Tag Archives: 2013

Erasmo Ramirez is (Kind Of) Back


Erasmo Ramirez made his return to the big leagues on Thursday after an injury kept him out of the rotation at the start of the year and forced him to build his way back up and make 7 starts in Tacoma. However, the return was not triumphant. The Red Sox scored 7 runs off of him and his strike rate was way down from where it was last year (and really below a rate that is acceptable for a big league pitcher). In Spring Training, it was obvious that his velocity and release point was off, which turned out to be evidence that he was hurt. So, I think it is important to look at where he located the ball, along with his velocities and release point from Thursday, comparing it to his 2012 numbers, to see if Erasmo’s bad start was just a bad start, or whether there is something wrong with him, meaning he isn’t the pitcher he was last season.

First, here is his average release points from both 2012 and Thursday, along with the average locations of all pitches thrown

Erasmo Ramirez Release

Erasmo clearly has a lower release point, or at least did against the Red Sox. The difference is big enough that it is a Pitch F/X error or difference in measurement. Erasmo didn’t locate any differently when it came to height on average, though he did locate more glove side in his outing on Thursday. Breaking down his average locations by pitch type (just using the MLBAM tags) will be more helpful:

Erasmo Ramirez Against Red Sox

Change barely located in strike zone on average, and as his 2012 graph shows, his curve has moved from an arm side pitch to a glove side pitch:

Erasmo Ramirez 2012

Erasmo, even though he threw the slider harder against the Red Sox, got the pitch glove side less. On the other hand, the cutter (also thrown harder) was located lower and more glove side, and his 2-seam became a more traditional arm side pitch. The 4-seam fastball was thrown lower, more glove side, and the velocity was slightly down.

As far as pitch selection goes, Erasmo went to more curves instead of sliders, less changeups overall, and more cutters instead of 2-seam fastballs. This explains the difference in average locations on all pitches, as even though his changeup was more glove side, he threw less of them on Thursday. Relying on the cutter more makes him more of a glove side pitcher. The cutter was thrown rarely last year, but he didn’t give up a hit with it. The problem is, his changeup was his best pitch last year, so it is curious that he would just stop throwing it, or start throwing it less.

The Mariners sent Ramirez back to the minors so he can get another start during the All-Star Break, and while it isn’t set in stone, the reported plan is to bring him back up to the Majors the next time the spot in the rotation comes up. However, at least right now, it doesn’t appear that the Erasmo Ramirez of 2013 is the Erasmo Ramirez that emerged last season. Something still seems to be wrong.

A Look at Hisashi Iwakuma’s Home Run Problem


Hisashi Iwakuma has been a very good pitcher with the Mariners, with one fatal flaw, the long ball. Despite pitching most of his games in a pitcher friendly ball park, he has given up 17 homers in both years in the Majors so far. So looking at data from both 2012 and 2013, I wanted to look at his home runs and see why Iwakuma is so home run prone and whether or not he can fix it.

Here are the locations of the pitches he has given up homers on, labelled with the MLBAM tags:

Hisashi Iwakuma Homers

There are a lot of arm side fastballs here, both high and low, along with some hanging sliders and sinkers. There are a few splitters, but perhaps even more alarming than all the fastballs hit out of the park are the sliders hit out of the park, especially the well located sliders (perhaps you could argue that they aren’t glove side enough, but there are several low ones).

But how do his home run locations compare to his other average locations. Here Iwakuma’s average locations, based on result, labelled with average velocity

Hisashi Iwakuma Average Locations

Not surprisingly, even though he keeps the ball low on average, it is the highest pitches that are being hit for home runs. His average contact is a little higher than all his pitches on average, and also more arm side (even though the home runs are a little more glove side). The contact plays are a little harder in velocity than the average pitch, so the higher and harder pitches (read fastballs and sinkers) are the ones that are hit. His whiffs come on glove side pitches that are a little slower (there really isn’t much deviation in velocity) and lower (read the splitter).

