Game 83, Royals at Mariners

June 29, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Ian Kennedy, 7:10pm

The M’s return home for series against the absolutely reeling Royals, the Angels, and then the Rockies. That takes us into July, so this is the homestand the M’s officially roll out their Ballpark Pass concept, in which fans can buy a guarantee of a seat for all July home games – you may not get to sit in the same seat, but you’ll get a ticket *somewhere* in the stadium. I have to say: that’s a great idea, and if I lived in Seattle, I’d be all over it. But the appeal of something like this has only grown since they unveiled it a month or two ago. With the team consolidating its grip on a wild card berth, interest in the M’s is higher than I’ve seen in many years.

One of the things that the M’s have done well this season is destroy some of the worst teams in the league. They’re still struggling with Houston, New York, and Boston, but that’s completely understandable and also not terribly relevant to their playoff chances. What’s *different* is how they’re handling the likes of Kansas City, Minnesota, Baltimore, and Tampa. That encompasses a wide range of teams, but they’re all below .500 and teams the M’s need to fatten up on in order to hold off Anaheim and Oakland.

Baltimore actually played the M’s fairly tough in the M’s four-game sweep, but they’re no longer the clear, obvious worst team in the league. They’ve got the worst record, but they don’t have the league’s worst pitching staff by any stretch. It’s not GOOD or anything, but they’re more run-of-the-mill terrible. For the first month or two of the season, if you wanted outre, avant-garde awfulness, you had to go to Cincinnati, where pitchers combined terrible control AND historic home-run allowance to create a searing indictment of contemporary baseball and its increasing reliance on the three true outcomes. But a strange thing’s happened since May or so – the Reds are merely bad; their experimental eccentricities sanded down for a more middle-of-the-road, radio-friendly version of a bad pitching staff. In fact, over the past 30 days, the Reds HR rate is in the middle of the pack. Their place as the standard-bearers for outsider art in the world of pitching has been taken up by the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals come into today with the worst staff in the game. They’ve been essentially replacement-level over the season’s first half, as they’re sporting the league’s worst K/9, one of the worst HR/9, and a a bad BB/9. They’ve got the worst FIP and the only team ERA over 5, so as bad as they’ve been in fielding-independent terms, they’ve actually underperformed THAT low bar in terms of actual runs-allowed. That’s rough, but in part, we’ve all seen it coming. Their World Series roster’s been split up, and everyone knew that this year was going to be a year of…uh…transition and, perhaps, struggle. Still, with a HR-suppressing ballpark and some stability in the rotation with Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy sticking around, I don’t know that anyone anticipated this.

Perhaps worse for the club has been the utter collapse of their offense. Over the past 30 days – a period that’s seen them challenge the all-time record for most games without scoring 5 runs – the club’s slash line is a hard-to-fathom .200/.261/.323. As a TEAM. For a MONTH. The Orioles have been lousy all year, and especially bad these past 30 days, but the Royals make everyone look like a good offense in comparison. Again, it’s not like anyone thought they’d be the ’27 Yankees, not after losing Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and others. But the degree of their ineptitude was perhaps unforeseeable, and it makes it hard to assess where they go from here, particularly as Mike Moustakas signed a one year deal and they already traded free agent shoulder-shrug Jon Jay.

Today’s game features Ian Kennedy, a free agent misfire who’s had a long-standing, problematic, relationship with the home run ball. Kennedy throws a four-seam fastball, a cutter, a change, and a good, hard-breaking curve, but for many years, he’s really pitched off of that fastball. It gets solid rise from a low-ish arm slot, so I think it gets above the barrel on a lot of hitters who are expecting more horizontal break/sink than they get. He’s thrown FBs about 65-66% of the time up until this year, when he’s followed the league-wide drop in FB usage. Still, he’s pretty close to 60%, which is high in this day and age. And you can see why – particularly for a fastball, the pitch has produced a low-ish BABIP and so-so OBP-against figures. The problem is that when batters get a hold of it, it goes a long, long way, and not even Kauffman Stadium can keep those hits in play. Since arriving in KC in 2016, he’s allowed *57* HRs just on his fastball.

