Baseball’s Back

Jeff Sullivan · April 17, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

It really does feel fresh at the beginning. No matter what happened the season before, no matter what the expectations might’ve been in spring training, every season feels like a new season until it feels like a familiar season. And in the beginning this season, the Mariners didn’t just sweep the Angels — the Mariners obliterated the Angels, on the Angels’ own field, and that allowed us a certain set of feelings one doesn’t come across very often. We knew what it was like to watch the Mariners blow a team out. We didn’t yet remember what it was like to watch the Mariners struggle. So for a few days, we got to feel not just confidence, but overconfidence, in the Seattle Mariners.

Reality would start to set back in with losses. Losses are inevitable, and even the best teams ever lose literally dozens of games every year. The Mariners lost and we came down from our initial high. They lost a little more, and they won a little more. In a lot of ways baseball ends up the same gift in different wrapping paper. It’s something to get excited about at the start, but it isn’t long until you’re like, “oh yeah, this.” Not always necessarily in a bad way, but it takes no time at all for baseball to go back to feeling like routine.

But now — now — baseball’s officially back. Mariners baseball is officially back. Thing about those earlier losses is they were easier to take. The first loss was weird, and corrupted by a terrible umpire and a Hector Noesi, but you don’t look for much from the debut of Roenis Elias. Then the other losses were just run-of-the-mill losses, mostly losses in which the Mariners didn’t hit. Those games suck, because those games do nothing to get you excited about baseball. Watch one and it feels like it was a complete waste of time. But now we have our first loss that makes us dread baseball. It isn’t displeasure because a game was boring and pointless. It’s displeasure because a game genuinely hurt, and we’re the ones who put ourselves in that position.

These are the ones that hurt the most. Throw in the Felix factor and these are the ones that hurt the very most. The team wasted unhittable brilliance, and now it has the maximum wait until the next opportunity to try to not waste that. You can shrug off a blowout loss. A blowout loss is just one of those days. A blown-save loss? A blown-save loss is a loss that gets you just as you start to assume the victory. A blown-save loss is a fire-everybody loss. It’s the most devastating sort of loss for the emotions, and it’s the kind of loss that makes you actually, legitimately hate baseball, if only for as long as you sit there blankly.

These are the losses that make you want to lash out and blast every single thing that isn’t going well. Lash out at Brad Miller, obviously. Lash out at Fernando Rodney. And maybe lash out at Lloyd McClendon. Lash out at Robinson Cano. Lash out at Justin Smoak. Lash out at Abe Almonte and Kyle Seager and whoever else. Basically, these are the losses that make you want to vent. Which is a funny thing in a way, since this loss was an underhand toss from Brad Miller away from being a victory on the road over Yu Darvish. The games that hurt worst are the almost-wins, the should’ve-wins.

At the beginning, you start fresh. You don’t yet remember what it’s like to love baseball. You don’t yet remember what it’s like to be annoyed by baseball. And you don’t yet remember what it’s like to hate baseball, to hate every last part of it, to wish that baseball would just crawl into a gutter and die. Now we’ve officially checked off all the boxes. Now we get to go back to being ourselves, equipped with all the appropriate emotions, and we’ll think of Mariners baseball the normal way until Mariners baseball stops being so god-damned normal.

No part of me even wants to think about the fact that the M’s get back at it early Thursday. But they do, and I will, too, because that’s how this works. Out of my own experiences with therapy I’ve come to understand that things are never as bad as they seem when you’re upset, and things are never as good as they seem when you’re giddy. That’s a rule to keep in mind, with sports and all things. Before all else, recognize and acknowledge your own mood. Then apply the necessary adjustment to your evaluations. Wednesday made us hate baseball, and it made us hate the Mariners, and when you hate something you go looking for flaws. The Mariners are better than your storm-cloud thoughts and unsavory language. Acknowledge that. The Mariners are worse than they seemed when they wiped the floor with the carcass of the Angels’ simian figurehead. Acknowledge that. The clearest thinking will have to be done on off days. Gamedays will bias us, and this gameday biased us quite a lot.

