Game 117, Mariners at Angels

marc w · August 15, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Felix Hernandez vs. Ricky Nolasco, 7:05pm

A splendid Felix Day to you all!

Tonight, the M’s face off with ex-Twins hurler Ricky Nolasco, traded to Anaheim in something of an odd deadline deal that sent Hector Santiago to Minnesota. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about pitchers that for whatever reason consistently “beat” their fielding-independent stats. Chris Young had a consistently low HR/FB ratio (until this year), and knuckleballers often post very low BABIPs, and some high-K pitchers have the ability to strand more runners. In Nolasco, we’ve got a textbook example of the *opposite* phenomenon – a guy whose FIP makes him look decent, worth extending a 4-year, $49 million deal to, as the Twins did, but has posted just one above-average (2 WAR) season in a fairly lengthy career.

By Fangraphs’ FIP-based WAR, Nolasco’s been worth nearly 23 WAR over his career, which is more than respectable. His career average FIP is 3.86, and paired with decent durability (he’s been hurt a bit more recently), that drives some real value. But his ERA is 4.59, and it’s been well over 5 for his last 300IP over three seasons. That pushes his fielding DEpendent WAR under 10, a bit more in line with what you’d expect from a pitcher who’s allowed so many actual runs. Part of his problem is a stubbornly high BABIP, but Nolasco compounds it by failing to strand runners. Yes, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth reiterating after the Angels not only took on the end of Nolasco’s deal, but also sent a so-so prospect to the Twins. Sure, sure, they got back injured-but-formerly-highly-regarded Alex Meyer, but fundamentally, the Angels took on salary presumably because they saw this as a decent buy-low guy. By FIP, it’s a decent bargain – it’s a roll of the dice, but you could get a bit of value and not have to burn service time on your actual prospects while your window of contention is closed. But how many innings is enough to confirm to us that Nolasco simply isn’t as good as that perfectly solid FIP?

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
SP: King Felix.

The M’s made a minor trade today, sending UTIL/SS Luis Sardinas to San Diego for a PTBNL or cash considerations. Sardinas was coming off a terrible year at the plate in 2015, and despite a very good spring training, had another awful year at the plate this year. Sardinas just can’t hit – after a .457 OPS last year, he “regressed” to .467 this year.

Most teams run instructional league teams where guys who’ve been hurt or need extra work can play games but without worrying about their stats. The M’s made the somewhat surprising move of not fielding a team this fall - they’re opting to send more guys to the Caribbean winter leagues, but also they want their players to work on things *outside* of game action. It’s easy to see this as a cynical move to save money, but as Andy McKay’s said in that BA article, they want to replicate what they see as the success of that “hitting summit” they held last winter – a workshop on reworking hitting mechanics outside of games. Given their success this season, it’s hard to quibble with that.

Game 116, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · August 14, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. Zachary Neal, 1:05pm

After last night’s win, the M’s are 7 games over .500 and 2 games behind Boston for the 2nd AL wild card. The Tigers’ shutout of Texas keeps them ahead of the M’s for now. Despite that loss for the Rangers, they’ve still got a healthy lead in the AL West, thanks both to the distance they’d put between themselves and Seattle and Houston’s 2nd half struggles. It’s been a pretty remarkable run in the West, as this playoff odds graph shows:
ALWest

After defeating one A’s starter featuring a low-spin sinker, the M’s face another one today in Zach Neal. He’s not on the Pitch FX leaderboard for some reason, but if he *was*, the vertical movement on his sinker would be the lowest of any starter in the game, at just under 1.8″. That’s almost no backspin, and while Neal’s delivery is low 3/4, it’s not quite at Justin Masterson levels. That exceptional movement figures like it’d make him somewhat tough to hit, or at least make him an extreme grounder guy, but with below average velocity and low-spin breaking balls, that’s not really what we see. Clearly, he’s a ground ball pitcher, but he doesn’t have Zach Britton’s velocity or bite, and thus Neal’s K rate is far below league average. His GB rate in the mid 50s is well above average, it’s nowhere near Britton’s or some of the truly dominant grounder guys.

He also throws a (sinking) four-seamer, a change-up at around 83 (that sinks *less* than his sinker), and his best pitch, a slider at 86. He’s induced a fair number of whiffs with that slider, especially for a guy with a K/9 3.38 and an overall K% under 10%. So is this just a poor man’s Aaron Cook? Perhaps not. Neal has very good control, and he’s walked all of one batter in his 29 1/3 IP for Oakland. That’s a trait he showed in the minors as well, walking 8 in 61+ IP in AAA this year.

