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marc w · August 3, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Justus Sheffield vs. Frankie Montas, 6:10pm

After castigating the M’s starting pitching a few days back, the starting pitching has been remarkably good. Annnny time you’re ready to do something Evan White and Dan Vogelbach, we’re ready for it. I joke, but it really is hard to tell what’s going on in such a short season, with this weird, even-more-imbalanced schedule. Are the A’s just not as good of an offense as we thought? Are the Angels just really good at the plate? Did the M’s fix something on the quick? Is this all just meaningless variance? Let’s hope they found something.

One of the things I like best about baseball is watching a pitcher at the top of their game. I’ve essentially blogged through the peak of the Felix Hernandez era, and there’s a reason we all got so giddy watching him. No matter the opponent, no matter the line-up, a great pitcher is one of the most compellingly watchable things in sport. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been excited to see baseball come back despite all of the problems involved with trying to restart a sport during a pandemic. Watching Gerrit Cole, or Jacob de Grom, or Clayton Kershaw, or Shane Bieber, or so many more, transcends rooting interest (ok, I don’t particularly care for watching them carve up the M’s), and seems like an amazing cocktail of physics, competition, training, athleticism, and more. Jacob de Grom just tossed a 94 MPH *slider* tonight. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.

And because 2020 sucks *so much*, it’s the kind of thing that’s imperiled now. Shohei Ohtani, just back from TJ surgery, was clearly not himself in two abbreviated starts this year. He walked 8 in 1 2/3 IP, and threw 40+ awful pitches in the second inning yesterday, walking *5* before being lifted. He’s now out with a forearm strain that may keep him from DHing in Seattle tomorrow. When healthy, I’m not sure there’s a more compelling player to watch, and he simply hasn’t been healthy. While writing this, Mike Soroka of Atlanta went down with what may be an achilles injury, and left the field without putting any pressure on his leg. Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber are already down. I’m starting to wonder how many more might follow them.*

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Frankie Montas looked like he was breaking out as an ace pitcher for Oakland last year when he tested positive for a banned substance and lost 80 games. The sinkerballer always had really good velocity – he averages 96+ with his fastball – but struggled to put batters away as a starter in 2018, as he didn’t really have a pitch to throw to lefties. His slider was fine, and his fastball not bad, but it didn’t really add up to a lot of strikeouts. Last year, he added a splitter, and was off to the races. In a year, he *doubled* his K rate to lefties, and started striking out over a batter per inning despite a fastball that’s still not exactly a putaway pitch.

There’s so much talk these days (and I’ve done some of it myself) about the importance of high fastballs at generating whiffs, and “high spin” fourseamers with vertical movement. But guys like Montas highlight another way of being really effective: ground balls and strikeouts are a hell of a combo, even if they’re tough to find together. When batters suddenly started elevating low fastballs, baseball started prioritizing high fastballs. But it’s not clear that high fastballs are any sort of way to prevent damage, even if they DO get put in play less often.

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His slider’s still a thing, and he didn’t throw enough change-ups to know much about that, but I hope he has more of an opportunity to showcase the changes he’s made tonight.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Long, 2B
3: Lewis, Cf
4: Seager, 3B
5: Nola, C
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: White, 1B
8: Marmolejos, LF
9: Smith, RF
SP: Sheffield

Evan White’s been a revelation, and JP Crawford has started well, so at least a few of the young M’s should leave their lackluster projections in the dust. But Evan White’s swinging through quite a few fastballs, and Dan Vogelbach’s striking out and hitting a ton of ground balls. Dan: K’s and grounders are good for pitchers, not you. Mallex Smith looks like he’s in his head again, and I’m not sure how long the M’s can wait for him, now that they have their CF of the future in place. It’s the same sort of thing for Vogelbach – with White at 1B, a poor start or poor year leaves his future with this club in doubt. Hope to see some signs of life from both, but both now play positions that prioritize offense, meaning that they can’t really be league-average bats – and being league-average bats would be a shocking improvement at this point.

* James Paxton’s plummeting velocity makes me very, very worried.

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marc w · July 31, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Sean Manaea, 6:40pm

Well, here we are. The strangest home opener any of us have experienced. The M’s host the 3-3 Athletics, who have played Anaheim and Colorado. The A’s have stumbled a bit at the plate; after a tough series against the Rockies, they’re sporting a sub-.300 OBP.

In recent years, they’ve had a good offense, but have benefitted from some great pitching performances. They’ve needed them, given how injury prone they’ve been. One of their top pitching prospects missed almost of 2019, and is hurt again now. Tonight’s starter had TJ surgery a few years back, interrupting his development. But despite these setbacks, they’ve gotten good-enough (or better!) pitching from their depth starters like Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden.

