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Date: Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014 00:30

King Felix vs. Dallas Keuchel, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day – may it end happier than last Felix Day.

About a decade ago now, Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” came out and changed the way many fans looked at the game, and, importantly, got businesses and organizations around the country to think about market inefficiencies and how they balanced things like tradition and organizational memory with data-driven analysis. For a while there, Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane and Lewis were popular on the lecture circuit, talking about opportunities and threats and how corporations like baseball teams or car companies or government departments evaluate claims and make decisions.

Whatever you think of the book, whether you think it gave short shrift to Tim Hudson and Miggy Tejada, or whether you thought it was a landmark in the appreciation of and realization of the power of data, it was a pretty big deal. The fact that firms paid to discuss these concepts showed just how transferable certain skills and approaches could be. With the right message, an executive in a ball club could conceivably help an executive in manufacturing or marketing. Admittedly, I’m somewhat biased; I’m sympathetic to the specific message that Beane/DePo like to talk about, but they’re just one example, and I feel like baseball’s richness has interesting concepts hidden within it.

This is actually not a complaining-about-the-M’s-FO post, this is about Felix. Look, the whole “use data” thing is really important, and if it bent the curve in industry even slightly towards rationality, cool. But I’ve been just stunned watching Felix this year, and I keep thinking there is an incredible story that Felix himself probably isn’t equipped to tell. The A’s had to contend with competitors with far more resources. Felix has to contend with aging, regression to the mean, and the fact that everyone on every team gets to prepare for *him*. He’s a known entity, and it’s not like he’s become a knuckleballer or shifted to a sidearm delivery. Felix has a target on him every time he pitches, and he’s lost several ticks on his fastball since debuting in 2005.

And to this point in 2014, he’s gotten better. Every small sample size caveat applies; we’re still in March. But at least in the early innings, Felix has thrown four games of Pedro-in-2000 ball at his divisional rivals. As you know, many advanced pitching stats like FIP and xFIP have smaller spreads than ERA/RA. That’s because by ignoring aspects of performance that are more influenced by luck – strand rate, BABIP – they tend to pull pitchers back to the middle. Any truly amazing performance, like any completely abysmal one, is a combination of true talent and luck; winning 116 games means you had an amazing team AND you got a bit lucky. So, Felix right now has an xFIP – a measure doubly-insulated against “lucky” stats – is 1.84.

To say that that number will rise is trite and missing the point entirely. Of course it will. But a 28 year old Felix, after over 1,800 major league innings, started off this season with the same 92-93 MPH velocity and ripped off 39Ks to 3 walks. By xFIP, he’s been UNlucky. The point is that Felix has adapted and is now lethal to batters, and *I can’t figure out how.* The movement on the pitches is the same, the velocity’s essentially the same. He seems to throw the same number of strikes*. He doesn’t have a new pitch. He’s throwing the same pitches to hitters who’ve seen him dozens and dozens of times – Coco Crisp has faced him 66 times! Howie Kendrick has 73 PAs! – and they’re reacting like they’ve never seen a pitch before, let alone a Felix change-up. How’s this possible? To be fair, it’s not just Felix. Clayton Kershaw debuted as a young fireballer with an unreal curveball and command issues, and over time turned himself into clearly, unquestionably the best hurler in the NL. He did it despite losing some velocity and despite throwing his curveball far less (sound familiar?). Command is a crucial part of the equation to be sure, but so is limiting contact. Do they make trade-offs consciously? Do coaching staffs help them plan their attack, and do they tailor it to specific line-ups? Or do they get to a point where they stop thinking about the other team entirely? If so, what do they think about instead? There are cliches to fill the space here, like take it one pitch at a time, or trust your stuff, or focus on the gameplan, but to be pithy about it, that won’t sell on the lecture circuit. What IS Felix’s gameplan? The fact that his change-up and sinker are now 2 MPH apart in velo and with similar arm-side run…that runs counter to decades of accumulated pitching wisdom. It’s also clearly “the gameplan.” Does Felix think about this? Does he sequence them differently now than he did three years ago when the velo gap was nearly as small? Does he target different parts of the zone? Felix is extraordinary and Felix is way more extraordinary than we thought.

This weekend for reasons I can’t even remember, I was reading about the evolutionary dance between rough-skinned newts and garter snakes, two animals that are pretty common around here. The newt secretes a very, very powerful toxin (TTX, the same stuff in blowfish livers that scare sushi-lovers off of fugu) from its skin. Garter snakes developed a way to process that poison that allows them to eat slow, docile newts (you don’t have to run fast from predators when you are literally built of tetradotoxin). Many newt populations have responded by growing ever more toxic. The snake apparently required fewer genetic steps to develop immunity (since the process only happens in its stomach, as opposed to its skin), and so has pulled ahead even in areas in which the newts are many times more toxic than poison dart frogs. I keep thinking of that story when I look over Felix’s early 2014 stats – all of the work hitters can do to make themselves more toxic. Stacking line-ups with lefties, or watching tons of video. The A’s add a bunch of fly-ball hitters who hit *better* than average against sinker-baller/ground ball pitchers. But the snake makes a tweak and swallows the newt, and slithers off unaffected.

Oh, uh, Dallas Keuchel is a ground-balling lefty who is nothing like Felix at all. Fastball/slider/change-to-righties.

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

* Here BIS and pitch fx differ. To pitch fx, Felix has thrown FEWER pitches inside the zone, and gotten batters to chase many more of them. To BIS, he’s thrown MORE pitches in the zone. This is essentially the opposite of the discrepancy with Paxton, where BIS thought he had an extremely low zone%, but got swings anyway, while pitch fx saw him as pounding the zone while hitters were powerless to punish him for it. Early in the season, these discrepancies are larger and perhaps more numerous; it’ll be interesting to see if they converge over time.

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Game 19, Astros at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Game Threads, Mariners"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014 00:16

On the afternoon of April 15, the Mariners were 7-5, having the day before beaten the Rangers by six runs. Out of the gate, Dustin Ackley was hitting well at the bottom of the order. Lloyd McClendon spoke to the media.

On the afternoon of April 21, the Mariners are 7-11, having over the weekend been swept by the Marlins. Brad Miller hasn’t found his stride at the plate. Lloyd McClendon drafted a lineup.

Is there even a criticism here? I don’t think there’s a criticism here. You could say, okay, maybe Lloyd McClendon is a flip-flopper, but another way of describing a flip-flopper is saying the person has an open mind and is willing to change. McClendon liked the original setup. If he didn’t, it wouldn’t have been the original setup. But now he’s responding to something — maybe it’s just early success and struggles, or maybe there’s more to it, I don’t know. Clearly, McClendon doesn’t think Ackley will be overwhelmed batting higher, and maybe the sense is that Miller has been pressing in front of the lineup core. If you even want to call it a lineup core, but that’s a different story.

The surface point here is that it took Lloyd McClendon one six-game losing streak to change his mind about something he suggested could last all year. The broader point, as Matthew has written about before, is that while managers talk to the media pretty much every day, they’re under no obligation to be entirely truthful, and what a manager says one day might not be what he says the next. They change their minds, because the season’s long and unexpected issues can crop up. McClendon isn’t a liar or a hypocrite or something. He’s a baseball manager who makes decisions, and when managers are asked about their decisions, they explain they were made with conviction, because that’s a part of leading. Leading is making tough choices, and believing in them, and possessing a willingness to do something different if circumstances demand. The Mariners were probably due for a lineup switch, so here’s a lineup switch. It will work or it won’t and there will be a lot more different lineups in the next five and a half months.

Don’t judge a manager by what he says, and don’t freak out if he seems to verbalize too much of a commitment. Judge a manager by what he does, and understand that they know what’s going on. They want to win even more badly than you do, and they’re constantly conceiving of all possible combinations. There were reasons McClendon said he wanted to keep Ackley low. There are reasons now he’s willing to move Ackley up. We don’t even know for sure whether this is better — it could be that Ackley isn’t ready to hit second, that he could really benefit from more time at the bottom like McClendon preferred. But let’s just take this as a sign of open-mindedness. Don’t judge someone as being closed-minded until you have sufficient evidence. It’s easy to say something’s going to last a while before a while happens. The circumstances of a baseball team change literally every single day, and no manager can know what things are going to look like a few days down the road. A manager can only make the best decision he can make at the time, and then, we’ll see. We’ll all see.

-- 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.

Losing Streaks

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Monday, 21 Apr 2014 19:52

Monday morning podcast(s) continues/begins.

Well… There was the… Hmm… Err… //sigh, I mean, ok, well we did podcast?

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 really appreciated.

