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Date: Monday, 28 Jul 2014 02:59

Sunday Evening Podcast!

Jeff and I got this recorded a little early and why make you wait? Trades, Promotions, and the Wild Card are discussed this week.

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

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

-- This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.

Podcast: Transactions Made and not yet Made

Attached Media: audio/mpeg ( 0 ko)
Author: "Matthew Carruth" Tags: "Mariners, podcast"
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Date: Sunday, 27 Jul 2014 19:36

Roenis Elias vs. Miguel Gonzalez, 1:10pm

There’s a balance in writing these game preview posts between highlighting what makes individual pitchers distinct and/or unusual, and re-affirming and pointing out the ubiquity and importance of regression. What often pops out on a pitcher’s fangraphs page or in their pitch fx data *looks* bizarre, but over time, regression tends to smooth out these small-sample differences. We can talk about those differences and the likelihood that they’re “real” versus an interesting but ultimately meaningless expression of randomness; when you look at so many data points, it’s easy to find *something* that looks counter-intuitive and cool. It’s a balance between interesting stories of pitchers and individual skills that break off from sabermetric orthodoxy and the importance of reminding people why that orthodoxy developed and why it’s useful.

That’s why pitchers like Chris Young and today’s O’s starter Miguel Gonzalez are so fun. On the surface, they make no sense. Their raw stuff isn’t good enough to get strikeouts. They don’t get ground balls, and as a result, give up their fair share of HRs. Their control is average, maybe a touch better, but it’s nowhere near Iwakuma-class. Their entire career has been based on eliciting a certain kind of fly-ball contact from batters. This is the kind of thing that looks like a fluke, and at least in Gonzalez’s case, it technically could be. But while it’s important to remember that FIP predicts next year’s ERA better than ERA, it’s also important to try to learn why certain pitchers consistently post ERAs below their FIP.

If you look at the list of pitchers whose ERA is significantly better than their FIP, you’ll find Chris Young at the top, but Gonzalez ranks 5th. He wasn’t in the top 10 the year before, but the gap was still significant. Go back to 2012, and there’s Gonzalez again, at #3. So he’s demonstrated this, uh, “skill” or pattern in each of his three MLB seasons. Like Chris Young, he’s a fly baller, and thus, like Young, one reason for his ability to post great strand rates and low BABIP numbers is his ability get pop-ups. Gonzalez leads baseball (min. 80 IP) in pop-up rate this season; Young’s in 3rd.

Young’s incredibly, almost impossibly, low ground ball rate means that, to be effective, he has to limit his HR/FB ratio. Gonzalez hasn’t shown much of an ability to do this, as his HR/FB has risen in each of the past two years, and is now above the MLB average. Thus, while both give up HRs, Gonzalez’s HR rate is now edging into dangerous territory. And while his BABIP allowed was just .260 in his first two seasons, it’s creeping towards the average now at .291. An increase in HRs and an increase in BABIP should spell the end of Gonzalez’s run as an OK back of the rotation starter, but while it’s higher than it’s been, his RA9 is still near 4, meaning he’s got an RA9 WAR of 1.2, putting him on pace for a season right around 2 again. That’s not amazing, and obviously it pales in comparison to Chris Young’s RA9 wizardry this season, but it’s pretty good for a 4th starter in the AL East.

Part of what makes Young so crazy is his LACK of a repertoire. He throws 86mph straightballs and batters hit them 300 feet, just not 350 feet. Gonzalez is more of the classic junkballer, and he’s made adjustments this season. He throws a four-seam fastball at 92, a sinker around 91, a change/splitter, a slider and a curve. In his first few seasons, the slider was his primary breaking ball, but he’s throwing more curves this year. Thanks in large part to his underwhelming slider, Gonzalez has actually had a much tougher time with righties than lefties. This isn’t a BABIP thing; his career FIP is over one full run worse against same-handed hitters. Not only has his K rate been better against lefties, but righties have hit for far more power. He’s faced a few more lefties than righties in his career, but righties have hit 34 HRs to lefties’ 20. The slider wasn’t generating whiffs, and it was generating hard-hit contact – he’s given up more XBHs to righties on the pitch than strikeouts.

As an aside, Gonzalez looks like a pitcher who’d benefit by changing his fastball approach. Righties have teed off on his four-seam fastball, which he throws them about 4X more than his sinker. They’ve got 20 HRs on the pitch, good for a .527 SLG%. They haven’t seen as many sinkers, but their results have been pretty poor. They may make adjustments if he threw it more, but we know that sinkers/two-seamers have much larger platoon splits than the comparatively straight four-seamer. Thus, it’s probably not a shock that lefties have feasted on the sinker and battled his four-seamer to a draw. The K rate’s better, the BABIP’s better, and his sinker’s hasn’t actually generated many GBs to lefties (while it’s actually effective as a GB pitch to righties). The results we can look at make this look like an easy call, and while it’s undoubtedly not that simple, I’m genuinely curious what would happen. The counter, of course, is that he made need more four-seamers to disguise his curve ball a bit more. But even there, he’s throwing his curve ball more often to lefties, as he still like to throw the slider to righties. Using more four-seamers to lefties might actually improve his curve.

In any event, this is the kind of game where stacking the line-up with left-handers could be counter-productive. Lefties have hit him well, so it’s not like a by-the-book line-up would be disastrous.

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

Nicely done, Mr. McClendon. The line-up’s lefty-dominated at the top, then more balanced at the bottom, and Gonzalez is a good match-up for Hart and Zunino specifically. Sure, sure, the OF defense figures to be worse, and that’s an issue with Elias out there, but even after yesterday’s win, I think M’s fans will trade some defense/BABIP for the chance at some more runs. For that trade to work, of course, Corey Hart needs to stop being useless, so, uh, any time you’re ready, Corey.

No word on today’s starter in Tacoma, but as Mike Curto notes, this is a crucial stretch if Tacoma’s wants to remain on the outskirts of the playoff race. The Rainiers have called up OF Julio Morban from AA Jackson, but they’ve lost their most consistent pitcher, Matt Palmer, to the DL. RP/CL Logan Bawcom’s also back, and SS Gabriel Noriega joins Palmer on the DL. Morban had a great spring training in 2013, but his career’s been sidetracked by injuries. Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s missed most of 2014 due to…sigh…injury, and while he’s got talent, the lack of consistent at-bats has really stunted his progress.

-- This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.

Game 105, Orioles at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 26 Jul 2014 19:55

Chris Young vs. Bud Norris, 1:10pm

Well that was frustrating. The M’s made Kevin Gausman look incredible, and they couldn’t convert several chances to knock a run in, forcing the game to extra innings. Kendrys Morales had the M’s sole RBI, but a late game K against lefty Brian Matusz left a sour taste; he’s still looking a bit rusty, and it’s basically August.

Today’s match up features Bud Norris, the Astros big trade chip last year. With Houston, he posted above-average strikeout numbers, but his overall RA9 was never all that impressive. Some of this came from the fact that he was pitching in front of a glorified AAA team for the past several years, and some of it comes from his park-driven home run problems. But as a guy with solid fastball velocity and a good slider, he was always going to be an intriguing buy for some team. In the end, the Orioles got him for LJ Hoes and Josh Hader, though the trade will probably be remembered as one of the first baseball deals involving draft picks. The Astros picked up the Orioles #3 pick in the competitive balance lottery (Houston selected UVA OF Derek Fisher), and traded international draft pool allocation money to even things out a bit.

With the Orioles, Norris is suddenly throwing much harder; his four-seam velocity is up to 94.5, two full MPH over where he was in 2012. But this hasn’t actually helped his K rate, which has tumbled this year to 17.3% – it was 22.5% in 2012. The culprit is Norris’ slider, which he throws a lot. To righties, he throws nearly 40% sliders, mixing in a very rare change. He’ll throw the change-up more often to lefties, as you’d imagine, but he still throws the slider over 20% of his pitches – pitch-type platoon splits be damned. Overall, Norris has struggled against lefties – the wOBA gap is pretty severe, and the FIP splits are perhaps even larger, at over one full run per 9IP. This year, though, he’s not shown any. That may be a blip, but it’s a big reason his ERA/RA9 is suddenly average-to-good, while his strikeout rate and HR rate push his FIP over 4.5. There’s a lot of BABIP in his solid results, but it really does look like the Orioles have changed his approach. He’s pitching to contact more, which has helped push his walk rate down along with the K’s. The FIP suggests it might not be worth it, but for now, the Orioles have to be happy with the deal. It’s not exactly the Astros dumping JD Martinez for nothing, but it’s perhaps another example that the Astros vaunted process has its flaws.

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

Go M’s.

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Game 104, Orioles at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 26 Jul 2014 00:30

King Felix vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:10pm

This is as high-profile a pitching match-up you’ll see in a game involving Baltimore. Kevin Gausman went #4 overall in the 2012 draft and his fastball averages over 96mph. He pairs it with the au currant splitter and the occasional slider, and despite less-than-stellar minor league numbers, he shot through the system, reaching the big leagues a bit under one year after being drafted.

That said, he’s not in that Sonny Gray/Jose Fernandez category of young pitchers who’ve made an immediate big league impact. He’s thrown 90 innings thus far in his career, and while the FIP’s pretty good, he’s been a bit over replacement level by RA9. Gausman just allows more runs than anyone with a 96mph fastball and a working splitter should. To break his career down into even less statistically significant chunks, he was burned by the long ball in 2013, but changed his approach and hasn’t had much of a problem this year. However, his command’s taken a step back in 2014, and coupled with a high BABIP, even the lack of HRs can’t push his RA9/ERA under 4.

The big problem looks like his strand rate, which cracked 70% this year, but remains mediocre. In this respect, he reminds me of Brandon Morrow, who struggled with runners on after moving to the rotation, and thus disappointed relative to his FIP (and his velocity). Of course, that problem abruptly went away in 2012, when Morrow flashed elite-level talent before falling victim to injury. Like Morrow, Gausman doesn’t have big platoon splits if you just look at his raw results. That’s pretty much what you’d expect, given that Gausman’s got a splitter to keep lefties at bay. But those narrow splits are partially the product of some weird BABIP issues against righties. Like some other pitchers we’ve looked at recently, Gausman’s a very different pitcher against lefties. Against righties, he walks few and gets an above-average number of grounders. Against lefties, he’s a bit more wild, and gives up Phil Hughes-like fly ball rates. Lefties elevate the ball, and thus, lefties have hit HRs against him.

And, as it happens, the M’s have a new lefty in their line-up to try to take advantage of that fact. Welcome back, Kendrys Morales. The M’s acquired the DH from Minnesota in exchange for reliever Stephen Pryor, who simply never looked the same after his torn lat muscle last April. Minnesota wasn’t going to get much for Morales, as he’s hitting just .234/.259/.325 thus far in the Twin Cities, good for a 57 wRC+. What they got was some salary relief and the ability to take a look at younger players in what’s become a lost season.

Morales isn’t *this* bad, as we all know. His rest-of-season ZiPS projection at Fangraphs is much better – a 105 wRC+. which is a far sight better than what the M’s have received from the DH spot, and a bit better than the 98 that ZiPS sees Corey Hart regressing towards. Kendrys is just 31, about a full year younger than Hart; neither of them are really at the age when skills just fall apart. Of course, plenty of hitters *have* actually lost it around 31, and the fact that Kendrys Morales’ top bbref comparison is Erubiel Durazo is not pleasant. Predictably, acquiring Morales pushes Montero back to AAA Tacoma.

It’s been a very interesting 24-48 hours in Mariner-land.

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

The M’s talked about platooning Morrison and Hart at 1B, and with a righty on the hill, the M’s now get eight lefties into the line-up without doing weird stuff like playing Endy Chavez at DH. Endy Chavez is still leading off, so it’s not sunshine, rainbows and lollipops here.

The combination of Miller and Taylor allow the M’s to mix and match a bit more, and play the platoon advantage more than they did previously, but as with previous M’s teams, the problem isn’t that they’ve got tons of hitters facing same-handed pitching, the problem is that their hitters haven’t been good. This was always the issue with Justin Smoak, who obviously had the platoon advantage every PA, but couldn’t exactly turn that into a REAL advantage. The two best hitters on the M’s are lefties, and they’ll struggle – at least at the margins – against lefties until Zunino becomes a more complete hitter, until Kendrys Morales starts hitting like it was 2009, or Corey Hart wakes up.

King Felix is awesome.

Matt Palmer starts tonight for the surging Rainiers as they welcome the Sacramento Rivercats. If you can’t go see Felix, maybe see Matt Palmer the red hot Rainiers. Tyler Pike takes the mound for Jackson, Lars Huijer for High Desert, and Everett’s got a doubleheader featuring Dan Altavila in game one and big-time prospect Luiz Gohara in game two.

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Game 103, Orioles at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 25 Jul 2014 15:30

[Author's note: I always think of more things to mention and this got out of hand pretty quickly. The final word tally is over 6500, but it all breaks down into discrete sections of 250-500 words, which are manageable. You will manage.]