With a profile like this, you’d figure Neal to have serious trouble with left-handed bats, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. Lefties are slugging .536 off of him, while righties are at .397. He’s given up 5 dingers thus far, 4 of them to lefties. This is something that I think needs further research, and given the relative rarity of HRs, it’s going to be tough to make any robust conclusions, but: a lot of sinkerballers DON’T show the kind of HR prevention that teams might expect. When things go as they’re supposed to, even a mediocre sinker guy can get grounders, but their mistakes may not be hard-hit grounders and line-drives, they’re HRs. For marginal velo and “stuff” guys, it kind of makes sense that this problem would show up only in the minors – their stuff may be good enough to get mishits in the minors, but not in the majors. But we’ve seen this even from established ground ball guys this year: Dallas Keuchel’s HR/9 is over 1 this year, and then there’s Sonny Gray, who’s given up 18 dingers despite a GB% over 54%. So why are some guys – Jeremy Jeffress, Sam Dyson, Brad Ziegler, Zach Britton – able to limit HRs consistently (though with their reliever workloads, we may not even be able to say that with confidence) while others struggle? Velocity is probably involved, but that doesn’t explain Ziegler. Is it movement, arm slot, command, or a combination? Whatever it is, let’s hope Neal continues to search for it in vain today.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: O’Malley, SS
SP: LeBlanc

Tacoma beat Memphis 6-5, with the R’s bullpen doing some solid work behind Taijuan Walker. Walker was knocked out in the 5th, giving up 4 runs in 4 1/3 IP, but one of those runs scored when Pat Venditte walked in an inherited runner. Venditte was great after that, though, tossing 2 scoreless for the win. Tacoma’s Zach Lee starts today in Memphis.

Jackson beat Biloxi 5-3 thanks to a big 3R HR from Tyler O’Neill, who now leads the Southern League in all three triple crown categories. Last week’s SL pitcher of the week, Ryan Yarbrough, starts for the Generals today.

Bakersfield mounted an unbelievable comeback in yesterday’s 14-13, 11 inning win against Lake Elsinore. Trailing by 8 going into the 8th, the Blaze scored 4 to make it 12-8, and then Justin Seager hit a game-tying grand slam in the 9th, sending the game to extras. After the Storm took a lead, Jay Baum’s 2-run single walked it off for the Blaze. Seager hit 2 HR and knocked in *7* on the day. Anthony Misiewicz starts for Bakersfield today.

Ronald Dominguez and Clinton were hard-luck losers yesterday, as Burlington won 1-0. Dominguez pitched a complete game in the loss, striking out 9 and walking 0 in 8 IP. Kevin Gadea starts today’s game for the Lumberkings.

Everett lost to Salem-Keizer 11-7, despite a grand slam from Nick Zammarelli. 4th rounder Thomas Burrows continues to pitch well for the AquaSox, striking out 29 in his first 17 1/3 professional innings. Brandon Miller starts today’s game.

Game 115, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · August 13, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Kendall Graveman, 6:05pm

I’m at a concert today, but the resurgent Iwakuma takes on sinkerballer Kendall Graveman tonight. The M’s try and start another winning streak, and their odds go up dramatically when you go from Joe Wieland to Kuma.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, Raf
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Iannetta, C
9: Marte, SS

Tigers and Rangers are scoreless at the moment; Astros trail the Jays.

Game 114, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · August 12, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Joe Wieland vs. Sean Manaea, 7:05pm

The red-hot M’s take on the Athletics in a series in Oakland, with Joe Wieland making his debut in an M’s uniform. He’ll be facing Sean Manaea, the lefty prospect who’s numbers look a bit better than they did early on, but is still having something of a rough go in his first MLB season.

Ariel Miranda was scheduled to start this one, but now it’s Joe Wieland’s turn to take the hill. Wieland was just selected from Tacoma, and to make room on the 40-man, the M’s have DFA’d Daniel Robertson. To make room on the active roster, the M’s sent down Jarrett Grube, who’d been in the bullpen as emergency depth. Wieland’s a righty who’d been a Ranger prospect, but made his MLB debut several years ago with San Diego. Though he made a handful of (forgettable) appearances with the Dodgers last year, he was signed on a minor league deal in the offseason. As Tacoma’s opening day starter, I think the M’s thought he might be some helpful rotation depth, but he got off to a brutal start in the PCL: after his first 5 starts, his ERA stood at 17.31. He’s been much better since, but his season numbers are still a bit ugly thanks to an April in which he gave up 36 hits and 31 runs in all of 13 innings pitched. As for his repertoire, the best way to describe it is that he’s a starting version of Blake Parker – he’s got a straight, kind-of-rising four-seamer, a big curve ball, and then a change-up. He used to throw a slider, but hasn’t for some time now. Wieland throws around 91-92.

