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What to watch for in Thursday night’s Cardinals-Braves game

Devil magic on hiatus; Strider’s juke

St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Brett Davis/Getty Images

The Braves go for a four-game sweep on Thursday night, something they haven’t dealt to the Cardinals since the 1997 season. The Braves are not being very nice to some of their NL contender buddies — the Giants lost about six percent in playoff odds when losing three of four to the Braves, and the Cardinals have lost nine percent already in this series with one game left to play. Here are some things, besides the playoff odds, to monitor.

No more devil magic (for now?)

The Cardinals came into this series tied for the biggest positive wOBA-xwOBA gap, one of only two teams (and the only non-Coors Field-based team) whose current wOBA exceeds currently-uncalibrated xwOBA. We expected shenanigans to be afoot in this series, and instead...

  • July 4, .379 xwOBA —> .324 wOBA
  • July 5, .299 xwOBA —> .269 wOBA
  • July 6, .298 xwOBA —> .271 wOBA
  • Aggregate: .325 xwOBA (season: .318); .291 wOBA (season: .318).

While small-sample deviations between wOBA and xwOBA are in no way weird, the Cardinals are in their first stretch all season where they’ve underhit their (un-calibrated) xwOBA for four games in a row. The Braves have already had five stretches of doing so for five games or more, including an 11-game stretch (woof) and an eight-game stretch, along with three other five-game stretches.

The Braves actually stole Tuesday night’s game from the Cardinals — they had a .289 xwOBA to the Redbirds’ .299, but wOBAed .389 to the Cardinals’ .269. As a result, the Braves now, finally, have some degree of justice — they have won about 18 percent of the games in which they’ve been out-xwOBAed, and have lost about 18 percent of the games in which they’ve out-xwOBAed their opponents. It’s perhaps not surprising that as this has aligned, their record has put them right where we expected them to be — really quite a good team.

As for the Cardinals, well — it’s tough to win games when you’re not the most fortunate offense in MLB, right? Will it keep up and enable the sweep? We’ll see.

Strider’s juke

Spencer Strider is getting to Max Fried levels of infamy in some ways — you already know that he’s good, and why he’s good. (Are you surprised to learn, though, that he has allowed a .330 xwOBA against his fastball? That’s still better than an average fastball, but it’s not great in general!) But, check this out:

You can see that from his second start onward, hitters have swung more and more at the fastball in the zone in every start. Which makes sense, because that’s where he throws the fastball. It’s not really helping opposing hitters’ whiff rates much to swing at the fastball in the zone, but at least they’re doing a better job of understanding what’s coming...

...except Strider is also adjusting.

It’s not perfect, of course, as it took Strider a few games to put the plan in motion, but now he’s throwing more sliders out of the zone as hitters are swinging at more fastballs in the zone. The net result has been a whiff rate increase on his slider (from below 50 percent on June 12 to 75 percent in his last start).

The Cardinals are a weird team: fifth-highest chase rate, bottom-10 swing rate at pitches in the zone. How is that going to interface with Strider’s start, given the trends above? Stay tuned and find out.

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