Above at Last, Above at Last. Thank God Almighty, Above At Last (with notes on some Cardinals teams we might want to emulate, as opposed to this one) ATL 8, STL 4

In the baseball history of my mind, the MVP of the 1982 World Series

More On Farting Around for 100 Games or More

So it’s August and the elusive 0.500 mark has finally been breached.  This is slightly misleading, since we started the season with a four game losing streak.  Since then, the Braves are playing above 0.500, so the Braves have actually played over 100 games of over 0.500+ ball… after that first series with the Phillies.

As I pointed out before Memorial Day, no World Series Champion has failed to reach 0.500 before August.  The latest crossing date was the 1964 Cardinals, on July 24th, who then went an astonishing 46-21.  But in many ways the 2006 Cardinals are more instructive.  They had their hot streak in the first month of the season: they finished April 17-8 and proceeded to play sub-.500 ball the rest of the season:  66-70.  They then went 11-5 in the playoffs and hoisted the trophy.

Like this year’s Braves, the 2006 Cardinals were in a crappy division: Only one other team in their division was over 0.500, the Astros, and they were 82-80. Do you have to be in a crappy division to make that happen?  No.  What about 1982?  The Braves started 13-0 and played 76-73 the rest of the season after that and went to the Playoff Lost To The Rain Gods.  (Yes, the Cardinals again.)  They had to beat out an 88 win Dodger team.   That team is still a WS Champion in my eyes, and tfloyd’s… they simply lack proof that they won.

We get so fixated on What have you done lately?  Are you hot now?  that we forget sometimes that it really doesn’t matter when you get hot.  Really.  There’s another cognitive illusion going on as well: the presence of an early winning streak tells you what the team is capable of doing, while a winning streak that happens late is more surprising.  But that is an illusion, at least for teams that aren’t really good (95+ wins) or really bad (95+ losses).  The teams in the middle are all capable of good play and bad play for a month or two at a time.   Add to that the fact that rosters are in flux (as ours definitely has been) and there is ample chance for a hot streak in August/September.  Anything even close to the 1964 Cardinals’ 46-21 would be ample cushion, indeed just one month like the 2006 Cardinals’ 17-8 is probably good enough.  We can forget the first 100 games as we sip from the Commissioner’s Trophy.

It’s Like You’re Always Stuck In Second Gear

The Cardinals tonight started a guy who is not only with his ninth major league team, but who also made a boatload of money in Friends. I’m surprised to hear Joey is only 36. As you’d expect of course, he pitched great, giving up a solo homer to Joc (wasn’t he supposed to have a problem with lefties?) and a run-scoring single to Freddie.

The Braves opened with the liberator of Haiti who did everything you could want him to do after a stumble in his last outing: 2 earned runs in 5 1/3. He wasn’t dominating, but he was plenty good enough.

We’ve Got To Talk About Kevan

Well, we should, but I suspect not for long. There have been a number of terrible catchers in Atlanta, but the continued presence of Kevan Smith is more than a little hard to understand. I would say more about his lack of offensive prowess, but a passed ball to give up the lead in the 6th inning is inexcusable. Sorry… I’m just waiting for that moment, coming soon, when I never have to think about Kevan Smith ever again. I am at least comforted that with the bases loaded and two outs in a tie game the manager understood that there was no reason to allow Kevan Smith anywhere near the plate.

Who Ain’t Clutch?

I wrote a little WPA calculator. Austin Riley came to the plate down by two runs with a man on first and two outs. By my calculation, the Braves win probability was about 8% at that point. After Mr. Riley deposited one in the seats, the win probability was about 39%. That’s a WPA of about 1/3rd of a game for Mr. Riley.

We’ve Been There, Bro

As the Braves bullpen begins to solidify, the schadenfreude one gets watching the Cardinals bullpen implode is made all the sweeter. 5 runs on a single, a homer, a double, a HBP and five straight walks is…. GREAT! (I note that had Kevan Smith been allowed to bat in that inning, he would have definitely struck out and this game would still be going.) By the way, those of you who like the seven inning double header should note that if this game were part of a double header, the Braves lose and we keep wondering when we’re going to get over the hump.