Manaea’s whippy, lower 3/4 delivery produces a lot of armside run. His four-seamer has more than 2 standard deviations more run than average; it’s a bit like Carson Smith’s sinker, only from the left side and obviously nowhere near as effective. Manaea’s secondaries are a slider (this one more clearly behind Smith’s big breaking slider) and the makings of a pretty good looking change-up. Despite a lot less movement, Manaea’s slider has been pretty effective, and even the change’s results look solid, especially given that he’s generally throwing it to right-handed bats. But his fastball is just getting squared up far too much, and that’s something the A’s are going to need to work on this offseason. Righties are destroying him, while his arm angle and slider allow him to dominate lefties. Righties are slugging nearly .600 on his fastball, and while that should regress, he’s clearly got to figure out how to keep his fastball from breaking right into righties’ barrels. Improved command may help, but I wonder if he may need a mechanical tweak of some sort.

1: O’Malley, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Zunino, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
SP: Wieland

The Tigers are facing Yu Darvish and the Rangers in Arlington, for those wanting to do a bit of scoreboard watching.

It’s Been Something, Alex Rodriguez

marc w · August 12, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

It’s essentially always been this way when we talk about Alex Rodriguez. This weird, delicate balance not so much between love and hate, but from a healthy appreciation of his talent and the need to give extremely HOT TAKES about his personality. A-Rod was drafted #1 overall and had the #1 overall agent in baseball, Scott Boras, representing him. What followed fairly predictably was a lot of what we’d come to know and associate with Boras, but when Rodriguez held out, and when Boras had him enroll at the University of Miami to demonstrate he wasn’t bluffing, a lot of anger and a lot of histrionics got directed at 18-year old A-Rod.

In June of 1993, the M’s had enjoyed all of one winning season, and had never come close to the playoffs. They’d hired Lou Piniella, had the game’s most famous and recognizable player, a freak of nature as their best pitcher, so they weren’t the complete joke their cumulative record made them out to be, but they had the #1 overall pick for a reason. And when Rodriguez threatened to hold out for more money instead of leap at the Mariners’ early offers, well, people suddenly felt pretty aggrieved about this cocky kid’s lack of gratitude, his focus on money and not improvement, his insincerity. When we first met him, before he’d ever suited up in A-ball, we were doing it, and he was reacting to it by staying preternaturally calm, aloof almost… which just made people madder.

That seems like a normal indictment of a certain kind of sports fan, but I’d like to think that we collectively learned a bit from it. Sure, we saw it again with JD Drew a few years later, but to my knowledge, no one absolutely blasted Brady Aiken for not signing with Houston – most blamed *Houston*. When Andrew Miller or Josh Harrison or anyone else threatens to go to college unless they get some sky-high bonus, there’s some chirping of course, but it started to get so routine that the discussion moved on to what the league was going to do, and once the league did something, how draft strategy would adapt.

When he signed that breathtaking 10 year deal with Texas, he played against the M’s for the first time early in 2001. I remember watching it and thinking that it was the loudest crowd I’d ever heard at Safeco, and that it was threatening Kingdome noise levels. The M’s were a year removed from their beloved icon essentially forcing a trade and leaving. Griffey’s departure stung, and he’d had some harsh words for the organization both before and immediately after the trade to Cincinnati. Of course, when he returned with the Reds, the M’s fans gave him a standing ovation. As much as we try to complicate the story of Griffey, Seattle’s Hero, the fans kept simplifying it again: we love him, and count ourselves fortunate that we got to watch him grow into a superstar. With A-Rod – the A-Rod who’d accumulated 35-38 WAR (depending on what system you use) in his time in Seattle – all anyone could think about was betrayal. People screamed at him, threw monopoly money at him, acted like petulant children in front of their actual children, and just showered the man in hate. Alex Rodriguez’s response was to deny that it had happened at all, telling reporters, “I don’t think it was animosity…I thought they were…supporting their team.”

