Braves Series Preview with Peter Hjort

The Phillies rebounded nicely from a disappointing start to the series with the New York Mets, scoring 21 runs in the last two games. After their blowout 11-0 win yesterday, the Phillies traveled down to Atlanta where they’ll start a three-game series against the Braves. They will have to get through three tough right-handed starters in Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Derek Lowe. The Phillies, of course, will counter with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

I swapped questions and answers with Peter Hjort of the Braves-themed Sweet Spot blog Capitol Avenue Club to preview the series. You can find my answers to his questions over in his neck of the woods.

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1. Freddie Freeman — my pick for NL Rookie of the Year — is off to a slow start. Do you expect him to turn it around?

Yes. He’s looked pretty good at the plate and had a few hits taken away by some good defense. He’s put a few too many balls on the ground and will have to make a few adjustments, but I expect him to be fine.

2. How has Chipper Jones looked so far?

Good. He’s being aggressive, almost too aggressive, early in the count. He’s Chipper Jones and knows what he’s doing so he gets a free pass, but you’d like to see him walk in more than 4 percent of his plate appearances. Most importantly he’s hitting, which is what Atlanta needs.

3. Many were expecting Nate McLouth to have a bounce-back year, but he hasn’t been effective thus far. Will the Braves stick with him, or is he on a short leash?

I don’t know. I assume he has a few months to prove he belongs in the majors before the Braves do something about it. They don’t have an acceptable replacement in-house, so that “something” would involve trading prospects for a CF’er. They don’t want to do that, and their offense can survive without McLouth hitting, so they have a lot of incentive to wait and see what he’s got.

4. Mike Minor struggled in Wednesday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers, while Brandon Beachy held the Brew Crew to one run in six innings. Did you notice anything in particular that led to Minor’s failure and Beachy’s success? Do you expect both to end up in the rotation at some point? If not, who keeps the #5 spot?

Beachy’s command was way better. By the time I tuned in to Minor’s start he had walked the first three batters he faced and allowed a 2-run single. He settled down a bit thereafter, but by the fifth inning he was already facing the batting order for the third time. We both know that batters really start to rake during the starter’s third trip through the order, and it was too much for him to handle at that point.

They’ll eventually both be in the rotation on a more permanent basis once a starter goes down long-term. Right now I expect Minor to be sent down to AAA once Jair Jurrjens returns from his latest injury.

5. On your blog, you wrote about the “mistreatment” of Kenshin Kawakami. Most of the readers here are not familiar with the situation. Summarize for us how Kawakami has been mistreated and the implications on the Braves going forward.

Kenshin Kawakami is a major-league caliber starting pitcher who was ostracized last year because he got very poor run and defensive support. They exiled him to the bullpen for the last three months of the season where he was allowed to face all of 29 batters, including 18 in an emergency start which Bobby Cox publicly criticized Kawakami after. The ostracization continued this year when the team sent him to AA rather than AAA because he lives near the team’s AAA facility and they think that sending him to AA might anger him into accepting a transfer to a Japanese club. There are multiple pitchers in the AAA rotation that the club would be better off giving a rotation spot to Kawakami at their expense.

6. Craig Kimbrel. Daaaamn. Your thoughts?

If he can keep throwing strikes and stay healthy he’ll be one of the best relief pitchers in the game for awhile. I just hope he isn’t constantly saved for 3-run lead, 3-outs to get situations.

7. You said that you think the Phillies and Braves are the two best teams in the National League. Who do you expect to win the NL East?

The Braves. I picked the Phillies before the injuries to Domonic Brown and Chase Utley, but I think the latter in particular really hurts. The Braves are a younger team than Philadelphia and have more talent in AAA ready to help if needed. I think they’re built for the regular season better.

. . .

Thanks again to Peter for brushing us up on the Braves. They got lucky enough to avoid Roy Halladay, but they still have to deal with the Lee-Oswalt-Hamels buzzsaw. Normally, I’d be somewhat concerned, having to face Hudson-Beachy-Lowe, but it’s just not an issue anymore. Anyway, be sure to stop by Capitol Avenue Club to check out my answers to his Phillies-related questions, and throughout the season to keep a watch on our enemies.

Phillies’ Offensive Success Is Not Sustainable

In the comments for yesterday’s post, I mentioned that the Phillies’ offensive success so far is, while nice, not sustainable. I felt it worthy of its own post.

Through six games, the Phillies have a team offensive BABIP at .423. In the previous three years, it has fallen in the .280-.295 range. Needless to say, the offense is due for a regression by that fact alone.

We can break down exactly how the Phillies are succeeding, however. They have a .357 BABIP on ground balls, .195 on fly balls, and .762 on line drives. The National League averages last year were .235, .137, and .719 respectively.

If the Phillies had the NL average BABIP on each batted ball type instead of what they have currently, they would have ten fewer ground ball hits, seven fewer fly ball hits, and two fewer line drive hits for a total of 19 fewer hits. They would have 57 hits rather than the 76 they have currently.

If we use the same distribution of hits (79 percent singles, 20 percent doubles, one percent triples), the Phillies go from 56 singles to 45, from 14 doubles to 11, and no change in triples. Thanks to the work of Tango, we know the run values for singles, doubles, and triples relative to an out: 0.77 runs for singles, 1.08 runs for doubles, and 1.37 runs for triples. So the 11 fewer singles account for 8.5 runs, three fewer doubles account for 3.2 runs, and of course there’s no change in triples. All told, the Phillies’ unsustainable offense has led to nearly 12 extra runs, or 1.2 extra wins (assuming an NL-average BABIP circa 2010).

It is a good thing, though, that the Phillies lead the Majors in line drive rate at 25.6 percent per FanGraphs. They also have the lowest fly ball rate at 28.5 percent. What that means is that the Phillies are hitting the ball hard and they’re finding gaps in the defense — fly balls turn into outs more frequently than grounders and line drives. No, it’s not sustainable, but there could be some lasting effects as we move further into the season.