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Series Preview # 29: D-backs vs Padres

Will consistent scoring and better defense win the series for the D-backs?

Submariner Kazuhisa Makita
Submariner Kazuhisa Makita
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Submarine pitchers

Before 1872, overhand pitching violated the rules of baseball. By 1884, that restriction was gone. As the distance between the mound and home plate increased from 45 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches, the advantages of overhand pitching increased.

Submarine pitching never fully disappeared from the game of baseball. Rany Jazayerli revealed that a high ground ball rate is the secret of their success. Their ground ball rate is high because:

  • Instead of the usual spin from overhand pitchers, submariners have top spin which tends to cause the ball to come off the bat headed downward.
  • Submariner pitches are usually low in the zone, with lower velocity.
  • Submariner mix of pitches usually excludes pitches that have high fly ball rates, such as breaking pitches.

Instead of applying usual metrics to compare submariners, a different metric is more on-target. Jarvis Greiner developed Quality of Pitch (QOP) to measure the quality of pitches using PITCHf/x data. It combines location, movement and velocity to calculate effectiveness on a scale from minus-10 to plus-10

Submarine pitchers are rare in the Majors, especially the great ones. This season, the Padres have two of them!

Kuzuhisa Makita has an extremely low release point and some of his pitches rise as they travel to home plate. His unusual style of pitching is fascinating and well worth seeing. Although this season his fastball has averaged a relatively slow 81.5 mph, he has pitched well. His QOP is 5.31, which is in the great range.

Adam Cimber’s submarine pitch delivery is unique because his feet are pigeon toed with his lead foot pointing towards center field. His unusual delivery is a rare sight. His pitches break near the plate when it’s too late for the batter to react. On 20 April, Dennis Lin of the Athletic wrote, “Cimber’s average score of 6.64 ranks first among major leaguers who have thrown at least 100 pitches.” And he continued to pitch well in May and June. On 3 July, his QOP score had risen to 6.76.

Does Kirby Yates have an un-hittable splitter?

Kirby Yates, in his fourth season in the Majors, was concerned that his career was drawing to a close. Although he usually relied on his slider as a secondary pitch, he said “at times my slider wasn’t good [meaning it got hit hard].” He had developed a splitter, but was “afraid” to use it in the Majors. Half-way through his fourth season, he reached a crisis point. As he described it, “At some point, you have to do something different…” So, he revealed his new pitch! “…when I throw my good one I get swings and misses.…”

Statcast shows his splitter is nearly un-hittable!

  • 2017, 104 split finger pitches, no hits
  • 2018, 174 split finger pitches, 8 singles

This season his stats are amazingly better than last season:

  • His fly ball rate dropped from 56.2% to 29.1%
  • His ground-ball rate increased from 28.9% to 50.6%.
  • His FIP fell from 3.92 to 2.14
  • His ERA fell from 3.97 to 0.79

Padres manager Green said, “Yeah, Kirby’s been ridiculous really. The fastball-up combo and the split-down has been lethal on just about everybody. … Drops the slider in when he wants to too, so it’s not just a two-pitch mix.”

Baseball is fun, especially for a Kauai native like Kirby Yates. He was featured in an article in Honolulu Star Advertiser. He said, “It’s a fraternity, it’s a brotherhood (for everyone from Hawaii). The only time you don’t want anyone to do well is when you’re facing them, but even then, it’s pretty fun.” Being a winner feels good.

How do Diamondbacks Compare to Padres?

Let’s look at unearned runs. This season, the D-backs are excellent defenders and have allowed fewer unearned runs (19 vs 36). In unearned runs, the D-backs rank 4th in the Majors while the Padres rank 28th in the Majors (Source Baseball Reference, 2 July).

Let’s look at Elo ratings, a measure of each team’s strength based on head-to-head results, margin of victory, and quality of opponent. The D-backs have the better rating (1531) compared to the Padres (1455). provides odds of D-backs winning each game of this series, which range from 60% to 65%.

Let’s look at wins/losses in June. D-backs won twice as many games as they lost (19 wins to 9 losses). This compares to the Padres of winning less than losing (12 wins to 15 losses). This is important because winning becomes a habit, just like losing becomes a habit.