Chipwatch

This has already gone on too long. I’m in a good mood. Chip is great.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

63 thoughts on “Above at Last, Above at Last. Thank God Almighty, Above At Last (with notes on some Cardinals teams we might want to emulate, as opposed to this one) ATL 8, STL 4”

  1. Don’t look now (or do) but Will Smith’s ERA is 3.09. It might be time to stop kvetching about Will Smith.

  2. Great recap as always. We have reached the promised land. Now let’s stay there a while.

  3. Thanks JonathanF, another wonderful recap.
    Reading the comments from last night, it made me think of Mac as Smith would definitely be in his doghouse…
    How about our bullpen? Go Braves!

  4. As for Chip, I’m pretty sure that near the end of the walkapallooza he said something about the record for most bases-loaded BB in a season being held by the 1974 Seattle Mariners. The Mariners came into existence in 1977.

  5. Thanks, JonathanF. Knucksie’s WS MVP is one of fondest memories (alternative universe edition).

    Along with Mr. Aaron’s in 1969.

  6. Chip made his usual announcement that LeBlanc was in line for the Win when the Cards took the lead in the bottom of the 6th. But I’ve never heard him comment on how a reliever is in line for a Win when the team comes back and scores to take the lead in the next inning (after the reliever has given up runs as did Santana last night and Martin the night before).

    Wins are pretty silly in theory, given the peculiarities of the rules governing the stat. But they are so much more so now that starters average 5 to 6 innings. I wonder how often a starter gets a win nowadays when exiting with a one run lead after 5 or 6 (the circumstance under which Chip invariably reminds us that he’s “in line for the Win”). I’ll bet it’s far less often than not—especially with a bullpen like the Cardinals.

  7. Thanks, all.
    (1) My little Win Expectancy app is available for public use at https://win-expectancy.anvil.app/
    It’s not fancy, and it isn’t guaranteed to line up with BRef or anybody else, but it ought to be pretty close. I wrote it for a laptop, but I may make it more phone-friendly if I get a chance. If you use it and see something egregiously wrong, let me know. It is not ghost-runner adjusted for extra innings, which really only makes a difference in extra-inning games, and if you’re in a 7 inning game, you just add two innings to the actual inning.
    (2) I want to be clear… It’s not that Chip said nothing stupid. I actually had a 6 item list. But I try not to squelch the two or three minutes a week I feel charitable towards him. It’s part of my ongoing quest to be a better person.

  8. Just checked my calculator against BRef. Rather than 8%-39%. BRef had it at 9%-42%. That’s pretty close, and I suspect the difference is that they are use a ghost-runner adjustment, which I think raises all visiting probabilities slightly.

  9. I’m a younger fella than Chip, and even I like the aesthetic of looking at a pitcher like in the olden days and seeing that a pitcher has been averaging six+ innings, pitching deep into ball games, pitching well, and racking up wins. Call me crazy. So for a guy like Chip’s that’s been watching ball for twice as long as me, I can see why his mind is still fixated on the win total. I know I am.

    The best pitchers still win games with regularity. In 2019, these were your win total leaders (with their win total):

    Justin Verlander – 21
    Gerrit Cole – 20
    Eduardo Rodriguez – 19
    Stephen Strasburg – 18
    Zack Greinke – 18
    Max Fried – 17
    Lance Lynn – 16
    Charlie Morton – 16
    Marco Gonzales – 16
    Clayton Kershaw – 16
    Dakota Hudson – 16

    That’s a list of most of the elite pitchers in baseball that year too. Of the top 10 in fWAR that year, 7 won 15 games or more. The 20 and 21-game winners were 2nd and 5th in WAR. To get a win, you have to pitch really well and you have to pitch really deep into ballgames. That’s also what it takes for you to rack up WAR. Are there anomalies? Sure. deGrom was 2nd in fWAR, made 32 starts, and only won 11 games. But there are also head scratchers with WAR. Lucas Giolito was 10th in fWAR, but he averaged less than 6 innings per start and 176 IP total. C’mon, are you going to tell me you’re the 10th most valuable pitcher in baseball when you don’t average 6 innings and you only made 29 starts?

