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Thoughts on the Braves’ key 5-2 win over the Mets

Nearly everything went according to plan as the Braves dropped the hammer on Jacob deGrom.

MLB: SEP 30 Mets at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Braves’ most realistic path to a division title involves sweeping the Mets at home in their penultimate series of the year. They gave Max Fried some extra rest to line him up to start the series. The Mets responded by shuffling their rotation to throw Jacob deGrom against him. In the end, the Braves came away victorious, thanks to three longballs off deGrom. It was a big first step in what remains a tough challenge over the next two games. But hey, one down, two to go. Below are some not-particularly-organized thoughts on the game and its events.

Dingers, Dingers, Dingers

For whatever reason, a portion of this Mets-Braves rivalry has become a synecdoche, or microcosm, of a broader (now proven needless debate) in baseball about offensive approaches. The Mets limit strikeouts and exploit bad defenses, while having an overall lineup full of guys with unorthodox or less-than-predictable spray charts. They love contact and not swinging out of their shoes. The Braves love obliterating the ball in the air to the pull side, and don’t care how many times they swing through a hittable pitch to get that result. (Fortunately for them, it’s not quite so many that the approach fails to work.)

I won’t rehash the whole debate, but the parts of it that are problematic are the ones that run counter to the data: namely when people suggest that the Braves’ approach is less effective than that of the Mets against elite pitching and/or the playoffs. I won’t dump a plethora of links here, but I can, and am happy to do so. This doesn’t appear to be a point of useful debate any longer, as we’ve had over a decade of research indicating that homer-happy offenses do better, and suffer less of a dropoff, when run environments become stingier due to better pitching and defenses.

If the universe wanted to create a live-action example of differing offensive approaches and how they work (or don’t) in a key game, last night’s game was a pretty good one. The Mets exploited Eddie Rosario’s “fielding” to score a run in the second — Rosario absolutely goofed one dunker on which he had a 95 percent catch probability, and then made another ugly, if more forgivable play on a ball that ended up scoring the game’s first run (this time, Rosario’s catch probability was only 40 percent). That was all Max Fried allowed to them, though, as he was generally more than content to let the Mets get themselves out on grounders, including a couple of double-play balls.

As for the Braves against Jacob deGrom, well... deGrom posted a deGrom-esque 0.93 xFIP in the game, thanks to an 11/0 K/BB ratio that could’ve gotten even more impressive had he not departed with a blister. In reviewing the pitch plots after the fact, deGrom made few mistakes:

  • A first-pitch down-the-pipe fastball to Michael Harris II in the first, fouled off.
  • A truly awful miss with a hanging slider to Austin Riley in the second.
  • A grooved 3-1 pitch past Matt Olson, after Olson could only foul off 99 down the middle to start the PA.
  • A first-pitch down-the-pipe fastball to Dansby Swanson in the third, swung through (something deGrom did a few times last night in a slightly better upwards location for that extra oomph).
  • Back-to-back fastballs against Harris in the sixth, resulting in a fly out.

Seven “mistakes” out of 86 pitches. Using the same parameters, Fried made the same county of seven, in 71 pitches. The difference? You already know it: Fried’s seven grooveballs resulted in a couple of flares to left that Rosario botched, and a groundout, along with three takes and a whiff. deGrom got a whiff and some not-great contact, but the Braves unloaded on two of ‘em. That wasn’t the entire difference in the game, but it was pretty close.

How do you beat the best hurlers in a low-scoring environment? By thrashing their rare mistakes, without relying on the opposing team to goof multiple times in the same inning. The Braves executed this perfectly, and got another run to pad their lead when Swanson guessed very, very right on a low four-seamer (what are you doing, Mets?) later in the game.

Is this anecdata to prove my point? Sure, you can read it that way, but again, I’ve got all those studies in my back pocket that make this more of a sterling example of a known phenomenon, than a solitary marker in a sport where anything can happen in a single game. And oh, what an example it is.

