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Series Preview # 29 : D-backs vs Rockies

How will the wild-card quests unfold for the Rockies and D-backs?

Catalyst Eduardo Escobar.
Catalyst Eduardo Escobar.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The trade deadline approaches. The season hangs in the balance.

Will the D-backs acquire a player to boost chances of a wild-card berth? Instead, will they trade to improve future seasons?

“One rival executive said the feel he received from Diamondbacks decision-makers is that they are still on the fence and might wait until after the All-Star break to commit to a course.” — Zach Buchanan, 30 June

In other words, they were on-the-fence when FIVE games remained before the All-Star break.

The D-backs played a two games series against the Dodgers. Game one was one Dodger whiff away from a D-back win. Instead it ended in a loss because of an improbable series of FIVE walks to end the game. Did that loss make the question easier to answer? Apparently not. The next morning, Mike Hazen made it clear that he was frustrated and that he remained on the fence:

“...[the D-backs] played what I felt like was one of our best baseball games all season...Torey managed perfectly, pushed all the right buttons in the bullpen...[our young pitchers went] against probably the best lineup in baseball, and [were] not phased.”

“Clarity is clearly the easiest path...This is far muddier waters. But that’s alright. It’s what we have to do. This wasn’t supposed to be easy, or to make easy decisions all the time.”

“The challenge is you can’t lose your way to a playoff spot. We need to start taking control if we are going to be in this with any degree of assuredness.”

How specifically did he say to do that? Play better, finish off games, knock starters out of the game, consistent offense from day to day, and win games. He said catching was solid. He said offense was pretty good and pushing for consistency. It sounded like the D-backs are half-way there. Upon reflection, half way there is on the fence.

Game two was just as close as the first game. The Dodgers tied the game in the ninth, and then won in the tenth.

The Rockies series will make a HUGE difference. If the D-backs sweep, it’s game-on to immediately improve the team. If the D-backs lose the series, it helps the Rockies gain a wild card berth at the expense of the D-backs.

History repeats, both for the D-backs and the Rockies. A year ago in June, Nolan Arenado said something that applies to both teams this year:

“They’re in an awkward position. They’re probably wondering. They probably don’t know how to approach it right now. Only we know how to approach it and that’s winning ballgames. Hopefully we can put the pressure on them [Rockies] to go get guys. The more we win, the more they’re going to have to make a move.” — Nolan Arenado

Eduardo Escobar is surprisingly good.

One position player, Ketel Marte (2B), from the D-backs made the All-Star game. Four Rockies were chosen – Nolan Arenado(3B), Trevor Story(SS), Charlie Blackmon(RF), and David Dahl(RF).

The difference (4 vs 1) was surprising because the D-back position players rank 5th with positive 4.8 WAA while the Rockies rank 23rd with negative 3.8 WAA. After the fans picked the starters, players and managers picked position-player reserves and pitchers.

“I feel very strongly that he [Escobar] should be strongly, strongly considered. What he’s done for this team as far as being a leader isn’t measured. I know they measure things in numbers. It’s a no-brainer for me. He’s done it all year long. He plays great defense and he’s been a catalyst for this ballclub.” — Torey Lovullo

Do the numbers outweigh the intangibles that Torey talked about? Let’s compare a few numbers for Eduardo Escobar and Kris Bryant. Escobar has 50% more RBIs, Bryant has 4% higher OPS and 10% higher WPA. Although this season Bryant has a higher UZR/150 at third base, looking at two seasons shows that Escobar’s defense was more consistently excellent. The numbers are not compelling enough to outweigh the intangibles. Escobar would have been the better pick.

Comparing Escobar and Bryant

Player OPS RBIs UZR/150(2018 & 2019) WPA
Player OPS RBIs UZR/150(2018 & 2019) WPA
Eduardo Escobar 0.893 64 +2.3 & +2.0 1.45
Kris Bryant 0.933 42 -4.5 & +4.7 1.59
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs

All-Star Nolan Arenado is amazing.

Against the D-backs on June 18, his 5 PAs resulted in a homer, a double, a single, a walk, and a strikeout (WPA of 27.7%). This season he hit very well against the D-backs (with positive WPA in 8 of 10 games). His defense was extraordinary, although he made a rare throwing error in that D-back game (which did not result in any runs).

