September 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Daily Post, Kelly Johnson Fan Club, Player Analysis, Quotes
Matt Diaz, the Greatest Little Platoon Hitter Ever
Matt Diaz has hit .317/.391/.496 this season. Let me repeat that. Matt Diaz has hit .317/.391/.496 this season. In nearly 400 PA’s. Remarkably, this is the first season that Matt Diaz has been to the plate more than 100 times and had a platoon advantage of less than 45%. This year his platoon advantage has been 37%. Sounds like he’s making a fairly strong case for being an every-day player. Not so fast.
Matt Diaz, in his career, has hit .346/.382/.538 with 90 K’s and 28 BB’s in 663 PA’s against LHP. That’s a .919 OPS. His career BABIP against LHP is .372. That’s half of a platoon I’d take any day. Against RHP? Not so much. He’s hit .278/.335/.388 with 161 K’s and 38 BB’s in 709 PA’s. That’s a .723 OPS (.352 BABIP). You can see why the Braves have largely used Diaz in a platoon role for most of his career.
This year, the story is much the same. He’s hit .410/.456/.642 with 19 K’s and 9 BB’s in 148 PA’s (.445 BABIP) against LHP. That’s a 1.098 OPS. Against RHP he’s hit .258/.352/.404 with 64 K’s and 21 BB’s in 247 PA’s (.343 BABIP). That’s a .756 OPS. He still hasn’t shown that he can be an even average hitting corner outfielder against RHP. His line is inflated by the left-handed portion which is inflated by the BABIP. But his line against LHP? Makes him the most perfect small part of a platoon. I would suggest Matt Diaz needs to be in the team’s plans going forward, but not in a starting role. Until he shows he can consistently hit RHP.
Bobby Cox’s Future
Yesterday Gordon Edes of Yahoo Sports opened up a can of shit-worms when he wrote the following:
Another situation that bears watching is in Atlanta, where manager Bobby Cox has been hedging about whether he will be back. According to a major league source, the relationship between Cox and GM Frank Wren deteriorated during the spring to the point that Cox packed his bag and climbed into his car to drive home from spring training until dissuaded from doing so by one of his coaches.
Cox was unhappy at the way the John Smoltz issue had been handled, the source said, and because he had not been kept up to speed on other personnel decisions. The relationship appears to have been patched up, although the parting with Tom Glavine was another strained episode, and the expectation is that Cox will be back because he’s excited that the Braves have another core of young talent developing. Stay tuned.
The first thing I thought when I read this was, “Bullshit”. There’s no way Bobby Cox packed his car and was headed home and I didn’t hear about it until now. There’s simply no way. Apparently I wasn’t alone in this sentiment, as David O’Brien writes:
So a few of you apparently think that if I or Bowman had heard in spring training that Bobby packed his car and was ready to head home because of a squabble(s) with Wren, we wouldn’t have reported it? Believe me, if either of us had heard that story from a reliable source and felt certain — and our editors agreed — that it was true, I know that either of us — I probably shouldn’t speak for Bowman, but I will — would have reported it. That would have been a hell of a scoop in spring training, the kind you certainly never would pass up if you got it confirmed by one of the parties involved or if you and your editors felt strongly enough that your source was reliable (and, or course, you would ask the parties directly for a reaction and tell them what you’ve got on record from a reliable source).
I read a comment from someone critical (imagine that) of no one having this story until now, someone incredulous that we hadn’t heard about this. As though we all are staying in close quarters during spring training and we could have looked out our window and seen Bobby in the early morning hours, angrily packing his car in the parking lot and murmuring aloud about the GM, something like that.
If this story is true — Gordon is a very good writer and reporter; as some of you know since I’ve mentioned it before, I worked with him at the Sun-Sentinel and he’s actually the guy who asked me to come over to cover the Marlins with him, before he left for Boston — then it’s something that was told to one writer by one upset source who didn’t tell anyone else at the time. It happens. Some sources say something once and never say it again.
I think the “if” is huge there. Seriously, what are the chances that something like this happens and both the beat writers and all national analysts go uninformed until now?
Maybe it’s true, but I’d still expect Bobby Cox to be back next year.
Anyway, Mark Bradley calls BS on it too:
Reached by phone Tuesday night, Wren described the report as “inaccurate.” But it’s fair to say that the relationship between Cox and Wren hasn’t been as seamless — to use a John Schuerholz word — as the one between Cox and Wren’s predecessor as GM. Cox and Schuerholz talked almost daily, even in the offseason, and rarely disagreed on anything.
That said, Cox was complimentary of Wren’s rebuilding work over the winter. “He’s done everything, really,” Cox said then, and this, it should be noted, came after Smoltz signed with Boston. But it also must be noted that even Schuerholz was so distressed by the way the Braves cut ties with Glavine that he offered an apology on behalf of the organization.
Asked Tuesday if he wanted Cox to remain the Braves’ manager, Wren said: “Sure, absolutely.” And this: “We’ll sit down and talk, and we’ll have an announcement at the appropriate time.”
