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What to watch for in Tuesday night’s Athletics-Braves matchup

Cole Irvin maybe stranding runners; Kyle Wright sticking with what’s worked best

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

In an attempt to push back against the often-particularly-insipid, usually content-free “keys to the game” provided on the Braves’ local broadcast, below are a couple of more interesting things to watch for if you’re tuning in to watch Kyle Wright duel Cole Irvin at Truist Park on Tuesday night.

Cole Irvin, Strand Guy

Oakland southpaw Cole Irvin is a bit of a throwback — an extremely low-spin, soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact lefty who’ll pepper you with four or five different pitches. His statline through is really confusing: 81 ERA-, 107 FIP-/111 xFIP-, 139 xERA-. In other words, he hasn’t given up a lot of runs at all, his K/BB/HR/FB peripherals suggest he should be giving up way more runs, and the quality of contact he’s allowed has been in “horrendous, stop letting him pitch” territory.

How has he managed to keep the ERA low? So far in 2022, only eight pitchers with 40-plus innings pitched have benefited more from their strand rate than Irvin — league-average strand rate is at 72 percent, and Irvin’s stranded 82 percent of his runners. Across the board this season, he has better numbers with runners on, and it’s not something traceable to pitch mix, which suggests it’s a small sample size thing, though location or something else may be a different explanation.

Up until the last few weeks or so, the Braves were bedeviled by their hitting, and especially their hitting outputs relative to their inputs, with men on. Things have started to balance out a bit, so watch for what happens: the Braves could either be frustrated by Irvin’s potentially-inexplicable improvement with men on base, or they could continuing reversing early season-trends and punish him for allowing baserunners. (Alternatively, they could connect for a series of solo homers. Whatever works.)

Kyle Wright, Too Many Four-Seamers?

The pitch shape on Kyle Wright’s four-seamer remains underwhelming, as it has heavy sink despite its velocity and his penchant for throwing it up, above the zone. Part of his newfound success is working more heavily off his curveball and sinker, the latter of which seems to be enhanced leaguewide by the changing ball and dampened run environment. Wright’s four-seamer, though, is his worst pitch in terms of xwOBA and put-away rate, and arguably the one he has the most trouble commanding.

The Athletics have one of the league’s worst offenses, and are literally last in team xwOBA against right-handers coming into this game. While they’re not great at anything in particular when it comes to hitting, they’re relatively better against four-seamers from righties (20th in MLB) as compared to sinkers/two-seamers (dead last), curveballs (23rd), sliders/cutters (25th), or changeups (dead last). So, Wright should have a fair bit of options beyond his four-seamer to feel good about. That doesn’t mean he should stop throwing the four-seamer altogether — there is no relationship between his in-start four-seamer frequency and his effectiveness in a start — but just that this may line up to be a great matchup for him if he works to what are already his established strengths, pitch-wise.

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