Game 81, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · July 4, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Kendall Graveman, 1:05pm

Happy Felix Day, and Happy 4th to you all. This season has been so painful, but it’s nice that we cans still celebrate every now and again. The M’s dinger-fueled romp yesterday was the perfect appetizer to today’s game, a chance to win a road series against the formerly-hot A’s and watch Felix perform yet again. And crucially, we can do all of this while grilling and drinking with friends. Not bad.

Today the M’s face righty Kendall Graveman, a sinkerballer the A’s got from Toronto as part of the Josh Donaldson deal. Graveman, a right-hander, throws a sinker, cutter and change, and he’ll mix in a curve at times. The repertoire sounds a lot like Jesse Chavez, and in fact Graveman’s release point is nearly an exact match of Chavez’s. But in terms of pitch movement and shape, the two are very, very different. Graveman doesn’t have much velocity; his fastball is around 91, and he’s got the low strikeout rates that you might expect from mediocre raw stuff. Instead, Graveman gets good sink with pretty much everything he throws. His change-up has splitter-like movement, and he should be able to throw it to righties and lefties, but it doesn’t look like he does (despite telling David Laurila that he does). Instead, he’ll throw righties his slider-like cutter that comes in at 86 and has very good horizontal movement (unlike Chavez’s more fastball-like cutter). The sinker and change-up are his big ground ball pitches, and they’ve pushed his GB% near 50% – it’s above average, though not in Felix’s class.

That could become a problem for him. Graveman doesn’t have the stuff for strikeouts, and (rightly) attempts to use what he CAN do to his advantage. But without really high GB rates, he’s kind of stuck in the middle – he’s not great at managing contact, control or strikeouts, and doesn’t seem to have any elite attributes to balance that out. He’s giving up over a HR per 9IP, and while tiny samples are all we’ve got with him, it’s not clear how that’s going to change unless he does something different, particularly with that cutter. Graveman’s cutter is noticeably slower than his fastballs, and while it’s got movement, it’s got less sink than you’d expect given everything else Graveman throws. And despite the horizontal movement, righties have destroyed the cutter thus far while lefties have fared well on his sinker. That sounds more dismissive than I mean it to – I think Graveman could be a solid #4 in time. But right now, he’s getting by on an amazing strand rate.

Baseball-Reference shows that the M’s have fared pretty well (ok, for *them*) against ground ball pitchers. By bbref’s definition, Graveman probably wouldn’t qualify, but I think this is a proxy for how the M’s do against pitches (not pitchers) of a certain type, and Graveman throws a lot of those pitches. The M’s have a number of fly-ball hitters with a pronounced uppercut in their swing, and Graveman’s sinker feels like it could fall into their wheelhouse. This year, Seager and especially Zunino have been much better against GB pitchers, while Cruz has been good against everyone. It’s Oakland, it’s the Mariners, and Graveman’s been better since his late-April demotion, but this isn’t the worst match-up for the M’s line-up.

1: LoMo, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, LF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: El Rey

Day game after a night game and all, but it’s fitting that Zunino finally gets a match-up that looks decent for him…and Sucre gets the start.

So the M’s made a series of moves last night precipitated in part by the end of David Rollins’ rehab stint. The M’s have called up Rollins, righty Mayckol Guaipe and OF James Jones, and sent down Vidal Nuno, Roenis Elias and Tom Wilhelmsen. Nuno was the easy call, but the other two are somewhat surprising. Elias has been burned by the HR ball of late, but has been steady performer in the rotation. Wilhelmsen’s inconsistency is tough to figure out. This year, his strikeout rate’s up, but he’s been doomed by a terrible BABIP (it’s .413!). His FIP is almost two full runs better than his ERA, so in some sense this feels like penalizing Wilhelmsen for bad luck. You figure Wilhelmsen will work with Jaime Navarro for a few games and then swap places with Guaipe again. Jones is just biding his time until Hisashi Iwakuma returns on Monday, so this’ll be a short stay for him. I’m excited to see Rollins in the majors though. We talked him up in the spring, and he’s looked solid in AAA this past month.

Tacoma outslugged Las Vegas 12-7 at Cheney. There were 5 total HRs in the game, with the Rainiers’ Steve Baron, Patrick Kivlehan and Stefen Romero all homering. Neither starter was good; Stephen Landazuri gave up 4 runs in 4 innings while Vegas’ Rainy Lara apparently didn’t appreciate the hot, dry weather and gave up 7 runs on 10 hits (2 HRs) in 4 IP. Danny Farquhar had his best outing of the year for Tacoma, throwing 2 1/3 perfect innings with 5 Ks. The R’s took the lead for good in the 5th off of hard-throwing reliever Vic Black, who’s in AAA to rehab a groin pull. Today, the R’s head to Fresno to take on the Grizzlies and recently-demoted Astro Brett Oberholtzer.

Jackson lost the completion of their July 2nd game, but came back to beat Mobile 1-0 in a rain-shortened game behind Misael Siverio’s 6 shutout innings. The Generals prevailed after what looked like a game-tying sacrifice fly was taken off the board when the umpire ruled the runner had left 3rd base early. Former Mariner Dominic Leone got the win in the first game. Today, Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Jackson as they start a series against Mississippi. Prospect Tyrell Jenkins starts for the M-Braves.

Bakersfield topped Modesto 3-2 thanks to another strong start from Tyler Pike, who went 6 2/3 IP and struck out a career-high 10 batters. Paul Fry got the save, and deserves some attention for his excellent 2015 season. In 48 2/3 IP, the lefty now has 63 strikeouts to 12 walks, and he’s been equally tough on righties and lefties. Bakersfield returns home and begins a series with Stockton today.

Kane County beat Clinton 3-2. Catcher Wayne Taylor hit a 2R HR early, but that was it for the L-Kings offense. Jefferson Medina starts for Clinton tonight against the Cougars.

Luiz Gohara had another disappointing start in Everett’s 9-3 loss to Tri-Cities. He didn’t make it out of the 1st inning, giving up 3 runs…hope he’s OK. Everett’s home tonight to kick off a series with the Hillsboro Hops, the Diamondbacks NWL affiliate. Taylor Bird starts for Everett opposite Tyler Bolton.

Game 80, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · July 3, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

JA Happ vs. Jesse Chavez, 6:05pm

For the umpteenth time, we have to start off by acknowledging a dreadful offensive performance last night. This time, it was Scott Kazmir who sliced through the M’s line-up, limiting the M’s to 2 hits and no walks in 8 innings. Kazmir is tough on righties, but that’s not much excuse for Jackson, Cruz, Trumbo and Zunino to go 0-13 with 5 Ks. The M’s runs per game is under 3.4, which is as remarkable as it is unacceptable.

Today, the M’s face right-hander Jesse Chavez, who’d been a career reliever before rebuilding his confidence and repertoire in Oakland. Coming up with Pittsburgh, he threw a hard four-seamer and, after some input from the club, a slider. Never blessed with exceptional command, Chavez’s rising fastball also led to a spate of home runs. During some struggles with his breaking ball, Chavez developed a cutter, and while he didn’t throw it much in games, it became his bread and butter in Oakland. Brandon McCarthy made it famous, but the Scott Feldman approach of a cutter, a sinker, a curve and change is now a pretty standard arsenal, and Chavez took to it nearly as well and as quickly as McCarthy did. Not only did he get a few more grounders (which helped with the HR problem), but he was now quite effective against lefties, which helped his transition to the starting rotation. As a starter, Chavez pounded the zone with cutters/sinkers, and tried to get batters to chase his curve. The slider was gone, but he now used his change-up equally to lefties and righties. He gave up a fair number of HRs, but was at least in the acceptable range, as opposed to the “fatal flaw” range it was with the Pirates.

Now in his second stint in the rotation after a number of A’s hurlers had issues with performance and injury, Chavez has improved again – his HR rate is vanishingly low, and while that’s in part due to luck, he’s also running his lowest walk rate. I’m always fascinated that pitchers can bounce around as back-of-the-bullpen guys, and can live in fear of the DFA, then find a bit of success with a new approach – but then change it, because baseball *requires* continual tinkering and adjustments. We saw Brandon McCarthy try this and get knocked around for a while before settling into a new routine, and we’re seeing it now with Chavez. After telling Eno Sarris the four-seamer was basically out as a game-usable pitch, he’s throwing a lot of them in 2015, and it’s been one of his best pitches. The curve that he loved much more than the slider that he seemingly developed under protest? All but gone, and replaced by a new, better slider. Even the cutter, the pitch he throws most, has seen an overhaul. This year, it’s more fastball-like than ever. He’s throwing it a bit harder, and it has less slider-like horizontal movement and drop. Some part of this may be chance, but a lot of it has to be the result of a distinctive, conscious change in approach. Baseball tends to reward pitchers who’re able to make these kinds of adjustments, and thus far Chavez has the best FIP of his career. The slider’s helped his results against righties, while the four-seamer has been effective against lefties.

1: LoMo, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, LF
7: Trumbo, RF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: Happ

Las Vegas jumped all over Tacoma’s Jordan Pries in the first inning and kept up the pressure, ending up with a 12-2 win at Cheney. David Rollins was the sole pitching star of the game, working 2 scoreless innings while striking out 4. Rollins is an interesting case, as his rehab assignment (following an 80-game suspension for performance enhancers) runs out today, necessitating a move to the 25-man roster (he’s a Rule 5 draft pick). He looked great in spring training, and has yet to give up a run in 9 1/3 AAA innings, but the roster’s full. Bob Dutton speculates he could move up for Vidal Nuno, another lefty. But the M’s will deal with another move once Hisashi Iwakuma’s back. Ryan Divish reports that Lloyd McClendon says they’ll announce the roster move tomorrow – Rollins will either head to Oakland to join the M’s, or return to the Houston Astros org. Anyway, Sam Gaviglio starts tonight for Tacoma. Big firework show at Cheney tonight.

Jackson’s game against Mobile was suspended with Mobile up 2-1. They’re finishing that one now, and will play another game tonight. Moises Hernandez was brilliant in 5+ innings yesterday, striking out 6 without a walk. Dominic Leone, Gabby Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer are all in the game for Mobile.

Bakersfield beat Modesto 3-2 behind a great start from Dan Altavilla. The 2014 5th round pick threw 7 IP with 1 run allowed and 8 strikeouts to no walks. It was Altavilla’s first start of the season without giving up a free pass. Reliever Aaron Brooks (a Seattle native and Edmonds CC product) finished the game with 5 Ks in his 2 innings of work. Today, Tyler Pike gets the start against Modesto’s Alex Balog.

Clinton lost to Kane County 7-5. Estarlyn Morales hit his 4th HR for Clinton, but the Cougars scored 2 runs in the 8th off Nick Valenza for the final margin. Today, Lukas Schiraldi of Clinton faces off with Canadian righty Ethan Elias, who was cut by the Cubs org two years ago and spent 2014 pitching in the Independent leagues in Illinois. Signed after a try-out by the D-Backs, and then pitching his way into the Cougars rotation, he’s suddenly sporting a 7-3 record with a 2.61 ERA. Do his peripherals support that? No, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind.

Everett beat Tri-Cities 8-3, with 1B Ryan Uhl getting 4 RBIs. Andrew Moore gave up 2 unearned runs in his 3 IP, and WSU product Joe Pistorese continues to impress with 1 2/3 scoreless with 3 Ks. The Montana native hasn’t been scored on in 6 1/3 innings thus far. Luiz Gohara starts tonight for the AquaSox.

Game 79, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · July 2, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Scott Kazmir, 7:05pm

The M’s head north to Oakland, the final stop on their road trip. Man, it feels better today after back to back shutouts than it did a few days earlier.

I will never get over the fact that Scott Kazmir is pitching effectively in the majors after bombing out with the Angels, then struggling to break 82, then recovering essentially all of the velo he had when he broke into baseball with the Devil Rays. Kazmir came up with a good fastball and a big slurvey slider. Death against lefties, he’s faced strongly right-handed line-ups since 2005-6. But since his stunning renaissance with Cleveland, he’s done very well against righties too. He’s now got a good change-up – it gets whiffs on almost 40% of swings – and with his sinker and cutter, he’s able to get more ground balls. He’ll never be a true ground-ball hurler, not with a four-seam fastball with 10-11″ of rise, but he’s done a very good job of limiting HRs. Sure, his home park helps with that, but so does his more-than-respectable K rate against opposite-handed hitters.

All of that said, he’s still got some platoon splits. He’s been tough on righties, but Cruz, Jackson and Trumbo need to step up here.

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

To be clear, McClendon says that Miller is still the starter, but that Taylor will get the odd start against tough lefties like Kazmir.

Tacoma beat Las Vegas 4-2 last night behind another great start from Forrest Snow. Chris Taylor walked and singled in two PAs before being pulled from the game, putting all of today’s roster moves into play. Stephen Landazuri starts tonight at Cheney.

Jackson got shut out by Mobile 8-0. Edwin Diaz pitched poorly. Moises Hernandez will try to do better tonight. I should mention that erstwhile Generals manager Jim Horner left to take a job at Washington State University, and Roy Howell, the fill-in last year in Tacoma, will see out the 2015 campaign.

Bakersfield was beated soundly by Modesto, 8-1. Eddie Campbell went 3 1/3 giving up 5 runs, and that was essentially that. Dan Altavilla starts tonight against Modesto’s Antonio Senzatela, who struck out 11 in a win against Bakersfield in early May.

Clinton lost a slugfest 12-10 to Peoria. Patrick Peterson leads them into today’s opening game of a series with Kane County.

Everett lost to Tri-Cities 7-1 as Lane Ratliff gave up 5 runs and 2 HRs in 4 2/3 IP. Tri-Cities is generally a tough place to homer, but winds can change that. Tonight, Andrew Moore gets the start against the DustDevils’ Brett Kennedy.

July 2nd International Signing Day / Fare Thee Well, Willie Bloomquist

marc w · July 2, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

I was going to do a post about the opening of the 2015-16 signing period for international free agents, and then word come over the transom that the M’s had DFA’d Willie Bloomquist to make room for Chris Taylor. These things have nothing – at all – to do with each other, but 1) there’s something about the juxtaposition of multi-millionaire 16-year old tools prospects and the elder statesman of utility players; and 2) fewer posts! Fewer things I can screw up! Willie has accomplished far, far more than 99% of the kids signing today and over the next few months, but there’s a reason the hype follows promise and not the utility guy on the bench.

1: So, first things first. As many of you know, the latest MLB collective bargaining agreement not only instituted bonus pools for the June amateur draft – essentially setting a hard cap on the amount of money a team can spend on draft-eligible players – but it also created a new pool system for international free agents, too. MLB teams each receive a set amount of money (based on last year’s record) they can spend on players under a certain age and who haven’t been pros in other countries (this is for Latin American/Asian teenagers, not Yu Darvish or Jose Abreu). Just like with the amateur draft’s pool system, there are some severe penalties for going over the caps: if a team exceeds its cap by 15% or more, they forfeit the ability to sign any international free agents over $300,000 for the next TWO seasons. Right now, the Diamondbacks, Angels, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees can’t sign any of the marquee names in this year’s class – and they’ll be out next year as well.

For some teams, and the Yankees are the best example here, this is a calculated move. If there are players you really want in one class, it may make sense to spend like mad in one year and take your penalty/shift your resources elsewhere in the next year. The incentive here is clear: if you’re going to take a penalty, make it worth it. Teams generally avoid triggering the one-year bans, and either stay under the cap (as the M’s have done), or go hog wild and spend many multiples of the draft pool. That’s what the Yankees did last year, and it’s what the Dodgers are doing today. The Dodgers bonus pool is a shade over $2 million, and as of lunch time, they’ve spent $21.5 million plus on their first four signings, headlined by Cuban pitching phenom, Yadier Alvarez who got $16m on his own. Essentially, if you’re in the market for an Alvarez or his countryman Eddy Julio Martinez, it makes sense to try and vacuum up as many Dominican/Venezuelan players as you can. A big name is going to cost way more than the bonus pool on his own, and you’re not going to be able to spread the money out over next year’s class, so go nuts. Other teams may be following this strategy too, including the Cubs (who’ve signed 5 players in the top 30 for over $8m thus far today) and Blue Jays, who inked Vlad Guerrero, Jr. for pool-busting $3.9m.

The M’s have eschewed the “blow up the pool” strategy for a series of low key moves. They haven’t been shut out of the top 30, but they’ve typically picked up players in the $200,000 to $2m level, not the headliners. It’s too early to really tell which strategies pay off – Yoan Moncada is the big test case here, and he’s still in the minors – but the M’s have generally grabbed one or back-of-the-top-30 guys per year. This year, it’s a Dominican shortstop named Carlos Vargas, who’s either around #20 or #30, depending on the list you use. Vargas signed for $1.7m, so the M’s may not have a lot of room if they’d like to stay under their $2.15m cap. There’s video in that last link and another one here, courtesy of Baseball America. Vargas is big at 6’3″ already, and has a somewhat unorthodox swing, but he’s got some pop on it. That’ll help, as it sounds like many see him as a future 3B.

So what happens to these guys? In the past, the M’s maintained an official presence in both the Dominican Republic and in Venezuela, where they’d made the most headway (Felix!). In the past year, the M’s have shuttered their Venezuelan facility due to security concerns. Instead, they’ve expanded in the DR, and now have two clubs competing in the Dominican Summer League. The Venezuelan league has dwindled to four clubs, while the Dominican League is now headed towards 40 teams (there are 38 teams in 5 divisions now). Many of the guys the M’s signed in the 2013 and 2014 signing periods play for one of their DSL teams. Last year’s class was headed up by OF Brayan Hernandez, while SS Greifer Andrade was the big name in the 2013 group.

2: Willie Bloomquist feels like the other end of some spectrum from a 16 year old power-hitting SS, but that’s not really fair. We mentally put Bloomquist into a very different category because we’re able to look back at a career that’s spanned 13 years in the bigs, and 16 years since he was drafted out of Arizona State (and, technically, 19 years since the M’s first selected him out of South Kitsap high school. We know just about everything there is to know about Willie, and where he could add value and where he may be taking some runs off the board. Years ago, some fans fell hard for the guy, and some fans recoiled when Bloomquist used to talk about wanting a starting job. At that point, we could say that it didn’t appear starting him would make the M’s better. In the spring, using what we knew about the relative performance and roles of Bloomquist and Taylor that it’d be better to go with the younger, better player. More recently, as Bloomquist ended up backing up 1B and outfield corners, it looked like the M’s had given another slot in the batting order to Mark Trumbo, a guy who fills in at those positions and offers more on offense. Bloomquist has so often been a slightly worse option for what the M’s (the 2015 M’s as well as the 2006 ‘s) needed.

Like so many others, Bloomquist had to leave Seattle to demonstrate his value. After a tough year in Kansas City, Willie had a late career resurgence coming off Arizona’s bench. There’s nothing showy about a bench player hitting decently in limited duty, but there’s nothing showy about a tiny flower blooming in the corner of a parking lot, either. It wasn’t much, but it made things better. Since his return, he couldn’t demonstrate the freakish contact skills he’d picked up in the desert, and with the M’s shortstop glut, the fact that he could stand out there and not be Mike Morse wasn’t as valuable. That’s not his fault, though. Willie played for the M’s for a long, long time, and he must’ve gotten something from playing so close to home, for the team he rooted for as a kid. But while the M’s loved him, they never quite figured out how to put him in a position to succeed. It’s too bad that this move felt inevitable, and it’s too bad that after a wRC+ of 81 in 2014, Bloomquist cratered to a wRC+ of 2 (.159/.194/.174) now.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes him to get into coaching. Adam Jones apparently learned a lot from Willie from what must’ve been limited interactions in spring training. His clubhouse presence was another big reason the M’s resigned him and a reason a guy without much in the way of statistical performance held down big league jobs for over a decade. We’ve often said that chemistry has to show up somewhere, and that it appears teams may overvalue it. But that doesn’t mean it has no value at all. If Willie had it, and if he could inspire an Adam Jones, perhaps he could do the same for Carlos Vargas or Greifer Andrade one of these days.

Lookout Landing has a good pair of posts on Willie if you’re interested.

Game 78, Mariners at Padres

marc w · July 1, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. James Shields, 12:40pm

Early game today, which means many of us won’t actually get to see what’s looking like a very interesting pitching match-up. The resurgent Taijuan Walker’s rattled off six consecutive quality starts, and while yes, quality start streaks make me think of Blake Beavan’s first year, Walker’s looked amazing. His K:BB ratio in that stretch? It’s 44:3. His splitter’s evolved into a real weapon against lefties, and he’s now running reverse splits. That’s probably a better problem to have, but given that he’s all but abandoned both his curve and slider/cutter, it’d be nice if he had a breaking ball he felt comfortable throwing to righties. Mike Montgomery’s got the same basic “problem” and you can see how little it’s troubled him. But Montgomery’s cutter is now something he’s comfortable throwing to lefties, and he showed it again last night (despite facing only 1 lefty starter and 1 lefty pinch-hitter). A true slider would make Walker even more of a threat, and while you don’t necessarily want to disrupt his routine, it should definitely be on Walker’s off-season to-do list.

When we last saw James Shields, he was having a fascinating season. In his first year in the NL, he was striking out more batters than ever. Not by a little, not a “I get to face pitchers now” bump, but a total shift in his peripherals. Through the first two months, he was striking out over 30% of batters that faced him, while keeping his walks low. He’d been a change-up heavy hurler with average K rates and plus-plus durability for years, and now he was in Petco, it looked like he decided to see how power pitchers lived. The problem was home runs. It might SEEM like a good idea to pitch higher and dare guys to hit it out of Petco or San Francisco or Dodgers stadium, but batters excitedly accepted that challenge. Shields led the majors in HRs given up for a long while, but despite some FIP issues, he wasn’t pitching poorly. All the Ks helped, certainly, and his xFIP was under 3 through May. But after an effective April, May was something of a homer-drunk mess. Despite the Ks, despite the fact that his defense had issues that pushed Shields’ BABIP up, after giving up 11 HRs in a month, Shields decided to make a change.

In his first 10 starts, Shields had just one homer-free game. In his last 6 starts, he’s given up just a single dinger. Shields adjusted, or rather, made a series of adjustments. First, he’s throwing the ball down in the zone much, much more than he did before. Second, he’s throwing his change-up a bit less, and replacing it with more curves and cutters. The curve has seen the biggest increase in frequency, and that may be because it’s his best ground-ball pitch. As a result, his ground ball rate has shot up in June.

So, veteran pitcher has a problem, and veteran pitcher uses his knowledge and guile to adjust back and correct it, huh? That’s why these guys get the big bucks. Well, not necessarily. Shields is now homer-free, but that hasn’t made him good. He probably needed to make some adjustments, but it’s not clear that this new approach is natural for him, and it has other side effects. The first is an increase in his walk rate. This shouldn’t be a big shock now that the zones he’s targeting most are below the bottom of the strike zone. You can make a case that this is an acceptable trade – a few more walks for less HRs is defensible. But his K rate has fallen back to his career line, too. He tried the three-true-outcome game, didn’t like it, and is now trying to get grounders. But his fastball and change are still fly-ball pitches, and while putting them lower helps avoid HRs, he can’t avoid balls in play. And that means that the Padres, and the Padres outfield, is going to need to make a lot more plays than they have. While Shields change is effective, lefties still have an advantage against Shields, particularly if they can elevate the ball.

1: Morrison,1B
2: Cano, 2B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
9/SP: Walker

Tacoma beat Las Vegas 8-4 behind Hisashi Iwakuma’s solid 5 2/3 IP of work. The rehabbing righty went 82 pitches, striking out 6 and giving up 1 run on 5 hits and a walk. Unfortunately, he left the game with a blister on the middle finger of his right hand. Iwakuma told the News Tribune this was fairly common and nothing to be too concerned about, but from time to time it’s limited him. He didn’t throw his splitter much in the spring due to a blister, and he pitched through blister issues in 2013 quite well. Still, not exactly what we wanted to see from the game. No word on if the M’s will bring him north or have him make another start in the PCL. He’s thrown 68 and 82 pitches in his two rehab starts in Tacoma, and it might be a good idea to see if he can get to 90+ without incident. Meanwhile, the R’s battered Dillon Gee for 13 hits and 8 runs in just 4 1/3 IP. Jordan Pries faces off against the 51s tonight.

Jackson was off yesterday. Edwin Diaz starts the first game of a series against Mobile today against right-hander Zack Godley, who’ll be making his AA debut. Godley is a 10th rounder out of Tennessee. Originally drafted by the Cubs, he moved to the D-Backs org in the deal that sent Miguel Montero to Chicago. He’s had great stats in the low minors, and was brilliant for Visalia in the Cal League this year. He faced Bakersfield twice back in May and pitched pretty well, striking out 11 in a tough loss (the Rawhide struck out 17 and walked only 1, but lost).

Bakersfield lost a tough one in extras to Modesto by a score of 5-4. Up 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, Emilio Pagan gave up a triple that turned into the tying run after a throwing error from Austin Wilson. In the 10th, the Blaze couldn’t get an out, and yielded a walk-off single. Tyler O’Neill hit his 16th HR in the 8th to give the Blaze a short-lived lead. Eddie Campbell starts today for Bakersfield against Modesto’s Harrison Musgrave.

Peoria easily handled Clinton 7-2, as L-Kings starter Zack Littell had his shortest start of the year. Clinton made 3 errors leading to 3 unearned runs, and the L-Kings couldn’t figure out Peoria starter Austin Gomber, who struck out 8 without walking anyone. Tyler Herb starts for Clinton today opposite Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals 2014 first-rounder out of baseball powerhouse Harvard-Westlake, the school that produced first-round pitchers Max Fried and Lucas Giolito in 2012 and overslot 2nd rounder Austin Wilson (who went to Stanford before the M’s got him) as well.

The Everett AquaSox have been a very tough team this year, but they trailed 3-1 heading into the 8th inning last night. They exploded for 4 runs in the 8th, capped by Alex Jackson’s 1st NWL home run, and made the lead hold up in the 9th. Corey Simpson earns a mention by going 3-4 with 2 2Bs. After a very slow first few games, he’s coming around. Everett heads east to take on Tri-Cities today with Lane Ratliff sharing the mound with the DustDevils’ Travis Radke.

Game 76, Mariners at Padres

marc w · June 30, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Montgomery vs. Ian Kennedy, 7:10pm

The M’s head to San Diego for a quick 2-game set before finishing their road trip in Oakland. Quick one tonight, as I’m slammed, so let’s do some bullet points. Ehhh, numbered list. It’s something I default to, and we can’t go changing things up.

1: Mike Montgomery’s first start after his remarkable CG shutout is a big test. He’s again in a spacious, HR-suppressing park, but more than the results, I’m curious to see his approach. Does he have confidence in the cutter he displayed against the Royals? Or will he opt for more curves? I think having a third pitch is going to be crucial for him, but he hasn’t really needed it yet.

2: I wrote about Ian Kennedy back in May, and noted that his FIP’s elevated due to the huge number of HRs he’s allowed thus far. A month and a half on, that’s still the executive summary on the right-hander. K rate and walks are pretty much where they’ve been, but he’s just hemorrhaging gopher balls, which is kind of tough to do in San Diego. A year ago, in just over 200 IP, he gave up 16 dingers. This year, in 69 IP, he’s already at 15. There’s no big platoon issue driving this, either. Last year, he gave up 8 HRs to lefties, and 8 HRs to righties. This year, it’s 8 and 7. His career HR/9 shows a bit of a difference, but his FIP is still 4.00 to lefties and 3.97 to righties. Dingers for everyone!

3: The Padres’ pitching staff has scuffled (DINGERS!) – they’ve got an ERA over 4, and that’s just not going to cut it in Petco Park. Their FIP is a bit better than that, though a 3.89 FIP is still nothing to be proud of. But the blame isn’t solely the pitchers. The Padres have been victimized by a horrendous defensive outfield - they’re the inverse Royals in a way; the Royals have mediocre pitchers that look good in part because of their OF. The Padres have above-average hurlers who post sub-par numbers because their OF’s approach can be summed up as “wait ’till it stops rolling, then pick it up.” That said, until all of that fabulous statcast data’s in the public domain, we’re still really estimating how to apportion blame between fielders and pitchers. UZR incorporates batted ball type and specific locations to make its determination that the Pads OF is bad. Matthew Carruth’s Runs Above Average tables at StatCorner take a high-level view - there’s no attempt to distinguish between “Easy” and “hard,” it’s just the run values on ALL fly balls. If you look at THAT view, the Padres look bad, but not horrendous…they’re better, in fact, than the Mariners. Part of this may be because the Padres don’t actually give up too many fly balls. And then there’s the issue we’ve talked about, which is that way too many fly balls that the Pads have allowed have flown over the fence – that’s not affecting UZR, but that means that comparatively few FBs are driving a huge impact defensively. In any event, the M’s need some fly ball hitters, and Kennedy and his rising fastball is liable to give up some elevate-able contact.

4: Speaking of BABIP, back in April, the M’s had an atrocious BABIP, and it clearly cost them runs and games. Taijuan Walker seemed to run a BABIP of .500 or so, as did James Paxton. But over the past few months, it’s steadily improved. It’s now above average, which is kind of remarkable given their OF – Nelson Cruz is not an OF, but he played there frequently before his recent injury. The gains have come primarily on the infield, which makes some sense – they’ve got a good 3B, a good 2B, a steady 1B, and then they’ve got Brad Miller. Many fans continue to see him – as the M’s themselves did for a time – as a defensive liability. But at this point, that view’s harder and harder to justify. Every measure of defense seems to like him, and just looking at the IF unit as a whole, or the TEAM as a whole, there’s credit that has to flow to people. This is a good defensive IF, and Miller’s the guy getting most of the chances. It’s interesting, and not something I’d have expected, even as a big Miller supporter.

5: Line-up time!
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Cano, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Smith, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
9/SP: Montgomery

The Rainiers got crushed last night 14-1 by El Paso and their rowdy Chihuahuas. The Rainiers made 4 errors, and they yielded back-to-back 6 run innings. Just ugliness. Today, Las Vegas comes to town to face Tacoma and rehabbing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. ‘Kuma was solid in his first Tacoma start, though he only made it 4 innings and complained about his mechanics. He’ll probably throw more pitches today (Curto says 85-90), and may make another start after that. He’s facing former Mets starter Dillon Gee, who lost his spot in the rotation – and ultimately the 25 man roster – when Noah Syndergaard (and then Steven Matz) were promoted. He was pretty publicly miffed about that, but wasn’t picked up on waivers when the Mets outrighted him. Game time’s 6:05 – perfect night for a game if you’re in the area.

Jackson shut out Birmingham (is it me, or have these two teams been playing for a month now) in lefty Anthony Fernandez’s second AA start. Fernandez had a 40-man spot and was a promotion candidate early in 2014 before suffering a ligament tear and undergoing TJ surgery. The M’s DFA’d him to pick up Mike Kickham in the winter as Fernandez rehabbed in Arizona. He went 4 scoreless and struck out 7 in yesterday’s game. DJ Peterson is showing more signs of life, and the righty hit his 5th HR, too. Today, the Generals have a travel day as they head…somewhere other than Birmingham (technically, they head home to host Mobile).

Bakersfield was off yesterday, but they won on the 28th behind a strong start from lefty and snake-wrangler Tyler Pike. No word on tonight’s starter, but the Blaze begin a series against Modesto tonight.

Clinton built a lead and then withstood a Peoria comeback, winning 6-5. Jefferson Medina had a so-so start, and Osmer Morales was shaky in relief, but Ronald Dominguez pitched the final two innings without incident. Gianfranco Wawoe hit his 4th HR of the year. Zack Littell gets the start for the Lumberkings today against Peoria’s Austin Gomber.

Game 75, Mariners at Angels

marc w · June 28, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Hector Santiago, 12:35pm

Happy Felix Day

In today’s start, Felix will re-take the lead in innings pitched between 2007 and the present from James Shields. In the pitch FX era, no one’s been on the mound more. As we’ve talked about, though, all of that information simply can’t give you a picture of what Felix does, or what Felix is. Averaged out over 98mph fireballer to 92mph craftsman, you don’t recognize much. It looks a bit like Felix’s 2010 season, the midpoint of his career, and his second great campaign. But there’s very little – then or now – that’s really distinctive. There’s the sink on his pitches, and then there’s that oddly small gap between fastball and change-up velo – as Felix’s average sinker velocity has dropped by 6MPH, his change-up has actually sped up, if only fractionally. Other than that, Felix is a guy who demands a results-based analysis. Felix is great because batters can’t seem to do much against him. It’s been that way since at least 2009, even if the *specific ways batters struggle* change every now and again. It seems hopeless to predict which pitchers will have long careers, or the kind of odd late-career rebirths we’ve seen from Bartolo Colon or, to a lesser extent, Freddie Garcia, but I have little doubt Felix will have one. He may throw 87 sidearm, he may develop a knuckleball, he may actually go full Bernandez and switch pitch, but it’s coming.

Opposite Felix, the Angels start Hector Santiago, a lefty with a history of confounding FIP by stranding a ton of runners. Primarily a fastball/change/cutter pitcher, he averages only about 90-91mph on his fastball, but it has a lot of armside run. That run, paired with a good cutter, has made him very tough on left-handed batters. Against righties, he’s about as extreme a fly-ball pitcher as you’ll find, but he’s essentially average against lefties, which means he’s been able to keep them in the park. Against righties, not so much – he’s got a career HR/9 of 1.42 against them. So righties elevate the ball and hit a fair share of homers. He also walks too many of them. As such, there’s no mystery about why his FIP’s an uninspiring 4.40 this year, dead on his career mark of 4.41. The interesting bit is that his career ERA is 3.36, and it’s just 2.68 in the first half of 2015.

Normally, this is the kind of thing you just note “regression” and move on. But he’s been doing this a little while now, and it’s kind of interesting. By fielding-dependent wins, Santiago’s approaching 7 WAR in just 439+ IP. By fWAR (FIP-based), he’s at 2.8. Essentially, Santiago is pitching like a poor man’s Hisashi Iwakuma in that he’s a very different pitcher with men on than when the bases are empty. With no one on, he gives up home runs to about 3.6% of batters. If someone’s on base, that drops to under 2%. Even better for Santiago, he’s limiting hits of all kinds with men on, not just homers. The samples here are small enough and the effect large enough that luck really does look to be playing a part, but it’s always interesting to see hurlers beat FIP for multiple years. On the plus side, hey, he’s been consistent for over 400 innings. On the down side, it looks like to stay an above-average pitcher, he’ll need to consistently post better BABIPs and HR/FB marks with men on, despite no noticeable differences in pitch mix. Even more specifically, he’ll have to maintain a remarkably low BABIP on his nothing-special fastball. In his career, Santiago’s fastball BABIP is lower than Aroldis Chapman’s, Craig Kimbrel’s, King Felix’s, and Clayton Kershaw’s. That’s clearly a feature, but it has the feel of a bug as well.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Gutierrez, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
9: Bloomquist, 1B
SP: KING FELIX

Tacoma hammered El Paso last night 14-4. In the hot, windless night, Tacoma slugged 5 HRs, and they all came from just two batters: Jesus Montero hit 2, and Justin Ruggiano hit *3*. Ruggiano’s last came off of Jordan Hershiser, son of Orel Hershiser. The younger Hershiser is 26, and…yep, appears to have been born in the middle of his dad’s record scoreless innings streak. Justin Germano starts today against converted OF Jason Lane.

Jackson beat Montgomery 4-2 behind a solid start from Misael Siverio and Marcus Littlewood’s first AA home run. Today,

Lancaster beat Bakersfield again, this time by a score of 6-3. Dan Altavilla took the loss, going 5 IP and yielding 4 runs. Jay Baum hit his first Cal League HR and Guillermo Pimentel picked up three hits, but this game will be remembered for one reason, and one reason only: a snake delay. A large snake took the field at some point, causing a delay. Blaze pitcher Tyler Pike (who wasn’t pitching, of course) calmly grabbed the snake and removed it, and Bakersfield resumed taking its beating.

Clinton’s big comeback fell short, as they dropped a 6-5 contest to Wisconsin. Down 5-0, the L-Kings tied the game with a 7 run 7th, capped by a 3R HR from Arby Fields. But Wisconsin’s Brandon Diaz hit a solo shot in the bottom of the inning and that proved to be the game’s final run.

Everett beat Boise 6-1 behind HRs from Corey Simpson and Luis Liberato. The AquaSox got solid work from pitchers Anthony Misiewicz (the nominal starter), Andrew Moore, and Joe Pistorese. With 3 hits, Liberato’s Everett slash line is up to .432/.462/.865; Liberato won’t turn 20 until December. Takes some of the sting out of the struggles of Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan.

Speaking of Morgan, the Arizona Rookie League’s underway, too. 8th rounder Cody Mobley debuted yesterday with 2 scoreless innings, and rehabbing OF Austin Cousino’s been getting some work in as well. Nick Neidert’s thrown 2 scoreless IP of his own, as has 4th rounder Dylan Thompson. The M’s have some projectable OFs on the roster too, including Hersin Martinez and Gareth Morgan, the linebacker-sized OF the M’s took for an overslot bonus in the competitive balance round a year ago. Morgan struggled in the AZL last year, K’ing 73 times in 45 games. Repeating it this year, he’s got a K:BB ratio of 13-0 in 6 games. It’s uh…it’s early yet. We’ll see many of these players hit Everett later on. There are fewer option this year, as the M’s no longer have a club in the Appy league – so they don’t have an affiliate in the level between the complex leagues and short-season ball.

Game 75, Mariners at Angels

marc w · June 27, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

JA Happ vs. Garrett Richards, 4:15pm – Note the odd start time-

There’s nothing like shutting down the Angels. I mean, there’s shutting down one’s playoff opponent, but my memories of that are growing hazy; in the absence of concrete, recent, identifiable feelings, I just assume it feels like shutting down the Angels.

Today, lefty JA Happ takes on Angels ace Garrett Richards. Richards took a long, long time to get acclimated to the big leagues, but he finally broke out last season, tossing nearly 170 IP (before a leg injury ended his season) with a FIP of 2.60. The key to Richards effectiveness isn’t his 96mph velocity, though that clearly plays a part, but rather his ability to avoid home runs. Richards 4-seam fastball, slider and curve all sink much more than other pitches of their type – his curve gets an absolutely insane -12″ of “rise”, while his slider drops like many curve balls. Combined with the fact that he targets these breaking balls at or below the bottom of the zone, and it’s nearly impossible to elevate them against him. In his career, batters are *slugging* .241 on his slider (which he’s thrown over 2,200 times) and .141 on his curve. His four-seam fastball is an odd duck as well, with a bit of gloveside movement and sink, it looks like an insanely fast cutter. His slider looks positively normal in comparison; maybe that’s why batters have had by far the most success against it.*

Richards turned a corner when he stopped trying to be a typical hard-throwing righty, throwing fastballs up and away to lefties and down and away to righties, and started using his oddball movement to his advantage. He’s now using his slider much more to lefties, as its sharp downward break makes it work more like a curve or, if you squint a bit, like a bizarre kind of splitter. In his tentative first few forays in the big leagues, lefties ate him alive. Since 2014, he’s posted reverse splits. Given the movement on his pitches and their sheer power, it’s still a bit of a mystery that a guy like Matt Shoemaker would miss more bats. Clearly, Richards doesn’t need elite K totals to be successful, but he’s only had above-average K rates once – in his breakout 2014 season. This year, his K rate’s tumbled and his walk and home run rates have climbed back up. Some of this may just be regression, while some may be the aftereffects of injury, which caused him to miss spring training and the beginning of the 2015 campaign. Still, Richards is a very tough starter, particularly at home, where his home park aids his homer-suppressing stuff.

1: Morrison, 1B
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Miller, SS
8: Ackley, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Happ

Tacoma lost to El Paso 4-2, losing a 2-1 lead in the 8th. The R’s wasted a good start from Jordan Pries who went 5 1/3 IP, giving up 1 R and striking out 4. James Jones hit a 2R triple in the 7th to give the R’s the lead, but Lucas Luetge gave up the tying run in the 8th, and then Danny Farquhar gave up 2 runs in the 9th to lose it. Stephen Landazuri starts tonight at Cheney Stadium.

Jackson lost 3-1 in a game where every run came via a solo HR. SS Tyler Smith hit one for Jackson, but Moises Hernandez gave up 3, and that was that. Misael Siverio faces Sox prospect Tyler Danish tonight.

Lancaster dominated Bakerfield, taking an 8-1 decision at Sam Lynn field. Astros’ 2nd round pick in 2014 AJ Reed hit his 19th HR, and now sports a .444 on-base percentage. The highest Blaze OBP for anyone with at least 100 at-bats belongs to CF Ian Miller at .341. Dan Altavilla starts tonight opposite Bryan Radziewski.

Clinton destroyed Wisconsin 13-2, aided by a 9 run 6th off of reliever Josh Uhen. CF Arby Fields had 3 hits including his 2nd HR of the year, and Chris Mariscal went 4-4 with 6 RBIs, finishing a HR short of the cycle. Patrick Peterson starts tonight for the L-Kings opposite Brewers #8 prospect Devin Williams.

Everett suffered a rare loss, dropping an 11-10 contest to Boise. OF Luis Liberato paced the AquaSox with 3 hits, and recent signee, 9th rounder Conner Hale, made his debut. Anthony Misiewicz, a 2015 draftee out of Michigan State, makes his second start for Everett tonight.

The M’s organization will send two players to this year’s Futures Game during All-Star weekend – RHP Edwin Diaz and SS Ketel Marte will both suit up for the “World” team.
* With the exception of a change that he’s all but given up now. He only threw the change 134 times, but the results were comically bad.

Game 74, Mariners at Angels

marc w · June 26, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Matt Shoemaker, 7:05pm

Tonight, we’ve got an intra-divisional battle between two righties who rely on a splitter, and the start of a 9 game road trip down the west coast. I’d say that it’s a crucial one, but I think the series that meant the most to the M’s playoff odds have already happened. Nothing’s set in stone, and I’d love to see a miracle run only because more people would be amazed by Edgar Martinez, but the M’s need to go on a long run just to get to the point where going on a run might become meaningful as opposed to cosmetic. The M’s open this homestand in last place in the West thanks to the streaking A’s victory over Texas. The M’s may well catch the Rangers in the second half, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they reel in the Angels, too. But going into tonight’s game, the A’s run differential is nearly 100 runs better than the Mariners’.

That just means we can do what we’re so accustomed to doing, and scan each game for signs of improvement and development. Taijuan Walker’s been a joy to watch for the past month – he’s in the zone more often, and he’s missing more bats despite of it. As we’ve talked about before, he’s using the bottom of the zone more with his fastball, and he seems to have improved his deception a bit, as hitters aren’t sitting on his split like they know it’s coming – through his start in Toronto, batters whiffed on 1/4 of their swings on splitters. Since then, they’re missing on about 40% of such swings. His improved command of it means he can now use it as a putaway pitch to *right*handers, something he didn’t do early on – he either tried to blast fastballs past people, or used his cutter/slider thing, which hasn’t been good.

He’ll face Matt Shoemaker, the great out-of-nowhere story from last year who posted a brilliant K:BB ratio and helped solidify the Angels staff when Garrett Richards went down with an injury. Shoemaker was a minor league journeyman who put up a fascinating statistical profile. He had great control, struck out more batters than average, and gave up home runs at a standard rate. At home, he was dominant – mixing that K:BB ratio with an ultra-low HR rate in part thanks to his home park, and in part thanks to an average GB rate. On the road, things looked shaky – he gave up lots of HRs, and was much more of a fly ball pitcher. This is the tricky thing about rookies, especially out-of-nowhere guys that scouts/prospect guys haven’t been dissecting since their first rookie-league appearance: to what mean do you regress a guy like this to? The league average is a good idea, but what do you do with such marked home/road splits? Is he *actually* a fly-ball pitcher who got a bit lucky at home? Or is he *actually* a poor man’s Iwakuma, who’ll get enough grounders that even a high HR/FB wouldn’t make him useless? This year at least, we’re getting closer to an answer, though not the one Angels fans would’ve wanted.

Shoemaker’s GB% has dropped, and while his HR rate on the road is just about unchanged, he’s giving up more HRs at home now, too. Gone is the odd split in his batted ball profile – he’s now an equal-opportunity fly-baller. Combined with some regression in his HR/FB rate, as expected, and he’s been shockingly bad for a guy with a K:BB ratio of over 4:1. One of the things that made him so effective last year was that his splitter allowed him to strike out lefties at pretty much the same clip as righties – he had fairly small platoon splits. This year, his K:BB ratio has actually improved against righties, but it’s fallen off to lefties, and that’s pushed those splits up. The raw splits don’t look too different, but that’s only because HRs have acted as an equalizer, making righties and lefties look effective. But looking at each component, it looks like lefties have adjusted to Shoemaker. Last season, lefties hit one HR off of his split and hit a combined .152 with a .200 SLG%. This year, lefties *already* have 5 HRs off the split, and are slugging .588. They’re making more contact off of him and punishing the pitches that they make contact with. Shoemaker’s not a bad pitcher, and he now looks nearly as unlucky as he did last year; a lot of that HR/FB luck could regress back to the mean, maybe starting tonight. But while a guy with a great K:BB ratio often seems like a terrible match-up for the M’s, Shoemaker’s someone the M’s lefties can punish. Though Shoemaker has struck out 15 Mariners to just 1 walk in 2 starts in 13 1/3 IP, the M’s have FIVE HRs against him. More of that, M’s.

1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Smith, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: Walker

Tacoma beat Reno in extras last night, getting a walk-off sac fly to win 1-0. Hisashi Iwakuma started and threw 4 IP with 4 Ks. Afterword, he told the TNT’s TJ Cotterill that he wasn’t happy with his mechanics but felt healthy. He’ll probably have another couple of starts to build his pitch count up; he ended yesterday’s game with 68 pitches. Scheduled starter Forrest Snow closed the game out with 4 scoreless innings of his own; he looked quite good, except for a brief bout of wildness. He’s getting more swings-and-misses, though Reno featured a few free-swinging hitters. Today, Jordan Pries starts for the Rainiers as they welcome El Paso to town.

Jackson got blown out by Birmingham, 13-0. Edwin Diaz got hit hard, the relievers got hit hard, the Generals had no extra-base hits… it was brutal. Tonight, Moises Hernandez faces off with Mark Blackmar, a righty who came to the White Sox system from Baltimore’s in a deal for Alejandro de Aza.

Bakersfield lost in extras to Houston affiliate Lancaster 8-6. Tyler O’Neill hit his 15th HR, but the Jethawks hit two solo shots in the 10th to win it. Eddie Campbell starts for the Blaze against former D3 pitcher Austin Chrismon, a right-hander out of Christopher Newport University.

Clinton lost the first game of their 2nd half 4-2, as 2014 first-rounder and Brewers prospect Kodi Medeiros had a solid start, and then reliever David Burkhalter shut the door on the L-Kings. Zack Littell posted another solid start in a losing effort, striking out 8 in 7 IP. Tyler Herb faces Zach Hirsch, a lefty who’s shown good control in the MWL this year.

Everett continued their great start with an 11-4 win in Spokane. 3B Logan Taylor had 4 hits, and SS Drew Jackson had 3. The AquaSox head back home tonight to take on the Boise Hawks and starter Angel Lezama. Laane Ratliff will make his first start.

Game 73, Royals at Mariners

marc w · June 24, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Danny Duffy, 7:10pm

As you’ll see in the line-up below, the M’s have made a change to their roster, bringing back old favorite Franklin Gutierrez and sending James Jones back to Tacoma. Guti’s battled ankylosing spondylitis, a condition associated with inflammation in spinal joints that cause pain and stiffness. In addition, the hamstring issues that plagued him in 2010-2012 are chronic now, and he missed a few weeks earlier this year with a strain. Gutierrez is no longer a center-fielder, and doesn’t have the speed he once did. But as we just saw, there’s no value in having a legitimate CF behind Austin Jackson if he’s not going to hit. This move improves the M’s bench, and hopefully not having to play every day will maximize Guti’s effectiveness. Franklin’s decline was painful to watch, and must have been horrifying to Gutierrez himself. The M’s had built around him, then had to scramble to fill the void when he went down, and I think we all thought we’d never see him again. I’m stunned he’s here, but then, I’ve been stunned that he’s performed so well – and so often – in Tacoma. Welcome back, Guti. If Danny Duffy gets within a foot of Guti with an inside pitch, Roenis Elias has my permission to plunk a Royal per inning in retaliation.

Danny Duffy is another ex-teammate of Mike Montgomery’s in the Royals MiLB system. Duffy always threw harder, and seemed like more of a high-risk, high-reward arm compared to Montgomery, and he’s delivered a bit of everything in his tenure. He’s averaged 95mph on his fastball, elite velocity for a lefty, and with a slider and curve as well, he’s been extremely tough on lefties. But the control issues that followed him in the minors are still something he’s dealing with, and that’s hurt his effectiveness and driven up his pitch counts. Perhaps worse than an elevated walk rate is Duffy’s extensive injury history. He suffered a strained elbow ligament in 2010, then tore it in 2012, necessitating TJ surgery. Then, he had rotator cuff issues and a strained rib-cage, which held him out of the Royals’ playoff roster last year. In late May of this year, the Royals sat him for a while with more shoulder discomfort.

When he’s on, he uses his rising four-seamer to get fly-outs and pop-ups, and uses his breaking balls and a change-up to get strikeouts. Somewhat like Yordano Ventura, his teammate, Duffy gets surprisingly few strikeouts given the explosive nature of his stuff. His K rate was slightly above average before his TJ surgery, but he’s been below average for 2014 and 2015 – which is especially troublesome considering he’s run a higher-than-average walk rate. That TOO is somewhat surprising, because, since the start of 2014, he’s been pounding the zone. The percentage of his pitches in the zone has been at least 53% in both years, while the league average is just 48+%. He’s walking people because he’s not missing bats – his swinging strike rate has plunged, and his o-swing% (swings on pitches outside of the zone) is just 22%, the lowest of his career, though that’s something he’s never been good at. Duffy has great stuff that, for whatever reason, batters find easy to identify and make contact with.

1: Jackson, CF
2: GUTI!!!, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
SP: Elias

The Rainiers lost to the Reno Aces 4-3 yesterday, as a 4-run 6th spoiled Justin Germano’s strong start. Carlos Rivero homered and Jesus Montero had 2 hits for the R’s; Guti DH’d yesterday, but went 0-3. Today, Tacoma hosts Reno as Forrest Snow faces off against rehabbing righty Archie Bradley. Bradley was struck in the head by a line drive earlier this year, but is on the D-Backs DL now with shoulder tendinitis. Maaan, this game preview is soaked in blood and pain.

Everett beat Spokane yesterday 4-3, running their record to 5-1 (?!). After getting blanked by Indians starter Peter Fairbanks, Everett scored 2 in the 7th, and 2 in the 9th to win. Luiz Gohara made his second consecutive strong start, going 6 IP with 1 run allowed and 8 Ks. Taylor Bird starts today for the AquaSox as they continue the series in Spokane.

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