Games like this do happen, even to the good teams, and as an example you can consider the first-place A’s and the issues they’ve already had at the closer position. Odds are, the Mariners will end up winning a few of these over the next five and a half months. But that doesn’t make the day-of experience better, because nothing changes the fact that this loss was avoidable. It’s simultaneously senseless and sensible when people reflect on all the almost-wins, because those were almost wins, and what if the team got one or two more breaks? How much better would the record suddenly look? This feels like too much of a wasted opportunity, and now the Mariners have done this to Felix almost 20 times. Let’s not pretend like his unwavering loyalty to this organization isn’t probably a sign of some sort of worrying neurological disorder.

On Wednesday, baseball reminded us that it can really suck. We knew that, but we couldn’t readily recall the feeling. Now we’re bleeding from fresh wounds, and the reason is because baseball’s back, and sometimes it can be a real bitch, and we know that now, officially, for 2014. Today we hate baseball. Tomorrow we give baseball another chance, because these things are always temporary. But boy do they ever not feel temporary. Boy does the hate just feel like it’s going to burn on forever. If we could actually leave baseball, we would’ve by now, but in my dreams I’ll be launching the Mariners into the sun. And I’m going to make damn sure they have enough fuel to get there.

Game 14, Felix vs. Darvish

marc w · April 16, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm

Today’s slate of games features three former Cy Young winners, a couple of players most see as near-locks to win one in the future, and a smattering of all-stars, ROY-candidates and solidly above-average guys. It’s an astonishing array of talent, but I think we can safely say without any M’s or Rangers bias that the eyes of the baseball world will be on this game.

I’ve talked a lot recently about middle-tier or even journeymen types refining their approach and trying new things to stay a step of hitters – or just to stay on big league rosters. We kind of expect that from guys who weren’t blessed with loads of natural talent, but while it’s not like we haven’t noticedFelix making adjustments before, I don’t think it gets enough attention. In part, it’s not in Felix’s nature to discuss this – his public utterances don’t seem to indicate a relentless tinkerer, or someone thinking about how to adjust to batters’ adjustments. It’s almost as if his little adjustments are another form of muscle memory – that he can adjust without consciously doing so. A slew of pitching coaches and catchers may have had something to do with it too, but of course the team itself hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in any of them (except Zunino, of course).*

Logan noted the change in his K:BB at LL recently, but it bears repeating. Felix’s K/9 has gone up each year since 2011, but K/9 somewhat undersells it: the gain in K% is larger because Felix has done this while also dropping his walk rate. This has led to much lower FIPs than he used to run, right at a time when we expect to see some of Felix’s effectiveness curbed by aging and declining velo. As we’ve seen this year, challenging more sometimes means home runs, but of course if he had been pulled earlier (many would argue “at the correct time” not just “earlier”), he’d only have given up one on the year, and his FIP would be miniscule. But even with 3 HRs allowed, what we’ve seen of Felix this year has been jaw-dropping. Think about how hard it is to surprise all of *us* about Felix Hernandez, and how easily he’s done so this year. The A’s won their 10th game last night, and despite facing very good pitching, are 4th in the league in runs scored. The Angels are 2nd. Both are in the top 5 in wRC+ thus far. It’s not like Felix was facing the Astros or even the beat-up Rangers. And he made them – ok, all of them but Trout- look lost.

That brings us to Yu Darvish, who hasn’t given up a run yet in 15 innings. Like Felix, he’s improved his control, and has yielded only two free passes through two starts. Despite throwing an array of pitches, Darvish was known mostly for his slider, especially last year. In his last start, he didn’t throw a single one, opting for curve balls instead. It’s too soon to know what to make of it, or if he’s just been working on things while brushing off the Astros. This is what a large repertoire can do, though. You can tailor your offerings to what feels good that day, to the opponents’ weaknesses, or just give an opponent who’s seen you often an entirely different look. That said, the M’s have had a lot of success against Darvish – as the M’s radio broadcast discussed last night. Many of you will remember the last USSM/LL meet-up at Safeco, when these two hurlers matched up and the M’s walked away with a 7-0 win. Ackley and Saunders doubled that game, and John Jaso hit a HR (to left, as I recall). It’s not like Darvish has large platoon splits or anything, but they’re there, so the M’s lefty-heavy line-up is a good countermeasure.

This is fun.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Franklin, DH
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: El Rey

Joining the team tonight, as you see above, is IF Nick Franklin. Logan Morrison’s heading to the DL; apparently Morrison’s hamstring was bandaged up today. Franklin was on an absolute tear in AAA, going 17-43 with 6 walks and 10 Ks, and 4 HRs (mostly in chilly, damp Tacoma – this isn’t an altitude-driven mirage) on his way to a formidable slash line of .295/.469/.744 (small sample, blah blah).