Kennedy’s 33 now, and as with a lot of pitchers, certain skills are beginning to atrophy. The whiff rate on his fastball has dropped each year he’s toiled for the Royals, and his SLG%-against keeps rising. But despite the great movement on his curve, Kennedy believes his FB is his best pitch…and he may be right. It’s just that it’s increasingly clear that it’s barely a major league pitch, and that keeping the ball in the park isn’t just bad luck, something that’ll just regress away. At this point, it’s increasingly looking like a HR/9 mark of 1.50 or more is the mean to which his performance will regress towards. The league mean isn’t that high, but that’s no longer relevant.

One aspect of his FB-centric approach is that he doesn’t have much in the way of platoon splits, and indeed never has. The problem is that his performance against lefties and righties alike slowly erodes year after year. This isn’t a time that the M’s need to play match-ups; they just need to roll out their usual line-up and wait for them to do that magical thing where they stick around and suddenly beat teams in the late innings. Or, hey, they could just knock Kennedy around early and give the bullpen a day off of high leverage innings. Just a thought.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Span, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: Marco Gonzales

Reno opens up a series in Tacoma tonight; serial free agent pick-up Bryan Evans gets the start at Cheney.

Game 82, Mariners at Orioles

June 28, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Jimmy Yacabonis, 12:05pm

The M’s ended the first half on 100-win pace. The team is absolutely compelling to watch, even if it’s never quite clear *why* they’re so good. Avoiding out-and-out awful play is a big part of that, as John Trupin wrote about at LL, but then, their big trade acquisition – Alex Colome – has actually stunk it up a bit, as has big free agent signing Juan Nicasio. It just doesn’t matter, because the team is both good and preternaturally blessed with perfect timing, two things we saw in last night’s extra-inning win. Long may this continue.

Today, the M’s face anachronistically named Jimmy Yacabonis, who was just called up by Baltimore. Yacabonis has a good fastball – it sits in the mid-90s and has remarkable sink for a four-seamer, and he pairs it with a slider with lots of horizontal break. Poor Jimmy’s problem is that he has no real idea where those pitches are going. In the last two years, he’s tossed 23 MLB innings and has somehow walked 19 batters, against only 9 Ks. Despite the velo, he’s never been a big K guy in the high minors either, and despite that sink, he’s nothing special in terms of ground ball rate. Yacabonis is a guy who throws hard, and that’s essentially it.

Mike Leake’s coming off his best outing of the year, 8 shutout innings in Boston. He’s continued to stymie lefties, which is interesting for a sinker/slider/cutter guy, but he’s done well as he’s upped his change-up usage over the course of 2018.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Gamel, LF
6: Healy, 1B
7: Herrman, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Romine, 3B
SP: Leake

Nelson Cruz’s bad back has healed enough that he’s back in the line-up, and Kyle Seager gets a well-earned off day following his heroics last night.

Game 80, Mariners at Orioles

June 26, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Kevin Gausman, 4:05pm

We’re about ready to draw the first half of the season to a close, and it’s gone just about as well as anyone could’ve dreamed. How the M’s close is still to be determined, but their competition has fallen away in recent days, as the Angels – beset by injuries and whatever the hell happened to Kole Calhoun – look completely ordinary and nothing like the team that started off the season looking like a true powerhouse. The Orioles, meanwhile, are a team in transition, or more accurately, a team in transition that simply hasn’t started transitioning yet.

If they do, as expected, start to move players in July, I wonder what they could get for Kevin Gausman? Gausman doesn’t have tons of team control left, as he’ll be in his final year of arbitration in 2019, but he’s a durable starter whose fastball averages 94+ – a guy with a very good splitter and at least the makings of a decent slider, even if the slider hasn’t been great in actual baseball games. If you squint, you see why this was the #4 overall pick: great stuff, no huge injury or control issues, tons of potential.

