FOX Saturday Baseball celebrates its third week of the season with a lot of National League Baseball with five teams from the Senior Circuit and one American League team in an interleague matchup. This Saturday’s slate with 7:15 p.m. ET first pitches features the Washington Nationals at the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers in an NL Central Division showdown, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Turner Field to take on the Atlanta Braves in some interleague action.
Washington at St. Louis
A couple of flamethrowers will be on display at Busch Stadium on Saturday evening when Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals take on Shelby Miller and the Cardinals. Both Strasburg and Miller are in the top 15 among qualified starters in fastball velocity, yet the two could not have different numbers this season.
Strasburg has been brilliant for the Nationals in his third full season since returning from Tommy John surgery. Strasburg boasts the highest K% in baseball, retiring 29.5 percent of opposing hitters on strikes. He has a 2.99 ERA but his 2.29 FIP, 2.40 xFIP, and 2.49 SIERA are elite numbers. His 5.68 K/BB ratio ranks sixth, trailing only David Price, Phil Hughes, Masahiro Tanaka, Cliff Lee, and Felix Hernandez.
One of the biggest changes for Strasburg this season has been increased usage of his changeup. As a result, his IFFB%, or pop up percentage, is a career-best 10.4 percent. Between a career best in strikeouts and infield fly balls, Strasburg is retiring nearly 40 percent of batters with outcomes that present next to no risk. That’s a substantial number. The Nationals are 9-5 in Strasburg’s 14 starts for just 1.62 units because of the big chalk in his starts.
Traditionalists will point to Shelby Miller’s 3.59 ERA and suggest that he has pitched well. In his second full Major League season, however, Miller has posted a below average strikeout rate and an above average walk rate that he has been able to overcome thus far. The league has adjusted to Miller, as opposing hitters are chasing pitches out of the strike zone nearly seven percent less than they did last season.
Miller has been the benefactor of a .254 BABIP against, the 14th-lowest mark in the league. His advanced metrics suggest some regression on the horizon, with a 4.78 FIP, a 4.63 xFIP, and a 4.74 SIERA. Pitchers with Miller’s arm certainly have a greater margin for error than guys that sit around 90. That and the Cardinals are rated as the league’s best defense in defensive runs saved with 39 on the season. The Cardinals are 7-6 in Miller’s 13 starts for 0.33 units of profit.
Both of these offenses have struggled in June as the Nationals check in around league average and the Cardinals have the 28th-ranked OPS at .617. The Nationals are once again without catcher Wilson Ramos, but the return of Ryan Zimmerman should help. The Cardinals will get Matt Adams back in the lineup this weekend at the expense of Oscar Taveras, who was sent down to make room.
With regression on tap for Miller and the Cardinals struggling offense going up against one of the game’s elites, Strasburg and the Nationals should be able to come away with a nice victory on national TV. The Nationals have been 15.8 runs above average hitting fastballs and the Cardinals are 29th in that category. This should be a good matchup for Strasburg and less so for Miller.
Cincinnati at Milwaukee
Mat Latos returns from the disabled list to make his first start of the season after dealing with elbow and lat injuries. He'll be opposed by Yovani Gallardo. Latos, one of Cincinnati's most consistent starters over the last couple of seasons, made five minor league rehab starts and allowed 10 runs in 23.1 innings of work. He struck out 16 and walked nine. For the most part, pitchers are just focusing on throwing their pitches and spotting them, so statistics don't mean a whole lot in the rehab starts. Pitchers just want to escape healthy and that's something that Latos had trouble with while attempting to come back.
Depending on how Latos's command is, it could be a tough game for the Brewers offense. Latos held righties to a .284 wOBA last season and a slash line of .240/.302/.340. That was actually a little bit above his career mark of .213/.282/.337. He has, however, been a slow starter in his career with March/April showing his worst monthly split and his first few starts off the disabled list will serve as his April. It may take him a bit to round back into form and health still has to be a concern after so many problems during his rehab starts.
Yovani Gallardo has had to become a different pitcher this season as his velocity continued to fall. Peaking at an average of 92.7 mph in 2011, Gallardo’s average fastball velocity has plummeted to just a tick over 91 this season, a slight increase from last season’s career low of 90.7. The adjustment that Gallardo made was to become more of a sinker/slider, pitch-to-contact guy.
The returns have been favorable for the most part, as Gallardo has allowed four runs or less in 12 of his 13 starts. The Brewers are +1.04 units in Gallardo’s 13 starts. With Milwaukee’s offense, a four-run outing should give the Brewers an opportunity to at least be in the game. This will be Gallardo’s 22nd career start against the Reds. He’s 7-7 with a 4.44 ERA over 119.2 innings of work. Current Reds have had success against Gallardo with a slash line of .293/.361/.465 in 312 plate appearances.
The Reds offense, which has struggled most of the season, entered play on Friday with 37 runs scored in 11 games this month after managing just 86 runs in 27 games in the month of May, most of those without Joey Votto. The Brewers have surprisingly struggled to score runs in their hitter-friendly home park. At Miller Park, the Brewers have just a .708 OPS. However, away from hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, the Reds have the league’s 28th-ranked road OPS at just .639.
Pitchers coming back from a lengthy disabled list stint are always hit or miss and Latos is no exception. Knowing what bettors will get from Gallardo makes the Brewers a safer play, but it wouldn't be a major surprise to see Latos throw a gem with his first start of 2014.
LA Angels at Atlanta
The Braves will get their first look at the very talented Garrett Richards when they counter with Gavin Floyd in Saturday’s middle game of a weekend interleague set. Richards was a bit of a mystery to those that had seen him prior to this season because he throws a heavy sinker in the mid 90s and a plus curveball, but it had not translated into good numbers. That’s no longer the case as Richards has a 3.09 ERA, a 2.65 FIP, a 3.40 xFIP, and a 3.47 SIERA.
Akin to hitting a bowling ball, Richards checks in with the second-hardest average fastball velocity in baseball. Only Yordano Ventura throws harder among starting pitchers. Along with Richards’s eye-popping velocity comes an occasional control problem. Strike one has been elusive for Richards with 0-1 counts to just over 51 percent of batters this season. But, he has done a great job of keeping the ball down and limiting home runs and extra-base hits. The Angels are 9-4 in his 13 starts for a profit of 4.1 units.
Gavin Floyd found a home after missing most of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s made seven starts for the Braves with a 2.57 ERA, a 3.65 FIP, a 3.53 xFIP, and a 3.66 SIERA. The Braves are 4-3 in his seven starts for a profit of 0.36 units.
Floyd has experienced a minor bump in his velocity now that’s he’s healthy, but he has benefited from the league change as hitters are swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone 38.2 percent of the time. Floyd has mixed his pitches better as he has aged, after throwing a lot of fastballs early in his career with the White Sox. Hitters have taken a very aggressive approach to Floyd, swinging over 50 percent of the time. Among pitchers that have thrown 40 or more innings, Floyd’s Swing% against ranks sixth. That means that location is crucial to Floyd’s success.
The Angels come into this series with the league’s second-best OPS away from home at .753. The Braves have had some struggles offensively throughout the season and have a run differential of exactly zero despite getting outstanding pitching most of the season.
Pick: LA Angels
Garrett Richards can be very difficult to hit if you’ve never seen him before and the Braves have one player, Justin Upton, who has seen what Richards has to offer. The margin of error is fairly small for Floyd with the amount of balls in play and the Angels veteran-filled lineup will seek out pitches to hit.