May 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Chris Johnson .212 WPA, Justin Upton .139
LVP: Wade Miley -.305 WPA
Well, that was fun.
9:40 PM on Sports South
Whatever you do, don’t hit it to center. It’s about as far away as it is in Turner Field, but the wall is way higher, making for a good batter’s eye but poor launching pad. Hitting it to either left or right, however, is a much better bet unless you’re unlucky enough to hit right down the lines where there’s a cutback. Chase Field is a hitter’s park – part of the Justin Upton skepticism – but keep the ball out of center field.
D’Backs ISO Maps
The Diamondbacks offense has been a lot of Gerardo Parra and Paul Goldschmidt and little of anyone else so far. AJ Pollock is a rookie without much of a track record, but he seems susceptible away. Didi Gregorius hasn’t been up long, but he’s been on fire while trying to derail the naysayers who questioned his bat. Paul Goldschmidt is a masher, and Mike Minor should be careful tonight. Cody Ross can also knock around a lefty or two, and the ball should be kept away from him. Miguel Montero is a good hitting catcher, but he’s got a hole up-and-in. Our friend Martin Prado is here, and he does most of his damage in, something that he should do a little more of instead of poking the ball the other way. Gerardo Parra is more of a batting average hitter, but he’s got some pop if the ball is left in the middle of the plate. And our friend Josh Wilson is also here, but he’s not much to worry about. The key here is avoiding letting the 3-4-5 hitters do serious damage, and with two of them being lefty mashers, Minor will have his work cut out for him.
Wade Miley is a pretty good pitcher. He’s not necessarily going to overpower you – throws about 91 – or strike you out – about 18.5% over the past season+ – but he’s not going to walk you or let you hit it out of the park. As you can see from the maps above, he keeps the ball down, and he does get a lot of grounders – 1.35 GB/FB in his career. He does this primarily pitching off his fastball about 73% of the time, adding a slider in (especially for the kill), and throwing a change-up to RHH. Against lefties, he’s mainly fastball/slider, but righties will need to look out for the change as well.
Happy Mike Minor Day everyone! Two fairly under-appreciated young lefties will take the mound for their respective teams in this one. This is also the first game between Justin Upton, Martin Prado, and their former employers, so the entire world will be watching these games in anticipation of which narrative they can pull out of their you-know-whats. Ultimately, these three games won’t tell us much about either player, how they were treated, how they felt they were treated, etc., but don’t be surprised when someone tries to make a big deal out of it.
May 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
(Sorry about the lack of post last night. A few things came up yesterday – no big deal – that didn’t allow me to get to it.)
10:15 PM on Sports South
Probably won’t be around for the start, but I’m assuming this is the easiest thing to find. If not, head to Baseball Press.
AT&T Park is a perfect example of how a place can be a pitcher’s park overall while not affecting each hitter the same way. Left-handed hitters will have more problems here, but right-handers aren’t at a disadvantage. Looking at right field, the fence is nearly as far back as the one at Turner, and although it’s closer down the line and to straight right, there’s a massive wall there. The upshot, as we saw last night, is hitting it back in that nook in CRCF (Center Right Center Field – like NNW or the ilk) will get you an automatic triple. Basically, it hurts home runs, but it does help create triples. Left field plays pretty fair, though the sea level altitude does it make it slightly more difficult to hit the ball out.
Giants ISO Maps
The Giants lineup isn’t a bad one, but it’s not a force, either. Angel Pagan starts things off, and he does pretty well for himself as one of the more underrated players in the game, though most of it is as a guy who does a lot of things well but not exceptionally well. Marco Scutaro is a nice piece, but the outer half of the plate is a definite weakness. Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey make a formidable duo, and they’re followed by Hunter Pence, who isn’t too bad himself. Gregor Blanco does much of his damage by getting on base, not by power. Brandon Crawford has shown a shocking amount of power early on in 2013, but I’m not convinced it’s more than a hot streak, which has tailed off over the past few weeks. And Brandon Belt rounds the lineup out in his usual enigmatic way – showing flashes but not putting it together often enough to be another lineup stalwart. His progress could make this lineup a very good one.
