Game 93, Mariners at Tigers

July 20, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

JA Happ vs. Alfredo Simon, 4:05pm

With yesterday’s dispiriting loss in the Bronx, the M’s moved into a share of the AL cellar. Not the AL West, mind you, the whole thing. Yes – the M’s are less than 10 out of first in the West, and thanks to a virulent strain of parity, they’re less than 10 out of the Wild Card race too, but… the M’s (and A’s) are behind the Chicago freaking White Sox and the dysfunctional Boston Red Sox…as well as every other team in the AL. Today, Fangraphs and our erstwhile leader Dave Cameron dubbed the Robinson Cano contract the worst in baseball. It’s been…it’s not been the best day to be an M’s fan.

First off, the M’s have recalled JA Happ to start tonight against the Detroit Tigers, who are hemorrhaging runs in recent weeks. Justin Verlander (another of the worst contracts in baseball) is back, but not, you know, BACK, and we saw the soft underbelly of the Tigers rotation when they were in Seattle recently. This is one of many AL teams who looks beatable and flawed, but will almost certainly finish ahead of Seattle. Alfredo Simon, the splitter-throwing righty, was bad against Seattle but got the win at Safeco a few weeks back. Since then, he was knocked out of his next start in the 3rd by the Twins. These are winnable games against mediocre opponents, but it’s something the M’s have struggled to do. 2015 CC Sabathia (yet ANOTHER of the worst contracts) is no longer an average, forget about top-flight, starter, but he looked it against the M’s. The M’s hit Simon fairly well, but couldn’t turn it into a victory. The M’s are almost certainly not as bad as they’ve looked, but they’ve looked soooo, sooo bad that that’s damning with faint praise.

But I’d like to deal with Dave’s “The Bottom Five” article for a bit, too. Clearly, Dave was never a fan of the Cano contract, and with this season going the way it has, you can make a case that a player owed that much for that long *has* to be the worst contract in baseball. Personally, I think it depends heavily on how you weight this season. To me, large contracts for demonstrably bad players are much, much worse than a big commitment to a star, even a star who’s not playing well. The problem is, every big contract goes to a star – the question is, how do we determine when someone falls from the stellar ranks? Obviously, it depends a lot on health and position. A pitcher with an amazingly consistent track record *still* looks bad if he’s owed tons of money and is going in for major shoulder reconstruction. A slow 1B can look terrible if he tanks in his 20s, while a speedy CF could still theoretically add value in other ways. Albert Pujols ranks #5 on the list right now. He’s putting up a very good year, and as Dave mentions, has a shot to hit 40 HRs for the team that recently overtook the Astros for the divisional lead. His contract is back-loaded and scary, but is this a contract the Angels are killing themselves for offering? If they wanted to move him, they’d probably have to kick in some money, sure, but the point is, they probably aren’t really interested right now. Contrast that with Elvis Andrus, a hitter who simply failed to develop and who’s seen his bat AND defense atrophy over time. The Rangers, who are a bit closer to contention than I thought, would probably love to move him and eliminate a black hole in their line-up, but the upside here just isn’t there. Now, of those two poles – the productive-but-highly-paid star or ex-star vs. the long-term-extension-that-just-didn’t-pan-out scrub – which do you think Robinson Cano is closer to? Dave factors in Cano’s edge in, you know, baseball playing ability, but to him, it can’t outweigh the cost difference (the term of Cano’s deal is actually the same as Andrus’…ha ha ha ha!). To me, a rebound to 3.6-3 WAR with some upside for more makes the next few years a bit easier to take. The backside of the deal is bad, and there’s nothing to be done about that. But if the M’s get actual production from Cano in the medium term, and if he’s a part of the next good M’s club, that back end gets a lot easier to deal with. It’s the Choo, Andrus and (maybe) Porcello deals that seem much worse to me. Overpaying for production is often a necessity in baseball. Overpaying for nothing is not. Please be healthy again, Robbie.

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

Happ was recalled from some a paper simulation of Bakersfield to make this start. Jesus Montero’s been sent back to AAA.

Speaking of AAA, Sacramento won the final game of their 4-game set 7-6. Sacto’s Adam Duvall hit two HRs in the game. Forrest Snow squares off with Alex Sanabia (the former Miami Marlin) of Salt Lake to kick off a series with the Bees at Cheney tonight.

Jackson and Mobile were scratched due to rain. Moises Hernandez gets the start tonight as the Generals start a series with the Mississippi Braves.

Stockton knocked Bakersfield around 8-3, with Tyler Pike giving up 5 runs in less than 3 IP. Tim Lopes tripled for the Blaze. Brett Ash will share the mound with Raul Alcantara of Stockton tonight.

Clinton attempted a late rally but fell a run short in a 4-3 loss to Beloit. Tyler Herb took the loss. Kristian Brito had three hits for the L-Kings, and his recent run of form has brought his seasonal OPS over .600 on the year. It’s…it’s been that kind of a year. Clinton had an early game today and lost 5-1. Jarrett Brown started and got knocked out in the 2nd.

Everett beat Hillsboro 14-6. Luiz Gohara wasn’t great, but got plenty of run support and didn’t walk anyone in his 6 IP. CF Luis Liberato, who’d looked so good in the early-going before missing a few weeks after a hit-by-pitch, played his second straight game and drove in a run. Darin Gillies gets the start tonight for Everett.

Game 92, Mariners at Yankees

July 19, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 77 Comments 

King Felix vs. CC Sabathia, 10:05am

Happy Felix Day

Yankees starter CC Sabathia turns 35 in a few days, and is making his first start since July 8th. That start was pushed back a bit after the big lefty had his knee drained. While his control’s still good, his velocity’s down and his platoon splits – which had been concerning in recent years – are now a major problem. Sabathia will be paid $25m in both 2016 and 2017.* It’s not a huge problem contract – whatever the annual amount, he only has two years left. More importantly, a “bad” contract is only an impediment if it prevents you from doing something important – if it so curtails your flexibility that you can’t make needed upgrades. That’s just not the case with the Yankees, who’ve been living with and moving past dead money contracts for years.

Sabathia’s interesting in that he’s now something of a black hole, and he’s maintained his grip on a rotation spot not so much because of that big contract (though that probably doesn’t hurt), but because there aren’t a whole lot of other options. Their pitching staff has been very good, thanks in large part to a dominant bullpen, but Sabathia and his homer-battered ERA/FIP pull the overall averages down. Likewise, their offense is solidly above average thanks to bounce-back years from Mark Teixeira, A-Rod and a breakout by Brett Gardner, but the group has some black holes, too. As bad as Cano’s been, the NY 2Bs who’ve tried to replace him have been much worse. Stephen Drew and company have hit .185/.246/.346 this year, and that’s necessitated the recent call-up of prospect Rob Refsnyder. So a team with good players can overcome dead spots in the line-up… a team with solid starters and a great bullpen can get by even if a starter or two isn’t clicking… why is it that the M’s always seem so sunk by THEIR black holes, while other teams easily get away from theirs?

