“Pandamonium” in the Playoffs? Not Likely…but Maybe (and Game Thread)

September 15th, today, is a very important date for playoff baseball. It’s the last day of the season in which a player can be added to any organization and be eligible for the playoffs. In all likelihood, we will see a few more teams in need of stocking stuffers add players today. However, the Braves shopped the Black Friday of baseball early yesterday and their stocking is now bulging. Pandamonium in the playoffs? Not likely…but maybe.

Braves Sign Pablo Sandoval

After the Braves DFA’d then released Matt Adams a few weeks back due to the Nick Markakis resurgence, Markakis has been really, really bad…like .437 OPS bad. In projecting the Braves lineup for the playoffs, it seemingly breaks down to 8 players (I count Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers as one player in this scenario) that will play daily and Nick Markakis, who will likely play daily…if he recovers from this awful stretch. Before I get into full on rosterbation, I’ll say this…I believe in Markakis’s recovery to a league average hitter much more than I believe in Pablo Sandoval’s chances to make an MLB impact, but I do believe that Markakis’s struggles combined with the lack of a solid bench bat is the reason the Braves signed Pablo Sandoval.

A Tale of Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna came into the 2020 season with elite exit velo numbers in both 2018 and 2019, but not an elite statline. Why? The answer seems to be swing optimization. In comparing Ozuna’s average launch angle change from 2018-2020, he went from 10.2 to 13.5 and now to 16.2 degrees. Optimization for his exit velo is about 20 degrees and if things continue trending upward (literally), he’ll be at or near an optimal level in 2021…wow.

The reason his numbers are trending upward is quite a simple science: less grounders, less line drives that hit fences, and more balls that get over the fence. If Pablo Sandoval can hang with Marcell Ozuna then drink the kool-aid with Kevin Seitzer, he has the potential to revamp his career at age 33.

Unlocking Pablo Sandoval

As stated in the previous thread, Sandoval has some really good underlying numbers:

  • He has a higher average exit velocity than Ronald Acuna Jr. at 91.2 MPH (his highest in the Statcast era dating back to 2015).
  • His hard hit rate is in the top 10% of the league.
  • His BABIP is well below league average.

It’s easy to pick this apart as we look at Sandoval’s profile. He’s not small, so his BABIP is well below league average because it’s hard to start up a bus, especially when hitting the ball hard. But it’s not just about hitting the ball hard that gets Sandoval in trouble, it’s how he hits it hard.

As stated above, Marcell Ozuna has intentionally changed his swing to add more launch angle, but let’s take a look at some of the best Braves hitters and their average launch angles:

Remember that launch angle optimization is ~20 degrees so it makes sense that of these 4, Adam Duvall has the lowest average due to his extreme fly ball approach, but being above the norm is much better than being WAY below the norm and that’s where Pablo Sandoval resides.

8.2 degrees to be precise. Put bluntly, that’s just not going to work.

Sandoval is a switch hitter and, in all likelihood, there’s no fixing his swing overnight, especially from both sides. However, if the Braves chose to have him concentrate on the side in which he’d be most utilized in a quasi-platoon with Nick Markakis, adding a handful of degrees to his swing could really help his exit velo grounders to 2nd and 3rd becomes doubles and dingers….ok, maybe singles and dingers.

Braves Layoff a Bunch

I’m not going to get into this too much, but a sad day for a bunch of families in the org. I hope normalcy returns to the world soon and baseball can get back to providing jobs across our country and beyond.

The Dream of a 3-Man Playoff Rotation is Over

Mark Feinsand, a great Twitter follow, dropped the MLB playoff schedule and, oh boy, teams better put on their big boy pants.

This is a real problem for a team that is desperate for depth via Starting Pitching. I hope someone emerges in the next week but that is looking less and less likely.

Braves Roster News

Got a little bit of inside info from a friend last night that Jasseel De La Cruz had been added to the taxi squad and putting 2 and 2 together, I figured he’d get the call if Touki Toussaint floundered. He did and he did. While Huascar Ynoa has been deemed the starter today, I wonder if the Braves will retract that statement and start Jasseel. Doubtful, but I’ll never stop dreaming.

New 3 Flags Flying Podcast

Hey, we got one right! Last night’s recording was fun even though the game was a dumpster fire. I encourage everyone to stay for the credits. It’s well worth it!

