Game 39, Mariners at Orioles

May 20, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 4:05pm

Soooo, with the Angels pushing a game over .500, they’ve overtaken the M’s in Fangraphs playoff odds, albeit fractionally. It just reaffirms BP’s pre-season opinion that the Angels were the class of the division, as the Angels and Astros now have identical end-of-season records there, with the Angels’ odds a tiny bit higher. The Angels started slow, as we thought they might, and have picked up their game since Garrett Richards returned. The M’s started slow, as…ok, wasn’t really expecting that, and they have… what, really? They’re better, as they’re 6-4 in their last 10 games, but that streak has left them a game further out than when they started. They’ve shored up their catcher spot disaster area by bringing in Welington Castillo, but they haven’t solved the riddle of Taijuan Walker or Robby Cano’s possible decline. There are always signs of life, from James Paxton’s improvement to Brad Miller’s resurgence to Carson Smith’s emergence as a true late-inning stopper. But the M’s need to make a move here as June looms. The A’s can lament their luck and wonder how a bullpen that was relatively effective last year has turned into a squad of lead-incinerating pyromaniacs, or they can work the phones and remake their team again for the third time in 12 months. I’m not saying the M’s are there – Oakland does what they do because they have to – but they need to figure out what they want to do a month from now. Are they going to focus on acquiring MLB rotation depth, or are they going to retool for 2016? I’m sure many will argue – not least the M’s themselves – that the two shouldn’t be seen as polar opposites: if the team moves on from Dustin Ackley, are they getting better now, or rebuilding? It *can* be both, and that’s nice and all, but it’s also a big, big problem.

Today would be a decent time to start a nice stretch of wins against potential Wild Card foes. The Orioles are 27th in the league in FIP, play in a tough division, and still have a better record at this stage (though, for now, worse playoff odds). The Orioles have been better against right-handed pitching this year than lefties, which is interesting given their RH-heavy line-up. In any event, Roenis Elias will seek to keep that trend going. He’ll face off with Wei-Yin Chen, who is essentially a left-handed Miguel Gonzalez. This isn’t an original thought exactly, but that’s just because it’s true. Chen pitches off a 91-92mph four-seamer with lots of vertical rise, creating plenty of elevated contact. If you look at all starters who’ve thrown 400 IP since 2012 (the year Chen joined the league) and sort them by fly ball rate, Miguel Gonzalez ranks 10th (of 92). In 11th spot sits Wei-Yin Chen.* Just as with Gonzalez, there’s no weird Chris-Young-like ability to give up fly balls but avoid HRs. Chen gives up lots of homers, nearly the same number as Gonzalez. And like his teammate, Chen’s ERA has trailed his FIP, though not to the same degree. With Chen, there’s no BABIP magic (his career .285 mark is lower than average, but about what you’d expect for a fly-balling lefty), no HR/FB magic, or “clutch” pitching magic.

Chen survives because he’s been pretty good at avoiding walks. His career BB% of around 6% is significantly better than average, which is good. It’s a trait that essentially makes him a poor man’s Hisashi Iwakuma. Kuma’s K% is about 1% higher, and his BB% 1%+ lower, and he’s given up fewer HRs thanks to higher GB rates, but you’re looking at a control pitcher who limits baserunners, and thus doesn’t pay as big of a price for the HRs he gives up as FIP thinks he “should.” Let’s be clear here: Iwakuma’s much, much better and that’s because at these margins, marginal differences matter, and marginal differences in pretty much every category makes a bigger-than-you’d-think difference overall. But both of these guys have been better than their FIP, and both of these guys have similar arsenals. Chen throws his four-seamer around 50% of the time, and he’s got a sinker that he’ll throw around 10%. He’s also got a splitter, but it’s got very different movement than Kuma’s. Chen’s isn’t a swing-and-miss pitch, but it does generate ground balls (again, not as well as Kuma’s, but that should pretty much go without saying), and it’s a good pitch to use against righties, and it clearly limits HRs. He doesn’t use it all that much, though – only about 15% of his pitches *to righties* and essentially never against lefties. Against same-handed hitters, Chen features a slider that may be his best pitch. It comes in around 83, and features good two-plane break; it actually drops, while his splitter (oddly) doesn’t. It’s made Chen effective against lefties, or, if you prefer, it’s produced the totally normal platoon splits that he’s shown since 2012. As a result, Chen’s faced heavily skewed line-ups: just one quarter of the batter’s he’s faced have been lefties.

How about tonight?

1: Weeks (DH)
2: Bloomquist, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, CF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

6 of 9 are righties, but… man, that’s an odd line-up.

The M’s made a couple of minor moves today, reinstating lefty reliever Edgar Olmos, and assigning him to Tacoma. Joining him there will be righty reliever Kevin Gregg, the veteran reliever the Reds DFAd a little while ago. Gregg has been a big league closer, but he’s also been at or below replacement level six of the past seven seasons. He’s thrown 20 IP in the bigs since the start of 2014, which is obviously a tiny sample, but he’s given up 12 runs on 10 walks and 5 HRs. It’s been rough, is what I’m saying.

Tacoma’s off today, but they’ll start a road-trip tomorrow in Iowa. Austin Jackson’s first rehab appearance yesterday – he went 1-4 – apparently resulted in some swelling in his injured ankle.

Jackson was blanked 3-0 by Ivan Pineyro and the Tennessee Smokies yesterday. Jabari Blash had the only XBH for the Generals, a double, but the team couldn’t capitalize on six walks – 3 from Pineyro and 3 from big prospect Carl (CJ) Edwards. The righty suffered a shoulder injury last year, so he’s now working from the pen after 230+ brilliant innings as a starter. His stats have actually slipped a bit this year, but he did strike out 3 in 2 IP yesterday. Jackson got their revenge in today’s getaway day match-up, with reliever Trey Cochran-Gill earning his 3rd win despite a so-so 2 1/3 IP. Since moving to AA, he’s given up more hits, and his K:BB ratio is now even, but everyone’s still hitting the ball into the ground. Over 3 levels this year, Cochran-Gill’s sporting an ERA of 1.57 and 4 ground-outs for every air out. Dario Pizzano homered, and Blash added two more, giving him 6 on the year for Jackson and 8 total.

Bakersfield takes on Stockton tonight with Tyler Pike on the mound against Joel Seddon. The Blaze beat the Ports last night 8-7, racking up 12 hits including a HR from DH Guillermo Pimentel, and knocked out starter Kyle Finnegan in the 1st inning.