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Podcast: Oh mannnnn…

Attached Media: audio/mpeg ( 0 ko)
Author: "Matthew Carruth" Tags: "Mariners, podcast"
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Date: Sunday, 20 Apr 2014 16:34

Brandon Maurer vs. Kevin Slowey, 10:10am

Happy Easter

Ah yes, the reshuffled line-up. The first step in breaking a losing streak – one level below “closed door team meeting” and three steps below “fire the hitting coach.” That sounds snarkier than I really intend it, but there’s something about losing to the Marlins that has everyone feeling fatalistic. And it’s not like Miller hasn’t earned himself a day on the bench.

Brandon Maurer – not sure at all how this is going to go, but a successful Brandon Maurer would really, really help the M’s pitching depth. Kevin Slowey’s the ex-Twin whose career looked to be over when HR problems made his command skills unworkable. Really, Blake Beavan’s been trying to make this skillset work: very low walk totals, a few Ks, and a low BABIP driven by extreme, Chris-Young-style fly ball rates. Like Beavan, avoiding walks and giving up elevated contact meant giving up lots of HRs. Like Henderson Alvarez, Slowey’s been better in Marlins park, in part because the park suppresses HRs, and in part due (I guess) some sort of mechanical tweak. He returned with Miami last year and while he wasn’t great, he ran a sub-4 FIP over 90+ innings.

Unlike Beavan, though, he doesn’t have big platoon splits. While Beavan’s actually OK against righties, Slowey’s splits are completely normal, and hasn’t been great (or awful) against opposite-handed hitters. Part of the problem seems to be that his curve ball wasn’t great, so righties teed off on it. We’ll see if he adjusts and starts throwing more of his cutter. After last night’s game, he’s probably feeling fairly confident.

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Bloomquist, 3B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, RF
5: Ackley, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Franklin, SS
8: Buck, C
9: Maurer

OF James Jones was optioned to Tacoma to make room for Maurer on the 25-man roster.

On the plus side, the Marlins line-up is extremely right-handed, with only Garrett Jones and Christian Yelich batting lefty against Maurer who struggled mightily against lefties in 2013. Sure, some of the righties include Ozuna and Stanton, but this isn’t a bad match-up on paper.

-- 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 18, Mariners at Marlins

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 19 Apr 2014 18:46

Roenis Elias vs. Henderson Alvarez, 4:10pm

I honestly don’t know what to say about the fact that its up to Elias to stop a Mariner losing streak. Uh, go get ‘em kid. Watch out for Stanton. That slow curve? Keep it far away from the spot Medina placed his slider.

The plus side isn’t just that Elias is a fly baller in a park that’s hard for non-Stantons to homer in- the plus is that the M’s are facing Henderson Alvarez. I kept trying to think of who Hector Noesi reminded me of – who else threw a swerving 94mph sinker with a breaking ball that didn’t look obviously bad and posted terrible results? Henderson Alvarez, of course! While with the Blue Jays, Alvarez managed the near impossible trifecta of early-80s, sub-Beavan K rates, ground balls AND an awful HR rate. He faced the M’s 3 times, giving up 3 HRs in 18 IP, with 8 free passes given up against just 6 Ks. Because these facts pertain to the M’s of 2011-12, I should note that he went 2-0, but still – bad numbers.

Then, pretty much immediately after joining the Marlins, he turned into a decent, sometimes better, but clearly not terrible starter. The K rate improved, as it would when you suddenly get to face pitchers. But the big change was the HR rate. He gave up just 2 HRs last year Ina bit over 100 IP, a year after yielding 29. He’s still never given up a HR in Marlins park. He’s not exactly good, and lefties still have a distinct advantage against him, but he limited the damage they could do. The BABIP gods may not be as kind to him this year, but he looks like an ok back of the rotation starter, and he just turned 24 yesterday.

I mention this because it’s clear to me that this will play out for Noesi too. He’s not going to win any Cy Youngs, but someone – maybe Texas, maybe his next stop- is going to make a tiny adjustment to his mechanics or grip and Noesi will turn into an innings eater who gives up few HRs. It’s easier if you prepare yourself ahead of time and react intellectually, perhaps musing on the nature of coaching, or of maturity.

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

I don’t believe Elias has ever batted professionally.

Jordan Pries, who’s been on a tear to start the year in AA, starts for Jackson. Dutchman Lars Huijer starts for Clinton.

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Game 17, Mariners at Marlins

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Enhance   New window
Date: Saturday, 19 Apr 2014 05:58

The Mariners lost another heartbreaker Friday. In the aftermath, the thing a lot of people want to talk about is the latest case of the new transfer rule rearing its controversial, impossibly stupid head. I don’t know why — it was pretty obvious to me that Kyle Seager didn’t catch the throw from Yoervis Medina at all. Of course everybody was safe on the play; why would you expect anything otherwise?

seagertransfercatch

Incidentally, I’m not sure what the Marlins were doing. If that play is called in a not-stupid way, the Marlins lose the lead baserunner. But if that play goes as intended, the Marlins move runners up to second and third with one out. That would bring up Giancarlo Stanton, who is the team’s good hitter, but then Stanton would just be walked intentionally to bring up Garrett Jones, who is not the team’s good hitter. By bunting in front of Stanton, the Marlins were effectively taking the bat out of the hands of both Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. But Stanton still got to swing away in the end, because the play didn’t go as intended for either party.

And so Giancarlo Stanton faced Yoervis Medina with nobody out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. Medina was up against it, through only partial fault of his own. He allowed a leadoff single, but then Justin Smoak messed up a sacrifice bunt, and then Kyle Seager messed up didn’t mess up? technically messed up a sacrifice bunt. At that point the Mariners were a long shot, and the story was almost certain to be the reviewed play at third no matter what. But I do think something has to be said about just how terrible a decisive pitch Medina threw. The ninth inning featured controversy and misplays and heroics from a predictable source, but it also featured one of the Mariners’ worst pitches of the young season.

Medina got ahead. He got ahead, and he got to two strikes. Getting that far was kind of a miracle — at 1-and-1, Stanton swung right through an elevated breaking ball. He wasn’t tricked; he just swung under the ball, but he swung very comfortably. Stanton was on the pitch. If the pitch were to be thrown again, it would have to be thrown low and away, in an area where the worst-case scenario would be a called ball. Medina needed a strikeout, and strikeouts come from breaking balls out of the zone.

The problem is…well, let me tell you a little story. When I was young, in elementary school, we took a family trip to Europe and at one point we stayed with friends of a relative in a rural town in France. One afternoon my brother and I were out front in the yard, playing whatever we were playing, when a car pulled up and the passenger window rolled down. I walked over and, in French, I presume the driver asked for directions. I presume that because, after a brief pause, the driver subsequently asked in English for directions. Let me just make sure you’re getting this — I was a boy, and I obviously wasn’t in a familiar setting, because I was in a country that speaks a language I couldn’t speak. The driver requested my help anyway. I must have looked like a reliable child.

Two facts:

(1) I definitely didn’t know where the thing was that he wanted to get to.

(2) I definitely wasn’t going to not give him directions.

I thought for a moment and then very confidently instructed the man to go this way, then this way, then this other way, and then that way for a little bit before hanging a final turn. I didn’t want to seem like a know-nothing idiot, so I acted like a know-something idiot, and the driver thanked me, rolled up the window, and drove off. My brother and I resumed playing, and now that I think about it, I think we were playing with walkie-talkies and laser toy guns. I don’t know if the driver ever reached his destination. I don’t know where I led him to. For all I know he’s still there, driving around, lost, considerably older, and slightly less trusting of the area youth. I’m pretty sure I was too young to have the capacity to feel guilt. I just wanted to be a helpful boy.

To bring this back to the Mariners, Yoervis Medina is me, and the baseball is a lost driver in rural France, asking an American boy on vacation for directions. Medina knows he can’t direct the baseball properly, but he also knows he has to direct it somewhere, lest he look like a fool. No man wants to look a fool, and no developing man wants to look a fool, so a man gives directions, even if he doesn’t know quite where he is himself. The result is that Medina’s baseballs take a lot of turns, but it’s always a mystery where they end up. He just sends the baseballs on their way, and once the baseball is out of Medina’s hand, the baseball is…out of Medina’s hands. He has no command, and sometimes that means he throws terrible balls, and sometimes that means he throws terrible strikes, even with the count 1-and-2 against one of the best players in the league in a necessary strikeout situation. It’s a credit to Medina’s raw stuff he’s even a little effective. It’s no mystery why he isn’t more effective.

