May 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
While most of the talk is about Craig Kimbrel’s struggles in the ninth inning over the past week — which I also opined on yesterday at RotoGraphs – there should also be some cause for concern with Eric O’Flaherty.
This is O’Flaherty’s final season before free agency, which most likely means it is his final season with the Braves. Much like Brian McCann, O’Flaherty’s position is not necessarily a position of need and the team will want to fill his spot with a cheaper and younger player. The sooner it is understood that O’Flaherty will be gone, the easier it will be for you to cope with if you are the kind of person who has difficulty watching players leave. It will happen, so let’s move on from that.
The problem with O’Flaherty hitting free agency, is that his strikeouts are dropping at a rapid rate and his velocity has dipped down to 90mph from his peak of right at 92mph. Is that a huge, fearful drop? Not quite, but I can assure teams have access to his velocity readings and the fact that it is continually dropping along with his strikeout rate (22.3% rate in 2011, 20% in 2012, 15.5% in 2013) will be a big caution sign for potential users of his services.
What it means for the Braves is that we probably should not expect O’Flaherty to bounce back with quite the same level of confidence that we have in Kimbrel. If I had to estimate, I think O’Flaherty’s ERA will only rise from its current level of 2.40 rather than drop — which is considerable when you look at his 0.98 and 1.73 marks from the past few years. He still gets himself a lot of ground balls which should lead to a better ERA than FIP and xFIP, but I doubt we see the O’Flaherty we saw for the past two seasons going forward. It would certainly be great to have that type of performance, but given his weakened velocity and lowered strikeout rate, I am not very confident in that happening.
May 3, 2013 at 9:50 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Yes, there are a number of signs. The first being that he has the highest BABIP in the National League. The second being that his strikeout rate, which was under his career averages about a week ago at roughly 17 percent, has jumped back up right near his career rate. He does not walk at all and he is striking out in just under a quarter of his plate appearances. It is extremely unlikely that a player can sustain a wRC+ near Johnson’s level of 145 with those factors, especially since his power is far from prestigious. He is essentially relying on 45% of the balls he makes contact with to land in for hits. With a high career BABIP of .354, he still should be able to produce a decent amount when his BABIP comes back down, but his numbers will look a lot more like last year’s than this year’s if that occurs. Couple that in with very bad defense, and you get a slightly above replacement level player. That is what we should expect for Johnson going forward. The solution? Play Juan Francisco more. They have the same career WAR and Francisco has about one third of the plate appearances.
It is mostly bad luck. He has a .164 BABIP. This is the time of year when you really have to look at that number and you can tell why a player is performing well or poorly. Much like Johnson, it is just the placement of the batted balls. His line drive rate is about 4% lower than it was last year, so there are probably some mechanical issues that he and the hitting coaches are working on. This is his first time seeing these pitchers also, so he may be a guy who needs some time to adapt to the league. I do not love relying on that excuse, but it probably is a small factor in his struggles. That, combined with the small mechanical issues and the terrible luck he has received are the biggest reasons. His BABIP is the lowest in the National League. He has never had a BABIP lower than .290 and his career rate is .318. He will be fine, it just the ebb and flow of the baseball season.
I suppose my answer really revolves around what exactly you mean by concerned. First, I don’t think Minor has looked awful at any point. He had a rough outing in Detroit but he was pitching very well until his final inning — even with the early home run he allowed. Second, in relation to expectations, I am probably more concerned about Kris Medlen than anyone else. I expected Julio Teheran to have this type of season. I was pretty emphatic about expecting him to have mostly awful and great starts with very few in between. That is pretty much what we have got from him so far. I am concerned each start he goes out, so if the question has all five on an even plateau then he would be my answer. But again, in relation to expected performance, Medlen has to be the answer here. His strikeouts are down about eight percent in an April that featured the most strikeouts in the history of baseball. His walk rate has jumped up too, which is even more of a concern for me. It is not high by any means at 7.2%, but if he is going to be the elite pitcher we saw last year then he needs to be around 5%. If not, he will be the guy we have seen so far this year. That is a solid starter but far from a Cy Young candidate.
To me, this isn’t an issue that can be looked at on the macro level. As a whole, strikeouts are not an issue, as the team has had incredible offensive performance and the likelihood of the hot hitters fading and the cold hitters heating up will probably keep the offense at a similar level for the foreseeable future. This is a factor that must be looked at on an individual basis. For certain players, such as B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla who are striking out over 30% of the time while having never reached a total that high before in a full season, there is a bit of concern. Both are streaky type hitters though, so the expectancy is that those strikeouts will drop down a bit with a hot couple of weeks and be back down to their career norms. I would say Uggla’s are the most concerning of any regular though. He usually hits well when he strikes out at a higher rate, but 35% is very high for a guy who has sat around 23% for his career. Other than those two, and it must be understood that for their careers and positions that those two have been very good offensive players and that will likely be the case going forward, I do not see anyone to be too worried about in regards to strikeouts. Juan Francisco has an absurd rate, but he always has and likely always will. He is a true two outcome guy and while that is not incredibly valuable, he does have a hard enough swing to sustain high BABIP’s and hold an OBP high enough to sustain a solid overall offensive performance relative to league average for third basemen. As long as the team hits homers and walks, the strikeouts will not be an issue. I would rather see them start to bump up their walk rates and keep their strikeout rate as is than drop the strikeout rate and leave the walk rate as is.
April 30, 2013 at 12:39 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
There has long been an argument in the sabermetric community about how to properly use a team’s best relief pitcher. The common belief is to utilize that pitcher in the closer role, as the Yankees have done with Mariano Rivera and the Braves with Craig Kimbrel and virtually every team for the past 20+ years. Now, Jordan Walden is not the Braves’ best relief pitcher. He probably isn’t even the second best, and arguably not the third when Jonny Venters is healthy. Even so, the way Fredi Gonzalez has been utilizing the powerful right-hander over the past week is extremely encouraging.
By this, I mean Fredi’s willingness to use Walden in the middle of innings, for more than three outs, and not in any set inning. Being able to bring in a Walden in the sixth inning with two men on base is something very few teams are capable of, and seldom utilized even when this type of reliever is rostered. This was the second time in as many outings that Walden was used for five outs, which is great to see as Fredi has traditionally used his set-up men in one inning stints in specific innings throughout the season. Will Fredi go back to utilizing Walden that way for part of the season? Quite possibly. But the performance Walden has sustained so far has pushed Fredi to use him as is and we can only hope that Walden is able to stay healthy and Fredi utilizes him in this manner.
The Braves’ bullpen is already the best in the game, but adding in higher quality utilization of the back-end arms makes the bullpen even better. There have and will be many reasons to complain about Fredi over the past few years, but if he continues to use Walden as a bullpen ace and not just a sixth, seventh, or eighth inning guy I believe it will be one of the better managing decisions we have seen from Gonzalez to date.
February 28, 2013 at 11:32 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Last night I recorded a podcast with Brett Talley of The Fantasy Fix. I know a lot of our readers are fantasy players and it is a huge passion of mine as well. The podcast is very Braves-centric, or else I wouldnt’ be posting the link here. Check it out if you want to hear my analysis of Braves players from a fantasy perspective and some other things, like Jennifer Lawrence and car chases.
February 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Prior to yesterday’s home run, a name seldom heard this spring — at least compared to last year — has been that of Joey Terdoslavich’s. This time last season, he was trying to make a defensive transition to hopefully be able to be the heir apparent at third base for Chipper Jones. The struggles he had both offensively and defensively are well documented, and the lack of success Terdoslavich had in the transition caused him to be kind of a forgotten man. I have never been as high on Terdoslavich as most, but I have always viewed him as a legitimate role player on this team down the line. With the current construction of the roster, he looks like the best player to fill the team’s final bench spot.
He would have to be added to the 40-man roster, which the Braves have room to do regardless, so that issue does not seem to be too worrisome if he plays well enough to earn the spot. In being a switch-hitter and a primary first baseman, he fills two holes the Braves currently have on the bench. The first would be left-handed bat off the bench, which is a pretty important role over the course of the season. The other is backup first baseman, as Chris Johnson is the likely favorite or potentially Ernesto Mejia — I would be vying for Mejia if he were left-handed. Terdoslavich is no gold glover at first, but he is certainly better than Johnson defensively, at least at his accustomed position.
Terdoslavich could also be used in the outfield a bit if the team suffers injuries at the corners. As it currently plays out, the Braves would be forced to play Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer, Jose Constanza, or potentially Todd Cunningham against right-handed pitchers if Heyward or Upton were to be injured. With how much the offense should rely on those two players, getting at least close to replacement level offense is vital. It is doubtful that any of the four aforementioned outfielders would be able to do that for any legitimate stretch, but it seems reasonable to expect Terdoslavich to be the best hitter of the bunch against righties. The defense would not be as adequate, but if the team is looking for offense from a corner he looks like the next best bet.
I am not suddenly bullish on Terdoslavich — and especially not just because he hit a home run yesterday — but it just seems like his overall skill set fits with what the Braves need from him at this point. With his failure in transitioning to third base and the Braves acquisition of Justin Upton, there is no spot for Terdoslavich to find regular playing time at in the next three years. The Braves have made it clear that they do not see him as a starter at left field, right field, or first base with how they have constructed their roster, so it is time to put his skills to best use and make him one of the team’s more flexible bench options.
February 21, 2013 at 9:01 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
@Hipp0Toddamus: How can the Braves best utilize the DH spot in road games at AL parks this year?
I think there will be a variety of ways to tackle this, with the most likely being using it to give guys days off. I imagine against lefties that Reed Johnson finds his way into the lineup and one of the outfielders gets slotted in the DH spot, and against righties the Braves try and find a day for McCann to get some rest and also use Chris Johnson pretty regularly. If Gattis can really rake and makes the roster as a reserve, he would be a solid guy to use in the DH spot throughout the year as well. The Braves have two solid DH types at third base already, and with how regularly they will be playing in the platoon they will likely participate in, I would bet on one of those two leading the team in starts at DH by the end of the year.
