The 4-8 Diamondbacks travel to Washington D.C. to take on the 3-6 Nationals in a four game set starting this evening, (4:05 Arizona Time, 7:05 EDT)
The Nationals season got off to a disastrous start when just before the opening series scheduled against the Mets they had numerous players test positive for Coronavirus, causing the cancellation of that series. They had as many as 9 players on the Covid IL at one point. When they finally got started on April 6th they beat the Braves in a walk off win, but then dropped a double header the next day. Heading out to Los Angeles they were then swept three straight by the Dodgers.
However their players have been coming back one by one, and they just took two of three from the Cardinals in St. Louis, so they may have righted their ship just in time for the D-backs visit.
On offense they are lead by the incredible Juan Soto who is batting .375, with a 1.067 OPS, 2 HR & 7 RBI through his first 9 games. In 2020, Soto lead the NL in BA, OBP, SLUG, OPS and OPS+, (.351/.490/.695 - 1.185 and 218)
Through age 22, Soto’s 154 career OPS+ ranks only behind Mike Trout since MLB integrated in 1947. Here is a pretty exclusive list.
Since the hamstring injury to Ketel Marte the Diamondbacks have been lead on offense by Carson Kelly, (224 OPS+) and Asdrubal Cabrera (159 OPS+) . Eduardo Escobar found his power stroke, homering in four straight games recently to up his OPS+ to 110. Josh VanMeter has had a few good games off the bench in limited opportunity and has a 127 OPS+
Before we go to the charts which you are all eagerly awaiting, a word about a new Metric available at Fangraphs. It’s actually a Statcast/Baseball Savant Metric called xERA. Here is how it’s explained at MLB Glossary
Expected ERA (xERA)
Expected ERA, or xERA, is a simple 1:1 translation of Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA), converted to the ERA scale. xwOBA takes into account the amount of contact (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch) and the quality of that contact (exit velocity and launch angle), in an attempt to credit the pitcher or hitter for the moment of contact, not for what might happen to that contact thanks to other factors like ballpark, weather, or defense.
By converting this to the ERA scale, it puts xwOBA in numbers that are more familiar, and allows it to be compared directly to the pitcher’s actual ERA. (If you’re familiar with FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the idea is similar, just that now Statcast quality of contact can be included.)
xERA is not necessarily predictive, but if a pitcher has an xERA that is significantly higher than his actual ERA, it should make you want to take a closer look into how he suppressed those runs.
Each time I do a preview, I try to change up the stats I show in the pitching matchups. How far along we are in the season is one factor. (Which is why I’m showing both 2020 & 2021 here today). But what I decided to show today is a sort of pitchers “triple slash”. Next to ERA you see xERA and FIP
This allows you to see how the quality of contact implies what you would expect a pitcher’s ERA to be, (xERA), and also the expected ERA if you take balls in play completely out of the equation. (FIP, which is based solely on BB/K/HR allowed)
Merrill Kelly has not gotten good results through his first two starts, and looking at his xERA and FIP it’s hard to make a case he has deserved a lot better. The team desperately needs him to give one of his better outings tonight and keep the team in the game early.
We are all quite familiar with Patrick Corbin’s stuff. He has featured one of the best sliders in the game . When he is spotting his fastball and getting the sharp break on his slider there are few pitchers more effective. But he struggled in 2020 and got knocked around in his first start in L.A., giving up 6 runs in 4.1 IP.
The Spin rate on his slider has dropped from just shy of 2400 in 2018 & 19, to 2241 in 2020 and 2141 in his first outing this year. With that he’s lost some movement and effectiveness. Not great signs for a guy with a lot of time and money left on his deal.
Inserted into the rotation when Zac Gallen went down, Taylor Widener has taken Caleb Smith’s rotation spot since Gallen has returned. His slider is a good one, but he needs to improve the changeup to keep hitters off his fastball. He throws the Change plenty, even more than the slider, he’s just not getting good results with it yet.
While probably past his absolute Peak, Max Scherzer is still really good and capable of dominating any lineup in any game. From 2013-2018 he averaged 219 IP with a 148 ERA+ while winning three Cy Young Awards. But Mad Max battled nagging injuries in 2019, limiting him to 172 IP. The quality was still there though, (151 ERA+) and he was excellent in the Nationals post season title run, Going 3-0 while giving them 30 IP and 2.40 ERA. But last year the cracks started to show a bit as both his ERA and his peripherals climbed. He’s only lost about 1 MPH on his fastball though and the D-backs will have their work cut out to get to him. Max will be a 37 year old free agent after the 2021 season.
Luke Weaver is coming off his best game as a Diamondback, throwing a no hitter into the 7th inning against the Reds last time out and registering an 82 Game Score. It will be interesting to see if Luke stays with the Fastball/Changeup heavy repertoire he featured last game, all but abandoning the slider.
Erick Fedde has only faced the Diamondbacks one time in his career, back in 2019, taking the loss while giving up 5 runs in 6 innings. He was knocked around by the Braves in his first start this year, not making it out of the 2nd , giving up 6 runs, but bounced back against the Cardinals on April 12th, going 4 2⁄3 and giving up just 1 run. He throws a breaking ball that Savant calls a curve and FG calls a slider. Fedde doesn’t care what you call it. It’s his breaking pitch. He also has a 94 MPH sinker and throws a changeup too.
A few years ago this would have been a marquee matchup. Now not so much. It’s distressing to see those xERA and FIP numbers and realize bad luck has had little to no role in Madison Bumgarner’s struggles. Much ink has been spilled over his demise. We’ll just have to grip that towel tight and hope he makes it through a start without getting crushed.
Stephen Strasburg has thrown just 15 innings since 2019. He’s lost 3 MPH off his fastball since inking a 7 year, $245M contract extension with the Nationals after their world series victory. In his most recent start against St. Louis he got hammered for 8 runs in 4+ innings of work, including 8 hits, 3 homers, and 5 walks. As much as we worry about Bumgarner, the Nationals may be even more screwed.
Corbin age 31, owed $105M thru 2024, age 34
Strasburg, age 32, owed $204M thru 2027, age 37
That’s a third of yard for a couple of guys that have been very shaky since they lifted the World Series trophy. Flags fly forever though !
The Nationals bullpen hasn’t really been any better than the D-backs so far. But they should be better over the long haul. Their closer is Brad Hand and he’s still good. Tanner Rainey and former D-back favorite Daniel Hudson are setting up, but Rainey has been struggling. The Nationals have a 5.22 bullpen ERA compared to D-backs 4.15 League Bullpen Ranks Here
Two last Links: Roster Resource at Fangraphs now has a pretty good closer depth chart. Good for you fantasy baseball players, but useful for the rest of us too.
The other link is to the D-backs Game Schedule at Baseball Reference. Look to the right hand column of the games not yet played. If you click on the GAME PREVIEW AND MATCHUPS and scroll down a bit you can find head to head matchup info for all hitters vs. all pitchers on the other side.