Are Braves' whiffs a bad mix versus Dodgers?
The Braves strike out a lot. That's nothing new. But how much will it hurt them in the NLDS against that Dodger rotation?
On Thursday night against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS, the Braves' offense struck out 15 times en route to a 6-1 loss. Bulletin: That's a lot of whiffs.
To be sure, offensive strikeouts aren't as bad as they're generally thought to be. In very specific terms, strikeouts in a vacuum cost the offense -0.31 runs per plate appearance while outs of all flavors cost the offense -.30 runs per plate appearance (source: TangoTiger.net). As you can see, that's a vanishingly small difference.
The larger truth is that as long as you're hitting for power and reaching base via the walk (or posting high BABIPs), then strikeouts aren't the damnable flaw they're cast as. That's why the Braves, despite leading the NL in strikeouts (tied with the Mets, actually) and strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances, were able to rank a respectable fourth in the senior circuit in runs scored. The whiffed a lot, but they topped the NL with 181 homers and ranked second with 542 walks.
All of that, though, was over the course a full 162 games. This is the NLDS, and these are the Dodgers they're facing. Speaking of those Dodgers, the L.A. pitching staff ranked second in the NL in whiffs and first in strikeouts as a percentage of batters faced. That staff also gave up the fourth-fewest homers in the NL and the sixth-fewest walks.
Sure the Braves managed to go 5-2 against the Dodgers in the regular season, but they averaged just 3.9 runs per game across those seven contests. What's also worth noting is that the Braves never faced Kershaw in the regular season. Matt Magill? Sure, twice in fact. But not Kershaw.
The real concern is whether the strikeout tendencies of Atlanta hitters dovetail with the strikeout tendencies of L.A. pitchers in such a way that will keep the Braves from scoring many runs. With Zack Greinke awaiting them in Game 2 and Hyun-Jin Ryu set for Game 3 in Dodger Stadium, it'll get easier (how could it not after Kershaw?), but by no means will it get easy. Will the home runs be there? What about the walks? You know, those things that help the Braves paper over all those strikeouts -- those things that the Dodgers don't allow many of.
Sure, whiffs aren't bad when viewed across the sprawl of a full season, but what about when you run into a team that's as adept at making you miss as you are at, well, missing? That's the question for the Braves after the humbling outcome of Game 1.