Game 112, Mariners at Astros – Great, THESE Guys Again

marc w · August 2, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Yusei Kikuchi vs. Wade Miley, 5:10pm

I don’t think there’s a better summary of the MLB season for Seattle than this pair of starters. Jerry Dipoto traded for Miley upon taking the reins in late 2015, but that did not turn out well, as Miley’s HR troubles sunk his effectiveness. After another disastrous year in Baltimore, he remade himself for a half a season in Milwaukee, and has been quietly remarkable for Houston, a team that often seems to do these transformations in their sleep.

Meanwhile, Yusei Kikuchi looked like a sneaky-great pick-up. He had solid velocity, an odd, halting delivery that ought to mess with batters’ timing, and a great curveball. The Astros watched Charlie Morton leave and replaced him with Wade Miley? In comparison, the M’s decision to acquire Kikuchi seemed aggressive, especially as the club shed salary the rest of the offseason. Kikuchi has, sadly, not been the kind of player the M’s thought they were getting. I’m sure that player is inside him somewhere, and I’m not sure where the blame lies for this bargain-basement version we’ve watched compile a 5.61 FIP, a 5.21 ERA, and a 6.87 DRA :shudders:. The HR ball has bitten Kikuchi, just as it used to trouble Miley. But it’s more than that: Kikuchi isn’t missing the bats he should, and his walk rate’s a bit high, a real liability in this high-HR game. That curve that we first saw befuddle Joey Votto back in the spring is now a liability: batters are hitting .327 with a .673 SLG% off of it. His four-seam fastball has been an enjoyable experience for batters as well; they’re slugging over .600 off of his primary pitch.

Miley had problems with his four-seam and sinker at times, and thus the key to his resurrection as a MLB starter was to essentially relegate them to fill-in duty and turn his seldom-used cutter into his primary fastball. Hey, it worked for Brandon McCarthy for a while, and it really worked for Roy Halladay. Now, he uses his four-seamer almost as a put-away pitch, trying to sneak it OVER barrels that get used to his straight, sinking cutter. I don’t know how Kikuchi and the M’s plan to adjust things, but it’s worth looking into emulating. The one pitch that’s worked well for Kikuchi is his slider, so he can spin the ball a bit. Maybe a cutter might get batters off the four-seam, or maybe he can just re-work his curve. In any event, he’s got to do something.

1: Smith, RF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Nola, 2B
4: Santana, DH
5: Vogelbach, 1B
6: Beckham, LF
7: Seager, 3B
8: Murphy, C
9: Broxton, CF
SP: Kikuchi

Austin Nola, #3 hitter. Wow. Seriously, it’s been great watching the kind of success the long-time MiLB vet has had both in Tacoma and now Seattle.

Trade Deadline Round-Up: Leake to Arizona, Elias/Strickland to Washington (Oh, and the M’s Play The Rangers)

marc w · July 31, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. Mike Minor, 5:05pm

After weeks of inaction and complaints that the incentives to get better were broken or non-existent, the past 24 hours have provided us with a deadline day to remember, even if 90% of the action was jammed into the last few minutes. The biggest movers of the day were clearly the Astros, who brought in both Zach Greinke, unquestionably the biggest name moving, and also ex-Jays SP Aaron Sanchez. The cost was significant: they’ve moved former top OF prospect Derek Fisher to Toronto, and a package including Seth Beer, Corbin Martin, and JB Bukauskas. The Astros look ready to contend with the Dodgers in the World Series, and what was still a fairly formidable minor league system looks thinned out noticeably.

The M’s weren’t going to be doing anything that flashy, but they’ve made some moves, too. First, the long, drawn-out saga of Mike Leake is finally over. The M’s got dinged-up minor league IF Jose Caballero to send Leake to Arizona, exactly where he wanted to go to be closer to his disabled father. The D-Backs will pay about $6 M of the money left on Leake’s contract; not sure if that includes his 2021 buyout. Caballero is 22 and fast. He was leading the Cal League in steals when he got hurt, and posts a solid walk rate leading to decent OBPs. He had some decent numbers in the Midwest League, but it’s been slightly tougher sledding in the Cal League for him, though he’s still posted an above-average line. He’s a flyer, but it almost doesn’t matter. As I said yesterday, the M’s owed it to themselves and Leake to just move on from the righty starter, and they seem to have done him (and his family) a real favor. Cool.