This is the first time Medina’s slider has been taken deep in the majors. It deserved it. Looking at Stanton’s player card, the slider was thrown to an area where Stanton’s slugged…oh, .856, all right. What Medina couldn’t have done was just stand there, on the mound, never throwing. What Medina ultimately did was the worst. Maybe the literal worst. So that’s something, that he accomplished.

medinastanton1

ENHANCE

medinastanton2

ENHANCE

medinastanton3

ENHANCE

medinastanton4

ENHANCE

medinastanton5

ENHANCE

medinastanton6

ENHANCE

medinastanton7

ENHANCE

medinastanton8

StantonMedina2.gif.opt

-- 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.

Enhance

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 22:30

Chris Young vs. Nate Eovaldi, 4:10pm

The M’s face the Miami Marlins, this time in *actual* Miami.

Chris Young and Nathan Eovaldi have very similar repertoires, as both rely heavily on 4-seam fastballs, and pair it mostly with sliders. They both mix in occasional curves, though Young’s heart clearly isn’t in it, and they both have change-ups, seemingly just to be able to tell pitching coaches that they do. Fastballs and sliders, platoon splits be damned. Both have OK K rates and somewhat poor walk rates. Peas in a pod, right?

As you probably know, this is a match up between one of the league’s hardest throwing starters and one of its softest tossers. Eovaldi has averaged – AVERAGED – about 97mph on his four-seamer this year while Young’s at 86.5mph. This gap of about 11mph doesn’t sound incredible, but it’s actually tough to find games with a larger disparity. If you exclude RA Dickey, whose “fastball” functions more as a gimmick pitch or a change-up to his knuckler, about the maximum gap you can have nowadays is around 12-13mph – between Eovaldi/Garrett Richards/James-Paxton-on-a-good-day/Jose Fernandez on one end and Mark Buehrle on the other. But these guys don’t match up all the time, and thanks to the miracle/curse of regression, baseball itself seems to abhor such gaps; Stephen Strasburg isn’t throwing 98 anymore, and Livan Hernandez is out of a job (though given all the injuries, he may not be for long).

So if Young’s velocity’s down a bit from 86+, and if Eovaldi is amped up to face, uh, the…ok, nevermind…we could see something we don’t often get to see. It’s by no means unprecedented, as Buehrle faced off against a hard-throwing Sonny Gray last year. Rookie year Strasburg opposed Bronson Arroyo back in 2010 too, but these games are actually rarer than you’d think. Buerhle faced off against Yu Darvish last year, but Buerhle averaged a respectable-for-him 85 while Darvish sat at 93. Anthony Vasquez opposed guys like Everett Teaford and Colby Lewis, not Strasburg or Verlander.

There you have it. A safe, identifiable thing to watch when you can’t bear to actually get invested. This is poor example of a kind of post that Jeff does so well, I know. Part of the reason I love things like this is that Jeff’s a good writer, but part of it is for the reminder that some odd and occasionally remarkable things occur that we don’t even notice at the time. We’re caught up in the at-bat, or the game, or the race, and we miss something fascinating, something lesser men will demean with the adjective “quirky.” For some, these things are a distraction from the things that matter. For others, these things are a distraction from the things that hurt. The M’s scored six runs in an INNING yesterday, and even as that inning came to a close, I knew how the game would end. I bet a lot of you did too. So yes, I’m going to find some strange angle to this game and the next few until Brad Miller reminds me that I wrote this without trying to be satirical.

The M’s are better than they *feel* right now, and they’re facing a mediocre team with an Angels-grade bullpen. But holy hell did that Texas series suck.

1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, 1B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Young, P

Riiiiiiight, this is where the pitchers hit for some reason. Got it.

Sooooo, 1B prospect and current Tacoma Rainier Ji-Man Choi was suspended 50 games for testing positive for methandienone, an anabolic steroid. As Todd Milles writes, this opens the door to Jesus Montero, who is now the clear starter, and not in a job-sharing role. Sooooo…..yeah. Choi’s had trouble staying on the field, but has hit very well – the stocky lefty had a .500 OBP through 10 games this season, after posting a .377 OBP for Jackson last year. With his suspension, Choi moves to the restricted list, which opens up 40-man roster spot. We’ll see who grabs it.

Speaking of good-hitting, injury-bedeviled prospects, OF Julio Morban’s also been called up to Tacoma. Not sure if it’s just a paper move, as Morban hasn’t yet played this season due to…wait for it…injury.

Brandon Maurer will be called up to make a spot start against Miami on Sunday. The probable starter’s been labeled “TBA” for a few days, but with Beavan’s injury, the M’s didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. It really came down to Maurer and lefty Anthony Fernandez, and Maurer’s the right call there.

-- 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 16, Mariners at Marlins

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Game Threads, Mariners"
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:51

For a while now, I had thought about what kind of post I would write about Ji-man Choi when the time came. There seemed to be no lack of interesting material to cover. I could talk about how he was a third baseman in high school and how there was this big fuss when he signed because people were worrying about the KBO not being able to retain its homegrown products. I could talk about how the M’s converted him to catcher and even added an average-ish Korean pitching prospect so that he could have a battery mate.

I could talk about the Arizona League MVP he won, followed by the struggles catching, how his back locked up, and how they moved him to first base. I could talk about how they sent him to Clinton, not really intending to keep him there, and how he held his own and the next year moved up from High Desert to Jackson to Tacoma, all the while with limited expectations. I could talk about how he just kept hitting and walking until he forced his way into the discussion. It would mean that Smoak still didn’t get it together, or that one of the DH crew likewise couldn’t hold down, but it would be something new, a story of redemption, and a labored-for reward going to a prospect that I’ve just plain liked for years.

Well, if you liked the “redemption” part of that story, the good news is that he has even more to redeem himself from because there was an announcement yesterday that Choi would be suspended for 50 games due to a PED positive. I’d curse the Monkey’s Paw, but it’s been done, and with all the Bad News that has been Mariners prospects over the past couple of weeks, I just don’t have the levity to pull it off.

The Tacoma News Tribune got some quotes from Choi in response to the suspension. It’s the usual, “I don’t know what I could have taken that would cause this to happen, but I will serve the suspension, lacking any other explanation.” There was a time when you could lean on that old adage that one could be innocent until proven guilty, but after all that fun stuff with Ryan Braun in recent years, with all the talk of him staring deep into people’s eyes and saying things as sincerely as possible, I think some of the general naïveté has burned off. At this juncture, I can only be glad that the talk of worse suspensions, as have been floated in discussions lately, are not already in effect.

The substance detected in Choi’s system was methandienone. It has its own Wikipedia page, in which we learn that it was previously given to women as a tonic. Ah, mid-20th century science. More recently, it was something used by body builders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, prior to its being banned about thirteen years ago. As substances go, this is pretty serious stuff. This is a big boy steroid.

Here’s another consideration though. You can go down the list of PED suspensions over the last five years or so and what you’ll see, disproportionately, is that foreign minor league players are going down. Before you prepare your conspiracy tinfoil hats, the explanation is actually rather simple: other countries don’t have the same regulations on supplements that we do. Another consideration is that baseball organizations have warned their own for years that picking up a supplement at GNC or wherever is not necessarily the best course because we don’t actually know what’s in there. What we’re seeing often is a system of punishment tested against an under-regulated substance with little global oversight. Fun, huh?

As stated earlier, the usual offenders are Latin American prospects who knowingly or unknowingly get into this stuff either to recover from injuries or not. Have fun with that Punnett square of potential moral culpability, baseball. In Choi’s case, there are any number of places he could have ended up with something that was graded by different laws. Choi did some of his rehab work in the Australian Baseball League. He’s probably been in Korea sometime recently. He has a bunch of teammates who have been in other places, acquiring other things. Also there’s the stuff manufactured in the good ol’ U.S. of A. There’s no easy thread to pick up and follow to the answer, and even if there were, you’d have to then answer questions of intentionality. Enjoy.

Major League Baseball has convinced us at present that PEDs are morally wrong and something to be condemned with harsh punishment, quite unlike the future and blernsball in which steroid injections are mandatory. As a fan of and guy who sometimes still writes about baseball I’m supposed to unambiguously condemn this stuff even when a player I like is implicated. But minor league baseball is hard. Dudes are on buses most of the time, the per diem for food is pretty laughable even if you aren’t a professional athlete (PB&J, ahoy!), and it’s difficult to find offseason jobs when employers know it’s a temporary endeavor and players know they need to keep in shape. Without shadowing any doubt on one player or the next, I could see why a player might get into this sort of thing. We can all stand on our boxes and say we’d never do something like that, but without being in that position, it’s hard to say. Fortunately in my field, there aren’t performance-enhancing drugs, just regular drugs. *rimshot* Kidding, of course.