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

Lots of righties in there against Sabathia, which makes sense.

Tacoma snapped their losing streak in extras last night, 6-5. The R’s and Sacramento finish up their series today at 1:35 at Cheney. Not sure who’s starting for Tacoma; it’ll be Clayton Blackburn for the Grizzlies.

Jackson lost to Mobile 6-5. Paul Fry struck out 5 in 2 2/3, but took the loss after a tough 6th inning. Still, in 3 games in AA, he’s got 10 Ks and no walks in just shy of 6 innings pitched. Misael Siverio starts tonight.

Stockton needed 14 innings to slip past Bakersfield 4-3. Dan Altavilla pitched 7 solid IP, and is pitching quite well of late. Tyler Pike starts today for the Blaze.

Clinton dropped to 30 games under .500 with an 8-3 loss to Beloit. Tyler Herb starts today for the L-Kings.

Hillsboro beat Everett 2-1. Andrew Moore took the loss after giving up 2 runs in 3 IP. He’s still yet to walk anyone on the year, and has 21 Ks in 15 innings. Luiz Gohara gets the ball for the AquaSox today.

* – Technically, Sabathia’s 2017 money is guaranteed so long as he does not finish the 2016 season on the DL with a shoulder injury, or isn’t limited *due to a left shoulder injury* during the year. That’s an interesting, oddly specific, clause. If he IS hurt *in that specific way*, then the Yanks have a $5m buyout.

Game 91, Mariners at Yankees

July 18, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Michael Pineda, 10:05am

Michael Pineda has topped the 100IP mark for the first time since his rookie season. His K:BB ratio is approaching 9. After posting a 2.71 FIP in limited duty last year, he’s pushed that down to 2.62 as a key part of the first-place Yankees’ rotation. In a pretty remarkable shift, his ground ball rate is now over 50%; it was under 40% with the M’s. It’s the kind of season that… OK, it’s the kind of season that makes every joke about the Trade, every #6 org quip, understandable. But hey, his BABIP-allowed is .345, and that’s pushed his runs-allowed well over his fielding-independent stats. No? No, doesn’t make me feel any better either.

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

The M’s full-season affiliates are now a combined 63 games under .500. Bakersfield, the team with the worst record in the system, was somehow the only team to win – and they did so after surrendering a run in the 10th inning and blowing a 9th inning lead. Clinton was swept in a double-header. Jackson was shut out, and DJ Peterson’s OBP fell to .294. Everett is still above .500, but they lost 10-2 to Vancouver and are in a losing streak of their own. Tacoma crept over .500 before the AS break, but another slide has them 5 games under again. But hey, Jimmy Gilheeney’s up in Tacoma to make the start today against Sacramento and ex-MLB star Tommy Hanson. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday evening.

The Second Half Begins – Game 90, Mariners at Yankees

July 17, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

Mike Montgomery vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 4:05pm

The M’s finished the first half 7 games under .500, seemingly stuck in neutral as their competition fights a mile or so ahead. It’s a difficult lead to make up, but given the parity in the 2-wildcard AL of 2015, perhaps not difficult enough. As we’ve talked about, the M’s may fancy their chances to add another bat and make a run, which would be somewhat quixotic move given the number of teams above them, and would be hard to swing in any event given the struggles of the M’s top prospects. They could sell some of their pitching depth, but 3 months of JA Happ isn’t going to bring back a whole lot, and trading a Mike Montgomery or Roenis Elias is simply not what the M’s should be considering. All of that said, Jack Zduriencik is clearly on the hot seat now, and that’s what’s concerning me. Not that’s he’s on the hot seat, but that decision-making acumen isn’t generally improved by administering pain and desperation.

The trade deadline’s less than two weeks away. Prices are higher at the deadline than in the offseason because teams are supposed to know more about where they stand and why. While the M’s are probably painfully aware of what’s gone wrong, it must be difficult to really assess where they stand at the moment. The M’s fangraphs playoff odds are at 17%, which, while not great, don’t PRECLUDE “going for it,” whatever that means. At BaseballProspectus, they’re under 5%, though. You can pick and choose why BP just doesn’t GET the M’s, or why Fangraphs’ view of the offense is more accurate, but some very good statistical minds have produced a frustratingly wide range of outcomes for you to consider. What Zduriencik must be wondering about is why his team’s offense has so consistently underperformed their projections. Whatever they’ve been, and the M’s have had some mighty pessimistic forecasts in 2011-12, the M’s have generally found a way to come in low. The 2014 club succeeded because their pitching (and really, their bullpen) was incredible. They haven’t had a season where they surprise people by clubbing the ball. This is a problem they haven’t solved in the 6+ years of Jack’s tenure in charge. There are multiple suspects, up to and including Zduriencik’s own eye for pro talent, but there’s no way to conclusively assign blame. That kind of cloud has *got* to make it difficult to make trade decisions right now.

I have no idea what happened over the all-star break when one group of (national) reporters stated that the M’s were close to a deal for a catcher, and another group of (local) reporters said they weren’t. I just know that as of today, the M’s didn’t add one. And that means another half-season of Mike Zunino, and scrounging every data source for some reason to be hopeful. Zunino’s wRC+ is currently 45, a level no qualified batter has approached since Cesar Izturis’ 46 in 2010. He adds value in other ways, and sure, maybe even these struggles count as development of some sort or another, but the trend here is alarming. That no one knows how to stop it is *more* alarming. The M’s, as an org, are full of former catchers, but the M’s have continually struggled with the catcher position. And now, Zduriencik and that coterie of ex-catchers need Mike Zunino’s bat – not his glove, but his bat – to save their jobs. Working in baseball is surely stressful, but some spots are more stressful than others.