Clinton lost to Quad Cities 8-5, as Patrick Peterson gave up all 8 runs in 5 1/3 IP – a 4 run sixth ended his day. Daniel Torres (a catcher the M’s drafted back in 2013) had the L-Kings only XBH. The two teams face off again today, with Lukas Schiraldi facing the league’s top offense in Quad Cities, and SP Akeem Bostick, a solid prospect the Astros picked up from Texas in the Carlos Corporan trade. Bostick played 3 sports in HS, and his cousin is Brandon Bostick, a back-up Packers tight-end whom everyone may remember from his rather important touch in the NFC championship game. Akeem’s a big guy at 6’6″, 215, and is something of a scout’s dream with the frame and building blocks to be a solid MLB starter. The results haven’t been there yet in his pro career; he got knocked around in the Sally league last year, and he’s only thrown 9 IP in the pitcher-friendly MWL so far.

* Use the same cut-offs and sort for HR/9, and you’ll find Gonzalez at 4th in MLB and Chen at 10th. Oh, and if you sort by the gap between ERA and FIP (ERA-FIP), no one in baseball has had a larger gap since 2012 than Gonzalez, and Chen’s not TOO far behind at 11th, one spot behind Hisashi Iwakuma.

Game 38, Mariners at Orioles

May 19, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. Miguel Gonzalez, 4:05pm

The M’s head east to take on the Orioles, owners of one of baseball’s best offenses in the early going. Despite losing Nelson Cruz, the Birds are 6th in wRC+ as a team, and 5th in SLG%. They’re not perfect, of course, not with a low OBP and park effects taking some of the shine off of that SLG number. But this is still a pretty good test, especially in Baltimore, for M’s pitchers. And this is the time Taijuan Walker needs to take two steps forward, without all of those annoying steps back.

Jeff mentioned this back in the spring, when Walker was utterly dominant, but Walker’s splitter’s somewhat interesting in that it seems fairly easy to identify. That is, Taijuan Walker releases his split/change thing both lower (vertically) and more towards third base (horizontally) than his fastball. That’s the kind of thing that seems like a “tell” and when you add the fact that he throws it most often against lefties, it’s the kind of thing that batters can learn to look for. To be fair, this isn’t new – this isn’t a 2015 phenomenon. He had a very similar gap in 2013 and 2014. That said, batters certainly *seem* to be reacting to it like they know what’s coming. His whiff rate with the pitch is down substantially, and then there’s his slash line on the pitch this year: batters are averaging .519, and slugging .741. Against lefties, it’s even worse, though it’s worth reiterating that we’re talking about less than 100 pitches thrown. But his struggles with the pitch, or whatever word conveys vastly more than a bad bounce here or there, matter. He’s had multiple issues with multiple pitches, but if he has nothing to throw at lefties, then his future prospects come down. Tonight’s a good test for Taijuan. At this point, he knows what’s working and what’s not, and he’s probably got a few concrete steps to improve those weaknesses. Bringing his release point closer to his FB is probably the biggest one.

He’ll face off against Miguel Gonzalez, a former Rule 5 pick by the Red Sox who toiled in the minors without a great deal of success (and got released by Boston in late 2011) before something clicked with the O’s in 2012. Since that time, he’s been a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for Baltimore, racking up nearly 4 fWAR over 3+ seasons. It’s a cool story, but it still may be selling him short. Fangraphs’ WAR is based on FIP, but if you look at their fielding-DEpendent wins above replacement, he’s already over 6, with a 3 WAR season in 2014. By Baseball-Reference’s RA9-based WAR, he’s over 8. If you believe in Gonzalez’s sterling strand rates and ERAs, you’re saying that he’s a Chris Young type – a guy whose ERA hasn’t just been below his FIP, but will continue to be below his FIP for the foreseeable future. So, how similar is he to Young? Fastball with well above average vertical rise? Check. Lots of fly balls, but also lots of infield pop-ups? Check. Consistently low HR/FB ratio? Nnnnoooo.

Thanks to his season last year, Chris Young is a great recent example of someone who “beats” his FIP. In years past, Matt Cain was always the guy people associated with this class of hurlers. But there are probably multiple ways to get there. You can consistently run low BABIPs like knuckleballers or Jamie Moyer, and reduce your FIP that way. You could strike errybody out, which reduces baserunners, and thus lessens the impact of the occasional HR or walk while also improving strand rate). Or, you could do that weird Chris Young magic trick of allowing plenty of HRs that fly precisely 270′ and not 350′. Gonzalez has given up plenty of fly balls, and he’s given up plenty of home runs. He’s never been a strikeout guy, and doesn’t get a ton of out-of-the-zone swings, so he’s not going the Clayton Kershaw route either. Instead, it may be the result of a very different approach with men on. With no one on, he’s given up over 1.5 HR/9, and with men on, it’s under 1. Neither is particularly impressive, but if his OVERALL rate was 1.5, we wouldn’t be talking about Gonzalez, because he wouldn’t be a major leaguer. His overall line with runners on isn’t THAT different, so we’re not talking about a radically different approach, but he will throw more splitters, esp. to lefties. His “clutch” stats are solid as well – in high leverage situations, he’s been much better than average, while he’s below average in low-leverage situations. Finally, he’s got a career BABIP of .262. Sum it up, and you’ve got a guy who’s better than average in just about every way that a sabermetric fan would dismiss as luck.

I’m not ready to do that, though, given the consistency with which Gonzalez has piled up these stats. I don’t think he’s a true talent 3.00 ERA guy, but I think he’s probably a bit better than the rich man’s Blake Beavan that FIP describes. I’m not quite sure what to make of a guy who’s been so effective against same-handed hitters despite failing to strike them out, or a guy who gives up lots of home runs and few runs (though this always makes me think of M’s broadcast descriptions of Ryan Franklin). I’m not Gonzalez’s biggest fan, or anything, and wonder what he’d do in the AL West where he might actually run a low HR/FB ratio, but I’m glad we’ve got these statistical anomalies to examine. And ultimately root against, as the case may be.

1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Walker

So, the M’s swung a trade with the Cubs this morning for C Wellington Castillo, the Cubs starter in 2013-14 who gave way to Miguel Montero this year. Castillo’s got a career wRC+ of 97, and was worth 5.5 fWAR the last two seasons, but who rates abysmally in catcher framing metrics. The return is reliever Yoervis Medina, a hard-throwing righty with great GB% who’s been fairly effective despite ugly walk rates. Medina’s ERA has been lower than his FIP by almost as much as Miguel Gonzalez, albeit in a much smaller sample, and the M’s were unhappy enough to demote him a while back. The M’s are clearly quite deep at reliever, and they may get deeper down the line when David Rollins comes off his suspension.

