Atlanta Braves Offense: Deadened Baseballs To Blame?
The Atlanta Braves have been struggling offensively, and with talk of a deadened baseball, it brings up a question on a lot of minds. Has this new ball actually caused a downfall in the Atlanta Braves offense?
The 2022 MLB season is less than 20% complete, so the sample size is relatively small. However, there have been some alarming numbers to support that something is going on, and deadened baseballs look to be likely.
Sure, there are some reasons that the Atlanta Braves are struggling that cannot be blamed on a baseball. At the time of this writing, Dansby Swanson and Adam Duvall are 1st and 2nd in the league respectively in strikeouts, and Austin Riley is 9th. It does not matter how the ball is built if you are not putting it in play.
However, there is data that can be looked at that can show either the Atlanta Braves have been really unlucky, the deadened ball effect is playing a big role, or both.
Is a deadened ball impacting the entire league beyond just the Atlanta Braves?
Many fans may have realized that offense across the league is down, and there is data to back it up.
One area we can look at is on base percentage plus slugging percentage adjusted (OPS+). This statistic takes the OPS of a player and factors in the OPS across the league and factors in ballparks as well. For example, if a hitter has a 125 OPS+ their OPS is 25% better than the league average.
Because of this adjustment, on field results of OPS will not always equate to the same OPS+ from year to year. We can use Ozzie Albies as an example.
In 2020, Albies had a slash line of .271/.306/.466 which equated to the league average of 100 OPS+. In 2018, he had a very similar slash line of .261/.305/.452 which was 1% above league average at 101 OPS+.
If we look at Albies’ slash line in 2022 we would think he is well below average with a .217/.292/.425. However, it is currently exactly league average in the OPS department at 100 OPS+.
Albies’ OPS in 2022 is currently 0.41 lower than it was in 2018, and a whopping 0.57 lower than 2020, yet his OPS+ is the same.
In 2022 the current league average OPS is .716, last season the league average OPS was .779. This is a massive gap.
As can be seen, OPS is down across the league. Another way to look at it is the league average earned run average for pitchers. A good way to look at this is ERA adjusted (ERA+). This factors in variables just like OPS+ does to see how well a pitcher’s ERA stacks up against the rest of the league.
In theory, if a pitcher’s ERA goes down, then his ERA+ goes up, because if a pitcher has an ERA+ above 100, then he is above league average.
Max Fried can be used as an example here. In 2021, he ended the season with a 3.04 ERA, which was good for a 145 ERA+. This means he was 40% better at giving up earned runs than league average. This season, his ERA is currently lower at 3.00, yet his ERA+ is 5% lower than last year at 140.
It can be argued that ERA in and of itself is not the best metric to evaluate a pitcher because there are many variables in play, like defense, ballpark, etc.
However, regardless of all that, the fact that Fried’s ERA being lower this year, yet his ERA+ is lower shows that pitchers are giving up runs at a lower rate this year across the entire league.
We only used 1 hitter and 1 pitcher in this example, and typically that would be much too small of a sample size. However, when you used adjusted stats like OPS+ and ERA+, it is actually factoring in the entire league.
Needless to say, offense is clearly down. The season still has a long way to go, but at the current rate, this season runs are being scored at an alarmingly low rate.
Has a deadened baseball impacted the Atlanta Braves more than other teams?
As many fans have probably figured at to this point, the Atlanta Braves offense is built on power. Power is more than just home runs, it includes hard hit balls that end up being doubles or even triples as well.
Based on data that has been tracked by Statcast since its inception in 2015, they have been tracking how balls have been hit and can give a rough estimate on the expected result of every ball in play. For example, if a ball has an expected batting average (xBA) of 0.750, then 75 out of 100 times a ball hit the same way would have been a hit based on all the balls tracked in the past.
Statcast also tracks many other stats as well, like expected slugging percentage (xSLG). Since the Atlanta Braves are built for power, this metric is important.
The key here is these expectancy stats are built on past data. So, if the ball has drastically changed you can see a massive shift in expected stats vs actual on field results.
At the time of this writing, the Atlanta Braves are 8th in MLB in slugging percentage, yet are 4th in MLB in xSLG. What’s more, they are 22nd in MLB in batting average but are 7th in xBA.
Another interesting data point is weighted on base average (wOBA). This goes deeper than on base percentage in realizing that a double is worth more than a single, a triple is worth more than a double, and so on. It is much like slugging percentage in nature, but includes getting on base in other forms than just hits.
Without going down too much of a rabbit hole, wOBA is arguably more accurate than using OPS to evaluate a player’s offensive value and it uses a slightly different algorithm than OPS. OPS is OBP (which does not factor in what type of hit) plus slugging percentage 1 for 1, assuming the points are equal. wOBA gets more granular than that.
Statcast can track expected wOBA (xwOBA) and it paints a very interesting picture for the Atlanta Braves.
Currently, the Braves are 15th in MLB in wOBA, but 4th in MLB in xwOBA.
There are other factors that play into these numbers outside this, like bad luck. However, the Braves have not been terribly unlucky. If you look at their batting average of balls in play (BABIP) they sit at 19th in MLB. 15th in MLB would be the average and the Braves have 11 teams who have had worse luck based on BABIP.
BABIP does not factor in past data, just the current season, whereas expectancy stats like xSLG, xBA, and xwOBA do.
As stated earlier, the season is a long one, and with the MLB still having more than 80% of scheduled games yet to play, it is a relatively sample size. However, with these metrics gathered together, there can be a serious case to be made that if there are in fact deadened baseballs, it has played a big part in Atlanta’s offensive struggles.
Here is to hoping the Atlanta Braves can make the necessary adjustments.