JA Happ vs. Tim Lincecum, 12:45pm
Yesterday’s game was one of those great games that makes the disappointment of this year and the past several years…well, not “worth it,” but “more tolerable.” The M’s looked like the team we thought we’d get. Taijuan Walker was great again, and it’s easier to see him as a fixture in the rotation now. The M’s got timely hits to take a lead, then added to it late in the game. The bullpen quietly did their job. The cynic in me argues that this was the easiest game for them, facing a pitcher who seemed like a good bet to struggle against the M’s lefty-heavy line-up. But it was a game – just one game, of course – that pushed cynicism out of the way for a couple of hours, and that was refreshing. Please don’t completely overwrite that memory with another ugly, punchless loss like you did in the Houston series, M’s.
Seattle’s prodigal son returns next week, but the M’s pay him a visit today. The right-hander’s glory days of 2008/2009 are long gone, but Lincecum’s enjoying a modest improvement over the ugly 2012 and 2014 campaigns…seasons that ended in World Series wins, of course. His runs allowed and FIP are lower than they’ve been in a while thanks to an improvement in BABIP and HR/FB, which casts some doubt about how “real” this improvement really is. Lincecum’s K rate continues to fall – it’s fallen every year since 2009 – and his walk rate has edged back up over 10% as well. Likewise, his velocity continues its long-term slide. He debuted averaging 95, then sat in the low 90s in recent years. This year, he’s just under 89mph.
That said, he’s clearly still capable of brilliance – he’s tossed no-hitters in two of his worst seasons, after all. It’s consistency that’s eluded him; 95mph and a dominant split/change gives a pitcher a margin of error that 89mph doesn’t, and when he’s not on, he’s gotten roughed up. Since the start of 2014, he’s thrown 6 games of at least 7 IP in which he’s given up no runs. But he’s also thrown 6 games of under 5 IP with at least as many runs allowed as innings pitched, and he lost his starting gig late in 2014 because of it. Interestingly, at least to me, is that he’s never had platoon splits. Over his career, his raw splits are slightly reversed, with lefties faring a bit worse than righties. By FIP, it’s essentially a dead heat.
One of the reasons for that is his splitter/change-up. Lincecum’s fastballs have almost no armside run (his four-seam is cutter-like in that it moves *away* from righties), and the same is true for the split – its break is almost entirely vertical, and it generates lots of whiffs, even as it (and the rest of his arsenel) has lost velocity over the years. Lefties see the pitch a lot – about 40% of the time. To righties, he uses his slider (79mph) and the occasional curve ball (75mph). Lefties see more of his sinker, while he throws his four-seam to right-handers. Since the start of 2012, righties are slugging over .500 on that four-seam fastball while lefties are under .400 against both four-seam and sinker. Given the pitch’s movement and these results, I don’t get why Lincecum wouldn’t reverse things, and throw righties more sinkers, as they’re generally much better against same-handed hitters.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Jones, CF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
The Rainiers bullpen day started a little slow yesterday, with Reno taking the lead off of Logan Bawcom, but Tyler Olson was great for 4 IP and the bats came alive, leading the Rainiers to a 10-4 win. Chris Taylor doubled and tripled for the Rainiers. Stephen Landazuri starts today against 80s teen-movie villain Parker Frasier.
Jackson, as mentioned yesterday, beat Mobile 6-2, and they’ve got a travel day today before welcoming Birmingham to West Tennessee tomorrow.
Bakersfield beat Inland Empire 9-8 in extra innings. The bats bailed out starter Dan Altavilla, who was knocked out in the 2nd after giving up 6 runs. Despite not having an extra-base hit, the Blaze pieced together 12 singles and 7 walks to get their 9 runs, and won it in the 10th on a walk-off wild pitch. Tyler Pike starts today for Bakersfield.
Clinton was rained out in Fort Wayne, meaning that yesterday was perhaps the first time every affiliate won, or, more accurately, didn’t lose. It’s been a rough year in the M’s minors.
The M’s draft picks have begun signing contracts. Nick Neidert signed a slightly over-slot deal for $1.2m, while Andrew Moore signed for just under-slot at $800,000 even. Moore will report to Everett, who start their campaign on Thursday, with a home series against Eugene. Slugging small-school 1B Ryan Uhl was a senior, and signed for a well-under-slot bonus of $50,000 – he should be in Everett too. Righty Kyle Wilcox, out of tiny Bryant College, signed for just under slot at $225,000. HS righty Cody Mobley, whom the M’s selected in the 8th round, had a commitment to the University of Evansville, but the M’s gave him a bonus equal to the slot value of a pick a few rounds earlier. 10th round pick Darin Gillies, a RHP out of Arizona State, signed for $10,000.
The biggest story in baseball isn’t that the Padres called up Pat Murphy to manage the club, but the investigation into the hack and leak of Houston’s internal trade discussions last year. You may remember when Deadspin published 10 months of internal wrangling and haggling near the trade deadline. Well, the FBI’s been investigating the hack, and they’ve named a suspect: The St. Louis Cardinals. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow came from STL, so maybe he just never changed passwords, but this seems like a pretty big deal. We’d all been wondering what the next analytical insight in baseball might be, and what sorts of problems math/IT genius could apply their skills to. But maybe it’s simpler than all of that: maybe hacking is the next market inefficiency? (Hat Tip: Mike Curto)
Taijuan Walker vs. Tim Hudson, 7:15pm
The M’s begin play today with the fewest runs scored in the AL, rapidly fading playoff hopes, and a system that can’t boost the big league club the way their rivals’ can. Following a depressing series in Houston that saw their already dire run differential worsen, they’ve called up James Jones to bolster the bench. I understand completely that this is a short-term move, and that all of the roster re-jiggering had more to do with a series of really short outings by the starters than anything, but all the context in the world doesn’t make it any easier to explain. The M’s haven’t gotten an immediate boost from trading for Mark Trumbo, and since then, with the team in real danger of falling completely out of the race in a wide-open, no-great-teams AL, they’ve juggled relievers and brought up a pinch-runner. “What else could they do?” asks the sympathetic fan, unwittingly damning the front office even more.
The Giants strong start has petered out, and they enter tonight’s game on a four-game losing streak. They’ve fallen 3.5 games behind the Dodgers, who’ve played .500 ball for a month. Despite the highly anticipated match-up with Madison Bumgarner, it’s been the Giants offense that propelled them to that great start. And that offense is, from the point of view of an M’s fan, absurdly balanced. Buster Posey is consistently great, but they’ve been buoyed by the development of Brandon Crawford, their erstwhile glove-first SS, and his double-play partner, Joe Panik. Their patience with Brandon Belt has been rewarded, and unheralded prospect Matt Duffy has held his own at 3B after Casey McGehee crashed and burned. Thanks to their post-season successes in recent years, they’re an easy team to hate, but we’ve once again reached the point in the year where I just want to learn as much as possible from the teams who seem to be building a better mousetrap than the M’s. Houston’s rebuild looks nothing like the Giants retooling, as you’d expect, but the Giants success is clearly not just about throwing all of that World Series tv revenue at problems. *No one* thought Brandon Crawford was going to hit. The Joe Panik draft pick was almost universally derided. While we in M’s land have to remind ourselves over and over that aging curves describe a population, not a player; that the growth we expected from [Fill in player you are currently most frustrated with] isn’t some kind of birthright, and hey, luck of the draw, right? Other teams seem to be doing a bit better with raw talent – flawed talent – and molding it into roster help. At this point, it’s probably easier to start looking for people who know how to do this than to hope for rapid improvement in the current front office.
Tim Hudson makes his 25th career start against the M’s tonight, and tries to recapture his 2014 form against the struggling M’s offense. A year ago, Hudson continued his late career success with a 2.1 WAR season. His sinker’s lost only a few ticks, and it still allows him to post elite ground ball rates. Coupled with good control and an above-average infield defense, and Hudson can still succeed despite the fact that his K rate continues to fall. His strikeout pitch is a cutter at about 83-84mph that he typically saves for righties. He’s also got a splitter that functions as his change-up, so lefties see a lot more of that. But so far this season, something’s been amiss with that splitter. Last year, he got whiffs on about 16% of his splitters, and batters put it in play about 22% of the time. This season (small sample alert, of course), lefties have swung and missed at just *6%* of splitters, and they’ve put it fully one third of them in play. Without a swing-and-miss pitch to lefties, Hudson can’t strike southpaws out. He’s faced 124 lefties this year, and has struck out all of 7 of them. 2 of those came against Francisco Liriano, a pitcher. While his splits don’t show it this year, this is a good time to set a lefty-heavy line-up.
Taijuan Walker is coming off of three consecutive strong starts, with a K:BB ratio of 21:3 in that span. What’s actually changed for him is somewhat tough to determine. His pitch mix has changed a bit – before this streak he threw his cutter/slider more and his four-seam fastball a bit less, but that doesn’t seem like it could explain this. I don’t think he’s using his high fastball more – if anything, it looks like he’s using it less (compare this picture to this one), and burying some fastballs at or below the knee. Whatever it is, the quality of contact against him has dropped markedly. Sure, some of this is his HR luck regressing a bit, but a lot of this is simple control. He’s throwing both his fastball and splitter for strikes more often, and presumably getting into better counts as a result. He’s also avoiding the center of the plate, though that may be due to the counts he finds himself in as well. Whatever it is, this version of Taijuan is as encouraging as the previous iteration was frustrating.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, LF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
Forrest Snow struggled with his command yesterday, but still threw 7 strong innings, yielding just one hit and one run against Albuquerque. Snow has given up exactly one earned run in each of his last 6 starts. Logan Bawcom starts for the Rainiers today, who are going with a bullpen day to open the series against Reno. Danny Farquhar’s arrival can help bail out the bullpen in the rest of the series.
Jackson beat Mobile 8-6 thanks to HRs from DJ Peterson and Dario Pizzano. The latter’s HR came off of rehabbing big leaguer Patrick Corbin. Jackson won an early game today behind a solid outing from Misael Siverio and three hits from SS Tyler Smith. Of note, reliever Brian Moran struck out 4 in 1 2/3 IP in his 2nd outing with the Generals. The righty was once on the cusp of a 40-man spot with the M’s – and a possible active roster spot, but he was picked by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft then blew out his elbow. This was his fourth outing of the year as he rehabs from TJ surgery. The righty with a fastball that sits 87-88 has surprising deception, and has racked up strikeouts throughout the minor leagues.
Bakersfield destroyed Modesto 11-3, getting starter Eddie Campbell his third straight win after his awful start to 2015. Tyler O’Neill and Austin Wilson had 2 hits each, but Jay Baum led the team with 4. Dan Altavilla takes the mound for the Blaze as they face ex-affiliate Inland Empire, who’ll start Victor Alcantara.
Clinton’s slide continued, as they were swept in a doubleheader at Fort Wayne. One was a pitcher’s duel that the Tin Caps won by a score of 2-1; Tyler Herb was the hard-luck loser, throwing 6 IP with 6 Ks and 2 runs allowed. There was no hard luck loser in the other game, as Fort Wayne won 16-1. Osmer Morales started and pitched poorly, but Rohn Pierce followed with a nightmare of an outing. In just 1/3 of an inning, Pierce gave up 8 earned runs on 8 hits, including a 3R-HR. Ouch. Jefferson Medina starts today for the reeling L-Kings.
Roenis Elias vs. Lance McCullers, 11:10am
Well that’s more like it, Mariners. The M’s playoff odds got slightly better, but they’re given less than 1/2 the chance of winning the division as either Houston or LA, and that’s a problem. BP’s odds, which seem to rely less on preseason projections somehow (they regress actual wins/losses less, I’d guess) have Texas with twice the odds of winning the division, whereas Fangraphs still sees them as a bad club that’s played out of its mind for a month.
Texas and Houston are two of the stories of baseball this year, as both clubs seemed to be in rebuilds, but are now fighting for playoff spots. Neither team had a lot of established MLB talent on their opening day roster, especially with Yu Darvish missing the year. There’s Adrian Beltre, sure, and then there’s…Dallas Keuchel? Scott Feldman? Elvis Andrus? They had mostly young rosters, and a wave of talent in the minors – if they struggled, they could presumably sell off whatever vets they had and bolster the ranks of cost-controlled prospects. As it’s happened, they haven’t struggled at all, and thus this wave of talent is entering the league playing meaningful games on good teams. Joey Gallo is filling in for Adrian Beltre, and hitting balls like this. Houston recently brought up a decent chunk of their AA-affiliate’s opening day line-up with SS Carlos Corea, today’s starter Lance McCullers, and Vince Velasquez. The Twins were expected to be going nowhere, but they’ve called up OF Byron Buxton as they fight to re-take the lead in the AL Central from KC. Today, the Indians got into the act, bringing up SS Francisco Lindor. As Jeff mentioned earlier, the AL has completely defied the projections - the Twins are above .500, the M’s aren’t – and thus the teams laden with prospects aren’t playing for next year.
Take McCullers, for example. A year ago, he was in high-A Lancaster’s rotation, where he struggled with control and the long-ball. He struck out more than a batter an inning, but walking 5.4/9IP and giving up 18 HRs in 97 innings pushed his ERA to the mid-5s. He had a live arm (see the K’s), but little idea where it was going. Houston moved him up to AA Corpus Christi, and something clicked. In 29 IP, McCullers struck out *43* while giving up just 15 hits, and posting an ERA safely under 1. When injuries hit Houston’s rotation, the Astros called him directly to the big leagues. Despite the huge K%, McCullers control still wasn’t perfect in AA. And as we’ve heard from high-K sluggers like Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo, the big-league strike zone is actually a bit smaller than the one called in the minors. What would the over/under on McCuller’s walk rate in the majors be, considering these facts? So far, McCuller’s walk rate is just 4.9%, half what it was in AA, and about 8 percentage points lower than his Cal League mark. McCullers is still striking everyone out, and he’s still hard to hit, but he’s finding the zone much more often.
Moreover, he’s continued to dominate opposite-handed hitters. The big league sample is tiny, of course, but lefties haven’t figured him out at all – they’re hitting .143. Kind of like with Mike Montgomery, though, we can see that this isn’t new – he was very tough on lefties through the minors, posting a better K rate against lefties than righties. But unlike Montgomery, McCullers has a low 3/4 arm slot – his release point is more than a foot lower than the big lefty’s. And while Montgomery used a great *pitch* to post reverse splits, I think something else is going on with McCullers. To be fair, McCuller’s change has looked quite good, but he just doesn’t throw it enough to explain why lefties have struggled. Instead, I think his delivery is especially deceptive to lefties. His arm drops down and back during his delivery, and as he turns and strides forward, his body hides the ball, especially to left-handers. He doesn’t hide the ball by throwing across his body (the way Danny Hultzen did, and which made him so effective against righties), but by that point, it’s probably tough for lefties to know where the ball is.
So the first-place Astros have two members of 2014 Lancaster’s rotation, both of whom scuffled in the Cal League, and both of whom then annihilated AA in short stints. If something’s going on with player development here and this isn’t either bad luck in 2014 or great luck in 2015, then this is a remarkable story.
1: Smith, RF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
Mark Trumbo was supposed to start in LF, but he’s been scratched due to back spasms. Rickie Weeks was DFA’d yesterday to make room for Danny Farquhar – we’ll see if anyone picks him up. I thought for sure someone would take a flyer on Justin Ruggiano, but they didn’t, so he’ll get outrighted to Tacoma.
Tacoma rallied late, but couldn’t come back from a 6-0 deficit in yesterday’s 6-3 loss to Albuquerque. Shawn O’Malley and John Hicks had two hits each, and Andrew Kittredge was fantastic in relief of Sam Gaviglio – Kittredge pitched 4 shutout innings, striking out 2 against no walks. Kittredge continues to rack up frequent flyer miles shuttling between AA Jackson and Tacoma. Forrest Snow starts for Tacoma today against the delightfully named Yohan Flande.
Jackson beat Mobile behind a solid start from swingman Moises Hernandez and another good day at the plate by LF/DH Dario Pizzano. Trey Cochran-Gill got a nearly 3-IP save in the 7-2 win. Today, Jake Zokan faces off against Brandon Sinnery.
Bakersfield held on to beat Modesto 5-4, thanks to another big day from Tyler O’Neill, who hit his 14th HR of the year. The Canadian corner OF will turn 20 later this month, and while his OBP is ugly, he’s starting to hold his own in the Cal League. Austin Wilson also homered, but that brought his SLG% – again, in the Cal League – to .299. It’s been a rough season. Eddie Campbell takes the hill today for Bakersfield, while the well-traveled TBD starts for Modesto.
Clinton was rained out yesterday in Fort Wayne, so they’ll play two today. Tyler Herb and Osmer Morales are the starters for Clinton.
Mike Montgomery vs. Collin McHugh, 1:10pm
We’ve talked a few times this year about the adjustments Collin McHugh’s made this year. He now pitches off of his slider/cutter, a pitch he throws about 40% of the time. He’ll throw four-seam fastballs only about 1/3 of the time. His curve’s still his swing-and-miss pitch, and he’ll use that about 1/4 of his pitches, and he’s got a change-up that he uses against lefties. The way he uses that slider – to righties and lefties alike, and all the damn time – it’s functioning as a cutter. Like many pitchers, he’s essentially using it as a cut fastball to neutralize lefties or to get grounders. McHugh’s problem is that the pitch hasn’t been working all that well. *Righties* are hitting .356 off it, and have as many extra-base hits as they do strike-outs. The only HRs he’s given up to lefties on the year have come on the pitch as well. Worse, righties have started to hit his fastball as well, and that’s led to a dramatic shift in his platoon splits. Last year, he dominated lefties and righties alike, with righties faring a bit worse – as you’d expect. His splits against lefties haven’t really changed, but this year, righties have a slash line of .297/.349/.506, and thus it shouldn’t be much of a shock that he’s now facing many more righties than lefties (the opposite was true last year).
We’re still talking about less than half a season, so I don’t want to suggest that McHugh’s will always run strongly reverse platoon splits. Eventually, he’ll figure out what he’s doing/not doing with his fastball and cutter, and eventually his HR/FB ratio will fall back to normal levels. And maybe all of this is just bad luck; his cutter/slider was effective against righties last year, after all, and that’s the bigger sample. But beyond the loud contact it’s generated, it’s got a different shape. His cutter has less vertical drop this year than last year, and if that seems like data mining to fit the narrative, it also seems like it might be a problem. That said, the pitch seems to be generating the same number of whiffs, ground balls and line drives as it did last year – it’s just that more of them are going over the fence. It *could* all be luck, but it’s tough to explain this chart, which shows how hard batters have put his slider/cutter into play this year:
There are an awful lot of 100mph+ exit speeds here. I’d love to compare it to 2014, but I can’t. Instead, I can just say that McHugh’s percentage of batted balls over 100mph looks a lot more like Kyle Kendrick’s than Garrett Richards.
Mike Montgomery’s made two starts, both at home, and fared remarkably well. He’s not striking anyone out, and he’s been lucky in pretty much every way, from a low BABIP and HR/FB to a sky-high strand rate. But he’s also been lucky in the hitters he’s faced. In his 13 IP, he’s seen 45 right-handed batters and just 5 lefties. That seems like it’d be a trial by fire for the young lefty, but I’m starting to think it’s playing to Montgomery’s strength. His best pitch is his change-up, which he throws mostly to righties. It generates whiffs, and it seems to give right-handers some trouble. Remember that in the minors, Montgomery always had a good change, and seemed to struggle to come up with a breaking ball. He’s got a curve now, but it seems to be a step behind the change. Part of the reason the change is so good is because Montgomery gets so much horizontal movement on it. It’s thrown from a high release point, but gets nearly a foot of horizontal, arm-side run (!). That’s not unprecedented or anything, but the guys who typically do this throw from much lower angles – Chris Sale and Charlie Furbush, for example. Guys who can throw over the top and get that much run often have good change-ups – Fernando Rodney comes to mind here, but perhaps that’s not the best example right now.
Looking at Montgomery’s minor league stats, he’s always run reverse splits. Since 2011, he’s struck out fewer lefties, walked more, and given up more HRs more often. The league has probably helped him by sending out nearly 100% RH lineups thus far, but he’ll see three lefties in today’s game. Should be interesting to see how he adjusts.
1: Smith, LF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, DH
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
Tacoma didn’t have an extra-inning comeback in them last night, losing in extras to Albuquerque 3-2. Justin Germano pitched well for the R’s and matched Eddie Butler (the hard throwing, no-bat-missing former prospect I mentioned yesterday) through 6. Mayckol Guiape gave up the winning run in the 11th. Today, Sam Gaviglio starts for the Rainiers.
Edwin Diaz outpitched D-Backs prospect Aaron Blair in Jackson’s 4-3 win over Mobile. Diaz gave up 1 run on 3 hits and 2 BBs in 7 innings, and he struck out 7. He’s now gone at least seven in back to back starts, which is great, considering no one else on Jackson has pitched beyond 6 IP all year. I’ve mentioned Jackson’s had the worst staff in the Southern League – by a mile – but I was still stunned to hear that, courtesy of the Generals twitter feed. Moises Hernandez starts today. Here’s hoping it goes a bit better than his brother’s start yesterday.
Bakersfield lost to Modesto 4-3 despite three hits from 3B Jay Baum. Brett Ash starts today against Rockies prospect Antonio Senzatela, a hard-throwing Venezuelan righty.
Clinton gave up 2 runs in the 9th, and lost to Lake County 9-8. Chantz Mack and Joe DeCarlo homered for the Lumberkings off of Justus Sheffield, but the pitchers struggled (with the exception of reliever Kyle Schepel, who K’d 5 in 2 2/3 hitless innings. He just joined the L-Kings from the independent frontier league – he had been in the Arizona organization. Jefferson Medina starts for Clinton today as they take on Fort Wayne.
King Felix vs. Brett Oberholtzer, 5:10pm
Happy Felix Day! This *does* feel like a suitable day for celebrating, with the Astros having lost seven straight and the Angels coming out of a bad stretch of games as well. Of course, even with the Astros slide, they’re still 3-7 in their last ten games…exactly the same as the M’s.
If you had said in early 2014 that one of the Astros rotation members would go on to post a very good year and re-fashion himself as an odd kind of ace, it’s highly unlikely you would’ve ID’d Dallas Keuchel. Instead, you would question why on earth anyone would think ANYONE on the 2013 Astros staff was capable of stardom, but if pressed by this time-traveling pedant, you might’ve gone for the other Germanicly-named lefty, Brett Oberholtzer. In less than half the innings, Oberholtzer posted a better fWAR than Keuchel on the strength of a better HR rate (though the low HR/FB made it seem a bit lucky) and a miniscule walk rate. He was no one’s idea of an ace, but this Beavan-plus thing looked decent in context (the context, of course, was a 111-game-losing tire-fire of a pitching staff).
Both Oberholtzer and Keuchel went into 2014 in the rotation, but while Keuchel and Collin McHugh blossomed, Oberholtzer got left behind a bit. It’s odd, because if anything, he pitched a bit better. His FIP in 2014 was 3.56, making him an above-average starter. He maintained that sparkling walk rate, and held the HR/FB regression gods at bay. His BABIP luck ran out, though, and his ERA was nowhere close to 3.56, so he didn’t look like an above-average starter, and he started to suffer blister problems to boot. A variety of health problems have slowed him in recent months, from a mild lat strain to a finger problem. Maybe that’s the reason he’s struggled a bit out of the gate in 2015. Thanks to an injury-plagued spring, he started in the minors, and in his 12+ big league innings, his control has left him a bit. It’s only a couple of starts, and he didn’t walk many in the minors this year, but he’s struggled, and it’s something to watch.
