Podcast: The Mariners are Winning

Matthew Carruth · August 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Sunday Evening Podcast! These times are getting way off schedule.

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

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner┬áin general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated.

Game 116, White Sox at Mariners

marc w · August 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez vs. John Danks, 1:10pm

As a rebuilding team, it’s probably not that surprising that the White Sox have some payroll flexibility in the next few years. Paul Konerko’s gone after this year, and Adam Dunn’s four-year deal expires. Most of the players under contract are still good, and most of the contracts are remarkably team friendly. Jose Quintana’s due all of one million next season. Alexei Ramirez isn’t great, but his $10m salary isn’t crippling, either. Jose Abreu’s under contract until 2019, and I think the Sox are OK with that. In any event, he’s due just $7m in 2015. But then there’s John Danks.

Danks was a solid starter around 2010, topping 200 IP twice and riding a 92mph fastball and a very good change-up to around 15 fWAR in the four seasons from 2008-2011. The change-up was good enough that it inspired a counter-strategy by Tampa – Joe Maddon would stack his line-up with *lefties* against the left-handed Danks to try to get him to throw fewer change-ups. At the end of that 2011 campaign, the Sox locked him up on a 5-yr-$65m extension, covering 2012-2016. So far it…well it hasn’t been good. He made all of nine (bad) starts in the spring of 2012 before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury. After a difficult surgery to repair a torn capsule, he returned to make 22 starts in 2013. Unfortunately, his velocity was down, and he got hammered in those starts, finishing with an ERA and a FIP over 5.00.

So, 2014 – another year removed from surgery, another opportunity to re-build arm stre…no, just, no. His velocity’s down again, now hovering from 88-89 with his fastball, and while his change-up’s still a decent pitch, it’s harder to get to it when batters are teeing off against his fastball. The Danks Theory thing is probably out the window as well – right-handers are eating that not-so-fastball alive. RHBs have a total of 12 HRs against his four- and two-seam fastballs this season alone, on their way to 20 HRs off of him in all. After running remarkably even splits for years, even some reverse splits, RHBs are teeing off. I don’t think we’ll see Endy Chavez, is what I’m saying. We may be seeing the sad end to Danks’ career, as he’s not been able to pull his FIP below 5 since his injury. The HRs are mounting, and it’s not like he can get a change of scenery – his contract is unmovable. Next year, Jose Quintana and Chris Sale will make $7m COMBINED, while Danks will take in $14.25m. He’ll out-earn Quintana/Sale again in 2016, but the odds he’ll actually pitch for the White Sox that year are looking pretty remote.

Erasmo Ramirez has a Danksian change-up, but he’s struggled with the long ball as well. Danks had a useful cutter for a few years to keep lefties honest, but Ramirez’s slider has been remarkably bad against right-handed bats. If it was me, I’d tell him to shelve his two-seamer and work on a cutter or a curve.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Taylor, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: Erasmoooooo

Tough end to the game last night. It’s actually a good sign that the M’s are sticking with Taylor today after his inglorious end in the 10th last night (error, then game ending DP). The Royals keep winning, and they and the Yankees have home games today. This is a big game, M’s.

Game 115, White Sox at Mariners

marc w · August 9, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Hector Noesi, 6:10pm (note odd start time)

Early start tonight for the M’s as they celebrate Lou Piniella and induct their ex-manager into the team’s hall of fame. James Paxton gets the start tonight as the M’s look to re-take the lead in the race for the second wild card slot. Opposing him is old friend Hector Noesi, who dominated the M’s back in Chicago.

With the M’s surging again, it’s natural to look at the remaining schedule as a key factor in the wild card race. The M’s have a fairly favorable run down the stretch; they played a lot of road games early, and saw the A’s and Angels an awful lot (not that either of those teams dominated Seattle). Now, they get the soft underbelly of interleague play (Philadepelphia), the AL teams who were supposed to be good but weren’t (Boston and Texas), and two series against Houston. They also get seven games against Toronto – the first three start Monday – the team sitting just behind them in the WC standings (tied with New York). Their schedule’s one reason Fangraphs’ playoff odds gives the Mariners the best chance to win that second wild card spot; KC has a half-game lead, but they’ve got a tougher road in August/September, and thus are forecast to play .500 ball. Cleveland has a great schedule, but they’re four games back of Seattle, and they’ll struggle without Asdrubal Cabrera or a healthy Justin Masterson. Still, the imbalance between the divisions is concerning. The Royals have to face Detroit, but they’ve still had a whole lot of Minnesota to rack up wins against. The M’s would be in a much better position if they could transfer the front office to, say, Chicago (hey, Boeing did it) and play in the Central. Sure, divisions wax and wane, but the Central’s been the weakest of the three since realignment.

James Paxton is pretty good, people. He clearly didn’t have his best command the other day in Baltimore, but he still kept a very good – maybe the best – right-handed line-up off balance. That’s been the key to his remarkable run in his brief MLB career – his success against righties. Lefties don’t stand too much of a chance with plus-plus velocity from the left side and two very different breaking balls. Paxton’s fastball’s over the top, so it’s not *too* uncomfortable, but they’ve really struggled to elevate anything, and they’re clearly not seeing his breaking balls at all. So it’s been up to righties to do some damage, and while he’s given up his share of HRs, he’s still incredibly effective against them. It’s got nothing to do with his change, a work in progress that still needs lots more work. He’s doing it all with his fastball.

Against righties, he’s thrown fastballs 72% of the time. If the batter’s ahead, or on first pitches, it’s nearly 90% fastballs. There’s nothing tricky about this pattern. It does help explain why a guy who struggled so much with his control has limited walks (excepting his last start) in the bigs. He’s learned to trust his fastball and spot it better than he did with Tacoma, and as a result, he’s got several chances to get the count back in his favor. The key is that even when righties know what’s coming, and even if they know it’s going to be in the zone, they’ve struggled to consistently elevate it. Most of the time it’s put in play, it’s a ground ball. It’s tough to know how to project him. On one hand, excelling against opposite-handed hitters so early is incredibly encouraging; he’s most of the way towards hitting his ceiling as an elite #2. On the other, you’d figure that hitters would eventually learn how to hit a fastball, especially one with so much vertical rise. On yet another hand, if batters DO start tracking his fastball a bit better, he can probably just ramp up his curve ball usage which is among the most effective curve balls in baseball (very, very, very small sample, but very, very, very good hook).

Hector Noesi is still the same guy. Chicago PC Don Cooper has him throwing a cutter now, but it looks pretty much exactly like the slider he threw with Seattle – same movement, same velo. He’s traded off great results (like the game against the M’s) with disastrous starts, another pattern he learned here, although he’s clearly having a bit more success with Chicago than he did in either Seattle or Texas. Noesi’s running reverse splits this year, which is nothing new. In his career, they’re reverse by wOBA and nearly identical by xFIP, with lefties having a SLG% advantage, while righties enjoy an OBP advantage.

The line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, DH
8: Taylor, SS
9: Chavez, RF
SP: Paxton

The Rainiers won last night’s game, their salute to WSU, behind UW-guy Forrest Snow. Today’s the “Paint the Park Purple” night honoring UW, but there won’t be an WSU Cougars starting. Mike Curto notes the only Coug hurler in the PCL is on New Orleans’ roster. Instead, it’ll be ACC product Jimmy Gilheeney on the hill against SF prospect (kind of) Mike Kickham. The game starts at 7 – go if you’re local. Looks like a great night for it.

Victor Sanchez, a top-5 M’s prospect, starts for Jackson tonight, while Jose Flores goes for Clinton. Jeffeson Medina gets the ball for Everett in Spokane.

Via Bob Dutton, the M’s are calling up Erasmo Ramirez to make tomorrow’s start, with Roenis Elias already in Tacoma. The idea is to start to slow Elias’ down and avoid running up too many IP (though he’ll start on Tacoma’s upcoming road trip). The M’s also brought up Lucas Luetge yesterday when they optioned Elias – Luetge’s expected to be sent back tonight/tomorrow to make room for Erasmo. Dutton also notes that this will be another one-and-done call-up for Ramirez – he’ll head back to Tacoma after making the start. He suggest the M’s may recall James Jones, which’d probably bridge the bench until Michael Saunders is 100%.

Game 114, White Sox at Mariners

marc w · August 8, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jose Quintana, 7:10pm

Today’s game is one of the great underrated pitching match-ups in the American League. Two of the top 30-or so pitchers in baseball, and yet both tend to get overlooked for a number of reasons. Both have underwhelming fastballs, with Iwakuma’s dipping below 90mph this year and Quintana’s velocity gains stalling out between 91-92. Neither are what you’d call strikeout pitchers, although both get over 21% Ks this year. The bigger issue is that neither’s the best pitcher on his own team. Felix’s combination of stuff and durability mean you can reliably write him in as a top-5 Cy Young contender every year, and he’s running away with it this year. Chris Sale’s combination of effectiveness and oddness (his odd delivery accentuates his thin frame, and it must look to batters that the ball’s being delivered by some sort of giant insect – all exoskeletal arms and legs stuffed improbably in a baseball uniform) have made him a top-10 pitcher as well. Iwakuma got hurt after failing to sign with the A’s; the M’s picked him up for pocket change before the 2012 season. Quintana was a minor league free agent, after the last of several times he’d been cut by New York clubs. He was in his 20s and hadn’t pitched above AA; the Sox picked him up for pocket change that contained more lint and old receipts than legal tender.