Sean Manaea’s an ex-phenom, I suppose. After a dominant Cape Cod league performance, he was the favorite to go #1 overall in the 2013 draft. But his junior year at Indiana State was plagued with inconsistency and minor arm trouble, and he fell to the competitive balance round. For years now in the majors, there’s still the sense that you don’t know which Manaea you’ll see. Far from the mid-90s he sat at in college and flashed in the minors, he’s been around 90-92 in the bigs. He averaged 90 last year after coming back from surgery, but sat at just 88 last week.

He has a weird, Justus Sheffield-like sinking four seam fastball, a slider (for years his best pitch), and a so-so change. He’s mixing in a curve now, though it’s still a work in progress, and lacks real depth. The lefty has been ok against righties, as his slider has been very effective against them. His fastball has been less effective, so the M’s will probably look to jump on fastball counts.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Lopes, DH
3: Lewis, CF
4: Seager, 3B
5: White, 1B
6: Nola, C
7: Long, 2B
8: Moore, RF
9: Gordon, LF
SP: Walker

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marc w · July 30, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

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So, the M’s have made one complete cycle of their six starting pitchers. As a group, they’ve given up 28 runs in 21 1/3 IP. Putting aside Graveman and Walker, the young core of Gonzales/Sheffield/Kikuchi/Dunn allowed 12 walks against 10 Ks. They’ve shown flashes of promise, but have been brutal at stranding runners. They simply need to get better – a lot better.

That’s why today’s game is an interesting barometer. The Angels wanted to revamp their pitching instruction, too. They picked up ex-Indians pitching coach Mickey Calloway and took a flyer on one-time Uber-prospect and Orioles flame-out, Dylan Bundy. The righty had been brilliant back in spring training four months and seven lifetimes ago, but we all know spring stats don’t mean much.

In his first start, Bundy flummoxed the A’s by essentially becoming a junkballer. He threw more breaking balls and change-ups than 91-mph fastballs, and was able to keep a good line-up off balance. For all the talk about fastball velocity, or working the top of the zone, the first few games of 2020 have been all about bendy pitches. Shane Bieber’s dominant start (14 K’s in 6 IP) produced no swinging strikes off of fastballs. Likewise, Bundy recorded no whiffs on 40+ FBs against the A’s, but K’d 7 to just 1 walk and 3 hits in 6 2/3 IP. To put it plainly, if the Angels are better at teaching pitching than the M’s, this rebuild is in trouble. Seattle can’t just use their own prior development record as a point of reference or baseline. Being better than they used to be is not enough.

Despite Cleveland and Cincinnati’s starting pitchers looking great, Seattle has some company: lots of teams starting pitcher numbers are brutal right now. It’s interesting to me, because while there’s zero precedent for playing a season like this one, the owners’ lock-out in 1990 was a recent-ish example of teams not having a real spring training, and then hurrying through an abbreviated/late version of it. And in that case, pitchers entered the year *miles* ahead of the hitters.

Almost immediately, Mark Langston (and Mike Witt) tossed a no-hitter in his first time playing against Seattle. Later that month, Brian Holman came within an out of a perfect game for Seattle, and months later, Randy Johnson got the franchise’s first no-no. Randy’s was the first of four in the month of June, with two occurring on the same day.

This year, walks are up and HRs continue to fly out of parks. BABIP and average are down, though. I guess the season seems bifurcated, with the M’s unable to stop teams from scoring while Cleveland continues to strike out everyone. The M’s and Mets have hit well, while four teams are still below the Mendoza line.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Lopes, LF
3: Lewis, CF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Marmolejos, 1B
6: Long, 2B
7: Vogelbach, DH
8: Smith, RF
9: Hudson, C
SP: Gonzales

If you want to read more about the Mariners’ player development philosophy, check out this interview with Andy McKay at Fangraphs.

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marc w · July 28, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Justus Sheffield vs. Patrick Sandoval, 6:40pm

The M’s escape Houston bloodied but unbowed at 1-3, and face the Angels. All 1-3 records are not created equal, and the Angels may be a bit more concerned about their opening series. It’s all weird, and given the chaos in Philly with now fully 1/2 of the Marlins roster positive for COVID, it feels churlish to laugh at a bad first series by the Angels, as comforting as that is.

So, the M’s big reclamation projects have all had a turn in the rotation – all but today’s starter, Justus Sheffield. Tai Walker, Kendall Graveman, and Yusei Kikuchi all struggled, so the hope is that Sheffield’s new fastball will help him succeed where the others failed. It’s just tougher to be optimistic given the M’s pitching woes. We all thought the line-up would be a problem, but it’s been solid overall. Just need to keep the runs allowed down to 5-6, which has been a problem.

Patrick Sandoval’s a lefty the Angels got after some time in Houston’s system. He’s a fastball-change guy, but has a slider and curve in his repertoire. He scuffled last year in his initial 40 or so MLB innings, in part due to wildness, and in part due to HR:FB ratio awfulness. He did benefit from seeing a heavily right-handed slate of hitters, and thanks to his change – by far his best pitch – he did well against them. Lefties were more of a problem. We’ll see if that was small sample weirdness or if the change makes him more likely to run reverse splits long term.

