Saturday, May 6, 2017

Braves Starting Pitching is a Disaster: Some Advanced Stats

Here's the problem I have with the team right now, and this will be mildly ranty and really stat-driven so just be prepared for that. I have had a problem with the way our starting pitching staff was designed from Day 1, and if you go back in time to when they first announced the rotation I did some bold predictions. One of those predictions (in fact the absolute first prediction) was that the starting rotation would be bad. I questioned everything except really Teheran, and even with Teheran I said that I expected a small fall-off

And so here we are in May, and I've had a month to watch this pitching staff. There's only 6 months in the baseball season if you don't count the playoffs (and let me tell you with this crew, we ain't counting on October) so I believe 1/6th of a season is enough to start analyzing what we've seen.

I don't like what I've seen at all with the pitching.

Now like I said before, I can't say I'm shocked. I expected the pitching staff to suck, and I wrote that down in the predictions on both the starting and the reliever fronts. What I'm shocked by is that we are DFL (Dead Freaking Last) in the major leagues in ERA for our staff. The starters? 24th in the league. The relievers? 28th in the league. And why is is so bad? Who is the problem? Allow me to elaborate.

Our best starter by ERA right now is RA Dickey, and that's misleading. He's at 3.94, Garcia is at 3.99, Teheran is at 4.33, Folty is at 4.55, and Bartolo is at a whopping 6.27. Among qualified starters, our absolute BEST pitcher by ERA is going to rank 51st out of 100. That means every pitcher we're tossing out there is in the bottom half of the league.

But wait! Stat guys always tell us that ERA doesn't matter, that it's actually FIP (or fielding independent pitching) that matters. That's basically ERA adjusted for an average defense. OK, sure let's look at the pitchers FIP. It actually gets worse. In that case, Julio is the best ranked Braves pitcher with a FIP of 4.31, and that's 59th out of 100 in the league.

Julio isn't pitching well. Nobody is. Why? A big issue is that the starters excepting Julio are all giving up well over a HR every 9 innings, which is a bad ratio is you want to keep scores down. At the absolute best if you're giving up a homer every start, you're giving up one run. And it can get worse. Folty as an example is giving up 1.52 HR/9, which ranks him 74th in the league out of 100.

Julio's problem seems to be command. He's given up the most walks on the team at 18, he has given up almost a hit an inning with 32/35.1 innings, and his batted ball numbers are awful. Guys are squaring him up well, and that leads to more hits and runs. Over 26% of Julio's hit balls are line drives, which a BIGTIME problem for a pitcher. Right now that would put him 94th out of 100. That's why he's getting crushed. He's struggling for command of the zone, and when he's in the zone, hitters are teeing him up for hard hit balls. Compare to say a guy like Max Scherzer who only has 13% line drives in the top 5 of baseball, it's no surprise that Max's ERA is at 2.66 while Julio has ballooned to over 4.00.

Bartolo is basically done at this age in my mind. He's too old to have strikeout stuff anymore, so he mostly relies on people getting out on balls in play. The problem is that if you look at his hard-hit balls, he's giving up almost 40% hard contact (that's 8th worst in the league.) When you're getting blasted that hard, it's tough for the defense to react, and that's causing some issues in addition to his 22% line drive rate. It tells the tale of a man who like Julio is missing in the zone, and he's paying the hard prices for it. And he'll continue to pay them unless he can cut down on the hard hit balls.

Folty's problem is homers and run support. He's gotten exactly 5 runs scored for him in every game he's pitched, meaning he's always pitching from behind. That's never good for the psyche. But he's got some great strikeout stuff with 8.19 K/9, and only 2.45 K/BB ratio. Near 2.5 to 1, is really really good. So he's got the command of the zone, and he's punching people out. Here's the problem, he's given up 5 homers, and of those homers 4 of them came in his last 2 starts, and 3 of the 4 were multi-run homers. You can survive solo shots, but if you're giving up 2 and 3 runs shots en masse? Big problem. However, Folty is still one of my smallest concerns because he's got the strikeout stuff to get out of trouble, and he's not really giving up a ton of big-time contact around the yard. With the exception of last night, he's been pretty good and just needs some run support to take the load off his mind.

Garcia and Dickey share the same problem, and it's that they can get any swings and misses. For Dickey, that's normal because knuckleballers don't strike people out. For Garcia? That's a bigger issue. With K/9 rates in the 5.00s? You better not be giving up a ton of big contact. What the FIP stats and BABIP stats would tell you about Garcia and Dickey is that you should be a lot more worried about them than what we've seen. If anything they've been getting lucky not to give up more runs. What do I mean by that? The average BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is around .300 for hitters. Both Garcia and Dickey are in the .240s right now. That's extremely low to the point where they are in the top 20 in the league for lowest average. The issue? That's unsustainable unless you're a guy like Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw. Garcia and Dickey are neither. I'd expect their ERAs to start trending up in the future as their luck runs out, not down.

So in a nutshell, we have the worst pitching staff in baseball, and I don't really think it's fixable for about 60% of it or worse. And yet, I look down at the minors and think to myself, Wow, Kolby Allard has a 1.36 ERA in AA. Wow, Sean Newcomb has a 3.08 ERA at AAA. Wow, Lucas Sims has a 2.83 ERA at AAA. And yet we're still throwing these veterans at the starting rotation for reasons I don't understand.

Bartolo's value is going to tank if you don't do something soon. The second he starts to have a remotely good streak (if ever again), Coppy needs to unload him before his value goes to zero. I'd say the same thing with Garcia and Dickey before people figure out they have been getting lucky on borrowed time for about a month. We need to get the old guard out of here and get the new guard in here by the All-Star break.

I'm okay with losing if I'm seeing young talent develop. I'm not okay getting kicked around if we're running a bunch of old farts out there with one year deals.


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