Matt Cain isn’t off to a good start this season as his 5.57 ERA suggests. There are two main reasons for this. One is that his walk rate has increased while his strikeout rate has remained near career levels, and the other is an absurd 16.7% HR/FB rate (7% career). The homer rate is likely to go back toward career norms, and my guess is that the walk rate will as well. The velocity has dropped about a half a mile per hour, but he still throws plenty hard. The main change seems to be in his secondary usage, where the use of his slider has increased, with fewer curves and changes. Overall, you can expect a decent amount of fastballs and curves from Cain, and the use of his slider and change depend on what hitter he’s facing. Cain is off to a slow start, but he’s still nothing to mess with.
Tim Hudson looks to continue his brilliant work as of late. His HR/FB rate is up to 15.4%, but like Cain, he’s not likely to stay there, though he has seen a decrease in the amount of groundballs this season – 1.72 GB/FB against his 2.51 career mark. The nice thing is a serious uptick in strikeouts this season – 18% against a 16% career mark – without a real rise in walks. Let’s hope the Braves continue Cain’s struggles and take another series as we’re about T-minus 3 games from seeing Heyward’s return.
(As always, thanks to ESPN and Brooks Baseball for access to the above information.)
May 8, 2013 at 11:00 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
I’ll get better at remembering to put this up after the games, I promise.
MVP: DAAAAAAAAN Uggla .272 WPA
LVP: Gattitude -.160
12:35 PM on Sports South and MLB Network
Mike Leake isn’t a terribly good pitcher, but relative to other 5th starters, he’s pretty good. He won’t strike out many hitters (16%) or walk many hitters (6%), but he gives up home runs like it’s going out of style (14.5% HR/FB – average is 10.6%). Leake is a Kitchen Sink Pitcher that tries to confuse the hitter by throwing so many pitches although none of them are particularly good. He’s a pretty blah pitcher, especially for a former top-10 pick, but he adds some hidden value with the stick, hitting .275/.306/.354 for his career, and is not an easy out at the plate.
It’s Mike Minor Day again! Considering the ballpark and the fact that both pitchers are a bit homer-prone, today’s game has a fairly decent chance of getting out of hand. The Braves are throwing out a “Get Away Day” lineup, however, so the Reds would have the advantage if Minor wasn’t so much better than Leake. It would be awesome to grab a series win tonight before the 7-game trip out West to San Francisco and Arizona.
May 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Devin Mesoraco .490 WPA, McCann .151
LVP: Craig Kimbrel -.813
7:10 PM on Sports South and MLB Network
Home Bailey is a pretty good pitcher. though he’s never quite lived up to his top-prospect pedigree. For his career, he has struck out 18% of batters while walking 8%, but over the past three seasons, the strikeouts have perked up while the walks have declined. Essentially, he has evolved as he has implemented his splitter, whose usage continues to rise. Bailey throws hard, but his fastball is generally fairly straight, and he’s never fully decided on a breaking ball that he can gets swings-and-misses with. 2013 has seen a jump in strikeouts, and while it’s a small sample, he is utilizing his splitter more than in the past, and it may be the secondary pitch he’s always needed. But overall, one can expect a lot of fastballs, a few more sliders than curves, and plenty of splitters for lefties.
Kris Medlen takes the mound looking to keep the Braves in the win column. Juan Francisco also returns to the lineup tonight to help battle Bailey, and Bailey and his fastballs seem like a good night for Juan to come back, as opposed to last night with Arroyo and his myriad breaking balls. This lineup is starting to thicken out again, and hopefully, Jason Heyward will be back early next week to finally put it all into place. For now, the Braves have another solid match-up for tonight and will hope for a few more long balls.
May 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:10 PM on Sports South and ESPN
Great American Ballpark
Great American Ballpark has always been known as a hitter’s park, and it isn’t because of the altitude. As you can see, Turner Field dwarfs the one in Cincinnati, especially to right field. The advantage to left is somewhat negated by a higher fence, but long fly balls are more likely to get out there as well.
