May 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
One of the most amazing things about this Braves team is how young it is. Their average age is 27 years old, essentially making this a team in its prime. The cold water here is that the youth isn’t under control for much longer. Brian McCann is eligible for free-agency immediately following this season. Jason Heyward has two more years of control left. Freddie Freeman has three. And Justin Upton has two. Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis, however, do have 5 years left. On the pitching side, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm are adios after 2013. Kris Medlen has 2 more years left. Brandon Beachy has 3. Mike Minor has 4, and Julio Teheran has 5. So while the team is young, the window is currently this season and the next two.
Unless some players are signed to extensions.
Extensions have popular recently as teams look to lock up the prime years of their best players. While the sport is flush with money, teams can make these deals with smaller risk involved, and because of that extra money floating around, free-agent prices are also rising. It makes sense to sign your core players for their best years and avoid free-agency if you can. The Braves, unfortunately, haven’t signed any of their young players to extensions.
Before you start yelling, there are probably several reasons for this. The first reason is that negotiations are a two-way street. The team AND the player have to agree to a deal, and if the player isn’t willing to listen, there isn’t much you can do. The second part is that there is still time left. When you spend tons of money, you’d like to know exactly what you’re getting for that money, but the negative aspect to this is a player having a breakout year – Hi Justin – and putting his price through the roof. The third aspect is the risk involved, and considering the team has the medical reports, they may see something they don’t like. Lastly, it’s simply a lot of money being invested, and it can limit flexibility, hence the innate risk of injury and/or loss of production.
So let’s take a look at some players who might merit extensions.
Brian McCann – Feb 20, 1984
McCann is off to a hot start in 2013, and he seems to be recovered from shoulder surgery, though we’re still waiting to see how durable the shoulder remains. The three players in the above table are three catchers and their contracts that can be used to compare what McCann might get. The age of the three players is from the start of their “free-agent” seasons – the same situation McCann will be in – and the “McCann Years” are the years of the contract that would pertain to McCann.
Buster Posey is the first guy on the list, but he’s not the best comparison. His first FA season would be at 29 – a year earlier than McCann – but his career averages – .313/.382/.505 – are better than any McCann season except for McCann’s 2006. Posey also had a serious injury, but hinge joint injuries are generally easier to recover from than ball-and-socket joint injuries. He also won an MVP.
Montero – .269/.346/.782 – is actually a pretty good comparison to McCann – .279/.351/.476. Montero did enter the free-agent portion of his contract before McCann will, but that and the shoulder surgery can be a reason to cut the deal to 3-4 years instead of 5. But the $12.5M a year average for Montero over 4 years would be $50M, which seems like a fair deal. It’s also a tiny but nominal raise of $500K for McCann.
Molina also seems like a solid comp on the surface. Both 30 at the beginning of the deal, McCann and Molina entered the league at nearly the same time, and they’ve battled for All-Star nominations ever since. Of course, Molina is now a perennial MVP candidate, and McCann hasn’t been that in 2 or 3 seasons. Keeping up his absurd early pace of this season would put him back in that category, but it would take a career year.
My guess is that a fair deal is pretty close to Miguel Montero’s deal and over 4 seasons, making it 4 years/$50 M. That’s certainly affordable, but is it the best McCann could get? There are a few possible free-agent choices next season, but with a healthy and productive season, McCann is easily the class of the position. As many people have noted before, an AL team who could DH him might be more interested in adding money and years. A McCann deal might be based more on McCann simply wanting to stay than anything else.
It’s also fair to ask whether or not the Braves would want to keep him around. By the end of the season, McCann will have caught around 9000 innings as opposed to the 5000 that Montero had entering his contract, and he has a major shoulder surgery on his resume. I love McCann, but the signs don’t look great for the last few years of the contract, despite catchers seeming to age better than believed.
Freddie Freeman – Sept 12, 1989
My love for Freddie Freeman is well-known, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible. He’ll enter 2014 as a 24-year old, and that’s substantially younger than any of the players in the above table. It will be his first year of arbitration, which is later than the signing date of all of these players but Craig. The general trend, however, is pretty clear. For 3 arbitration seasons and a few free-agent seasons, $41-45 million seems to be the going rate.