In another deal, the M’s packaged Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias to Washington to bolster the middle/back of a beleaguered Nats bullpen. It’s been an absolute disaster this year, and with Strickland back, the hope is that they’re buying low on two guys who can munch some innings before they get to Sean Doolittle. That’s fine by me – I hope it works out. The M’s have no need for either, especially after Elias’ swoon this year, and especially in recent months. His ability to allow fly balls and yet not HRs did not survive the new dragless baseball, and he allows a ton of contact in front of a suspect defense. I can’t imagine what I’d think as a fan, and your big additions to fix a weakness that’s pushed you from the elite teams in the NL to the fringes of the wild card are a guy who just came off a lat injury and Roenis Elias, but that’s not my problem (ok, ok, they also got Daniel Hudson from Toronto). In return, the M’s get three live arms, essentially all destined for relief roles. 26-year old Tayleor Guilbeau has a solid, mid-90s fastball from the left side, and carved up AA this year. A low arm slot allows him to run some above-average ground ball rates. Grounders are the calling card of sinkerballer Aaron Fletcher, too. Fletcher’s 23, and dominated high-A before moving up to AA recently. I don’t think either will be a real wormkiller; ground ball rates are higher in the lower minors, after all, but I love the combination of grounders and Ks. The wild card in the return is converted OF Elvis Alvarado, who still doesn’t know how to locate, but has touched 100 in his brief tenure as a pitcher. All in all, it’s a very solid move, as the M’s had no need for two pitchers who realistically were only late-inning relievers out of necessity, and late-inning relievers don’t really matter for them at this point. In return, they get two guys with plus fastballs, and another with movement and some GB% upside. Is it system changing? No, and the M’s already have some relief prospects. But they traded something they don’t need now for a shot at a playable late-inning reliever in a few years. Easy call.

The M’s will call up/purchase the contract of RP Zac Grotz, who’d been with AA Arkansas. Grotz, a former Astros draft pick and minor league FA signing, throws righty and posted 69 Ks to 11 BBs out of the pen for Arkansas this year in 57 1/3 IP.

John Trupin of LL is bullish that the Astros going all-in for 2019 makes the M’s play for 2021 more likely, as the Astros will have fewer prospects providing them with depth/youth then. I’m not convinced, but then that’s kind of my thing. Seth Beer going to an NL team is great, as Beer’s dominated two levels this year. But he became expendable when Yordan Alvarez dominated two levels, too (one of them is MLB). Their pitching prospects stalled out this year and THAT, more than the fact that Bukauskas and Martin are leaving, is the one glimmer of hope here. But Alvarez is just 22, Alex Bregman just 25 and Carlos Correa is just 24. The M’s still need to identify a player with their level of upside, and then find several more. With Mitch Haniger suffering a lost season, he’ll be over 30 in 2021. The Astros reloading after acquiring Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in recent years demonstrates that they have the ability and development system to do this regularly, so I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t trade prospects for whoever the big deadline addition is whenever the M’s near a competitive window. Still, there’s no doubt their depth has taken a hit here. That, compared with the lost season of Forrest Whitley and the regression from Josh James, gives the M’s a faint hope. But they need a few guys to take major, major steps forward. And soon.

1: Smith, RF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, DH
4: Narvaez, C
5: Beckham, LF
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Nola, 2B
8: Seager, 3B
9: Broxton, CF
SP: LeBlanc

The Rangers lefty Ariel Jurado was once a prized prospect, but the M’s continued his mediocre pro career by knocking him around a bit yesterday. That’s becoming something of a pattern, as their vaunted international scouting gives them raw material that develops into solid prospects, and then…. nothing. Jurado was once the #2 guy in the sytem behind Yohander Mendez, who was the next big thing, but has stalled out and is now hurt. Martin Perez kind of did this years ago. They’ve done well with Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, but didn’t develop those guys. All of this is a concern for Rangers fans, I’d think, because they swapped reliever Chris Martin for Braves command/control SP Kolby Allard. How exactly is Allard going to avoid the traps that ensnared Jurado and Mendez? Allard’s stuff isn’t quite what it was, but it’s playable. Some org could get him to be a real #4 starter, but I’m not sure it’s Texas. For the record, I’m not sure it’d be Seattle, either.

Game 110, Mariners at Rangers – Schrödinger’s Starter

marc w · July 30, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Ariel Jurado, 5:10pm

Mike Leake is, as of this writing, a Seattle Mariner. Or perhaps not. He’s scheduled to start tonight, but could be traded at any time, with JP Morosi giving his odds of appearing in Arlington tonight as 50:50. I could check twitter again, or turn on the radio, but I kind of like this uncertainty. Right now, it’s almost like superposition, the quantum physics idea that particles can be *simultaneously* a wave and a particle until they’re observed, at which point they lock into one phase or the other. At this moment, Leake is between two teams, or on both at the same time, and that’s…well, it’s just a dumb nerdy joke, but we’re all just playing out the string here.

