A capsule stat-based preview of the Braves-Giants NLDS matchup
Top things to know
The Braves-Giants National League Division Series matchup will feature two of the best pitching squads in the National League. The combination of these elite pitching units and average-to-below average offensive lineups sets this series up to be arguably the lowest-scoring of the four.
The Giants ranked second in the National League in both starters’ ERA (3.54) and relievers’ ERA (2.99), while the Braves were fifth among starters (3.80) and third among bullpens (3.11). Both teams were consistently near the top of the ranks throughout the season, but the Giants’ run at the end of the season could prove to be the difference. During the crucial month of September – in the midst of the postseason meat grinder that became the NL West – the Giants posted a 1.78 ERA, holding batters to a paltry .182 batting average.
The Braves lack of offense is not breaking news, but it’s the lack of power that could be most critical in this series. Both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain posted the highest home run rates of their careers in 2010, making them arguably more susceptible to the homer than they’ve been in previous years.
Unfortunately, the Braves are sorely lacking power. They have the lowest isolated power (.143) and slugging percentage (.401) of any postseason team. Specifically, the team’s two best power sources – Brian McCann and Jason Heyward – have each seen their power go out down the stretch. McCann (2 HR, .326 slug pct) and Heyward (2 HR, .385 slug pct) both struggled in September and October, mirroring the team's season-long lack of power, and one that could spell trouble for the Braves.
Most interesting matchups
Two of the most compelling figures in this matchup are Braves closer Billy Wagner and Giants catcher Buster Posey. In his final season in the majors, Wagner put together arguably his best campaign, posting his highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) mark since 2003. In addition, among those with at least 50 innings pitched in 2010, Wagner ranked second in the National League in strikeout rate at 13.5 K per 9, behind only Carlos Marmol.
Wagner was incredibly dominant versus left-handed batters, limiting them to a .071 batting average – just four hits in 56 at-bats - and a tiny .246 OPS. No home runs. No extra-base hits. Against right-handers, however, Wagner surrendered five home runs in 183 at-bats. That is certainly solid work, but noticeably less than his performance against lefties. This sets up a potential late-inning showdown between the southpaw Wagner and the right-handed Buster Posey. Posey dominated lefties this season, hitting .309/.367/.588 against them, with an OPS increase of over 120 points from his marks against righties. The two have faced each other just once – with Wagner forcing him into a groundout – but the postseason could bring a different result.
While much of the focus on the Giants offense centers around Posey and Aubrey Huff, perhaps the most dynamic player for the Giants was Andres Torres. A journeyman throughout his career, Torres blossomed in 2010 and his overall package made him one of the most valuable players in baseball.
Despite remaining under the radar for much of the season, Torres ranked second among National League outfielders in WAR – behind only Matt Holliday – and ahead of darlings such as Carlos Gonzalez, Jayson Werth and Heyward. A significant portion of that value was derived from his defense. He ranked first among all outfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating, a potential key advantage given the spacious parks at which this series will be played.
The fact that he missed nearly two weeks after undergoing an appendectomy, yet after returning to the lineup still hit two homers in eight games during the heat of a postseason race, is just another checkmark in his favor.
Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats and Info did statistical analysis of the last 10 postseasons, looking for the factors that most separate winning and losing teams. He found three: power hitting, front-end starting pitching and the ability to turn batted balls into outs. Using his findings, he was able to make a projection.
The Giants meet all necessary criteria for a good playoff team. Outstanding front-end starting pitching, the best defensive efficiency in the NL, and decent enough power from their bats. For the Braves-Giants matchup, Larcada's system picks the Giants in four games. He gives the Giants a 58.8 percent chance to win the series overall.