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Series Preview #16: D-backs @ Brewers

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The red-hot D-backs have won 8 of their last 9 games, while the Brewers have won 5 of their last 9 games.

Eric Thames is back from Korea
Eric Thames is back from Korea
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

BREWERS

Who is new? Ten Brewers were acquired after the end of the last season.

Eric Thames was released by the Astros in 2013 so he could play baseball in Korea. He became a huge star while playing in Korea. Gold glove and MVP honors framed his strongest skill – hitting homers and RBIs. This season is his first year back in the Majors. He plays first base.

New starters include Travis Shaw, third base, and Jeff Bandy, catcher.

New bench players include Eric Sogard, Jesus Aguilar, and Nick Franklin.

In May, Paublo Espino made a spot start. He was signed in November 2016.

New bullpen pitchers include closer Neftali Feliz, Oliver Drake, and Jared Hughes.

Which Brewers are stars? The Brewers are fourth in the majors in runs scored. Their

best hitter is Eric Thames. Their second best hitter is Ryan Braun, who recently returned from the DL. They did not trade him before he gained full 5 & 10 no trade rights, so it looks like they are going for it this season instead of rebuilding. The best two starters are Matt Garza, and former D-back Chase Anderson. The bullpen is great, although their closer, Neftali Feliz, has a high ERA. They could be contenders for the post-season, if they fix their big weakness.

What is their weakness? The rotation is weak, except Matt Garza. And so far, every starter averages less than 6 innings per game. In May, the Brewers shook up their rotation by moving Wily Peralta to the bullpen, designating for assignment Tommy Milone (their only left-handed starter, who was selected off waivers by the Mets), and on 19 May Paolo Espino made his debut in the Majors. Zack Davies remains in the rotation despite not being much better than Wily Peralta.

DIAMONDBACKS

Pitching continues to be the big story of the season. The D-backs rank #1 in the Majors with an ERA+ of 129. The rotation core of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Patrick Corbin remains strong. After the Shelby Miller injury, Zack Godley has pitched very well. With Taijuan Walker temporarily out with a blister, I hope pitching depth sustains the team. The bullpen has pitched well enough that people are noticing. Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Jorge De La Rosa, JJ Hoover, TJ McFarland, Randall Delgado, and Tom Wilhelmsen all have an ERA+ over 100 (and half over 200). And Fernando Rodney has 10 saves with only 2 blown.

Let’s compare Diamondbacks pitching and Brewers pitching through 22 May. The Brewers allowed 14% more runs. What are possible causes? Brewers allowed 25% more hits, walked 7% more batters, and struck out 18% less batters (Baseball Reference). The Brewers have a 70% success rate in steals, and the D-backs have a 79 success rate in steals (Team Rankings.com). In summary, the D-backs will hit better, walk more, strikeout less, and have more success stealing.

The pitching matchups favor the D-backs! Let’s look at them.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday. Robbie Ray (119 ERA+, 11.0 SO/9, 4.9 BB/9) vs Zach Davies (82 ERA+, 7.2 SO/9, 3.7 BB/9).

Robbie Ray out-guns (ray-gun pun intended) Zach Davies in ERA+, SO/9, and BB/9. In Ray’s last start, he pitched 7.2 innings with zero earned runs.

In May, Zach Davies reduced cutters from 14% to 6% of his pitches, possibly because batters have a better batting average(.667) and better isolated power (1.333) compared to his other pitches. This game will be played in Miller Park. In 2017 batters hit better against Davies in Miller Park than other stadiums (BA .343 vs .263, and OPS .955 vs .857). All things considered, I predict D-backs galactically win this game.

Friday. Zack Godley (190 ERA+, 7.0 SO/9, 3.5 BB/9) vs Junior Guerra (2016= 153 ERA+, 7.4 SO/9, 3.2 BB/9)

Zack Godley regressed in his last start. He struck out 1 instead of his usual 6-7, and he allowed three earned runs in 7 innings. Nevertheless, he is giving the D-backs chances to win games. I’m confident he belongs in the rotation as the number 5 starter.

