Podcast: Down the Stretch

Matthew Carruth · September 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Sorry for the delay folks; Labor Day camping took us far away from our recording outposts. This week we get into the recent scuffling, Jesus Montero, and who hasn’t been terrible for the Mariners lately and what’s to come.

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

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

Game 137, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · September 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Sonny Gray, 7:05pm
Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 35.2% Baseballprospectus.com: 31.4%

Quick one tonight, as I’m pressed for time. This is a great match-up of young arms that we could see for years as the M’s look to become a rival/equal of the A’s. As good as their pitching has been, and as good as Gray himself’s been, the A’s aren’t exactly outclassing the M’s. Gray’s excellent, and he’ll rack up more than 3 fWAR by season’s end, but that pales in comparison to the seasons Felix and Iwakuma have produced. Still, in Gray the A’s have a cost-controlled pitcher without much in the way of platoon splits who’s excellent in the cavernous O.Co Coliseum and on the road. He’s got a solid fastball at 94-95, a solid average change-up and a true weapon to LHB/RHBs alike in his hellacious curve ball. That was famously the pitch that no one in the big leagues had ever hit for a home run until he gave up two in one game to the Angels (Mike Trout’ll do that to you).

He’ll be a pain in this division for years, but pitch for pitch, James Paxton may be better. That’s saying a lot, and I hesitate to press “publish” on this, but seriously – Paxton has been a revelation, even if he’s been sidelined for far too long. I have no idea what happened to him last August, but everything’s clicked for him, and like all M’s fans, I just want this run to continue – and I want Paxton to be healthy enough to take the ball every five days for many, many years.

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

Yes, Paxton and Erasmo have been called up now that the MiLB season is officially over. The most successful clubs in the affiliated minors (above the complex league) were the Tacoma Rainiers, who finished four games over .500, and the Pulaski Mariners in the Appy League, who closed on a hot streak to finish six games over. Jackson and High Desert (AA and A+, respectively) finished below .500, in the middle of the pack in their divisions, while Everett recovered from a disastrous start to finish at 17-21. The only team to win a division crown were those complex league AZL Mariners, who finished 31-22.

Forrest Snow – Once and Future Prospect?

marc w · September 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

In June of 2010, the M’s drafted a local kid out of the University of Washington in the 36th round. Not many paid attention, and it’s not like a glance at the UW stats would’ve given you cause for optimism. In that 2010 season at Montlake, Forrest Snow posted an ERA of 6.30, which sounded terrible, but adding in 13 unearned runs pushed his RA/9 8.11. And yet, he was a local product with a great pitcher’s frame (he’s 6’6″) who sat around 90-91mph. Moreover, he hadn’t been pitching all that long – only a few years in high school after he grew too tall to continue catching. After hitting pro ball and professional strength and conditioning programs, he blossomed, garnering rave reviews in the 2011 Arizona Fall League. After a trying 2012, he bounced back in 2013 but a 50-game suspension for “a drug of abuse” resulted in lost time in 2014. Despite a somewhat rough finish to this season, Snow pitched well enough in June/July to put himself back on the (admittedly crowded) list of hopefuls for a bullpen job in 2015. He’s also a 40-man protection candidate this year. I spoke with him at Cheney Stadium last week as he prepared to finish the season and then head to Mexico for winter ball.

MW: You weren’t terribly successful at UW, and then as soon as you hit pro ball, the results were there. What happened at UW? Or, what happened after you signed?

Snow: Pitching at UW was a great experience. I’d been drafted out of HS by the Mariners, and decided I wasn’t ready. I’d only been pitching off a mound for two years. I needed to learn how to attack hitters, work counts, etc. At UW, I learned how to work hard and how to work as part of a staff. However, I didn’t really have a role. At times I was a reliever, at times a starter. That carried over to pro ball. Much my success can be attributed to that experience of being a utility pitcher. The Mariners thought I had the repertoire to continue in that role – starting or relieving.

Do you prefer one role or another?

No, I just love having the ball and throwing it at a catcher. I grew up loving the game and loving the Mariners, and any role they see for me, I’ll be more than happy to work 100% at it.

In college, was your velocity the same – low-90s fastball – or did you get a jump after signing with the M’s?

My first few years at UW, I was 89-92, and then junior year I was more 91-92 because I gained some weight. After signing and starting the M’s strength program, I was working harder, and by 2012 I was weighing in at 225 and ended up touching the mid 90s. After that, I’ve learned that “foot on the gas” approach all the time just wasn’t right for me – I’ve learned to pump the breaks and take a bit off and use more movement.

Your fastball’s always had a lot of horizontal movement, despite being a four-seamer. Was that always the case? Was there a mechanical change to produce that?

My arm angle’s been pretty consistent since I started; it’s gradually gotten more over-the-top since high-school, but I’ve focused on putting a lot of pressure on my pointer finger, which helps with pronation, and it produces a good riding fastball. I’ve wanted to add a sinker or a two-seamer, something with a lot of vertical depth, to no avail…yet. It’s still on the back burner, I’ll work on it this off-season and see if I can develop another weapon.

In 2011, you pitched for four different teams, culminating with the Peoria Javelinas of the AFL. When you got the AFL call, what did you think? Were you surprised by that assignment? Did you know about the AFL?

I was surprised; I got the call in Tacoma – Daren Brown told me I’d be heading down to the AFL. I thought it was an instructional league. Once I get down there, it’s this collection of top prospects and guys who are climbing the ranks quickly. I didn’t think much of it when I first heard about the assignment.

You didn’t put more pressure on yourself –

No, I was doing the same thing – a few starts, a bunch of relief appearances. More of that utility role.

So back then, October of 2011, you had some success, and you were getting written up a lot. Geoff Baker did a story, Kevin Goldstein (now with the Astros) said at Baseball Prospectus that you were one of the better prospects no one had heard of. Did you hear about that stuff? Were you aware of all of the extra attention?

Read more

Game 136, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · September 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Young vs. Jason Hammel, 1:05pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 45.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 40.2%

What a comeback yesterday – it looked like the M’s were on their way to a crippling series sweep when Dustin Ackley’s three-run shot off Tanner Roark turned the game around. Yesterday’s odds were in the mid-high 30% range, so you can see what a difference the M’s comeback (and the Tigers loss) made to their wild card odds. It’s still August, so there aren’t technically must-win games, but that one felt pretty big. If you mapped win probability to playoff odds, Dustin’s HR was as big a single play as we’ve seen in a while – it felt like it was up there with the 9th inning win over Uehara in Boston. Now they need to keep it up against the reeling A’s.

The A’s enter today’s game five games behind the Angels in the West – a divisional lead that looked un-losable has been lost, and the A’s have all but played their way out of the all-important division win/first-round bye. The A’s and Tigers were the most active teams on the trade market before the deadline, with Oakland grabbing Jason Samardzija and today’s starter Jason Hammel and then getting Jon Lester a month later. The Tigers picked up David Price in the Nick Franklin/Austin Jackson deal, with everyone hailing the moves as two playoff-bound teams tweaking their post-season rotations. Since the trades, though, both teams have scuffled. Samardzija’s been solid, but the A’s offense has gone AWOL. Hammel was awful in his first handful of starts for Oakland, but has bounced back recently. Price has been alternately brilliant and mediocre, with his famous nine-straight hit, 2IP/8R disaster against the Yankees his last time out. This isn’t to judge the deals in hindsight or to argue that teams shouldn’t trade for pitchers, but it’s a lesson that pitchers – even great ones – have rough patches, and when you acquire one, you just have to hope that you’ll miss that rough patch.

Jason Hammel seems to be coming out of his rough patch. He’s had three solid starts in his last four tries, with a hard-luck no-decision in Houston’s comeback win on the 26th. Hammel throws a sinker and a four-seamer around 92, with a slider, curve and change up as his secondaries. To righties, he’s primarily a fastball/slider guy, and while he’ll throw his slider to lefties as well, he mixes in the change and curve to them as well. In recent years, he’s not shown too much in the way of platoon splits; a bad 2013 is balanced with even splits this year and even reverse splits in his breakout 2012 year. Even after picking up the sinker in 2012, he’s still been something of a fly-ball pitcher, and that’s made him vulnerable to homers. It’s an interesting career arc – a fly baller in Coors Field who didn’t actually give up a ton of HRs but wasn’t consistent enough (and didn’t have enough swing-and-miss in his arsenal) to be effective, he remade himself as a ground-ball pitcher in Baltimore. He posted the best GB% in his career in 2012 while also seeing a strikeout rate spike…despite moving to the AL. Unfortunately, injuries limited his time, and they took a bite out of his 2013 as well. His velocity was down a bit in 2013, but not enough to explain the barrage of HRs he gave up, the GB% dropping by 13 percentage points, or his K rate sliding back. He’s been better in 2014, but while all of his rate stats have bounced back somewhat, they’re not close to his 2012 rates. Despite his success with the sinker and slider in 2012, he’s throwing more four-seamers again, perhaps just to keep hitters off balance, and perhaps because it’s easier on his arm.

Chris Young got some extra rest heading into this start, which is part of Lloyd McClendon’s canny usage of his rotation down the stretch. Felix and Iwakuma have received an extra day’s rest here and there, and now the veteran Young – coming off another shoulder surgery – will too. Felix and others have struggled a bit, but I don’t think it’s due to the shake-up of the every-five-days grind of the rotation. In any event, this is a huge game for the skyscraping righty. The M’s need a win with the Tigers and Royals facing lesser teams (although at least the Tigers are facing Corey Kluber today).

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

The rosters have expanded, so the M’s called up seven players from Tacoma. You see Smoak’s name in the line-up, and Corey Hart, Stefen Romero, Taijuan Walker and Lucas Luetge have been recalled. Two newcomers are Humberto Quintero, a back-up catcher who hit a big HR in yesterday’s game in Fresno, and Carson Smith, the relief prospect with a riding sinking fastball and a big slider. The M’s made room on the forty-man for these two first by moving Willie Bloomquist to the 60-day DL and then by placing Jesus Montero on the suspended list. This is a suspension without pay for Montero, and it opened up a spot on the roster. Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton should be called up after the Rainiers’ season ends today.

Eno Sarris has a great article and interview with Danny Farquhar at the Fox Sports blog Just a Bit Outside. Check it out.

Game 135, Nationals at Mariners

marc w · August 31, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Tanner Roark, 1:10pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 37.6% Baseballprospectus.com: 31.4%

The M’s look to avoid a sweep behind Hisashi Iwakuma, but they’re facing yet another tough righty, sinkerballer Tanner Roark. Roark was cut by his college team, played a bit of independent league ball, where he posted an ERA over *20* but got signed by the Rangers anyway. After inconsistency and a trade to the Nats organization, he ditched his four-seamer for a two-seamer and re-discovered his confidence and command. After posting decent but nothing special walk rates in the minors, he’s been a strike throwing machine in the big league (though not quite as machine-like as Iwakuma).

His two-seamer comes in at 92mph, and he’ll throw a curve and change to lefties, and a slider to righties. Thanks in part to his curve ball, he’s excelled against lefties. He’s still got platoon splits, but lefties haven’t done as much damage as you’d expect against an average-velo righty who throws lots of sinkers/two-seamers. Against righties, though, he’s been dominant – a K:BB ratio of about 7, and a FIP in the low 2′s. Roark is essentially the Nationals’ version of Chris Young. There’s nothing eye-popping about him, and his overall FIP is good, but nothing all that special. But he’s been phenomenal at limiting runs. He’s now pitched 220 career innings for the Nats and his ERA is just 2.49. Sure, you can expect the strand rate to come down a bit, and maybe some of his success against lefties is BABIP related, but 1: he’s been doing this for over a full year and 2: he has room to regress and still be an extremely effective pitcher. The big key for him has been command – as Dave described, he seems to be able to put his fastball exactly where he wants it to go. C’mon M’s lefties. We need this.

