Braves (39-28) vs. Royals (29-38) Series Preview: Yostbusters

Martin Prado found out who's responsible for the lack of run support the Braves have given Kenshin Kawakami. It was THAT GUY, with the moustache and the shifty eyes. GET HIM, BOYS!!!

After a highly impressive series win versus the AL East-leading Rays, the Braves hope to continue their good work against a slightly less intimidating opponent, the Kansas City Royals. The Royals are not a good team, but they have been playing fairly well since replacing Trey Hillman with former Braves' coach Ned Yost. Since the managerial change, they are 17-15. So far in interleague play, they've lost 2/3 to the Rockies, won 2/3 from the Reds, and won 2/3 from the Astros. The Reds series, which was in Cincinnati, indicates that the Royals are a dangerous opponent. While Braves fans should certainly be hoping to win at least 2 of the 3 games in this series, the Braves players need to avoid complacency. This is not an automatic series win by any means. 

As for the Royals, their batting-average-heavy offense is led by two very good players, first baseman Billy Butler (.339 / .392 / .494) and right fielder David Dejesus (.324 / .397 / .480). Past that, there aren't many threats in their lineup. Jose Guillen (.266 / .335 / .480) has had a nice comeback year and is on a 12-game hitting streak. However, he can't really play a position, and he's still only hitting .230 / .322 / .385 since April 27th. Mike Aviles (.317 / .340 / .408) hits well enough for a second baseman but doesn't walk much or hit for much power. And that's about it, really.

The Royals' rotation has really struggled beyond reigning Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (who himself has not been nearly as good as last year). Their bullpen, led by the Mexicutioner himself (Joakim Soria), has been surprisingly decent. Overall, you'd think that the Braves wouldn't have too much trouble scoring runs in this series, though they'd be advised to do it early rather than trying to mount a comeback off of Soria (11.57 K/9, 2.81 ERA, 3.21 FIP).

Expect to see a lot of familiar faces in this series. The Royals currently have 6 former Braves on the major-league roster (Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew, Kyle Farnsworth, Brayan Pena, and Wilson Betemit), not to mention Ned Yost and Royals GM Dayton Moore, who formerly worked under John Scheurholtz in the Braves' front office.

Pitching matchups after the jump. Plus: I find the pitcher with the worst run support in all of baseball.

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7:30 PM ET: Derek Lowe (8-5, 4.81 ERA, 4.22 FIP) vs. Brian Bannister (6-4, 5.40 ERA, 5.31 FIP)

Bannister is coming off one of the worst starts of the year by any pitcher. He gave up 11 runs (9 earned) on 10 hits and 2 walks in 3 innings against the Reds. Aside from that start, which raised his ERA by nearly a run, he's been decent. He's pretty much the definition of a 4th starter--he doesn't do anything spectacularly, but he's good enough (and smart enough) to keep his team in the game.

Lowe is coming off of a very solid start against the Twins, in which he allowed only 2 runs in 7.1 IP. Aside from one abysmal start against the Diamondbacks, Lowe has actually been excellent for the past 5 weeks. He's put up a 3.65 ERA in his past 7 starts.

Saturday, 7:00 PM ET: Kris Medlen (4-1, 3.23 ERA, 3.93 FIP) vs. Zack Greinke (2-8, 3.94 ERA, 3.87 FIP)

Greinke has not pitched nearly as poorly as his record would indicate, but he has nonetheless fallen off his 2009 pace by quite a bit. In addition to a much higher ERA and FIP, he's been striking out fewer men (7.89 K/9 this year vs. 9.50 K/9 last year) and giving up many more homers (1.21 HR/9 this year vs. 0.43 HR/9 last year). Though his walk rate is actually down a little, it's possible that is because he's been throwing too many balls over the plate, thus making his pitches more hittable. If the Braves can be patient and put the ball in play off of Greinke, they should be able to score a few runs off of him, though he's always capable of shutting any offense down.