The elite – the Kershaws and Sales and King Felixes – do everything well. They strike out batters, and they don’t walk many. They limit hard contact, and they strand runners. They face line-ups stacked with platoon-advantaged hitters, and they swat them away regardless. Quintana and Iwakuma can’t quite do THAT, but it’s impressive how many of these attributes they possess. Quintana, a lefty, has run remarkably even platoon splits since coming to the big leagues in May of 2012. Iwakuma’s gone one better and actually run reverse splits – more because he’s dominant against lefties than because he struggles against righties. Quintana’s move into the upper tier of pitchers (he was around the middle of Dave’s great Top 50 Trade Values series at Fangraphs, which makes sense given his great contract, but also makes no sense when you remember he was cut from the Trenton Thunder not that long ago) has been the result of a run of preternatural HR-suppression. To the cynics, that a journeyman -a MINOR league journeyman – has had a solid 2/3 of a season getting lucky on his HR/FB explains the dissonance of seeing him nestled with the games best pitchers on a Fangraphs leaderboard. To the optimists, it’s a sign that Quintana’s command – not just his control – has developed to the point where he can limit his own mistakes. This is, of course, the one facet of Iwakuma’s game that’s still developing. He’s essentially stopped walking anyone, and his combination of grounders, whiffs and excellence with men on has meant that a bit of a HR problem is more than manageable.

Part of Quintana’s HR-suppressing ability/luck is the result of getting ahead of hitters. He’s well above average in throwing first-pitch strikes, and he’s pitched ahead in the count more too. Both marks are much higher in 2014 than they were in 2012, which makes it all the more interesting – at least to me – that he’s throwing fewer and fewer pitches in the strikezone. This was always a key part of Iwakuma’s success too – get ahead, and then batters have to protect, and that makes the splitter look even more un-takeable than it otherwise would. With two strikes, Quintana shifts his approach from pounding the bottom of the zone and tries to get batters to go for high four-seam fastballs. This probably makes his curve – thrown low - look better too.* It also helps explain why he can get 21% Ks with below-average contact rates. After a called-strike or a couple of fouls, he’s able to go to breaking stuff and either freeze hitters with FBs or get them to chase the curve or change.

This gets at an issue I’ve touched on before, and the Westside Guy brought up in the comments to last night’s game thread. How much of the credit for Quintana (or Noesi or Carroll, and the other not-that-great, but holy crap, how are they in a big league rotation?) should go to legendary pitching coach Don Cooper? Cooper’s fond of Quintana, and there are some similarities to other guys he’s worked with. He’s done wonders at turning talented-but-wild arms like Sale and Matt Thornton into strike-throwers, but that wasn’t Quintana’s problem. Whatever Cooper does, it’s been effective now for many years. He’s got more work to do with the rebuilding White Sox, and the fact that their highest paid pitcher – John Danks – is circling the drain, on his third year with a FIP over 5, sandwiched around major arm surgery. Now, it’s reclamation projects like Noesi and Carroll, and working with talented but extremely raw talents like the Brazilian Andre Rienzo, who’s back in the minors after face planting this year.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Forrest Snow looks to continue his great late-season run as he takes the hill in Tacoma against the Fresno Grizzlies. Brazilian prospect Luiz Gohara’s face-planted in the NWL the way Rienzo has in the bigs, but he’s still a major talent. He starts tonight against Spokane. Edwin Diaz starts in Clinton against Burlington; the Puerto Rican is coming off a complete-game shutout of the Bees back on the 3rd.

* Since I brought it up regarding Alex Wood, I thought I’d mention that Quintana does the same thing with his curve – it goes to *one* spot, no matter the handedness of the batter. That obviously hasn’t hurt its effectiveness, but I still think it’s funny.

Game 113, White Sox at Mariners

marc w · August 7, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Scott Carroll, 7:10pm

I can’t be the only one who’d never heard of Scott Carroll until recently. Some of you heard his name when you read/heard the pitching probables for this game (Carroll’s first ever game against Seattle), and some of you may have seen Mike Petriello’s Fangraphs article about Carroll’s role in the worst called strikezone of 2014. Even the name is non-descript; he sounds like a fungible mid-80s swingman on a team the M’s didn’t play often – maybe Cincinnati or Philadelphia, almost certainly mustachioed.