Today, the M’s kick off their second half with an intriguing match-up between Masahiro Tanaka and Mike Montgomery. Both have so-so fastballs, and both rely heavily on a plus to plus-plus offspeed pitch. The splitter, the pitch Tanaka throws more than any other, is really a form of change-up. It’s thrown with the same arm speed as a fastball, but comes in slower and sinks more. Montgomery’s change has less vertical “drop” of a typical splitter (and Tanaka’s splitter in particular), but has remarkable armside run. In general, the more 12-6 movement of a *good* splitter is very advantageous, because it can be used against all batters, gets a ton of ground balls, and is difficult for batters to hold up on – think of Iwakuma’s swing-rates on his split, even when he throws it below the zone. A more traditional circle-change can be great against opposite-handed hitters, but depending on who’s throwing it, it might not be so great against same-handed bats, and it might generate fly balls. That’s pretty much what we see with Montgomery – his change isn’t a big ground-ball pitch, and batters are less likely to swing at it than Tanaka’s split.

But there’s something to be said for living at the tail end of the distribution. Montgomery’s motion is more or less over the top – he releases the ball near 7′ from the ground, or about 0.1′ lower than James Paxton does. And yet Montgomery’s change-up gets over 11″ of armside run – far, far more than Paxton’s or most anyone’s. To be fair, there are a few pitchers in baseball that get a bit more run. In first place is the wonderfully bizarre Chris Sale, who averages 13″. But think about Sale’s arm angle and how different it is to Paxton/Montgomery’s. It’s just easier for a side-armer like Sale to apply enough sidespin to make the ball move that much. It’s really tough if you’re coming over the top, but Montgomery manages, which means the difference between what a hitter expects and what he gets has got to be freakishly large.

By the numbers, another Mariner has a very similar change-up, the guy Montgomery’s currently beaten out as the 5th starter: Roenis Elias. Elias’ is nowhere near as upright as Montgomery, but gets 10.5″ of run with an average release point over 6′, and that’s interesting. But if you know about Elias, you know why that’s a bit misleading. Elias drops way down to lefties, and I think those drop-down changes might generate more run. David Price’s cambio is similar, as it gets run similar to Elias’ but from a slightly higher release point. It’s also easier to understand Price applying an ungodly amount of spin to the ball, because *all* of Price’s pitches move like crazy. Another ex-Ray has a still-more comparable change: Matt Moore. The oft-injured lefty throws harder than Montgomery, but generates an insane amount of run on his fastballs and change despite a release point higher than Price’s (but still lower than Montgomery’s). What Moore and Montgomery have shown – albeit in limited samples – is that their swerving change-ups tend to get fouled off a lot. They get plenty of whiffs, but instead of ground balls, they get a lot of strikes without the ball being put in play. Moore’s control wasn’t great to begin with, so he wasn’t able to take that advantage and turn it into great walk rates. Montgomery’s control has been solid, so this is something to track – if Montgomery’s able to get and stay ahead of hitters, his BABIP won’t regress as far as it otherwise would.

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

That’s a strongly left-handed line-up against a pitcher in Tanaka who’s run reverse splits thanks to his splitter. It’s not BABIP luck or HR/FB – lefties have a ground ball rate of over 54% against Tanaka in his career, while righties are at just under 40%.

Speaking of Roenis Elias, he’ll start tonight’s game at Cheney Stadium against Chris Stratton and Sacramento. Fireworks night, perfect temps…head to Tacoma. The R’s lost the first game of this series last night by a score of 11-3.

Jackson’s Edwin Diaz starts tonight in Mobile. The Generals have gone 1-1 in the series with the Shuckers, winning the first behind homers from DJ Peterson and Tyler Marlette, but losing last night 8-3 thanks in part to an inside-the-park-HR from former General Jack Reinheimer. Reliever Paul Fry, who’d been so good with Bakersfield, is now in Jackson.

Bakersfield lost the first two games of its series with Modesto by a combined score of 20-6. Dan Altavilla tries to stop the bleeding tonight.

Clinton lost the first game of their series with Kane County, and then yesterday’s game was postponed. They’re playing two today, with Lukas Schiraldi and Osmer Morales starting for the L-Kings.

Everett’s dropped two straight to Vancouver, both by the same score: 5-4. Lane Ratliff looks to stop the losing streak tonight in Everett. There was a lot of chatter on Wednesday when Alex Jackson was pulled from the game midway through, and then was held out of yesterday’s game. There was no apparent injury, and well, it’s trade season, but in the end, Jackson’s not going anywhere. He picked up a hand injury on a swing in Wednesday’s game, and that kept him out yesterday. He’s not on the DL yet, and may play tonight.

Game 89, Angels at Mariners

July 12, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 36 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. Andrew Heaney, 1:10pm

Today’s game marks the end of the first half. Clearly, it hasn’t gone the way we hoped, but like any team, they’ve had their moments. Last night’s bases-loaded, no-out start looked like a disaster in progress, but Hisashi Iwakuma wriggled off the hook and then fired 8 shutout innings. It’s the kind of remarkable turnaround we’d remember for years if we hadn’t seen the exact same thing recently in Mike Montgomery’s start against Kansas City. Trumbo got timely hits, Jackson looked decent, and Mark Lowe (!), who I suspected would be an early cut this spring, finished the game with a 97mph fastball and another scoreless appearance. This is how it was *supposed* to look.

Another Taijuan Walker gem would really help go into the break feeling…well, if not exactly good, then a bit less sour. He’ll be facing the Angels top prospect to start the year, and their return for dealing Howie Kendrick, Andrew Heaney. Heaney was the 9th overall pick in 2012 out of Oklahoma State. Blessed with a fast arm and very good control, he seemed like the classic high-floor college pitcher – a guy with very good odds to make the majors, but perhaps not the top-flight stuff of bigger name prospects. In the minors, he pitched extremely well – a K:BB ratio nearing 4, thanks to low walk totals, and encouraging reports about his velocity. He pitched in AAA in 2014 and struggled a bit for the first time – his K rate was great, but he had HR issues a bit for the first time.

Traded twice this off-season, he ended up with the Angels and was sent to Salt Lake to open the year back in the PCL. In 14 starts, his HR issues disappeared, but he allowed a sky-high BABIP that pushed his ERA far above his FIP. In 3 starts since being called up, his FIP is exactly where it was in AAA, but his BABIP is just .222, giving him a superficially sparkly ERA. He’s walked just 3 in 20 1/3 innings, and while that’s even better than his MiLB track record, control is clearly Heaney’s calling card. He throws a sinker, a curve and change, and while his zone% isn’t all that spectacular, Heaney’s got the ability to hit the edges when he needs to.

