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What to watch for in Friday night’s Braves-Cardinals matchup

The devil magic is strong; Quintana’s missing homers

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

(I did these, they were fun, then life got in the way. Are they back? Who knows, ask life.)

The Braves took three of four from the Cardinals at home back in July, but that came during a pretty long stretch of Redbird scuffling. They’re not scuffling now, and this series could be a tough test, especially because...

Devil Magic Overwhelming

There’s nothing innate about the Cardinals, or their home park, that leads to xwOBA overperformance. In fact, in the Statcast era, through last season, the Cardinals had the fifth-biggest collective underperformance (Braves were sixth). Yet, in 2022, they’re tied with the Rockies for the largest overperformance — something notable because due to Coors Field, the Rockies are predisposed to have a gigantic “natural” overperformance. The big culprits here are also the frontrunners for NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. These two guys, with Goldschmidt ahead of Arenado, are one and two not just in NL fWAR, but also in xwOBA overperformance. Goldschmidt has a great .377 xwOBA but an absurd .448 wOBA. Even in 2020, which lasted less than three months, the biggest xwOBA underperformance was below .050; Goldschmidt is over .070 with less than a fourth of the season to go.

In the Statcast era, no hitter with 134 or more PAs has ever outhit their xwOBA in a single season by more than Goldschmidt’s current .071. Drew Butera did it in 2016 (.256 wOBA, .345 xwOBA) over 133 PAs. Brendan Ryan did it in 2015 (.267 wOBA, .193 xwOBA). Goldschmidt already has 515 PAs this season. Goldschmidt’s reality-bending results aren’t immediately explainable by anything obvious, either. He had a higher xwOBA and underperformed it last year, while hitting more line drives and way more flares.

Goldschmidt did pretty much the same thing as he’s apparently been doing all season to the Braves back in Atlanta. In four games, he had a .357/.500/.500 line, good for a 192 wRC+ that looks like his season line... and in those four games, he had a .345 xwOBA behind his .443 wOBA. So the Braves have already seen exactly what Goldschmidt is doing this season firsthand, but nonetheless were able to win three of those four games (and Goldschmidt had negative WPA in the game they lost). Expect to see a steady diet of sliders to the slugger from Strider and other arms the Braves run out there, as they’re pretty much his only vulnerability.

Quintana’s missing homers

Jose Quintana was very good once upon a time, and it’s not surprising that his best years came with a considerably-lower-than-expected HR/FB rate. He was nonetheless able to have good seasons in 2017 and 2019 despite a more normal such rate, but 2022 has been something else: Quintana still has a 6.8 percent HR/FB rate this season, one of the 10 lowest marks in baseball among any pitcher with 100 or more innings. (Only six pitchers with as many or more innings as Quintana have a lower HR/FB, Max Fried among them.)

On the season, Quintana has allowed just eight homers. A whopping three came in one start against the Braves, two more came in his next start, against the Giants. Quintana had seven homerless starts before then, and he had seven homerless starts afterward, before allowing his most recent longball, to Patrick Wisdom, on August 4, days after being traded. Since then, once again, no homers.

There’s been something about the dimensionality of different parks and the fly balls he’s allowed that’s played into this, but it’s hard to generalize. On the season, he has allowed eight homers and ten “expected” homers; in this case the “expected” homers are the result of a formula where essentially each homer is given a score of X/30, where X is the number of parks it would’ve been a homer in, and then just summed up over the course of each player’s fly balls in a season. But, Statcast also provides park-specific homer tracking, and if Quintana played all of his games at PNC Park (his pre-trade home), he would’ve allowed just seven homers (not eight) to date. Meanwhile, at Busch Stadium (his new home), that number drops to five.

So, will the Braves figure out a way to hit homers off Quintana anyway? Stay tuned and find out.

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