Saturday, September 27, 2008

Scouting Report: A's at Mariners (9/27)

The eyes of Nationals fans will be focused squarely on Seattle this weekend as we all root for the Mariners to sweep away the A's and help lock up the first pick in the draft for our Washington Nationals.

When the Mariners Are Up
--Ichiro is doing his regular thing, getting 200 hits again in his amazing way. He's a brilliant table-setter having his best years wasted on a team with no one to drive him in.

--Raul Ibanez at age 36 has quietly had arguably the best year in an under-appreciated career, putting up an excellent .297 / .362 / .485. He should be a DH though, and mismanagement of the DH position was one of Bavasi's most glaring blunders.

--Johjima's been a huge disappointment this year, cratering to a Kearnsian .223 / .272 / .322. At his age, he's probably done.

--Adrian Beltre is out for the year, leaving the M's with a ghastly infield of Jose Lopez (playing mainly first), Luis Valbuena, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Miguel Cairo. Lopez is probably the best of that group. He's a Guzman-esque hacker who's got some pop and managed to slug .443 on the year. He's ok, but not as a first-baseman batting clean-up.

--Jeremy Reed kinda reminds me of Ryan Church. Under-appreciated guy who isn't getting the chance he should from a terrible team. He's been playing lately though, and not well. Hopefully the M's stick with him and are rewarded.

--Betancourt is even more of a hacker (16 walks this year--even Guzzy managed 23) and has regressed at age 26. He used to at least hit lefties well, but that hasn't even been true this year. He, like Lopez, Johjima, and Suzuki rarely strikes out though.

--Cairo is old and useless and Valbuena's enjoying a fluky stint as a big league starter.

Pitching Match-Up
Ryan Rowland-Smith: The 25-year-old, left-handed Australian and first player in MLB history with a hyphenated last name didn't enter the rotation for good until August 1, but has performed well enough to probably ensure a spot in the Seattle rotation next season.

He brings a high-80s fastball, change, curve, and slider repertoire. He's a fairly extreme flyball pitcher (42.4% of batted balls this year; 36% is average) and has been fortunate to have a career 8.7% HR/FB rate (11% is typical). He's also floating on a .275 BABIP (.290-.300 is typical) and 79.4% strand rate (70% is typical). Take all that good fortune away from him, and he'd have an ERA a lot closer to his Fielding Independent ERA of 4.65.
He also walks a few too many (3.71 per 9) and has a reverse platoon split favoring lefties by 139 points on the OPS.

The big thing I'd be wondering about though if I was an M's fan is his strikeouts. He posted double-digit K/9 rates at high-A, AA, and AAA ball from '05-'07, then whiffed 9.78 per 9 in 36 innings at the big league level last year. If you can do that, you can live with the walks and the flyballs. But this season his K rate has plummeted to a pedestrian 5.80 per 9, while his walks have actually risen more too. Maybe he's trying to pitch to contact more, as his GB rate is up a tad, but not enough if that's the intent.

Still aside from King Felix, an argument could be made for RRS as the M's best starter this season. And if you're inclined to dwell on W-L records, check out this little nugget, courtesy of RRS has left games eight times with leads or the game tied, but the Mariners have lost six of them.

Greg Smith
: The other lefty named Smith that you'll see in this game (and I just noticed on USS Mariner that the game isn't televised in Seattle, so I assume that if you're an subscriber you'll have a better chance of seeing it than if you are a Seattle resident) came over in the Danny Haren deal from Arizona. Initially discussed as a situational lefty, the 24-year-old Smith made the rotation out of spring training and has led the team with 31 starts while posting a very respectable 4.07 ERA and helping my buddy Tom take 2nd place in our 20-team fantasy league.

He has some other things in common with the M's Smith. He throws pretty much the same stuff--high 80s fastball, change, slider, curve. He too is floating on an even less sustainable .260 BABIP, 74% strand rate, and 7.8% HR/FB rate. One thing that he can sustain is a killer pick-off move. He has 15 pick-offs, he most in MLB.

His command is a big problem, as he's walking 11.6% of batters faced (6-10% is a typical range of good). He also doesn't miss bats very well (5.30 K/9) and is a fairly extreme flyball pitcher (45.5% this year). Damn, these guys are like clones.

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