But you can flip that around, too. At 27, he’s been around for years, and shows some signs of being on the down slope of his career. His velocity has dropped each year since 2015. He’s had a few years – like 2016 and 2014 – that showed flashes of potential, but while he’s demonstrated some admirable consistency, he’s settling in as more of a tantalizing #4 (on a good team) than an ace. A team getting him may only have him for a year, and you don’t know if you’re getting a good Gausman year or a not-great-not-terrible one.

Still, you can imagine that teams with really top-shelf pitching development programs might see him as a poor man’s Gerrit Cole/Charlie Morton. Get that velo back to 96, tweak the slider, up the splitter usage (which, to be fair, he’s doing this year) and you might have yourself something more than Baltimore ever saw, and let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be the first time THAT happened. Gausman’s long battled home run problems, and a team in a more favorable park might assume that they could mitigate that even without newfangled player development.

James Paxton is the M’s best example of how player development can transform a pitcher, though to be fair, the frustration M’s fans had with him wasn’t due to his results so much as his endless injury woes. Still, after his transformation in 2016, Paxton has settled in as the ace of the team and clearly one of the most talented hurlers in the league. All of that said, it’s a bit frustrating that his actual runs-allowed number continues to lag his excellent fielding-independent numbers. It’s also weird that the biggest driver of that gap keeps changing. In 2016, he got BABIP’d to death, as the batters who managed to avoid Ks posted a .347 BABIP. In 2017, his overall numbers were excellent no matter how you slice them, but he had inflated home/road splits and some issues with runners in scoring position. This year, he’s had trouble with men on base again, and odd issues getting *left* handed batters out. To be fair, this weird reverse split thing (which he didn’t show last year) has been with him for most of his career. Indeed, he still shows reverse splits by FIP and slash line over his career. It’s just that this year, they’re really, really high, albeit in a very small sample (as teams try to stack their line-up with righties).

We saw this a bit with Chris Sale, but we’re still searching for a really good measure of deception. Chris Sale should be easier (not easy, but easier) for righties to see, and I suppose they hit slightly better than lefties, but what makes Chris Sale CHRIS SALE is that despite his low release point and slider-heavy arsenal, righties simply don’t see the ball until it’s too late. James Paxton *should* be death on a stick to lefties, particularly after lowering his own arm angle. He’s just…not, at least not yet. That’s okay, as for whatever reason, *righties* have never picked up the ball all that well against him.

In any event, he’s our ace, and even after two straight clunkers, you have to like the M’s chances in a game like this.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Span, DH
6: Healy, 1B
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: Paxton

Ross Detwiler was great and Dan Vogelbach homered in Tacoma’s 6-1 win last night. Everett lost in extras, and the Arizona League M’s have opened up the campaign 0-7. Today, the Rainiers host Las Vegas – it’s a gorgeous night for a game at Cheney – and my favorite DSL prospect, hulking Brazilian pitcher Igor Januario, got the win in relief. Go M’s.

Game 79, Mariners at Orioles

June 25, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

King Felix vs. Andrew Cashner, 4:05pm

Happy Felix Day. The last two series haven’t exactly gone to plan, but the M’s have weathered the toughest part of their schedule fairly well. It would’ve changed the narrative, but there’s absolutely no way I’d trade one of the wins in the Angels sweep for one of the losses in the Bronx.

The M’s find a more welcoming harbor today in Baltimore, home of the 23-53 Orioles. Bucking the trend of recent years, the Orioles decided not to sell off stars like Manny Machado in the offseason, preferring to see how they’d stack up in the AL East; if they got near the wild card, then maybe they’d change tack and buy instead. They are…not near the wild card hunt at this point, as just about everything has blown up in their face. Their offense ranks dead last in the game, their putrid hitting magnified by just-as-putrid defense. Their pitching staff isn’t last (holy crap, things have really gone down hill for the Royals), but they’re close. As it stands now, they’re almost a perfect inverse of the teams they’re nominally “chasing” – the Red Sox and Yankees. Both of those teams are averaging 5.11-5.17 runs per game, and giving up 3.7-8. The Orioles are scoring 3.6 and giving up 5.17.

We’ve been fretting about the seemingly greased decline phase for Felix, but my goodness, look what’s happened to poor Chris Davis and Chris Tillman. In 2016, Tillman was 16-6 with a low ERA thanks to his fly-balling ways. From 2014-16, he averaged over 2 fWAR per year, and his actual runs-allowed WAR was even better. In the last two (injury-riddled) seasons, Tillman’s tossed 119 2/3 innings, and has an RA/9 of 8.87, good for 3.2-3.4 WAR BELOW replacement level, depending on the system you prefer. And he’s not the biggest collapse! That honor probably belongs to Davis, who’s in the midst of what Jay Jaffe noted may end up as the worst season on record. Tillman got hurt; Davis just keeps taking PAs, and enters the day with a .151/.230/.242 slash line.

Andrew Cashner is either an object lesson in why FIP is better than ERA, or, more likely, an object lesson in why context matters. In his comeback year with the Rangers last year, Cashner pitched to contact and tried to avoid the middle of the zone. The results were awful from a strikeout and walk point of view (hence the awful FIP), but he avoided HRs, unlike pretty much everyone else in 2017, and thus he put up a decent ERA. This year, he’s missing more bats with the same pitch mix, and so his K rate’s up noticeably – it’s not great or anything, but it’s not freakishly low anymore. The problem is that his HR rate is spiking, so along with essentially the same awful FIP (but this time for different reasons), his ERA’s terrible, too. No, Texas isn’t a great place for a low-K pitcher, but the AL East is just brutal if you’re a fly-balling pitcher without excellent command.

The game didn’t end well for him yesterday, but I continue to be impressed with Marco Gonzales’ curve ball. I mentioned it on twitter, but the more I see it, the more I think his breaking ball was the pitch that occasioned Jerry Dipoto’s paeans to Gonzales’ improvement when the M’s acquired him. The improved fastball velocity got some press, but he’s lost a tick on his four-seam fastball compared to last year, so I don’t think that’s what’s driving his success. He got some attention for his cutter this spring, and it’s been good for him, to be sure, but the curve seems to be the biggest single change from his pre-injury days with the Cardinals. Back in 2014, his curve had -5.8″ of vertical drop. That’s about where it was last year, too, with one big change – it was thrown much harder: 79 as opposed to 75 MPH. Just maintaining that vertical drop despite a 4 MPH gain in velocity is noteworthy – it shows that his spin is more efficient, counteracting the decreased time that gravity has to pull the ball downwards. So, this year, the pitch is still at 79 MPH, but it’s got over -8.2″ of drop. He’s taken a fairly pedestrian offering and turned it into a real weapon, and it’s one that’s helped him post much better stats against righties this year. That can only happen with a very high spin rate, and Statcast shows that his curve spin rate is much higher than league average. Old pitch fx-based spin measurements aren’t really comparable, but they do show that his effective (not total) spin rate on his curve is 40-50% higher than in his rookie year. Did Mel Stottlemeyer Jr. do that? Did the Cardinals’ PD group? I’m guessing it was more the latter, as he showed up to Seattle with it, but it doesn’t really matter: the M’s are getting a newer, healthier, better Marco Gonzales.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Span, LF
8: Herrman, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: El Cartelua

Game 77, Mariners at Red Sox

June 23, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 4:15pm

Another national TV telecast for the M’s who are now in the midst of an actual skid. This is new for them, and while Baltimore looms deliciously coming up, the M’s would love to get a win or two in Boston. The M’s can absolutely make the playoffs without beating the likes of Houston/New York/Boston, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for their chances once they get there.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cruz, DH
4: Seager, 3B
5: Healy, 1B
6: Gamel, LF
7: Heredia, C
8: Herman, C
9: Romine, SS
SP: Leake

Game 76, Mariners at Red Sox – Deliver Us From Evil, St. Wade

June 22, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Steven Wright, 4:05pm

In general, I’m not convinced that momentum is a meaningful thing in baseball. Will the M’s collapse after a painful series sweep in the Bronx? Not likely. It’s easy to dismiss, but then, this whole season seems to have been made out of pure, high tensile-strength momentum. No, the team’s success isn’t due purely to luck, but nearly the entire season has felt miraculous, blessed, guided by baseballing providence.

If the team had a living, breathing embodiment of that, divine will cruising lazily along as an 86 MPH heater, it’s Wade LeBlanc. As bad as this last series was for the M’s, Wade’s last start was one of the clear highlights. If anything can snap the M’s out of their little run of bad play (and really, bad timing), it’s Ol’ Wade LeBlanc.

Of course, what would be even better would be a return to form from the M’s offense. They haven’t been out and out bad, but the big hits that always seemed to come late haven’t shown up recently.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Haniger, RF
3: Span, LF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Romine, SS
SP: Wade LeBlanc

The clearest sign of the M’s changing fortune? It’s gotta be the fact that SS Jean Segura’s been knocked out of the line-up by an infection in his arm. I mean…what even… of course, if there’s someone whose own reserves of fortune and fortitude can overcome the rather large gap between Segura and Andrew Romine, it’s St. Wade.

Game 74, Mariners at Yankees

June 20, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

King Felix vs. Jonathan Loaisiga, 4:05pm

Happy Felix day. I’m a bit nervous on this happy occasion, as I’d very much like to see the M’s offense shake off some rust and score a bunch of runs, and I don’t want a few series losses to give the Angels a chance to catch up right after the M’s put some distance between themselves and the Halos. I’ll say that any opportunity the M’s give me to feel nervous as opposed to numb and resigned is a gift.

Domingo German looked amazing against the M’s last night, and Jeff Sullivan’s got a timely piece on the details of the run German’s on right now. He looks like he could develop into a very good starter, given his velocity, a solid change-up and a good breaking ball. That repertoire and the Yankees’ light-on-fastballs usage has been remarkably effective against just about everyone the past few years, but what sets them apart is that they seem able to essentially clone pitchers who can do this.

Take tonight’s starter, Jonathan Loaisiga. He, too, throws a fastball in the mid/high 90s, has a firm change with a bit more armside run and moderate drop, and then a hard, slurvy curve. Loaisiga’s mechanics mean that his FB has slightly less run than German’s, but everything else looks very similar – the change gets 5″ more run, and the curve’s break is just about identical, too. Loaisiga’s velocity is a touch higher than German’s, which isn’t a great sign. Where do the Yankees get all of these guys? Minor trades and minor free agent signings, as I discussed yesterday. The key, though, seems to be that the Yankees are able to essentially clone their biggest player development success: Luis Severino.

Severino throws harder than just about everyone, so he’s got a touch better FB than German/Loaisiga, but the parallels are kind of spooky. Loaisiga’s heater averaged 96.4 MPH in his one start, and had 9.38″ of vertical rise, with about 3″ of armside run. Severino’s has averaged 98.3 MPH (!) this year, with 9.39″ of rise and 4″ of armside run. They both throw a change at 88 MPH, with essentially the same vertical movement; Loaisiga’s gets a touch more run, though that could be a small sample thing. Severino’s breaker is a slider, so it’s firmer and has more horizontal movement than Loaisiga’s slurve, but still – these are very similar pitchers.

That’s the key to creating a sustainable, dominant team: replicating player development successes. The M’s turned James Paxton from frustrating, oft-injured, command-plagued enigma into the team’s ace. Imagine if they could do that with other lanky over-the-top-throwing starters they had in the minors? I’d take another 3-4 Paxtons, even if none of them were quite as good as the original.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, CF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Span, LF
7: Healy, 1B
8: Gamel, RF
9: Zunino, C
SP: FELIX.

2nd round pick Josh Stowers homered in his pro debut last night for Everett, who beat Hillsboro. Arkansas sewed up a playoff spot in the Texas League with a win over NW Arkansas, and Tacoma swept the I-Cubs at Cheney. Everett’s in Vancouver tonight, while Tacoma’s off. Modesto and Clinton had All Star Games in their leagues last night, so they get another night off for their mid-season break.

Game 73, Mariners at Yankees

June 19, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

Marco Gonzales vs. Domingo German, 4:05pm

The M’s head to the Bronx to take on the formidable Yankees, whose line-up is one of the league’s best. They’ve garnered attention (and envy) by pairing first-round colossus Aaron Judge with trade coup Giancarlo Stanton, all while staying under the luxury tax threshold. To do *that* they’ve had to piece together a rotation around aging vet CC Sabathia, and that’s gone better than I think anyone would’ve anticipated.

As Travis Sawchick wrote today, the Yanks have turned a bunch of low-bonus lottery tickets and low-minors trade targets into a rotation that’s among the league’s best. Today’s starter, righty Domingo German, was acquired from the Marlins and needed TJ surgery almost immediately. Once healthy, he was throwing in the mid-upper 90s, and has an effective curve and change, allowing him to be successful to both righties and lefties. Formerly a command/control guy, he’s now something of a raw fireballer, with very high K rates, but also high walk and HR rates, which is why he’s a back-of-the-rotation guy for NY – albeit a back of the rotation guy with a K% pushing 30% for his brief MLB career.

Marco Gonzales is the M’s biggest player development success since James Paxton emerged from Tacoma touching 100 MPH, but it’s a much different kind. He’s *still* much the same as he was out of Gonzaga. He’s not someone who’ll wow scouts with velo, but whose command allows him to avoid loud contact and misses enough bats to succeed in 2018-style baseball. Sure, there’ve been mechanical tweaks along the way, both in Seattle and in St. Louis, but it’s more about making him more successful with his current approach than rethinking the whole package. I think I’ve struggled with the Dipoto regime because I look at the Yankees/Astros models as the ones to emulate – I want a Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton and Jose Altuve and Luis Severino and Aaron Judge. The whole approach with the M’s seems much more limited, and still, a bit more spotty. Even with lower ambitions, there’ve been missteps (as, to be clear, there have been in New York and Houston as well). Still, with the M’s way up in the wild card and the Angels reeling, you’ve got to hand it to them: it’s worked. Let’s hope it keeps working and that this season just gets even more fun.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Span, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: Gonzales

Game 72, Red Sox at Mariners

June 17, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 1:10pm

Last night, Wade LeBlanc, the guy the M’s signed off of waivers at the end of spring training, tossed 7 2/3 brilliant innings at one of the top offenses in the league, yielding 2 hits and no runs with *9* strikeouts. If this blog has any sort of purpose (don’t answer that), it would be to help explain a result like that. Sure, we need explanations of the macro phenomenon, with the M’s 21 over .500 and swatting away good teams – even teams that appear to be better in a true-talent sense. But the micro as well: what the hell is Wade LeBlanc, journeyman soft-tosser, *doing* when he frustrates an offense like Boston’s?

I know what I’m supposed to do, but here’s the honest truth: I have absolutely no idea. I’m looking at data like it’s going to explain it, and it’s just not. Did he keep the ball out of the center of the zone? No, not really. Different pitch mix? There were a lot more change-ups, but he’s done similar things before, and let’s be honest here: ALL of the pitches, of whatever type, were thrown by Wade LeBlanc, so pure stuff probably isn’t the key to this mystery. Did he have a velo spike? Ha ha ha, nooooo. So, dear readers, I’ve got nothing. He attacked, he showed good command, he refused to give in and walk hitters, and all of that matters. But he does that a lot – there’s precious little to point to and say, there, that’s where LeBlanc did something different, and that’s what made his night so special.

