Thursday, May 30, 2019

Braves can win this division - Post-Memorial Day Review

Yes, the Braves lost two games to the Nats, and just got their butts handed to them in the final game 14-4. I'm aware that making a blog post declaring that we can win this division on the heels of beat-down might seem asinine. However, I'm the person who tells you not to be a prisoner of the moment when it comes to this team, or baseball in general.

I've settled into a pattern with this blog of being able to do a post about every 15 days. There are two reasons. One, I'm always busy now, and two, I really think you get better analysis from me when we don't look at the team in day-by-day chunks.

What I've seen over the past two weeks is that Austin Riley is a complete stud who is knocking the cover off the ball early. He's hit 7 homers in 14 games, and has an OPS over 1.10, which is frankly ridiculous. He'll never be able to keep that pace up and we all know it, but this looks like a kid with a great ceiling. I'm the person who will tell you not to freak out over a rookie, but it's hard to stay mentally balanced when the kid is jacking balls all over the yard and hitting .375 to boot. It's not like he's all power either, he's got 12 singles to go with his 7 homers and 2 doubles. It's impressive.

Meanwhile the pitching got a lot better than where we started this year. The staff is in the top half of ERA for the season now, and in the month of May the Braves are 10th, even including the debacle last night. Also keep in mind that the bullpen was almost dead last in April in ERA, and they've moved out of the cellar into a not-respectable-yet-but-trending-up 20th in the league on the season.

You basically have these pitchers who are functional right now as starters:

Mike Soroka is amazing with about 50 inning pitched and an ERA approaching 1.00
Max Fried has an ERA of 3.19 and is cruising along in most of his starts
Julio Teheran is functional currently as much as it pains me to say it since I can't stand him

That's pretty much it. Kevin Gausman just got lit up for 8 runs so that's going to sting, but he really hasn't been amazing this year since at all anyway and I think we need a better option from the younger talent. Also Mike Foltynewicz shows promise coming off his injury but he hasn't done enough to say he's functional yet.

That means we have 2 pitchers I can trust right now, a possible 3rd, a 4th that's coming along, and we need a better 5th line guy in the rotation. The good news is that is like most teams in the league. However, most teams in the league aren't as good offensively as the Braves. If you look at the runs scored this year the Braves are 14th. Slightly above average, but that's at the MLB level, what we care about is the division.

Once you consider the fact the Braves play 76 of their games against the NL East, and when you compare the NL East in scoring against the Braves? The Braves are in second place behind Philly with only a 6 run deficit. That's nothing. Offensively the Braves are neck and neck with the Phillies with only one game more played, and they are better in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS than Philadelphia. When you look at pitching, same story. Second in the division behind Philly slightly by about 0.19 in ERA.

What does that mean? Obviously it adds up to the fact that in the standings we're 3.5 games back of the Phillies who have played better than us so far, and those 3 games are essentially the sweep the Phillies handed us head-to-head early in the year. What gives me hope is the home records. Atlanta is 14-14 at home, and Philly is 20-10. If the Braves can improve their home record slightly, they are good enough on the road to win this division.

Also take note, the team with the best road record in the NL East has won the division every single year since 2014. Right now, even though the Braves are behind in the standings, they have a better road record at 16-12, than the Phillies at 13-12. If that trend continues, I think the Braves can win this division because they've played well on the road since last year. This young team really travels well, and eventually we know the home wins come along.

With the offensive talent, and enough pitching, I don't think the NL East is anything special this year, and I think the Phillies are easily catchable. The Braves will have a race on their hands, and the next few head to head games will really matter when we see Philadelphia again in mid-June.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mike Foltynewicz's Slider is the problem, and he's likely still hurt

Something is very wrong with Mike Foltynewicz. If you've watched his major league starts at all in 2019, since coming off what was described as "right elbow soreness" initially, you've noticed that very little of the All-Star caliber pitcher from 2018 has translated to the field lately.

Folty has pitched 21 innings in 4 games and has an ERA over 8.00. Those are the simple numbers so I like to look a little deeper to see where the problem lies. For that we head into a few advanced statistics I like.

In terms of pitchers with more than 20 innings pitched this year, there are 193 qualifying players. Of that 193, Folty ranked 189th in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). In fact, his negative WAR of -0.6 in such a short amount of time is indicative that almost anybody else could have pitched instead of Folty, and the Braves would have had a better result.

This is a HUGELY different WAR than what Folty posted in 2018 when he was 20th in WAR out of 140 pitchers that pitched more than 100 innings that season. That's not even the same person really. What does that tell me? Something is still wrong with his arm or his mental game.

Missing spring training can throw a pitcher off for sure, but usually those pitchers don't get more than 20 innings of work during the spring. As an example in 2018, Folty only got 16 innings of work in the spring, and he was excellent for the year. In my mind, having 20 regular season innings is enough to be "prepared" for the regular season and not screwing around with morale-building double-talk which belies the performance on the field.

The numbers get worse when you dig deeper. Folty is giving up 3.38 HR/9, 3.38 BB/9, and only 5.58 K/9. The walks are fairly consistent with his 2018 numbers, but the K's are almost 3.5 lower per 9 innings, and the Homers have increased by 2.5 per 9 innings. He's not striking out people and he's giving up bombs left and right.

What's the reason? His slider is way off. In 2018, it was his most effective pitch, and the pitch he could go to for outs, coming off a 96 MPH fastball. In 2019, it's getting killed. His Slider Runs against average is a -4.5 in 2019, where in 2018 it was a +22.9. You know what you can't do when your elbow is hurting? Throw a slider well.

My feeling is he's still hurt and not admitting it at all, but the lack of effectiveness of that Slider is what's turning 2018 All-Star Mike Foltynewicz into 2019 probably shouldn't be pitching on an MLB roster Mike Foltynewicz. I'm hoping he either heals up fast, admits he needs to take time off to fix it, or the Braves realize what needs to happen and decide it for him.