May 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
The Braves have eight players on the Disabled List. Eight. They are Brian McCann, Paul Janish, Blake DeWitt, Jason Heyward, Luis Ayala, Brandon Beachy, Cristhian Martinez, and Jonny Venters. If you’re into this sort of thing, that’s 1/4 of the starting lineup, 1/5 of the rotation, and possibly 3/7 of the bullpen depending on how you want to look at it. How are they progressing?
Brian McCann – McCann appears very optimistic, and he may return as early as next Monday. That would be awesome for me as I’ll be in Cincy for at least a few games, but it makes the catching situation a little crowded. Fredi has said they are leaning toward keeping three catchers, and that makes sense. McCann and Gattis can platoon when McCann first comes back, and Gattis can play left (Justin Upton moves to right) on the other days until Heyward comes back. As for Laird, he looks to be on the back-burner, but his presence will allow Gattis and McCann to pinch-hit late in games, which is a boost to the bench either way. When McCann comes back, I would expect Tyler Pastornicky to be sent down.
Paul Janish – Janish is on a rehab assignment with AAA Gwinnett as he recovers from surgery on his left shoulder. It’s tough to see what will happen here. On one hand, the Braves paid him $1 million in arbitration, but on the other hand, it’s only $1 million and Ramiro Pena has played well enough to stay on the roster. Janish may just stay in AAA for a while.
Blake DeWitt – I couldn’t really find an update on him, but he’ll be sent back to AAA anyway when he gets healthy.
Jason Heyward – His somewhat pessimistic comments elicited a concern reaction among Braves fans, and we’re not really sure when he’ll be ready. Theoretically, he’ll start doing exercise and maybe some baseball activities next week, and there’s a chance he’ll be back by May 13th. A more conservative response would see him back by the end of the month. McCann coming back will hopefully alleviate some of the offensive problems, and Gattis can be an upgrade in left over Reed Johnson/Jordan Schafer on those days. But a healthy Heyward is crucial for this team’s success. When he does come back, the Braves may face a roster squeeze situation as no one clearly merits demotion/release. Jordan Schafer seems the most likely casualty as of right now, but there’s always the chance someone else will be hurt by then.
Brandon Beachy – Beachy has started throwing side sessions and simulated games, and the hope is that he’ll start his rehab assignment next week. Pitching every day and needing 5-6 games to build up arm strength puts his return sometime in the middle of June. The Braves have been healthy so far, and if they stay that way, Teheran is likely to lose his spot in the rotation, though he may simply move to the bullpen instead of going to AAA. If someone gets hurt, he obviously moves into that spot. But setbacks, etc. happen, so there’s no real reason to worry about this until he’s in AAA going 5-6 innings.
Jonny Venters – He began throwing a baseball yesterday and didn’t feel any discomfort, but he hasn’t thrown a bullpen or anything yet. Relievers don’t have to build the stamina a starter does, so his rehab stint will be much shorter than Beachy’s. The first reliever back kicks David Carpenter back to Gwinnett.
Cristhian Martinez – I don’t think we’ve really heard anything about him since his right shoulder strain. He’s eligible to come off the DL whenever he’s healthy, though. Again, first reliever off the DL sends Carpenter back to AAA. The second will likely send Anthony Varvaro to waivers, but again, too early to really worry there because pitcher injuries.
Luis Ayala – Ayala was just placed on the DL with anxiety disorder. No one’s sure when he’ll be back, but let’s all refrain from playing armchair psychologists and speculating what this means for him or about him. We really don’t know, so we’ll just wish him well.
Here’s where the Braves sit roster-wise at the beginning of May. The team has a 17-9 record, which is an improvement upon the 14-10 record they had at this moment last season. They’ve had a good start, and they should be getting two main cogs in the lineup back at some point this month.