Choi has been suspended. He’ll be out until early or mid-June I guess. It sucks, but considering that his game has never been particularly about power, nor did he see any notable increase in his slugging, nor was he recovering from any weird injury that I know of, maybe it’s just some fluke thing. I’ll keep telling myself that as I can. Just keep walking and hitting doubles, and try not to get too down as Montero lumbers embarrassingly about the first base bag.

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1B Ji-Man Choi Suspended for 50 Games

Author: "Jay Yencich" Tags: "Minor Leagues"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 15:44

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Tanner Scheppers, 11:05am

The first day game of the year comes uncomfortably close to the first really painful blown save of the year. The less said about last night’s ending, the better.

Today, the M’s face another converted reliever; hopefully this game goes a bit better than Tuesday’s shutout. Scheppers was a first-round talent out of college, but he fell a bit due to injury. That’s essentially been the story with him ever since. His stuff never quite missed enough bats in the rotation, but he’s been a solid reliever…when healthy.

Scheppers sat in the mid/upper 90s as a reliever, and while his velo’s down a touch in his first few starts, it’s still 94-95. He relies overwhelmingly on a sinker and a slider, though he’s got a change up that he’ll break out occasionally to lefties.

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

Andrew Carraway starts for Tacoma tonight, while the Jackson Generals play 2 against the Tennessee Smokies – Stephen Landazuri and Moises Hernandez start. Carlos Missell starts in Clinton, but the biggest prospect taking the hill in the system is Tyler Pike, who’ll navigate the treacherous waters of Lancaster, CA and a pretty good Jethawks lineup.

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Game 15, Mariners at Rangers

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 07:58

It really does feel fresh at the beginning. No matter what happened the season before, no matter what the expectations might’ve been in spring training, every season feels like a new season until it feels like a familiar season. And in the beginning this season, the Mariners didn’t just sweep the Angels — the Mariners obliterated the Angels, on the Angels’ own field, and that allowed us a certain set of feelings one doesn’t come across very often. We knew what it was like to watch the Mariners blow a team out. We didn’t yet remember what it was like to watch the Mariners struggle. So for a few days, we got to feel not just confidence, but overconfidence, in the Seattle Mariners.

Reality would start to set back in with losses. Losses are inevitable, and even the best teams ever lose literally dozens of games every year. The Mariners lost and we came down from our initial high. They lost a little more, and they won a little more. In a lot of ways baseball ends up the same gift in different wrapping paper. It’s something to get excited about at the start, but it isn’t long until you’re like, “oh yeah, this.” Not always necessarily in a bad way, but it takes no time at all for baseball to go back to feeling like routine.

But now — now — baseball’s officially back. Mariners baseball is officially back. Thing about those earlier losses is they were easier to take. The first loss was weird, and corrupted by a terrible umpire and a Hector Noesi, but you don’t look for much from the debut of Roenis Elias. Then the other losses were just run-of-the-mill losses, mostly losses in which the Mariners didn’t hit. Those games suck, because those games do nothing to get you excited about baseball. Watch one and it feels like it was a complete waste of time. But now we have our first loss that makes us dread baseball. It isn’t displeasure because a game was boring and pointless. It’s displeasure because a game genuinely hurt, and we’re the ones who put ourselves in that position.

These are the ones that hurt the most. Throw in the Felix factor and these are the ones that hurt the very most. The team wasted unhittable brilliance, and now it has the maximum wait until the next opportunity to try to not waste that. You can shrug off a blowout loss. A blowout loss is just one of those days. A blown-save loss? A blown-save loss is a loss that gets you just as you start to assume the victory. A blown-save loss is a fire-everybody loss. It’s the most devastating sort of loss for the emotions, and it’s the kind of loss that makes you actually, legitimately hate baseball, if only for as long as you sit there blankly.

These are the losses that make you want to lash out and blast every single thing that isn’t going well. Lash out at Brad Miller, obviously. Lash out at Fernando Rodney. And maybe lash out at Lloyd McClendon. Lash out at Robinson Cano. Lash out at Justin Smoak. Lash out at Abe Almonte and Kyle Seager and whoever else. Basically, these are the losses that make you want to vent. Which is a funny thing in a way, since this loss was an underhand toss from Brad Miller away from being a victory on the road over Yu Darvish. The games that hurt worst are the almost-wins, the should’ve-wins.

At the beginning, you start fresh. You don’t yet remember what it’s like to love baseball. You don’t yet remember what it’s like to be annoyed by baseball. And you don’t yet remember what it’s like to hate baseball, to hate every last part of it, to wish that baseball would just crawl into a gutter and die. Now we’ve officially checked off all the boxes. Now we get to go back to being ourselves, equipped with all the appropriate emotions, and we’ll think of Mariners baseball the normal way until Mariners baseball stops being so god-damned normal.

No part of me even wants to think about the fact that the M’s get back at it early Thursday. But they do, and I will, too, because that’s how this works. Out of my own experiences with therapy I’ve come to understand that things are never as bad as they seem when you’re upset, and things are never as good as they seem when you’re giddy. That’s a rule to keep in mind, with sports and all things. Before all else, recognize and acknowledge your own mood. Then apply the necessary adjustment to your evaluations. Wednesday made us hate baseball, and it made us hate the Mariners, and when you hate something you go looking for flaws. The Mariners are better than your storm-cloud thoughts and unsavory language. Acknowledge that. The Mariners are worse than they seemed when they wiped the floor with the carcass of the Angels’ simian figurehead. Acknowledge that. The clearest thinking will have to be done on off days. Gamedays will bias us, and this gameday biased us quite a lot.

Games like this do happen, even to the good teams, and as an example you can consider the first-place A’s and the issues they’ve already had at the closer position. Odds are, the Mariners will end up winning a few of these over the next five and a half months. But that doesn’t make the day-of experience better, because nothing changes the fact that this loss was avoidable. It’s simultaneously senseless and sensible when people reflect on all the almost-wins, because those were almost wins, and what if the team got one or two more breaks? How much better would the record suddenly look? This feels like too much of a wasted opportunity, and now the Mariners have done this to Felix almost 20 times. Let’s not pretend like his unwavering loyalty to this organization isn’t probably a sign of some sort of worrying neurological disorder.

On Wednesday, baseball reminded us that it can really suck. We knew that, but we couldn’t readily recall the feeling. Now we’re bleeding from fresh wounds, and the reason is because baseball’s back, and sometimes it can be a real bitch, and we know that now, officially, for 2014. Today we hate baseball. Tomorrow we give baseball another chance, because these things are always temporary. But boy do they ever not feel temporary. Boy does the hate just feel like it’s going to burn on forever. If we could actually leave baseball, we would’ve by now, but in my dreams I’ll be launching the Mariners into the sun. And I’m going to make damn sure they have enough fuel to get there.

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Baseball’s Back

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 00:00

King Felix vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm

Today’s slate of games features three former Cy Young winners, a couple of players most see as near-locks to win one in the future, and a smattering of all-stars, ROY-candidates and solidly above-average guys. It’s an astonishing array of talent, but I think we can safely say without any M’s or Rangers bias that the eyes of the baseball world will be on this game.

I’ve talked a lot recently about middle-tier or even journeymen types refining their approach and trying new things to stay a step of hitters – or just to stay on big league rosters. We kind of expect that from guys who weren’t blessed with loads of natural talent, but while it’s not like we haven’t noticedFelix making adjustments before, I don’t think it gets enough attention. In part, it’s not in Felix’s nature to discuss this – his public utterances don’t seem to indicate a relentless tinkerer, or someone thinking about how to adjust to batters’ adjustments. It’s almost as if his little adjustments are another form of muscle memory – that he can adjust without consciously doing so. A slew of pitching coaches and catchers may have had something to do with it too, but of course the team itself hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in any of them (except Zunino, of course).*

Logan noted the change in his K:BB at LL recently, but it bears repeating. Felix’s K/9 has gone up each year since 2011, but K/9 somewhat undersells it: the gain in K% is larger because Felix has done this while also dropping his walk rate. This has led to much lower FIPs than he used to run, right at a time when we expect to see some of Felix’s effectiveness curbed by aging and declining velo. As we’ve seen this year, challenging more sometimes means home runs, but of course if he had been pulled earlier (many would argue “at the correct time” not just “earlier”), he’d only have given up one on the year, and his FIP would be miniscule. But even with 3 HRs allowed, what we’ve seen of Felix this year has been jaw-dropping. Think about how hard it is to surprise all of *us* about Felix Hernandez, and how easily he’s done so this year. The A’s won their 10th game last night, and despite facing very good pitching, are 4th in the league in runs scored. The Angels are 2nd. Both are in the top 5 in wRC+ thus far. It’s not like Felix was facing the Astros or even the beat-up Rangers. And he made them – ok, all of them but Trout- look lost.

