Game 159, Tigers at Mariners

October 3, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

George Kirby vs. Brayan Garcia, 6:40pm

The M’s are still technically chasing the Jays, but they’re going to need to win out, essentially. Toronto is winning tonight, and with a two and a half game lead, the M’s path to WC1 is getting tougher and tougher to see. That may be okay, if it allows the M’s to get ready for the wild card round, and a big part of THAT is getting healthy. That’s why, win or lose, the best thing about tonight’s game is the return of Julio Rodriguez. He’ll DH tonight, but should play CF at some point this series.

That leaves the rotation to consider. I’m glad to see Kirby out there to shake off the rust of that weird outlier KC start, but he’s now gone three straight games yielding at least one walk and 5 given up in his last 14 1/3 IP, which, for him, is something of a concern. I think it’s quite likely he’s tired, and thus I hope tonight’s start is a short one. The M’s moved Chris Flexen to the pen, and it’s questionable whether or not he’s rostered in the playoffs; if this isn’t a situation in which he can absorb 3-4 IP, I’m not sure what is.

Kirby faces the Tigers, an absolutely dreadful offensive club. They have the worst wRC+ in the game, an 81 figure that would be tied for the lowest in a full season since 2019…when the Tigers finished at 77. They have developed some pitching, though even that’s been patchy. But they simply cannot develop any bats, and it is destroying them. They paid Javy Baez this year, which was something of an odd choice for a revitalizing free agent pick-up, and he’s been slightly below average. Worse, their huge prospects – Riley Greene and especially Spencer Torkelson, have struggled at times to get acclimated. Greene’s been solid for a while after suffering an injury in spring training, but is still below MLB average at the plate while Torkelson had to be sent down to AAA to find his swing after a brutal start to 2022. Not everyone can be Julio.

Pitching tonight is Brayan Garcia, a righty with a sinking fastball, slider, change arsenal. Garcia’s had a rough go of it by peripheral stats; he hasn’t struck out too many, but has walked a ton and given up far too many HRs for a pitcher whose home park is among the toughest in which to dinger. His FIP and expected ERA are thus in the mid-6’s. But thanks to a great strand rate, his ERA is passable. His fastball gets some sink, but isn’t really designed to be a swing and miss pitch. His slider legitimately has been a big swing and miss pitch this year, which is odd, because it’s not TOO different than his slider last year or 2020, which wasn’t that remarkable. Small sample weirdness? His career splits look about what you’d expect for a guy with a sinker/slider as his best two pitches. His change is pretty hard, at 87, and yields a lot of elevated contact. Maybe a good pitch for a lefty to drive one on a warm, smoky night like this.

Today was opening day in the Arizona Fall League, and the Peoria Javelinas won thanks to some great performances by M’s prospects. Bryan Woo got the win, tossing 4 scoreless innings with 0 H, 1BB, 1HBP, and 5 Ks. Glendale scored 3 once Woo was out of the game, but Peoria scored 5 in the 9th, with Robert Perez, Jr.’s 3-run bomb the difference maker. Juan Then got the save. Robert Hassell III plays for Peoria, while old friend Noelvi Marte’s on the Glendale roster (he went 1-5).

1: Juliooooooooooooo, RF
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Raleigh, C
6: Kelenic, CF
7: Moore, SS
8: Haggerty, LF
9: Frazier, 2B
SP: Kirby

Jesse Winker had been in the line-up, but is a late scratch.

Tampa took a 3 run lead against Boston, but the Sox have come back and now lead 4-3. The Jays are up 5-1 on a fading-fast Baltimore club. Detroit comes in kind of hot, winning 10 of their last 12. I legitimately thought they could challenge for a wild card with so much young pitching and their top two prospects joining Baez, but it obviously didn’t happen. Injuries and the putridity of that line-up erased any chance of that, and ultimately cost GM Al Avila his job.

Game 157, Athletics at Mariners – The Day After

October 1, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Luis Castillo vs. JP Sears, 1:10pm

The M’s are officially a playoff team after Cal Raleigh’s walk-off home run, a shot that’s now in the M’s pantheon of memorable hits with Doug Strange’s in 1995, Edgar’s grand slam in 1995, maybe

It was fun interacting with a deliriously happy M’s Twitter last night, and every game is probably going to take on the feel of a victory lap from now on. That’s both understandable, and perhaps unwise. The team is jockeying with Tampa and Toronto for wild card seeding, and each spot matters. It’s still a longshot to get the first WC slot, but it’s worth the effort. That’s the only way to ensure a home playoff game for the M’s, and I think this fanbase deserves that. They can of course earn home playoff games by, you know, *defeating* their wild card round opponents too, and that would work. But hosting the Jays, for example, would be a huge boon to the tired pitching rotation vs. playing in the batter-friendly Rogers centre.

Today the M’s get to nurse their hangovers and do something playoff teams have to do a lot: shake off a rough loss to a pitcher they very recently faced and figure out how to beat him. JP Sears handcuffed the M’s over 5 IP, yielding no earned runs and striking out 7 back on September 20th. Since then, he was utterly destroyed by the Mets. But what do the M’s do differently now? They still don’t have Julio, so their line-up is a bit worse, but Sears doesn’t have the benefit of being completely unknown. Like so many pitchers who’ve moved through the Yankees player development system, Sears has a very good change-up. With Sears very low 3/4 delivery, it gets both a ton of armside run, and impressive sink compared to his fastball. That fastball, though, has been a problem.

The A’s are doing a piggy-back starter thing, so Adam Oller will also pitch. Oller, a career minor leaguer who cracked the A’s opening day roster. Oller has a four-seam, a cutter/slider, a sinker, a change, a curve, etc. He’s your classic junkballer, but a right-hander. He’ll touch 94, but just like Sears, bad things tend to happen when he throws fastballs. His four-seam has been hit hard; batters are slugging over .580 off of it. Sadly, he might need to stick with it, as (in a small sample), batters are slugging an unbelievable 1.174 off of his sinker. You see Oller’s problem: he’s a fly ball guy, and even with slightly deadened baseballs and a cavernous home park, batters are driving those fly balls over the fence.

1: Moore, SS
2: Winker, LF
3: Santana, 1B
4: Torrens, C
5: Kelenic, CF
6: Haggerty, RF
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Toro, 3B
9: O’Keefe
SP: Castillo

Today marks Brian O’Keefe’s major league debut. Not a bad one, I suppose, given the opposing starters. Here’s hoping he gets a center-cut fastball and does something with it. O’Keefe is 29, and spent six years in the Cardinals org, then joined the M’s in 2021. O’Keefe started hitting for more power than ever, albeit with a higher K rate. But he was successful enough to move to AAA at the end of 2021, and spent most of this year as the Rainiers primary catcher. His overall production was down this year, but he’s been a great minor league free agent pick-up, and it’s great to see a guy who has been grinding through the minors for so long get a shot.

Game 156, Athletics at Mariners – Good Riddance

September 30, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

Logan Gilbert vs. Ken Waldichuk, 6:40pm

The Mariners ignominious playoff drought – famously the longest in North American pro sports – is about to end. Either with a win tonight, or with a Baltimore loss, the M’s will sew up a wild card position and make the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The M’s win last night opened the floodgates as M’s fans finally gave in and acknowledged that no, the M’s can’t screw this up. The millstone around our collective neck is gone. The streak is over.

This outpouring of emotion is something to see, and it makes sense. I was a young man when the M’s were last in the playoffs. I’d gone in 2000, didn’t get tickets in 2001, but thought it didn’t much matter – they’d be in the playoffs pretty much every year for the next 5-7, right? It’s been amazing to watch what’s befallen this team these past two decades, and it’s been a very strange role to essentially catalog and diagnose the myriad ways they’ve failed. For so many fans, this is just a joyous time – a casting off of all of that negativity, the jokes about futility, the repetitive and yet distinct ways each team from 2002-2021 fell short. I realize that for me, and this is maybe not the right time to express it, I don’t feel much of anything. I’m not NOT happy about it; I don’t think this is literal anhedonia, though I think I’ve been informally diagnosed with that by readers over the years. Rather, the streak really has broken my brain.

I’m not trying to minimize it due to playoff expansion or what have you. I’m not trying to argue that the real work is doing what they’ve said the ultimate goal is: a true competitor for the AL West and a World Series, year in and year out. I’m not trying to minimize it because we might not get a home playoff game. Or rather, those are components, but not the main issue. The main issue is that after 20 years of learning in a million ways that We Don’t Get Nice Things, after finally getting a certifiably nice thing, my gut instinct is to go, “Well if you’re giving it to me, how nice can it be?” Maybe some of this is due to the M’s ungraceful belly flop into the post season, coupled with a well-timed Baltimore losing streak. But I really don’t think I’d feel any differently if Logan Gilbert throws a no-hitter to clinch it. (But Logan Gilbert should absolutely endeavor to throw a no-hitter to clinch it).

The thing that I’m finding most remarkable has been the way the players have taken it upon themselves not to wave away the streak, but to highlight it and take it straight on. Mitch Haniger’s open letter to M’s fans a year ago is the best example, but it keeps coming up. Shannon Drayer got this great quote from Haniger yesterday, and Ryan Divish’s gamer – which you should read right now if you haven’t – is all about this phenomenon:

“Put simply, the Mariners are one win or one Baltimore loss away from ending a postseason drought that they begrudgingly inherited, tried to ignore, rationalized their responsibility in it and finally understood it was their burden to carry”

I have thought about what I would write when the M’s clinch the playoffs for, what, 10? 12? 13? years now. The streak has eaten careers like King Felix’s and Kyle Seager’s whole. Ichiro from 2002-2012. The false dawns, the can’t misses who missed. You can’t really dig into that day after day and year after year without having it reorder some neural wiring. All fandom does some of that, but this fanbase has endured so much. It has always felt doomed, and so we told ourselves there was nobility and strength in that. But why? Why do we have to fail so much just for telling ourselves it was weirder and cooler? Why did it take 21 years and the last vestiges of my amygdala to get here? The M’s are back in the playoffs, and I am confused.

