I drove by Wrigley Field on Wednesday and saw the truck being packed for the trip to D.C. A gassed-up truck heading down for a gassed-up series. Of the six starting pitchers scheduled for the series, we’ll see some of the hardest-throwing starters in the game, as measured by average four-seam fastball velocity in 2013.
Here’s a rundown of the Chicago starters. I’ve made quick note of the Nationals pitchers and their respective fastball velocity ranks. Gonna be a hot one — for the most part.
No. 4 Jeff Samardzija vs. No. 17 Ross Detwiler
Things could get confusing on Twitter this weekend. Samardzija is often referred to as “Shark” by Chicagoans, myself included. Clearly it’s a regional nickname, as I doubt most of my neighbors (at home or at the park) realize Roger Bernadina goes by the same moniker. Fortunately, the backup nickname for Samardzija is “Spellcheck.” Or F7 for short. Pretty sure no one shares either variant of that.
Spellcheck is basically a two-speed power pitcher. He throws a hard cut fastball, too, but he is one of the hardest throwing starting pitchers not named Stephen Strasburg. He mixes all of his pitches (except his abandoned curveball) and ends up with a plurality of sliders as a result.
No. 18 Edwin Jackson vs. No. 1 Stephen Strasburg
This should be a fun matchup; the ex-Nat comes home. Actually, Jackson returns to former home parks more often than most, but this is his first trip back to Washington.
Jackson isn’t throwing many change-ups, curveballs or cutters so far, working off his fastball and slider. His cutter is a subtle pitch so it is possible to under- (or over-) count it. Outside of the drop in change-ups, he’s throwing a similar mix to his stint in 2012.
Scott Feldman (NR) vs. No. 20 Gio Gonzalez
Feldman doesn’t throw a four-seam fastball these days (or not enough to reliably track, let alone qualify for the rankings). For what it is worth, he’s 31st in two-seam (AKA “sinker”) velocity. He’s the black sheep of this pitching slate, but it’s not like he’s lobbing it up there.
Feldman is close to being a three-pitch guy, his change-up getting very few looks. His sinker/cutter combination is very effective from his lowered arm-slot, and he’s been able to spot his curveball and keep hitters off balance in his recent starts.
That’s what they’ve thrown, here’s how it worked out for them:
While Jackson has struggled overall and been hit fairly hard this year, he’s actually done a good job of avoiding home runs. His whiff rate is impressive for a starter but doesn’t look so next to Samardzija’s gaudy .30. Otherwise their numbers look very much the same. Feldman is the nibbler and has avoided getting hit hard, for the most part. His Ball to Called Strike ratio is the best of the group, which is a bit backward considering his zone avoidance. The lack of missed bats works to balance that out. There is more than one way to pitch, as the cliche goes.
All three have impressive ground ball rates, which takes us briefly to the Cubs infield. They make a lot of errors, yes. But they make a lot of plays. The standard crew of Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro cover a lot of ground. Castro makes a lot of errors, though. The third base platooon of Cody Ransom and Luis Valbuena has been providing solid defense as well. Valbuena can play well at both third and second.
The wild card is Castro, who can look like a wizard one moment and a dolt the next. Rizzo’s scooping covers some mistakes for all of his mates, and when the first baseman is called on to make a throw he is one of the most accurate throwing first baseman I’ve ever seen. Between Rizzo and Adam LaRoche, we should be treated to some quality play at first base.
It’s a little too early to do this with batted balls, but here’s a summary of the “best” pitch for each Cubs starter in the stat category shown above. Jackson’s fastball appears twice. Keep this in mind: It’s his favorite pitch, his best pitch, but he loses control of it for stretches at a time and can blow up in an inning. But I think Nats fans know that already.
|Samardzija||Splitter (.54)||Slider (1.6)||Cutter (.55)|
|Jackson||Slider (.41)||Fastball (2.0)||Fastball (.50)|
|Feldman||Curveball (.31)||Sinker (1.5)||Cutter (.44)|
Warning: If Samardzija’s splitter is working, the Nationals will find themselves struggling. If it’s not a good splitter day, it could be the Nationals’ day.