Atlanta Showdown: Braves lefties plus Ronald Acuña Jr.

Hit Rate

I have been playing the Braves most days, but not always getting to write about it here. Hence, the whole reason this series was born (time constraints). Suffice it to say that my Braves stacks are 5-for-11 with regard to cashing, and I am playing $1 and $2 GPPs for those who are curious. Of course, the cashing half depends on my ability to mine for pitchers and to fill out the other three to four hitting positions (depending on how many Braves I use). So the 5-for-11 rate isn’t just about Braves, it is also about my other picks. I am really curious to see where this goes over the second half of the season. For now, it has been fun and it has reduced the time and effort that I put into DFS—which was my primary goal. That, and I have won more than I thought I would…so far.

Today, I am looking at DraftKings, specifically the Showdown format. I won’t give you a potential lineup, but I am hoping that a slightly in depth study of the Braves can help someone else out today. So, no other value DFS plays today. We are solely focused on Joe Ross and on Atlanta.

The Opponent: Joe Ross

Ross has barely pitched in the MLB over the last two years, totaling only 30.2 innings since the start of 2018. His last decent MLB sample was in 2017, when he pitched 73.2 innings, allowing 10 homers to lefties and six to righties. His strikeout and walk rates were similar to both handedness that season, around 20% and 6% respectively. But the 2.41 HR/9 to lefties sticks out. Against righties he was at a 1.49 HR/9.

Anyway, I skimmed through all of his MLB seasons, and on the whole Ross has most always been worse to lefty hitters. In general, he doesn’t strike them out as much and they show more power against him. Freddie Freeman looks like our captain today (big surprise). But there is a dark horse candidate, too.

Ross has leaned on his fastball (a four-seamer, not a sinker) and slider while in the bullpen this year, but when he was last starting he also relied on his changeup a good bit (21.2% usage in 2018). Ross has added a little velocity on the new heater over the last two years, around 93 mph (after being 91-92 the years prior). Makes sense, since it corresponds with a move to the bullpen. However, his strikeout rate has cratered and his walk rate has ballooned (11.5% this year). His slider has also seen much less success in 2019, which is disturbing since it has been the most reliable pitch of his career. Consider these wOBA marks on the slider by year:

2015: .182
2016: .208
2017: .304
2018: .273 (only 16 innings)
2019: .454 (only 14 innings)

You would think a move to the pen would make Ross a bit more effective, but that has not been the case so far, albeit in a very tiny sample. Hitters now don’t chase the SL out of the zone, at least not at an above-average rate. Meanwhile, the four-seamer has a .211 BAA, but a .188 BABIP. Hitters don’t miss it, though, with a paltry 7.4% strikeout rate against it. I hate that there isn’t a larger slate to play on, because I feel like Atlanta could really tear Ross up today. That, and that Nats bullpen is still hit-or-miss.

Braves hitters versus FB, SL, CH

I have been waiting to do this for a little while now. I want to look at the Braves lineup by pitch. It might be nice to see how each hitter fares against each offering. I will mostly focus on four-seamers and sliders, since that should be the majority of the pitch mix that the Bravos see today.

1 Ronald Acuña Jr. has been okay against four-seamers and sliders in 2019, but he is MURDERING changeups. I just thought it was worth mentioning, since Ross may bring that pitch out of the woodwork today. Acuña has a .462 ISO on changeups this year, his highest mark on any pitch. He is at a .183 ISO (SL) and .164 ISO (FA) on the other two pitches, for reference. He has also been running wild lately, with eight steals over his last nine games. He does have a 29.3% K-rate against four-seamers, as well as a 26.3% K-rate against sliders. Some of that alleged “risk” is mitigated by the very poor strikeout rate of Joe Ross, however.

2 Dansby Swanson struggles against changeups (.071 ISO) and strikes out a ton versus them (34%). But he has a .242 ISO and a low 19.0% K-rate against four-seamers. Against sliders he is carrying a .159 ISO and a 24.7% K-rate. With a .195 batting average against sliders, though, he should see a heavy dose of them today.

3 Freddie Freeman is a beast. He smokes four-seam fastballs, with a .307 ISO, .293 batting average, and a 16% strikeout rate. Sliders are probably what he will see more of today, as he has an average .164 ISO and a hefty 32.8% strikeout rate on the pitch (and a .238 BA). For giggles, he has a low 19.4% K-rate on changeups, but no power (.105 ISO). Will Ross bring the changeup out of the woodwork today? Looks like a ton of sliders to Swanson and Freeman, at least based on the numbers. Which could be a good thing, given the struggles of Ross with the SL in 2019.

