Series Previews: Brewers @ Rays | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

2014:
Brewers (106 G): 464 RS / 435 RA
Rays (105 G): 414 RS / 418 RA

Park factors are quite funny — although the AL features a more robust run environment than the NL, Miller Park’s favorable conditions and Tropicana Field’s repressive conditions produce almost exactly the same environment. Therefore, it is particularly easy to judge the Rays and Brewers against one another. The Brewers’ pitching staff is now almost perfectly average, while the Rays are solidly above average. Once again, the Brewers face a club with a pitching-centered strength, but their offense has responded relatively well. While the Mets split featured low-scoring affairs, the Brewers used timely hitting in their wins; their sweep of the Reds was much more convincing. Now, the Brewers must stop a surging Rays club, and the Milwaukee arms seem to be coming together at exactly the right time.

Last Series:
Brewers: Series split vs. Mets
Rays: Series Victory vs. Rays

Distance to 90:
Brewers: 31 wins, +1 beyond Pythag, even with current WPCT
Rays: 39 wins, +11 beyond Pythag, +11 beyond current WPCT

Kyle Lohse (140.7 IP, 9 runs prevented) @ Jake Odorizzi (106.7 IP, 1 run prevented)
The opening game of this Tampa series is a judgment of Mark Attanasio’s and Doug Melvin’s team-building approach. Jake Odorizzi, perhaps one of the best arms that Doug Melvin has drafted (in terms of prospect hype, trade returns, and MLB performance), faces off against an arm that arguably might not be in Milwaukee if Odorizzi hadn’t been traded. The lineage is quite direct: the Brewers traded Odorizzi as a part of the blockbuster that brought ace-in-waiting Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. After Greinke left via trade at the deadline in 2012, the Brewers had a rotational spot open that would have been Odorizzi’s (by any stretch of the imagination; that rotation spot surfaced at just about the time Odorizzi would have been knocking on the MLB door).

The front office filled that spot with Kyle Lohse in 2013, which infuriated some Brewers fans that were itching for a clearer rebuild (instead of a consistent “middle of the road” or “win now” approach). Yet, Lohse has clearly served as the Brewers’ top arm since appearing in Milwaukee, and now he gives a surprising contender a legitimate rotation leader for a playoff run. Ironically, had the Brewers stuck with Odorizzi in their farm, there would have been several questions about the club’s rotation in 2011 (although, that was quite a stacked club, and Greinke was basically average that year, it is still worth asking who would have pitched instead of Greinke if that trade was never made). Furthermore, instead of a rotational leader heading into 2014, the Brewers would have another emerging young arm. While this could have helped the club’s prospects for contending in 2016 or 2017 (perhaps), it leads one to believe that a contending 2014 Brewers club would have to shop for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline anyway.

One further point: Odorizzi in Tampa is not Odorizzi in Milwaukee. When Kevin Goldstein profiled Odorizzi for BaseballProspectus at the end of 2010, he focused specifically on Odorizzi’s power fastball potential, as well as his breaking ball. But, his change up was filed under “the bad”: “Odorizzi’s changeup continues to improve, but it still lags behind the rest of his arsenal.” This is no longer the case for Odorizzi, who apparently throws two distinct changes. Aside from his famous, standard change up, Ian Malinowski noted that he learned a “split change” from Alex Cobb. This change up accompanies a half-dozen other pitches for Odorizzi, who has an entirely new look for the Rays. One wonders whether Odorizzi would have learned such a pitch in Milwaukee, or if his slider / cutter (or both) would have taken precedent within the Brewers organization (given Gallardo, Wily Peralta, and Jimmy Nelson).

As a side note, does anyone else get bored with the “mechanical” pitch names? A fastball is a “four seamer,” instead of a “rising fastball.” A “two seam fastball” is not a “riding” or “sinking” fastball. A cutter is not a “sailer.” And, despite the apparent re-emergence of the “split change,” there is not a Fosh Ball or Vulcan Change reference in sight! In case you’re wondering, a Fosh Ball is indeed a “split change,” or a split that is gripped in such a way to work as a change-of-pace (this goes with the splitter / change up distinction, rather than considering a splitter a type of change. Therefore, one could have a “splitter” and a “change up”). So, look out for Odorizzi’s Fosh Ball and Sailer against the Brewers: the Rays righty throws plenty of pitches with wrinkles.

Matt Garza (132.7 IP, -7 runs prevented) @ Alex Cobb (88.7 IP, 1 run prevented)
When the curtain falls on Matt Garza’s inaugural season in Milwaukee, the critical review ought to focus on the righty’s fastball. Throughout the year, Garza’s primary and secondary fastballs have defined his success, his big inning issues, and his recoveries. While I have focused on the velocity shifts that occurred during his big inning recoveries earlier in the season, more needs to be said about the role of his fastball in his most successful starts. For example, during Garza’s masterful outing in which he rudely hosted the Mets by suppressing their runs scored, Milwaukee’s righty delivered 84 fastballs. Garza doesn’t even need breaking pitches when his fastball is working. Those fastballs sat between 93 and 94 MPH, which is quite good on the season.