Playing on a division rival, he’d have to go through that gauntlet several times each season, with the M’s winning most games and Texas increasingly falling behind. Fans loved it: he’d left for money, and all of these OTHER guys, guys who never thought about money for a *second* they were so team-oriented, conquered all they surveyed. The 2001 M’s won 116 games, so there was going to by some mythmaking about them regardless, but at the time we really defined them against A-Rod. You can choose to follow money, or you can choose to win 116 games behind Paul Abbott, Mike Cameron, Edgar and Jamie Moyer and all of those nice guys.

The PED scandals hurt his legacy, there’s no question, but my point is that they were just extra ammunition. He was already guilty of a multitude of sins, so of *course* it was different than, say, Bret Boone or Ken Caminiti or even Roger Clemens. With Biogenesis, the same pattern repeated itself, with MLB and the Commissioner’s office losing its collective mind in the pursuit of A-Rod. By literally buying documents to try to pin down A-Rod’s guilt, the Office scuppered an investigation by an actual government body. This was the bureaucratic of M’s fans’ 10-minutes Hate in April of 2001, and it lasted the best part of a year.

Whether it was his move to New York and relationship with sainted captain Derek Jeter, his struggles in (certain) clutch situations or what, fans and the league itself have had an enormously strange relationship with what was the game’s best player, and one of the most dominant hitters – especially shortstops – in baseball history. Being a fan means looking past so much, from actual, physical violence to personality or health foibles that sap a player’s ability to contribute. This blog didn’t hate Chris Snelling because he got hurt. Yankees fans didn’t hate (and shouldn’t) when CC Sabathia went to rehab before the playoffs. We didn’t hate any number of players who subsumed their identity into the game (we loved it in Lenny Dykstra), and we didn’t hate John Halama when he said he didn’t much care for baseball. What was it that we all found so insufferable about Alex Rodriguez? Why couldn’t three different orgs just cheer for the laundry, alreaedy?

This Jeb Lund piece at RS is the best thing I’ve seen on this strange phenomenon, and why we perceived him as such an alien. I’d still like to learn more about why we just couldn’t stomach his need to be loved (as opposed to, I don’t know, the vast majority of sports and entertainment personalities), or his anodyne public statements about anything and everything (as opposed to an even vaster majority of sports and entertainment personalities). I think it’s been said many times, but the only thing I can think of is that he tapped into a hitherto undiscovered sports version of the uncanny valley - the feeling of revulsion or discomfort at seeing a really, really good simulacrum of a human being, whether a robot or computer-generated image. It’s a famous phenomenon, but I’m still not 100% convinced it actually exists, or at least, that it exists for most people in a clearly definable set of circumstances. But A-Rod… A-Rod makes me think we’ve found something equivalent.

To know for sure, of course, we’d have to replicate this, and that’s going to be tough. Mike Trout is transcendent, but he’s signed to a long-term, team-friendly contract, and even as anodyne as his every utterance is, we latch onto every glimpse of a clear personality willingly, almost with relief: he loves the weather! How funny! How not-like-A-Rod, somehow! Griffey had so many similarities, he’d seem like a perfect test case, but no, fan reaction literally couldn’t have been more different. Barry Bonds is the closest thing to A-Rod, in that people could not stop offering HOT TAKES, but even at the height of his legal troubles, he was absolutely beloved by his home fans. If everyone else hated him, at least Giants’ fans had his back. Why was A-Rod’s support always so conditional and fleeting (it’s not like people never cheered for him, after all)? I still don’t really know, and I’d love to know what you think.

A part of the reason I find this all so strange is that I hold on to this one memory of him, and how normal he seemed to be, at least for a time. In 1995, A-Rod’s second pro season was split between Seattle and the Tacoma Rainiers. He was 19 and would hit his first MLB HR that year. I was 18, and working as a dishwasher at a public golf course in Tacoma, and A-Rod and some teammates would occasionally come play on off-days. We all knew his talent, and the restaurant staff – many of whom were his parents’ age – asked him to sign something, and he obliged them all. I held back and didn’t ask, because I couldn’t get used to the fact that a baseball player ~my age caused this kind of excitement. He and his group approached the first tee, and many of us stopped to watch. He unleashed what would become a familiar swing, and effortlessly sent the ball flying 300 yards, albeit about 100 yards out of bounds. He kind of laughed, and one of his teammates started ribbing him about it, and he sat back and waited for someone else to tee up. He was composed, but otherwise completely familiar and relatable. I’d like to think that somewhere that version of him’s still around – maybe it’s relegated to clubhouses, or maybe it really only comes out when he’s doing something or talking about something OTHER than baseball. That you could tease him about his odd end to his career, or bust his chops about anything from his shifting WBC allegiances to his move to DH and, if you were in just the right spot, you’d see a genuine, human, reaction. Maybe this is the problem, though: that we want to relate to star players like we’re friends, when in reality there’s simply nothing to say. Maybe A-Rod made that a little bit too clear.