His sinker’s averaging 92mph thus far and it’s got plenty of armside run. It gets a bit more rise than average, though, which explains the fact that Heaney’s GB rates aren’t noteworthy despite his sinker-dominant approach (he throws it about 70% of the time). His curve seems to be a pretty solid pitch, at least to lefties. It’s his putaway pitch to lefties, but he’ll use it to righties when he’s ahead in the count. Even with just two pitches to lefties, Heaney’s dominated southpaws at pretty much every level. Righties, though, have proven more difficult. His change has great run, but not a ton of sink – maybe that’s why it’s not been a swing-and-miss pitch thus far. It hasn’t hurt him yet, thanks to righties’ awful BABIP on the pitch, but he was surprisingly hittable for a top prospect coming through the minors, and it could be a problem for him going forward. This is a decent match-up for the M’s right-handers.

[EDIT: Guti's back is barking, so the M's have changed the line-up.]

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

Ketel Marte and Edwin Diaz take part in the Futures game today in Cincinnati, representing the World Team. Lucas Giolito gets the start for the loaded US team, which also features C Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs. Marte actually faced Heaney three times- once last year against New Orleans, and twice this year when Heaney pitched for Salt Lake. Marte hit Heaney hard, going 5-8 with 2 doubles and a walk.

Tacoma heads into the AAA all-star break after their final game in Reno. Roenis Elias takes on ex-Colorado Rockie Jhoulys Chacin. Yesterday, the Aces beat the Rainiers 7-4, as Forrest Snow had his second straight sub-par start after his long string of excellent outings. Reno’s not a place to pitch if you don’t have everything working. Leon Landry homered and singled for the R’s.

Jackson gave up 2 runs in the 8th and lost to Birmingham 3-2. Dylan Unsworth had his best AA start, giving up a run in 5 2/3, but the South African took a no-decision when Grady Wood couldn’t find the plate, walking 3 in the 8th. CF Ian Miller had 3 hits and 2 2Bs for the Generals. Moises Hernandez faces off with Birmingham’s struggling sinkerballer, Tony Bucciferro, who has given up an astonishing 105 hits in 70 2/3 IP thus far, while striking out only 28 (and walked 20).

Bakersfield was on the right side of a late come-back, as they scored twice in the top of the 9th to beat Visalia 5-3. Rafael Pineda picked up the win in relief of Eddie Campbell – Pineda K’d 4 in 3 innings, giving up one run. Dan Altavilla starts today opposite righty Anthony Banda, who shut out the Blaze back in June.

Clinton played another extra-inning game, going 15 innings before losing to Peoria 7-4. The top of the order got 8 plate appearances – Austin Cousino was 2-7 with a walk, and Arby Fields was 3-8. At the other end of the spectrum, Gianfranco Wawoe was 0-7 with 5 Ks, giving him the rare platinum sombrero. Joe DeCarlo homered and walked *4 times* which seems like it should have a nickname – some very different kind of headgear, I’d guess. The golden pickelhaube, maybe. That’s just a first draft, but feel free to use that. Tyler Herb starts for Clinton, while Peoria will send Jack Flaherty to the mound. Flaherty’s the Cardinals 1st-round pick in 2014 out of Harvard-Westlake, and faced the L-Kings on July 1st.

Everett beat Boise 8-4, behind Alex Jackson’s 2-4 night featuring a 2B and a HR. Matt Clancy, a lefty out of St. Johns the M’s picked in the 13th round of the draft, pitched the final 2 1/3 IP without incident, and he’s now thrown 8 scoreless innings with 4 BB and 11 Ks to start his pro career. Andrew Moore starts tonight for Everett in Boise against Venezuelan righty Javier Palacios.

Game 88, Angels at Mariners

July 11, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 51 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. CJ Wilson, 7:10pm

The Angels win last night brought them into a tie with Houston for the AL West lead. The Astros recent skid has reshuffled the playoff odds a bit; the projections never saw Houston as a very good team, and has been looking for an excuse to push the Angels back to the top. Well, they’ve got one now. At Fangraphs, the Angels odds of winning the division are about 53%, and at BP, they’re just shy of 51%. The M’s preseason projections – and predicted runs per game – mean their division odds are still at 7% by Fangraphs, while BP’s always been more skeptical, and puts the odds at just over 2%. That’s pretty poor, but the M’s have benefitted from this Astros slump and are just 7.5 games back as we enter play tonight.

The M’s face another left-hander tonight in old foe CJ Wilson. We’ve talked a bit about how the M’s have struggled against *right*-handed pitching this season, which is at least in part a result of Nelson Cruz’s impact on the overall offense. But the M’s have actually fared worse against lefty starters than right-handed starters. Strong performances from Austin Jackson and especially Cruz have been counteracted by the struggles of Robby Cano, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller. Last night, Hector Santiago found the weak spots and strangled the M’s for the second time in a few weeks. Hopefully, Wilson will make a few more mistakes.

Last year, Wilson appeared to be headed towards the end of a solid career. His walk rate spiked, he couldn’t get out right-handers, and only his home park’s HR-suppressing ways kept him from replacement level. Heading into his age-34 season, I thought he’d be a very wealthy 5th starter, with occasional glimpses of his old self against lefty-dominated line-ups. Instead, he’s putting together a solid middle-of-the-rotation kind of year largely because he’s – at least temporarily – been better against righties. There’s not a whole lot he’s doing differently – he’s throwing more change-ups and fewer curves, which makes sense given the damage righties did against his hook. He’s throwing a few more sinkers, but that doesn’t seem like it’s enough to explain anything. Part of it seems like a commitment to throwing strikes, as his walk rate is down and batters are swinging at more pitches this season. But by pitch fx, he’s not actually throwing more balls in the zone – he’s just getting people to chase a few more. Central to that improvement has been his change, which he struggled to control at times last year. In 2014, he threw it for a ball 40% of the time, and got swings on 42% of them. This season, it’s a ball only 28%, while batters swing at it over 51% of the time. Unlike many change-ups, it’s never been a swing-and-miss pitch, and it still gets far fewer whiffs than average, but he’s been remarkably good at getting grounders with it this year. That’s helped his HR rate and his platoon issues.

Oddly for a guy who’s struggled against righties so much, Wilson’s best pitch to lefties and righties alike has been his slider. He struggled with it early in his career, and he’ll hang one every now and again, but for years now, he’s posted great results on the pitch, even as he faces line-ups stuffed with righties. There’s nothing terribly odd about the pitch’s shape or velocity, but it’s worked for him. The same can’t be said for his opponent, whose slider has been hit hard over his career – Iwakuma’s SLG%-against on the slider is .510 for his career, and lefties are slugging *.710* against it. Ryan Divish wrote about Iwakuma’s slider in the Times, and there are some great quotes from Hisashi about why he thinks it’s happening and what he might do about it.

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

I’ve never wanted the mariner layer more than tonight. Iwakuma needs a decent start and the bullpen could use a break.