The main criticism of signing Freeman is that he hasn’t produced over 2 wins of production yet. While that is true, none of these other players are exactly star-caliber first basemen either according to win values, often coming in around 3 wins. The Braves could use that to try and lower the deal under what the others made, but I’m guessing Freeman’s agent would throw Freeman’s age back in their face. To be worth the basically $8M a season over the next 5, Freeman would need to be worth 1.5 wins or so a season, which is something he’s basically done twice. There are not a lot of reasons to think he won’t actually improve upon his production as he gets a little older and gets to his peak, and he’ll likely be worth much more than this contract, which should be expected given the years the contract would cover.
Andrelton Simmons – Sept 4, 1989
I could spend all sorts of time going through the comparables here, but for $2-4 M a season, how exactly is Simmons not worth that? Even if he received Starlin Castro’s $19M for the next 5 seasons, he wouldn’t even have to produce 1 win a season, and he’s already done that this season while hitting .242/.281/.370.
But the issue here is actually the free-agent seasons. Buying out arbitration seasons gives the team cost certainty, but the incentive to making these deals is gaining free-agent seasons. Castro doesn’t compare well because he and Simmons are very dissimilar players – one being an offensive force and the other a defensive one. The other two are much better comps. Andrus was actually younger at this point in his playing career, and his offense – .275/.341/.351 – seems to be a decent idea of what Simmons could be capable of, though I think Simmons has more power. Andrus, of course, will make $15M during his free-agent seasons, but he did sign that (second) contract after actually starting to hit. As a 4-win player, he’s definitely worth it, especially considering his age. Escobar will make $5 and $6 million in his first two free-agent seasons (both options), and he and Simmons are definitely comparable.
Even if the Braves had to essentially split the difference and offer Simmons $9-10 million a free-agent season, it would be hard to argue that Simmons wouldn’t be worth it. His defense is at least on par with Andrus and Escobar, and it may be better. A 7-year/$30-35 million would seem pretty reasonable, and getting the free-agent years as options would be perfect.
Jason Heyward – Aug 9, 1989
The price for Heyward seems about as clear as it is for Freeman. The market seems to think $60-70 million for the last two arbitration seasons and first three free-agent seasons is what it should take. The real issue is that Heyward will be 2 years younger than Jones and 3 years younger than McCutchen and Gonzalez as they reach the same years of control. And if elite free-agents really are drying up, Heyward would reach free-agency as a 25/26-year old ready to make a huge payday.
Carlos Gonzalez’s contract is definitely the largest of the three above examples, but even if it took something along those lines with a few more free-agent seasons at $20M, Heyward would have to produce only about 4 wins during each of those free-agent seasons (maybe less by then) to be worth the contract. If we scale back Heyward’s defensive contributions last year because we don’t think he was +22-runs good, he’s still a 5-win player heading toward his peak. Considering he could be a monster, those $20 million seasons could be a real bargain.
Justin Upton – Aug 25, 1987
Upton is off to an amazing start to the season, so while right now may not be the best time to talk to him, he’s still a guy the Braves could look to extend past his current contract. He’s owed about $29M over the next two seasons, and it may take a contract that has $20+M seasons to keep him in Atlanta. With teams paying a lot for power, Upton will likely need years close to $25M to consider staying in Atlanta because he’ll still reach free-agency at age as a 28-year old.
Is $25 million reasonable for a player of Upton’s caliber? I suppose it depends on how you view him. He is, of course, having a fantastic season and seems to be the 6+-win player we were hoping for, and if he is that, $25M is a bargain, especially considering free-agent prices aren’t likely to decrease anytime soon. Anything closer to $30M, while a reasonable request if Upton goes nuts over the next 3 seasons, is probably too much for a team with a modest payroll.
Evan Gattis – Aug 18, 1986
Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll go ahead and cut it off. No. No. No. The reason for extensions is to cover free-agent seasons, and there’s no reason to worry about paying a guy for his age-33+ seasons.
Each of these scenarios is to be looked at in an isolated manner. They are simply looking at each player individually to see what a contract with him might require, and I’ll take a look at how the possible extensions could interact in a later post. We’ll worry about picking-and-choosing then. Remember, these are just comparisons. Teams and agents will have a different idea of who the player compares to and how much they should be paid. It’s part of the business. It also requires that both sides are willing to talk about a deal, and it could be the team or the player holding up a deal. Again, we’re just trying to get an idea of what it might take to sign these players, and a shift in how much money is available – specifically the new TV deals that kick in next year – could raise some of these prices, though it would also likely increase the Braves’ budget.
May 23, 2013 at 9:10 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
After sweeping their second series in a row, the Braves are off today before heading to New York for the weekend. Pitching matchups for the weekend series are expected to be Medlen v. Hefner (7:10), Minor v. Gee (7:15, FOX), Teheran v. Marcum (8:00, ESPN). They’ll miss Matt Harvey for the second time this year.
#Gattitude was in full effect again yesterday, taking a 3-0, belt-high, fastball the other way for a grand slam, which essentially put the game out of reach. What can you say besides just keep enjoying the ride. BJ Upton also took Worley deep for his first HR is just under a month. Maholm pitched well again against the Twins B lineup giving up 1R (0ER), in 7 1/3 innings.
Cory Rasmus also made his debut yesterday. The two home runs made the line look a little ugly, but aside from that, he gave up 1 walk, striking out 3, in 1 2/3 innings of work. Both pitches were actually right over the inside corner of the plate, but being a RHP without an over powering fastball, it is hard to sneak those two pitches inside to left-handed batters, especially behind in the count.
Brandon Beachy will make his first minor league rehab start in Gwinnett Sunday. The plan is for him to throw 45 pitches, mostly working on his command of all pitches. Being a triple-A game we should actually be able to get a decent scouting report of how he looks. Just to reiterate, it’s amazing that the Braves have made it this far with only five starters, something only three other teams have done (201 pitchers have started a game this season, or 6.7 starters/team).
Keith Law’s weekly podcast, Behind The Dish, featured Braves assistant GM John Coppolella this past week. They mostly talked about the bullpen and the teams’ plan moving forward. Coppolella is great because he ties in being a scout with his great appreciation for advanced stats. This is one of the reasons his name has been brought up for future vacant GM positions, something Law also discusses.
*Please use the following tid bit of information responsibly* Coolstandings.com currently has the Braves chances of making the playoffs at 90.3%, the highest in the league.
May 22, 2013 at 11:01 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Paul Maholm .202 WPA
LVP: Freddie Freeman -.141 WPA
Home Sweeps Home.
12:10 PM on Sports South
Pitching in the Big Boy League hasn’t been fortuitous for Vance Worley. A solid pitcher in the NL, Worley’s K rate has dropped to 10% while having a 6% walk rate, and considering the average difference between these two is usually 8%, we have a problem. Then add in the fact that Worley’s HR/FB is currently 12%. Ew. Worley isn’t going to overwhelm you. He’ll sink it and cut it, and he’ll add in a slider. His change-up and curveball are there to give batters something else to think about, but as you can see by the heat maps, they’re mainly “get me over” pitches. He’ll throw mainly fastballs, which probably isn’t a good thing for him against this lineup (though Justin Upton isn’t in it).
Paul Maholm is back on the mound today. This is what Paul Maholm is – a solid control pitcher who has enough stuff to be above-average but not dominant. He’ll have the occasional moments of brilliance, but his below-average K rate (19%) leaves him subject to BABiP whims that will also give him the occasional frustrating start. Overall this season, his FIP has been 3.70 along with his 3.83 ERA, so this is who he is. The lineup helping him out today is a little less than spectacular, but it should be enough.
May 22, 2013 at 8:48 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
The magic of #gattitude(tm) rolled on last night, as he hit a dramatic game tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that allowed Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to eventually win the game in extras. To say Gattis is something of a folk hero would probably be an understatement at this point in time. His performance in key situations, predictive of future success or not, has been incredible. If he never played another inning, he’d have already given the Braves many times more value than they ever paid for him.
What’s allowed Gattis to thrive in these late game situations? Well, first and foremost his incredible power. That goes without saying, but I do feel the need to specify that regardless of what I’m about to say as to how it’s happening, the first, and main ingredient is incredible power. I still don’t know that I’d put it at 80, which would mean he’s got the best power in the game of baseball, but I’d probably move my original assessment of 65 up to 70 power, at least.
Next, something that has allowed Gattis to thrive in these late game situations is very similar to what allowed him to thrive so much early in the season, and what led him to struggle as a starter for the month after he hit the legendary neck high fastball homerun off Strasburg. Gattis is very feast or famine. In particular he destroys fastballs on the inner half, and he’s pretty bad with anything on the outer half. A starting pitcher is much more likely to look over the scouting report of the starters and figure out how to most efficiently dissect them. A reliever probably has neither a clue what the scouting report is for a pinch hitter, nor does he typically care, because he believes his stuff can overpower anybody.
Let’s look at the numbers with Gattis, so it doesn’t seem as if I’m narrative spitballing here:
Gattis Inner Half:
Gattis Outer Half:
As we see, he’s Babe Ruth on the inside and maybe, I don’t know, a bad version of Juan Francisco on the outer half.
While we’re probably 170 or so plate appearances away from much of an idea of whether or not Gattis will be able to adjust to starting pitchers who just kill him with pitches on the outer half, I think we do have some reason to believe that he can be a very valuable weapon in pinch hitting situations against relievers who think they can overpower him.
May 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Julio Teheran was incredible last night, Taking a shutout into the 9th inning, before giving up a solo shot, for a still mighty impressive 8 1/3 innings of 1 run ball. He didn’t fan a lot of people, but he control was outstanding, and he kept 94 MPH velocity into the 9th. He did this while these were the three changeups he threw:
Which makes the issue of his changeup even more problematic, he was good while his historically best pitch was terrible. What does he do with it?
Julio has thrown very few changeups this season, 35 to be exact, and they’ve by and large been awful when he has. From various quotes, it seems to be an issue where most all parties agree that the pitch just isn’t there right now. He went through a grip change, and briefly flashed a decent-good changeup a few times when McCann was catching him with a 3 run lead, but he then threw three awful changeups with Laird last night that weren’t even competitive and abandoned the pitch. Julio isn’t happy with the pitch right now and clearly doesn’t want to throw it, the catchers seem fine to oblige him on that point, and there isn’t any pressure from Roger McDowell or Fredi Gonzalez for him to throw more of them.
Let’s see just how bad the changeup has been:
Here is the location of it:
We see it’s not nibbled just outside the zone a whole lot. It’s either sat in the zone or been way outside, for the most part. But perhaps that bottom 1/9 of the zone is fine enough location. Maybe hitters are taking the pitch or they’re not able to handle it there.
Next let’s look at swing rate:
Well, basically hitters are always swinging at it when it’s in the zone, and they’re taking it when it’s outside. Maybe they’re missing with some of those swings then?
Here is the contact rate for the pitch:
Well, they’re not missing it much when it’s in the zone. Maybe they’re making weak contact?
Here is the in play ISO graph for the pitch:
So, yeah, they’re pretty much destroying it when it’s in the zone.
You can probably guess this doesn’t add up very well for Julio’s Changeup, and, well, it doesn’t:
Hitters have a .578 wOBA on the pitch. That’s essentially like if Barry Bonds, in his most ultimate peak years, got to come to plate every time Julio threw the changeup. Actually, Barry never even had a .578 wOBA, and Babe Ruth only bested that number once. Essentially he’s throwing a lot of balls with the pitch, and when he throws it for strikes it is getting crushed.
It’s a bit understandable that they’re avoiding the pitch. This, after all, is the big leagues, and the games, well they sort of count for something. It’s a doubly frustrating catch-22, because the changeup is the ultimate ‘feel pitch’ and you have to throw it a lot for it to be any good, but Teheran, and the rest of the team, clearly seem to believe that he can’t risk throwing it as anything more than a show pitch in real game action. They’ve tried to coddle the pitch along and throw it in a few spots here and there when there’s little risk for danger, but it’s clear that isn’t really enough to get the pitch back to where it was, when it was once considered his far and away best pitch, and one of the best pitches that any prospect in all of baseball possessed. Most pitchers believe that you need to throw the changeup somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 times per game for it to be effective. Not only is Julio not throwing it anywhere near that much, but when he does throw it, much of the time he’s not even trying to throw it near the strike zone, and thus it’s unclear whether that helps at all, or perhaps it even hinders the development of the pitch.
I think at this point Teheran has pitched too well to consider sending him to AAA to work on the pitch when Beachy comes back, and such a move may be devastating to his confidence. Moving to the bullpen would cause him to use the pitch even less, and would only serve to exacerbate the issue. It’s clear that neither Julio nor the Braves’ brass seem to believe that working on the pitch in live game action is a viable option, and this flirtation and bullpen workouts of the pitch clearly aren’t doing much of anything. It’s a problem with no easy answers. Can Julio be a great MLB pitcher without the pitch over the long term? I don’t really think so. His fastball is good, but neither of his breaking pitches are world beaters. He could be a 4th starter without the pitch over the long haul, but nobody wants Julio Teheran to just be a 4th starter, even if team controlled 4th starters are valuable. Anything less than a good 3rd starter would likely be viewed as a massive failure of his potential.
