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Series Preview #40: D-backs @ Padres

I’d rather have Goldschmidt than Hosmer!

Eric Hosmer called out at first
Eric Hosmer called out at first
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Eric Hosmer is the clubhouse leader of the Padres rebuild. His stats make me wonder, “Does the emperor have no clothes?”

“I think I was just bad. Bad at-bats. It wasn’t about the ground balls [high at 61% this season], the strikeouts [22% of PAs this season]. It was just me not getting the job done, not driving in runs, not helping this team win.” — Eric Hosmer.

“You look to the D-backs and what Paul Goldschmidt has done, going through a really rough stretch in May. He’s come back with a vengeance. Eric’s had a rough stretch right now, but he’ll come back with a vengeance.” — Andy Green, Padres Manager

Andy Green compared Hosmer’s slump to Paul Goldschmidt’s slump, concluding Hosmer will come back with a vengeance. Huh?! Like Goldschmidt? What is he seeing?

Let’s open our eyes by looking at two comparisons.

First, let’s compare Hosmer this season to previous seasons. Many stats show a trend of generally getting worse each season, such as zone contact %, chase contact %, hard hit %, launch angle, barrel %, whiff % for fastballs, whiff % for breaking balls, and whiff % for off-speed pitches. He has a bigger problem than a slump in July. To illustrate his decline, a few stats follow:

Hosmer Stats in Decline

Year Ground Ball % Strikeout % Hard Hit % Launch Angle Barrel %
Year Ground Ball % Strikeout % Hard Hit % Launch Angle Barrel %
2011 50 15
2012 54 16
2013 53 15
2014 51 17
2015 52 16 41.0 5.4 7.1
2016 59 20 44.7 3.6 9.4
2017 56 16 38.7 3.8 7.0
2018 (9 Aug) 61 22 36.4 -1.2 5.8

Second, let’s compare Hosmer to Goldschmidt.

The comparison is made easier because 2011 was the first year in the Majors for Hosmer and Goldschmidt. Although Hosmer is 2 years younger, as a ground-ball hitter his performance will decline about 2 years sooner than Goldschmidt.

Power Comparison

Power and homeruns are linked. This season, with 4% higher PAs, Goldschmidt has hit more than twice as many homers (24 vs 10). Looking deeper, power is reflected in hard-hit %, launch angle, and barrels. This season, Goldschmidt’s better hard-hit % and average-launch-angle resulted in a huge advantage in barreled batted balls.

Hosmer’s negative average-launch-angle is what caused his high ground-ball-rate.

Power Comparison

Player Homers Hard Hit % Launch Angle Barrel %
Player Homers Hard Hit % Launch Angle Barrel %
Hosmer 10 36.4   -1.2   5.8%
Goldschmidt 24 44.8 14.4 14.5%

On-Base Comparison

On-base-percent is increased by low strikeout %, higher contact rates, and higher BABIP. Hosmer has a lower strikeout rate. This season, the overall contact rates (75.2% and 75.7%) are nearly the same; Hosmer is better in-the-strike-zone, and Goldschmidt is better chasing pitches outside-the-zone. So far, it looks like Hosmer should have the better on-base-% (OBP), but he doesn’t. The explanation is Batting Average for Balls in Play (BABIP). Goldschmidt’s BABIP is much higher, resulting in a much higher OBP. And this season’s BABIP difference was not luck because each player’s BABIP is within 3% of their career average.

On-Base Comparison

player strikeout % contact % BABIP OBP
player strikeout % contact % BABIP OBP
Hosmer 22 75.2 .309 .318
Goldschmidt 26 75.7 .344 .386

Defense Comparison

Hosmer (4 times) and Goldschmidt (3 times) have won gold gloves for their defense. They are both great defenders. Who is better?

Let’s look deeper and compare Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 Games (UZR/150). This season, Goldschmidt is better in both measures. For innings weighted career average the comparison is not close; Goldschmidt is clearly better in both measures.

Outstanding defense is part of the culture on the Diamondbacks team.

“The D-backs’ 108 defensive runs saved (DRS) as of Thursday [9 August] is the most by a team in a single season since Sports Info Solutions began recording the statistic in 2003. That surpassed the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who over their regular season tallied 107 defensive runs saved.” – Kevin Zimmerman

Defense Comparison

player Defensive Runs Saved UZR/150 Career Average of Defensive Runs Saved Career Average of UZR/150
player Defensive Runs Saved UZR/150 Career Average of Defensive Runs Saved Career Average of UZR/150
Hosmer   3  -5.8 -2.4 -3.7
Goldschmidt   4   1.0   7.4   1.6

Comparison Summary

In summary, Goldschmidt hits with more power, gets on base more frequently, and is a better defender (albeit that Hosmer has won four Gold Gloves). Because Hosmer’s stats show a general decline over the years, it is doubtful that he will ever perform at the same level as Goldschmidt.

”I just want him [Hosmer] to be him [Hosmer]. He’s going to have a ton of success when he rights himself. We’re not looking for anything different from him. We didn’t sign him to come and alter his swing.” – Andy Green, Padres Manager

Yet again, the Padres rotation was changed.

They allowed their second and third best starters (Tyson Ross and Jordon Lyles) to be claimed on waivers by the Cardinals and Braves without compensation. They talked about saved salary and the opportunity to promote players from the minors.

  • On 4 August, Walter Locket was recalled to the Majors because Lauer went on the DL. In his start, he allowed 5 earned runs in 5 innings.
  • On 8 August, Brett Kennedy was promoted. In his first start in the Majors, he allowed 6 earned runs in 4 innings.
  • On 10 August, Jacob Nix was promoted. In his first start in the Majors, he allowed zero earned runs in 6 innings. He threw 57 fastballs with an average speed of 94.4 mph, top speed of 96.5 mph. He walked zero batters. He had both velocity and control - very impressive!

Who will pitch in this series?

Thursday. Jacob Nix (0 ERA, 6.0 SO/9, 3.0 BB/9) vs Clay Buchholz (2.67 ERA, 7.7 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9)

Jacob Nix’s best pitch is his fastball. In his second start in the Majors, can Jacob Nix repeat his dominant first start, keeping his zero ERA? Or will D-back hitters find a way to score runs against this rookie?

Clay Buchholz’s best pitch is his cutter. On 9 June, Nick Pollack, FanGraphs, wrote that this season he improved it; it has an extra inch of horizontal movement and it has a consistently better drop. An excerpt from his table follows:

Buchholz’s Cutter, 9 June 2018

Season Useage % O-Swing % Whiff %  
Season Useage % O-Swing % Whiff %  
2016 22.5 32.0 10.9  
2018 21.4 64.5 22.5  
Pollack, FanGraphs

It’s two months later. Let’s re-look at Buchholz’s cutter (source: Brook’s Baseball). His usage has gone up: 33% vs right handed batters and 15% vs left handed batters (23.8% overall). The whiff rate for the cutter has stayed high at 20.54%. The ratio of ground balls to fly balls is 3.0; when the cutter is put in play, it generates a lot of ground balls. In summary, two months later his cutter remains his best pitch!

Friday. Joey Lucchesi (3.45 ERA, 9.4 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9) vs Robbie Ray (4.83 ERA, 11.9 SO/9, 4.6 BB/9)

In his last start, Joey Lucchesi pitched 6 scoreless innings. But Andy Green, Padres Manager, said he did not have his “churve” and his fastball was scattershot. Although he spun it as a positive result that was more impressive than if Lucchesi had his ‘stuff’, the lack of his best ‘stuff’ is potentially good news for the D-backs in this game.

Robbie Ray is consistent in his attitude towards each game. On 11 August against the Reds, he allowed 2 earned runs in 5 innings. After the game he said “You’ve got to take advantage of every part of the schedule. I don’t think this part carries … any more weight.” Like every game, he will pitch his best to win.

Saturday. Clayton Richard (4.98 ERA, 6.1 SO/9, 3.5 BB/9) vs Zack Godley (4.20 ERA, 9.4 SO/9, 4.0 BB/9)

This season, Clayton Richard’s game score has bounced around between 22 and 71, with a season average of 49. On the surface, Clayton Richard continues to pitch as well as he did earlier in the season. Looking deeper, in July and August his rate of strikeouts per inning has dropped a lot - perhaps revealing an underlying problem with pitches being too predictable. The monthly rate is show in the following table:

Clayton Ricard’s Strikeout Rate

Month Strikeout Rate Per Inning
Month Strikeout Rate Per Inning
April 0.77
May 0.87
June 0.70
July 0.43
August 0.38
Data from Baseball Reference

In his last three starts, Zack Godley has been red-hot. He has pitched 21 innings, allowed 3 earned runs, struck out 23, and walked 3. If his hot streak continues, this game is huge advantage D-backs!

Sunday. TBA, maybe Brett Kennedy (11.0 ERA, 5.0 SO/9, 1.0 BB/9) vs Zack Greinke (3.00 ERA, 9.1 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9)

The Padres starter is to be announced. Brett Kennedy has started 2 games in the Majors. His spot in the rotation will pitch in this game. The question is, “Will he start this game?”

Zack Greinke started the season with a streak of 5 games in which he allowed 1 or more homeruns. In his most recent 5 games, he matched that streak. This streak is different because this time he allowed 7 less earned runs. I am confident that Greinke will make any necessary adjustments and continue to pitch like Greinke!