The Braves beat the Pirates Tuesday night, 6-1, as their newly acquired starting pitcher, Kevin Gausman, pitched another terrific game. Gausman went 8 innings, gave up 4 hits and no runs with 5 strikeouts. It continues a trend. Since he was acquired at the trade deadline, Gausman has pitched 27 innings, posted 2.00 ERA, a 3.16 FIP, and a .239 OBA against.
Simply put, Gausman has been everything Atlanta hoped for, and more.
But it wasn’t just happenstance. Gausman was a calculated upgrade for the Braves, who were also rumored to be in on Chris Archer at the deadline. Archer wound up with the Pirates for a significant cost while Alex Anthopoulos and his team grabbed Gausman for relatively cheap. But Gausman’s profile, and how that profile matched what Atlanta already had, surely helped Atlanta decide it wasn’t worth the price to pony up for Archer. Not when that profile could provide some hidden value.
If you don’t know what I mean, here’s Gausman’s 2018 batted ball profile:
2018: GB% 47.6% FB% 31.6%
And since he’s gotten to Atlanta, those numbers have actually improved:
with ATL - GB% 50.7% FB% 26%
Gausman is heavy ground ball pitcher and while that’s always been a valuable trait, it’s especially valuable in an age when every hitter is trying to lift and separate. The best thing for a pitcher is no contact. The second best thing for a pitcher is contact on top of the ball. Grounders have trouble leaving the park.
Now here’s the defensive numbers for Atlanta’s infield:
SS Dansby Swanson: DRS +7 UZR +3.0
2B Ozzie Albies: DRS +4 UZR +3.8
3B Johan Camargo DRS +5 UZR +3.3
1B Freddie Freeman DRS +8 UZR +6.6
The Braves boast an elite infield defense. It’s not terribly surprising considering Swanson, Albies, and Camargo all came up as shortstops but even Freeman is elite at his position defensively. Combine that with a significant, team-wide increase in defensive shifts and the Braves are a team where ground balls turn into outs. It’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve exceeded expectations this year. They play incredible defense on the dirt. (Do pretty well in the grass too)
So when you have a team who excels on the infield, pitchers who consistently get the ball on the ground have an increased value to your team, more than they would elsewhere. And that extra value was very important to Alex Anthopoulos and his team.
You see, the Braves were in a bit of a difficult spot this year at the deadline. They had spent a significant amount of their payroll to facilitate the Matt Kemp trade earlier this year. They basically took on a large amount of extra salary this year to free up space next year, with the idea that 2018 would be the last year of the rebuild and 2019 would be “their year.” But a funny thing happened along the way. They started winning. A lot. Their young players were contributing more than anyone could have anticipated, guys like Mike Foltynewicz took big steps forward, Freedie Freeman was still awesome, and Nick Markakis decided to have a career year. Basically the Braves were good. A year ahead of schedule.
So Anthopoulos came to the deadline with a desire to improve a playoff contender but with the financial restrictions left over from their off-season plan. Combined with the fact that they had no interest in spending their prospect capital on rentals, the question on how to improve the club was tough to answer. At least without giving up a massive prospect hauls.
The Braves found a way to add value to their team by trading into their strength. And it wasn’t just with Gausman. The Braves added LH reliever Jonny Venters from the Rays. Venters this year has a GB rate of 70.5%. They also added reliever Brad Brach from the Orioles. Brach this year has a GB rate of 49.4%.
In last night’s game, Venters and Brach were called to pitch the last two innings with a one run lead. They promptly came in and got the 6 outs necessary to save the game. 4 of those outs were groundball outs, including one in the 9th from Venters were Swanson made a great play. It was literally this article in a nutshell.
At a time when they needed to be creative in how to improve their team, the Braves went out and found guys who, a.) didn’t cost much (just international slot money for the two RPs) and b.) added real value to their team. And they did it by complimenting strength with strength. Even some of their young pitchers, sitting at AAA, waiting for their shot like Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson boast ground ball heavy profiles. They probably can’t wait to come up and pitch in front of this infield.
Gausman, Venters, and Brach weren’t the biggest names moved. They weren’t Chris Archer, or Brad Hand, or Zack Britton. But I would argue Atlanta did as good job as any team of identifying what they do well, and using it to find extra value at a time when extra value was needed. The Braves are in first place in the East and so far, the results speak for themselves. But regardless of what happens from this point, in this situation, it’s the process we need to appreciate. Because Atlanta nailed it.