If Teheran had been bad, this wouldn’t be an issue, as we’d just be counting the days until we could send him down to AAA when Beachy came back. However, as is, it’s a bit of a quandary. Hopefully Wren, McDowell and Fredi see a clearer solution than I do.
May 21, 2013 at 9:00 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
The Braves won their fourth game in a row last night, beating the Twins 5-1. They’ll continue their three game series tonight (Pelfrey v. Hudson, 7:10) before finishing up with a day game Wednesday (Worley v. Maholm, 12:10).
Julio Teheran was the big story last night, going 8 1/3 innings giving up 5 H, 1ER, 1BB with 4K. He threw a career high 123 pitches (80 strikes) and was able to keep his velocity up into the ninth. Even with some shaky command at times, Teheran has been able to keep his BB% under control this season, currently sitting at 4.2%. Overall, it was a great performance by Teheran, the best in his young MLB career. He proved he could work through the order multiple times while keeping the velocity and control intact.
Last night, Cory Gearrin became the first reliever other than Craig Kimbrel to record a save in 2013. So far, he’s posted a 0.90 ERA with a 3.48 FIP/3.69 xFIP in 20 innings. Obviously, Gearrin’s presence will be huge, and he may be more relied upon to get opposite-handed hitters out, who are currently only 2-for-27 against him this season. It is hard to expect him to be getting lefties out with this type of success, but if he can continue to work in a decent change up, you could see him as more than a right-handed specialist in the future.
Eric O’Flaherty will undergo TJ surgery today. Michael Baumann had a piece on Grantland bringing up the ongoing question about whether Fredi Gonzalez can be blamed for Venters’ and O’Flaherty’s injuries. Big picture, I believe they are two different cases. Venters threw back-to-back 80 inning seasons after previously having TJ surgery. O’Flaherty, on the other hand, has only had one season during his career where he’s exceeded 60 innings.
In somewhat good news, Jordan Walden says his shoulder if feeling better and hopes to return when eligible, next Monday.
This actually went up last week (insider only), but Keith Law released his first mock draft for the 2013 Draft (June 6). With the 31st pick this year, Law suggested the Braves could target right-handed SS Tim Anderson from East Central CC. Reports see Anderson as a quick, toolsy player who won’t hit for much power (I’m sure if you bother Ethan enough he’d give you a more in-depth take). I wouldn’t get too attached to anything that comes out linking a player to a team, especially with the later first/supplemental round picks like the Braves have.
May 20, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Julio Teheran .198 WPA, Dan Uggla .194
LVP: Gerald Laird -.042
Fredi the Tinkerer.
7:10 PM on Sports South
Twins ISO Maps
The Twins don’t have a fearsome lineup. Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and Aaron Hicks from the left side are nothing to fear. Joe Mauer is an excellent hitter with a high OBP, but he won’t put up a lot of power numbers. Justin Morneau hasn’t been the same for a few years now, and he no longer really strikes fear into anyone. Josh Willingham is the big power threat, but he’s less dangerous against righties. Trevor Plouffe has some pop, but he’s not really a scary hitter. And Chris Parmelee is a decent-ish hitter who isn’t hitting at the moment. So the big bats are right-handed, and the Braves will have to try to avoid letting Mauer on too much.
Kevin Correia’s value is intensely tied to his ability/inability to prevent home runs (or random variation in home runs against, whichever you prefer to believe), and ironically, he’s facing a team whose offensive value is tied to the home run as well. Correia won’t strike out a lot of batters – 10% this season and 15% for his career – and he won’t walk many, either – 4% this season and 8% career. But his home run rate has wavered from well-below average rates in the 6-9% HR/FB range to the 12-14% range, and it’s 9% this season, giving him an acceptable 4.17 FIP. For his career, of course, his rate is almost perfectly average – 10.7% – and I’d expect he’ll head that way eventually. Tonight would be a logical place to start.
Coming off a sweep of the Dodgers, the Braves send Julio Teheran to the hill, and with Gerald Laird catching this one, expect the change-ups to disappear again. The Twins, however, aren’t the best team in the majors, and their offense is predicated on Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, and Justin Morneau hitting. If Teheran can get through that – change-ups would help – he should be okay in this one, and the Braves could find themselves looking at another sweep. They need to take at least 2 of 3 in this series.