Seriously, while I can’t quite summon relief or overwhelming joy right now, I think I probably can in the fullness of time. So I’m not going to think of this as an end, but as a beginning. The M’s job is NOT done, as happy as I am for the players who CHOSE to put this weight on their shoulders and are justified in whooping it up as they throw it off tonight. But the front office’s job has been and remains to build a team that is the best or one of the best in the AL, a team that has playoff expectations year after year. I can honestly say that this really does feel like the early stages of THAT team, THAT behemoth, being born. Julio has been better than we could’ve dreamed of, and the young starters showed no signs of the developmental aches and pains that held back Justus Sheffield or Yusei Kikuchi. Celebrate tonight, and let’s keep it going.

1: Moore, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Suarez, 3B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Santana, DH
6: Torrens, C
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Haggerty, LF
9: Crawford, SS
SP: Gilbert

Gilbert’s gone and tweaked his slider again.

Game 154, Rangers at Mariners – OK, Seriously, Mariners?

September 28, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

George Kirby vs. Martin Perez, 6:40pm

After another listless loss, the M’s are…well, their star hasn’t dimmed too much given the O’s loss, but they really do look bad. If there’s a saving grace here, it’s that the M’s are probably better off in the WC 3 spot they increasingly look likely to wrap up.

It was still remarkable that they were unable to do anything against Jesus Tinoco and Tyson Miller. They demolished bad sinker/slider guys like Adrian Martinez of Oakland, but haven’t fared that well against sinker/slider guys with half-way decent sinkers. Brady Singer looked great, but I’m still shocked that Miller was that confusing to them. They’ve hit sinkers decently well this year, so it’s not that it’s a pitch type they struggle with, but they’re clearly worse vs. sinkers than four-seamers. Today’s starter, Martin Perez, throws a sinker as his primary fastball.

Perez is having a very good year, and he’s turned around something of a rough patch in August. He’s having his best year for strikeouts in his long career, in part by using the Brady Singer strategy of getting batters to put pitches OTHER than his fastball in play. Singer was a sinker/slider guy, but Perez hardly ever throws a slider. Instead, he’s a sinker/change guy. It’s much less weird that batters would swing more at his change than his sinker, but it’s neat if you can pull it off: batters league-wide do more damage on sinkers than they do on breaking/off-speed pitches, so if you can get them to either miss or put in a play a bendy pitch, that’s generally a preferable outcome.

The problem has been that it hasn’t necessarily been a better outcome for Perez specifically. Over his career, he’s given up 37 HRs on change-ups (4500 thrown) and 37 HRs on sinkers (7000 thrown). His change wasn’t good enough for this trick to actually pay dividends. It generated swings and misses, but it didn’t have the added benefit of weaker contact. This year, however, he’s figured something out. His change is still generating whiffs, but for the first time in a while, batters aren’t battering it. His wOBA allowed on sinkers is roughly the same as it was in 2021, but his wOBA allowed on change-ups is down almost 60 points. It’s his best results on the pitch since 2016.

There’s really nothing different about it – no changes in release point, no changes in movement. If you squint, I guess you could say he’s keeping it away from righties just a tiny bit more than he has in the past, but I’m not sure there’s anything real in that. He may just be disguising it slightly better. Like Hisashi Iwakuma’s splitter, the whole point of Perez’s gameplan is to get batters to swing at change-ups below the zone. Part of the reason batters generally don’t hit the ball as hard on change-ups is because they’re often hitting a ball that isn’t in the zone. Perez has always tried to induce swings on low change-ups, but some years batters put more strikes in play, and some years they don’t. This appears to be a year in which batters are hitting slightly lower cambios, and it’s helping Perez a lot.

1: Moore, 2B
2: France, 3B
3: Suarez, DH
4: Haniger, RF
5: Santana, 1B
6: Haggerty, RF
7: Crawford, SS
8: Casali, C
9: Kelenic, CF
SP: Kirby

It’s…not a great line-up. They can’t play an ailing Raleigh every day, and Julioooo is still on the IL, so I don’t really blame the manager, but that’s not a great look. They’ll probably score 10 runs to spite me, and they absolutely should do so.

Tampa and Cleveland are in a pitcher’s duel, while Toronto and New York face off. The Yanks have an early lead.

The Rainiers played their final game this afternoon in Reno, losing 11-1. Mason McCoy homered in the 9th to avoid the shutout. McCoy hit 21 dingers on the year and finished with an OPS over .800. The R’s ended up at 72-78, finishing rather strong after a big swoon in May/June. Justus Sheffield started today’s game, giving up 2 R in 3 IP and finishing the year with an ERA of 6.99.

Tacoma finishes with a team OPS of .784 and a team ERA of 5.28. Salt Lake led the league in team ERA (!) at 4.70, and two of the 10 PCL clubs finished with team ERAs over 6. Tacoma was roughly middle of the pack on both sides of the ball, hence their close-to-.500 record. Darren McCaughan led the PCL in innings and also in strikeouts. It was a solid campaign for the righty. Jarred Kelenic was easily the team’s best hitter.

Game 153: Rangers at Mariners – The Final Sprint

September 28, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Robbie Ray vs. Tyson Miller and Jesus Tinoco, 6:40pm

Ten games to go. The M’s playoff odds are 99.8%, even if it doesn’t feel quite that solid after as ugly a 3-7 stretch as you’ll see; it doesn’t feel like a lock after the M’s blew a 9 run lead to the *Royals* in their last game. The M’s win probability in that game hit 99.7%, and you know what? Let’s just move on.