While Felix exists as a living, breathing, dominating exception to the rule that all pitchers get hurt, the M’s have obviously struggled to keep their non-Felixes healthy. While we were still reeling from the news about Walker last night, this morning brought word that another M’s pitching prospect is headed to the DL. This time, it’s AA righty Victor Sanchez, who’ll head to the DL with “forearm tightness.” This is *not* fun.

We now have some indication of why Blake Beavan was pulled after an uneventful 4th inning last night as opposed to after his 2-HR 2nd. Surprise! He’s hurt! Beavan to the DL, with CF/RF James Jones coming up to take his 25-man spot. Jones is a lanky 6’4″ OF with a cannon arm (most teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher out of LIU), but his power hasn’t quite developed the way many thought it might after he hit 12 HRs for Clinton in the pitcher-friendly MWL in 2010. He cracked the back of a top-100 prospects list once, but wasn’t able to make the leap into true prospect status last year. And frankly, the M’s could use an OF prospect. Jones (like a lot of Rainiers) got off to a solid start this year, but he’s essentially neck and neck with Xavier Avery right now. Avery came off the 40-man this spring, but he’s scuffled a bit so far. So, despite being a bit older and possessing a less than awesome 96:43 SB:CS ratio, Jones it is. Jones probably has more upside than Avery, and despite the CS numbers, has decent speed. Jones (like Avery) is a lefty hitter. No word yet on the corresponding 40-man move.

* He seems to have made some sort of leap in the 2012 season, after a – by his standards only – lackluster 2011. That’s the year the M’s catchers were Olivo, Jaso and Montero, not exactly guys you’d peg as receivers who can help their pitchers with quality receiving and high baseball intellect. It was Jaso, of course, who caught the perfecto and also saw Felix’s highest K:BB ratio that year, but a part of me desperately wants to believe that it was Jesus Montero passed on some simple, effective tip and essentially caused Felix to morph into the Ur-Felix we’re seeing now. Not because I want to “get something” from The Trade, but because it would be so powerfully ironic, that irony itself may collapse in on itself like a dying star.

Taijuan Walker Diagnosed With Being A Pitcher

Jeff Sullivan · April 15, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Some of the absolute worst news to come out of camp was that Taijuan Walker was dealing with shoulder discomfort. Ain’t nothing for a young pitcher quite like shoulder discomfort. Shoulder discomfort can be nothing but a little setback, and shoulder discomfort can also be the beginning of the end of a promising career. If that’s a little over-dramatic, it isn’t a lot over-dramatic, and we’ve all been worried about Walker for weeks.

The word we got was that Walker was dealing with bursitis. Which left us in a certain position: if it was really just bursitis, Walker would be fine with rest and anti-inflammatories. But the thing about shoulder exams is that imaging doesn’t always pick up things that are actually wrong in there, and sometimes issues are only revealed upon surgical intervention. So with Walker, we all hoped it was just bursitis, but I don’t think anyone was going to breathe easy until Walker was back on a big-league mound.

Walker was making some great progress. Tonight his rehab was to advance to Triple-A Tacoma. The thing about that is:

The other day, it looked like Walker was on the verge of a return to the Mariners rotation. Now he’s in a place where he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow, and while it’s possible this could be nothing but a little random, insignificant stiffness, the Danny Hultzen flashbacks are vivid and looping over and over in every part of my brain.

Check out the time-stamps, in case you’d forgotten. The Hultzen saga started as something that was “not worrisome“. Just needed some time. Then he needed more time, then he needed major surgery that threatens a pitcher’s career and therefore livelihood. Hultzen required one of the worst possible operations, and the parallels between his case and Walker’s are chilling. Granted, Hultzen wasn’t diagnosed with bursitis, and granted, they have very different shoulders, but when it comes to a pitcher’s shoulder, the less you hear about it, the better. We’re hearing more about Walker’s, just as it looked like he was past his issues, and it doesn’t take much of a mental leap to imagine the worst. We’ve seen the worst, and we know how the worst plays out. Taijuan Walker could be okay, but if he had real shoulder trouble, this is how that would be going.