Max Fried, Five-Pitch Monster

One reason why Fried has been great this year? He is legitimately attacking hitters with a five-pitch mix. Yes, about a third of his pitches are four-seamers, but for the other two-thirds, hitters can’t sit on any specific offering.

Last night, Fried threw 12/10/6/4/3 curves/four-seamers/sliders/sinkers/changeups through his first nine batters. That’s a really tough thing for opposing batters to handle when seeing a pitcher for the first time on the night. For his second trip through the lineup, it was 11/10/4/4/7.

When Fried had that 5/5 K/BB ratio game against the Mets in July, one of his worst starts of the year, he was fastball-heavy and changeup-light. He did well against them the next two starts by reining that in, though his slider was left out of action a bit. This time, looking at individual batters’ pitch maps, it’s a wonder any of them reached base against him, given that he was kitchen-sinking them from the start. Both Brandon Nimmo and Tomas Nido (the Mets’ #1 and #9 hitters, respectively) saw four different pitches in five total pitches in their first PAs of the day.

Oh, so that’s what they saved the bullpen for

Guys, I get it now. The Braves have been saving the bullpen this entire season for a pivotal series with the Mets when Max Fried would have to be lifted after five innings because his butthole exploded. It all finally makes sense.

In all seriousness though, Fried’s unfortunate gastric distress was either a blessing in disguise, or not quite that. On the plus side, it avoided any potential problems with the third time through the order and let this excellent bullpen go to work. (However, Fried’s pitch mix and overall pitching style make him arguably somewhat/a lot less susceptible to this penalty, and he really hasn’t suffered from it since his weird attempt to manage contact in 2020.) On the minus side, I’m wondering what the Braves’ plans are for sweeping this series, given that the first game transpired how it did.

Unless the score is a laugher, the Braves probably won’t want to let Wright or Morton go too far past 18 batters, if at all. But, there’ll be frames to cover. You can conceivably do most of the same sequence as on Friday to cover one of those games when the score is close, but I don’t think the Braves can ask the entire Nu Night Shift to all pitch three days in a row. Maybe they split them up, i.e., Collin McHugh and Raisel Iglesias to go with a Dylan Lee or Jesse Chavez in one game, and A.J. Minter, Kenley Jansen, and the other of Lee/Chavez in the other, but it stands as an open question right now.

Of course, this question is only relevant for sweep considerations, but those are the main considerations at this point...

Thanks for Tylor Megill

When deGrom departed (apparently due to a blister), I thought Buck Showalter made an interesting move by plugging in Tylor Megill. The 27-year-old righty wasn’t supposed to be much of a prospect, but had an interesting debut year in 2021 (92 xFIP-) and was doing even better this year before crowding and a shoulder injury took him out of the rotation. He’s been back for a few days and serving in a relief capacity, and having him basically soak up innings to keep most of the Mets’ relief corps fresh for the remainder of the series was a good move, especially considering that the Braves probably didn’t do a deep dive on Megill in lieu of, you know, deGrom and Edwin Diaz and the like ahead of this series.

So, props to the Braves for walloping Megill anyway, and then after he left, continuing the wallop. Both Travis d’Arnaud and Orlando Arcia had barrels in the inning.

So long, and thanks for the contact quality

Speaking of barrels, in last night’s game, the Braves managed five of ‘em. They also only hit six “topped” balls, i.e., crappy grounders that are by far my least favorite baseball play. That was only their 21st game of the season in which their [barrels] minus [topped balls] was equal to -1 or more. They’ve actually had five games with more barrels than topped balls, and another 10 with the same amount.

Amazingly, they’ve somehow lost three of the five games with more barrels than topped balls, though this probably has something to do with the weather and the ball. If we include all 21 games noted above, they went 4-4 in such games before the wOBA/xwOBA stuff started to normalize, even pre-calibration, around June, and 11-3 in those games after June started.

Anyway, I’m just glad that they avoided grounderitis last night against an opponent very capable of evoking it from their bats, and barreled not one, not two, but three balls off deGrom. Great stuff.

(Random fact: on August 2, the Braves beat the Phillies, 13-1, despite hitting 17 “topped” balls and just two barrels.)

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