Leake should be gone by now, and why he isn’t has been the topic of a lot of discussion in baseball circles. Well, not about Leake specifically, but about why teams within striking distance of the wild card aren’t actively moving prospects to acquire rotation help. Teams are having discussions re: Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndergaard, Mike Minor, Leake, and others, but teams haven’t made big trades to actually get that done, with the somewhat odd exception of the Mets, who picked up Marcus Stroman a few days ago. Is he Thor’s replacement, or is another move on the way, or are the Mets still kind of in it? The fact that they seem to be shopping Edwin Diaz leads me to think that they’re not, but who knows. At least they did something. One of the problems here for the M’s is that this inactivity is that the market is now a bit crowded, and Leake is not exactly the biggest name on the market. Neither is Jason Vargas, who just went to Philly, but the light returns that Vargas and even Stroman got can’t be good news if you’re Jerry Dipoto.

But at some level, this isn’t about the return. Mike Leake will never command a big haul, just like he didn’t when he came over from St. Louis. The M’s will probably kick in some money, and that’s fine. But we’re just past the point where the M’s need to really worry about fielding a credible MLB roster. They just had Dylan Moore and Kris Negron in OF corners. I’m not a fan of total tear-down rebuilds, and think that chasing high amateur draft picks is something of a fool’s errand. Leake and Edwin Encarnacion and Anthony Swarzak and others made some sense if this step-back year went as planned. It didn’t, and there’s no real reason to keep Leake here – seemingly against his will – just to keep up appearances. I’d like Leake to go be in a playoff run somewhere, just as he was when the M’s got him. I’m not all that worried about the prospect Seattle gets back for him; it’s not going to be anyone who’ll change the system. I’d like to see Justus Sheffield or Justin Dunn or just about anyone, which would give us a glimpse of the future.

I’m not blaming the M’s FO for this, by the way. I blame them for things all the time, but Dipoto is quite obviously willing to go for it when he’s in contention. It often seemed like Dipoto was the only GM in the game who cared about the second wild card. I think many of his trades weren’t exactly winners, but he was obviously trying to make the team better in mid-2017, for example. Other teams simply don’t see much value in a coin-flip one game play-in. Which is kind of wild; I was dubious about the wild card game from a fan point of view. The whole point of baseball playoffs is that they were *series*. But in hindsight, I think they’ve been great: fans get a game 7-type atmosphere, a single night where everyone knows it’s do or die ahead of time. Networks get a rare *scheduled* elimination game, and they’ve mostly been great TV. But they clearly aren’t the playoffs. The road team may not get the revenue enhancement of a home playoff game, and if teams had do-or-die regular season games, they may need to have their #3 starter on the mound. I’ve seen calls for expanding them to a three-game series, but that extends the MLB playoffs fairly significantly. You could remove the perverse incentive to tank by changing the way draft positions are determined instead. Whatever MLB does, I think they’ve got to look at changes that better align the incentives to compete. Sweetening the pot for contenders or weakening the incentive to just be awful could help. Again, I think that means the league and players have to do something that looks on paper to hurt their prized “competitive balance.” Prioritizing “balance” is a big part of what’s gotten us here, to a league with superteams and contenders who seem to prefer not contending.

1: Smith, RF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, DH
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Beckham, LF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Nola, 2B
8: Murphy, C
9: Keon Broxton, CF
SP: Leake?

Welcome Keon Broxton! Smith in RF seems odd, but I understand it given their active roster at this point. With Kristopher Negron now in LA (and slick-fielding IF return Daniel Castro in Tacoma), the M’s don’t really have a normal RF until Domingo Santana’s injury fully heals.

Justin Dunn starts just down the road from this one in Frisco. Tacoma kicks off a homestand against Omaha with Anthony Misiewicz on the hill. Damon Casetta-Stubbs starts for Everett in Hillsboro tonight. Julio Rodriguez hit his 8th HR for West Virginia last night in a 4-3 win, and Hillsboro blanked Everett 3-0, as Deyni Olivero gave up 1 hit in 5 scoreless IP with 7 Ks. Frisco jumped on Ricardo Sanchez of Arkansas early, then held on for 5-4 win.

Game 109, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · July 28, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Matt Wisler/Tommy Milone vs. Matt Boyd, 1:10pm

The Tigers are 1-9 in their last 10 games, which is bad, but not *too* unusual. If the schedule and injuries align, you can have a bad couple of weeks. But the Tigers are not an ordinary ball club. They’ve been on a bender that’s continued essentially unabated since early-mid April. In their last 30 games, they are 4-26. The M’s have *felt* like that at times, but this series has been a good reminder of just how bad you have to be to grab the #1 overall draft position in 2019. The Orioles trotted out one of the worst pitching staffs I’ve ever seen, and they’ve easily left the Tigers in the dust.