April 30, 2013 at 5:31 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:10 PM on Sports South
Gio Gonzalez hasn’t had the start to the season he had hoped. A 4.50 ERA is the result of an increased walk rate and decreased strikeout rate early in the season. Nothing seems to be amiss as far as his control goes – he’s throwing the same amount of strikes and pitches in the zone – but opposing hitters are making more contact. Why? Part of the reason lies in the fact that he’s missing a mph on his fastball. It’s easier to be “effectively” wild when you throw harder, and if you start losing velocity without making better pitches, you will lose effectiveness. Whether this is temporary remains to be seen. Velocities tend to increase as the year progresses, but it’s something to monitor.
Tim Hudson will get a chance to right the ship after a couple rough outings. He has a high HR rate (19.2% HR/FB), but that’s likely to settle down as the season goes on. Hudson hasn’t lost any velocity on his sinker, but it appears as though he’s lost some confidence in it as he’s throwing it 6% less and adjusting by throwing more curves and sliders. Perhaps he’s just messing with his sinker and trying to get the feel for it, but again, it’s something to monitor. As for the lineup, Chris Johnson finally moves up to the top of the order in a move that I expected a while ago. Again, his results aren’t likely to continue on his pace, but I prefer him toward the top of the order that Schafer as there’s at least some established success there. It’s a righty-heavy lineup tonight, so let’s see if they can work the count and stay undefeated against the Nats this season.
April 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Gwinnett came to Louisville for their one time this season, so I headed down to take a look.
Sean Gilmartin, LHP – The former first-rounder wasn’t terribly impressive. Gilmartin’s fastball sat 87-89 with mostly 88s, and while he added three solid secondary pitches – change-up, curve, slider – none of them were swing-and-miss types. Each of them has its uses, and being able to throw all of them for strikes will help keep AAA hitters off-balance. I worry that his inability to miss bats will hurt him when he transitions to the MLB. What Gilmartin does have is good control. A smooth, simple delivery in which he keeps good balance throughout is the key to his control/command. In this one, his command wavered at times, but he won’t have much room for error at the next level. At this point, he seems similar to an early-career Paul Maholm, and he might need to add a two-seamer and/or cutter to his arsenal to give hitters a different fastball look and improve his results.
Daniel Rodriguez, LHP – Rodriguez had a miserable Spring Training, but he looked good in this one. His delivery was more in line with the plate and incorporated less crossfire than in the Spring. He threw a sinker in the 87-89 range with a handful of 91s. To his fastball, he added a change-up that has some swing-and-miss potential, but he didn’t control it well, throwing several in the dirt or almost past the catcher. Rodriguez also had a curveball that was decent but wasn’t sharp. The overall control for Rodriguez was better in this one, but his history suggests it’s not that good. He’s a guy that might be good for a few fill-in starts, but I’m interested if those 91 mph sinkers don’t become more common in short bursts.
Cory Rasmus, RHP – Rasmus came out firing 92-94 fastballs, and he added a better slider than I had seen previously. But as you might expect, he was all over the place, and that’s his weakness.
Wirfin Obispo, RHP – Obispo sure throws hard. His fastball comes in at 94-96, but it’s all over the place as well. His slider wasn’t good, though, but he did throw a couple decent ones. His delivery is really weird – as I said in a FanGraphs piece, it looks like he’s momentarily electrocuted – and he may never have decent enough control.
Andrew Russell, RHP – The Braves may always have a sidearmer for as long as we live. Russell’s sinker sits in the 86-88 range, but it does have good sink. He adds his Frisbee slider to the mix. He’s not as good as Gearrin, but he might make it as a ROOGY for a bit.
Jose Constanza, OF – He is what we all know he is – fast, slap-hitter.
Corey Wimberly, 2B – Here’s an interesting pick-up for the AAA team. He’s basically Constanza in infield form. He makes solid contact of the line-drive variety, and he’s a fast little booger. He’s a AAA player, but he’s a pretty nice one.
