October 5, 2012 at 11:03 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
The team will exit the season with two Cy Young candidates in Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel, which is awesome if I must say. Not everything went well in terms of the “young veterans” in the rotation, meaning Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, but the staff was able to battle injuries and poor performance and overall perform at a decently high level for a majority of the season, thanks to Tim Hudson, a midseason rebound from Mike Minor, an awesome stint from Ben Sheets, and some decent outings from Paul Maholm. The front office did a great job of working around the injuries to the staff that forced them to move pitchers in and out of the rotation for nearly the entire season, and they deserve credit for this team winning 94 games despite having no pitcher throw 180 or more innings.
All in all, this was a weird season in some places but a good one. The team had lackluster performances from some people they were counting on, suffered a huge injury in Brandon Beachy going down, but were able to battle adversity and put together some great stretches. This has been a streaky team all year, so let’s hope tonght starts one of those big long winning streaks that we have become accustomed to in 2012. And let us also hope that tonight is not the last time we ever see Chipper Jones play a major league baseball game.
October 5, 2012 at 10:47 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
With how right-handed the Cardinal lineup is, Medlen’s usage of his curveball throughout the game will be a very big key for the Braves while St. Louis is at the plate. He will face three lefty hitters, so he will not be able to utilize his changeup at the same rate as he has all season, even though he does use it against right-handed hitters more frequently than most changeup specialists do. His curveball has taken the biggest jump of any of his pitches this year, and he will have to locate it it with regularity to succeed this evening.
Both pitchers do well at keeping the ball in the ballpark and avoiding free passes. This means there will be a lot of balls put in play, so whichever team makes fewer defensive miscues will probably have an advantage. The Braves outfield defense is one of the best the league has ever seen, so they should not have many issues there. In the infield, they could run into problems outside of shortstop. Not being able to balls has been an issue all year, but what they really need to focus on is not giving away outs. The Cardinals have below average defenders at many positions, so keeping the ball in play and avoiding strikeouts will be rather important for the Braves this year to take advantage of the underwhelming defenders for St. Louis.
Cristhian Martinez has been left off the post-season roster, something I would not have done. I would have kept him over Luis Avilan, even though Martinez has reverse platoon splits. The Cardinals really only have one left-handed hitter in their lineup when you consider switch-hitters, so I am not quite sure the team needs three left-handed relievers to get through their lineup. If Fredi sticks to Venters in the sevenh and O’Flaherty in the eighth regardless of matchups, there could be problems. As mentioned, the Cardinal lineup is very right-handed so matching right-handed pitchers up with their tough right-handed bats will be key. I would also consider throwing Kimbrel for two innings if they have a lead and are facing a tough part of the Cardinal order.
October 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves
When it comes down to it, all that really matters when attempting to analyze one game is the starting pitchers and maybe a couple relievers. A starting pitcher has a greater effect on a single game than anyone else unless it comes down to a high-leverage play late in the game, which is certainly possible considering these are two very good pitchers meeting.
But if you’re looking for the one big key to the game, look to see how hitters might fare against Kris Medlen and Kyle Lohse. Ben already did a great job letting you know what to expect from Lohse. One key for me:
“One interesting note is that despite throwing his sinker at such a high rate, his 40% ground ball rate is not something to write home about. This is where I believe the Braves will have to take advantage. Since he is such a high contact hitter, they will have to get a hold of the sinker and put it in the air. Lohse has done a solid job of limiting home runs this season, and the game will be played in a slight pitcher’s ballpark, so pushing one out of the stadium will be difficult. Even so, if they can elevate his sinker slightly they could put balls into the gaps and rely on rallies to score their runs. Lohse is going to throw strikes, so being aggressive is likely the best way to attack the sinkerballer. Even though his strikeout rate is higher than usual, compared to the rest of the league it is not entirely impressive. The Braves will make contact, they just need to hope the ball lands where the fielders aren’t.”
The key for Lohse is weak contact and control/command. He doesn’t have a great strikeout or ground ball rate, but he avoids walks and home runs and throws a solid chunk of innings. His BABIP the past two seasons has been .269 and .262, which should give a good idea of how he succeeds.
