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Statistically speaking: Will Pirates be snake-bitten by sliders?

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By David Golebiewski
Thursday, July 31, 2014, 9:51 p.m.
 

A four-game set with the Diamondbacks looks like a prime opportunity for the Pirates to boost their playoff odds.

After all, the Bucs' offense has been 5 percent better than the MLB average once you account for league run-scoring and park factors — sixth highest in the majors and the franchise's top mark since 1991. Arizona's pitching staff, by contrast, has the game's fourth-worst adjusted ERA (11 percent below average)

But the Diamondbacks might not be such an easy target. Several Arizona hurlers excel at throwing the one pitch the Pirates haven't been able to conquer: the slider.

The Bucs are crushing most every pitch type this season, posting positive run values against fastballs (+21.9 runs above average), curveballs (+11), changeups (+2.7) and cutters (+0.8). It's a different story versus sliders, though. They're the fifth-worst team against that offering, besting only anemic offenses in Boston, Cincinnati, Miami and the Cubs.

Slip sliding away

Team Run Value vs. Sliders

Cubs -31.4

Marlins -24.7

Reds -24.6

Red Sox -23.8

Pirates -21.0

Source: Fangraphs

Not coincidentally, the Pirates have seen the second-highest rate of sliders (16.6 percent of total pitches) in the majors. Pedro Alvarez has scuffled the most, registering the worst run value among NL third basemen except for Mike Olt and Chris Johnson.

Batter Run Value vs. Sliders

Pedro Alvarez -4.6

Gaby Sanchez -3.3

Russell Martin -2.2

Jordy Mercer -1.9

Chris Stewart -1.1

Alvarez and the Bucs could end up flailing against Friday starter Vidal Nuno, who throws the seventh-highest rate of sliders (29.8 percent) among all starting pitchers. He's also a left-hander, and the Pirates haven't exactly pummeled southpaws (a .670 OPS+, fourth worst in the majors).

Bullpen arms Brad Ziegler and Oliver Perez could also torture the Bucs' lineup. The submarine-tossing Ziegler has the fourth-best slider run value among relievers (+6.7), while lefty Perez (+4.3) also places in the top 20.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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