It seems clear that Garza’s success will correspond with his mechanical and spiritual alignment with those fastest pitches; at times, perhaps he throws them too hard, and not consistently, and therefore is rocked despite throwing hard; other times, he uses slower, more deliberate fastballs to achieve outs. This is only my narrative outline, and a full analysis of the data might reveal otherwise. Yet, every great outing by Garza leads my mind to return to those 93-94 MPH pitches.

Alex Cobb has a strange mix of pitches. The young Rays organizational-depth-arm-turned-ace-in-waiting is a true junkballer: he throws his “split change” more than any other pitch in his career. Even stranger, in this era of sinker / slider resurgence (I swear, everybody and their mother is a sinker/slider guy, it seems), Cobb pairs his sinking/riding fastball with a curve and that oddball change. While 77% of Cobb’s pitches will sit between 87-88 and 92-93 MPH, he uses extremely different movement planes to differentiate his offerings (not to mention his slow, deliberate pitching motion). That tricky Fosh Ball will mimic the plane of a riding fastball, at times, dripping below that fastball while busting in on righties; other times, it will simply drop, rolling down and out of the strike zone against either hand. However it moves, Cobb can dominate batters with his favorite off-speed offering, and if that one’s not clicking, he can toss that looping curve in, too.

Yovani Gallardo (128.7 IP, 5 runs prevented) @ David Price (163.7 IP, 11 runs prevented)
David Price and Yovani Gallardo demonstrate completely opposing pitching strategies and development throughout their career. While Price began his career as a hardcore fastball / slider guy in 2008, Gallardo began his career working on several off-speed pitches. Over several seasons, Price offered fewer fastballs, exchanging those deliveries for more change-ups and curves. Now, the southpaw hammers batters with approximately 15% fewer fastballs, while throwing a relatively balanced set of changes, curves, and sliders. By contrast, Gallardo has basically pocketed his change, in favor of his slider. This doesn’t mean that Gallardo has stopped throwing his curve, and in fact, his curve can be a central element to successful outings. But, don’t kid yourself — at his core, Gallardo is now a “moving fastball” / “slider” type pitcher. Even with little separation between his fastballs and slider, Gallardo uses the breaks of those pitches to different outcomes.

Runs Prevented Price Gallardo
2007 - 11
2008 3 7
2009 -5 14
2010 26 1
2011 8 6
2012 35 16
2013 8 -7
2014 11 5
Total 86 (1136.7 IP) 53 (1225.7 IP)
Average 12 (162.3) 7 (153.3 IP)

Given the ongoing (daily) trade gossip about David Price, it is worth asking, “Is David Price an ace?” It is worth asking this question because it seems so intuitive — most MLB fans would be inclined to call Price an ace. There is a sense in which Price is an ace given his stuff, his handedness, and his playoff performance — he also arrived at the very moment the Rays were preparing for success, so his name is rightfully synonymous with success. These are all very strong intangible arguments for acehood.

Price’s opponent for the series finale, Yovani Gallardo, is a fitting foe if this turns out to be the southpaw’s last season in Tampa. Gallardo is also a franchise pitcher for the Brewers, and he too arrived at the very moment the Brewers were beginning their successful years. In fact, in both cases, Price and Gallardo carried their respective rotations through “rough” and “good” seasons, although it is clear that Tampa has had fewer rough seasons than the Brewers from 2007 forward. Gallardo is a fitting foil for Price simply because so many fans expressly do not consider Gallardo an ace; people say, “oh, Gallardo seems like that reliable #2 type, but he’s not reached that ace level yet.” This is quite fair, in a way — Gallardo is a particularly dependable and very good starter, but he’s never had a signature, truly elite season.

Signature seasons are the biggest difference between Price and Gallardo. Where Gallardo and Price are similar is their fluctuation between seasons. Just about every other season, both pitchers will produce at different levels for their respective clubs. Here, their value is solidified by their dependability. On the other hand, Price excels at his very best, exceeding Gallardo’s three best campaigns by approximately 30 runs. It is difficult to call a pitcher “elite” during his best seasons, without making the overall judgment that that pitcher is an ace. In this sense, Price indeed appears to be an ace.

Yet, the development of Price throughout the years, alongside his stuff and pitching approach, suggests that we have yet to see the best work from this southpaw. One might not say the same about Gallardo. Gallardo is quite a good pitcher at his best, and he also sets himself about in the NL with his claims to above average seasons and dependable IP counts (if you don’t believe me, search for NL pitchers that have four consecutive above average runs prevented totals and 100 IP). Price is the better pitcher, but at some level, both Gallardo and Price stand for the same principles for their respective organizations. For this reason alone, I find it hard to believe that the Rays will trade Price. Whether he’s an ace or not, his value to the Rays’ organization is in both his dependability and ceiling performance, and it is steady through his fluctuations. It should not be surprising that the same can be said of Gallardo.

Resources
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Venture, LLC., 1996-2014.
D Rays Bay. Vox Media, 2014.
James, Bill and Rob Neyer. The Neyer / James Guide to Pitchers. New York: Fireside, 2004.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.

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