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Series Preview # 47: D-backs @ Giants

Can D-backs win the final five series of the season? Round six will be the wild-card play-in game!

Rocky Balboa - UK Film Premiere
Rocky Balboa - UK Film Premiere
Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images


The Giants have been eliminated from the Division race and from the wildcard race. As a non-contender, they are evaluating players for next season. MLB Trade rumors had an excellent article about their three needs – outfield offense and defense, a dependable mid-rotation starter, and infield depth especially at third base.

The Giants need offense – in all positions. With Brandon Belt out for the season, their only above-average hitter is their catcher, Buster Posey.

The Giants need outfield defense. Their starting outfielders, Gorkys Hernandez, Denard Span, and Hunter Pence have negative defensive WARs. Jarrett Parker has played in 36 games, and has a positive 0.4 defensive WAR. He hit a homerun on 10 September. He is earning a role for next season.

The Giants’ aces are Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, both of whom are back after injuries. Next season, it is likely the Giants will exercise options to keep Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Matt Moore. With Johnny Cueto’s likely return, that leaves a competition for one starter position.

In July, Eduardo Nunez was traded to the Red Sox. He played with energy and passion. Now, Pablo Sandoval (the Panda) plays third base. Recently, he has played good defense. He hit very well from August 18-25. After that, he has 2 hits including a homer on 8 September. Because both Nunez and the Panda are free agents next season, it is possible that they will return to the Giants.

Rookie Ryder Jones plays first base and third base. After one season in AA, and 64 games in AAA, he jumped to the Majors, and he may not be fully ready to play at the top level.

Rookie Christian Arroyo plays third base and shortstop. After one season in AA, and 25 games in AAA, he jumped to the Majors, and he may not be fully ready to play at the top level.


Five series remain to be played in the regular season. Currently, the D-backs are in first place in the wild card race. I hope the D-backs have done enough evaluating players for the postseason and the team can now focus on winning games. As the postseason approaches, making a habit out of winning is the best course of action. Against the Giants, I predict a series win.

Pitching Matchups

Friday. Robbie Ray (169 ERA+, 12.3 SO/9, 4.0 BB/9) vs Jeff Samardzija (95 ERA+, 9.0 SO/9, 1.4 BB/9)

This season, Jeff Samardzija’s pitching was not consistent. I sorted his starts into 3 bins - disaster, average, and excellent. The results were: 21% disaster, 45% average, 34% excellent. His best start was a complete game shutout against the Padres. The D-backs are a much better team than the Padres.

In general, Robbie Ray has been great in road games. On the road, he pitched against the Giants three times, allowing 3 earned runs in 17.2 innings.

Robbie Ray’s strikeouts per 9 innings of 12.25 ranks #2 in the Majors. Robbie Ray’s hits per 9 innings of 6.3 ranks #3 in the Majors. I am confident that the D-backs will win this game!

Saturday. Zack Greinke (159 ERA+, 9.7 SO/9, 1.9 BB/9) vs Madison Bumgarner (120 ERA+, 8.4 SO/9, 1.7 BB/9)

Madison Bumgarner is the Giants’ ace. September was different. He allowed 11 earned runs in 11 innings. Perhaps he has lingering effects from the flu. Will he keep “leaving cutters over the plate,” as he did against the White Sox? I disagree with Grant Brisbee’s prediction that Bumgarner’s start against the D-backs will be more fun. Instead, I predict that the D-backs will score 6 runs or more, just like the White Sox.

In his last start, Zack Greinke allowed 2 earned runs in 7 innings. A bad surprise is that he did not earn a win, which would have tied him with Randy Johnson for most wins at Chase Field in a season. He will pitch one or two more home games.

Looking at this season, Zack Greinke’s strikeouts per walk ratio of 5.0 ranks #6 in the Majors, and his FIP of 3.11 ranks #8 in the Majors. Likely, he will pitch well this game.

Sunday. Taijuan Walker (144 ERA+, 8.1 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9) vs Chris Stratton (105 ERA+, 8.1 SO/9, 4.9 BB/9)

Adding last season to this season, Chris Stratton pitched a total of 52 innings in the Majors. This season, he was called up for two starts when Bumgarner was injured. In July he started once. On 5 August, he became a semi-regular, starting an average of every 8 days. He is competing for the fifth spot in next season’s rotation, therefore he will be challenging the D-back hitters. Working against him is that his walks per 9 innings is higher than all the other Giants’ starters.