Carroll was drafted in 2007 by Cincinnati, as a matter of fact, and spent several years kicking around the mid-minors before running out of steam soon after reaching AAA. He wasn’t a strikeout guy, but wasn’t a control pitcher either. He gave up tons of hits, but…uh, no, there was nothing counteracting that, and thus the Reds released him in 2012. The White Sox picked him up, and just 25 total appearances later, they sent him to the big leagues. The right-handed sinkerballer made his MLB debut in late April – at the age of 29 – and he’s been with the club ever since. As you’d guess, he *still* isn’t missing any bats, with a poor strikeout rate and an abysmal whiff rate. He’s allowed plenty of walks, which means his K-BB% is the second worst in baseball, behind Nick Martinez of the Rangers, and the one guy who came into spring training as a bigger long-shot to be on a big league roster by May 1.

He features a 90mph sinker, which he throws 50-60% of the time, a rare 90mph four-seamer that’s noteworthy for having a whiff rate under 1%, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, a cutter at around 87, a change-up and a curve. The change and curve aren’t bad pitches in a vacuum. He’s had decent results off of them, but a portion of that is due to when he throws them – if he gets ahead of a hitter, he’ll use his breaking/off-speed stuff, and get weak contact or the rare strikeout. But that’s been something of a challenge for him. By Statcorner’s metrics, he’s thrown a greater percentage of his pitches while behind in the count than the league average. At some level, a sinkerballer should be better in these situations than others, because if you’re just going to pound the knees, the count may not matter as much. On the other hand, Carroll’s a marginal talent, essentially the walking embodiment of “replacement level.” It’s tough to compound your problems by falling behind if you don’t have swing and miss stuff.

So Carroll’s an unlikely big league starter, is what I’m saying. Given the whole “righty throwing 90″ thing, and the released-while-in-the-minors thing, and not even getting into the “blew-out-his-elbow-after-joining-the-Sox-org” thing, he’s been remarkably not awful. He’s been worth 1/2 of a fWAR thus far, thanks to a low HR rate (for the park) and he’s had some solid games. Of course, if you’ve heard of Carroll at all, it’s probably got something to do with a company he invested in called Doodlehats, and the prank teammate Chris Sale played on him earlier this year. After a June start, Sale wore a Doodlehat (which Carroll had graciously distributed to each teammate) with Carroll’s phone number written on it for his post-game interviews. That led to the rediscovery of this YouTube video he did in 2012. He’d even written a decent article on his TJ surgery rehab for a chicago blog just before this year’s spring training. There are ways for pitchers without top-shelf stuff to post great results; Dave wrote about Tanner Roark today, for example. To be fair, Carroll isn’t really using any of them. But as far as long-shot 5th starters go, he’s pretty memorable.

Carroll’s sinker makes him pretty vulnerable to left-handed bats, hence Endy Chavez today. Speaking of lefties, Michael Saunders joins Tacoma tonight on rehab as they welcome Fresno to Cheney Stadium. Gorgeous night – if you can’t make it to Safeco, head to Tacoma.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Elias

Even with the platoon split angle, Chris Taylor stays put as the starting SS. Brad Miller will get a start some day, but this is not a job share. McClendon’s made it clear, and this is just a good example, that Taylor’s his starter.

To stuff one more gratuitous fangraphs link into this sucker, you should really check out Jeff’s great piece on the M’s historically good run prevention this year – and the fact that said run prevention hasn’t been enough – YET – to lift them into a playoff spot. I think we all expected the bullpen to be better than 2013′s, but this is pretty remarkable. Also remarkable: a team in a playoff chase has given Endy Chavez so many at-bats.

Erasmo Ramirez takes the hill for the surging Rainiers tonight, while Tyler Olson starts for Jackson. The Aquasox are in Spokane tonight, and they’ll send Dan Altavilla to the mound against the Indians.

Don’t Try To Fight Your Good Dustin Ackley Feeling

Jeff Sullivan · August 6, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

By and large, your brain is pretty smart. It’s pretty good about looking out for itself and for its host body, and it’ll usually tell you what it wants. You have instincts and first impressions and feelings for a reason, and though these days we have feelings about things our bodies never could’ve known would exist, there’s a lot of validity in listening to yourself. Your brain will tell you if a song is pleasing. It’ll tell you if the weather’s uncomfortable outside. It’ll tell you if you’re in the mood to socialize, or if you’d be better off laying low. Most of the things you think, you think because of your brain, which is something I learned in college. And your brain has reasons for sending signals, even if you might not always understand what they are.