1: Long, 2B
2: White, 1B
3: Lewis, CF
4: Seager, 3B
5: Lopes, DH
6: Crawford, SS
7: Moore, LF
8: Smith, RF
9: Odom, C (Nola a late scratch; he’d been in the line up, batting 6th. Instead, it’ll be the first MLB start for Joe Odom)
SP: Sheffield

9 Comments 

极光加速器2022官网

marc w · July 27, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Kendall Graveman vs. Joshua James, 4:10pm

The M’s got their first win yesterday, coming back against the Astros after a poor start from Yusei Kikuchi. Taylor Williams, Washington native, got the save with the tying run on 2nd. Today’s game is a great match-up between Kendall Graveman, who seemed to be on the upswing before suffering a UCL tear and missing two years, and Josh James, the one-time phenom who had a rough season out of the Houston bullpen. Will Graveman flourish with Seattle? Will James take a step forward and secure a rotation spot with his power arsenal?

I don’t know, and the news out of baseball has been so ugly that it’s harder to care. Nearly half of the Marlins tested positive for COVID-19, necessitating two games being canceled today. This came a day after Justin Verlander’s elbow injury knocked him out for the season. We haven’t made it a week, and MLB’s viability is kind of teetering and we’ve lost at least one star player. Fun.

1: Long, 2B
2: Crawford, SS
3: Seaver, 3B
4: Lewis, CF
5: White, 1B
6: Marmolejos, DH
7: Nola, C
8: Lopes, RF
9: Gordon, LF
SP: Graveman

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marc w · July 25, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

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Lance McCullers last threw a pitch in a big league game in September of 2018. He tore his UCL in August, but apparently decided to pitch through it, notching some playoff innings for the eventual champs. But in November, he went under the knife, missing all of 2019. It was a big blow for the righty who’s had several injury scares in his career. In fact, McCullers thinks the elbow injury actually stemmed from a shoulder problem that took away half of his 2016 season. He’s been very good when healthy, but seldom healthy.

Taijuan Walker’s nearly got McCullers beat. Aside from a couple of throwaway innings in September of last year, Walker’s last start came in *April* of 2018. After a solid 2017 that heralded his transition from prospect to middle-of-the-rotation workhorse, he too tore his UCL and required surgery. Given the timing of the diagnosis and rehab, it essentially cost him two full years.

Today these two rehab warriors face off in Houston. Walker was a great low-risk pick-up for a club that could use a veteran presence, especially one that has a modicum of upside. I was always a big Walker fan as he came up through the M’s system years ago (debuting in Houston, of all places, a bit over 7 years ago), so I’m hoping Walker can stay healthy and flash some of the promise he had. Walker used to throw a four-seamer at 94 with average-ish movement given his fairly high release point, and he’d mix in a sinker, slider, curve, and split/change. That last pitch was always one to dream on, especially after he struggled to command his curve. The split wasn’t great for him in Seattle, and it was no help in limiting the HRs that sunk his 2016 campaign, his final one in Seattle. In Arizona, though, his HR problems eased (which is amazing, considering the HR explosion of 2017 and the fact that his home park was *Arizona*), but it wasn’t so much his command of his split or breaking balls – it was his four-seam. He gave up 16 HRs on the heater his last year in Seattle, but just 9 in his Arizona tenure, despite throwing more of them. Let’s hope he learned something in Arizona he can bring with him into 2020.

Lance McCullers famously threw 50% of his death-dealing slurve, and used it to rack up strikeouts and grounders. In his career, batters are hitting just .174 off of the slurve, and that’s over 3,600+ pitches, with hundreds of balls in play. He’s used it more than his four-seam and sinker combined, and why not? Despite its tilt, it’s been extremely effective against lefties as well as righties. The only reason to ease up on it may be his injury history. I don’t really know if the old pitching coach truism is actually accurate that a ton of breaking balls are harder on the arm, but McCullers arm certainly has not responded well.

Yesterday’s game features abysmal defense (someone get Perry Hill on a Zoom call) and equally poor relief work, but I didn’t feel too bad about thanks to Kyle Lewis moon shot off of Justin Verlander. I think we’re going to get pretty used to focusing on individual players or even plays when we attempt to take joy and entertainment from a season like that, but that’s ok. As M’s fans, we’ve been doing that off and on for decades.

1: Long, 2B
2: White, 1B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Lewis, CF
5: Nola, C
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Gordon, LF
8: Crawford, SS
9: Smith, RF
SP: Walker, woooooo

Mmmm, Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon starting in OF corners together. Can’t say I like/understand that, but the M’s did say they’d be showing this look a lot.

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marc w · July 24, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Justin Verlander, 6:10pm

This is the strangest opening day we’ve ever seen, in the strangest year we’ve ever seen. Felix is gone, the Mariners are terrible, and start the year off facing the Astros, who beat the M’s in 18 of 19 contests last year. There are very good arguments against *having* a baseball season this year, and I don’t blame any of you for taking a year off. I’ve found it hard to think about baseball for several months after the lockdowns started, but I’m shocked to find that I’m pretty excited about it now. Yes, it was cool to watch some KBO games to scratch a baseball itch for a while, but my sleep schedule wouldn’t allow it long term. I’ve really missed the pleasing background hum that baseball adds to summer, even if that hum is made up of the details of yet another M’s loss.