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

Not really sure why you’d bring in Denorfia to DH against a righty sinker/slider guy, but on the other hand, this is a good day for Miller to get a start.

Stephen Landazuri gets the start for Jackson today, his final start before heading to the Arizona Fall League. Lars Huijer starts for High Desert. No word on who the Rainiers will send up against Fresno tonight.

Game 134, Nationals at Mariners

marc w · August 30, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Stephen Strasburg, 7:10pm

After several years, the top two picks in the lauded 2009 draft finally meet.

Stephen Strasburg’s been healthy this year, and while he’s no longer the superhuman freak he appeared to be when he broke into the league in 2010, he’s still an elite power pitcher, with a K% of about 28% and a walk rate of only 5.5%. His fastball’s now around 95-96, and he backs it up with a curve ball and a change-up. Oddly, for someone who’s had two arm surgeries, he’s added a slider this year, though he throws it very rarely. Thanks to his top-shelf velocity and great secondary pitches, he’s never struggled against left-handers. So why isn’t he dominating?

It’s no longer that he hasn’t racked up enough innings – he’s pitched 175 IP thus far. By FIP-based WAR, he cracks the top 20 starters (at #20), behind teammate Jordan Zimmermann, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Archer and Dallas Keuchel. By RA9-WAR, though, he falls to 60th, on pace to put up an almost perfectly league average season. Part of the answer is a spike in his HRs allowed, and the rest is likely BABIP-related. So has he just been unlucky? It’s not easy to tell. His fastball’s a bit slower, and maybe that helps account for the fact that batters have knocked 16 HRs off of it. Because of his elite velocity, it’s not immediately clear that he’s ever really needed to command it. Looking at his heat maps, there are an awful lot of center-cut fastballs, and Strasburg hasn’t shown that he can get a lower HR/FB or BABIP on the pitch – especially in the strike zone.

This is hardly to say he’s an average pitcher overall. His change-up is a great pitch, and he can use it to righties and lefties alike. That velocity is still over a standard deviation above the average, after all, and by K%-BB% (a simple fielding-independent metric that’s surprisingly good at predicting ERA), he’s in the top 5 in baseball, just edging out King Felix. A match-up like this one is great for him as well, as his problems with HR/FB are attenuated by the park and the M’s mediocre slugging. That said, if even King Felix can falter, then Strasburg shouldn’t be immune either.

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

Wow…that’s a less than full strength line-up. Whatever…go M’s!!

The Rainiers continue their season-ending series in Fresno tonight as Taijuan Walker makes his last start. The Rainiers came back to win last night, with HRs from Justin Smoak, Leury Bonilla and Stefen Romero bailing out starter Forrest Snow who had something of a rough outing. I sat down to interview Snow in Tacoma last week; I’ll get that posted this weekend.

Lefty Tyler Olson makes his last start for AA Jackson today as well. The Spokane product’s shot through the system (he was drafted last year, and pitched for SS Everett last year) despite underwhelming raw stuff. That he’s succeeded in AA is a good sign, and he’s closing the year well. In his last four starts, he’s posted a 22:2 K:BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings.

Game 133, Nationals at Mariners

marc w · August 29, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Jordan Zimmermann, 7:10pm (Fireworks following the game)
Wild Card Odds – Fangraphs.com: 46.4% Baseballprospectus.com: 42.4%

Happy Felix Day.

