2014 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

If you’re now wondering about this or that player whom you may not be seeing in these previews, I’d recommend starting here  and scrolling back through their archives to see who has been released lately.  Those not released are either in extended or injured in some way.  This year it was particularly a who’s who of “oh yeah, I remember that guy!  Man, whatever happened to him?”  Lots of guys who at one point were draft intrigues or ranked at the back end of top 30 lists based on an interesting thing or two that they could do. The Rainiers this year seem to be… average?  The rotation is uninteresting and uninspiring at the moment, but competent.  The bullpen fares better on the account of employing a couple Destroyers of Worlds and a few other guys who you could probably trust with a lead.  The catchers know how to catch and the infielders mostly know how to hit and the outfielders, if nothing else, can run a ball down.  It’s not a star-powered roster or anything but it can probably manage out there in the wilds of the PCL.

As for where the ramblings take us, we have schadenfreude, pica (sort of), everyone’s favorite rhetorical technique, guys who could be in Pantene commercials, the 188th most popular male baby name of the 1980s, dread and doomsaying, players the Oakland A’s would probably like, and repeated instances of name confusion and pointless conjecture.  Let’s get to it.

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2014 Jackson Generals Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

Good morning, people still on a high after sweeping the Angels for the first time since 2006. I can’t think of a more deserving group. This will be the third installment in which I address the state of our double-A Jackson Generals of the Southern League, formerly the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. I miss those Xs sometimes, it’s nostalgic in a 90s sort of way. The digression machine this round takes me to the unreliability of the written word properly conveying tone, unpopular music opinions (I have MANY), splicing of data that the mind refuses to process, my preferences in hard liquor, a Wilson Valdez name check, things that seem really Irish, someone I describe as being a professional enigma (and translate into how unpopular my music opinions can be), the depression that follows an encounter with the sublime knowing that day-to-day life is going to fail to live up to it later, and… I think that covers it.

There’s not a lot of high-end talent, we’re talking one top ten guy, one on the fringe of that, a guy in the late teens, a guy or two in the twenties, and various thirty/forty-somethings. It’s better than High Desert, probably not quite the ceiling that the top guys have in Clinton, but you know what? This rotation looks good. The bullpen has some solid contributors and few weak points. The catchers are reliable. The infield has some guys that can drive the ball and the outfield has some that can cover ground and all of the starters out there can hit. Some of these players, even at this level, are still improving, still somewhat unknown to me, and with some things breaking right, they could really be a force.  Could be a middle of the road team, but there’s potential for a lot more.  I like this team. I like where it’s going. Let’s get to it.

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So You Want To Celebrate The Mariners, Responsibly

Jeff Sullivan · April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

First of all, why? Go nuts. One doesn’t get to feel this feeling very often, so why not choose to believe in the Mariners for as long as you can? Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself. The Mariners have already embarrassed you enough times before. Appreciate what there is to be appreciated. Last year’s team won its first two games, and then it won just 69 of its remaining games. If you made a point of staying responsible early, did it really make the season any better? You don’t win points for staying grounded as a sports fan, and if you don’t have fun when fun is being handed to you, you’re going to hate this, because shit’s probably a’brewin’. Things are going to get worse.

But, all right, I’ll grant that it’s possible to go too far, even with early good feelings. You might consider that, while the Mariners are undefeated and have looked great, the Astros, too, are undefeated. The White Sox are undefeated. The calendar’s going to turn as I’m writing this, but right now in the corner of my monitor it says 11:54 PM, 4/2/2014, which means it’s April 2 and the season lasts after April for kind of a long time. There is so, so much unpredictable baseball coming our way, and odds are at some point the Mariners will even lose a game.

What just happened was that the Mariners finished off a dominant three-game sweep on the road against a division rival. A division rival who might have been projected as the best team in the AL West as recently as the weekend. The Mariners were firing on just about every cylinder, while the Angels’ cylinders, I don’t know, exploded, I don’t know very much about cylinders. The Mariners both walked and hit the crap out of the ball. They struck out Angels hitters and they didn’t walk them much. Not many ways that series could’ve gone better, as it’s a special kind of something to make the other team’s fans boo their own favorites. Angels fans are hating baseball right now, and the Angels have only played the Mariners.

