So, the Braves are 0-3. It’s not the start any of them (or us) wanted, but it happens. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter much. Playoff odds are still above 50 percent, and even if you figure that team talent level doesn’t matter and every game is a coin flip, starting 0-3 in a divisional matchup only drops your chances of making the playoffs from one-in-three to one-in-four or so. It’s fine. With that said, though, this opening series was kind of a drag. The Braves got mauled by ball-in-play shenanigans on Thursday, were straight-up dominated in once-in-a-decade-ish fashion on Saturday, and were edged on Sunday despite, like in the opener, having considerably better offensive inputs than their opponents. Oh well. Even though that happened, there are still some minor curiosities to note, especially as they pertain to the final game in the series.
Ian Anderson, Gloveside
One thing I noticed from watching Ian Anderson work through five innings on Sunday was an ostensible issue with the ball skidding to his glove side. In general, Anderson doesn’t work side-to-side much: in 2020, among all pitchers with 500+ pitches thrown, Anderson is in the top fifth in terms of lack of deviation from the horizontal center of the strike zone. His overall pitch heat map varies far more up-down than side-to-side, which seems intentional.
Yet, in his first outing of 2020, things got a bit different. The vertical component was still there (though middle-up rather than middle-down), but there was an unusual (for him) amount of stuff on one horizontal edge of the zone.
Anderson hasn’t had too many major league starts so far, and even framing this as an anomaly is a bit misleading. I queried his starts by “percentage of pitches on the gloveside third of the plate or further away in that direction” and yesterday’s outing only came third, beyond a set of back-to-back starts in September 2020. One of those starts was his worst-ever to date, where he only got through three against the Marlins. But he followed that outing up with arguably his best outing to date, the seven-inning, one-hit, nine-strikeout game against the Nationals. So, I don’t think this means anything either way. But it was a little strange to see.
You can see it most clearly in a few places, for which I have clips below:
Note that these clips are largely from the first, because it was most prominently happening in the first, and seemed to settle down after. Of course, the kicker is that the only run Anderson gave up came on a homer — which yes, happened on a 3-1 count on a fastball down the middle... but was not preceded by a bunch of gloveside misses. The homer, though, did possibly result from that same drift or skid: d’Arnaud set the target high and away, and it wafted gloveside, ending up in meatball city.
Something to watch going forward, perhaps, but Anderson was solid in his first start of the year, unusual gloveside misses or not.
How did Marcell Ozuna hit that?
A visual representation of that pitch location:
Not only did Ozuna hit that pitch, somehow, but he scalded it: 102.8 mph off the bat.
Going back to 2016, which is as far as pitch-by-pitch video evidence goes, this is not “the furthest inside pitch fouled off by a right-handed batter when swinging.” But it is the hardest-hit, as far as I can tell.
By the way, check out the most-inside-pitch-legitimately-fouled-off in this period. How does Jose Ramirez get a piece of this?
And since I traveled so far down this path, time for some more fun clips of “haha it’s a foul ball baseball is stupid.”
Getting a strike on a pitch outside the zone when the batter swings without pitch framing or umpire mistake is the new market inefficiency!
By the way, right after that foul, Ozuna struck out on a borderline pitch (that apparently caught enough of the edge to be considered “in the zone” via the Statcast classification system):
This is relevant, because...
Worst called strikeout of 2021 so far
One of the weird, sad facts about the start of the Braves’ 2021 season is that in each game, Ronald Acuña Jr. came up in the ninth, and in each game, Hector Neris punched him out looking.
One of those was a clear strike. One was borderline, but not even as borderline as Eflin’s pitch to Ozuna above. The third, well... erm... yeah that’s bad. So bad. How bad?
According to Baseball Savant, the pitch was 1.24 feet off the ground. The center of the strike zone varies, of course, but is generally around 2.4 feet off the ground. (For example, see here: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=4e7f6dcd-47ee-467a-844e-d798577a833b.) If we filter for 2021 pitches that are 1.16 feet away from the strike zone that went for called strikeouts, we get just that one Neris-to-Acuña pitch:
Of course, this isn’t unheard of in the grand scheme of things. In 2020 alone, there were seven called strikeouts on pitches even lower than this one (sorry, David Peralta: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=3a579f10-2590-42bd-a3cc-c5d652e68e9a) as well as another 13 on pitches that were further from the center of the zone, but higher (sorry, Nick Solak: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=492be144-0f36-453e-be8c-103f56c7cf31).
So, basically, an egregious called strike to be sure, but on the order of one of about ten per month.
Of course, the kicker is that the strikeout came in an absolutely brutal moment. The strikeout alone plunged the Braves’ win expectancy from around 17 percent to around 10 percent. Had Acuña walked, the win expectancy would have increased to around 28 percent instead. The combination of Brian Knight’s umpiring and J.T. Realmuto’s framing cost the Braves around .180 WPA on that one pitch. By the way, Brian Knight is rated by Swish Analytics as a largely pro-hitter umpire because he is less likely to call strikes and ring batters up. So much for that being a grace that helped save the Braves from a sweep.
But hey, there’s at least 159 more Braves games of baseball shenanigans to look forward to.