The biggest difference between Keuchel and Oberholtzer is vertical movement. Both are lefties throwing 89-90, both have nearly identical release points/arm angles, and both actually have similar four-seam fastballs. But Keuchel’s bread and butter is a sinker, and his other pitches also have good natural sink. Oberholtzer throws a sinker, mostly to righties, but it refuses to sink; it’s got more vertical rise than the average four-seamer. His best pitch is a change-up, thrown at 80 or so, but again, the pitch has good armside run, but little in the way of sink. In previous years, his only breaking ball was a curve at 79, but this year, he’s picked up a slider, and he’s using that as his primary breaking ball. He’s used his change to righties and lefties alike in the past, but he’s more likely to stick with breaking balls in 2015. The slider makes some sense in that he’s never really done well against lefties. He’s faced righties 3X as often, but that isn’t because he’s got Corey Kluber-like splits. They’re essentially even, with a much better K:BB ratio against lefties undone by HRs. It makes some sense – lefties have struggled against Oberholtzer’s fastball, while righties have fared well. But lefties (small sample alert) have feasted on everything else. Against righties, his solid change-up has been mostly effective, though they’ve punished the odd hanger. But righties seem to see his FB pretty well, and I’m pretty skeptical that a slider will help all that much against opposite-handed hitters.
All of that said, when ever I hear his name, I don’t think about his arsenal, his high flyball rate or his control. I think of the Dead Kennedys. “California, Oberholtzer, California OBer-Holtzer….”
1: Jackson, CF
2: Trumbo, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3b
6: Weeks, LF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Bloomquist, SS
SP: KING FELIX
Defense? Who cares. Look for strikeouts, Felix.
The draft’s complete, and you can review a list of all 40 selections here in Ryan Divish’s post-draft round up. Of special note is the brief interview with scouting director Tom McNamara regarding 20th-round pick Parker McFadden of Yelm. I’ll have a draft recap highlighting a few of the picks in a little bit too.
The Rainiers went to extra innings last night, but came away with a 3-2 victory thanks to a two-run, walkoff blast from Jesus Montero. The game was a pitcher’s duel between Rockies uber-prospect and #3 overall pick in the 2013 draft Jon Gray and Tacoma’s not-an-uber-prospect Stephen Landazuri. The latter has struggled mightily in recent games, and yesterday wasn’t really an exception, but he minimized the damage through 4 1/3. The Rainiers bullpen, which has really solidified in the past month or so, held the line until Edgar Olmos gave up a run in the top of the 10th, but Montero’s two-run shot won it. Jon Gray threw 100 in college and jumped from a 3rd-round prospect to the #3 overall pick. But he simply hasn’t shown that elite stuff in the minors, particularly the high minors – he pitched 8 strong innings, but struck out 4 with 3 walks. The PCL is not a cakewalk at all, but he’s given up 79 hits in 68 IP with just 45 Ks. His development is a bit reminiscent of his friend Eddie Butler, another righty with a huge fastball who was oddly hittable in the minors. From AA on, Butler just stopped missing bats, and while he’s safely in the Rockies rotation, he looks nothing like the potential #2 he was in A ball. Gray has gone from a guy with true ace potential to a game-manager type in the PCL, and while I’m sure he’ll be a big leaguer for years, the Rockies better figure out why. Is this an approach that they teach? Has his velocity fallen off markedly, as some scouts have suggested? I don’t know, but while he’s righted the ship after a disastrous start in 2015, he’s yet to demonstrate elite stuff in the high minors. Today, Justin Germano takes the hill for a firework Friday at Cheney.
Jackson also came away with an extra-inning victory, beating the Mobile Bay-Bears 6-4 in 11 innings. This was the first game the Generals faced off with their ex-teammates Jack Reinheimer and Gabby Guerrero, two prospects the M’s traded in the Mark Trumbo deal. The two ex-Generals went a combined 0-8. Jimmy Gilheeney started and through 6 decent innings, and then the game became a bullpen battle. The Generals won it when Adam Miller gave up 4 hits in the 11th; Trey Cochran-Gill saved it for Trevor Miller who threw two scoress innings. Today’s game is a prospect showdown between Edwin Diaz of Jackson and Aaron Blair for the BayBears – Blair’s the D-Backs #3 prospect, while Diaz ranked as the M’s #6 prospect.
Bakersfield’s Dylan Unsworth pitched effectively for 6 innings, but the Blaze couldn’t figure out the wonderfully-named Modesto starter Johendi Jiminian, who threw 7IP of shutout ball. Nelson Ward tripled for the Blaze’s only XBH. TBD gets the start for Bakersfield against Modesto’s Harrison Musgrave.
Clinton lost to Lake County 4-3 despite a HR from 1B Kristian Brito. Indians #9 prospect (according to BA; Sickels had him at #5), 1B Bobby Bradley, homered for the Captains. Zack Littell leads the L-Kings against Lake County lefty Justus Sheffield, the Indians #4 prospect and the 2014 national player of the year.
JA Happ vs. Shaun Marcum, 9:10am
Oh great, more eastern time zone day games.
The M’s have nearly identical home/road splits, with a .690 OPS on the road and a .691 OPS at home. By wRC+, which takes into account their home park, they’ve actually been a better hitting team at home than on the road. That’s probably not what it feels like, and part of the reason is that their ISO is significantly better on the road. That makes sense, given Safeco’s HR-suppressing marine layer, but it’s still somewhat surprising – they’ve struggled at everything on the road *except* hitting for power. And because hitting for power is kind of important, they’ve more or less made it work. They enter today 14-13 on the road, but they’re just 13-19 at home.
For a refresher on Marcum’s gameplan, strengths and weaknesses, review the preview from the last time the M’s faced him, about 2 weeks ago.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smith, RF
6: Trumbo, DH
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
Taijuan Walker vs. Trevor Bauer, 4:10pm
Today’s game is a rematch of the M’s 2-1 victory back on May 29th. In that game, Taijuan Walker used a great high fastball to dominate not only a good hitting team, but a team that swings less than any other. Think about that – a guy who’s had control problems this year, and a guy who gets a below-average number of out-of-zone swings threw his best game as a big leaguer by throwing more pitches at the top edge and above the zone. So, is that it? He needs to use his fastball up? It can make sense when you compare his last few starts against the game in Baltimore, say, but it’s harder to see a difference from the approach Tai took into the season. In 2015, 55% of his fastballs have been in the top 1/3 of the zone or out of the zone up/away. This isn’t a new thing, but it may be a more *consistent* thing. I’m not sure what went through the M’s head when Walker struggled in April, and I’m not sure what was going through Taijuan’s head, either. But Walker, by all rights, really should be successful pitching up with his rising fastball. Why he’s only successful in fits and starts better be keeping the M’s coaching staff up at nights. The swings he got in the Cleveland game on both the FB and splitter looked nothing like the way batters reacted to those pitches in his bad games. I still wonder/suspect that he was somehow tipping his pitches, and if the coaching staff corrected that, then they’ve all earned their pay and more on the year. Nice job with Mike Montgomery, too, if we’re handing out plaudits here.
