Game 109, Mariners at Rangers

August 2, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Andrew Cashner, 5:05pm

It wasn’t easy, but the M’s got a win they absolutely needed to have last night. Nick Martinez was predictably bad, but the M’s hurlers weren’t great, either. The back of the M’s bullpen – which has been remarkable over the past month – calmly dismissed the Rangers, ending any hope of a comeback, though.

There’s been some discussion on twitter about the true impact of deadline deals involving relievers. Because of chaining, does getting an elite reliever end up adding *more* production than his WAR would suggest, because you essentially knock each existing reliever back a place (8th inning guy to 7th, 7th to 6th or specialist role, etc.) with the end result being that you replace your *worst* reliever with a great one. Plausible, but it seems to me that what you really get is a fight over a limited number of very high leverage situations, and if the gap between the newcomer and your existing closer/set-up man isn’t huge, then I’m not sure the overall impact is all that big. When David Phelps was acquired, I noted that he wasn’t projected to be all that much more effective than Emilio Pagan, and Pagan’s absolutely on fire right now. But there’s another consideration: if you’re a team that, for whatever reason, has a LOT of high leverage situations, then you can still get a pretty big boost by bringing in a new set-up pitcher. The M’s have seen this the past few days, where they’ve been able to stagger Phelps and Nick Vincent, hopefully keeping both fresher/more effective than they’d otherwise be. The M’s rotation (outside of Paxton) may give up some runs, and the M’s offense is very capable of getting them back into games, so it’s possible that the M’s have enough situations where this surplus of set-up men is actually an effective strategy.

Today’s starting pitchers are among the league leaders in an odd stat: Ariel Miranda currently has a FIP 0.84 runs higher than his ERA; that gap ranks 10th in baseball. There’s no big mystery about why: Miranda’s yielding an absurd .227 BABIP, tied for 2nd best in MLB, but he’s also allowing buckets of home runs. FIP ignores the former, and is greatly alarmed by the latter, and you get this huge gap in actual versus predicted runs allowed. Cashner’s a different beast, but if he qualified, he’d rank even higher than Miranda, with a FIP over a full run higher than his ERA. The issue with Cashner isn’t HRs – Cashner’s somehow managing to keep the ball in the park in Arlington – but rather a dreadful K:BB ratio. His K-BB% is under 2, which puts him squarely in the “replacement level” camp by FIP, but a .207 BABIP with men on base means his ERA doesn’t look replacement level at all.

As I mentioned when the M’s saw him before, he’s a completely different pitcher to the 97-98 MPH guy he was several years ago in San Diego. He’s now around 92 with his sinker and four-seam, and complementing them with a change, cutter, and a rare curve. Those secondaries aren’t swing-and-miss pitches (refer again to his K rate), but they help him get ground balls, which is one reason he’s able to limit HRs. While his platoon splits don’t look too out of whack, lefties should enjoy a pretty big advantage. For one, his K-BB% is actually *negative* against lefties, and he’s got huge batted ball splits: righties pound the ball into the ground, while lefties are able to elevate it.

1: Dyson, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Martin, RF
8: Heredia, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Miranda

The M’s are generally always active on the minor league free agent front, and today’s no exception, as they’ve signed – re-signed, actually – SP Bryan Evans, who’ll start today for Arkansas opposite Royals prospect Josh Staumont. The extravagantly bearded Evans pitched briefly for Jackson last year, and has pitched in just about every Caribbean league as well. He was drafted way back in 2008. Good luck, Bryan!

Reggie McClain starts for Modesto, looking to end a loooong slump he’s been mired in. After posting sub 3 ERAs in the early going, he’s been lit up since mid-June or so. Is any of this related to his All-Star game hijinks or his chicken chasing championship? I can’t rule it out, dear reader. His ERA is 8.78 since the All-Star break.

Andrew Moore lost a pitcher’s duel to OKC yesterday 3-1 despite a HR from Taylor Motter. Moore yielded 1 HR in his 4 IP of work.

Modesto lost a heartbreaker to Rancho Cucamonga 2-1 in 12 IP, wasting a brilliant start from Robert Dugger, who went 7 shutout with 9 strikeouts. Eric Filia went 4-5 for the Nuts.

Nick Neidert was cruising through 5 for Arkansas when errors, a few bad pitches, and poor relief led to an 8 run inning for NW Arkansas and an eventual 9-8 win. Neidert K’d 4 in 5 1/3 IP, but gave up 5 runs (only 1 earned).

Cedar Rapids pulled off a remarkable extra-inning win over Clinton by doing one of the toughest things in the low-minors: putting the ball in play off of JP Sears. A hit and then an error put runners on 1st/3rd with no out, and then after a strikeout, the Kernels won the game on a walk-off passed ball. Sigh. Sears still had 3 K’s in 1 1/3 IP.

Filia’s 4 hits was the batting line of the day, and Dugger’s 9 K performance wins pitching line of the night.

Game 108, Mariners at Rangers

August 1, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Nick Martinez, 5:05pm

Thanks to the trade deadline, we’ve got a very different match-up today than when the pitching probables initially came out. This was supposed to be Yu Darvish for Texas, but he’s off to Los Angeles in a fascinating trade. And instead of Andrew Moore, the M’s turn, again, to Erasmo Ramirez. Ramirez has been working out of the pen most of the year, and has been limited to about 60 pitches by the Rays. Even in his starts for them, he’s gone 3-4 IP at the most. The M’s may give him a bit more rope – 75-80 seems to be the outer limit according to this story from Bob Dutton – but not a ton more. If he’s going to start long term, he’ll gradually build his arm strength to get up to 90-100 pitches.

Nick Martinez has been in AAA for most of the month, and was recalled for this start once the rotation spot opened up. A righty, he’s got a four-seam fastball at about 93, a cutter that’s a decent ground ball pitch, a change-up and a curve. The repertoire is varied, diverse, perfectly reasonable from a movement/velocity standpoint…and wholly inadequate. In his first few years, a low K rate and high-ish walk rate was partially overcome by a low BABIP and not-bad-not-great HR-avoidance. But as HRs picked up around the league, Martinez was pretty vulnerable: not enough bat-missing ability to avoid balls in play, and not enough raw stuff to induce poor contact or tons of ground balls. As a result, he’s been a classic AAAA guy, riding the shuttle between Arlington and Round Rock – he’s perfectly decent rotation depth at AAA, but the HRs and low Ks are tough to play in the big leagues.

