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Series Preview # 12: D-backs vs Pirates

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images


Who is New? Relief Pitcher Johnny Barbato, and two former D-backs, Phil Gosselin and Daniel Hudson have joined the Pirates. On 4 May, Phil Gosselin was in last place in a 3-way competition for the second base position. On 9 May, he was optioned to AAA Indianapolis.

Pirates Competing for Second Base

player OPS+ UZR/150
player OPS+ UZR/150
Gift Ngoepe 199 16.7
Alen Hanson 67 -11.4
Phil Gosselin -13 -15.6

Which Pirates are stars?

Their best hitter, David Freese, has an OPS+ of 151 and is on the DL. Their bullpen is great, especially closer Tony Watson. He has an ERA on 1.32 in 13.2 innings pitched, and 7 saves with 1 blown. Their best starter is Ivan Nova who has an ERA of 2.23 in 48.1 innings.

What is their weakness?

Depth is low. Nine Pirates are suspended, restricted, on DL, or optioned to minors. Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games. Jung-ho Kang is on the restricted list. David Freese, Adam Frazier, Antonio Bastardo, and Jameson Taillon are injured or seriously ill. Danny Ortez, Elias Diaz, and Phil Gosselin were optioned to the minors. On 8 May, Trevor Williams made his first start of the season, allowing 6 earned runs in 3 innings.


The D-backs starting pitching is outstanding! Although the overall difference is not huge, the D-backs pitch better than Pirates, ranking 5th vs 12th in ERA+ on 10 May. The Pirates have one great starting pitcher (Ivan Nova) who will likely pitch in this series, and a great bullpen.

Better offense will win the series for the D-backs. On May 10, D-backs’ runs ranked 9th vs 29th for the Pirates. This is a huge difference. In April, the D-backs averaged 5.0 runs per game. The caveat is that so far in May, the average is 3.5 runs per game. I hope it was a temporary drop due to flu and perhaps playing players with stronger defense.

D-backs have better depth. Although Shelby Miller is out for the season, and the flu has made some D-backs sick, nearly all players are healthy and ready to play. The Pirates are in worse shape.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday. Zack Greinke (148 ERA+, 9.7 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9) vs Gerrit Cole (136 ERA+, 8.8 SO/9, 1.9 BB/9).

This game could be a pitching duel. Zack Greinke is pitching very well this season! One example is that in May, his groundball-percentage for fastballs-in-play is 50%, which is near his monthly best. The only two months of the season as good were May 2012 (50%) and July 2011(52%). Zack Greinke has a slight edge over Gerrit Cole, which is balanced by the Pirates excellent bullpen.

Gerrit Cole has a blazing fastball and is a groundball pitcher. In May of the previous two seasons, his groundball-percentage fell for fastballs-in-play. This season, his groundball-percentage for fastballs-in-play fell from 46% in April to 20% in May. In Chase field, this translates to D-backs’ homeruns. D-backs winning this game will set-the-table for a series sweep.

Friday. Patrick Corbin (117 ERA+, 7.6 SO/9, 2.7 BB/9) vs Tyler Glasnow (68 ERA+, 9.3 SO/9, 6.3 BB/9).

Corbin has been great this season, with an ERA+ of 164 before his last game in Colorado. That game was rocky. I am confident Corbin will bounce back.

Tyler Glasnow walks a lot of batters. With rare exceptions, the D-backs excel in base-running. The extra men on base will likely make this a high scoring game for the D-backs.

Saturday. Taijuan Walker (119 ERA+, 9.0 SO/9, 2.7 BB/9) vs Trevor Williams(55 ERA+, 7.4 SO/9, 4.9 BB/9)TBD. Trevor Williams made a spot start in the last cycle through the rotation. Due to Despite his six earned runs in 3 innings, it is unlikely he starts this game. Does an AAA pitcher to start this game for Pittsburgh? Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, and Tyler Eppler are possibilities. Maybe a reliever like Josh Lindblom could start and an all-reliever game could happen.

Taijuan Walker will likely have a lot of run support. He can pitch with confidence! Although the Pirates have a great bullpen, I predict the game will be in-the-bag before the bullpen enters the game.

Sunday. Robbie Ray (111 ERA+, 12.4 SO/9, 5.0 BB/9) vs Ivan Nova (192 ERA+, 5.4 SO/9, 0.6 BB/9). The Pirates’ pitcher has not been announced and may change.

This pitching matchup will provide insight about the relative value of walks and strikeouts! This will be a battle between a high strikeout pitcher (Corbin), and a pitcher that has only walked one batter this season (Nova). Not walking batters may not be valuable because the D-backs have not been walking very much. Because the game is played at Chase, I look to the D-backs to score many runs, even without any walks. On the other hand, can the Pirates hit enough home-runs to outweigh their strikeouts? Not likely.

State of the Season

When 1 June arrives, GM Hazen will start to look ahead and make decisions. The most important decisions are whether to teardown/rebuild the D-backs, and whether to go all-in this season. Within that context, the following three points could support his decision.

1. Wins. In the first 35 games, the Dbacks have 19 wins. I continue to have confidence that this season’s D-backs play in the post-season.

2. Injuries. In the first 35 games, there was 1 significant injury - Shelby Miller.

3. Callups. In the first 35 games, beyond the bullpen, there were 3 callups. Zack Godley made a spot start, Shipley made a spot start, and Gregor Blanco has played in the outfield.

Mental Habit of the Series: Celebration

Nearly everybody has attended a party and had fun. Although many parties are called celebrations, a real celebration is more than a party. When I am pleased with myself, I joyously dance around the room. It gets the message to my whole self. It reveals my internal motivation and it tells me that my words/actions were successful.

While my life is relatively simple, a baseball player’s life is not simple. More specifically, players experience two types of motivation – external and internal. External motivation impacts internal motivation.

1) Major League baseball players receive huge salaries and bonuses. Money is an external motivation, which can reduce a player’s internal love-of-the-game motivation. In studies, external “overjustification” was shown to reduce internal motivation.

2) The D-backs’ team goal is to win games. This is a worthy goal. However beating

another team is an external motivation, which can reduce a player’s internal joy-in-the-game motivation. Interestingly, I perceived that losing games can reduce motivation, too.

3) Major League players receive high social status, and they can receive praise from coaches. These are external motivators. Therefore, they can weaken a player’s internal motivation.

So, what can be done to strengthen players’ internal motivation against an onslaught of external motivations? Celebration!

Steve Gilbert’s article revealed how D-backs celebrate in the clubhouse after winning a game.

Dance with a spinning disco ball and music. Steve Gilbert wrote, “There is also apparently quite a bit of dancing that goes on before the media is allowed in after wins.” What do I think of dancing? Most exceedingly excellent!

Play H-O-R-S-E with a 7 foot high basketball hoop. Most appropriate if the opponent has donkeys on their team!

Taijuan Walker said, "We've got a ping pong table coming, too. We wanted to get some stuff in here so everyone can just be loose and have fun after a win. Just try to keep everyone here to enjoy the wins and do some team bonding."

Torey Lovello said, "I love that stuff as long as there's a separation and it's the right time and the right moment. They work hard and they're very focused. When you win

the game, we need to celebrate that moment. … I just know that I see Tom Wilhelmsen dancing a lot… .”

Did I write some great stuff?! It’s time for me to celebrate completing another series preview!