Braves Lineup

Stop the Madness. Get the W.

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

56 thoughts on ““Pandamonium” in the Playoffs? Not Likely…but Maybe (and Game Thread)”

  1. Re: The last thread/playoffs

    No off-days within each series, but the series rounds don’t run consecutively. The off-days come between each series and the break btw the WC & DS looks significant.

    FWIW, there will be at least a 4-day break between the WC series (best of 3) & the Division Series (best of 5). Of course, it would be a 5-day break if a club sweeps its WC series.

    So, barring rain/plague of frogs/whatever, it seems that every WC-winning team would be able to go into its Division Series with its #1 starter for Game 1. That works for everybody, but especially the Braves.

    Of course, with no off-days, any Division-Series Game 5 could get wacky with clubs going full-bullpen (on an already-taxed pen?) or riding with its #1 starter on 3-days’ rest.

    There will also be at least a 2-day break btw the CS & WS. Win your series early, kids.

    Hey… maybe having a great lineup might turn out to be our biggest advantage, after all.

  2. Then to answer the question early, yes, I do bring back Max Fried on three days’ rest instead of starting Huascar Ynoa or whoever in the absolute hell else it would be for Game 5 otherwise.

  3. And Ububba at his stellar usual.

    Great contributers, varied and gifted commenters and a proud heritage. What’s not to enjoy?

  4. A better question is the LCS. You can throw your fifth starter at some point or have your top three all back on three days’ rest. I guess it probably depends on where you stand…if you’re down 3-1 headed to Game 5, maybe you try and pull that off.

  5. This news is extremely damning for the Braves. There’s no other way to slice it. As of September 15th, we don’t have a 3rd starter (barely a #2 starter, frankly), let alone a 5th starter. We’re starting Huscar freakin’ Ynoa today. I mean, if I need to tell you that means we have NOTHING to be optimistic about with this rotation, then… you like young pitchers better than I do. I’m kiiiiiiinda done with the “hard on for prospect that doesn’t even have AA success” portion of this half-decade long rebuild.

    The list of guys we have on the major league roster who never even conquered AA is expansive: Touki, de la Cruz, Bryse Wilson (though he did pitch a little better at AAA), Weigel, and Ynoa. How many guys do we need to see flame out at the big league level before we realize that the scouts are reporting raw facts (this guy throws the baseball very fast, this guy can make the baseball move a lot), but they’re not able to project success, especially as they face off against the best players in the world.

    I want this to work. I want to be excited about what the scouts have to say. I want to be excited to hear that this particular gentleman has a 98 MPH fastball or this particular gentleman has a wipe out slider. But more importantly, it’s 2020, 5 years into the rebuild, and I want to turn on the television after a long day’s work and see a quality major league pitcher. Not Touki Toussaint. Not Huascar Ynoa. Not Robbie Erlin. Not Tommy Milone. Not, frankly, Kyle Wright half the time. Am I the only person who decides whether I’m going to make my way to the sofa and turn on the tube based on who is the project starter? And we’ve been for a couple-few years now, homies. Honest to goodness, I never once watched a Robbie Erlin start. The guy could be white or Chinese or has metal hands, and I couldn’t tell you.

  6. I’ve seen some thoughts (mostly from contrarian types, but there’s possibly some truth to it) that this may not be quite the disadvantage everyone is gnashing their teeth about right now, as it also means the Braves lineup will get to feast on everyone else’s Nos. 4 and 5 starters. I could see this to an extent, but I’ll believe it works to our advantage when I see it, since it’s basically predicated on, “Well, we’ve been winning games where we fall behind 5-0 in the regular season. No real reason we can’t keep doing that in the playoffs.”

    Also, @7, not to ruin the mystery for you, but I can confirm that Robbie Erlin is both white and has metal hands.

  7. @8 I LOL’ed.

    What’s our record in games Fried and Anderson don’t pitch? I saw a tweet about this the other day. It ain’t good. We get to feast on other teams’ 4th and 5th starters, sure, but they also get to do the same to ours. And we haven’t been winning those matchups when the other team is an inferior opponent.

  8. @7 IMO Braves scouts and the org in general have vastly overrated the franchise’s players talents on both a macro and micro level. Quality of pitches, etc. The whole enchilada.

    Much much much better at evaluation of hitters than pitchers. Pitcher evaluation is not good.

