Fried’s fly balls; lefty-swatters
The Braves and Phillies kick off a division rivalry series on Monday night. The Braves are, barring a ridiculous collapse, assured some kind of playoff spot. The Phillies are desperately scrabbling for the last NL playoff spot, and were just swept at home by the Cubs. Nonetheless, the Braves shouldn’t rest too easy, as they’re not even that favored in the two bookend games, while being the underdog for Tuesday’s matchup. Some stuff to think about.
Max Fried’s Fly Balls
I’ve written a billion times now that Fried was dominant most of the year, but has stumbled a bit in his last few tries. It all started with the Cardinals on July 6 — Fried threw six scoreless but had an uncharacteristically low 4/1 K/BB ratio, and a grounder rate below 30 percent for the first time all season. (Coming into the game, his grounder rate was over 50 percent.) The next time out, he had his first truly bad-ish start of the year against the Mets, with a 5/5 K/BB ratio and again, a weirdly low grounder rate of around 36 percent. His last start before the All-Star Break was better (4/0 K/BB ratio, 50 percent grounder rate), but perhaps not as dominant as you’d expect against a weak lineup.
Fundamentally, Fried’s last three starts have featured his worst, second-worst, and fourth-worst tries by xFIP this season. They’ve also featured his three highest fly ball rates of the season. (This isn’t surprising, as fly ball rate goes up, so does xFIP.) Interestingly, though, it’s not like the fly balls have been hit hard. By xwOBA, the Mets start was his second-worst of the year, but the other two were sixth- and ninth-best (out of 19 total starts). Theoretically, you want to see go back to things we know better foretell success: strikeouts, balls not in the air. But, that sets up an interesting thing to watch: is Fried going to start his stretch run with another attempt to perhaps get quicker outs and manage contact, or is he going to redouble efforts to be the high-strikeout guy he was in June? Or something else? Stay tuned.
These two teams both hit lefties
The Braves and Phillies are fairly similar in construction, as teams aiming to mash their way past defensive shortcomings. This has worked out better for the Braves so far, as they’ve just done what the Phillies have done but way better — better hitting, better defense, and a better bullpen that makes up for the Phightin’s advantage in the rotation.
One other place where the teams are similar? They both have essentially the same xwOBA against lefties: .334, tied for fifth in MLB. (The Braves have hit righties much better, though — .332, good for fourth in MLB, to the Phillies’ .321, placing them ninth.)
That suggests that tonight might be a relatively tough test for both Fried and Ranger Suarez. But, among Phillies, the big lefty-mashers of Rhys Hoskins (.406 xwOBA), Bryce Harper (.400), and Alec Bohm (.395) are missing one of their big bats; the Braves have a comparably formidable trio of Austin Riley (.431), Dansby Swanson (.417), and Ronald Acuña Jr. (.400), with none missing in action.
Suarez will likely want to go to Michael Harris II (.246) and Marcell Ozuna (a surprising .257 given how well he’s xwOBAed against righties this year), meanwhile, the Phillies probably don’t have enough platoon-type personnel to avoid starting Didi Gregorius (.253). Amusingly, though, Bohm and Hoskins only have a combined .210 wOBA/.274 xwOBA against Fried this year in six PAs, and a .280/.328 over 39 PAs in their combined careers. Meanwhile, the Riley/Swanson/Acuña trio has 11 PAs with .286/.357 this year, and 21 PAs with .293/.314 in their careers. That’s kind of not what you’d expect, so stay tuned to see whether it’s the usual lefty-swatting suspects that torment Fried and Suarez, or whether something weirder happens.