Pitching Matchup To Ensure Low-Scoring Affair Between Astros and Phillies

Mike Fiers

Rainman M.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 1:22 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jul. 26, 2017 1:22 PM UTC

Philadelphia had a positive start to the second half until they ran into the Astros.  Can they depend on pitcher Aaron Nola to help them fend off the dreaded sweep at home?

Houston comes into the series finale in Philadelphia having won 4 of its last 5, including the first two against the Phillies.  In each of those games they have scored 5 or more runs. The Phillies, on the other hand, have been outscored 18-4 by the Astros so far in the series. While no current Houston batter has faced their starter Aaron Nola, the Phillies’ batters have only 9 career at-bats against Astros’ starter Mike Fiers. The Astros will try to continue their productivity on offense despite having some injuries.  Alex Bregman had been batting .356 since July 4th but left last night’s game with an injury and is listed as day-to-day. George Springer also left Monday’s game, sat out last night’s game, and is reported as day-to-day. Last week, Carlos Correa had surgery on his thumb and is still on the 10-day DL. For the Phillies, Aaron Altherr, with his .288 BA and .539 slugging, is still recovering from a hamstring injury and will not play tomorrow.

 Probable Pitchers

Mike Fiers (7-4 3.59 ERA) starts for Houston. Fiers is achieving a significant turnaround from last season, when his ERA was 4.48, and from April and May, when his ERA was almost 5.00. He has managed an ERA of 2.36 in his last 10 starts, during which he has endured 6 innings 7 times and allowed more than 2 runs only twice. Mike Fiers has created this turnaround by making three different kinds of changes to his pitching. First, he has altered the angle from which he releases his pitches in order to induce their vertical release point to drop. There is no correlation between a pitcher’s vertical release points and his success. The point is that Fiers is finding the vertical release points that work for him. A pitcher’s goal is to be able to repeatedly deliver pitches by going through the same motions. Fiers’ comfort with his developed mechanics is allowing him to consistently be successful.  Secondly, Fiers is improving the velocity of  his pitches.  Since April and May, his curve and cutter have increased 2 mph in average velocity, and his fastball and sinker 1 mph. Thirdly, Fiers is improving the movement of his pitches.  He has grown more selective in the usage of his cutter, even though he has become more effective with it. So far in July, opponents are batting a meager .167 against his cutter, whose velocity he has enhanced, whose vertical movement he has made more extreme and whose horizontal improvement he has so improved to make it work more aggressively in the inside of right-handed batters. He is also consistently throwing his changeup with greater frequency and it is paying off: opponents’ BA against the change is dropping from .389 in April to .087 in June and .227 in July because of its more extreme horizontal movement which has made it more elusive.  Fiers' mechanical adjustments are allowing for the optimal release of his pitches, which means more velocity and more difficult movement. His change and cutter provide just two examples. Fiers is having more success and more consistency because he is growing more comfortable with his full pitching arsenal. The greater control that he is having over his pitches and the ways in which he is making them more difficult to hit has helped him solve his problem with allowing home runs—he allowed 18 in April and May but only 3 since then. He will hope to keep the ball inside the ballpark when he faces the Phillies in their Citizens Bank Ballpark, which is known for not being a spacious venue, and in which therefore the second most home runs have been hit this season. In trying to remain master over his historic problem with allowing home runs and to remain in good form, he will benefit from the absence of Phillies’ slugger Aaron Altherr.

Aaron Nola (7-6 3.38 ERA) counters for Philadelphia. Nola, like Fiers, is still enjoying great form, which is why I have repeatedly been able to recommend him on our MLB Picks. His ERA is down from 4.78 last season, particularly because in his last 6 starts he has endured 7+ innings 5 times and allowed 2 or few runs every time. Nola has traditionally been known for for his sinker and especially his curve. Not only are they difficult to hit because of their movement, but also because Nola throws his pitches at similar vertical and horizontal release points in order to mask which pitch is approaching the batter until it grows too late for the batter to react in time. Also, Nola does not utilize the same vertical and horizontal release points, but he varies them, in order to keep opponents unsure as to the location from which his different pitches are attacking them. Nola's most meaningful improvement has been to incorporate a fourth pitch into his pitching arsenal— the changeup.  He is throwing his changeup with greater frequency and greater effectivity. This month, opponents are batting .133 against it and their whiff rate against it is up from 8% lats month to 22% this month. His changeup introduces an effective change of pace with the fastball. Nola is just now figuring out how to throw the changeup effectively. The key for him is to release his change in the same way as that he releases his fastball—with similar arm angle and from a similar release point— in order to mask which pitch is approaching the batter. When batters cannot know if a fastball or changeup is approaching them, then they cannot know whether to brace their bat for a 92 mph pitch or an 84 mph pitch. This 8 mph uncertainty inhibits their ability to react to and make good contact with the pitch. Nola has worked on the mechanics of an effective changeup throughout the season and it is finally paying off. With his changeup, Nola is constructing an even more lethally magical pitching arsenal of elusiveness and deception—one in which batters are tricked by the similarity of vertical and horizontal release points which deceives them as to which pitch is approaching them, change of pace, and the elusive movement of the pitches. Nola will look to maintain his strong form against an Astros lineup that is always dangerous but far from 100% healthy.


The Verdict

The improvement of both pitchers from last season, their currently strong form, and the injuries in both teams’ lineups create great value for the 'under‘ because the MLB betting market does not adjust to current form or injuries. Neither bullpen had to do too much work yesterday and so each team should have its best relievers available in what should be a low-scoring affair. Both Fiers and Nola should do the most to ensure that this game is low-scoring, which is why I am recommending a first-5 play on our MLB Picks.

Free MLB Pick: 'Under‘ 4 1h
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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