But Bradley doesn’t stop:
Said Cox, speaking via iPhone from New York: “Everything is fine. Frank has been outstanding … I couldn’t believe it when I [learned of the report].”
Another Point About Managers
Baseball teams pay players based on what they think they’re worth. They pay players because they’re going to get on-field value from them. Wouldn’t it make sense that managers are paid like that, too? Considering the highest paid managers get $5,000,000 a year (and I’m completely guessing here), wouldn’t it make sense that Managers only impact the game by at most around 1 win? If there’s a manager that can take a team from 86 to 90 wins, teams would pay $20 million a year for him. No such things exist. Think about that when you’re thinking about the impact of managers.
Gunning For The Sweep
Going for the second sweep of the Stem in 10 days, the Braves send Tim Hudson to the hill against staff ace Mike Pelfrey for the series finale. No matter what, sweeping the Mets never gets old.
Speaking of the Mets, I went onto my favorite Mets blog, Amazin’ Avenue, last night and posted the following comment:
Braves announcers pointed out that Sheffield was used in the bottom of the 9th with 2 out, yet sat on the bench with runners at 2nd and 3rd in the 7th. What’s your take on this decision? Perhaps Jerry had draft order in mind.
I post this because I don’t know. I don’t follow the Mets closely. I didn’t know if Sheff had been struggling or whatever. But anyway, I got a few hilarious responses.
No take other than that Jerry is just unfathomably horrible. I was at Friday’s game when, if I remember correctly, he let Wilson Valdez bat with the bases loaded and one out…and then had Sheffield lead off the next inning.
That’s our Jerry.
Pinch hitting Tatis in that situation, when he had Sullivan, Reed and Sheff available, was just retarded. But at this point, losses are kind of a good thing.
Pretty funny. Just goes to show there’s discontent with managers everywhere.
Kelly Johnson Fan Club
The scheduled starters for the next series (@Washington) are John Lannan, Garrett Mock, and Livan Hernandez. KJ has a 1.133 OPS against Lannan (6-for-15 with 2 doubles and a homer). He’s doubled in his only plate appearance vs. Garrett Mock. Friday and Saturday, Kelly Johnson should start. Somewhere.
That’s all I got.
Go Braves! Sweep the Mets.
SPECIAL FUCKING COX-WREN UPDATE!
Mark Bowman further shat on the notion:
But those of us that have been around the team throughout this season, can’t deny the fact that the working relationship shared by Cox and Wren was definitely strengthened in the days, weeks and months following this event.
No later than Monday, Cox will likely confirm that he’s returning to manage at least one more season. If he truly felt that he couldn’t continue to work with Wren, the 68-year-old skipper would have already provided more indication that he’s currently spending his final days on the bench.
Like Cox’s successor will have big shoes to fill, Wren didn’t exactly encounter an enviable situation when he assumed the role that John Schuerholz had mastered for so many years.
To simply refer to Schuerholz as a great baseball man would be an insult. His greatness was gained through the great leadership that he continues to provide the Braves organization as its president.
Still during the 17 years that Cox and Schuerholz shared a manager-GM relationship, they had their differences. But over time, they developed a working relationship that drew envy from the peers that shared their positions throughout the Majors.
Wren has done an excellent job ushering the Braves away from holding on to tightly to their successful past. While saying goodbye to the likes of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, he’s ushered the club toward what he foresees as a bright future.
At the same time, Wren has also shown the willingness to make the adaptations necessary to build the strong working relationship that has given Cox even more reason to stick around a little longer to be part of this future.
That’s also big news, Bobby’s coming back! And you’re probably stupid if you think that’s a bad thing. Or just misinformed or delusional or spoiled or just generally have unrealistic expectations. So, at least don’t be sad that Bobby is coming back. Neutral is the most negative opinion you should have about this.
September 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Economic Analysis, Quotes, Statistical Analysis
Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece called MVP Award Deserves Robust Debate on September 17th. The point of the piece was not to participate in said debate, but to encourage it. His thesis was that Sabermetricians across the internet are jamming the thought of Mauer for AL MVP down everyone’s throat relentlessly and discouraging debate on the issue. Both Rob Neyer and JC Bradbury (and Bradbury followed up Neyer’s response with another of his own) wrote responses to the article, but Joe Posnanski predictably wrote the best response. However, there is one point that I’d like to bring up. I encourage everyone to catch up with the entire debate, but for brevity’s sake, just read the Posnanski piece and Rosenthal piece (if you have time, the Posnanski one quotes extensively from the Rosenthal making the Rosenthal piece slightly unnecessary). Quoting from Posnanski now:
Here is how Ken leads off the piece:
Joe Mauer is American League Most Valuable Player.
How do I know?
The sabermetric community, through web sites, message boards and blogs, tells me so.
I’m inclined to agree with the choice of Mauer, but that’s not why I’m writing. No, I’m writing because of the cyber-shoutdowns of anyone who offers dissent, anyone who dares suggest Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis or whoever is a legitimate alternative to Mauer.
Ken goes on like this for a little while. He gets into some reasonable arguments later about why Mauer is not just a slam dunk MVP (missed about a month with injury, has spent 24 games as a DH, etc). But the point of his piece is not Mauer specifically (he tends to agree that Mauer should be MVP) but to fight back against Sabermetric bullying, I guess. Another quote:
Last I checked, it’s a free country. Last I checked, the MVP is a subjective choice. Yes, voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America occasionally screw up. But the beauty of the award, as outlined by the instructions given to voters, is “there is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means.” Which, of course, drives sabermetricians nuts.
The award is not for highest VORP. It is not for most win shares, most runs created, most wins above replacement player. It is for something that no one can quite define, and — goodness gracious! — voters sometimes apply different interpretations from year to year.
Well, I have a couple of issues with what Ken is saying here. For one thing, I don’t think the beauty of the MVP award is that there is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. I don’t tend to find much beauty in ambiguity. I don’t think the statement: “I say the color blue is the best of all colors,” is a particularly beautiful statement just because there’s no clear-cut definition involved. But for years and years, that’s what the Baseball Writers (and I’m part of this) have done. Baseball Writers have determined that there’s no clear-cut definition for value, and as such one year it’s about a team’s performance, one year it’s about RBIs, one year it’s about leadership, one year it’s about pitching well in the ninth inning, one year it’s about the sweet music of clutch performance. I don’t buy it. I’m not saying there’s just one way to judge a player’s value — there are countless ways — but I’m saying that the things it takes to win baseball games do not just change at a sportswriter’s whim. And not all definitions of baseball value are valid or intelligent. Having “that look in the eyes” does not make a guy MVP.
And because of this, yes, I think the award IS for the highest VORP, the most win shares, the most runs created, the most wins above replacement level … and also the best OPS+, the best ERA+, the best Eqa, the best WPA, the best Total Average, the best UZR and however else you want to measure value (even most RBIs, most runs, more home runs, best batting average — if you want those limited stats). Because these are honest attempts to quantify value. Use one of them, use several, use your own stats and observations. But don’t tell me that baseball value — like porn and art — is something you know when you see. That has been the problem for years, this idea that we can just invent our own standards and yardsticks and touchstones because … well, who is going to stop us? No. Value is value. Saying an eight is more valuable than an ace in poker doesn’t make it so.*
*Bill James once made this MVP argument using poker as an example. He wrote how just because a player wins with three eights, that doesn’t make any of those eights as good as an Ace. And I remember sending him a devil’s advocate email saying “But in that particular poker hand, where the player wins with the 8s, doesn’t that mean that the 8 IS actually more valuable?” And he wrote back asking the perfect question: “OK, which of the three 8s is most valuable then?”
My issue here is that Joe and Bill, for that matter, try to use a metaphor that doesn’t quite work. Plus they’re slightly on the simplistic side.
I look at baseball and see a business. Everything is economically motivated. Therefore, to me, the most valuable player should be given to the most valuable player. Again, this metaphor is too simplistic to be applicable here, but if you have two eights and your opponent has an ace, you win the hand. Therefore, the ace is of zero value. Of course, in baseball this Ace would be worth money, because people would buy his jerseys, come to the games to see him, etc. But in poker–and this is why the metaphor doesn’t work–the ace is completely worthless against two eights. Because, when it’s all said and done, the guy with the 2 eights wins the hand. Alone, each one of these eights has less value than the Ace. But that’s just it. If you don’t consider the context of the card, you can’t get a true sense of it’s value. An eight with an eight is more valuable than an ace. The presence of that other eight makes it more valuable to the card player. The same is true in baseball.
What is Albert Pujols worth to the Washington Nationals? Well, let’s see. He’s an 8.1 WAR player, clubs pay $4.5 million per WAR, so he must be worth $36.45 million dollars, right? Wrong. Do you know why? Because even with the presence of Albert Pujols, the Nationals are still a sub-65 win team. Adding 8 wins to 50 doesn’t help. What’s the difference in 50 and 58 wins to the Washington Nationals? Nothing. And again, this is an over-simplistic metaphor because of the fact that the presence of Albert Pujols would be worth something to the Nationals, be it ticket sales or jerseys or whatever.
I have a hard time justifying the use of things a player alone can’t control, like ticket sales and team’s results, in something as important as baseball’s MVP award, but that’s what we’re dealing with here, aren’t we? I mean, you defined the award as the most valuable player. And though there are plenty of honest and fairly good attempts to quantify this value–VORP, Win Shares, WAR, etc.–you really don’t have any idea how valuable a player is until you consider the context. No man is on an island. The whole is more valuable than the sum of the parts.
Things like playing for a contender, being a fan favorite, and various other things that the player largely has zero control over, do matter. Perhaps if the award were given to the best player the use of various metrics alone would be enough criteria to come to a conclusion with. Such is simply not the case.
