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Pittsburgh Goes for Sweep at PNC Park; Worley Looks to Remain Perfect

Vance-Worley-Pirates

Pittsburgh is a Major-League leading 34-22 (.607) since May 2 following last night’s 5-1 over the hapless Diamondbacks, and the Pirates look to complete their first sweep of the 2014 campaign tonight. Pittsburgh’s success has been predicated upon outstanding pitching as its staff owns a 2.25 ERA over the first six games of the Pirates’ current homestand.  “We had a bad April.  We dug a hole,” manager Clint Hurdle said.  “We’ve been digging out.   That’s all we’re doing right now, is digging out.”  Meanwhile, Arizona owns the worst record in baseball and is scuffling at the plate with a .217 batting average with ten runs over the last six games.  To make matters worse, the Diamondbacks have committed five errors in the last two games, giving them a National League-high 66 errors on the season.

Following a terrific rookie campaign in 2011 wherein he was 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA, Pittsburgh southpaw Vance Worley has struggled to make it back on the big stage.  After posting a 7.21 ERA and 1.99 WHIP in 2013, Worley found himself starting the 2014 season in Triple-A Indianapolis trying to earn a spot back in the big leagues.  In seven starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, Worley was 3-2 with a 4.30 ERA, but he garnered an impressive 43/4 K/BB ratio in 46 innings pitched.  The 26-year-old has looked solid since being called up to the Majors as he is 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over three starts, including compiling a 12/3 K/BB ratio in 20 2/3-innings of work.

Worley is coming off another solid outing against the Mets wherein he allowed one earned run on seven hits in 7 innings pitched (3/2 K/BB).  “It was a very solid body of work, a very professional effort,” Hurdle said.  “He’ll be the first one to tell you he wasn’t as sharp as he’d been previously.  You saw a man go out there and have to wrestle a little bit and maintain composure, mound presence, and just pound the zone.” Worley is 1-0 with a career 1.00 ERA and 0.77 WHIP versus the Diamondbacks, and I expect him to continue that success against an anemic Arizona offense that is batting .245 with a .295 on base percentage on the road (3.8 runs per game) and .244 with a .316 on base percentage over the last ten days (2.7 runs per game).

The upside to Worley is the fact that he induces groundballs, owns a career 3.0 BB/9 over 333.1 innings and is finally healthy from the elbow surgery and biceps tendonitis that plagued him in previous years.  His Minor League metrics from earlier this season also indicate a new man on the mound: 2.71 xFIP; 8.41 K/9 and 0.78 BB/9.  Worley is also the beneficiary of an outstanding Pittsburgh bullpen that boasts a 3.24 ERA and 1.25 WHIP this season, including a 2.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP at home and a 2.37 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over the last seven games.  Arizona starter Brandon McCarthy is 2-10 with a 5.11 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 2014, including going 2-4 with a 4.69 ERA and 1.36 WHIP on the road and 2-8 with a 5.72 ERA and 1.45 WHIP at night.  Let’s also note that McCarthy is 0-2 with a 5.83 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in two career starts against the Pirates.

McCarthy is an anomaly because his peripheral statistics, which are horrid, are completely opposition of his underlying metrics.  McCarthy owns a solid 2.91 xFIP and 3.01 SIERA this season so there is certainly some upside to the 30-year-old, but he has struggled on the road (4.34 FIP) and in June (3.80 FIP).  The dichotomy between the two sets of statistics leaves me a bit confused, although that confusion is alleviated after taking into account (1) the Pirates own the best record in baseball since May 2; (2) Arizona owns the worst record in baseball; (3) Pittsburgh has won nine of its last 11 games, and (4) McCarthy has struggled against the Pirates in his career.

With Brandon McCarthy standing at 2-14 (-13.2 units) versus teams with a winning record and Vance Worley boasting an 18-3 (+14.5 units) mark versus teams with an on base percentage of .315 or worse, take the Pirates and invest with confidence.

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