In his first start of the season, Junior Guerra injured his calf muscle executing a sacrifice bunt. This game will be his second start of the season. Although he pitched well last season, there is little evidence of it in his first start with 2 earned runs in 3 innings. I would be surprised if D-back hitters fail to feast this game.

Saturday. Zack Greinke (164 ERA+, 10.5 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9) vs Chase Anderson (105 ERA+, 7.6 SO/9, 3.5 BB/9).

In many ways, Zack Greinke is pitching the best he ever has. He is an ace pitcher that fans dream of!

Former D-back Chase Anderson has great self-confidence. On the other hand, in May his season ERA has risen in every game, and is now at 4.25. Self confidence will not be enough to win this game.

Sunday. Patrick Corbin (106 ERA+, 7.4 SO/9, 2.5 BB/9) vs Jimmy Nelson (107 ERA+, 8.0 SO/9, 2.9 BB/9).

In May, Patrick Corbin has allowed more homeruns per game (1.75). In his last game, my impression was that balls in play were hard hit. However, Fangraphs shows his hard hit percentage is 34.9%, which is as good or better than other D-backs starters. Another possibility is his slider. Comparing May to April, his slider is less effective in batting average (.400 vs .157), and isolated power (.400 vs .039). Maybe his slider can be fixed.

Last season, Jimmy Nelson led the National League in both walks and hit batters. Although his control improved this season, I would rest Paul Goldschmidt in this game. The pitching matchup is even, even so I predict the D-backs win this game.

State of the Season

Very soon, GM Mike 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 48 games, the Dbacks have 29 wins. Wins outnumber losses by 10 games!

2. Injuries. In the first 48 games, there were 5 significant injuries - Shelby Miller, AJ Pollock, David Peralta, Chris Iannetta, and Taijuan Walker. Peralta and Iannetta are back in the lineup. With Zack Godley pitching well, the loss of Miller has not hurt the post-season chances.

3. Callups. In the first 48 games, beyond the bullpen, there were 4 callups. Zack Godley is now in the rotation, Shipley made a spot start, and outfielders Reymond Fuentes & Gregor Blanco.

Mental Habit of the Series: Shoshin

Eric Thames is awesome. A combination of his opportunity to play in Korea, his mental habits, and his innate skill resulted in remarkable success. Eric Thames is a lodestone of good mental habits. Today, I will talk about a habit that aptly describes him playing baseball in Korea - Shoshin.

Shoshin is complex. Shoshin is an attitude of openness, eagerness, lack of preconceptions, and seeing “many possibilities” even at an advanced level. Eric Thames was open and eager to playing in Korea. One example of seeing many possibilities is developing new ways of hitting because the pitching in Korea is fundamentally different - mostly off-speed pitches with movement.

Is Shoshin easy? No, for many reasons.

It requires a distinction between “I have learned one way of doing something,” and “I have learned the best way of doing something.”

It requires overcoming a natural tendency to look for information that matches current beliefs and behaviors.

It requires curiosity and listening instead of contributing your ideas and winning arguments.

It requires self-awareness and personal-discipline to temporarily set-aside what one has learned and achieved.

Some have achieved it by an attitude of “I am an idiot,” despite an attitude of gratitude for their success.

Shoshin is applied to baseball beyond Eric Thames.

When other teams learn a successful baseball player’s strengths, weakness, and tendencies, other teams adjust to limit that success. Continued success requires developing new ways of playing that are effective against the adjustments. This common situation shows how an attitude of openness to many possibilities increases success.

The last few seasons, I have noticed much shifting of position by the D-backs defenders.

Shifting shows a way to benefit from questioning the preconception that there is only one place for each fielder to be.

Chris Owings, who had not played outfield since little league, quickly developed into a playable outfielder. This new possibility worked out well for the team and gave Chris Owings more playing time. This is an example of the advantage of eagerness to play baseball, and an openness to learn how to play a different position at the highest level.

Shoshin is complex and it is not easy. Nevertheless, it is a key to successful baseball. Shoshin is the mental habit of the series.