Upcoming Series Matchups (8/16/10)--Padres Bats vs. Cubs Arms


San Diego will face lefty Tom Gorzelanny, righty Randy Wells, righty Casey Coleman, and righty Carlos Zambrano in the upcoming four-game road series.

Let’s take a look at these matchups.

Gorzelanny is a tough lefty with a solid four-pitch arsenal. He’s got an 88-92 mph fastball, a plus 78-82 mph slider, and a 73-76 mph curve and 82-86 mph changeup.

The curve is strictly a show pitch, and the changeup comes in a bit too hard to be very effective, but the fastball and slider are very tough, especially on lefties. He goes very slider-heavy to lefties, throwing it over 40% of the time and getting a whiff about one in every six pitches (and on over 35% of swings).

Gorzelanny likes to pound the outer half of the zone to lefties, but seems to get timid with righties, resulting in an elevated walk rate of 4.59 BB/9. He becomes a more conventional pitcher against righties, throwing his fastball about 63% of the time and splitting the other pitches evenly between his slider and changeup. He always throws the changeup away to righties–call him the anti-Lincecum, if you will–but he’s less predictable with the fastball. He does have a slight tendency to work up in the zone with the heater, which makes his low homer total (just seven allowed all year) pretty surprising.

I have a feeling Gorzelanny will pitch fairly well tonight. It looks like his fastball’s pretty solid, and his slider might just be nasty enough to get Adrian Gonzalez out. The Padres don’t hit fastballs well, so that hurts.

Gorzelanny does bear some resemblance to Jonathan Sanchez–an erratic, strikeout-prone lefty with a good breaking ball, average-minus changeup, and low-90′s heater–so I think expecting similar results from Gorzelanny to Sanchez’s start three days ago is a reasonable place to start.

Randy Wells is a fairly garden-variety pitcher. He throws strikes with a fastball around 90, a hard slider, and a changeup that lacks much depth. He gets a decent amount of strikeouts, doesn’t walk many, gets an average number of grounders, and allows the occasional homer. Yawn.

The one notable characteristic Wells has is that his slider’s pretty vicious, generating whiffs on 30% of swings. Like Gorzelanny, he falls in love with the pitch to same-side batters, throwing it around 35% of the time and peppering the outer half. Wells throws a two-seamer in on righties’ hands to get them off the slider. It does get them off the slider (hence the breaker’s excellent success), but the sinker itself isn’t very effective.

Like Gorzelanny, Wells throws his changeup too hard and gets really predictable with it to opposite-side batters, throwing it too much and keeping it over the outer half. While Wells will bust fellow righties inside with the sinker, he doesn’t trust the pitch as a comeback offering inside to lefties, so he’s not very effective against them, posting a 1.74 K/BB compared to 3.45 against righties.

It’s tempting to just say Wells is a right-handed Gorzelanny, but he’s got a few more things working against him. The Padres hit righties better than lefties, he looks very vulnerable to Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Ludwick, and he’s going to allow more balls in play. Wells isn’t likely to get himself in trouble with walks, but he’s allowed seven runs in two of his past three starts, so he’s prone to getting hit around. Wells has also allowed a homer and at least three earned runs in each of his last four starts, so the Padres are catching him in a cold streak. I like their chances.

Casey Coleman is a 23-year-old rookie righthander who apparently will make his first MLB start in the third game. He’s allowed eight earned in 8 1/3 thus far in four relief outings, so he’s not off to the greatest of starts.

Coleman worked around 90 mph in relief, so he’ll likely sit in the 86-90 range as a starter. He also throws a slider, changeup, and overhand curveball, using the three pitches roughly equally.

Coleman lacks a swing-and-miss offering, evidenced by his striking out just 59 batters in 117 1/3 innings in Triple-A. Instead, he just tries to pound the bottom of the zone and hope for the best. He largely operates with a sinking fastball and a sinking changeup that both do a decent job at inducing grounders but almost never miss the bat. His breaking pitches make up about 25% of his arsenal, and Coleman will break them out when he looks for a strikeout.

It’s worth noting, given the Padres’ tendencies, that Coleman is credited with being the rare righty who can control the running game well.

Ultimately, there certainly isn’t much data to go on for batter-pitcher matchups (we’re talking about a guy with 144 career pitches), but it’s safe to say that Coleman isn’t intimidating. Heck, the guy was a nice fourth starter in Triple-A, so he’s not about to morph into some sort of dynamo in Chicago. That said, he’s a fresh face making his first start, and sometimes guys like that can make a big splash in their first start (see Chris Saenz). I wouldn’t put my money on Coleman doing much, but you never know, and he’s drawing arguably the easiest opponent of the four Padres in Clayton Richard.

Finally, there is Carlos Zambrano, who is certainly nothing like the ace he once was. Zambrano lacks plus groundball ability at this point, and his ever-shaky command has regressed. He’ll still get some strikeouts, though.

It’s worth noting that Zambrano has a 6/9 K/BB ratio in two starts since moving back to the Cubs’ rotation, so he isn’t likely to even pitch as well as his season numbers suggest.

Zambrano’s sinker now goes just 87-91 mph, and in the 86 he’s thrown in these last two starts, one has been whiffed at. The big righty also chucks a cutter, slider, and splitter, none of which are particularly effective, certainly not in this recent rotation stint anyway. The split is Zambrano’s out pitch, but he rarely throws it to righties, leaving him with just a sinker-slider combo that simply isn’t very effective right now. Not surprisingly, Zambrano has a much better strikeout rate against lefties. The splitter is a nasty pitch, but he doesn’t throw it for strikes, so he makes up for the extra strikeouts by walking over six lefties per nine innings against lefties. The Padres aren’t liable to chase the bad pitches, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Zambrano winds up befuddled like Tim Lincecum just was.

So, to recap, I like the Padres’ chances in these games, particularly if they win the tonight’s contest, which looks to be the toughest matchup. The games look like they will get more in the Padres’ favor as the series goes on.

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