Beating a pitcher like Lohse requires an offense that doesn’t play into his game. As Ben said, being aggressive is probably the way to go. It allows the Braves to catch the occasional Lohse sinker left up, as well as avoiding counts where hitters would play into Lohse’s hands and have to pound a fastball into the ground. His walk rate means the Braves can’t wait on the free pass or even deep counts all the time.
The Cardinals offense has been one of the best and most consistent all season, ranking second in the league in total fWAR, third in wOBA and first in wRC+. They’re righty heavy in the middle of the lineup with Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, but pitchers also have to deal with Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay around them.
Medlen has actually fared better against left-handed batters because of the extreme success of his changeup, but the split is minor. His wOBA against RHB is .239 compared to .230 against LHB, and he has a 2% advantage in K% against LHB. Medlen induces far more ground balls against RHB because of his curveball, and in turn, he has allowed the majority of his home runs to RHB because of missed command (although five is hardly a large number).
Some Cardinal wOBA’s against RHP/LHP:
Molina – .359/.427
Holliday – .358/.431
Craig – .353/.427
Freese – .359/.380
Jay – .350/.315
Beltran – .350/.361
Carpenter – .362/.335 (340 PA)
The Cardinals’ average wOBA against RHP among its usual starters (or those with the most PA’s) is .355. The average against LHP is .385. Among RHB in the Cardinals lineup, the lowest wOBA against LHP is still higher than all against RHP except Carpenter’s in a smaller number of PA.
Regardless of the minor difference in Medlen’s numbers between RHB and LHB, the Cardinals thrive against LHP but are much more tolerable against RHP. This combined with the Braves facing a right-handed pitcher means two factors leaning in the Braves’ favor.
October 3, 2012 at 9:20 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
If you follow my posts over at FanGraphs, I pick a pitcher a week to dissect and figure out why they have been successful or have struggled this year compared to years past. The matchup in the wildcard game is particularly interesting considering how surprising both pitchers have been this season. Nobody expected Kris Medlen to be the team’s best pitcher at the start of the year, and nobody expected Kyle Lohse to record a 2.86 ERA over 33 starts. After all, Lohse is just two years removed from posting a 6.55 ERA over 18 starts, so his transformation has been just as surprising as Medlen’s stellar season. Here is what we should expect on Friday from the Cardinal’s starting pitcher.
Traditionally, Lohse features a sinker heavy arsenal with his four-seam fastball used at roughly a 10% frequency, which is similar to Medlen. His sinker heavy approach has allowed him to limit walks at a tremendous rate, as his 4.4% walk rate ranks fifth in the majors. What he has done differently this season is increase the usage of his slider. Usually, the increased usage of a breaking ball would correlate with a higher walk rate, but Lohse has shown tremendous command with all of his pitches this season and posted a walk rate lower than he ever has in his career. As he has been able to maintain such a stellar walk rate, the increased usage of his breaking ball has allowed him to post a career high strikeout rate of 16.6%. Together, his 3.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly higher than his previous career high of 2.89. He has shown a great ability to pound the zone and create enough strikeouts to post a strikeout-to-walk ratio that is far above a respectable level.
One interesting note is that despite throwing his sinker at such a high rate, his 40% ground ball rate is not something to write home about. This is where I believe the Braves will have to take advantage. Since he is such a high contact hitter, they will have to get a hold of the sinker and put it in the air. Lohse has done a solid job of limiting home runs this season, and the game will be played in a slight pitcher’s ballpark, so pushing one out of the stadium will be difficult. Even so, if they can elevate his sinker slightly they could put balls into the gaps and rely on rallies to score their runs. Lohse is going to throw strikes, so being aggressive is likely the best way to attack the sinkerballer. Even though his strikeout rate is higher than usual, compared to the rest of the league it is not entirely impressive. The Braves will make contact, they just need to hope the ball lands where the fielders aren’t.