The idea that “people need baseball” was a somewhat grating part of the rancorous dispute between the players’ union and ownership before the season began. It seemed so vain, so clueless, at a time people were dying due to shortages of life-saving equipment in New York and elsewhere. Baseball’s background noise can’t make up for the country’s manifest failures at dealing with Covid, and an institution like baseball sure can’t solve institutional racism. But I’m kind of stunned how good it feels to have it on in the background right now. Is it nostalgia for a time before Covid? Before the myriad horrors the news delivers us each day? Is it just a familiar distraction? I don’t know, and don’t much care. It is not enough, but it’s something. It feels like help, somehow.

In the absence of a playoff chase, we can follow the development of Shed Long, JP Crawford, and the M’s young starters. I’m fascinated by Yusei Kikuchi, and how he’s able to put 2019 behind him and figure out a way to become a consistent starter. Tom Murphy’s follow-up after a shockingly good 2019 will be delayed a bit, but we’ve all got plenty of time. And if the M’s appear ready to have Dee Gordon and Mallex Smith man the outfield corners *simultaneously*, well, hey, why not. In a strange year, I’m fine if the M’s get a bit surreal this season.

The Astros are coming off a very rough off-season that saw them punished by MLB for a long-running sign-stealing scheme. In the Before Times, we speculated how this affect them, and if their players would see a big drop-off in their batting lines. Now, it seems like a hazily-remembered story or rumor. Every team now has a hell of a lot more to worry about, and in any event, the Astros could be significantly worse, and still plenty good enough to make the playoffs (even before yesterday’s random and odd move to increase playoff teams from 10 to 16). They’ve lost Gerrit Cole, Jose Urquidy’s hurt, but it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. With a perennial MVP candidate at 3B, one of the game’s best SS, and Justin Verlander, they’re the easy pick as AL West champs, despite the improvements in Anaheim and Oakland.

Still, they’re going to need to fill the innings Cole gave them, and the easiest thing would be for one of their youngsters to step up and stake a claim on a rotation slot. Josh James seemed like he’d be another perennial All-Star after blowing up the minor leagues and making his MLB debut in 2018, but he scuffled out of the bullpen for Houston last year. Framber Valdez was slightly better despite ugly K:BB numbers, but he’ll have to stop walking so many people to be a long-term answer as a starter. They do get Lance McCullers back, but this would be a great year for perennial top prospect Forrest Whitley to turn his incredible talent into actual, on-field production.

Last year, Marco Gonzales started the year well, going 5-0 by the end of April. However, his velocity was noticeably lower; his 88 MPH average fastball in April was the lowest of any month in his career. He got around it by moving the ball around and keeping his pitch mix unpredictable, but he got hit hard in May. Tonight, I’ll be fascinated to see how hard he’s throwing, and how he adjusts to an Astros line-up that’s seen him a ton these past two seasons.

Your opening day line-up:

1: Shed Long, 2B
2: Evan White, 1B
3: Kyle Seager, 3B
4: Kyle Lewis, CF
5: Dan Vogelbach, DH
6: Austin Nola, C
7: Jose Marmolejos, LF
8: JP Crawford, SS
9: Mallex Smith, RF
SP: Marco Gonzales

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极光加速器2022官网

marc w · July 24, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Does anyone need pessimism in the year 2020? Do I need to write about it? It’s all we think about when we stop trying – really trying – to think about other things. It seems silly to do a post like this and not just have every item be “Someone dies.” Juan Soto tested positive yesterday, and the Braves lost both of their catchers to Covid as well. This is going to keep happening as we wait for news of Jarred Kelenic’s development or Kendall Graveman’s velocity. It’s hard to tune it all out and just be entertained.

But I’m going to try. Pessimism about everything is easy, and if there’s anything we’ve learned as M’s fans, it’s that there are occasional (bizarre) joys to be mined once you leave the easy path. They take work, they’re not just sitting there on the surface (“we won the championship!”), and experience beats a naive, perpetual hope out of you. But they’re hiding in there somewhere. I know it feels cynical to look for those joys in 2020, I know it feels weird to look forward to fake crowd noise, and radio broadcasters getting surprised by a home run because they’re just watching the game on TV, and I *definitely* know there are more important things going on. We need this because of them, not in spite of them.

So if we’re going to get anything out of this delusion, we have to set aside the sickening feeling that is always just below the surface. We’re going to try and take this seriously, and, for tradition’s sake and because this delusion demands it, let’s think about what would happen if this all goes wrong. But not too wrong.

1: The Mariners’ young core just isn’t going to work out

Going into what was assuredly a non-contending season, the M’s allowed themselves a minor splurge when they picked up Yusei Kikuchi for a multi-year (the exact length of the deal is kind of complicated given the opt outs) contract. He was young enough that he could be around when JP Crawford and Logan Gilbert and Evan White were ready, and he could spend 2019 and 2020 getting used to things and building up his innings. Great idea, great move all around. Kikuchi was essentially replacement level, with a 5.71 FIP and a DRA so bad I don’t want to actually type it here. Sure, it didn’t really matter, and yes, he’s made mechanical changes, and pitchers can surprise you, and maybe he’ll be good in 2021, but we all feel differently about Kikuchi and his role on a hypothetical good M’s team now.

What if that essentially happens to all of the young players we’ll be watching in 2020? I mean, it’s not a crazy thought. The M’s projected record is bad because the M’s individual projections are all…really bad! ZiPS projects Evan White to get on base at a .277 clip. It forecasts JP Crawford to essentially duplicate last year’s disappointing season at the plate, and for Shed Long to regress to a sub-Crawford level of offensive “production.” Somehow, Kyle Lewis’ projections are even worse (.227/.281/.376). ZiPS is actually pretty bullish on Dan Vogelbach, but we all saw Vogelbach’s second half, so we know what’s possible.

They’re only projections. Young players improve, and now they can focus on that improvement without expectations or fans or anything. But, and I know this is crazy for long-time M’s fans… what if they don’t? What if we’re forced to fall into that most familiar of M’s-fan postures and speculate about the NEXT wave? I think many of us are almost primed for it – gun to our head, I think many of us would rather watch the intra-squad games in Tacoma, at least once Julio Rodriguez is healthy and playing again. This club has potential, but right now, on paper, their flaws are so numerous and exploitable that profound, dispiriting, Zunino-in-2015-or-2019 ways. What if the one thing we’re looking forward to – young players improving in a short, meaningless season – goes away, and we end up watching the league humiliate Crawford/Lewis/White/Dunn/Sheffield/Long? Wouldn’t that be the most 2020 thing ever?

Statistically, it’s likely that a few of them will blow those projections out of the water. But some won’t even reach the low bar that ZiPS (or PECOTA, or Steamer, etc.) set. Maybe it’ll be easier to set that kind of public failure aside in this weird season, but it’s got to hurt psychologically. Not only that, but many of the standard ways to fix a young player in a horrible slump aren’t available. Remember Mallex Smith’s jag where he was so lost at the plate that he forgot how to catch baseballs? He worked with coaches and got right by playing for the Rainiers for a while. Well, no one can play for the Rainiers in 2020. Many of the coaches are working remotely. Maybe a few Zoom meetings would’ve worked just as well for Mallex Smith last year?

2: Injuries!

It’s baseball, people get hurt all the time. But the M’s progress towards contention depends so powerfully on development, and 2020 is doing everything it can to make that impossible. You could argue that the loss of the minor leagues and the chaos of 2020 has hurt the M’s more than just about any other team. What does losing your age-18 season *do* to Noelvi Marte, long term? What about Logan Gilbert?

One thing that I’ve been worrying about after Tom Murphy, Julio Rodriguez, Austin Adams, Mitch Haniger, Sam Haggerty, and Gerson Bautista got hurt is a wave of injuries hitting the M’s. It makes sense: the season’s a short 60-game sprint, and everyone wants to impress the front office. Pitchers know they won’t be logging 200 (or even 100) big league innings, so why not air it out like every start’s a relief outing? The M’s are doing everything they can to care for pitchers – going to a 6-man rotation, or exploring piggy-back starts, etc. But what if creating entirely new routines doesn’t put the players at ease?

The strange rules around the 60-man player pool makes things difficult, too. Without the minor leagues, the M’s brought essentially every top prospect to Tacoma to monitor their development/ensure SOME development would take place. They did this without regard to when a player (Mr. Marte is the best example) would be ready for the majors. It took some getting used to, but I think that was the right decision. Having near-to-the-majors talent ready to step in is vital for contenders, but doesn’t mean much to the Mariners. But seriously: what happens if the M’s need real help in the outfield? The worry isn’t so much that Jose Marmelojos or Tim Lopes can’t hang out in LF, but that players will be hesitant to admit that they need a break, or that the little ankle injury may be more severe than it seemed. Players probably never want to go on the 10-day IL, but now that 10-days is a solid chunk of the season? I think we’re going to see a lot of minor injuries turn into bigger injuries this season.

To be fair, small injuries aren’t going to tank a season that was tanked before it began. But what about a big injury? What about a TJ surgery or shoulder trouble from one of the M’s young starters? What about another injury to Julio? The M’s have been living this with Haniger, who had a series of small injuries followed by a cascade of big injuries that sunk his 2019 and threaten to take the entirety of 2020 as well. Opportunities for development are so rare, so precious right now. Losing that opportunity to injury would be a cruel blow. There’s never been a season like this where injuries could be both more common and more harmful.