The one bright spot the Tigers have had this year is Mercer Island native and Oregon State product Matthew Boyd, who’s put together a remarkable K:BB ratio of 168:26, good for a K% over 32% with a walk rate of just 5%. An extreme fly-baller, he’s been bit by HRs, but that’s generally OK given the ball. He’s become a dominating pitcher despite a fastball that averages 92-93. His slider is his outpitch, and batters have generally struggled against it even when they make contact, but he’s still notched slightly more Ks on the year with a fastball that looks fairly ordinary by movement and velocity.

Boyd’s interesting, as he hasn’t generally been a super high-K pitcher before 2019, but he’s worked a lot at Driveline Baseball in Kent both to improve his velocity and presumably on some pitch design work. When he came up, he had a higher release point, a much harder slider (84-87mph) and his primary breaking ball was a curve at 75. The curve is now a show-me pitch he doesn’t really feature, and he’s also backed way off of his change-up usage, too, preferring to throw righties his slider instead. By pitch *movement* there’s nothing much to say: his fastball has less rise now, thanks to the lowered release point, and his slider has more sink, but that would seem to be related to its much lower velocity. But obviously pitch design isn’t about a pitch fx leaderboard; it’s more about altering a pitch’s shape to fit a specific, individual strategy – either to play off of other pitches, or to attack certain batters. Thus far, it’s been a very successful transition: his sizable platoon splits have been trimmed down, and that’s pushed his overall effectiveness up. He’s at 3.3 fWAR and 3.2 WARP on the year – two very different metrics arriving at the same conclusion. If he could figure out a way to limit HRs, he’d easily be one of the top starters in the AL.

The M’s acquired OF Keon Broxton who’d been DFA’d by Baltimore, who picked him up after the Brewers DFA’d him earlier. Broxton was an interesting if polarizing young player with Milwaukee, whose patience and power overcame a sky-high whiff rate. In 2016, he was worth almost 2 WAR despite playing part time and amassing 244 PAs. It’s a somewhat familiar skillset in the modern game, but it was odd to see in a CF. He hit 20 HRs in mostly full-time duty the next year, but his overall line sunk, as his walk rate dropped, pulling his OBP under .300. That off-season, the Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain, and that was essentially that for Broxton. He was awful in part-time duty last year, and has cratered this year, with a K% over 40% and a low ISO, which is why he’s been waived by one of the worst teams in the league. This is an interesting test of the M’s new hitting coaching staff. If you heard the Mariner Magazine today, you may have caught an interview with new hitting strategy coach who talked about the organizational emphasis on swinging at the right pitches. Broxton does…not have a history of doing that, but he remains an interesting puzzle. I’d love to think the M’s could solve it, but it’s also likely that Broxton’s playing his way out of the league pretty quickly.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, DH
4: Beckham, LF
5: Murphy, C
6: Nola, 2B
7: Seager, 3B
8: Court, 1B
9: Negron, RF
SP: Wisler, then Milone

Great to see long-time minor league vet Ryan Court get his first hit and RBIs in yesterday’s win. He’s played in independent ball and had minor league deals with several teams before making his MLB debut this week at age 31. He’s been a decent enough hitter, but lacked the power you’d generally demand from a 1B. He’s tapped into a lot more of that this year in the M’s system, which is a pretty good sign for the player development system. He’s obviously just filling in, but it’s always cool to see guys like this – and Tim Lopes, who was concussed a game or two into his MLB tenure.

Game 106, Tigers at Mariners – How Bad Do You Want It?

marc w · July 25, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Erik Swanson/Wade LeBlanc vs. Drew VerHagen, 7:10pm

We’ve seen some rough pitching match-ups this year, but this game almost repels interest. I *like* Wade LeBlanc, and this team would be so much more interesting next year if Erik Swanson was good, so it’s not like there’s nothing going for it, but this is a game between two of the worst teams in the league, with one starter making a return after being DFA’d and outrighted in May, and the other a (currently) replacement-level opener and a veteran innings eater. I try to find some interest in every game, and we’ll give it a go here, but man, it looks like a gorgeous evening.

