Arizona 26-28 vs Pittsburgh 23-28, 10:35 A.M. Arizona Time
Starting Pitchers: Zac Gallen, 4-0, 2.32 ERA vs Zach Thompson 2-4, 5.18 ERA
Ketel Marte will look to extend his hitting streak to 17 games today and the Diamondbacks will look to take the rubber match of the three game series behind their ace and stopper Zac Gallen. We can probably expect Mark Melancon to get the day off. The rest of the bullpen should be available.
It looks like Roldofo Castro got punished by the Pittsburgh Pirates for not running out that popup last night, as he was optioned to AAA right after the game. The Pirates called up Travis Swaggerty, who will be making his major league debut if he gets in the game as a substitute.
LEADING OFF THE GAME
Taking a page out of Jim’s preview handbook, and prompted by Kilnborn’s comment at the beginning of yesterday’s game thread, I dove down a rabbit hole this morning, this time on Diamondbacks leadoff hitters, and specifically, first batter of the game stats.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs Splits Tool. I must start with the caveat that these numbers, by nature, are small sample size stats. But they have an outsized importance not only for setting the tone, but to the actual results of the game.
We know that the team that scores first will win the majority of games. It’s actually close to 70% of the time. And we know that getting on base is the most important thing to do if you want to score runs. Homers count as “on base” of course. So socking a leadoff homer is a big deal. George Springer does that a lot. He leads MLB with 6 leadoff HR, and did it 12 times in 2017 and 9 times in 2019. But there are only a few guys in MLB that hit a lot of HR in the leadoff spot. So we are going to focus on a two simple stats: OBP and wRC+. Getting ON base is the most important thing in general, but guys getting extra base hits leading off are going to have higher wRC+ too. So here we go:
2022 Leading off Game
That is in line with overall team batting ranks as they rank 22nd in OBP and 24th in wRC+ in total. The hits have been lacking, but they do take some walks and HBP have helped too. So leading off the game more or less lines up where they are for all lineup spots, below average . Keep in mind that most teams usually bat one of their best hitters leadoff. Usually.
2022 Player Breakdown
Daulton Varsho has held his own leading off games this year, although it’s not where he’s done his best work obviously. Lately he hasn’t seemed to see as many pitches or been having good at bats leading off the game. In his last 6 games leading off he’s 0-4, with 2 HBP. Cooper Hummel keeps getting chances atop the lineup because he’s known as a good OBP guy, but he has just 1 hit and 3 walks in 15 chances leading off the game. Nobody else they’ve tried, albeit sparingly, has gotten on base in the role.
Lovullo/Hazen Era, Leading Off Game, Since 2017, NL Only
(Note: Prior to 2022 no NL DH, so comparing apples to apples, NL only)
In total, all batting order slots, the D-backs offense has ranked 11th in OBP and 12th in wRC+. So overall in this era they’ve been average at getting on base leading off the game, although the power and wRC+ from leadoff spot has lagged compared to the league.
2017-2022 Player Breakdown, ranked by wRC+, Min 15 PA
I used 15 PA as the cutoff not because it’s a viable sample size, but because that allows us to see where Hummel falls in. I forgot how good Gregor Blanco was leading off games in 2017. Unfortunately he did almost nothing else his other times at the plate, ending up with 77 wRC+.
Varsho has been one of the best leadoff hitters the team has had in the last 6 years, so using him there is certainly justifiable. David Peralta’s days filling this kind of role are over, as he’s become more off a 3TO player. Pavin Smith and Josh Rojas have poor track record leading off games. Using Nick Ahmed leadoff at any point over the years, even sparingly, was dereliction of duty.
But look at Ketel Marte !! 27 of those 55 PA came during his breakout 2019 season, when everything was better. Torey sprinkled his leadoff opportunities throughout the entirety of the season, he didn’t just move Marte down the order permanently as he had his power breakout. Marte responded by hitting .440 with over a 1500 OPS, including three homers.
Perhaps Varsho is keeping the leadoff spot warm for Alek Thomas if his plate discipline improves a bit, or for Corbin Carroll down the line in 2023. But for now there may be an opportunity to kick start the offense a little better by having Ketel leadoff the game more often. Something they might want to consider.