The Nationals picked Dan Haren to be their number four starter for one very
important reason. The Atlanta Braves last season were full of left handed
batters and if a team wanted to beat them they had a better chance with a lefty
on the mound. Against left handed starting pitching the Braves hit
.241/.305/.363 compared to .251/.329/.405 against right handed starting
pitching. Because of having Haren fourth the Nats will have Detwiler,
Strasburg, and Gonzalez pitching against the Braves, and while this would have
been a good strategy last season it may not be so in 2013.
In five 2012 starts against the Braves
last season Ross Detwiler was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA with the Nats winning three
out of five. In 2012 Gio Gonzalez was not as good as Detwiler against the
Braves with a final record of 2-2 with a 4.57 ERA. Add in Lannan’s start
against the Braves and the Nats were 6-4 against the Braves with a lefty on the
mound. Think for a second about the Braves 2012 line-up. Michael Bourn for his
career has a .642 OPS against left handers, Jason Heyward .665, Freddie Freeman
.718, Brian McCann .756, and while Chipper Jones has a career .889 OPS as
a right handed batter against lefties it is far worse than his career .947 OPS
as a lefty against righties.
Michael Bourn is gone to free agency
and has been replaced by right handed hitting BJ Upton who for his career has a
.798 OPS against left handers. Chipper Jones may have been a worse hitter
against left handers but even the weaker side of Chipper Jones is better than
any side of Chris Johnson. The player taking Jones’ spot in the Braves line-up
is Justin Upton who is off to a blazing start with six homeruns in nine games.
That will slow down, but for his career Justin Upton has an OPS of .900 against
left handed pitchers. Replacing the injured McCann is the right handed power
hitting catcher Evan Gattis. Gattis has an interesting back story and while he
is a story to root for, a right handed hitter with an 1.266 OPS in his first 25
MLB plate appearances and .920 OPS over five minor league seasons is not
a pleasant sight for Nats left handed pitchers.
The Braves off-season was spent
rebuilding their line-up to not just replace what they lost in Bourn, Jones,
and Prado, but to make it more lefty proof. In 2012 the Braves were 30-31
against left handed starting pitching and 64-37 against right handers.
Improving their overall record against left handed pitching is the quickest way
for the Braves to improve their overall record. The Nationals took advantage of
the Braves weakness against left handers last season. Detwiler faced the Braves
five times, Gio four, Lannan was called up to specifically face the Braves. In
ten out of eighteen games the Nationals had a left hander on the mound, and in
five of the other eight games the Nats threw Strasburg against the Braves. In
total in fifteen of eighteen games the Nationals either had a left hander or
Stephen Strasburg pitching against the Braves.
Davey Johnson has set up this series
to be Detwiler, Strasburg, and Gonzalez, but the Braves may not be as weak
against left handed pitching in 2013 as they were in 2012. It is hard to call
this a mistake as last season’s stats and this past Spring Training show
Detwiler to be the Nats fourth best pitcher, and against a division opponent
having the best available on the mound is always desired. The outcome will be
determined by the players, but whereas in 2012 the stats would have been on the
Nats side they may not be in 2013. The additions of Upton, Upton, and the
emergence of Gattis make the Braves much more lefty proof in 2013 than they
were in 2012.
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