Welcome to the M’s organization, Chien-Ming Wang. The ex-Yankee star signed a minor league deal with the M’s and is now in the Rainiers’ bullpen, but the plan is for him to move to the rotation after the all-star break. In the meantime, he can help out with a bullpen that’s been a bit unsettled with all of the comings and goings. The Rainiers had a bullpen night yesterday, with RHP Andrew Kittredge starting. In the end, the Reno Aces won it on a walk-off against lefty Edgar Olmos with 2 outs in the 9th. Tonight, Forrest Snow gets the start in homer-friendly Reno.

Jackson lost to Birmingham 8-3, and to save THEIR bullpen, the Generals had IF Luis Caballero pitch the final frames. Julio Morban recently returned from the restricted list and is trying to shake off the rust – he’s still got a sub-.600 OPS, but he did have 3 hits last night. Dylan Unsworth is back in AA tonight to make the start. Before today, his last start for Jackson came back on April 25th.

The Bakersfield Blaze played yet another extra-inning game last night against San Jose – and yet again, the Giants came out with a win. San Jose walked it off in the 12th on a single. A while earlier, the Giants got the tying run in the bottom of the 9th off of Blaze reliever Paul Fry, who’s been very tough this season. Brett Ash was brilliant for the Blaze, throwing 8 innings of one-run ball while striking out 8, but Jason Forjet almost matched him, throwing 7 IP with 7 Ks of his own. Tonight, Eddie Cambpell takes on Blake Perry and the Visalia Rawhide.

Peoria dominated Clinton 9-4 despite two hits and a double each from Austin Cousino and Joe DeCarlo. The delightfully-named Kenny Peoples-Walls homered for the Chiefs, who knocked around L-Kings starter Jefferson Medina. Zack Littell shares the mound with Cardinals prospect Austin Gomber.

Boise beat Everett 8-6, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th. Corey Simpson had 2 hits, and Jordan Cowan doubled for the AquaSox. Lane Ratliff starts tonight for Everett against the Hawks’ Logan Sawyer.

Game 87, Angels at Mariners

July 10, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Mike Montgomery vs. Hector Santiago,7:10pm

Ah, everything feels a bit better after a great King Felix start. The air smells cleaner, the trees look greener somehow, and hey, this soul-and-snowpack destroying heatwave abated in fealty to the King.

The M’s face lefty Hector Santiago, who seems somewhat like a poor man’s CJ Wilson in that he’s a lefty who throws a lot of different breaking balls, and tries to pitch around some serious platoon splits. The M’s faced Santiago in Anaheim on their recent road trip, and you can review what I said about him back then: essentially, Santiago has been remarkably successful from a runs-allowed point of view because he limits BABIP and strands tons of runners. None of that *feels* terribly sustainable, but it’s been happening for a while. Sure, as a lefty without a big fastball, he’s got the feel of a junkballer – but it’s actually his four-seam fastball that makes him who he is. Back in June, I mentioned that his fastball BABIP was better than just about everyone’s – Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Felix, Kershaw – and since then, he’s shut down the M’s over 7 IP and then shut OUT the Rangers for another 7 IP. If he’s a poor man’s CJ Wilson, it’s because he literally has less money than Wilson, not because he’s worse.

Or maybe…you know who else has produced an extremely low BABIP, stranded tons of runners and has been all kinds of successful despite huge K numbers? Mike Montgomery. The difference, if there is one, is that Montgomery doesn’t get by with a magical fastball – a ball that people can’t hit hard despite meh velocity. Montgomery’s successful because of a plus change-up, and thus to the extent he’s got platoon issues, it’s LEFTIES that are going to make him work. Santiago isn’t the kind of comparison that gets people excited, but it’s not awful – and Santiago’s been doing this long enough that it’s not a slam at all. Overall, Montgomery is probably more similar to John Danks, but it’s harder to remember Danks as a great #3 and not as a disastrous contract extension these days.

1: Taylor, SS
2: Gutierrez, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Montero, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, CF
SP: Montgomery

As you can see above, and if you tuned in last night, the M’s prodigal son turned prodigious eater turned intriguing bench bat is back. Jesus Montero, less than a year removed from ice-cream-sandwich-gate, is now platooning at 1B with LoMo. I have to say that Montero’s 2015 is one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. I was sure – 100% positive – that Montero would never play for Seattle again, and I don’t think I was alone in that. I thought Montero had completely missed his chance, and that the bat wouldn’t be enough at 1B. I never thought there’d be so little Montero to discuss. Even after his transformation and the attention he was getting for his “hot start” he was still hitting for too little power and striking out too much. It was a pretty empty .300 average in the PCL. In the last month, though, the man’s been on a tear as Mike Curto described in the blog post I linked yesterday. He’s gone from Yankee hype-job to being vilified for not working hard, to be being vilified for taking PEDs, to *fighting a team employee in the stands of a professional baseball game* after being vilified for not hustling by said employee, to starting at 1B for the Seattle Mariners. I don’t care that so many of the challenges he’s overcome have been, at least in part, self-imposed. He’s overcome them, and that’s worth celebrating. As his ex-teammate John Baker said on Twitter last night, “If you don’t root for Jesus Montero, you’re a terrible person.”

The Reno Aces got back at the Montero-less Rainiers last night, winning 9-5. Stephen Landazuri was handed a 4-0 lead in the first, but couldn’t hold it. Andrew Kittredge takes on D-Backs prospect (is he still a prospect at this point?) Allen Webster.

Jackson lost to Birmingham 5-3. Ketel Marte, rehabbing that broken hand, DH’d for the Generals and went 0-3. Scott DeCecco takes the hill for the Generals today.

San Jose shut out the punchless Bakersfield Blaze 3-0 behind Martin Agosta. Brett Ash starts for Bakersfield opposite Jason Forjet, a fly-balling righty with good control.

Quad Cities beat Clinton 6-2. Chantz Mack and Taylor Zeutenhorst both went 2-3 with a double, but only Zeutenhorst had to come in and pitch the final inning. The OF/UTIL coughed up a 3 run homer. Jefferson Medina shares the mound with Dewin Perez, a Colombian lefty who’s walked 18 in 11+ midwest league innings. Patience, L-Kings.

Everett dominated Boise 7-3, aided by Corey Simpson’s 5th HR. The up-and-down RP Spencer Herrmann had a good game, with 4 Ks in 2 shutout innings. Jose Santiago starts tonight’s contest.

Game 86, Angels at Mariners

July 9, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

King Felix vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day. I think we can all be frank with each other and admit that at this point, the M’s playoff chances are effectively over. Sure, sure, they’re not mathematically zero, and why yes, I do remember what happened in 1995, thank you. But I know the M’s playoff chances are *effectively* zero because the M’s twice handed Mayckol Guaipe the ball in tie games against an important wild card rival. This isn’t about Guaipe, who may become a decent reliever one day, and in any event is back in Tacoma now. It’s about how the M’s played this series against the Tigers, and how they look coming into this series against the Angels. The M’s runs per game is stuck between 3.3-3.5. Sure, Fangraphs thinks the team is much better than that, and forecasts them for 4.23 per game, or a bit better than the Dodgers have scored so far. THAT gets them close to but not over .500. This team needs to absolutely minimize runs allowed, but they don’t *act* like it.

This is all somewhat disappointing, though it’s all quite familiar, too. If we absolutely couldn’t stand a team being out of it in July, we wouldn’t be M’s fans. We need to extract each atom, each util, of joy and meaning we’re entitled to, and probably quite a few more than that. And that’s why tonight’s pitching match-up is so compelling. Felix and the Angels ace, Garrett Richards seemed to be battling it out for the Cy Young last year before Richards got hurt and Felix scuffled a bit late while Corey Kluber ascended to another plane of existence in his final starts. Richards is an anomaly in many ways, but his very hard sinking fastball allowed him to post high GB rates and correspondingly low home run rates, both of which helped him post 4.5 fWAR even though he missed a month or two of the 2014 season. He’s regressed a bit this year, but much of that has to do with a weird 4-game skid earlier in the year – in those 4 games, he threw 19 1/3 IP and gave up 19 runs on 9 walks and only 12 Ks. It was “capped” by a disaster in the Bronx in which he couldn’t get out of the first inning, similar to Felix’s….let’s not even talk about that. Since then, though, Richards seems to have recovered; he’s thrown 15 2/3 IP over his last two starts, with 12 Ks but only 2 walks and 3 runs allowed.

If you pull up Richards’ card at BrooksBaseball, you see that while his fastball’s extremely, er, fast, it doesn’t have much in the way of movement. It has essentially zero horizontal movement at all – some years it moves an inch gloveside (like this year), in others, it moves and inch armside. The vertical movement is much lower than you’d expect given the speed and horizontal movement. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t throw as hard, but gets similar horizontal movement on his four-seam fastball, but the thing has absolutely elite rise, or vertical movement. Then there’s Richards’ breaking balls – here, we DO see a lot of movement. Richards’ curve (which, admittedly, he doesn’t throw very much) is faster than most curves, but is creeping close to 3 standard deviations more “drop” than other curves. Same deal with the slider – it’s thrown at 88mph, but has negative vertical movement, something you typically see only with curveballs.

What’s going on here is kind of interesting, and it’s time for another physics lesson from Dr. Alan Nathan. Nathan’s got a great (free) piece at Baseball Prospectus discussing the two types of spin that each pitcher imparts on the ball. There’s what he calls “gyro” spin in which the spin axis is parallel to the direction of movement; he compares this to a spiral in football. You throw a spiral so that the ball doesn’t deviate from its path, and the same is true with this kind of spin in a baseball – gyro spin DOES NOT create “movement.” Only transverse spin does that. As you can probably guess, transverse spin’s axis is perpendicular to the direction of movement, and causes a ball to deviate from a hypothetical straight-line, no-spin path. When you see “spin” readings from pitch fx, you’re seeing *only* the transverse spin – it’s imputed from the movement of the ball, so by definition, the system is calculating only that spin that causes movement. Trackman, though, calculates spin directly, and thus is picking up both transverse and gyro/bullet spin. Nathan used Trackman data to come to graph the different spin components of various pitch types. *In general* the conclusion is that fastballs typically have more transverse spin, while breaking balls have more gyro spin. That is, from a physics point of view, breaking balls are those pitches that are thrown with spin that doesn’t cause the ball to break. Makes sense….wait, what?

The best way to think about it is with a rising four-seamer, like Kershaw’s. Fastballs have so much “break” according to pitch fx because they’re thrown with a lot of backspin, and that means that they don’t fall as quickly as they would without spin. They’re scaled-down version of golf drives where backspin and magnus force actually do cause the ball to rise before gravity takes over and pulls the ball down again. A baseball with pure backspin – no sidespin mixed in – the direction of the spin’s axis is perfectly perpendicular to its path. Essentially all of that spin is “used” to create movement – in this case, rise. And that’s why you typically see four-seam fastballs have 9-10-11″ of vertical movement while a slider that looks to have plenty of drop will often come in near zero. According to pitch fx, that hypothetical slider had very, very little spin. We know that it was spinning like mad, but the point is that it had the wrong kind of spin to create rise or armside run. That’s fine, of course. To the batter, it appears to break a ton, and that’s all that matters – what counts is that it do something noticeably different than the pitcher’s OTHER offerings, and that’s what breaking balls do.

So we’ve had a lengthy digression and precious little about Garrett Richards. Ok, sorry. Richards is fascinating in that he’s inverted the rule of thumb we just learned. Richards throws fairly over the top, and throws 96-98mph, presumably imparting tons and tons of spin on the ball, but you look at the movement his four-seamer gets and it’s simply not there. Not in the horizontal direction, sure, but he gets suspiciously little rise. He’s either actually, maybe consciously throwing the ball with much less spin than you’d think, or his grip causes that spin to fall more along the line between the rubber and home plate. Meanwhile, his breaking balls have tons of transverse spin. It’s his CURVE that has more “spin” than his fastball. That’s really, really strange, and it might help explain Richards’ well above average GB rates – or at least, offers some bonus explanatory power above and beyond the raw movement numbers.

Picture time. Clayton Kershaw and Garrett Richards’ curves both have similar vertical movement. Take a look at a graph of the spin rate and spin axis of a recent start for both Kershaw and Richards. Kershaw’s curve has some spin to it, but by and large, he’s a perfect example of the principle Nathan explained:
Here’s Kershaw:

Kershaw’s spin

And here’s Garrett Richards in his last start against the M’s. Note the blob of fastballs in the middle of the graph, while his curveballs are grouped in the top left corner:

Richards’ spin

There are a few guys who get a ton of “useful” spin on their breaking balls – many are listed in that AFL trackman spin teaser article at BA. Then-M’s pitcher Brandon Maurer had a very Richards-like curve, and you see Marcus Stroman near the top of the list for slider spin. And if you look at them in pitch fx, the numbers are different, but they still show better-than-average spin. But those guys, especially Stroman, still show *more* spin and movement on their fastballs. Some pitchers just put a ton of spin on the baseball, and this shows up with every pitch they throw. Others, like Kendall Graveman for example, throw the ball with less spin – but again, that lack of spin persists across all of their pitch types. Richards is the rare guy who combines Stroman-esque slider spin with a 96mph, four-seam fastball that looks like a Kendall Graveman sinker thrown at 90mph.

1: LoMo, 1B
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smith, LF
6: Ackley, CF
7: Trumbo, RF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: El Cartelua

Keep the ball down, Felix. That’s not the worst defensive OF I’ve seen the M’s roll out, but that’s…suspect.

Tacoma had to wait through a 2-hour weather delay in Reno, but at least they took their frustrations out on the Aces. Jesus Montero had two triples and his 15th HR, and Jordan Pries pitched an effective 6 1/3IP. The win brought the Rainiers to 44-43, the first time they’ve been above .500 since the first week of the season. There’s a lot of talk about bringing Montero up, which Mike Curto discusses at his blog. Today, Stephen Landazuri takes on Aces righty Gabriel Arias.

Jackson doubled up Mississippi 10-5 behind a barrage of doubles, including one by DJ Peterson. The Generals plated 7 in the first inning despite losing their hottest hitter, 1B Jordy Lara, to the Pan-Am Games. Today, James Gilheeney takes the mound against the M-Braves’ Frankie Montas.

Bakersfield’s struggling to score without THEIR hottest hitter, too. OF Tyler O’Neill’s representing Canada at the Pan-Am games in Toronto, and that leaves a sizable hole in the Blaze line-up – as we saw last night in a 14-inning 2-1 loss to San Jose. Tyler Pike gave up 1 run in 5 2/3 (with 6 Ks), but the Blaze couldn’t touch Ray Black’s 100mph FB, and despite plating a run in the 8th, they were helpless against the Giants’ relievers, including Jake Smith, who’s now struck out 75 in 57 1/3 innings. Kyle Schepel took the loss, though he and Paul Fry were excellent for a combined 6 innings. The Blaze staff K’d 18 Giants, but Bakersfield’s compiled a team .615 OPS, and that’s WITH O’Neill. Ugly. Dylan Unsworth starts tonight’s game against San Jose’s Martin Agosta, who played for San Jose last year after a very promising 2013 only to fall apart mechanically – he went on the DL and headed to extended spring training to get right. The K’s are back, but he’s been incredibly hittable (and homer prone) this season.

Clinton beat Quad Cities 3-2 in extras on a walk-off Austin Cousino double. Interestingly, the winning run scored off of the Bandits’ Eric Peterson, the twin brother of Clinton pitcher Pat Peterson. Lukas Schiraldi starts for Clinton, and he’ll share the mound with Francis Martes of Quad Cities. In a story that’s way too pat and confirming of current saber-thought but which is remarkable all the same, Martes was a so-so performer in the Marlins’ complex league team when he was traded to the Astros as a throw-in in the Jarred Cosart for Jake Marisnick/Colin Moran deal. Almost immediately, he started pitching well, and in 41 IP this year, his ERA is still below 1. ERA sucks, and his peripherals aren’t great, but it’s been an encouraging year for the 19 year old.

Everett beat the Hillsboro Hops 4-3. Utility man Logan Taylor and OF Corey Simpson each had 2 hits, with Simpson getting 3 RBIs for his trouble. Luiz Gohara gave up just 1 run in 4 IP, but also walked 4. ASU product Darin Gillies starts tonight.

Game 85, Tigers at Mariners

July 8, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

JA Happ vs. Anibal Sanchez, 12:40pm

It’s getaway day, and the deciding game of this three game series. The first two games featured 12 home runs in what’s supposed to be a HR-suppressing park. Today, the M’s face a starter in Anibal Sanchez who’s seen his HR rate spike this season, and the M’s send out a lefty who’s got his HR rate under 1 per 9 innings for the first time ever.

Anibal Sanchez is an interesting pitcher. His motion’s over the top, and the ball’s released from quite near the center line. He throws a fastball that was around 94 when he had his career year in 2013, but is down to 92-93 now, a slider and a great change-up. His fastball is arrow-straight, with between 0-2 inches of horizontal movement, but a lot of vertical rise. These mechanics and these pitches seem designed to minimize platoon splits, and that’s exactly what we see. Over his career, Sanchez has slightly reversed platoon splits, and he’s held lefties under a .300 wOBA every year since 2011. His fastball’s good against lefties, but his main weapon is a plus change-up that he throws at 86; lefties have come up empty on 37% of their swings on the pitch, and that’s crept upwards over time.

Interestingly, he throws a fair number of sliders to lefties as well as righties. It functions like a cutter in many ways – it’s pretty hard at 87mph, and it has less gloveside movement than a typical slider. If you squint a little and give your author a bit of license, it’s almost like a splitter. Maybe that’s why it’s *lefties* who’ve really struggled with it, swinging and missing twice as much as righties. Righties have had the advantage on Sanchez’s four-seam fastball as well. He’s got a sinker that’s been sporadically effective against them, but he’s throwing that less often now.

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

The Rainiers held on to beat division-leading Fresno last night 8-7, cutting their deficit to 6 games. Jesus Montero was the star with 3 hits including 2 triples, which is one of those sentences I never thought I’d ever type. Jordan Pries takes the mound as Tacoma heads to Reno to take on the Aces tonight.

Moises Hernandez and Victor Mateo were locked in a pitcher’s duel into the 6th last night when the wheels fell off for Felix’s brother. A 6 run 6th blew the game open, and it ended 9-1. Jordy Lara and Tyler Smith doubled, but the offense couldn’t drive the ball off Mateo who gave up just 3 hits in 6 innings despite not striking anyone out. Misael Siverio starts tonight against Mississippi’s Stephen Janas, a 6th round pick in 2013 who’ll be making his 2nd AA start. In 6 starts in the Carolina League, Janas was 5-0 and gave up just 2 runs in 37 innings. He then went 5 2/3 scoreless in his AA debut.

San Jose jumped on Dan Altavilla, knocking him out in the 4th, and cruised to a 9-4 win. The Blaze offense struck out 13 times and had just one extra-base hit, a double from SS Rayder Ascanio. The snake charmer Tyler Pike starts for Bakersfield tonight against Ray Black of San Jose. Black was a 7th round pick out of Pitt back in 2011, but a college injury proved to be far more serious than anyone expected, and Black wasn’t able to pitch in games until 2014. The upside was that when he came back, he was throwing 100mph. The Giants sent him to the Sally league and in 31 1/3 IP, he struck out 64, which is absolutely remarkable despite any age-relative-to-league quibbles. The walks have crept up this year, but he’s still doing reasonably well, and it looks like the Giants are giving him a shot at starting – though that probably means he’ll go 3 innings at most today.

Clinton and Quad Cities split a double-header yesterday, with the Bandits taking game one 1-0 and the L-Kings winning the nightcap 6-1. Tyler Herb pitched well, and Jarrett Brown continued his odd run of success as a double-header fill-in starter while scuffling out of the bullpen on non-DH days.

Everett beat Hillsboro 7-4 to snap their losing skid. Alex Jackson had 2 hits and started in CF, while Corey Simpson hit his 4th HR. Andrew Moore threw 3 innings, giving up 1 run and striking out 5. The 2015 draft pick out of Oregon State has now thrown 11 innings, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits while walking *none* and striking out 16. That’s as good a debut as anyone could’ve expected. Luiz Gohara starts tonight for Everett.

Game 84, Tigers at Mariners

July 7, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 31 Comments 

Taijuan Walker vs. Kyle Ryan, 7:10pm

Many years ago, the M’s had a farm system that was short on impact talent, but had a number of more-or-less MLB-ready pitchers on hand in the high minors. There was very little upside in the group, but they could go out and not embarrass the club, and who knows, maybe they’d compensate for poor velocity with experience and guile once they made the adjustments to the big leagues? For years, I’d argue with Dave Cameron in the comments here that Cesar Jimenez or Bobby Livingston or Travis Blackley or Ryan Feierabend should get a legitimate shot. We agreed we didn’t like freezing out these guys by signing the likes of Carlos Silva to long-term deals, but we differed in our assessment of how lefties with 87mph fastballs and slurvy sliders transition from the high minors to the bigs.

Dave’s pessimistic take seems pretty accurate, though Feierabend lives on in the minors. Livingston got hurt after playing for Cincinnati, and Blackley had that one improbable good year with Oakland, but by and large, this group couldn’t quite overcome their lack of pure stuff. I’ve often thought about how odd it was that the M’s had so many players of the same type at the same level at more-or-less the same time. Blackley, Livingston and Jimenez all played for the Rainiers in 2006, and Feierabend came up in 2007. Sure, they weren’t the ONLY players in the system. Clint Nageotte was different, and the offense had a lot of high-ceiling promise in Adam Jones and Jeff Clement, but the M’s clearly saw this template – the high-80s lefty, especially change-up guys – as undervalued, and they practically horded them. I thought about that era of the M’s a lot as I was looking into Kyle Ryan’s skillset. The Tigers started the year with lefty Kyle Lobstein, a one-time Rule 5 guy out of the Rays org, in their rotation. The bespectacled Lobstein’s a lefty with an 87mph fastball who strikes almost no one out, but, at his best, is a perfectly respectable 5th starter thanks to a good ground-ball rate and general pitching intelligence (low HR rate, good with men on, etc.). Anyway, Lobstein’s shoulder started barking in May, but the Tigers had a facsimile in AAA in lefty Blaine Hardy. Hardy’s the fireballer of the group with an average FB of around 89-90, but he’s been so effective in relief that the Tigers decided to keep him in that role, and call up *yet another facsimile* in Kyle Ryan.

Ryan throws a four-seamer and sinker at 88-89, a cutter at 85 and then a slider and change-up that he’ll go to occasionally. Like Lobstein, Ryan is not a strikeout pitcher; his K% was 15% or lower in the *minors* and he’s had control issues off and on since coming up. Lobstein and Hardy don’t have much to throw at right-handers, but they’re able to control lefties. Ryan never had much in the way of platoon splits, and while that’s often a plus, it’s sometimes a sign you don’t have a good breaking ball. Ryan’s cutter’s a decent pitch, but despite it, a slider and a freakish release point, lefties haven’t been bothered by Ryan at all. Ryan releases the ball about a foot further towards 1st base than Charlie Furbush does – the only guy I can think of in that 3-4′ from the center of the plate release point was Carter Capps when he played for Seattle. Given the angle and the arsenal, it looks like a good match-up for the M’s righties, though this isn’t a game where Trent Jewett should shuffle everything to minimize lefty plate appearances. This is Detroit’s Ryan Feierabend, or their Cesar Jimenez after their Feierabend got hurt. To my great surprise, big league teams never seemed to mind facing our 87mph lefties. The problem is, I won’t be surprised about any outcome in this game. If they hit 3 HRs, well yeah, of course. If they get 4 hits in another depressing 3-1 loss, well yeah, of course.

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

You…you tried to minimize lefty PAs, didn’t you? Ah well. If Taylor’s going to be on the team, he should probably play now and again, but the strange insistence that they are NOT platooning Taylor and Miller looks harder to defend when you see this. If you’re doing it, defend it – there’s a case to be made. Otherwise, maybe it’s time to stop making definitive statements about the shortstop position only to self-sabotage them a few days later. Just more weirdness in a weird year.

As bad as this offense has been, I’m enjoying the fact that Taijuan Walker’s quickly becoming appointment television. The right-hander’s quick adjustments and newfound command have been stunning, and it’s amazing both how different and how similar he is to the guy who looked absolutely lost in May.

Tacoma lost to the Fresno Grizzlies 8-2 after Forrest Snow had his worst start in quite a while, and Andrew Kittredge gave up an 0-2 grand slam to catcher Max Stassi. Roenis Elias starts tonight for Tacoma for the first time since his recent demotion. He’ll take on Fresno sinkerballer Mike Hauschild.

Jackson edged Mississippi 2-1 thanks to 6 innings of 1-hit, shutout ball from Edwin Diaz. The Puerto Rican struck out 7 and walked only 1. Jordy Lara was the hitting star once again with a 3-4 night. His .731 OPS this year is bad for a corner guy, and disappointing considering his huge year in High Desert last season, but in this org this year, it looks downright powerful. Moises Hernandez starts for Jackson today.

Bakersfield beat Stockton 4-1 as Eddie Campbell and Will Mathis both went three scoreless innings. Dan Altavilla faces off with Giants prospect Keury Mella tonight as the Blaze head to San Jose.

Clinton was rained out in Quad Cities yesterday; they’ll make that one up today. Tyler Herb starts Game 1 of the double header while Jarrett Brown takes the mound in Game 2.

Hillsboro held on for a 2-1 win over Everett. Lane Ratliff gave up 1 run but took the hard-luck loss as Hops starter Cody Reed struck out 10 in 6 shutout IP. LF Corey Simpson had a golden sombrero on the night. The two teams face off again tonight with Anthony Misiewicz starting for the AquaSox.

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