Right now, your brain is telling you that you want to believe in Dustin Ackley again. Of course, you’ve been through this, and you’re not alone — we’ve all been through this. Dustin Ackley has been through this. But this time, like the other times, you want to believe. Your brain is sending those signals.

It’ll also indicate to you, in a minute, that I might be a wet blanket for pointing out certain things. Over his last 112 plate appearances, Ackley’s posted an .887 OPS. That’s very good. It’s unquestionably encouraging, as we all continue to wait for Dustin Ackley to turn into himself. But then earlier this very season, Ackley managed an .823 OPS over 86 plate appearances. In 2011, he had a stretch with a .921 OPS over 167 plate appearances. In 2012, there was a run of an .822 OPS over 102 plate appearances. In 2013, there was a run of an .851 OPS over 120 plate appearances. Dustin Ackley’s had hot streaks before. Every single time, we wanted to think he’d figured things out. Every single time has led to this year, where Ackley still has a below-average batting line. He has a below-average career batting line, and he’s coming up on 2,000 trips to the plate in the bigs.

Your brain wants you to believe. Your brain wants you to ignore skeptics or otherwise discouraging information. Your brain doesn’t want you to bum yourself out. Some of you might be trying to override your own brains, trying to use it to convince itself that there’s no sense getting excited this time, on account of all the previous times. But, you want to have a good Dustin Ackley feeling. So you should embrace it. Why the hell fight the hope, even if the hope’s been spoiled before?

Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Fan projections are always more optimistic than objective projections, and reality. Fans tie themselves into knots every season trying to see reasons why the next year could be The Year. Every time a young player turns things on, we entertain the idea that they’re breaking out. We’ve been there with Ackley and god knows we’ve been there with Justin Smoak. Most of the time the breakouts aren’t breakouts at all, but every so often there’s a Michael Saunders, or a Michael Brantley, or a Jose Bautista. In theory, being skeptical can protect you from further disappointment, but do you really want to be a sports fan on the defensive? This is the one part of your life where you can entertain unreasonable dreams. And it feels better to hope. That’s why your brain wants you to do it.

This isn’t a situation like junk food and exercise. In those areas your brain can be cruel — it tells you to keep eating junk food, and it tells you that exercise sucks, and then it’s hard to stay in consistent shape. The downside of giving in and eating junk food without exercising is that you die soon. The downside of allowing your hopes to get up in following a sports team is that you’ll be let down a lot, but you’re likely to be let down anyway, and the upside is that you can actually enjoy your damned self. You can be aware of the analysis, you can do your own analysis, and you can still let yourself get carried away. It isn’t going to hurt you, and you get to experience more smiles and less dread.

In any given season, the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against the Mariners winning the World Series. We know that, we all know that, but we still watch to see how the story plays out. By investing ourselves at all in the first place, we’re selecting hope over reason, so why then draw lines? It’s all silly irrational nonsense, and the goal is to maximize the good, not to minimize the bad. These aren’t your savings. These aren’t even your real, important, deeply-significant feelings. These are your feelings about a hobby, and sports-depression is nothing like life-depression. Sports-depression isn’t something you need to protect yourself against, unless you’re way too wrapped up. Sports-depression makes you unhappy watching a ballgame. Life-depression makes you unhappy doing anything, and those aren’t the stakes here. You can be a dreamer because why the hell not?

I don’t know if Dustin Ackley’s figured things out. I honestly suspect nobody does. I suspect even the Mariners are taking this one day at a time, Ackley included. My guess is that Ackley hasn’t figured things out, or that he’s temporarily figured things out, and pitchers will soon make him figure other things out. That’s the rational part of my brain, responding to a request for consultation. But that’s not a part of my brain I like to consult very often when I’m watching a game where I want a team to win, because that’s the side of my brain that doesn’t have fun. That’s the side I need for important life decisions, but choosing whether to believe in Dustin Ackley again isn’t anywhere near the top of my important-life-decision list. Those decisions I leave up to the young party side, and that side has been burned a lot and recovers fast. Young people can recover from anything, and it’s the hopeful part of your brain that preserves your youth, even when you’re hoping against probability.