Reds ISO Maps
The Reds have a good offense, but it is one that can be pitched to. Shin-Soo Choo is an OBP machine, but he has a hole on the inner half of the plate. Zack Cozart isn’t very good at hitting but hits there because middle infielder/bat control, and he likes the ball up-and-in. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier are where things get dicey, but they each have their holes – not much, away, in (esp. against LHP), and away, respectively. Devin Mesoraco has a top prospect pedigree and is still trying to become an everyday player, but he isn’t there yet. And Derrick Robinson probably shouldn’t be on a major-league roster.
Do you have that one pitcher you always happen to see when go to a game played by a certain team? Well, Bronson Arroyo is my guy, and when considering which game of the series I would go to, I purposefully avoided this one. It’s not that Arroyo is a terrible pitcher. He, in fact, a pretty average pitcher who limits his walks (6%) while not striking out many (15%) and giving up his share of home runs. He doesn’t throw hard, so mixing his pitches and locations is key, but as you can see, he leaves the ball up in the zone, which causes him to be homer-happy at times. Looking at his pitch selection, he throws the kitchen sink at both types of hitters, but the real difference is when he gets ahead and goes heavy on the curve to RHH and goes with more sinkers to LHH. Again, expect a lot of junk pitches as only about 41% of his pitches are fastballs.
Brian McCann returns tonight to the aid of Paul Maholm both at the plate and behind it. His return shifts Even Gattis to LF and Justin Upton to RF until Jason Heyward gets back. Arroyo seems a poor match-up for Gattis, but there’s little doubt Gattis could put one out of GABP. Maholm will look to counter a tough lineup, but the best hitters on the team are left-handed, though Phillips and Frazier are nothing to sneeze at. The key, as always, is to limit the baserunners that get on before the middle of the order, but it’s especially necessary in a park like this. The Braves will need to patient on offense and wait back on Arroyo, and if Arroyo is just slightly off, this game could end up in a laser show.
May 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
“Yeah, but you go 0-2 (count to Minor if he stayed in) or something, then all of a sudden…”
In the late-innings in a tight game, a bunt to move a runner into scoring position, especially to third base, isn’t a terrible idea. Bunts in the early going ARE because the range of outcomes is so great – essentially, why play for one run when you might need 5 – in addition to simply reducing the run expectancy because of giving up an out. Later in the game, however, the range of outcomes has been greatly reduced, and given a tight game situation, playing for one run makes more sense. So in this instance, I’m not upset with the DECISION to bunt as much as WHO to use to bunt.
The quote at the beginning is Fredi’s response for why he pinch-hit Tyler Pastornicky for Mike Minor on Friday and then had him bunt instead of simply having Minor do it. It sounds very nice in theory. Players brought up to bunt don’t always succeed, and if he doesn’t on the first two strikes, one would prefer to have a better hitter than a worse hitter. If Minor was trying to bunt and didn’t succeed, you’d now have the pitcher trying to hit.
Here’s the problem: asking the pinch-hitter – whoever he is – to bunt until two strikes has now made him a poor hitter, essentially offensively castrating him to the point of making him a pitcher. Pitchers collectively hit .129/.162/.166 last season. All hitters when they got to a two-strike count hit .178/.244/.273. But remember that this is a player trying to sacrifice bunt and, as such, is more likely to see strikes. With an 0-2 count (Fredi’s suggestion, not mine), he’s now a .168/.196/.254 hitter, and with a 1-2 count, he’s a .179/.227/.272 hitter. That’s not exactly “pitcher-level”, but the difference between “legit hitter” and “pitcher” has been greatly reduced.
The next thing to note is that a pinch-hitter brought into pinch-hit is often not even a league-average hitter, probably one of the reasons he doesn’t start. That reduces the expectation even farther.
Following that, a player’s production often goes down when he pinch-hits. The reasons are varied – being “cold”, having to face mainly relievers, etc. – but we know it happens. So the pinch-hitter is now worse than already expected to be.
Now, wouldn’t this happen to a pitcher in this situation as well? Sure, his overall line would also suffer, but a pitcher has much less distance to fall than a position player. Putting a batter in an 0-2 hole automatically makes him a bad hitter, and while there are degrees of bad hitters, the range of differences has been greatly reduced. Here’s what a pitcher would do if his rate stats were reduced to the degree that a position player’s has.