A move to the pen might not be in the offing, as the lack of stuff means he doesn’t hold promise as a righty specialist. He’s got a career FIP of 5.49 vs. lefties, but it’s 5.17 against righties. In short, this is a mismatch on paper, even given Erasmo’s own struggles this year as a starter (he’s already lost to the Rangers in that capacity). These are the kinds of games the M’s absolutely need to win as the prepare to face better teams and better starters as the road trip winds on. Anything can happen, and any minor league call-up can have a career day, the spirit of Doug Waechter laughs at the overconfident, etc. but the M’s need to win this game. The M’s playoff odds stand at 21.9% on Fangraphs and 27.6% on BP. This game matters.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Dyson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Martin, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Espinosa, SS
SP: ERASMOOOOOOO

The Rainiers lost to Dodger prospect Walker Beuhler last night 3-1, despite Dan Vogelbach’s 14th HR. Mike Curto reports Beuhler sat 96-99 through 5 innings, which…wow. Obviously, the Dodgers didn’t need to move him to get Darvish – who’s only a rental for 2017. Instead, they gave up bowling-ball shaped 2B Willie Calhoun, who sounds like an absolutely fascinating prospect.

Batting line of the night goes to rehabbing utility man Shawn O’Malley, who went 4-4 with a HR. Kyle Lewis went 2-4 with a HR for Modesto as well. Chase de Jong was solid through 7 for Tacoma, but we’ll give the pitching line of the night to 17-year old Juan Mercedes down in the Dominican Summer League who one-hit the Orioles through 6, walking none and striking out 6.

Nick Neidert tries to get on track in AA as he starts against hated rival NW Arkansas, and suddenly on-the-radar guy Robert Dugger starts for Modesto. Ljay Newsome and Andrew Moore round out the probables.

Game 107: Mariners at Rangers – Catching Up on the Deadline + Gratuitous Beltre Appreciation

July 31, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

King Felix vs. Cole Hamels, 5:05pm

Happy Felix Day! Take an extra well-deserved sigh of relief/pint of beer as baseball’s trade deadline has now passed, too. The M’s, to no one’s surprise, did not land Sonny Gray. Instead, the erstwhile Athletics ace will head to the Bronx in exchange for three highly regarded but red-flag-laden prospects. The Rangers just traded Yu Darvish today, and sent C Jonathan Lucroy and RP Jeremy Jeffress out for prospects last night, as they are clearly playing for the future and not 2017. Both the Yankees and Red Sox ended up getting pitching help, which is relevant to the M’s, who’ll have to pass whichever of the two doesn’t win the AL East, and the Astros got creative in patching an emergent black hole in their bullpen by adding Francisco Liriano. Still, the story of this series for many M’s fans isn’t Texas’ role as spoiler, but rather celebrating Rangers 3B Adrian Beltre, who notched his 3,000th MLB hit yesterday, becoming the first Dominican-born player to do so.

Beltre’s tenure in Seattle was an odd one, as Safeco’s dimensions crippled his power production, but he became something of a fan favorite by being, well, himself. He was the perfect antithesis for Ichiro’s effortless cool. He was the animated, funny, almost goofy partner for Felix while Ichiro calmly made play after play and got hit after hit without displaying emotion of any kind. Both Beltre and Ichiro attracted the irrational kind of hate from fans who are frustrated at a team’s lack of progress and aim their brickbats on players who are playing well, as opposed to those who aren’t. At the same time, Beltre was always set up to fail, as he was one of the biggest free agent signings in M’s history (given his age, you can make the case it was a bigger ‘get’ than Robinson Cano) for a franchise that had no idea how to build a winning team. That wasn’t Beltre’s fault, of course, but when he put up a .303 OBP in his first year, many blamed him anyway. Beltre was, by far, the best defensive third baseman the M’s have ever had, which is no slight to the Gold glove winning Kyle Seager. He’s clearly one of the top defensive 3Bs of his generation, and he overlapped with some all-timers, including Scott Rolen. Given the value of his defense, he’s tailor-made to be underappreciated (again with the Ichiro parallels), and that’s what he’s been. The 3,000 hit plateau isn’t intrinsically magical; it doesn’t make him a hall of famer (in my book, he was an inner-circle guy already), but it’s a tidy bow on a remarkable career, and one that’s remarkably back-loaded in terms of performance. When he left Seattle, he seemed destined to be a Kenny Lofton player – a true great who gets very little recognition for it, or worse, a guy who’s unfairly categorized as a one-season wonder. Instead, he went out and built an unassailable hall of fame resume. I don’t like the Rangers, but I’ll be cheering for Adrian Beltre today. And most days, if I’m honest.

The M’s made a series of personnel moves while I was gallivanting around Mt. Rainier yesterday. After taking a Jacob DeGrom fastball to the face, Mitch Haniger returns to the DL, and, as you saw yesterday, has been replaced by Leonys Martin. To get Martin a 40-man spot again, the M’s DFA’d their 2013 first round pick and one-time top prospect, DJ Peterson. Peterson’s production tailed off upon promotion to AA back in 2014, and then utterly collapsed in 2015, a year that’s looking more and more important in M’s history. Despite taking the highest-floor bat at worst and best college bat, period at best in 2013 and then the consensus best high-school bat in 2014, the M’s watched them flail miserably in 2014 and could never really figure out why, or help them out of it. The fact that Alex Jackson immediately started hitting this year for the Braves system may just be a coincidence, but while Peterson’s earned this DFA with 2.5 years of marginal play (with the possible exception of early 2016 in Jackson), I won’t be shocked at all if he starts hitting again somewhere else. Do you blame the Zduriencik era PD group who supervised a collective faceplant by the M’s top prospects? Is it the new regime, who saw some improvements but weren’t able to overhaul Peterson/Jackson last year? What then to make of Tyler O’Neill, who developed nicely under both groups? How much blame to the players themselves need to shoulder here?

However you apportion the blame out, that 2015 season seems pretty pivotal in hindsight. Peterson’s flameout meant that the M’s didn’t have high-minors depth to turn to in their playoff run in 2016, and the lack of development from Jackson and Luiz Gohara meant that their value in trade wasn’t all that high; they’d be moved in the offseason instead. Daniel Missaki got hurt, then shipped to Milwaukee in a deal for Adam Lind that presumably neither fanbase looks back on fondly. Austin Wilson didn’t hit. Ryan Yarbrough took a step back, Gabby Guerrero was so-so and then traded, and all of this was preceded in March by the death of Victor Sanchez.