Walker again faces off with the Indians Trevor Bauer, a pitcher who seems tailor-made for baseball bloggers to talk about incessantly. I talked about his contact management last time, and I talked to Kyle Boddy, a coach who works with Bauer, about his approach last year, and just for good measure, I talked about his famous warm-up routine when he was in the minors. Bauer is a guy whose relentless tinkering and study both made him the #3 overall draft pick, and got him unceremoniously dumped by the team that drafted him. We stat-inclined bloggers are often accused of somehow taking away the soul of the game by viewing it almost as a series of engineering problems to be solved rather than a game between people that’s emotional, beautiful, and which balances individual and team in a nuanced way. I’d disagree with the premise that looking at baseball analytically robs it of its non-analytical power. Further, I’d say that if you care about who wins the game, then you better be interested in solving particular problems – and a reliance solely on “fighting spirit” or “belief” or “establish the fastball” or any nostrum, whether sabermetric or not. And that’s why Bauer’s so interesting – he’s that rare player that not only uses data to inform his pitching, but won’t stop talking about it while he’s doing it.
And that brings us to Bauer’s new pitch for 2015, his sinker, or, as he and Kyle Boddy call it, the Laminar Express. I know I’m not the first to notice this by far, but this is, to my knowledge, the first pitch developed on twitter. It started with a gif of a Marcus Stroman pitch. Bauer noticed something about the angle of rotation, and from there a baseball question morphed into a physics question, thanks to the indispensable Alan Nathan. Nathan was flummoxed by a Freddie Garcia splitter from April of 2011 that seemed to move in the opposite direction he expected. A ball’s spin is largely the result of the Magnus force, which is created when the seams disrupt the airflow over the ball, pushing the ball in the opposite direction. For pretty much any pitch with lots of spin – and that’d be all of them except the knuckleball – the Magnus force essentially determines the direction of the break. Because of the pattern of the seams, a fastball thrown with lots of backspin will “rise” (technically, it will fall more slowly) more than a ball thrown without that spin. A slider breaks gloveside thanks to the sidespin on it, and a curve breaks down because the angle of rotation points that way. But if the seams are positioned just right – so one side of the ball is *always* “smoother” than the other, then the ball’s break can get magnified, or even break in the opposite direction of the spin. Garcia’s “splitter” broke gloveside, which is just not a thing that splitters are supposed to do. Stroman’s, as you see in the gif, breaks armside, and it does so in a way that almost looks explosive. Nathan’s estimates of the magnitude of the forces acting on Garcia’s pitch shows what he calls “roughness” is roughly twice as strong as the magnus force produced by the spinning of the ball itself. That’s why, in that case, the ball moves in the direction opposite of the spin.
But Stroman, and now Bauer, throw their sinkers with much, much more spin and velocity. And, as determined by another physicist, Rabi Mehta, the direction of the break when a pitcher successfully creates a “smooth” side depends on the pitch’s *velocity*. That’s why Bauer’s “Laminar Express” moves like this, and not the way El Jefe’s splitter did. Once you see this, you start seeing it everywhere. I think most pitchers aren’t setting out to figure out and replicate this – I think it just sort of happens here and there on certain kinds of pitches, but when it does, you get some insanely giffable moments. Many of these occurred too long ago to know for sure – we’re lucky that the Garcia pitch was captured on an HD broadcast in super-slo-mo, but after seeing all of the above, I instantly thought of perhaps the most amazing M’s pitch I’d ever seen. Those of you who’ve been around for years will remember this, and Jeff Sullivan’s memorable post about it back at LL five (!) years ago. In a late-season game against the Rangers, King Felix uncorked a change-up unlike anything we’d ever seen. For one, it was thrown at *93 miles an hour.* For another, it broke horizontally so much that it nearly hit poor Elvis Andrus in the thigh, and it broke so late that Andrus thought it was a strike, and swung and missed. To me, the same force that violently yanks Stroman’s sinker or this Lance McCullers sinker *must* be what was going on with that infernal change-up.
So, OK, Trevor Bauer has a new pitch this year. Dog bites man. Like literally everything else about the guy, the #laminarexpress is something of a work in progress. The angle has to be just right or it’s just a fastball* and that just-rightness of it may make it similar to a knuckleball, which moves for the same reason. Maybe it’s a “feel” pitch, and maybe it’s about the line-ups he’s faced, but he threw a bunch of them in his first start of the year against the Astros, then none in his next start against the White Sox. The next time he saw the White Sox? He threw 30. He threw a handful against the M’s, but while he controlled it, two of the M’s three swings on it were hit for singles. Look for it today and see if it’s something he’ll use more of as the M’s line-up saw him fairly recently.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Smith, DH
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
The draft rolls on, and the M’s will finish up their 40 picks today. Through 30 picks, the list looks like this (from M’s PR). Of particular note is Yelm High School’s Parker McFadden, whom the M’s selected in the 20th round. McFadden had a lot of buzz through the spring, and is a guy Chris Crawford brought up in our pre-draft piece as the cream of the northwest crop this year. He hurt his hamstring late in the year in what the Olympian called a “non baseball injury” so you wouldn’t figure that’d cause BA’s #81 prospect in the draft to fall so far. May be a tough sign down there, but it’s a great pick.
Tacoma beat Sacramento 6-3 behind another solid start from Forrest Snow. Danny Farquhar vultured the win after blowing the lead. Stefen Romero had 3 hits and a double. The Rainiers have the day off.
Chattanooga swept a double-header from Jackson, winning Game 1 6-2 behind Jose Berrios and a big game from LF Adam Brett Walker. Andrew Kittredge threw three scoreless IP in game 2, but Matt Anderson gave up 3 runs and that was that. Byron Buxton, one of the best prospects in the minors, had a single in each game and totaled 3 walks on the day. Jordy Lara went 3-3 in Game 1 for the Generals. Misael Siverio starts today. The Cuban began the year with three very good starts, but has been up and down – and frankly, pretty much all down – since then.
