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March 24, 2014

Painting the Black

Men at Work

by R.J. Anderson

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While the east coast slept early Saturday morning and late Saturday evening, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened the season with a two-game series in Sydney, Australia. The time-zone difference is 15 hours, meaning normal start times in Australia (1 and 7 p.m.) became abnormal stateside (4 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST). Because not everyone disrupted their sleep patterns to watch two baseball games, here are some insights on what happened during those two games down under.

Game One: Dodgers win 3-1.
The story of the first game was Clayton Kershaw. The National League's reigning Cy Young winner failed to match his Opening Day performance from last year, when he threw a shutout against the defending world champions, but he pitched as well as one could be expected to given the circumstances. Kershaw's day at the office saw him face 27 batters, yield five hits, one walk, and a run, and strike out seven. More than 70 percent of Kershaw's pitches were strikes, and about a third of the swings the D'Backs took connected with air, not horsehide. It was, in short, a good way to start the year.

Kershaw is at once a great talent and horrible model. He's either the game's best pitcher, or good enough that nobody quibbles with handing him the title: he ranks first in ERA+ and OPS against, and third in innings pitched among pitchers with 500-plus innings the past three seasons—oh, and he's the sixth-youngest of the 50 qualified starters. Those elite results stem from some of the game's best stuff: our own Steffan Segui graded two of his pitches as 8s and another as a 7. Factor in his angelic off-the-field reputation and the man is close to the perfect pitcher; to be anti-Kershaw is to be a contrarian or a fan of another NL West team.

Yet Kershaw might be the worst model for pitching instruction in the league. This is true for most great talents—as Adam Sobsey wrote in 2012: "The means of manufacture of the very greatest writing is impenetrable for most of us. The best you can do is write bad imitations of it."—but in particular for Kershaw. His herky-jerky mechanics are so far from the beaten path that, were your son to emulate them during a game of catch, you'd respond in kind by handing him a bat. Kershaw uses his best pitch the least often of his three main pitches. Consider this: Kershaw threw 48 curveballs last October over four starts; Adam Wainwright, another patron saint of the hammer, threw 48 curves in a single October start. Whatever works works, of course, and that doubles as a catch-all saying and Kershaw's motto.

Still, whether Kershaw's technique can be copied or not, it was appropriate for him to open the new year with a three-pitch strikeout. Poor A.J. Pollock had no chance. Kershaw started him with a fastball down and in that was called a strike, then threw a low slider, which Pollock failed to check his swing on, before freezing Arizona's center fielder with a belly-high heater on the outside corner. You just know Pollock anticipated the curve, so what was he supposed to do with the hard stuff—send a ball screaming into the first-base dugout?

The first batter of the game and the D'Backs were already outwitted and overpowered. In reality, their best scoring chance would occur later in the inning, when back-to-back ground balls found their way through the infield and Mark Trumbo worked a 2-0 count. Alas, Trumbo was jobbed on a strike call and then grounded out to end the inning. Kershaw wouldn't throw a pitch with a runner in scoring position again until the sixth inning, following a leadoff double from Paul Goldschmidt. (Goldschmidt would score Arizona's only run a few batters later.) Otherwise, it was an easy, breezy 102-pitch day.

Kershaw would leave after two outs in the sixth inning but, even with just three runs of their own, the Dodgers had the game in hand. Scott Van Slyke doubled in the second inning, positioning Adrian Gonzalez to score on a subsequent groundout, and pushed an outside fastball down the right-field line for a two-run homer later in the game. And that was that. The Dodgers' heroes on the day were, as everyone predicted, their $215 million ace and a 27-year-old outfielder who passed through waivers 15 months ago and only started due to two injuries ahead of him on the depth chart (to players making about $41 million more than he will this season).