  9. @9

    It’s not quite as bad as you think, though the Washington series helped a great deal in this regard.

    We’re 11-2 in games those two start. Let’s go ahead and add Soroka, which makes it 12-4 in games our “good pitchers” start. That leaves the record outside of that at 16-16 in games somebody else starts.

    You don’t wanna look at the pitchers’ records for starters other than those three, but that’s of limited use, especially when none of them ever go five innings (which, channeling Chip, you need to qualify for a win). We only have two starter wins outside of Fried and Anderson (Wright and Tomlin, both against the Nats).

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally with you in the lack of optimism that being forced to throw our fourth and fifth starters in the playoffs will lead to anything good.

  10. @10 The tools are the tools. These pitchers, indeed, have tremendous tools. The scouts aren’t lying. I come down on the fact that there is now an overwhelming amount of evidence that this team is not able to develop pitching.

    But I think it would be extremely depressing to look up how all top 20 prospects have done at the major league level cumulatively. Would it be unreasonable to say that every pitcher who has appeared in the top 20 of your main prospect lists over the last 5 years have a cumulative ERA of over 4 1/2? That includes Folty’s one good year, Newcomb’s one decent year, Anderson’s 3 good starts, Soroka, and Fried. But that also includes Wisler, Blair, Sims, Touki, Wright, Wilson, Folty’s other years, Newcomb’s other years, Allard, Gohara, and every other pitcher I got my hopes up about only to have them crush my spirit into a fine powder.

    Fortunately, the position players aren’t going anywhere, and very few are scheduled to have their salaries increase next year. But I doubt we have this deep of a pen next year, so this failure at the institutional level of pitcher development will likely mean that this otherwise elite roster will not reach the Holy Grail.

  11. Let’s just say that Fried, Soroka, and Anderson become TOR starters that carry this team for the foreseeable future and a few others step in to fill out the rotation. Does your viewpoint change?

  12. Are we confident Anderson becomes a TOR starter?

    But otherwise, it would depend on what “fill out the rotation” means. Can someone basically be what Kevin Millwood was for the late-90’s rotations: an innings-eating, durable starter who averaged a 3.73 ERA in his time in Atlanta? Do we see anyone from the other group doing that? I simply don’t right now. You would have to say that Kyle Wright is the most promising non-Soroka/Fried/Anderson pitcher right now. Do you see him posting a sub-4 ERA for Atlanta in the foreseeable future? Kyle Muller? We’re kinda past the point where the pool mentality comes into play. There’s not enough elite arms in the high minors that we can simply say, “Well, someone will emerge out of this”. That’s kinda already happened with Soroka, Fried, and Anderson. Between the sanctions and worse draft positions, we are pretty much out of elite talent in the high minors.

  13. Possibly.

    An observation… There is an inconsistency in what we used to call in the military Time in Grade.

    Some players have a lot of success at a given level and don’t get a shot, some players don’t really master a level and get rewarded.

    I get that there’s less patience nowadays, but I do believe that the Braves are mostly rushing most/some of these pitchers.

  14. They’re calling these guys up not because they’re earned it, but because Folty, Newcomb, Felix, Hamels, and Wright have completely decimated our rotation. There’s nothing in de la Cruz’s or Ynoa’s body of work that say that they deserve to be up here.

  15. @14

    Kevin Millwood was sneakily our best starter a couple years here. I remember thinking he was in 2002, and he definitely was in 1999. He was an All-Star and finished third in the Cy Young voting in ’99, while leading the league in WHIP (0.996) and the majors in fewest hits per nine (6.6). He even picked up a couple of way down-ballot MVP votes that year. If you can see Kyle Wright doing all that, you’ve got a better imagination than me.

  16. @17, cool your jets, fella — Kevin Millwood was on that rotation with Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. He was not better than them.

    But to the broader point… I still think Wright could be a 2.5 WAR guy. But I think I’m more glass-half-full than a number of the folks here.

  17. I didn’t say he was better in totality for his career, but he had a better year than any of them in ’99 and might have in ’02. You could possibly take Glavine as better in ’02 (though you’d be hanging your argument entirely on ERA if you did), but I’ll accept no argument that Millwood didn’t have the best year of any pitcher on the staff in ’99.

    Obviously, we’re dealing with the latter half of the Hall of Fame trio’s careers here, if that makes you feel any better.

