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2019 NLDS Game 1 Pitching Preview

cardinalsgifs on the quite professional looking Game 1 poster (if I may say so myself)

Tara Wellman has already given BotB readers a look at prior series between the Cardinals and the Braves and will take a look at each of the games separately as well in her own way (her game 1 snapshot here). In his own way, Nicholas Childress (typically of the cover art and .gifs variety) has produced his own HYPE VIDEO that you have likely also seen.

For the 2019 post-season, I am attempting to do a pitching preview - in my own way - of each matchup in each game. That will start today with Game 1. The process for this was to look at the last two months of data only (how is the pitcher doing most recently) and come up with what pitches they're throwing, how often, at what velocity, and with what spin rate. Then I took those data and found what the opposition has done against similar pitches (by velo/spin rate) over the past two months. It was a fun, interesting process that I think lends to showing how close this series should be.

The series starts in Atlanta at 4:02 central time on Thursday, October 3rd with a matchup of lefty Dallas Keuchel of the home Atlanta Braves and your St. Louis Cardinals' own righty, Miles Mikolas (#belikemik - click through for the charity drive!).

Dallas Keuchel has only ever faced the Cardinals 3 times, pitching 11 2/3 innings with a WHIP above 1.35 and an ERA above 10. He is 0-2 in those 3 games (only 2 starts), but has a sterling 15:2 K:BB despite giving up 13 earned runs (14 total runs). However, I'm not so much worried about what he has done in the past, even if it is against the Cardinals.

Here is Keuchel's repertoire over the past two months of baseball.

Keuchel's August and September Repertoire

As you, undoubtedly, noticed, for this exercise I lumped together ALL fastballs and I lumped together ALL offspeed pitches, but I decided to split up breaking pitches, keeping curves (both regular and knuckle curves) separate from sliders. That's because curves and slider can look VERY different when it comes to velocity and spin rate, which is something I'm focusing in on.

Keuchel throws a LOT of fastballs, luckily for the Cardinals because they feast on them. Keuchel has held batters to a .327 xwOBA (xwOBA primer) on fastballs in August and September and Cardinals have only hit similar fastballs at a .317 xwOBA in that time. It should be a good primary pitch for him against the birds. However, while his offspeed has a fantastic .248 xWOBA over the past two months, Cardinals hitters have hit similar offspeed pitches for a .441 xwOBA. For reference, a .441 xwOBA is approximately what Christian Yelich did this year to the entire league. Lastly, since Keuchel doesn't throw a curve ball, Keuchel's slider is the opposite of his offspeed. It's been a terrible pitch for him the last two months, getting hit for a .381 xwOBA. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have struggled with sliders like that to the tune of a .228 xwOBA.

All in all, my model would suggest the Cardinals to have a .324 xwOBA (similar to Wilson Ramos, Dexter Fowler, Domingo Santana, Renato Nunez, Evan Longoria, or Paul DeJong in 2019) against Keuchel in this game.

Here is how those three pitches look and play off of each other, thanks to cardinalsgifs.

Keuchel's 3-pitch repertoire.


Miles Mikolas is set to make his playoff debut on Thursday, on the road against the Braves. The Braves are a team Mikolas has faced 4 times, starting 3 of those games. In 20 2/3 innings, Mikolas has just a 1.113 WHIP and a 16:4 K:BB. His 2.61 ERA against them is also top notch. Worrying less about those former stats against the Braves, let's look at his prior two months' repertoire before we look at those results.

Mikolas' 4-pitch repertoire

Mikolas' repertoire is more varied than Keuchel's - and by that I mean he both a) at least shows a 4th offering, and b) throws under 50% FB and over 23% of two other pitches.

Mikolas, I fear, will have to steer clear of using his fastball a lot. He's allowed an xwOBA of .342 over the last two months, while similar fastballs have been creamed for a .389 xwOBA by the Braves hitters. Braves hitters have not seen any similar offspeed pitches to Mikolas' offering, which has a .309 xwOBA allowed over the past two months. Braves hitters have teed off on curves similar to Mikolas' the last 2 months as well, with a .411 xwOBA against it, but Mikolas has kept batters to just a .263. Lastly, while MIkolas' slider has not been as sharp as he'd like over the last two months (.364 xwOBA allowed), Braves hitters have been BAD (.192 xwOBA) against similar sliders - so Mikolas may have to lean on it Thursday.

All in all, my model would suggest the Braves to have a .332 xwOBA (similar to Dan Vogelbach, Joey Votto, Christian Vazquez, or Asdrubal Cabrera in 2019) against Mikolas in this game.

That gives the edge slightly to the Braves in game 1 - especially at home.

Here is how those four pitches look and play off of each other, (again) thanks to cardinalsgifs.

Mikolas' 4-pitch repertoire


With ALL OF THAT being said, in his last 3 starts, Dallas Keuchel has an ERA north of 6; whereas in Mikolas' last 6 starts, he has been quite good with an ERA around 3.5. Mikolas hasn't had great road stats most of the year, but besides his outing in Cincinnati back in August Mikolas really has stepped up his game in his last 10 road starts or so.

I hope you're ready for game 1. This should be fun. I've missed playoff baseball. Time for a great matchup to start the series.

*thank you to Baseball Savant for nearly all of the data used in this article. Thank you to Baseball-Reference for the other portion of the data not from Baseball Savant.


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