The Padres hit Lopez hard the last time they faced him. Will he improve? Will Arizona’s two new starters pose trouble for San Diego despite their two offensive upgrades? Find out after the jump.
In just about every series preview I’ve written about the Padres’ offense, I’ve always started by saying they’re a team that hits breaking stuff well and fastballs poorly. A couple of weeks ago, I noted that they had made some improvements on changeups, to the point where that wasn’t a huge weakness.
Acquiring Miguel Tejada, who doesn’t have much in the way of bat speed, made the Padres an ever heavier offspeed-hitting team, but the acquisition of Ryan Ludwick, a fastball hitter all the way, helps strengthen the Padres against fastballs. At the very least, they now have two middle-of-the-lineup guys who can turn heat around.
Ludwick has trouble with sliders, but he stays back on curves well. He’s having a down year against changeups, but has handled them well in the past.
With Ludwick around, that certainly changes what sort of team the Padres are offensively. Against a right-hander, we used to see a lineup like this (ordered by position, not batting order, of course):
Those eight hitters have combined to be 35.3 runs below average on fastballs, .3 runs above average against sliders, 2.2 runs below average on curveballs, and 15.3 runs above average against changeups this season.
You can see a couple of things come out there. First off, the Padres couldn’t hit fastballs. Secondly, the demotion of Aaron Cunningham and injuries to David Eckstein and Oscar Salazar made the Padres worse against breaking pitches and better against changeups.
Now, the lineup is likely to look more like this:
This lineup is -28.4 runs on fastballs, -1.5 on sliders, +3.7 on curves, and +13.7 against changeups. You can see that there are sizeable jumps in the 5-7 run range against fastballs and curveballs in exchange for <2 run losses against sliders and changeups. Not only is it an upgrade overall, but it serves to make the lineup more balanced and able to deal with different kinds of pitchers.
These measures are admittedly crude, since cumulative linear weights are obviously influenced by playing time, but, if anything, they understate the upgrades because the two inferior players (Cabrera and Denorfia) that Ludwick and Tejada are replacing didn’t get that much playing time this year, so their contributions aren’t as pronounced. In particular, Cabrera’s terrible hitting would’ve dragged the numbers down even more had he not missed considerable time with injury.
Anyway, after that rather long tangent, let’s look at how this new lineup could fare against Arizona’s pitchers, which is what the whole point of this article is.
Dan Hudson, the first Arizona hurler, features a hard moving fastball in the 90-96 mph range, and his changeup is very good. An extreme flyball pitcher, Hudson lacks a major league-quality breaking ball, so he goes fastball/changeup 90% of the time. He’s also fairly walk-prone.
The previous discussion of the Padres’ lineup shows the team to be very good against changeups right now. Gwynn, Gonzalez, and Venable all stay back extremely well on the pitch, which is bad news for Hudson if he thinks he can use it as his out pitch to lefties. The only one of the Padres’ four lefty batters likely to start against Hudson who has any trouble with changeups is Headley.
With the team likely rendering Hudson’s out pitch less effective than usual, he’ll have some trouble putting San Diego hitters away, which at the very least could lead to an elevated pitch count even if he succeeds. It also means that Hudson’s likely to have a worse strikeout-to-walk ratio than normal, which is a problem for a pitcher with just a 3/2 mark in that regard. The extreme flyballer could also run into trouble if he elevates his fastball to Ludwick, Gonzalez, or even Headley.
Neither Hudson nor Padres starter Jon Garland is an especially good matchup against their opponent for the series’ first game. That means it could become a battle of bullpens–which San Diego is almost sure to win, given the quality of the relievers on both sides.
Game 2 is started by Rodrigo Lopez. To quote myself from the last time he faced the Padres, on July 17:
The Padres get Lopez next, and he’s been lucky to post a 4.40 ERA this year. The 34-year-old isn’t a dominating pitcher by any means, striking out a batter just every other inning.
Lopez is a pitch-mixer, tossing a fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, and changeup. He uses the slider as his “out pitch” to an extent, but generally just mixes up his patterns. Lopez tops out around 90 mph, so even though the Padres aren’t very good against fastballs, they should be able to handle his. Lopez’s reliance on the slider plays into the Padres’ hands, as the team generally handles sliders well. Lopez doesn’t command his changeup very well, so it’s not a pitch to worry about either.
Lopez simply isn’t a good pitcher. The Padres should have success against him.
They did have success against him, knocking four homers out in six innings. With the stronger, more balanced lineup in place now, I wouldn’t expect Lopez to fare well. I don’t have much else to add on him.
Finally, lefty Joe Saunders takes the mound. Of course, the lineup against him will likely include Denorfia, Cabrera, and Scott Hairston, in place of Headley, Gwynn, and Venable, so the numbers against the pitches from the beginning of the article obviously change with the different personnel in. The quick-and-dirty differences: Denorfia’s about average against everything, Cabrera’s bad against everything, and Hairston is a fastball hitter, and they replace Venable and Gwynn, who hit changeups…and that’s about it, and Headley who hits fastballs and curves but flails against sliders and changeups.
Saunders, like Hudson, is primarily a fastball/change pitcher, but neither his fastball nor his changeup is as impressive as Hudson’s, largely because neither one misses many bats. Saunders lacks a swing-and-miss pitch, so he employs the ol’ Kirk Rueter strategy–throw a fastball for strike one, and then throw a bunch of pitches just outside the zone, hoping to get a batter to chase and induce weak contact. It’s not the worst of strategies, but Saunders doesn’t do the best job of keeping the ball down, and he doesn’t have the stuff to miss up, particularly in Arizona.
With Gonzalez, Ludwick, and Hairston all around to crush fastballs, and Saunders not having the sort of offspeed stuff that can make the Padres blink, he could run into some trouble. Against Mat Latos, he’ll have a small margin for error.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Arizona bullpen is extremely poor, so even if one of the three starters gets a two-or-three-run lead through six innings, the Padres are certainly not out of it.