  18. @20, really? You’ll accept no argument? Maddux had a better year by WAR. And he was also Greg Maddux. I’d be hard pressed to accept any argument that one of his teammates had a better year, particularly a teammate who had fewer WAR.

  19. @22, FG WAR has it Maddux 5.6 to Millwood 5.5, BBref WAR has it Maddux 3.2 to Millwood 6.3. “No argument” is probably pretty strong, but Millwood was one of the best pitchers in baseball that year, and retrospectively I’m not sure for the argument for FG WAR above BBref WAR.

  20. Adam Duvall. Hard to say too much about his performance this year, particularly relative to expectations. How do we feel about a ten-homer month, on the 15th?

  21. Man, Duvall is having some kinda (short) season.

    What I mostly remember about Millwood in 1999 was that, because he had a better year than Glavine, I didn’t mind him pitching “ahead of him” in the post-season. For the most part, he didn’t disappoint (although Glavine was pretty good, too). Whatever the regular-season numbers said about Maddux, I still wanted him to begin each series.

    In the ’99 post-season, Millwood went Game 2 in the NLDS (CG, one-hit win vs Hou), Game 2 of the NLCS (a W vs the Mets, going into the 8th) and Game 2 of the WS (got chased early, gave up a million singles in a short stint vs. NYY).

    When it came to having a rotation, those were the days…

  22. @28,
    What I wanted to say in response was that 1999 was basically the end of Maddux as an elite pitcher, and that we were importing his performances from previous years when making that assessment. I say it that way because I entirely remember it the same, that I still thought of Maddux as the ace despite Millwood having at minimum a very similar year and probably a substantially better one.

    I wanted to say that, then I went and looked up Maddux’s numbers, and naw, he was still properly an elite pitcher until 2001 or 2002, when he was in his late 30s. What I was tracking is that Maddux was worse in 1999 than in any year since 1990, but I did not remember that he was again absolutely tip-top the next couple years.

    The upshot, here, is that Maddux was my favorite pitcher and I still forgot how good he was.

  23. First, this seems to have escalated a little more than I intended. Sorry for that.

    I didn’t see Fangraphs WAR, and “no argument” was probably a bit strong, but I generally think fWAR is pretty full of it, and looking at the pitching numbers, the only thing I can think that would point to Maddux is a tenth of a point difference in FIP…which is also pretty full of it IMO when it comes to using it for comparison’s sake for a season that already happened.

    Long story short, I think Millwood was definitely better that year, for what it’s worth. I don’t think any less of Maddux overall because of it or anything.

  24. https://stathead.com/tiny/42Kce

    Here’s a list of all 132 pitchers who were exclusive starters (more than 90% of their appearances as starts) for the Braves. Of those 132 pitchers, 60 had career ERA+ over 100. Ian Anderson is currently number two on this list, and anybody who tells you they’ve heard of Billy Ging is a liar. But just look how great Maddux was. Only Kid Nichols and Tom Glavine had more starts (Smoltz’s and Niekro’s years in the bullpen don’t qualify them for this list) and he is head-and-shoulders above everyone. But among those with more than 150 starts, Millwood is 5th. Although he’s not that far ahead of Jair Jurrjens, who only started 118.

  25. I was a bit skeptical bringing back O’Day. Just didn’t think we could rely on good performance after his long recovery from injury and his age but wow he’s been a real asset. 14 innings with a .79 whip and 0.64 era.

  26. I love Jonathan. Thank you for that link.

    Jair Jurrjens stands out as someone I would hope that one of these non-Soroka/Fried/Anderson kids could be: 118 GS, 113 ERA+, 3.58 ERA. That would fall under a 4-year period of cheap, cheap control.

    Tommy Hanson (RIP) had a really solid run with Atlanta: 108 GS, 110 ERA+, 3.61 ERA.

    The problem is that Ian Anderson, based on what we know now, is more likely to produce those results, and we need two more guys to come anywhere close to this. More likely, we’ll be begging someone to be as good as Derek Lowe: 101 GS, 87 ERA+, 4.57 ERA, but they made 30 starts per year for 3 years and, well, we’ll take it. We’ve complained about Folty’s career ad nauseum, but out of the “other guys”, we’d die for Folty’s career 98 ERA+. Even Mike Minor’s up-and-down Atlanta tenure, one we also didn’t love, was a 93 ERA+, which we’d also probably take from a back-end guy at this point.