In the near term, Castillo is replacing Jesus Sucre, who’s been optioned to AAA. If Castillo is going to unseat Zunino, that hasn’t happened yet, and the M’s see Zunino as the starter for now. In fact, nothing’s changing today, as Castillo isn’t in Baltimore yet. But Zunino has to be looking over his shoulder a bit more than when Sucre/John Hicks/John Baker were the competition. Zunino’s still a tantalizing talent who combines great pitch framing/defense with plus raw power, but he’s been ineffective at the plate and he hasn’t been getting better. If regular old aging and experience haven’t been enough, it’s time to start wondering why, and what IS going to help that process. I really hope the M’s have a plan here. In the meantime, they’ve got someone to beat up on lefties (Castillo has a career 129 wRC+ against ‘em), or a starter that could hold down the fort while Zunino went back to learn the things he skipped in the minors. That said, the M’s have tried this particular approach many, many times – with Ackley, Montero and Justin Smoak in particular – and it’s not clear there’s a clear protocol to backfill development time for guys who moved up quickly/too quickly.

Franklin Gutierrez returns to the Tacoma line-up after missing some time with an injury, and yes, I have a keyboard macro for that phrase. The Rainiers played a day game against Las Vegas and lost 2-0, despite another good start from Forrest Snow (7IP, 2R, 0BB, 7Ks). They simply couldn’t figure out Duane “the Love” Below, who tossed a complete game 4-hitter. The R’s beat the 51s last night 5-4, getting 9Ks from starter Sam Gaviglio and HRs from Ketel Marte and Jesus Montero. Marte’s line is now up to .346/.390/.446. Not a bad line for the top prospect I think most M’s fans were the LEAST confident in of all the M’s top 10 prospects.

AA Jackson takes on the Tennessee Smokies tonight with Jake Zokan on the hill. The Generals blanked Tennessee 11-0 yesterday behind Scott DeCecco and a HR from Jordy Lara. Dario Pizzano went 2-4 with 2 2Bs, Jack Reinheimer had 3 hits, and DJ Peterson hit a 2B in 6 trips to the plate. Moises Hernandez closed it out with three perfect innings. Felix’s bro has actually pitched decently in his fifth campaign with Jackson. The Generals face Ivan Pineyro of Tennessee tonight, a righty tools prospect who’s been delayed by injuries and inconsistency, but who’s having a solid year in 2015. If you’ve got MiLB.tv, this is a game worth watching, as Tennessee features several top Cubs prospects, including C/DH Kyle Schwarber, 1B Dan Vogelback and CF Albert Almora.

High Desert topped Bakersfield 7-6 last night, dropping the Blaze to 15-22 on the year. Tylers O’Neill and Marlette went 0-8 combined, but Austin Wilson awoke from his slumber to knock a HR. Ryan Yarbrough was shaky again, giving up 5 runs in 4 IP, despite 7 Ks. Dan Altavilla starts today against Kyle Finnegan of Stockton. The Blaze knocked Finnegan around back on April 22nd. More of the same, let’s hope.

Clinton lost 14-10 to Quad Cities, as Tyler Herb and a host of reliever got lit up. SS Erick Mejia had three hits to lead the Lumberkings, and Joe DeCarlo homered. Gianfranco Wawoe got a base hit; the Curacao native has been in a tailspin since his long hitting streak was snapped, and has seen his average fall from .350 to .277. Patrick Peterson, the L-Kings best starter, goes tonight.

Mariners Trade Yoervis Medina For Mike Zunino Off Days

May 19, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Officially, the deal is Yoervis Medina to the Cubs in exchange for catcher Welington Castillo. And, indeed, that’s what’s happening — the Mariners are giving up the Medina asset, and they’re receiving a whole new person, who will have a locker in the clubhouse and everything. But this isn’t a deal that’s really about Medina, from the Mariners’ perspective, nor is it really about Castillo. Castillo’s positive quality is that, okay, he’s fine enough. So he’s a catcher actually capable of letting Mike Zunino get some rest.

There’s any number of reasons why the Mariners have been relatively disappointing, and I suppose you don’t have to look much further than Robinson Cano, who, I’ll remind you, has another eight years after this year. And Dustin Ackley sucks, even more than he’s ever sucked, and you wonder if he’s okay or if he’s been replaced by one of those alien people-impersonators from Men In Black. But at some point you get to Mike Zunino, who has yet to make offensive progress. In fairness, he’s actually been one of the team’s better hitters in May. But, in May, he also hasn’t walked. His approach has become less disciplined. His last base on balls was 18 strikeouts ago.

Zunino, basically, looks like Zunino looked last season. Maybe a little better, maybe a little worse, depending on the day you see him. There was talk in spring training he was learning to use the opposite field, but actually he’s pulled more baseballs this year than he did last year or the year before. The defense? Zunino is good at defense. He knows how to catch, and he seems to know how to handle a pitching staff. Big responsibilities, for a player his age. But, catching is hard. There’s a reason why catchers tend to develop slower offensively than other guys. They have a lot going on, and one theory is that Zunino is just too exhausted to improve.

This year he’s fifth in baseball in innings caught. Last year he was fourth. There have been six games this year Zunino didn’t start, but he’s still played in four of them. A catcher on a roster with two catchers can never completely take a day off, because you don’t know if the other guy might get hurt, but there are degrees of rest, of peace of mind. Zunino’s been given a heavy workload, and Jesus Sucre couldn’t give him much of a breather. Sucre, we know, is a skilled defensive catcher. We all liked his framing, back when the Mariners didn’t have a framer. But Sucre swings the bat like a head of lettuce you put a baseball bat next to. You don’t want a Sucre in the lineup on back-to-back days. You don’t want Sucre at the plate in a high-leverage late-inning situation. You pinch-hit for a Sucre. When you pinch-hit for a catcher, you have to bring in the other catcher.

Welington Castillo is not good. Welington Castillo is not bad. You now understand Welington Castillo. He’s not as good a defender as Sucre. He’s certainly not as good a defender as Zunino. He’ll lose these pitchers some strikes. But, he makes a decent amount of contact. From time to time, he’ll draw a walk. Last year he hit a home run 432 feet. The year before he reached 443. Castillo projects as a slightly below-average hitter, which is not unlike what he’s been for his career. He just turned 28 a few weeks ago. And, significantly, last year Castillo played in 110 games. That followed a 113-game campaign. Granted, the Cubs went 86-124 in his starts, and 53-61 in games he didn’t start, and that’s troubling, but there’s also a lot of noise in those numbers and the Cubs were bad. Castillo is adequate, maybe a third-tier backstop, and he’s handled a regular major-league workload while also handling being a reserve.

For now, the hope is that having Castillo can buy Zunino some rest. He shouldn’t need to play as often as he does, and the team will be more comfortable using Castillo more than it used Sucre. And that could be important for Zunino, as rest might be able to keep him from getting into and developing bad habits. More bad habits, I guess. With more rest, there’s more focus. With more focus, there might be better results. With Welington Castillo, Mike Zunino can afford to relax on designated days.

And if, in time, it still doesn’t look like Zunino is getting better, Castillo’s a more capable stopgap than Sucre. Either Castillo could take more of Zunino’s playing time, or Zunino could get demoted, and then Sucre or somebody else could come up while Zunino tries to learn some lessons in Tacoma. From the sounds of things, the organization is pretty committed to trying to get Zunino to work out in the bigs, but maybe that’s stubbornness, or maybe things just haven’t gotten bad enough. One should hope that they never do, but things can have a way of going wrong, and minds can be changed by enough swings and enough misses.

On Tuesday, the Mariners added a new catcher, and it seems to me to be about the old catcher, who’s also something of a new catcher. He’s a young catcher in whom the Mariners believe, and he’s a young catcher the Mariners think should be a part of the long-term core. Before that happens, the catcher needs to not suck when he’s hitting, and maybe he just needs a little more rest. We’re easily impressed by those who soldier through fatigue, but seldom is it actually helpful. Your body needs time to restore. Mike Zunino is presumably no different.

As for Medina going away? He’s got live stuff and bad command. He’s missing a couple miles per hour now, relative to before, and the Cubs think it’s probably mechanical. If Medina were to put everything together, he could close. If Medina were to put just enough together, he’d be last year’s Medina. Last year’s Medina was no one’s favorite bullpen arm. These guys are everywhere, and it’s impossible to predict which ones will have futures and which ones will frustrate through to retirement. If it makes you feel better, Medina probably wasn’t going to find his strikes as a Mariner. One of the upsides in not believing in your own player development.

Game 36, Red Sox at Mariners

May 16, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

King Felix vs. Rick Porcello, 6:10pm

The Red Sox made a very expensive bet that Rick Porcello’s somewhat underwhelming tenure in Detroit was the result of growing pains and a focus on pitching to contact. Porcello was a prep phenom who dropped to the Tigers in the 2007 draft. He flew threw the minors thanks to a hard sinker and joined the Detroit rotation in 2009. Those who scouted him in the draft were always a bit confused that Porcello missed so few bats. Porcello’s always had a strong GB rate, but thanks either to some ill-timed pitches, bad sequencing luck, or a bad Tigers defense, his actual runs allowed always came in higher than his FIP suggested. At only 26, Porcello’s one of the youngest hurlers to, er, almost hit free agency in a while. All of these factors – the rumored great breaking ball that the Tigers wouldn’t let him throw, the FIP, and his youth combined to score Porcello an extension from 2016-19 that’ll pay him over $20m per year.

Thus far, like pretty much everything about the Red Sox, things haven’t quite gone as planned. Porcello is pitching differently, and he’s using a four seam fastball more than he ever has, and his K rate’s up a bit, but we’ve seen this from Porcello before. He’s tweaked his underwhelming slider into a hard cutter, but it hasn’t made it any more effective. His K:BB ratio’s up, but so is his HR rate. Thus far, it’s added up to a really familiar 4.50 ERA and a low-4′s FIP.

Here’s today’s line-up for the Seattle Steelheads, as the M’s pay tribute to the Negro League history of the northwest.

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

Game 35, Red Sox at Mariners

May 15, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

JA Happ vs. Clay Buchholz, 7:10pm

So the M’s had some ugly LF miscues and they had nothing to do with Miller! Let’s keep in mind that Miller isn’t the only guy getting used to the position. Rickie Weeks has Miller beat by all of about 3 months. Meanwhile, the M’s couldn’t figure out Joe Kelly, who wriggled free time and again. I know the M’s issues with RISP have been ugly, but I thought Kelly made some impressive pitches when he needed to. The M’s have fared much better against ground-ball pitchers this year than they have in the recent past, but I get the sense that the M’s are still struggling with plus velocity – we’ll have to check that out. The M’s have struggled against fastballs for years, and that’s still true this year, despite their improved overall batting line.

The M’s have had frustrating talents over the years. Jose Cruz Jr. Justin Smoak. Hell, Dustin Ackley. You can add any number of your own from whatever era M’s clubs you cheered for: Carlos Guillen, maybe. Depending on your definition, you could argue for Dave Henderson. For the M’s, much of this disappointment has been a failure of observable talent to translate into consistent production. We’d get solid months from Ackley or Smoak, but we didn’t get sustained growth. It’s been one of the most frustrating aspects of the team the past few years, and it’s a big reason why they’ve struggled – if that core group of Ackley/Smoak/Montero actually developed, the M’s would be in a very different place. Today’s opposing starter, though, illustrates a different path to gut-churning frustration.

Clay Buchholz burst onto the scene in 2007, throwing a no-hitter in one of his first big league starts and giving the World Series champs one of the most valuable commodities in baseball heading into 2008. And in 2008, Buchholz had an RA/9 over 7 thanks to HR problems and an absurdly low strand rate. He was slightly better in 2009, because how could he not be, but his walk rate kept climbing and he was missing far fewer bats. He looked like your average prospect bust, an east coast Roger Salkeld or something, and then, suddenly, he was effective again. His K% wasn’t a whole lot better, but his HR/FB dropped and that led to a big improvement in his FIP. Even better, his strand rate got better, and his ERA was a gaudy 2.33. The strand rate stuck around in his injury plagued 2011, but his HR luck didn’t, so he was only good as opposed to great, but nothing worked in 2012. HRs and sequencing pushed his FIP back up over 4.6, and I think expectations must’ve been pretty low in 2013. Despite further injury problems, Buchholz tossed 108 innings and put up an ERA of 1.74. Was it lucky? Of course, but at least he was missing some bats again to go along with an insanely high strand rate and equally crazy HR/FB rate. Just as Sox fans must’ve thought the prospect had regained the promise of 2007, he collapsed again in 2014, as a bad strand rate again pushed his ERA over 5.

