Sometimes betting on the team that has more to play for is a bad idea. The Twins have a real chance of winning the AL Central. But it’s the Padres who are playing like playoff contenders.
The Twins have lost 6 of their last 7 overall and on the West Coast. They’ll look to bridge a 7 game deficit in the AL Central when they travel to San Diego. The Padres have won 4 out of their last 5 and now have a winning record at home. But because they are dismal away from San Diego, they sit 27 games back of first place in the NL West. Both Yangervis Solarte and Austin Hedges played yesterday for the first time in several weeks and went 0-4 against the Pirates, who were led by their ace Gerrit Cole. Nobody in their lineup has ever faced Twins’ starter Jose Berrios. The Twins themselves have only seen very little of Padres’ starter Jhoulys Chacin.
Jhoulys Chacin (10-7 4.22 ERA) starts for San Diego. There are two different versions of this pitcher: one at home, whose ERA is 2.05, and another on the road, whose ERA is 7.05. Chacin’s home numbers have never been so strong since he became a Padre this season. Playing in PetCo has helped him because of the kind of pitcher that he is—a finesse pitcher who relies on his pitches effectively breaking. In San Diego, the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, which tends to blow cooler air, enhances the air density. The marine layer, which is a cool air mass that develops from contact with the lower surface temperature of the Ocean, has the same effect. As a result, a finesse pitcher’s stuff will break more effectively, which is why Chacin, who relies most especially on a sinker-slider combination, but can also utilize a difficult curve ball, benefits from playing in San Diego. His career ERA is 4.21 in his former (from 2009 to 2014) home ballpark Coors Field, where the lack of air density made him rely on his four-seam fastball, but drops to 2.32 in San Diego, where he can be himself. He is able to induce contact within the strike zone nearly 90% of the time. But nearly half of the time, those batted balls end up being ground ball outs. Batters are thinking that they see something which they can hit, but end up being deceived due to his pitches’ high spin rate. When Chacin is at home and at his best, his stuff is solid. His slider tends to have more vertical movement, which makes it drop more in eluding the opponent’s bat. His sinker also enjoys more sidespin, which carries it further horizontally, in order to tie up right-handed batters, while eluding left-handed hitters. But, at home, Chacin is also more effective with his location. Chacin does tend to struggle with walks, but he rarely allows hitters to see anything in the upper parts of the zone, so that they can’t afford to be too selective, in deciding what to swing at. Chacin has improved every month. The biggest reason for his improvement is the increase in frequency with which he is throwing his slider, which is making his arsenal of breaking pitches more lethal. Because of its enhanced movement particularly at home, he is able to rely on it especially with two strikes and to induce more whiffs with it. His ERA in April was 5.82. In July, his ERA is 2.51 so far. He’ll look to maintain his good form at home against the slumping Twins.
Jose Berrios (9-4 3.76 ERA) counters for Minnesota. Berrios, like Chacin, has been a monster at home, where is ERA is 2.61. But away from Minnesota his ERA is 4.89. Despite pitching only one inning more on the road, he has allowed 7 more home runs and 7 more walks. Berrios relies especially on a trio of four-seam fastball, sinker and curve at above-average velocity. He also throws a change at an average 10 mph slower than his fastball in order to create a change of pace that throws hitters off-balance. Berrios does even more to keep opponents off-balance by complementing his fastball with a curve. He throws his fastball hard, at an average of about 94 mph. His curveball is most especially effective on right-handed batters because it looks like he is hammering the opponent’s inside with a fastball, until it takes a late break and loops inside the strike zone when the batter no longer has time to react. Because of his curve’s difficult movement, batters swing the least but strike out the most against it. His curve and change would not be nearly as effective without his fastball. This season, he has made some mechanical adjustments in order to achieve a repeatable delivery that is helping him land his blazing fastballs for strikes. He is becoming more aggressive with this pitch because he has the confidence that he can throw it within the strike zone and either start ahead of the count or catch up when he is behind in the count. When he wants to be unpredictable to batters, he can also start them off with a curveball for a strike. When the count reaches even or he gets ahead of the count, he is then able to utilize his off-speed pitches. Berrios, like a lot of young players, was overexcited to begin his season. His four-seam, for instance, averaged its highest velocity in May, but has since tapered. It has also lost some of its usual arm-side movement. He is growing less comfortable with his ability to locate the fastball. His problems are most evident against left-handed batters, who are having the most success against him. In May, his best Month, he varied the location of his fastball against them. But in July, which has been his worst month, he has been concentrating his fastball on the inside of left-handed batters, who have slugged this pitch at a higher rate as it creeps towards the middle of the plate due to its arm-side movement. Because he is losing his command over his fastball, over his ability to vary his location of this pitch, the rate at which he throws it to right-handed batters is down from 37% to 31%, while to left-handers it is down from 54 to 36%. Because with Berrios, everything starts with the fastball, meaning that his off-speed pitches feed off of his fastball usage, he has grown less effective overall. His ERA was 2.70 in May, but is 5.79 so far in July. He’ll try to start turning things around where he’s been the least comfortable and the least confident—on the road— against a hot Padres team.
Form and location create value. Chacin has been improving every month this season, and this trend is consistent throughout his career. His career ERA in the first half of the season is 4.35 and drops to 3.41 in the second half of the season. He regularly needs time to develop consistency with his finesse arsenal and make fewer mistakes, meaning that he allows fewer home runs. Berrios, on the contrary, has been less effective partly because his stuff has grown weaker in terms of velocity and movement and partly because he has lost some element of surprise. He is not throwing his favorite pitch as often and is locating not just his fastball, but because his fastball isn’t as strong, all of his pitches, with less variance. He is growing more predictable with a rapidity that typifies a younger pitcher who begins his season with excessive zeal. Early bettors have pushed San Diego into the role of underdog. The hype surrounding Berrios is pretty fair because, at its best, his curve can be electric and his pitches combine to create a difficult dynamic that keeps hitters off-balance. But he is not at his best right now and he likely won’t become his best on the road, where he has struggled all season. Chacin, on the contrary, is in good form and is pitching in his favorite ballpark. San Diego as a team is also in much better form and so the Padres have significant value as underdogs on our MLB Picks.Free MLB Pick: Padres First 5 ML (+104)
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