One offseason pickup could be a secret weapon against the division’s top teams.
There’s no way around it: the Pirates postseason hopes are going to have to go through Chicago and Milwaukee. The two clubs have finished 1-2 at the top of the division the last two years, and the Cubs hoisted a trophy in 2016. While the Pirates went 12-7 against the Brewers in 2018, they have had lost more than they won against the Cubs each year since 2015. To be the best, you have to beat the best.
While the Pirates haven’t made many offseason moves, one in particular could help them against these two teams: Lonnie Chisenhall.
Last season, the Cubs threw the most fastballs in baseball, with 70.5% of their pitches being a four-seamer, two-seamer, sinker or cutter, per Baseball Savant. The Brew Crew weren’t too far behind, going with the heater 64.5% of the time and throwing the third most fastballs overall.
This is good news for Chisenhall, who was one of the best fastball hitters in baseball last season. In 2018, 498 batters had at least 40 plate appearances end on a fastball. Going by the hitting metric wOBA, Chisenhall was the best fastball hitter out of those 498.
But what about the quality of those pitches? Even though the Cubs were very fastball heavy last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were quality heaters. Their team xwOBA (expected wOBA based on exit velocity and launch angle) for fastballs was below average in 2018. While the Brewers fared much better in this category, they have lost Joakim Soria and Jordan Lyles to free agency, and Wade Miley is also on the open market. Those three pitchers ranked first, third and tenth for the Brewers in xwOBA last year, respectively.
All signs point to the Cubs and Brewers being aggressive with fastballs again next season. If that’s the case, Chisenhall may become a thorn in their sides.
Chisenhall crushes fastballs. Which Pirates hit sliders, curves and changeups the best?