3: The M’s player development settles in around the middle of the MLB pack

It’s the one thing we’ve been legitimately excited about: the M’s took two solid prospects into 2019 and finished it with three of the games’ best. Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic became top-10-in-MLB prospects, and Logan Gilbert flew through three levels looking like a potential ace. For so long, M’s player development lagged their peers in Houston and Oakland, and it killed their chances to build a dependable, consistent contending club. 2019 offered hopeful signs that that flaw had been remedied.

What this post presupposes is…maybe it wasn’t. What if the team had great years from three very well-thought-of prospects, and there’s no magic at work – no game-changing processes or cutting-edge theories. Let’s say Kelenic/Rodriguez/Gilbert are in the league in ’21, and are pretty good in ’22. If the M’s player development group is merely average, this rosy scenario isn’t going to be nearly enough, not when the Astros are still the Astros and the Angels have Trout/Rendon/Adell in the middle of their line-up. The beauty of a year like this is that we get to cheer on development without worrying about the standings. But what if it becomes clear that the Mariners are losing at *that* too?

Jesus Luzardo wins Rookie of the Year (which I picked in Baseball Prospectus’ Staff Predictions), maybe Forrest Whitley puts it all together, maybe the White Sox contend thanks to Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. None of these things are all that outlandish. Individually, they don’t threaten the idea of a contending M’s team in 2022 or your year of choice. But taken as a whole, they’d be a pretty concerning sign that other teams – who are, to put it mildly, a bit better than the M’s right now – are developing great prospects, too. The M’s need to develop prospects, but because of the whole zero-sum nature of sports, they need to develop more and better prospects to win. If their rivals have as many hits and as many failures as they do, it’s hard to see how things materially change.

We’ve been so focused on the Astros that the Twins’ remarkable turnaround caught us (or at least me) unaware. I’ve been mocking the White Sox player development for years, but they’re beginning to look a bit scary. The Indians keep turning boring minor league arms into Shane Biebers and Mike Clevingers, and I have no idea how they’re doing it. That’s just one division! The A’s and Astros have been doing this for years, and as a fan of a divisional rival, it sucks. If Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn struggle – meaning if they put up similar seasons to their 2019 campaigns – while the likes of Jose Urquidy or Griffin Canning or Kolby Allard succeed, it’s going to make wishing on 2022 pretty hard. It’s all we’ve got, and I’m very worried it’ll get yanked away.

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marc w · July 23, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

The M’s picked up former Indians and Rockies righty reliever Bryan Shaw. Shaw was most effective with the Tribe from 2013-2016, with 2.1 fWAR but 5 bWAR thanks to a much lower ERA than FIP. Some of that may have been luck, but it also reflected the fact that Shaw’s game was based on inducing weaker contact with his hard cutter. His K rates were never all that high, especially for a reliever in this day and age, but he was fairly effective thanks to his reliance on that hard, heavy cutter – a pitch that enabled him to be effective against lefties as well as righties. From 2013-2016, Shaw posted an ERA of exactly 3 (his FIP was 3.59), with 236 hits and 28 HRs allowed in 282 innings.

While he showed *some* platoon splits, he limited lefties significantly, with wOBA-against under .300 in two of those seasons. But thanks to his slider, he was able to absolutely dominate right handed bats. Because of that track record, the Rockies signed him to a three-year, $27 million deal. It…it did not go well. With the Rockies, Shaw was below replacement level by both fWAR and bWAR, sunk by lower K rates and sky-high hit rates. In 126 2/3 IP, he allowed 139 hits, 57 walks, and 21 HRs. Was this all Coors Field related? No, not really – in his first year in Colorado, he was much *better* at home than on the road. What’s going on?

Lookout Landing’s Michael Ajeto posits that a drop in velocity and (possibly related?) changes in movement on his cutter sapped his effectiveness. While his velocity is down a bit, it’s not actually all that different from his big years in Cleveland – it went up a bit in his final year in Cleveland, and it’s down from that, but it’s not different from, say, 2015. And it’s not just his cutter – his slider’s effectiveness has been going down for years, and became a serious problem in Colorado.

All of this has played havoc with his platoon splits. When he was good, he dominated righties (as a cutter/slider reliever, he really should) and was good against lefties. In Colorado, he was utterly destroyed by…righties. In two years, he faced a righty 324 times, and they hit .314 with a .578 slugging percentage and 17 HRs. This seems pretty dramatic.

One thing that jumps out is how he *used* his cutter. He didn’t use it any more or less than he had in Cleveland, but he did become hyper-focused on *where* he threw it. Here’s where he threw his cutter from 2014-2016 in Cleveland:
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He used it up in the zone, but it wasn’t limited to one particular side of the zone. He typically like to keep it away from righties and lefties, but it was thrown in a different spot than his slider, which, in typical right fashion, he buried low and away from a RHB. Ok, so here’s where he used that cutter from 2017-19:
Shaw cutter 17-19

This looks like a slider heat map. It looks like *Shaw’s* slider heat map. Shaw kept it low and away pretty much all the time. My hunch here is that righties knew pretty much exactly where each pitch was going to go, and even if they didn’t know what type it’d be, that’s still a pretty big advantage.