Maybe Dustin Ackley’s finally arriving. Maybe he’s going to quit it with his annoying little drift in the batter’s box, and maybe now he’s going to be that consistent line-drive machine he was supposed to be from the beginning. Maybe Jesus Montero’s turned himself into the answer at DH, and maybe D.J. Peterson is less than a season away. Maybe everything good. We already know that Ackley has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. We’re already seeing him improving. If the bat’s for real, he’s a core piece, and a vital asset down this particular stretch run. Maybe Dustin Ackley is valuable. If he’s not, I know I can take it, but I don’t see the value in bracing yourself against a pain that won’t hurt. This is sports. This isn’t even sports — this is one player out of a lot of players in sports. People seem to have more fun on roller coasters with their arms up.

Game 112, Braves at Mariners

marc w · August 6, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Young vs. Julio Teheran, 12:40pm

I’d like to propose that this is *Still* a happy Felix day, as I’ve got a bit of a Felix hangover right now. That was a brilliant game against a tricky line-up, and then Chris Taylor added to it with the best defensive play by a SS that the M’s have made all year. The M’s didn’t hit particularly well, but for a night, it didn’t matter. There was more angst than usual following Felix’s exit after 8 IP and 97 pitches, but I’m not going to complain about that. Seems like a more than defensible position for McClendon to take, especially as the M’s look for Felix to pitch them into the postseason in September.

Today’s game features the Braves young ace, Julio Teheran. The righty throws a four-seam, a sinker, a slider, a curve and a change-up, with the slider doing the bulk of the work as far as non-fastballs go. The change-up’s an effective pitch not because it’s a huge swing-and-miss pitch, but because it generates some ground balls, which helps Teheran keep left-handed hitters in the ballpark. As a fly-baller overall, and someone who pounds the zone effectively (witness the 5-and-change walk rate in both 2013 and 2014), that’s important. That said, he’s comfortable throwing his slider to lefties as well, and as of yet, lefties haven’t made him pay for it. It’s a really good pitch, so that’s not a shock, but lefties have hit about .170 on the pitch in his career. It’s not clear if it’s good luck or a change in approach, but while lefties knocked six HRs on it (giving them a slugging percentage over .500 with their .170 BA in 2013), they’ve only hit one this year.

Because of that HR/FB issue – one that was confined pretty much to lefties last year – his career splits are a bit wider than they’ve been this year, and, frankly, his ERA’s a lot better than his FIP. Chris Young knows all about this, of course, but you can make a case that Teheran’s underrated by fielding-independent metrics. Of course, you could simply argue that he’s been HR-lucky and sequencing-lucky this year, and that his ERA will rise. In any event, this is a very, very good starter – one without true ace potential, but who’s knocking on the door of that tier at just 23 years of age.

You probably knew I couldn’t get through this without mentioning it, but Teheran is a common alternate spelling of Tehran, the 27th largest city in the world by population. As Miguel Cairo retired after 2012, I think that makes Teheran the active pitcher who shares a name with the largest world city. Cairo’s the all-time leader, with the 18th largest city, while the late Jose Lima follows with the 21st-largest city. After that, there’s a fairly large break down to #48 – Sydney. If you’re lax with your spelling criteria, you could say Sidney Ponson qualifies, but you’re probably better off with Sydney “Syd” Smith, a back-up C/1B on the 1911 Cleveland team that featured Shoeless Joe Jackson. Current minor leaguers who can join the elite group include pitcher Gabriel Lima, a pitcher in the VSL for the Cubs, and D-Backs org-guy Taylor Harbin, who shares his name with the 59th-most populous city.*

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Taylor, SS
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Chavez, RF
9: Sucre, C
SP: Chris Young

I’d say something about Taylor’s hot start moving him up the line-up, but it seems it has at least as much to do with getting Endy Chavez and Jesus Sucre in the line-up as anything Taylor himself has done. The M’s just can’t quit Endy Chavez.

* I’m surprised there aren’t more Londons out there, given the NFL had a London Fletcher for so many years. There’ve been a few minor leaguers with that surname, though none appeared in a big league game. There’s one active player in the Dodgers Dominican League team named Miguel Londono – again, not sure how you handle that. I think it doesn’t count, but perhaps you’re more accomodating/inclusive than I am.

Game 111, Braves at Mariners

marc w · August 5, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Alex Wood, 7:10pm

It’s nice to be back, and it’s nice to start a series like this one with so much importance to both the AL and NL wild card races. Like the M’s, the Braves begin play two games back of the 2nd wild card spot, and like the M’s, Fangraphs’ playoff odds thinks they’re a better club than the team immediately ahead of them. The M’s case gets trickier because of the number of teams in the race, but the point is the same: these are two extremely evenly matched teams with a lot to gain.

