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Entries in Seattle Mariners (36)

Monday
Feb062012

Kuo Signs with the M's

Few players have had to overcome more obstacles than lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, who signed a non-guaranteed MLB contract with the Mariners on Monday. The 30-year-old has undergone five elbow surgeries -- including two Tommy John procedures -- since signing with the Dodgers out of Taiwan back in 1999. He also dealt with anxiety issues in 2011 that reportedly had him contemplating retirement. Here's hoping that Kuo is healthy all-around in 2012, as he's as nasty as any reliever in baseball when he's on his game.

Kuo was unhittable as recently as 2010, when he had a staggering 321 ERA+ in 60 innings pitched. That was one of the best ERA+ totals ever among relievers logging at least 60 frames:

RkPlayerERA+IPYearTm
1 Dennis Eckersley 610 73.1 1990 OAK
2 Jonathan Papelbon 517 68.1 2006 BOS
3 Chris Hammond 441 76 2002 ATL
4 Jose Mesa 418 64 1995 CLE
5 David Robertson 410 66.2 2011 NYY
6 Eric O'Flaherty 389 73.2 2011 ATL
7 John Smoltz 385 64.1 2003 ATL
8 Dale Murray 374 69.2 1974 MON
9 Tim Burke 356 91 1987 MON
10 Eric Gagne 337 82.1 2003 LAD
11 B.J. Ryan 335 72.1 2006 TOR
12 Rollie Fingers 333 78 1981 MIL
13 Bruce Sutter 328 107.1 1977 CHC
14 Ugueth Urbina 325 69.1 1998 MON
15 Carlos Marmol 325 69.1 2007 CHC
16 Hong-Chih Kuo 321 60 2010 LAD
17 Armando Benitez 319 69.2 2004 FLA
18 Takashi Saito 319 64.1 2007 LAD
19 Mariano Rivera 319 70.2 2008 NYY
20 J.J. Putz 319 71.2 2007 SEA

Source: Baseball-Reference

While a .207 BABIP certainly had something to do with Kuo's 1.20 ERA, he dominated the competition by striking out 32% of the batters he faced. He did that with a fastball that averaged 94.2 mph and got a miss 30% of the time that hitters offered at it, dusting the 18% average for relief pitchers. Kuo elevated the fastball...

Kuo's fastball location, 2010

And opponents didn't have a prayer against those upper-zone heaters. Take a look at hitters' contact rate by pitch location vs. Kuo's fastball in 2010, and then the league average:

Hitters' contact rate by pitch location vs. Kuo's fastball, 2010

Average hitter contact rate by location vs. fastballs, 2010

In 2011, however, Kuo lost control of his fastball and a few ticks of velocity (down to an average of 92.5 mph). He was especially prone to missing high out of the zone:

Kuo's fastball location, 2011

Kuo threw 55% of his fastballs in the zone in 2010, but that fell to just 47% in 2011. That, coupled with spottier control of his slider (45 Zone% in 2010, 35 Zone% in 2011) led to Kuo issuing 21 unintentional walks in 27 innings.

Non-tendered by the Dodgers, Kuo will have to pitch his way on to Seattle's squad this spring. He'll make $1 million if he cracks the 25-man roster, and he can earn up to $2.25 million more in incentives. We'll be rooting for Kuo to have a happy, lucrative 2012 season.

Thursday
Feb022012

Carlos Guillen Returns to M's

A little more than eight years ago, the Seattle Mariners traded Carlos Guillen to the Detroit Tigers for Ramon Santiago and minor league infielder Juan Gonzalez. While Santiago settled in as a utility man and Gonzalez never reached the majors, Guillen made three All-Star teams, posted a 127 OPS+ and averaged about 3.7 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement for Detroit from 2004-2008.

The last three seasons of Guillen's four-year, $48 million extension with the Tigers went sour, however. He had a 95 OPS+ and averaged just 0.3 WAR while limited by shoulder, hamstring, calf, wrist injuries, plus a left knee problem that culminated in microfracture surgery in September of 2010. And now, the hobbled 36-year-old returns to Seattle on a minor league contract, hoping his body is mended enough to compete for playing time at third base and in the outfield on an offensively-starved M's squad.

The switch-hitter's various afflictions have taken a toll on his secondary skills. Guillen's walk rate has declined from 11.9% in 2009 to 7.6% in 2010 and 4.9% last year, while his slugging percentage dipped from .419 in 2009-2010 to .368 in very limited time in 2011.

Guillen has become more impatient at the plate, chasing nearly 30% of pitches out of the zone since '09 (he chased 24% in 2008). He has extended his zone vertically, swinging at more would-be balls below the knees:

Guillen's swing rate by pitch location, 2008

Guillen's swing rate by pitch location, 2009-2011

Aside from the more hack-happy approach, Guillen just didn't hit the ball with as much authority after returning from microfracture surgery and then succumbing to a wrist problem. His fly balls traveled an average distance of 262 feet in 2011, down from 283 feet in 2010 and 280 feet in 2009.

