This offseason, we were all pumped up about the Atlanta Braves offense. The Braves added Justin and BJ Upton and we were ready to watch the homers fly out of the park. The pitching, on the other hand, was being looked forward to in a much more reserved manner. Tim Hudson was getting old, Paul Maholm was just average, Mike Minor had yet to break out for a full season, no one really expected Kris Medlen to continue being an ace, and Julio Teheran had been struggling in Triple-A for a good portion of 2012.
Who would have expected the Braves to lead the majors in ERA and be near the top in every main pitching category more than halfway through June? Certainly not me.
But, here we sit, in first place of the National League East, with a 43-30 record and a commanding seven game lead on the much-hyped Washington Nationals. The pitchers are to thank for this much more than the hitters.
Let’s just take a look at how good the Atlanta Braves pitching has been from a team standpoint.
ERA – 3.22
The Braves lead all major league teams with a 3.22 ERA so far this season. Trailing the Braves are the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, and Royals.
FIP – 3.60
The Braves rank third in the majors with a 3.60 FIP. The Tigers and the Cardinals are just ahead of Atlanta with a 2.95 and 3.15 FIP respectively.
K/9 – 7.33
This is one of the few categories where the Braves aren’t even close to the top, and it shows that you can have successful pitching without striking out more than nine batters a game like the Tigers do. The team actually ranks 19th in baseball with this K/9 but because of our above average defense, this plays into our strengths. Detroit on the other hand, has poor defense and would love to strike out as many batters as possible.
BB/9 – 2.52
This is one of the key stats for us, in my opinion. The 2.52 BB/9 rate that our pitchers are putting up is good for third in all of baseball behind the Cardinals and Athletics. Walks are one of the worst things that you can do as a pitcher because they are in complete control of avoiding it, and there is no chance that your defense can make an out. It’s a free pass. The more teams walk, the more chances they have to score runs (see Atlanta Braves three outcome offense). Limiting the walks has been one of the big reasons for our success so far this season and continuing that will be crucial going forward.
BABIP – .277
With a .277 BABIP, the Braves have the third lowest mark in the bigs. This means that when other teams put the ball in play against Atlanta, they are allowing the third lowest average. This is one of the reasons why we really shouldn’t be too worried about the low K/9. I have to think that if we had league average defenders at second and third, this mark would be the best in baseball. Currently, the Pirates and Athletics are sporting the lowest BABIP’s allowed. The Pirates are allowing a .269 mark and the Athletics are allowing a .274 mark.
HR/FB – 9.6%
The last stat we are going to go over is HR/FB which is simply the percentage of homers aloud on fly balls. The Braves pitchers have the sixth lowest percentage in the game which is another great mark. Preventing homeruns and preventing walks are two important things and it seems like the team is doing a solid job of that.
stats from Fangraphs
After going over these numbers it seems like the Atlanta Braves pitchers have the exact opposite approach as the hitters do. Where the hitters strikeout a ton (second highest K% in baseball), the pitchers strikeout batters at a below-average rate. Where the hitters manage to take a ton of walks (third highest BB% in baseball), the pitchers hardly walk anyone. And lastly, where the Braves hitters love the long ball (second most homers in the game), the pitchers allow a lower than average amount.
Obviously the less walks we give up the better, and the less homers we allow the better, but you may be concerned about the low K/9 rate. Because of our defense, the below-average strikeout rate shouldn’t really be a problem. If you don’t believe me, be sure to check out Franklin Rabon’s piece on Talking Chop, where he talks about the Braves having an elite defense.
So, the next time your buddy tells you that the Braves are in first because we have a few sluggers in Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann be sure to let him know what’s actually going on. Even though we don’t have an ace anchoring the rotation, we have managed to a fantastic job with a pretty underrated starting rotation, and an excellent bullpen yet again.