    It also really annoys me that so many pitchers can’t throw strikes. So they don’t pile up innings, and therefore they don’t pile up wins or WAR. And I think that’s why some announcers talk about pitcher wins because it’s more often than not an easy way to say that a guy is piling up quality innings, pitches deep into ballgames, and plays a larger factor in the result of that particular ballgame than your 5 IP, 100 pitch starters that have shiny ERAs, maybe even rack up wins, but we all know darn well these pitchers are not nearly as valuable as even WAR says they are.

  10. To take it a step further, I’m going to go full “get off my lawn” here:

    How many of you watched the 8th inning last night? That had to have been excruciating. The Braves tie it up on a big home run. Awesome. But then the merry go round starts. You’re happy because your team is the beneficiary of it, but it’s excruuuuuuuciating to watch. I went to bed early, woke up this morning, saw they hung a crooked number right after I went to bed, and I was disappointed. But then I pull up the highlights, see what I would have had to have gone through to have seen that crooked number, and I was happy that I missed it. I WAS HAPPY I MISSED A CROOKED NUMBER. How does that happen?! And it happens more and more.

    Guys can’t throw strikes. Guys can’t make contact. It’s boring. Yes, I’m a devout, diehard baseball fan saying the game is boring way more often than it used to. It’s boring when they strike out 7 or 8 guys in a row. It’s boring when the starting pitcher labors through 5 innings. It’s boring when multiple relievers can’t find the strike zone with a sherpa. Even when my team wins. That’s a problem for baseball. A big one.

  11. Yea I tend to agree @12 – the counter would be that there are other metrics, far less reliant on run support, showing that all those guys are good pitchers, so W/L doesn’t add anything. I suppose that’s fair, but I’m old-school enough to where I still find some value in it.

    Also: I dunno if I want to live I. A world where Corky Miller isn’t the worst Braves catcher ever.

  12. Rob: you aren’t quite the old fogey you make yourself out to be. When you want to prove that pitchers with a lot of wins are good pitchers, what do you use? fWAR. Now here’s the $64,000 question. If you see a pitcher whose fWAR disagrees with his win count, what do you use? You use fWAR! So when they agree you use wins, and when they disagree you use fWAR. So why not just use fWAR and forget about wins completely? No one ever said that starting pitchers with a bunch of wins aren’t good pitchers. The question is what Wins tell you that fWAR (or FIP, or ERA, or FIP combined with ERA and fWAR) doesn’t. There’s an answer to that question: “Nothing.” And how could Wins be more informative? It’s hostage to the 5 inning rule. It encompasses 3 things that are entirely irrelevant to your pitching, namely the (1) offensive productiveness of your hitters; (2) the quality of the pitchers on the other side; and (3) the quality of your own team’s bullpen. It’s not that Wins are a terrible measure of starting pitching; it’s that there are obvious better ones that Wins don’t give you any extra nuanced view of. And everybody agrees they make no sense at all for relievers. Add to that the fact that changes in the game make comparability of wins across seasons even more problematic and their only justification (that they used to be something people focused on because they didn’t have anything better) fades away.

  13. Actually, Rob, I gotta say… it was excruciatingly paced, but it was wonderful to bear witness to the OTHER guys losing all control of their limbs for a change. As YaramahZ said in the previous thread, couldn’t have happened to a nicer team.

    I have lots of old-fogey tendencies, including 1) my hatred of the designated hitter; 2) my insistence that before they ban defensive shifts, they get rid of the ahistorical and totally unjustifiable leather gloves and “short-stop” defensive position; and my belief that announcing would be improved by having one man in the booth without a color commentator.