In mid-April, the Tigers were leading the AL Central, having started at 8-4. The M’s were 12-2, soon to be 13-2. Since that time, the M’s have rather famously gone 30-61, while the Tigers – hooo boy, the Tigers – have gone 22-63. The M’s have descended into unwatchability, but they’re *still* noticeably better than the Tigers. It wasn’t that long ago that the Tigers had a rotation with peak Justin Verlander and near-peak Max Scherzer, and late-peak Miguel Cabrera. They made it to a World Series but couldn’t quite win, and they always knew (like the Royals a year or two after) that they’d pay for their run with some lean years. The lean years are in full effect, and while the M’s are better positioned at the moment with better young players and a better farm system, the Tigers at least won a pennant in recent memory. But I’m not sure Tigers fans understood just how bad this year would go, with what looks like a remarkable inability to develop young players and a pitching staff that’s rivaling the M’s in futility.

Into the breach steps Drew VerHagen, a Vanderbilt product who was an unexciting but fungible reliever/swing-man in recent years. He’s got a sinker that’s got decent horizontal movement from his high release point, and he has a slider and big curve to go with it. He didn’t miss bats in the minors, and he had some control issues limiting his ceiling as well. This year in April/May, the wheels came off. In just 6 innings, he gave up 10 hits and 10 walks, producing, uh, 10 runs (10 earned), a performance that led to his designation for assignment. He lost the strike zone, couldn’t get anyone to chase, and couldn’t miss a bat if he threw the ball in the zone – that’s pretty much the perfect storm of pitching ineptitude, but he turned it around a bit in AAA (after slipping through waivers). Notably, he started throwing strikes again, but teams that struggle with pitching often see this; a pitcher will do OK at something at AAA, but fail completely in the bigs. The M’s know this issue all too well, so we’ll see if VerHagen’s encouraging recent form in Toledo means anything now.

Swanson will try to disguise his fastball a bit better, as it’s been the primary contributor to a HR/9 rate well over 3. He throws a four-seamer 2/3 of the time, but batters are slugging .630 off of it, which is a nasty combination. He’s been very stingy with walks, but he may want to avoid throwing get-me-over strikes for a while. Really challenging major league hitters with an extra-jumpy baseball isn’t a great plan. Luckily for Swanson, I’m not sure the Tigers have more than one or two major league hitters.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Narvaez, C
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Beckham, LF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Nola, 1B
8: Negron, RF
9: Lopes, 2B
SP: Swanson/LeBlanc

Game 105, Rangers at Mariners – Pitching Sale! Get a Starter Now and Save!

marc w · July 24, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Mike Minor, 12:40pm

Mikes Leake and Minor are both 31, and both signed through 2020 (Leake’s got a 2021 option). Leake is pretty clearly on the market, with the M’s turning down a deal or two on him, holding out for a bit more as we get towards the deadline. Minor is probably on the market, and definitely should be: the Rangers are on the very fringes of the playoff race, but Minor may net more in return given his stellar 2019 campaign in a tough pitching environment.

So, both guys have similar contracts and are the same age, but that’s about where the similarities end. Mike Leake is all about durability, having made at least 30 starts every year since 2012. For teams hard hit by injuries (New York, Oakland, etc.), that could be somewhat compelling. On the other hand, his fastball velocity is down 2 full MPH from when the M’s acquired him, and his sinker – essentially his bread and butter fastball his entire career – has been an unmitigated disaster this season, forcing him to improvise with a flurry of cutters and under-powered four-seamers. Mike Minor, on the other hand, offers upside: he’s posting the best K rate of his career this year, and his four-seam fastball velocity of 93 is higher than it was back in his pre-injury starter days with the Braves in 2012-13. He’s got a very good change-up with tons of armside run, which helps him neutralize right handed bats. But he’s got a TJ surgery on his resume, knocking out his entire 2015-16, and a portion of 2014. He relieved in 2016, so his track record as a post-TJ starter is more limited. There’s less value in his career numbers, because he’s pretty clearly altered just about everything in his approach. Time was, he was similar to Leake in that he had moderate K rates coupled with low walk rates. He got there a different way, mind you: he was as extreme a fly ball guy as Leake was a ground ball maven. But the focus wasn’t on dominance/bat-missing, but rather on controlled contact and not beating yourself with walks. In addition to posting career best K rates, though, Minor’s now posting a career high walk rate. It hasn’t hurt him, though, because he’s stranding so many thanks to those Ks and remarkable splits with men on base.

Leake could get moved soon, especially if he follows last Friday’s masterpiece with another strong start, but the M’s will have to buy down some salary, just as the Cardinals did when the M’s acquired him. Minor should fetch a bit more because he’s been the better pitcher this year, and because he would slot into the playoff rotation on most contenders (Leake would be more about *getting* to the postseason than taking up postseason innings in a short series), but the Rangers could conceivably upgrade their return if they kicked in a few bucks. More importantly, the Mariners are the more motivated sellers. The Rangers could conceivably extend Minor if they feel they’re closer to contention; the whole “if we’re .500 now despite down years from just about every batter, just add some regression and we’re wild card contenders,” argument. I’m not sure that’s true, but they’re 11 games ahead of the M’s, so they get to actually have that debate. The M’s just need to sell everything that isn’t bolted down or hurt. Given his track record, I don’t think Jerry Dipoto would bat an eye at having to add some money to improve their return for Leake, who, for his part, pretty clearly wants out.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Beckham, LF
4: Narvaez, DH
5: Murphy, C
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Nola, 2B
8: Seager, 3B
9: Negron, RF
SP: Leake

Hickory beat West Virginia 5-4 last night despite a HR from Bobby Honeyman. Modesto beat up on Stockton 6-1, thanks to a brilliant start from Steven Moyers, who fanned 11 against 1 BB in 8 innings, giving up just 1 run. Tacoma’s skid continued, as they dropped a classic Reno game in Reno, 10-7. The R’s hit 3 HRs (Mariscal, Brugman and Court, for those following at home), but gave up 4. George Kirby tossed 3 scoreless in Everett’s win to make it a winning debut for new manager Louis Boyd in his hometown as the Frogs beat Vancouver 5-3. Kirby’s yet to allow a run in his first 7 IP as a pro, with 4 Ks against no walks.

Arkansas is back in action tonight with Ricardo Sanchez on the hill. Ian McKinney starts for Modesto, Kelvin Nunez for Everett, and Anthony Misiewicz for Tacoma.

Everett is 19-20 on the year, West Virginia is 52-50, Modesto is 46-57, Arkansas is 60-39, and Tacoma is 48-54.

Game 104, Rangers at Mariners – Finding Relief

marc w · July 23, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Matt Wisler/Tommy Milone vs. Brett Martin/Pedro Payano, 7:10pm

The M’s beleaguered pitching staff got a much-needed break last night as Marco Gonzales spun 7 very effective innings against the suddenly-reeling Texas Rangers. The bullpen didn’t have a lot to do, but they more-or-less got the job done, not that holding a 5 run lead for 1-2 innings is all that much to ask. Still, the M’s pitching problems have completely sunk their season, and while the Orioles are worse overall, you can make a very good case that the M’s have the worst *bullpen* in the game. By FG, there they are: right at the bottom, at nearly a full win below replacement-level. The Mets have a worse ERA, but better strikeout, walk, HR, and stranded runner numbers. By BBREF’s ERA-based numbers, they’re in last place as well.

You know all of this, and of course, so do the Mariners. They’ve been remaking the bullpen essentially the entire year; the season opened with 9 relievers (thanks to the extra roster spot), and with a 10th swapped in nearly immediately. Of those 10, only 2 are currently on the active roster (Roenis Elias and Cory Gearrin). The guys expected to take a bunch of innings – Hunter Strickland, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Bradford, Anthony Swarzak, Matt Festa and Zac Rosscup, haven’t featured much, and three have been shipped out. The pen showed signs of failing early on, so the trades and roster moves have been happening for months. A stunning 31 pitchers have appeared in relief for the M’s, and the names reveal the waves of pitchers the M’s have thrown at their bullpen black hole. Conner Sadzeck was one of the first to come from outside the org, but he was followed by Austin Adams, Mike Wright, Matt Carasiti, Anthony Bass, and Jesse Biddle. The first source of replacements were the in-house prospects and minor league signings, from Tommy Milone (obviously more as a starter, but he’s relieved, too), Parker Markel, Tayler Scott, David McKay, Ryan Garton, Ruben Alaniz, Gerson Bautista, and the SP prospects Erik Swanson and Justus Sheffield. As injuries removed options, the M’s have cycled through ever more options, and with one-time RP prospect Ian Gibaut DFA’d today, I’d suspect they’ll continue to do so. But what’s depressing is just how little movement in the group’s overall numbers we’ve seen even after completely remaking it several times.

Tom Tango created a stat based on win probability added called shutdowns and meltdowns back in 2010, off of an idea from Jeff Zimmermann. Essentially, a reliever gets a shutdown if the team’s chance of winning goes up by a certain amount during his appearance, and he’d get a meltdown if the chances went DOWN by a similar amount. It was an idea to essentially replace the save, which compresses really tough/important outings (5 outs with a 1-run lead and 2 on in scoring position, or even a standard 9th inning, team up by 1) with easier ones (no one on, up by 3). You can pick nits with it, but it’s good, as it puts all relievers – not just closers – on the same scale. Like saves, you expect there to be a lot more shutdowns than meltdowns, simply because hitting is difficult, and pitchers “win” more often. As such, no team’s had *more* meltdowns than shutdowns since the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. A couple of teams – teams with memorably awful bullpens – have had the two exactly equal (the 2012 Cubs and the 2009 Royals). This year’s M’s have a real shot at this. As of today, they’re at 63 shutdowns and 67 meltdowns. The Orioles are +2, while the Nats are exactly even at 62 apiece. Getting Austin Adams back should help, but it might not be enough if the rest of the pen doesn’t help; that ’09 Royals team had a great season from Joakim Soria, but everyone around him was awful.

The stepback year and the bullpen woes have taken some of the focus off of Kyle Seager, who’s been atrocious, at least before last night’s HR. Here’s hoping that’s the big hit that can get him going again, because his line of .189/.265/.349 in his age 31 year looks waaaaaay too much like another 3B in his age 31 year: Scott Spiezio’s 2004 line of .215/.288/.346.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Narvaez, C
5: Beckham, DH
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Nola, 2B
8: Seager, 3B
9: Negron, LF
SP: Matt Wisler, then Tommy Milone

Vogie getting moved down along with Seager; can’t complain about that. But just as some of the M’s scuffles have been lost in this stepback season, so too has Narvaez’s blossoming as a hitter. He’s all of the growth he had last year in Chicago and added a bit of power. What a great, great acquisition.

Dee Gordon’s injury is a bit more severe than we first thought, so he’s been put on the 10-day IL, which would seem to knock down a lot of his trade value. To replace him, the M’s are calling up Tim Lopes from AAA. Lopes was a draft pick of the M’s many moons ago (2012, to be exact) and then flipped him for Pat Venditte a while back. When he became a minor league free agent, they signed him, and he’s had a great season for Tacoma. Glad to see a long time farmhand get a shot in the big leagues. Every one of those shots comes at someone’s expense, and to get Lopes on the 40-man, the M’s DFA’d Parker Markel, who’d looked amazing for Tacoma back in April.

I’ll end on a positive: Wisler’s last ‘open’ in the Angels series was a textbook example of how that strategy can work. The slider-heavy righty got Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons and even Shohei Ohtani, and then turned it over to soft-tossing Wade LeBlanc. Let’s hope it’s as effective tonight.

George Kirby starts for Everett today, who just hired a new manager – 2017 M’s draft pick Louis Boyd! Boyd, a 2B out of the University of Arizona, is from Vancouver BC.

Game 101, Angels at Mariners

marc w · July 20, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Matt Wisler vs. Griffin Canning, 6:10pm

After a near perfect game on Friday and Edgar’s HOF induction tomorrow, the M’s get something really rare for tonight’s game: a chance to celebrate. It’s a lost season, and *any* celebration of a retired icon includes plenty of nostalgia, but what makes this rare is that it isn’t forced; it’s more than nostalgia.

This ought to be fun, and I’m looking forward to going tonight. Edgar is remembered for 1995 and the 2001 season, but Edgar toiled for years for go-nowhere M’s clubs, and failed to MAKE said clubs, though that had more to do with the M’s than Edgar himself.

That he stayed, that he took the club from nothing to dominance is one of the many reasons he means so much to M’s fans, as Ryan Divish’s story details. Talking about that with my kids is going to be a highlight of the evening.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Narvaez, C
6: Seager, 3B
7: Beckham, LF
8: Nola, 1B
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Wisler

It’s the first ever LF start for Tim Beckham: he’s played a single inning in LF in his big league career, and that came earlier this year.

Game 100, Angels at Mariners

marc w · July 19, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Felix Peña/Noe Ramirez, 7:10pm

It’s Edgar’s weekend which allows us to focus on something other than the current state of the club. We all knew a step back meant another year without the playoffs, and a year without big acquisitions at the deadline, but it’s starting to feel like a year without scoreless innings. It’s rough.

JP Crawford’s slumping. Dan Vogelbach is slumping. The bullpen youngsters have yet to show where the ‘slump’ ends and the ‘true talent’ ends. I want to watch these games to see the next good team germinate and break the surface, but pretty much by definition, that means watching a bunch of players fail so 1-2 can succeed. That’s a bit too Darwinian for my entertainment taste. I’m in Seattle thinking about today and tomorrow’s game, and for the first time in years, I’m thinking one’s enough. Family of four costs a lot, and that’s part of it, but the other part is :gestures grandly: this.

This is the very real penalty a re-build levies. For as much strategic sense as it might make in a vacuum, there is a cost as disinterest and fan anger build. This creates perverse disincentives too, but you have to make some sort of
The last time we saw Felix Peña he was celebrating a combined no-hitter. Things can only go up from here, M’s.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana,RF
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Narvaez, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Murphy, C
8: Negron, LF
9: Gordon, 2B

Game 99, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · July 17, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners

Erik Swanson/Tommy Milone vs. Homer Bailey, 12:00pm

Last year around the break, the surging A’s swapped prospects to bolster their jury-rigged rotation by acquiring Mike Fiers from Detroit. Fiers was on a one year deal with the Tigers, paying him $6 million for his age-33 season. After he became a free agent this off-season, the A’s re-signed him to a two-year deal paying around $15 million. The A’s needed some stability, but they didn’t go out and get a big name or pay big dollars in free agency.

Last week, the A’s again found themselves in the playoff hunt despite a rotation with a big hole to fill following Frankie Montas PED suspension and the delayed arrival of AJ Puk and Jesus Luzardo. Fiers has been his dependable self, and Brett Anderson is somehow 2nd on the team in IP despite posting the lowest K/9 of any starter in the game…one spot ahead of Fiers. So, the A’s again went to the bargain bin, picking up the Royals Homer Bailey, who was basically free to the Royals, as the Dodgers are paying his lofty salary. Bailey was once one of the brightest stars in the prospect universe, a heralded high school arm who tantalized with his potential, but took a very long time to get comfortable at the big league level. He first did so around 2010, but it was his 2012-2014 heyday that led the Reds to give him a 6-year, $105 million deal. Almost immediately, Bailey’s health faltered, and he was hurt or abysmal or both for the Reds from 2015 to 2018. That final year was his nadir, a 1-14 campaign with a 6.09 ERA, a FIP over 5.5, and a DRA well over 7. He was projected for a sub-replacement level season by PECOTA, but he’s rebounded with his best K rate in years, and he’s avoided HRs better than he did last year, which is saying something with the new nearly-drag-free baseball. It was a very Fiers-y acquisition, and it cost the A’s a AA shortstop who’d been scuffling at the plate. This is not the A’s ace, and it’s not the kind of pick-up that’s done with an eye to a short postseason series. It’s just a modest upgrade at low to essentially no cost. The key is: can the A’s maintain whatever mechanical tweaks or pitch mix changes the Royals made to unlock any remaining ability in Bailey?

Erik Swanson returns today to be the opener for Tommy Milone. Swanson seemed like a good bet to be the 4th or 5th starter at this point, but a disastrous May and then some injury issues mean that he hasn’t been able to make the leap to dependable MLB pitcher yet. He’ll get another shot in this lost season, but it’s imperative that the M’s help him unlock his potential, kind of the way the Royals did with Bailey at a very different point in his career. The pieces are there, he’s just got to reconfigure them a bit. Milone pitched a bit in the Angels no-hit win the other day, so even though pitching with an opener has been standard practice with him, it’s an even better idea today. I’m somewhat surprised that the A’s didn’t ask about him, as he came up with the A’s initially and fits a certain pitching archetype that the A’s seem drawn to. Hell, it could happen later on this month, especially if Milone keeps up his remarkable results.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Narvaez, DH
5: Beckham, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Murphy, C
8: Moore, LF
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Swanson/Milone

Marco Gonzales was really, really pissed off at HP umpire Brian O’Nora’s ball 4 call in the 5th inning last night. He’s got a case, of course: the pitch looked to be a strike, and O’Nora had his bell rung after being hit on Domingo Santana’s follow-through. He’d end up relinquishing home plate duties later in the game. Marco was getting roasted a bit for this on talk radio this morning, but it seems like it’s part and parcel of his nature as an extremely competitive guy. The problem is that he seemed to let it affect him. There’s no real way to know what would’ve happened if O’Nora had made the correct call, but essentially every path would still lead to an M’s loss.

AJ Puk was sharp in his 2-IP start for Midland, helping the Rockhounds blank Arkansas, 2-0. Kyle Lewis doubled. Andrew Moore shook off being outrighted and tossed 6 great IP as the Rainiers shut out Las Vegas by the same 2-0 score. Moore was matched frame for frame by ex-M’s farmhand Paul Blackburn who went 7 scoreless, but the R’s got 2 runs off of rehabbing Oakland SP Jharel Cotton in the 8th. The story of the day in the minors is the first AA start for Logan Gilbert. He’ll lead Arkansas against Midland this evening, while Sean Nolin looks to continue his remarkable run in the PCL after coming over from Independent ball.

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