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What to watch for in Friday night’s Braves-Nationals game

Ian Anderson in Bizarro World; homers only

MLB: JUL 07 Cardinals at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Braves eked out a 5-4 win on Thursday night, giving them their 10th win in 14 games. Friday night’s contest features a matchup of two pitchers that faced the other team (but not each other) last weekend. Kyle Wright did pretty well on Thursday considering he was facing the Nationals in back-to-back starts, and now we’re getting both Ian Anderson and Patrick Corbin attempting to do the same.

Ian Anderson’s Bizarro World

No one really talked about this earlier in the week, given the big series with the Mets that dominated the discussion, but Ian Anderson’s most recent start was incredibly bizarre. As an outing, it was perfectly fine — 5/4 K/BB ratio with few fly balls in 5 13 innings is certainly livable, especially when two of the walks came in a needless extension of the outing past the 18th batter. But, the way in which it was fine was really strange.

At first, I wanted to talk about how Anderson, who is normally something like 50/30/20 four-seamer/changeup/curveball, threw his lowest fastball percentage since 2020 (his second-lowest in a start, ever), throwing below 39 percent four-seamers when he’s averaged 47-48 percent throughout the season in his most recent start against the Nats. This was perhaps a welcome evolution for two reasons: first, the fastball has been by far his worst pitch in a way that wasn’t even remotely true; second, the Nationals hit righty four-seamers quite well (.390+ xwOBA, top six in MLB), but are hapless against righty changeups (.280 xwOBA, 26th in MLB).

While all that’s true, and it’ll be worthwhile to see whether he keeps the reduced-fastball pitch mix tonight, I want to talk about something else. Namely, this:

Different data services have different conceptions of the strike zone, but the default Fangraphs one is hilarious — he threw barely over a quarter of his pitches in the zone in his last start, by far his lowest rate ever. Other strike zone models still reflect his lowest zone rate ever, just not quite so egregiously low: 36 percent by Pitch Info (compared 47 percent in his career); 39 percent by Baseball Savant/Statcast (compared to 46 percent in his career).

As you can see from the image above, Anderson’s start was really kind of a mess — lots of z-swing but bailed out by a ton of z-whiffs, no elevated chase rate, a paltry rate of first-pitch strikes, and enough o-contact to negate the z-whiff rate he was getting. Yet, somehow, it worked anyway, and the Nationals never caught on enough to punish him for missing the zone over and over and over. Is that going to happen again tonight? Was it just a blip? We’ll see.

Homers Only Club

The Braves are achieving the spiritual opposite of the No Homers Club by scoring all their runs on homers for the last four games. In fact, since Riley’s single delivered a sweep of the Nats to the Braves on Sunday, they’ve scored on homers and nothing else:

  • Austin Riley’s homer off Max Scherzer in the 4-1 loss to the Mets;
  • Matt Olson and Adam Duvall hitting two-run homers in the 4-1 win over the Mets;
  • Riley, Olson, and Eddie Rosario hitting three solo homers in the 7-3 loss to the Mets; and most recently,
  • Dansby Swanson, Michael Harris II, and Olson homering for all five runs in the 5-4 win against the Nationals.

Tally those up, and you get 13 consecutive runs scored on homers. The record, as far as I can tell, is 18, done by the Yankees in April 2019. If the Braves can repeat yesterday’s result tonight, they should be able to tie it.

It might be a little hard to do, though, as Corbin has had 70 runs charged to him with only 23 coming on the 15 homers he’s allowed, which isn’t that favorable of a ratio. He’s allowed just one homer in two starts to the Braves so far, accounting for just two of the ten runs. But still, I believe in the Braves. Hit more dingers!

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