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Series Preview # 13 : D-backs vs Braves

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The bullpens will decide this series.

Greg Holland earned 2 saves in last Braves series!
Greg Holland earned 2 saves in last Braves series!
Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” — Orson Welles

Almost certainly in this series, the last pitch of every game will be from a bullpen pitcher. Rare is a series that is defined by bullpens. Rare will arrive with the Braves.

Let’s compare the bullpens.

One intangible is the recent addition of Zack Godley to the D-back bullpen. It’s too soon to be sure, but it looks like his best pitching happens in one or two innings. Looking beyond Godley, the D-backs bullpen is better than the Braves. Examples follow:

  • Wins Above Average (WAA) (Baseball Reference through 7 May). For the season, the D-backs have a higher WAA (positive 0.4 vs negative 1.7 WAA). A caveat is that recent results were different. From 4 to 7 May, the D-back bullpen was negative 0.7 WAA while the Braves bullpen was positive 0.6 WAA. The D-backs rank fell from 2nd to 8th, while the Braves rank rose from 30th to 28th.
  • Number of pitchers used in relief (Baseball Reference through 7 May) The Braves used more pitchers in relief (18 vs 13). Less is usually better.
  • Shutdowns and meltdowns of current bullpen pitchers (FanGraphs through 7 May).

Shutdowns: Braves had 13 vs D-backs had 28.

Meltdowns: Braves had 10 vs D-backs had 17 .

Ratio of Shutdowns/Meltdowns: Braves are 1.30 vs D-backs are 1.65.

  • Whose pitching is like a confident yoga-master? Braves: Luke Jackson. D-backs: Greg Holland.
  • Whose pitching is sometimes like batting practice (4 meltdowns)? Braves: A.J. Minter. D-backs: Matt Andriese, Yoshihisa Hirano, and Archie Bradley.
  • Who Closes? Brave closer Minter has an ERA of 6.75. D-back closer Holland has an ERA of 0.75. Holland has 8 shutdowns and zero meltdowns. Holland has 8 saves. Lest we get overconfident, consider this: “Holland has issued 7 walks in his last 9 innings pitched, and walked a batter in 6 of his last 9 outings. He needs to clean that up.” —Jack Sommers

Will the Braves acquire a high end bullpen pitcher?

During the off-season, the Braves spent $31 Million (Josh Donaldson 3B, Nick Markakis OF, Brian McCann C). No pitchers! Is there room in the budget for a pitcher?

After the off-season, Jeff Todd of Trade Rumors wrote that he was a “bit surprised” that a high end starter was not added, and “The lack of action was a bit tougher to understand in the bullpen, though.” His thoughts were on-target.

“Last night [27 April] was a really tough loss. As we discussed prior to the game, we’ve been working on making some changes.” — Alex Anthopoulos, Braves GM

What happened on 27 April? Starter Foltynewicz pitched well enough. The Braves were ahead 5-4 after 8. In the ninth, Braves closer Minter allowed 4 earned runs and did not complete the inning. Winkler allowed another earned run before the last out.

This season, Minter’s Goose Egg conversion rate is 50%. How does this compare? This season, Greg Holland’s conversion rate for the season it will likely be at least 80%.

“We’ve been linked to (Kimbrel) a ton because he’s been here in the past, he’s been successful, and we had needs in the bullpen. And we still do.” — Alex Anthopoulos, Braves GM

Will the Braves acquire free agent Kimbrel at mid-season, when he no longer costs a draft pick? It might happen if the Braves have not fallen out of contention.

Let’s look at offense.

Offensively, the D-backs scored more runs per game (4.92 Braves vs 5.31 D-backs) on 7 May.

How are the offenses different?

  • Comparing the first 15 games to the second 15 games, the D-backs runs per game was the same (5.3), while the Braves runs per game fell from 5.5 to 4.7.
  • The D-backs hit more: 335 vs 317 through 7 May.
  • Braves walked more: 143 vs 107 through 7 May.

Let’s look at defense.

Braves and D-backs had the same runs-allowed-per-game of 4.86 on 7 May. However, trends seem to show the D-backs are better. Comparing the first 15 games to the second 15 games, the D-backs improved from 6.0 to 3.1 runs allowed per game, while the Braves fell from 4.5 to 5.2 runs allowed per game.

Another example of the trend is starting pitcher Kevin Gausman.