There's no harm in seeing if Guillen can recapture some semblance of the switch-hitting goodness he provided in Detroit, but odds are the M's traded him too early and brought him back too late to enjoy the productive years of his career.  

Saturday
Jan142012

Pineda's Power Stuff

Challenge trades involving top young players happen about as often as Halley's Comet sightings, but a bright light shone across the Bronx and the Pacific Northwest last night as Michael Pineda and Jose Campos were traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

Pineda, 23 this month and coming off a superb rookie season, didn't come cheap. Montero is just 22 and while the 6-foot-3, 235 pounder has little chance of sticking at catcher over the long haul, he has a career .351 OBP and a .493 slugging percentage at the Triple-A level and raked in a small big league sample in 2011. But in Pineda, the Yankees get five years of team control over a power pitcher with a sinister, if still developing, repertoire.

The 6-foot-7, 260 pound right-hander was almost exclusively a fastball/slider pitcher as a rookie, going to his heater 60 percent of the time and his hard breaking ball 32 percent. His changeup was nearly nonexistent, but Pineda dominated with those two plus-plus pitches.

Pineda threw his fastball at an average speed of 94.3 mph, a mark topped only by Justin Verlander, Alexi Ogando, Felipe Paulino, David Price and Edwin Jackson among starting pitchers. He reached as high as 99.8 mph on the gun and loved to challenge hitters high in the zone with the pitch, trusting that his velocity, big home ball park and quality outfield defense would produce good results. Pineda threw 41 percent of his fastballs high in the strike zone, well above the 35 percent average for starters, and he got a bunch of swings and misses when he climbed the ladder. Take a look at hitters' contact rate by pitch location versus Pineda's fastball, and then the league average:

Opponents' contact rate by pitch location vs. Pineda's fastball, 2011Average contact rate by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2011

Overall, batters missed Pineda's fastball one-fifth of the time that they swung. That ranked in the top 10 among all starters. You'll also note the surprising presence of another Yankee pickup whom we'll look at later today:

Highest fastball miss rate among starting pitchers, 2011

PlayerMiss Pct.
Brandon Beachy 25.2%
Hiroki Kuroda 22.0%
Brandon Morrow 21.8%
Rich Harden 21.2%
Cory Luebke 20.8%
Gio Gonzalez 20.7%
Roy Oswalt 20.6%
David Price 20.5%
Juan Nicasio 20.3%
Michael Pineda 20.1%
League Avg. for SP 14.4%

 

Pineda's second top-shelf offering is a short-breaking mid-80s slider. Many pitchers are reluctant to go to the slider against opposite-handed hitters due to the pitch having a big platoon split (righty starters allowed a .350 slugging percentage on sliders thrown to righties in 2011, and a .386 slugging percentage to lefties), but Pineda had no such qualms. He threw his slider about 27 percent of the time to lefties, and he actually got better results with the pitch against opposite-handed batters:

Pineda's slider vs. right-handed hitters: .191/.226/.313

Pineda's slider vs. left-handed hitters: .155/.212/.268

The key to Pineda's success with the slider against lefties is that he gets them to offer at low-and-inside pitches that practically scrape their shoe tops. Check out left-handed hitters' swing rate against Pineda's slider versus the average for righty starters vs. lefties:

Left-handed hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Pineda's slider, 2011Average swing rate by pitch location for lefty hitters vs. right-handed sliders, 2011Lefties chased 39 percent of Pineda's sliders thrown out of the strike zone, one of the top 20 marks among starters and well north of the 33 percent average for righty starting pitchers against left-handed hitters.

Pineda is a great long-term pick up and will pair with CC Sabathia to give the Yankees one of the best one-two combos in the game, but he might face an adjustment period in New York. All of those high fastballs produce lots of fly balls (45 percent, tenth-highest among starters). That played well in Safeco, which reduces home runs hit by lefty hitters by five percent and a whopping 18 percent for righties, but it will likely lead to more long balls in Yankee Stadium, which boosts homers by 43 percent for lefties and 15 percent for righties.

On the positive side, his new outfielders are also swift (the Yankees had the best collective outfield Ultimate Zone Rating last year, due in large part to Brett Gardner) and the change in competition from the AL West to the East might not be as steep as you think. Per Baseball Prospectus, Pineda ranked in the top 15 among pitchers with 150+ innings pitched in opponent on-base-plus slugging percentage, meaning he had one of the toughest slates of batters faced of any starter. Remember, he didn't get the benefit of facing his own worst-in-the majors offense.

Montero could turn into a devastating hitter, but the Yankees managed to add a cheap, ace-caliber pitcher under contract through 2016 without giving up the multi-top prospect premium paid by Washington and Cincinnati for Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos, respectively. That's a shrewd deal, and one that may well keep the Bombers atop the ultra-competitive AL East.

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