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What to watch for in Wednesday night’s Giants-Braves game

Lefty four-seamers from Rodon; Morton’s xFIP run

San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It’s all eyes on the starters as the Braves look to win a second game of their four-game set with San Francisco, and secure at least a split. On paper, this isn’t a great matchup for Atlanta, as Carlos Rodon has been one of MLB’s best so far in 2022, and Charlie Morton has had a struggle bug season, but after last night’s insanity, who knows what might happen tonight?

Rodon’s four-seamers and the Braves

Carlos Rodon might take you by surprise. He’s got a ton of fWAR already this year (2.2), but he’s done it by being a fastball-heavy, two-pitch pitcher for the most part. That’s not to take anything away from Rodon, whose split the third time through is still pretty great (2.99 FIP, 3.78 xFIP), but it maybe isn’t the profile you’d expect from a guy dominating opposing batters. Rodon used to throw a sinker, which he abandoned after 2018, and he used to at least show a changeup around 10 percent of the time. Now with the Giants, he’s scrapped the latter altogether and has picked up an even less frequently-used curveball.

Why bring this up? Because you might think: “The Braves loooove fastballs.” And they do! They are the majors’ best fastball-hitting team, with a .404 xwOBA on PAs that end in fastballs. You might also think, “The Braves have so many righties, they must love beating up on lefties.” And they kinda do, with a .357 team xwOBA against them that’s fifth in MLB, though it’s worth noting that they’re actually relatively better against righties (.351 team xwOBA) despite how righty-heavy their lineup is.

So, Rodon seems like a relatively good matchup, right? Well, kinda. The Braves are third in MLB in xwOBA against lefty fastballs. But, what they like doing is penalizing the slower, worse stuff. Against all lefty balls, including four-seamers, sinkers, and cutters, they have a .392 xwOBA. If you do just sinkers, they’re by far first in MLB, with a gaudy .444 mark. They’re fine against cutters, too, .371 xwOBA, even though that’s just 13th in MLB — there aren’t that many lefty cutters out there. But four-seamers, which is what the southpaw Rodon throws over 60 percent of the time? A quotidian .372 xwOBA, 15th in MLB.

They can still pound Rodon, but it won’t be because they’re especially well-equipped to eat his fastball for lunch. They’re just okay at it.

Charlie Morton, now with low xFIPs (again)

2022 has been a struggle for Charlie Morton. There have been reasons to think he’s turned the corner, but the runs keep piling up anyway. But, if you want to remain hopeful, check this out.

In his last three starts, Morton’s xFIPs are 2.31, 1.10, and 2.46. He dominated the Cubs the last time out, but his two outings before that had great K/BB ratios along with Morton getting victimized by homers (Rockies hit one, Pirates hit two).

When the Braves got going last year in August, Morton was an xFIP machine too, posting a 2.95 xFIP over his final 12 starts of the year. The outputs matched too (2.71 ERA, 2.64 FIP), and only in four of the 12 starts did Morton have an xFIP above 3.00 (and it was 3.01 in one of those outings, and 3.11 in a second). He allowed just four homers in 12 starts.

Having a great xFIP isn’t really anything new for Morton, it’s just new for 2022. His last three starts haven’t different much by pitch mix, they’ve mostly differed because he’s racked up a crazy amount of whiffs. As you already know, the Giants don’t swing much, but they do miss. If Morton can keep whatever adjustments he’s made over the last few outings into today, the path for another great xFIP day is there for him, and hopefully the outputs follow too.