Here’s how I’m choosing to be both excited and reasonable. It’s all about the playoff odds. Even this early, it’s all about the playoff odds. That’s kind of the point, right? I mean, in reality it isn’t — the point is the journey — but we have to lie to ourselves and believe the playoffs are the point. The Mariners, now, are 3-0, and those games can’t be taken away. The Angels are 0-3, and those games also can’t be taken away. Let’s pull some numbers out of thin air. If you thought the Angels were an 86-win team, now they’re an 84.4-win team. If you thought the Mariners were an 81-win team, now they’re an 82.5-win team. Whatever gap there was has been shrunk, and, hey, the A’s are 1-2. It’s never too early for the wins to start counting, and look right now at the FanGraphs playoff odds page.

The numbers aren’t perfect — they’ll never be perfect, until the playoff picture is clinched — but at the moment the Mariners have the sixth-best odds in the American League. They’re right between the A’s and the Indians, and I should note that the Rangers’ projection includes some mistakenly productive numbers for a couple starting pitchers who are transitioning from the bullpen. Of course, five teams make the playoffs, and one of those teams is done in a day, but before it didn’t look like the Mariners were the sixth-best team in the AL, so they’ve gained some ground. Their playoff odds are already up nearly ten percentage points. That is an incredible lift, even if they still aren’t at or over 50%.

43.9%. That’s what FanGraphs says right now. It’s going to change, and eventually that number’s going to be either 0% or 100%. But I’ll take my chances with that number tonight, because that number’s a lot higher than it recently was, and there’s no going backwards since the sweep in Anaheim is already in the books. 43.9%. You know Edgar Martinez’s career OBP? 41.8%. How good did you feel when Edgar would come up to the plate? He made a lot of outs. He reached base a lot too.

The Astros haven’t lost, and the 1985 Mariners were the first Mariners team to open 3-0. They actually opened 6-0. Shortly thereafter they were 7-12. They finished 74-88 and the team kept sucking for years. There are so many ways we know this could go wrong, and this could also go wrong in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine. If the Mariners have done anything, it’s explore the very frontiers of losing baseball. But it’s okay to feel good. It’s okay to feel even better than you did a few days ago. A few days ago, the Mariners were in considerably worse shape. They still had to face a good team in its own ballpark. Now that team’s been obliterated. By this team!

Felix was great, Erasmo Ramirez was great, James Paxton was great, and some of the hitters were great. Some good performances have been in line with expectations, and other good performances have suggested we might want to raise expectations. Everything is going to even out, but it was possible before to envision this Mariners team getting to October. It was clear what would have to happen. Those things have happened so far, and then some. The Mariners can make the playoffs without outscoring the opposition by six runs a game.

Let the Mariners make you feel good. You never know how long that’s going to last. Maybe this year it’ll last a long, long time. No reason not to believe that, yet.

Game 3, Mariners at Angels

marc w · April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Hector Santiago, 7:05pm

Last season, the M’s had two great starters and, for most of the year anyway, a gooey mess of a back end rotation. Tonight, we get our first peek at the new and hopefully improved rotation as lefty James Paxton takes the hill. I’ve written tons about Paxton, but he’s become critically important this year. With Walker and Iwakuma’s delayed start, and with the questions surrounding Elias and Young, it’s vital that the M’s get actual production and not just replacement-level stand-ins behind Felix. The division is tight, and having Felix surrounded by four scrubs would certainly remove one of the four contenders. Erasmo Ramirez showed that he can be tough to hit when he’s healthy; now it’s Paxton’s turn.

Opposing him is lefty Hector Santiago who came in from the White Sox in the big 3-way trade involving Mark Trumbo. Santiago throws a bunch of pitches, but is primarily a fastball/change guy, with some surprising life on his fastball. Both in the rotation and in the pen, he’s generated high strikeout rates that have helped keep his runs allowed manageable given his two big problems: walks and home runs. Santiago’s walk rate is over 11%, and he’s given up over 1 HR per 9 innings pitched. It’s a big reason why his FIP and xFIP are in the mid-4′s – not someone you’d trade anyone of value for. But his ERA is lovely. Consider him a very poor man’s Hisashi Iwakuma. Like Kuma, Santiago’s ERA is a run lower than his FIP. His change-up helps him minimize platoon splits, but unlike Kuma, Santiago still has them. Kuma doesn’t walk anyone,* but the HRs and sequencing push his runs allowed far below what you’d expect looking at his three true outcomes. Santiago is only good by ONE of the three true outcomes, but on the plus side, he’s moving from a park that’s very HR friendly to a HR-suppressing park.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Romero, RF
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Bloomquist, 3B
SP: Paxton, LHP

