Starters like Graham Ashcraft are almost the most dangerous for a lineup to face. Through his first 6 starts he pitched to a 2.00 ERA over 36 innings striking out 27 batters. In his next three starts he allowed 18 earned runs across 13 ⅓ innings whilst striking out 9. Because of the extreme variances in those performances, you don’t know what starter is going to show up. It wouldn’t be surprising if he pitched 6 scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, but if he only threw 3 innings and allowed 5 earned, we also shouldn’t be surprised which is what makes him so dangerous.
Pitch #1 - Cutter - 2023 usage rate - 56.9 percent
2023 stats - .277 xBA, .392 xSLG, .332 xwOBA
Average velo - MPH - Spin rate - 2,497 RPM - vertical movement - 22.4 inches - horizontal movement -1.0 inches
The main purpose of this pitch for Ashcraft is working the batter onto the ground. The launch angle against it is 2 degrees and the ground ball percentage is 59.8 percent with the flyball percentage on it being just 16.3. Ashcraft uses his cutter like a traditional fastball with an in-zone percentage or 57.2 percent. Hitters are aggressive when he throws it in the zone as they swing at it 66.4 percent of the time when thrown for a strike. Ashcraft does rely on this pitch more against lefties as the usage rate on it jumps all the way up to 62.4, nearly doubling his next closest pitch in his slider.
Pitch #2 - Slider - 2023 usage rate - 36.3 percent
2023 stats - .221 xBA, .355 xSLG, .286 xwOBA
Average velo - MPH - Spin rate - 2,845 RPM - vertical movement - 36.0 inches - horizontal movement - 13.3 inches (9.5 inches above average)
This is far and away the best pitch in Ashcraft’s arsenal. The spin rate on it ranks sixth amongst 293 pitchers who throw sliders and have 50 or more plate appearances against. In addition to that, there have been 136 pitchers this season to throw 100 or more sliders, his horizontal movement is tied for ninth. The whiff rate on it is a little lower than I expected at 30.5 percent which is paired with a 29 percent chase rate. The chase whiff percentage on it is an impressive 63.8 percent. Why Ashcraft doesn’t throw this pitch more, I don’t know, but he should. Expect the right-handed sluggers in the Cardinals lineup to see a steady diet of sliders.
Pitch #3 - Sinker - 2023 usage rate - 6.8 percent
2023 stats - .637 xBA, .750 xSLG, .622 xwOBA
Average velo - MPH - Spin rate - 2,367 RPM - vertical movement - 21.2 inches - horizontal movement - 5.8 inches (9.9 inches below average)
There’s not much to discuss when it comes to his sinker. There’s been three games this season where he hasn’t used it and another two where he used it three percent of the time or less. He does lean on it a bit more against right handers as he throws it 9.8 percent of the time against them, which equates to 39 total times. Expect to see Ashcraft throw this pitch 5 or 6 times with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado each seeing it once.
Key matchup - Nolan Arenado - Ashcraft doesn’t throw a four seamer which is the only pitch that Arenado has hit well this year. Against cutters and slider’s, Ashcraft’s two most used pitches, he has a combined run value of 0 this season. I don’t think Arenado is necessarily going to struggle in this one but a 1-4 game with a strikeout is more than possible.
Prediction - Ashcraft pitches 5 innings, allows 3 earned runs and strikes out 4.