The M’s kick off a series against the NL East leading Nationals tonight, a contest between the teams that lead their respective leagues in ERA. The Nats actually lead baseball in FIP; the M’s would argue that FIP can never fully understand the glorious mysteries of Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma, while the Nats would simply point to their walk rate, by far the lowest in baseball. Beyond control, though, the story of the Nationals’ 2014 staff is that they haven’t been hurt by home runs. Unlike the Yankees, who pound the zone and sometimes pay the price for it, the Nationals get the benefits of fewer baserunners AND fewer long balls. Tonight’s starter, Jordan Zimmermann, is a microcosm of the Nationals’ staff as a whole.

Zimmermann pitches off of his fastball. By pitch fx, no qualified starter throws a higher percentage of four-seam fastballs (or two-seamers, for that matter) than Zimmermann – about 70%. Combining all types of FBs, a few hurlers have a higher percentage of “hard’ pitches, led by Bartolo Colon. Zimmermann’s still in the top 10, though – no matter how you slice it up, Zimmermann’s extremely fond of his four-seamer. As Zimmermann probably knows, a four-seamer has lower platoon splits than sinkers, and indeed, Zimmermann’s overall platoon splits are pretty narrow despite the fact that his primary breaking ball is a slider.

He throws a change-up, but at less than 4% of his pitches, it’s something he’ll throw very rarely, and pretty much exclusively to lefties. Righties get sliders about 1/3 of the time, meaning they see fewer fastballs than lefties, who get high heat on about 3/4 of all pitches. Zimmerman’s fastball isn’t particularly noteworthy by pitch fx – it’s pretty hard, at 94mph, but it doesn’t have noteworthy movement the way James Paxton, Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver or Clayton Kershaw’s does. Everything about it, including velocity, is within a standard deviation of the league-wide mean. So why is it effective? A lot of it has to do with Zimmermann’s command. With a walk rate of just 3.7%, Zimmermann’s clearly able to control his pitches. But it’s more than that; Zimmermann’s overall zone percentage is quite good, but it’s not eye-popping. What IS somewhat eyepopping is his chase rate, the percentage of balls out of the zone that batters swing at. Zimmermann’s opponent tonight leads all of baseball in oSW% at 36.7% (Iwakuma’s #2!), but there’s Zimmermann at #6. Think about how odd it is for a guy who throws a ton of fastballs to be well-above average in pitches chased. Felix and Iwakuma have freakish change-up/splitter pitches to get batters to chase. Clayton Kershaw is not human. Zimmermann is…curious.

Unlike many pitchers, and unlike most pitchers with good HR rates, Zimmermann loves to pitch up in the zone. He’s able to hit the spots just above the zone, which helps that oSW% and also helps generate pop-ups. It also may help disguise his slider, which is an effective pitch to righties and lefties despite not having elite break or velocity. His command may also be a big part of the reason he’s able to get so many foul balls. Fouls are generally a good thing for pitchers for pretty obvious reasons – they’re strikes that can’t hurt you. Zimmermann’s pitching ahead most of the time, and foul balls may be part of the reason why. As he gets ahead, batters swing at more close pitches, helping explain the oSW% and making his fastball play up even more. All in all, it’s a great pitching match-up tonight, and a critical game as the M’s look to shake off an ugly loss against the Rangers.

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

Speaking of the Rangers, they made a couple of roster moves today, bringing back Derek Holland (who’s missed the entire year) and calling up Ryan Rua. That brings their total number of players used to 60, a new big league record. Their 38 pitchers used ties the record of the 2008 Padres, and rosters haven’t expanded yet (hat tip: Stefan Stevenson). As we saw, the Rangers are currently DH’ing Elvis Andrus, and their line-up includes Tomas Telis, Ryan Rua and Daniel Robertson. I think even most Ranger fans wouldn’t have been able to ID those three in March. Only Rua was on their top 20 prospect list, and he was 19th.

