He was advertised as a Jason Vargas clone, a lefty fly ball pitcher who could eat lots of innings and post a good BB/K but would give up a few too many road home runs to be anything more than a mid-rotation starter. Which was a great idea, in theory. I loved the Vargas/Morales/Saunders chain of moves.
Right now, though... not so much. After a bumpy start to the season Vargas has settled in and stopped allowing home runs, becoming a good starting pitcher and the most consistent cog in the Angels' rotation. Morales has been valuable, too, but thanks to Saunders' lackluster performance Vargas has outproduced he and Morales combined by both bWAR and fWAR.
The problem is that Saunders has degenerated into a caricature of himself. He's always been a LOOGY in disguise, but this season it's gotten absurd:
That's right: Joe Saunders has allowed twenty-five extra base hits to right-handed hitters so far this year. Seventeen have been two-baggers, which means that if "2013 Righties Against Joe Saunders" was a hitter, that hitter would be tied for third in MLB in doubles. Since opposing managers now stack their lineups with nothing but righties every time Saunders comes to town, this has been understandably disastrous for him.
But because sportswriting is all about creating narratives, the narrative with Joe Saunders has been his home/road performance. See, even though pitcher wins and losses are really stupid, Saunders had never received a pitcher loss at Safeco Field (until tonight). It makes some sense that he would do well at the Mariners' home field, since Safeco is notoriously friendly to left-handed fly ball pitchers and Saunders is a left-handed fly ball pitcher, but eventually he was going to regress his home/road splits. For some reason, it had to be tonight. Right on the end of a five-game losing streak.
There are two options, really. Either a) Joe Saunders is a staunch defender of truth and won't allow us to carry on with lazy narratives, or b) Joe Saunders isn't a very good pitcher.
Take your pick.
- Jesus Sucre made his major league debut tonight in the most bizarre manner possible: getting called out at first base without the first baseman actually catching the ball. Behold.
- Speaking of Jesus Sucre, I imagine he made some friends tonight. His was by no means an excellent day at the plate, but he made up for it with strong work in other aspects of the game. Not a single Ranger tried to steal and not a single ball got past him at the plate. He also showed a strong ability to run like a normal human being. Coolest of all, however, was this:
- That's right: Sucre induced a called strikeout on a pitch that wasn't a strike by using his receiving skills to trick the umpire. This is what is known as "pitch framing", and though it is a strange and alien concept to Mariners fans it can have a significant effect on the outcome of a game. Now that I see Sucre in the major leagues, it strikes me just how different from Montero he is: though he has no power to speak of, he is a fine defensive catcher with good framing skills, the ability to control the running game, and reasonable speed on the basepaths. In many ways he is Jesus Montero's polar opposite. Or, if you prefer, the anti-Christ. Seattle should love him!
- Carlos Triunfel joined the team halfway through the game, which must have been awkward for everyone involved. He didn't have a big impact on the game's outcome, but his promotion did have a big impact on the structure of the farm system: Brad Miller was promoted to AAA to replace him, bumping Chris Taylor up to AA in turn. This is the official beginning of Miller's Seageresque fast-track to the majors. I would expect him to join the team around the trade deadline, when either Ryan is traded to a team that needs a backup glove wizard or Triunfel's struggles become so soul-crushing that he is demoted. Either way, I'm excited.
- Justin Grimm is a pitcher for the Texas Rangers, who seem to have an endless supply of decent major league pitchers. Seriously: their bullpen lost Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, and Koji Uehara - three of the best setup men in the sport - and didn't get any worse. But while the Rangers evidently taught Grimm the art of pitching, what they didn't teach him was that he should avoid barfights before taking his Gameday picture.
- Joe Saunders disapproves of Justin Grimm's indecorous behavior.
- Tonight Brendan Ryan finally rose above the Mendoza Line. He is now batting .202 on the season. This feels like an appropriate place for a thoughtful musing on the meaning of baseball and the significance of arbitrary milestones, but instead of thinking about the Mariners this afternoon I decided to go swimming and in doing so developed a rather nasty sunburn. As a result, I am now too addled to write musings of any sort - let alone thoughtful ones. Be patient, please. If you wait long enough, I'll get back to true talent level in the end.