Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Next Up, Sort Of: The Arizona Diamondbacks

I could've sworn the series with the Snakes started tonight. Out for dinner last night, got home, fired up the AtBat app, and I sure was surprised to see the Pirates game there. So this is a preview of the next two games, I guess.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Diamondbacks are 16-12 over the past 30 days, resulting in a .571 winning percentage that is exactly in the middle of the 15-team National League. They've scored 4.6 runs per game, the sixth most, and given up 3.25 runs per game, the second fewest. That kind of run differential typically results in a record of 18-10 or 19-11 over 28 games. In fact, Arizona has the best run differential in the league over the last 30 days.

What's Going Right? Arizona's starting pitchers have a 3.22 ERA over the last 30 days, trailing only the Mets and Cardinals, and the relievers' 3.08 ERA is sixth best. The starters have induced grounders on 51% of batted balls, second most in the league, and have stranded 82% of baserunners, a figure that is both remarkably high and unlikely to persist. They've gotten batters to swing at 35% of pitches outside the strike zone, the highest percentage in the league over the last 30 days. The bullpen's also generated a lot of grounders, the second-highest percentage in the league.

The offense has been pretty good, too. Over the past 30 days, Diamondbacks hitters have the fourth highest batting average (.273), third highest on base percentage (.331), and sixth highest slugging percentage (.422). The club's tied with the Cubs for third in the league in stolen bases, with 21 over the period, with a good 75% success rate.

What's Going Wrong? The batters have struck out a lot (23% of plate appearances, fourth most in the league) and hit only 23 homers (fourth lowest) over the past 30 days. They lead the league in percentage of batted balls hit hard, but those hard-hit balls are resulting more in singles (they're first in the league over the past 30 days), doubles (fifth), and triples (first) than round trippers. 

Who's Hot? The Diamondbacks have two of the hottest hitters in baseball: Left fielder David Peralta has a .398/.440/.590 slash line with 23 RBI over the past 30 days, and center fielder A.J. Pollock's hitting .362/.425/.532 with 21 runs scored and ten stolen bases. Perennial All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt's at .319/.436/.457. Catcher Wellington Castillo's batting only .257 over the past 30 days but he's launched eight homers. Closer Brad Ziegler is seven-for-seven in saves with a 3.18 ERA over the past 30 days, and rookie lefty reliever Andrew Chafin has allowed five hits, two unintentional walks, and no runs over his last 13 games.

Who's Not? Tonight and tomorrow, the Pirates will face the two Arizona starters with the worst ERAs over the past 30 days: Chase Anderson (3.75) and Robbie Ray (5.33). Then again, last night's winning pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, had a 3.72 ERA in the 30 days leading into the game, and he allowed just one run over 5.1 innings to get the win. Hard-luck reliever Daniel Hudson, who missed pitched in only 12 games over the past three years due to injuries, has allowed a 6.00 ERA and three homers over his last twelve appearances. 

The middle infield has been a Diamondbacks weakness all year. Rookie shortstop Nick Ahmed's a slick fielder but he's batting just .173/.198/.247 over the past 30 days. The Diamondbacks have two pitchers with a higher OPS this year than Ahmed's .445 over the past 30 days: Hellickson (.485) and Josh Collmenter (.486). Second baseman Chris Owings has also been bad--.235/.270/.341--and those numbers represent an improvement over his .231/.262/.329 prior to the last 30 days.

What's the Outlook? The Pirates swept three in Arizona back in April. That won't happen in this series. They start lefties Francisco Liriano and J.A. Happ the next two nights, and the Diamondbacks this year are worse against left-handed starters (12-15) than righties (46-44). On the other hand, they've almost exactly the same against both types of pitchers (.735 OPS against righties, .732 against lefties). With the hard-charging Cubs (15-2 in their last 17 games, now two games behind the Pirates for the first wild card) starting a two-game series at home against the disappointing Tigers, the Pirates probably need to at least split the last two games before opening a four-game series at home against the Giants.

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