Arizona and Colorado conclude their regular season this afternoon. Is this game worth betting on?
Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 3:10 p.m. ET at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona
Former San Francisco star and current Diamondback Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 7.36 ERA) has struggled to a degree that easily transcends whatever struggles he may have experienced in earlier seasons.
Not just by measuring in terms of the basic surface stats like ERA does it appear that Bumgarner is having his worst season ever. His underlying stats suggest the same conclusion. HIs FIP (like ERA, but factors out fielding) is 7.85 while his xFIP (like FIP, but adjusts for league average ratio of fly balls to home runs) remains over six.
He is striking out fewer batters per nine innings than he had ever before while allowing vastly more walks and more home runs. In five of eight starts, he’s allowed at least two home runs.
One reason for Bumgarner’s struggles is the lessened quality of his favorite pitches. Primarily, he focuses on a fastball, cutter, and curveball. He throws each pitch with between 23 and 39 percent frequency and together they combine to make up 98.8 percent of his arsenal.
His average fastball velocity is down 3.22 mph last year. His drop in cutter velocity is even more drastic. He’s also averaging 1.92 fewer mph with his curveball. While Bumgarner has never been the kind of guy who wants to blow batters away, his regressed velocity is still worrisome because it makes his pitches easier to hit.
Naturally, batters can find more success when pitches are slower because they could have more time to react. Location is and has been an imperfection for Bumgarner. Batters can more easily take advantage of this when they’re facing pitches that remain in themselves more hittable.
Pitching charts illustrate his tendency to leave his pitches in more hittable parts of the plate where opposing hitters zero in and take advantage with higher slugging rates. Despite all of his struggles, his famous name encourages MLB oddsmakers to make fading him less expensive.
Colorado hitters match up well with Bumgarner, who is a southpaw. They rank fourth in hitting .275 against lefties. Moreover, they rank fourth in slugging .492 against Bumgarner’s three favorite pitches (fastball, cutter, and curveball) combined from lefties.
Bumgarmer has seen much of active Rockie batters. Their overall numbers appear deflated because Matt Kemp has accumulated so many at-bats against Bumgarner and he alone does not hit him well. But look out for, e.g., Charlie Blackmon who hits Bumgarner well historically. Blackmon is 14-for-47 (.372) when facing Arizona’s southpaw.
Colorado starter Kyle Freeland (2-2, 3.69 ERA) offers vastly less to worry about than Bumgarner does. Freeland’s positive efforts are consistent and his consistency has been a source of comfort for backers.
A piece of evidence for his consistency is the fact that he’s allowed two runs or fewer while lasting sex innings in three of his previous four starts. Freeland matches up well in Colorado as a ground ball pitcher. This stylistic fact is what helps him keep pitches low and insusceptible to batters’ attempts to elevate his pitches. So he gives up few home runs overall, but also carries this ability into other ballparks.
Freeland has become somewhat of a different pitcher. He emphasizes his fastball less. Instead, this season, he’s throwing both his slider and change-up with much more frequency.
His altered pitch usage is intelligent given the effectivity of his slider. Batters are hitting .224 against this pitch. Its measured movement is unique. Plus, its four most frequent strike locations are in the bottom of the zone, where 61 percent of his strikes end up.
This locational tendency helps Freeland’s slider be his second-best ground ball-inducing pitch by percentage. But with his sinker, and its strong horizontal movement and more varied but still frequently borderline location, he induces ground balls at an even higher rate.
Freeland vs. Diamondback Batters
Arizona matches up poorly against Freeland’s varied mix of pitches — he throws five different ones with between 11 and 25 percent frequency, such that he can find what works in a given outing. Diamondback hitters collectively rank 23rd in hitting .229 against southpaws.
Expect, for example, Eduardo Escobar to struggle against Freeland. He’s 5-for-24 (.208) in his career with Freeland on the mound.
Freeland is a daytime pitcher whereas Bumgarner has not had success in this spot. While Freeland is 3-0 in 2020 daytime starts, Bumgarner is 0-3 in them.
Freeland has been more solid in so many respects this season and now he finds himself supported by match-up details and by the situation. With your MLB Picks, back the Rockies with a first-five money-line play in order to take advantage of Colorado’s edge in starting pitching.