That brings us to Yu Darvish, who hasn’t given up a run yet in 15 innings. Like Felix, he’s improved his control, and has yielded only two free passes through two starts. Despite throwing an array of pitches, Darvish was known mostly for his slider, especially last year. In his last start, he didn’t throw a single one, opting for curve balls instead. It’s too soon to know what to make of it, or if he’s just been working on things while brushing off the Astros. This is what a large repertoire can do, though. You can tailor your offerings to what feels good that day, to the opponents’ weaknesses, or just give an opponent who’s seen you often an entirely different look. That said, the M’s have had a lot of success against Darvish – as the M’s radio broadcast discussed last night. Many of you will remember the last USSM/LL meet-up at Safeco, when these two hurlers matched up and the M’s walked away with a 7-0 win. Ackley and Saunders doubled that game, and John Jaso hit a HR (to left, as I recall). It’s not like Darvish has large platoon splits or anything, but they’re there, so the M’s lefty-heavy line-up is a good countermeasure.

This is fun.

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

Joining the team tonight, as you see above, is IF Nick Franklin. Logan Morrison’s heading to the DL; apparently Morrison’s hamstring was bandaged up today. Franklin was on an absolute tear in AAA, going 17-43 with 6 walks and 10 Ks, and 4 HRs (mostly in chilly, damp Tacoma – this isn’t an altitude-driven mirage) on his way to a formidable slash line of .295/.469/.744 (small sample, blah blah).

While Felix exists as a living, breathing, dominating exception to the rule that all pitchers get hurt, the M’s have obviously struggled to keep their non-Felixes healthy. While we were still reeling from the news about Walker last night, this morning brought word that another M’s pitching prospect is headed to the DL. This time, it’s AA righty Victor Sanchez, who’ll head to the DL with “forearm tightness.” This is *not* fun.

We now have some indication of why Blake Beavan was pulled after an uneventful 4th inning last night as opposed to after his 2-HR 2nd. Surprise! He’s hurt! Beavan to the DL, with CF/RF James Jones coming up to take his 25-man spot. Jones is a lanky 6’4″ OF with a cannon arm (most teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher out of LIU), but his power hasn’t quite developed the way many thought it might after he hit 12 HRs for Clinton in the pitcher-friendly MWL in 2010. He cracked the back of a top-100 prospects list once, but wasn’t able to make the leap into true prospect status last year. And frankly, the M’s could use an OF prospect. Jones (like a lot of Rainiers) got off to a solid start this year, but he’s essentially neck and neck with Xavier Avery right now. Avery came off the 40-man this spring, but he’s scuffled a bit so far. So, despite being a bit older and possessing a less than awesome 96:43 SB:CS ratio, Jones it is. Jones probably has more upside than Avery, and despite the CS numbers, has decent speed. Jones (like Avery) is a lefty hitter. No word yet on the corresponding 40-man move.

* He seems to have made some sort of leap in the 2012 season, after a – by his standards only – lackluster 2011. That’s the year the M’s catchers were Olivo, Jaso and Montero, not exactly guys you’d peg as receivers who can help their pitchers with quality receiving and high baseball intellect. It was Jaso, of course, who caught the perfecto and also saw Felix’s highest K:BB ratio that year, but a part of me desperately wants to believe that it was Jesus Montero passed on some simple, effective tip and essentially caused Felix to morph into the Ur-Felix we’re seeing now. Not because I want to “get something” from The Trade, but because it would be so powerfully ironic, that irony itself may collapse in on itself like a dying star.

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Game 14, Felix vs. Darvish

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 01:43

Some of the absolute worst news to come out of camp was that Taijuan Walker was dealing with shoulder discomfort. Ain’t nothing for a young pitcher quite like shoulder discomfort. Shoulder discomfort can be nothing but a little setback, and shoulder discomfort can also be the beginning of the end of a promising career. If that’s a little over-dramatic, it isn’t a lot over-dramatic, and we’ve all been worried about Walker for weeks.

The word we got was that Walker was dealing with bursitis. Which left us in a certain position: if it was really just bursitis, Walker would be fine with rest and anti-inflammatories. But the thing about shoulder exams is that imaging doesn’t always pick up things that are actually wrong in there, and sometimes issues are only revealed upon surgical intervention. So with Walker, we all hoped it was just bursitis, but I don’t think anyone was going to breathe easy until Walker was back on a big-league mound.

Walker was making some great progress. Tonight his rehab was to advance to Triple-A Tacoma. The thing about that is:

The other day, it looked like Walker was on the verge of a return to the Mariners rotation. Now he’s in a place where he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow, and while it’s possible this could be nothing but a little random, insignificant stiffness, the Danny Hultzen flashbacks are vivid and looping over and over in every part of my brain.

Check out the time-stamps, in case you’d forgotten. The Hultzen saga started as something that was “not worrisome“. Just needed some time. Then he needed more time, then he needed major surgery that threatens a pitcher’s career and therefore livelihood. Hultzen required one of the worst possible operations, and the parallels between his case and Walker’s are chilling. Granted, Hultzen wasn’t diagnosed with bursitis, and granted, they have very different shoulders, but when it comes to a pitcher’s shoulder, the less you hear about it, the better. We’re hearing more about Walker’s, just as it looked like he was past his issues, and it doesn’t take much of a mental leap to imagine the worst. We’ve seen the worst, and we know how the worst plays out. Taijuan Walker could be okay, but if he had real shoulder trouble, this is how that would be going.

So. Hultzen’s already had his shoulder opened and touched, all over the place. Now Walker’s shoulder is giving him the business, for reasons people haven’t yet nailed down. James Paxton is on the disabled list with an injury near his shoulder, and while there’s some optimism there, there was optimism with Walker, too. Erasmo Ramirez is healthy but pitching like he isn’t. Brandon Maurer only just got returned to a minor-league starting rotation. The dependable youngster in the rotation right now might be Roenis Elias, and a few months ago almost literally no one even knew who he was. If I’d told you the name “Roenis Elias” in January I bet you would’ve stared at me blankly. Now, granted, it’s great that Elias is here and pitching all right, and he has one hell of a phenomenal story. His stuff could actually play in the majors long-term. But consider the circumstances under which Elias was able to make this rotation in the first place. Consider the circumstances under which Elias now seems like a rotation lock for the foreseeable future. I don’t know if this counts as a nightmare quite yet, but we’re at least going to bed after watching a scary movie, and it’s windy outside this big empty house. Also, hold on a second, nightmares aren’t real. Pitching injuries are extremely real. Upsettingly real in upsettingly elevated numbers.

It seemed like Taijuan Walker was going to be okay. For all I know, he might still be okay, and just a little sore for reasons no one has to worry about. Young pitchers can make one feel like an over-anxious parent. But then, the children of over-anxious parents get in trouble like all the time, which is why they’re over-anxious in the first place. The 2007 Mariners managed to bum us out while being over .500. The 2014 Mariners are finding a different way to do the same thing. May all your sweet Mariners feelings be both sweet and bitter. May the good never be unaccompanied by the dejecting.

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Taijuan Walker Diagnosed With Being A Pitcher

Author: "Jeff Sullivan" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 11:30

Blake Beavan vs. Robbie Ross, 5:05pm

Ah, Blake Beavan is *back*. I anticipate this game will get a ton of attention, so you may experience some site issues or load-time problems during the game.

Beavan doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence thanks to a steroid-era HR rate and an inability to miss bats. I’d argued a few times that antipathy to his low-K style made him seem much worse than he actually was, but 2013 made it a lot tougher to continue believing Beavan’s anything but a replacement-level (or worse) fill in. The problem’s the same: his low-walk skillset is predicated on throwing fastballs in the zone, and without an ability to miss bats (or get a ton of ground balls), that’s going to lead to HRs. I’ll give the guy credit – like most pitchers, he’s publicly made several changes, but they don’t seem to have helped. In fact, one of those changes may have made things worse.

When he first came up, Beavan enjoyed a string of quality starts driven largely by a very low BABIP. He gave up HRs here or there, but they were often solo shots. Perhaps in response to the home run problems, and perhaps because he posted some horrific platoon splits in 2011, Beavan decided he’d substantially increase the use of his sinker in 2012. He threw about 2 four-seamers for every sinker overall in 2011, but threw more sinkers than four-seamers in 2012. Against lefties, he used the sinker more than twice as often as the four-seamer. The problem was that Beavan’s sinker just isn’t very good, and he compounds that with the fact that sinkers naturally have *higher* platoon splits than four-seam fastballs. If the choice was simply trading more singles for fewer HRs, you could understand it a bit. But in his career, he’s given up a homer on 7.6% of all sinkers in play (not just in the air), while just 3.4% of his four-seamers put in play have left the yard.