Maybe the moral of this story is that ERA is too volatile, and that strand rate luck can make a guy look like the second coming of Pedro Martinez one year and a AA org guy the next. That’s very clearly a part of it. Buchholz’s FIP certainly didn’t swing as much from 2013 to 2014, but that’s what FIP’s designed to do. The more interesting side of this is that Buchholz has an almost Phil Hughes-like* capacity for tinkering and self- uh, self-improvement doesn’t sound right in this context. A capacity for change, we’ll call it. When he came up, Buchholz had an extreme over the top delivery and a four-seam FB at 95 with plenty of vertical rise. He paired it with the oddest change-up ever, a sort of hybrid cutter/change that came in extremely slow with zero horizontal movement. He dropped his release point a bit after that, and that altered all of his pitches – less vertical rise, a bit less cutter-action on his change (which was now harder), and a sinker with plenty of armside run. By 2013, he’d moved a foot over on the rubber, but his four-seam fastball (now 92-93) now had less horizontal movement and more vertical. The change was still there, and still weird, but he now had a cutter that he threw to RHBs and LHBs alike – the odd thing of course is that the cutter and change sort of blurred together, with relatively similar movement but a 7mph difference in velo. This year, that oddball change-up is gone, as it the splitter experiment. In their place is a regular old change-up – one that’s still a bit slow (although it’s faster than it was in 2007), but that moves like other cambios. It’s his putaway pitch to lefties in the early going – and his strikeouts are up sharply in the first month and a half. His fastball’s movement changed back to where it was a few years back, helped again by another drop in release point. The results HAVEN’T been there, though, as both of his fastballs have been hit hard this season. His strand rate won’t stay this low for long, and it may be he’ll start regressing towards his FIP, but Buchholz is still reeling right now, with an ERA approaching 6. Boston’s defense probably hasn’t helped, as their BABIP-allowed is 7th worst in baseball.

1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, CF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Weeks, DH
9: Zunino, C
SP: Happ

The Rainiers split their doubleheader with SLC yesterday, losing the opener 2-0, but winning the nightcap 4-0 behind a spot start from Andrew Kittredge and a HR from Stefen Romero. Mike Montgomery, originally scheduled to start last night’s 2nd game, will get the start today against Nick Tropeano, the ex-Astros hurler and the PCL pitcher of the year in 2014.

Jackson beat Biloxi 2-0 as peripatetic reliever Trey Cochran-Gill got the win in relief in his first AA appearance. Jake Zokan started and went 5 2/3 scoreless, and then TCG went 2 1/3, before handing it over to Tony Zych for the save. Jordy Lara and Dan Paolini had two hits for the Generals. Moises Hernandez gets a spot start today as all of the affiliates juggle their rosters after a spate of promotions/relegations and injuries.

Bakersfield was rained out, so Tyler Pike will go today against his old club/former M’s affiliate, the High Desert Mavericks.

Clinton dropped a 9-3 contest to Wisconsin (another former M’s affiliate), as Pat Peterson got knocked around a bit. The L-Kings had 9 hits, but none for extra bases. Lukas Schiraldi gets the start tonight in Burlington.

* It’s funny, because Hughes and Buchholz were the two big pitching prospects of 2006-7, and both debuted in the 2nd half of 2007. At any given time, one or the other has been deemed to have “won” this non-existent competition, only to have the other one come back with a great season. Both are fascinating pitchers to follow, though I’m pretty happy neither is on the team I care about.

Game 34, Red Sox at Mariners

May 14, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

Roenis Elias vs. Joe Kelly, 7:10pm

Ah, the Red Sox. Some of my favorite memories of Safeco have come from games against the Red Sox, including a sweep-clinching victory in 2007 wherein Ryan Feierabend gave up about a dozen 390′ fly balls that Ichiro managed to track down. Of course, most memories of Red Sox series in Safeco aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. The Sox have been good, the M’s have been bad, and there are way, way too many people in Red Sox gear.

Last night’s game was a tough one. James Shields did indeed leave some pitches hanging, but with one exception, the M’s couldn’t quite barrel them up. A ball that Nelson Cruz fouled back early on and a Zunino miss on a high fastball stick out, but they were far from the only offenders. On the positive side, that’s another quality start for Tai Walker, who now needs to follow it up with several more.

Tonight’s contest features extremely hard throwing righty Joe Kelly, who the Sox picked up from St. Louis in the John Lackey deal. Kelly throws a sinker at around 96-97, and has a slider and curve as well. In the past, his change-up and four-seam fastball were afterthoughts, as he threw them once or twice a game. This year, though, the four-seam is now a major part of his arsenal, at about 1/4 of his pitches. Before 2015, Kelly was known as one of those confounding pitchers who throw incredibly hard and yet don’t get strikeouts and whiffs – he was a Henderson Alvarez type with a high GB% and not much else. At least Alvarez never walked anyone – Kelly’s walk rate’s pretty standard, or even a bit higher. Still, you can see how it’s supposed to work – pitch to contact, but have the velocity take the sting out of much of that contact. Ideally, you’d get a GB pitcher with better than average BABIP, or better than you’d expect given his batted ball profile. As it happens, that’s what Kelly’s done over his career. From 2013-15, he’s put up BABIPs of .289, .274 and .277 (league average is .295 this year).

The Red Sox and/or Kelly may have wanted a bit more out of that 97mph heat, though. By using his four-seamer more, and actually attempting to get Ks with his breaking ball (he’s using them more in 2 strike counts than in previous years), Kelly looks like he’s trying a modified approach. It worked brilliantly in his first start of 2015, where he set a new career high in Ks against the Yankees. But it’s come at a cost. Fewer sinkers have resulted in fewer grounders. More fly balls – and his FB% has jumped from 23.7% last year to 34.3% now – have meant more home runs. And while his BABIP’s still low, he’s been terrible with men on base. With no one on, he’s giving up a wOBA of .254. With men on, it’s .396, and it just goes up from there if they’re in scoring position. In one sense, this is encouraging – guy making some adjustments, and has an undeserved 6+ ERA. That sequencing luck will probably turn around, but the HR issue is tougher. Sure, his HR/FB is up, and thus his xFIP isn’t too bad, but as a control-challenged righty who now yields more FBs, we can’t expect his HR rate to fall all the way back to his own career average. Let’s see if the M’s can push it higher tonight. Kennedy and Shields were guys they needed to be somewhat aggressive with, but Kelly – coming off a game in which he walked 7 Blue Jays in 5 2/3IP – is someone to be patient with.

1: Smith, RF
2: Miller, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

And there we have it, Brad Miller’s first OF start. He may get some work with the lefty Roenis Elias on the hill and a righty-dominated line-up against him. That said, Elias has had some GB tendencies, and the Red Sox as a team hit more grounders than average.

The Rainiers were rained out yesterday, so they’ll play a doubleheader today at Cheney. Forrest Snow starts game 1, and Mike Montgomery will go in game 2. Head to Cheney if you don’t want to deal with an army of Sawx fans tonight.