The other thing is strategically picking who to send to the plate. Fredi could have let Minor hit, but he’s a /069/.121/.099 hitter for his career. Eck. He could also have sent in Tim Hudson – a .178/.212/.234 hitter – to the plate as a guy who can bunt and swing the bat fairly well. Kris Medlen of the .110/.198/.134 line wouldn’t have been a great choice, but it would be an upgrade over Minor. Paul Maholm – .109/.151/.130 – kind of fits in the same boat as Medlen. As for Julio Teheran, we’re still not really sure, but he’s been golden in his 17 career PA. In any case, sending up another pitcher to pinch-bunt, especially Hudson, would have improved the chances of getting on while not burning a versatile bench option.
And that’s the final piece of the puzzle – future considerations. Future considerations, of course, aren’t as important in the late innings of a close game, but they aren’t inconsequential. Burning Pastornicky AND Reed Johnson prevented them from being possible defensive replacements, pinch runners, injury replacements, and pinch-hitters in the case of extra-innings, which is a distinct possibility given the presumably close score. As I said, future considerations aren’t as important late in the game, but it’s another point not in favor of burning valuable bench options to simply bunt.
One thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t the reason the Braves lost Friday’s game. It’s not even a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. And Fredi isn’t the only manager who would have done such a thing. I’m not here to criticize the bunt or Fredi. But we shouldn’t just take orthodox strategy for granted. The manager is already putting the hitter in a bad position by forcing him to go to two strikes to get the bunt down, and any hitter would be in a tough situation down 0-2 or 1-2. Then, he’s burning a bench player for something a pitcher could easily do, and if the manager really wants a “legit hitter”, he can simply sub him in with two strikes.
But leaving in a pitcher lets the other team know it HAS to be a bunt, right? Yes, but so does showing bunt early, something every hitter does when sacrificing.
But a hitter could pull it back and hit the ball, right? Sure, but a pitcher could also do it, and he probably has more experience with that than a position player does. I mean, how many times do you see a position player do that?
But bringing in a pinch-hitter cold with 2 strikes just makes it worse, doesn’t it? Sure, but what is he gaining from trying to bunt. He gets to see the release point, I suppose, and he may get a sense of timing. But it’s only a couple pitches, and it’s not like he’s seeing the pitch from his usual angle as he bends down to bunt. He’s basically screwed regardless.
And if you’re going to screw someone, it might as well be a pitcher you weren’t going to use anyway
May 3, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:30 PM on FOX Sports South
Mets ISO Maps
The Mets aren’t a terribly threatening lineup against lefties. Two of their power guys – Ike Davis and Lucas Duda – are neutralized by poor platoon splits. Tejada has a decent stick, but he’s not a power threat. Daniel Murphy does a lot of BA damage, but again, he’s not a power guy. David Wright is a monster, but he seems to have a hole up-and-in. John Buck has been destroying the ball early, and he can hit lefties. Justin Turner isn’t a big threat as long as you keep it out of the middle of the plate. Stay away from Marlon Byrd and Andrew Brown, and they shouldn’t cause you too much trouble. The top of the order isn’t bad, but there isn’t much overall depth to the lineup.
It should be obvious how Marcum gets by – he throws a lot of pitches. Nothing Marcum throws will be hard, but he sinks it, cuts it, adds to it, subtracts from it, and tests your patience. He’s always been a slightly above-average pitcher, but his durability has killed his overall value. Despite his 20-grade velocity, Marcum still strikes out and walks batters at pretty average rates, and he’s a bit of a flyball pitcher. His key is mixing his pitches. Against RHH, he’ll throw lots of 4-seamers, cutters, and slider (pitches that move away), and against LHH, he abandons the slider for some curveballs and change-ups while also adding a few sinkers. Essentially, he throws pitches that move away from RH and then the kitchen sink at LH. He can be effective and, because he might top out at 88, frustrating.
It’s Mike Minor Day, and if he can avoid mistakes to David Wright and John Buck, the rest of the lineup shouldn’t give him too much trouble. The concern, as always, is how this lineup will do against a soft-tosser. I like Minor’s chances in this one against a Mets team that isn’t very good. Braves could use this one as they’ll face Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey later this series.
(Thanks, as always to Brooks Baseball and ESPN for the charts, etc.)