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McCarthy, Braves seek badly-needed bounceback against Cubs

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A victory would wash a lot of sour tastes out of a lot of mouths.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves were not subject to an enjoyable experience last night, thanks to the umpiring crew, MLB’s toxic replay system, and some poor relief pitching from Arodys Vizcaino. Brandon McCarthy’s last few starts have also been far from enjoyable. Both the Braves and McCarthy will be hoping for the sweetness of victory tonight as they square off against the Cubs again, to scour the bitterness of defeat from their senses.

Of everyone on the Atlanta roster, McCarthy probably needs some good tidings the most. While it wasn’t really his fault (lotsa bloops, .647 BABIP-against), McCarthy had arguably his worst career start against the Giants on May 5, allowing eight runs while recording just ten outs. He had a chance to follow that poor performance up with a resurgent effort against the woeful Miami Marlins, but pooched his opportunity: the Marlins tagged him for six runs on eleven hits (including two homers) in five innings. That’s by far the worst two-game stretch of McCarthy’s long career. McCarthy has really only had about about eight starts as bad as his last two, and they’ve never come back to back. There was a point in 2007 where he allowed 12 runs in two starts and lasted just three innings total, but that’s about comparable to the poor results he’s had recently.

Overall, McCarthy’s been the victim of multiple peripherals not going his way. His pitching triple-slash is 5.58 / 5.04 / 3.92 (143 / 127 / 97 on a minus basis). You can tell pretty much from that line that he’s been victimized by BABIP (.362) and HR/FB (25%). However, part of the problem is that he’s featuring his lowest strikeout rate since 2013 and his highest walk rate since 2009 (excluding his injury-shortened 2016), so even if he weren’t getting victimized by those peripherals, there still would be some room for improvement. He has the 16th-lowest K%-BB% among all starters with 40 or more innings so far this year, and his xwOBA allowed of .361 is in the bottom third of starters so far this year. So, while, sure, he’s not deserving of his .387 Statcast-wOBA allowed, which is 11th-highest in baseball among starters this year, he hasn’t exactly been killing it, either.

It feels weird to type, “Tyler Chatwood has been the Cubs’ best starter to date,” but it’s true, at least by FIP. Chatwood’s 4.19 FIP and 0.4 fWAR lead Chicago’s rotation, though Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks feature better ERAs and every other starter beats him by xFIP. As a groundball guy, Chatwood does tend to outperform his FIP pretty handily, and that’s happening again to an extreme degree this year as a .269 BABIP-against and an elevated strand rate have helped his run prevention mucho. Plus, that 3.7 HR/FB rate doesn’t hurt either, especially when you consider that groundball pitchers sometimes have elevated HR/FB rates because they allow relatively few flies (the denominator of that equation).

Chatwood’s whole profile is a little strange this year: he’s not getting as many grounders as before, but he’s getting tons and tons of infield pops. He also has an eye-gougingly insane walk rate of 19.3 percent so far this season, which is third in baseball among anyone (including relievers) with more than 10 innings of work. It’s 40th out of the 554 pitchers that have thrown a single pitch this year. My mind starts gooping out of my ear a bit just thinking about it. Basically, the Braves just shouldn’t swing, unless he shows signs of a dramatic turnaround. Speaking of K%-BB%, Chatwood’s is the fifth-worst in baseball right now among starters with 30 or more innings. He’s doing okay at managing contact (middling xwOBA and wOBA), but boy, those walks. Don’t swing, Braves!

More on those walks: Chatwood has only had one outing in seven this year where he’s issued one or fewer walks. He’s only had two outings where he’s issued three or fewer walks. His remaining walk totals? six, seven, five, five, five. He’s issued 10 walks in nine innings over his last two starts. While he did pair that with 11 strikeouts and only six total hits allowed, that’s not really what you want to see. Still, the Cubs actually went 1-1 in those games and did not trail while Chatwood pitched in either outing.

Chatwood’s been around a while and has faced the Braves a lot, but Braves fans may remember one outing in particular: in July 2016, he one-hit the Braves for five innings in Denver while allowing eight walks and zero runs. Hopefully that hair-tearing experience doesn’t recur tonight. McCarthy faced the Cubs twice last season and won both of his starts against them, going six shutout innings in each and allowing just six total hits. That would be most welcome. McCarthy also made his major league debut against the Cubs back in 2005 as a member of the White Sox.

Game Info

Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves

May 16, 2018

7:35 pm EDT

SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Fox Sports Southeast, MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM