Friday, April 15, 2016

Arizona Diamondbacks @ San Diego Padres, 10:40 PM ET
ARI: Zack Greinke (Season: 10.0 IP, 16 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 3 HR, 4 BB, 10 K. Last start: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 8 K – 100 pitches, 66 strikes, 29 BF vs. CHC on 4/9)
SDP: James Shields (Season: 13.0 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 HR, 3 BB, 8 K. Last start: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 2 K – 93 pitches, 53 strikes, 28 BF vs. COL on 4/10)

Christian Petersen & Denis Poroy/Getty Images North America

Christian Petersen & Denis Poroy/Getty Images North America

While it surely would’ve been easy and fun to highlight yet another Madison BumgarnerClayton Kershaw matchup (last Saturday’s featured game), I’ve opted instead to focus on two different National League West aces in this post, who’ve both had decidedly less success this season than the two southpaws previously mentioned. Sometimes, a lack of success can be just as interesting as success itself, especially when you’ve allowed over 25 percent of the earned runs you allowed last season despite throwing less than 5 percent of the innings:

greinke struggles

Greinke’s Diamondbacks career didn’t last long before things got shaky. After retiring six of the first seven batters, the Colorado Rockies opened the door with five straight base hits in the top of the third inning. The streak began with a pair of singles, a Charlie Blackmon double followed by back-to-back home runs by Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez put the Rockies ahead 5-1.

A pair of hits and a walk later, the inning ended with the score 6-1. In the next inning, which proved to be the last for Greinke, another run came across on Story’s second home run of the night (which happened to be his major-league debut) Greinke finished the night with seven earned run on nine hits, a walk, and two strikeouts. Five days later, Greinke fared marginally better against the Chicago Cubs, lasting six innings and striking out eight but allowing four earned runs on seven hits and three walks.

Greinke features five pitches in his repertoire, beginning with a four-seam fastball. His best secondary offerings are his changeup and slider, but he also mixes in the occasional sinker or curveball. This season, the main cause for concern has been the four-seam fastball. Last season the pitch was excellent, producing whiffs on nearly 9.5 percent of pitches and allowing just a .199 average, .162 ISO, and .225 BABIP to opposing hitters. This season, the pitch is being knocked around for a .385 average, .282 ISO, and .406 BABIP, while also only inducing swings-and-misses about five percent of the time. Interestingly, there’s doesn’t seem to be much cause for the uptick in success against his fastball. His velocity has been consistent, sitting around 92.5 mph, and his movement has actually been better this season:

greinke mov

The location hasn’t been too bad, and though he has left some pitches up, his fastball heatmaps look relatively similar. Here is 2015:

Here’s the 2016 version:

Greinke makes his living by keeping pitches away from righties, but not necessarily low in the zone. Perhaps that is coming back to bite him this season, but he had such success last year that that’s hard to imagine. Hopefully, Greinke is just the receiver of some bad luck, and his fastball will return to being more effective over the course of a few more starts.

On the other side of the ball, James Shields toes the rubber for the Dodgers’ rivals to the south, the San Diego Padres. Shields’s first outing was not as rough as Greinke’s as he did turn in a quality start, working six innings and allowing three earned runs off of six hits, a walk, and eight punchouts. While it was serviceable, the Padres and their fans likely expect more from a pitcher in the second season of a four-year, $75 million deal. His second start was decidedly more disappointing, as the 34-year-old allowed four earned on six hits (three homers) and two walks, striking out a pair of batters over seven innings of work.

In his first start, Shields’ fastball was the issue as well. Of the 44 fastballs Shields threw against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 5, five of eight balls put in play went for base hits and just three were swung at and missed. Shields seemed to be missing a lot up and in or low and away to righties. perhaps indicating he was flying open or yanking a fair number of pitches. When they did find the zone, they were often on the inner half to righties:

However, Dodgers’ hitters had no trouble with those inside pitches, as seen by the chart of the hits given up on fastballs in his April 5 outing:

Of those five hits, three were to center field, and two were to left field, indicating that the Dodgers were able to turn on and square up the inside fastball.

In the next outing, Shields’s fastball was more effective, despite averaging less than 91 mph. The locations were much better:

The results followed the execution, and only one of the six fastballs put in play by the Rockies was for a hit. However, a different weapon failed Shields in his second outing: his cutter.

In the first outing, the cutter was very effective, with five balls being put in play, all for outs. Shields responded by throwing many more cutters in the next outing (12 to 30), but not seeing the same level of success. He saw just one whiff on the pitch in each outing despite the volume increase, and more pitches were put in play, ten in total, with four going for hits.The pitch locations were fairly similar, spread on both sides of the plate, at the middle of the strike zone or lower vertically. The movement patterns were, like Greinke’s fastballs, actually better, though:

shields mov

The one knock on Shields’s cutter that day was the velocity, which was slower across the board, with his cutter averaging 87.1 mph as opposed to 88.8 on April 5. Perhaps the difference was the thin Denver air, a far cry from where the Padres play their home games in San Diego. Nevertheless, it seems that Shields was also a bit of a bad luck recipient as well, and hopefully his cutter finds less open spots on the field in his next outing.

Overall, both of these players are in the early stages of large contracts (one significantly larger than the other, however), and they need to turn things around quickly if they are going to contribute as expected to their respective ballclubs.

Looking at the Pitchf/X data shows that there is not too much to worry about — the primary pitches are simply getting put in play for hits at a higher rate, which should eventually normalize unless there is some flaw with the pitch, which our comparisons of the pitch locations and movement patterns did not find. Hopefully, both can find their stride and provide an entertaining pitching duel on Friday night.

Honorable Mentions:

Chicago White Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays, 7:10 PM ET: Chris Sale vs. Jake Odorizzi – After striking out fourteen and allowing six earned runs on thirteen hits and three walks in his first two starts of the year — both seven-inning efforts — Chris Sale looks to pick up his third win on the young season. Jake Odorizzi looks for a little bounce-back outing after allowing four runs on nine hits in his last start, which was preceded by a 10-strikeouts, two-run effort against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Kansas City Royals @ Oakland Athletics, 10:05 PM ET: Edinson Volquez vs. Rich Hill – At the top of the Royals’ rotation, Edinson Volquez has turned in 11.2 innings of work in two starts, allowing ten hits and three walks for two runs (both earned), and striking out fifteen batters. Rich Hill had a rocky Athletics debut but bounced back to turn in his fourth ten-strikeout, one-or-fewer-walk outing since the beginning of last September, spanning six starts.

San Francisco Giants @ Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 PM ET: Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw – This is the second Bumgarner-Kershaw matchup on a season just two weeks old, and in the last showdown, Bumgarner took Kershaw deep for the second time in his career. Bumgarner will be looking to further assert his dominance and Kershaw will be fighting for payback. This is surely going to be an excellent showdown.

About The Author

Matt Wojciak is a 20-year-old senior at St. Joseph's College of Maine, studying for a degree in Accounting. He is a lifelong Red Sox fan, born and raised in southern New Hampshire, with much of his extended family residing in South Boston. If you're a fan of quantity and not quality, be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @mwojciak21.

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