February 26, 2012 at 11:29 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Pitching
Last season, the Braves received 119.2 innings out of the combination of Scott Linebrink (54.1), George Sherrill (36.0), and Scott Proctor (29.1). While Sherrill was actually reasonably effective as a left-handed specialist, the other two provided very little value during their Braves’ tenures. Proctor recorded a 6.06 FIP while Linebrink sported a 4.30 mark. Combined, the three totaled -0.5 fWAR.
The replacements for these three are expected to be Kris Medlen, Arodys Vizcaino, and a combination of Robert Fish, Anthony Varvaro, Cory Gearrin, Jairo Asencio, and potentially a few others. It should not be too difficult for these three positions to outperform the negative value provided by the three departed members of the bullpen.
Vizcaino is a good bet to receive 60 or so innings out of the bullpen, which would be more than any non-big three reliever last year – aside from long reliever Christhian Martinez. Taking high leverage innings away from O’Flaherty, Kimbrel, and Venters will be beneficial to their arms over the course of the season, and the value of Vizcaino’s innings over theirs is likely close to equal.
Medlen will probably take some of Martinez’s long innings and the middle relief innings, where the team is tied earlier in the game or down by as many as three runs in the later part of the game, which was when Linebrink was utilized last year. If Medlen does not start any games this year, a reasonable projection should be between 70-80 innings. If Fish misses the roster, Medlen will probably be used against stretches of lefties in the middle innings, where Sherrill was used last year.
The final spot, which will probably be filled a mix of the aforementioned relievers, will probably be used more as a mop up role. This spot will be important on days where the back-end relievers are resting or during double headers, but the importance of most of their innings will be minimal. Varvaro, Proctor, Asencio, Moylan, and Gearrin totaled 65 innings, which will probably be similar this season.
In essence, Vizcaino and Medlen will be asked to throw between 120-140 innings in relatively high leverage situations. Medlen will also probably throw 20-30 long relief type innings as well, which should push Martinez’s total down the same amount. Adding these two relievers to replace the innings thrown by the three departed bullpen arms should be a significant upgrade. The final spot will not be filled with very effective relievers, but there are a few specialty arms that can be of value at points. Regardless, this pitcher will not be asked to throw too many important innings.
Medlen’s success as a reliever should be noted. In 75.1 innings as a reliever, he has a 2.72 FIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio out of the bullpen is 3.17. That type of success as the team’s fourth or fifth best reliever will be of huge value to the Braves this year. For Vizcaino, we have not seen enough of him out of the bullpen to peg his exact value in that role, and ZiPS projections have him as a starter. Fangraphs fan projections, however, have him at a 3.43 ERA over 67 innings, which seems pretty reasonable. Sure, he could flop, but this is the type of role many of us have anticipated him excelling at.
The addition of Medlen and Vizcaino to an already dominant bullpen may be the biggest acquisition the team has made this year. Instead of falling further behind in games due to Linebrink or Proctor, these two should be able to hold teams where they are at much more frequently, which should make it easier for the offense to come back. For depth purposes, an injury to one of the back-end types should not be crippling either, and a strength will likely not become a weakness with a hobbled closer or set up man.
January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Pitching
I was under the impression that Jair Jurrjens would be traded from the moment the season ended last year — actually, probably even before that. He was starting to get expensive, the team has ample pitchers similar to him in quality, and the farm system could use a real boost in the position player department. Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson looked at least somewhat expendable, with Jurrjens being a bit more so due to his service time and lower upside.
In the end, it seems as though the Braves could either not get a deal that they felt was fair or had worries about Tim Hudson’s, and maybe even Hanson’s, health. With there being no sure bet on the roster to throw 200 innings, it does make sense that the Braves would want to keep Jurrjens around. The likely would have been willing to deal him even with a slightly injured staff, but his own injuries later in the year hurt his trade value. I expect him staying was a combination of both problems, with more weight being on the fact that Hudson’s age and back may lead to disabled list stints throughout 2012.
So now that Jurrjens is staying — it is easier to expect that given the innings incentives he has in his contract — how well will he produce? We looked at ZiPS projections a few weeks back, and noticed how similar they expected Jurrjens to be to Julio Teheran.
Jurrjens: 156 IP, 3.81 ERA, 11-8, 15 HR, 105 K, 51 BB, 103 ERA+
Teheran: 152 IP, 3.85 ERA, 11-9, 13 HR, 121 K, 58 BB, 102 ERA+
As you can see, ZiPS does not have much faith in Jurrjens performing to the same level as last season. The innings total is a product of injuries over the past three seasons, and most projection systems have Jurrjens at a similar number. Below are Jurrjens’ projections along with an average of the projections taken from a number different outlets.
The collective average seems relatively accurate to me. ZiPS is the most bearish of all the projections, and it is also the system I prefer most, while RotoChamp and Bill James are the most favorable toward Jurrjens.
The expectancy for him to throw 200 innings simply is not there, and that will hurt his overall value next season. Jurrjens has been worth an average of 4.4 rWAR in a 162 game season and 202 innings pitched. With his innings expected to be close to 160, an expected rWAR of 3.5 is more likely. In 152 innings last year, Jurrjens totaled 3.8 WAR. When adding eight more innings and expecting a higher ERA, a 3.5 WAR over 160 innings seems reasonable for Jurrjens’ talents.
The forecasts all expect there to be an ERA-FIP split, as has been somewhat common in Jurrjens’ career. I do not know that he has thrown enough innings to say for certain that he is the type of pitcher that will receive better results than his peripherals suggest, but his career ERA of 3.40 and career FIP of 3.88 provide an ample spread that projection systems will expect until it begins to close.
Although a spread is expected, as each system projects, none anticipate last year’s fifth best -1.03 ERA-FIP spread to repeat. So, even if you are of the opinion that Jurrjens is a pitcher that defensive independent pitching stats misjudge, projection systems believe that there was at least some luck in Jair’s favor last year. I can understand expecting Jurrjens to receive better results compared to his FIP, but expecting him to maintain a spread so wide makes much less sense. Simply put, he will have to pitch much better in 2012 if he wants to maintain results that resemble last year’s.
None of the systems expect that to occur. However, a 3.64 ERA is certainly useful. If Jurrjens is able to provide that type of production over 160 innings, that is certainly welcome. Depth will likely be the biggest asset for the Braves’ rotation this year. As I said, no starters are expected to throw 200 innings, with Mike Minor probably being the best bet to reach that mark, so a season similar to Jair’s rookie year — in which he pitched to a 3.68 ERA over 188 innings — will be fine.
While Jurrjens has no definitive plus quality in his arm and no pitch that sticks out, he has shown in his Atlanta tenure that he can be a quality pitcher when healthy. Maintaining his health will be vital for his overall value to the team, but as long as he performs well on the mound the Braves are in good shape to mimic his production if he is forced to the disabled list. The Braves lack the top tier arms that the Phillies and Angels have, but they make up for their lack of upside with extremely impressive depth and quality arms throughout the rotation and minor leagues. Jurrjens is just another pitcher who fits right into that group, not a star but a very useful pitcher in an very respectable rotation.
October 26, 2009 at 8:00 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Pitching, Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis
Everyone knows (I hope) that pitchers’ ERA’s fluctuate a great deal more than their fundamental skills. Due to the pseudo-randomness of hitting singles, pitchers more or less have no control over whether or not a batted ball in play results in an out or a single. Doubles and triples are clearly different, but singles are–whether you want to believe it or not–mostly just luck. Whether a ground ball finds the hole between the 1B and the 2B or rolls right to the 2B, whether a shallow fly ball drops in front of the center fielder or falls into his glove, whether a broken-bat blooper gets over the SS or he’s able to make a jumping catch, these are all luck-based events. They’re lucky for a few reasons 1) the hitter wasn’t trying to do that. There wasn’t any skill, other than putting the ball in play, involved from a hitter’s standpoint. No hitter goes to the plate with the thought “I’m going to hit a weak fly ball and make it drop in front of the center fielder”. 2) It’s entirely up to the defense. The hitter and pitcher are out of the equation once the ball is put in play.
Therefore, the amount and rate of singles a pitcher gives up will fluctuate from year to year. Not because the pitcher has fundamentally gotten better or worse, but because of fluctuations of chance. Therefore, a pitcher’s ERA fluctuates similarly and parallel to the fluctuations in singles.
A metric called BABIP was created to model this phenomenon. Studies show that pitchers can’t control their BABIP, it’s a function of nothing they’re able to influence. It is calculated (H-HR)/(Balls put in play).
Which brings us to Derek Lowe and the hit-unlucky numbers he posted in 2009. They aren’t good, 4.67 ERA, 1.515 WHIP, 1.76 K/BB, etc. But Derek Lowe posted the 2nd highest BABIP in the NL in 2009–.333–leading to a league-high 232 hits allowed. While this isn’t a good thing by any means, it tells us something. If he can do everything he did and get a little luckier with the balls he allows in play next year, his numbers are likely to improve.
Bill James invented a metric called Component ERA, which attempts to determine what a pitcher’s ERA would be just from hits, walks, homers, etc. It’s abbreviated ERC. Derek Lowe’s ERC was 4.80 last season. However, if you adjust his BABIP from .333 to his career average (.295), he only allows 208 hits instead of 232. 24 hits doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but his ERC drops to 3.98 simply by removing those 24 hits. I’ve dubbed this aERC (adjusted ERC).
I think that 3.98 figure is probably what we should expect from Derek Lowe in 2010, though not just aERC, ERA as well. His FIP was 4.00 this season and if his fundamental skills hold steady and he has any luck at all, it’s reasonable to expect an ERA around 4.00.
2009′s numbers, on the surface, aren’t a true representation of Lowe’s fundamental skills. The smart money is on him bouncing back. Entropy exists in the universe, things have a natural tendency to regress towards the mean. The mean for Lowe isn’t 4.67, and we should see regression towards the mean–around 4.00–in 2010.
October 24, 2009 at 8:00 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Pitching, Transactions
Apparently the Braves began negotiations with Tim Hudson’s agent about a contract extension that would keep him in Atlanta. Mark Bowman has all the details. The money quotes:
Braves general manager Frank Wren and Hudson’s agent, Paul Cohen, began negotiations on Thursday and they are expected to continue talking over the course of the next couple of days.
Specifics about the early extension talks weren’t revealed. But it is believed the Braves would be comfortable providing Hudson an offer of three years worth $27-29 million.
I think this is probably good news. I take away a few things from this. One, Hudson is going to be back next year and the extension will likely be announced by this time next week.
There were, basically five ways to deal with the pitching excess. The first would’ve been to let Hudson walk and get nothing for him. You save $11 million or so, but letting a valuable commodity walk and receiving nothing in return–not even draft compensation–doesn’t seem like the best move. Option number 2, keep the staff intact. I’m as big of a proponent of depth as you’ll find, but with other needs–namely acquiring a bat and shoring up the bullpen–I don’t believe the organization has the resources to field a complete ball club with all six starters around. Option three is to trade one of the young, pre-arb starters for a bat with similar contractual status. I wouldn’t be opposed to this idea, really. We’ll see how it plays out. Option four, trade Vazquez for a bat. I wouldn’t be opposed to this either, but with only 1 year left on his contract, you’re not going to get a young player with a ton of cheap years ahead of him. So you’re looking at either swapping Vazquez for another 1-year contract (I don’t see any matches) or a bad contract, which would be stupid considering Vazquez’ s trade value. Option five, trade Lowe or Kawakami for something of negligible value and salary and use the money you save to sign a bat. Everyone’s ideal scenario is trading Lowe. I fall under the umbrella of everyone.
I don’t have any idea how it will actually play out, but I’m glad Wren has elected to not go with Option 1, let Hudson walk and receive nothing in return. Getting nothing for Kawakami or Lowe is better than getting nothing for Hudson, if you ask me.
October 20, 2009 at 2:02 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Front Office, Pitching, Transactions
One of the primary concerns among Braves fans this off-season is how the team will deal with the back end of the bullpen. With the impending free agency of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, the Braves are losing their two best relievers and many fans worry about how the team will fill the void. A lot of people will ask: How will the team expect to compete without a “proven closer”?
I don’t pretend to know how the team will attempt to fix the problem, but I do have some thoughts on how I believe they should do it.
First of all, the whole “proven closer” thing is hogwash. Plenty of teams have gone into a season with no such reliever and had no trouble closing out games. Even more teams have gone into a season with a “proven closer” only to see him fail miserably and have to scramble to close games. Take the 2009 Phillies for example. Brad Lidge was 41/41 in save opportunities with a 1.95 ERA 2008. For his efforts, he received a grotesquely large contract only to post a 7.21 ERA and blow 11 saves in 2009.
This stems from the fact that relievers are, in general, a gamble. Granted, there’s instability everywhere, but a team’s bullpen is particularly volatile. Relievers are relievers for a reason. A starting pitcher of equal ability is more valuable than a relief pitcher. Teams convert pitchers to relievers because a) they weren’t good enough to make it as a starter or b) their arms wouldn’t hold up for 200 innings. No matter which way you slice it, relievers are inherently risky. I can think of very few examples of relievers that didn’t, at one point, experience a complete meltdown and lose their effectiveness.
Therefore, building a successful bullpen is about managing these risks. The best way to manage risk with relievers, just like the stock market, is to diversify. Investors spread their resources around, investing in various markets, so that their overall financial health isn’t dependent on one particular investment performing well. Because, after all, there’s an inherent risk of failure with every investment an investor makes. They manage their risk and pit it against their upside by diversifying, such that they’re able to survive in the event of an investment’s failure. If you invest $100 in 1 stock and the stock fails, you lose $100. If you invest $1 in 100 stocks and one fails, you lose $1, and you’re largely un-phased. You may lose the battle, but you live to fight another day.
Furthermore, predicting the failure of investments is a fool’s errand. You can study the markets to your wit’s end, but at the end of the day you only have a slightly better idea of which investments will fail than someone who simply chooses them randomly by picking them out of a hat.
The same is true with relievers. Because relievers are so risky and unpredictable, diversification is the best play. For instance, say a club has $10 million to spend on shoring up their bullpen. They can either a) spend all $10 million to bring in a premium free agent closer or b) spend the money on two or three relievers of the buy-low or set-up variety. In doing b, sure, they probably sacrifice a bit of upside. However, they also minimize their risk. What are the chances that one reliever turns into a bust? Pretty high. What are the chances that three relievers all turn into busts? Not nearly as high. Provided they have the same rate of failure, it’s 8 times more likely that you’ll have a successful closer if you spend the $10 million on 3 relievers rather than one. This is a vast oversimplification, of course, but you get the point.
Dave Cameron of USS Mariner discusses this phenomenon in general baseball terms in his brilliant piece on roster construction theory. I think it’s even more applicable when specifically discussing the bullpen.
It’s tempting for teams to pay market rate for these premium closers for obvious reasons. If it works out, you’ve got an excellent closer. But in doing so, you’ve also assumed a great deal of risk. When you throw all of your eggs into one basket, you’re always one injury or episode of ineffectiveness away from not having a viable option, which disproportionately weakens your team. It’s not that other players aren’t at risk to the same phenomenon, it’s that relievers are particularly vulnerable, more so than other players in general, to said injuries and episodes of ineffectiveness.
You’ll undoubtedly read various articles this off-season written by national analysts, local columnists, and beat writers that suggest the team needs to go out and sign Jose Valverde or to retain Rafael Soriano or to ship a bag of prospects off to Boston for Jonathan Papelbon. Don’t buy it. Having a premium closer is a luxury, not a necessity, and just because a pitcher is labeled as a premium closer doesn’t mean they’re any less risky than the guys you’ll find on the scrap heap after teams like the Cubs and Mets overpay everyone else. The smart teams realize that managing their risk is more important than the upside play. I’m sure one of these moves will make a GM look very smart. But it’s just as likely to make a GM look very stupid (I’m looking at you, Francisco Rodriguez).
This may seem counter-intuitive to the casual fan. After all, how is a proven, known commodity more risky than a buy-low proposition? But again, it’s not that the buy-low relievers are individually less risky than a premium closer, it’s that having multiple viable options–even if they don’t possess the upside of a Francisco Rodriguez or a Jose Valverde–minimizes your overall risk. The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts, so to speak.
I don’t pretend to know what the Braves will do. They could go out and spend all their money on a Jose Valverde or a Billy Wagner. And it may work, I’ll certainly be happy if it does. Though if it doesn’t, they’re in deep doo doo. And I think that managing their risk by diversifying their resources and picking up two or three quality set-up men or buy-low candidates is the smarter play.
October 17, 2009 at 3:51 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Front Office, Pitching, Transactions
Now that the Braves have parted ways with Buddy Carlyle, Jorge Campillo, and Vladimir Nunez, Frank Wren is challenged not only with finding a solution for the end of the game, but adding competent mid-relievers and bullpen depth. I suppose most of the depth is at AAA right now (Reyes, Redmond, etc.), but apart from Moylan, Medlen, O’Flaherty, Logan, and Acosta, I don’t see much of anything there. So, some potential buy-low candidates on the Free Agent Market for any bullpen role*:
*Frank Wren isn’t in a position to be limiting his search. If I’m him, I get the best players I can and make it work.
Billy Wagner – He’s rather old and coming off a Tim Hudson-like year (was out with TJ surgery for most of the season). If healthy, he could be a heck of a bargain. He’ll probably cost the Braves’ 1st round pick, though.
Kiko Calero – He’s never been a closer, totaling 7 saves in 7 seasons, but he has a career 3.24 ERA and 9.6 K/9. He’d be getting a lot more attention if he didn’t play for the Marlins.
Chad Cordero – If he’s healthy, we all know what he’s capable of. He’s also the youngest reliever on the market.
Kelvim Escobar – Career 4.15 ERA in the AL, mostly as a starter. Plus, gives Yunel another Cuban to relate to.
Chan Ho Park – Posted great numbers for the Phillies last season in relief. His strong post-season showing before last night was hurting his buy-low status.
Takashi Saito – Career 2.05 ERA and 10.9 K/9. His numbers are down a bit this season, so if the Red Sox decline his option, he could be a great buy-low proposition.
Luis Vizcaino – Always posted excellent K rates despite a mediocre ERA.
Alan Embree – Our old friend is probably going to retire this off-season, but if he doesn’t, he’d be a nice veteran piece to have. The Rockies hold a $2.75 million club option that they’ll almost certainly decline.
Will Ohman – Another old friend. Posted rather bad numbers for the Dodgers and could come on the very cheap.
Jose Contreras – Has nasty stuff. He’s getting old and hasn’t had much success as of late. May seek a starting gig, but if the Braves could lure him as a reliever, I’d be all for it.
Brett Myers – Recent run-ins with the Phillies and a lost season have certainly hurt his value. Like Contreras, he may be looking for a starting job. This one’s a stretch.
Mark Prior – If he’s not finished, he’s probably relegated to relief. And he could be the definition of a buy-low proposition.
Ben Sheets – I imagine he’ll be able to land a starting gig. Also a huge stretch.
And a few trade candidates:
Kerry Wood – Numbers faded and he’s owed ~$10 million in 2010, but if the Indians were willing to eat some salary, I like his chances of rebounding in 2010.
Matt Capps – A good bet to rebound in 2010, despite his bad numbers in 2009.
Carlos Villanueva – His 5.34 ERA doesn’t look good, but his 4.09 FIP looks a lot better.
October 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Defense, Front Office, Pitching, Statistical Analysis
This is going to be a very lengthy post. It will involve a lot of statistical analysis and will attempt to determine what the Braves did well, what they did badly, what they need to change, and generally how they got to where they are. While the purpose of this post is to examine the team as a whole, it will deal with the successes and shortcomings of individual players in the process. I haven’t formed any conclusions yet and won’t until the end of the post. So sit back and enjoy.
Part I: Where They Ended Up
Here’s what the NL East’s final standings look like:
The projection systems all had the Braves finishing with between 84 and 88 wins. They pretty much nailed it. Florida vastly overachieved. Philadelphia made some acquisitions and ended up being a better team than the projections thought. Injuries wrecked the Mets season. The Nationals were never in it to begin with.
A better indicator of how good a club actually is, rather than using the actual standings, is their Pythagorean W-L record. This method uses runs scored and runs allowed to estimate how many games a team should have won. We’ll take a look at the Pythagorean standings:
The Braves were much closer to the Phillies than the standings would indicate. A team that scores 735 runs and allows 641 should win 91 games. They won 86. However, second order Pythagorean wins is an even better indicator of how good a team actually is. These calculations don’t use actual runs scored and runs against, they use offensive components to determine how many runs a team would score and allow all luck removed. We’ll take a look at those standings:
And 3rd order Pythagorean wins is even more accurate. This takes into account the quality of opposition and park factors:
There’s nothing the Braves can do about this, really, it’s mostly just luck, but it’s rather annoying to think what might have been after watching the Phillies wallop the Rockies in game 1. Fundamentally, the Braves were probably the best team in the NL East. At any rate, this is a fairly good reference point for the rest of the post and a good starting point for 2010.
Part II: What They Did
Where the Braves ended up is a product of the four major categories–hitting, pitching, defense, and base running. We’ll examine each category with great scrutiny. We’ll start with the category that was undoubtedly the strength of the club: pitching.
There aren’t enough good things to say about the Braves’ pitching in 2009. Overall, staff ranked in the NL, as a whole, 3rd in ERA, 3rd in ERA+, 4th in WHIP, 1st in home runs allowed per 9 innings, 4th in hits allowed per 9 innings, 3rd in walks allowed per 9 innings, 5th in strikeouts per 9 innings, and 2nd in strikeout-to-walk ratio. In every meaningful category, the pitching staff was top-5 in the league.
The starting staff was exceptionally strong, posting a 3.52 ERA. That ranked 1st in the NL. Eight pitchers made a start for the Braves in 2009. We’ll take a look at their xFIP and ERA:
|Jo Jo Reyes||27.0||7.00||4.29|
Kris Medlen, Jo Jo Reyes, and Derek Lowe underachieved. On the other hand, Kenshin Kawakami, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson underachieved. Javier Vazquez and Tim Hudson were in line with their pherepials. It’s a bit concerning that two of the team’s best starters were extremely lucky–Hanson and Jurrjens.
Jurrjens was able to accomplish this for a variety of reasons. Nine of the runs he allowed were scored “unearned”. If they were all earned, his ERA would’ve been 2.97. Jurrjens also benefited from a low BABIP (.274, 11 points lower than his career average and 25 points lower than the league average) and a high LOB% (79.4%). When you hear people say “trade Jurrjens while his value is high”, this is what they’re talking about. Advanced metrics suggest he’s incapable of repeating his 2009 performance with the same fundamental skills. They aren’t suggesting he won’t be valuable in the future, just not as valuable as he was in 2009.
Hanson also benefited from a low BABIP (.279), but his 80.3 LOB% is the biggest reason his ERA outperforms his xFIP. He also suffers because his HR rate is so low (0.7 HR/9), but that’s right in line with the rest of the Braves’ staff. A staff that has traditionally been extremely good at limiting home runs. I’m less concerned with regression from Hanson than I am from Jurrjens because Hanson’s strikeout rates and walk rates were significantly worse the first few starts than his minor-league numbers would indicate. He reversed the trend after a month or two and I expect that to continue in 2010.
Kawakami’s over achievement can be explained by his home run rates as well, something that he’s probably capable of sustaining. Kawakami also struggled with command in his MLB debut on account of a bigger, slicker baseball than he used in NPB and a smaller strike-zone. He’s seemingly made the adjustments he needs to and I expect improvement from Kenshin in 2010.
Derek Lowe was the biggest puzzler of them all. After signing a 4 year, $60 million contract, he disappointed with a 4.67 ERA. One would expect some regression due to park effects (Dodger Stadium is more pitcher-friendly than Turner Field), but this doesn’t account for a run-and-a-half of regression. Lowe didn’t get a whole lot of help from his defense in 2009. His .333 BABIP ranked 2nd in the league. This isn’t all luck, Lowe’s LD% was up in 2009, but a lot of it is. And of course his strikeouts were down in 2009 and his walks were up, but not significantly. All in all, his xFIP probably tells the complete story of Lowe’s abilities. In Lowe’s case, natural regression towards the mean will likely occurr in 2010 and I expect improvement from him. When it’s all said and done, Lowe will probably be worth every penny of that $60 million contract he signed this off-season.
The difference in Medlen’s xFIP and ERA isn’t particularly noteworthy and Reyes probably doesn’t figure to be a part of the Braves’ plans in 2010.
The Relievers were a less impressive group. Overall, they ranked 5th in the NL with a 3.68 ERA. We’ll take a look at the relievers’ ERA, xFIP, IP, and number of appearances. We’ll cut it off at 15 innings pitched. Kris Medlen, who primarily pitched in relief, is included in the previous table and not in this one:
Most of the work out of the bullpen was done by four relievers–Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan, Mike Gonzalez, and Eric O’Flaherty. Soriano was excellent, notching the first Braves’ reliever 100-strikeout season since John Rocker did so in 1999. Peter Moylan proved to be an extremely valuable set-up man, despite having to dig his way out of a 7.88 ERA he posted in April. Moylan returned from Tommy John surgery in 2009 and many would argue he returned pre-maturely. His April performance suggests he probably did, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s done is done and, so long as no injuries surface, whether or not he came back too early isn’t particularly relevant going forward.
Something else happened to Moylan that was pretty noteworthy in 2009. He finished the year without allowing a home run. He shattered the major league record for appearances in a season without allowing a home run in doing so. The absence of Home Runs hit off of Moylan accounts for the difference between his ERA (which was in line with his FIP) and his xFIP (which adjusts FIP to account for league-average HR rates). While it would be unrealistic to expect Moylan to allow zero home runs in 2010, sinkerballers tend to limit home runs, so I believe his ERA is sustainable.
Mike Gonzalez was also excellent out of the bullpen. After being relegated to set-up man on account of Soriano’s dominant performance, he excelled and was probably the league’s top set-up man. His ERA was a bit of an illusion, but he did post an excellent 90-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Gonzalez was also invaluable as a late-innings left-handed reliever, limiting lefties to a .581 OPS.
Eric O’Flaherty rounded out the group of late-innings arms. O’Flaherty was used primarily as a lefty specialist and was excellent in that role. He was even more effective than Gonzalez against the lefties, allowing them to post a .559 OPS and posting a 24-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio against them. As the season grew, Bobby Cox became more and more comfortable using O’Flaherty against right-handed batters. He wasn’t nearly as good against them, allowing them to post a .375 OBP against him. Using O’Flaherty in a full inning role in 2010 would be a mistake, but he’s more than capable of being one of the best LOOGY’s in the game.
Jeff Bennett was terrible and able to sustain a low ERA despite horrible peripherals before being released. Manny Acosta wasn’t too good out of the bullpen either, but he’s perfectly capable of pitching low-leverage innings. Buddy Carlyle was diagnosed with Diabetes and, as a result, we have little meaningful data on him. He was good in 2008 and I expect him to compete for a long-relief role in 2010. The most interesting pitchers of the low-leverage group (apart from Medlen) was Boone Logan. Logan, who was acquired from the White Sox in the Javier Vazquez trade, has a big arm and pitched fairly well for the Gwinnett Braves, but wasn’t used very much with the big club. His platoon splits (in an admittedly small sample size) suggest he’s perfectly capable of filling in as a situational lefty. His peripherals were fairly solid.
Injury concerns arose during the season due to Bobby Cox’s overuse of the 4 back-end arms, but Bobby did a much better job of managing the bullpen in the 2nd half. I’m not too concerned that overuse will cause injuries to suffer in 2010, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Overall, the pitching staff was very good. The Braves will most likely bring all 6 starters back, but may have to deal with the departures of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. While I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, it would be nice to have another top-notch reliever in the 2010 bullpen to soften the blow of losing Soriano and Gonzalez. Otherwise, I think the Bullpen is much healthier than it was leading into 2009. Still, provided injuries or bad luck don’t rear their ugly heads, the pitching staff should be just as strong in 2010 as it was in 2009.
On the other side of run prevention–defense–the Braves weren’t nearly as good. This was, to me, the biggest surprise of the season. I envisioned an above-average defense. But when it was all said and done, the Braves ranked 21st of 30 teams in defensive efficiency (turning balls put in play into outs). We’ll take a look at how the team stacked up defensively, as a whole. Each position is listed along with the number of runs the team saved (+/-) at that position:
There are three positions that obviously need improvement–LF, CF, and 2B. Individually, we’ll look at what the Braves did:
Brian McCann has improved to a league-average catcher and his back-up is more than capable defensively. When the Braves traded Casey Kotchman, they lost something on defense. Kotchman is a plus defender. While LaRoche isn’t a complete slouch with the glove, he’s average at best. None of the 2B were particularly good. Yunel Escobar was outstanding at SS and has turned into one of the best defensive SS in the game. Diory Hernandez isn’t good at anything–defense included. Chipper Jones, who I expected to have an average season after performing surprisingly well with the glove in 2008, was miserable in the field in 2009. The only reason the Braves’ +/- number for 3B was positive is the excellent defensive work Martin Prado put in as the back-up.