So. Hultzen’s already had his shoulder opened and touched, all over the place. Now Walker’s shoulder is giving him the business, for reasons people haven’t yet nailed down. James Paxton is on the disabled list with an injury near his shoulder, and while there’s some optimism there, there was optimism with Walker, too. Erasmo Ramirez is healthy but pitching like he isn’t. Brandon Maurer only just got returned to a minor-league starting rotation. The dependable youngster in the rotation right now might be Roenis Elias, and a few months ago almost literally no one even knew who he was. If I’d told you the name “Roenis Elias” in January I bet you would’ve stared at me blankly. Now, granted, it’s great that Elias is here and pitching all right, and he has one hell of a phenomenal story. His stuff could actually play in the majors long-term. But consider the circumstances under which Elias was able to make this rotation in the first place. Consider the circumstances under which Elias now seems like a rotation lock for the foreseeable future. I don’t know if this counts as a nightmare quite yet, but we’re at least going to bed after watching a scary movie, and it’s windy outside this big empty house. Also, hold on a second, nightmares aren’t real. Pitching injuries are extremely real. Upsettingly real in upsettingly elevated numbers.

It seemed like Taijuan Walker was going to be okay. For all I know, he might still be okay, and just a little sore for reasons no one has to worry about. Young pitchers can make one feel like an over-anxious parent. But then, the children of over-anxious parents get in trouble like all the time, which is why they’re over-anxious in the first place. The 2007 Mariners managed to bum us out while being over .500. The 2014 Mariners are finding a different way to do the same thing. May all your sweet Mariners feelings be both sweet and bitter. May the good never be unaccompanied by the dejecting.

Game 13, Mariners at Rangers

marc w · April 15, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Blake Beavan vs. Robbie Ross, 5:05pm

Ah, Blake Beavan is *back*. I anticipate this game will get a ton of attention, so you may experience some site issues or load-time problems during the game.

Beavan doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence thanks to a steroid-era HR rate and an inability to miss bats. I’d argued a few times that antipathy to his low-K style made him seem much worse than he actually was, but 2013 made it a lot tougher to continue believing Beavan’s anything but a replacement-level (or worse) fill in. The problem’s the same: his low-walk skillset is predicated on throwing fastballs in the zone, and without an ability to miss bats (or get a ton of ground balls), that’s going to lead to HRs. I’ll give the guy credit – like most pitchers, he’s publicly made several changes, but they don’t seem to have helped. In fact, one of those changes may have made things worse.

When he first came up, Beavan enjoyed a string of quality starts driven largely by a very low BABIP. He gave up HRs here or there, but they were often solo shots. Perhaps in response to the home run problems, and perhaps because he posted some horrific platoon splits in 2011, Beavan decided he’d substantially increase the use of his sinker in 2012. He threw about 2 four-seamers for every sinker overall in 2011, but threw more sinkers than four-seamers in 2012. Against lefties, he used the sinker more than twice as often as the four-seamer. The problem was that Beavan’s sinker just isn’t very good, and he compounds that with the fact that sinkers naturally have *higher* platoon splits than four-seam fastballs. If the choice was simply trading more singles for fewer HRs, you could understand it a bit. But in his career, he’s given up a homer on 7.6% of all sinkers in play (not just in the air), while just 3.4% of his four-seamers put in play have left the yard.

This is something I’ve talked about before, but I just don’t understand why there’s clearly such a focus on getting pitchers to throw 4-seams to same-handed batters and 2-seams to opposite-handed batters. It’s completely backwards, at least according to the data we’ve looked at. Again, you can argue that an informed trade-off of OBP for SLG may be appropriate in certain cases – especially in cases where the pitcher’s giving up too many homers. But in Beavan’s case (and in many others), this advice has been disastrous.

Robbie Ross is a converted reliever who’s primarily – overwhelmingly – a fastball/slider guy. He’s seems like a classic LOOGY or a guy with massive platoon splits of his own, but he’s actually run reverse splits thus far. That’s probably just small-sample noise, but it shows why Ross was effective even when facing predominantly right-handed bats. A part of the reason for his success is that he’s adept at getting right-handers to hit the ball on the ground. His K:BB ratio isn’t great against them, but even in Arlington, they can’t hit home runs when they’re just hitting grounders. So far, his FB velocity’s right where it was in the bullpen – around 92-93mph.

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Romero, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Bloomquist, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Beavan

The M’s reaped the benefit of another controversial transfer-rule call overturn. It put a run on the board, as Ackley was originally called out on the field. The rule’s interpretation is odd, and the potential for strategic hijinks is high, as Dave’s recent Fangraphs article explored. But that inning really put a spotlight on just how bad a defensive team Texas is right now. They’ve slipped a few years in a row since a good 2010-11, but without Beltre or Profar, they’re struggling. The A’s massive advantage in D has been an important, somewhat underrated, reason they’ve held off the Rangers the past few years.

In the minors tonight, there’s really only one story: Taijuan Walker pitches for Tacoma. If you’re in the area, GO.

Game 12, Mariners at Rangers

marc w · April 14, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Colby Lewis, 5:05pm

If you were asked to come up with a list of starters with huge platoon splits, there are a few obvious names – guys who’ve garnered some attention (really, really nerdy attention) for their issues with LHBs or RHBs. Justin Masterson was essentially the face of this phenomenon (a really, really nerdy phenomenon), Joe Saunders is another, less talented example, and Bronson Arroyo may qualify. Then, of course, you’ve got tons of relief specialists whose platoon splits essentially define their role. To make this work – to carve out a career while ~half of the opponents you face see the ball really well – you really have to dominate same-handed hitters. Masterson, with his low arm angle and tough slider, clearly does this. Joe Saunders does this, though how remains somewhat cryptic to those of us who watched him last year. Bronson Arroyo wasn’t as hurt by his splits thanks to his division, which shelters quite a few pitchers with large splits (Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Charlie Morton).

Tonight’s starter, Colby Lewis, is another pitcher with deceptively high splits. I say “deceptively” because his career numbers are skewed a bit from his very early years with Texas – 2003 in particular – in which he pitched a lot and was terrible against everyone. Since returning from Japan, so 2010 through mid-2012, he was a very different pitcher. A much better one, to be clear, but also a guy with noticeable platoon splits. These two things are related, of course. He stuck around and made something of an impact in the AL in his second tour of duty because he suddenly got very tough on right-handed batters. He wasn’t doing it with fastball velocity, or with an odd angle, and his slider isn’t the kind of pitch that you think of when you think of a wipeout pitch. It’s not its movement or velocity that’s made the difference for Lewis – when he’s on, the key’s been his location. When he came over, many talked about the cutter he added, but it’s not clear if that’s what’s now called his slider or some other pitch he decided he didn’t need. His change never quite developed, so Lewis ends up throwing a lot of sliders to lefties, especially ahead in the count.

But this isn’t a Brandon Maurer situation where lefties have just teed off on a pitch breaking in to them. Instead, they’ve nuked his fastball. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive given his delivery (traditional, not at all sidearmy like Masterson’s) and his very high vertical movement (it’s the high horizontal movement pitches like sinkers that tend to have more platoon splits). That “rise” means that most hitters can elevate his fastball, and obviously contact in the air can be injurious to a pitchers’ FIP – especially if they pitch in Arlington a lot. The more I think about it though, it’s not that lefties have fared fairly well and hit plenty of home runs. It’s that Lewis is so sneakily good against right-handers. From 2010-2012, his wOBA-allowed to righties went .277, .268, .276. For reference, Masterson from 2010-2012 went .307, .259, .277, before annihilating righties last year to the tune of a .238 wOBA. And this highlights one of the reasons Lewis struggled to get back to a 4-5 WAR pitcher like he was in his first year back: now teams know how to build their line-up. No one would leave righties in their line-up against Masterson if they had a choice. Now, people stack lefties against Lewis too. In 2010, he faced essentially identical numbers of righties and lefties. In the 1.5 years before his arm exploded, he faced about 1.38 lefties for every righty.

His arm strength/velocity are back, but the Rangers didn’t take Lewis north, er, east with the team out of spring training. Whether that was to let him build up strength or because they really wanted to see what Nick Martinez could do, I’m not sure. The Rangers’ rotation has been decimated, but they’re on the mend. Matt Harrison returns soon, Yu Darvish is back, and eventually they should see Derek Holland again. That means Lewis has a limited window to show he can add value. The M’s aren’t a good match-up, thanks to lefty-swinging SS, 2B, CFs. Let’s see if they take advantage.

Roenis Elias is still fascinating to me. Part of it is just the teams he’s faced, but Elias has seen only 8 left-handed bats this season. That should change tonight, as he’s got Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder – two lefties who have platoon issues of their own – in the line-up for Texas. It’s not a cakewalk by any stretch, particularly in Arlington, but at least some of the Rangers’ bigger offensive threats are lefties.