Bakersfield beat San Jose 5-2 with 3 runs in the 10th. Dan Altavilla was solid again, but the Blaze struggled against Keury Mella, then got to the San Jose bullpen. The two clubs played an early game today, and San Jose extinguished the Blaze easily, knocking out Tyler Pike in the 2nd. Tyler O’Neill has a double and a HR, though.
Patrick Peterson leads the Clinton Lumberkings into Lake County today to face Anderson Polanco, a Dominican lefty with decent stuff but serious control issues.
* OK, but then why does it break *less* than Carson Smith’s regular old two-seamer? I think it’s the angle – Smith imparts so much sidespin because of his arm angle that the Magnus force is all he needs to generate 10″ of run. Bauer’s much more over the top, so getting to 7-9″ of run is pretty damned impressive. It’s not unheard of, though, by any stretch. Moreover, Bauer’s over-the-top delivery still has lots of backspin, so his “sinker” has some rise to it – but Stroman’s doesn’t. Instead, it moves more like that Felix change-up and dives down. As is so often the case, I think I have more questions than answers here about whether this is truly distinct from a two-seamer, and how it could be best deployed.
Roenis Elias vs. Corey Kluber, 4:10pm
The M’s have had a rough go of it in the past few weeks in part because they’ve faced some of the best starters the AL has to offer. Chris Archer, twice. Jake Odorizzi, Kluber and Bauer. It makes sense – the M’s haven’t scored much in part because they’ve faced pitchers that are very difficult to score on. But then, that should be reflected in their quality of pitcher’s faced, a stat collected at BP, and it essentially isn’t. The M’s have struggled against some of the top arms, but the big problem is that they’ve struggled against Erasmo Ramirez, too. The M’s hit two HRs off of Kluber, but couldn’t figure out Sam Deduno or Roberto Hernandez. Thanks to the King, they eked out a win against Archer, who struck out 12 without walking anyone, but couldn’t quite get to Shaun Marcum. CC Sabathia. Aaron Sanchez. It’s been frustrating as hell, but it’s not due solely to strength of opposition.
Unfortunately, the M’s have simply underperformed. Their offense hasn’t been good, and it’s been down against everyone. In a great series of articles, Jeff writes that a team’s projections are a much better determinant of rest-of-season record than actual record through 2 months of the season (and a much better predictor than a team’s actual pythagorean record, too). That is, it may seem like those preseason projections that had the M’s as the best team are sad, pathetic jokes – aftershocks of 2010 and the #6 org collapse. But they may be closer to the truth than the idea that the M’s are just pathetic offensively. The M’s, A’s and Red Sox are almost certainly better than they’ve looked, and have a good shot to post a better ROS record than, say, the Astros and Rangers.
As we’ve talked about, though, we’re perilously close to a point in the season when that ceases to be enough. The gap in actual records is real, and it’s formidable. The sheer number of teams in between is daunting as well, and that class of underachievers includes tonight’s opponents, the Cleveland Indians. Fangraphs’ playoff odds lists the ROS winning percentage for each club. This, theoretically, should be even BETTER than the preseason projections, as it can account for injuries and other changes. They’ve got the M’s as the class of the AL West, with a .532 WP%, which leaves them a bit short of Houston and LA in the West. Cleveland, though, has the best ROS WP% in the entire AL. They’ve underperformed despite a truly historic rotation thanks to poor defense and a resultant poor strand rate. In recent weeks (:ominous music: including four games against SEATTLE), their defense has taken quite a few steps back towards the mean, and the Indians have not coincidentally been on a tear.
Tonight’s opponent is easily one of the best starters in baseball. 2nd in baseball in WAR (behind the otherworldly-right-now Chris Archer), 3rd best FIP, 5th best K%. Dude one-upped Archer by striking out 18 Cardinals without walking any earlier this year. But as we talked about last time, he’s got a flaw, or perhaps two related flaws. The first is his BABIP. Yes, the Indians behind him have done a bad job of turning balls in play into outs, and yes, the Indians D has been bad for a while, but Kluber now owns a career .330 BABIP. That’s remarkably high for someone with solid velocity and high-grade raw stuff. Second, Kluber’s got huge platoon splits – reminiscent of early Justin Masterson. But while Masterson threw almost sidearm, and had a big sweeping slider, Kluber’s a bit more traditional. For whatever reason, lefties have feasted on his fastball(s), and Kluber doesn’t really have any secondaries that neutralize lefties either. Part of the reason may be the freakish amount of horizontal movement on his cutter and slider/curve. The curve in particular moves more than a foot horizontally in to a lefty compared to his four-seam and sinker. The cutter has a lot of horizontal movement too, so its two-plane break looks like a much slower, more curve-like slider. That’s made both pitches extremely effective against righties, and it’s a reason why righties have essentially had no chance this year (or last year) against Kluber.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, LF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
The MLB draft continues, and the M’s stayed local with their 3rd round pick, taking UW centerfielder Braden Bishop. Bishop’s an outstanding defensive CF (and sounds like a great kid), but questions about his bat made him seem like a Craig Gentry type. However, scouts have been very encouraged by the progress he’s made with the Huskies, and the pick was widely praised by several scouts/analysts who don’t work for the M’s. Hope to see him in Everett in several weeks.
In the fourth round, the M’s took another HS pitcher, this time South Carolina right-hander Dylan Thompson. The M’s then moved back to the college ranks (and the Pac 12, for the 3rd time in 5 picks) to take Stanford SS Drew Jackson.
Tacoma beat Sacramento behind another solid start from Sam Gaviglio (another Pac-12 product!) and a 3R HR from John Hicks. They’ll face Sacramento again tonight with the surging Forrest Snow (another Pac-12 product!) on the mound against Clayton Blackburn.
