Kris Medlen is doing everything he can to make sure the Braves win at least one out of every five games. His 13 Ks were the most a Braves starters has had against a first-place team since John Smoltz struck out 13 Padres on April 14, 1996. As mentioned repeatedly on the telecast, his eight called strike threes were the most of any pitcher this year. Unfortunately, a Bryce Harper homer forced Medlen to leave the game tied at one after seven.
The Braves scored their first run on an Andrelton Simmons sacrifice fly, which brought in Freddie Freeman after his leadoff double. This was after the Braves squandered two RISP opportunities with multiple chances against Ross Detwiler. The offense was quite until the ninth, when Simmons got an infield single, followed by a Michael Bourn bloop hit. Tyler Pastornicky pinch-hit and tapped a ball to Ian Desmond, who missed horribly on the throw home to allow Simmons to score the winning run.
The Braves have managed to make this look like a skill, not recording an RBI hit with a runner on base since Sunday. Coming into tonight’s game, their RISP wRC+ was 86, below the league average figure of 95. High-leverage situations have been more kind, coming in just a point below average. In the RISP category, only Bourn, Chipper Jones, and Dan Uggla have managed above-average production on the year. As you can see, there really isn’t any common denominator in those three approaches, so I don’t think a certain type of hitter will have a better chance to be clutch.
One thing that could be hurting the cause is the intensified focus to not strike out. While not putting the ball in play with RISP is usually a cardinal sin of hitting, breaking down your swing to do so defeats the purpose. Most of the Braves hitters have a lower K rate in these situations, but they have the second-worst team BABIP (.268) in the majors. Of the regulars, only Bourn and Uggla have a higher RISP BABIP than total BABIP. The team power is also down in those situations, only posting a 8.6% HR/FB% compared to their full-season 11.2% figure. Balls like Pastornicky’s tonight do not get the job done 99% of the time, so the Braves hitters need to keep their normal approach even when “the book” says to make contact at all costs. If that different approach worked better, a hitter would use it all the time.
It is really hard to believe that the Braves have won 19 more games than they’ve lost with such poor clutch capabilities. The cynicism running through my brain when they get two on with no outs is startling, always expecting the worst possible outcome. Thankfully, clutch hitting has generally been a very fickle stat, showing little to no sustainability over time, meaning the Braves could suddenly become Francisco Cabrera the rest of the season.