Jackson faces Biloxi again, and look to get back in the win column behind Jake Zokan. He’ll face off with Hobbs Johnson, a 14th round pick out of UNC who’s put up gaudy ERAs but doesn’t have the raw stuff to rank highly on prospect lists.

Tyler Pike leads the Bakersfield Blaze against Rancho Cucamonga. Scott Barlow starts for the Quakes. Barlow’s a former 6th rounder the Dodgers grabbed out of HS, and who has a very good FB/Curve combo. He’s struggled to stay healthy, though, and his results haven’t been there in the past. Rancho topped Bakersfield 4-3 last night, getting a walk-off win in the 11th off newly-demoted RP Dylan Unsworth.

Game 33, Padres at Mariners

May 13, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. James Shields, 7:10pm

After tieing a club record with six HRs yesterday against a HR-challenged Padre Starter (and their HR-challenged bullpen), the M’s face a guy who’s having even more trouble with the long ball this year. James Shields has yielded seven HRs in his last two starts. His season total of 11 leads MLB, and he’s facing an M’s team that’s making up for a poor OBP by clubbing a few baseballs senseless.

Shields has been remarkably durable and consistent over his career. As Eno Sarris mentions in a great interview with Shields, the righty has made the most starts in baseball since 2007, and he’s just six IP behind the leader in IP since then (the leader, or perhaps the King, in total IP? Felix, of course). His repertoire has been the same since he joined baseball, too – a four-seam fastball, a great change-up, a curve ball and a cutter (and a two-seamer he very rarely throws). Over time, his pitch *mix* has changed a bit, but we’re really getting marginal now – in the main, he’s a guy who throws 1/3 four-seam fastballs and 2/3 change/curve/cutter.

Obviously, the change-up is his signature pitch. He gets whiffs on 20% of them, or 35% of swings against it, and he’s racked up over 700 punchouts on change-ups in his long career.* It’s helped him neutralize lefties, as he throws the pitch more often to them. It’s probably also helped him stay healthy – Shields fastball results aren’t all that great. Hitters appear to see his four-seamer pretty well, and thanks to above-average “rise,” they elevate the ball pretty easily on it. That’s led to some of the home run problems that have dogged Shields since his Tampa days, and without the change, he’d either have to throw more of a pitch batters hit hard, or throw a lot more breaking balls. The change seems easier on his arm, and again, it’s been a consistently good pitch for him.

But it’s not perfect. Like basically all pitchers, Shields like to keep his change low in the zone, or below the bottom edge of the zone. When he doesn’t, bad things happen. It’s similar to the issue we talked about yesterday with Ian Kennedy – when everything works just the way it’s supposed to, he’s fine. But mistakes are costly, and he’s essentially hoping that hitters miss the mistakes – either that they’re looking for something else, or mishit the ball. That’s true of literally every pitcher, so it’s not like some great insight, but I think it matters to certain pitchers more. To a degree, this is “more” true for fly-ball pitchers like Kennedy. But because Shields *fastball* is a flyball pitch, it matters to him even when his overall GB% (pushed higher by the change and curve) is at or above league average. Making mistakes with his fastball results in more damage (in the long run) than it does for Felix for a variety of reasons. But when hitters sit on his change, the same thing can happen. Last night, the M’s were ready for every Kennedy mistake. Here’s hoping they’re ready again tonight.

Line-up:
1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Walker

Man, it was nice seeing Mike Zunino get into a couple of pitches last night. Essentially recreating last year’s season line isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the decline-on-all-fronts we’d seen before. Gradually, his O-swing% has dropped below last year’s frightening mark of 40%, and he’s actually making a bit more contact than last season. We couldn’t say that two weeks ago.

After another solid performance this week, the M’s have promoted righty Edwin Diaz from Bakersfield to AA Jackson. This is a well-deserved promotion; Diaz has 42 strikeouts in 37 IP against 9 walks, and he’s limited hitters to just 21 hits. At 21, it’s not too aggressive, and I’ll be interested to see what he learns from longtime AA pitching coach Lance Painter.

Tacoma lost to Salt Lake yesterday 4-3, on two HRs from the delightfully named Jett Bandy. Angels top prospect Andrew Heaney was tough for 7 IP, but was matched by Sam Gaviglio, who gave up 1 run in 6 IP. But Lucas Luetge gave up a three run shot to Bandy in the 8th, and that was essentially that. Forrest Snow starts for the R’s tonight against minor league veteran Zach Stewart.

Misael Siverio disgorged another clunker of a start, giving up 6 runs in 5 IP in Jackson’s 6-3 loss to Biloxi. The hitting star of the day was old friend Steve Baron, who went 2-3 with a triple. The two teams played an early game today, which evidently disrupted the pitchers’ circadian rhythms, as Jackson lost by a score of 14-10. Perhaps it’s not a big surprise that just as Bakersfield’s team batting stats were off the charts bad, Jackson’s pitching staff is last in the league in ERA by *1.24* runs. They’re at 5.25, as a team, in a league where 8 of 10 teams have ERAs below 4, and the team in 9th place is at 4.01. Anyway, Jabari Blash hit 2 HRs today and knocked in 7 in a losing effort.

Bakersfield lost 6-3 to Rancho Cucamonga, as Ryan Yarbrough gave up 6 runs in 2 2/3 IP. Reliever Paul Fry had 5 Ks in 2 scoreless innings. Tyler Marlette had two hits, a double and a triple – here’s hoping his long slump is over.

Clinton takes on Wisconsin tonight, with Tyler Herb starting for the L-Kings. The TimberRattlers send LHP Kodi Medeiros to the hill. The Hawaiian was a 1st round pick in last year’s draft, and someone scouts thought might make a big impact right away. But he got destroyed in the Arizona league, showing lower velo, poor command and general hitability that he hadn’t shown before. He’s been slightly better, all things considered, this year, as he’s jumped straight to full season ball, but the results are still not there.

* Shields is often credited, as that Sarris piece notes, as having the best right-handed change in the game. At this point, I think Felix has the superior claim due not just to equally solid K rates, but because hitters have done so much less damage on it when they DO make contact.

Game 32, Padres at Mariners

May 12, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Ian Kennedy, 7:10pm

Everything feels better after an intra-division sweep. Dave had a great article on the star-crossed A’s and their horrible luck at Fangraphs yesterday, but it’s worth your time. You get much the same picture by looking at raw team stats - the A’s have a team wRC+ of 101, and are scoring 4.6 runs per game. The M’s, thanks to a poor OBP, are at 94 and 3.8, respectively. For pitching, the M’s have a better K:BB ratio, but the A’s edge in HRs-allowed means they’ve got the superior team FIP. They’re both awful by UZR, but the A’s have a sizable advantage in DER. The A’s even have the edge in run differential. They looked out of sorts for the reasons Dave highlighted (awful performance in high leverage situations), but they aren’t awful. This isn’t to minimize what the M’s did this past weekend – it magnifies it. The M’s swept a decent club, a team that won’t be in the cellar the whole year. In a tight division, that has added meaning.