The M’s signed Dominican SS Christopher Torres for $375,000 - a nice get for the M’s, after Torres was linked to the Yankees for most of the year. Ah, but like the Montero ice-cream sandwich issue and the fabled rescue by USC CB Josh Shaw, there’s a lot more to the story. Torres’ trainer swears he’d made a deal with the Yankees that would’ve given Torres $2.1 million, and then the Yankees took him off the showcase circuit to avoid injury. After gaining weight and losing skill, the Yankees then backed out of the deal, a charge the Yankees strenuously deny. The M’s pounced and signed him for a fraction of what it looked like he’d cost, but there are now a lot more questions about Torres and his ultimate ceiling. Read Ben Badler’s typically great post about the Torres/Yankee saga here. An interesting bit of context to this year’s international signing crop is the Yankees open intention to flout the bonus pool caps by signing many/most of the top players. Despite a bonus pool cap of a bit over $2 million, the Yankees splurged by spending $12 million on the first day of the signing period. This came as no big shock; people like Kiley McDaniel were writing about the Yankees’ plans since at least December of 2013. They’ll forfeit the ability to sign players for a couple of years, but once those penalties trigger, there’s no incentive to stop spending….unless one of the guys you’ve targeted gains weight when you tell him to stop playing and hang out at home and eat ice-cream sandwi…whoa, whoa, too soon.

The Montero Incident

marc w · August 29, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Last evening, Keith Law tweeted a rumor that launched a thousand fat jokes. Jesus Montero, one time can’t miss prospect and current whipping boy had apparently tried to enter the stands during some sort of vague altercation. Soon after, conflicting information started filtering in – no one had been ejected. Montero wasn’t in the line-up. A few hours later, we learned what had apparently happened was that Montero had some sort of verbal altercation with a scout in attendance, and had to be restrained by the team pitching coach from going after the guy. The twist in all of this was that the scout’s employer was the Seattle Mariners. That version of events is reflected in MiLB’s story about the incident, which you can read here - seriously, go read it.

At the time, this seemed to be the last act in the tragic drama of Montero’s Mariner tenure: from starting catcher and future All-Star to minor-league DH to a casualty of anger management issues in a short-season Northwest League park. Today, as we learn still more about the incident, it’s no longer clear that all of the blame lies with Montero, and what seemed like a colossal mistake by the young 1B/DH (he’s still only 24) begins to look more like the sad end of a seriously dysfunctional relationship. This is the baseball version of Rashomon; we have visions of an incident from a few vantage points, but I’m not sure we can see – or understand – the full picture.

What we think we know is that Montero was acting as the 1st base coach (this is really common in the minors; a player on his off-day generally acts as the 1B coach), and at the end of the Aqua Sox half-inning, a Mariner cross-checker (senior scout), Butch Baccala, yelled at Montero to hustle off the field. I have no idea if Montero yelled something back at that point, and a part of me hopes he did, so I can better understand/begin to rationalize the cross-checker’s escalation of the sitaution. The cross-checker then bought an ice-cream sandwich and had it delivered to Montero in the Aqua Sox dugout, at which point Montero came out of the dugout, threw the ice cream sandwich back at the cross-checker and had to be restrained from heading up to, uh, discuss the situation in more detail.

Everything here depends a bit on your prior assumptions about Montero. Given everything we heard this spring, and given the way the story trickled out of Boise last night, it was easy to jump all over him. After a suspension for PEDs, Montero ate his way out of playing shape – by his own admission, not by reading between the numbers of various weigh-ins or whatever. His hustle was constantly challenged, and when you put that together with his off-season of indulgence, you understand why the M’s might want to reinforce the message that he needs to demonstrate some effort on and off the field. His lack of effort imperiled (at best) his chances of a productive career, and you sympathize with the M’s a bit: as frustrated as fans are about The Trade and what’s happened since, think about how the front office must feel.