My bigger issue with Ken, though, is his bashing of the Sabermetric community for pushing Joe Mauer. He seems to be making the point that now the Sabermetrics are so engrained in baseball and in the media that people don’t have to shout down the mainstream media, they don’t have to push Mauer with such bullying force, they don’t have to act like the brute squad from The Princess Bride. Thus the: “Last I checked, it’s a free country,” bit. It strikes a fun image of stat-heads holding mainstream media members hostage with slide rulers and mechanical pencils.
Trouble is: It’s nonsense. I don’t buy that Sabermetrics are much more respected inside the game now than ever before. And I don’t buy that statistically inclined bloggers are the new power structure in baseball. The mainstream media is still, you know, mainstream. I don’t know how many television and radio announcers use advanced stats. I don’t know how many columnists and beat writers use advanced stats. I don’t know how many scouts and baseball executives talk about stats. But when I go from game to game on radio or TV or read my favorite newspapers, I don’t find myself bogged down with a lot of numbers, to say the least. I’ve got to believe that Ken’s whole notion that baseball bloggers are so powerful and overbearing that they are stifling free speech and people’s willingness to push for Derek Jeter as MVP over Joe Mauer is pretty comical.
I think the power that comes from the best bloggers who use statistics is that what they write MAKES SENSE. It isn’t loaded down with a lot of the myth-making and moral-judgments that some of my least favorite sportswriting has. To me, Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he can rise to the occasion, because he has this sixth sense out there, and because he plays brilliant defense that is so subtle it does not show up in the statistics. No, he’s a great player because he gets on base, and he hits for some power, and he steals bases at a high percentage of success, and because he is extremely durable at a tough defensive position, and, if you want to get away from stats, because his teammates seem to like and admire him enough that they credit him for much of their own success. The power of the best baseball bloggers is that they try to pierce through vagueness and wave away myth and get at the heart of things. Sometimes, they do. Sometimes, they don’t. But, to a new generation of sports fans, it makes a lot more sense than saying: “This guy’s just a winner.”
Ken wants honest debate in the MVP award … a worthy cause, but this seems an odd year to be demanding honest debate. You have a catcher — and a darned good catcher — hitting .374. He also leads the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He is the best hitter in the league, and he’s a Gold Glove caliber catcher. What honest debate is there to be had? How can anyone be more valuable? You can poke holes in his case — he missed some playing time at the beginning of the year, he doesn’t play for a great team — but I don’t think that’s honest debate. Nobody is close. Derek Jeter’s numbers are dwarfed — even with the difference in playing time. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis and Kendry Morales are all good hitters and they are all first basemen — quite a different role than a catcher — and Miguel Cabrera might be better than the three of them.
Baseball’s MVP award is probably the most cherished award in American sports (maybe the Heisman Trophy). People care about it, which is a good thing. It seems plain to many of us that Mauer is not only the MVP, but he’s OBVIOUSLY the MVP. And so we say it as loudly as possible. We don’t want anyone to miss it.
Finally, there’s this:
OK, that’s it, end of analysis. I don’t pretend it’s complete. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I just want to have a nice, civil discussion about a fascinating MVP race, a discussion that includes number geeks sitting in their basements, overworked hacks in press boxes across America and fans of all ages, colors and philosophies.
Ken, I love ya. I do. You’re the best. Please don’t use the geeks in the basement thing. Please. I sense you’re using it ironically here — but the thing is it’s just hackneyed and stupid and just plain horrific. We baseball writers and broadcasters for years have had a monopoly on presenting the game. Pitching was 90 percent of baseball because we said so. Managers needed to bunt more because we said so. Pitchers needed to go nine innings and pitch through pain because we said so. You judged a hitter on his batting average, a pitcher on his victories, a fielder on the number of errors he made, a player on his ability to perform when the chips are down — all because we said so. You know what? We were pretty stupid.
And some baseball fans — for the love of the game — pulled out their calculators, worked on spreadsheets, and tried to figure out what was really happening in baseball. And they still do. Sometimes they’re on. Sometimes they’re off. But they keep trying to see through the smoke. Some get paid, but most don’t. They don’t do it for money or because it’s their job. They do it because they are endlessly fascinated by baseball. That merits respect. And they’re right an awful lot. I learn new stuff about baseball from them every day.
Joe is absolutely right about the rest of the article. This is my favorite quote of the article:
We baseball writers and broadcasters for years have had a monopoly on presenting the game. Pitching was 90 percent of baseball because we said so. Managers needed to bunt more because we said so. Pitchers needed to go nine innings and pitch through pain because we said so. You judged a hitter on his batting average, a pitcher on his victories, a fielder on the number of errors he made, a player on his ability to perform when the chips are down — all because we said so. You know what? We were pretty stupid.
Yep. Pretty much. And finally, Joe Posnanski adds:
They’re right about Mauer too. He’s the MVP by a million miles. If there’s an honest argument to be made for Derek Jeter over Joe Mauer, I haven’t heard it yet.