In his last start, Taijuan Walker allowed 2 earned runs in 6 innings. A good surprise is that only 1 base-runner scored while 7 base-runners were stranded. For the season, Walker’s left-on-base percentage is 75.8%. Looking at this season, Taijuan Walker has a career best ERA+ and a career best Base-Out-Runs-Saved (RE-24). Likely, he will earn a win this game.

Mental Habit of the Series: Know Your Adversaries

All baseball players have habits, performance characteristics, and typical mistakes. “A lot of guys are mistake hitters,” and players “have to be stubborn, understand what [they] are good at and wait for an opponent mistake that gives [players] an opportunity to do what [they] are good at,” game broadcasters at 2 Sept D-backs vs Rockies game. There are several ways to obtain and analyze that information.

Traditionally, scouts obtain information about other baseball players and their teams. Some players, like JD Martinez prefer personal observation. With a notebook, he makes notes in his own words so nothing is lost in translation.

It is common for players to watch video. It can provide clues to what they are doing well or badly. It can provide information about what to expect from other players. Especially valuable would be noticing whether pitchers “tip” their pitches.

Automated data collection and analysis is a modern way to collect data. PITCH f/x uses cameras to track pitches, and then it calculates speed, trajectory, and location. More powerful than PITCH f/x, Statcast uses radar and high-resolution camera to track the ball and player movements. It collects a gigantic amount of data. It’s potential is only beginning to be tapped. Daren William of said, “…It’s just about asking the right questions….”

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that some Statcast data is available to fans. A Statcast leaderboard for HR distance, exit velocity, and pitch velocity is at this link.

A sortable search of the Statcast database is available at this link.

Although we are talking about know your adversary, as an example of what might be possible, I will use the Statcast leaderboard to compare some D-back hitters. The question in my mind was, “How do the hitters compare on two measures (percentage of exit velocities 95+ mph, and percentage of barrels)?”

D-back Hitters: 95+ mph and Barrels for 2017

player 95+ mph barrels
player 95+ mph barrels
Goldschmidt 47.50% 50%
JD Martinez 45.80% 46%
Lamb 36.40% 32%
Iannetta 35.20% 15%
AJ Pollock 38.70% 14%
Tomas  48.70% 13%
Herrmann  38.70% 12%
Descalso 31.40% 11%
Marte 34.40% 3%

What could I do with this data? Knowing that Goldschmidt is the gold standard, I have two insights from this season’s data. First, JD Martinez stats are almost as good as Goldschmidt. Therefore, I hope the D-backs sign JD Martinez next season. Second, if Tomas could improve his barrels, his two stats could be as almost as good as Goldschmidt.

I looked deeper into the data to explore what happened with Tomas. Between 2 April and 2 June, I looked at batted balls with exit velocity exceeding 98 mph, and found that for every hit with exit angle too high to qualify for “barrel”, there were about 5 hits with exit angle too low (caveat: I manually estimated barrel zone angles for each exit velocity so I may have introduced some inaccuracy). My conclusion is that if Tomas could increase his exit angles, he would be a better hitter.

The D-backs are restructuring their scouting department. In the context of not renewing the 2018 contracts of 5 scouts in a 20-man department, Porter said the Dbacks will have a larger scouting staff next year. It would not surprise me to discover that the restructure of the scouting department will leverage information from Statcast to provide actionable information to the players, coaches, and managers.

“Teams are incorporating the Statcast numbers into fancy simulations to evaluate prospective acquisitions;…” RJ Anderson, 6 June 2017. It would not surprise me if the D-backs use Statcast data to decide which players, if acquired, would make a high impact.

Success on the field includes being open to actionable information, awareness of the game situation in the context of the actionable information, and mental strength characteristics such as stubbornness, patience, and perseverance.

In summary, we have talked about sources of information about your adversaries, the importance of actionable information, and mental traits needed to use actionable information. The mental habit of the series is know your adversaries.