The Braves are coming off of a dispiriting sweep in Los Angeles, while the M’s are probably just as frustrated about how they dropped a series in Baltimore. The M’s at least get to turn to their ace, and the prohibitive favorite for the AL Cy Young race, Felix Hernandez. The Braves counter with the underrated Alex Wood, a lefty with a 90mph four-seam fastball, and a solid change and curve. I say underrated because Wood’s had to work as a swing man with the Braves this year; just a few weeks after being one of the starters in the best pitcher’s duel in years, he moved to the bullpen. Think back to April/May and how dominant the entire Braves rotation was* – Julio Teheran was emerging as an elite starter, Ervin Santana looked like the FA pick-up of the year, and Aaron #@%ing Harang had turned back the clock to 2006.**

Alex Wood is an object lesson in the value of consistency. Despite being bumped around from rotation to the pen in both 2013 and 2014, he’s shown nothing in the way of a performance drop in the rotation. His OBP against as a reliever was .315, but as a starter, it’s .314. Sure, he’s been hit harder, as his SLG% against skyrockets from .360 all the way to .369, but still. His OPS against vs. righties is .685, and against lefties it’s .673. At home, it’s .674, and on the road, it’s .689. He’s pretty much exactly what he is, whatever role the Braves ask him to perform in, and who he’s facing, and where. How? Again with the consistent thing. There’s nothing you can really point to and say, “there, THAT’s the pitch that’s made him a success.” His FB was never overpowering, and he – somewhat worryingly – lost about two MPH from 2013 to 2014, but just about nothing else changed. The pitch has a great deal of horizontal movement to it, and thus he’s got an above average whiff rate with it. By BP’s Pitch FX leaderboard, he ranks 56th of 156 pitchers who’ve thrown a four-seamer at least 200 times this year. The change-up’s even better, with a 33% whiff rate, good for 26th out of 60 starters. Wood’s curve ranks 33rd of 72 qualified starters. There’s no obvious, game-changing weapon in his arsenal, but there’s also no just-get-it-over, “I wanted to give them a different look” style bad pitch, either. Roenis Elias’ curve AND change rank far better than Wood’s, by either pitch-type linear weights or whiff/swing, but Elias’ fastball(s) aren’t all that effective. Erasmo Ramirez’s change-up STILL turns MLB hitters into Mark Reynolds, but that fact hasn’t helped him become a reliable big league starter, which, when you think about it like that is kind of remarkable.***

Anyway, I think my favorite example of Wood’s consistency has to do with his curve. Like many pitchers, he throws it to righties and lefties alike, and like many pitchers, he prefers to keep it down. But unlike most pitchers, he doesn’t care about batter handedness or tendencies or “soft stuff away” or any of that. Instead, he throws the pitch to his designated curve ball spot. Seriously. Here’s his curve heat map to lefties:
Low and away!
And here’s his curve ball heat map to righties:
Low and in!
When a guy’s really getting hit hard, the color guy will often chide him for “aiming the ball.” That’s a wider, more nuanced definition of the word “aiming” perhaps, but this…this looks like the real thing. Alex Wood throws some pitches, and then essentially attempts to play darts or horseshoes with his curve. This is taking the guesswork, the over-analysis and the over-thinking out of the enterprise and replacing it with clean, unbending simplicity. A simplicity that starts with not trying to do too much – with a recognition of one’s own fallibility, and in the end looks inseparable from an almost overbearing confidence. This is Bauhaus baseball.

M’s line-up:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS

Taijuan Walker got roughed up a bit in yesterday’s start in Albuquerque, giving up 8R in 2 1/3 IP, including a grand slam to Carlos Triunfel. Dosger prospect and Miguel Olivo chew toy Alex Guerrero also homered in the game, that one coming off of Blake Beavan. Jordan Pries starts tonight for the Rainiers in Albuquerque.

* An underrated part of the Braves’ pitching is their primary catcher, Evan Gattis. Gattis is in the line-up for his bat, and his wRC+ is the best on the team, ahead of Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Gattis was always seen as a bat-first guy, and someone other teams might look to run on when they got on base. And those teams aren’t wrong! Gattis leads the league in wild pitches allowed despite not qualifying for the batting title because he’s played in dozens fewer games than the guy he’s tied with, Tyler Flowers (who two weeks ago started wearing glasses). But framing, man, framing. The Braves probably expected a massive decline from Brian McCann, reliably among the league leaders in framing runs, but they’ve instead replaced him with yet another elite framer, if various metrics are to be trusted, and, critically, if they’re isolating just the catcher and not some other, more global factor.