    But I’m with JonathanF @16 on the pitcher win. It doesn’t add any value beyond what you can get from other, far better measures of pitching, and the book definition is confusing as hell and as much of a judgment call as Olympic gymnastics. (Same with Mac’s longtime campaign against the “unearned” run.) So I’m fine with noting what it is, but mostly ignoring it.

  14. @12 and 13 I tend to agree as well. I am terribly frustrated by the inability of pitchers to throw strikes, but more so by the seemingly conscious decision to throw multiple non competitive pitches after getting ahead 0-2. They put the pressure on themselves to make a pitch at 3-2 when you had the hitter 0-2. Braves pitchers have walked a ton of hitters this year after getting up 0-2 or 1-2 because they can’t throw a pitch that misses the zone without nearly looking like a pitchout.

  15. I think one of the biggest things making the game boring — arguably, even more than strikeouts — is the injury epidemic. If baseball can’t keep its biggest stars healthy, it ain’t much worth watching.

  16. On pitchers inability to throw strikes:
    Not to criticize Chip (I’m not sure what that introductory clause is doing there, because I’m about to criticize him) it is impossible for any batter to do anything with two strikes without him noting it. He has an expectation that pitchers should never give up two strike hits, at least not unless there’s a full count. He doesn’t get this expectation in a vacuum. Pitchers are exhorted to try and leverage their advantage, either by nibbling at corners or trying to fool batters into hitting the unhittable. Two strike hits recognize their failure to heed this exhortation.
    But not every pitcher has the control to do this. They often make uncompetitive two strike pitches (this drives Glavine and Smoltz crazy, but think how few pitchers are like Glavine or Smoltz today, or ever) by accident, or throw a fat pitch by accident. Without control, you might actually be better off ignoring the count. And it is no secret why there are fewer pitchers with control… because stuff is easier to find than control, and in most situations stuff is good enough on average.
    Plus, control waxes and wanes much more than stuff. Reyes lost control last night, but he’ll get it back. And when you can’t throw a fastball or breaking ball strike, you’re naked. Pitchers who have only stuff and no control (Sobotka, 90 percent of Newcomb’s appearances) are always going to be frustrating, but they’re also always going to be in the bottom quartile of success. Somebody has to be there.

  17. Interesting situation over on FanGraphs. They have three methods of projecting the playoffs. One, the coin flip method, is stupid. The second, default method, uses “a combination of Steamer and ZiPS projections and the FanGraphs Depth Charts” to project the remaining schedule. The third uses “current season stats, weighted more heavily towards the most recent games.” In the default method, the Braves have a 25% chance of winning the division and a 1.9% chance of winning the WS. In the other method, they have a 41% chance of winning the Division and a 4% chance of winning the WS. That’s a big difference! https://www.fangraphs.com/standings/playoff-odds/season-to-date/div

  18. That Fangraphs chart has us as fourth in the NL in rest of season record, below the Brewers, Giants, and Dodgers, and above the Padres. That seems cool.

  19. It’s kind of amazing to me that we have a roughly 1/3 chance of making the playoffs and roughly a 0% chance of winning the Wild Card. That’s not how it usually works.

    Also, if you click the “diff” view, you’ll see that our playoff chances improved by roughly 15 percentage points over the past week.

  20. Liberty making that Freddie money.

  21. That’s one hell of a relief. I’m just thrilled for the big-hearted, magnanimous souls over there. Just think — all the money we saved from half a year of Adam Duvall’s salary contributed easily 5% of that operating profit.

  22. (Not that I’d ever want to get in the way of some good, old-fashioned Liberty-bashing, but: a player like Adam Duvall is always going to take the opportunity to start because that creates a non-zero chance of bigger paydays in the future. The Marlins had more playing time to offer. Hence, his decision to sign with them. The worst that could happen from Duvall’s perspective is that he proves, once again, that he’s a part-time player and gets traded to a team closer to contention at the deadline. Lo and behold…

    (Anyway, re-commence populist rage directed at whatever corporate fatcats enter your line of sight.)