Jackson’s game against Chattanooga was rained out yesterday, so they’ll play two today. In Game 1, they face one of the Twins top prospects, and one of the better pitching prospects in the minors, in Jose Berrios. The hard throwing righty out of Puerto Rico has 77Ks in 69 1/3 IP so far. Jake Zokan starts for the Generals. In Game 2, they’ll see Greg Peavey (ANOTHER Pac-12 product!) who the Twins picked in the minor league Rule 5 draft from the Mets – he’ll be opposed by Jackson’s Andrew Kittredge, who is, of course, another Pac-12 product.
Bakersfield blanked San Jose 10-0 last night. Must’ve felt great for Eddie Campbell, the Blaze starter, who’d struggled mightily in his first trip through the Cal League. Yesterday, he threw 6 shoutout innings with 6 Ks and just one walk. Nelson Ward, Tyler O’Neill and Burt Reynolds homered for the Blaze. Today, they’ll face Giants prospect Keury Mella, who sits in the mid-90s with a developing change/curve.
Clinton’s off today, but dropped the finale of their series against Bowling Green 4-2. Clinton had the best record of the full-season affiliates recently, and appeared to be nearing .500, but a rough patch has left then 12 games below .500 at 23-35. Now, the top team in the system is Tacoma, at a comparatively solid 27-32. Jackson’s 11 games under .500, while Bakersfield’s 14 under. If you thought you’d read an awful lot of losses in these recaps, you have.
The M’s had two selections in today’s first phase of the Rule 4 amateur draft. They’d forfeited their first-rounder when they signed Nelson Cruz, so the M’s had to wait until pick 60 to tab high-school right-hander Nick Neidert. A while later, at pick 72, they selected Oregon State righty Andrew Moore.
Neidert throws hard, and has a low-ish arm slot. The low release point is less due to angle than his drop-and-drive motion. He’s flashed mid-90s heat at times, touching 95-96 late in 2014, and looked to be climbing the board in the spring, but a bout of elbow tendinitis scared some teams off. Coupled with minor size concerns (he’s somewhat slight, and listed at 6’1″ but BA had him at 6′ even, 165lbs), the durability worries essentially write themselves, but then, it’s never been clear that size or build is a predictor of health. MLB.com has some <a href="http://m.mlb.com/sea/video/v84134783/draft-report-nick-neidert-hs-pitcher” target=”_blank”>video of him here. Fangraphs prospect guy Kiley McDaniel saw him as well in November of 2014 right when his stock was taking off. See his write-up here, and check out McDaniel’s video of him as well. Neidert was BaseballAmerica’s #55 prospect.
Moore is even smaller than Neidert – he’s listed at 5’11″, so chalk one up for Kiley McDaniel’s Black Swan Theory. In 16 starts this year, Moore threw 122 IP, striking out 111 and walking just 21. While Moore has a similar “drop” in his delivery, the rest of his throwing motion is nothing like Neidert’s. Moore extends his arm further back and then comes right over the top. His raw stuff may be ranked behind Neidert and the pitchers who went ahead of him, but Moore gets universal praise for his poise, competitiveness and command. That command got him called up to Team USA’s 2014 collegiate squad alongside early 1st-rounders like Dansby Swanson, Carson Fulmer, Alex Bregman and Kyle Funkhouser. Moore typically works in the high-80s, touching the 90s occasionally. He’s got a change-up and slider as well. When those secondary pitches are on, as they were this season and two years ago in his freshman year, Moore’s really tough. When they’re not, like his sophomore campaign, his fastball isn’t enough to bail him out. Here’s MLB video of Moore. The righty from Eugene, Oregon was BaseballAmerica’s #125 prospect.
All things considered, or rather, all things considered in a good 20 minutes or so, I like the moves. The M’s didn’t pick high enough to get someone without some question marks – hell, most teams in the first round didn’t either – but they balanced the risks well. In Neidert, they get someone with very nice raw stuff, but some light injury worries. In Moore, they sacrifice stuff for polish and a great major-conference track record.
For a great recap of Day 1 overall, check out Chris Crawford’s recap at Baseball Prospectus.
With the M’s seemingly stalled out around 8 or so back of the Astros, it’s tempting to focus a bit more than usual on the 2015 MLB draft. Fittingly, the draft starts today, and we can set aside the futility of the M’s offense for a while. But unlike recent seasons in which the need for an escape and a quick hit of hope have been just as necessary, the M’s don’t have a first round pick. Due to the new CBA and the M’s signing of Nelson Cruz, the M’s first pick will come at #60 overall. That’s not to say that this is hopeless – the M’s have found some solid values in that region, with Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker both supplemental selections (and, ok, both went off the board a dozen or more picks before #60). The M’s have done a decent job in the middle rounds as well, though perhaps they’ve struggled to get those guys over the “good in short-season” hump. Still, the draft is always a fascinating few days, as it’s a great case study in how teams respond to changing incentives.
As you know, and as we‘ve talked about in these posts in recent years, MLB radically changed the draft in 2012, bringing in bonus pools and imposing harsh penalties for teams who exceeded them. In subsequent years, we’ve seen teams first toe the line, then blow the similar pool system out of the water on the international side. But no one’s done it (yet) with the Rule 4 draft. That might speak to how teams see the players/scouting domestically versus internationally, and it may be because MLB didn’t understand how to set the penalties, but it’s another example of something I look for in the draft: organizational theory concepts playing out in real time.
But enough about that – we’re here to talk about pro baseball adding another cohort of the best amateur talents to its ranks. We’re here to wonder what a guy like Brendan Rogers can become in the bigs, and what Brady Aiken could do if he stays healthy. It’s been a down year for the class of 2015, made worse by injuries to several top pitching prospects. But that doesn’t mean it won’t add any impact players to the minors and, eventually, to big league rosters. Amateur scouting operates in conjunction with player development, and I think that interplay has never been as important – particularly with so many of the top arms coming off of injury. Yes, pitchers get hurt, but chipping away at pitcher attrition is worth millions in this sport, and the team that can get an Aiken or a Mike Matuella healthy and effective is a team that’s going to have a pretty big advantage.
As we have each year since 2012, we’ve discussed the draft with an actual draft expert – Chris Crawford of BaseballProspectus.com. Chris has been focused on the draft for years, and he really knows his stuff. I was going back over the previews we’ve done, and man, that’s a good track record. So go check out Crawford’s prospect work at BP, like this mock draft, perhaps, and dig in to this year’s draft preview: