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Breaking down San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell

MLB: Texas Rangers at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers lineup has improved against left-handed pitching, especially since acquiring Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario before the trade deadline. On the season the Dodgers have a .798 OPS and 116 wRC+ against southpaws, the latter ranking sixth in baseball. Their 55 homers against left-handers lead the league by seven over the second-place Braves.

That dominance adds further intrigue to this weekend’s matchup against the Padres who are pitching lefty ace Blake Snell on Saturday. Snell has been one of the league’s best pitchers this year pitching to a major-league-best 2.50 ERA with 156 strikeouts across 119 innings. The former Cy Young Award winner is led by a dominant curveball as well as three plus pitches in his fastball, slider and changeup, all of which we will review down below.

Pitch #1 - Fastball: 2023 usage rate, 50.1 percent

2023 stats - .283 xBA, .490 xSLG, .396 xwOBA

Average velo - 95.3 MPH - Spin rate - 2,424 RPM - vertical movement - 11.4 inches - horizontal movement 4.8 inches

Like most pitchers’ four seam fastball, this is the pitch that Snell attacks the strike zone the most with as it has an in zone percentage of 47.7 percent. It is surprising to see that number below 50 percent, but Snell is a pitcher who has struggled with command this season as highlighted by his 13.6 percent walk rate. Snell has also struggled to limit hard contact with his four seamer as the average exit velocity against it is 90.5 MPH and the hard hit rate is 44.3 percent. Of his four pitches, this is effectively the one pitch hitters have been able to do damage against in 2023 as he’s allowed 18 extra base hits off his four seamer, whilst his three other pitches have combined to allow nine.

Pitch #2 - Curveball: 2023 usage rate, 17.8 percent

2023 stats - .087 xBA, .124 xSLG, .128 xwOBA

Average velo - 81.0 MPH - Spin rate - 2,363 RPM - vertical movement - 52.1 inches - horizontal movement 12.5 inches

Snell’s curveball has been one of the most dominant pitches in the MLB this year. The whiff rate against it is 57.5 percent and the chase whiff rate is 76.8 percent. It’s also a pitch that excels at working batters onto the ground as the launch angle against it is one degree and the ground ball rate is 63.3 percent. When ahead in the count the usage rate jumps to 27.4 percent and the xwOBA is a microscopic .074. Getting the count in their favor is going to be integral for Dodgers hitters in order for them to avoid the curve.

Pitch #3 - Changeup: 2023 usage rate, 17.5 percent

2023 stats - .205 xBA, .314 xSLG, .287 xwOBA

Average velo - 87.2 MPH - Spin rate - 1,820 RPM - vertical movement - 25.1 inches - horizontal movement 12.9 inches

Snell’s changeup becomes his second most used pitch against right handed batters with a 21.3 percent usage rate. The average exit velocity this season against righties is just 78.6 MPH on 55 batted ball events. Combined with a ground ball rate of 60 percent against opposite side batters, this is a pitch that the likes of J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts are going to have to spit on in order to have productive at bats against Snell. Lefty batters can completely eliminate this pitch from their mind as Snell has yet to throw a changeup to them in 2023.

Pitch #4 - Slider: 2023 usage rate, 14.7 percent

2023 stats - .170 xBA, .265 xSLG, .237 xwOBA

Average velo - 88.5 MPH - Spin rate - 2,337 RPM - vertical movement - 27.3 inches - horizontal movement 2.6 inches

The usage rate on the slider has slowly ticked up over the last few months. He threw it 13.2 percent of the time in May compared to 15.8 percent in July. This is an increase that we should expect to see on Saturday due to his usage with it against lefty batters. When facing same side hitters, Snell throws it 24 percent of the time, the second highest rate in his arsenal. Despite that though, Snell hasn’t exactly been dominant with it against lefties. In 2022 his xwOBA with it was .296 and this season it’s .463, on ten batted ball events. Assuming Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy are in the lineup against Snell, this is a pitch they have to hunt early and often.

Key matchup: Mookie Betts

Historically, Betts has struggled against the southpaw with a lifetime triple slash of .217/.333/.326 which is paired with nine strikeouts and nine walks across 57 plate appearances. However, despite those struggles Snell’s most used pitch, the four-seamer, is a pitch that Betts has crushed this year enroute to a .427 xwOBA against them. The pitch that Snell throws that will give Betts the most problems is his changeup as Mookie has a .224 xBA off of them in 2023.

Prediction - Snell throws six innings of two run ball where he strikes out seven and walks three.