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Series Preview # 35: Diamondbacks vs Brewers

Will Diamondbacks boost their confidence by playing well against the Brewers?

"Confidence will take you a long way in this game."
"Confidence will take you a long way in this game."
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Arizona Diamondbacks (43-65)

vs. Milwaukee Brewers (48-58)

The Brewers' biggest trade was sending Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers. Instead, you will see Manny Pina, who was promoted from AAA.

The Brewers prepared for the future by promoting Orlando Arcia from AAA to play shortstop. Jonathan Villar was moved from shortstop to third. Hernan Perez was moved from third to outfield.

Last week, the Brewers won a series against the Diamondbacks. The Brewers' bullpen was better (11.1 innings with no runs allowed compared to 7.2 innings with 6 runs allowed). The Diamondbacks’ starting pitchers will need to pitch well so their bullpen has the lead.

Diamondbacks Starting Pitching

Compared to last season, Diamondbacks pitchers are underperforming. Injuries and lack of depth contributed. Mechanics and confidence are important. Perhaps there was another contributing factor.

Pace. Let’s look at pace for the Diamondbacks’ starting pitchers. Pace can be influenced by baserunners. Luckily, Baseball Prospectus has data on each pitcher’s pace when the bases are empty. For 2015 and 2016, let's look at pace with the bases empty, and a measure of pitcher effectiveness, ERA.

Pitcher 2015 Pace 2015 ERA 2016 Pace 2016 ERA
Bradley 16.42 5.80 17.14 4.17
Corbin 17.26 3.60 16.84 5.31
DeLaRosa 20.19 4.67 20.50 4.15
Godley 20.47 3.19 20.31 5.88
Greinke 20.33 3.02 21.07 3.62
Miller 16.96 1.66 19.89 7.14
Ray 17.23 3.52 17.78 4.53

The chart shows that all the starters (except Corbin and Godley) slowed down in 2016. The biggest slowdown was 2.94 seconds by Shelby Miller. That was a huge difference - the next biggest was 0.72 seconds (Bradley). Because this three second slowdown was huge and was observed with bases empty, it is a significant clue about why Miller struggled.

Does pitching at a slower pace reduce effectiveness? Three reasons to answer affirmatively follow:

  • A fast pace enhances the effects of pitch-sequencing because a batter’s visual short-term memory lasts up to about 15 seconds (I’m sure it is different for each batter). This is important because the batter might react to the previous pitch as much as the current pitch
  • A fast pace can reduce a batters patience by making him uncomfortable. An impatient batter will have degraded results.
  • A fast pace gives the pitcher control of the at-bat. For example, the pitcher can “change the beat” when it is to his advantage.

My guess is that the reduced pace was due to changes in the mental process as pitchers prepared to pitch. If so, there could be a near-term downside and a long-term upside. The downside is longer preparation time for each pitch has reduced overall pitching effectiveness. The upside is the possibility that by next season the preparation will be more automatic and their pace will be faster, thereby allowing increased effectiveness.

One example of the upside is Jeremy Hellickson. Before the start of 2015, he was traded to the Diamondbacks and my guess is he implemented changes. His pace slowed from 20.56 to 21.89 seconds, and his ERA went from 4.52 to 4.62. The next year, when the changes were more automatic, his pace quickened to 21.05 and his ERA improved to 3.65.

Our player in the spotlight uses a fast pace to his advantage. More on that later!

Pitching Matchups

Friday. Chase Anderson (5.13 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 5.0 IP/GS, 3.0 run support/GS) vs Braden Shipley (4.76 ERA, 6.49 FIP, 5.6 IP/GS, 3.0 run support/GS).

A former Diamondback, Chase Anderson was traded with Aaron Hill to the Brewers for Jean Segura. The Diamondbacks “won” this trade! In the last 5 games, Anderson allowed 10 earned runs in 22.1 innings. Diamondbacks who have hit well against him are Bourn, Goldschmidt, Gosselin, Segura, and Tomas.

This game will be Braden Shipley’s third start in the Majors. In his first two games, he pitched very well. Most memorable was his win against the Dodgers - six innings with zero earned runs. Assuming the bullpen can hold the lead for 3 to 4 innings, I predict Diamondbacks win.

Saturday. Matt Garza (5.32 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 5.6 IP/GS, 2.3 run support/GS) vs Patrick Corbin (5.30 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 5.7 IP/GS, 3.0 run support/GS).

In his last five games, Matt Garza allowed 22 earned runs in 26.1 innings. Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury have hit well against him.

In his last five games, Patrick Corbin allowed 18 Earned runs in 24.2 innings. Braun, Broxton, Carter, Elmore, and Lucroy have hit well against him. I predict a high scoring game, that could be won by either team.

Sunday. Jimmy Nelson (3.74 ERA, 4.79 FIP, 5.8 IP/GS, 2.5 run support/GS) vs Archie Bradley(4.75 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 5.7 IP/GS, 3.0 run support/GS).

Jimmy Nelson. On 27 July, Nelson pitched 4.2 innings against the Diamondbacks with 2 earned runs and 6 unearned runs. Castillo, Drury, Goldschmidt, and especially Tomas have hit well against him.

Nelson was matched with Archie Bradley, who pitched 7 innings with 1 earned run. However, in his latest game against the Nationals, Bradley allowed 7 earned runs in 3.1 innings. Will Bradley allow one earned run or seven earned runs? If he holds them to one run, will the bullpen hold the lead? Either team could win this game.

New York Mets v Milwaukee Brewers
"It's not real until it happens!"
Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Player in the Spotlight

Our player in the spotlight said, “I know the baseball knowledge I have is gonna help me.” His early knowledge came from two people. First was his father, whose baseball career ended in college. His father often quizzed him. Second was Eric Bell, who pitched for the Orioles from 1985 to 1993. Eric Bell said, “Confidence will take you a long way in this game.” Yet a bigger lesson was hearing that Eric Bell extended his career because he could get batters out without being intimidating.

Our player in the spotlight went to high school in Gilbert Arizona, where his best pitch was his changeup. He practiced and polished that pitch until it was amazing. That pitch outshines the rest of his pitches.

Could he succeed without an intimidating fastball? Our player in the spotlight found a way. He pitches at a fast pace. The fast pace enhances the effects of pitch sequencing. The fast pace can reduce a batters patience by making the batter uncomfortable. His fast pace gives him control of the at-bat. For example, he “changes the beat” when it is to his advantage.

Our player in the spotlight models himself after Jeremy Hellickson and Daniel Hudson. D’Backs fans have seen these two pitchers in action!

Hellickson’s best secondary pitch is a changeup. Hellickson’s approach has been described as “…confusing as all hell” [pun intended]. If you can’t intimidate the batter, you can at least confuse him!

Daniel Hudson has had success in getting weak hits with the changeup. Hudson’s changeup has been described as “…the real jewel.”

In 2014, while still in the minors, our pitcher in the spotlight considered his talents both realistically and optimistically. He said, “I know I get overshadowed. It doesn’t bother me. If they give me an opportunity, I’m gonna show I’m worth it.”

In 2015, after his first game in the Majors, he said “It’s not real until it happens.” He was happy and it was real. It continues to be real this season for Zach Davies, who is our player in the spotlight!

Because he polished his changeup to shine brightly, because his pitching approach takes full advantage of his best pitch, and because his mindset was both realistic and optimistic, Zach Davies is our player in the spotlight.