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Fangraphs now has pre-game win expectancy on their scores page. Here’s tonight’s. You can see that the model still isn’t buying the M’s offense, especially against a lefty. Last night’s game was one of the most lopsided, with the Angels having a hair over a 60% chance of winning. Tonight’s is a mere 58%. It’ll be fun to see how these change over the course of the season as the systems learn more about Paxton/Erasmoooo. Right now, they’re probably underrating them.

Willie Bloomquist makes his first start, giving Seager a night off. I’m curious to see how Seager holds up with increased rest this year.

Bob Dutton points out that Joe Beimel’s pick-off in last night’s game was called from the bench. Whether it was McClendon or the bench coach, nice call.

Carlos Triunfel is now the property of the LA Dodgers org.

* I said a VERY POOR MAN’s Kuma, ok?

2014 High Desert Mavericks Preview

Jay Yencich · April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

Hello and welcome back to the second installment of oh crap I’m only halfway finished.  Among tangential meanderings in this round, games common to carnivals and fairs, pitchers of limited archetypes, forces of nature, Latin American magical realism, the Orestia, hipsters, people’s nicknames not making any danged sense, the Cartesian coordinate system, and bloodlines. What follows also contains reference to at least one Jabari. Go ahead and guess which. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Mavs look this year like a team that could threaten some serious offense, which seems like it could go without saying but between the core of the infield, the starting catcher, and the mish-mash of potential and results that you have in the outfield, I’m guessing some silly numbers are ahead of us. On both sides.  I like two of the starters all right but can acknowledge that they themselves might have issues and the rest of the rotation may fare no better. Likewise, a few names to like into bullpen and a whole lot of question marks and repeaters. Battleship Baseball, set sail!
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Who’s the Best Shortstop in the American League Right Now?

marc w · April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Not long after Brad Miller’s second HR cleared the fence in Anaheim, and a day or so after Toronto SS Jose Reyes’ latest injury, USSM/Fangraphs leader/strongman took to twitter to pose the following question:

Reactions poured in, and you can generally put them in to three buckets. The first, which we’ll call Sox Fans, points to Xander Bogaerts and his tools – including his very good walk rate – as the best. The second, the forecasters, argue for Elvis Andrus, as he’s got the superior projection by Steamer and ZiPS. The third, M’s fans, argue that Brad Miller is the cream of the Reyes-less crop. It’s a fun question, as we’ve been debating seemingly-hypothetical-but-painfully-real things like how bad a player’s offense could be while remaining deserving of a starting job. To go from that to “best” without modifiers is pretty amazing, and it may be that I’m overrating Miller’s present production BECAUSE I’ve watched way more late-career Jack Wilson/Brendan Ryan than anyone should endure.

But…this is a really interesting question, because it highlights the various component skills that each of these guys possess. They’re really three different solution to the problem of the bigleague shortstop. Andrus is the glove guy whose offense is well above the Wilson/Ryan floor. He’s durable, fairly consistent, and adds value on the basepaths as well. He’s got very little power, but makes a lot of contact and has a surprisingly solid walk rate given his lack of pop. Bogaerts has an above-average walk rate AND legitimate power (for a middle infielder), and his ability to hit for average has improved as he’s moved up the ladder. A righty, he didn’t show extreme platoon splits in the minors (he actually ran reverse splits), and can take advantage of the Green Monster at Fenway. Many expect him to add power as he ages (he’s the youngest of the trio by three full years), though some question whether he’ll stick at SS long term. Miller is the guy with the least amount of prospect hype, coming out of Clemson as a very good-but-flawed hitter, and having some questions about his defense along the way. Thus, while Andrus and Bogaerts were easy top-5 org prospects before breaking into the majors around 20-21, Miller ranked in the back half of the top 10 for the M’s (or didn’t make it at all). His gaudy MiLB lines were driven, in part, by an incredible BABIP – something he didn’t bring with him when he debuted with the M’s last year. His minors slugging percentages were driven by his high BABIP/average, and that’s probably why the projection systems are all over the map on his power numbers.