One of the things I rarely see addressed is when people of repute in some field admit their own flaws and indiscretions in analysis. It’s as if the only real way to continue building our own ostensible authority is to focus on our own successes and elide anything that doesn’t cohere with that vision. For the people doing the baseball journalism or looking towards front office work as a career— perhaps for any other industry— I suppose credibility and the insistence of it are necessary. But as something of a removed observer on the subject of baseball, who prefers to do it out of interest rather than think of it as a vocation, I’m blessed with the ability to talk about happenings without stressing too much about credibility. If I’m right or wrong, since the subject is relegated to a hobby, I don’t think of it as reflecting poorly on who I am.

People wanted a mid-season review. People often want prospect lists too, but those suck because they presume steady and identifiable stratifications of talent, parity amongst teams, and comparable risk/reward factors. Even outside of prospecting, the utilities I would find for listing would comprise a small list in and of itself. So I’m more content to do a review, but with a twist: I’m not going to talk about what has happened and presume objectivity. Instead, I’m going to address, as best I am able, the areas in which I made private or public predictions as to player development and talk about where I’ve been right to this point, where wrong, and where I can give myself an incomplete grade. In some cases, I won’t talk about what interests you specifically and there isn’t a single thing about unexpected breakouts, but this is my experiment.

I know that people rely on me for some of these perspectives because I’ve been starting at this stuff for an inordinate length of time, but my judgment is by no means perfect and I have my own biases and instances where I’ve shot from the hip. I want people to recognize that when I’m saying these things, I’m giving my own perspective based on what data I have and how I do my own calculus with it. I can be wrong. I can hit on some things out of acuity and others out of happenstance, and miss out because of bad process and bad luck. I can also hope that people try to come at these quandaries with the same rigor I try to [now and then], but for now I’ll just share what I’ve found.

RIGHT:

Abraham Almonte is being overvalued by management and is more likely a 4th outfielder at present

One of the things I spend a lot of mental bandwidth on is how, in our society, the types of stories and narratives we promote are the ones we most need or want to hear, regardless of their actual frequency in the real world. It can be the more passive “deus ex machina”-styled narratives of “something will come to change everything for the better” or it could be a more take-charge mindset of “hard work and perseverance pay off.” Both are insidious in their own ways, but the intentions are good: things will change for the better and we will either be agents or participants, but nonetheless.

Abraham Almonte was a story coming into camp. It was a selling point of his. Early in his pro career, he became an alcoholic in response to the grief he was living with after the loss of his father. As injuries and other issues forced him to the sidelines, he only went deeper into the bottle. Then, something of a miracle: a religious vision, restored health, renewed commitment to his sport. It’s the kind of story we’re familiar with. We may even be looking for it. It’s all about overcoming adversity and if he could lose so much and still thrive, then so could we. We might even experience miracles.

Of course, what I was worried about was the quality of the data was on his recovery. We had 2011, a full season in Tampa for the Yankees, and then parts of a double-A season. Last year with us, he spent 3/4ths of his minor league time in Tacoma and hit more home runs than ever before, but I also was watching him for a few of those and saw them scrape the wall. With how hitter-friendly the PCL has become, I treat those numbers only with slightly less suspicion than I do Cal League numbers.

Almonte’s plate discipline went sideways in the majors this year. He was striking out more than anyone else in baseball for a time, I believe. The speed never really played up as expected and after a while he was gone. To his credit, June resembled something more in line with what he had done last year, hitting .306/.379/.482 in around a hundred plate appearances, but a month prior he his line was a .202/.245/.263 and he was striking out more than a quarter of the time. Even now, you can see some home/road variance and July has shown some regression from June.

Almonte will probably be back in the major leagues. He’ll probably be a good baseball player by baseball standards. He’ll still have his story going for him too. But in the overall picture, I’m a skeptic of him producing a lot, while happily accepting that he will have a major league career and/or a career as a motivational speaker. I’m not against the narrative, just how it’s been used as packaging.

Tyler Pike has a great rep for a guy that has only slightly better-than-average stuff and bad command

For a while now, we’ve regarded the Mariners as being a “top-heavy” minor league system, with significant drop off from the first tier of talent down to the next. One of the side effects of this is that when consensus emerges later in the list, people think of it as confirming that x prospect is really good and then I have to shake my head when people are making those awful projected 2017-2018 rosters that have Tyler Pike in the rotation.

Reading the actual profiles in the lists, of course you don’t have many people who think that Tyler Pike is much more than a #4 starter. Nevertheless, that squeamishness I get from seeing him in the top ten doesn’t go away, because of that false appearance of parity I referenced earlier. I think I had him as the sixth-best pitching prospect in the org coming out of the winter and that’s accounting for how badly all of us seemed to understand Elias.

But now it falls on me to justify that view point, so I’ll talk stuff a bit. Pike has an average-to-slightly-better heater on velocity and the change that most left-handers do. To his credit, he has flashed better velocity, though all pitchers are to some extent able to reach back like that. He’s not a guy who has a good grip on his breaking ball as of yet. He’s also not a guy who hits the strikezone a lot and some have questioned his ability and aptitude to work inside. Whether this is because he’s spooked or because he lacks that kind of precision, I can’t say. He hit one guy in 100+ innings all of last season. Against a league average of 9% BBs, he had a cumulative mark of 12.8%, 14.4% against right-handers and 7.6% against fellow lefties.

If you were looking for him to hit more dudes, hey, he’s up to eight now. If you were looking for him to walk fewer, well, nuts to that because he was at sixty-one through his fourteen High Desert starts plus four in Jackson. That BB% of his is higher than it was even last year, and the Ks didn’t come with him when he flew to Jackson. Sure, he’s moving up the chain, but that’s about all at the moment.

Victor Sanchez sometimes has a reputation that’s out of proportion with what he does

I’ve kind of been a Sanchez-hater over the years, in part because he just didn’t have that projection and in part because, although you could tell he was focused an intense about the pitching aspect of things, I felt like he dogged it on the fielding and other aspects when watching him in Everett. I don’t intend to sing of men and arms and scrappy white dudes who are an improbable 110% on every play, but when a guy shows uneven attention to his craft, you worry about his ability to improve in other areas. Whether or not he feels entitled to x and y at the expense of z becomes a question. With Manny Ramirez-level talents, you can tolerate it; not so much with Victor Sanchez talents.

I was willing to give him another shot coming into this year because the reports coming back were improved. But, coincidentally, though he was trying to pitch with better command by not blowing it past hitters, the results were not especially heartening. We’ve talked about the flaws of K/BB, how as BB approach zero the reflection of talent has diminishing returns. In Everett, Sanchez had a 19.7 K% and a 7.7 BB%, good for a 2.56 K/BB. In Clinton, it was 16.9% Ks and 3.8% BBs, good for a 4.39 K/BB. The K/BB improves, but it’s not really a reflection of talent increase as such, or improvement of prospect status.

Given that he was promoted to Jackson out of the gates and skipped a level entirely, it doesn’t seem like the right thing to talk too much about what he’s done. Also, hey, he was injured. But he’s now allowing a lot of hits, has given up more home runs through his first 54.2 innings of double-A than he did in about 200 prior innings. If you thought the walks were also behind him, whether from translation or regression, they’re closer to 2012 levels than 2013 levels..

Sanchez had a rep as a polished, top international prospect who dominated weaker competition. He’s always been young for everything he does. But the ceiling, when you’re just throwing an average fastball and a pedestrian curve… even if you have a great change and great command, that’s probably not enough to compensate unless you’re in that top tenth of a percent in command. Which is hard to do. Still a mid-rotation guy, still less ceiling than other prospects in the system, not bad as such, but perhaps he has a reputation outpacing reasonable expectations of him. He can turn in crazy outings now and then as #3s and #4s can [against the Mariners], but this isn’t sustainable, generally.

Austin Wilson was starting to get his act together at the end of the minor league season

No narrative foreplay here; I feel like the numbers sort of speak for themselves. This is what we had entering 2014:

June: 29 PA, .111/.172/.148, 27.6% Ks, 6.9% BBs, 5.3% LDs
July: 118 PA, .238/.322/.352, 18.6% Ks, 7.6% BBs, 8.4% LDs
August: 79 PA, .296/.367/.606, 15.2% Ks, 7.6% BBs, 11.9% LDs

Those are just positive trends across the board. You hardly ever see stuff like that. And so for me, it seemed a solid bet to say that Wilson would do well and adjust to being a pro faster than initially expected. Not everyone shared my opinion, but data was on my side.

The good news is that through sixty-five games in Clinton, spanning some 271 PAs, he was hitting .298/.385/.519, and while the Ks had ticked back up to 20.7%, his BB% was 8.9% and his line drives were around 22%. Very good, generally trending positive on a month-to-month level, prospect on the rise.

Well, as we were complaining about how he wasn’t getting promoted to the Cal League when Peterson was on his way to double-A, he hit the DL and hasn’t played a game since June 24th. He may take some time to adjust back and I don’t know if they’d promote him from the DL to a new league, but he’s definitely looking like one of the better hitters in a system that oh god needs hitters so badly.

Dominic Leone is better in the short-term than Carson Smith, maybe even long-term as well

Last year, Smith had a K-rate that no one was touching, coupled with stuff and extreme groundball tendencies. He was really hard to square up on, but sometimes you didn’t need to, as he was vulnerable to the walk. Leone on the other hand had more of a starter’s arsenal, good but not great pitches, and superior command of what he was doing with them. To side with Leone was to side with a slight polish advantage over clear stuff even though Smith had some crazy results in double-A.

How Leone has worked out as well as he has, I’m not entirely certain. He’s improved his K% in the majors and the command has been good enough to get by, though not quite as good as might have been hoped. Leone has been versatile, with left-handers only having a slight advantage against him, and he’s been fungible, with eight outings of two or more frames when I was checking earlier in the month. Chris Young and Roenis Elias saved the rotation, but Leone has a solid case for having saved the bullpen.

Smith, on the other hand, just hasn’t been as interesting. It had been so long since I’d heard about him that I felt like he had to have gone the DL and yes, he was gone for a month from late April on. When he’s been back, we haven’t really seen that same dominance out of him. In his first twenty-four appearances, he struck out three guys once. Last year, through forty-four outings, he struck out three+ seven times. His overall K% has dropped from 35% to the low-twenties. Walks have come down slightly too, but not enough to compensate for that extreme loss of Ks. And his splits have reversed somehow, which is danged weird. In this case, I don’t want to be right at the expense of Smith being good, but that’s been the story so far.

This Patrick Kivlehan guy might actually be interesting

I can totally understand the mindset that wants to be sour on tools guys. Under Frank Mattox, we drafted players largely on their physical abilities and the results sucked. We also did it to an extent under Fontaine, with more success overall but not a lot of hits or perhaps any. Patrick Kivlehan was mostly an athlete coming here, having been on the Rutgers football team for a few years before trying out for baseball and somehow winning the league’s triple crown even though no actual baseball players had ever done that. It’s weird insofar as you think of baseball as being a sport centered around specialized skills, but this was a thing that happened and nothing will make it un-happen.
There wasn’t a lot after his Everett debut that inspired confidence. Between two levels, he had struck out just under a fifth of the time and the walk rate was holding at 7%. He had significant home/road splits in both Clinton (.165 OPS difference) and High Desert (.301 OPS difference). His month-to-month K and BB% had about 10% separating highs and lows and little to signal any consistency. He had a strong close to the year, but in High Desert, who doesn’t? To cap it all off, he was terrrrrible in the AFL.

In retrospect, I don’t have a clue why I stayed on the ship when a lot of other people were diving off frantically. They had justification and I didn’t. But sometimes we ignore data because we’ve had good feelings and who knows. The fact is that Kivlehan has increased his walks this year by about one-and-a-half percentage points and the Ks have dropped a little rather than getting worse. There’s the month-to-month inconsistency sometimes, but overall he seems to be improving and the good months are looking better. In April his K% was at 23.1 and his BB% was at 5.8. In June, when he had a crazy high BABIP and was squaring up on everything, he had a 13.9 K% and a 10.2 BB%, all while hitting .385/.444/.573.

Kivlehan is a guy who is going to benefit from more time in the high minors facing more skilled competition. He’s unlikely to be ready or capable of fully adapting in his first go at the majors. I don’t even know what corner he’s best suited for between the physical abilities and the performance. But hey, he’s improved his stock so far and seems to be getting incrementally better at doing skill-related baseball things. And he hits! Hitting yaaaaaaaaay.

WRONG:

Jones is a tweener and thus not much of a prospect

A great thing to be wrong about, in retrospect. While I ducked out of making an Elias opinion known (I knew who and what he was, but was willing to let it happen rather than predict, though I leaned favorable), I vocalized my sentiments about Jones. He hadn’t played center field with great consistency. He hadn’t hit for enough power outside of that to justify putting him in a corner. He was a speed guy in a non-speed position. It didn’t really make sense if you were trying to think “prospect.” If you think “prospect” about guys who are twenty-five and getting their first full taste of triple-A ball.

I don’t think any of us could have foreseen Jones as a major leaguer vs. his minor league track record. As I checked his MLB stats early in July, he had only a 16.5% K-rate. That would best his mark from last year by a full percentage point, over a full season. In the minor leagues, he had a career success rate of 68.75% on stolen bases. In the majors, he missed one in his first nineteen attempts.