I’ve been thinking about that with regards to the team’s performance overall. They’ve won in different ways, with different players powering them for a week or so at a time. Coming into this series, the story was about their offense, which helped bail out their pitchers who were themselves bludgeoned by Mike Trout. Haniger, Healy and company slugged their way through the Angels bullpen, and that was enough. This series is the inverse of that, where the Red Sox have stymied the M’s offense, only for their pitchers – including Felix and LeBlanc – to toss some of their best games of the year and keep them in it. Both offense and pitching have been a bit above average on the year, but again, the key has been the timing of it all – the pitchers were great in low-scoring games, and the offense stepped up when Trout went all Trout on the M’s. It’s hard to pick out a signature style or aspect of the game that the M’s dominate at, except their sense of drama and style.

But the longer this goes on, the more I keep thinking about something I talked about way back when Dipoto got this GM job and announced from his first few hires what he wanted to do. Dipoto clearly cared about development, and that’s been an aspect of his tenure that I’m still not fully on board with. I still think the M’s minor league player development system isn’t quite firing on all cylinders, but it’s equally true that they haven’t needed it this year. That’s because the other half of Dipoto’s development strategy – seen with the hiring of Andy McKay and Scott Servais – was development *at the big league level.* That was intriguing, and a little less proven. Can you really teach plate discipline or command after a player’s had years of coaching in the minors?

As I said at the top, there’s nothing definitive here, but the returns are starting to mount for a cautious “maybe so.” It’s not team-wide; we’ve seen Mike Zunino struggle to maintain the gains he made last year, and Felix has been maddeningly inconsistent. But something’s going on – players in slumps pull out of them and don’t linger on the roster pulling down overall production. Marco Gonzales seems to be *exactly* who Dipoto thought he was going to be in 2017, despite the fact that he spent much of 2017 disappointing. Mike Leake was great in September, surprisingly terrible in April, but has been great since. Dee Gordon hasn’t been great in a while, but let’s not forget the fact that he had to learn to play CF at the big league level – and did it pretty well – before moving back to 2B. This isn’t so much about players blowing projections out of the water, though Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura have certainly done that. It’s about not allowing black holes to develop. It’s those black holes that have sunk so many M’s seasons in the past – those rally-killing spots at the bottom of the order. Ben Gamel looked like he was on the way to becoming one in April, and at other times, Ryon Healy looked like he’d do it too – but neither has.

I hadn’t really seen this aspect of the M’s before – it always seemed like players had to leave to really get better: Zunino and Paxton in Tacoma, for example, or Chris Taylor in Los Angeles. They’re not miracle workers or anything, but I’m glad to see this development.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Heredia, CF
8: Gamel, LF
9: Freitas, C
SP: Leake

2018 Everett Aquasox Preview(-ish)

June 17, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

This is a bit late, but I’ve also been bouncing back and forth between time zones with various levels of service and that seems like a plausible enough excuse. That’s going to continue, by the way, so don’t anticipate me being quick on the reply.  This year the Aquasox have a pretty normal looking roster out of the gate hahaha wow amazing when the draft has already happened. I mean, I dog pretty regularly on the contemporary draft for being less compelling with the drawn-out selection process and the hard caps on pools, but the Mariners were never much to indulge in the first place and we now sign players pretty quickly without that added bargaining room.  That broadly seems appealing, but I also still miss the quirks of the draft-and-follow process.

I’m not sure what to think of this staff overall, partly jet lag, admittedly. The outfield core group, I would expect to be the part of the offense that really carries the team and the catching situation will be interesting to see how it settles. I know who’s supposed to be starting in the short term, but there aren’t too many that I’m enthusiastic about and the relief corps probably come out as more experienced and reliable.  Not all of them will be relievers after this year either, although the ones that only recently began pitching probably will stay in the bullpen. The infield…. There are just too many players and most of them are listed as second basemen, because that’s what the draft did for us. Good luck with that, Jose Moreno.

Read more

« Previous PageNext Page »