If you think Andrus is the best, you’re saying he can make up over 10-15 full runs on defense, and that his offense will regress towards his career averages – particularly his 2B/3B-driven ‘power.’ You may also implicitly doubt that Bogaerts is ready to make the leap to an above-league-average *hitter* at age 21. Similarly, you might doubt that Miller will show enough pop, and that the AL West’s managers can attack him with lefty specialists and a flurry of left-handed starters. You might conclude by saying that it’s relevant that there is absolutely no chance that Andrus moves off of SS – that the fact that Bogaerts debuted as a 3B and Miller had to fight off Nick Franklin show that the defensive gulf is real, and that it’s bigger than most fans think.

If you think Bogaerts is the best, you think the offensive gap between the 21-year old and Andrus is much, much larger than heavily-regressed stats would indicate, and that even a 1-WAR gap on defense alone won’t matter unless Andrus hits significantly better than he did last year. His age/speed help him close the gap with Andrus on the basepaths and in the field, and his loud tools mean that his up-side blows Andrus’ out of the water; that is, that if he Bogaerts hits his 60th-70th percentile projection, any comparison with Andrus becomes laughable. You might also point out that Josh Rutledge, pretty much exactly the same age as Miller and the possessor of a 1/2 season line from 2012 that looks near identical to Miller’s 2013 crashed and burned for Colorado last year, and is now back in the minors. On a per-plate appearance or per-game basis, Bogaerts is the best mix of current ability and breakout potential (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a perfect fit for his part).

For the Millerians, the age differential is actually a point in Miller’s favor – with Miller, there’s nothing to project or dream on, and his present ability sets him apart. Miller’s line, and his MiLB BABIP, are signs of a preternatural ability to hit the ball hard. Bogaerts’ hit tool is “developing” and may surpass Miller’s one day when you add in strikeouts/whiffs, but Miller has a better shot at a .280 average – and this partially mitigates Bogaerts’ excellent plate discipline. Moreover, the projection systems are serially underrating Miller’s power. Miller posted a .150 ISO in over 330 plate appearances last year, then added muscle and a year of age, but many systems out there shows that ISO dropping in his first full year. If it doesn’t, or if it actually goes to .160-.170, he’s going to beat Bogaerts handily. Also, park effects matter, especially as we’re dealing with guys who play in Arlington/Boston versus one who toils in Safeco’s marine layer. Once you park adjust and normalize playing time projections, Andrus fades a bit. Bogaerts may be better in 2-5 years (though he might not!), but right now, it’s Miller time.

As you can probably tell, I just love that this is a question to swirl around in my mind. As with the Cano contract, I’m just reveling in having new, or different tough questions after so many years of repetitive and annoying questions. Miller snuck up on the baseball world, frankly, and at some point, it’ll be worth examining how and why – so we can maximize our chance of nabbing an elite player outside of the first round again. But right now, I’m just going to continue wondering if Brad Miller is the best SS in the AL, and what his ultimate ceiling could be.

(If I had to pick, I’d take Miller, though that comes with some pretty obvious bias. I love Bogaerts, but I think a K% of 22-27% would be pretty damaging to his case. He may have to be better than his 50% projection. That said, he’s absolutely incredible, and as we’ve seen with Machado, Tulo, Trout, Harper, etc., there really isn’t a learning curve for great players.)

2014 Clinton Lumberkings Preview

Jay Yencich · April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

Hello and welcome back to a sometimes-annual round of previews concerning the full-season Mariners minor league affiliates.  For those unfamiliar with the process, I take the opening day roster of each team and try to write as much as seems relevant about each player and the result usually weighs in at a few thousand words despite my best efforts to curb it.  The spectrum tends to run from “informative” to “inane”, and so in addition to the topic at hand, I’ve drifted into early 2000s Mariners pitching prospects, architecture, aphorisms, surnames, etymology (real and pseudo), Pokémon, theory, actors with iconic mustaches, and fictional spies.  This all sounds considerably more interesting than the results, but as I’ve said before with regard to my baseball writing in contrast to my other writing, it trends extemporaneous and could easily be damned by Capote as typing and not writing at all.

