05 October 2011
The Diamondbacks got big performances from rookies Josh Collmenter and Paul Goldschmidt in Game 3 of the NLDS, and will now turn to veteran Joe Saunders in Game 4. Saunders is a tough pitcher to analyze, because he strikes out very few batters while giving up a decent amount of walks and home runs. What are some keys to success for Saunders? He needs to get double plays, avoid first inning damage, and get the left-handed hitters out.
1) Double Plays
Joe Saunders allows a lot of baserunners - 280 (210 Hits, 67 Walks, 3 HBP) in 212.1 IP this year. What helps him minimize the damage is the double-play ball. The Diamondbacks turned a league-leading 28 double plays behind Saunders this year. There were 136 double-play opportunities for Saunders this year, and he got the DP 21% of the time, by far the highest rate of any regular NL starter in 2011 (Next was Wandy Rodriguez at 17%). All of the other Diamondbacks' starters are at 10% or less. Saunders somehow manages to get lots of DPs despite having a good, but not great GB rate of 44.5%, ranking around 30th in the NL.
It seems like this is a real ability for Saunders. His career DP rate is 16%, while the MLB average is 10-11%, so he has been consistent in getting these DPs throughout his career. This ability to get the DP is a big reason why Saunders has managed to have a lower ERA than FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) or xFIP each of the last four seasons. Unfortunately for Saunders, it leads to him being a little under-valued by sites like FanGraphs, which use FIP in their WAR calculations.
2) Getting Past the First Inning
Saunders has had a lot of trouble getting out of the first inning all season. As the table below shows, he has allowed 19 first inning runs, much more than he has allowed in innings 2-6. He has also allowed 7 first inning HR and issued 12 walks, both the highest totals of any inning.
The problems for Saunders have really started with the first batter of the game - the first batter of the game has hit 15 for 33 (.455 AVG), including two home runs. So getting that first batter, and getting out of the first inning, will be a real key for Saunders in Game 4.
3) Platoon Splits
Saunders has had a large platoon split this year, and right-handed batters have hit very well against him. RHB have an OPS over .800, and have drawn almost as many walks as strikeouts. Against LHB, Saunders has been very tough, holding them to a .581 OPS, with an excellent 40/6 K/BB ratio.
The Brewers as a team have hit a little worse against LHP this year, with a .755 OPS against RHP compared to a .733 OPS against LHP. Their usual lineup only has two left-handed batters, Prince Fielder and Nyjer Morgan, but both see their OPS drop by over 200 points against LHP. Fielder is still very good, with an .822 OPS vs LHP compared to 1.046 vs RHP, but Morgan slips to a .540 OPS. Carlos Gomez has actually been much more effective against LHP in 2011, with an .857 OPS. We'll see if Gomez gets the start in CF for Game 4. If Morgan does start, it is critical for Saunders to get him out, especially with Ryan Braun coming up behind him.
One more stat for Saunders that is interesting - he has a 3.09 ERA when pitching to Miguel Montero, but a 5.22 ERA with Henry Blanco. That's good news, since Montero will be catching him in Game 4.