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Entries in Atlanta Braves (42)

Friday
Sep272013

Freddy Garcia Keeps Ball Down, Rises Up in Atlanta

Before the Orioles demoted him to the minors and then swapped him to the Braves for cash considerations, Freddy Garcia was practically keeping pace with teammate Chris Davis for the major league home run lead. That's great if you're a slugging first baseman, and much less so if you're a 36-year-old soft-tosser trying to avoid Triple-A towns like Norfolk and Gwinnett. Garcia served up 16 home runs for the O's, tied for second-most ever for a pitcher throwing no more than his 53 inning workload (Brian Matusz allowed 18 HR in 49.2 IP for Baltimore in 2011).

Since the Braves acquired him as Brandon Beachy insurance, however, Garcia has thrived. In three relief appearances and starts apiece, he has a 20-to-5 strikeout to walk ratio, a 1.65 ERA and just two home runs allowed in 27.1 innings pitched. Garcia might even get the nod over Paul Maholm as Atlanta's Game 4 starter in the NL Division Series. The Chief has drastically reduced his homer rate -- and likely extended his flat lining career -- by avoiding the upper portions of the strike zone.

In Baltimore, Garcia threw a near equal distribution of pitches to the upper third (34 percent), middle (31 percent) and lower third (35 percent) of the zone. He was successful when he kept the ball down, serving up a single home run and limiting hitters to a .302 slugging percentage. But opponents tagged Garcia for a combined 15 round-trippers and a .658 slugging percentage when he threw a belt-high or letter-high offering. Basically, Garcia turned batters into Darwin Barney on low pitches and Davis on middle and high pitches.

Garcia's pitch location with Baltimore

Garcia is doing a much better job of hammering hitters at the knees with Atlanta, tossing 25 percent of his pitches to the upper third of the zone, 32 percent to the middle, and 43 percent to the lower third. He hasn't coughed up an extra-base hit, much less a homer, on a low pitch as a Brave (.098 opponent slugging percentage). 

Garcia's pitch location with Atlanta

 

Monday
Aug192013

It's Plain to See: Uggla Flailing vs. Soft Stuff

Dan Uggla is redefining the concept of the "all or nothing" hitter. The Atlanta Braves second baseman has swatted 21 home runs this season, but he has also struck out in a career-high 31.7% of his plate appearances and has, by far, the lowest batting average (.186) among qualified hitters. In fact, Uggla holds the second-worst average ever among hitters going deep at least 20 times in a season (Rob Deer batted .179 while hitting 25 homers for the Tigers in 1991).

Now, we have a pretty good idea of why Uggla is struggling: he has been trying to hit 90-plus MPH heat and wicked breaking pitches while seeing about as well as Mr. Magoo. Uggla recently went on the disabled list to undergo Lasik eye surgery, which will eliminate the need for him to wear bothersome contacts during games. Teammate Brian McCann, who also struggled with vision problems a few seasons ago, sympathized with Uggla's plight while talking with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien:

“I’ve said it before, your eyes are the most important thing in hitting a baseball. When you don’t have your eyes and you’re not seeing the way you’ve seen your whole life, it’s tough to hit sliders, it’s tough to… I changed the way I hit because of it. I wasn’t working counts. I was trying to up there and swing at the first straight thing I saw, because I didn’t want to get to the slider to my back foot and the curveballs and all that stuff. So it’s tough."

McCann's point about pitches that dip and dart being a nightmare for vision-challenged hitters is true in Uggla's case. Uggla has actually raised his batting average against "hard" pitches with comparatively less movement (fastballs, sinkers and cutters) from .242 in 2012 to .259 in 2013, and he has already hit more homers against hard stuff this year (12 in 2012, 17 in 2013). But against "soft" pitches -- curveballs, sliders and changeups -- Uggla's performance has been ugly.

Uggla is batting an MLB-worst .085 versus soft pitches in 2013, down more than 100 points compared to 2012 (.187) and little more than a third of the major league average (.241). On a related note, he's whiffing at more than half of the curveballs, sliders and changeups that he swings at, up from 44.5 percent in 2012. Against soft stuff, Uggla makes strikeout-prone sluggers such as Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter look like contact hitters.

Highest miss rate vs. "soft" pitches in 2013

 

Uggla is especially flailing against soft pitches thrown around eye-level. His miss rate versus breaking and off-speed pitches thrown in the upper third of the strike zone has spiked from 26.7 percent in 2012 to 45.5 percent in 2013.

Uggla's contact rate by pitch location vs. "soft" pitches, 2012

 

Uggla's contact rate by pitch location vs. "soft" pitches, 2013

Uggla's miss rate against "hard" pitches, by contrast, has barely budged (23.6 percent in 2012, and 25.1 percent in 2013). Perhaps noting Uggla's issues with breaking and off-speed stuff, pitchers have thrown him more soft offerings this season (43.1 percent of Uggla's total pitches seen in 2012, and 45.8 percent this year). Only Jose Bautista has seen more curves, sliders and changeups.

While slow stuff has always been Uggla's weakness, his wretched performance against those pitches this season has dragged down his line to the point where he's no longer an asset at the plate. Clearly, Uggla is going to have to raise his game when pitchers take something off. Seeing clearly certainly can't hurt.

Saturday
Jun012013

Fastball Woes May Punch B.J. Upton's Ticket to Gwinnett

B.J. Upton signed a five-year, $75.25 million free agent deal with Atlanta over the winter, the largest contract handed out in franchise history. This time next week, Upton could be the wealthiest guy to ever suit up for the Braves -- the Gwinnett Braves. Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the front office are debating whether to ask the 27-year-old to accept a demotion to Triple-A. Upton has enough service time in the majors to reject the move, but he is off to an historically wretched start at the plate. B.J.'s 31 OPS+ is the worst for a Braves hitter getting at least 150 plate appearances in a season since John Russell (30 OPS+) in 1989.

If Upton does end up with the G-Braves, it'll be because he's chopping fastballs he normally pulverizes into the dirt. His groundball rate against heaters has jumped by nearly 20 percentage points this year, from 35% in 2012 to 53% in 2013. The big league average, by the way, is 44%.

Upton's ground ball rate vs. fastballs, 2012

 

Upton's ground ball rate vs. fastballs, 2013

All of those grounders have put a huge dent in Upton's slugging percentage against fastballs, which has fallen over 300 points from last year's .533 mark. In fact, Upton has outslugged just Miguel Montero and the recently-demoted Dustin Ackley versus fastballs this season:

Lowest fastball slugging percentage, 2013 

 

Upton has been somewhat unlucky this season (his batting average on balls in play is just .204, which is 90 points lower than in 2012), but his complete lack of punch against fastballs is disturbing. B.J. and Braves hitting coach Greg Walker are working on swing tweaks that would reduce the load in Upton's swing. Atlanta needs those sessions to pay off. First-place status and Upton's record paycheck aside, the Braves can't afford to keep him in the lineup when he's hitting like this.

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