It’s fascinating to see what’s troubled the M’s has shifted. In Oakland, they couldn’t hit, and had the bad fortune to end up on the wrong side of some close games – the kind of games they’ve won so often in the past two seasons. In Kansas City, they simply couldn’t pitch, and would’ve gotten swept if not for the timely intervention of Cal Raleigh on Saturday. The line-up has looked lost at times without Eugenio Suarez and Julio Rodriguez, and the pitching staff has looked tired. Logan Gilbert and George Kirby are probably pushing past whatever innings limits the M’s had on them coming into the year, and they’ll be asked to do more in the playoffs. The line-up’s beaten up, as you’d imagine Cal Raleigh would’ve been IL’d at any other point, but the team probably felt that they simply couldn’t have Raleigh AND Suarez AND Rodriguez out at the same time.

Fortunately, they don’t have to anymore. Suarez is back tonight, though he’ll be limited to DH for a bit as his finger is still healing. Julio sounds like he’s on track to come back when he’s eligible, which is great considering his back did not seem to feel too good when he had to leave the game in Oakland. The M’s have fared well with injuries this year, and it was terrifying to think their luck was running out at the wrong time. Getting these players back without nebulous “setbacks” or delays is great. Of course, we’ve all seen players come back and struggle with timing, explosiveness, or what have you, and we’ll just have to hope that that’s not the case here.

The M’s had a meeting after the debacle on Sunday, and they needed to. As the odds show, math is very much on their side, but they need to wrap things up so they can get some starters a bit of rest heading into what’s increasingly looking like a road series in the wild card round. To do that, they’ll have to play smarter than the team that’s frankly looked like they’re sleepwalking through September. Get the whole playoff drought weight off their backs, and then they really WILL have the luxury of taking it easy for a few days.

So what’s the ultimate goal here? Sure, WC #1 is, but that’s not terribly likely. The Jays are finishing strong, and have a three game lead, just a half game less than the M’s lead over Baltimore for WC #3. There is ample room for debate about which spot is best after #1. The #2 WC club plays on the road against WC #1. The #3 team plays on the road against the winner of the AL Central, the Guardians. The winner of THAT series faces the Yankees, while the winner of #1-#2 faces off with Houston.

ON KJR Radio, Dome and Bedlam guy and friend of the blog Nathan Bishop made a pitch for WC #2 as the best path because it means facing Houston in a shorter series, the 5 game ALDS round, rather than the 7 game ALCS round. Randomness has more scope to move in a shorter series compared to a longer one, so you want to minimize the games in order to minimize the advantage of Houston’s edge in talent. It makes some sense, and was praised on the radio. I just can’t get myself to agree.

The advantage of going through Cleveland and New York instead of Toronto and Houston should be obvious once you just type it out that way: it’s an easier path to the pennant. Yes, facing Houston in 5 is probably preferable to facing them in 7 games in the ALCS, but that doesn’t account for the odds that you let Tampa do your dirty work for you and win. I mean, they just did exactly that in 2020. The M’s odds of going to the World Series are long no matter what path they take, and I can see ignoring it if they’re exceptionally well matched against one team or another, but they ARE slightly higher with the Cleveland/NYY pathway. It makes sense to me, given that the M’s beat up on Cleveland and New York in home AND away series in the not so distant past. Cleveland can’t really hit, and while the Yankees are better, their line-up is extremely top-heavy and has some easier patches, just like the M’s. And all of the sudden, the M’s starting pitching looks pretty darn good against the Yanks. Even as good as they’ve been, I’m not sure that’s true against Houston, the best staff in the American League by a wide margin.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 3B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Suarez, DH
5: Raleigh, C
6: Santana, 1B
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Moore, LF
9: Frazier, 2B
SP: Ray

Tyson Miller got a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2020, and pitched in one game for Texas before tonight. The 27 year old has struggled in AAA, though the PCL has been nearly unplayable for a few years now. He’s only faced 39 hitters in total across two orgs in two different years so there’s not a whole lot to say except this: he’s yet to strike anyone out. That’s kind of weird, as he’s posted high K rates in AAA, albeit paired with too-high walk rates and high average-against numbers. He’s been a sinker/slider/four-seam/change guy.

He dropped his arm angle with Texas, so he’s almost a side-armer now. This has given his sinker and change a ton of armside run, and his four-seam is extremely cutter-like with essentially no horizontal movement (PitchInfo calls it a cutter). The slider moves a lot laterally, so it’s an arsenal that could work, but might be better as a situational reliever. As the opener tonight, that’s essentially what he is.

Jesus Tinoco has a similar repertoire, with a running sinker, a slider, but then a curve instead of a change-up. Tinoco throws harder, 95-96, with the slider around 88-89. Tinoco’s able to get similar armside run despite a much higher release point. He’s been a bit lucky on contact, and his FIP isn’t much to look at, but Tinoco has had some success this season.