The M’s DFA’d SS Tyler Smith, who’s been picked up by Texas, and they’ve recalled RP Casey Lawrence from Tacoma. To presumably add depth in the Rainiers’ pen, the M’s have also picked up ex-UW player and Everett native Aaron West. West had been with Fresno in the Houston system before being released a few weeks ago. This may shock you, but he’s a command/control righty who’s put up absurdly low walk rates in the minors working out of the bullpen. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who’s managed the rare feat of keeping the ball in the park, too, so his fangraphs page scratches many/most of Jerry Dipoto’s personal itches. And like many such pitchers, a lack of an outpitch has made him somewhat hittable in the PCL, as he’s yielded 72 hits in 43 2/3 IP. Again, the problem for the M’s is that their competitors have all made sizable upgrades, as New York now has Sonny Gray, and the Red Sox improved their bullpen by picking up Addison Reed from the Mets. The Astros and Indians got bullpen help too, making them a bit more formidable for whoever manages to win the Wild Card game. As good as they are, and as well as they’ve played against Boston/New York (thank you Big Maple!), the M’s are still stuck right around .500. A few weeks ago, that was enough, but since then, the Royals essentially haven’t lost, the Yankees won so much they took over the AL East lead, and even the Rays made some pretty big additions. The M’s are a talented, exciting team, who now need to string some wins together. The August schedule has them on the road nearly the entire month. That unfortunate, but it can’t be an excuse. The M’s need to go on a run, particularly as they’ll face their big wild card rivals in Kansas City and Tampa this month.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Heredia, CF
8: Martin, RF
9: Ruiz, C
SP: KING FELIX

With Peterson’s DFA, LookoutLanding’s Ben Thoen noted:

Batting line of the night in the system goes to Everett 1B Onil Pena who hit his 6th homer and went 2 for 3 with 2 walks in a loss to Spokane. Gareth Morgan also homered and went 2-3. Slim pickings for pitching lines, but we’ll go with Oliver Jaskie of Everett, who really needed a good outing, and put up 3 hitless innings with 5 Ks.

Today’s match-ups are headlined by the Rainiers in Oklahoma City, where ex-Dodgers prospect Chase de Jong faces off with Dodgers current #1 pitching prospect Walker Beuhler, who’ll be making his 3rd AAA start. Beuhler and de Jong never played together in the Dodgers system, as both moved up fairly quickly, and Beuhler’s a 2015 draft pick.

Loved this quote from Jerry Dipoto in this Bob Dutton story regarding the Marco Gonzales trade:

“Clearly, we like Marco Gonzales better than the mainstream media,” Dipoto said, “but the mainstream media hasn’t been familiar with Marco Gonzales for a year-and-a-half. “You know what happens? Sometimes pitchers have Tommy John (surgery), and sometimes they come back and they’re good.”

Logan Davis’ tweet alerted me to the quote, and like him, I think the candor here is great, especially after the famously tight-lipped Zduriencik regime. But I’d point out that when you believe you have an information advantage, something few know, that should obviate the need for an overpay. The M’s and Cards have so-so farm systems, and the M’s sent their #2 prospect for the Cards’ #15-16, and the reasoning here seems to be that he’s better than people think after major arm surgery. He’s defending the deal, as he should, and he’s pointing to a specific reason Gonzales may be undervalued right now by the like of, well, me, and that’s great! I’m not entirely convinced, but this is way more detail and specificity than I’m used to getting from quotes like this. Kudos to Dipoto, and also to Dutton.

Game 104, Mets at Mariners: M’s Pitchers and the Limits of Low BABIP

July 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Rafael Montero, 7:10pm

The M’s start a rare series against the Mets today, and we’ve got an interesting match-up between two pitchers who flew way under the radar before making it to the majors. Miranda signed a minor league deal with Baltimore when he was 25. Despite his close-to-the-majors status, he was passed over in Orioles prospect lists, which took some doing. Pitchers ranked ahead of him by BP included such luminaries as David Hess and Gray Fenter. Rafael Montero signed with the Mets in 2011 as a teenager in the Dominican; so far, so normal, but Montero didn’t sign until he was past 19. In a place where elite talent is working out deals at 15 before officially signing them at 16, a guy getting all the way to 19 is not a sign of a future major leaguer.

Montero immediately garnered attention for some absurdly low walk rates; his walks-per-9 started with a 1 in most of his years in the minors, but he wasn’t *just* about avoiding walks. He was an above-average strikeout pitcher as well. He was never going to be a Noah Syndergaard, but he wasn’t Yusmeiro Petit, either (to sabermetric fans of a certain age, the scouting/stats wars surrounding Petit will be very familiar). Montero throws 93-94, occasionally 95. He’s got a pretty good change-up and a slider as well. So if he’s a starter with above average velo and brilliant control, why wasn’t he a big prospect? It’s the same question I have about Miranda. Sure, neither of them are incredible, but they seem like the kind of pitchers that scouts usually like. To be fair, BA had Montero as the #3 Mets prospect once, but dropped him to 8th the next year (and he dropped out of BP’s top 10 altogether). A big part of it is that, despite control of a varied arsenal, neither guy had a standout weapon, a vaunted putaway pitch.

I’d argue Montero’s change-up is pretty close, as is Miranda’s split-change. Both pitches are difficult to square up and allow them to post decent strikeout numbers while keeping opposite-handed batters off balance. Despite their velocity, neither guy’s fastball is all that special, and in fact, it’s their fastballs that give rise to their shared HR problem. Miranda in particular seems to want to induce elevated contact – something that the M’s have prized this year. It’s working; like a Cuban Andrew Moore, Miranda’s GB% is in the low 30s, and that’s helped keep his BABIP in absurdly-low territory. That’s great! But when you give up as many HRs as he does, that kind of caps how far you can go with that BABIP.

Miranda is, in that sense, a microcosm of the M’s pitching staff. As I mentioned way back in April, the M’s clear plan was to get a bunch of pitchers who wouldn’t walk many and who’d give up fly balls. The trade for Jarrod Dyson was critical to this; by getting fly ball pitchers and assembling an all-world defensive outfield, they’d run really low BABIPs and allow their staff to out-pitch what even the M’s assumed would be a fair-to-middling FIP. I think there’s a critical assumption underlying all of this: that Safeco would help keep fly balls in play for Dyson to run under. Unlike that post in April, I have to say that every element of their plan has worked, and worked beautifully. The only problem is that assumption the whole thing rested on.

Since April, the M’s team defense has been on a rapid rise, and their outfield defense in particular has been better than advertised. Back when the M’s acquired Dyson, I worried that there might not be enough chances for a great OF to convert into outs; given that most fly balls are routine, it’s really only the marginal ones that can add or subtract from average. Unless the M’s really amped up the number of chances, they’d have a great OF without opportunities to demonstrate their skill. Well, I was wrong. The M’s lead baseball – comfortably – in the number of balls their OF has had to field. They’re neck and neck with Boston in UZR, and DRS. By defensive efficiency and BABIP-allowed they rank #1, too. The key is that they lead baseball in fly ball percentage. Sure, losing Felix and Iwakuma helped the M’s push up the rankings there, though of course if Drew Smyly’d been healthy, then maybe they would’ve been even higher. This has been the plan, and it helps make sense of some of the minor trades and free agent pick-ups we’ve seen from Dipoto and crew.