  • His first three starts averaged 6.6 innings with an ERA of 2.75.
  • His second three starts averaged 4 innings with an ERA of 8.25.
  • His last start was 4.1 innings with an ERA of 6.24.

Looking Ahead.

Neil Paine of 538.com wrote about changes in playoff odds between the preseason and 30 April. The D-backs’ 12% increase was fourth highest increase in the Majors.

Jim Mc Lennan provided the odds of making the post-season (as of 2 May):

  • Fangraphs: 21.3% (division: 4.7%; wild-card 16.5%)
  • Baseball Prospectus: 37.5% (division: 15.2%; wild-card 22.3%)
  • FiveThirtyEight: 39% (division 14%; wild-card 25%)
  • Numberfire: 35.8% (division: 7.4%; wild-card 28.4%)

“The team is not quite out of the schedule woods yet, but if they can get through the next ten in good shape - at Colorado and Tampa, then at home against Atlanta - they’ll be through the first quarter of the season, and way ahead of where they were expected to be.” — Jim Mc Lennan

When the D-backs win this series as I expect, they will be “way ahead of where they were expected to be.” Unlike the disappointing end of last season, this season will likely have a happy ending.

Who will pitch in this series?

Thursday. Mike Soroka (384 ERA+, 5.92 innings per start) vs Luke Weaver (138 ERA+, 5.48 innings per start)

In his last start against the D-backs, Mike Soroka allowed 1 earned run in 5 innings. Every inning the D-backs got on-base. With well timed hits more runs could have scored.

This season, Luke Weaver’s three-game rolling-average ERA started at 5.17 and got better after that. Currently, it rolls at an ERA of 2.55. “Luke continues to get better and better every time. ... You can just see him build that confidence and continue to attack. I think that’s when Luke is at his best.”—Carson Kelly

Friday. Julio Teheran (94 ERA+, 5.58 innings per start) vs Zack Greinke (132 ERA+, 6.25 innings per start)

Ignoring the 6 earned runs Julio Teheran allowed at Coors Field, his ERA was better against teams with losing records vs winning records (ERA of 2.00 vs ERA of 5.40). In that context, the D-backs winning record tells us the D-backs will score runs.

In his last start, Zack Greinke would have earned his 6th win in 8 starts, except the Rockies scored 5 runs in the eighth. With Zack Greinke pitching, I am confident that the D-backs will win this game.

Saturday. Kevin Gausman (87 ERA+, 5.14 innings per start) vs Merrill Kelly (93 ERA+, 5.57 innings per start)

While Gausman appeals his 5-game suspension for throwing a pitch behind Jose Urena, he is available to pitch. In his last start, he allowed 5 runs (3 were earned) in 4.1 innings. Runners got on base every inning except the fourth.

How did Merrill Kelly pitch on Monday? He allowed 7 earned runs in 4 innings against the Rays. “Kelly didn’t have his best stuff, and didn’t get any help from the home plate umpire...” — Dano_in_Tucson. Likely, he will stay in the rotation. Jack Sommers posted:

Just pointed out to me by @makaattack71 that Kelly can’t be optioned without his consent.https://t.co/up1abr2DA8

Sunday. Max Fried (147 ERA+, 5.38 innings per start) vs Taylor Clarke (234 ERA+, 6.0 innings per start)

Max Fried runs fast!

Who remembers Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine? What if Max Fried went back to 1958? In the 1958 Asian games (held in Tokyo), Max Fried’s speed would have been within 1.2 feet per second of first place in the 100 meter dash. In 1958, instead of rounding the bases Max would have been running in a straight line. He might have won the gold medal!

In his last start, Max Fried allowed 4 earned runs while earning only 3 outs. In the second inning, Alex Verdugo’s line drive hit Max Fried’s pitching hand. He grimaced and dropped to a knee. Although his hand had baseball stitch marks, x-rays showed no fracture. Likely, he will pitch this game. In case you wondered what happened; four relievers finished the game while allowing 5 more earned runs.

On Tuesday, Taylor Clarke’s first start was great (2 earned runs in 6 innings) considering he was pitching against the Rays. ”How many starts Clarke will make remains to be seen and will likely be dictated not only by his performance each outing, but also how Godley throws in relief.”—Torey Lovullo. Now that we know the answers to those questions (both positive!), it looks almost certain Clarke will pitch this game.