Sunday, April 10, 2016:
Chicago Cubs @ Arizona Diamondbacks, 4:10 PM ET
CHC: Jake Arrieta (7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K – 89 pitches, 64 strikes, 23 BF vs. LAA on 4/4)
ARI: Shelby Miller (6.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 HR, 1 BB, 2 K – 91 pitches, 55 strikes, 26 BF vs. COL on 4/5)
It was just last season that Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta became a household name en route to one of the best second half performances ever by a pitcher and a National League Cy Young Award-winning season. What many don’t know is that Arrieta has been dominating hitters for much longer than one season, and he actually posted a 2.53 ERA in over 150.0 innings and 25 starts for a Cubs team that went 73-89 in 2014. In fact, Arrieta’s been one of the game’s top pitchers by many statistical measures since the beginning of 2014.
Seeing these numbers, it should come as no surprise that Arrieta began 2016 strong, tossing seven shutout innings blemished only by a pair of singles and one walk (which was erased two batters later by a double play). While the two main PitchF/X databases on the internet (Brooks Baseball and Baseball Savant) disagree on the number of four-seamers versus sinkers Arrieta threw in his season debut Monday (for the sake of simplicity, I’ll group them all together as “fastballs” from here on out), he threw 39 of 54 fastballs for strikes but induced no swing-and-misses on those pitches. Instead, Arrieta relied on his slider and curveball to get whiffs, with each pitch inducing four apiece (Arrieta also picked up a swing-and-miss on one of the three changeups he threw). Here’s a look at the location of those breaking balls:
Arrieta did an extremely good job of locating his breaking balls, working the majority of those pitches to his arm side, particularly to left-handed hitters:
Arrieta’s fastball was still effective, however, despite the lack of swings-and-misses. Arrieta induced eight ground-ball outs in his outing on Monday, six of which came off of fastballs. All these results fall right in line with Arrieta’s bread-and-butter strategy: use his good sinking fastball to induce ground balls while inducing whiffs with his breaking pitches. When Arrieta is executing that strategy well, he dominates, as was on display Monday in Anaheim.
On the other side of the ball, Shelby Miller takes to the hill for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After his first season with the Atlanta Braves saw Miller rack up a major-league leading 17 losses despite a 3.02 ERA, he was traded to Arizona in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte, pitching prospect Aaron Blair, and 2015 #1-overall draft pick Dansby Swanson. The high price that the Diamondbacks paid to acquire Miller was immediately questioned by many around the game, and his first start in a D-Backs uniform did nothing to quiet those criticisms, as Miller surrendered three home runs and six runs total in a six-inning effort against Colorado on Tuesday.
In his Diamondbacks debut, Miller leaned heavily on his fastball, mixing a four-seam, two-seam, and cutter for 72 of 91 pitches. Of the 13 offspeed pitches he threw, nine were changeups and four were curveballs. Just four of those pitches – three curveballs and a changeup – were thrown to right-handed hitters. Of Miller’s eight hits allowed, six of them came on fastballs, and you can see the locations of those pitches below:
While the two cutters in question look to be well-placed in the bottom of the zone, the four fastballs were all belt-high mistakes. Additionally, Miller managed to induce just four swing-and-misses in the game, three off of fastballs and one off of a cutter.
Obviously, Miller was having issues with his fastball effectiveness, and didn’t mix in enough offspeed stuff to keep the potent Rockies lineup at bay. Moving forward, he’s going to need to seriously improve his pitch selection and keep his fastball down, away from opponents’ bats. His start against the Cubs will be a huge test of his mental toughness and ability to adjust from a bad outing. With star center fielder A.J. Pollock now out for an extended period of time with a broken elbow, the Diamondbacks need Miller as well as Zack Greinke to step up and shut down opponents if they want to compete in a tough NL West division this season.
For Arrieta, he simply needs to continue pitching at the high level he’s been at for the past two-plus seasons at the front of the Cubs’ rotation.
Philadelphia Phillies @ New York Mets, 1:10 PM ET: Jeremy Hellickson vs. Matt Harvey – After striking out six over six scoreless innings in his Phillies debut, righthander Jeremy Hellickson looks for another successful outing two days after his 29th birthday. Matt Harvey takes the mound for the Mets, hoping to improve on a 5.2 inning effort on Opening Day in which he surrendered eight hits, four runs (three earned) and two walks against just two strikeouts.
Los Angeles Dodgers @ San Francisco Giants, 4:05 PM ET: Scott Kazmir vs. Johnny Cueto – Two pitchers with new ballclubs take the hill in their second outings with their new teams. Kazmir allowed just one hit and no walks with five punchouts against the Padres in his Dodgers debut, needing just 75 pitches to work a scoreless six innings. Cueto struck out four Brewers over seven innings in a one-run effort is his first start as a Giant.
New York Yankees @ Detroit Tigers, 8:10 PM ET: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Justin Verlander – Despite allowing a home run and failing to get out of the sixth inning against the Houston Astros, the Yankees’ Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka looked sharp in his season debut. Justin Verlander carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Opening Day against the Marlins before a Dee Gordon doubled and later scored on a Marcell Ozuna single, then allowed a towering two-run home run to Giancarlo Stanton. Verlander’s day concluded after six innings, three hits, three runs, two walks, and five strikeouts.