A few other thoughts:

  • Believe it or not, there was another left-handed starter in this game. Wade Miley, replacing the injured Patrick Corbin as Arizona's Opening Day starter, wasn't up to Kershaw's par, but was solid nonetheless. His line on the day was five innings, three hits, three runs, two walks, and eight strikeouts. Almost all of his pitches were either fastballs or sliders, but it worked—even if he went through a rut where he failed to finish his pitches, as he is wont to do. Kershaw edged him, and let's hope a barber edges Miley before his next start. Shaggy is not a good look, Wade.
  • Mark Trumbo had an adventurous day in left field, his first start out there since last May. He misjudged a fly ball and scaled the wall on a ball that bounced off the wall a few feet away. Later on, he made a diving attempt on an Adrian Gonzalez liner, but came up short and allowed the Dodgers first baseman to reach second.
  • The two bullpens combined for six-plus innings, and held the opposition to a combined three baserunners. The Dodgers' trio of Chris Perez (1/3 an inning), Brian Wilson (a full inning), and Kenley Jansen (ditto) allowed just one baserunner, and that was via walk.
  • The exact moment where you realized the D'Backs were in trouble was when left-handed hitter Didi Gregorius pinch-hit for Miley against Kershaw. The same Gregorius known more for his glove than his bat and who, it should be noted, was abysmal last season against lefties.

Game Two: Dodgers win 7-5.
But wait, there was another game. Unfortunately, the final score understates how one-sided the tilt was, as four of Arizona's five runs were scored in the ninth inning. Because the game lacked a signature performance and drama, let's go straight to the bullets.

  • Trevor Cahill struggled from the get-go. The Dodgers were aggressive early, swinging on three of the first four pitches and making two outs in the process, but tempered their approach from thereon. Cahill faced 20 more batters on the day, and went to three-ball counts on eight of them. He missed wide to the arm side with his sinker, and down and to the glove side with his curveball, leaving him without a clear path to getting ahead of hitters. By the time Kirk Gibson came to the mound, in the fifth inning with runners on the corners and no one out, Cahill had allowed five runs on eight hits and four walks.
  • Hyun-Jin Ryu wasn't pristine, either. He lasted five innings, and went to a three-ball count on five of the 19 batters he faced, but limited the D'Backs to three baserunners while registering five strikeouts. A dominant or efficient day of work? Hardly, yet Ryu kept the D'Backs away from the bases and off the scoreboard, which is all he needed to do on this day.
  • If you had the second time he reached base in the When Will Yasiel Puig Make an Out on the Basepaths pool, then congratulations—you win a set of hysterical columns concerning his, at times, overzealous play. Puig kicked the nest again later in the game, when he hesitated on a ball in the dirt and was tagged out at third. You'd like to see more discretion from Puig, but let's keep his relative inexperience in mind, along with the contributions he makes offensively. He doesn't always make the perfect baseball play, but maybe he will some day.
  • The closest we got to a Trumbonian misplay came in the fourth inning, when Hanley Ramirez attempted to touch second base and fire to first for a double play. He misjudged the speed of either Paul Goldschmidt or Miguel Montero, because he didn't beat the former to the bag, and his throw arrived at first too late to nab the latter. Ramirez also banged his leg against the big first baseman's upper body for good measure. Luckily, both appeared fine.
  • With both starters exiting relatively early, the expanded bullpens gave the second half of the game a September feel. Josh Collmenter was the first reliever in, and looked as though he could use more time in spring training, as he allowed two baserunners to score before he ending the fifth inning. Gibson then allowed Collmenter to bat half an inning later. To Collmenter's credit, he reached base via walk; to Collmenter's debit, he yielded another run, allowed two more batters to reach base, and left the game in the subsequent half-inning without recording another out.
  • Replacing Collmenter was Joe Thatcher, whom the D'Backs have reportedly soured on. The simplest ways to measure a LOOGY are his performance against lefties and how well he strands runners. Thatcher earned points in both categories, retiring each left-handed batter he faced and cleaning Collmenter's mess without allowing another runner to cross the plate.
  • The exact moment where you realized the D'Backs were in trouble, take two, was when Dee Gordon hit a ball on a line to the warning track. He doubled on the play, but would have tripled if the pitcher hadn't been on base ahead of him. Gordon reached twice more on the day: once on an infield single, and another on a push bunt in front of the plate that caused a throwing error. Gordon has days like these, where his speed makes him look like a catalystic force at the top of the order. Sadly, those days are too few and far between for the Dodgers to continue to bat him at the top of the order.
  • Here's how deep the Dodgers' bullpen is: Jamey Wright (3.09 ERA last season) and J.P. Howell (2.03 ERA last year) were two of the final guys to appear. Bullpens are volatile, and what looks good on paper can stink on grass, but the Dodgers should have a strong unit.
  • Mark Trumbo atoned for his previous left-field sloppiness by driving in three runs and reaching base twice, including on a ninth-inning home run against Kenley Jansen.
  • Do you know who Bo Schultz is? If not, the 28-year-old debuted late in the game. Schultz had just 17 appearances in Triple-A before the D'Backs added him to their 40-man roster last winter. The former undrafted free agent, by way of Northwestern and the A's organization, throws a mid-90s fastball, cutter, and slider from a low three-quarters arm slot. While it's a stretch to think Schultz is going to be more than an up-and-down guy, his inclusion on the Opening Day roster is the ideal opportunity to note that his top PECOTA comparable is ... Mike Schultz. In your best This Week in Baseball voice, repeat after me: How about that?
  • Alex Guerrero and Jose Dominguez also debuted, albeit for the Dodgers. Dominguez showed a Mountain Dew arm, hitting 97 mph on a gun that was a few bumps cold all weekend. He didn't have his best control, however, and allowed the D'Backs to plate a few runs. Guerrero, for his part, struck out.
  • Obligatory, caveat-filled sentences: Had this series occurred in mid-May in Arizona or Los Angeles, then nobody would fret. But, since it didn't, we're going to spend more time talking about it than we should. While the losses will make for a frustrating plane ride home, the D'Backs should rest easier knowing they have 160 games left to make up two games.
  • Was this series a success? Yes, if only for one reason: Australian fans are now conscious of Tuffy Gosewich.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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surfdent48

