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How do the Braves match up against Aaron Nola?

The Braves are going in to game 3 of the NLDS facing former Cy Young candidate Aaron Nola. How do they match up against him?

MLB: Wildcard-Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies
Aaron Nola is up next for the Braves
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves just had one of the most exciting finishes to a game in post season history last night to even the NLDS at one game apiece. They made it through the gauntlet that is Zack Wheeler and came away with a win.

Next up is Aaron Nola. Nola has a high ceiling. He has had three seasons in which he received Cy Young votes. Last season he came in fourth, for good reason. He led the league with in SO/W ratio with an insanely good 8.10, and had an elite 2.58 FIP in 205.0 innings.

Fortunately for the Braves, he has not had as much success this season. His SO/W ratio is close to half of last season (4.49), and his FIP has been 4.03. To be fair, his xERA is 3.77 this season, but it still is his worst since 2019. Nola also is in the bottom 41.0 percent in MLB in Barrel percentage, and has been just slightly better than league average in Hard-Hit percentage with top 46.0 percent. It just so happens the Braves excel in quality contact.

Now, when it comes to the playoffs though, it is all about matchups. Nola has seen the Braves this season more than any other opponent, and has had decent success against them. In seventy-four plate appearances, the Braves had a sub-optimal slash line of .232/.270/.406 while striking out twenty times to only walking four. Of the twenty-one teams Nola faced, only nine had a lower OPS against him.

It is not all bad news against Nola for the Braves. Nola did have a 3.50 ERA against the Braves and this is in large part to them being able to knock three home runs off of him. They also were a bit unfortunate against him with a BABIP of .277 against him this season.

Although Nola’s largest sample size of any team is against the Braves, it is still a relatively small sample size. So, let’s dig into something that may give us an idea of what to expect. We can look at Nola’s pitch types. We can see which ones he does well with, and how the Braves far against them.

Last season, Nola excelled in three different pitches. His curve was worth a Run Value (RV) added of seven, his 4-seamer had a RV added of ten, and his sinker had a RV added of eleven.

This season, there has been a large drop off. His best pitch in terms of RV added was his 4-seamer with a two. No other pitch was above a zero. His second best was his curve with a zero and his sinker this year was his worst pitch with a negative two.

Interestingly, Nola changed up his usage percentages. In 2022 he pitched his 4-seamer 33.4 percent of the time and his curve 26.5 percent of the time. This season, he pitched his curve 31.6 percent of the time and his 4-seamer 29.4 percent of the time.

Looking at his two most used pitches we see that hitters had a .221 batting average and .398 slugging against his curve, with an xBA of .220 and xSLG of .367. On his 4-seamer, hitters had a .246 average and .503 slugging, with an xBA of .221 and xSLG of .454.

Now, let’s look at how the Braves have fared against these pitch types.

If we look at the 4-seamer, the Braves have done really well. Six of the Braves’ starters have a RV added of at least six. Matt Olson actually leads in RV added on any pitch with twenty-four against the 4-seamer. As we can see in the chart below, the Braves crush the 4-seamer:

Top six Braves vs the 4-seamer

The most interesting hitter of the group is Austin Riley who has struggled this season against the 4-seamer. He has a negative two RV added on the pitch with an xBA of .232 and xSLG of .509.

As far as the curve goes, the Braves also fare well against this pitch as well. The Braves have six players with at least two RV added:

Top six Braves vs the curve

For reference, Orlando Arcia’s RV of nine is fifth in MLB, and Acuña’s eight is tied for sixth. What sticks out is that Arcia did get quite lucky if we look at his .405 batting average and .541 slugging being much higher than his xBA of .233 and xSLG of .299. However, the flip side of the coin in that Acuña has been extremely unlucky with his xBA of .421 being higher than his .362 batting average and his xSLG of .884 is much higher than his slugging percentage of .702.

The other player to keep an eye on is Matt Olson. Nola would do well to stay away from the 4-seamer if possible and throw curves. Olson had a RV added of zero this season with an average of .140 and slugging of .400. Now, his xBA is higher at .178, but that is not exactly something to be proud about.

Keys to the game

After digging into the pitch types we can deduce that as a unit, the Braves fare well against the types of pitches Nola throws the most.

The key will be that Olson lay off of the curves, Riley be patient and lay off of the 4-seamer and let the rest of the lineup feast on their areas of strength.

The x-factor is going to be (shocker alert) Acuña. He has the best overall output among the combo of 4-seamers and curves in MLB in terms of RV added. If he does not get going, it could spell trouble for the Braves.

It would also be a good idea to start Sean Murphy over Travis d’Arnaud with Murphy also doing very well against both curves (six RV) and 4-seamers (sixteen RV).

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