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Series Preview # 41 : Diamondbacks @ Pirates

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Will the Diamondbacks sweep the series?

Madison Bumgarner pitched against the Padres.  The Diamondbacks won this game.
Madison Bumgarner pitched against the Padres. The Diamondbacks won this game.
Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Pirates and Diamondbacks have lost a lot of games.

In games through 19 August, the Pirates lost 79 games and the Diamondbacks lost 81 games. Added together, they lost 160 games while winning 83 games. That’s a two to one ratio.

Despite the losses, there are reasons for optimism. The Pirates and the Diamondbacks are focused on the future.

  • Between February and August, the Pirates’ farm system improved from average into the top 5 per Keith Law.
  • The Diamondbacks’ farm system achieved top 5 status about a year ago with their top prospects in the lower levels. They continue to improve.

The Pirates and Diamondbacks are streaking mightily.

Recently, the Pirates ended a streak in which they lost 13 of 14 games, scoring an average of 1.8 runs per game while allowing an average of 5.6 runs per game. That’s what a losing team looks like! They ended it with a 2 win streak against the Cardinals.

Recently, the Diamondbacks ended a streak in which they won 6 of 7 games, scoring an average of 5.3 runs per game while allowing an average of 2.7 runs per game. That’s what a winning team looks like! They ended it with a 2 loss streak against the Rockies.

These two teams will collide spectacularly. I predict the Diamondbacks will sweep the series.

Pirate Kevin Newman rarely strikes out.

Kevin Newman leads all baseball with 12.2 at-bats per strikeout (games through 19 August per Baseball Reference). If Diamondbacks pitchers strike him out once, that achievement will be worthy of praise. If they strike him out twice, it will be worthy of writing about.

Pirate Bryan Reynolds is an All-Star.

Recently, Bryan Reynolds had a 6 game hitting streak during which he hit 2 homers and 7 RBIs. His hitting streak was broken on 18 August when he had 3 PAs. His 144 OPS+ leads the Pirates.

He started the season in left field. On 18 April he moved to center field. Over two seasons, he had only 42 games experience in center field, so it was an adjustment.

Teammate Bryce Wilson said Bryan Reynolds’ defense in center field could be the most underrated in baseball. Statistics seem to differ in ranking his defensive skills at center field. Some examples follow:

  • Baseball Savant (Statcast) ranked him in a tie for 3rd-4th-5th best center fielder with 8 outs above average with 7 runs prevented.
  • Baseball Reference seemed to rank him just outside the top-10 center fielders with 5 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtot).
  • The Fielding Bible ranked him 28th best center fielder with negative 3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Baseball Reference provided the same negative 3 rDRS. Both websites gave Baseball Information Systems as their data source.
  • FanGraphs ranked him low with negative 3.3 Fielding Runs Above Average based on Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

I asked Jack Sommers for his opinion on Bryce Wilson’s defense in center field. His wisdom follows:

Jack recommended evaluating defensive skill with a weighted average of Statcast runs prevented, rDRS, and UZR (ignoring Rtot) The reason Baseball Reference continues to track it [Rtot] and publish it is because that’s what we had before detailed ball in play tracking. So it allows for better historical comparison with players that played before the BIS era of video review ball tracking.

For this preview, Jack recommended that the three measures be weighted equally. Recently, two highly respected experts discussed Statcast data with Jack. Jack plans to dig deeper. His recommended weights may change. Jack provided the following table.

Games through 19 August. Data from Baseball Savant, FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and The Fielding Bible. Table provided by Jack Sommers.

Jack cautioned that when addressing fielding data, it usually takes at least two or three full seasons to have confidence in the data to truly represent the ABILITY of that player. It is too soon to make a confident conclusion because sample size and the wide range of data. At one point in our communications Jack wrote, “Safe bet is he’s above average and improved with reps, but not really elite.”

Pitching Matchups

Monday, Wil Crowe (5.23 ERA) vs Humberto Mejia (5.40 ERA in 2020 Marlins)

In August, batters’ .994 OPS was a season high for Wil Crowe. The Pirates lost those three games.

An exciting news flash from Sunday afternoon:

This year in Reno, Mejia’s ERA was better than Reno’s 6.33 average. What impressed me most was that Mejia and Frias were the youngest pitchers in Reno at 23 years old. This game previews the Diamondbacks’ future.

The Diamondbacks are very likely to win this game.

Tuesday, JT Brubaker (5.49 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (4.06 ERA)

In July and August, JT Brubaker’s ERA was 8.84. The Pirates lost 7 of those 8 games.

In July and August, Madison Bumgarner’s ERA was 1.93, with an average game score of an amazing 61.7. The Diamondbacks won 5 of those 7 games. He looks like the ace that many anticipated when he became a Diamondback! I appreciate him more because of the stumbles on his journey.

This Diamondbacks are very likely to win this game.

Wednesday, TBA possibly Mitch Keller (6.35 ERA) vs Tyler Gilbert (2.57 ERA as a starter)

In his first three starts August, Mitch Keller’s ERA was 6.28. The Pirates lost those three games. Then in his fourth start he allowed zero earned runs in 5 inning. Did he make a breakthrough adjustment or was he lucky that game?

This start will be the third in Tyler Gilbert’s career. His first career start was a 9 inning complete game no-hitter. His second start was at Coors; he allowed 4 earned runs in 5 innings. Although the Diamondbacks tied the game in the top of the sixth they lost. I feel confident that Tyler Gilbert will pitch a great game.