Wade Miley's 5 innings and 3 runs in game 1 is not exactly "solid".

Mar 24, 2014 07:37 AM
rating: 0
 
jwise224

Perhaps "solid" doesn't sit well with you, but considering his 8 K's in 5 IP is his highest K/IP ratio of his career and that he made the start somewhat unexpectedly when Corbin went down with little time to adjust his schedule, and that the two-run homer that beat him was fair by two feet and over the fence by a smaller margin, one could choose a worse word than "solid."

Mar 24, 2014 08:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Surfdent, I understand your objection but I disagree. I think Miley pitched better than his runs allowed column indicates.

The first run stemmed from Trumbo's misplay in left field. Had Trumbo caught the ball (and he should have) then Miley might have escaped without allowing a run. I won't say it was a given, because there's no telling how things play out, but it's hard for me to blame that sequence of events on Miley and Miley alone, even if the ball was fairly well struck.

Meanwhile, the other two runs came on a ball that just escaped the fence and avoided the pole, as jwise wrote. I would also note that it was on a fastball up and off the plate away. That's generally not a location where a pitcher is going to get burned like that, so I felt some sympathy for him in that regard.

Obviously those runs scored and you can't hand wave them away. I just think he was better on Saturday night than you might glean based on his runs allowed and that, if he pitches like that most nights, the D'Backs will be happy with the results over the long haul.

Mar 24, 2014 13:38 PM
 
jwise224

The dinger was more a function of good hitting from Van Slyke than a mistake by Miley. He was limited to few pitches since he was on a funky schedule thanks to the Corbin injury or we could have seen 6+ IP from him.

Mar 24, 2014 13:47 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Yeah. I think that's fair. I thought he outpitched Ryu (and obviously Cahill), so even with the circumstances at hand he had a successful outing.

Mar 24, 2014 15:24 PM
 
randolph3030

I wonder if anybody has Bo Schultz in the Reliever League. Nobody does in my pool and Craig Counsell got drafted.

Mar 24, 2014 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Assuming his name wasn't misspelled by whoever picked him, the answer is no, nobody has Bo Schultz in the Reliever League.

Mar 24, 2014 17:28 PM
 
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