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In the same manner that we previewed the 2014 American League Wild Card game between the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals, Diamond Mining takes a closer look at the one-game, National League Wild Card game between the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates from an advanced statistics’ point-of-view.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD
For the first time since the Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, and Jim Leyland era, the Pirates see themselves playing in the month of October for the second consecutive year. If last year’s game against the Cincinnati Reds is any indication, PNC Park is going to be loud, crazy, and hostile. Nonetheless, it is very doubtful that a grizzled group like the Giants, full of players with multiple championship rings, will be fazed by all the commotion and look ready to meet the challenge on the road.
The Pirates have the clear edge in offensive production. Led by Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh has so many ways to beat you. Power bats? Check. Need a single? They can do that. You need a guy that can work the count and take a walk? They have good, patient hitters. You want to gamble with a stolen base attempt? With Starling Marte (30 steals) on the base paths, they can definitely create havoc for opposing teams.
The Giants did finish in the top 10 in batting average this season, thanks in large part to Buster Posey, but the Pirates finished ahead of them in that category and are the more efficient club when it’s their turn to bat.
Just like their Bay Area rivals in Oakland, the Giants are a fly ball team. The difference is that San Fran, in terms of Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP–per fangraphs.com“measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit”), finished in the top 10 in that category in 2014, so they shouldn’t be prone to slumps. However, the Pirates are a line-drive team with plenty of pop.
Once again, the Pirates have the advantage here as the Giants seem to swing at everything, finishing in the top five in the Swinging Percentage metrics. In terms of contact rates, the Pirates surprisingly do not make a lot of contact, but they are still better at it than San Francisco. Though the Giants don’t strike out a lot, their hitters do help the opposing pitcher get strikes against them. It’s evident which team has the more polished hitting lineup, a remarkable job seeing how last season, the Pirates were one of the most impatient teams in baseball.
MADISON BUMGARNER VS EDINSON VOLQUEZ
This isn’t even close. Bumgarner is miles above and beyond the starting pitcher that Volquez can ever be. Better control, command, more dominant stuff, Bumgarner has the skill-set to be a top 10 pitcher in the big leagues.
In terms of batted balls, Volquez does a good job at preventing too many line drives from opposing hitters and induces plenty of ground balls. It will be very interesting to see how the Giants’ lineup, a fly ball hitting, free-swinging ball club, reacts to a pitcher that will try to keep the ball on the ground and will almost dare them to take a walk.
On the flip side, Bumgarner is a strikeout a pitcher going up against a team that is now willing to wait for their pitch, does not strike out a lot, and are constantly looking to drive the ball. It will be interesting to see if Bumgarner is able to frustrate the Pirates into hitting more pop ups as they try to hit line drives off a guy with great command.
In terms of the Giants stopping the Pirates’ speed game, it would appear that San Francisco, based on the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric and Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB), will have a difficult time stopping the Bucs’ run game on the bases. What the Giants can do is turn the double-play with efficiency as Brandon Crawford is very smooth at shortstop and doesn’t seem to miss a beat when turning two, regardless who is playing second for the Giants. Besides that, the Giants will have a difficult time keeping the opposing run game in check though having Bumgarner, a lefty, starting in this game might help a bit.
Other than that, both teams have mixed results with the glove. Both teams can get sloppy with balls in play as well. The Giants’ ability to be effective in double-play balls gives them a very slight edge.
Both bullpens ranked at the bottom in terms of Strikeout Rate (K%), but finished among the lowest in Walk Rate (BB%). So it’s safe to say that both teams have finesse bullpens. It would appear, because of the higher BABIP, the Pirates also have a higher WHIP. For a better breakdown, let’s take a look at the Bucs’ batted ball tendencies.
Both clubs do a great job at limiting line drives and inducing plenty of ground balls, which coupled with the .289 BABIP, this would explain the relatively high WHIP for the Bucs. Both teams also induce plenty of pop ups. A real stalemate is in the works here. The Giants’ hitters have a tendency to hit a lot of fly balls, but the Pirates ‘pen is great at preventing teams from hitting them. Conversely, the Pirates are a line-drive team, but the Giants do a great job limiting line drives. Nevertheless, the few fly balls that the Pirates give up, 10.3 percent were hit for home runs, the ninth highest percentage in 2014. Plus, the grounders might prove to be helpful to a seemingly anemic Giants’ offense looking to get any contact on the ball.
Both teams are great at inducing swings, with the slight advantage going to the Pirates. This might prove to be the difference in the bullpens as the Giants’ free-swinging approach might be exactly what the Pirates are looking for late in the game. Of course, because both bullpens don’t strike out hitters at a relatively high rate, both teams rank high in the contact rate categories, which is right in line with their “finesse” descriptions.
- The Pirates are at home for this one and Pittsburgh will give this game a football-like atmosphere, just like last season.
- The Bucs have made great strides since hiring Clint Hurdle as the manager and this ball club might be the best team he’s managed in his tenure.
- Bruce Bochy will no doubt have his team ready and has a roster full of veterans that have been in situations like these before.
- The Giants have their ace on the mound for this game.
In a battle of hungry upstarts in Pittsburgh versus an established, veteran group out of San Francisco, it is a very tough call. It’s easy to say that Madison Bumgarner will come in and shut it down for the Giants and Edinson Volquez will find a way to blow it for the Pirates. But Pittsburgh is a legit offensive force and if any team in a single-game elimination might get to Bumgarner, it is definitely the Pirates. If Pittsburgh can find a way to keep it close against the nasty lefty, and somehow force Bochy to utilize his bullpen early, the Pirates might have a good chance to do some damage, raise the “Jolly Roger,” and advance to the next round of the playoffs.
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