4 Josh Donaldson has a .337 ISO and 24% K-rate against four-seamers…but a batting average of .221. Against sliders he has a .259 ISO and 27.3% K-rate, and a batting average of .259. Donaldson also struggles with changeups, at least this year. He has an average .162 ISO and a terrible 31% strikeout rate on the pitch, as well as a .135 batting average.

5 Nick Markakis is the best four-seamer hitter on this team, at least in 2019. Slashing .343/.463/.590, he also has a .248 ISO and a minuscule 14.2% strikeout rate on the pitch. A dark horse captain for your Showdown lineups, maybe? He is really solid against sliders too, only striking out 13.9% of the time and slashing .275/.306/.464 with a .188 ISO. He has a 10.1% strikeout rate on changeups, but only a .200/.246/.231 slash with a .031 ISO. Again, maybe Ross brings the change out today? We shall see.

6 Ozzie Albies is solid on the FA, striking out 10.6% with a .250 BA and .229 ISO. Against sliders his K-rate balloons to 23.5% and ISO drops to .113. A healthy .288 batting average, though. He is torturing changeups, with a 12.4% K-rate, .284 BA, and .206 ISO.

7 Brian McCann on the FA has a 17% K-rate, .238 BA, and .213 ISO. Not bad, given that lefties get to Ross more. Against sliders he has a 34.6% K-rate, .304 BA, and .174 ISO. A .462 BABIP, too, which sticks out. For giggles, against changeups he has a 16.0% K-rate, .143 BA, and .000 ISO. Basically, three singles in 21 at-bats. Not much there.

8 Austin Riley is boom-or-bust on all three pitches. Against FA he has a 36.8% K-rate, .254 BA, and .310 ISO. Against sliders it is a 40.8% K-rate, .167 BA, and .208 ISO. Against the changeup, a 47.1% K-rate, .333 BA, and .267 ISO. Maybe hitting 8th in the lineup isn’t such a bad idea, after all. Riley needs a hot streak soon, or he will lose more playing time to the now healthy Ender Inciarte. Or worse, get demoted to Triple-A (man I hope not).

SCRATCH ALL THAT FOR NO. 8, SINCE RILEY ISN’T PLAYING. UGH.

Ender Inciarte gets the 8th spot today, which honestly I can’t be that mad about since it is another lefty hitter against Ross. Inciarte has a 28.3% K-rate and .128 ISO against the FA this year. That is zero homers and a .205 BA, FYI. Against sliders he has a 17.6% K-rate and .031 ISO. He has a .156 BA and zero homers on this pitch. He does well on changeups, however, with a 13% K-rate and .182 ISO…but he has a .136 BA and .111 BABIP on that pitch. Strange. But hey, it is another lefty for Ross to contend with, right?

Summary

Nick Markakis looks like a really flipping good play today. He is quality against four-seamers and sliders, and he is a lefty bat—which is the weaker split for Ross.

I like Albies over McCann if I am searching for another hitter who will bat from the left side. After that it is a pick your poison, though. Freeman struggles a bit more on sliders, especially with that strikeout rate. However, Ross struggles more to lefties and doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters. I am inclined to side with Fab Freddie in this case.

Donaldson would be a tad scary with his strikeout rate, except that Ross doesn’t strike out many hitters. Same deal for Acuña, who literally woke up a week ago and decided he wanted to overtake Christian Yelich for the NL lead in steals. Seriously, I can’t wait to hear about whoever made that bet.

So, if I roll with the power and the speed, AND if I utilize lefties against Ross, I think Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis make the cut. After that it is obviously Acuña, who you would have to be insane to bench. Then it is a matter of price points and which National you decide to weave in—and whether you want a lefty (say, Albies) or righties with pop (Swanson, Donaldson). I think I would prefer Donaldson, Swanson, and Albies, in that order (and not considering price).

No, I am not considering Ender Inciarte today. He will have to show me something first.

As for Nats, I am not entirely certain. Kevin Gausman generates more grounders to lefties and allows more homers to righties, so there’s that. He also strikes righties out less, allows more fly balls, and slightly more hard contact. Anthony Rendon is the obvious play, but there are multiple options for Washington. I will just have to see who fits in when the Nats lineup finally comes out.

Sooooooo….Braves lefties plus Ronald Acuña Jr. That is what the numbers say.

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