Game 152: Mariners at Royals – Castillo Inks an Extension

September 25, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Luis Castillo vs. Max Castillo, 11:10am

Yesterday’s win was huge. With Baltimore looking like they would cruise to a victory over Houston, the M’s were down 5-3 after a poor start by Logan Gilbert. A whole lot of Cal Raleigh later, the M’s pulled out a 6-5 win, victimizing a minor league-level Royals bullpen. Houston scored 4 in the 9th and beat Baltimore 11-10. The M’s lead for the final wild card spot is back up to 4 games. A trap game loomed, and looked like it ensnared the M’s, but they got free and took care of business. Phew.

The bigger story yesterday was the news that the M’s signed Luis Castillo to an extension. The extension is for 5 years, from 2023 through 2027, with a club and player options for 2028. The total value is $108 million, so this is almost exactly the deal the M’s gave Robbie Ray this past off-season (5 years, $115M). Castillo is still arb eligible, but would’ve been a free agent after next year, absent this deal. Now, the M’s rotation is essentially set for the next 4-5 years, with Castillo, Ray, Gilbert, and George Kirby 1-4, and Marco Gonzales signed through 2024 with an option for 2025. This means the M’s can focus on the line-up in free agency or possibly in trade, as there are fewer spots open for guys like Emerson Hancock, Bryce Miller, and Taylor Dollard. The M’s still need to make improvements if they want to challenge a rejuvenated Houston club and stop worrying about the wild card chase. This is going to be an important off-season.

Max Castillo is a 23 year old rookie right-hander. He throws a four-seam fastball at 93, and has a good change-up and a decent slider – this is a pitch mix that the M’s have seen a lot recently. Like so many Royals, Castillo’s fastball just isn’t great. Despite a normal 3/4 arm slot, it has very little vertical movement, and looks more sinker-ish. It’s got low spin, too, so I think Justus Sheffield’s original fastball, but from the right side, is a decent comp. On the plus side, his change is quite good, and his slider isn’t too bad, either. Right now, he’s got normal platoon splits despite the change in large part because lefties are just teeing off on his fastball.

Castillo wasn’t drafted/developed in Kansas City. Rather, he was the big acquisition when the Royals traded Whit Merrifield to Toronto. That may turn out to be a solid deal for the Royals, as Merrifield was in the midst of an awful season at the plate. He’s been better in Toronto, but that’s damning with faint praise: his OBP as a Jay is just .287.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 3B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Santana, 1B
5: Raleigh, C
6: Kelenic, CF
7: Winker, DH
8: Frazier, 2B
9: Trammell, LF
SP: Castillo. The real one.

Trammell was recalled when Julio went on the 10-day IL.

Game 150, Mariners at Royals

September 23, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Brady Singer, 5:10pm

This game was supposed to matter for both teams. No, Kansas City hasn’t been good since their World Series win several years ago, but free agent compensation and the competitive balance process gave them 4 selections in the top 40 picks in the 2018 MLB draft. Kansas City used those picks on four college-trained pitchers. They’d won essentially *without* starting pitching, but starting pitching would make or break their rebuild.

Ok, so “break” it is. As this Athletic article lays out in damning detail, the Royals lack of development – particularly on the pitching side – has meant that the Royals come into play today with the worst team K-BB% in MLB, the worst K rate in the AL, and by far the worst fastballs of any team. Poor strategy in the minors, an inability to utilize or translate new technology and training methods, and a kind of rigidity criticized by pitchers who’ve left the org has left them unable to wring a lot of production out of their prospects even if, as in 2018, they focus their draft strategy around pitching. Less than a week after that Athletic piece came out, Kansas City parted ways with the head of Baseball Ops, Dayton Moore. GM JJ Piccolo will see if he can pick up the pieces of a calamitous failure.

That 2018 draft netted the Royals today’s starter, Brady Singer, his college teammate, Jackson Kowar, along with Virginia hurler Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic from Stanford. If you look at pitch type run value – a counting stat measuring the change in run expectancy after each pitch of a given type – you find Bubic’s fastball has been the worst in the game. This despite the fact that Bubic hasn’t thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. He’s been nearly as bad as Justin Verlander’s fastball has been *good*, in far fewer innings. He’s essentially been the anti-Spencer Strider. Kowar get a cup of coffee last season, and pitched to an ERA well over 11. He’s tossed 15 2/3 IP this season and yielded 17 runs, which somehow brought his total MLB ERA down to 10.76.

Lynch has merely been bad, not “fascinatingly bad,” which is good for him but bad for us. Lynch’s ERA is overt 5, but his FIP is in the mid-4s. That’s still not great, but it holds some hope if he can reduce his walks and get his BABIP under control. Walks have been a worry for years with the Royals as a whole, which is remarkable given their strategy in 2018 was to go for high-floor, great command guys from big time college programs. Walks was the one thing these guys were supposed to be good at. What happened, and how do they fix it?