This is something I’ve talked about before, but I just don’t understand why there’s clearly such a focus on getting pitchers to throw 4-seams to same-handed batters and 2-seams to opposite-handed batters. It’s completely backwards, at least according to the data we’ve looked at. Again, you can argue that an informed trade-off of OBP for SLG may be appropriate in certain cases – especially in cases where the pitcher’s giving up too many homers. But in Beavan’s case (and in many others), this advice has been disastrous.

Robbie Ross is a converted reliever who’s primarily – overwhelmingly – a fastball/slider guy. He’s seems like a classic LOOGY or a guy with massive platoon splits of his own, but he’s actually run reverse splits thus far. That’s probably just small-sample noise, but it shows why Ross was effective even when facing predominantly right-handed bats. A part of the reason for his success is that he’s adept at getting right-handers to hit the ball on the ground. His K:BB ratio isn’t great against them, but even in Arlington, they can’t hit home runs when they’re just hitting grounders. So far, his FB velocity’s right where it was in the bullpen – around 92-93mph.

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Romero, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Bloomquist, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Beavan

The M’s reaped the benefit of another controversial transfer-rule call overturn. It put a run on the board, as Ackley was originally called out on the field. The rule’s interpretation is odd, and the potential for strategic hijinks is high, as Dave’s recent Fangraphs article explored. But that inning really put a spotlight on just how bad a defensive team Texas is right now. They’ve slipped a few years in a row since a good 2010-11, but without Beltre or Profar, they’re struggling. The A’s massive advantage in D has been an important, somewhat underrated, reason they’ve held off the Rangers the past few years.

In the minors tonight, there’s really only one story: Taijuan Walker pitches for Tacoma. If you’re in the area, GO.

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Game 13, Mariners at Rangers

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 00:05

Roenis Elias vs. Colby Lewis, 5:05pm

If you were asked to come up with a list of starters with huge platoon splits, there are a few obvious names – guys who’ve garnered some attention (really, really nerdy attention) for their issues with LHBs or RHBs. Justin Masterson was essentially the face of this phenomenon (a really, really nerdy phenomenon), Joe Saunders is another, less talented example, and Bronson Arroyo may qualify. Then, of course, you’ve got tons of relief specialists whose platoon splits essentially define their role. To make this work – to carve out a career while ~half of the opponents you face see the ball really well – you really have to dominate same-handed hitters. Masterson, with his low arm angle and tough slider, clearly does this. Joe Saunders does this, though how remains somewhat cryptic to those of us who watched him last year. Bronson Arroyo wasn’t as hurt by his splits thanks to his division, which shelters quite a few pitchers with large splits (Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Charlie Morton).

Tonight’s starter, Colby Lewis, is another pitcher with deceptively high splits. I say “deceptively” because his career numbers are skewed a bit from his very early years with Texas – 2003 in particular – in which he pitched a lot and was terrible against everyone. Since returning from Japan, so 2010 through mid-2012, he was a very different pitcher. A much better one, to be clear, but also a guy with noticeable platoon splits. These two things are related, of course. He stuck around and made something of an impact in the AL in his second tour of duty because he suddenly got very tough on right-handed batters. He wasn’t doing it with fastball velocity, or with an odd angle, and his slider isn’t the kind of pitch that you think of when you think of a wipeout pitch. It’s not its movement or velocity that’s made the difference for Lewis – when he’s on, the key’s been his location. When he came over, many talked about the cutter he added, but it’s not clear if that’s what’s now called his slider or some other pitch he decided he didn’t need. His change never quite developed, so Lewis ends up throwing a lot of sliders to lefties, especially ahead in the count.

But this isn’t a Brandon Maurer situation where lefties have just teed off on a pitch breaking in to them. Instead, they’ve nuked his fastball. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive given his delivery (traditional, not at all sidearmy like Masterson’s) and his very high vertical movement (it’s the high horizontal movement pitches like sinkers that tend to have more platoon splits). That “rise” means that most hitters can elevate his fastball, and obviously contact in the air can be injurious to a pitchers’ FIP – especially if they pitch in Arlington a lot. The more I think about it though, it’s not that lefties have fared fairly well and hit plenty of home runs. It’s that Lewis is so sneakily good against right-handers. From 2010-2012, his wOBA-allowed to righties went .277, .268, .276. For reference, Masterson from 2010-2012 went .307, .259, .277, before annihilating righties last year to the tune of a .238 wOBA. And this highlights one of the reasons Lewis struggled to get back to a 4-5 WAR pitcher like he was in his first year back: now teams know how to build their line-up. No one would leave righties in their line-up against Masterson if they had a choice. Now, people stack lefties against Lewis too. In 2010, he faced essentially identical numbers of righties and lefties. In the 1.5 years before his arm exploded, he faced about 1.38 lefties for every righty.

His arm strength/velocity are back, but the Rangers didn’t take Lewis north, er, east with the team out of spring training. Whether that was to let him build up strength or because they really wanted to see what Nick Martinez could do, I’m not sure. The Rangers’ rotation has been decimated, but they’re on the mend. Matt Harrison returns soon, Yu Darvish is back, and eventually they should see Derek Holland again. That means Lewis has a limited window to show he can add value. The M’s aren’t a good match-up, thanks to lefty-swinging SS, 2B, CFs. Let’s see if they take advantage.

Roenis Elias is still fascinating to me. Part of it is just the teams he’s faced, but Elias has seen only 8 left-handed bats this season. That should change tonight, as he’s got Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder – two lefties who have platoon issues of their own – in the line-up for Texas. It’s not a cakewalk by any stretch, particularly in Arlington, but at least some of the Rangers’ bigger offensive threats are lefties.

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Morrison, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: Elias

Not quite as LH-heavy as it possibly could be, but the decision basically comes down to Hart vs. Saunders, and Saunders is not helping his cause at the moment.

Jordan Pries faces off against ex-Rangers, now Cubs prospect CJ Edwards in AA tonight. Matt Anderson opposes even-bigger-prospect Mark Appel in the Cal League, while Brandon Maurer starts for Tacoma in Albuquerque. Tommy Burns pitches for the Lumberkings in the MWL.

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Game 12, Mariners at Rangers

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Monday, 14 Apr 2014 18:56

Monday morning podcast(s) continues/begins.

James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and nearly the entire Mariners’ offense disappoints us. But the defense is still good! And other teams have injuries too! And s’mores! S’mores?

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. It’s really appreciated.

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Podcast: No More Athletics, Please

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Author: "Matthew Carruth" Tags: "Mariners, podcast"
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Date: Sunday, 13 Apr 2014 01:40

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Sonny Gray, 6:10pm

*Note the odd, one-hour-earlier start time tonight*

These two pitchers faced off last weekend, and I spent the game preview talking about how Erasmo was throwing more change-ups and fewer sliders, and Sonny Gray was throwing his new cutter more often. As it turned out, Erasmo used fewer change-ups on that day and Gray went back to his big curveball. Gray obviously didn’t suffer, blanking the M’s through 6 IP with 7 Ks.

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

Lots to talk about (Beavan up, not Walker! Noesi to Texas!) but my cable modem just died and I’m on my cell phone.

Anyone know a good docsis modem that won’t blow up during game posts?

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Game 10, Athletics at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Saturday, 12 Apr 2014 00:35

King Felix vs. Tommy Milone, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day – the first home celebration of our benevolent rulers long and oddly low-key reign. Not that we, as denizens of Felix’ fecund and forested kingdom, crave tumultuous events like war, famine, or commodity-driven bubbles and land speculation, but man, shouldn’t we annex a portion of Beanesville? Hell, how about a free-trade pact with Astreau just to make Darvishia wonder what we’re up to.

Tommy Milone looked to be the odd man out this spring, as he was slated for a stint in the A’s bullpen after two years of mostly solid work in the rotation. Nothing wrong with his work, but undersized guy throwing 86 is pretty much always going to face an uphill battle to keep his job once the club saw undersized guy throwing 96. Then, Ulnar, God of Elbows’ spring break pub crawl paid the A’s a visit, and Jarrod Parker went in for his second TJ surgery. Suddenly the A’s had an opening again.