If this really is the end of A-Rod’s career, then thank you, Alex. You were something, all right.

Game 112, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · August 9, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. Daniel Norris, 7:10pm

Things are different now, Scott Servais says. What the M’s can overlook when they’re ten games back (or ten games up) can’t be overlooked with the M’s now 2.5 games out of the second wildcard. Thus, Taijuan Walker’s been demoted due to a lack of competitive edge. The Mariners, who started someone named Mike Freeman at shortstop *because Shawn O’Malley was sick* need to squeeze every ounce of production out of each spot.

The Zduriencik M’s used to talk a good game about talent, and trying to be more talented than their opponents. I have no idea what this new emphasis on ‘edge’ is, but there’s no doubt the M’s are less talented today than they were 2 weeks ago. They are also on a winning streak, so hey, maybe talent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But let’s be clear: the M’s are removing Walker from their rotation because Ariel Miranda threw a good game once and Wade LeBlanc’s the hot hand. Everything that makes this move coherent and ‘logical’ takes it further from a process we’d recognize as data driven and rational. It smacks of pop psychology and tiny samples. Of course, it’s worked to date, so maybe we just need to stop worrying and sweep the Tigers.

Detroit starts former top prospect (of the Blue Jays) Daniel Norris. The lefty has a fastball around 93, a slider, curve and another good change up. Personally, I think Michael Fulmer’s change, fastball and everything else are better, and apparently big league hitters agree. Norris is an extreme fly ball pitcher and he’s paid the price for that in home runs but hasn’t extracted a benefit in terms of low BABIP.

He’s also suffered some control problems that he seems to be moving past, but again, when he’s around the plate, he gets hit fairly hard. His slider in particular has been a longstanding problem. Batters are slugging .533 on it, and given that it’s his put away pitch to same-handed batters, that’s insanely bad. Lefties have, perhaps unsurprisingly, hit Norris harder than righties, who face his best pitch, the change.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz,
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
SP: LeBlanc

The standard vs. LHP lineup? Ah well. Go M’s.

The M’s roster fallout continues, as the Yankees picked up DFA’d reliever Blake Parker, while these Tigers just claimed Donn Roach. On the plus side, sounds like Arquimedes Caminero will be active tonight and Pat Venditte should make his Rainiers debut tonight at Cheney (hat tip, Curto, of course).

More importantly, Ketel Marte’s been activated from the DL, so the M’s have an actual SS on the roster again.

Game 111, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · August 8, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Michael Fulmer, 7:10pm

The M’s fete The Kid and pass the Astros, Ichiro! knocks his 3000th hit, and A-Rod will play his final game this week and take a job as an advisor to the Yankees. Yes, yes, we’re supposed to oppose cheap nostalgia, but none of this was forced or cheap, and I’m still kind of giddy about Ichiro. (We’re also supposed to downplay round number mania, but who cares: Ichiro!)

Tonight’s game is a fascinating match-up between a resurgent Iwakuma, and the young Tigers phenom who continues to impress. Can’t remember if I mentioned Fulmer before, but he was the big get when Detroit traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets. He features a straight, rising four seamer, a sinker with a half a foot more horizontal run than his straight fastball, a good slider, and a very interesting split-change thing that may be his best pitch.

Early on, he got attention for a scoreless streak, and thus had astronomical strand rates and a microscopic BABIP. Since then, regression’s gone to work on those two stats, but they’re still above average and Fulmer’s still pitching really well. Er, it helps if you overlook a recent bout of HR troubles (4 in last 3 starts).

His K rate isn’t all that impressive, but the change has helped him post well above average GB marks. It’s also a prime reason why he’s been so tough on left handed bats; he’s got reverse splits through his first 100+ IP.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Freeman, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Mike Freeman makes his first big league start at SS. I know he’s versatile, but this seems like a force – getting a lefty bat in yo face a righty. But O’Malley’s a switch hitter, so perhaps this is just about resting O’Malley, which is not a phrase you thought you’d hear when this season started.