Admittedly, that’s not my problem, and I don’t much care if they fix it or not – as a neutral, it’s kind of nice to have such a rich target, an object lesson in what bad player development looks like. But they do have one shining example, one case where development actually occurred: Brady Singer. Singer had a poor 2021, and began this season in the bullpen. He joined the rotation in May, and promptly fired off two 7-IP, 0R games. But then June happened, the league adjusted, and he looked just as lost as his 2018 draft mates. But then, starting in July, he’s become one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Singer throws the same basic arsenal as Adrian Martinez, yesterday’s starter: a 94 mph sinker, a change, and a slider. Whereas Martinez’s best pitch and most-used secondary was his change, Singer’s is his slider, a remarkable out pitch. It’s not the best *looking* pitch, and it doesn’t generate tons of swings and misses. That’s OK – it generates a ridiculous number of swings. Because of the way it tunnels with his sinker, batters seem quite confused about what pitch is coming, and that’s led them to a particularly ineffective approach. Singer’s sinker is swung at less than 40% of the time, but his slider is swung at over 53% of the time.

Think about what batters are trying to do: they want to swing at in-zone fastballs. Really good outcomes for them happen on in-zone swings, and especially on fastballs. Exit velocity, wOBA or however you want to measure outcomes, all of them are *worse* on breaking balls, and breaking balls generate OUT of zone swings much better than fastballs. To get completely reductive, you want to swing at fastballs and not at breaking balls. That generally works – batters swing more at fastballs and less at other things, though change-ups are often so effective BECAUSE they generate high swing rates. Singer’s able to get the best of both worlds – he’s flipped the hitters’ strategy around. They take his fastball for strikes and swing at his slider. This is why he’s one of the league leaders in called strikes and called-strikes-plus-whiffs despite not really having swing-and-miss stuff.

In general, the pitchers with super high swing rates on their sliders throw incredibly hard. Justin Verlander gets a ton of slider swings, as does Andres Munoz. The #1 swing rate on sliders? Edwin Diaz. It makes sense: batters don’t have time to see the spin; they just have to react or they’ll be way late on the fastball. Singer isn’t anything like these guys. This general pattern is something some of the Cleveland Guardians young starters have honed – it’s something I talked about when the M’s faced them last year. Aaron Civale did it fairly well, and Zach Plesac has done it as well. But I’ve never seen anything like the gap between fastball swing rate and slider swing rate that Singer’s putting up.

Sinker-slider would seem to be a boon to left-handed hitters, right? Well, no, not really. Singer’s change isn’t great, but he has one to keep lefties honest. He’s also a very different pitcher to them. To righties, his two-pitch arsenal generates a ton of ground balls. To lefties, he uses the slider more as a strikeout pitch. He’s got far higher K rates against *lefties* than righties. The Royals are terrible, and this is a series the M’s should win 9 times out of 10. But tonight’s match-up is their toughest test.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Santana, 1B
4: France, 3B
5: Raleigh, C
6: Kelenic, CF
7: Winker, DH
8: Toro, 2B
9: Frazier, LF
SP: Marco Gonzales

Sooo, Julio’s back tightened up and the M’s are reviewing MRIs. It’s likely he might be IL’d today. So that’s great.

You know a 2018 draftee who turned out well, and helped support a more successful rebuild? Cal Raleigh. Kelenic was drafted 6th overall in 2018. Jury’s still out a bit, but it was awesome to see him have success yesterday.

Game 149, Mariners at Athletics

September 22, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

George Kirby vs. Adrian Martinez, 12:37pm

Hmm. With the Jays and Rays both losing yesterday, another dispiriting M’s loss wasn’t all that harmful, but it is not fun to watch this team attempt to bat right now. I mean, that’s the nature of a losing streak and all, but we can’t deny the aesthetic aspect of this current skid. The M’s are almost certainly a playoff team, but they sure as hell don’t *look* like one right now, at least at the plate.

That’s the frustrating thing about games like last night’s, when the starting pitching and much of the relief work was excellent. Erik Swanson wasn’t sharp, but he didn’t deserve what happened to him. Jesse Winker’s key error allowed a big run to score and set the stage for the hapless A’s to score two runs, which were all they needed. It’s not a shock to see Jarred Kelenic starting today in Winker’s place. Winker DHs, so the offense in a tailspin gets to put both guys in the starting line up – one with a SLG% of .339, the other with a SLG% of .265 on the year (.329 lifetime). These are your starting LF and DH. C’mon, George Kirby.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the possible playoff series and how the M’s rotation might be set up. Despite the hiccup in this series, you have to figure Luis Castillo is your Game 1 starter. After that, it’s a bit hazy. By career body of work, Robbie Ray is the #2. But…how confident would a manager be to sit one of Kirby or Logan Gilbert right now? Both have outpitched Ray in recent weeks and have better seasonal lines. But both are righties.

Joe Sheehan noted that this is where the match-ups matter. If the M’s faced the Jays in the 4-5 series, Sheehan said that against Toronto, it’d be Castillo/Gilbert/Kirby, adding that he would try to ensure the Jays never face a lefty. I’d point out that Cleveland (whom the M’s would play if they get the 3rd wild card) is *awful* against lefties, so Ray would definitely be in my top 3. The problem with either scenario is that it’s highly likely they’d need to face Houston eventually, and Houston smashes lefty pitching, and their pitching is dominating everyone right now. The M’s run has been so much fun, and I’m excited for the playoff drought to be over, but holy hell, Houston remains an absolute beast of a team even after losing so many of the players who led their 2017-2020 run. The M’s are still trying to reel in Houston, and as much as they’ve improved, Houston feels like they’ve (somehow) maintained that gap. It’s frustrating to ME, I can’t imagine what the front office and manager feel.

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Santana, 1B
4: France, 3B (!)
5: Raleigh, C
6: Kelenic, LF
7: Winker, DH
8: Moore, SS
9: Frazier, 2B
SP: Kirby

Whoa, a France-at-Third sighting.

Really well done Emma Baccellieri story in Sports Illustrated on how the minor league unionization drive played out, featuring a role for ex-R’s and, briefly, M’s catcher Joe Hudson. Give it a read.

Adrian Martinez is a 25-year old righty who, like James Kaprielian, has been beset by a ton of hard contact and not enough strikeouts to compensate. That seemed not to matter one whit last night, so we’ll see if Martinez is able to pitch around some line drives right at outfielders and the like. He throws a sinker at 94, a change-up that’s his top secondary, and a slider. The change-up is easily the best, and it looks like a really good, diving pitch. That’s good, because nothing else is really working. He’s got an ERA over 5.7 and a FIP near 6, which can’t be THAT big of a surprise, considering his AAA ERA was…over 5.7, and his FIP was over 6. On a rate basis, his fastball has been one of the worst in the game, with 9 HRs allowed in just 9 games – batters are slugging .674 against it. Here’s a get-right game for the M’s struggling LF/DH pair.

Game 148, Mariners at Athletics

September 21, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

Robbie Ray vs. James Kaprielian, 6:40pm

Ahhh, development. For all of the cliches about how it’s not linear, or about how it can make or break a team, it still seems elusive and slippery. If a pitcher teaches a teammate a new sinker, the way Robbie Ray taught George Kirby his, does the team get credit? Does the pitcher? Does the team get docked for having failed to do something that 15 minutes in the bullpen with a colleague could? Does it matter who gets credit, and if it doesn’t, how does a good organization fairly assess how well their own group is doing?

I was reminded of these issues reading Jarrett Seidler’s piece in Baseball Prospectus arguing that it’s probably time to take the organization into account when assessing prospects. It’s been kind of verboten in the past in part because trades may change the context dramatically, but at some level, if a player is on the Dodgers (or Royals), you should probably take that into account. The same pitcher seems like a better bet in the Cleveland organization than in, say, the Nationals. I’d argue we mentally do this in part, but it’s probably good to be explicit about it. But even then: what do we do with the organizations around the middle of our mental distribution of development ability? Forget the Dodgers, what does “average” actually look like?

I’m going down this philosophical rabbit hole tonight because of a really interesting match-up we’ll see tonight. The A’s starter, James Kaprielian, was a first round pick and had tantalizing minor league numbers, but simply couldn’t stay on the field. Solid velo and a very nice slider/curve combo overwhelmed low-minors hitters, and he pounded the zone enough to avoid walks. Very little of that has translated to the majors. He’s not out and out bad, though his FIP suggests he might be. Rather, through a combination of raw stuff (awful spin rate) and approach (target the very top of the zone or above), his fastball has simply not been good enough at this level. He’s given up too many HRs AND too many walks – a bad combo if ever there was one. The A’s have helped him stay healthy, but the problem with the fastball isn’t getting any better despite some tweaks they’ve made – he’s increased his release point over time, going to a more standard or higher 3/4 delivery from slightly lower. That helps him get more effective backspin on the ball, but his spin rate isn’t going to allow him to get to average or above average vertical movement. Everyone’s trying. It just hasn’t shown up in results yet.

Tonight, Kaprielian could end up pitching to Jarred Kelenic. Kelenic was just recalled, with the M’s swapping out LFs with Taylor Trammell heading back to the PCL. Kelenic, rather famously, has had some issues adjusting to big league pitching. Somewhat like Kaprielian, only far louder, Kelenic’s minor league stats suggest someone with expert knowledge of the strikezone who – at worst – should have average-ish batting averages. In 500 MLB PAs, Kelenic is hitting .167/.246/.329. He’s made adjustments in his pre-swing load, in his batting stance, anything. He’s listened to coaches in the org, and he’s listened to private coaches and ex-coaches like Mark McGwire. Being bull-headed and stubborn is not the problem. Hitting big league off-speed and breaking stuff is. The M’s sent him down to AAA and let him alone for several months this year to re-start his development. It was a move he both understood and later chafed at. Now we get to see if it did anything.

Kelenic is a good fielder and has some speed. He’ll be confident coming back from the PCL where he put up a line over 20% better than the league’s. He’s just 23. But…we’ve seen all of that before. He was trending the right way at the end of 2021, and essentially collapsed in 2022, with a K% over 38%, lower walk rates, and less power than 2021. He’s hit well in AAA, but still has trouble with off-speed pitches and a hell of a time against breaking stuff.