Milone’s the same sneaky-slow fastball/solid change-up guy we’ve seen several times over the past two seasons – he’s made *8* starts against the M’s since 2012. And that neatly segues to his home run problem. Milone put up a 3.93 FIP in 2012, and saw that rise to 4.30 in 2013 despite a slight uptick in his K% (ok, his BB% went up too). But Milone’s problem, and you can see this coming when you throw an 86mph fastball and get a ton of fly balls, is and always will be home runs. He gave up 24 in 190 innings in 2012 (which isn’t great considering his home park, but isn’t the end of the world), then gave up 25 in 156+ innings last year. A part of it may be where he pitched – he made 18 starts in Oakland and Seattle in 2012, and just 13 everywhere else. In 2013, he made 12 starts in Oak/Sea and 14 elsewhere. Of course, he was great at home in 2012 and not great at all in 2013, so it’s probably a bunch of things.*

Line-up:
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak,1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Romero, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: FELIX

One of the oddities of the early Rainiers pitching staff has been Brandon Maurer pitching in middle relief. Unquestionably the most talented hurler on the staff, Maurer had some injury problems in the spring, but was reportedly tabbed as the long reliever for Tacoma. Then, he made a couple of brief relief appearances instead and DIDN’T start a double-header game that would’ve been perfect for a long-reliever (instead, the R’s went with a bullpen day with Nick Hill starting it off). Today, the M’s said that he’ll move into the rotation, and that they just wanted to get him built up. All of my speculative kremlinology, all my wondering if the M’s were upset with Maurer for some reason…none of it was true. He was hurt, they eased him in, now he’s in the rotation. Cool.

Today in the minors: Carlos Misell (Clinton), Dylan Unsworth (HD), Stephen Landazuri (Jackson), Anthony Fernandez (Tacoma). As I mentioned the other day, Unsworth’s first start in the Cal League went better than I would’ve expected- he gave up one un-earned run in 6 innings in the Adelanto wind-tunnel. Unsworth came over with a well-spotted FB in the mid-upper 80s, which is pretty tough to project. But he was also just 17, and some reports from last season say he added quite a few ticks. In the oft-mocked, over-used baseball twitter phrase, big, if true.

Speaking of High Desert, DJ Peterson’s strong start has garnered some attention, and a few deserved “Well, what do you expect” comments, but it’s great to see Gabriel Guerrero start off hot. The young Dominican had an awful start for Clinton last year.

GO FELIX! Go M’s!

* His change got good results both from a whiff and batted-ball-result point of view, so it’s not like batters exploited that weapon once they got to know it. Instead, I think Milone’s a good example of the old baseball cliche that an 86mph fastball up in the zone is a fairly risky strategy.

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Game 9, Athletics at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 23:34

Roenis Elias vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm

After spending much of yesterday’s game thread burying Albert Pujols and praising James Paxton, Pujols homered and Paxton’s lat strain sent him to the DL. We around here tend to frown on sloppy correlating, but I promise not to reference Pujols’ contract at all today.

The M’s improved to 5-2 yesterday, but the story of the game probably has to be the two big injuries. James Paxton’s “tweak” of his latissimus dorsi will hold him out for a few starts, while Josh Hamilton’s thumb injury will require surgery, costing the OF about two months. It’s very, very early in the season, but I’m not sure this could’ve gone any worse for the Halos. With several injuries to the Texas and Seattle rotations, the Angels had the opportunity to grab an early lead in a wide-open division. Instead, they’re 0-4 against the M’s, their bullpen’s struggled and they’re about to lose Hamilton for a good chunk of the season. To be fair, their slow start hasn’t impacted their playoff chances much at this point, but injuries and instability in the bullpen will make it tough for the Angels to dig out of this hole. It’s just a couple of games, but while we expected the gap between the Angels/Rangers and the M’s to have narrowed, I didn’t expect BOTH teams to look so flawed. Small Sample Schadenfreude.

Roenis Elias was solid in his first outing despite some questionable work behind the plate from Sean Barber. Today’s a different kind of test. The Angels’ extreme right-handed line-up looks to be a tougher match-up for a lefty like Elias with a lower arm angle. He didn’t pay for it against Cespedes/Donaldson/Crisp, and it’s not like replacing Josh Hamilton with JB Shuck makes the Angels a *better* offensive ball club, but I’m curious how he deals with Trout, Pujols, Kendrick, etc.

Garrett Richards is the hard-throwing righty who’d been terrible in college and the majors and only OK in the minors. He may have figured something out last year, as he was a pretty effective fill-in once Joe Blanton went supernova. I feel like I’ve written more about Richards than any other opposing player, which is odd and a little bit depressing.

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

It’s too early to complain about PT, given that there’s been so little PT to go around, but when the time is right, Michael Saunders will ask some tough questions of his manager.

Lucas Luetge’s been recalled from Tacoma to take Paxton’s spot.

Edwin Diaz starts tonight for Clinton. Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Tacoma, who look set to actually get the game in today. The big story is Taijuan Walker making what’s looking like his final rehab start tonight for AA Jackson. He’ll go 85 pitches, and could be up soon. Iwakuma threw a bullpen and hasn’t complained of shooting pain, so he’ll probably head out for a rehab start or two in the next week.

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Game 8, Angels at Mariners

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 05:51

It’s difficult to know what to make of small-sample minor league performances, as the fog of random chance, luck and results bias play havoc. Now imagine all of those factors are present, but add real and not metaphorical fog and clouds…THEN try to make intelligent judgments about prospects. Not so easy. In lieu of definitive judgments, I hope you’ll accept these random scouting-style notes from the opening weekend of the Minors, with a heavy dose of the PCL. Pretty much accidentally, I caught a bit of each game of the Rainiers opening series against Albuquerque. I missed yesterday’s game against the El Paso Chihuahuas, as I am still not quite ready to pay hard currency to watch a team named as one would name a U-10 soccer team (Jeff Francouer, Brooks Conrad and Adam Moore are all on that team, which kind of makes me want to go check them out).

1: Nick Franklin is a big-league ball player, masquerading as a PCL 2B. Ok, no points for game-changing insights on this one, but Frankin’s been excellent at the plate to open up – including two HRs in wet, cold weather – and he’s played a very solid 2B. Chris Taylor’s getting the majority of the SS starts, and you can kind of see why despite the paucity of chances for any player thus far. Still, it’s always interesting to see what a player does when he’s sent down – Franklin’s good enough to make a lot of AL teams, but Cano and Miller is a pretty unf$ckwithable DP combination. I watched the opener with Chris Crawford who pointed out how much Franklin used to “glide” at the plate – that is, how he’d have all of this somewhat unnecessary forward momentum in his swing. He’s still showing signs of that, but he’s also showing signs of his ability to barrel up tough pitches. The season isn’t old enough to know how his platoon splits are going to be, though I suppose it’s nice he’s 1-1 against lefty pitching. He’s looked good on double-play turns at 2B, but I thought his defense looked decent last year, so this may not qualify as news.
Franklin-FO-LF

2: Chris Taylor is a talented player, but may need an adjustment period. The RH-hitting SS put the ball in play consistently, but made a lot of weak contact. In a line-up that hit remarkably well, Taylor’s *extremely* small sample slumplet stood out. But Javier Baez is in a slump, and Taylor is both a superior defender and hasn’t gotten into a fight with a teammate. This will be the only time Taylor and Baez are compared and or contrasted all year, so savor it. Taylor’s got a lot to play for this year, as a solid year would make him a very attractive trade chip, especially to teams that DON’T see Nick Franklin as a big-league SS.
taylor-pop-up

3: Zach Lee, the Dodgers prospect, is a tough PCL pitcher, though it’s somewhat difficult to project how he’ll fare in the majors. He reminds me a bit of Tyler Skaggs, when the lefty was a Diamondbacks prospect – plenty of scouting cred, and flashes of ability to induce weak contact, but park effects and inconsistency led to a so-so performance record. The Skaggs that’s currently in the Angels rotation is a different animal thanks to the Angels’ overhauling Skaggs’ delivery (essentially, removing the changes the D-Backs made after Skaggs went to Arizona in the Dan Haren trade), but 2012-2013 Skaggs seems like a good comp. Lee works in the low 90s, with a solid slider. He’s got decent control, but it’s nothing remarkable, as his plunking of Taylor indicates. The contact was, by and large, noticeably poor, but it’s also hard to see how Lee would do markedly better against major league hitters.
Brendan Gawlowski had a good recap of his start at Prospect Insider, and you should check that out here. He was taken with Lee’s ability to generate weak contact, and it’s true, Lee got some really ugly, ugly swings and 60-foot whatever-is-worse-than-pop-flies from some Rainiers bats, but it’s just so tough to judge whether that’s an artifact of the April weather, some hitters still adjusting to AAA, or what. I agree with everything Brendan says, I’m just not sure I agree what it portends.
Lee pitch

4: The M’s control-artist youngsters fared about as well as you could hope in their new assignments. Defensive-end sized righty Victor Sanchez, the 19 year old Venezuelan was pushed to AA Jackson this year and opened his 2014 campaign with a solid 5 IP start against Chattanooga with 6 Ks and no walks. Sanchez’s 2013 teammate, South African Dylan Unsworth, had a solid start in a tough place to pitch: High Desert. The righty went 6 innings, giving up an unearned run on 4 Ks and 1 BB. That’s a perfectly acceptable ratio, but in the 2013 regular season, Unsworth gave up all of two walks, so for him it was an uncharacteristically wild outing. Heralded lefty Tyler Pike had decent results, but walked 3 in his 5 IP start (he also notched 4 Ks). Edwin Diaz didn’t quite make it it to 5 IP, but had a solid first start for Clinton. The lanky righty out of Puerto Rico opened a lot of eyes last year, and he’s on the prospect radar for a reason, but it’s kind of stunning to realize that he’s a few months *older* than Sanchez.