Some of the frustration and incredulity about Montero’s fall from grace, though, has been directed at the M’s player development group, too. Montero is responsible for his choices, and he’s responsible for showing up to camp overweight, but the organization needs to ensure that their employees are doing what they’re supposed to. How does Montero just show up to camp overweight and surprise everyone? Wasn’t he playing 1B in the Venezuelan Winter League? Maybe they’d tried the nice-guy approach and saw that it wasn’t working, so they changed tack and criticized his weight in February/March. Maybe that didn’t work either. Maybe they were working with him behind the scenes, and a scout who hadn’t been home in weeks just snapped. I just can’t imagine that this is going to have a good outcome on Montero’s effort or the perception of the M’s organization. If you’re the type who was upset about Zduriencik’s latest extension, this is just more grist for the mill, and you can see this as evidence that the M’s mismanaged Montero from January of 2012 through today.

Now, we’ve learned a lot more about the incident since Keith Law’s first tweet. We know the two people involved, but we still can’t piece it all together. As Geoff Baker’s story today makes clear, Butch Baccala disputes the standard version of events, but he’s not able to talk about while the M’s pursue an investigation. We still don’t know what really happened, but it seems harder and harder to imagine Montero in an M’s uniform again. Who’s fault that is depends a lot on what you thought about Montero and the M’s before last night.

UPDATE:
GM Jack Zduriencik released a statement about the incident which notes that Montero’s rehab assignment is over and that he’s being called in to talk to Jack directly. Butch Baccala’s been pulled off cross-checking duty and is heading home to California indefinitely. The M’s will also be working with Montero on his “personal issues” throughout the off-season. Hat tip to Ryan Divish, who’s been all over this on Twitter. Good on both Divish and Geoff Baker, whose coverage of this strange story has been exemplary.

Game 132, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · August 27, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Colby Lewis, 12:40pm
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 52.2% BaseballProspectus.com: 50.8%

Hey, someone on the Rangers I’ve heard of! Colby Lewis, to his great credit, has come back from serious injury and an extremely long layoff and has put up, by FIP, a fairly typical Colby Lewis year. He’s got a decent K%, a good (though less good than it once was) walk rate, and he’s actually limited HRs fairly well this year despite a very low ground ball rate. Unfortunately, it’s been far from a typical year from an ERA and runs-actually-scored point of view. From an RA/9 WAR standpoint, Lewis has been well below replacement level. From a FIP-based WAR standpoint, he’s nearly league average. Is this the result of historically bad luck – the microcosm of the entire Rangers season – or is he doing something differently?

As a big fly baller, Lewis typically ran very good BABIP numbers. In his three seasons from 2010-2012, his HIGHEST BABIP was .279. This year, it’s .365. That sounds remarkably unlucky, but it’s buttressed with a line-drive rate that’s among the highest in baseball. Even when he was good, Lewis always struggled against left-handed hitters; his wOBA-allowed to lefties ranged from .360 in 2011 before improving to .331 in 2012 and collapsing now to a .406 mark in 2014. More troubling is that he’s no longer able to get righties out. From not allowing a wOBA better than .277 from 2010-2012, righties are hitting .342 this season. While the movement and velocity on his fastball haven’t changed, the results clearly have. This started a bit in his injury-shortened 2012, when righties started to hit his four-seam fastball harder. He was able to balance that with some very good results on his breaking pitches, particularly his slider/cutter, but it hasn’t worked to the same degree in 2014. Why? Because far more balls in play are falling in for hits this year. This is where we really need scouts; the data we have are somewhat contradictory and clearly limited. He’s getting hit harder, but he’s also paying a much higher price for all kinds of contact than he’s ever paid before. Is this the beginning of the end, or is this what happens when literally everyone in the pre-season depth chart gets hurt?

