.

Bakersfield beat San Jose 5-3 behind Tyler O’Neill’s 29th HR. Austin Wilson chipped in with his 8th of the year. Brett Ash got the win, and then Emilio Pagan K’d 5 in 3 scoreless for the save. Scott DeCecco shares the mound with Giants’ prospect Martin Agosta, who just came off the DL for San Jose.

Clinton beat (!) Cedar Rapids 2-1 on a walk-off single by Austin Cousino. Kody Kerski and Pat Peterson combined to throw 4 scoreless innings in relief with 4 K’s against no walks. Zack Littell takes the mound for the L-Kings today.

Everett beat Tri Cities 6-3. Andrew Moore threw 3 scoreless innings to kick it off, and then the bats came alive late to pull away. Ryan Uhl had 3 hits, including 2 doubles, and DH Erick Mejia went 4-4. Drew Jackson singled and walked. Enyel de los Santos starts for the AquaSox today.

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