Todd Cunningham, OF – Cunningham doesn’t look particularly good at the plate, but it looks more like an approach thing than an inability to make contact problem. He’s being pretty aggressive at the plate, and it’s ending in swinging at some bad pitches. His speed and defense are still there, though, and he’s still making contact with a pretty short swing. I still like him, but adding some OBP skills would raise the ceiling past a solid 4th OF.
Ernesto Mejia, 1B – Mejia is definitely a masher. He unloaded a 91 mph fastball left at his belt deep into the night. His swing has a significant uppercut, but his experience and approach close up his holes against AAA pitching. As for his defense, he was pretty bad over there – dropping a pop-up, making a throw into LF, and moving poorly. There’s some bench value with the power, but as a righty, it’s limited.
Joe Terdoslavich, OF – The thing I was surprised about with Terdo was how well he moved. He ran the bases well and moved well in the OF, not the plodder I had expected. He has a good swing, at least from the left side (didn’t see him vs. a LHP), but I’d like to see him take more of a swing at certain pitches in hitter’s counts, though maybe the ease of his swing downplays how hard he’s actually swinging. But he looks more content to drop the barrel on the ball and drive it, leading to all the doubles. The unfortunate thing here is that there is no full-time possibility any time soon, but he’d make a nice bench option that can play the corners.
Joe Leonard, 3B – Well, he looks good at third base with good reactions, smooth glove, and a strong arm. The swing, however, is long, and he didn’t make any solid contact. That’s basically the story with Leonard.
Matt Pagnozzi/Jose Yepez, C – AAA catchers. Neither of them did much or had to do much.
Sean Kazmar, SS – Kazmar is “one of the great young middle infield prospects in the Braves system.” Okay, well, no. Only Chip and Joe think that. This Kazmar, however, was on fire in these games, lacing line drives everywhere. He isn’t great on defense with a too-weak-for-SS arm, but he’s passable on a AAA roster.
April 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:10 PM on Sports South and ESPN
Nationals ISO Maps
The Nationals walk in a little wounded as Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL. The rest of the lineup looks pretty similar to last time. This is a good lineup with quite a bit of lefty pop, and it can be problematic for a pitcher like Teheran. The hope here is that Teheran will regain his confidence in his change-up and utilize it more to get these lefties – Harper, LaRoche, Espinosa, and (to a degree) Tracy – out.
Strasburg hasn’t been quite Strasburg-ian so far this season. While he’s still been very good (3.16 ERA, 3.31 FIP), his strikeout rate has plunged from 30% to 21%, though his walk rate has decreased from 7% to 6% to help compensate. The reason for the decrease in Ks has been because the league is making more contact against him so far, but we may not know the root of it for some time. Perhaps the league has simply adjusted to him, and maybe this is simply a small sample issue (probably). But the velocity and strike throwing are still there (though fewer first-pitch strikes), so he’s still capable of being the best pitcher in baseball.
Julio Teheran takes the mound in this one. Once his best pitch, his change has only been thrown 3% of the time so far, and that really needs to change, even from a normal starter pitch use perspective. His last appearance in Colorado was encouraging, but things aren’t much easier for him this time. In other news, Jordan Schafer leads off again in what is becoming an issue as the Braves are likely to get the usual Schafer production – .224/.309/.302 – instead of the hot start of 30 PA that seemingly merited this promotion. I realize that Simmons, BJ, etc. aren’t hitting very well at the moment, but I would rather take the chance they will improve than Schafer will continue on his current pace. Either way, life would be much easier if everyone would start hitting the way they can. That would solve most of the problems.
April 27, 2013 at 11:33 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
*Brief moment for the Braves’ season that has past*
1:05 PM on FOX (if in market)
Rick Porcello is having a rough year. After being an above-average pitcher who suffered because of his defense from 2010-2012, Porcello has become a bad pitcher suffering more because of a bad defense. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher – 13% – but he’s down to 5%, and while that won’t continue (insert jokes about Braves lineup helping that out), it’s not a good sign, especially when there seems to be a change in strategy. In past years, he has employed a slider as you can see above, but this season, he has strictly gone to a curveball. Is that why he’s struggling? Maybe, but it’s something to keep an eye on. His velocity gains from last season seem to largely be intact, but the peripherals and results have been poor so far beyond just last week’s debacle against the Angels. The Braves hope to continue this trend, but Porcello is a guy I’d love to buy low on.