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

As we speculated yesterday, Erasmo didn’t make that scheduled start in Tacoma, and thus Tacoma had a bullpen night. Andrew Carraway started and pitched five very good innings against Kris Bryant and the Iowa Cubs. I misspoke yesterday in saying it was the series finale…it’s not. Tonight’s game is, so you’ve got one more chance to see the heralded 3B in the minor leagues. Bryant struck out three times last night, against three different Rainiers hurlers. He’s a huge talent, but there are still some facets of his game that need a light finish.

The M’s announced the players they’ll send to the AFL this, er, fall. They are C John Hicks, 3B DJ Peterson, 1B/3B/)F Patrick Kivlehan, and pitchers Matt Brazis, Stephen Landazuri, and Matt Anderson.

Game 131, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · August 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Nick Martinez, 7:10pm
Wildcard odds – Fangraphs.com: 53.2% Baseballprospectus.com: 48.3%

Last night was another in what’s become quite a series of inexplicable collapses against bad-to-mediocre starting pitchers. It technically does happen to every team now and then, but I’m a bit nervous because the Rangers are sending yet another not so good starter to the mound tonight in Nick Martinez. If you look hard enough, you can convince yourself that Martinez is actually different in some important ways to Miles Mikolas, but that won’t make the queasy feeling go away.

Like Mikolas, Martinez is a fly-balling right-hander, who relies primarily on a four-seamer, but also throws a change, a slider and a curve. Like Mikolas, the slider’s his breaking ball against righties, while he throws the curve and change to lefties. Unlike Mikolas, Martinez has shown normal platoon splits; lefties have torched him this season. He’s not much of a strikeout guy, and hitters have tended to push him off the plate. He’s thrown fewer strikes than average, as you’d figure given his walk rate. What he does well is generate fly balls. If you’re Chris Young, inducing lots of fly balls is a great thing. If you’re just most other pitchers, it’s not immediate clear that this is cause for congratulations, and if you pitch half your games in Arlington, it’s downright worrying. Indeed, Martinez has been destroyed at home – his home ERA is 7.52, and batters are slugging .546 against him. Perhaps as a result, he’s walked more than he’s struck out in Arlington. On the road though, he’s not a lost cause. He’s still not good or anything, but he’s limited the damage. Perhaps this is why he’s made 14 road starts against just 8 at home.

So, all of those fly balls. Martinez’s fly ball rate ranks 7th in baseball among pitchers with at least 80 IP. Chris Young is way out in front at #1, of course, and there are some other pretty effective pitchers in the top 10 – from Danny Duffy of KC to Jake Odorizzi of Tampa. Martinez hasn’t quite made the transition to effective starter yet, but that’s to be expected as he spent nearly all of 2013 in the high-A Carolina League. His four-seam fastball has plenty of vertical rise, and comes in at 92 or so. I know I’ve beaten this particular drum far too often, but tonight’s match up is interesting in that both pitchers rely on very similar four-seam fastballs. Paxton’s got horizontal run of around 5″ and vertical rise of 10-11″. Martinez is essentially a mirror image – run of 5″ (the other way, of course), and rise of 10″. When batters put Paxton’s four-seamer in play, about 55% of them have been ground balls. When batters put Martinez’s in play, only 33% have been hit on the ground. That latter figure makes some intuitive sense. Paxton’s doesn’t, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather enjoy it than understand it.

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: Paxton

The Rainiers and the Iowa Cubs finish off their series tonight at Cheney with an interesting match-up of pitchers who’ve bounced between AAA and the big leagues. Dan Straily starts for Iowa, while Erasmo Ramirez gets the ball for Tacoma. Both have enjoyed some limited success in the bigs, both have struggled to adjust after some rough stretches, and both have given up too many HRs. The M’s are again shifting their rotation around next week, with Felix starting the first game against Washington on Friday. That means that they’ll probably make a roster move to cover the finale of the Rangers series on Wednesday afternoon. Since Taijuan Walker pitched last night, that would make Erasmo Ramirez a pretty good candidate. Meaning, while it’d be fun to see Erasmo against the I-Cubs and Straily, I wouldn’t bet on him making this start.

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