To give the more distant overhead perspective on things, the rotation has a range of undersung to unknown, the bullpen has a few names to file away but isn’t especially inspiring, the infield is comprised mostly of mid-range guys who are either trying to make or re-establish a reputation, and the star power seems to be at the outfield corners.  The catching crew is elided in part due to my own lack of interest.  ”Top-heavy” seems the most apt descriptor for this squad because the players I’m interested in here, I’m really invested in, and those that I’m not, it’s part lack of familiarity and part lack of perceived impact talent.  If things break in the right direction on the infield and their offense, it could be a rather competitive team.  If not, not.  But bear in mind that these tend to be skewed by my own interests as an observer, and there have been teams that I looked at with a “meh” and went on to go deep into the playoffs.  It all depends on what your rooting interests are.

All the rosters were released yesterday afternoon, but I’m still typing away like a maniac so as to excuse myself from other duties.  The other three are forthcoming.

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Stop What You’re Doing And Think About Felix

Jeff Sullivan · April 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

I hope you’re enjoying this — it might not last too much longer. Rooting for an undefeated baseball team is a delightful and wonderful feeling, a feeling like anything’s possible. Eight years in a row now, a day after the first day, I’ve gotten to feel like anything’s possible, for the Mariners. Of course it turned out for at least the first seven of those, many things were in fact not possible for the Mariners, but this is a perfect one, this feeling right here. Coming out of spring training, you’re ready to re-embrace the baseball routine. Fans everywhere are a little over-confident. But you don’t remember what games really feel like. Win the first game and you only know wins. Lose the first game and you only know losses. Baseball only starts to feel normal when your team has won and lost, but for the time being we only know the 2014 Seattle Mariners as winners. Big winners, as a matter of fact, allowing us to pretend like this team is a juggernaut. It isn’t, but, where’s the evidence? The Mariners were a juggernaut Monday. That’s all the data we’ve got.

When the Mariners get around to losing, it’ll be familiar, and we’ll start to entertain impressions both positive and negative. We’ll know what this team is within several weeks. What we think this team is today is unstoppable, and it sure is helpful to be able to give the ball to Felix Hernandez. With Felix on the mound, you always feel like the only team that can beat the Mariners is the Mariners. Sometimes a team comes out of camp and the ace struggles in the opener, and fans get really worried. Nothing to worry about here.

I’m not in the business of recaps anymore, especially not a day after the fact, and this isn’t a Mariners season opener game recap. In somewhat recappy form, I will say it’s extra delicious to rip the hearts out of the Angels. I will say I’m a supporter of Abe Almonte, and I’m a supporter of the idea of Robinson Cano somehow making Justin Smoak better, and I’m a supporter of Mike Zunino’s defense more than I’m a supporter of Mike Zunino’s offense. I don’t know why Charlie Furbush was pitching to Mike Trout. I don’t know where Dustin Ackley was running on Albert Pujols’ double. If Ackley hits enough, I’m not going to care about his funny routes. If Kyle Seager hits enough, we’re going to have a lineup.

But all I really want to get to is a chart. Last night, a whole lot of things happened, involving a whole lot of different Seattle Mariners. They scored, ten times, against a good baseball team! But sometimes I get King Felix tunnel vision. And here’s one display of what Felix did over his six innings of excellent work.

felixvsangels331

Count ‘em up. Or, don’t, because two of them are almost perfectly overlapping. Last night, against Felix, the Angels swung and missed 21 times, and they racked up another three foul tips, yielding a total of 24 swinging strikes. All but one of them were low, and the one high one was a fastball to blow away Raul Ibanez. Felix was dominant around and beyond the lower edge, and if you’re trusting of Brooks Baseball’s classifications, the Angels were an unbelievable 3-for-20 trying to make contact with Felix’s changeup. It’s hard to separate the change from the two-seamer, since the changeup is basically a fastball, so the classifications could be off, but let’s not lose the important point. Pitch types be damned; Felix owned the Angels at the knees and the shins. Even the slider that Trout hit out was an inch or two away from being a good slider to a great hitter.

And by the way, that isn’t all of it. The Angels had 24 swinging strikes out of 48 swings, giving a game contact rate of 50%. That is the lowest single-game contact rate of Felix’s major-league career. It’s not even all that close. It wasn’t, of course, the best start that Felix has ever had, but by one statistical measure, it was his most unhittable start. He’s made a lot of starts. The Angels have a good lineup, and after the first two batters, Felix was like, knock if off, go away and sit down over there. He was that much in control, and he put the Mariners in position to go wire-to-wire. Presumably they won’t, but we’ve earned a day to pretend.

It was a good game for baseball as a sport, overall. People got to see King Felix at his best. People got to see Mike Trout go deep against one of the best. And then the Mariners won, and while it’s not like the Mariners are America’s Team, they are in position to be a little lovable on account of how bad they’ve been for so many years. The game featured some of the most talented players in baseball, players you can respect even from the other side, and I’m glad I got to see Trout keep being amazing, in a way. I’m also glad Trout ended up bummed out and his team got booed in its own home opener. The Mariners did that!

One game represents 0.62% of a full baseball season. There’s an incomprehensible amount of baseball left. But if the Mariners were projected to finish, say, .500, now you add about a half-win to the projection. And that increases the playoff odds by a few percentage points. You never earn your way to the playoffs in April — or March — but every win goes in the same win column, and when a division race is expected to be tight, it’s never too early to try to pull out in front. The Mariners might be worse than the Angels, Rangers, and A’s. The Mariners, right now, are in front of the Angels, Rangers, and A’s. And how much worse might they be, really? No one’s ever complained about having a lead.

The Mariners play again soon. They might lose. Until they lose, I don’t even remember what losing means. I only know King Felix, ten runs, and sweet sweet victory. Baseball’s a good friend, sometimes.

Game 2, Mariners at Angels

marc w · April 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez vs. CJ Wilson, 7:05pm

Coming off of a disappointing 2012 with the Angels – his first year of a 5-yr $77.5m deal – and with so much uncertainty in the Angels rotation last year, CJ Wilson needed a return to his 2010-2011 form. When he kicked off 2013 by walking way too many, it looked like he was on the decline phase of his career, just as the escalators in his contract hit (he’ll be paid $16m this year, up from $11m last year). But by mid/late May, Wilson had worked out the kinks and settled in to post a 3-fWAR season, his best since his last year in Arlington.

Wilson gets a fair number of strikeouts and has average walk rates, so he seems like a guy whose FIP could swing significantly based on how many long fly balls go over the fence. In fact, Wilson’s consistently good HR rates are a key to his success. He’s done it in HR-haven Arlington, and he’s continued to do it in HR-suppressing Anaheim. He’s done it as a high-GB% guy, as he was most years in his career, and last year he did it despite a steep drop in his GB%, which seems to have been driven by throwing fewer two-seam fastballs and relying on his four-seamer more (again, this makes sense given his home ballpark, and divisional haunts like Oakland and Seattle). His breaking pitches tend to be hit on the ground, which helps, but another factor may be the sheer number of pitches he throws.

As you probably know, a starting pitcher tends to lose effectiveness each time through the line-up. MGL (Mitchel Lichtman) did a study recently that found that pitchers with more pitches in their repertoire tend to suffer *less* from this penalty. That is, they retain more of their overall effectiveness the 2nd/3rd/4th times through the line-up. Intuitively, this makes sense. It would certainly be advantageous to have a pitch in your back pocket that a particular hitter hasn’t seen yet, and Wilson throws 5 pitches with some regularity. It’s a similar result to one found by Joe Roegele at the Hardball Times, who measured the increase in each hitter’s wOBA each time they see a certain pitch from a pitcher (that is, they hit better on the 5th four-seamer they see from a pitcher in a game, and slightly better again on the 6th, and better still on the 7th). Another recent study – this one from Robert Arthur – found that throwing a number of different pitches, and throwing them without a clear, repetitive pattern, has a small but significant impact on K%.