More of the homers have come against right-handed batters (4.4 % to 2.6 % against lefties), probably because of the splitter neutralizing lefties (his OPS against both is about equal). We see this come out in the spray chart of batted balls Iwakuma has given up (via Katron.org, just 2013 at Safeco)

Hisashi Iwakuma Spray

Despite facing more left-handers than righthanders, Iwakuma is giving up a lot of balls to left field, suggesting righties pulling the ball. So I thought it might be helpful to see how he is pitching right-handed batters:

Hisashi Iwakuma RHB

So Iwakuma is able to keep the ball glove side, away from right-handed batters on average. He doesn’t throw a lot of curveballs, but he isn’t getting them down. When he gives up homers, not surprisingly, especially considering the spray chart, he is keeping the ball arm side and high in the zone. The sinker is getting somewhat down, and the fastball is getting glove side, but when he is getting in trouble, it is with these pitches against right-handers.

In a previous article this year, I noted that Hisashi Iwakuma was throwing pitches basically right down the middle without great velocity and getting away with it. Now, it doesn’t appear he is. He still has a solid strikeout rate, and he isn’t walking very many batters, but he has a home run problem that I think is directly related to his fastball velocity. Unless he is willing to throw more pitches out of the zone (he is 14th in zone % out of 93 qualified pitchers) and walk more batters, this is just going to be a problem for Iwakuma. Of course, this would have undesired side effects as well. Despite the good splitter, his stuff isn’t overpowering on the whole, and he is just going to be hittable at times (the low BABIP aside). If he keeps the walk rate low and keeps missing some bats, then you can live with the home runs, as there won’t be many runners on base when the home runs are hit.

Mike Zunino So Far


Mike Zunino’s promotion to the Majors rightfully was welcomed with a lot of scorn, as it was pretty clear that Zunino had not proven that he was advanced enough to play in the big leagues in his stint in AAA. 8 games is clearly not a big enough sample size to say anything about his performance, even when looking at his peripherals, but he is probably doing what most expected when he was promoted, not walking very much, striking out a lot, and hitting for a little bit of power. He has seen just over 100 pitches, but I wanted to see if we could find any tendencies to what Zunino looks at the plate now. First, let’s look at his average locations map:

Zunino Average Locations

Pitchers are keeping the ball low against him at an extreme rate. So far, his swinging strikes are predictably coming on the furthest pitches away and low. His contact is coming on the pitches closest to him and up in the zone, though his home run was a little lower and away than his average contact play.

Predictably, he is swinging and missing a lot, so I thought it would be helpful to look at his whiffs. So far, his average whiff is coming on pitches 87.21 MPH, while his average contact is coming 87.06 MPH on average. So it doesn’t appear that there is a difference in velocity between his struggles and success. There is actually less average spin on pitches he has made contact with, suggesting he has been better against breaking balls than fastballs or changeups (though all 3 whiffs against lefties are on curveballs, as the below graph that shows the location in the strike zone of all his whiffs along with all the release points of the whiffs shows).

Zunino's whiffs

As the average graph shows, most of them are away and low. His plate coverage has really been tested, as he is missing on a lot of fastballs on the outside of the plate. The release points don’t provide any surprises as he has been missing a lot from the right-side of the plate, but hasn’t missed on a left-handed fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, here is what his spray chart looks like so far.

Zunino Spray

Not surprisingly, since he is being pitched so far outside on average, Zunino is going the other way with most of his contact. He is hitting a lot of line drives and fly-balls, and I think this approach is a good sign. He isn’t getting pull happy on pitches he has no chance of pulling, and is showing some power the other way. To really untap his power, Zunino will have to swing and miss at least pitches, and perhaps take a page from Nick Franklin and swing less in general. Ideally, he wouldn’t swing at outside pitches unless he is behind in the count. This would make pitchers come inside more, giving him more hope for contact and power. Whether or not he makes this adjustment will determine whether or not he is ready to have success in the big leagues or not. If he isn’t able to recognize pitches on the outside of the plate, this could be a really ugly stint in the big leagues for him. If he is, then Zunino can be a big league contributor already. Over the next few weeks, I think we will see just how advanced Zunino is.





Michael Saunders’ Struggles With Changeups

Michael Saunders

2013 has not been kind to Michael Saunders. Saunders was successful in 2012, hitting better than league average after a horrendous start to his MLB career. This year, he has just a 75 wRC + (76 OPS +), meaning he has been roughly 25% worse than league average. His strikeout rate has crept back up (it was high last year, but not it is higher, above 28%), though he is actually walking more. His BABIP is a little down, and he has a lower GB % and IFFB%, his swinging strike percentage is actually down on a whole, but pitchers are throwing more balls in the zone than they did last year and he is making less contact.

He had a shoulder/collarbone injury in April that put him on the DL after he ran into the wall, so I thought maybe the problem was that his bat speed hasn’t come back yet. So far this year, he has seen 28 pitches over 95 MPH, and has 5 whiffs, with just 4 balls put in play, all for outs. The fastest ball he has put in play for a non out is 94.2 MPH, and that was a throwing error by the 2nd baseman. The fastest pitch he has an actual hit on was 93.7 MPH. On pitches 91 MPH (about an average fastball), he has 19 swinging strikes and 37 contact plays, so it seems he is doing okay on fastballs, especially average to good fastballs (but maybe not plus fastballs). In fact, he is preferring the hard stuff so far, with the average swinging strike being 86.25 MPH, and the average contact play being 87.29 MPH.

In his average strike zone, we see that he is neither struggling with the inside ball, nor excelling with it.

Michael Saunders Strike Zone

Here is what his 2012 average strike zone looked like

Michael Saunders 2012 Strike Zone

It seems that his problems with lower pitches wasn’t something he had in 2012. That is, the difference between the average pitch he saw and the ones he hit or swung and missed at was much smaller in 2012 than it has been in 2013. In 2012, his average contact play was on 87.94 MPH,  with an average swinging strike of 86.39 MPH, both harder than his 2013 numbers so far. Again, seemingly suggesting that he is having a little bit of problems with top end velocity, but his struggles are mainly with slower pitches.

Also this year, he is swinging and missing at, on average, pitchers with slightly lower release points, and further out right-handed. The left-handed hitter has had the platoon advantage roughly the same amount of the time in 2013 as he did in 2012, so this suggests that maybe he is struggling with changeups. So far in 2013, I count 89 pitches that have been designated as changeups by the MLBAM tags. 22 of them have been swinging strikes (24.7%), just 8 of them for contact plays (8.99%), just 3 hits. In 2012, Saunders 192 changeups with 27 swinging strikes (14.06 %) with 37 contact plays (19.3 %). So it went from a pitch that Saunders excelled against in 2012 to a pitch that he has really struggled against this year. The average location of the changeups have been slightly lower and a little more away, and while that might explain a little bit, there is no reason to think that the slight location difference turned Saunders from a good changeup hitter in 2012 to one that just can’t do anything with changeups in 2013.

There are several possible explanations we could use that we would have no evidence for (it could be a mental problem, it could be him missing bat speed and him having to guess to catch up to fastballs, or any number of things). It is probably best not to speculate. The contact problems, along with the lack of power compared to last year, is concerning, and makes you wonder if Saunders was a one hit wonder, collapsing back into his former self.

Notes and Links on a Few More Mariners’ Draft Picks

tyler smith

In the 2013 draft, the Mariners selected 12 high school players (most of them coming at the end of the draft, unlikely to sign), 11 college juniors, 10 college seniors, 1 fifth year senior, a college sophomore, 4 junior college players, and one player that I have no idea about (Guzman Michaelangelo).

Tyler Smith, a shortstop for Oregon State, is one of those seniors. He was used as a leadoff hitter by the team, at least when I saw him play against Kansas State.  It looked like he wanted to see a lot of pitches and has what looks like good plate discipline (he had decent walk rates and OBPs in college). He was ahead of a breaking ball and popped out, looking like he got out of his batting stance a little in his first at-bat. He has an uppercut swing but doesn’t look especially strong (and has hit for very little power in his college career). Smith seems to have some kind of hitch in his swing that delays it from getting going. It is not a quick swing, and he is probably an other way, groundball type hitter. Contact skills are solid, but it is not going to be hard contact. He is not real quick, probably an average runner. At short he has decent range. Arm is solid but not plus.

Lachlan Fontaine, out of high school in Canada, is one of the few 3rd day draft picks by the Mariners that actually have some videos on YouTube.

