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Weekend Recap: Davies and Knebel

The Brewers marched into Los Angeles and took down the mighty Dodgers in two of three games over the weekend. The pitching staff led the way, holding the Dodgers to fives runs over the three games. It was the first series loss by Los Angeles since early June against the Nationals. The series win allowed the Brewers to keep pace with both the division leading Cubs, as well as the NL wild card leaders.

Brewers Dodgers
Friday August 25 1 3
Saturday August 26 3 0
Sunday August 27 3 2

After the Brewers lost the first game of the series, Zach Davies took the mound on Saturday and threw seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out seven batters. By Game Score, it was his best outing of the season. Davies strayed from his general pitch mix to great results. The sinker is his primary pitch, and this year he’s thrown it 56.45 percent of the time. On Saturday, he dropped that usage to 42.55 percent, only the third time this year that he’s thrown the less than 50 percent of offerings in an outing. In its place, he pumped a few extra four seam fastballs; the usage rate for that pitch was 8.51 percent, well above his season average and the highest usage rate in an outing this year. Interestingly, while he threw the fourseamer four times each during his first and second time running through the Dodger lineup, the pitch was scrapped entirely on his third time through the order.

One reason why Davies may have moved away from the sinker is that the pitch wasn’t getting many swings the first two times through the order. The swing percentage for the sinker on Saturday was 22.5 percent, well below his seasonal average of 35.59 percent, but Dodger hitters swung at the pitch more as the game went on.

Perhaps his fastball usage made his changeup more effective. Davies got swings on 84.62 percent of the changeups he threw, only slightly below his season high of 85 percent and well above his average rate of 61.02 percent. While he threw the pitch for only thirteen of his ninety four pitches, he induced four whiffs on the change, more than any other pitch, all of which, except the four seamer, he threw more frequently.

He deployed the changeup with different strategies depending on the handedness of the batter. Against left handers, it was used as a pitch to get into the zone when he was behind in the count. The changeup became a weapon against right handers though. It was his go to pitch with two strikes and he also frequently used it when ahead in the count. Considering that he got two strikeouts with the pitch and only allowed a single, his plan of attack was on point for this Dodgers lineup.

Corey Knebel pitched twice over the weekend. He earned saves in both outings and (of course) struck out two batters in each game and (of course) allowed a baserunner in each game. Knebel has already set career highs in terms of appearances and total innings as he’s broken out this year. Somehow, his fastball has gotten faster as the season has progressed: he’s over 98 MPH after averaging below 97 MPH in April. The uptick in velocity has helped to create a slightly larger differential between his fastball and curveball, keeping hitters off balance. In opposition to Davies’s plan of attack highlighted above, Knebel doesn’t really change his approach based on handedness or situation. He leans on the fastball more against left handed batters when they’re ahead or he has two strikes, but other than that, he has his plan and dares hitters to adjust.

Batters have swung at 41.71 percent of his pitches this season, slightly up from 2016, yet they’re making contact about 11 percent less, with that number about evenly distributed between pitches in the zone and out of the zone. All this adds up to a 34.44 percent swinging strike rate, well above his career high. He’s 12th in MLB in swinging strike rate among pitchers with a minimum of 800 pitches, which is about the demarcation line for one inning relievers in MLB all year. The only pitcher who has thrown more pitches than Knebel and posted a higher whiff rate would be Corey Kluber.

Up Next: The Brewers return home for the first time in almost two weeks. Today is an off day but the Cardinals are in two for two games starting Tuesday, followed by the Nationals for a weekend series. The Cards just lost a weekend series to the Rays and now sit solidly in third place, 4.5 games out of first place and 2.5 behind Milwaukee. Keep an eye on that Wednesday matchup. With the Brewers opting not to use a fifth starter at the moment, Davies lines up against Carlos Martinez in what could be a fun pitcher’s duel.

Cardinals Brewers
Tuesday August 29 Luke Weaver (3.83 DRA) Matt Garza (5.09 DRA)
Wednesday August 30 Carlos Martinez (3.31 DRA) Zach Davies (4.50 DRA)

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez, USAToday Sports Images

 

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