We are roughly one-fifth of the way through the baseball season and the Braves’ pitching has been phenomenal. One way to look at this strong run is to try to think of the last time that a Braves starter made a truly bad start. I came up with April 20, when Derek Lowe lasted only three innings against the Dodgers. Another way is to look at the Braves’ numbers in comparison to those of the Phillies, who were supposed to rival the Braves of the 90s in terms of having an all-time pitching staff. Viva the (lack of) difference:
|Braves||NL Rank||Phillies||NL Rank|
|Fair Run Average||3.58||1||3.78||5|
|Ground Ball %||52.0%||1||49.7%||5|
|Line Drive %||14.9%||1||17.5%||6|
Other than the facts that: (1) the Phillies’ pitchers are better at striking out opponents; and (2) the Braves’ pitchers have been a little lucky in the BABIP department (or the Braves’ defense has been surprisingly good; the team is third in the NL in defensive efficiency, despite the fact that this was supposed to be a weakness coming into the season), the Braves’ hurlers have turned in the better performance so far in the season. Drilling down into the numbers, we see a few particular strengths:
1. As one would expect from a pitching staff with Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens comprising 60% of the starting rotation, the Braves do a great job of forcing opponents to hit ground balls and they allow very few homers or walks. It stands to reason that this staff would excel at two of the three true outcomes (walks and homers) and be less dominant in the third (strikeouts). That said, the Braves’ strikeout numbers are quite good, in no small part because Brandon Beachy has been a revelation. Beachy is seventh in the NL in K/9, a hair behind Roy Halladay in sixth place. Small sample size, I know, but wow!
2. The Braves have allowed four unearned runs all season. By way of comparison, the average NL team has allowed 13 and the Phillies have allowed nine.
3. As evidenced by that league-leading line drive percentage (not to mention the league-leading number in fewest homers allowed), the Braves are not permitting opposing batters to make solid contact.
Put all of this together and you see why the team was willing to let Roger McDowell escape with a two-week suspension for his vaudeville act in San Francisco. You also see that when Dan Uggla and Martin Prado start hitting and if the pitchers can sustain this level of performance, then the Braves will have a legitimate shot at being the best team in the National League.