Back the Diamondbacks to Keep the Cardinals Grounded: MLB Picks

Rainman M.

Thursday, June 29, 2017 12:56 PM UTC

Thursday, Jun. 29, 2017 12:56 PM UTC

The Cardinals took their revenge on Arizona’s late-inning comeback victory in the Series Opener. They barely hung on for a 4-3 victory last night in order to end Arizona’s four-game win streak. Look for Arizona to win the series: behind superior pitching and hitting, this one shouldn’t be close.

St. Louis vs Arizona Matchup

The Diamondbacks have dealt with the best of Cardinals’ pitching. On Tuesday, they had their way with the Cardinals’ statistically below-average bullpen after Cardinals’ ace Carlos Martinez exited the game. Last night, they dealt with the Cardinals’ second-best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, and nearly came back against the same shaky bullpen.  Today, their hitters get to go up against both a shaky starter and a shaky bullpen. Look especially for lefties to do well against Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn. This year, lefties are batting .241 against Lynn, while righties are batting only .180. Watch out especially for right-fielder David Peralta, who is 5-for-7 with a home run in his career against Lynn, and for third baseman Jake Lamb, who is batting .335 this season against right-handed pitchers.

Probable Pitchers

Lance Lynn (5-5 3.86 ERA) pitches for St. Louis. His 3.86 ERA masks considerable issues with his pitching, which are summarized by his 5.54 FIP (this is like ERA, but factors out luck). He hasn’t completed the sixth inning since May 23rd. He is throwing a lot of pitches because he is unable to command his stuff: his 3.75 BB/9 rate is a career high. Velocity has been an issue as well, particularly with his fastball, which he throws 43.7% of the time, and his sinker, which he throws 34.7% of the time. His fastball velocity this season averages 92.6 mph, which is .9 mph lower than his career average. His sinker is averaging 91.7 mph, .5 less than his career average. But his velocity was at its worst in his last start, in which he threw his fastball at an average of just 90.95 mph, and his sinker at an average of 90.40 mph. Partly in order to compensate for his velocity struggles, he has relied more on his off-speed pitches, particularly the sinker. For example, in his last start vs Pittsburgh, he threw his sinker at an almost 50% rate. Lynn’s adjustments have not worked: in his past two outings, he has given up 14 earned runs, including four home runs. He struck out just eight batters in those two outings, although he averages 8.69 K/9 in his career. He walked five in the 10.1 innings he pitched.  His FIP and ERA were both above 8 in each outing.

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So Lynn is struggling with his stuff because his pitches are easier to see and easier to hit. The vastly diverging vertical and horizontal release points of his pitches shows that he is unable to mask his pitches, meaning that opposing batters are easily able to discern whether a fastball or sinker is approaching them.  Also, the decrease in his velocity is giving opposing batters more time to react to his pitches.  His high walk and home run rates indicate that he is unable to compensate for his velocity struggles by effectively locating his pitches.   Rest hasn't seemed to help Lynn, as he pitched against Pittsburgh with five days’ rest. For one of baseball’s elite offenses today he’ll only get four days’ rest.

Patrick Corbin (6-7 4.89 ERA) counters for Arizona. His high ERA masks his recent show of good form. His FIP is 2.09 or lower in his last two home starts and 3.64 or lower in his last three starts overall.  He owes his improvement generally to more consistency throughout his outings: he had been having that one bad inning or making that one bad pitch—the first inning in Miami and the fifth in Milwaukee provide two examples of this. Corbin had had a game plan to start the season and it’s finally coming to fruition. His plan was to get ahead in the count and throw more sliders. His first-pitch strike rate is 63.7% this season, which is 6.9% above last year’s number.  Last season, 26.5% of his pitches were sliders, this season he is throwing sliders 33.8% of the time. He is throwing his slider particularly (at an almost 50% rate) when he gets ahead of the count.  His ability to effectively use the slider has complemented his ability to get ahead of counts. 

Last season, when he threw the slider, 33% of the time it was a strike and 42% of the time it was a ball, while it induced a 22.65% whiff rate. In his last three outings, when he threw his slider, 41% of the time it was a strike, only 30.53 % it was a ball and 29.47% of the time the opposing batter swung and missed. Corbin, this season, is able to command a more effective slider, which is the biggest reason for his improved ability to put away batters after getting ahead of them in the count. Corbin’s command has improved generally in all his pitches, as indicated by his improvement in BB/9 rate from 3.82 last season to 2.55 this season. His improvement in command is largely why he is able to start off opposing batters with a strike at such a high rate and is also why he is able to finish them off more effectively. In his past three outings, he has induced ground balls at a rate of over 50% because he has been able to keep his pitches down in the zone and induce weak enough contact. 

The Verdict

Corbin is in great form because he has improved his stuff and command, has been more consistent throughout his outings and is forcing batters to keep the ball on the ground—a crucial ability in hitters-friendly Chase Field, where Corbin’s 3.77 FIP in 2017 (compared to 6.11 on the road) indicates that he is at his best. Lynn, on the other hand, is struggling with his stuff and his command. He has been getting shelled lately and he gets only four days’ rest with which to recover his velocity and resolve his deeper struggles.  

I don’t like for Lynn to turn things around on the road, where his FIP this season is 6.14, compared to 4.71 at home—a disparity that is consistent throughout his career— or during the day, when his career ERA is 4.59 compared to 2.96 at night. His inability to keep the ball in the ballpark is especially concerning in Chase Field, where, in his career, he has already given up his second-highest slugging % (.541) to opponents out of any stadium in which he pitched threw or more times.  Should Lynn rely on his sinker to the degree in which he did in his last outing vs the Pirates, who are statistically 28th against this pitch and still dominated him, note that the Diamondbacks’ wOBA (this is like OPS, which is on-base plus slugging, but also factors in run-scoring potential; an average number is .320) against the sinker is .394 so far in Chase Field. Against the fastball, the Diamondbacks’ wOBA is .372.

I like for Corbin to continue his success against the Cardinals. The Cardinals’ 3.51 BB/9 rate, good for eighth in the MLB, indicates that their lineup is patient at the plate. Corbin should take advantage of St. Louis’s lack of aggression by getting ahead of counts. He’ll then be able to capitalize particularly with the use of his slider.  The Cardinals’ wOBA against the slider is just .273, almost .50 lower than what is considered to be a good figure. Corbin, as a left-handed ground ball pitcher, matches up optimally against the Cardinals, whose OPS (on-base plus slugging; .730 is an average figure) is just .690 against lefties and .712 against ground ball pitchers. Corbin faced the Cardinals twice last season: in his first outing, he got shelled. Then he faced them about a month later and produced a 2.83 FIP. His major adjustment was to throw the sinker with 22% lower frequency, as the Cardinals hit this pitch relatively well. Corbin is absolutely able to utilize other pitches besides the sinker to induce a high proportion of ground balls.  Now that he has the recipe for success against the Cards, I expect Corbin, who has improved and found his form precisely because he is staying away from the sinker, to execute. 

Arizona’s bullpen also has a decisive advantage. In Arizona’s last 15 games, Diamondback relievers have combined for an ERA of under 1. Their FIP on the season is 3.44, which currently ranks fifth. Their best relievers will be fresh. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have grown notorious for blowing leads—enough so to cause uncertainty as to which reliever will have which role, which is why Rosenthal, and not Oh, closed last night. The Cards’ bullpen likely won’t have a lead to blow and coming back from the deficit that Lynn should create won’t be easy without a fresh Rosenthal. Despite pitching relatively few innings, their bullpen ranks 16th with a 4.05 FIP and is a major reason why the team is only 11-15 in one-run ballgames, even though their starters rank seventh with a 4.11 FIP. 

I expect the Diamondbacks to score early vs Lynn and later as well vs the Cards’ shaky bullpen. I expect Corbin and Arizona’s bullpen to continue to be solid enough to ensure a blowout on our MLB Picks.

Free MLB Pick: Arizona -116
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