Upcoming Series Matchups (7/27/10)--Padres Bats vs. Dodgers Arms

The Padres face righthanders Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vicente Padilla in their upcoming three-game set.

Find out how the San Diego offense matches up with those three after the jump.

I’ve said all year (okay, all month since I’ve started doing series previews) that the Padres are a breaking ball-hitting team, struggling against fastballs, cutters, and changeups, and hitting sliders and curves well.

It still holds true, but it’s worth noting the team has hit changeups better of late, and now ranks as the 14th-best changeup-hitting team in baseball, at .24 runs below average per 100 changeups.

The first pitcher they face is anything but a changeup artist, however. Billingsley is a power pitcher with a 90-93 mph fastball, a hard cutter, and a big, overhand curve he uses as his out pitch. He also has a slider and changeup he almost never uses.

The curveball is a nice pitch, but he struggles to locate the pitch at times, and the Padres hit curves well anyway. The fastball doesn’t have much life, and it has been just an average pitch over his career, so it’s unlikely that Billingsley will be able to dominate with it alone.

The one pitch that does cause concern is the cutter, which has been more effective than Billingsley’s fastball or curve this year. Adrian Gonzalez has a real problem with cutters busted in on his hands, so Billingsley might be able to neutralize the Padres’ biggest offensive force. If Billingsley can bust the San Diego lefties inside with the cutter all day, it could be tough for the San Diego offense. He could then work the curve in as his out pitch to righties like Chris Denorfia and Aaron Cunningham, two of the few poor curveball hitters on the Padres.

So, Billingsley could dominate, but that’s only if he suddenly decides to become a cutter-heavy pitcher to lefties. He actually uses the cutter a bit more to righties than lefties, though, and he doesn’t throw it more than about a quarter of the time to lefties, so it’s unlikely that he’ll suddenly morph into a righthanded version of Al Leiter out there. More likely, he uses the four-seam fastball and curve quite a bit to the lefties, and throws the righties a good dose of cutters, which isn’t anywhere near as optimal an approach.

In sum, Billingsley’s likely to pitch solidly but not dominate–much like his opponent Jon Garland.

Kuroda, the second Dodger pitcher, is a cut-and-dried three-pitch hurler, with a 90-94 mph fastball, a hard slider he uses about 35% of the time, and a diving splitter.

It’s almost impossible to analyze batters’ reactions to splitters because they’re thrown so rarely that it takes years to get sufficient data on them. It’s almost like trying to determine who the good knuckleball hitters are. Suffice it to say two things about Kuroda’s splitter: first, he only throws it 12% of the time, so it’s clearly his third pitch, and second, it’s a plus pitch when he throws it.

Now, from there, it gets more clear-cut. Kuroda generally utilizes a two-seam fastball that makes him very tough on righties but vulnerable to lefties. Sinker-slider pitchers are generally easy meat for opposite-side hitters, and Kuroda’s K/BB goes from 4.67 against righties to just 2.00 against lefties. The Padres are likely to use Adrian Gonzalez, Tony Gwynn, Will Venable, Chase Headley, and Everth Cabrera against him, so Kuroda will certainly have his hands full.

His slider is solid, but Kuroda will be throwing it to a lot of lefties, and the Padres can hit sliders well as a team in the first place. His groundball tendencies are usually nice, but the Padres are just fine with hitting the ball on the ground, especially at Petco. Kuroda is also one of the easier pitchers to run on in MLB, with his 11 steals allowed tying for 32nd in baseball. The Padres will surely try to take advantage of that.

I’d expect Kuroda to pitch solidly, but not up to his usual standards.

Finally, a rejuvenated Padilla (3.41 ERA) will come to the mound and face Kevin Correia in an interesting battle of five-pitch guys. Padilla actually throws his fastball 73% of the time, and he backs the 91-95 mph heater up primarily with an eephus pitch he uses 15% of the time. He also throws a slider, splitter, and cutter.

Padilla’s fastball lacks life, and he doesn’t have an out pitch to lefties, so he’s posted a 5.00 FIP against them this year. The same issues I brought up with Kuroda apply even more vigorously here. In particular, homers have killed Padilla, as he’s allowed six to lefties in 30 2/3 innings, and another five to righties in 38 frames.

When you throw a straight fastball three-quarters of the time, that’s going to happen, particularly if you throw it up in the zone as often as Padilla does. That helps him strike out eight batters per nine, but also leads to a lot of four-baggers, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Gonzalez can rip one or even two out on Padilla.

As for the rest of his arsenal? The guy throws a freaking eephus as his second pitch, and it’s anyone’s guess what the Padres can do with that. They adjust well to curves, for what little it’s worth. Padilla’s rarely-thrown slider shouldn’t cause any issues, and neither should the splitter or cutter he breaks out once or twice a game.

Padilla is in a good place to succeed given his homer problems–he’s facing a fairly poor fastball-hitting team in the most forgiving fly ball park in baseball–so he might be able to get through six or seven innings with little damage. The potential for a blowup is there, though.

All in all, it’s three pretty interesting matchups, with nobody on either side looking like too strong a bet to dominate or to implode. The series may come down to a couple swings of the bat, or a battle of bullpens.

Tags: San Diego Padres Series Preview

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