So with the best BABIP in the game, the M’s are probably giving up far fewer runs than their FIP, right? Right! But they’re still giving up waaaaay too many runs. The M’s HR/9 is 1.50, third-worst in the game, and the primary driver of a FIP that’s inching close to replacement level. They allow nearly 4.8 runs per game, and that’s simply hard to do when you have a defense playing at this level. The M’s had an elite defensive efficiency not that long ago. It was 2014, and a great outfield anchored by…uh, Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson? pushed the M’s to a .275 team BABIP. Their pitching staff put up a FIP of 3.61, but the defense pushed their ERA down to 3.17 (this is another reminder of just how much the game has changed in a few years thanks to the HR revolution).* The M’s were merely average in preventing HRs, but their defense and a strong bullpen made them elite run-preventers. The M’s have gotten worse at controlling the zone (K-BB%) thanks to age and injuries to some of their best pitchers, but it’s actually *hard* to find teams with BABIPs this low who struggled like this. The examples I can find are way back in the height of the steroid era – the 2002 White Sox, the 2003 Devil Rays.

The M’s may have banked on HRs regressing after surging in 2016, but after rising in mid-2015, the league-wide HR/FB just keeps going up. Unless some change to the ball or bats occurs, I’m not sure it’ll just go down on its own. And if it doesn’t, the M’s may need to rethink this fly-ball-centric strategy. The M’s OF defense has been a treat to watch, but baseball in 2017 is all about the HR.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Haniger, RF
8: Dyson, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Miranda

Tacoma and Colorado Springs played a classic at-altitude game last night, with the SkySox winning 16-9. This is the Rainiers final trip to Colorado Springs, as the franchise is leaving the PCL after 2018. Tulsa put a beating on the Arkansas Travellers and recently-promoted pitcher Nick Neidert. Neidert allowed 3 HRs in 4 IP with 7 runs allowed; he’s now made 2 starts in AA, covering 9 1/3 IP. In that time, he’s yielded 14 hits, and 9 earned runs. Whatever weird mojo that allowed Anthony Misiewicz to improve his High-A numbers has not alighted upon Mr. Neidert.

Starters in the minors today include Dylan Unsworth, Reggie McClain and Andres Torres.

* That 2014 team had Chris Young, who posted a BABIP of .238 that year. He was signed by the Royals the next year and Dyson and Co. helped him drop that to .209. It’s funny; pretty much every team Young pitched for (when healthy) posted very low BABIPs. Young’s pretty much the only guy who was able to allow a ton of fly balls and not pay too high a price for it…up until these past two years.

M’s Swap Steve Cishek for Erasmo Ramirez

July 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

When the M’s acquired David Phelps from Miami, I thought it seemed like an odd move: the M’s clear need is in the rotation, not in right-handed set-up men. With Phelps’ starting experience, I thought they could change his role and address the issue, but Jerry Dipoto went another route: Phelps arrival meant that the glut of RHRPs could be used to acquire SP help. And that’s just what he’s done – by sending Cishek to Tampa, he’s allowed the M’s to reunite with SP/RP Erasmo Ramirez, who the M’s traded for Mike Montgomery right at the end of spring training in 2015. Another command/control righty without plus stuff? Well, yes, fair point, but this seems like a great move for both teams.

Since that trade in March of 2015, Erasmo’s worked mostly out of the pen as a newfangled kind of long reliever, somewhat similar to the role that Emilio Pagan’s now playing in Seattle. He’s also made 36 starts for the Rays, and that’s the role the M’s will likely use him. He’s made some adjustments since last we saw him in an M’s uniform: he picked up a cutter last year, and is now throwing it over 25% of the time. It’s an arrow-straight pitch that results in elevated contact, and he essentially uses it as his fastball to lefties, pairing it with his best pitch, the change-up many M’s fans remember from his debut back in 2012. That change has, er, changed as well. When he came up, it was about 11-12 MPH slower than his fastball. It’s now much firmer, at 84 MPH, it’s 3 MPH faster than it was in 2012, and as his fastball velocity’s dropped, the gap between them is down to about 7-8 MPH. The slider and curveball that were so ineffective for him in Seattle have been re-worked, with the curve all but gone from his arsenal, and the slider a very occasional pitch he’ll use to righties to steal a strike.

He was never a really high strikeout guy, and he’s not now. His ground ball rate shot up in Tampa due to a much heavier reliance on his solid sinker. That said, HR problems – one of the reasons Seattle gave up on him – is still a part of his game. That’s one of the reasons his FIP’s been pretty high these past two years, and while Erasmo’s ERA came in much lower in 2016, it hasn’t this year. That’s why he’s available, of course, and it’s why his rest-of-season projections aren’t all that great. Still, there’s upside in there, particularly if his strand rate regresses anywhere close to his career averages, and Erasmo is a far sight better than the M’s current 4th-5th starters. And all it cost them in trade was a righty set-up guy made superfluous by Phelps.

I’ve been one of Erasmo’s biggest fans since scouting his stat line in the old Venezuelan summer league, and was pretty frustrated with the M’s inability to help him out of his struggles in 2014-15, frustrations evidently shared by ex-M’s staffer Tony Blengino. I understood and even liked the trade to Tampa, as Erasmo was clearly never going to get either a) better or b) a real shot under the previous regime. I’m glad he’s developed elsewhere and can help the M’s now. Even as irrationally fond of him as I am, I understand this could fail to do much of anything for the M’s playoff chances. Erasmo’s HR struggles aren’t likely to be improved by Safeco Field, and Erasmo’s developed some odd platoon splits over the past couple of years, as lefties have learned to batter his fastball. He’s been awful in the rotation this year for Tampa, as well. Still, while I’ve had my issues with the last few trades, this one is a no-brainer, and a solid move by the front office.

They help cover their biggest weakness, while Tampa gets a righty reliever better than Sergio Romo. The emergence of Jacob Faria meant Erasmo really had no chance to start anymore, and they’re looking for more traditional set-up guys as they make their own playoff push. Steve Cishek’s death-to-righties arsenal is perfect for a team in their position. As a command/control righty, you have to assume Dipoto’s been longing to get Erasmo back for a while. He’s much further along than Marco Gonzales, but the same issues with development are still relevant: the M’s need to make some tweaks to get the most out of him, and that’s a bit of a concern. Can this team that couldn’t help, say, Christian Bergman/Chase de Jong help Erasmo now? We’ll see, but for now it’s nice to see the M’s upgrade their command/control depth so easily and so comprehensively.

More Thoughts Than You Need on That Trade

July 27, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 

Being of a somewhat ruminatory disposition without the requisite number of stomachs to make that useful, the trade of last Friday has remained stuck in my craw. I’d like to use a new, off-day post, then, to address some comments that came up in the original post, because visibility and all sorts of marketing buzzwords that belie the fact that I haven’t been paid to do this in years.

