||Safeco Field||Ubaldo Jiminez vs. Aaron Harang
|7/23||7:10 pm||Safeco Field||
Zach McAllister vs. Erasmo Ramirez
|7/24||12:40 pm||Safeco Field||
Scott Kazmir vs. Joe Saunders
I was about to curse the Cleveland Indians, but then it came off sounding like something that nobody would ever want to see in print, so delete delete delete. There's no non-AL East franchise who irritates me more than the Indians, based in nothing but backwards-thinking irrationality. We're all subject to it, right? The walk-off losses, the early season disappointments when many of us were still brimming full of optimism, or at least engaged in a less despondent than the the franchise usually brings by the end of July. Now, Seattle is in the middle of a six game win streak, has one of the league's best offenses over the past month, and Cleveland has shown up on their doorstop to bring the doom and gloom yet again. At least they can't walk it off at Safeco.
It's hard to remember a time in recent years that the Mariners were more fun to watch than they are right now. Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are exceeding rookie expectations by a mile, and even the most pessimistic analytical minds can't help but get a little gleeful about what's going on in the infield. Justin Smoak quietly continues to silence rumors about his demise, and even Dustin Ackley has looked improved since his punishment in AAA, gathering three hits last night and slapping an RBI double down the left field line on Friday on a pitch middle-away, Ackley's previous kryptonite. Michael Saunders has found his stroke again, Raul Ibanez is still a sideshow, and Kyle Seager has established himself as a star. This lineup is incredibly productive right now, and where it isn't there's considerable upside in Ackley and Zunino.
The Mariners are good right now. It's weird to say that. Everything is coming together all at once for the offense, and while this team still has obvious holes in the bullpen, the rotation is settling in with Joe Saunders pitching better to go along with hope of a good Erasmo Ramirez. as he rejoins the team after a quick vacation to Everett.
In June, I spilled some words explaining why I wasn't a miserable fan, and the key takeaway was hope. Stupid, illogical hope. I've got some right now. Too much, actually. The Mariners are beyond Michael Barr's "What needs to go right" post back in March, putting together this run without Jesus Montero, Mike Morse, Franklin Gutierrez, and Brendan Ryan. I don't know what's happening. I don't really care how this is happening. It is happening, so let's all enjoy every second of it.
The Indians are 52-46, which places them firmly in contention with Detroit in the AL Central. They've gotten there with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, but it's Kazmir who's been better than Jimenez, which is all kinds of weird. While Jimenez has seen his strikeout rate bounce back to his years with the Rockies, his velocity continues to decline, as his fastball velocity is averaging 91.5 mph. Just three years ago when Jimenez was a revelation, his heater averaged just over 96 mph. It's one of the most dramatic losses of velocity in the majors over that time period, and while a change in arsenal, including increased usage of his slider, has brought his K/9 right where it used to be, he remains largely susceptible to home runs as his HR/FB rate is a mediocre 13.1%.
Jimenez has made major changes in the way he deals with hitters this year, using his slider 8% more than he did the year before, now at 23.7%. He's also abandoned his curve (3.3%) and decreased his change (9.6%) for a split fastball (10.1%, double last year's usage). The increased slider usage has been positive, as his wSL is up to +5.6, but his fastball is getting hammered. Fangraphs groups fastball usage together, but there's a key distinction that's being missed under further investigation.
What's the problem? His sinker. Jimenez throws two types of fastballs, a four seam and a sinker. The results of the latter have been almost inconceivably bad.
Let's get some perspective here. The .318 ISO allowed on Jimenez's sinker is higher than Miguel Cabrera's. Only Chris Davis is higher. Batters have been destroying this pitch, yet Jimenez is throwing it more frequently than any of his other pitches, including the four seam. Part of this is due to his poor control, as he throws it 44% of the time when he's behind in the count, to left-handers and right-handers alike. He also uses it to open at-bats 31% of the time to righties and 25% to lefties. Maybe it's time for Jimenez to find another pitch to get back into counts, and maybe he shouldn't keep throwing it on the first pitch, as opponents are slugging .857 when he chucks it out first.
It's not like Ubaldo Jimenez reads opposing team blogs, but maybe somebody should casually leave a laptop open in his locker with some of his Brooks Baseball tables open. The sinker used to be an effective pitch for Jimenez in 2010 and before. Things have changed. That pitch is busted, Ubaldo. If you can't fix it, stop throwing it. Just not tonight, cool? Throw it lots of times tonight.
The Mariners hope to tee off on Jimenez and his sinker tonight, then face Zach McAllister tomorrow, and Scott Kazmir on Cleveland's getaway day.