So that’s presumably why Wilson and his 91mph fastball, and an array of so-so to pretty decent breaking pitches can be effective and consistent. Some pitchers don’t need a bunch of options. Randy Johnson might have been a HOF hurler with only one pitch. But diversity is pretty important to the guys without overwhelming stuff or plus-plus breaking balls. Incidentally, this might be something to watch with Erasmo Ramirez, who gets the start tonight for Seattle. Ramirez threw more breaking balls last year – especially sliders – and used his very good change-up less. This wasn’t because of batter handedness; he saw a much HIGHER percentage of lefties in 2013 than he did in 2012. He just stopped throwing the change to righties. All of this is speculative, as he hasn’t pitched enough in total for us to really get a sense of how the M’s want him to attack hitters, and the new coaching staff’s a confounding variable too. But while his slider’s results weren’t great, the fact that he throws one (and an occasional curve) may help him stay effective overall. Now he just needs to stay healthy.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Romero, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Buck, C
SP: Erasmo Ramirez

The M’s RH-heavy line-up takes its first turn of 2014, with Corey Hart at DH and Stefen Romero making his big-league debut in RF. Miller and Ackley are the only lefties in the line-up. A good, early test of the M’s off-season plan to get better against left-handed pitching.

Game 1, Mariners at Angels

marc w · March 31, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Jered Weaver, 7:00pm (ESPN2/ROOT Sports TV)

Happy Felix Night, and I hope you’re all enjoying a pleasant Opening Day 2014.

I can’t think of a more wide-open AL race in years. Certainly, the AL West is more tightly-bunched than it’s been in recent memory, and the super-teams – the Tigers and Red Sox – have also come back to the pack a bit. It’s not just that there are more teams bunched more tightly around 81 wins, within the margin of error (or the margin of luck). It’s that there seem to be reasons to believe that the variance of these forecasts is somehow higher. Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka are two of the bigger off-season signings, and we don’t have minor league or major league data to generate a projection. Or, looking at MLB veterans, think about how vital bullpen performance has been to so many recent “out-of-nowhere” contenders. The Royals were fringe contenders last year not because of their great young position players, but because no one could touch their bullpen. Not their closer, not their set-up guys…no one. Baltimore pulled this off in 2012 (without all of the strikeouts…even weirder), and then the group fell back to earth in 2013. The Blue Jays were awful in 2012, and then pretty good in 2013 (though every other facet of the team was awful). The point is, bullpen performance is perhaps more important than it’s been in quite some time given the narrower spread in talent. But bullpen performance is notoriously hard to project.

The M’s have holes throughout, but we can be reasonably sure that their team wRC+/wOBA will be better than it was in 2013*. The question remains: will it matter? Tonight’s just one game, but it’s an important early look at another really difficult team to project, the Angels. Mike Petriello had a good article on them today at Fangraphs, and I see that Dave and others have picked them to win the division (gun to my head, they’d be my pick too, but hopefully that won’t be necessary). Albert Pujols’ plantar fasciitis and Jered Weaver’s ailing elbow sidelined two of their best players for a short while, and contributed to poor-by-their-standards performance while they played through pain. Especially on the pitching side, more innings went to replacement-level and below arms, and the depth that they’d acquired blew up in their face.

Now, the Angels rely on a very different Jered Weaver. Since 2011, his average four-seam fastball has fallen from 90mph to 87.5mph last year. This spring, it’s in that same vicinity or a bit lower, and it looks like he’s mixing in more of a sinker around 86mph. Weaver was never a big velo guy, but he’s having to adjust to very different stuff than he had when he came up. With that pop-up generating fastball, he hasn’t had much in the way of platoon splits, but using a sinker more often is usually a way to see platoon splits rise. Thanks to a minor league system bereft of good pitchers, and the departure of guys like Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton (which most Angels fans applaud) has left them short of good depth. They have Mike Trout though, so…

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

GO MARINERS

* This is not a case of projecting growth off a prior season, or mixing up true talent and observed performance. This is about a full year of Brad Miller/Robby Cano and not dealing with Brendan Ryan/Dustin-Ackley-at-2B. It came at a very high cost, and the future’s uncertain, injuries, blah blah blah, but the M’s added one of the 5 best hitters on the planet and subtracted one of the five worst hitters (among everyday players) on the planet. That has an impact on true talent.

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