5: DJ Peterson’s assignment to High Desert was somewhat cautious, as the college-trained 3B could probably handle high-minors pitching. But the M’s opted for the slower route, and put him in the hitter’s paradise of the Cal League. Results thus far have been pretty much what you’d expect – he’s hit quite well in his first week, with 8 hits in his first 6 games. That’s solid, but he’s been left in the dust a bit by Gabriel Guerrero, the hyped prospect who was pushed to Clinton last year, and failed to live up to prospect hype or his uncle’s name. He’s taken to the Cal league, however – he’s 11-23, with four XBHs against four Ks. The M’s are woefully understocked with OFs, so a big season from Guerrero would be timely.

6: Jesus Montero really stung the ball once, on Friday. Other than that, it was an extremely disappointing opening to a critical season for Montero. I don’t mean critical for the M’s playoff chances, or critical for Montero’s place in the M’s plans, I mean: critical to allow Montero to keep playing affiliated ball. That sounds way too dramatic, like a Hot Sports Take on twitter or something, but Montero’s now a guy with a PED suspension, no defensive position and serious platoon splits. He really needs to get off to a good start to earn some playing time away from Ji-Man Choi, and Choi needs practice hitting lefties, which could push Montero to DH (his defense thus far has been predictably bad). If Montero’s a DH going forward, and, realistically, he is, he needs to hit a ton in the PCL. Aaaaannny minute now. Here he is running out an IF grounder as Miguel Olivo smirks in the background. If this was a tarot card, it would mean an imminent career change, or a serious health problem.
As-Olivo-smirks-in-the-back

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Notes From MiLB Opening Weekend

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 00:30

James Paxton vs. Hector Santiago, 7:10pm

I think the game on April 2nd between these two teams and these two starting pitchers was the most encouraging of the young season. The M’s won their opener, but they *always* win their opener, in large part due to Felix Hernandez. The problem has been filling in enough complementary pieces to make Felix matter. In years past, the offense was a disaster, so the M’s rightly put the focus on improving run scoring – signing Robby Cano, developing Brad Miller, etc. But once Hisashi Iwakuma went down, many of us were worried that the rotation simply wasn’t deep enough to carry the team if the offense struggled. Roenis Elias and Chris Young still have me a bit spooked, but the picture’s dramatically different if the team has another high-ceiling, high-talent arm in the rotation who’s capable of shutting down an opponent. James Paxton’s 7 inning masterwork was thus a very, very encouraging sign.

I know – we’ve seen great performances out of the middle of the rotation before. You may recall that last year’s home opener featured a very good game from Joe Saunders, who went the first 6 1/3 IP with a 5:1 K:BB ratio and no runs allowed in the M’s 3-0 win. Paxton’s game was less about getting a divisional win, and more about demonstrating that the M’s have the capability to be much better than projected.

Like I mentioned with Sonny Gray/Erasmo Ramirez, Paxton’s clearly still tinkering with his approach and offerings. It’s tough to say much definitively about a pitcher who, because we have so little data, seems to change markedly from start to start. On the 2nd, Paxton did a couple of really, really encouraging things. First, his velocity actually increased as the game went on. His first inning saw his fastball sit around 91-93, but by the 5th or so he was consistently 95-97. Scroll down to the pitch speed graph here - there’s a clear upward trend to his velocity, which puts the final nail in the coffin of the “starter or reliever?” debate. The second, and perhaps more interesting, is how often he used his new-ish cutter, and how well it worked. I mentioned it after seeing his last AAA appearance, but it wasn’t something he used a lot. Even this spring, he used it sparingly in his first few outings before taking the training wheels off a bit in late March. But against the Angels, he threw it 17 times – as often as his curve ball. He threw it in the zone 14 of those times, and the Angels only put three of them in play (all were outs). At least that day, he generally saved it for left-handers, and both Ibanez and Hamilton in particular looked flummoxed by it.

It’s interesting that he’d use it that way, as lefties haven’t really been Paxton’s problem (not that he’s really had MLB problems yet). Teams generally stack their line-ups with righties, who’ve seen the ball a bit better against him…though still haven’t quite figured out what to do with those pitches. A good FB, with a plus cutter and a curve, and Paxton could be death on a stick to left-handers. Platoon splits – even big ones -are fine as long as you utterly destroy one side (the Justin Masterson approach), and if that’s how Paxton develops for a bit, that’d be OK with me. But think of *why* pitchers use cutters – they often do it to attack opposite-handed hitters. They have lower platoon splits than standard four-seamers, while two-seams/sinkers have the largest splits.* That’s nice, but it may have another use. Last week, Paxton threw RHBs 9 change-ups, against only 8 curves and 2 cutters. His change is around 89-90mph, and has lots of arm-side run. His cutter’s around 89-90mph, with slight glove-side run. Any batter who saw a change-up last week might see a brand new pitch from Paxton that’s the exact same speed, but with very different movement.

One of those righties is Albert Pujols, and perhaps no Angel position player’s been a bigger disappointment than the big 1B. Dave mentioned on twitter that it’s kind of astonishing that Pujols could be *so bad* for a week and no one really notices or finds it remarkable. Slumps happen to all players, of course, but this one’s been especially hard on the Angels because Pujols is batting behind one of the greatest offensive players in recent memory. In the game against Paxton, Pujols came up with no out, runners on first and second, and no out, runner on second. The first time, he grounded into a double play. The second time, he struck out. He earned his way to the worst WPA in the game (by far). Mike Trout actually hit Paxton fairly well, but with Pujols behind him, the Angels couldn’t take advantage. This brings up the rather awkward situation of having to move Pujols down the order a bit, at least until he snaps out of this. Your reminder: Pujols has actually been fairly cheap for the Angels thus far. He made a total of $28 million for his first two years in LA (combined). This season, his annual pay jumped $7m to $23m, and it’ll rise by $1m each year through…:gulp: 2021.

Enough schadenfreude. Paxton’s potential emergence is one of the big reasons M’s fans are a bit more encouraged this year. The M’s have opened on the road each year since 2009 – and that was the last year the M’s came into Safeco with a winning record. They were 4-4 in 2012, but still ended April with a losing record. 2009 really was the last time there much excitement about the M’s, with that out-of-nowhere 85-win season. Here’s hoping this year’s team rewards our hope a bit better than that one.**

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

Paxton’s the 1st rookie to start the M’s home opener, apparently.

Happy Birthday to Felix Hernandez, who turned 28 today. When Felix came up, Jamie Moyer and Shiggy Hasegawa were M’s, and Pat Borders was on the team. Wiki Gonzalez caught him. Jamie Bubela played CF behind him, and Mike Morse played SS. He faced Bernie Williams and Corey Koskie. He was outdueled by Randy Johnson in the first meeting of the two greatest pitchers in team history. HE IS JUST NOW, JUST TODAY, 28 YEARS OLD. He’s moving through life like it’s a slow walk off the mound after another 1-2-3 inning while I accelerate towards the grave, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jimmy Gilheeney starts tonight against the Chihuahuas of El Paso (looks pretty rainy right now, and it’s supposed to get worse by 7, but who knows). 2013 22nd-round pick Tommy Burns starts for Clinton. AA Jackson’s off tonight, but they’ll get Taijuan Walker’s next rehab start, perhaps tomorrow (as he pitched 4+ IP for High Desert on Friday).

* Though FB with a lot of “rise” and little horizontal movement have even lower splits than cutters. Paxton’s regular FB is built to be an equal-opportunity frustrater.
** The 2009 roster is nearly unrecognizable. The M’s went into their home opener at 5-2 that year, with the wins allocated to Jarrod Washburn, Roy Corcoran, Miguel Batista, Chris Jakubauskas…and Felix, of course. I know all of the players, it just seems like they played here a decade ago. How was that only five years? Jose Lopez! Wlad!

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Game 7, Angels at Mariners – HOME OPENER

Author: "marc w" Tags: "Mariners"
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