Via 6jordanwilson

The swing doesn’t look quick, and may have some kind of hitch in it, but but it is smooth and he keeps his hands back and has good bat control. The swing seems pretty flat, and it seems like he has an other way approach. Listed as a 3rd baseman, that is probably a good position for him, assuming he has the arm for it, as he will most likely grow into his lanky body (or at least that is what it looks like in the video).

Via Bob Fontaine

It certainly seems like he has a strong arm.

I talked to Chris Jackson, who is the beat writer for the Alburquerque Isotopes, but also covers the New Mexico Lobos on occasion, about Will Mathis, the left-handed pitcher from New Mexico. He told me that while Mathis has good velocity, he didn’t really have any secondary pitches that were workable and his command was awful. Scouts see him as a project type of pitcher, someone who will probably pitch in the Arizona Summer League in relief as they try to fix him. He pitched just as a reliever for New Mexico and had some pretty poor numbers in two seasons after success at a small college as a freshman. He’s a lottery ticket, older than high school pitchers with no polish, but a lefty with a good arm is worth a look.

I actually wrote about Tommy Burns on this site as the third part of my look at velocity and location.

I charted one of Rafael Pineda’s outings on my own blog.

Here is how the Mariners’ draft picks from Major college programs rank by Tool WAA, a little statistical measure I created to try to predict college players’ professional success, weighing power and speed statistically:

1. Austin Wilson

2. D.J. Peterson

3. Jeffery Zimmerman4.Jack Reinheimer)

5. Chantz Mack

6. Tyler Smith

7. Brett Thomas

8.Justin Seager

9. Lonnie Kauppila

Video Scouting Some Mariners’ Draft Picks


With two days of the draft down and the final (a busy one, with 30 selections) one coming today, I wanted to take a look at some of the players the Mariners have drafted. Instead of using notes from well known scouting sources that one could find in a simple Google search, I instead looked on Youtube for some video of some of the players. I put the videos in the post (gave the creators credit by putting their Youtube name before the video), so you can watch, if you want, and make your own conclusions. All thoughts following the videos are my own. You can read this article in several different ways, just watching the videos, ignoring my notes, just reading my notes, ignoring the videos, or watching the videos and reading my notes.

3rd Round: Tyler O’Neill, RF, C, SS

There seems to be some dispute as to what his position is, as he was a catcher, but got injured and moved to shortstop, but is also listed as a right-fielder.

Via Baseball America:

Visually, he looks much more like a catcher or a right-fielder than a shortstop. He doesn’t look like a guy who will get much bigger, so his present strength probably isn’t very far off from what his future or ideal strength will be like. He has a powerful uppercut swing that looks pretty quick to me. His approach, swing and size suggests that he is the kind of guy who will hit for power over average. As I think you can see in the video, his timing with the leg kick and stride was off. That isn’t a long term concern, most likely being a simple mechanical issue.

Via LangleyBlazeBaseball:

This one is from 2012 and he looks smaller, so perhaps he did most of his growing from 2012 to 2013. He has also significantly changed his timing and stance since that time.

Ryan Horstman: 4th Round, LHP

Via Astrid Elizabeth:

Editors Note: Video’s removed due to low quality.

Jack Reinheimer: 5th Round, SS

Via capeprospectvids:

Clearly he is the kind of hitter that is willing to sacrifice power for contact, and looks like he is going to chase pitches out of the zone. He looks a little tall and lanky in the video, so one wonders if he will grow more out and have to move off the position. The swing isn’t entirely pretty, and I would bet that he is a groundball hitter. He seems to drop his shoulder and body, which is not a good power position for hitting. His running looks a little strange, but on the dig to first base (where he did lean over, which helps his time), I got him at about 4 seconds, which is really good speed.

Via E.Tyler Bullock:

You aren’t going to get too much out of warmup videos, but I wasn’t impressed with his arm angle or his throwing velocity. In batting practice, there isn’t a lot of strength or speed behind it, but the swing looks pretty smooth. His size compared to other players is clear, as he seems to be bigger than the opposing catcher (at least taller). He is much more patient in this video. He also has a little better line drive stroke.

Corey Simpson: 6th round, 1B, RF

Via Steve Fiorindo

He is playing first here, and you can tell, he looks like a first baseman. He is a big guy, and without some unanticipated athleticism, first base is probably his long term position (and he doesn’t provide any projection, his present strength is his future strength). At least in the video, he moves around okay, but struggled defensively. At the plate, he has a clear power type stroke, one that looks like a pull uppercut swing. I am afraid that he opens up a little bit too early, which wouldn’t allow him to adjust to breaking balls.

Jacob Zokan: 9th Round, LHP

Via cofcsports

Arm side fastball and what looks like a slider into righties (it doesn’t look like a change from this angle, though slider against opposite platoon is unusual and usually not advised, though 47 seconds in looks like a change). His arm angle seems to be a little higher and closer to the center of the rubber than a 3/4ths delivery, more of a short arm over the top motion. The fastball seems to be a 4-seamer that he can throw high.

What Went Wrong With Dustin Ackley


Dustin Ackley was demoted by the Mariners after almost two months of offensive futility. While he hit enough in 2012 that his defense and baserunning still made him a worthwhile MLB player (though not the possible star that many suggested he could be, especially after his 90 games in 2011), his 2013 numbers were so bad that no amount of baserunning or defense could justify playing him, and there was no reason to keep him on the bench since he has options left and you could still consider him in the “development phase”. In this post, we will just look at the 2012 data, seeing which kind of pitches he is seeing, and where he is being pitched, and attempt to see what happened to Ackley and whether or not his problems are fixable.

Here are all the pitchers he has faced, labelled with results (Swinging strikes are overlaid on top intentionally on these graphs, with out and no out plays also showing up towards the top), via release points:

Dustin Ackley Opposing Release Points

Here are all the pitches he has seen so far via the spin and speed chart:

Dustin Ackley Spin and Speed

It seems like he was struggling with top notch velocity according to the graph, but really has just 4 whiffs on the 58 fastballs he saw over 95 MPH (and 92-95 MPH fastballs give similar results). He also swung and missed at just 5 of the 82 pitches he saw below 80 MPH, suggesting he was handling most curveballs (and knuckleballs) pretty well, or at least, he wasn’t swinging and missing at a ton. Swinging and missing wasn’t a problem for Ackley, as he did it just 4.5 % of the time, the lowest in his career and half of league average. The problem then, was either weak contact or batting average on balls in play luck (or a mixture of both).

Looking at Ackley’s spray chart (via Texas Leaguers), he made a lot of outs to 2nd, just like last year, rolling over on balls, and most of his hits seemed to come from up the middle or going the other way, with no real power at all (the only power he really had were on a couple of pulled balls).

Ackley spray chart

On pulled balls, Ackley has an OPS less than half of league average OPS (for left-handed batters). His BABIP on pulled balls is also over .100 lower than league average. It is hard to imagine that this is all luck, and when you adjust the BABIP, Ackley’s OBP and OPS is still well below league average on pulled balls. When you look at Ackley’s infield batted ball OPS and outfield batted ball OPS, it is still below league average, but he still has an OPS over 1.000 on balls hit to the outfield. Even if there is some batted ball luck going on there, it doesn’t explain all of it. Ackley has a higher percentage of balls staying in the infield than going out to the outfield, while league average is opposite (because of the nature of recorded batted ball data, if a hitter smokes a line drive right at the first baseman, it counts as staying in the infield, so there could still be some batted ball luck bias, but I don’t think there is a lot of evidence that Ackley has just been hitting a ton of line drives right at infielders). He just doesn’t seem to be hitting the ball very hard.

What does this say about the way pitchers are pitching him? Let’s look at his average locations:

Dustin Ackley Average Locations

Nothing too unusual here, though the average locations seem to be a little more outside than you usually see. His hits and runs scored are a little higher than most of the pitches, and it seems that he makes just general contact on high pitches as well. The swinging strikes is a little below the rest of the pitches, which is also normal.

There does seem to be a school of thought that Ackley had gotten too passive, that he wasn’t swinging at enough pitches (though, as the data suggests above, when he does swing, he is making a lot of contact but none of it very hard). This season, he was swinging at less pitches than average, both in the zone and out of the zone, and he was seeing more pitches in the zone than the average pitcher as well. Here are all pitches he swung at, along with the MLBAM tags:

Dustin Ackley Swing Chart

His take chart:Dustin Ackley Take Chart

He was just not pitched inside and up very much at all, and is getting a whole lot of pitches thrown outside to him, many of them far outside, some of them he is swinging at, but most of them not. This means that nearly anything he did try to pull turned into easy outs. Clearly though, the problem was not perceived bat speed, as he wasn’t jammed inside. The problem may have been approach though, as teams could throw it outside and he would still try to pull it, thought that is not what the splits say (in 2013 Ackley went 25.2 Pulled %, 54.3 Middle %, 20.5 Opposite %, versus league average 27.9 Pulled %, 54.8 Middle %, 17.4 Opposite %, meaning he was relatively balanced, pulling a little less than league average). Instead, it seems like he was taking a lot of inside pitches in the strike zone, only feeling comfortable (or seeing) swinging at pitches on the outside part of the plate. Ackley’s odd swing mechanics have been discussed quite a bit, and I don’t feel a need of show screenshots of his swing that regular viewers of the Mariners would already be familiar with anyway. Maybe it is approach and a mental thing, or maybe the Mariners will have to rebuild his swing mechanics. Their doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to fixing Ackley, but perhaps the best approach is to emphasize slap hitting abilities and teach him to reach for balls better (easier said than done), at least until pitchers start coming inside on him again. It just seems like it would be really difficult to hit the ball with authority when pitchers have no reason to come up and in. A chicken and egg/causation question is raised of course, as perhaps his passive approach lets pitchers throw on the outside part of the plate all day and Ackley never swings and causes them to throw the ball inside. Or alternatively, pitchers never come inside and Ackley never swings because when they throw the ball on the outside part of the plate and Ackley does swing, he just hits it weakly.


Checking On The Mariners Defense

Raul Ibanez

In the off-season, it was clear that the Mariners had taken a route in which they emphasized power over defense. Their new acquisitions on the hitting side were all hitters with power (but often low OBPs) and little or poor defensive value. Whether these were just the players the Mariners targeted in the off-season, or whether or not it was a clear shift in focus by the front office is a little unclear, but it was a clear sacrifice that most could see from a mile away.

While defensive metrics have their problems, it is usually understood that 3 years of data is a good sample size of defensive statistics. If we assumed a player played 150 games in a year, that would mean 450 games over 3 years. If we wanted to look at a team, we would assume that 50 games would be a decent sample size (450 divided by 9). At the time of writing this post, this is where the Mariners are at this season. So let’s compare the 2012 data to the 2013 data. Let’s see if we can measure the actual sacrifice the Mariners made this off-season by using a variety of defensive metrics.

We must note that things like BABIP may also be driven by the new park factors that will come with the new Safeco. The new Safeco may turn more balls into homers, which would lower the BABIP, or more balls into hits off the wall, etc. The point is, all variables should be considered and these numbers don’t come in a vacuum.

[table id=38 /]

By every single metric and measure, the Mariners are a worse defensive team this year. They went from being in the top 5 of 11 of the metrics, to only top 5 in the crudest of all metrics, fielding percentage. The team was top 10 in 10 of the 11 metrics in 2012, and this year, they are top ten in just two, the other being double play runs (which isn’t that surprising, as it has still been mainly Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley up the middle so far, we will see how the Nick Franklin/Ackley swap changes this, most likely making them worse defensively). They went from a team that helped their pitchers defensively, to a team that is very clearly hurting their team defensively, going from an average rank of 6th to an average rank of 20th. The team is now, as was projected in the off-season, a bad defensive ball club.

But has the tradeoff been worth it? So far the Mariners have still been a below average team overall, giving up much more runs than they have scored. Overall offensively, according to wRC +, the Mariners have went from 27th in 2012, to 19th in 2013. They have clearly improved offensively, but they are still below average. Even when looking at power, the team is 18th in Isolated Slugging. They went from a good defensive team and bad hitting team to a bad defensive team and slightly below average hitting team. The trade-off, at least so far, isn’t working if you believe the data, and certainly is not helping the already struggling Brandon Maurer, Aaron Harang, and Joe Saunders.

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