Dustin Pedroia gets a little chin music, or as regular baseball players call it, a pitch at the belt
I'm going to begin this game recap with somebody else's words. Well now that clearly isn't true. I'm going to continue beginning this game recap with somebody else's words. I don't ordinarily like to do this, since I intend for these game recaps to be original, but it turns out Tweeted a certain Dave Cameron, about a certain Blake Beavan:games still take as God damned long as ever and I just don't feel like trying harder than the minimum now with sleep already delayed.
Pitch to contact always sounds like such a good plan until you see what contact can look like.
It's so simple, so elegant, so very true. In theory, if you can just keep spotting pitch after pitch after pitch on the edges or in the hitters' weak spots, then you'll generate weak contact and get great results without very many strikeouts. In reality it doesn't work like that, not for very long stretches, not for very many pitchers. Yes, there are areas in and around the zone that generally lead to weaker contact than others. Yes, some pitchers can live in those zones. Most can't, and the ones who do still need to do other things, because it's not like the contact they allow is feeble.
There aren't pitchers out there, especially starters, who run tiny BABIPs. Not without getting help from the defense and the ballpark environment. The degree to which a guy might get weaker contact is such that we're talking about shaving just a handful of points off the BABIP league average. Never forget that Pedro Martinez had a career BABIP of .282, when the league hovered in the .290s. Never forget that Cliff Lee's lowest BABIP since turning into Cliff Lee is .290. Mariano Rivera is unbelievable. Just unbelievable. The greatest reliever ever. Capable of things of which others aren't capable. His career BABIP is .264, and he's a reliever.
Pitching for weak contact is another way of saying not pitching for whiffs, and the pitchers who don't pitch for whiffs are the pitchers who can't get them. I don't blame Blake Beavan for pitching in the way that he does, because it's not like he really has a wealth of alternatives. Beavan has to pitch to contact by throwing strikes and hoping for the best. But Beavan is never going to turn into a guy who just routinely saws batters off, because those starters don't exist. If they did, they would have better command than Beavan does. His command isn't even a strength. His control is a strength, but all that means is that Beavan generates limited walks to go with his limited strikeouts. His BABIP last year was basically the' average, and he didn't limit homers. His BABIP this year is basically the Mariners' average, and he hasn't limited homers.
This all seems pretty harsh on Blake Beavan and I haven't even really talked about tonight's game. I don't mean to suggest that Blake Beavan is the worst pitcher ever, or that he doesn't at all belong in the major leagues. He's fine, as rotation insurance, and especially in Safeco, sometimes he can look better than that. Sometimes he can pitch better than that. But we can probably abandon any thoughts that Beavan changed after getting demoted to Tacoma; seven straight starts, now, he's failed to eclipse four strikeouts. Tonight he had one. Last start he had one. Over those seven starts, Beavan has faced 179 batters, and he's struck out 17 of them. Beavan wants to be a mysterious pitcher to figure out. Beavan needs to be a mysterious pitcher to figure out, if he wants to excel. Beavan is a very simple pitcher to figure out. He doesn't strike batters out and he doesn't issue batters free passes. He lets the batters hit the ball, often in the air, and then everybody crosses their fingers.
Tonight we got to see how well pitching to contact can go, and how swiftly it can all turn sour. Tonight the Mariners were beating the Red Sox 3-0 after five innings, and I was starting to think about another game recap in which I say the Red Sox just never felt like a threat. Because, for the game's first half, they didn't. The Red Sox weren't getting much of anything done against Beavan. The Mariners were getting enough done against Jon Lester. It felt like the Mariners were just going to cruise, and that the Red Sox would burst another few seams as the whole thing would continue to come undone.
In the sixth, Dustin Pedroia lined a two-strike fastball over the plate for a single. Jacoby Ellsbury lined a first-pitch fastball over the plate for a single. Cody Ross homered on a first-pitch slider. Three batters later, Ryan Lavarnway homered on a 1-and-0 fastball over the plate. Beavan entered the sixth with five shutout innings, and he was removed well shy of a quality start.
Yes, sometimes a pitcher can pitch to contact and succeed. Sometimes positive results get strung together. Other times the opposite happens and you care most about what's happened overall. Overall, if you pitch to contact, you're probably going to get burned, unless you're exceptional. Grounders help, and command helps. Beavan doesn't get grounders, and his command is only okay.
On that note, I do have to wonder what it was like to be Miguel Olivo in the sixth. It was Olivo who called for a low away first-pitch slider to Cody Ross, and Beavan put the pitch right where Olivo wanted it. Beavan's command in that instance was fine, and still the ball sailed out of the park. Olivo might've been left wondering whether he'd chosen the right approach. Then against Lavarnway, Olivo signaled for a fastball outside and lower, and Beavan threw a fastball that ran inside and higher. That was the zone that Olivo was trying to avoid, and the Red Sox went on top. Olivo might've taken some responsibility for the Ross result. He probably distanced himself from the Lavarnway result. All Olivo did was call for the fastball; it was Beavan who put it in the complete wrong quadrant.
After Beavan was removed, the game was handed over to the Mariners' bullpen, which was fine, but it didn't matter because they finished their scoring in the third. Jon Lester did not have himself a good game but he is still Jon Lester so I suppose you can only expect so much. Jesus Montero lined an RBI single the other way in the first. In the third, Franklin Gutierrez launched a centered fastball out to the beer garden, and then right afterward Kyle Seager blasted a mistake fastball out to right-center. Montero followed with a single on another bad fastball and one got the sense that the Mariners had Lester on the ropes, but the Mariners subsequently wouldn't score another run.
This game was, incidentally, the full Franklin Gutierrez experience. In the first, he made a reasonably spectacular diving catch on a bloop. In the third, he hit an impressive home run. In the fourth, he was removed due to an injury. Turns out it was precautionary, as Gutierrez felt a little tightness in his groin, but with Guti you never know when something minor might turn into sarcoidosis, and just in terms of symbolism, this was symbolic. For three innings, Gutierrez played like a terrific center fielder. For twice as many innings, Gutierrez couldn't play at all, on account of his body. It doesn't even matter if Gutierrez is back in the lineup in a day or three. This groin tightness is going right on the list, because that's just the point that we've gotten to.
I don't think there's anything else I feel like saying, not when it's already so late and the Mariners lost an insignificant game. Carter Capps came out of the bullpen and he was throwing strikes until for a few minutes he stopped throwing strikes. His last pitch was a 100 mile-per-hour high fastball to Cody Ross that Ross swung on and missed in a full count. It was a ball, but Ross probably never saw it. The perceived velocity on that pitch must've been unfathomable. Justin Smoak stranded five runners and was bad. It's true that you can point to Michael Saunders as a reason why it might not be wise to just give up on Smoak completely, but that sounds kind of like never coming to terms with the idea that the playoffs aren't happening because the 1995 Mariners happened once. Luis Jimenez debuted by pinch-hitting for Brendan Ryan in the ninth and he didn't do anything heroic, but Jesus Christ, if that's our standard, no wonder so many of us are miserable, we are nearly impossible to please. Luis Jimenez batted in a high-leverage spot in a Mariners uniform and that's already a story he'll never forget.
The box score says that Chone Figgins played which is just so great for him. This series ends tomorrow night with Kevin Millwood and Aaron Cook. Since Cook dominated the Mariners that one time, he's posted a 5.67 ERA. But it's not like we need evidence that Aaron Cook is bad now. He's been bad all along and that sure as shit didn't mean anything to the Mariners in June. Stay tuned to see if it matters in September!