    And all of this discussion ignores the fact that we don’t have one single homegrown ace reliever.

  27. According to Peanut, Duvall is already two-thirds of the way to the club record for most home runs in a month with half the month left to go. He’s got 10 and the record is Joe Adcock with 15 for Milwaukee in 1956. (Bob Horner has the Atlanta record: 14, 1980.)

  28. Thanks, Rob, but let me push back a bit. We had a Tommy Hanson equivalent, Julio Teheran, and let him go. True, he has sucked in Anaheim, but that’s obviously because Mike Trout has failed to inspire him, right Chief?

    Have the kids been disappointing? Sure. But we are an Achilles tendon away from having three extremely productive youngsters to add to Hamels (assuming he isn’t Hampton-fragile.) We went with the kids, but Teheran as a fourth or fifth starter innings eater would have been fine. I’m naive, hopelessly naive, but I don’t see how you could ever expect to have more than three great rebuilt starters: I’ll stake a claim with Fried, Anderson and Soroka. Wright is still a long-shot possibility, too. And that of course doesn’t even mention Muller or Davidson.

    I think there’s too much conclusion that the Braves don’t know nothin’ ’bout startin’ no pitchers (looking at you again, Chief), when a sore triceps from Hamels and a freak Achilles injury forced the team into crisis mode…. and they responded by having the second-best record in the third of MLB they’re playing.

  29. Maddux had an outlier BABIP in 1999 (.324) and the defense up the middle probably didn’t help very much; both Boone and Weiss rate below average for that season, despite their reputations.

    I really wonder how that World Series would have gone if someone else starts the 8th inning of game 1.

    I hate today’s layoffs because of the families that will be impacted, but secondarily, it really doesn’t portend well for the off season.

  30. Freddie is having a career year rate wise. His OPS+ is 185, by far the best of his career. It doesn’t seem he’s hit the decline phase yet and this is his age 30 year. He’s got the kind of skills that age well and plays a position conducive to longevity. He’s got 38 BRef WAR and should finish the year close to 39. (Too bad this shortened season will cost him close to 5 WAR at this year’s level of production) Is it time to start to consider him on track for the HoF?

  31. As a fellow type 1 diabetic, I have a lot of respect for Duvall. I can barely rake the yard without passing out. I’m exaggerating… a little.

  32. Anyone notice Ozzie’s hot bat? In his last 7 games, his stat line is .379/.419/.655. If he stays healthy, that certainly extends the lineup. Having him batting 9th has helped us suffer less from Acuna’s current slump (although even with a BA near .200 or .220, he still has an elite OBP and slugging – the man has learned to take a walk).

    I cannot imagine why anyone is excited about Panda. Just who would he replace on the roster? The only choices are Hech and Ender. Hech is our only middle inf backup and Ender is the only guy that can be considered as a late inning OF sub. Panda is only worthy of DH and that would mean Ozuna back in the field. But, again, who goes out? I suppose you could send a pitcher out, we have 16 on the roster. Would you rather have Panda on the active roster than Pache? Panda is purely injury protection.

  33. #48/49
    It’s certainly possible. An MVP would help.

    However, without studying, I’d say Freeman obviously needs a few more top seasons to qualify — 1B’s a tough position to rate historically. Consider that his obvious HoF contemporaries are Albert Pujols & Miguel Cabrera. As terrific as Freddie has been, he’s not in that category.

    I’d guess Freeman would rate closer to Orlando Cepeda than, say, McCovey & certainly nowhere near those who inhabit the position’s upper tier (Gehrig, Foxx, Musial, etc.).

    For now, IMO, he’s in the Hall of Very, Very Good & there’s no shame in that.

  34. @49. Can’t wait Alex
    @50. I don’t know how many players are going to be on the postseason roster. Is it still going to be 28? But teams always drop pitchers and add position players for the playoffs. At least one and sometimes two. Even with the condensed playoff schedule I think the Braves will drop at least one pitcher; so they could add Panda without dropping Ender or Hech.

  35. IIRC I said that Ynoa > Wright early on and also that O’Day was a great signing. Of course, though he gets hurt and has to leave so…

    And on Freeman, he’s in the HOVVG, IMO. Not a HOFer in my estimation. Yet.

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