Game 109, Angels at Mariners

marc w · August 6, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Tyler Skaggs, 6:40pm – Note the odd start time

Taijuan Walker makes his return from the DL tonight; we’ll see how long his foot holds up. Walker’s critical to the M’s going forward, as the M’s rotation suddenly needs all the help it can get. HR issues aside, it’s been a solid year for him results-wise. But with his foot injury lingering and with a FIP of 4.72, questions remain. I’ve been a big Walker believer for many years, but it’s sad to see another year go by seeing only tantalizing flashes of what he could become.

Tyler Skaggs, the lefty who missed parts of 2014, all of 2015 and half of 2016 rehabbing from TJ surgery, makes his third start of the year. To say he’s been good is an understatement. In 12 1/3 IP in his first two games back, he’s K’d 13 and walked 3, given up just 7 hits and allowed a grand total of 0 runs. Once the prize of the Angels farm system, he moved to Arizona in 2010 in the Dan Haren-for-Joe Saunders swap. That deal came in late July of 2010, when a young, interim GM in Arizona had been on the job for about 3 weeks. Jerry Dipoto’s first big trade was a big one, and while Saunders replaced Haren’s innings in the majors, Skaggs was seen as the real prize for the rebuilding Diamondbacks. Unfortunately for Arizona, Skaggs’ stuff didn’t comport with either his top prospect reputation or his (very good) results in the minors in 2011-2012. He had a cup of coffee with Arizona in 2012, and got hit hard, surrendering too many HRs and averaging just 90mph on his fastball. Sure, he was a lefty, and he was never supposed to be a high-90s fireballer, but he wasn’t any better in 2013, and worse, he got hit just as hard in the minors.

After that season, the Diamondbacks sent him back to Anaheim in the three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, Hector Santiago to Anaheim and Adam Eaton to Chicago. The GM acquiring him in that trade? Uh, Jerry Dipoto again. Almost immediately, he added the MPH to his fastball that he’d lost in the desert, and he averaged 92+ for the Angels. It’s not like he was an ace or anything, but he was a solid pitcher, with a FIP in the mid-3′s and a much better walk rate than he’d shown in Arizona. Unfortunately, he succumbed to a torn ligament during 2014, and his rehab took a bit longer than expected. At one point, Skaggs had talked about trying to get back within 12-14 months and pitch in games (perhaps in the minors) in 2015, but that obviously didn’t happen.

Given the layoff, I’m sure even the Angels didn’t quite know what to expect, but thus far, he’s been better than ever. His velocity’s over 93 at this point, with excellent rise. His curve, thrown about 76, has a ton of movement as well. He’s got a decent change, but it’s clearly behind the hook. He’s been hard on lefties, but he’s really improved against righties recently – he dominated them in the PCL this year, and that’s continued in his first couple starts with the Angels.

The story of today’s game isn’t Skaggs, nor even Walker’s return. It’s the ceremony honoring recent HOF inductee Ken Griffey Jr., who’ll have his iconic #24 jersey retired tonight. It’s been a great weekend, with Griffey bobblehead day yesterday and Griffey jersey giveaway tomorrow. I’ve tried to say how much Griffey meant to Seattle and to baseball, but I can’t come close to capturing it. He was one of a kind, and I’ll always be thankful for seeing his career play out.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: O’Malley, SS
SP: Walker

The Rainiers look for a 3-1 series win over El Paso tonight with Joe Wieland on the mound. They’ve pounded the Chihuahuas thus far, scoring 30 runs in the first three games, highlighted by a PCL-classic 16-15 win the other day. Stefen Romero’s homered in each of the past two games and continues to put together an eye opening season. Pat Venditte will be activated and ready to pitch for Tacoma. Yesterday’s 7-5 loss was marred by 4 Tacoma errors and 5 unearned runs. Tacoma’s record on the year is 66-47, best in the PCL. They have a 3 game lead over Fresno in their division.

Jackson faces Birminham today, with Tyler Herb taking the hill for the Generals. Recent acquisition Paul Blackburn (part of the Mike Montgomery deal) is off to a fast start, giving up 2 runs in 14 IP over 3 starts with his new team. He’s still not missing many bats, but hey, so far, so good. Ryan Yarbrough’s given up 1 earned run in his last 18 innings. Jackson is 30 games over .500. After winning the first-half title going away, they’re leading the second-half race as well.