Kris Medlen has been steadily improving. Despite some roughish starts at the beginning of the season that saw better results than peripherals, Medlen’s control/command and bat-missing abilities have been much better over his last two starts, though he’s gotten some worse results. He’ll get a tough test tonight against one of the better lineups in baseball and one that destroyed Maholm yesterday, though there were some defensive mishaps that helped the implosion along. As for are offence that haz past, it sucks, and you don’t like to see it. But you had to expect at least one game like this at some point this season. Bright side, Brian McCann looked good last night in his return to action – 2 HRs in Rome – so by the weekend after next, Jason Heyward and McCann will be back and making this a better lineup than it already is. I have a better feeling about this match-up tonight due to Porcello’s struggles, and it’d be nice to get one back here.
April 26, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:08 PM on FOX Sports South and MLB Network
Comerica is a big park, but you can find a little forgiveness to right field, especially compared to Turner Field. Center field, however, is death. Just don’t hit it there. Unless you’re Justin Upton, and then it just doesn’t matter.
Tigers ISO Maps
This, ladies and gents, is a lineup. How do the Braves get them out? Austin Jackson doesn’t have a lot of pop, but he’s an excellent hitter who will collect a lot of hits. The best thing to do with Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder is to keep the ball down-and-away and pray. Keep the ball down to Victor Martinez. After this part of the lineup, the pitcher can breathe a little bit more, but each of the remaining batters can still hurt you. Matt Tuiasosopo is having a nice 30 PA, but he shouldn’t be too much trouble. Just stay out of the middle of the plate against Jhonny “I Can’t Spell My Name Right” Peralta. Keep the ball away from Alex Avila, and just don’t throw it up-and-in to Omar Infante. Again, this is a good lineup, and it’s fairly righty-heavy, which is slightly concerning with Paul Maholm and Mike Minor set to take the hill in this series.
Anibal Sanchez has quietly been an All-Star caliber pitcher for the past several seasons. With slightly-above average K rates, BB rates, and GB rates, Sanchez has had a nice little career, but he did it in the relative anonymity of Miami. He made it count late last season and turned it into a 5-year/$75 million contract. How does he do it? Against lefties, he’ll use his entire arsenal with a pretty heavy use of the change-up, and he focuses on his slider and change for the kill. Against righties, he pitches off his fastball and slider pretty heavily, though he’ll add in his change more once he’s ahead in the count. Sanchez overall is a fastball/slider pitcher, but he has a nice assortment of pitches that he can throw for strikes. He’ll be a tough opponent here.
I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of this match-up tonight. The Tigers’ order features a lot of righties, and a few of those guys are real threats, especially Miggy. Paul Maholm has had an excellent start to the season, and we shouldn’t concede just yet. But it’ll be a tough match-up against a tough team. I’d obviously feel a little better if Heyward were in the lineup to give the team a bit more offense from the left side, but having the DH gets Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson in the lineup. This is an interesting match-up for the Braves, and because the two teams are obviously of playoff caliber and play in different leagues, it’s a possible World Series scenario. Should be fun.
April 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
This isn’t going to happen. I’m not even sure why I’m talking it about it. But the idea makes a lot of sense, especially as the top of the order continues to struggle. When the Justin Upton trade was consummated, talk immediately centered around who would hit first in the order because Martin Prado had been assumed to be the guy. With Prado and Michael Bourn gone, the Braves no longer had a prototypical leadoff hitter. Newly-acquired BJ Upton was fast, but everyone seemed to realize that his OBP skills, or lack thereof, weren’t ideal. Andrelton Simmons was another option as essentially the next fastest hitter without power, but he didn’t really have a lot of experience in the majors. We talked about it at the time on Twitter that another player fit the needs of the top spot but wouldn’t be used because he didn’t fit the prototype. His name is Daaaaaaaaan Uggla.