Medlen has pitched well since coming to the rotation, though you should note that his stat line above includes his phenomenal relief work. As a starter, Kris has "only" put up a 3.59 ERA and 4.56 FIP. In Meds' last start, he went 8 excellent innings against the Twins, giving up only a 3-run home run to Delmon Young in an easy Braves' win.

Sunday, 1:30 PM ET: Kenshin Kawakami (0-9, 4.42 ERA, 4.42 FIP) vs. Kyle Davies (4-5, 6.01 ERA, 4.49 FIP)

It's hard to believe that Kyle Davies is still only 26. It seems like so long ago that he burst on to the scene with a few excellent, gritty starts for the Braves in 2005. While he's never turned into the top-end starter that many Braves fans thought he would be, he did have a good year for the Royals in 2008, and has been in their rotation more or less ever since. This year, Davies has a terrible ERA, though he hasn't been quite that bad. His FIP is actually decent.

If I were Kawakami, I would be pretty frustrated right now. This pitching matchup is a good example of why. KK has, by just about any measure, pitched better than Davies this year. Yet Davies has 4 wins and KK has 0. What's more, KK plays for a team with a better offense. It's all so mystifying. Still, this would seem to be an excellent opportunity for Kawakami to finally pick up his first win of 2010, as Davies is vulnerable and the Royals' lineup is not exactly full of world-beaters.

Question of the Series: Who's gotten a rawer deal, Kawakami or Greinke?

Both Kenshin Kawakami and Zack Greinke are indisputably far better than their records. KK is 0-9, but should probably be more like 4-5. Greinke is 2-8 but should probably be at least 6-4. Those records made me wonder which one of these two pitchers has gotten worse support from his offense.

To figure that out, I subtracted each team's Runs/Game stat (R/G) from each player's pitcher's Run Support per 9 Innings stat (RS/9). This result, which I call "Run Support Differential" (RSD) measures how many runs a team has scored for a pitcher relative to how many runs the team normally scores. In other words, RSD tells you how much an offense is under- or over-performing when a certain pitcher is on the mound. Here's how it works:

The Braves have scored 325 runs in 67 games, good for a R/G of 4.85. In Kawakami's 73.1 IP this year, the Braves have scored only 24 runs. That works out to only 2.95 RS/9. Subtracting the team's 4.85 from KK's 2.95 RS/9 gets us an RSD of -1.90. In other words, for every 9 innings KK has pitched, the Braves scored nearly 2 runs fewer than normal. They Braves normally score about 5 runs in a full game, but KK is lucky to get 3 runs of support. That's just criminal.

Greinke's numbers are similar, but not quite as bad. The Royals score 4.58 R/G, and Greinke gets 2.93 RS/9, which makes his RSD -1.65. The Royals score more than a run and a half less for every 9 innings Greinke is on the hill than they normally do.

Here are the top 10 (11, really, because of a tie) lowest RSDs in baseball:

Player Player RS/9 - Team R/G = RSD
Ted Lilly 2.11 4.18 -2.07
Kenshin Kawakami 2.95 4.85 -1.90
Zack Greinke 2.93 4.58 -1.65
Dallas Braden 2.56 4.03 -1.47
Gavin Floyd 3.24 4.38 -1.13
Clayton Richard 3.04 4.12 -1.08
Ben Sheets 3.02 4.03 -1.01
Yovani Gallardo 3.89 4.86 -0.97
Kevin Millwood 2.38 3.24 -0.86
Felipe Paulino 2.70 3.40 -0.70
Johan Santana 3.91 4.61 -0.70

For those who are curious, here are the RSDs for the rest of the Braves' rotation:

Kris Medlen: -0.21
Derek Lowe: +0.94
Tim Hudson: +1.10
Tommy Hanson: +1.25

Hopefully, the Braves can, for once, score MORE than usual in a Kawakami start. He's long past due for some real offensive support.

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