One comment that came up was that we have the appearance of an outfield that looks fairly set with young cost-controlled players, ergo, who would be displaced? Were we not trading from one position of strength into an area of dearth? I mentioned some of my misgivings with that type of analysis earlier, specifically that Gonzales (who again, I’m not here to trash) has no options remaining after this year and still has some endurance and breaking pitch repertoire questions which he would invariably have to answer in the major leagues on a competing team rather than in a lower-stress, controlled environment.

But to speak more specifically to the point of “where would we put O’Neill?”, this is the type of question that needs to be answered with an assessment of what we have. It goes without saying (but here I go saying anyway) that to assess the strength of one position area, the outfield, is going to present different roster construction issues than those that led us to trade away Jason Vargas and Doug Fister because we had a bunch of high-quality pitching prospects on the way of which only Paxton remains. However, one ought to be careful not to overvalue present configurations. For one thing, we need a center fielder. Dyson is effectively a rental, we may never see Leonys Martin again (we may though!), and Guillermo Heredia will likely remain a fun player but not exactly a starting CF on a contender. Both Gamel and Haniger can fit in CF and have done so in the past. It’s not perfect, but it does allow you to maneuver an O’Neill into a corner without much loss as he’s a pretty decent defender on his own there. If it doesn’t work right away, you still have three option years! Neat!

As a corollary to this point, we ought to be careful not to overvalue our major league assets simply because they’re in the majors. Haniger has had a small sample size of success where he remade his swing going into this year. I would argue that what we’ve seen of him slumping (hey, his OPS is still better than former RotY contender Andrew Benintendi) is probably brought about by the oblique issue he had more than any other physical deficiencies, but we should bear in mind that nailing down swing mechanics may only be slightly less difficult than nailing down pitching mechanics and once muscle memory gets involved, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Haniger will have to work hard when/if he puts the oblique issue behind him to get back on track again. To speak to Gamel, he’s been great so far. My mom even knows his name and uses it to try to talk to me about baseball and I don’t know that she’s been able to recognize anyone post-Ichiro. But Gamel also is running a .420 BABIP right now and there are risks involved. I could tell you about the troubles of expecting long-term positional security based off a sample size even of a year, but you should know this. After all, I am speaking to Mariners fans.

The tertiary point that I want to bring in was really the one that I came for, which is that if I’m setting myself as being against the “trade volatile upside for more modest, predictable returns,” then what exactly is the alternative that I’m proposing as a course of action. I do believe that constantly emphasizing something resembling safety is a quick way to get you a roster which will yield you regular season wins and a post-season whooping, but I really want to take a look at this in terms of the field of DiPoto’s transactions so far.

Not all trades are going to burn us. Sending Elias and Smith for Miley and Aro ended up being okay because we spun Miley off into Ariel Miranda and Smith has been hurt. Trading away two rookie league pitchers for Ben Gamel, whatever he is going forward, looks smart now. I still like the trade in the offseason with Arizona. It doesn’t immediately look like Chase de Jong for Drew Jackson and wild thing Aneruys Zabala is going to be the subject of lament. The results have sucked with Smyly, but the process made sense. However, when you give volume away and scatter your talent over a number of transactions, you’re going to get burned eventually.

Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta got us the frustration that was a season of Adam Lind. We turned Enyel de los Santos into Drew Storen after an intermediary period of Joaquin Benoit, and then decided we weren’t going to keep Storen. Zach Lee for Chris Taylor didn’t look bright even when Taylor was still only a competent defender who could control the zone. Chris Heston sort of turned into Tyler Herb and it’s debatable which would have been better to start. Alex Jackson and Tyler Pike turned into Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Jason Goldstein was flipped for Dillon Overton. And now, in a higher profile move, we have O’Neill for Gonzales. MLB trades are not Baseball Mogul or name-your-simulator where you can send off an amount of “stuff” that reaches a certain threshold and, bam, here’s your good player. However, you can look at other recent transactions like what the Royals did with the Padres a few days ago to get Cahill and more or even the Twins getting Jaime Garcia and wonder about the differences in return. Odds are, if we had kept certain talents for longer and developed them more, we would now be in a position to make a good trade that would damage our farm system but give us a more certain short-term contributor without emptying us out completely. If you’re committed to trading guys off to improve your team regardless, you may as well target good players as opposed to several different versions of something that you can hope patch the back end of the rotation.

To return to my earlier quip of last week’s post about sending good money after bad, it’s a lot of talent that we’ve sent away, mostly for potential back-end starters but also the occasional first base project and veteran relievers for added stability. Last night over twitter feeds, there came Ken Rosenthal’s rather dour prediction of a Sonny Gray trade to the Mariners that included another needle: ““I’ve never gotten it,” one rival executive says. “It feels like he has made 348 trades to turn a .500 team into a .500 team.”” Like most snappy and strongly-worded opinions built on hyperbole, it’s not accurate, but neither is it entirely false. It’s been a risk-averse approach that leaves us hoping to occasionally find a diamond and then sending more resources away when we fail to get that diamond. I can’t help but think that if we had just stood by our resources over the past several years rather than compulsively making transactions, we would have enough now to pick Gray and Alonso or your trade of choice without totally wrecking our future outlook. Instead, we may make a desperation move that will leave us without rebuilding materials once our window closes. That’s not the type of process that I find comforting.

Game 103, Red Sox at Mariners

July 26, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Andrew Moore vs. Chris Sale, 12:40pm

Last night’s extra-inning win was huge, as it allowed the M’s to keep pace with the Yankees and Rays, and ensured a big series win ahead of today’s game…which looks like it might be a tough one.

Chris Sale’s having his best year in the majors, and has established himself as the AL’s preeminent starting pitcher. After consciously trying to induce more contact last year as a way to get deeper into games, he’s implemented Boston’s get-whiffs-with-high-fastballs plan and it’s worked incredibly well for him. His K% – which was still plenty good last season – is up by over 10 percentage points, to 36.4%. That figure leads baseball, which means he’s outpacing Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer in strikeouts despite the fact that those two get to face pitchers a few times a game. Not only that, but Sale’s working on a career-low walk rate, at just 4.7% (yes, his K-BB% leads baseball as well). Escaping Chicago’s small-ish park has meant that his HRs rate is down, too.

But wait, wouldn’t a lefty pitching half his games at Fenway be MORE likely to give up HRs thanks to the short LF dimensions? It doesn’t look like it – Boston’s actually giving up the fewest HRs of any park in the AL this year. Yes, Sale/Price/Pomeranz have something to do with that, but it’s still pretty remarkable. That gives rise to the one bit of hope about today’s game: Sale’s worse on the road, and Safeco’s now a much more HR-friendly spot than Fenway. Sale’s dominating right-handers like never before – they’ve got an OBP of just .235 this year – thanks to a wholesale change in how he attacks them. When he came up, there was nothing special about where he threw his fastball – it had elite movement and all, so being intentional about where to put it may not have been a huge priority. Now, his fastball comes in up and away to righties, and then he buries breaking balls down and in.