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Morrison, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Elias

Not quite as LH-heavy as it possibly could be, but the decision basically comes down to Hart vs. Saunders, and Saunders is not helping his cause at the moment.

Jordan Pries faces off against ex-Rangers, now Cubs prospect CJ Edwards in AA tonight. Matt Anderson opposes even-bigger-prospect Mark Appel in the Cal League, while Brandon Maurer starts for Tacoma in Albuquerque. Tommy Burns pitches for the Lumberkings in the MWL.

Podcast: No More Athletics, Please

Matthew Carruth · April 14, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Monday morning podcast(s) continues/begins.

James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and nearly the entire Mariners’ offense disappoints us. But the defense is still good! And other teams have injuries too! And s’mores! S’mores?

Podcast with Jeff and Matthew: Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner work in general last week. It’s really appreciated.

Game 10, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · April 12, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Sonny Gray, 6:10pm

*Note the odd, one-hour-earlier start time tonight*

These two pitchers faced off last weekend, and I spent the game preview talking about how Erasmo was throwing more change-ups and fewer sliders, and Sonny Gray was throwing his new cutter more often. As it turned out, Erasmo used fewer change-ups on that day and Gray went back to his big curveball. Gray obviously didn’t suffer, blanking the M’s through 6 IP with 7 Ks.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, DH
7: Ackley, LF
8: Saunders, RF
9: Buck, C
SP: Erasmooooo

Lots to talk about (Beavan up, not Walker! Noesi to Texas!) but my cable modem just died and I’m on my cell phone.

Anyone know a good docsis modem that won’t blow up during game posts?

Game 9, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · April 11, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Tommy Milone, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day – the first home celebration of our benevolent rulers long and oddly low-key reign. Not that we, as denizens of Felix’ fecund and forested kingdom, crave tumultuous events like war, famine, or commodity-driven bubbles and land speculation, but man, shouldn’t we annex a portion of Beanesville? Hell, how about a free-trade pact with Astreau just to make Darvishia wonder what we’re up to.

Tommy Milone looked to be the odd man out this spring, as he was slated for a stint in the A’s bullpen after two years of mostly solid work in the rotation. Nothing wrong with his work, but undersized guy throwing 86 is pretty much always going to face an uphill battle to keep his job once the club saw undersized guy throwing 96. Then, Ulnar, God of Elbows’ spring break pub crawl paid the A’s a visit, and Jarrod Parker went in for his second TJ surgery. Suddenly the A’s had an opening again.

Milone’s the same sneaky-slow fastball/solid change-up guy we’ve seen several times over the past two seasons – he’s made *8* starts against the M’s since 2012. And that neatly segues to his home run problem. Milone put up a 3.93 FIP in 2012, and saw that rise to 4.30 in 2013 despite a slight uptick in his K% (ok, his BB% went up too). But Milone’s problem, and you can see this coming when you throw an 86mph fastball and get a ton of fly balls, is and always will be home runs. He gave up 24 in 190 innings in 2012 (which isn’t great considering his home park, but isn’t the end of the world), then gave up 25 in 156+ innings last year. A part of it may be where he pitched – he made 18 starts in Oakland and Seattle in 2012, and just 13 everywhere else. In 2013, he made 12 starts in Oak/Sea and 14 elsewhere. Of course, he was great at home in 2012 and not great at all in 2013, so it’s probably a bunch of things.*

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak,1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Romero, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: FELIX

One of the oddities of the early Rainiers pitching staff has been Brandon Maurer pitching in middle relief. Unquestionably the most talented hurler on the staff, Maurer had some injury problems in the spring, but was reportedly tabbed as the long reliever for Tacoma. Then, he made a couple of brief relief appearances instead and DIDN’T start a double-header game that would’ve been perfect for a long-reliever (instead, the R’s went with a bullpen day with Nick Hill starting it off). Today, the M’s said that he’ll move into the rotation, and that they just wanted to get him built up. All of my speculative kremlinology, all my wondering if the M’s were upset with Maurer for some reason…none of it was true. He was hurt, they eased him in, now he’s in the rotation. Cool.