Here are, in order, the qualities that a lead-off hitter needs:
1) Not Ramiro Pena. When a .237/.278/.300 lifetime hitter gets the most at-bats in a game while there are better options, someone messed up, and it backfired when Pena came up with a man on third and less than 2 outs in the ninth inning yesterday. When the best option with the leadoff hitter seems to be a suicide squeeze because the hitter isn’t likely to do anything, someone messed up.
2) OBP Skills. Getting on base often makes a lot of sense for the guy who gets the most at-bats because, well, it means he’s not making outs. If he makes outs, he’s not helping the team, and if he gets the most at-bats, then he makes a lot of outs. This isn’t calculus. The Royals have been using Alex Gordon (OBPs around .370 the past 3 seasons) there for a few years, and after a disastrous 2012, the Reds traded for Shin-Soo Choo and his career OBP of .386 to place atop the order. Teams are getting smarter and realizing speed isn’t the most important thing.
3) Baserunning Value/Speed. I put baserunning value first because it’s more important than speed. Let me explain. The Braves 2-3-4 hitters are Jason Heyward (when he’s not having surgery), Justin Upton, and Freddie Freeman. Stealing a base is helpful, but it’s A) not as helpful when the following hitters hit a lot XBH that would score the runner anyway and B) entails extra risk because getting thrown out means the runner can’t score on those XBH. What one would prefer is a guy who knows how to run the bases and has enough speed to score on a ball in the gap.
How does Dan Uggla fit this criteria?
1) Well, he’s not Ramiro Pena as his .252/.343/.468 line demonstrates.
2) He also has some OBP skills. He’s not the elite OBP man that Alex Gordon and Shin-Soo Choo are, but his career .343 OBP was a solid 20 points over the league-average for last season. Uggla’s .312 OBP isn’t that good, but there’s some BABiP bad luck in there. It should end up better than this.
3) Uggla isn’t a speedster, but he’s been a positive asset on the bases during his career. He’s not fast, but he can score on balls in the gap.
Uggla’s also a good choice because of the alternatives. I’d love Jason Heyward leading off, but there’s probably less of a chance that a budding superstar will hit lead-off than a guy who has clearly lost his spot in the batting order. BJ Upton has been a little more patient this season, but the strides aren’t drastic enough to think the OBP is going to shoot way up. I still like Andrelton Simmons for this spot because he’s walking 10% of the time and striking out at an equal pace, which is awesome, but the results – .209/.289/.269 – haven’t been great as he’s popping out at extremely high rate – 29% of flyballs. I think we can guarantee that Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman will never see the top of the lineup, and Brian McCann/Evan Gattis probably won’t either. And neither Chris Johnson nor Juan Francisco are known for OBP skills.
That leaves Uggla. He gets on base and can run the bases as needed. He’s been moved down in the order because of Gattis and Chris Johnson’s early success, so he might be amenable to moving up to the spot, even though it’s not the run-producing spot he’s used to. His strikeouts would also hurt less. Strikeouts are often just outs because most of a player’s at-bats come with no one on, something guys at the top of the order will do at least once a game and probably a time or two else after the pitcher gets out. Where strikeouts hurt more is with a runner on third and less than 2 outs. Those hurt more. Fewer of Uggla’s ABs would be of that variety.
Uggla hitting lead-off makes a lot of sense, but as I said, I doubt it would ever happen. Uggla has been a middle-of-the-order hitter his entire career, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. As much as one would like to blame Fredi for not putting him there, Fredi has to make sure Uggla is okay with the move, and if Uggla isn’t comfortable with it, it’s not likely to happen. As a veteran and a guy making a lot of money, Fredi’s not likely to mess with him. Buuuut if the team could convince Uggla that this was the best move for the team and if Fredi was willing to consider it, having Uggla hit first would probably be the best idea out of the current options.