I talked about Andrew Moore learning from Drew Pomeranz, but Sale’s another great lesson in the importance of *how* to use one’s fastball. Of course, he throws nothing like Sale, so he can’t straight-up emulate the guy. Still, having a (different) plan should really help, as the natural movement on his fastball is already pretty remarkable. Of all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 pitches this year, Moore’s vertical ‘rise’ ranks 4th in baseball. Fellow rookie Jacob Faria (of the Rays) is 3rd, and like Moore, throws in the low 90s. Faria’s K rate is double Moore’s, and he’s gotten great results in his first few MLB starts. The king of fastball “rise” – and a guy who’s fought serious HR problems at times – is Marco Estrada, who throws even slower than Moore. There are precedents here, and guys who’ve shown this overall skill set can work. But what Moore’s done in his first 5 starts hasn’t quite worked, and it’s time to make some changes.

1: Segura, SS
2: Gamel, LF
3: Cruz, DH
4: Valencia, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Heredia, CF
7: Haniger, RF
8: Ruiz, C
9: Danny Espinosa, 2B
SP: Moore

Speaking of guys who need to make some changes, welcome to the line-up, Danny Espinosa. Shawn O’Malley’s rehabbing in AA at the moment, so we’ll see if Espinosa’s just keeping a seat warm, or if they’re intrigued enough by his power/defense profile to keep him around as an Edgar project.

A day after Anthony Misiewicz’s 8 shutout IP earned him the M’s MiLB pitching line of the day, Lindsey Caughel nearly matched it, tossing 7 shutout IP against NW Arkansas in a 5-0 win. Caughel’s peripherals were even better, actually, as he K’d 7 and walked 0, giving up just 3 hits. Batting line will go to Everett’s Eugene Helder. The Aruban 2nd baseman went 4-5 with a 2B and a 3B.

Game 102, Red Sox at Mariners

July 25, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

King Felix vs. Drew Pomeranz, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day! It’s always great to have a Felix Day after a dominating pitching performance like Paxton’s last night. He’s really putting that injury and mechanical hiccup from May/June behind him and reestablishing himself as one of the AL’s top starters. I also wanted to say hi to the relatively new “Maple Grove” cheering section, populated by a bunch of familiar faces to anyone in the M’s blogosphere/twittersphere. They featured prominently on the broadcast last night and then got a mention on ESPN, too. The team’s getting into it, and went so far as to give them an actual maple tree, and reporters asked Paxton about it after the game (he’s pro, unsurprisingly). They’ll be in section 182 for Paxton’s next start, which looks like it’s Sunday.

Rob Arthur of 538.com had a great article yesterday about pitchers adjusting to the HR surge by throwing more high fastballs. I’ve talked a bit about this as it related to Felix, and then a bit about Boston, Detroit and Minnesota trying to use this strategy to limit HRs. But while DET/MIN have failed, Boston’s been great. No team in baseball throws higher fastballs than the Red Sox, and the Red Sox have the 2nd-lowest ground ball rate behind Detroit. But while the Tigers/Twins/Mariners give up tons of HRs, Boston’s actually got a lower-than-average HR rate as a staff – they’re tied with the Yankees, and only surpassed by Cleveland and Kansas City among AL teams. It’s not that they’re generating a ton of pop-ups, either – the M’s are actually way better at that. Instead, they’re simply generating weak contact among all hit types – they have the highest average fastballs, the highest average pitches put in play, and the lowest wOBA on fastballs in baseball.

Now, some of this is a function of employing the likes of Chris Sale, David Price and others, but you can see the Sox strategy by looking at how it’s changed recent acquisitions. Drew Pomeranz, tonight’s starter, throws the highest average fastball of any starter besides Jake Odorizzi – it’s over 3′. Chris Sale’s a bit behind him at 2.85′. For reference, Felix’s average fastball is just
Last year, Sale’s average was 2.65, and Pomeranz was at 2.78 as a member of the A’s in 2015. The Sox take very good pitchers, make some tweaks to their approach, and let a very good defensive outfield do the rest. Rick Porcello, erstwhile ground ball pitcher, is the best example of the Sox new mania for high fastballs, but the whole team’s taken it to heart.

Pomeranz, a lefty, throws that super-high four-seamer at 92 MPH and a big breaking curve at 79-80. Pomeranz gets some rise on his fastball, as it looks like the Sox have him throwing a bit more upright, but the story’s the movement on his curve. He gets absurd vertical movement despite a below-average spin rate, meaning the spin he imparts is incredibly efficient – almost all of it goes towards movement, with very little gyro or bullet spin. This is somewhat reminiscent of Andrew Moore’s fastball, which, despite sub-par spin rates ranks among MLB’s best in terms of vertical movement. Pomeranz is probably a good guy for Moore to watch and maybe model himself after. While Moore’s average fastball’s pretty high – maybe the 90th percentile in the league – he may need to go higher. Right now, he’s around the plate so much that batters are hitting fastballs right in the zone. Even if it might mean risking more walks, I think Moore needs to use that vertical movement to throw pitches that look like they’ll drop into the zone only to stay a few inches higher. Moore’s curve is never going to break like Pomeranz’s, so I’m not quite sure what to do there, but a better fastball game plan may help everything else play up a bit.

1: Segura, SS
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: El Cartelua

Casey Lawrence, Lindsey Caughel, Spencer Herrman and Oliver Jaskie take the mound for M’s affiliates today. The pitching star of the system yesterday is an easy call: Anthony Misiewicz of Arkansas fired 8 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. Misiewicz was so-so in the Cal League, but has been great in AA in 5 starts. For position players, we’ll go with Joe Rizzo of Clinton, who had three hits, including a HR off of former #1 overall draft pick Brady Aiken.

In scarier news, M’s top prospect Kyle Lewis had to come out of Modesto’s game in the 4th with a knee problem. It’s not expected to be serious – more of a bruise – but everything knee-related is worrying with Lewis, who’s struggled to stay on the field this year following last year’s serious leg injury. Get well soon, Kyle!

The M’s Record in Pitcher Trades

July 25, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

I’ve seen/heard a lot of commentary about the M’s two trade deals last week, and much of it has been far more positive from the M’s point of view than my rather bleak assessment. One of the reasons is that I’m perhaps subconsciously discounting the eventual production of a guy like Marco Gonzales due to the M’s record when acquiring pitchers in trade. Is that fair? I obviously think so, but I’m open to counterarguments. This is one of the key bits of context for this or other trades that I didn’t spell out as well as I could’ve in the articles on the trades. So let’s fix that now!