Today in the minors: Carlos Misell (Clinton), Dylan Unsworth (HD), Stephen Landazuri (Jackson), Anthony Fernandez (Tacoma). As I mentioned the other day, Unsworth’s first start in the Cal League went better than I would’ve expected- he gave up one un-earned run in 6 innings in the Adelanto wind-tunnel. Unsworth came over with a well-spotted FB in the mid-upper 80s, which is pretty tough to project. But he was also just 17, and some reports from last season say he added quite a few ticks. In the oft-mocked, over-used baseball twitter phrase, big, if true.

Speaking of High Desert, DJ Peterson’s strong start has garnered some attention, and a few deserved “Well, what do you expect” comments, but it’s great to see Gabriel Guerrero start off hot. The young Dominican had an awful start for Clinton last year.

GO FELIX! Go M’s!

* His change got good results both from a whiff and batted-ball-result point of view, so it’s not like batters exploited that weapon once they got to know it. Instead, I think Milone’s a good example of the old baseball cliche that an 86mph fastball up in the zone is a fairly risky strategy.

Game 8, Angels at Mariners

marc w · April 9, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm

After spending much of yesterday’s game thread burying Albert Pujols and praising James Paxton, Pujols homered and Paxton’s lat strain sent him to the DL. We around here tend to frown on sloppy correlating, but I promise not to reference Pujols’ contract at all today.

The M’s improved to 5-2 yesterday, but the story of the game probably has to be the two big injuries. James Paxton’s “tweak” of his latissimus dorsi will hold him out for a few starts, while Josh Hamilton’s thumb injury will require surgery, costing the OF about two months. It’s very, very early in the season, but I’m not sure this could’ve gone any worse for the Halos. With several injuries to the Texas and Seattle rotations, the Angels had the opportunity to grab an early lead in a wide-open division. Instead, they’re 0-4 against the M’s, their bullpen’s struggled and they’re about to lose Hamilton for a good chunk of the season. To be fair, their slow start hasn’t impacted their playoff chances much at this point, but injuries and instability in the bullpen will make it tough for the Angels to dig out of this hole. It’s just a couple of games, but while we expected the gap between the Angels/Rangers and the M’s to have narrowed, I didn’t expect BOTH teams to look so flawed. Small Sample Schadenfreude.

Roenis Elias was solid in his first outing despite some questionable work behind the plate from Sean Barber. Today’s a different kind of test. The Angels’ extreme right-handed line-up looks to be a tougher match-up for a lefty like Elias with a lower arm angle. He didn’t pay for it against Cespedes/Donaldson/Crisp, and it’s not like replacing Josh Hamilton with JB Shuck makes the Angels a *better* offensive ball club, but I’m curious how he deals with Trout, Pujols, Kendrick, etc.

Garrett Richards is the hard-throwing righty who’d been terrible in college and the majors and only OK in the minors. He may have figured something out last year, as he was a pretty effective fill-in once Joe Blanton went supernova. I feel like I’ve written more about Richards than any other opposing player, which is odd and a little bit depressing.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Morrison, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Roenis Elias

It’s too early to complain about PT, given that there’s been so little PT to go around, but when the time is right, Michael Saunders will ask some tough questions of his manager.

Lucas Luetge’s been recalled from Tacoma to take Paxton’s spot.

Edwin Diaz starts tonight for Clinton. Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Tacoma, who look set to actually get the game in today. The big story is Taijuan Walker making what’s looking like his final rehab start tonight for AA Jackson. He’ll go 85 pitches, and could be up soon. Iwakuma threw a bullpen and hasn’t complained of shooting pain, so he’ll probably head out for a rehab start or two in the next week.

Notes From MiLB Opening Weekend

marc w · April 8, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

It’s difficult to know what to make of small-sample minor league performances, as the fog of random chance, luck and results bias play havoc. Now imagine all of those factors are present, but add real and not metaphorical fog and clouds…THEN try to make intelligent judgments about prospects. Not so easy. In lieu of definitive judgments, I hope you’ll accept these random scouting-style notes from the opening weekend of the Minors, with a heavy dose of the PCL. Pretty much accidentally, I caught a bit of each game of the Rainiers opening series against Albuquerque. I missed yesterday’s game against the El Paso Chihuahuas, as I am still not quite ready to pay hard currency to watch a team named as one would name a U-10 soccer team (Jeff Francouer, Brooks Conrad and Adam Moore are all on that team, which kind of makes me want to go check them out).
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