Let’s look at consistency of scoring. During June, the median of runs scored was 5 for the D-backs and 3 for the Padres. Two more measures of consistent scoring:

  • Low end. The D-backs are better with at least 2 runs scored in 25/28 games, compared to the Padres with 22/27 games.
  • High end. The D-backs are better with at least 6 runs scored in 13 games, compared to the Padres with 5 games.

Who will be the fifth starter in the Padres rotation?

The four solid rotation spots are veterans Richard and Ross (with 263 career starts for the Padres) and rookies Lauer and Lucchesi. Who will be the fifth starter?

Perdomo has 53 career starts for the Padres, but this season is different. In April he pitched against the Dodgers, allowing 7 earned runs in 3 innings. Padres manager Andy Green said, “This is Major League Baseball. You’ve got to pitch better than that.”

Perdomo was sent to the minors. He relies on two pitches – a sinker and a slider – for 80 to 90% of his pitches. Perhaps if he could rely on a third pitch it would improve his success as a starter.

With Perdomo absent, four bullpen pitchers have appeared in the rotation. Lyles and Mitchell have started 15 games with ERAs as starters of 4.79 and 6.47. Currently, they are on the DL with an inflamed elbow and elbow tendonitis. Erlin started 2 games with an ERA over 14.

Strahm started 5 games with an ERA as a starter of 1.32, albeit with an average of 2.2 innings per game. Strahm’s curveball has improved. Last season, Patrick Brennan wrote that it was released too high and thrown too hard. This season, Travis Sawchik, FanGraphs, wrote, “His curveball ranks 15th in called-strike rate among pitchers to have thrown at least 20 curveballs this season (57%).”

Who will occupy the fifth spot in the rotation? On 3 July, Padres manager Andy Green said, “We are excited to have Perdomo back.” He said Perdomo will explore different quadrants of the strike zone. Also, he said Jordan Lyles was not ready. How long will Perdomo be back? It depends on: how well he pitches and when Lyles is ready.

Who will pitch in this series?

Thursday. Eric Lauer (133 ERA-, 7.8 SO/9, 3.0 BB/9) vs Shelby Miller (284 ERA-, 11.4 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9)

Rookie Eric Lauer has been working on his off-speed and secondary pitches. In June, he pitched 32 innings with an ERA of 2.76.

This game is huge for Miller. His last two games had disappointing results. Did he come back too soon? Perhaps he has reached a tipping point. A decision needs to be made whether to keep him in the rotation. The bullpen is an alternative that might give him a better chance to succeed.

Friday. Joey Lucchesi (85 ERA-, 9.3 SO/9, 3.6 BB/9) vs Zack Godley (126 ERA-, 9.0 SO/9, 4.9 BB/9)

Rookie Joey Lucchesi has a unique delivery. Whitney McIntosh, SB Nation, wrote that Lucchesi has a multi-step delivery that starts with him pointing his straight arms toward the sky, and it takes 12 seconds to complete.

“Zack [Godley] always has a certain point during the game where he catches a big tailwind and he can knock off two or three innings quickly.” Torey Lovullo

Saturday. Tyson Ross (99 ERA-, 8.1 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9) vs Robbie Ray (121 ERA-, 13.5 SO/9, 4.7 BB/9)

Tyson Ross has overcome injuries. In June, Tyson Ross said, “I put in the work in the off-season and I kind of found my way, and I felt like the pitcher I used to be.” In June, he pitched 29.1 innings with an ERA of 3.375. He will likely bounce back from his start against the Pirates on 1 July, when he allowed 7 earned runs in 5 innings.

Robbie Ray is back from his oblique injury. He did much of his rehab work in the pool. He will likely bounce back from his start against the Cardinals, when he allowed 6 earned runs in 5 innings.

Sunday. To be Announced vs Zack Greinke (83 ERA-, 9.2 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9)

In June, after the game against the Marlins, Torey Lovullo said, “He [Zack Greinke] gave us 7 incredible innings, he was in control just about every inning...” Zack Greinke said, “It was good. Everything was good - threw a lot of strikes and made some really good plays defensively...”