** Harang’s start, and his entire 2014 season, is one of the reasons I imagine the gap between the AL and NL is larger than it seems to be statistically. I *saw* Harang last year. I know what he can do, and what he can’t do. If Harang’s a well-above average SP in your “major league” then I’m at least a utility infielder or situational right hander. Yes, yes, I know there’s some kid in Arizona who probably thinks the AL sucks because Brandon McCarthy’s tearing it up with the Yankees, but his underlying peripherals clearly showed he was undervalued, and you have to account for defense and park and I am now arguing with a hypothetical child.

*** Maybe Erasmo is the Craig Hodges of baseball. Or the Billy Hamilton, if Billy Hamilton was more like the plus-plus run, absolutely-no-hit-at-all player we thought we were getting.

Podcast: Transaction Indeed Made

Matthew Carruth · August 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Sunday Afternoon Podcast!

Jeff and I got this recorded a little earlier than early and why make you wait? Try not to be too upset over the end of today’s game, and we like the trades made.

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, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated.

Game 110, Mariners at Orioles

Jay Yencich · August 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Miguel Gonzalez, 4:05 pm

Hullo all. I’m back again, pinch-hitting for Marc over the weekend while he’s otherwise occupied. The hope is that I get a thread up tomorrow morning too, but some scheduling things on my end may prevent that. None of us know what tomorrow will bring.

Today brings the news of James Paxton’s return to the major league rotation after nearly four months sidelined. When last we saw our hero, he was making a rehab start against Sacto where he lasted four and a third innings, having thrown 47 of 78 pitches for strikes (60.3%) and giving up a run on six hits, three walks, and five Ks. Before that, he gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits (two dingers), a walk, and four Ks while throwing 34 of 60 for strikes (56.7%) through three frames against Las Vegas. And before THAT, he lasted just two and two-thirds in Everett with two runs scoring on two hits (HR), a walk, a wild pitch, and two Ks. There’s an upward trajectory here, but one gets the impression that the Mariners wouldn’t be pushing him out there unless they had to, and they kind of do in this case. Or at least they seem to be more confident in his ability to get them innings than they do Erasmo or Walker because both those guys were optioned. This too may end up as a trial run for Paxton.

Making way for him, we have Corey Hart hitting the DL with reportedly a bruised knee. One never really knows in these cases which it really is, the injury as an excuse for a lack of performance or a lack of performance as a means of justifying a DL stint from what may not be a serious injury. They say he hit a wall in Cleveland and played through it. Okay. We know Hart had all of the knee surgeries recently. We know that in July he had a 43 wRC+ which is only so much better than the 38 wRC+ he had in May just before hitting the DL. We are learning, and perhaps the Mariners may be learning, that trusting an aging player to improve as they recover from multiple significant surgeries may not be the best course of action when organizing a roster. Throw the dice on TJ victims or guys that have had broken bones in the draft if you wish, but not FAs on the wrong side of thirty who have had ligament or joint surgeries when millions of dollars are involved.

Of course, since Paxton was on the 60-day, we had to clear a 40-man spot for him, and in this case Blake Beavan was the victim. We may not see him as a fill-in the rotation again. Man, that seems weird. But we all know why, how he stopped throwing hard after he was drafted, how he never really developed into much more than an innings guy, etc. He threw eight innings for Tacoma last month and had a .276/.361/.276 line against. My guess is that the Mariners probably started the DFA process around the trade deadline when everyone else was too busy to be interested in a Blake Beavan, and what do you know, he got outrighted already.

This is all probably more interesting to you than Miguel Gonzalez, who started against the M’s a week ago and held us to one run over six frames despite eight hits, two walks, and only one K. And few groundballs. He simply evaded one problem spot after another even though his stuff is ordinary at best. So we’re up against a pitcher who recently frustrated us, using a lineup that, as recently as last night, was a bit frustrating.

[Edit: Late lineup change, Morales and Morrison switch positions.]
CF Austin Jackson
LF Dustin Ackley
2B Robinson Cano
1B Kendrys Morales
3B Kyle Seager
DH Logan Morrison
SS Chris Taylor
RF Endy Chavez
C Jesus Sucre

Down the minor league ladder tonight, we have Erasmo on the mound for the Rainiers in Albuquerque, Landazuri for Jackson at home, a TBD for the Mavericks against Inland Empire, Eddie Campbell for Clinton at Burlington (BEES), Jeffeson Medina for Everett at Eugene, and a couple of double-headers for Pulaski and Peoria, the latter of which finishes up a lightning-suspended game from a little over a week ago.

Go ‘Ners.

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