Over the last week the Atlanta Braves have faced some of the budding aces in the league in Hunter Greene and Brady Singer. However, even though we are already in mid-April already the Braves have yet to face a true out and out ace. That will change though this weekend when Atlanta takes on Bonafide ace Framber Valdez. Despite pitching to a 2.82 ERA last season along with a FIP of 3.06 across 201 ⅓ innings last season, Houston Astros starter Framber Valdez still feels underrated. He did finish fifth in the AL CY Young voting last season, but the national respect does still seem to be lacking. Down below we are going to review the southpaw’s arsenal and just what makes him so good.
Pitch #1 - Sinker - 2023 usage rate - 54.4 percent
2023 stats - Average velo - 94.8 MPH - Spin rate - 2,160 RPM - vertical movement - 21.7 inches - horizontal movement - 16.0 inches
Valdez leans on this pitch heavily, throwing it more than half of the time, but it really does not grade well in terms of the expected metrics. Last year it had 325 batted ball events, with hitters posting an xBA of .295, xSLG of .439 and xwOBA of .357. Batters hardly ever whiff at it as well as in 2022 it posted a swing and miss percentage of 12.1, although it has jumped up to 17.2 percent this season. However, despite allowing a hard-hit percentage of 47.1 percent of the time last season and 48.9 percent this year, this is an effective pitch for Valdez because it keeps batters on the ground. In 2021 it had a launch angle of -6 degrees, this year it sits at -2 with the ground ball percentage on it being 68.8 and 68.9 percent on it the last two seasons. Whilst it gets impacted hard, pitchers are always going to be content with keeping contact, no matter how hard, on the ground because it’s a lot more difficult to get hurt there compared to a fly ball. Right-handed batters for the Braves should expect to see this pitch frequently from Valdez as he has thrown it to righties 56.1 percent of the time this season.
Pitch #2 - Curveball - 2023 usage rate - 22.1 percent
2023 stats - Average velo - 79.0 MPH - Spin rate - 2,810 RPM - vertical movement - 60.5 inches (6.4 inches above average) - horizontal movement - 9.8 inches
For me personally, this is one of the best pitches in baseball. Hitters were hardly able to do anything against this pitch as last year it posted a xBA of .146, xSLG of .203 and xwOBA of .202 with slightly worse numbers this season. Hitters surprisingly chased it 38.5 percent of the time last season and 32.9 percent of the time this season, both of which are very strong numbers. The chase whiff rate on it is even more impressive as it sits at 70.5 and 73.9 percent over the past two seasons, otherworldly numbers. His curve is thrown almost exclusively to righties, unfortunately for them, as last year it was thrown to them 32.1 percent of the time, compared to 10.8 percent of the time to lefties. As a result, if the righties in the Braves lineup don’t see a sinker, they will likely be seeing the curve.
Pitch #3 - Changeup - 2023 usage rate - 14.1 percent
2023 stats - Average velo - 89.9 MPH - Spin rate - 1,694 RPM - vertical movement - 29.8 inches - horizontal movement - 16.8 inches
The changeup is arguably the most underrated pitch in Valdez’s arsenal as last season hitters only had an xwOBA of .222 against it. Similar to his curveball, this is a pitch that Valdez really only likes to throw to right-handed batters as he threw just 2 of his 273 changeups last season to lefties. This is not out of the norm as traditionally pitchers do not like to throw same side changeups, but with how good his change is you would expect for that number to be a little more split. Righties struggle to impact it as they posted an average exit velocity of just 85.8 MPH last season. In addition to a low average exit velocity, they almost always hit it into the ground with a ground ball percentage of 74.5 percent and average launch angle of -9 degrees.
Pitch #4 - Cutter - 2023 usage rate - 9.2 percent
2023 stats - Average velo - 83.8 MPH - Spin rate - 2,544 RPM - vertical movement - 41.6 inches (9.1 inches below average) - horizontal movement - 3.0 inches
Finally, a pitch in Valdez’s arsenal that lefties see significantly more than righties. Lefties saw the cutter 39.3 percent of the time last season, which was the first year he threw the pitch in the bigs. They posted an ugly .160 xwOBA against the pitch in addition to just a .193 xSLG. Like seemingly all of his pitches, this pitch was hit into the ground a lot as lefties had a launch angle of -4 degrees against it. In addition to that their average exit velocity against it was just 83.8 MPH. To make this pitch sound even more dominant last season left-handed batters picked up 7 hits against it, compared to 22 strikeouts. Whatever lefties are unfortunate enough to face Valdez should expect to see this pitch early and often.
Didn’t include his four-seam fastball which has been thrown 0.3 percent of the time this season.
Key matchup - Matt Olson - Valdez is already rather dominant against right handed batters, but against lefties he’s even better. Lifetime, lefties carry just a .612 OPS against him with a .292 slugging percentage. Olson on the other hand though struggles against lefties with a career .788 OPS against them, nearly .100 points lower than his OPS against righties. Additionally, Olson’s run value per 100 cutters faced last season was -0.5 and against sliders, which Valdez’s cutter is similar to, was an even zero, which is the same number he posted against curveballs. If Atlanta wants to have any success against Valdez, it is going to have to start at the top of the lineup with the likes of Acuna and Olson.