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October 11, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

Monday LDS Pitching Matchup

by Matt Swartz

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Braves vs. Giants
Madison Bumgarner: 3.00 ERA, 3.88 SIERA
Bumgarner, the highly touted prospect, appeared to be the Giants’ fifth starter heading into spring training, but he struggled with his fastball velocity and did not make the team. However, the Giants gave him his shot in late June and he did not disappoint over 18 starts. His velocity is back, helping him strike out a respectable 18.2 percent of hitters in 2010. He was also very good at limiting walks in his rookie season, issuing them to only 5.5 percent of batters. Bumgarner also generated a 46 percent ground ball rate, which is about average as well. The key to Bumgarner’s success in 2010 was his control, but he also had some luck go his way. He had a similar rate on home runs per fly ball that other Giants’ starters had, and his overall BABIP was actually a high .314 despite the Giants’ overall team BABIP of .286. However, Bumgarner allowed just a .253 BABIP with runners in scoring position and a .269 BABIP with runners on base overall. Thus, despite a modest WHIP of 1.31, his baserunners were frequently stranded. The ability to induce a weaker BABIP with runners on base is not something that pitchers tend to consistently repeat. While some pitchers are better at dodging home runs with men on and better at pitching to contact with the bases empty, the results do not tend to carry over to BABIP. Bumgarner is certainly beatable, despite his low ERA. He is not going to issue walks often, so the Braves will need to make solid contact when they get a pitch to hit.

Derek Lowe: 4.00 ERA, 3.74 SIERA
Lowe allowed just one run in his Game One start in the NLDS start in which Tim Lincecum outshined him. Lowe struggled with control, issuing four walks in just 28 batters faced and leaving after just 5 1/3 innings. Lowe threw only 96 pitches, which help enable to pitch on short rest. Lowe has some history of pitching on short rest, and obviously has had stints as a relief pitcher, too, but the sample size is too small to draw much evidence from in terms of predicting. Most recently, he pitched on three days’ rest in Game Four of the NLCS in 2008, when he threw 5 1/3 innings for the Dodgers and allowed three runs (two earned), though his bullpen cost him the win. Below is the summary of Lowe’s skills, re-printed from his Game One start:

Lowe rebounded nicely from an ugly 2009 season. His SIERA had declined from 3.19 to 3.33 in his last year with the Dodgers to 4.26 in his first year with the Braves, but Lowe rediscovered his ability to strike out hitters in 2010. His strikeout rates were 17.7 and 17.3 percent in 2007 and 2008, but fell to 13.0 percent in 2009. However, this season, Lowe struck out 16.5 percent of hitters, which was more than enough to restore his status as one of the better pitchers in the game. His ground-ball rate of 59 percent is the main reason that Lowe was successful in 2010. His ground-ball rate had never actually declined, as his 2009 rate was still 58 percent, but when you do not strike out hitters, a high ground-ball rate is only useful enough to get the double plays necessary to keep your spot in the rotation.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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