The Pittsburgh Pirates are not a good team for Giants starter Madison Bumgarner to be facing in the National League Wild Card Game.
Bumgarner has a trait in his game (not a flaw) that the Pirates seem well-positioned to exploit – and they may have already done so once this year.
“Wait a minute,” you’re saying. “Sounds like a little wishful thinking from a Pirate fan. Bumgarner has been terrific.”
Yes he has.
“You’re not going to pull that xFIP/ERA trick with Bumgarner,” you say. “This guy’s 2.99 ERA is perfectly backed up by his 2.98 xFIP.”
Yes. It is.
“So what are the Pirates going to ‘exploit’ about a pitcher with 9.08 K/9IP, 1.78 BB/9, and 0.87 HR/9 ?!,” you rightly demand.
Have you considered how Bumgarner has gone about getting all those strikeouts?
His fastball has averaged 92.1mph. He’s far from a soft-tossing lefty, but he is also not a pitcher with dominant velocity. And, yet, he is striking out more than a batter per inning.
“Hmm.” you might say.
Here’s the key: A good portion of Bumgarner’s success has come from his ability to get swings and misses on pitches that he throws outside of the strike zone.
The major league average for “swings at pitches outside of the strike zone” is 31.3%. Bumgarner gets swings on 36.2% of the pitches that he throws outside of the zone. That gives him a big advantage over the league average pitcher. And batters only make contact on Bumgarner’s “non-zone” offerings 63.3% of the time. The major league average is 65.8%.
But the Pirates are fairly well-disposed toward exploiting a pitcher who relies on getting swings and misses on bad pitches. They have some very disciplined hitters – and most of the ones who are not very disciplined still make a lot of contact on pitches at which they should not swing.
Russell Martin swings at only 24.1% of pitches outside the zone, 6.6 points below the league average of 31.3%. His contact rate on those pitches is 63.7%
Andrew McCuthen’s swing rate on bad pitches is 27.7%. His contact rate is 68.5%
Travis Snider has swung at only 26.7% of pitches outside of the zone, with a contact rate of 65.9% – just about the league average of 65.8%.
I would have those three hitters at the top of the batting order. But I don’t expect the Pirates to make that drastic of a change for a one-game playoff.
Of tonight’s likely Pirate starters, Josh Harrison has the worst rate of swinging at pitches outside of the zone; 39.2%. That’s 7.9 points above league average. But his contact rate on those pitches is a very good 71.7%. He could give Bumgarner fits. The Giants hurler could make exactly the pitch he wants to make to Harrison and put it in its precisely planned location – and still see it go for a base-hit, or more.
Jordy Mercer swings at 34.4% of pitches out of the zone, but he is above average at hitting them, with a 68.1% contact rate.
Neil Walker (32.0%) is about league average on swings outside the zone, but his contact rate is even better than Harrison’s at 73.3%.
Gaby Sanchez is also about average on swinging at bad offerings (31.7%), but also has a significantly above average contact rate on those pitches at 69.2%.
The identity of the one Pirate starter who both swings at a lot of pitches outside the zone and also misses a lot of them should come as no surprise. “Most Disciplined Hitter” is not a title that will be won by Starling Marte. He swings at 37.3% of pitches outside the zone and makes contact on only 60.9% of them; 4.9 points below the league average. However, he does appear to have improved greatly in the area of taking bad pitches in the second half of 2014.
And the further good news for the Pirates, is that they pretty well lit up Bumgarner in their only meeting with him this year.
On July 28, Bumgarner only lasted four innings against the Pirates, allowing 5 earned runs on 6 hits, two walks, and a home run by the least selective hitter on the team – Josh Harrison.
And the even better news? In Bumgarner’s only start against the Pirates, he threw 90 pitches and got only four (4) swinging strikes.
Lay off the garbage, Bucs, and you just might light up Madison Bumgarner for the second time this year.