I hope Kelenic has a role to play in the M’s playoff push, and I hope it gives him confidence. I know nothing he does in the next two weeks or so is dispositive about his development. He’s got time, even if things get scarier with each 0-4. I don’t think James Kaprielian just IS a 5th starter with bad control, just as I don’t think Jarred Kelenic will never hit a big league slider. The M’s are where they are in large part because of the development of Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, and Logan Gilbert. The A’s have hung around for years despite a meager budget because of what their development group was able to do with the likes of Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, and a host of Paul Blackburns, Cole Irvins and Lou Trivinos. That’s cold comfort to Kaprielian, I bet, just as it didn’t help Jesus Luzardo – another top prospect seemingly poised for greatness who just sort of collapsed in Oakland. The M’s failures (to date!) with Kelenic and Evan White haven’t prevented them from having development-driven big league success. It’s all confusing. I just hope it works out in the end, and Kelenic’s a part of what is shaping up to be a great 2023. I hope Kaprielian learns to throw strikes. Just not yet.

To his credit, Kaprielian has really cut back on the home runs allowed recently. He gave up 5 in June, but just five since the calendar flipped to July.

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Santana, DH
5: Winker, LF
6: Raleigh, C
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Toro, 3B
9: Crawford, SS
SP: Ray

Game 147, Mariners at Athletics

September 20, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Luis Castillo vs. JP Sears, 6:40pm

An easy win and an Orioles blowout loss eased the pain of the M’s recent losing skid, and it’s getting harder and harder to see how the M’s could blow a playoff spot if they really tried. They played without Suarez, Julio, and Cal Raleigh and they couldn’t help blowing out the Angels. Today, the M’s head north to Oakland to take on another team that’s just playing out the string, the hitless wonder A’s.

The A’s are “hitting” .216/.280/.346 this year, good for a .277 wOBA. The M’s hit .226 last season thanks to a hot September, but their OBP/SLG were far, far higher than this A’s club. Offense is down league-wide, but the A’s lack of…anything is noteworthy, and might even be historic if the hapless Tigers weren’t matching them out for out.

Like those Tigers, the A’s were counting on a number of their young prospects to hit the ground running, and that simply didn’t happen. There were always question marks about CF Cristian Pache’s hitting ability going back to before they acquired him in the Matt Olson deal, but .157/.204/.224 has to be seen as a worst-case scenario. Shea Langeliers spent most of the year demolishing the high minors, but has been equally befuddled by big league pitching. Hey, M’s fans can relate to that.

Would the A’s prefer that their prospects put up solid numbers? I’m sure they would, yeah. But at a fundamental level, I don’t think they really care all that much. This was never going to be a contending year, and no one can be shocked that the team has played so poorly when they traded off nearly anyone with a MLB track record to speak of (except Jed Lowrie, who came back and was somehow *too bad to continue being an Athletic*). The struggles have enabled the team to shuttle players back and forth between Oakland and Las Vegas, gaining club control. They’re making a run at the top pick in the draft. The playoffs are what good teams play for, and watching prospects get overmatched is what the bad teams euphemistically call “development.” Not everyone can be the Astros.

The A’s sent Frankie Montas to New York in exchange for a package of prospects including JP Sears. Montas has been a disaster for the Yanks, but there are no take-backsies in baseball, and the lefty Sears will get a chance to start for a rebuilding A’s team. You may remember Sears as a starter the M’s drafted in 2017 – he went to then-low-A Everett and moved up to the Midwest league as a high-K reliever. Seriously, he struck out 51 in 27 2/3 IP, giving up just 13 hits. But then, in a deal that seriously pissed me off, the M’s sent him to New York in exchange for Nick Rumbelow. The Yankees, one of the better pitching development groups in the game, converted him back to starting, and especially since 2021, he’s been an excellent hi-minors arm, and got spot duty with the Yankees before the trade this year.

I don’t want to oversell him. Part of the reason the M’s were OK moving him is that those gaudy K rates aren’t really backed up with top-tier stuff. Sears throws 93 from a low 3/4 angle, and features a slider that’s pretty solid and one of those great change-ups that the Yankees teach their pitchers. He hasn’t thrown it much, but to me, it could be his best pitch. In any event, Sears uses that low angle to get a flat approach angle and do a poor man’s Paul Sewald impression, but from the left side.

It’s funny – Sears has decent enough numbers (5-2, 3.90 ERA, 4.66 FIP), but he’s nothing like the guy he appeared to be. In the majors, he’s not striking out anyone. All of his pitches are more likely to be put in play than swung-and-missed, a fact I didn’t think was even legal in 2022 baseball. He’s not really managing contact, either, as he’s giving up a very high average exit velocity, more barrels than league average, and thus a high expected wOBA-against. He’s young, he pitches in a great ballpark for pitchers, and he’s not getting blown out. If you’re the A’s, you take that. They’ve done well with guys like this (Cole Irvin comes to mind), even if they can’t quite find another Chris Bassitt.

Luis Castillo had a bad game against the A’s a few weeks ago, but with the playoffs looming, it’s time to just dominate a line-up that’s eminently dominate-able. Do the thing, Luis.

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: France, DH
3: Haniger, RF
4: Santana, 1B
5: Crawford, SS
6: Moore, 2B
7: Toro, 3B
8: Casali, C
9: Haggerty, LF
SP: Castillo

Juliooooo is back. Cal apparently needs one more day, while Eugenio Suarez still hasn’t picked up a bat after fracturing his pinkie finger.

Congrats to Team Great Britain, the squad Harry Ford is playing for in World Baseball Classic qualifying. Thanks in part to Ford, the Brits are through to the WBC! They’ve never qualified before.

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