  23. 28 – Duvall was under team control. Atl could’ve paid him his arb and he would’ve had no choice. I understand the decision at the time, ATL wanted a big bat for LF (which wound up being Ozuna) and ATL hoped Pache was ready, but in hindsight, yes, it would’ve been nice to have Duvall all year.

  24. The point still stands. It would’ve been nice to have Duvall on the bench, but not at any price. The Braves weren’t willing to pay him $5M to sit, and neither, given exposure to the market, was any other team, contender or no. The Marlins paid Duvall $5M, but to (try to) start, knowing that they’d likely be trading away some of that obligation anyway. Makes it kind of hard to spin the thing as LIBERTY BAD, DUVALL GOOD.

  25. @21–that is a great point you make about the relative lack of command among pitchers compared to a generation or two back. I agree that pitchers aren’t trying to miss the plate by two feet—or groove it right down the middle—on 0-2 or 1-2 counts. For whatever reason, many just don’t seem to be able to put it just off the corner or just above or below the zone on a consistent basis.

    I wonder, is this because most everybody is trying (and succeeding) to throw several mph harder? Have organizations and pitching coaches made the deliberate decision to sacrifice command for velocity and extra movement? After all, offense is down. Maybe this is on purpose.

    Leo Mazzone is rolling over in his rocking chair at this development. I’m enough of an old fart to believe with Leo that command of the fastball is the central pitching skill. Glavine is a hall of famer who never threw it hard or or had much of a breaking ball. He could put the fastball or change exactly where he wanted to—and that was never down the middle.
    (I refuse to call that “center cut”; I think that’s an overused Chippism that he got from Glavine.)

    Whether sacrificing command for better stuff is a good strategy for a team or a pitcher, I agree with Rob, as a fan, that this game of overthrowing and missing the zone is not nearly as interesting as limiting walks and trying to avoid hard contact.

  26. Ah, yes, but, on the other hand: Liberty bad, whereas Duvall good.

  27. Having said what I just did, I’ll admit that I got a lot of pleasure out of the Reyes meltdown. I’m probably not a good person, but I got a kick that it was the Cardinals who gave a game to the Braves.

  28. I sincerely believe that Liberty Media ought to increase payroll so that the Braves are back where they belong in the top 5 in MLB payroll. This may be populist rage directed at corporate fatcats; I’m not in a good position to judge my own motives. I’m inclined to believe that as a Braves fan I want my team to have the best chance to compete at the highest levels every year.

  29. With regards to the Glavine reference (and it applies to Maddox, too). Glavine had HoF worthy command. Looking at his record, some years were better than others. But watching him, I remember seeing him throw pitches in the zone down and away and every time it was called a strike, he’d throw it another inch lower or away. If that got called a strike, he’d do it again – another inch farther – until it was called a ball. Not only was that exceptional command but the pitches called balls were always competitive. Now Glavine WAS a HoF pitcher so you can’t expect everyone to be able to do that. But it was an amazing thing to watch.

    I realize I’m getting ahead of myself but if the Braves can keep winning (and Fedde is designed for us to win) then the Mets and Phillies beating each other up should put us in a pretty good spot.

  30. If it weren’t for the pandemic I’m confident the Braves would have brought back Duvall regardless.

    Snitker kept Soler hitting 2nd and Pederson 7th even though Fedde is a RHP.

  31. @16

    Agreed on the whole, but a few squabbles:

    And how could Wins be more informative? It’s hostage to the 5 inning rule.

    Good. If you can’t pitch 5 innings, you’re not a starting pitcher.

    It encompasses 3 things that are entirely irrelevant to your pitching, namely the (1) offensive productiveness of your hitters; (2) the quality of the pitchers on the other side; and (3) the quality of your own team’s bullpen.

    My only issue with this is the third point. I’m a big believer in Reliever Roulette, that the more times you make a pitching change, the more likely the game will be blown. I’m not sure what the data says. The deeper you pitch into the game, the less chance for combustion. And the deeper you pitch into games, the more likely you’ll record a win.