Which is 100% right.
The piece was brilliantly written and Posnanski is right about the part he attempts to address. My point deviates from his purpose, but it’s valid nonetheless. Unless you consider context, you can’t know value. And that is one of the most overlooked, yet most important, concepts in sabermetric baseball debates.
August 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Pitching, Quotes
And that’s mainly when he’s wrong. Take, for example, this article about Hanson. And I quote:
We’d have four or five more wins if [Hanson]‘d been here all year
I don’t know if it was money related or not. Maybe it was just to get him a little more experience. All I know is that our record would be a lot better if he’d been here from the start.
First of all, don’t lie. We all know it’s money related. You do too.
Secondly. Chipper, buddy, unless Hanson were hitting 40 home runs during that 2-month period, you weren’t going to win any more games. But let’s look at this from an objective standpoint.
The Braves played 8 games using either Kris Medlen or Jo-Jo Reyes as the starting pitcher before Hanson got called up. They went 3-5 in those 8 games. The three wins were won by scores of 8-7 (in back of a horribly pitched game by Reyes, the extra innings one in NY), 2-1 (behind a strong, 7-inning 1-run performance from Reyes), and 9-3 (behind a quality start from Medlen). The five losses were lost by a score of 4-0, 9-0, 10-0, 6-10, and 5-7. The 6-10 one was maybe the starter’s fault. The 5-7 one was a bullpen meltdown (this was during Moylan’s “I suck but Bobby’s going to use me anyway” phase). The other 3? Well, Chipper, if I’m not mistaken, you have to score some runs to win a game. That’s your fault. Not the starting pitcher.
This team might have one more win if they’d brought up Hanson from the get go. It clearly isn’t worth it. But don’t say we’d have about 4-5 more wins. That’s lunacy.
August 18, 2009 at 2:38 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Quotes
There’s a nice section in a Rosenthal bullshit column about Yunel Escobar, which extensively quotes Chipper Jones. And I quote:
Chipper on Escobar: “Do not give up on this kid”
On June 14, Braves manager Bobby Cox removed shortstop Yunel Escobar from a game due to a lack of focus. His attitude was infuriating not only Cox, but also opponents and teammates. But Escobar led the NL in OPS in July, and seemingly has turned an emotional corner.
Ask Chipper Jones.
“Escobar, I feel, is one more notch mentally from being the best shortstop in the National League,” the Braves’ third baseman says. “He’s got the defensive game, the offensive game. Mentally, he’s not quite there yet. But he’s about to elevate himself into one of the top one or two shortstops in the league.
“That’s when sometimes reading news clippings might help you. It will piss you off. He got hacked off at what people were saying about him. Maybe that’s what it takes to get the message through. Nobody appreciates being bad-mouthed in the press. And he was getting it.
“Anytime Bobby Cox pulls you off the field in the middle of a game, it’s bad. He wanted to make a point. He made that point. But I harp on the people of Atlanta: Do not give up on this kid. He’s the best shortstop I’ve ever played with.
“He’s young, hungry, a good player, a good kid. We just need to tone him down just a little bit, get him not to make mental mistakes.”
I basically agree with everything. The column also speculates (what Rosenthal does best!) about managers and there’s a blurb about Neftali Feliz that I didn’t read because all this hype is making me nauseous about the Teixeira trade.
Escobar is an impressive physical specimen who plays gold-glove defense at SS. He has potential to hit for average, plus power, and already possesses good plate discipline. He’s 26 years old and his best days are ahead of him. If all of the Braves prospects pan out and we’re looking at a future line-up including McCann, McLouth, Escobar, Heyward, Freeman, Schafer, Chipper, and KJ/Prado, this team is going to be very good for awhile.
July 20, 2009 at 8:48 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Draft, Farm System, Minor Leagues, Prospects, Q&A, Quotes
What can you tell us about this Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg character who is currently tearing up Appy League pitching for the Danville Braves? He was a blogger favorite from the get-go because of his name, but after his first 23 games, he’s hitting .402/.452/.620. Is he a legitimate prospect? Or is he just having an extremely fluky start to his professional career?
Callis responded by publishing the answer on his Ask BA segment. Here’s his response:
Spanjer-Furstenburg might have the coolest name in pro ball. But at this point, he’s more of a player off to a sizzling start than a real prospect.
A South African, Spanjer-Furstenburg was on his nation’s provisional 2009 World Baseball Classic roster but didn’t make the team. He began his college career at Florida Atlantic but transferred to NCAA Division II Nova Southeastern (Fla.) this year. He set a school record by hitting three homers in one game, and he batted .393 with 15 homers before signing with the Braves as a 16th-round pick.
A 6-foot-2, 235-pound righthanded hitter, Spanjer-Furstenburg played a variety of positions as an amateur but fits best at first base in pro ball. He’s old for the Appy League at 21 and his bat will really have to carry him, but he does have above-average power potential.
And Kevin responded in an email:
Names I want to see on backs of jerseys
He’s not really a prospect yet. Every team has these guys, and it usually means nothing.
