Mariners take a Leake

Associated Press (AP)

The Mariners currently rank 28th in the MLB in starting pitcher WAR, and so they have attempted to bolster their rotation by acquiring Mike Leake, cash, and international cash in return for SS Rayder Ascanio.

Leake is owed a $16M APY for the next three years. With the Cardinals kicking in cash, Mike Leake is essentially on a three-year, $36M deal with a $5M buyout in 2021. Leake waived his no-trade clause in order to come to Seattle.

With a 2017 WAR of +1.9 to date, Leake joins the Mariners as their second most productive starting pitcher, and it isn’t particularly close. Next in line is Ariel Miranda at +0.5 WAR.

After posting a 3.12 ERA in the first half, Leake has floundered, conceding a 6.90 ERA to batters since the All-Star break. One reason for this regression seems to be that Leake’s velocity on his sinker has been declining. Both Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs have his sinker’s velocity as the lowest it has been since 2012, and nearly an entire tick down from just last year. That’s problematic considering Leake throws his sinker almost 50% of the time.

Regardless, a stellar first half and pitiful second half combine to equal a fairly normal year for Leake. He now has seven consecutive seasons of at least 150 innings, and most of them have fallen under a 4.00 ERA. It’s reasonable to expect somewhere around 185 innings and a 4.00 ERA per season from Leake for the remainder of his contract. With Seattle’s current rotation, it’s hard to complain about that.

The going rate for middling, veteran starters is currently somewhere around $10M-$15M per year. Jeremy Hellickson, he of 9.9 WAR from 2010-2017, is on the books for $17M in 2017. Currently, one WAR is priced at around $8.5-9M, and so Leake will need to be worth around +4 WAR for the next three years. In the past seven seasons, Leake has averaged +1.89 WAR per season, so he would be hard pressed to not be worth the money.

The dip in velocity is concerning, but there are some reasons to be hopeful. First, Leake is getting more swings out of the zone than he has in many years. His swing percentage on pitches outside of the zone is up a full percentage point from his career average. Second, his outside-zone (O-Swing) contact and inside-zone (Z-Swing) contact percentages are both down around 2% from his career averages. Lastly, his swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) is the highest it’s been in his career.

As for the Rayder Ascanio, he’s a 21-year-old, 155-pound shortstop who has spent most of his time in 2017 in A+ ball. As a hitter, he is extremely light-hitting, but is an absolute wizard with his glove. While not an issue for many big league shortstops, it’s concerning that Ascanio is hitting a mere .656 OPS in A+ (21% below league average). He currently has an uphill battle to be a capable major league starter. John Sickels graded him a ‘C’ in February.

In short, the Cardinals used this as an opportunity to free up salary cap space. Seattle has made it even more clear that they aren’t tapping out anytime soon. Paired with the Segura extension, picking up a $12M annual contract through 2020 shows they are trying to win now. Fortunately they were able to do so with a 29-year-old proven veteran pitcher. Look for Mike Leake to get his first start as a Mariner sometime this weekend against Oakland.

The Mariners’ bullpen might be good enough

If the Mariners are to have one weakness, it’s their starting rotation. The Mariners, in fact, have several weaknesses, but their starting pitching happens to be the most glaring one. Currently, they stand 1.5 games back in the American League Wild Card race. While the Astros have the rest of the AL West in their rearview mirror, the rest of the American League is in disarray. Just three American League teams are no longer in the playoff picture.

The Mariners know they sorely lack competent starting pitchers, which is why they went out and acquired starting pitchers Marco Gonzales and Andrew Albers. Neither Gonzales nor Albers are first-class starters, and so they acquired 1B Yonder Alonso and RP David Phelps to shore up other areas of the roster.

Alonso adds even more punch to an offense that ranks #6 in the MLB in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus). More relevant is that David Phelps was acquired to bolster the bullpen. Phelps instantly is penned in as one of the M’s best relievers. With the Mariners’ current rotation, the bullpen will be relied upon heavily to backpack them to a Wild Card spot. This is already evident as their 51.1 IP in August is the third highest in the MLB. If the Mariners were to theoretically make it into the playoffs, it is of even more importance that the bullpen has arms that can be confided in in high leverage situations.

The question, then, is if the Mariners have those relievers. Last year, Edwin Diaz was that reliever. This year, while he’s still flashed elite stuff, he’s also been outright atrocious at times.

Nick Vincent currently owns a 6.93 K/9. Not terrible, but certainly below average. Vincent has been striking out less hitters than ever before, but he has also walked fewer, given up fewer home runs, and limited hitters to a 2.01 ERA (2.67 FIP, 4.49 xFIP).

In January, Jeff Sullivan wrote an article about how Nick Vincent had the second most unhittable fastball in baseball in the PITCHf/x era, right behind none other than Aroldis Chapman. Seriously. Ahead of Craig Kimbrel, Dellin Betances, Kenley Jansen, and Andrew Miller. Everyone but Aroldis Chapman. In 2016, he actually had the most unhittable fastball.

Many of these pitchers have fastballs that are either blazing fast or have wicked movement. Amazingly, Vincent’s heater falls into neither of those categories. It averages 90 mph and tops out at 92 mph. As for movement, Brooks Baseball has the following:

His fourseam fastball generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, results in more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slightly below average velo and has slightly less natural movement than typical.

In other words, Vincent should have a very ordinary fastball. But he doesn’t! His fastball is elite because he locates it accurately and consistently, has a deceptive delivery, and lives up in the zone with his four-seam fastball. Living up in the zone generally means lots of whiffs and lots of long fly balls. In 2016, those fly balls gave Vincent a 1.64 HR/9, but in 2017 he owns a 0.37 HR/9. One thing we know is out of all types of batted balls, home runs are the noisiest. What that means is home run rates often fluctuate, and what we have seen between the two years is a lot of fluctuation. Nick Vincent was by and large, very unlucky in 2016. This year, he seems to have had a lot more luck on his side.

One of my favorite metrics is a newer one made available by Baseball Savant, xwOBA (Expected Weighted On-Base Average). What it does is take Statcast data and assign hit probabilities to all batted balls. In this way, you can more accurately gauge a player’s true performance and compare it to their actual performance. In this way, you can see how lucky (or unlucky) they have been.

Nick Vincent currently has a .250 wOBA. (Think of wOBA on the same scale as on-base percentage.) His xwOBA is .287.

Hypothesis confirmed! Nick Vincent has benefited from good luck (and similarly good fielding) Using this metric, I can even attempt to say just how lucky he’s been. By subtracting his wOBA from his xwOBA, Vincent has performed 0.037 better than expected. Only six relief pitchers have overperformed more than Vincent. Still, Vincent is still in good company. By xwOBA, Vincent is performing around the level of the likes of Alex Colome, Carl Edwards Jr., and Seung Hwan Oh.

For the sake of (your) time, I will say that David Phelps has been just slightly worse than Vincent has been (which is still good!).

The standout pitcher from the Mariners’ bullpen this year will surprise you. It shouldn’t surprise you, but it will! When you look bad in a couple outings – and I mean bad – people will take a narrative and run with it, and apparently that has been done this year with Edwin Diaz.

Sugar ranks #26 in xwOBA at .258, while his wOBA stands at .282. This means, unlike Vincent, Diaz has not only not but lucky, but he’s been unlucky!

He’s walking just about everybody and he’s given up too many dingers, but since the arbitrarily chosen date of May 19th, Diaz has an FIP- of 74 (100 is league average) while his FIP- on the year is 95. Several of the advanced metrics available expect Diaz to be worse than his current 3.40 ERA is, but there is reason to believe the opposite: that Diaz hasn’t gotten a fair shake due to some bad luck.

Still, this is not the Edwin Diaz of last year, and it certainly seems like something is off. Diaz was probably not going to repeat his insane 2016, but there haven’t been many times this year where he has mirrored that sheer dominance.

One thing is clear: his command is not completely there. From what I can gather via Brooks Baseball, both his vertical and horizontal release points are not in line with where they were last year, and so he’s not locating. Most notably, he’s locating his slider lower than ever.

Diaz is living in the zone far, far less. When you have a slider like he does it can work, except this year both the swing percentage and whiff percentage have gone down on his slider. Diaz has got to get his fastball going or he is going to continue to walk around his rate of 4.56 BB/9. Why swing in the dirt when you can just look for his fastball?

Given this, in the bottom of the ninth of a must-win game: give me Diaz. Vincent and Phelps make for good options, but Diaz by far has the most firepower and was one of the best relievers in baseball last year. He still has until October to return to form.

The Mariners are better and worse than before

In 2016, the Mariners had the 10th best run differential in the MLB and missed the playoffs. Similarly, the Mariners finished 10th in Pythagorean Win-Loss record (i.e, expected win-loss record). So in theory, the Mariners performed as the 10th best team in the MLB. Expected to be 87-75, the Mariners were 86-76. A ten win improvement from 2015, the Mariners should have been happy, but the Mariners were sad. 2016 marked the 15th straight year that the Mariners were sad. The reason the Mariners have been sad, is because not making the playoffs is sad. How sad?

Trump tweet

I made this fake tweet that could be a real tweet

The Mariners owned a record neither better than the Orioles nor the Blue Jays, who both happened to be the AL Wild Card teams. And that is how you miss the playoffs! Losing to a terrible Athletics team in a massively important game is also a really good way to miss the playoffs.

This year, the Mariners have a completely new look, and so they will win in very different ways.

season projections

The 2016 Mariners blew AL West teams out of the water in run differential (a good predictor of win percentage), but still finished nine games behind the Astros. This year, their offense is projected to score less runs than the Astros and Rangers, and their pitching is projected to be slightly worse than the Astros and Angels. The Astros, clearly, are going to be extremely good because of their potent offense, likely the best in the AL, and underrated pitching.

After much roster turnover since the Jack Zduriencik days, the Mariners finally have something close to the philosophy that Jerry Dipoto has envisioned. Get on base, play good defense, pitch well, and control the zone (on offense and pitching). The biggest difference with our new Mariners is the ability to play stellar outfield defense, and Segura should be an upgrade for Ketel Marte. Mostly on offense, but also defense as well.

The offense is less potent, yet still potent. That’s the trade-off you take when increasing a team’s defense. Hopefully that defense will help stave a very volatile, uninspiring starting rotation that could be pretty bad. Before Drew Smyly was put on the DL, things didn’t feel great. Now that Drew Smyly is on the DL, things especially don’t feel great. While the depth of pitchers overall is good, the dropoff is pretty significant from Paxton and Smyly to Felix and Kuma, and even further to Yovani Gallardo. Dipoto purely wants volume of innings from Gallardo, which is understandable. Every pitcher in the rotation has dealt with injuries in the past, and no one seems like a sure thing to stay healthy. That is where the value of 180-200 innings from Gallardo comes in. He’s a Kevin Millwood-esque #5 who is surely not sexy but valuable in his own mediocre way. I personally prefer Chris Heston to both Ariel Miranda and Gallardo but that’s just me.

Theoretically the lineup has no black holes, but Zunino and Martin have the potential to be worse than mediocre. I don’t think it’s likely, but lucky for them they both are premier defenders at their respective positions if they do wet the bed.

Projection system overperformers

Projection systems are not perfect. In fact, they’re very imperfect. What’s great is they objectively take statistics, and they make estimates based on previous performances and the natural aging curve. Players generally get better as they age, and after age 30 they get worse. It’s pretty simple.

On a yearly basis, players overperform and underperform projections. In this way, projections even out. Players like Nelson Cruz hit until they’re 40, and players like Rich Hill become studs seemingly out of nowhere. On the flip side, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper-types become superstars not long after they are 20 years old.

As such, the Mariners have a couple players who are hopeful candidates for stronger performances than projection systems like ZiPS and Steamer account for.

Jean Segura

Over the offseason, Jerry Dipoto unloaded an underwhelming Tajuan Walker for a rejuvenated Jean Segura. It was a sell-low, buy-high situation, but it is a trade that I fully co-sign.

Last season, Segura was one of the best shortstops in the league. He played solid enough defense, and showcased a .319/.368/.499 triple slash (.371 wOBA, 126 wRC+) with 33 stolen bases and 20 dingers. It was a far better season than his 2014 and 2015 seasons, and an improvement from 2013. There are reasons to think that 2016 was an unsustainable year for Segura.

Case 1: Segura’s BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play) was .353. What that means is for every ball that Segura put into play (strikeouts, walks, sacrifices, and home runs do not count), his batting average was .353. BABIPs can fluctuate due to bad luck, or consistently hard or weakly hit balls. Generally, the average player’s BABIP will hover around .300. However, speedier players often have higher BABIPs because they can beat out batted balls in the infield. Segura is a speedy player.

Segura’s career BABIP is .314, which seems normal. That said, his future BABIP is likely to fall somewhere in between his .314 career BABIP and 2016 .353 BABIP.

Segura was solid in 2013. Segura was one of the league’s worst hitters in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, he was a very good hitter. What the projections have decided is that if Segura has been extremely bad and extremely good, he’s probably somewhere in between. This is reasonable enough logic.

Case 2: In 2014, Jean Segura’s nine-month old son passed away due to illness. 2014 was also the year that Jean Segura’s performance on the baseball field took a nosedive. If you can imagine, one of the worst things that can happen to a person is losing a child. An even worse thing is losing a child that has yet to reach the age of one.

Projections don’t have feelings. Jean Segura has feelings! ZiPS and Steamer unfortunately don’t know that Jean Segura lost his son, but we do. This is one way that we can try and beat projections at their own game.

There’s a hole in this logic. That hole is that leading up to Segura losing his son, he owned a .232/.266/.315 triple slash in 316 plate appearances. Upon returning, he actually improved his line to .271/.328/.348.

For the Mariners, the hope is that Segura plays more like 2016 than 2014 and 2015.

What Steamer says: .273/.316/.395, 12 HRs, 24 SBs
What ZiPS says: .269/.308/.393, 13 HRs, 30 SBs
What I say: .285/.345/.440, 16 HRs, 28 SBs

Mitch Haniger

Haniger has 34 major league games to pull from, and he wasn’t good. In spite of this, the sample was extremely small, he ran into bad luck (.256 BABIP), and a year ago he overhauled his swing. His triple-A performance was nothing short of dominant and some actually view Haniger as the headliner to the Segura-Walker trade.

Because of the small sample of 2016 appearances and his minor league pedigree, I’ll take the over on his 2017 projections.

What Steamer says: .249/.309/.412, 18 HRs, 7 SBs
What ZiPS says: .237/.302/.409, 18 HRs, 7 SBs

What I say: .260/.325/.440, 20 HRs, 8 SBs

Mike Zunino

Zunino was one of the worst hitters ever in 2015. In 2016 he mashed in Triple-A, and he looked improved against major league competition. He’s always going to strikeout around 25-30%, but it looks like he’s going to walk more and continue to play great defense.

His 2016 performance is probably something like his 2017.

What Steamer says: .220/.289/.412, 16 HRs, 1 SB
What ZiPS says: .216/.288/.418, 22 HRs, 0 SB
What I say: .225/.315/.430, 20 HRs, 0 SB

Leonys Martin

Our poor Leonys spent much of 2016 dealing with a bum hamstring. Not only was he battling his hamstring issue, but because of his integral role in the outfield’s defense, he wasn’t able to play as hard as his hamstrings would allow. Working with Edgar Martinez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz has helped his swing, and it’s of my opinion that his hamstring hampered his offense, defense, and baserunning.

Martin is probably the one I think beats his projections the most (save for maybe Jean Segura).

What Steamer says: .242/.298/.363, 10 HRs, 17 SBs
What ZiPS says: .246/.298/.371, 11 HRs. 22 SBs

What I say: .245/.315/.410, 19 HRs, 30 SBs

As for pitching, I don’t have as strong of opinions about those projections. Felix will likely be a tad better than 2016, but surely not someone deserving of being a #1 pitcher in a rotation. Gallardo might suck less. Zych, Cishek, Diaz, Scribner, and Vincent are going to ballers in the bullpen.

Happy Almost Mariners Baseball Day!

Optimizing the Mariners’ opening day lineup Pt. 1

In 2016, I wrote an article about optimizing the Mariners’ lineup a couple months into the season. To make it easier (so as not to force you to open another article) here’s a paraphrased version of what I said lineup optimization means:

In economics, there is something called the rational choice theory. What the rational choice theory assumes is than an individual has preferences among choices. These preferences are assumed to be made by surveying all possible options, taking in all information, and to make the most logical decision that is of greatest benefit to them.

To put out the best lineup possible, one should use all available information. In The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, Tom Tango (as well as Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin) attempt to quantify this using empirical data. In the book, there is an entire chapter devoted to sabermetric lineup construction.

Following is a graphic with the conventional, old-school method of building a lineup, as well as an optimized, sabermetric version of how to construct a lineup. The standard version is more philosophy and trait-driven while the sabermetric version revolves around statistics (duh).

BTBS optimization

Admittedly, over the course of a baseball season using an optimized lineup only adds a couple wins. That’s relatively insignificant, and one could argue it’s trivial. But if you’re the Mariners who look like favorites to finish as the second Wild Card team, it can be the difference between playoffs and, well, not playoffs. With an injury to Drew Smyly before the season has started, little things like lineup optimization become increasingly important.

This lineup will likely look very different from the opening day and regular lineup put out by Scott Servais, and that’s okay!

Because year-to-year numbers are so different due to injuries, sequencing, mechanics, and so on, we will focus on players’ career numbers with 2016 performance and 2017 projections as context. On we go!

I came up with the following orders of lineups versus left-handed and right-handed pitchers:

Versus LHP:

LHP Optimization

Versus RHP:

RHP Optimization

(“Stat type” denotes if I used career numbers or my personal projections.)

You will notice that the optimized lineup doesn’t follow the sabermetric setup to a tee. Why? As an example, managers like to have speedy players who can get on base some at the bottom of the lineup, because it’s as if having two leadoff hitters. Also to better match certain philosophies and because some players will do better or worse than their current career numbers or 2017 projections. Namely, players like Haniger, Segura, Zunino, and Martin. In Pt. 2 of this article, I will explain why I expect players to deviate from these numbers.

Because of injuries, fatigue, “hot/cold streaks”, and maintenance days, the lineup isn’t always going to look like this. And really the lineup will probably never ever look like this. No managers in the MLB are nearly as progressive as many sabermetricians, and so even though some unconventional tactics are utilized, many still use concrete roles in the bullpen and outdated methods of lineup construction. As an example, managers are unlikely to move star players such as Seager or Cano down in the lineup even if they are significantly worse against a certain handedness of pitchers. Due to the egos and psyches of players, this may be the correct way to go about things at times, but it doesn’t always make sense. That said, all things relatively equal, it’s generally safe to go with the more experienced (or emotionally demanding) player. So Seager will unlikely bat as low as sixth like he is in my “vs. LHP” optimized lineup.

For the first time since October, there will be regular season Mariners baseball tomorrow. The Mariners play the AL West favorite Astros, and Felix will look to recover from his past two seasons in which he has failed to look like King Felix. Last season he really failed to look like Felix Hernandez. I can support the blonde beard. Not so much the slicked back blonde hair.

Pt. 2 of my article explains my lineup construction briefly and the Mariners season in context!

Mariners solidify rotation with a pitcher you (probably?) haven’t heard of

The Mariners went via the trade route just like we all knew they would. Albeit a much more low profile acquisition than many thought, Chris Heston is a nice find. Heston was had for a player-to-be-named-later. This continues the Mariners’ recent trend of acquiring pitchers who are either groundball pitchers, good K/BB pitchers, or have high spin rates. (Depending on the pitch, it is very advantageous to have a high spin rate. With pitches like cutters/sinkers and changeups, a high spin rate is bad). 

Right away, John Sickels compared the likes of Chris Heston to Matt Shoemaker. After a solid spring, Sickels projected that Heston would have a Matt Shoemaker-esque coming out season. While that didn’t exactly happen, Heston did have a very solid season which was highlighted by two complete games, one being a no-hit performance. His rookie season Heston went 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA (3.98 xFIP; 4.07 SIERA). Additionally, he owned a passable 7.14 K/9, 3.24 BB/9, and a HR/9 of 0.81. (Just for fun, Heston’s 2015 HR/9 is 1.00 less than Taijuan Walker’s 2016 HR/9. Boy oh boy was Walker terrible.)

The big difference between the two is Chris Heston is an extreme groundball pitcher while Shoemaker is surely not. And as Sickels notes, Shoemaker’s beard is far superior.

While Heston owns a healthy line drive rate, he owns a GB% (56.2%) that is about 12% above league average and among the highest in the MLB. His FB% (26.3%) is nearly 10% below league average, while managing to keep his HR/FB rate better than league average – that’s important. His batted ball profile is strikingly similar to Martin Perez, Kendall Graveman, Mike Leake, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Chad Bettis. Oh, and not to mention Noah Syndergaard and Jake Arrieta. Unlike the latter two, Heston does not throw hard and will never reach that type of level of domination. Heston owns the highest GB/FB rate, and is tied for best in GB%. Similarly, Heston’s career GB% ranks second in the MLB in pitchers’ 2015-2016 GB%.

batted-balls

Brooks Baseball’s amazingly convenient beta feature offers this description of Chris Heston’s 2016 pitches compared to other RHP as follows:

His sinker is so slow that it is substantially gravitational and is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers’ sinkers. His fourseam fastball comes in below hitting speed and has heavy sinking action. His slider comes in below hitting speed, generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders, sweeps across the zone and is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers’ sliders. His curve comes in below hitting speed, generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ curves, has little depth, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ curves and has slight glove-side movement. His change (take this with a grain of salt because he’s only thrown 8 of them in 2016) has below average velo, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ changeups, results in more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups, has slight cut action and has some natural sink to it.

The TL;DR/summary:

  • His fastball sits at or below 90 but has a great amount of movement/heavy sink.
  • His slider generates A LOT of swings and misses, but it is an extreme flyball pitch.
  • His curve also generates a lot of swings and misses, but it is less so of a flyball pitch.
  • He rarely threw his changeup.

Heston is a innings-eating command pitcher who embodies Dipoto’s philosophy of controlling the strike zone. Because of his approach, he relies heavily on his defense since he does not generate strikeouts and has walked more batters than expected thus far. Right now he is a solid fourth or fifth pitcher in a rotation, but he has the potential to be more than that. Kind of similar to what we felt about Nathan Karns before last season, although… don’t let that scare you.

At AT&T Park, Heston had one of the most pitcher friendly stadiums in the MLB (second to Safeco Field). Now that Safeco has moved in their fences, it may be less pitcher friendly, especially to flyball pitchers. Not a problem for Heston.

With the Mariners’ increasingly rapid shift towards prioritizing defense, Heston stands to gain more benefit than any other M’s pitcher. With Martin patrolling center and Gamel and Haniger likely to see a lot of time in the corners, the outfield defense has improved by leaps and bounds in just a couple months. Seth Smith also looks to be on his way out of town due to his penchant for literally only being able to hit right-handed pitching. Seager and Cano are coming off of very good defensive seasons, and Segura looks to solidify a shortstop position that has struggled to be occupied by a player who can hit or field. The last player was the defensive-savvy Brendan Ryan. Just as important, Seattle has one of the MLB’s premier pitch framers in Mike Zunino and theoretically a better backup in Carlos Ruiz than Chris Iannetta turned out to be.

Heston bolsters a rotation that also features Felix, Kuma, Paxton, and one of Nathan Karns, Rob Whalen, Ariel Miranda, or a player-to-be-acquired in the coming days (or weeks). While I think this is a rather savvy pickup by the Mariners’ front office, the Mariners should try to add on to the competition for the 5th starting spot, as well as continuing to build depth.

Not only is this a low-risk move, but the Mariners also saved the $10M-$12M they would have had to pay a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation free agent.

Mariners acquire one Jean Segura and prospects for two fellows, ditch Venditte

In the midst of finishing a research paper of mine, Jerry Dipoto figured I didn’t have enough distractions and completed a five-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that headlined Jean Segura and Taijuan Walker. To clear a roster spot Pat Venditte was designated for assignment.

My knee-jerk reaction was I loved the trade. My thoughtful, tactful reaction is I love the trade. If I had to do an “Explain Like I’m Five” for someone who wasn’t knowledgeable about either team, I would say as follows: The Mariners dealt an overrated former top prospect and an underperforming, yet toolsy, shortstop for a shortstop coming off the best season of his life, a tweener outfielder outplaying his predictions, and another LOOGY/starter tweener. Context is critical. So we will give it context.

As always when it comes to trades in baseball involving prospects, I lean heavily on one of my favorite minor league guys, John Sickels. He’s the perfect mix of a scout and analytics guy.

What did Jerry Dipoto net us?

Jean Segura

Jean Segura is an interesting fellow. After putting up menial offensive numbers in 2012, Segura broke out in a big way with a .294/.329/.423 triple slash in 2013. Segura went on to put up very poor offensive numbers in 2014-15, and then broke out in an even bigger way with a .319/.368/.499 triple slash this past season. Whether because of the change of scenery or a simple adjustment, his career .280/.319/.396 line easily pales in comparison to his 2016.

Change of scenery likely played at least part of the role in Segura’s uptick in production. Chase Field (DBacks’ park) ranks #2 in the MLB in runs scored. Miller Park (Brewers’ park) ranks #17.

It would be ignorant to chalk up his newfound offensive production to just a change in parks. Some of Segura’s hitting peripherals are very promising. For example, Segura hit more line drives and less ground balls, and his hard hit ball percentage went up drastically. He still hits more ground balls and less line drives than league average, but he is also a diminutive shortstop.

batted-ball-rates

What this table taken directly from FanGraphs.com shows is that line drives are great, fly balls aren’t good but not terrible, and ground balls are really bad. This is why it’s encouraging to see the ground balls go down and the line drives go up.

In terms of plate discipline, Segura swung at the lowest percentage of pitches of his career in 2016. This includes outside the zone, inside the zone, and altogether. Whether that played into his improvement, I don’t know. Segura is known as an aggressive hitter, but he managed to keep his K% as low as his magnificent career K% while bringing up his BB% to a more respectable 5.6%. The reason why Segura has had a low OBP throughout his career is because he’s hit a little bit, but hasn’t walked enough. It would still be nice to see that BB% creep up a couple percentage points, but if he hits like he did in 2013 and especially 2016 it won’t affect him so much.

John Sickels gave him a ‘B’ grade as a prospect in 2011 and called the grade a “bit too conservative.” On Sickels’ scale, this means the player, in this case Segura, has a good chance to have a successful MLB career. They could be a star, could be a role player.

After he was traded in a package for Zack Greinke in 2012, Sickels postulated Segura would end up at second base as a + defender. Sickels had this to say:

He possesses above-average speed. He has a strong throwing arm and is a decent defensive shortstop, although most scouts believe he’ll wind up at second base eventually. He is a line drive hitter with power potential that he hasn’t fully tapped. An aggressive hitter, Segura doesn’t draw many walks, but is adept at making contact and is expected to hit for average.

I’m not sure how I made it this far without mentioning this, but here I go: Jean Segura was worth 5 WAR in 2016. That ranks him as the #5 SS in 2016, behind Corey Seager, Machado, Lindor, Brandon Crawford, and one spot ahead of Carlos Correa. Jean Segura may not be a superior player to them, but he’s in good company.

Jean Segura is a risk. He was worth 3.5 WAR in 2013 and 5 WAR in 2016, but he has also been worth 0.0 and 0.3 WAR in seasons with everyday playing time without missing many games. If I were a betting man, which I am not, but if I were, I would not expect him to repeat his offensive performance in 2016. However, I believe Segura raises the floor at shortstop and gives even higher upside than Ketel Marte provided. Not to mention he instantly provides the leadoff hitter the Mariners have sorely needed for years.

Mitch Haniger

Mitch Haniger was never supposed to hit like he hit in the minors in 2016. Yes, his 2016 MLB stint wasn’t great, but in a sample size of 34 games and 123 plate appearances, you take that with a grain of salt.

Haniger is a former compensation round pick from 2012 (meaning he was the 38th overall pick of the draft) out of Cal Poly. Similar to a Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger provides a major league ready outfielder who also has options. That isn’t to say that Haniger and Gamel are similar players, because Haniger is a superior player. In theory, at least. Haniger instantly will bolster the Mariners’ lineups against left-handed pitching where he demolished in the minors. The hope is that he can manage to hit right-handed pitching well enough that he can justify playing everyday.

In the outfield, Haniger can be slot in at any of the three positions. Optimists say he’s going to be at least an above-average center fielder with the chance to be +, less optimistic people say he’ll end up being + in the corner outfield. Either way, he’s at least capable of playing center field, and he certainly wouldn’t be a disaster out there. According to John Sickels, he has good defensive instincts and a strong (and accurate!) throwing arm. Sickels thinks Haniger is best in right field and capable of both left and center field. He is currently being blocked by Leonys Martin, which is a good problem to have.

Haniger is quite possibly the most pivotal part of the trade. He’s the wildcard. No matter how you feel about Taijuan Walker, he still has oodles of upside, and he’s still young. Dave Cameron went so far to say Haniger has the chance to be the best player involved in the trade.

After struggling against right-handed pitching earlier on, he’s almost matched his production to reflect even splits from both sides. Haniger will be able to platoon at the least, and he’ll likely slot into left field and compete for at bats with Ben Gamel. Dipoto has stated he wants to rely less on platoons, more specifically in the outfield, so it remains to be seen how Haniger, Gamel, Smith, and Valencia will be utilized.

Zac Curtis

Jerry Dipoto continues to stockpile lefties in his quest to find a replacement to Charlie Furbush as the team’s pro tempore LOOGY.

The first thing you will notice about Zac Curtis is his size. He stands at 5’9″, 190. And his glasses. He has dorky glasses. His size screams LOOGY, but his pitch repertoire whispers starter. In college Curtis pitched masterfully as a starter. After getting drafted, Curtis has pitched out of the bullpen and he’s been dominant.

Because of his success against batters of both handedness, as well as his starter’s arsenal, Curtis may profile as something a little more than a LOOGY. Whether that’s a starter or middle relief guy, we don’t know, but his immediate role will likely be to pitch predominantly to left-handed hitters if he makes the 25-man roster.

What makes Curtis even more of an anomaly is that Diamondbacks elevated him from High-A to the MLB in 2016. Why? I don’t know. They were 69-93. The Diamondbacks are a bad organization, that’s probably why. They later sent him back to AA and in doing so wasted an option.

Zac Curtis will probably always strike a lot of people out. His sample sizes that we can draw from are small, so relying on scouting reports is the logical way to go here. He doesn’t throw particularly hard (90 mph four-seam), but he has a hard slider to complement it. These highlight his four-pitch repertoire.

We’ll wait and see if Curtis can usurp the other lefties Dipoto has stockpiled to pitch along with Ariel Miranda, another lefty in the bullpen.

Taijuan Walker

This is the Mariners buying as high as Segura’s value will probably be, and the Diamondbacks buying relatively low on Taijuan Walker. That part is frustrating, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s the correct way to look at it. Here’s a really bad way to look at it: A long time ago, mlbtraderumors.com posted a rumor that detailed a package that included Taijuan Walker for Giancarlo (back then Mike) Stanton. That was just an unfounded rumor, but holy crap.

Since sometime this past season, I have given up hope on Taijuan Walker. From his lingering foot issues and multiple times getting pulled out of games with injuries, to his atrocious 1.81 HR/9, to his undying penchant to throw his fastball that has absolutely no movement, to his possible weight gain, enough was enough.

The number that I absolutely cannot believe and that I always come back to is his 1.81 HR/9. Taijuan Walker almost averaged two home runs every nine innings in 2016. There were only three pitchers in the MLB (with enough innings to qualify) that had a worse home run rate. Those guys don’t get strikeouts, though. Taijuan does (sometimes).

His fastball is too straight. His cutter has not turned into the slider he wanted. He can’t throw his curveball for strikes. Or at least it seems. He just cannot seem to have all of his pitches on the same day.

He’s only 24, so he’s got some time to turn things around if you’re more patient than I. I’m happy to sell low on him. For a guy with so much perceived upside, it’s a little strange that his #1 attribute is his athleticism. Why anyone regards athleticism at all as a pitcher befuddles me and I’m serious, athleticism has always been talked about as his greatest trait. A quote from Tom McNamara of the Mariners on Taijuan:

“There is a lot of upside,” McNamara added. “I’ve been around a lot of good baseball people with scouting experience, and it’s been drilled into my head about athletic pitchers.

Boy, I respect McNamara as a baseball mind. He’s a better scout and surely more baseball savvy than I, but I’ll take Bartolo Colon over Taijuan Walker right now. Keep talking about Taijuan’s experience as a former basketball player while he keeps serving up the gopher ball.

This has largely been speaking negatively of Taijuan, and it’s clear why. As a Mariners fan, I’m biased. And I’m pissed. He could turn out to be the #1 or #2 pitcher they all said he’d be. We’ll have to wait and see. But I do not mind selling low as we are doing here. There isn’t a time in the near future that I see him being of greater value, and he does not even fit into the plan in the immediate future. Now is a great time to make a deal.

Ketel Marte

Marte is 23 and already has a solid season under his belt. Aside from 2015, he has poor BB% numbers, which translate a low OBP. Until Marte learns to walk, he’ll always have to hit a high enough average to buoy that OBP to a respectable level. Marte has never and probably will never hit for power of any sort. That doesn’t mean he’ll never be a good player.

Marte is the typical young shortstop who will make a spectacular play and then airmail a throw over the first baseman’s head. With age will come more consistency when it comes to routine plays.

Marte might eventually become a nifty little player, but there are enough holes in his game to cause worry, and I will take Segura and Co. at the price of Walker and Marte.

And so…

The Mariners dealt two very young players with many years of club control for a package that will hopefully help now and in the future. That is an important component of this trade. The M’s gave up younger players and club control for still-young players with some club control. Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger will be they keys to this trade. If they play as well as they’re capable, it doesn’t necessarily matter if Taijuan Walker turns into a solid starter or if Ketel Marte figures his stuff out. Haniger has the chance to blossom into a good defensive center fielder who can hit and Jean Segura can possibly be an annual All-Star shortstop right away. As I stated before, Mitch Haniger could very well be the best player in this trade.

Oh, and that Segura? He’s fun.

The End of The Mariners’ Season, in Context

It’s funny. Life is funny. Sometimes. Some of the times. A lot of the time! Definitely not all of the times. When I write articles about the Mariners, I just write. I don’t make outlines or make notes or anything, I just write. I always have some underlying theme that I’m going for. Sometimes that becomes the actual theme of the article, sometimes I go way way way into left field. With every article, I hope there to be a point of it. I hope that people pull something out of it, and learn something of it. I’ve more of less finished this piece and I’m not sure there is a theme. I’m not even sure there’s a point. Maybe writing these just give me an excuse to nerd out and look up a bunch of statistics that I know 99.9% of earth’s population doesn’t concern itself with or even know about. What I do hope is that this article gives you hope. I have lots of hope with our Mariners, and you should have hope too. But never have faith. Don’t be blinded by faith. And with that, let us begin.

Just like we all could have guessed, the Mariners strung us along almost as long as they possibly could, only to falter to the A’s in the second-to-last game of the season eliminating them from the playoffs. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. The Mariners traded the A’s blow for blow all game and after falling behind 4-7, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz knotted the game up at 7 apiece only to lose in the 10th inning.

Fans will try to isolate specific parts or players in this game, or games during the season, which isn’t fair to do. Iwakuma pitched a poor final game after being labeled the Mariners’ most consistent and/or reliable pitcher, sure. The season is neither on him, nor is it on Cishek for airmailing a pickoff attempt up the first base line. It sure as hell isn’t on Edwin Diaz after going 2.1 innings in the game and getting tagged with the loss. Shoot, I’ll spare Scott Servais while I’m at it. This season isn’t on him.

Back in February when the impending season and roster were taking shape, Jerry Dipoto projected the Mariners to win 85-86 games. People thought he was kooky. Projections thought he was out of his mind. I thought he was optimistic. If you glance at the current and final AL West standings, the Mariners are sitting at 86-76. A perfect projection and a full ten game improvement after inheriting something of a mess of a Mariners roster and farm system.

2015 was sort of a disaster. In fact, it was a disaster. After having high expectations once again, the dinger-heavy, unathletic Jack Zduriencik-led Mariners employed and started many players who didn’t get play at all in 2016. It featured Mike Zunino, who sported a .174/.230/.300 triple slash and had one of the worst seasons for a hitter ever. It featured Brad Miller, who couldn’t field. It featured Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson who couldn’t do anything. Robinson Cano and King Felix looked mortal, and often. Willie Bloomquist and Fernando Rodney played for us. It was bad. Boy oh boy was it bad.

Very suddenly, Zduriencik was rightfully and belatedly fired and Dipoto was handed the keys to the organization. Dipoto made a bevy of moves that transformed the philosophy and feel of the Mariners while keeping the skeleton of the team intact. The moves looked a lot like these, because the moves were these:

roster-2016

Image pulled from linked Steve Rudman article

Dipoto prioritized athleticism, ability to control the zone, and on-base ability. All of these skills, Dipoto said, were fundamental to the M’s being competitive at Safeco Field, with it’s infamously large outfield and less-infamous-but-impactful heavy marine air.

Some moves proved to be genius. After dealing Tom Wilhelmsen for Leonys Martin, Martin was a stud all season, and Seattle even had Wilhelmsen return to the team long before season’s end. Edwin Diaz pitched as well as any bullpen pitcher in the MLB, and he wasn’t expected to join the club at all. Dae-Ho Lee looked like one of the best hitters in the league for a couple months.

Other moves proved to be ill-advised thus far. Nathan Karns was mostly hurt and ineffective, Boog Powell got dinged for steroids, and Wade Miley was traded for a Cuban defector that no one had heard of before July 31st. Ketel Marte looked pedestrian in most aspects of his game. Chris Iannetta looked like he did in 2015.

But hold the darn phone! You already know what happened this season. You already have your opinions about Dipoto and his trades, Servais and his managerial decisions, Wade Miley and his fantastically poor performances and Taijuan Walker and his fastball that is as straight as my fastball. Let’s talk about this season in context of what it means for next season.


 

Free agents:

  • Adam Lind will be a free agent. I’d let him walk.
  • Drew Storen will be a free agent. I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see him go.
  • Dae-Ho Lee will be a free agent. As a 34 y/o that walks around at 250, let him walk.
  • Lastly, Franklin Gutierrez will be a free agent. He can still hit lefties but he’s declined drastically as a fielder. Meh.

(A quick sidenote, while I picture Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee literally walking. Waaaaaay back in the day [literally like six years ago] when the Mariners were informing Eric Byrnes that he was being DFA’d, he became so visibly enraged that he stormed out of the clubhouse on his bike.)

Options:

  • Hisashi Iwakuma eclipsed 162.0 innings this season, which means he will return to the Mariners in 2017 for $14M.
  • Seth Smith has a club option for $7M. While that’s not a ton, I would pass on a player who can only hit lefties and cannot run or field well. Pass.
  • Nori Aoki has a mutual option for $6M. Nori might look silly in the field sometimes, but you can do much worse at $6M. If he’d like to, bring him back.
  • I’m not entirely sure of what the deal is with Iannetta’s option, but I wouldn’t mind having him back. He’s a good clubhouse guy, to my knowledge, and he’s not too far removed from being a really solid player. Good backup.

If Jerry Dipoto follows the plan I’ve listed above, then he’ll need to find some new corner outfield platooners, maybe, and a new first base platoon. A (sorta kinda) big narrative towards the end of the season was that Daniel Vogelbach was working hard on his fielding mechanics. If Dae-Ho Lee can hack it at first, I see no reason why Vogelbach couldn’t after a full offseason with bench coach Tim Bogar. That leaves a right-handed hitting 1B to fill the rest of the platoon. Edwin Encarnacion would be a fun addition. It would likely relegate Vogelbach to more of a DH/bench role, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Billy Butler has struggled for three seasons straight, but has good plate skills and a career .354 OBP. He’d be a textbook buy low candidate.

Jerry Dipoto has stressed defense and athleticism many a times, so it would be a surprise to see the M’s bring in a corner outfielder that wasn’t fleet of foot. There are a ton of good (and fun!) options in the outfield. Ian Desmond just had himself a helluva season, but the Rangers likely would not like to see him leave. Other options are Colby Rasmus (gross), Michael Saunders, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gomez, Peter Bourjos, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Moss (who is definitely not fleet of foot).

Guillermo Heredia looks to be a useful bench player, and Ben Gamel (who I just *cannot not* think of as Mat Gamel, his brother) looks like he’ll be a solid everyday player sometime in the near future. While I love me some Seth Smith, I’d love to see less Aoki/Smith/Cruz/Guti in the outfield and more Gamel/Heredia/[insert not-not athletic player here]. That means giving Smitty the boot.

I’m of the opinion that the Mariners’ pitching is in a good place. The bullpen has a really, really good trio in Diaz, Cishek, and Vincent. Furbush would make it a nice foursome, but he’ll be out until spring 2018 due to a somewhat recent shoulder surgery. Altavilla and Scribner also flashed some good stuff before the season ended, so it’s not a top-heavy bullpen either. Due to the volatility of bullpen pitchers, it’s not something I’d worry much about anyways.

The rotation, well, that’s something that may be worrisome to many. Felix, who’s slated to make $81.6M over the next three years ($27.2/yr), had his worst season as a major league player. Iwakuma had an alright season, but it’s not a good thing if your #2 pitcher is just alright. James Paxton had an absolutely spectacular season. Taijuan Walker finished the season with a HR/9 of 1.81. That’s, like, really really not good. How not good? It was the fourth worst HR/9 rate in the MLB (min. 130 IP). Walker didn’t even eclipse 1 WAR. Ariel Miranda was pretty solid for a #5 pitcher, but his peripherals aren’t awesome.

I’m excited about next season. A lot of people will talk about the Mariners’ extremely mediocre farm system, and the fact that they have no assets to move. Hell, I’ll talk about those things. But to me what this offseason means is another offseason for Jerry Dipoto to work his magic and continue to impose his philosophy upon this roster. With last year’s roster, Dipoto did all he could to maintain a healthy balance between winning now while still having some things to look forward to in the future.

At times that means you’re stuck with having Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith in the field. That means you’re forced to go with James Paxton and Taijuan Walker in the rotation. That means you choose one of Ketel Marte/Brad Miller and go with them. Not everything worked out, but nothing was a complete disaster. And that’s what the 2016  Mariners lacked that the 2015 Mariners had. Disasters. There were no Mike Zuninos hitting .174, and upgrading to Chris Iannetta alone was a rather significant improvement. Having black holes can have an effect on your team just as much as a superstar can have on your team. In many ways, I suppose, 2015 Mike Zunino was the anti-superstar.

Dipoto and Servais conceivably will have a couple prospects to feature on the roster. I’m not sure how they feel about them, but there’s some things to like about at least a couple players. Tyler O’Neill won about every minor league award he could, D.J. Peterson improved upon his abysmal 2015, Boog Powell will hopefully stop doing steroids. The near future is bright! Come March, the Mariners will have shaped up into a fun squad and GLOBAL WARMING WILL HAVE TIGHTENED ITS GRIP ON EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE THAT MUCH MORE. Just kidding. For the most part.

Edwin Diaz Is So Good It Scares Me

The Mariners once hoped that Edwin Diaz would develop into a really, really good starter. Instead, the Mariners decided to speed up the process and convert Edwin Diaz into a reliever. This statement isn’t entirely true, because the move wasn’t made solely to speed the process of Edwin Diaz, prospect, up. The conversion was made because the organization didn’t feel Diaz had a third pitch. And it’s true. Edwin Diaz does not have a third pitch. Just recently has Edwin Diaz found his second pitch, his slider. Newly departed former Mariner Joaquin Benoit taught him his slider. Diaz had a slider, and then about a week or so into his first stint in the major leagues, Benoit showed Diaz a new grip.

“The other one doesn’t break a lot,” Diaz said. “They show me a new grip, I start practicing, playing catch and then I throw in the game and now everybody talks about my slider.”

Unfortunately for Benoit, Diaz may be one of many reasons Benoit is now a former Mariner. Who knows how effective Diaz would have been with his previous slider grip, but with his new one, he’s been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Of pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, Diaz:

  1. Has the highest K/9 in baseball at 17.38. (Next highest: 15.92. A huge difference.)
  2. A 1.86 ERA, good for top 15 in the MLB.
  3. A 1.38 xFIP (an ERA predictor), the 3rd best in all of baseball.
  4. A 45.2% K%. Good for best in all of baseball. 

Bottom line, Edwin Diaz has been flat out dominant. He’s struck out virtually two out of three batters per inning, on average, and apart from one run on August 3rd, hasn’t given up a run since July 6th. Diaz’s FIP/xFIP say that Diaz has possibly pitched even better than his ERA currently says he has. On the flip side, there are some peripherals that say something’s got to give.

Diaz’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) currently stands at .444. Now that is awfully high. A typical pitcher’s BABIP will typically hover around .300. Now Edwin Diaz is certainly not your typical pitcher, but .144 or so away from the league average is quite a difference. In fact, Edwin Diaz’s BABIP is actually the highest in baseball (minimum 20 innings). The other three pitchers whose BABIPs are .400 or higher own ERAs of 5.13, 9.10, and 5.63. You should expect Diaz’s BABIP to eventually fall into the .300s, which means less opponents should be getting on-base with the balls they are putting into play.

Another rather simple metric that predicts some regression towards the mean is LOB% (Left on Base Percentage). Diaz’s LOB% is 94.7%,with only five pitchers (including Vidal Nuno!) having a higher LOB%. The league average is typically around 70%. However, high strikeout pitchers generally have better control over their LOB%. Edwin Diaz is a high strikeout pitcher, which probably says this is mostly extraneous. Of course Diaz is leaving runners on base, you say, he’s striking motherf*ckers out!

The last peripheral is Edwin Diaz’s HR/FB (Home Run to Fly Ball) rate. Diaz currently holds a HR/FB rate of 17.6% which is actually really bad. Usually when you hear a player has a statistic that is bad, that’s, well, bad. In this case, Diaz has an inflated HR/FB rate, and you can expect that rate to fall, especially when you factor in the skill level of Diaz. Since a league average HR/FB% is about 10%, you can maybe say that Edwin Diaz has gotten a bit unlucky with his home runs. The sample size is small (3 home runs in just 29 innings) so it’s not as easy to say if he’s been unlucky or not.

If we are to say that Edwin Diaz should have two home runs instead of, say, three, then Diaz’s BABIP would lower from .444 to a lower number that I do not want to calculate. This is because home runs do not factor into the BABIP formula.

So what does this all mean? Well, rhetorical question, this means that Edwin Diaz has been really really good, and he will continue to be really really good. Diaz is averaging 97 mph with his fastball and maxing out in the 100s. He’s throwing a slider with ridiculous movement that he throws 95 miles per hour. You never have, and you never will hit this kid.

And that brings me to this: Edwin is so good that it scares me. That was the title of this article, and also my initial point. But I will flip it this way: I have so many times been hurt by closers with wicked stuff that it’s almost hard to get attached to yet another. I legitimately feel that Sugar is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, but we’ve felt that about relievers before. They’re unpredictable and they’re volatile. Tom Wilhelmsen was once our sweetheart. He’s still our sweetheart, but more in the way that your grandpa is really jaded and kind of racist. Not… that… Bartender is racist? Pitchers can be elite and fall off the face of the earth. I’ve seen it before and I’ll see it again. With Diaz in his current form, I doubt he will ever fall off.

Teams adapt, hitters adapt, and pitchers adapt. Maybe teams will learn to lay off the wicked slider. Maybe Diaz forgets how to locate. Maybe Diaz adapts in the wrong way. Things happen, and we don’t know the things that will happen. All we know are the things that are now and the things that we can predict will happen. I predict that Diaz will be lights out for the foreseeable future just like I predict Dave Sims will continue to create bad nicknames for players.

Mariners Trade for Pair of Fun Relievers

The Mariners pulled off the first and second trades of the of post-non-waiver trade deadline. Both deals included Seattle shipping players to be named later in exchange for former Pirates right-hander Arquimedes Caminero and former Toronto switch-pitcher (you read that right) Pat Venditte. What this means is that the Mariners and Pirates/Blue Jays agreed to a list of players in which the latter teams can choose from to ultimately be the players traded. This gives the deciding team more time to: 1) Give them more time to figure out their own roster issues. 2) Give them extra time to scout the crap out of the players on the agreed upon list. Often times, these players turn out to be nobodies. More rarely, they turn out to be David Ortiz.

Typically, trades in which the Mariners trade for relievers turn out to be the least of my interest. In what has lately become something of a cliche, relievers are largely unpredictable and volatile. More than any other position in baseball, relievers have the largest amount of disparity and variation from extremely bad to extremely good (and vice versa). We’ve seen this plenty of times with relievers on our teams, as well on other baseball teams. Current Mariners Drew Storen and Tom Wilhelmsen are perfect examples. Once stud closers, they have both bounced around in different roles on different teams due to their struggles and inconsistency.

Luckily, these trades are different than the others. And not like how your ex told you you’re different than other guys/girls.Pat Venditte is capable of pitching with both of his arms. Some pitchers aren’t even capable of pitching with one of their arms. Arquimedes Caminero? Well, first of all, his name is Arquimedes. Second off, and more importantly, Caminero is a bad motherf*cker. He throws a fastball that averages 98.44 mph, and he’s reached as high as 103 mph on the gun. So, yeah, these guys are fun. Let’s get into it.

Since his MLB debut, Caminero has enjoyed an incremental rise in pitch velocity with every single one of his pitches. His fastball originally sat at 96 mph. Now, it’s generally in the 99-100 mph area. Caminero credits this rise in velocity to a combination of subtle mechanical changes in his delivery with the Pirates, as well as a boost in confidence in his pitches.

Caminero complements his blazing fastball with a sinker/two-seam and a cutter, as well as a splitter. He also has a slider, but it accounts for a mere 1.3% of his career pitches. He used to throw it early on in his career, but clearly felt it wasn’t a good or necessary pitch. Conversely, he used to not throw a sinker, and then almost exactly a year ago decided to mix one in, becoming one of his most used pitches.

You’ll see with pitchers such as Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, beloved Mariners (or maybe not), that they are at their best with an effective fastball. With said effective fastball, they’re able to use their changes to play off of it. (Felix throws a circle change, while Taijuan throws a changeup with more of a split-finger grip.) To batters, a circle change will look like a fastball, and then the bottom falls out of it while the hitter hopelessly swings over it, causing the hitter to look confusedly at the mound and then turn around and hang his head on his way to the dugout. This is likely one of the causes of Felix’s struggles, but that’s another article for another time. This is how Arquimedes Caminero can be his best, in his own way. (I’m never going to get tired of typing that name.) Using his splitter as his own version of Felix’s circle change, or Walker’s split-finger grip change.

But first comes fastball command. If you can’t throw a fastball for a strike, then you won’t be able to do much as a pitcher. Even as a reliever! Despite Caminero’s ridiculous velocity on his fastball, he has gotten a grotesque 8% whiff percentage on it this year. In 2013, Caminero threw his four-seam fastball 71% of the time. In 2016, he throws it just 46% of the time. Why? Because it’s been bad. In terms of slugging percentage, his four-seam fastball has been his worst pitch, always.

Caminero should be a fun reclamation project. He’s 29 years old, so he’s still youngish. If he can throw his fastball for strikes, which he has struggled with, then he can be a very dangerous pitcher. His splitter is a dangerous pitch, and his fastball should be a dangerous pitch, so there’s a disconnect somewhere. The Mariners will try to see if they can succeed where the Pirates and Marlins failed with him. Otherwise, this will just be another big arm who failed with command issues.


Pat Venditte is in many ways the anti-Arquimedes Caminero. For one, his name is Pat, and Caminero’s name is Arquimedes. Second, Caminero is a gigantic human being (6’4, 250) while Venditte is much more human-sized (6’1, 180). As stated previously, Caminero can only throw with one hand, while Venditte can throw with two. Technically, Caminero can probably throw with two, but he’s presumably very very bad with one of those hands, so the Mariners will likely elect to never ever have Caminero rhrow with his left hand in a major league game. Let’s hope that the aforementioned “very bad” hand is not his right hand, also known as his throwing hand.

It’s very common in baseball for switch-hitters to take a little longer to come up through the farm system. Similarly, switch-hitters sometimes take a little longer in the season to heat up, or shake the rust off. At least that’s what they say. With Venditte, the Yankees took their sweet, sweet time bringing him up through their system. So much time that Venditte actually never pitched in the major leagues for them, despite spending 2008-2014 with them.

In any given at-bat, Venditte theoretically has the upper hand, because he will throw right-handed to right-handed hitters, and left-handed to left-handed hitters. With this statement comes a couple caveats.

  1. Pat Venditte maxes out at 87 mph as a righty, and mid-80s as a lefty.
  2. The Pat Venditte Rule forces Venditte to indicate which hand he wants to throw with, and then the batter may choose which side he will hit from.
  3. Venditte can throw with both arms, meaning *theoretically* he could throw a reliever’s games worth with both of his arms. He’s two-in-one!

The first of those three caveats may have surprised you. Pat Venditte, if you’re wanting to make a sexist statement, throws like a girl. Or Jamie Moyer, rather, if you’re not an ass.  This means that Venditte must compensate his lack of velocity with superior command, deceptiveness, craftiness, pitch sequencing, or all of the above.

In the minor leagues, Venditte was able to do all of this. In terms of command, Venditte kept his BB/9 around 3.30 or lower and had good strikeout rates. To cause deceptiveness Venditte throws sidearm with arm action “almost parallel to the ground.” When it comes to pitch sequencing and craftiness my guess is as good as yours, but the point is he had a lot of success in the minors as the major that he is mostly is now. Venditte is a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) and a ROOGY (Righty One-Out Guy) which are really freakin’ handy when you really need to get a guy out. (Think of a young Charlie Furbush, or George Sherrill.) But what about his stuff?

What’s the most interesting thing, to me, about switch-hitters and switch-pitchers is their ability to be repeatable from either side of the plate. It may seem weird, but just being able to look the same from different sides is, well, impressive. For pitchers, it’s much more necessary. Being able to throw out of even relatively the same arm slot on both sides is tricky stuff. It looks like Venditte is able to do that.

He throws a “slurvey curveball” from both sides that clocks in in the low 70s. From the same arm angle! That’s his out pitch, and he throws it a lot (somewhere between 53-63% of the time). Otherwise, he throws his fastball. He’ll throw his changeup pretty much never. His limited pitch repertoire pretty much halts any talks of him starting a baseball game immediately.

If I had to guess, Venditte probably never becomes a great relief pitcher. With Caminero, there’s still uncertainty, but as a betting man I would put a lot more money on him. If I played baseball, I would not be a betting man. As a non-baseball player, I am yet again not a betting man. Venditte is more fun because of the novelty of him being a switch-pitcher. Caminero is fun because he throws really really hard and he has a nasty pitch to complement it.

When Venditte burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, a young Michael (yes, me) drooled at the prospect of Venditte eventually pitching for the Mariners and being the nastiest, funnest (it’s a word) pitcher ever. Now, 2016, Venditte is 31, Michael is nearing 22, and his ceiling is a lot lower, making my current-day fantasies a lot more lackluster. But here he is, a Mariner! If I could write a letter to mid-2000s Michael, I’d probably write something like hey, you there, go outside, the Mariners suck, and Pat Venditte might! – 2016 Michael.

Caminero will instantly slot into the Mariners’ pen, and Venditte will start his everlasting journey in AAA. The Mariners traded for Caminero because the fastball is sexy. The Mariners traded for Venditte because look what he can do with both hands.

Let’s have some fun guys.

Ariel Miranda Debuts, Isn’t Wade Miley

For the first time since being shipped to Seattle in exchange for Wade Miley, Ariel Miranda made a start for the Mariners and he did so looking rather good.

My first impression of Miranda was that he had a motion somewhat reminiscent of Wade Miley-trade castoff Roenis Elias. He reached 95 mph with his fastball with what looks like a very low effort delivery. Although the consensus is that his splitter is his best pitch, Miranda didn’t showcase it much, electing to go with a more fastball-heavy approach. He gave up more hits than you would like to see, but Miranda was making his debut start in the MLB, and these are the Red Sox. He went through six innings on just 80 pitches (54 strikes).

Miranda received just a ‘C’ grade from John Sickels, and also was not featured on any of the Orioles’ Top 20 or Top 30 prospect lists. Still, Miranda showed up to Seattle tonight and looked better than Wade Miley has looked in the majority of his starts.

Despite looking very solid tonight, Ariel Miranda (and 112.0 innings of an uninspired Wade Miley) have ended up being the return for Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. Had I been told that’s what we would have received at the time, I’d have been thoroughly disappointed. Now, I really don’t mind at all. Roenis Elias has had even more trouble with his consistency and command issues (4.37 BB/9 in AAA), and Carson Smith pitched all of 2 2/3 innings this year before being shelved for the season due to Tommy John surgery. So really, the Mariners lost this trade, the Red Sox lost this trade, Carson Smith lost this trade, Roenis Elias lost this trade, and Wade Miley lost this trade. We all lose! Except Jonathan Aro, also implicated in the trade. He’s mostly enjoyed becoming Evan Scribner in Tacoma (without the dingers!).

We managed to salvage Ariel Miranda out of it all, despite having years and years of club control in Wade Miley. Which makes you think, even if Wade Miley hasn’t been effective, why take so little when you have a proven innings-eater locked up for years? Jason A. Churchill and Steve Sandmeyer speculated that it may be a clubhouse issue with Miley. Miley may have not been a fan of adjustments that the team wanted him to make, and the team sure didn’t seem to be too keen on working with him since he was moved for so little. Adding to the confusion is that the Mariners refused to sell on several players with expiring contracts, electing to stay in-between the label of buyer or seller. Down the stretch, Miley is a pitcher that is very important for a team to have. Jerry Dipoto clearly didn’t want anything to do with him. Jerry Dipoto does want something to do with Miranda, and lucky for him, Miranda has another year of arbitration next year.

Going forward, I expect Ariel Miranda to be one of our best starters. Maybe my judgment is clouded from today’s start, but you also have to think about the fact that our rotation isn’t very good. (What a euphemism!) He feels like a starter that will get touched up from time to time, but he showed me enough tonight for me to be interested every time I see him in the slot for tonight’s starter. The novelty of a new starter is enough to last me until at least halfway through September, adding to the fact that he’s a lefty who can touch at least 95, he’ll be a fun guy to watch progress.

Welcome to Seattle, Ariel. May you never receive a terrible nickname from Dave Sims. And may that nickname never have anything to do with The Little Mermaid.