On Saturday, I had the chance to see the Braves take on the Pirates in the second game of a four-game series at Turner Field. I only get to go about once a year because of the prices and the drive, so it’s always an exciting experience. What I’ll try to do in this review of the game is a WPA analysis of the flow of the game, similar to what Dave Studeman has done on occasion at THT.
The Teams and Starters
The Braves entered the game at 59-44, out in front of the rest of the NL East by four games after a mid-week sweep of the Nationals. The Braves have suffered through a slew of injuries and poor performances, playing in a division in which every team is over .500. They have started an entire minor league team at the major league level, and yet they are still the front-runners for an unprecedented fourteenth consecutive division title. They were riding a four-game win streak going into Saturday’s game, but they had to call up Kyle Davies from Richmond to start the game, thanks to Mike Hampton’s back injury. Davies was adequate at best in his earlier starting stint, with a very high 28% line drive rate, but he had only a 4.32 ERA. He still has a promising future, but he doesn’t appear to be quite ready.
The Pirates were 44-59 and headed in the opposite direction as the Braves. They were perceived to be sellers at the trade deadline, and that was the case, as they moved Matt Lawton to the Cubs for Jody Gerut on Sunday. Lawton was still the starting right fielder for Saturday’s game, though, and fellow trade-bait pieces Mark Redman and Jose Mesa were still his teammates. As it turned out, of course, the latter players would not be moved. Redman, in fact, was the Pirates’ starter for Saturday’s game. With a 3.99 ERA entering the game, he had been adequate, but that ERA has steadily increased as the season has progressed: 2.78 in April, 3.43 in May, 4.01 in June, and 6.00 going into his last July start. He likely played himself out of a trade to a contender with his poor performance, although I doubt that was intentional.
Davies started the game with a four-pitch walk to Chris Duffy, one of many Pirates prospects now on the major-league roster (which is sort of like the Braves, except that their regulars haven’t been as good). He then proceeded to pitch around the following batters, striking out Rob Mackowiak, but walking Matt Lawton with Jason Bay on deck. Entering the game, Bay’s .931 OPS made him the best hitter on either team not named Andruw Jones, and naturally, he homered after working a full count. Before they even had a chance to bat, the Braves’ win probability had been reduced to under 25% (.246). Davies entered damage-control mode and finished the inning without allowing more runs, although he did throw 36 pitches in doing so.
Both teams went quietly over the next inning, aside from a Chipper Jones double in the first, but there was an exciting moment in the bottom of the second inning when Julio Franco (a.k.a. Father Time) picked up his 2,500th career hit on a single up the middle. I’ve seen a few interesting things at Braves games, including a homer hit by John Smoltz, but that was one of the greatest moments I’ve been a part of. Franco has been such an unheralded player the past few years with the Braves, aside from the novelty of his age, so it was nice to see him recognized for his excellent career.
The Pirates went quietly again in the third, but the Braves made some noise in their half of the inning. Kelly Johnson walked to lead it off, but Kyle Davies failed to get down a good bunt, and Johnson was thrown out at second on the play. Davies ended up advancing around to third, but the inning ended on a Chipper Jones fly out, lowering the Braves’ win probability to .181.
Kyle Davies had settled down by this point, and he retired the Pirates in order in the fourth. In the bottom half, the Braves came roaring back on a two-run moon shot by Jeff Francoeur that increased the team’s win probability to .394. (Francoeur is a unique talent, but he has to learn how to take a walk if he wants pitchers to keep throwing him hittable pitches. I won’t be sold on him unless he keeps hitting .400 or starts showing some patience, at least for the immediate future. There’s no doubt he’s a star in the making, though.)
Davies pitched around a hit in the fifth, while Redman pitched around two. The Braves’ promising inning ended yet again at the hands of Chipper Jones, whose DP cost the Braves 17.4% in win probability. Their WP was actually .510 before the play, thanks to the run expectancy of the first and third, one out situation. The Pirates then went 1-2-3 in the sixth, but Davies’ time was limited because of his early-inning pitch count struggles.
The bottom of the sixth was the Braves biggest inning of the year, a seven-run outburst in which the first nine batters batted 1.000 because they had not one, but two sacrifice flies in the process. Francoeur doubled with Andruw Jones and Franco aboard, driving in them both. That hit was the largest single swing in win probability for the game, raising the Braves from .550 to .801. The next three batters all got hits, and Giles tripled in between the sacrifice flies by Furcal and Chipper Jones. Andruw Jones, who started off the inning with a single, flew out to Matt Lawton (who made all three outs in the inning) to finish it.
The Braves had the game all but locked up after that huge inning (WP of .983), so they brought in Blaine Boyer to pitch. After Davies had struck out eight in six innings of work, Boyer sought to add insult to injury by striking out the side in the seventh. Jeff Francoeur lined into a hard-luck double play with Franco at third, ending another threat in the Braves’ half of the inning.
Boyer hurt himself in the middle of Rob Mackowiak’s at-bat in the eighth, and Dan Kolb had to come out cold to relieve him. Kolb finished off a walk of Mackowiak and then gave up RBI singles to Lawton and Bay. Freddy Sanchez drove in another run on a ground ball before Jose Castillo ended the inning. At 9-6, the Braves were still likely to win (.974 WP), but Boyer and Kolb made it interesting, reducing the win probability to .933 after Bay’s single.
The Braves failed to score in the eighth, but it didn’t matter, because Bobby Cox brought in Reitsma for the ninth. In that situation, the win probability was .967, which raises the question of why Reitsma is coming in, especially since he worked three of the previous four games. We all know the answer (to get the save), but that doesn’t make it a good one. Before I dive too far into that argument, I’ll save it for my next article, which will be on reliever usage patterns. Anyhow, Reitsma sat down the Pirates 1-2-3 in the ninth for the cheap save.
Win Probability Graph and Summary
|Pirates Total||0.020||-0.505||-0.014||-0.500|||||Braves Total||0.520||-0.008||-0.012||0.500|
As you can see, there was one offensive star for each team. Bay’s 3-run blast was very important in the early going, and Francoeur’s huge and timely hits far outweighed the two double plays he hit into. The bottom 5 spots in the Pirates order went 0-for-21, which shows in the numbers above. On the other side, Chipper Jones was the only Brave who had a rough game at the plate. On the mound, Redman was clearly far worse than Davies, almost to the point that he lost the entire game by himself (that would be a WPA of -.500).
There were a few plays where I assigned credit to fielders, aside from errors by Furcal and Castillo. I gave Furcal a bit of extra credit for a terrific play he made in throwing out Mark Redman on a very hard hit grounder, and I gave Mackowiak some credit for turning two on the liner Francoeur hit at him. Other than that, the WPA allocation was straightforward.
I had a great time at the game, and if I had the time to do it, I’d love to do this sort of analysis on a regular basis. It would be interesting, at least, to see who the best WPA performers are on a larger scope. For now, we’ll have to leave that to the guys who get paid for it.