Well, he’s still a blogger favorite even if the prospect guys don’t think he’s a legit prospect yet. They’re not wrong, nobody in the Appy League is really a prospect. Especially not those drafted in the 16th round. Anyway, thanks to Callis and Goldstein for keeping us informed about the blogging community’s favorite Appy Leaguer, Riaan-Spanjer Furstenburg.
May 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Front Office, Quotes, Statistical Analysis
Yes, this organization is fundamentally flawed. And by “this organization”, I mean the Atlanta Braves. No organization is flawless, not a single one. But a lot of organizations are fundamentally sound but flawed in the execution of their fundamentals or flawed in that they caught some bad breaks. Everyone catches bad breaks and everyone catches good breaks. We see it all the time in all aspects of baseball. How often do we see a set of 3 spectacular defensive plays that the team couldn’t duplicate if they tried, then during the following half inning we see an infield single, bloop single, wild pitch, and sacrifice fly to put your team down 1-0? It works both ways, every team catches good breaks and bad breaks, both on the field, with personnel decisions, etc. And I am of the belief that in the long run it all evens out. Regression towards the mean. But the teams that are met with the most success, despite their bad breaks, are the teams that are fundamentally sound. And we are not.
First of all, we haven’t always been fundamentally flawed. In the 1991 off-season John Schuerholz’s chief goal was to improve the defense. And it worked. Not only because the Braves went from 26th (of 26 teams) in defensive efficiency in 1990 to 4th (of 26 teams) in 1991, but because they went from the worst record in the majors in 1990 (65-97) to the third best record in the majors in 1991 (94-68) and won the NL West. Now, John Schuerholz had no idea what defensive efficiency was, I’m fairly confident the statistic hadn’t been invented yet, but he saw a problem with the team (defense, they weren’t turning balls put in play into outs) and he put his effort into fixing it. And it paid plenty of dividends. And for the next 15 years, the Braves were built around a model of pitching and defense. During ten of these years, they had the greatest trio of hall of fame pitchers to ever occupy the same rotation: Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux. And they always backed it with a great defensive unit. Because Schuerholz knew, in order for your pitchers to succeed, they need good defenders behind them.
We were a fundamentally sound organization. We had a game-plan, we executed it, and we won. That’s the definition of being fundamentally sound. Developing, executing, and seeing positive results from an effective strategic plan. If a problem arose, we looked at it and fixed it, much like we did our defense in the pre-1991 off-season.
And our game-plan was good. Watching that team was very fun. That game plan, that model for success, that strategy won us 14 consecutive division championships. An unprecedented accomplishment that will likely never be duplicated. And it shouldn’t. Greatness like that is meant to last forever. And even if it is duplicated, when Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine go into the hall of fame, we will forever remember that magical 1991 team, that 1995 world championship, and that completely unprecedented run of 14 playoff appearances. It won’t be forgotten. It will last forever. 100 years from now, the 1991-2005 dynasty will be chiefly remembered as a trio of hall of fame pitchers with a good supporting cast dominating night after night, but it’s the strategy of pitching and defense that really should be remembered as well. The philosophy that took our team from worst to first and kept us there for 14 years. It should be remembered. It was an impeccable strategy. And we were fundamentally sound.
But everything has a shelf life. It’s only a matter of time before the faster, more capable, and more efficient microprocessor is released and your computer is out of date. Within 2 years, a computer is virtually worthless because people can buy a much better one for much cheaper than you paid. That’s what makes the decision to upgrade a computer, a fairly large investment no matter what type of budget you’re on, a very difficult one. The rate of technological growth in today’s society is remarkable. And our strategy was like the Pentium II, which came out in 1997. In 1991, it was so advanced, so much more efficient and capable than anything anyone had ever seen, nobody stood a chance. For a few years, people tried to duplicate it. The Pentium I came out in 1993, but it still paled to the Pentium II, and teams got close, but they were never able to reach our level of sustained success. In 1995, our Pentium II was still the hottest technology, and it took us to a world championship. In 1997, the Pentium II, the microprocessor that we were using, became available to the public. Yet we were still able to get by because we had 6 years of practice using it, it was brand new to the other teams. And we continued to dominate. But in 1999, the Pentium III came out, and we were behind by default. Fortunately, through the implementation of new RAM, a spiffy video card, and a new motherboard, we were able to more than keep up with our competition. Sure, maybe we aren’t as efficient and capable as the Pentium III, but we’re really good at what we do and we’ve upgraded what we have around our Pentium II such that we’re still good enough to stay in it. And this continued through 2004. And in 2005 we were able to squeeze that last bit of useful life out of that Pentium II and make one final playoff appearance.
The baseball community as a whole is largely superstitious towards unconventional thinking. And today the Atlanta Braves, for whatever reason, are a more traditionally grounded organization than most, and thus are even more superstitious towards unconventional thinking than others. In 1991 we weren’t superstitious towards unconventional thinking because there were no expectations. We had been so bad for so long that we might as well try something new and radical, because what did we have to lose? Nothing. We had absolutely nothing to lose. We had no past to live in, no proven track record of sustained success, and no pride whatsoever. It was the perfect opportunity to tear down the walls and try something radical. And we did. And it worked.
But since then we’ve won 14 consecutive division titles and become very “set in our ways” and opposed to unconventional thinking. And not without reason. When you do something well for 14 years and win your division 14 times, you’re usually going to keep doing it and it will usually be the best decision. Even if you’re using a Pentium II processor when the rest of the world’s running dual core. But you’re eventually going to find that in order to keep up, you’ll have to upgrade your processor. There’s only so far you can go with the Pentium II. It’s a matter of fact. And our fundamental philosophy has passed its day in the sun, it’s time to upgrade.
So why is our strategy not relevant anymore? What has changed in the baseball community? What “technologies” have been developed that make our fundamental philosophy flawed? The answer is advanced statistical analysis. The rate at which new statistical analysis is presenting itself is unprecedented, much like our stretch of 14 consecutive division titles. Statistical analysis has always been a part of baseball. And trying to quantify success and using numbers to predict the future is not a new thing, in baseball or in general. But the rate at which the field of advanced statistical analysis is expanding in baseball is completely unprecedented. New metrics, new research, and new important findings are discovered every day. Countless formulas, spreadsheets, and volumes of data are consumed and manipulated daily in an attempt to quantify success, predict the future, and try to answer subjective questions with entities that are non-subjective by definition– numbers. Much like from 1991 to 1998 we spent going from the 50 MHz 486 microprocessor to the 450 MHz Pentium II processor, statistical analysis didn’t advance much until about 2003. But from 1999 to 2004 we went from the 600 MHz Pentium III microprocessor to the 3400 MHz Pentium IV microprocessor, an unprecedented jump in efficiency and capability. Since 2003 statistical analysis has shot through the roof and is one of the driving forces in front offices around the country. And the teams that have been met with the most success since 2003 have been the ones that routinely employ statistical analysis in their decision making process throughout all aspects of the game. From ticket prices to managerial decisions to draft strategies to trades, statistical analysis is a must for an efficiently run and successful organization. And this goes for any type of organization, but especially a baseball organization.
Now, the Braves are not the team that is least apt to use statistical analysis. That would be the Minnesota Twins (which is interesting because their fans are some of the most educated and statistically savvy fans in the country), but to say the Braves aren’t big on statistical analysis is an understatement. They just prefer not to go there. I don’t see why. Maybe it’s because they think they’re “too good” for it or their old-world philosophy is impeccable and can’t be shattered by the wimpy application of mathematics and scientific process. I don’t know, but they don’t like to use it. Which is the fundamental flaw of the organization. Relying completely on statistical analysis would be an even bigger fundamental flaw, but largely ignoring it is a fundamental flaw as well. A happy marriage can be reached between statistical analysis and old-world scouting and player development. Unfortunately for the organization, that happy medium is yet to be reached.
Fortunately for the organization, however, statistical analysis suggests that everything Schuerholz did with regards to pitching and defense is what you have to do to win. For this reason, the Braves are never out of the race. They may not use statistical analysis, but they’re doing the same things that the teams that do use it are doing on the defensive side of the ball. Schuerholz’s strategy was brilliant. And it is still used today, with the support of statheads and meatheads alike. It’s the way you prevent runs. Pitching and defense. The way we teach our pitchers to work is also supported by statistical analysis. We teach them to get ahead of hitters. This is a proven strategy. And it works. You can see it or you can do a research study to prove that it works. It’s common sense, when you’re ahead in the count you’re going to have better results. Duh. That’s why our strategy of pitching and defense works. It works. We’re usually near the top of the league in run prevention.
But since the advent of rapidly expanding advanced statistical analysis, it hasn’t been good enough to excel on only 1 side of the ball. And this is the downfall of the organization. Statistical analysis tells us to do one thing on the defensive side of the ball. And that is to get ahead in the count by getting strike 1 and strike 2. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that on the other side of the ball you should probably try to get ahead in the count as well? I mean, using no research whatsoever, doesn’t that make sense? Research shows that hitters preform better when they’re ahead in the count. It’s always “advantage: pitcher” until the hitter gets ahead. Once you’re ahead in the count, you control the plate appearance. Once you’re behind the pitcher controls it. Universal truth. But getting ahead in the count isn’t something you can do on command. You can’t “make” a pitcher throw you ball 1 or ball 2. You just can’t do it. If a pitcher decides to throw a strike and properly executes it, you can’t get ahead. What you can do is be selective.
This next leg of the article I’ll start with 2 quotes. The first is from Bill James:
Well, it is hard for a power hitter to sustain production without selectivity. The pitchers probably know what you get your home runs off of. . .high fastball, late-breaking slider, spot the change early, whatever it is. If you’re going to swing at the first pitch, they’re not going to throw you your meal ticket on the first pitch. So. . .of course it’s a problem.
