Diamondbacks Game Preview #55: @Pirates Zac Gallen Ketel Marte

Arizona 26-28 vs. Pittsburgh 23-28, 10:35 a.m. Arizona time

Compositions

Starting pitchers: Zac Gallen, 4-0, 2.32 ERA vs. Zach Thompson 2-4, 5.18 ERA

Ketel Marte will be looking to extend his hitting streak to 17 games today and the Diamondbacks will be looking to win the rubber game of the three-game series behind ace and scorer Zac Gallen. We can probably expect Mark Melancon to get the day off. The rest of the enclosure should be available.

Looks like Roldofo Castro was punished by the Pittsburgh Pirates for not exhausting that popup last night, as he was picked for AAA right after the game. The Pirates called up Travis Swaggerty, who will make his major league debut if he enters the game as a substitute.

START THE GAME

Taking a page from Jim’s preview playbook and following Kilnborn’s comment at the start of yesterday’s thread, I dove down a rabbit hole this morning, this time on Diamondbacks first hitters, and More precisely, statistics of the first batter of the game.

All statistics courtesy of Fangraph separation tool. I must start with the caveat that these numbers, by their nature, are small sample size statistics. But they are outsized not only for setting the tone, but also for the actual results of the game.

We know that the team that scores first will win the majority of games. It’s actually almost 70% of the time. And we know getting to base is the most important thing to do if you want to score points. Homers of course count as “on base”. So scoring a first homer is a big deal. George Springer does it a lot. He leads MLB with 6 first HRs, and has done it 12 times in 2017 and 9 times in 2019. But there are only a few guys in MLB who have hit a lot of first-round HRs. So we’re going to focus on two simple stats: OBP and wRC+. Getting the base is the most important thing in general, but guys who get extra base hits early on will also have higher wRC+. So let’s go :

Opening game 2022

This matches the team’s overall batting rankings as they rank 22nd in OBP and 24th in wRC+ overall. Hits were lacking, but they do have a few walks and HBP helped as well. So the start of the game lines up more or less where it is for all lineup spots, below average. Keep in mind that most teams usually hit one of their best hitters. Usually.

2022 Player Breakdown

Daulton Varsho has held his own seeding games this year, although that’s obviously not where he’s done his best work. Lately, he hasn’t seemed to be seeing as many pitches or being good at bats heading into the game. In his last 6 games he is 0-4, with 2 RAPs. Cooper Hummel continues to get chances at the top of the lineup because he’s known as a good OBP guy, but he’s only got 1 hit and 3 walks in 15 chances before the game. No one other than they tried, albeit sparingly, got down to business in the role.

Lovullo/Hazen Era, first game since 2017, NL uniquely

(Note: before 2022, no NL DH, so comparing apples to apples, NL only)

In total, all batting order slots, the D-backs offense ranked 11th in OBP and 12th in wRC+. So overall in this time they were average to get on base early in the game, although first place power and wRC+ lagged behind the league.

Breakdown of players 2017-2022, ranked by wRC+, Min 15 AP

I used 15 PA as the threshold not because it’s a viable sample size, but because it lets us see where Hummel is. I forgot how well Gregor Blanco led games in 2017. Unfortunately, he did almost nothing else his other times at the plate, ending up with 77 wRC+.

Varsho has been one of the best lead hitters on the team for the past 6 years, so using him there is certainly justifiable. David Peralta’s days filling that kind of role are over as he has become more of a 3TO player. Pavin Smith and Josh Rojas have bad pre-game records. Using Nick Ahmed as a frontman at all times over the years, however sparingly, was a dereliction of duty.

But look at Ketel Marte!! 27 of those 55 PAs came during his 2019 season, when everything was better. Torey sprinkled his early opportunities throughout the season, he didn’t just move Marte down the order permanently because he had his power. Marte responded by hitting .440 with over 1,500 OPS, including three homers.

Maybe Varsho keeps the top spot warm for Alek Thomas if his plate discipline improves a bit, or for Corbin Carroll down the line in 2023. But for now, there may be a throwing opportunity. the offense a bit better by having Ketel leading the game more often. Something they might want to consider.


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Raymond I. Langston