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Series Preview #47: Diamondbacks vs Dodgers

Rubbing the Diamondbacks with baseball mud makes the team better.
Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Diamondbacks (61-84) vs Dodgers (82-63)

Baseball mud is very fine, like thick chocolate pudding. It comes from the Delaware river. Did you know that baseball mud is rubbed on regulation baseballs until the gloss is removed? Rule 4.01(c ) states”…The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed….”

When people remark that the Diamondbacks are young and talented, I think about shiny new baseballs. Rubbing the team with baseball mud makes the team better. After quite a thorough rubbing in 2016, I am highly confident that in 2017 the Diamondbacks will play like a team whose destiny is post season play.

How will I remember the 2016 season? I will snack on chocolate pudding while watching the Diamondbacks win games! In the post season, I will transform my chocolate pudding into Mexican Chocomole by adding cinnamon, chili powder, and mashed avocado.

This season, the Diamondbacks’ record is 5 wins and 10 losses against the Dodgers. While that feels like mud, if the Diamondbacks win once in the four game series they equal last year’s record against the Dodgers. Two wins would be great!! Let’s look at the pitching matchups.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday. Battle of the high ceiling pitchers. Rich Hill (0 ERA, 1.35 FIP, 6.3 IP/GS for Dodgers in 3 games) vs Archie Bradley ( 5.10 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 5.5 IP/GS).

Recently, Rich Hill pitched a perfect game for 7 innings. At that point he was removed due to a developing finger blister (a recurring problem for him). He has pitched 19 innings for the Dodgers while allowing zero earned runs. And, “He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had: the passion, the work ethic, more energy than guys ten years younger.”

Archie Bradley made two changes to his mix of pitches. First, in August he added a sinker. With batting averages of .308 in August and .571 in September, it may be a failed experiment. Second, he reduced the percentage of fastballs from 71% in June to 63% in July to 58% in August to 56% in September. I hope he finds his best mix of pitches soon.

Friday. Battle of the Dosanko vs. the Mustang. Kenta Maeda (3.28 ERA, 3.54FIP, 5.7 IP/GS) vs Zack Greinke (4.54 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 6.1 IP/GS).

Kenta Maeda has started 28 games, which is more than any other Dodgers’ pitcher. That could earn him the nickname Dosanko, which is a breed of horse in Japan, where Kenta Maeda was born. On 5 September, he earned a win against the Diamondbacks by allowing 1 earned run in 6.1 innings.

Greinke recently adjusted his mix of pitches. He reduced his sinkers, which were not effective. He doubled his curves, which were effective. He is the Diamondbacks’ “ace”, which could earn him the nickname of Mustang, a horse of the American West.

Saturday. Battle of the enigmas. Bud Norris (6.43 ERA, 4.88 FIP, [4.7 IP/GS for Dodgers] ) vs Shelby Miller (7.12 ERA, 5.07 FIP, 5.0 IP/GS).

After being traded to the Dodgers, Bud Norris has pitched in 12 games (9 as a starter). Will he start in the post season for the Dodgers? That question is the enigma. One writer said in no uncertain terms that he should not. Another writer said this start is like an audition for a spot-start in the post season.

Shelby Miller (version 2) returned on 31 August. Since his return, he pitched against the Giants, the Dodgers, and the Rockies – three tough teams. He gave up 12 earned runs in 15.1 innings. He was credited with two losses and a no decision. Chip Hale said his stuff is electric, especially his fastball and cutter. Will he be #2 in the 2017 rotation? That question is the enigma. It is too soon to know for sure, but Shelby Miller (version 2) is a work in progress.

Sunday. Battle of the Rookie vs Diamondbacks’ #2 pitcher. Jose De Leon (4.09 ERA, 5.50 FIP, 5.5 IP/GS) vs Robbie Ray (4.55 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 5.5 IP/GS).

In his first game in the Majors, Jose De Leon struck out 9 and allowed no walks. Although he allowed 3 earned runs in 6 innings, he showed he belongs in the Majors. In his second game he allowed 2 earned runs in 5 innings. He earned a win in both games.

Robbie Ray’s fastball has been very effective and its use increased from 52% in June to 54% in July to 59% in August to 74% in September. He said he is working on improving his curve ball and making progress. That progress is welcome because too many fastballs could allow hitters to wait on a fastball.

Edwin Escobar
Edwin Escobar pitches on 15 August.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Player in the Spotlight

Our player in the spotlight worked on his pitches with Madison Bumgarner. He learned “how you can control your command and the running game.” There are three reasons that it is a miracle that Bumgarner can control his pitches. First, he starts the windup with his back to the hitter (hitter sees numbers on his jersey). Second, he holds his arm 45 degrees out to his side when he releases the baseball. Third, his back foot is dragging on the ground when he releases the baseball - he is standing on one leg when he releases the baseball. Bumgarner must have incredible and amazing techniques to control his pitches – and he shared them with our player in the spotlight. Unfortunately, our player in the spotlight was traded to the Red Sox before he achieved pitch control with consistency.

Our player in the spotlight learned more than just technique from Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner pitches with emotional intensity with each and every pitch. He controls his emotion well. One time he said, “I just wanted to be mad for a minute.” Combine that emotional control with an unusual pitching style, and the result is a batter out of his comfort zone. A lot of that approach rubbed off on our player in the spotlight. One way our player in the spotlight gets batters out of their comfort zone is he pitches mostly away from the batter with no strikes, and moves closer with each increase in strikes. This is especially effective because his fastball and sinker have large horizontal movement, as well as more velocity than most left-handed pitchers.

Our player in the spotlight got to the majors by focusing on his 4-seam fastball. In the 2014 pre-season, Baseball America ranked him the 56th prospect in all of MLB!! Wow – he has a high ceiling! Bruce Bochy, Giants’ manager said his fastball is his best pitch, and he is working on secondary pitches.

However, his pitch control was not consistent, as evidenced by more walks than strike outs. In 2014, he was traded to the Red Sox. In April of 2016, the Diamondbacks claimed him on waivers. The Diamondbacks made a great move to obtain a high ceiling pitcher!

By 2016, our player in the spotlight had added two secondary pitches: sinker and curve. His curve is very effective. Nevertheless, his first two starts for the Diamondbacks went badly. I didn’t see our player in the spotlight for about a month. Was he working on more consistency in his pitch control? On 15 August, he returned as a reliever instead of a starter. Between August 15 and 7 September, he pitched 12.1 innings with 2 earned runs. Finally, he showed his high ceiling! His name is Edwin Escobar.

What do I see since 15 August? The following table shows he has better control when pitching against left handed hitters (LHH). And his curve has four times as many whiffs (swings and misses) against left handed hitters. Finding himself on the right team and in the right position made a world of difference! Like all relievers, he will sometimes have a disappointing game. He has flexibility to make adjustments!

Because he has a great fastball, because he added an effective curve, because he made great strides in consistent pitch control, and because as a relief pitcher he can reach his high ceiling, Edwin Escobar is our player in the spotlight!

Pitch Balls (LHH% / RHH%) Strikes (LHH% / RHH%) Whiffs (LHH% / RHH%)
fastball 24%/35% 37%/29% 11%/12%
sinker 40%/43% 30%/7% 0%/0%
curve 46%/56% 42%/13% 25%/6%