Jerry Dipoto and company have made 27 separate trades (not waiver claims, not free agent deals) to acquire a grand total of 30 pitchers.* These range from blockbusters like the Tai Walker for Jean Segura/Mitch Haniger (it also included Zac Curtis, remember!) to the instantly forgettable, like acquiring Bryan Bonnell from the Rays for cash. Of these 30 pitchers, 21 have thrown at least one pitch for the Seattle Mariners. The sum total of their FIP-based WAR contributions to the M’s is less than 4; it’s slightly worse using ERA-based WAR. In other words, every pitcher the M’s have acquired in trade in the Dipoto era have produced roughly as much WAR as Chris Taylor has this year for the Dodgers. Depending on the WAR framework you prefer, 8-10 of them have put up *negative* WAR for the M’s. In return, the M’s have given up roughly 15-16 WAR in major league production in 2017 plus 6 prospects ranked in the system’s top 10. They’ve given up another 9 or so players ranked in the 10-20 range, too. The M’s haven’t gotten a whole lot from any of these deals; you’re talking about James Pazos’ first half, Evan Scribner’s 2016 and David Phelps first appearance. The trades that have produced the most pitching WAR for the M’s are not ones that most M’s fans feel unambiguously positive about: they’re the Seth Smith for Yovani Gallardo trade (using fWAR only) and the two deals involving Wade Miley.

I don’t want to oversell this. The M’s *do not* have wholesale issues in pro scouting or player development. While they didn’t get much when trading Erick Mejia for Joe Wieland, flipping Jio Orozco for Ben Gamel has worked out rather nicely. The M’s farm system wasn’t great, so that limits their ability to acquire talent in trade – they’re shopping in the bargain aisle, so of course there aren’t as many clear wins. Injuries have hurt, too, as Shae Simmons and Drew Smyly might’ve been great if they were healthy. And of course, guys like Gonzales may contribute for 6 years later on, but haven’t had the opportunity to produce for the M’s yet. The same works in reverse, though, too; the M’s have traded/sold several pitchers who are now interesting prospects for other teams, and if you want to feel more positive about the history of this FO, you should absolutely not look at the stats of guys like Luiz Gohara or Zack Littell.

Still, this is a pretty appalling record when you consider what the M’s gave up. Like DMZ, I’m all about evaluating a trade based on what we knew at the time, but a team’s track record starts to matter as the sample of trades grows. Part of the reason, as I mentioned in the post about the O’Neill/Gonzales swap, is that Dipoto seems to target low-ceiling/high-floor command guys, perhaps because that’s what’s available in his price range. But just as the Zduriencik-era M’s had a big disconnect between the scouting group’s love of power-hitting right-handed bats and the player development group’s ability to develop such players, I worry that the M’s PD system hasn’t been able to do a ton with command/control guys throwing 88-92. I don’t want to pin too much of this on PD; guys like Lance Painter have done an admirable job getting a ton of AAA production out of the odds and ends handed to him by the FO, and of course, there’s the small matter of James Paxton turning into JAMES PAXTON on his watch. Another factor could simply be that the players Dipoto loves to target have been the most impacted by baseball’s HR binge – command guys who “should” see their HR/FB regress have seen them rise instead as the entire league’s HR/FB gets ratcheted upwards.

It’s impossible to disentangle all of these factors, and when we’re talking about 2-dozed+ players, many of whom were acquired for cash considerations, it’s entirely possible that the entire record is dumb luck, and it shouldn’t impact our evaluation of Gonzales at all. But as well as some of his trades have worked out, the team really seems to have struggled to add pitching. This isn’t blaming Dipoto for not landing Cy Young candidates. Rather, it’s wondering why there are so many negative WAR figures dotted around the 2017 stats for the guys the M’s traded for. Dipoto’s work in free agency is a mixed bag, but the trade record is so important because it’s pretty much the only way Dipoto’s filled out the M’s rotation. He inherited Felix and Paxton (and sort of inherited Iwkauma), but pretty much everyone else who’s started this year has been acquired in trade – Miranda, Gallardo, Heston, Whalen, Gaviglio, Overton, de Jong were all trade guys. Only Andrew Moore (drafted), Christian Bergman and Ryan Weber (waiver claims) weren’t trade targets. If his clear MO is to build a rotation through deals, then it’s imperative that the M’s actually succeed at that strategy. They haven’t yet.

* I tallied this up manually by scrolling through transaction logs; I’ve probably missed something(s). Here’s the list, for those interested:

Traded Acquired
7/3/2017 Tyler Herb Cash
7/20/2017 Brayan Hernandez, Lukas Schiraldi, Pablo Lopez, Brandon Miller David Phelps
7/21/2017 Tyler O’Neill Marco Gonzales
7/24/2017 Jean Machi, Mark Lowe cash
5/9/2017 Cash Bryan Bonnell
4/14/2017 Paul Fry Cash
3/1/2017 Drew Jackson, Aneuris Zabala Chase de Jong
3/2/2017 Pat Venditte Joey Curletta
1/6/2017 Seth Smith Yovani Gallardo
1/6/2017 Nate Karns Jarrod Dyson
1/11/2017 Carlos Vargas, Ryan Yarbrough, Mallex Smith Drew Smyly
1/11/2017 Luiz Gohara, Thomas Burrows Shae Simmons, Mallex Smith
1/26/2017 Jason Goldstein Dillon Overton
12/7/2016 PTBNL Chris Heston
12/9/2016 Tyler Pike PTBNL
11/7/2016 Vidal Nuno Carlos Ruiz
11/12/2016 Paul Blackburn Danny Valencia
11/18/2016 Andrew Kittredge, Dylan Thompson, Dalton Kelly Taylor Motter, Richie Shaffer
11/18/2016 Zack Littell James Pazos
11/23/2016 Taijuan Walker, Ketel Marte Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Zac Curtis
11/23/2016 Alex Jackson, PTBNL Max Povse, Rob Whalen
9/1/2016 Jake Brentz, Pedro Vasquez Arquimedes Caminero
9/13/2016 Wade LeBlanc PTBNL
9/14/2016 Joe Wieland PTBNL
8/6/2016 Tim Lopes Pat Venditte
8/31/2016 Jio Orozco, Juan De Paula Ben Gamel
7/20/2016 Mike Montgomery, Jordan Pries Dan Vogelbach, Paul Blackburn
7/26/2016 Joaquin Benoit Drew Storen
7/31/2016 Wade Miley Ariel Miranda
6/11/2016 Justin de Fratus Pat Kivlehan
6/19/2016 Chris Taylor Zach Lee
6/22/2016 PTBNL Wade LeBlanc
3/30/2016 PTBNL Nick Vincent
1/12/2016 Erick Mejia Joe Wieland
12/2/2015 Mark Trumbo, CJ Riefenhauser Steve Clevenger
12/4/2015 Jose Ramirez Ryne Harper
12/7/2015 Carson Smith, Roenis Elias Wade Miley, Jonathan Aro
12/8/2015 Trey Cochran-Gill Evan Scribner
12/9/2015 Daniel Missaki, Freddy Peralta, Carlos Herrera Adam Lind
12/18/2015 Tyler Olson Cash
11/5/2015 Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, Danny Farquhar Nate Karns, CJ Riefenhauser, Boog Powell
11/12/2015 Enyel de los Santos Joaquin Benoit
11/16/2015 Tom Wilhelmsen, James Jones, Pat Kivlehan Leonys Martin, Anthony Bass

Game 101, Red Sox at Mariners

July 24, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 7:10pm

Sorry for the radio silence over the weekend; I was extremely busy with family stuff. I had fun, and didn’t mind (too much) that the M’s limped into the Red Sox series having lost 3 of 4 to the Yankees.

