One of the things about baseball that I appreciate is that you can see growth in players. Once we gather a big enough sample size, whether it be plate appearances or innings pitched, we can start to extrapolate conclusions from that data. You can’t quite do the same thing with the NFL. The Seahawks, for examples, are already 0-2. It’s still early in the season, and unless they win this Sunday against Arizona at home, they will have dug themselves a deep hole that might be close to impossible to get out of. Then again, some fans may be calling for the Seahawks to fall directly into that chasm, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that the Seahawks have already lost an eighth of the games in their season. An eighth of the games in a baseball season is about 20 games.
The Mariners have had their struggles this year. The beginning of the year was full of question marks. One of those question marks was the role of the two, three, four and five hole hitters. At the time we were full of hope, full of optimism. Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, and Justin Smoak occupied those roles. Oh, how things have changed. Through various call-ups, releases and injuries, the Mariners lineup evolved into something. Something different. What we’ve been able to watch over the last 20 games is the evolution of the Mariners lineup. To get to this point, however, it took 154 games. An eighth of a season is the start to a good sample size. Up until this point, the Mariners lineup was in flux. The Mariner’s had no clear indication of what the future two, three, four and five hole hitters were going to look like.
But then, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Justin Smoak. Seager batted second today, and I feel he’s an important part to this equation because of the role he played today. After Ichiro Suzuki set the table with a two-out infield single, the youth set the game plan into action. The game plan was to avoid being no-hit by Kevin Slowey. That would mean eternal shame if the Mariners were to get no-hit by Kevin Slowey. By no means should they get no-hit by Kevin Slowey. The game plan was to take all the previous at-bats and learn from them. I feel like tonight was the culmination of the last 20 games coming to a head.
With two outs in the sixth inning, the Mariners came back to tie the Twins in what felt like one of those games again. One of those games where the pitching keeps the team in the game, but the offense couldn’t scrape together any hits. But it wasn’t one of those, because the youth is learning, and we get to watch them grow. Seager doubled in Ichiro on a first pitch curveball that fell just out of the reach of Denard Span. Ackley absolutely crushed a slider that caught too much of the plate, doubling in Seager. Slowey finally made a couple mistakes, and the Mariners did what a good team is supposed to do in those situations: they made them pay.
Finally. Finally the Mariners are showing progress in terms of their lineup. It feels odd to say that Carp is a legitimate cleanup hitter. It feels odd to say that Ackley belongs in the three-hole. At one point, however, people weren’t quite sure about Albert Pujols. At one point, people weren’t quite sure about David Ortiz. The Mariners are making progress, and the offense is starting to look like a major league offense.
And then there’s Michael Pineda.
Tonight was Pineda’s last start of the 2011 season. Throughout this season he accumulated 171 innings pitched, a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts. His WAR stands at about 3.3. Can you guess the only other Mariner with a higher WAR? Yep, you guessed it. Felix Hernandez, with a 5.5 WAR. Michael Pineda had a great rookie season, whether or not he contends for the Rookie of the Year award. Overall, there is nothing to complain about. The numbers he put up over the season are amazing for a rookie coming into the bigs. Justin Verlander put up a 3.63 ERA in his rookie year. We got to see the growth of a budding young pitcher. However, I mentioned sample size and timelines earlier, tonight. Tonight wasn’t Pineda’s best outing. It was more than just tonight. Over his last couple of starts, his velocity has been down, and his location was off.
Out of the 81 pitches Pineda threw tonight, 50 of them went for strikes, for a 61.7% strike rate. Out of the 39 swings that the Twins took, 6 of them missed, for a 15.3% swinging strike rate. At times during this season, Pineda has flashed signs of dominance. Tonight, he fastball was sitting around 91 mph, a good six mph down from what we saw in the first half of the season. He still got a healthy amount of whiffs, but it was barely Pineda-esque, if we can start calling it that. I’m concerned fatigue in the coming seasons. From May to June his ERA sat around 2.93. From July until now, his ERA is sitting around 4.38. His location and velocity have seem to deteriorated, and that is cause for concern. He only threw 10 first pitch strikes out of the 20 batters he faced. With how great his stuff is, Pineda doesn’t need to get ahead of the batters in every at-bat, but it wouldn’t hurt, either.
However, one thing that keeps me very optimistic about Pineda is his confidence off the mound. In every post-game interview I’ve heard, he’s always been humble. He always wants to learn from his mistakes. He always has a sense of humor. After a loss, Shannon Drayer asked if he is working on his changeup. He kind of chuckled and said that Yeah, I need that pitch. Not only does he admit he has a pitch he knows he should develop, he has a good attitude about it. I’m disappointed we won’t get to see Pineda pitch again this season, but I find solace in the fact that I’ll get to watch a better Pineda next season.
It’s safe to say the Michael Pineda has solidified his spot as the number two pitcher in the Mariners organization. It took the Mariners four years to realize that Felix was the ace of the staff, and once they told him he was, he went out and won 19 games and came in second place in the Cy Young voting. Then he won the award. I don’t know if throwing Pineda into the number two spot will be a detriment to his growth, but I can’t see how it could hurt. He knows he has the stuff. He has Felix to mentor him. If anything, his confidence will be his biggest asset, allowing him to keep learning and growing. Pineda put up a 3.3 WAR in his first major league season. Felix put up a 2.6 WAR. The possibilities are endless.
- Cesar Jimenez earned his first win in five years. He also forced Miguel Olivo to make a play at the plate with two outs, off of a dribbler hit by Ben Revere. Olivo tagged Rene Tosoni at the plate to end the inning. Jimenez has been in and out of the bigs for at least five years, and he can’t keep track of how many outs there are. If he becomes a part of the future, whatever, but I expect him to keep track of at least the strike count in any given at-bat. It only goes up to three!
- All of the Mariners runs tonight were scored with two outs. I feel like my head is going to explode what is happening offense what?!?
- Wily Mo Pena pinch ran for Justin Smoak. Wily Mo Pena scored on a Trayvon Robinson. Wily Mo Pena.
Apparently, the Mariners really don’t hold much stock in the higher draft pick. They keep winning. They do not conform to the “Suck for Luck” bandwagon mentality that some fans do.
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