    It just hacks me off when a pitcher with a slighter better ERA but pitched less innings per start has a higher fWAR than a pitcher who pitched more innings per start but had a lesser ERA. James Paxton accumulated 3.5 fWAR pitching 5 innings a start in 2019. Spencer Turnbull pitched less than 5 IP per start and ended up with 2.9 fWAR. It’s unAmerican.

  32. Welp. That was a pitch I would have preferred Dansby not take, but I appreciate he was just taken by surprise.

  33. That was a fantastic swing by Duvall. Who are these announcers? Chip, Brian Jordan, and who is the other guy? I don’t like them very much….

  34. I am amazed. I have never heard the gNats announcers being so humble. They are doing some straight game coverage without the usual home team cheering/bias. They must recognize how bad the gNats are now.

  35. Speaking of boring/interesting baseball, I’ve always appreciated pitchers who work quickly. Muller works as quickly as anyone on the staff.

  36. Apparently not taking the Nats seriously is going to cost us. Not sure why Muller came out in the fifth

  37. I do think this was mostly, in context, a positive outcome moving forward for Muller. He had no command of his fastball at all, and he still kept us in the game.

  38. For the record, I find myself kind of agreeing with Rob on this.

    First, I deeply wish we could go back to starting pitchers going deep into games, occasionally throwing complete games, etc. I found it much more enjoyable than the current starter for five (maybe) and then parade of bullpen arms regime. And secondly, while it’s not the most meaningful stat, but it’s not completely meaningless for starters, and to hear people occasionally suggest that a starter who didn’t throw five innings should be able to win the game causes me no small amount of revulsion.

  39. @31, I’m pretty sure Glavine threw reasonably hard in the early 1990s. I remember Skip saying on a broadcast of a 1991 spring training game (and I think I’ve read it too) that Glavine was having control trouble because he had added a lot of velocity in the offseason and was still getting used to it. As he got older, he did seem to lose velocity.

    @37, it was amazing to watch Glavine, and to a lesser extent Maddux, get strikes called several inches off the plate, but it always felt unfair to me even though it was my team that benefitted. I’m sure they would’ve done just fine with robo-umpires.

  40. Pitchers are now throwers
    Catchers are now framers.
    Many aspects of the game are lame.
    Sutilties are history. Often painful to watch. I admire all the Braves players,(except spousal abusers) who work for a cheap owner and below average boss.

  41. Shane Greene’s pitched 1 inning in the last 7 days, but at least we’ve got Max Fried to pinch hit.

  42. @39,51 Pitchers who pitch deeper into games pitch more innings and therefore accumulate more fWAR, a counting stat. They also accumulate more wins. But fWAR depends only on their performance, not on anybody else’s.

    Managers value guys who can pitch deep into games far beyond their ERA value as well, precisely because you need fewer bullpen pitchers. But these guys just don’t exist any more in the numbers they used to do, for a host of reasons: (a) fear of injury (or re-injury); (b) third-time-through-the-order syndrome; (c) max-effort exhaustion; and (d) incompetence. The 4-5 inning start isn’t being used because managers love using 5 relievers. They’re being used because they don’t have enough pitchers who can go 7. Valorizing the WIN won’t improve the situation any more than valorizing fWAR would.
    And whatever value the win has for starting pitchers, the wins assigned to relievers being called the same thing (even though nobody thinks they’re the same thing) is just confusing.

  43. The best thing about being two games over .500 is that the next loss cannot take us under .500.

    So the Fillies are in first now. We get to watch the IWOTM and the Fillies go at it again tomorrow. Fillies have won six straight and it’s our turn to have a good streak. We’re at 7-3. One or two more wins to 8-2.

  44. @55 – To your point, Maddux pitched 12 seasons over 230 innings. Justin Verlander pitched 251 innings in 2011 at age 28 and trended down from there. DeGrom’s most innings pitched were in 2018 with 217. If you really want to look back, from 1977 to 1979, in his age 38 to 40 seasons, Phil Niekro averaged 336 innings per year.

  45. A comfortable win against a bad team. Above .500 for another day, and now within shouting distance of an 8-2 stretch. This is more like it.

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