Bakersfield faces Lake Elsinore today with Zack Littell throwing for the Blaze. The North Carolinian has been dominant for Bakersfield, even if his long scoreless streak was snapped in his last start. He’s 5-0 with an ERA of 1.66 in 6 games in High-A. Bakersfield’s only 60-52, which makes for a poor year in this year’s M’s affiliates. They DO have a solid lead in the second half standings in the Cal League North, so the dream of every full-season affiliate making the playoffs is alive and well.

Clinton and Ronald Dominguez face off with Beloit tonight. Dominguez has worked out of the pen and the rotation, and has a nice 50:8 K:BB ratio for the Lumberkings. Clinton swept a doubleheader from Cedar Rapids last night, scoring 4 runs in the 8th and 9th to beat the Kernels 7-3 in Game 1, and winning 5-3 in the nightcap. Augustus Craig’s 8th inning HR was the big blow in game 1, but Alex Jackson had 2 hits and a double in each game. Nick Neidert pitched the second game, and now has a 56:8 K:BB ratio with only 58 hits allowed in 70 IP. Clinton, like Bakersfield, leads the second half standings in the MWL West, and at 66-45, they have the 2nd best record in the MWL as a whole.

Everett dropped a 7-5 contest to Hillsboro last night, despite a HR from rehabbing SS Ketel Marte. They face the Hops again today, with Tim Viehoff on the mound. Viehoff, the M’s 12th round pick, has 34 Ks and just 13 hits allowed in 24 2/3 IP. Everett, too, is leading the second half standings in their division.

M’s Add Arquimedes Caminero and Pat Venditte

marc w · August 6, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

While the “trade deadline” has come and gone, teams can still swap players, as the M’s just demonstrated. Today, the M’s add two polar opposites to their bullpen: hard-throwing righty Arquimedes Caminero and NOT-hard-throwing ambidextrous oddity Pat Venditte.

Given that Caminero’s out of options, has a FIP of 4.74 this year, did time on the DL this year and hit two D’Backs in the head in one game, it’s not a surprise that he cleared waivers.

That said, Caminero will always get a shot. Caminero’s fastball has averaged 98.4 MPH over his career, good for 8th fastest in the pitch fx era. He has what looks like a decent slider/cutter at 92mph (!), and a very intriguing splitter that he may not use enough. He threw it almost a quarter of the time in his initial call-up with Miami, but it’s been relegated to third or fourth pitch status by Ray Searage and the Pirates.

About a month into his tenure with Pittsburgh, it looked like the Pirates had unearthed a gem. Under Searage’s tutelage, Caminero seemed to throw more strikes AND increased his grounder rate by over 10 percentage points. But soon after, things began to fall apart again. His command was essentially AWOL by July, and while he had a solid second half, whatever he’d ‘learned’ from Searage seemed to come and go. That pattern continued this year, as he started off pitching like a sub-replacement-level arm for a few months, with 14 Ks to 16 free passes (walks and HBPs) through May.

What’s he done differently? First of all, he’s essentially scrapped the sinker that the Pirates taught him. He began 2016 throwing his sinker as his primary fastball, but he’s thrown it about 3% of the time since. In addition, it looks like he may have moved a bit on the rubber, as his horizontal release point has moved about a foot since the end of May. The question is: will these changes be enough to give him some consistency for the first time in his career? I can’t say it’s terribly likely, but Caminero’s arm is special enough* that you can’t blame the M’s for taking a chance.

Pat Venditte is famously ambidextrous, and uses that skill to carve out a niche in MLB despite averaging less than 85mph** with his fastball. The M’s picked him up from Toronto today for another PTBNL. Venditte throws a sinking fastball from a low 3/4, almost sidearm, arm slot, and throws his looping, low-70s curve a ton. With Oakland in 2015, he gave lefties a steady dose of the curve and actually posted decent results – his FIP was just 2.35 thanks to a K% of over 30%. Righties, though, were a different story. He throws a bit harder from the right side, and used his fastball a bit more, but couldn’t miss any bats. He walked more than he struck out, and thus his FIP against righties was well above 5.