The second one is from Chipper Jones:
For me, plate discipline is being able to know what pitch you want to put in play before you step in the box and not swinging at anything else but that.
And finally, I get to my point. The manifestation of the fundamental flaw of our organization is our hitters’ complete disregard towards plate discipline and selectivity. The only two hitters that display any sort of selectivity at the plate are Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, both of whom are coached by their fathers. I’m not putting the blame on anyone here. I don’t necessarily think it is Terry Pendleton’s fault or Bobby Cox’s fault or Frank Wren’s fault, but something must be done. We must teach our hitters to be more selective at the plate. In the minor leagues at every level, from the Gulf Coast League to the International League, our coaches should be constantly preaching selectivity at the plate, as they should be at the MLB level.
Selectivity doesn’t necessarily mean drawing a ton of walks. It means picking out your pitch and swinging at the pitches you can do something with. If the pitcher walks you along the way, so be it. Or if he throws you two fastballs that knick the outside corner and you roll over a breaking ball and ground out, so be it. Because there’s nothing you can really do with a fastball on the outside corner anyway. Even if you know it is coming. Waiting on a pitch that you can do some damage with it the key to success at the plate in baseball. And our organization isn’t doing a very good job of getting this into the heads of our hitters. Something needs to change. And it needs to start with the front office. I don’t know if we need to make personnel changes or if Frank Wren just needs to have a meeting with all of the involved parties and say, “look, we’ve got to be more selective at the plate, and I want our hitters focusing on that at every level of the minor leagues and with the big club”. But something needs to change. And it needs to happen soon.
April 28, 2009 at 12:54 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Quotes
After reading the following by Chipper Jones I thought to myself: “at least he feels the same way I do”:
“We continue to waste JJ’s good outing with bad offensive performances,” Jones said. “Until we start doing something at the top, we’re going to continue to struggle. We’re just not getting anything generated at the top of the lineup offensively. We’re continuing to make baserunning mistakes at inopportune times. You walk pitchers, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”
My favorite part of the quote was the part about baserunning mistakes. It highlights the fact that the Braves haven’t been playing professional baseball. They’re stuck in spring training. A few nights ago Martin Prado got thrown out trying to steal third with 2 outs and Chipper at the plate. If you can give me 1 good reason Prado should try to steal 3rd with Chipper at the plate I’ll return the favor by locating the insane asylum closest to your residence for you. Tonight, Escobar took a huge lead and was picked off at 1st, again with 2 outs and Chipper at the plate. A few days ago Escobar was thrown out trying to take 2nd on a single down by 6+ runs. This time Chipper wasn’t at the plate, but he was coming to bat next. Another silly place to try to grab an extra base. When you’re down by 6, you don’t represent a run that’s significant to the outcome of the game, so don’t risk getting thrown out for the extra base. You have to kind of sit back and wait for the pair of grand slams, not force anything.
Making stupid outs is not acceptable. Not using your head is not acceptable. Taking the bat out of Chipper Jones’ hands is not acceptable. We’re flat out embarrassing ourselves on the basepaths and I’m pretty sick of it.
I’m also pretty sick of Jeff Francoeur’s hit or miss plate discipline. Tonight, in a crucial situation (2nd and 3rd, nobody out, down 2), Francoeur fishes the first pitch out of the dirt and hits it to the outfield for a sacrifice fly and a RBI. It was a breaking ball, and we all (Francoeur included) know how well Francoeur handles breaking pitches (not well if you didn’t). Look, I’m not all about taking the first pitch. I’m not all about taking pitches in general. I’m all about taking BAD first pitches. If you can’t do anything with it, why are you hacking away?
All we needed was a single to tie the game. We had 3 chances to do that. Jeff Francoeur took one of the chances we had, peed on it, and exchanged it for a run. Had he been selective he would’ve had a better chance to collect a hit or a walk. Now, had he gotten down in the count 0-2 or 1-2 and gotten that same pitch he did 0-0, I’d have no problem with Jeff settling for a sacrifice fly. Of course Jeff didn’t strand the runner at 2nd by himself. Brandon Jones and David Ross both struck out, but the fact that he went up to the plate looking to settle for 1 run makes me furious. I don’t know if I should be furious at the coaching staff or the players, but I am fed up with this team settling for 1 run. We’re playing baseball like it’s 1980 and it isn’t good enough.
Chipper’s comments about the top of the line-up seem to be directed towards Kelly Johnson, who is an incredibly soft 4 for his last 39 with 5 walks and 6 strikeouts. Tonight, after going 0 for 3 including grounding into a double play, he was yanked in favor of Omar Infante. I’ll spare an extended rant, but Kelly’s defense has also been utterly pathetic as he’s been flashing his significantly below-average range while hopelessly running out grounders that talented defensive players would get to. Kelly Johnson needs to step up and quit playing below replacement level.
By the way. Your 2009 Braves leader in VORP: David Ross.