The M’s bullpen looks pretty dire, and there’s no real risk in picking up Shaw. Fellow Rockies FA reliever bust Jake McGee was also released by the Rockies last week and ended up signing with the Dodgers. If he’s bad, he’s probably not going to be as bad as the back end of the M’s bullpen, weakened by Gerson Bautista’s injury, Yoshihisa Hirano’s late start/injury, and Austin Adams’ injury. There are some clear steps the M’s could take to see if he was telegraphing his pitches or his approach, and if he’s just done, there’s no harm in kicking the tires. He gives the ‘pen some experience, and that’s in pretty short supply. Shaw may be relieved to be pitching at sea level again, too. All in all a pretty harmless depth move, and one that might give the M’s a minor trade chip at some point.

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The Upside: 2020 (?)

marc w · July 22, 2020 · Filed Under 自己搭建ssr大概多少费用

It feels profoundly strange to write “Upside” and “2020” in the same sentence, but this is what must be done given the format I set for myself several years ago. This has been the strangest, ugliest several months any of us can remember. The news has been bleak since March, and with a Covid-19 increasing again, the news figures to stay bad for a while. It is, in a very real sense, absurd that baseball season is upon us again, even in this abridged format. But you know all of this. We’ve all gotten used to living through absurdity; I think it’s what keeps us sane. And if some of that absurdity wears Mariners uniforms, well, that’s an improvement, I guess. If sports have any power to distract (“heal” is a stretch at the best of times, and a bad joke now), it’s because we collectively give it meaning, and that delusion decision binds us together. We get to take what we want from this bizarre pseudo-season, and, critically, we can decide what we feel about it. The tacit compact that makes all of us baseball fans, and the compact that keeps all 3 of you continue reading this site, is that baseball’s pretty great, and that the Mariners – even the Mariners – are our conduit to this shared meaning. We will watch the M’s not only attempt a full-fledged rebuild, but hope everyone stays free of Covid, hope that a year without the minor leagues won’t doom many, many prospects, and wonder what :gestures: ALL of this will do to the game and the team in a few years. And we can decide that this is entertaining.

It’s with that as a backdrop that we can just sort of skip over the news that today, about 24 hours before the season kicks off, no one really knows how many playoff spots there’ll be. Could be 10! Or up to 16! We’ll know tomorrow, I guess. I also hope that Toronto knows where they’ll play their “home” games, now that Canada has officially ruled out, uh, Toronto. It may be Pittsburgh, because why not, but New York is lobbying for Buffalo. We’re good at dealing with absurdity now, right? Compared to all of this, the M’s situation is downright boring. They’ll play in Seattle, and will face teams in the AL and NL West. That gets them facing two of the premier teams in the game in Houston and the LA Dodgers, and the A’s and Angels seem like formidable opponents as well. But they’ll be playing something like real games, and we can again turn our attention to the now-officialy-acknowledged rebuild (the term “step back” was a silent casualty of 2020).

This is supposed to be the optimistic post, and however good we are at dealing with absurdity, being optimistic in 2020 is still a bit hard. But in many ways, this figures to be an easier season to enjoy and follow than 2019. Last year, the M’s identified Marco Gonzales and Mitch Haniger as their veteran stars their prospects would learn from. Gonzales had a superficially solid year, but with declining velocity and K rates, it provided red flags along with a decent ERA. Haniger’s year was worse – undone by a ruptured testicle and then with what seems like a botched surgery on his core, followed by back issues. He’s still on the IL, and is facing another lost year of development. But despite this, the team really did identify a core group of players who could be the heart of a contending team. It just wasn’t who we thought it’d be. While Justus Sheffield, JP Crawford, Shed Long, and Justin Dunn had some mixed results – really solid play at times, and some struggles in others – Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez made the leap from exciting youngsters to two of the top prospects in baseball.

Perhaps even more encouraging was real improvement in the M’s pitching development. Logan Gilbert is now one of the better pitching prospects in the AL (though the league has quite a few gems near the majors right now), and the other first-rounders (George Kirby and Emerson Hancock) looked solid in Summer Camp. The development of Austin Adams after a mid-2019 trade, the development of Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell and even Ljay Newsome has helped provide potential answers to the question that the M’s pitching woes have been asking for the past few years.

Last year at this time, the M’s started Domingo Santana and Jay Bruce in the outfield. Ryon Healy was the 3B, Tim Beckham the SS, while Edwin Encarnacion DH’d. By early June, Tommy Milone, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc anchored the rotation behind Gonzales. Sure, sure, JP Crawford arrived before too long, and by the second half, you had a team that was much more similar to the 2020 line-up. But last year was a profoundly transitional team in the first half, one that no one – not the M’s, certainly – expected would play a part in 2020. The usual parade of waiver moved through, but given the roster rules this year, I think we’ll see less of that and more of the young players that the team hopes can lead them to contention in 2022 or so.

To be clear, that could be ugly from a win-loss perspective, as the second half of 2019 shows. But the first half was plenty ugly too, and worse, it was pointlessly ugly. This year, we can tell ourselves that the losses build experience and character, the sporting equivalent of kale or arugula. And it may even be true. While we’re very unlikely to see the likes of Jarred Kelenic (and Julio Rodriguez, thanks to his hairline fracture as much as team control concerns), we could see some of the young hurlers before too long.

So there figure to be good things to watch, and expectations are suitably low. That’s a pretty good way to summarize the Mariners, and I’m finding myself pretty excited to see how it goes. Given all of this, what would be clear, unambiguous signs of progress? What would we all see as obvious victories in a season that probably won’t feature a lot of on-field victories?

1: Justus Sheffield or JP Crawford (or both!) takes a major step forward

The two prized prospects in the series of trades before 2019 had odd seasons, and are almost afterthoughts when people discuss the M’s young talent. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I know, but readers may remember I had something like this about JP last year, and, well, he slashed .226/.313/.371, which lowered his career OPS to .687. It’s easy to forget he’ll be 25 this season, and was once every bit the prospect that Kelenic/Rodriguez were. His defense was better than advertised, and his batting eye remains keen. He just needs to hit more. He’s young enough that this isn’t crazy, but experienced enough that this would be something of a player development coup.
Sheffield’s in a similar position. His first half in Tacoma was utterly dispiriting, with serious control issues and poor results all across the board. He found himself in AA, and made seven starts for the M’s down the stretch, with a Crawford-like mix of encouraging signs and concerning signs. His K rate rebounded, and his slider showed that it could be a weapon against right-handed bats. But he was extremely hittable thanks to a low-spin four-seam fastball that didn’t have enough velo or movement to avoid barrels. He’s toyed with a change that could really improve his stock, but the most pressing need is to improve his fastball to the point that batters can’t simply ignore every slider he throws. The M’s know this, and have worked with him on his fastball pitch design – I saw a bit of him in the broadcast Summer Camp intra-squad games, but that can’t tell us much. Is it a true sinker? A more traditional four-seamer with added spin and angle? Any change to the arm angle? Soon we’ll find out, and that could help Sheffield regain the prospect sheen he had when he was traded from the Yankees.
Neither player needs to be a star – we’re not asking Sheffield to be an ace, or Crawford to be the best SS in the AL (again, the AL is just loaded at the position right now). But 3.5 WAR seasons from one or the other would be extremely helpful to the Mariners cause. Only Marco Gonzales got there by fWAR/bWAR, but he was replacement-level by Baseball Prospectus’ formula. With so many holes to fill, and with plenty of time before the likes of Noevi Marte are ready, having more solid, above-average regulars would help cut the deficit the M’s face with their rivals.

2: Logan Gilbert succeeds in the Majors from day one.

This is really two nested goals in one. First, that Gilbert’s development in Tacoma is so obvious that he forces the M’s hand, and gets promoted relatively quickly. And second, that Gilbert doesn’t flail for a while like so many M’s pitching prospects have done (Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Justin Dunn) in recent years. Gilbert’s stuff is the most ace-like of any pitcher in the system, and there is no reason it shouldn’t help him succeed. If the M’s pitching development really has turned a corner thanks to their heralded Gas Camp and the like, this should be an easy win for the team. Keep him healthy, and point him at the enemy line-up, and things should go great.
It’s not so easy, of course. The trick here is that Gilbert won’t be getting real game situations until he’s promoted, meaning he won’t have faced someone on another team since last year in AA. He’s had very little exposure to high-level hitting, and the M’s Tacoma player pool has some great prospects, but may not be what he needs to prepare for the Astros and A’s. However, given the situation we’re in, there’s no way to know until we try it out. I understand starting him in Tacoma for a little bit, but Gilbert (and Kirby, and so many others) desperately need to play actual games. As those are only going to happen at the big league level, the M’s need to get him up and involved.
The M’s using a six-man rotation is the kind of thing that could help ease that transition. With so many players needing to watch innings limits, the M’s were kind of forced into it (ssr网站推荐that they should try it). But an extra day of rest could help protect or even enhance velocity, and it’s a great way for Gilbert and his teammates to gain critical experience together; it’s less of a zero sum game when Gilbert’s presence doesn’t have to mean that Dunn or Sheffield sits.

3: Everyone stays healthy.

This is obvious, but we need to mention it given the fact that several players and some Mariners tested positive. The overwhelming majority of the players who’ve tested positive have had minor cases or been completely asymptomatic, but the Freddie Freeman story shows that some get very, very sick. Contending teams are already saying that the teams that an outbreak or a key player testing positive would throw a race into chaos, but luckily we don’t have to worry about anything so small over here. I don’t want any players, staff members, or their families to have to go through a serious illness whose long term effects we still don’t really know.

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