The obvious answer to any query about “what went wrong” in the Braves’ 6-0 NLDS Game 1 loss to the Dodgers is, well, that they lost. But, a few things jumped out to me. The game just ended as I write this, so a more reflective analysis could probably provide more insight after a good night’s sleep. But, here are some things that jumped out at me. I haven’t done any analysis to determine whether these were flaws of preparation, or flaws of execution, but they were flaws nonetheless.
What went wrong #1: The terrible z-contact
The Braves brought 33 men to the plate in this game. Here is a quick recap (better in a table, but we’ll just have to deal) of those PAs that ended with contact made on a ball in the zone. For the below, I refer to zones numerically as numbers on the numpad: 1 is down-and-in to a righty while 6 is middle-away to a righty and middle-in to a lefty, etc.
- Ronald Acuña Jr, 2-2 fastball, zone 4. Result: infield pop.
- Johan Camargo, 3-2 changeup, zone 3. Result: weak liner with 8% hit probability.
- Freddie Freeman, 1-0 cutter, zone 5. Result: grounder single with 65% hit probability.
- Ender Inciarte, 3-2 fastball, zone 1. Result: liner with 29% hit probability.
- Johan Camargo, 2-2 fastball, zone 6. Result: hard grounder with 22% hit probability.
- Ozzie Albies, 0-1 cutter, nexus of zones 7-8-4-5. Result: a very weak grounder beaten into the dirt, hit probability 7%. (Yes, he hit a pitch around his letters into the dirt somehow.)
- Ender Inciarte, 0-2 two-seamer, zone 8. Result: grounder single with 23% hit probability.
- Ronald Acuña Jr., 3-2 cutter, zone 3. Result: grounder, reached on error, ball had 28% hit probability.
- Freddie Freeman, 1-0 changeup, zone 2. Result: flyout with 32% hit probability.
- Charlie Culberson, 3-2 fastball, zone 4. Result: weak groundout with 42% hit probability.
- Johan Camargo, 1-1 two-seamer, zone 5. Result: weak fly out with 2% hit probability.
- Nick Markakis, 0-1 changeup, zone 3. Result: lined single with 48% hit probability.
- Tyler Flowers, 1-1 two-seamer, zone 2. Result: hard grounder infield single with 51% hit probability.
So, 13 of 33 Braves batters, or 39 percent, ended their plate appearance with z-contact. Of those 13, four hit a ball on the relative edges of the zone, so let’s set those aside. Of the other nine (or 27 percent of the PAs in this game), the Braves put into play a pitch that should have been clobbered... and the best they could manage was a 65% hit probability.
There’s no real point to saying any PA was specifically worse than any other, but some of these were just maddening, not because baseball stuff like this doesn’t happen, but because you really don’t want it to happen. Acuña made the first out of the game on a meaty fastball, popping it up. Camargo turned a belt-high fastball into a grounder for some reason. Albies and Inciarte both somehow swung down on high pitches. Freeman got an easy-to-handle changeup over the plate and lofted it to left rather than turning on it. (No, he wasn’t late on the changeup, so I don’t get it.) Culberson somehow got beat enough on a 3-2 fastball belt-high to turn it into a grounder.
I’m not going to say that you absolutely can’t win when you don’t make good z-contact, but making good z-contact is probably the easiest way to win. The Braves didn’t fail at making z-contact entirely, they just completely wasted the opportunities they had.
What went wrong #2: The abominable o-contact
So, we said above that 39 percent of the Braves’ PAs ended in z-contact. Z-contact’s evil twin, o-contact, however, was a huge killer.
- In the first, Nick Markakis made o-contact on a 1-1 pitch after taking a first-pitch fastball down the middle for some reason. He hit it pretty well (47% hit probability), but the approach was puzzling to say the least.
- In the second, Ozzie Albies made a very archetypal Ozzie Albies out on a 1-0 pitch that was nowhere near the zone (17% hit probability).
- In the third, Charlie Culberson hit a grounder on a borderline 2-2 curveball (45% hit probability).
- In the fourth, Freddie Freeman hit a very weak grounder on a 1-2 outside fastball (16% hit probability). In that PA, he swung at five of six pitches, only one of which was inside the strike zone.
- Charlie Culberson’s single in the fifth was on a changeup two-thirds of the width of the plate outside. Go figure.
- In the seventh, Nick Markakis made good contact on a 0-1 cutter below the zone (61% hit probability), but it was still an out.
- Ozzie Albies’ single later that inning was on a 1-2 fastball that was also outside (47% hit probability).
- The game ended on Ozzie Albies’ weak grounder on a 1-0 changeup below the zone (26% hit probability).
So, another 24 percent of the Braves’ PAs in this game ended because they couldn’t help themselves and swung at a pitch that wasn’t a strike, and then put that pitch in play. Of these, only one was well struck (and it didn’t even result in a single, though a couple of more weakly-hit balls did). That means that 21 percent of the Braves’ PAs in this game resulted in weak contact that probably shouldn’t have been made (or offered at) at all.
Put that 21 percent together with the 27 percent from above, and you basically have a recipe for disaster: half of your team’s PAs ending in either crappy contact on an eminently hittable pitch, or crappy contact on a pitch that shouldn’t have been chased.
(The subtext, here, too, is that the Braves did not walk once in this game. They probably wouldn’t have won either way, but the game would have at least been somewhat more competitive if they didn’t swing, or at least didn’t end their PAs with, said o-contact, and at least made somewhat better swings in their PAs featuring z-contact.)
What went wrong #3: Two of the Dodgers’ homers came on some really bad ideas
The below shows you the location of the pitch Max Muncy hit for a homer.
The next image comes from something I did earlier this week on the Dodgers’ hitters weaknesses (or lack thereof).
Here’s a thing I wrote in that post:
Location-wise, away works. But you’ll have to actually put it there and not too far outside, or else he won’t chase. If you’re a righty, you also can’t afford to try to spot something on the outer edge: it’ll suck badly for you if you miss and leave it belt-high. This is exactly what Muncy did to German Marquez in Game 163, as on a 3-2 pitch, Marquez perfectly spotted a pitch on the outer edge. Well, at least it would have been perfectly spotted had Muncy not annihilated it into left-center. It appears that lefties can get away with pitches around there due to tailing action (or perhaps backdoor/backup action), but for a righty, Muncy can tag it unless it’s too high or too low for him to tee off on.
They did the exact thing they shouldn’t have done (other than throw it down the middle). They did the exact thing that Muncy had already creamed in his most recent game.
Now, you might come and say, “Okay, but they weren’t intending to, Foltynewicz just missed his location.” To that, I submit the following:
Tyler Flowers doesn’t really move his glove. For some unearthly reason, they called for that pitch. When behind in the count. With two men on base.
This wasn’t the only time in this game that sort of thing stung the Braves.
Here’s Enrique Hernandez’ xwOBA chart:
Here’s the location of the pitch he homered on off Brad Brach.
Here’s the video. Once again, note how Flowers’ glove barely moves relative to the target.
Also, why did Brach throw Hernandez, a right-handed hitter, a changeup there? I don’t know if anyone really knows.
The Braves will need to do better to even the series on Friday night. Not making mistakes like the ones discussed above will probably help.