The Red Sox come in with a 2.5 game lead over New York in the AL East. Clearly a playoff-caliber team, they’re kicking the tires on deadline acquisitions, but their biggest move was an internal one. Today, the Red Sox have called up their top prospect, 20-year old 3B Rafael Devers. He’s not starting tonight, but is expected to tomorrow. Devers takes over for Pablo Sandoval, who was DFA’d a little while ago. In less promising news, lefty David Price was in the news on the flight up to Seattle for berating Red Sox color commentator Dennis Eckersley for some comments the latter made on air about a rehab start made by tonight’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez missed essentially all of June and half of July recovering from a knee injury.

Rodriguez is a hard-throwing lefty the Sox acquired for Andrew Miller in what was widely seen as a steal – for Boston. Miller left for greener pastures while Rodriguez turned heads in the minors, often sitting in the high 90s with his fastball and dominating lower-level hitters. After a couple of up-and-down seasons, he seemed poise to make the leap to #2 starter this year, and put up solid numbers in April and May, leading to a flurry of stories about him turning a corner. The injury and a so-so start in Toronto have put that supposed developmental leap in question, as he struggled with command in the minors (hence Eckersley’s Price-enraging comments) and walked 4 in 5 1/3 IP in his return to the big leagues. He was great against the M’s back in May, when he shut them out over 6 IP, but even then, he walked 3 and K’d just 4.

His velocity is, at this point, down significantly from the perhaps-over-enthusiastic reports of 97 MPH. He’s averaging a bit under 94 now, and it gets less-than-average vertical movement. Movement-wise, it reminds me of Thyago Vieira’s fastball, though Vieira of course throws 1) much harder and 2) right-handed. Rodriguez’s best pitch may be his running change-up, thrown around 87 MPH. Like Marco Gonzales/Mike Montgomery, it has 10″+ of armside run, but gets more drop than either of them. This pitch is the primary reason he’s shown essentially no platoon splits over his big league career. He has a cutter and slider, too, with the slider his primary breaking ball to lefties. It’s nothing much to write home about, but then he doesn’t see enough lefties for it to matter much. The most notable thing about him is his reliance on his four-seam fastball; he’s in the top 10 in baseball in the frequency he throws it, at just under 65%.

Like many of his teammates, Rodriguez is targeting the high strike these days, and his ground ball rate and GB/FB ratios have dropped as a result. That’s made him somewhat vulnerable to home runs, but it should also keep his BABIP low – which it is, at .278. What’s remarkable is that he’s put up that BABIP despite a terrible infield pop-up rate; he’s been good at inducing pop-ups before, but they’re just not showing up this year.

1: Segura, SS
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: PAXTON

I was going to use this space to write about how great Emilio Pagan’s been recently. The extreme fly-balling long reliever has been working not just in low-leverage situations, but in some close games, as he did twice in the Yankees series. Anyway, no need for me to go on about him, as Bob Dutton did it in the News Tribune. Check it out.

The M’s acquired former Nationals and Angels IF Danny Espinosa yesterday, a move that sent Taylor Motter to AAA. I’d assume the M’s will activate Espinosa before tonight’s game. Espinosa hit 20+ HRs for the Nats twice, but problems, er, controlling the zone led to abysmal batting averages and OBPs, which made him tough to play, even though he’s a good defender at SS. He cratered in Anaheim this year, slashing just .162/.237/.276 with the 2nd-lowest zone-contact and overall contact rates in the game. Once a high-ISO, high-K guy, Espinosa’s spent 2017 as Joey Gallo-but-without-power, which is not a bankable skill. Still, I understand the M’s desire to see if Edgar can coax some zone-control into a guy who hit 24 HRs as recently as 2016.

The long-rumored, on-again, off-again trade between the Twins and Braves involving LHP Jaime Garcia finally went through today, with the Twins getting Garcia in exchange for a package headlined by RP prospect Huascar Ynoa, 19, who’s scuffled a bit in the Appy League but throws hard and is already 6’3″, 220. Garcia’s a free agent at the end of the year, so it’s not really comparable to the Marco Gonzales deal, but… this isn’t going to make M’s fans feel any better about losing Tyler O’Neill. Ynoa was the Twins #22 prospect, and he returned a league-averageish starting pitcher, who’ll slot right into the Twins rotation. The Twins, of course, are a bit ahead of the M’s in the wild card race, and just acquired a rent-a-starter for live-armed peanuts, while the M’s traded for a guy who one day might pitch about as well as Garcia will down the stretch. I acknowledge that Jerry Dipoto is not playing for 2017 *alone* and that getting a contolled starter -not a rental- was a priority. That’s understandable. But paying inflated, deadline prices for cost-controlled depth looks suspicious not only in light of what such pitchers go for in the off-season, but what rentals cost. Sure, you’d RATHER have a pitcher under contract for 5 years rather than 5 months, but the M’s had already signaled that they wanted to make a run in 2017. Garcia would’ve worked pretty well, and now he’ll be pitching for a wild card rival. Great.

Speaking of the trade market, this MLB.com piece says that the M’s are trying to get involved in the Sonny Gray market. There are a number of reasons this is unlikely, starting with the fact that Tyler O’Neill is now a Memphis Redbird, but extending to the fact that teams with deep farm systems are also likely to be involved. Gray’s a free agent after 2018, so he’s more than just a rental. If the M’s DID want him, it’d take pretty much every other big prospect they’ve got…so, Kyle Lewis and Nick Neidert.

This report says that the M’s have inquired with the Giants and Padres about pitching help, and with Giants’ farm team Sacramento in Tacoma, that’s where Jerry Dipoto was today. The day game in beautiful Tacoma was also Marco Gonzales’ first start in the M’s system, and the Gonzaga product got the win, pitching 6 IP, giving up 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB and 5 Ks. A perfectly solid game, and while I’m trying not to be too pessimistic, it’s the kind of start Christian Bergman’s thrown roughly 78 of for Tacoma this year. Dan Vogelbach homered in the R’s 4-3 win. One of the Giants’ top pitching prospects, Tyler Beede, was scheduled to start this game, but hurt his groin during warm-ups, so it was a bullpen day for the RiverCats.

Other probables in the M’s system tonight include Danny Garcia, Anthony Misiewicz and Jose Garcia.

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