@pharmongsu: Why shouldn’t BJ Upton lead off vs. LHP?
For his career, B.J. has a .260/.365/.433 line against left-handed pitching, good for a 119 wRC+ overall. He is definitely one of the team’s top hitters against left-handed pitching, and I think leading him off against southpaws is a great idea. The likelihood if it actually happening seems low at this point, as the team seems to really want to go with Simmons in the leadoff spot and for some reason they act as if this is one spot that is not good to rotate. Having him bat fifth against southpaws is still a good deal, and I imagine he will be driving in his brother pretty often in games against lefties.
@jbrundage: do you think the new added big bats will take pressure off of Uggla and he won’t struggle as much this season at the plate?
Over at CAC, the mental aspect of the game and “pressure” are things we try and avoid. Not that we don’t think they are a factor, but it is impossible to quantify and the analysis usually seems highly speculative. With that said, I do feel that Uggla could surprise us this year. He will be hitting seventh at the start of the year, and I doubt many teams will have a number seven hitter as good as Uggla. While his two years in Atlanta have been lackluster compared to expectations and compared to his performance in his final year in Florida, he still has posted consecutive years with a wRC+ above 100. His ISO dropping to .164 is not something to expect, but his walk rate will likely take a little dip back closer to his career rate as well. I think expecting a year like he had in 2007, when he hit .245/.326/.479 with a 105 wRC+ is reasonable to expect. The slugging percentage will probably be lower, something like .450 or so, but mid 20′s home runs and a decent OBP at the bottom of the lineup could be a huge part of the team’s offensive success. I think when people will look back on the year if he does perform at that level, they will state that the pressure of having a new set of right-handed hitters hitting higher in the order took the pressure off, but the more likely reason would be a regression back closer to his career norms.
@Harrisnye: Is Simmons already the best defensive SS in baseball or is that a ceiling he hasn’t actually reached yet?
I think by the end of the year, he will certainly have an argument for it. His arm is comparable to any of the game’s top shortstops, but I don’t think it is fair to Brendan Ryan to say that anyone is better than him at this point. Over the past four years, Ryan has averaged 22 defensive runs saved. Defensive stats are not the most trustworthy, but given a large sample size that helps mitigate the noise you can make relatively accurate assumptions about a player’s overall defensive skill. Ryan has consistently performed as the game’s top defensive shortstop over the past number of years, so Simmons will have to take a back seat to him for the time being. I think it is a stretch to assume Simmons will post those kinds of defensive numbers over that long of a stretch, but it is reasonable to expect 10+ defensive runs saved during his six year pre-free agent stretch in Atlanta.
February 7, 2013 at 5:21 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
The Braves, having traded Martin Prado, are locked into Juan Francisco and/or Chris Johnson at third base. Each will be given an opportunity to win the starting role. The likelihood of either actually excelling in a full time gig is low, and the most likely end result is that the two share time at the hot corner. Since they are left-handed and right-handed at the plate, but career platoon splits suggest that both do much better against right-handed hitters than they do against southpaws. That is expceted out of Francisco, but the “reverse platoon split” from Johnson is at least a cause for concern.
First off, with Johnson’s splits, he stepped to the plate against southpaws under 400 times. That is a rather small sample size, so it is no certainty that he “can’t hit lefties.” Additionally, he did not have reverse platoon splits in the minors, so the historical trend of him struggling against left-handers is not there. Even if he is bad against lefties, he will still probably be better than Francisco. Regardless, I do not believe a straight platoon of hitting Francisco against righties and Johnson against lefties is the way to go.
Rather, I would look deeper into the opposing pitcher’s splits before setting the lineup every day. If the Braves are facing a lefty, such as Ricky Romero for instance, who relies on his changeup heavily and has reverse platoon splits for his career, starting Francisco could be the wise decision. Similarly, when the Braves face a righty or lefty who struggle against righties in particular, they should start Johnson. There are two sides to splits, and looking strictly at one side of them does not paint a full picture. With two players who have, in their very short sample sizes, performed similarly against both righties and lefties, looking at where the opposing pitcher thrives or struggles against is the likely wise way to attack the platoon.
While this is what I would do, I doubt it is what Fredi would do. Fredi, in my eyes, will ride whomever the “hot hand” is at the position. If Juan is hitting well, I expect Fredi to start him, and the same with Johnson. Each will have slumps throughout the season, so one of the more notable ways Fredi can help or hurt the team is in how he handles this platoon. While I don’t necessarily agree with riding the hot hand, since the theory itself is not one that has much backbone behind it, I do understand trying to mix and match over the course of the season to maximize the team’s value.
If he and the Braves really want to do this, they will look at the opposing pitchers and decide based off that. I would personally rather the Braves mix and match as I expect Fredi will than stick to a strict righty/lefty platoon. If one runs away with the job and excels, great. If they both struggle, at least the Braves have some cash to trade for a decent option over the course of the year. This is not the best situation by any means, but it is a situation in which the Braves have a number of options. When you do not have a set player at the position, having a decent amount of ways to go is the next best thing. If the Braves end up with 2.5 wins from third base, consider that a solid job by the GM and manager.