Upcoming Series Matchups (8/13/10)–Padres Bats vs. Giants Arms

By Editorial Staff

The Padres will face lefties Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner in the first two games of their series with the Giants, followed by ace Tim Lincecum in the final game.

Will the Padres neutralize these three fantastic young pitchers? Find out after the jump.

Jonathan Sanchez is an erratic lefty who gets tons of whiffs but also walks more than he should. His fastball is pretty much average, going 88-93 with average movement, but for some reason, hitters don’t like to swing at it. Sanchez draws far more swings at his offspeed stuff, even though he doesn’t keep his other pitches in the zone nearly as much as his fastball. This probably has something to do with the deception in his twisting delivery.

Sanchez leans heavily on his breaking ball once he gets ahead in the count, a low-80’s slider with great depth. It has such impressive movement that he struggles to control it, leaving lots of breakers in the dirt. That means that many of the swings on the pitch draw air, but also means that Sanchez can turn an 0-2 count into a 3-2 count pretty quickly. Sanchez also has a changeup, but it’s been below-average every year he’s been in the majors.

Now, the Padres should have a field day with the changeup, which Sanchez throws about 15% of the time despite its poor success rate. Ryan Ludwick, Miguel Tejada, Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Denorfia, and Nick Hundley all hit the pitch well. Gonzalez and Denorfia also hit fastballs and sliders well, so Sanchez could have trouble with them.

The Padres are one of the more patient teams in baseball, so they just might be able to lay off a lot of those breakers in the dirt. They’re going to be fine with the changeup, so if they lay off the slider and force Sanchez to bring the average fastball up in the zone, they’ll have success. If they chase the slider, they likely won’t have success. Opponent Clayton Richard doesn’t match up well with the Giants, but the Padres have a shot at hitting Sanchez equally hard if they stay off the slider.

The next pitcher is Bumgarner, who throws an 88-93 mph fastball, two breaking pitches, and a changeup. Bumgarner’s fastball has some late cutting and sinking action to it, and he does a good job throwing it for strikes, but it’s just an average pitch. The changeup is a nice pitch, but he doesn’t use it much, and the Padres handle changeups well, so the pitch will likely wind up a non-factor.

Bumgarner throws a mid-80’s slider that acts more like a cutter. It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch, but he throws it for strikes, and lefties have a tough time squaring it up. He struggles with locating it to righties, though, usually trying to drop it in over the inner half of the plate, which works better than you might think, but not great. To get more swings and misses, Bumgarner throws a loopy low-70’s slurve that he doesn’t command well. He likes to go to it as a strikeout pitch because it’s the one pitch he has that generates whiffs over 10% of the time. He’s gotten away with poor command of the pitch thus far, but he throws an awful lot of curves right down the middle, and misses badly out of the strike zone on many other occasions.

Since Bumgarner lacks a swing-and-miss offering other than that inconsistent curveball, he isn’t going to get many strikeouts, especially against a San Diego team that makes pretty solid contact and stays back well on offspeed stuff. He also throws a ton of strikes, though, so he won’t issue many free passes. The Giants have always had a solid defense the last few years, so pitch-to-contact guys play up there (see Matt Cain). It’ll be up to the Padres to make something happen with those balls in play. I’ll take the Padres in Game 2, since Mat Latos is Bumgarner’s opponent, but the Giants’ rookie lefty is pretty tough.

Finally, the Padres draw Lincecum, who throws a curveball/changeup combo to go with his…wait for it…88-93 mph fastball with cutting action. The changeup is one of the best pitches in baseball, and while the curve got lots of hype early in Lincecum’s career, it really isn’t that good, as it’s lost some vertical break, he doesn’t command it well, and…well…it’s been bad this year, at 1.63 runs below average per 100 pitches.

Lincecum also has a decent slider he doesn’t use much.

The Padres stay back well on changeups, but it’s not like that means that Lincecum’s 27.2% whiff rate on the pitch will just go away. The really tough thing is that he can throw it for a strike, so the Padres can’t just lay off it.

Here’s a weird stat: of Lincecum’s 552 changeups this year, a grand total of three have been outside off the left side of the plate. He throws the pitch inside to righties and away from lefties to a fault. I’m not sure what exactly to make of that, but it certainly works for Lincecum.

The Padres’ success against the changeup means they’ll likely be able to deal with Lincecum better than most, and the curve and slider shouldn’t be significant weapons. That leaves Lincecum’s fastball, which is a solid pitch–the late cutting action makes it tough to square up, although he doesn’t have great fastball command and the pitch doesn’t get many whiffs.

Ultimately, I think Lincecum won’t dominate, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t outpitch opponent Wade LeBlanc, who’s wildly ill-suited to face the Giants lineup. I think the Padres are in trouble in Game 3, although they should win Game 2 and have a shot at the series opener as well.