I expect this to be a pitcher’s duel, despite the Cardinal’s big bats and right-handed heavy lineup, which should slightly neutralize Kris Medlen’s changeup — though he does throw it to pitcher’s of both handedness. Lohse and Medlen are similar pitchers in that they avoid free passes, so this game will come down to who avoids hitting the ball to fielders the best. My money is on Medlen.
October 3, 2012 at 8:52 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
If there is one group the Braves could not have lived without this year, be it the rotation, the bullpen, the infield, or the outfield, the group to choose without a doubt would be the outfield. Here are some numbers that detail just how incredible they were this season.
All three outfielders were 6 win players or better by fWAR
All three outfielders were 5.4 win players or better by bWAR
The top three players in all of baseball by UZR are Bourn, Heyward, and Prado in order. That’s not just top three outfielders, that’s top three players. Of course, UZR has its issues, but there is no doubting that all three are tremendous defensively. On that side of the ball, I’m not sure I have personally seen a better group.
All three are in the top six in stolen bases for their respective outfield positions.
All three are in the top three of fWAR at their respective outfield positions. Heyward has been the top right fielder by WAR, while Prado has been the second best left fielder (behind Ryan Braun) and Bourn has been the third best center fielder (behind Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen).
If you have any other wild notes about the outfield, leave them in the comment section.
October 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves
Ben Sheets is calling it a career. Mark Bowman broke the news today that Wednesday will be Sheets’ final outing. He is expected to throw two innings before handing it over to Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.
And how fitting that is. It wasn’t long ago Sheets was in those two youngsters’ shoes, throwing gas and expected to be an anchor in a team’s rotation.
Now, he just wants to throw a couple innings and go home to his family.
Sheets was the 10th overall pick in 1999 out of UL-Monroe. He reached as high as No. 5 on Baseball America’s Top 100, tossing a combined 2.40 ERA in 153.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2000. Baseball Prospectus wrote this on Sheets in 2001: “We heard he pitched pretty well in an international tournament last year. Ben Sheets doesn’t get tons of strikeouts, but he throws hard, pitches inside, and gets a lot of weakly-hit balls. A low strikeout rate is often a danger sign, but in Sheets’s case, we’re not worried at all. He has a good chance to be the NL Rookie of the Year.“
Of course, before that, he became an Olympic champion by throwing a shutout against Cuba in the 2000 Games, winning a gold medal and sitting himself right up front in the baseball world.
Sheets plugged away in 2002 and 2003, recording ERA’s of 4.15 and 4.45 with good strikeout rates and an improving walk rate. But he was labeled as an innings eater at the time, not having yet turned a corner.
That changed in 2004, as Sheets recorded a 2.70 ERA and 2.65 FIP over 237 innings, including a 28.2% strikeout rate and 3.4% walk rate. Sheets finished second in the league in FIP, third in ERA, third in K%, second in BB%, first in K/BB and fifth in LD%, all while throwing the third-most innings. The man finished eighth in Cy Young voting. If you ever need another reason why award voting is nearly meaningless…
And the Brewers simply ran him into the ground. Some pitchers are able to withstand a lot of innings early in a career and some can’t. Sheets never had the shoulder, back or arm for 215+ innings between the ages of 23-25. It doesn’t help when you throw a curveball 30% of the time in your career.
The result was four trips to the disabled list between 2005-07 and nine total in his career. That includes shoulder inflammation, a shoulder strain, another shoulder strain, more shoulder inflammation, Tommy John surgery, and eventually more shoulder inflammation with the Braves this season. He never reached 200 innings again.
Sheets’ injury history isn’t just a loss for him, it’s a loss for baseball. He had a talent for getting strikeouts, particularly with the curveball, that deserved a long career. We all wanted Sheets. We wanted to see him punch out 10+ every outing. When it came against other teams, we could do nothing but watch in awe and applaud it. When it came against the Braves, we did the same.
When the Braves signed Sheets this season, we all agreed that even one good start from him would make the signing worthwhile. He gave the Braves 48 solid innings before his shoulder said no more. As a Braves fan, you can’t ask for any more out of the man. As a baseball fan, you can’t help but want more.