This year, he’s been bad across the board, as his K rate – even against lefties – is below average, and he’s walking far too many. The Jays seem to have made some minor tweaks to his mechanics – like moving him further out on the rubber – so we can look to see if the M’s change him back to the way he threw with Oakland or do something else entirely. The switch-pitching thing *seems* like it’d be really valuable, but I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t best suited as an odd kind of LOOGY. Bring him in to face lefty/righty/lefty, Mariners.

To make room on the 25- and 40-man rosters, the M’s have DFA’d two relievers, Donn Roach and Blake Parker. Parker pitched a few days ago against Boston and looked okay, touching 94 with his fastball and a decent curve. He’d been great with Tacoma, but may not miss a ton of bats at the big league level. Donn Roach had an odd year – striking out errybody in spring training after carving out a niche as an extreme pitch-to-contact ground ball specialist. After getting lit up early in April with Tacoma, he settled in as a surprisingly effective starter before moving to the bullpen as an emergency call-up and then back with the Rainiers. His velocity was 2 MPH or so better than he showed with the Padres in 2014, and better than he averaged this spring. He’s never going to rack up strikeouts, but as a guy with a career GB% near 70%, he has his uses.

A couple of things stand out from these moves: first, Jerry Dipoto just can’t stop messing with his bullpen. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, as I mentioned the other day – if Zduriencik’s flaw was sticking with a plan even as evidence mounted it was the wrong one, Dipoto makes adjustments all the time. There’s nothing wrong with these kind of waiver wire deals – the Athletics famously constructed a great bullpen a few years ago in just this manner. But at some point, I’d like to see a real plan or philosophy here beyond “Let’s try a different guy now.” Getting Caminero to use his splitter more or letting the coaching staff work with him could pay huge dividends, so I don’t want to downplay that, but if these two are replaced early in the offseason, it’s going to seem a little weird. Lots of sound and fury, signifying impatience.

Second, is the shine coming off of Ray Searage a bit? This week, the Pirates cut bait on what had been his greatest success story of recent years, Francisco Liriano. Caminero seemed like another case where Searage’s philosophy “fixed” a previously wild arm, turning him into a useful piece. Liriano had a few good years before turning back into a pumpkin, but then, he did that in Minnesota, too. Caminero never quite made it above “promising” or “raw” despite a month or two where he looked like a future all-star. The Pirates also traded Jon Niese back to the Mets, after it became clear that Searage’s instructions made him worse, not better. By fWAR, the Pirates’ staff ranked 28th this year, and while they still rack up grounders, they don’t strike people out and walk too many. One year or one Jon Niese season isn’t enough to tarnish Searage’s reputation, but if his fixes are temporary, then they’re simply not as valuable. If teams adjust to low fastballs, and there’s evidence that they are, can Searage adjust back? Is it possible that Searage’s modus operandi was perfectly suited for the era in which the strikezone kept expanding lower and lower, but once that movement stopped, and once batters started squaring up low fastballs a bit better, it stopped “working?” I don’t know, and it’s still too early to tell, but man, it’s not been a great year for the “Ray Searage is a guru” movement.

* If I’m honest, I think his name may be even more special than his arm. The math jokes just write themselves. He’s the second Arquimedes/Arquimedez to play for the M’s after Arquimedez Pozo, meaning the M’s have employed both players named after a famous Syracusan mathematician.

** In one day, the M’s have added one of the hardest throwing relievers of the past 10 years (and thus, probably, ever) and one of the slowest throwing relievers of the past 10 years.

Game 108, Angels at Mariners

marc w · August 5, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Felix Hernandez vs. Tim Lincecum, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day! I’m back from Northern California and Central Oregon, and very happy to be home. Road trips are great, but I’m looking forward to not driving long distances for a while.

Tonight’s game pits two former Cy Young winners against each other, and hands down the two best pitchers I’ve ever seen in AAA. Lincecum was unearthly out of college, with high 90s velo, a huge curveball and an insane split change. In 2005, Felix was similarly freakish, with similar velo, a great curve and the rudiments of what would become baseball’s best change. At that point, we all wanted to see the Forbidden Slider- a pitch Felix had, and was supposedly his best, but which the org wouldn’t allow him to throw in games. As it turned out, he didn’t really need it, and the cambio would soon become his best offering. In raw stuff and results, Lincecum was a touch better in the PCL, but then, Felix was a 19 year old kid making MLB vets look silly. Now both of them throw 91, and get by on guile and location. Baseball attrition and decline remind us all we are speeding towards the grave, and yet we don’t mind for some reason.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: O’Malley, SS
SP: King Felix

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