Today, the new-look Padres come to town with their overhauled roster and high expectations. They’re currently second in the NL West behind the juggernaut in Los Angeles, and they’ve done it through a combination of A’s-like sequencing luck and solid raw power. It’s kind of interesting that both the M’s and Padres – two teams that inhabit extremely HR-suppressing parks – find themselves in the top half of the league in ISO this season. It’s not THAT surprising, given that both teams very consciously sought to improve that aspect of their club, but the M’s have been trying for years without a lot to show for it. The Padres compressed years of personnel moves into one incredible off-season, as new GM AJ Preller made blockbuster trade after blockbuster trade. Instead of hoping that Chase Headley’s power comes back, the Padres now have Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Matt Kemp in the middle of the order. Upton and Norris have been great thus far, and Myers’ start is much more reminiscent of his 2013 than his 2014. On the other hand, Will Middlebrooks has disappointed again, and Matt Kemp’s slow start in the field and the plate have him near the bottom of the league in WAR. It’s all added up to a team scoring 4.64 runs per game, good for 7th in baseball, right behind the Twins (?) and just ahead of the A’s.

Unfortunately, the offense isn’t the only group that’s getting used to more in-game power. The pitching staff has the second worst HR rate in baseball, and therefore an abysmal FIP. While their ERA is a bit better than that, 4.07 in 2015, playing half your games in Petco is simply not getting it done. Ian Kennedy is one of the prime offenders (along with James Shields), giving up 5 HRs in less than 20 innings thus far. Kennedy went 21-4 for Arizona in 2011, using a located 91mph fastball, a curve and a good change-up to a solid season that looked even better than that by “wins” and ERA. He wasn’t able to maintain that level of performance, as HR issues plagued him occasionally, and the D-Backs cut bait, shipping him to San Diego for a lefty reliever and an A-ball closer. Kennedy rebounded with a brilliant 2014 and was the subject of lots of trade rumors down the stretch. The Pads ended up keeping him but this is his last arb year; Kennedy will likely be a free agent at the end of 2015.

Like a number of other pitchers, Kennedy’s fastball has actually gotten *faster* since his career year of 2011. It’s now around 93, thrown from a lower angle, giving it run along with plenty of vertical rise. That rise has helped push his GB rates down below 40% for pretty much his entire career, but he’s up around 47% in the early going this year. That doesn’t seem to be related to any changes in his pitches; it may just be the result of keeping his fastball lower than he did in the past. In 2011, Kennedy’s out pitch was his change, which he threw at 81, and which he used as his putaway pitch to *right handers*. It’s always had great whiff rates, and it still does, but he’s liable to make mistakes with it. He’s given up 27 HRs on the change in his career, which has pushed his ISO on the pitch up, despite the fact that he uses it more in favorable counts.

Since 2011, his FB velocity’s up over 1mph, but the real change has come with his, uhhhh, change. These days, it’s touching 85. It was up 3mph from 2013 to 2014, and it’s maintained (and even extended) those gains in 2015. He’s given up 2 HRs on it out of 40 total cambios though, so it’s not like the velocity has cured his tendency to hang the odd pitch. In his career, he’s got essentially zero platoon splits – by wOBA and FIP, there’s just nothing there. A four-seamer and change-up-heavy pitch mix is part of the reason, as is his curve ball, which looks great despite the fact he doesn’t throw too many of them. It’s not imperative to stack the line-up with lefties, but it IS imperative that the M’s look for and punish fastballs that stray over the heart of the plate and centered change-ups.

1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Paxton

Still no Hisashi Iwakuma, who won’t start throwing for another 10-14 days, apparently. Roenis Elias has been solid in his stead, but man, the M’s could really use another top-flight starter. James Paxton, if you wanted to start pitching the way you did last year, this would be a good time.

Jeff’s got a fun article about Carlos Peguero’s strangely solid start this year in Arlington. As I mentioned over there, while the patience and swing rate are new, and real improvements, we still haven’t seen Peguero fix his old struggles with velocity. At this point, Peguero *still* hasn’t hit a HR on a pitch over 90mph. I took a look at a random smattering of hitters at Baseball Savant and looked at their slugging percentage on contact. For pitches between 90-94, Nelson Cruz is up over .700, and Brad Miller and even Chris Taylor are over .500. Dustin Ackley looks shaky at .432, but Peguero comes in last at an absurd .310. But what happens when he look at pitches thrown between 80-90? Now it’s Peguero at the top of the heap, with a SLG% over .800. I would honestly be happy for Carlos if he keeps up this weird poor man’s John Jaha thing going for a going-nowhere Rangers ballclub. Still, I think it’s going to be tough to hack it if you can’t drive even mediocre fastball velocity. Punishing mistakes is great, and not swinging at balls is even better, but this flaw may still be a fatal one in a league with record high average velos and ever-improving advanced scouting.

The story in the M’s affiliates last night was Danny Hultzen’s second start, this time against Biloxi (who hired radio guy Chris Harris away from Jackson). Hultzen went 2 2/3 IP, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks. He struck out 2. Jimmy Gilheeney was again brilliant in long relief, and the Generals won the game 8-3. DJ Peterson went 2-4 with a 2B. Misael Siverio starts tonight for the Generals against Tyler Wagner of the Shuckers. Wagner’s a 2012 4th rounder who’s cruised through the minors, posting great ERAs and extremely low HR totals thanks to a very good sinker. He finished 2nd in the FSL last year to uberprospect Tyler Glasnow, but Wagner’s never going to get a lot of hype thanks to a lack of Ks (and the bat-missing stuff that produces them). Sickels had him as the #8 Brewers prospect, for what it’s worth.
DJ Peterson’s brother, who plays for high-A Carolina in the Braves organization, was on the bus that flipped over in a late-night accident last night. He, and the rest of the team, seems to be OK, but tonight’s game has been postponed.

The Rainiers built a big lead and got 7 great innings from Justin Germano, but had to hold on for a 9-7 win over Fresno. Dominic Leone’s AAA debut didn’t go too well, as he gave up 4 runs on a Jon Singleton grand slam in his one inning of work. Yoervis Medina pitched the 9th, and gave up a solo HR of his own, this one to Luis Flores. John Hicks and Leury Bonilla homered off of Grizzlies starter/ex-A’s starter Dan Straily. Sam Gaviglio takes on Andrew Heaney of Salt Lake tonight at 6:05.