There are things I’d love to see improve in Jones’ game. I’m not begging him to hit for power because I don’t think that’s going to come right away, but I do think that he could stand to walk a little more and that a few walks here and there could go a long way towards getting him some additional hitting value. But collectively, we really undersold how much he was willing to work and how much he was going to solicit the advice of anyone willing to let him shadow. He’s asked the right questions and put in corresponding efforts. He’s not perfect or even finished, but that’s kind of awesome given the Mariners’ hitting prospects and their tendencies to stagnate. It also makes you think a lot more of his ability to stick around, even if slumps are in the future for him. Like… right now, for example.

Edwin Diaz is the prospect most likely to make the next step and take his place as the system’s best non-Walker, non-Paxton pitching prospect

Tee hee whoops.

Here’s the thing about plateau leaps in performances: We often assume that they have to come from some fix, some change in approach, that thenceforth is going to be sustained. A pitcher throws a no-hitter or close to it and we think something has clicked. Some player just hits a bunch of home runs in a short span and we think he’s got it. In Diaz case, it wasn’t just a few outings, it was a half-season in Pulaski where he was mostly unhittable.

You can’t blame me for trying to draw that favorable conclusion, or wanting to. In the AZL his BB% was 18.9 and he looked as raw and flawed as we all were told he would be. The following year in Pulaski, the BB% dropped to 6.9% and the Ks jumped by 8.2% to over thirty. Pitchers who have fastballs that can touch mid-90s, throw quality breaking balls, and good control numbers on top of all that tend to be high-end prospects.

This season has seen Diaz’ BB% go back over ten and his Ks drop to roughly levels than they were at in Peoria (i.e. ~20+%). His months have fallen in a range so far, from 18.7 to 24.8% Ks and from 12.9 to 7.7% BBs. He’s not coming all that close, even in a single month, to hitting the marks he hit on average last year, though July so far has been looking pretty sweet.

I don’t know what’s wrong with him this year any more than I knew what went right last year. I’m also no more capable of answering if he can start long term. There are a lot of things we just don’t have adequate information on. But I can pine for video and people who could just look at his motion and say “oh, you’re doing this differently, maybe you should go back to this other thing.” Development is really inefficient, you guys. And Diaz doesn’t look like he has the consistency to rise rapidly.

Our next shortstop prospect to break out and inexplicably start hitting a bunch is none other than Tyler Smith!

We all have tendencies to misunderstand trends in stupid and illogical ways, and in my case it was to claim “we will keep getting hitting shortstops out of perceived utility players!” Part of it is perhaps a misunderstanding of Pulaski stats as being meaningful, again. Part of it was my being intrigued by BA’s claim that he had the best strikezone discipline in system, better than more obvious choices of Ty Kelly and Choi. Part of it was an overestimation of the talents of a guy who was just older than his competition. But hey, I was right about him being more of a hitting force than Jack Reinheimer, who was picked three rounds ahead of him and has had a .650 OPS for some time.

Smith has done some things right this year and the BA claims on him weren’t too far off. He increased his BB% from 7.7 in Pulaski to ~12% in High Desert, not bad at all for skipping two levels. But then you look at his total walks and he’s only roughly in the system’s top five despite having a bunch of guys around him with 40-70 fewer plate appearances. And the Ks, while not an issue as such, at a little high at ~18% for what he provides otherwise.

The good news? No major left/right splits, home/road splits within the margin, trends that overall look positive with regard to his plate discipline, at least coming into July (18% Ks and 9.9% BBs in April, 14.6% Ks and 15.5% BBs in June). He’s doing all right for himself, but he’s not breaking out like Taylor or Miller broke out or hitting in a way reflective of a prospect in the Cal League. He’s just about where everyone thought he would be: a future utility guy. Useful, but not super useful, just super utility.

This is a year in which Julio Morban will stay healthy!

I’ve had a soft spot for Morban since he’s one of the few big international signings we’ve made that have actually done anything with the bat. He’s had the talent to move him up the ladder so far and has really done well considering his age and relative experience, but you notice certain inconsistencies in his profile that become difficult to ignore. For example, in the past three years, despite being in full-season ball, he was only playing about eighty games a year.

Some guys leave their injury concerns behind and reach a point where they’ve grown into their bodies and are now less fragile. Some guys, instead, are Chris Snelling. Morban played six games with Tacoma from April 18th to April 27th, and then he disappeared for a while and didn’t turn up again until late June in Jackson.

I believe that there’s more to Morban than we’ve seen. He’s always been promoted to a new level each year. He’s always managed to tread water or do a little better, which is hard to imagine when he only had 325-350 PAs to adjust to a new level of competition. It is conceivable that once he sticks in a league and achieves a level of mastery over it, that he produces more than we’ve yet seen from him. It is not conceivable, at the moment, that he will remain healthy enough to plan around in any meaningful way.

Tyler Marlette hasn’t hit southpaws well ever. Worry?

In the absence of hard scouting data on particular subject, I’m often left to interpret stats like bone casting or runes. Now, I’ve always liked Marlette. The ability to hit a ball out of Petco as a teenager is difficult to ignore and there was never much data to suggest he absolutely couldn’t catch. But then, when I was writing up profiles earlier in the year, I noticed something I really did not like: his splits against left-handers were reversed from what you’d expect. Discounting his debut year for the irrelevance of the sample, you had a .586 OPS (54 PA) vs. a .777 OPS (159 PA) in 2012 and a .548 OPS mark (44 PA) vs. an .861 mark (253 PA) as your left/right splits from last year.

The number of plate appearances is hardly meaningful as samples go, but the difference was so dramatic it didn’t seem incidental. Was he being outsmarted at the plate by those crafty southpaws? Or was it that he couldn’t hit the offspeed pitches which left-handers usually have a better grip on at the level and was being exploited as a fastball hitter? Neither option appealed to me.

This year he’s logged more PAs against left-handers than ever before in a season and is smashing them as it seems he rightfully should. I look in early July and see that he’s hitting them for .379/.390/.690, which suggest he’s seeing them really, really well, but would it kill him to walk now and then, I mean really? Of course, the RH mark has drifted back to the .750 range, but that’s really not so bad.

So one concern has been addressed but now we have to consider that seven of his first nine dingers came at home and the defensive reports coming back have been less positive. More problems present themselves! Oh no prospecting!

INCONCLUSIVE:

Gabriel Guerrero is being overrated on his power potential given that his plate discipline is awful

This has only been a recent addition to the “who knows?” category, since I expected Guerrero to be exposed in the Cal League. For a long time, Guerrero’s road slugging was below .400 and I was not filled with good feelings looking at that. More recently, it’s been fairly similar to his home slugging and yes, I went out and cross-referenced and it turns out that only one of his road home runs was hit at a park I would consider “cheap.” This somewhat diminishes my concerns about him getting into bad habits and such.

Likewise, his BB% as I look in early July is sitting at 6.2%, an improvement of 2% over last year. The less good? Well, the K% is holding around 22+% and while the overall batting lines are similar, he’s a better walker on the road by 2+% and also strikes out 7-8% more, which is weird because if anything you’d be thinking he’d swing with move freedom at home.

Overall though, the plate discipline is still inconsistent and his K%s have bounced from 26.7% in April to 16.8% in May and back up to 29.2% in June. The walks have likewise been up and down and all the while we’ve had some diminishing returns on slugging, going from .519 to .461 to .315. From one month to the next. That .315 in particular is just unsustainable, but given how bad his discipline was in June, you can extrapolate as you will.

So Guerrero hasn’t been exposed as badly as I thought and he had been walking more in the first half (July, as I look, is under 4%), but the issues that made me suspicious about his prospect status and ability to hit balls far, i.e. his K tendencies, are still present and the most recent completed data set we have doesn’t like him especially and is illustrative of his inconsistencies. I’m willing to give this one an incomplete for being sometimes bad, sometimes good, and not in the way I predicted.

Ketel Marte is Wilson Valdez

Perhaps I’m becoming more of a curmudgeon as I do this. Where previously I would delight in the prospect of any guy having some kind of major league career given the odds, Ketel Marte had a scouting hype coming into the season and continuing to this day that seemed frustratingly at odds with how I perceived him as a prospect. With a feature article on him at MLB.com as a rising prospect, the buzz has reached deafening levels and I’m trying to present my own misgivings about it without being a total asshole about it.

When I made the Wilson Valdez comp, I was looking for a guy who was a glove-first shortstop in the minor leagues, hit for average in the .260-290 range, and had an overall OPS around or just south of .700. Valdez was actually worse than that coming up until he reached the high minors, but Marte has never cracked the .700 mark over a full season himself and his better ISO loses ground to a worse BB%.

What we’re looking at when we look at Marte is a guy who has yet to crack a 5% BB% or a .080 ISO over a full season [note: he just recently topped that ISO mark by hitting his semi-annual dinger]. Players with that profile only survive at premium positions and their averages/bat control tend to be the main force driving their value. Because I don’t play fantasy baseball and am terrible at paying attention to other teams, I only tend to think of Mariners as comps , so take these as inadequate illustrations: on the high end, you would have someone like Ichiro (~6% BBs, ~.090 ISO) and on the low end you could have someone like Brendan Ryan (~7% BBs, ~.080 ISO). I don’t think Marte has Ryan’s defense because people still talk about how he’s looked more comfortable at second and occasionally question his arm strength. That his career average is around .280 leads me to think he isn’t Ichiro either.

But again, I don’t know how I feel being the lone dissenter relying heavily on stats for this. And to be fair to the scouting crowd, Marte is only twenty, in double-A, and has been promoted pretty aggressively throughout his career. I think we all agree that he’s going to have a major league job, but I’m considerably more bearish about his future.

Luiz Gohara is right on the heels of Diaz for best pitching prospect in the system

Had he started in Clinton, this might have happened. He did not. Instead, our first Gohara sighting came on June 21st, in Peoria, when he had a 6.2 inning stint where he gave up an unearned run on five hits and a walk while striking out nine. He followed that up by running a 7/1 K/BB over six frames, again in Peoria. That was enough to get him to Everett and for start #3 of the year, he walked as many as he struck out and lasted 2.1 innings, and followed that up with another outing where the ratio was the same and he lasted 3.2 innings.

Rare is the instance in the minor leagues where a player can go unaccounted for months at a time and still maintain high-end prospect status. When he didn’t show up in Clinton, when he wasn’t on Everett to start the season, immediately the memory drifted back to the shoulder issues that caused him to tail off last year. One isn’t saying anything by pointing to this, but when there’s only so much information to go on, you go with what you have.

More conservative ETAs had him five to six years out at the start of the season. Now, they aren’t looking so off, as it might be hard to see him in Seattle in, say, 2017, at the present rate of development. The lack of consistency means he’s not looking like a fast-riser either, whether there is or is not a shoulder issue. INCOMPLETE, PARTIALLY DUE TO COMPARISON TO DIAZ.

Steve Landazuri might be our best high minors rotation prospect outside of Walker and Paxton

I’ve thought of Landazuri as being on a career path similar to Brandon Maurer in that, had he been pitching in another state, he would have been a recognizable prospect, but California guys can get lost when the talent around them plays at such a high level. Landazuri throws and works hard enough and was exiting his High Desert tenure with some good peripherals, including a K% of 22.6 and a BB% of 6.3%. He seemed like a guy whose combination of performances (not much in the way of splits, good ratios) and skills (three-pitch mix, above-average velocity) would eventually get him noticed.

For the first four starts, I felt like a genius for making this prediction. He had 23.0 innings under his belt and ran a 30/3 K/BB in that span while only allowing twelve total hits. He was brilliant! I was brilliant for knowing he would be brilliant! Then things stopped being good and we both stopped being brilliant.

Landazuri tweaked a muscle in his back after the fourth start. It didn’t sound like something that would last all that long, but we didn’t see him again for almost two months. And when we talk about pitcher injuries, the arm is rightly regarded as the most vital piece, but really there are just so many moving parts in a delivery that any other injury is likely to throw the whole motion out of whack. We saw this play out with Paxton in the “my back hurts and now my arm hurts” sort of way.

Through his first six starts back (haha, back), Landazuri hit five innings once and never struck out more than three. On the plus side, that seventh outing lasted seven frames and he struck out five and only walked one. I’m guessing that he’s not mechanically right yet and I don’t know what it would take to get him back to that state. I still believe though.

Tyler O’Neill will be a better ballplayer than expected

Like the Kivlehan situation, this was a “numbers vs. gut” scenario in which I thought one thing was going to happen that ran counter to what I was seeing evidence of. What I had seen, over O’Neill’s time in Peoria, was a guy with pretty extreme left/right splits in very limited time, similarly extreme home/road splits, and production that tapered off over the course of the season as his strikeout rate steadily increased. I had come in expecting to list him as one of the top ten hitters in the org, but discovered that his overall line was undermined by other trends that were occurring, and so I kept that prediction in my back pocket.

It was a pretty bold promotion to skip him over Pulaski and Everett to have him take on Clinton as a nineteen-year-old Canadian and we might consider this a template for what could happen with Morgan next year if he pulls out of this nosedive he’s in. The results weren’t great for O’Neill, but neither were they disastrous. In his favor, his wOBA+ was 112, no mean feat for a kid his age, and his ISO was higher than it was in Arizona which, allow me to emphasize, is really hard to do in April and May in the Midwest League because the weather is ornery. In his dispraise, he was striking out more than ever and walking less.

Perhaps you are wondering why I’ve only cited April and May. Following a game in which he went 1-for-5 with a double and struck out three times, a first this season, Tyler O’Neill punched a wall. The wall won. The wall always wins. I’ve probably heard tales of about five or ten different minor leaguers over the years getting into fights with walls or drinking fountains and the inanimate objects always come out victors. Psychologically, it’s probably a side effect of being so good at something for so long and then entering a situation where everyone was similarly talented. Except that I didn’t know too many people in college who tried to punch through a printer because they were on the crest of the curve in some math test.

The diagnosis was that O’Neill would be out for about ten weeks. That was mid-May. If he’s lucky, he’ll get an August to work with, but overall we don’t have enough data here to say whether he was capable of adjusting back or what kind of performance we should expect from him going forward. Nor will we exiting the season.

Ji-man Choi is our hero

Not yet technically untrue! As one of the bigger Choi cheerleaders, I thought that this would be one of the best years for him to establish himself as part of the team: Smoak has been weak but curiously not-usurped for some time now and the longer Choi took to impress the major league team, the more he would end up being compared to D.J. Peterson in ability.

Choi went on the suspension list hitting .394/.500/.545 in Tacoma. Not a great deal of power, but walks and plate discipline and seeing and hitting the ball proficiently. But suspension list. I still think he’s got a good chance of being innocent, but a lot of the contextual information (injury history, sudden breakout) skews things to where the guilt is very much plausible.

Choi couldn’t afford to lose fifty games of development. Lose them he did. After returning to active playing time, he got about two weeks of consistent at-bats before the collective rehabbing needs of injured Mariners and the presence of Xavier Nady (now gone!) forced him to spend the better part of a week on the bench. If any good came of that, it was that they eventually tried to play him in left field, which was a shock to me, since I figured they’d try him out at his old position of third beforehand. So he is perhaps gaining a small amount of versatility, and had gotten a good week and a half of solid at-bats before sitting again for a few days.

If he were just not hitting, I think that I would be more willing to put this in a wrong category, or at least equivocate and point out that I didn’t say when he would save us all. In this case, though, I can feel like I’m not quite being a homer by pointing out that he has had inconsistencies in his playing time and is trying to learn a new position in our new and rather limited sample. We’ll check in again in the future when we may know some more things. We may know more about a lot of things in the future, but we’ll have more things to think about generally and also not know a lot about those. Existence is usually transitioning from one manifestation of doubt to the next.

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Things I’ve Been ___ On

Author: "Jay Yencich" Tags: "Mariners, Minor Leagues"
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Date: Friday, 25 Jul 2014 00:50

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 7:10pm

Iwakuma’s a soft-tossing righty who’s whittled his walk rate down each year, and has fashioned himself into an elite MLB starter. Chen’s a soft-tossing lefty who’s *also* cut his walk rate each year, but his progress has stalled, as he’s been unable to crack the 4.0 mark either in ERA or FIP (though he came really close in 2013).

Both have slightly inflated HR totals. Chen’s come because he’s a fairly extreme fly-baller. Iwakuma’s a ground-ball guy who occasionally pitches up in the zone and because he’s got an 89mph fastball. Iwakuma’s superior command and a true wipe-out pitch in his splitter separate him from just about everyone, of course, but the contrast with Chen’s kind of interesting.

I just wrote about the new M’s, so, uh, scroll down.

Line-up:
1: Jones, CF
2: Romero, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Montero, DH
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Iwakuma

This is about as right-handed as the M’s can get – if lefties are going to beat them for the second straight year, the M’s aren’t going to leave any right-handed bats in AAA untested.

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Game 102, Orioles at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 25 Jul 2014 00:16

Bob Dutton of the News Tribune reported this afternoon that the roster spot the M’s had opened up by optioning Taijuan Walker back to Tacoma will be filled by SS Chris Taylor. There’d been plenty of speculation about the job, especially after the M’s hinted that they’d go with a bat, that Jesus Montero’s hot streak might have won him another job, or that Justin Smoak’s stint in purgatory was over. They skipped over Nick Franklin as well, apparently deciding to look for flaws in a player who hasn’t seen the majors before as opposed to the known issues Smoak/Franklin present. As it turned out, the M’s didn’t have one spot, they had two. With Willie Bloomquist heading to the DL, the M’s added Montero as well.

If you need a refresher on Taylor, he was the M’s fifth-round pick in 2012 out of (where else) UVA, where he played with Danny Hultzen, John Hicks and something like 10% of the M’s minor league system. He hit .284/.383/.445 in his junior year, which is the statistical line of a 10th-round senior-sign, but Taylor’s reputation with the glove was sterling. As a glove-first college SS, I guessed the M’s were trying to save some bonus pool money – 2012 was the first year with pools, remember – but instead, the M’s signed him to an OVERslot bonus of $500,000. That seemed odd, but the M’s saw an offensive threat lurking under some bad habits and mechanics. He was assigned to Everett, and promptly put up a .900 OPS in 150-odd plate appearances. Better than the college numbers, but it was a short-season league.

The M’s pushed him to High Desert the next year, then Jackson towards the end of 2013. He began 2014 in Tacoma, despite the presence of Nick Franklin, who’d ostensibly been in contention for the starting SS gig in Seattle. With Brad Miller, their original pop-up SS prospect, Franklin and now Taylor, the M’s were suddenly rife with middle infield prospects. Let’s hear it for the M’s player development team who got far more out of Taylor (glove-only guy), Miller (messed-up swing, can’t hit advanced pitching) and Franklin (gym-rat but lacks tools; no pop) than any neutral observer thought was possible. And yet, the reason the M’s are turning to Taylor now is that Miller and Franklin have, to varying degrees, been exposed a bit in the majors. Add Dustin Ackley to the list, and it gets scarier still. The M’s are apparently incredible at developing AAA middle infielders. How can that have so little bearing on big league success?

Obviously, the fact that two or three other successful prospects at AAA have struggled in the bigs doesn’t mean Taylor’s doomed. He’s unique, and in some ways, well-suited for the M’s right now. Unlike Jesus Montero, he’s done most of his damage against righties. While we can’t project him to run reverse-splits, he’s not going to be lost against righties. But he *is* right-handed, and if they wanted to platoon him a bit or pinch hit for Miller, that would actually make some sense. The fact that they now have a back-up (or a starter, frankly) for Miller means Willie Bloomquist can move back to filling in for everyone else, and it gives the M’s bench a bit of depth. Montero makes sense too, albeit in a limited role, but his speed and lack of a position limit his usefulness to this team. Until they’re ready to pull the plug on Corey Hart, Montero can’t add much unless he’s suddenly figured something out *this* trip to Tacoma.

Defensively, Taylor’s range looks to me about equivalent, maybe a tad better, to Miller’s (and superior to Franklin’s). Taylor’s hands and accurate arm have helped him make far fewer errors in the minors, though Miller’s arm strength on plays in the SS/3B hole may have the edge on Taylor’s. Offensively, Taylor lacks Miller/Franklin’s raw power. His batspeed’s a step behind Miller’s, and his swing’s more level than Miller’s, but that doesn’t mean he’s a contact hitter. Through the system, Miller struck out less. Taylor makes up for that in two ways. First, he’s got a good eye, and his walk rate’s been steady – and good. Second, Taylor’s speed is a legitimate plus tool. It’s why his range plays up a bit, and his baserunning has been best-in-the-system good. He’s stolen 69 bases in his 2+ years in the system, and he’s stolen them at an 86% success rate. That’s propped up by his incredible 2013, when he stole 38 bases and was caught only five times, but this is a weapon Taylor has that none of his predecessors have had.

Of course, they were all (even Franklin) seen as better bats. Taylor’s lack of HR-power will limit how effective he can be, but a SS who can run and take a walk could be pretty good. He’s struggled at times this year, and his numbers are held aloft by an incredible hot streak from mid-April to mid-May. But he’s not useless at the plate. Of interest to me, he’s shown the ability to battle against top-shelf velocity, putting up some good at-bats against Noah Syndergaard, probably the PCL’s top power arm this season. He recognizes breaking balls fairly well, but the thing I’ve been most impressed with is his ability to pull his hands in and catch up to inside fastballs. This isn’t to say he’s a 60-grade bat or anything. The M’s are just trying things out, and may ultimately be showcasing him for other teams. But the whole package is a bit better than the sum of its parts, which is something that stood out about Kyle Seager when he was coming up too.

Since his demotion, Montero’s been on fire in the PCL, and he’s put up a 1.271 OPS for the month of July. As Dave mentioned the other day in that debate with Rob Neyer, there are caveats. In addition to his large platoon splits (he’s annihilating PCL lefties, while he’s just been OK-to-pretty-good against righties), he’s posting very large home/road splits. If you know anything about the PCL, you know why that’s a red flag. Outside of Tacoma, which, for the PCL, plays as a pitcher’s park, the other teams in the Pacific Division are generally all extreme hitters’ parks. Colorado Springs is Coors field, if Coors was 1,000 feet *higher* in elevation. Albuquerque may be an even better place to hit, especially after Colorado Springs humidor’d up. Reno and Las Vegas too. So to see Montero’s home OPS at just .767 is a bit concerning. The other issue that hasn’t been mentioned as much concerns Montero’s batspeed. After Syndergaard threw six consecutive fastballs down the middle and got two strikeouts on Montero in May, I started looking at the pitchers Montero’s homered off of. It’s a diverse group, and, thanks to a desert windstorm, Syndergaard’s one of them, but lefty command/control guys are over-represented. Looking back at his MLB stats, Montero’s performance on velocity better than 93 or so looked to taper off after 2012, though of course the n is so small, it’s impossible to make any definitive statements. Thankfully, if you’re still the sort who’s hopeful about Montero, he’s made a mechanical change of his own.

As Ryan Divish reported the other night, Montero’s stance is quite different - it’s more open and much more upright. This tweak – something he worked on with Tacoma hitting coach Cory Snyder – may mean nothing. It may hamper his ability to reach outside pitches, or it may make it harder to react to breaking balls. On the other hand, Montero would probably trade some contact for power. As it’s now clear that he’s not fated to add defensive value at the big league level, his hitting needs to take several steps forward. The power he was rumored to have never really made it to the majors, and even his minor league slugging percentages are more great-for-a-catcher than great. If the new swing allows him to do more damage on the pitches he catches up to, that’s probably a trade he needs to make.

Welcome, Chris Taylor. Perfunctory head-nod, Jesus Montero.
taylor-pop-up

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Chris Taylor, Jesus Montero to the M’s

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 19:05

Taijuan Walker vs. Bartolo Colon, 12:40pm

Taijuan Walker moves up to make this start after Erasmo Ramirez was rewarded for his sterling performance last night with a bus ticket back to Tacoma. It sounds crueler than it is, but here’s to Erasmo for stepping up when he (and the bullpen) needed him.

Bartolo Colon’s late-career, and really, it’s more like post-career, resurgence is still jaw-dropping to me. No longer the pudgy fireballer who won an undeserving Cy Young, he’s now a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse and, of course, the face that launched a thousand gifs. We’ve talked about it plenty here thanks to his time with the Oakland A’s, but the Bartolo Colon of this decade pounds the zone with fastballs. That’s almost all you need to know – he doesn’t establish the fastball, the fastball’s essentially all he has. Combining his 91-92mph four-seamer and 88-90mph sinker, he throws over 80% fastballs, the most in baseball. You’d think that as his velocity declines and the word gets out after several years of this that he’d suffer for it. And sure, his ERA is uglier now than it was when he pitched in Oakland. But Oakland’s the perfect stadium for a flyballer who challenges hitters, and he’s been unlucky thus far with the Mets. Sure, his HR/FB ratio’s crept up thanks to his new park (and not getting to visit Safeco so often), but his strand rate’s down dramatically, despite no real change to his BABIP. He’s posted FIPs in the 3′s each year since 2010, and that’s where he’s at in 2014.

Tai Walker returns from the minors as promised. The team sent him down not because of injury or ineffectiveness, but because they wanted him to continue to get some starts – something he may not have been able to do with the All-Star break breaking up the big league schedule. He’s been predictably wild in his two starts this year, walking five in his last start on July 6th. He was slightly better, but not great in his two starts in AAA after that, walking a combined four (with one HBP), and striking out just two in 10 innings pitched. Still, he’s on long rest and should be sharper today (knocks on wood).

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

James Paxton made a rehab start for Tacoma in last night’s DH against Las Vegas. He gave up three runs on two HRs in the first inning, but settled down after that, going 3IP yielding 3R on 3H (2HRs), walking 1 and K’ing 4. He was opposed by fellow injured-phenom Noah Syndergaard, who was brilliant, throwing 6 1/3 shutout against the Rainiers. The R’s won the second game, though, with a great pitching performance by one-time (and future?) prospect Forrest Snow, who’s been lights out in limited duty after his suspension. Andrew Carraway starts today for the Rainiers, and Stephen Landazuri takes the hill for AA Jackson.

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Game 101, Mets at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 16:47

Wednesday Morning Podcast!

Jeff and I postponed the usual Monday morning recording due to scheduling and the fact that the Mariners had most of the previous week off.

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

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

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Podcast: 60 Games Remain

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Author: "Matthew Carruth" Tags: "Mariners, podcast"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 00:30

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Jacob deGrom, 7:10pm

Ooookay, I know there was a game thread for last night’s game, and now I don’t see it. Hopefully, this one doesn’t get eaten. I’m tapping Jacob deGrom’s FIP in Morse Code here in case nothing else works….

OK, after taking care of Jon Niese last night, the M’s face a very different challenge in rookie Jake deGrom. Niese was a lefty ground-baller, exactly the kind of pitcher that usually gives the M’s fits. deGrom’s a righty with a GB rate around 40% in his brief career. Niese’s fastball has dropped to the 88-89 range, while deGrom still rushes it up around 94-95.

deGrom wasn’t a heralded pick out of Stetson, and his odds got longer still after undergoing TJ surgery the season after the draft. His stuff looked solid in 2013, with his velocity back to his pre-surgery peak, but he got knocked around a bit in AA. That said, he made great strides this year in the PCL – the velo was there, his change-up looked much better, and he even started to get ground balls. He ran a better-than-50% GB rate for the first time, and Cashman Field in Las Vegas is a good place to be a ground-ball guy. That said, he’s still something of an enigma. He’s striking out far more big league hitters than you’d expect. That GB% spike in AAA? It’s completely gone, and he’s back to being a fly-ball guy.

In the minors and (thus far) in the majors, he’s not run much of a platoon split. A curve and change-up are good ways to limit splits, and he’s comfortable throwing both to lefties. It’s just that how he GETS to those broadly-equivalent results is very different. To right-handers, he’s the extreme-GB% guy he was in the PCL. He’s at an almost 2:1 GB/FB ratio vs. righties, but against lefties, it’s just 0.76. Righties bash his sinker and change-up into the ground like they’re Derek Lowe pitches, but lefties don’t have the same issue. It’s somewhat remarkable that he doesn’t have platoon splits given how many more fly balls lefties hit. His four-seam fastball’s been effective against both, and that’s what 95mph will do for you, but it’s still a striking difference. So, despite the lack of observed splits, this isn’t a bad match-up for a lefty-dominated M’s team…even if they’re an org that’s struggled against plus-velocity and good fastballs in general.

Erasmo Ramirez returns, with Justin Smoak heading south to Tacoma. Ramirez’s control has made some strides in his recent PCL stint, though cynics would point out that his control *in the minors* has never been in question. The issue is can he avoid the mistakes that have cost him against big league teams. This is an important start for the Nicaraguan as the M’s need to decide if he’s in the mix for the #5 spot in the rotation long term, or if he’s more valuable as a change-of-scenery trade chip. That’s certainly selling low, but he could open some eyes down the stretch. Of course, given the M’s pitching depth and injury history, it’s probably much better to keep him in the fold.

1: Chavez, RF
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Hart, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Bloomquist, SS
8: Ackley, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Erasmoooo

Last night’s twitter highlight was the debate between Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron on the merits of promoting Tacoma DH Jesus Montero. As you know, Montero’s crushing PCL lefties, and Corey Hart’s not crushing much of anything. Seems easy, but as Dave points out, it’s really not. At some point, they need to figure out if Hart’s capable of helping the playoff push, but the M’s are more aware of Montero’s limitations (from my point of view, batspeed’s the big one here) than fans just checking the stats at MiLB.com. Still, it’s an interesting debate, and one Hart’s really helping to make a topical one.

And, on the off chance you missed it, here’s Ackley’s stunning, HR-robbing catch from last night’s game.

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Game 100, Mets at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Sunday, 20 Jul 2014 19:27

Chris Young vs. Tyler Skaggs, 12:35pm

It certainly feels nice to steal a win in a pitcher’s duel once in a while. After Friday’s game, yesterday’s looked so predictable, and while they couldn’t score two runs for Felix, at least they got two in extras to defeat the Angels who squandered Garrett Richards’ gem.

Today the M’s face Tyler Skaggs, the Angels prospect shipped to Arizona where he shot up prospect rankings before command issues and a troubling velocity drop made him extremely hittable. After a rough go with Arizona and then an equally rough trip through the PCL in 2013, he moved back to Anaheim, who promptly made a mechanical tweak that returned much of the missing velocity. The other big change concerns his batted ball profile. He’s got a fastball with plenty of vertical rise, so it wasn’t a big surprise to see him post low GB% in the Arizona system and in his MLB call-ups. But he’s a fairly extreme GB guy this year despite not much change to his pitch movement or pitch mix. He throws a four- and two-seam fastball, with a change-up and curve. He’s toyed with a slider this year, but he’s still mostly a four-pitch guy. In the past, his curve occasionally got grounders, but everything else generated fly balls. This year, the sinker and change in particular have been much better at getting ground-ball contact.

All those worm burners have really helped his biggest problem – the home run ball. His HR/9 rate has fallen substantially this year (though of course his entire career suffers from small sample size problems), and he’s been much better against righties. He seems like the kind of guy who’d have platoon splits, but he’s faced so few lefties, there’s no way to really know. He’s running reverse splits this year, but he’s faced only 82 lefties this year, compared to over 300 righties. Pretty much impossible to make much out of that.

Robinson Cano’s out today with a sore hamstring. Hopefully it’s nothing, but Willie Bloomquist gets his second start at 2B.

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

I think Skaggs will see more lefties today (4) than he has in any other game. Romero’s a righty, and does better against lefties, but starting him in the clean up spot seems like the triumph of hope over experience. But hey, Go M’s. Let’s get a series win.

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Game 98, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Sunday, 20 Jul 2014 00:48

King Felix vs. Garrett Richards, 7:05pm

Happy Felix Day!

Hisashi Iwakuma’s subtle improvements have been impressive to watch, but Felix’s have been even more surprising. It’s not like you doubt someone with Felix’s talent, but regression’s supposed to apply to everyone. Felix has been so good for so long, that you naturally wonder when he’ll start to taper off. I don’t really wonder about that any more – I just wonder what he’s going to do next. Watching Felix every five days is an absolute joy.

Garrett Richards has gone from struggling swing man, to Mike Scioscia’s doghouse, to emergency starter to near-All Star. The final all-star slot for the AL came down to Fernando Rodney and Richards, with the former getting the nod. The Angels weren’t terribly happy; now we’ll get to see how Richards responds to that slight.

Line-up:
1: Jones, CF
2: Romero, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morrison, 1B
6: Hart, DH
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: El Cartelua

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Game 97, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 19 Jul 2014 00:30

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jered Weaver, 7:05pm

Ah, the All-Star Break. I know how much fans hate the interruption, the break in the routine of the 162-game schedule, but I’ve grown to really love it. Players talk about it, adoringly, as a chance to rest from the relentless grind of games, hotels and flights. It seems strange that a few days off could do so much, but then they’re the ones who don’t get a weekend for about nine months and I’m the one who just took a several-week vacation. The reasons a humble baseball blogger loves the break, then, are different. But, as is often the case, Jeff’s already pointed it out and summed it up perfectly. For me, the break is a respite from feeling like a fraud.

We look at numbers, we analyze pitch fx and we scour minor league box scores not out of some obsessive desire to know everything, but because at the macro level, they can inform us about the future. That minor league numbers, properly translated, tell us something about MLB success has been demonstrated many, many times, but that can’t doesn’t help when looking through the list of failed M’s prospects who hit in AA/AAA. It feels good to notice platoon splits in Jeff Samardzija’s batted ball profile, but you wonder about its probative value when he induces a flurry of grounders from the M’s lefty-dominated line-up. These macro- and micro-failures happen *all the damn time* and while it’s nice to understand that one game doesn’t change the pattern, or that the pattern that accurately describe the population may not work for every individual within it, they don’t always make it feel better. You know what does, though? Schadenfreude.

Jeff mentioned that the M’s still seem to be believers in Justin Smoak’s long-term potential, even though he’s no longer a long-term piece.* That MLB vets make similar errors – sometimes even bigger ones – actually does dull the pain. Along with booze-fueled All-Star Break evenings at home. The point of all this navel-gazing and self-flagellation (navel-flagellating?) is this: how bad did MLB whiff on Hisashi Iwakuma? Billy Beane is rightfully lauded for his accomplishments, but it’s not like his record’s spotless. Still, winning the rights to Iwakuma and then not getting a deal done? How about the next year when basically any team could’ve had him, but he came to Seattle at a yearly cost of $1.5m, or just about half what Willie Bloomquist will get this year, or about what John Buck and Stefen Romero cost.

It’s easy to see why, to apply the lessons we’ve learned and say confidently that you simply don’t sign a pitcher coming off of arm soreness. You can’t really *fault* MLB for it, but it’s nice that there’s egg on the faces of people much smarter about this stuff than I am. Can Iwakuma adapt to the MLB schedule and succeed? 2013 showed conclusively that he could. How will he deal with age and its attendant velocity loss? The answer this year is, “By getting better.” 2014 is shaping up as Iwakuma’s best on a rate basis; he may not hit the innings total he put up last year, but when he’s out there, he’s been astonishing. Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter got deserved praise when he was healthy, and his stuff really was a tick better than Hisashi’s, but Iwakuma is a poor man’s Tanaka only in the most literal sense – he’s paid far less.

This year, Iwakuma’s posted an almost invisible walk rate, and he’s done it by throwing more balls.** By pitch fx, he’s thrown less than 50% of his pitches in the zone, but he’s pitched from ahead in the count far more than the league average. How? Because Iwakuma’s first strike percentage is exceptional – by Fangraphs, he’s 5th in baseball in this metric. From there, his options open up. That first strike allows him to expan the hitter’s zone, which he can do both through fastball command and through his main weapon, his elite splitter. Pitching ahead means hitters are more likely to swing at balls, and his splitter means that when they do, they’re more likely to hit grounders. This gets us to another hidden reason for Iwakuma’s success – his BABIP. As you know, pitcher BABIP varies, and tends to regress to league-wide averages. There are exceptions, of course – guys like knuckleballers, and many lefthanders seem immune, for a number of reasons. Rany Jazayerli talked about one of them in this great Grantland piece on Mark Buehrle the other day. But Iwakuma shouldn’t be an exception. He’s a righty, of course, and his BABIP success isn’t the result of getting fly outs (fly balls are converted into outs more often than grounders) like Jarrod Washburn or current Mariner Chris Young. How can a righty ground baller run a career BABIP of .268 thus far? Because hitters are putting pitcher’s pitches in play. Over a third of Iwakuma’s grounders have come on balls. Batters’ BABIP when they swing at balls is awful. Iwakuma gets ahead of hitters and then gives them the choice of swinging over the splitter or tapping it gently to Kyle Seager.

Lloyd McClendon was asked on the radio (probably Matt Pitman on the pre-game show) what made Iwakuma so effective, and the first answer he gave was fastball command. At the time, I thought the answer was clearly, *clearly* his 70-grade split and not the 50-FB, but the more you look at it, the more you see what McClendon is getting at. Batters have swung at his splitter a lot, and they don’t have a lot to show for it. They don’t WANT to swing at it, but if they’re behind in the count, they kind of have to. Iwakuma’s fastball, which he throws on around 65% of first-pitches, allows the rest of his arsenal to play up. It’s not just Iwakuma. Look at this list of the pitchers with the *lowest* zone% in baseball, and while there are the occasional control-challenged projects, it’s peppered with the best pitchers in the game. There’s Felix, Sonny Gray, Tanaka, the surprising Tyson Ross. For some of them, the key is pure stuff – Ross’s slider and Yu Darvish’s…everything allow them to get outs on balls. Tanaka/Felix/Iwakuma and Dallas Keuchel, they’re relying on getting ahead first, and then allowing batters to get themselves out.***

Hisashi Iwakuma is awesome.

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

* Justin Smoak’s contract’s up after this year. He has a team option for 2015 that’s pretty cheap, but you’d have to imagine that people above McClendon’s pay grade are looking at that $150,000 buy-out longingly. Smoak’s option would’ve become guaranteed if he had 525 PAs this season. That month-long rehab stint is going to make that all but impossible to hit.

** I mentioned this regarding James Paxton once, but here again we have data sources that disagree. I’m picking one that I think is the best and that happens to fit the argument I’m making. I hate it when people do this without owning up to it, so I’m owning up to it. You could argue that he’s throwing more strikes, as BIS and Statcorner thinks he is. All of these sources have their fans, and you could certainly argue for one over another, but just FYI, I’m going with pitch fx here. To make matters worse, I’ve used the BIS measure for first-strikes. I shouldn’t mix up the sources, but Fangraphs doesn’t have a pitch fx-based metric for that. Caution! Or hey, it’s a baseball post, yay!

*** Yet more full disclosure – Felix and Ross are running suprising BABIP numbers this year, and both have very high GB rates, but neither put up great BABIPs before, and it’s not like they’ve really changed their approach. Keuchel fits this theory *perfectly* but for the fact that his BABIP is completely average this year; I tend to think that’s because he’s pitching in front of an experiment, and not a real baseball team, but I may be making too much of the pitchers-limit-BABIP-by-letting-hitters-hit-out-of-zone-pitches thing.

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Game 96, Mariners at Angels

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 18 Jul 2014 17:48

I try not to ever over-link to my own material, but then I pretty much never write about the Mariners anywhere but here. If I write a post about Allen Craig’s troubles inside, I’m not going to link it on USSM. But I just put something together about King Felix and the best changeup in the world, and it’s the sort of thing I would’ve put here if I didn’t put it somewhere else, so this might be up your alley. Felix throws a whole lot of pitches, but one of them is better than the rest, and it only seems to be getting better with time. If these trends continue, by 2025 Felix will throw exclusively perfectly-located 90 mile-per-hour changeups, and batters will still be helpless because they keep thinking it’s going to be a fastball until the last instant.

It’s a good pitch, is the point, and it’s a privilege to be able to write about it. It’s a privilege to even be able to share an existence with it. I think the times I spend writing about Felix Hernandez are my times of greatest clarity. Think about Felix and everything comes to a halt.

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Nine Things To Know About The Best Changeup In Baseball

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 22:26

Yesterday, we took a look at players with letters after them. Today, we’ll look at other players with letters after them. One thing all these players have in common is that they’re pitchers. Another thing all these players have in common is that they’ve been Mariners pitchers. In truth, there are virtually countless things all these players have in common, but I’m not going to write out that list. I’m going to write out a different list! Here are first-half letter grades, based on, I don’t know, something, probably.

=====

Blake Beavan: D
On April 15, Blake Beavan and the Mariners lost to the Rangers 5-0. The game was over in a brisk 142 minutes, and Beavan went just four innings after starting in front of an outfield of Bloomquist/Almonte/Romero. Beavan’s velocity was curiously down and after he was removed it was revealed that he was pitching through discomfort, discomfort that would shortly thereafter send him to the disabled list. The nature of the injury remains something of a mystery, and as such, Beavan has lost the one thing he had going for him, which was dependability. Yet given what he could be depended on to provide, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have less of it.

Joe Beimel: B+
Beimel didn’t pitch in 2012, and when he pitched in 2013 he pitched in Triple-A. He’s back in the majors as a hairy 37-year-old and to this point he’s kept lefties to a batting line of .140/.180/.188. He hasn’t kept righties to the same kind of batting line, so let’s not think about that too much, but Beimel’s been successful in his primary role, and this is the kind of thing that would make for a hell of a story for an audience that doesn’t really exist. Objectively, we know that Beimel has overcome a good deal of adversity to succeed in the present league, but good luck getting many people to give a hoot about a veteran second lefty. There are just too many other things to be interested in. How much do you know about tree sap? Probably not enough! Tree sap, wow!

Roenis Elias: C+
At his best, Roenis Elias has been terrific, and overall he’s been tremendously valuable for a starting rotation that was having its depth questioned and tested. It’s looking now like Elias could be a legitimate big-league starter for years, and he’s not a guy who was on anyone’s radar even a handful of months ago. But Elias has also had his fits, in particular lately, and maybe that’s not a shock, given his quick rise and given his mounting innings. I’m simultaneously pleased by the emergence of Roenis Elias, and I’d be pleased to have him as the Mariners’ fifth or sixth starter going forward, instead of something more important than that.

Danny Farquhar: B+
A year ago, Danny Farquhar got a whiff for every four curveballs he threw. That made it one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball. This year that rate has dropped to about one out of six, possibly related to a slight velocity drop, but while Farquhar has slid some, he gave himself plenty of room to slide after posting some truly obscene numbers in 2013. Farquhar can get lefties out, he can get righties out, and he can throw enough strikes and miss enough bats. He hasn’t really been utilized as a high-leverage reliever, which he’s good enough to be, but that would be a bigger issue if the Mariners’ bullpen were giving away runs. It’s not doing that!

Charlie Furbush: B
Charlie Furbush has appeared in seven more games than Joe Beimel, and he’s thrown three fewer innings. So Furbush has been more of a specialist than Joe Beimel has been. Not very long ago people were talking about Charlie Furbush as a possible starter. Incidentally, with Chance Ruffin having up and retired, Furbush is what we have left to show for the Doug Fister trade. And you know what? Furbush has allowed just 12 runs this year, while Fister has allowed 27. That’s a difference of 15 runs in the Mariners’ favor! Who really got robbed?

Felix Hernandez: A+
Just about perfect. I’m not being hyperbolic; I’m being sincere. Felix Hernandez is just about the perfect pitcher, in the way that Clayton Kershaw is also just about the perfect pitcher. Awesome, loyal, personable, healthy, dedicated, even improving. Felix doesn’t have a 0.00 ERA or whatever, but this is a former top prospect who has achieved his ultimate ceiling in just about every way possible. Don’t feel bad if you don’t appreciate this enough. We’re not biologically equipped to sufficiently appreciate anything this extraordinary. Our design wasn’t prepared for something like Felix to be possible.

About ten months ago, Matthew and I were camping in the North Cascades, and in the middle of the night, we were able to see the Milky Way in the finest detail the naked eye will allow. I knew, in that moment, I was staring at something I’d never be able to fully comprehend. I understood what I was seeing on the surface level, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the meaning. I just knew, standing there, that that meant everything. Every question I’d ever asked was answered in the skyscape before me, but damned if I’m not still looking for answers today. Certain things you see with your own eyes just never sink in, because they can’t. Your best hope is to retain the 5% that you can actually make sense of before the moment has passed forever.

Hisashi Iwakuma: A-
Remember when the Mariners had Cliff Lee? Who could forget when the Mariners had Cliff Lee? 2010 was a special season some of the time, and that year, Lee struck out 22% of batters while walking 2% of batters and getting 42% groundballs. Iwakuma, over his 14 starts, has struck out 22% of batters while walking 2% of batters and getting 52% groundballs. There’s only the slight hint of a penalty because Iwakuma has allowed a few extra dingers, but this guy is amazing. I think he might be the pitching staff’s version of Kyle Seager — nobody outside of Seattle really gives a crap about him, but he’s not actually that far behind the household name. We can make fun of the lows on the Mariners’ roster, but the highs are super high.

Dominic Leone: B+
We were wondering who the hotshot would be. Some people assumed it’d be Carson Smith, and others assumed it’d be Logan Bawcom, but Dominic Leone is the new, I don’t know, Carter Capps? Over his last 22 appearances he’s got seven walks and 31 strikeouts in 25.1 innings, and he hasn’t shown much of a platoon split. Leone’s versatile, with 14 appearances of more than one inning, and he isn’t a guy you don’t want to face anybody in particular, so he’s good support for a bullpen people didn’t know whether they’d be able to trust. Leone’s better than average at a variety of things, which is a good thing to be.

Lucas Luetge: D-
I thought, for a moment, that Lucas Luetge was a Rule 5 draft pick last season. Actually, he was a Rule 5 draft pick two seasons ago. Oh yeah, that’s right. That is a certain fact, about Lucas Luetge, who pitches sometimes.

Brandon Maurer: D+
The grade’s because Maurer has three times as many rotation innings as relief innings, and the rotation innings were bad. Well, some of the rotation innings were bad, while the first ones were usually okay. Between innings 1 – 3, Maurer had a 3.43 ERA. Between innings 4 – 6, Maurer had a 16.20 ERA. This might be just about the most obvious reliever conversion, and so far, so good. Out of the bullpen, Maurer’s averaged 97 miles per hour. Out of the rotation, he was more 92 – 93. In the first half, Maurer was more bad than good for the Mariners, but because of the way it ended, he projects to be damn helpful down the stretch. This could be one of those weapons that really starts getting attention and air time in October.

Yoervis Medina: B
I like to give Yoervis Medina a lot of crap, because he’s pretty wild and he takes for freakin ever to throw a pitch, but the truth is that, while he walks guys, he doesn’t really get hit much. Last year, he allowed a .307 slugging percentage. This year, he’s at .250. So, for his career, he’s at .289, making him sort of like a poor man’s Fernando Rodney. I’ll never feel comfortable when Medina’s pitching, and I’ll never forget the meatball he threw to Giancarlo Stanton in Miami, but my issue with Medina might be more about me than it is about him. It’s the same thing with milk.

Hector Noesi: F
Against the Mariners this year, Noesi has allowed zero runs in 11 innings. Against everybody else this year, Noesi has allowed 55 runs in 76.1 innings. When you were younger, you might’ve wanted a mortal enemy. It was a common trope in kid’s shows and movies, and it seemed like a certain path to adventure. Battle stations, everyone. You’ve got a mortal enemy, and yours is mine and mine is yours.

James Paxton: A-
I feel cursed by my lazy comparison of Dustin Ackley to Jeremy Reed, and I feel similarly cursed by my lazy comparison of James Paxton to Erik Bedard. Ackley isn’t a dick in the way that Reed was, but so much of the rest is coming true. Paxton isn’t a dick in the way that Bedard is, but-

A healthy James Paxton might be the playoff-race starting pitcher the Mariners currently seek. A healthy James Paxton is something I’ll believe when I see it, for weeks in a row.

Stephen Pryor: D-
If you look at the Mariners’ pitching stats on FanGraphs, you see Stephen Pryor’s name. If you split by starters and relievers, though, Pryor’s name disappears, which is curious and symbolic. Did you know that Stephen Pryor throws 92 now? In fairness, he’s still working his way back from an unusual injury, but in fairness, Franklin Gutierrez isn’t a 6’2 pathological mothership. Baseball isn’t fair, and neither is the way we consume it. For our purposes, Pryor basically is what he does, and what he does isn’t good enough at the moment.

Erasmo Ramirez: D
In Erasmo Ramirez’s fifth appearance of spring training, he spun six shutout innings against the Cubs, striking out four. Some people started to believe that Ramirez might be back on track as a quality starting pitcher, but even then, even that early, Lloyd McClendon saw what we didn’t see yet:

“They’re horse*&% pitches,” McClendon said. “Everybody was all excited about his last start, ‘oh he did such a great job.’ But he made a lot of horse&*^% pitches on 0-2.”

Ramirez made the team because the team was desperate, not because the manager had his back, and I don’t think McClendon’s ever been impressed. And, for the most part, we haven’t been impressed, either, because Ramirez has been dreadful. In June, Ramirez put together three consecutive zero-run starts. He had 11 walks and 12 strikeouts. The thing about Hector Noesi is that he’s gone and moved on. The other thing about Hector Noesi is that he isn’t exactly one of a kind.

Fernando Rodney: A
It takes a while to shake a first impression. And, sometimes, the first impression is the right impression, so there’s nothing to be shaken. We were wary about Fernando Rodney at first, and in his first 7.1 innings he walked six guys. He was surviving by the skin of his teeth, and from there, memes were born. Fernando Rodney was henceforth understood to be an experience. Well as it happens, since April 27, Rodney has six walks and 32 strikeouts, with a .484 opponents OPS. Over that stretch, two of every three pitches have been strikes. Overall, including the first impression, Rodney has the same strike rate as Dan Haren, James Shields, and Cole Hamels. He has the same strike rate as Dominic Leone. We know Rodney doesn’t have good command. He just doesn’t. He doesn’t place the baseball. But he doesn’t need to. He throws super hard and his changeup is super good. Fernando Rodney, almost all of the time, is in control, even when he isn’t. He’s not the most comfortable closer in Mariners history, but he’s among the most effective.

Taijuan Walker: D
Before the year, the consensus idea was that, if the Mariners were to contend for the playoffs, it’d be because they were getting big positive contributions from their considerable assortment of talented youth. Right now the Mariners are in a playoff position. Walker, Paxton, Ramirez, Ackley, Miller, Franklin, Smoak, and Romero have a combined WAR of -0.3. Obviously that isn’t all the youth, but, haha, whoops. It’s funny, some of the things that haven’t gone right.

Tom Wilhelmsen: B
In a way, Yoervis Medina is a poor man’s Fernando Rodney, and in a way, Tom Wilhelmsen is Yoervis Medina. He never really feels that comfortable, but he seldom gets hit, so the walks aren’t as dangerous as they appear. Remember a short while ago when John Buck got dropped and word emerged that some of the pitchers were frustrated by throwing to him? With Buck, Wilhelmsen had 13 walks and 11 strikeouts. With Mike Zunino, he has 12 and 32. I don’t know what that means, but I feel like Tom Wilhelmsen probably had opinions about John Buck as a catcher.

Chris Young: A-
We kept waiting for Chris Young’s ERA to regress more toward his peripherals, but instead his peripherals are regressing more toward his ERA. Over his last six starts, Young’s got six walks and 28 strikeouts, with a .220 OBP allowed. He’s still a guy who’s presumably over-achieving, but he’s always been able to allow fewer runs than you’d expect based on his style, and the longer this goes, the more willing you are to believe that his surgery really did relieve all of the arm problems he’d been experiencing for years. Chris Young is the biggest 2014 Mariners miracle, and to get here the team had to go through Scott Baker and Randy Wolf first. Remember how close we came to having Randy Wolf instead. People were upset by the way Wolf was treated by the front office. If Randy Wolf had signed the thing most players in his position usually sign, the Mariners wouldn’t have these 111.1 innings of a 3.15 ERA. And then where would they be?

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First Half In Review: Passing Out The Grades (Pitchers)

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 02:46

A year ago, at the All-Star break, the Mariners were just two games back of the Angels, but that was deceptive, because while the Angels were supposed to be a really good team, they never really found their groove and got to the break five games under .500. This year, at the All-Star break, the Mariners are 6.5 games back of the Angels, but that’s deceptive, because the Angels have been outstanding and, if the season were to end today, the Mariners would actually be in the playoffs. I know I’ve written that before, but only in my dream journal, and seriously, take a step back. Put the day-to-day matters out of mind. The Mariners need to get better. Most teams need to get better. The Mariners, at this writing, have a 2.5-game lead on the Royals and Blue Jays, which means the Mariners are on a playoff pace. You might question whether a one-game playoff counts as the playoffs, but then it has the word “playoff” right in it.

It’s been an eventful first half. They’re always eventful first halves, unless you’re the Padres, but the Mariners’ first half had more good than bad, which is how you explain their 51-44 record. Now, baseball is a game steeped in tradition, and one of the traditions is that, before the All-Star break, teams play a lot of baseball games. Roughly half of them, give or take plenty. (The Mariners have played 59% of their games, so “first half” is a lie.) Another tradition is that every All-Star break I put together these stupid subjective report cards. They’re not important, but none of this is, so go ahead and read on, since you’re already here anyway. You came to this website because you have time you’re willing to dedicate to reading Internet baseball text. Here’s some of that.

I’ve assigned grades to every player who’s played for the Mariners in 2014. There are no formulas — the grades are just the grades that occurred to me, and if you disagree with one or two of them, express so politely or keep it to yourself. I’m not married to these grades and by the time this post is published I might even disagree with myself on a handful of guys. The position players and the pitchers will be broken up, with the pitchers presumably coming tomorrow. Sneak preview: I would marry Felix Hernandez. I would literally drop everything to marry Felix Hernandez, right now. I understand that would make his personal life a lot more complicated, but I’m willing to deal with baggage. Everybody’s got baggage. I’d be honored to carry the King’s.

On to the position-player report card. Let’s start with a bummer! We’ll follow that with a bummer. And then another bummer, and…well, shoot, 51 wins? Are you sure, 51 wins? And the season isn’t finished?

=====

Dustin Ackley: D-
Dustin Ackley has a higher OBP than Domonic Brown, who has been a top prospect. He has a higher slugging percentage than Jackie Bradley Jr., who has been a top prospect. He has a higher wRC+ than Jean Segura, who has been a top prospect. He has the same wRC+ as B.J. Upton, who’s in the second year of a massive five-year contract. In other words, there’s still room for Dustin Ackley to be even worse. I used to compare Ackley to Jeremy Reed to be funny in a dark kind of way. Then I’d compare Ackley to Reed with nervous laughter. Nobody’s laughing anymore. Ackley’s at .242/.310/.351 for his career. Reed finished at .252/.309/.354. I’m haunted by my own stupid joke, and we’re all paying the price.

Abe Almonte: F
I felt so self-confident. I’m supposed to be a baseball expert, according to my job description. I get good feelings when my expertise is validated, because I get to not feel like a fraud. I’ve gotten good feelings from the AL Central, for example, where I’ve never considered the Royals to be the threat so many other people have. In the spring, the analytical part of my brain was telling me not to be worried about Abe Almonte. In April, the analytical part of my brain was telling me not to be worried about Abe Almonte. I publicly expressed confidence in him, believing that he’d pick it up in no time. I didn’t allow myself to believe that Almonte might not actually be good. Whoopsadoodle. I appreciate the moments of not feeling like a fraud because, most of the time, I sit back and feel like a fraud.

Willie Bloomquist: D-
Willie Bloomquist has a higher average, OBP, and slugging percentage than Dustin Ackley. In the major leagues. That would’ve made more sense to me ten years ago, when Ackley would’ve been 16. Ha-ha! Can you imagine a 16-year-old Dustin Ackley trying to hit in the major leagues? Actually, he might’ve been better than the 26-year-old Dustin Ackley. I didn’t mean to make this another paragraph complaining about Dustin Ackley, but I guess it’s better than a paragraph about Willie Bloomquist.

John Buck: D
John Buck gets a performance F, but I bumped him up on account of all his alleged leadership ability and clubhouse value. Mike Zunino says that he never stopped learning from John Buck from the moment the two first interacted, and I think at this point it’s entirely clear that John Buck did a lot to teach Mike Zunino to hit like John Buck. I’m in no position to actually evaluate Buck’s intangible value, but given that the Mariners’ record is a mystery and given that players seemed to like what Buck did, I’m perfectly happy to write some of this up to Buck magic. What, you have a better explanation, like “pitching and defense and the random nature of sporting outcomes?” Like there’s randomness in baseball. Come on.

Robinson Cano: A
A storyline for much of the first half was that Cano was hitting like prime Ichiro instead of prime Cano. Of course, prime Ichiro was super good so it wasn’t so much a complaint as an observation. And now Cano seems to be hitting for more power, and just the other day he turned on a fastball and ripped it into the right-field seats. Over the past 30 days he’s hit .349/.420/.538, and by the way he’s also been a good defender and a great leader and an awesome interview and personality. Robinson Cano is one of the best Mariners players ever, and he’s certainly the best Mariner ever who’s represented by an agent who once stabbed a man. We’ll never love Cano the way we love Felix Hernandez, but there are different kinds of love, each of them valid.

Endy Chavez: D
Following the line of thinking of a friend of mine: if you let Endy Chavez bat four times a game, you’ll probably get to say things like “it seems like he’s on base every game,” because he seems to finish every single one of his games 1-for-4 with a single. Who could say no to a long-term hitting streak and a .250/.250/.250 batting line? It’s awkward to be in the position of not liking Chavez, since I like Chavez the person, and he’s been all right lately, but this team is fighting for the playoffs and Endy Chavez keeps leading off a lot. Do you see how that’s counter-productive? Do you see how this team could improve even with an old sack like Marlon Byrd? Chavez is pleasant and little and he knows how to make things happen, but unfortunately the thing he knows how to make happen the best is outs.

Nick Franklin: F
The Mariners didn’t manage to move Nick Franklin earlier. He started strong in Triple-A, then he didn’t hit upon being promoted to the bigs. And since returning to Triple-A at the beginning of June, he’s hit .244 with two home runs. Used to be, Franklin was confusing because he couldn’t hit in the majors, but now he’s confusing because he just can’t hit, period. It’s because of guys like Franklin that the purpose of Triple-A is becoming increasingly fuzzy. Aren’t those numbers supposed to mean something? Aren’t those numbers not supposed to mean nothing?

Cole Gillespie: D
I remember there was a time at which Cole Gillespie led the Mariners in rate hitting statistics. That time is not now, because Cole Gillespie isn’t good, and Cole Gillespie isn’t on the Mariners. What I remember most about Gillespie is when he pinch-hit and popped up in a tie game with one out and the bases loaded. It was at that point I figured his time with the Mariners was up. I was off by five or six weeks, but in the bigger picture, I wasn’t off at all. If you always consider a big-enough picture, your timing can pretty much never be off. “Sure,  I was late to meet you by 15 minutes, but how much are 15 minutes, really? If you think about the raising and the grinding of the mountains-”

Corey Hart: F
When Hart was on the DL, I almost put together a post talking about how Hart was better than his numbers, and how he’d been screwed by a few well-hit balls not quite working out as they should’ve. Those are the kinds of posts you write about bad baseball players. I do think Hart is better than this, but this isn’t about true talent, and Hart’s first half was a lousy first half.

James Jones: C+
Jones is impossibly easy to like. He’s always smiling, he provides for the team a different dynamic, he arrived almost out of nowhere, and he somewhat famously went up to Lloyd McClendon just to ask how he might be able to improve. Jones is so easy to like that you might want to look past the mediocre OBP and the mediocre slugging percentage and the mediocre walk and strikeout numbers. Jones has served a valuable role in that he’s filled a position of dire need, but so much about him has been raw, and speaking objectively he probably shouldn’t be a starter. He’s a starter here, and he’s not bad, but this is part of why McClendon described the team as having a BB gun offense. James Jones just doesn’t shoot real bullets, and he probably never will.

Brad Miller: D
Brad Miller has made people feel better by posting a .755 OPS since the start of June. That’s the Brad Miller we expected. Unfortunately, the regular season didn’t begin on June 1, and the Brad Miller before that was among the very biggest disasters in the league! He’s still not really hitting lefties, to the point at which there’s a statistical justification for batting Willie Bloomquist at short with a southpaw on the mound. When it might make sense to platoon your starting shortstop with Willie Bloomquist, the situation could be better, that’s what I always say. I don’t say very much.

Jesus Montero: C
Jesus Montero batted 14 times, he didn’t walk, he swung at a higher rate of pitches out of the zone than pitches in the zone, and he mashed a dinger. So that’s what Jesus Montero was up to. Before Montero’s first half had even begun, he was publicly ripped by his own general manager. On the plus side, Montero has probably completely forgotten about that, because my guess is that he completely forgets about everything within the time it takes his brain to try to submit an experience to memory.

Logan Morrison: D+
Like Hart, my feeling is that Morrison has hit into a few too many loud outs. Even if you try to adjust for that, Morrison’s numbers still don’t come out good, but I think I’ve partially inflated this grade just because Morrison isn’t Justin Smoak. He was the Marlins’ Justin Smoak, but what was old to them still feels fresh and new to us. Morrison, in other words, is frustrating in that he isn’t better than he is, but we’re still in the process of learning that about him, which means every good point might represent a turning point. They’re always potentially developing until they’re 28-year-old busts.

Stefen Romero: F
Last season Stefen Romero batted .277/.331/.448 in Triple-A with 28 walks and 87 strikeouts. By OPS on the team, he ranked directly between Carlos Peguero and Alex Liddi. It’s not Romero’s fault he didn’t help the Mariners.

Michael Saunders: B
Saunders hit in 2012. He hit in 2013, when he wasn’t recovering from injury. He’s hit in 2014. No longer, I think, do we have to worry about whether or not Michael Saunders’ bat is for real, and we know he’s a more than capable defensive right fielder. Now what we have to wonder is whether Saunders is particularly injury-prone, since he’s now back on the DL with a Grade 2 oblique strain. Saunders has conquered his obvious problem from earlier in his career. So now he’s confronted by a problem no one would’ve ever foreseen. There are always new problems, is the point. Even when you think you have everything figured out and going your way, you’re still closer to dying than you were at the start of this sentence.

Kyle Seager: A
I think we can say that Kyle Seager is objectively, certainly underrated, based on his numbers and based on his All-Star support. He’s one of the better third basemen in baseball and he’s still considered just one of the nobodies alongside Cano and the King. Part of the issue, probably, is that he’s never been hyped, and part of that issue, probably, stems from the reality that he just looks like a guy whose middle name is Duerr, which is Kyle Seager’s middle name, which is Duerr. Seager doesn’t look like an elite-level baseball player; he looks like a happy-go-lucky cousin, who’s also a younger brother of an older cousin, who you can’t believe is old enough to have a baby and a collection of guns. Seager has the skills that Willie Bloomquist’s body was always supposed to have, and making things weirder still is that there are two more Seager brothers in the minor leagues right now, with one of them being a Dodgers top prospect. It’s a whole family of guys sent to destroy the very concept of a “baseball face”.

Justin Smoak: D-
On Opening Day, Smoak went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, and a walk, and spirits were high. He’d been practicing a net drill with Robinson Cano on the side, and people wondered whether Smoak had finally figured everything out. It only followed all of McClendon’s early support, with his assertions that Smoak could lead the league in doubles. Since Opening Day, he’s performed like Justin Smoak. Maybe the most interesting thing about him at this point is how much support he continues to have. The Mariners have never wavered in believing in Smoak as a first baseman. McClendon continues to believe in him as a first baseman. Educated baseball people look at Justin Smoak and see a long-term productive asset. It’s enough to make you wonder whether you’re just being impatient. But Justin Smoak turns 28 in December. They’re always potentially developing until they’re 28. According to my arbitrary cutoff, Smoak, you’ve got 2.5 months to not be a pile of crap.

Jesus Sucre: C-
Sucre has played twice and he hit a single and he caught pitches. With Zunino and Sucre, the Mariners ought to be one of the very best pitch-framing teams in all of baseball. Sucre is never going to be the topic of any conversation among fans, as he’ll never be good enough to start and he’ll never play enough to attract negative attention. He’ll just do his job and ingratiate himself to managers and he’ll stick around as an unknown backup for more than a decade. It’s a hell of a non-polarizing way to make a living. Way down the road, the complete oral history of Jesus Sucre will consist of, “who was that again?” and “that guy, that was a ballplayer.”

Mike Zunino: B-
Since May started, Zunino’s hit .180 with ten walks and 75 strikeouts. He’s kind of been last year’s J.P. Arencibia, which isn’t a good offensive catcher, but then there is more to it. The season also happens to include April, and Zunino appears to be an incredible receiver and handler of the pitching staff, and not that it matters here but sometimes it is easy to forget how quickly Zunino was rushed through the system. There’s been a lot on his plate, and one of the ideas behind bringing up Sucre is now McClendon might feel more comfortable giving Zunino more time off. More time off might allow him to perform more consistently. Zunino’s offensive game is basically running into a dinger from time to time, but the power is legit, and the defense is legit, and this is still the best catcher the Mariners have had in years. He makes too many outs with the bat, but he’s also invaluable when it comes to creating them in the field. Zunino might kind of capture the 51-44 All-Star break Mariners in a nutshell.

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First Half In Review: Passing Out The Grades (Position Players)

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Monday, 14 Jul 2014 17:51

Monday Morning Podcast!

Jeff and I review the first half, Friday’s biggest (sort of) ever King’s Court, and again talk trade stuff.

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

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

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Podcast: Best Half Ever

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Author: "Matthew Carruth" Tags: "Mariners, podcast"
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Date: Sunday, 13 Jul 2014 18:48

Chris Young vs. Sonny Gray, 1:10pm

Brooms out, M’s fans. After picking up wins against the A’s new acquisition and their breakout pitcher of 2014, the M’s path to a sweep goes through Sonny Gray, the ace of the staff. I know Jeff Samardzija cost them a top-20 prospect in all of baseball along with a fringe top-100 guy, but Gray seems like the clear #1 despite the fact that he hasn’t quite kept up the pace he set in his incredible 2013 call-up.

Gray pairs his 95mph cutter-like four-seamer with an effective split/change and a plus-plus curve ball. It sounds strange to say about a starter with an average fastball of 95mph, but the curve is far and away his best pitch. The pitch has astonishing two plane break, and it doesn’t rely on gravity for sink. He throws it around 81-82mph, and it breaks nearly a foot glove side relative to his FB and well more than a foot vertically relative to his rising FB. It’s a bit like Taijuan Walker’s, only thrown harder and with more bite. In his (brief) MLB career, batters have a .017 ISO on the pitch. They’re *slugging* .175. Sure, it’s his putaway pitch, and he throws it ahead in the count, but it’s a big reason why hitters have had such problems driving the ball against him.

Gray’s career batting line against is .223/.289/.312. This is why he’s had a great season despite a drop in his K% and an increase in walks. Unlike Shark, Gray’s faced more lefties than righties thus far, and unlike Shark, that’s not much of an issue for him. In his career, lefties have managed a .273 wOBA, essentially the same as righties. Not only is his curve a formidable weapon against lefties, but his change-up (which, looking at pitch fx, looks like a splitter to me) is almost as effective. Everything about Gray – from the cutter-ish FB, to the splitter, to the nuclear curve – seems designed to eliminate platoon splits, and thus far, he’s done just that.

When he’s gotten into trouble this year, control/command have been the culprit. Patience, M’s. Patience! And while the M’s don’t have a pitcher with a mid-90s FB or incredible hook, they’ve got a 7 foot tall wizard throwing an 85mph invisiball, so, you know, hit THAT, A’s.

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

The all-star festivities kick off today with the Futures Game at Target Field. M’s #1 prospect DJ Peterson’s starting for the US team, batting 6th and playing 1B. That’s not an acknowledgement that he’ll have to move off 3B, it’s just an acknowledgement that Kris Bryant may be the best bat in the minor leagues. Gaby Guerrero’s hitting 7th for the World Team and DH’ing.

Matt Palmer’s pitching for Tacoma today at Cheney. The Rainiers are riding a 3 game winning streak and actually passed Fresno last night to escape the division cellar. Tyler Pike’s starting for AA Jackson. Fellow Jackson prospect Victor Sanchez had one of his best games in the system yesterday, throwing 8IP and giving up 3H and 1R on 1BB and a career high 9Ks. Speaking of prospects, Taijuan Walker went 5IP for Tacoma last night, giving up 1R but getting only 1K. He told Mike Curto he didn’t have good feel on his FB.

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Game 95, Athletics at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Sunday, 13 Jul 2014 00:30

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jesse Chavez, 7:10pm

In 2011, it was Brandon McCarthy. In 2012, it was Tommy Milone, AJ Griffin and Bartolo Colon. Last year, it was Griffin and Dan Straily. This year’s succesful A’s starter with essentially no starting experience and/or a spotty track record is right-hander Jesse Chavez. Chavez was a 42nd round draft-and-follow pick by the Rangers back in 2002, and he spent several years as a hard-throwing reliever in the Texas system before being shipped to Pittsburgh in a trade for Kip Wells. Three more trades later, he was waived by one team and then moved for the ever popular cash considerations from Toronto to the A’s.

Chavez’s calling card was a 95mph four-seam fastball, and he’d picked up a slider and change to go with it. As this great interview he did with Eno Sarris shows, teams seemed to love his velocity, and his potential as a Rafael Soriano-ish FB/SL set-up man.* The problem was that he never really got comfortable with the slider; despite the fact he threw it when ahead in the count, *righties* hit .300 and slugged .500 on the pitch in his career. To make matters worse, his four-seamer was an equal-opportunity offender, with lefties slugging over .600 on it, and a career ISO (against all hitters) of .246. It had velocity and nothing else, and Chavez’s career looked like it was taking the Mark Lowe path.

Side work with his cutter and a move to the Oakland organization changed all of that. The A’s got him to throw a sinker, a pitch he apparently used in the amateur ranks before MLB orgs told him to forget it. He also went to a curve ball, *another* pitch he’d thrown before pro pitching coaches swapped it out for a slider. As a cutter/sinker/curve-balling reliever, he had a modicum of success last year, though a poor strand rate made his ERA a bit uglier than you’d like your set-up man to sport. Though he’d transitioned to starting briefly in the Toronto system, I think plenty of people - even A’s fans – were dubious this spring when the A’s handed him a rotation spot. He’s rewarded them with over 100 innings of above-average performance, and he’s become the latest example of the A’s seemingly inexhaustible pitching depth.

Chavez’s cutter’s effective against righties, while his sinker/change have been solid against lefties. He’s still got platoon splits, but they’re nothing much to write about. Despite the sinker, he’s still average-to-below-average at getting grounders – the cutter’s more of a fly ball pitch. He was excellent against the M’s in early April, but struggled against them in May; we’ll see if that familiarity helps the M’s line-up today.

1: Chavez, RF
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morrison, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Hart, DH
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma

It’s Iwakuma’s bobble-head night tonight, for those that love…uh, that sort of thing.

I’ll admit I haven’t thought about Jean Segura since his incredibly hot start to 2013, but I’m thinking of him and his family today.

In the minors, Victor Sanchez starts for AA Jackson, Lars Huijer for High Desert and Lukas Schiraldi for Everett. Not sure who Tacoma’s using tonight against Fresno. Despite that, today’s a good day to head to Cheney Stadium – it’s “Pink in the Park“, a fundraiser for breast cancer screening for low-income women in the South Sound.

* Ironically, he was actually traded for Soriano in one of his many transactions.

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Game 94, Athletics at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 12 Jul 2014 00:30

Felix Hernandez vs. Jeff Samardzija, 7:10pm

While some have complained that the M’s haven’t responded to the A’s massive, season-defining trade to pick up Jeff Samardzija with a move of their own, the truth is that they made a tiny move to give Tom Wilhelmsen a spot start and to give Felix (and us) tonight’s game. The M’s are contending for the post-season, but they’re pointedly not contending with the Oakland Athletics. The A’s only competition for the division title, and their only competition as the best team in the American League, is the LA Angels. That’s not to diminish this series and this game in any way – this is a great measuring stick for both teams. The M’s want to demonstrate that they can hang with the best teams in the league, a desire they probably feel more keenly now after being shut down by the likes of Kyle Gibson and Yohan Pino. But the A’s need to demonstrate that the lack of front-line starting pitching that helped cut short their playoff runs the past two years is a problem they’ve solved once and for all. That even if a Felix, or a Scherzer or Verlander throws a gem, they can scratch out a win thanks to Sonny Gray or tonight’s starter, Jeff Samardzija.

It’s kind of amazing to reflect on Samardzija’s journey from bust to just-about-David-Price’s-equal in trade value. The ex-football player’s straight fastball and the glacial pace of his breaking ball development left him a hittable pitcher in the low-minors. A guy who’d signed a near-record bonus who put up a lower K/9 than Kevin Correia’s this year…in the high-A Florida State League, a league as pitcher friendly as the California League isn’t. Inconclusive big-league trials in 2008, 2009 and 2010 (you can’t say the Cubs didn’t try), the Cubs moved him to the bullpen for 2011 and watched as he blossomed into an intriguing set-up man. That’s not what you spend millions buying someone away from the NFL for, but it’s also not the nothing I think we all assumed they’d wring out of that deal. The Cubs gave him one more shot to start in 2012, and the results have been better than the Cubs’ could’ve hoped for.

That’s not to say they’ve been unambiguously great, though. He followed up his breakthrough 2012 season with a 2013 that showed flashes of brilliance, but a heck of a lot more runs allowed than you’d want from an ace or even a #2. By FIP, he was worth 2.8 WAR, which is solid, but nothing special. By RA-9 WAR, he was below average; a 4.34 ERA in today’s National League just isn’t all that special. This year, though, he’s taken another clear step forward – he’s halved his HR/9 rate thanks in part to a career-best GB%. He’s cut down on walks, which had been a struggle for him since his days in the minors. He’s not throwing a new pitch, but much-improved command of his two-seam/sinker seems to be key for him. He’d thrown balls with about 36.5% of his sinkers in both 2012 and 2013, but he’s trimmed that to 30% in 2014. It’s not exactly a weapon against lefties, but the command has helped him keep lefties in the ballpark. Now, somewhat shockingly, his ERA’s lower than his FIP and he’s the centerpiece of the biggest in-season trade in years. The A’s are all-in for 2014, and they obviously see Samardzija as an important step in building a team capable of winning short playoff series.

All of that said, there are warning signs here. Tony Blengino’s analysis shows that Shark’s K rate and the slightly below-average authority hitters impart to their balls-in-play against him make him a solid #2. That may be, but remember that he racked up that quality-of-contact in the National League. How to measure league quality is still somewhat tough, as league-wide factors can often get swamped by the particulars of specific players and specific contexts (ie. pitching in the Oakland Coliseum). But one striking difference between the leagues, and between the AL West and NL Central in particular, concerns the platoon advantage. Dave mentioned this a while ago and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since: hurlers in the NL Central have seen line-ups that are more righty-dominant, and thus pitchers like Samardzija have enjoyed the platoon advantage in a majority of their plate appearances. For some pitchers, that wouldn’t matter so much, but Samardzija’s splits are pretty prominent. This year, lefties are putting up a .316 wOBA against him, compared to just .271 for righties. That .045 gap is right in line with his career splits, and his splits since moving to the rotation in 2012. They’re not gigantic, but its his performance against right-handed bats that make him stand out. Against lefties, he’s been roughly league-average, perhaps a touch worse.

The AL will not afford him the luxury of facing a few more righties than lefties (Samardzija had the platoon advantage in 53% in 2013, and 55% this year) – ask Felix, who’s faced a right-hander in just less than 42% of his PAs this year. And it’s not just a case of BABIP or a HR or two creeping over the fence that produce Samardzija’s platoon splits. He’s a different pitcher depending on who’s in the batters box. His walk rate against lefties is a bit better than his 2012-13 average, but not much. His GB% against lefties hasn’t moved either. It’s 43.8% in 2014, a touch better than 2013′s 43.3%, but worse than 2012′s 45.5%. The big increase in his GB% overall has come exclusively against righties, and perhaps not coincidentally, Samardzija saw a greater percentage of righties in 2013 and then again in 2014. Put all of it together, and I wonder if the quality-of-contact numbers Blengino posted are at least partially the product of the platoon advantage. None of this is to suggest that Samardzija’s bad, or that he’ll struggle in the AL. A guy who holds lefties to league average moving to a spacious ballpark with excellent defenders behind him is probably going to pitch well. But it’s also not clear that he’s worth the high price the A’s paid. I admire Beane’s guts in pulling the trigger and attempting to build a dominant team for 2014, but Samardzija may have been lucky in the first half of 2014; the A’s need to hope he’ll be lucky in the playoffs, too.

Here’s tonight’s line-up. The AL West likes to throw a lot of lefties at you, Shark.

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

Eight lefties. As you can see, Justin Smoak’s been brought up from Tacoma with Michael Saunders DL’d after suffering a strained oblique. The choice of Smoak over, say, Montero was probably an easy one for a team that values match-up data as much as this one: Smoak homered off of Samardzija the last time he pitched against Seattle, back in 2013.

Erasmo Ramirez, Stephen Landazuri, Dylan Unsworth, Seon Gi Kim and Noel de la Cruz start tonight for the M’s affiliates. Thanks to last night’s win, only Pulaski has a winning record among the M’s seven US-based affiliates (though the DSL and VSL teams have losing records too). The minor league teams have been pretty solid most years under GMZ; not sure if this is a deliberate shift in promotion/placement process for players – that is, if they’re challenging young players a bit more – or if it’s just one of those random things that happens now and again.

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Game 93, The King vs. The Shark

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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