Report card time: 2019 pitching grades for Atlanta Braves
Surprising to some, the 2019 Atlanta Braves took a small step back in terms of overall pitching (numbers-wise). Although, as I pointed out in the previous slide, pitching in the majors was a bit tougher this year.
Just looking at the commonly referenced stats, Braves’ pitchers allowed almost half a run more in ERA, as well as .31 more home runs per nine compared to 2018.
Despite the increase in runs and home runs, as well as a minute drop in strikeout rate, the Braves did manage to improve its walk-rate this season. Still, the run environment was just too much to overcome, as the Braves produced more than 2.6 less WAR as a pitching group than in 2018:
BRAVES OVERALL PITCHING RANKS
|K rate||8.64 K/9||18th|
|BB rate||3.40 BB/9||t-17th|
|HR rate||1.26 HR/9||t-6th|
Keeping the ball down
Last season only one other team had a lower BABIP-against then the Braves, as Atlanta’s pitchers benefited from great defense and a bit of luck to the tune of a .278 mark. In 2019, some of that luck dissipated, thanks to a 3.6% increase in the opponent’s hard-hit rate.
We know that nowadays the trending approach at the plate for hitters is to pull and launch, as a higher percentage of home runs come from hits to the pull side, as well as balls that are struck at a higher launch angle.
And in 2019, the Braves did an even better job at countering that fly-ball approach, increasing its ground ball rate by almost 2% — good for 3rd-highest in the majors. Although, Braves’ pitchers allowed a 2.4% increase in their pull-rate (which isn’t neccesarily all bad):
BRAVES OVERALL BATTED-BALL RANKS
A change in pitch usage
In 2018, of the six most common pitches (fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, changeup and split-finger), the Braves finished ranked outside the top-10 in pitch value (FanGraphs’ runs-above-average) in just two, with neither offering ranking worse than 15th — sliders and curveballs.
However, in 2019, three of those six pitches were ranked outside the top-10, with one ranking 20th (changeup).
The fastball, a pitch that only three other teams threw better than the Braves last season, was the offering that saw the biggest decline for Atlanta, possibly from the regression of Mike Foltynewicz for over half the season.
The Braves were so-so at throwing the curveball in 2018, but this season it was one of the team’s highest ranked offerings, thanks to relievers Jerry Blevins and Mark Melancon, and even Sean Newcomb, who threw the pitch very well in 2019.
BRAVES OVERALL PITCH-VALUE RANKS
Enticing batters to chase
Perhaps the least apparent aspect of Braves’ pitching in 2019, when compared to last year, was opposing hitters plate discipline versus Atlanta’s pitchers.
Last year, Braves’ pitchers were never all that successful at compelling opposing hitters to chase their pitches out of the zone, ranking 19th in O-Swing rate (out-of-zone swing rate). But in 2019, the group made some headway, increasing that rate by almost 2% and finishing 12th in that regard.
The catch to that minuscule improvement in generating chases is the fact that while opposing batters swung at more balls this season… they also made contact with more of them as well, including more contact against all pitches overall.
The only silver lining from basically a wash in the Braves’ 2019 contact-rate improvements is that Atlanta’s pitchers allowed less contact on pitches solely in the strike zone, admittedly just a decrease of less than one percent.
BRAVES OVERALL CONTACT-RATE RANKS
|O-Swing rate||31.8%||t-12th lowest|
|Overall swing rate||46.9%||t-13th highest|
|O-Contact rate||63.6%||t-16th lowest|
|Z-Contact rate||85.5%||t-13th lowest|
|Overall contact rate||76.5%||t-12th lowest|
|Swinging-strike rate||11.0%||t-12th highest|
Altogether a solid group
Overall, even being conscience of the extreme change in offense in 2019 — which perhaps makes the team’s number seem worse than they truly are — I still believe the Braves pitching (as an entire group) did rather well.
The group suppressed home runs at an elite level, while also maintaining a top-ten ERA in all of baseball, all while deploying a young rotation that included only one star addition (albeit after the season had already began).