Pirates hitters prepared for hard-throwing Cardinals
The Pirates and Cardinals clash for the first time since St. Louis triumphed in Game 5 of last year's National League Division Series. While the Pirates mercifully skip Michael Wacha this time around, they confront two other young flame-throwing starting pitchers in Shelby Miller (Friday) and Joe Kelly (Saturday), plus a cadre of relievers capable of hitting triple digits.
Grabbing an early lead in the NL Central standings won't be easy, but few teams are better equipped to handle the Cards' heat than the Pirates.
Miller, who threw his fastball 71.3 percent of the time last season, and Kelly (67 percent) overpower hitters with velocity. Out of the bullpen, Kevin Siegrist (85.2 percent fastballs), Trevor Rosenthal (78.6) and Carlos Martinez (78.1) use their fastballs more than three-quarters of the time. That high-speed heat — the lowest average velocity among that quintet is Miller's 93.7 mph — is deadly.
Miller's fastball was +0.43 runs above average per 100 pitches thrown, according to Fangraphs, and Kelly's was +0.37. Siegrist (+2.19), Rosenthal (+0.60) and Martinez (+0.08) also cut down opponents with essentially one pitch.
Don't expect the heart of the Pirates' order to be intimidated, though. The Pirates were the top fastball-hitting team in the NL last season (+0.39 runs per 100 pitches) and fifth best in the majors behind the Red Sox, Angels, Tigers and Rangers.
Reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen was a top-10 fastball hitter among qualified players, while Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker ranked in the top 30 as well.
Feeling the heat
Batter 2013 runs/100 FB
Andrew McCutchen +2.08
Pedro Alvarez +1.48
Neil Walker +1.23
Starling Marte +1.00
Jordy Mercer +0.42
Russell Martin +0.35
The only potential Pirates starters who scuffle against fastballs are right fielder Travis Snider (-1.01) and first baseman Travis Ishikawa (-0.18 during his MLB career). Manager Clint Hurdle could go against the grain, surrendering the platoon advantage to start a pair of righties who crushed fastballs in limited action last season in Jose Tabata (+1.30) and Gaby Sanchez (+1.56).
David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.
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