Defense: He has won 6 Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. Even better than gold gloves are platinum gloves. The best Gold Glover in each league is awarded a platinum glove – Nolan has won the platinum glove twice. His defense is Hall-of-Fame.

Offense: He has won 4 silver slugger awards. His batting WPA was >10% for 7 games in Mar/April, 10 games in May, and 4 games in June. His June drop may be explained by twice he fouled a ball off his big toe.

His offense performance is great but it can be streaky. Last season he had two streaks without hitting a homer (12-games and 14-games). This season started with a 15-game streak. “It [the streak] was frustrating. I don’t like being a bad baseball player.” Nolan Arenado.

Beyond hitting approach and technique, hitting involves an intuitive mastery. “I like to hit. If I don’t feel right, …I’m going to try to find a way to get right.” Nolan Arenado.

Nolan Arenado will play with Ketel Marte in the All Star game. Both players are young. Sincerely I hope Arenado shares his wisdom.

Who will pitch in this series?

Friday. Antonio Senzatela (110 ERA+, 5.2 SO/9, 4.3 BB/9) vs Zack Greinke (155 ERA+, 7.7 SO/9, 1.2 BB/9)

In his last start, Antonio Senzatela experience bad luck and good luck. While he kept the Dodgers to 2 earned runs, they scored an additional 3 unearned runs, leaving him likely be tagged with the loss as he walked off the field with the score 2-5 against a great pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu. The bad luck promptly changed. At the bottom of the inning, Garrett Hampson led off with a double. When Pat Valaika pinch hit for Senzatela, Valaika hit a homer. By the end of the fourth inning, the Rockies led 10-5, leaving Senzatela very likely to be tagged with the win, which he was.

Antonio Senzatela will again face a future Hall-of-Fame pitcher. Senzatela had more than his share of good luck. This game is different because it’s time for Greinke to make his own good luck.

“In 2019, [Zack Greinke] has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (90mph) and Change (87mph), also mixing in a Slider (83mph), Curve (71mph) and Sinker (91mph)” —Brooks Baseball. This season against the Rockies, let’s look at only those five pitches (ignoring the rare pitch that is another type) to see which pitch-types get a high rate of swings & misses (whiffs) in comparison to frequency.

The following table shows that against the Rockies, Greinke’s slider and curve consistently get high rates of whiffs. The results with his four-seam fastball are generally proportional to frequency, with some variation.

Zack Greinke vs Rockies 2019

Greinke vs Rockies June 19 June 19 May 27 May 27 May 5 May 5
Greinke vs Rockies June 19 June 19 May 27 May 27 May 5 May 5
Pitch Type % pitches % whiffs % pitches % whiffs % pitches % whiffs
Four-Seam Fastball 34 33 49 38 51 57
Sinker 7 0 0 0 4 0
Change 37 33 16 0 20 0
Slider 7 0 19 25 15 29
Curve 15 33 17 38 10 14
Brooks Baseball

Interestingly on 19 June, in his last start against the Rockies, Greinke reduced his fastball frequency. However, in Greinke’s last start (which was against the Giants), the 7 whiffs against the fastball was a season high, so that may be a reason to increase fastball frequency against the Rockies.

Saturday. Jon Gray (138 ERA+, 9.7 SO/9, 3.5 BB/9) vs Robbie Ray (109 ERA+, 11.8 SO/9, 4.5 BB/9)

This season, Jon Gray’s ERA is 3.84 and his FIP is 3.95. Those numbers are a red flag because in each of the four prior seasons his ERA was higher than his FIP, by an average of 1.11. Likely he has been lucky and his ERA will worsen.

This season, Robbie Ray has 129 strikeouts, which ranks second in the NL. He has lowered his walks per 9 innings from 5.1 last season to 4.5. His ERA is 3.99 and his FIP is 4.11. I have reason to think Ray will continue to pitch very well.

Sunday. German Marquez (124 ERA+, 8.8 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9) vs TBA, likely Alex Young (380 ERA+, 7.4 SO/9, 1.2 BB/9)

Recently, German Marquez is not pitching well. His ERA was worse each month (2.93 in April, 4.12 in May, and 6.6 in June). This is an opportunity for the D-back offense.

Against the Giants, rookie Alex Young allowed 1 earned run in 5 innings. Against the Dodgers, he faced 7 batters and none reached base. Impressive!