Edwin Diaz gave up 2 runs (on 2 HRs) in 6 IP, but Visalia came back to beat Bakersfield in extras. Tyler O’Neill hit his 7th HR, and Tyler Marlette’s slump continued with another 0-4. Bakersfield’s gotten amazing pitching, but their *team* OPS is under .600. In the California League. That’s…well, it’s last in the league by a mile, of course. The team with the shortest CF wall that I’ve heard of has a slugging percentage of .309. Onward and upward though – tonight Ryan Yarbrough faces off with John Richy of Rancho Cucamonga.

Clinton topped Wisconsin yesterday 8-3, getting Eddie Campbell a win in his first appearances of the season. Alex Jackson had a double and 3 RBIs, and the L-Kings got HRs from Kristian Brito and Taylor Zeutenhorst, a 34th rounder out of Iowa last year who was playing his first game for Clinton since moving down from Bakersfield. The L-Kings played Wisconsin this morning, and came away with another win – this one by a score of 4-3. Brito homered again, his 3rd on the year, and Joe DeCarlo doubled. Jeferson Medina had his best start of the year, yielding just 1 hit (but he walked 5) in 6 scoreless IP. The L-Kings scored 2 off of Wisconsin starter Cy Sneed, whose name and visage mark him as someone dropped into uniform directly from 1895. The Brewers apparently had a rule about lawless frontier-style mustaches in their affiliated minors, but that picture shows him in uniform this year, so maybe the Brewers had a change of heart.

In other, sadder, M’s minors news, Daniel Missaki, the Brazilian kid who started Clinton’s team no-hitter a few weeks back just had Tommy John surgery today. He (and Ramire Cleto) had the procedure in Seattle, according to Bob Dutton of the TNT.

Game 31, Athletics at Mariners

May 10, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

Felix Hernandez vs. Jesse Chavez, 1:10pm

Happy Felix Day, and a very happy Mother’s Day. It was my mom who instilled a love of baseball in me as a toddler, and it’s my wife who tolerated my love of baseball and encouraged me to take our kids to countless Rainiers games.

The M’s go for the sweep against the reeling A’s, who are now a full game below Texas in last place. Their bullpen’s been atrocious, as we saw in the first game of the series, but their rotation’s been hurt by underperformance and injury. Jesse Hahn’s better than he looked yesterday, but he clearly hasn’t quite adjusted to the AL quite yet. So today the A’s are turning to Jesse Chavez, the reliever turned (effective) starter turned swingman again. Chavez’s career took off in Oakland, but he never seemed like a great candidate to move to starting, but he made 21 starts last season and was a key part of the A’s torrid start. His pitch mix changed pretty dramatically last year, as he opted for the old Brandon McCarthy special – out with the four-seamer, and in with a sinker and cutter. His fastball’s around 92-93, and he’s also got a change and a curve ball. The change-up’s a plus pitch, and it helped him dominate left-handers – he limited lefties to a sub-.300 wOBA last year, and he’s been just as successful in the early going of 2015. With the influx of new players like Hahn and Kendall Graveman, Chavez began the year in the bullpen. He moved back to the rotation in late April, and I’d expect he’ll remain there for the rest of the year. The A’s depth has taken a big hit with Jarrod Parker’s recent injury, and Drew Pomeranz has been shaky since a solid start.

1: Smith, LF
2: Weeks, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: El Rey

Miller’s back at SS today after Chris Taylor suffered a hand injury in last night’s game.

Tacoma’s game should be an interesting one. The Rainiers have called up Bakersfield reliever Trey Cochran-Gill to make a spot start today at Fresno. He’s obviously close by, given that he’s in the Cal League, and AAA teams do this occasionally if they’re low on pitchers – it’s not necessarily a sign that the M’s are really high on someone. That said, I’ve been intrigued by Cochran-Gill since he got a few innings for the M’s this spring. He’s got a low-90s fastball with good sink and some run, and he’s putting up extremely high ground ball rates thus far in high-A. That’s a good plan when your home park has a CF wall only 350′ away, and it’s a good plan in the homer-happy PCL as well.

Stephen Landazuri’s making the start today for Jackson as they finish up the series with Chattanooga. They’ll be home to face Biloxi tomorrow – Biloxi’s the new club in the Southern League – with Danny Hultzen on the mound.

The suddenly Cochran-Gill-less Bakersfield Blaze are off today. They lost an 8-6 decision to Visalia yesterday, despite a two-HR game from the surging Tyler O’Neill. Unfortunately for the Blaze, as O’Neill’s awoken, Tyler Marlette’s cooled off – he’s in a 3-37 slump. Edwin Diaz takes the hill for Bakersfield tomorrow.

Clinton’s also off today, but they’ll open a series at Wisconsin on Monday.

Game 30, Athletics at Mariners

May 9, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

JA Happ vs. Jesse Hahn, 6:10pm

Man, walkoffs take a lot of pressure off a team. Now it’s Oakland in the cellar, and they’re off to their worst start since 2001, when they…awww, come on!

Hahn’s the righty they got from San Diego in the trade of Derek Norris. At the time, it seemed insane for Oakland to ship out Norris, a high-OBP/solid D catcher AND maybe-ex-catcher, but still a decent lefty bat John Jaso and essentially hand the starting gig to Steven Vogt. Let’s just say Vogt’s off to a good start. Hahn was a sinker/curve guy primarily last year, but he also had a four-seam, a change and a slider. This year, he’s using his four-seamer a bit more, and it’s come at the expense of the curve. It was always a good guess that his K rate would come down as he moved from NL to AL, but it’s plummeted from 22.9% to 14.3%. That said, his walk rate been cut by two thirds, so his FIP’s still fairly pretty. As I mentioned about the entire A’s club, though, it’s sequencing that’s hurting Hahn. His strand rate is an absurd 55%, and while that’ll regress, it’s a partial reason the A’s have won only one of Hahn’s five starts this year.

1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Happ

Tyler Olson’s option has been rescinded and he’s been placed on the 15-day DL with a knee contusion suffered against the Astros back on the 2nd. That means this doesn’t yet count as one of Olson’s option years.

Miller’s at DH again today, but could see action in the OF as soon as tomorrow, according to Bob Dutton.

Mike Montgomery starts for Tacoma tonight, Carlos Misell for Bakersfield, and Jake Zokan for Jackson. Clinton already played, and got crushed 14-3. Each of the M’s full-season affiliates are now below .500.

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