Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Our Pitching is Better Than your Pitching!

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:

BravesNL RankPhilliesNL Rank
Runs Allowed2.9713.272
Fair Run Average3.5813.785
Team Shutouts6161
Ground Ball %52.0%149.7%5
Line Drive %14.9%117.5%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.


steve said...

I agree with the overall point. Minor nit: park factor probably evens out the Braves' small advantage. The parks are each close to neutral, but multiyear park factors are ATL 97, PHL 101.

OTOH, the Phillies have piled up their numbers against a weak schedule to date, so whatever. Neither team has anything to complain about from their pitching.

Michael said...

Good point. With the exception of the series this past weekend, the Braves's road series have been at Washington, Milwaukee, LA, SF, and SD. Not a bandbox in the bunch.

I'm surprised you didn't counter with "and you're still three games behind," to which my counter-counter is "Fredi."

steve said...

If I were to make that counter, I'd have to say that you are in fact four games behind. But I wouldn't.

This Phillies team does not feel like a great team at all, record aside. They are old and declining, and can't hit much. They especially can't hit good pitching much. It's not an awful offense, just not a good one.

My sense of the team is that they'll win 93 games in the 4-2 vein, then lose in the playoffs by similar scores.

The Braves will almost certainly take over the division by 2013. The drama will be whether it happens before then.

Luke Goddard said...

Steve, I'm going to have to disagree with you. First let me say, I'm an avid Braves fan. I don't miss a game and have been following them religiously for the past 15 years.

The Phillies' line-up is, in fact, a VERY good one. Even without Utley and Werth, they remain essentially the most dangerous line-up in the NL. You just about can't beat Victorino, Rollins, Palanco, and Howard in your top 4 spots. Right now, their line up is more dangerous than the Braves. Much more. HOWEVER, if Uggla gets hot like we know he will and Prado starts hitting, things change a bit.

While the Phillies rotation are, in all, more of a power (strike out) type, I do think from top to bottom, the Braves' rotation is not only better than the Phillies, but the best in the MLB. Check the numbers. They don't lie. Thanks for your research, Michael.

Eric Idle said...

@ Luke Goddard: The numbers don't lie, but regression doesn't either. We're still looking at 5, 7, 7, 7, and 8 starts for the Braves' pitchers, which is still a fairly small sample size. The odds are that the Phils will end up with better pitching over the last 4/5ths of the season.

Compared to his career averages, Huddy is striking about 1 fewer and walking 1 fewer per 9 IP. His BABIP is .244, which isn't likely to hold up (expect it to get closer to .279, his career rate). He's allowing 2.3% HR/FB, compared to 10.5 career. That's just one example. He's pitching well (I went to his 1-hitter and was impressed with his location and movement; it was fantastic pitching), but we won't always be seeing this.

Lowe's striking out 2.3 more batters per 9 and allowing fewer HR than his career averages. He's not as large a candidate for regression for Hudson, as his BABIP is still higher than league and career averages and his ground ball rate has been somewhat low (-4% from last year, but he's allowed more fly balls as his career has gone on). Lowe might actually get better, as his current FIP is 2.62, or half a run better than his ERA.

CAC had a good article on Jurrjens' resurgence this year: http://capitolavenueclub.com/?p=4195 I don't have much to say about his peripheral stats that they don't cover.

I would project Hanson as the most likely to keep performing at his current level, both on personal observation (seen him pitch twice this year) and on his statistical output thus far. He's in better control throughout the count this year (compared to the last two), and that's reflected in his K rate (even though BB rate is about the same). This may finally be the breakout season we've been looking for.

I've been exceedingly pleased with Brandon Beachy's approach and results thus far. Still, he's a rookie and is bound to struggle a bit later as teams accumulate better scouting reports. Hopefully that's something he, the catchers, and coaches are capable of working through (Actually, that's something I'm interested to see with Fredi and the new regime.).

I would love to see more of Teheran and Mike Minor, though not at the expense of any of the above five guys' health. It's very fortunate that the Braves have such solid alternate options at AAA; I'd much rather have those guys ready to start than be tossing out Kendrick or Blanton every day.

Ultimately, it's hard to be displeased with how the Braves' pitching has fared thus far, but don't be surprised if they get shelled a couple of times--that's just baseball. I believe that we'll have at least the second-best staff in the majors this year, but that doesn't seem to matter as much right now as getting the offense rolling. Hooray for a long season.

Anonymous said...

Just remember you take Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick, and Vance Worley into consideration in the phillies line up. Also an injured Roy Oswalt. You know the phillies will keep up the numbers but will the Braves?