Back Pirates to Exploit Uneven Pitching Matchup vs the Padres

Rainman M.

Sunday, July 30, 2017 3:52 PM UTC

Sunday, Jul. 30, 2017 3:52 PM UTC

The Padres are on a 4-game winning streak and make a tempting underdog choice at home against the Pirates, who have lost 4 in a row by a combined score of 20-8. Should consideration of tonight’s starting pitching matchup steer bettors towards the Pirates?

Pittsburgh Pirates vs San Diego Padres

The Pirates are contending in the NL Central while the Padres sit 26 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West. But the way that these two teams have been playing, one would think it were the reverse. The Pirates’ 4-game losing streak has dropped them to 5.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs. The Padres will try to sweep the Pirates at home in order to win their 5th in a row. Neither lineup has seen much of the other team’s starting pitcher. But the Pirates’ right-handed batters are licking their chops to face the Padres’ starter Clayton Richard, against whom righties are slugging .557 this season, which means that Sterling Marte, who has been productive in his return from suspension, Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, and Andrew McCutchen will likely combine to produce some extra-base hits.


Probable Pitchers

Gerrit Cole (8-7 4.12 ERA) starts for Pittsburgh. Overall, Cole is having a down year. His ERA is up from his 3.39 career average and 3.88 last season. Since his injuries in his throwing arm in the second half of last season, he has not been the same pitcher. His struggles this season are encapsulated in a three-game stretch, from May 22nd to June 2nd, during which he gave up 16 runs in 14.2 innings. He failed to locate his pitches, leaving them in the more hittable parts of the strike zone, and opposing batters were taking advantage. One example is the curve ball, against which opponents slugged .778 throughout the month of June.  During his three-game skid, opponents more often saw his curve in the middle parts of the plate and more frequently swung and made hard contact. He was struggling with his location because, since his injury, he lost command over his pitches. Cole lost the ability to optimize their movement. When he was a Cy Young candidate in 2015, with a 2.60 ERA, his fastball generally averaged between 7.6-8.0 inches of vertical movement, his sinker consistently averaged around 5 inches and his curve around 3 inches.  After his injury, his fastball spiked at least an inch in vertical movement, his sinker became wildly inconsistent, his curve ball first began moving too much, until in June of this season when it did not drop enough, so that it hung over the plate. Since his injury, Cole has been battling to regain consistency in movement.  When he can control the movement of his pitches, he can not only locate them more effectively, he can also make them more difficult to hit by varying their movement. He can either try to readjust the movement of his pitches or adjust his aim in order to still achieve the desired location. He has been doing both—for instance, this month, his sinker is regaining its prior consistency in movement while he is burying his curve deeper into the less hittable parts of the zone. He is also aiming his fastball with greater variance of location in order to remain more unpredictable to batters. This season, he has also been working on a changeup, which he is throwing more than twice as often as last year and his efforts with this pitch has been paying off this month.  He has sharpened his changeup by reducing its vertical movement and made it more elusive by enhancing its horizontal movement. Opponents’ slugging against his changeup is down from .769 last month to .300 this month.  Cole has endured 6 or 7 innings and given up only 1 or 2 runs in 7 of his last 8 outings. He’ll look to continue building consistency and comfort with his pitching arsenal against the Padres.

Clayton Richard  (5-11 5.37 ERA) counters for San Diego.  Richard, like Cole, has struggled this season to be his usual self. Normally, he relies on throwing a sinker in the lower parts of the strike zone in order to induce ground balls. This season, he is departing from his norm. He is both throwing his sinker and inducing ground balls with nearly 8% lower frequency. He has been unable to achieve the same level of velocity and vertical movement in his sinker, so that batters are having an easier time reacting to it. He is also struggling with location: last season, he threw 38.09% of his pitches in the lowest quadrant of the strike zone. This season that percentage is down to 34.01. However, the % of pitches that he throws inside the strike zone is up from 41.3% last season to 45% this season. So he is throwing more strikes, but he is placing his pitches in more dangerous parts of the strike zone, and batters are swinging more often at these pitches with the result of harder contact and more runs scored. Unlike with Cole, there is no story of a turnaround with Richard to tell. Richard continues to allow more hard contact and more home runs. His pitches are less difficult to hit because of his struggles with movement, velocity and location. Richard, as a southpaw, struggles most against right-handed batters and Pittsburgh has plenty of them with which to take advantage of Richard’s flaws.


The Verdict

One pitcher is figuring things out, the other is not. Gerrit Cole is growing more comfortable with his pitching arsenal and locating his pitches with greater variance and precision.  Clayton Richard, in contrast, is consistently leaving his pitches over the more hittable parts of the plate. Lineups especially with right-handed batters are tracking his pitches with greater ease because they are tending to lack their usual movement and velocity. They are also exploiting Richard’s lack of usual precision. In sum, we can trust Cole to do well because he has regularly shown good form over the past several weeks. Richard, on the contrary, is unreliable because he has yet to show his ability to master the plethora of problems that are responsible for his poor statistics. I am backing the Pirates to exploit this uneven pitching match-up in order to rediscover their winning ways.  Because I expect this game to be most uneven when both starters are in the game, I am backing a first 5 play only on our MLB Picks.

Free MLB Pick: Pirates First 5 RL (-1/2)
Best Line Offered: at JustBet

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