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Series Preview # 48 : Diamondbacks @ Astros

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This series is between two young teams who will push to win every game.

Dusty Baker is manager of the Astros.
Dusty Baker is manager of the Astros.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Let’s consider three pieces of wisdom from Dusty Baker.

Winning.

“The sooner you get used to winning and the sooner you know what it feels like to win, then I think the future at this organization is bright as long as you fill in the blanks of what you need.” — Dusty Baker

He’s saying start to make a habit of your team winning as soon as you can. That fits well with Mike Hazen’s wisdom about not waiting until next season to make a habit of winning.

“I think playing baseball and pushing to win every game you can is important because I don’t think you just turn it back on when you decide , ok...now we’re gonna compete.” —Mike Hazen

This month the Diamondbacks need to push to win every game. It’s the best way to move towards a bright future.

Youth.

“If young guys start thinking they are good they are really dangerous.” — Dusty Baker

The Astros are a different team than the one that won the World Series. Most of those players have left the Astros. Today, the Astros are young. In May of 2021, Dusty Baker was bragging about his team. He said, “All these guys are under 30 years old…Even the old guys [30 or older] aren’t that old.”

Diamondbacks are young too, so lets compare starting pitchers and the primary position players. See the following tables.

Starters with most games through 12 September of this season. Data from Baseball Reference.
Primary position players in 6 games through 12 September. Data for 2021 season from Baseball Reference.

Both teams are young. Looking at the 7 starters with the most games, each team had 5 starters under 30 years old. Looking at the 8 primary position players in the 6 games prior to 12 September, the Diamondbacks were younger (6 players vs 4 players under 28 years old).

With the exceptions of Carson Kelly at catcher and Ketel Marte in CF, the Astros’ OPS+ was better. The ERA+’s of the Astro starting pitchers were better. Next season, I’m looking for that gap to narrow.

Pitching.

“It starts with good pitching and ends with defense and hitting. ...Pitching is key.” — Dusty Baker.

Dusty Baker’s philosophy makes him a great fit with the Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. In my August of 2020 preview of a series with the Astros, I wrote about Brent Strom. It is well worth reviewing what was written in that preview:

Astro’s pitching coach, Brent Strom is remarkable.

At [72] years old, [next month he will be 73 years old] he is the oldest pitching coach in the Majors. In 2018, he won Baseball America’s Coach of the Year. How did he do it?

“He’s always reading a book, always researching a new theory. They’re not always right — there’s some dead ends he chases — but he’s a very curious person, and he cares more than anybody I know. He’s just constantly trying to make himself better.” — Jeff Luhnow.

Brian Cohn wrote about the Brent Strom’s ‘Magic Method.’ A few points follow.

  • Control and Command. “For me, to succeed at the highest level is to have control and command, and the ability to change speeds. Understand sequencing, hiding pitches etc.” — Brent Strom (FanGraph interview)
  • Spin Rate. When acquiring pitchers, the Astros highly value high spin rates. Strom has ideas on how grips increase spin rates. The Astros designed a computer program to help pitchers improve spin rates.
  • Tunneling. “If different pitches look the same coming out of your hand, they don’t have to be as crisp. Hitters don’t hit the radar gun and they don’t hit the break on the ball. They hit what they see or don’t see. If you can disguise your pitches, you’re halfway home.” — Brent Strom (FanGraph interview)
  • Pitch selection. Never throw sinkerballs.
  • Effective Velocity. “As such, one of my main go to references is Effective Velocity (EV) designed by Perry Husband. The teams that realize there is more than just a pitchers “stuff or velocity” in having a successful pitching staff EV helps give a blueprint or plan to win the pitcher hitter confrontation. The research and time he has put into this endeavor can’t be quantified. We as pitching coaches are the recipients of his ground breaking work. For that I personally am grateful. Thanks Perry…” — Brent Strom (HittingIsAGuess.com)
  • Mechanics. “One correlation that Strom discussed was the back knee angle and how it correlates with vertical drop, swinging strikes and FIP. By having a bigger knee bend, a pitcher recruits more glute and hamstring and less quad, resulting in increased vertical movement of their breaking ball and swinging strike rate (K%). The optimal back leg angle appears to be less than 105 degrees.” — Brian Cohn

Pitching is important; let’s look at the starting pitching matchups.

Friday, Luis Garcia (3.43 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (4.30 ERA)

Luis Garcia is contending for the AL Rookie of the Year award! Let’s look at where he has been ranked:

  • 3rd per Nick Selbe on 6 July.
  • 1st per theScore staff on 11 August.
  • In a 3-way race per Sara Sanchez on 20 August.
  • 2nd per Sam Dykstra on 24 August.
  • 1st per JJ Cooper on 2 September.
  • 3rd per panel of 64 experts (MLB.com) on 3 September.

Like the waves of the ocean, Madison Bumgarner’s game scores rise and fall in predictable patterns.

  • Below average: 3 games, April 1 to 15
  • Outstanding: 5 games, April 15 to May 15
  • Below average: 4 games, May 15 to June 15
  • Outstanding: 5 games, 15 July to 20 August (with 2 average games mixed in)
  • Below average: 4 games, 20 August to 15 September

The good news is Madison Bumgarner is due to start a streak of outstanding games to finish the season. That’s fortunate because I anticipate Luis Garcia will pitch a great game.

Saturday, Lance McCullers Jr. (3.12 ERA) vs Humberto Castellanos (3.90 ERA)

Lance McCuller Jr.’s 138 ERA+ is the best in the Houston rotation. The Astros won 16 of the 25 games that he started.

Humberto Castellanos pitched 7 games in relief before his first game as a starter in July. The Diamondbacks won 3 of the 4 games that he started.

Looking at team wins associated with these pitchers, either team could win.

Sunday, Zack Greinke (3.94 ERA) vs Zac Gallen (4.44 ERA)

For the second time, we will see a battle of the Z’s. The first time was 18 September of last year. Each starter allowed one homer as the only run-scoring play. Because Greinke had 2 men on base, he allowed 3 ERs, while Gallen allowed only one ER. The Diamondbacks won that game.

This season Greinke allowed more homers per 9 innings than Gallen (1.53 vs 1.31). Let’s look at homers per 9 innings by month:

  • April: Greinke 1.23; Gallen 0.54
  • May: Greinke 0.97; Gallen 0.00
  • June: Greinke 1.20; Gallen 2.19
  • July: Greinke 3.00; Gallen 2.04
  • August: Greinke 0.93; Gallen 1.82
  • September: Greinke 5.40 Gallen 0.00

In his last start, Greinke allowed 7 ERs (plus one unearned run) in 5 innings. This matchup favors the Diamondbacks.