In the outfield, left field was rather miserable every time Garret Anderson was out there. The good news is he most likely won’t return in 2010. Matt Diaz wasn’t particularly good out there, either. In center field, Jordan Schafer failed to live up to the hype. He was touted as one of the best defensive CF in the minor leagues, but got to the big show and looked completely lost. I expect him to play plus defense in CF going forward. McLouth had an overall positive defensive season, but it’s worth note that his UZR/150 with the Pirates was +5.6 but it was -1.5 with the Braves. I view McLouth as a below-average defender in center, but probably an above-average defender at a corner. One way to possibly solve both defensive OF problems would be to allow Schafer to resume full-time duty in CF and play McLouth in LF. In Right, Church was the 2nd best defender on the team. Matt Diaz and Francoeur both weren’t very good.
I have reviewed this team’s defense endlessly in this space and concluded that if this team wants to get better defensively, they probably have to just do it internally. There aren’t any openings (1B, corner OF) to add an impact defender. But with a commitment to defense, this club could push themselves into the top-half defensively. Ranking in the top-half defensively should be good enough to make this club the best in baseball at preventing runs in 2010.
Offensively, the Braves started out extremely slow. For this, they got a bad rap, but they ended up averaging 4.54 runs a game, good for 6th in the NL. They ended up finishing 5th in walks, 4th in hits, 4th in doubles, 6th in average, 5th in OBP, but finished 9th in SLG% and 10th in HR. It’s fairly obvious that the biggest systematic weakness of the team was the inability to hit home runs.
The Braves attempted to solve this problem all season long, which led to a re-tooled offense. Going from a line-up that typically looked like this:
1. Kelly Johnson* – 2B
2. Yunel Escobar – SS
3. Chipper Jones# – 3B
4. Brian McCann* – C
5. Garret Anderson* – LF
6. Jeff Francoeur – RF
7. Casey Kotchman* – 1B
8. Jordan Schafer* – CF
To a line-up that typically looked like this:
1. Nate McLouth* – CF
2. Martin Prado – 2B
3. Chipper Jones# – 3B
4. Brian McCann* – C
5. Garret Anderson* – LF
6. Yunel Escobar – SS
7. Adam LaRoche* – 1B
8. Matt Diaz – RF
Drastically improved their overall offensive numbers, but the only sort of impact home-run hitter added was Adam LaRoche, who is a free agent at the end of the season and has 30-HR power in a good year. We’ll take a look at every player’s weighted On Base Average, minimum 95 PA’s:
The Braves did a fairly good job of getting the useless bats out of there. Jordan Schafer’s .273 wOBA was replaced by Nate McLouth’s .342 wOBA. Jeff Francoeur’s .278 wOBA was replaced, in large part, by Matt Diaz’s .384 wOBA. Kelly Johnson’s .306 wOBA was replaced by Martin Prado’s .355 wOBA. And Kotchman’s .332 wOBA was replaced by Adam LaRoche’s .404 wOBA. There was one more bat they should’ve gotten rid of, that was Garret Anderson. For instance, if Bobby Abreu’s .367 wOBA had been playing left field instead of Garret Anderson for the 534 PA’s he consumed, the Braves would’ve netted 3 more wins. And that’s just with the bat.
Overall, they’re dealing with a fairly solid group of offensive players. With rebound seasons from McLouth, Schafer, Kelly Johnson, and Chipper Jones, they’ll have a decent enough offense. However, if they’re serious about winning in 2010, a power bat to man one of the corner outfield positions or 1B is going to be a necessity. Due to the fact that most of the Braves’ power-hitting comes from the left side (Chipper, McCann, and McLouth, specifically), a right-handed power bat would be ideal and may have a disproportionate effect on the offense, propelling them from a slightly above-average one to a top-4 offense.
On the base paths, the Braves were absolutely miserable. Not just a little bit bad, they were plain awful. In fact, if it weren’t for Baltimore’s incredible incompetence on the base paths, the Braves would’ve ranked dead last in the majors in base running, costing the team nearly two wins on the bas epaths. As you can probably guess, there weren’t too many positive performances individual performances on the base paths, seeing as the team ranked 29th of 30. We’ll take a look at EqBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs) for each individual, anyway:
Simply put, nothing overwhelmingly positive is going on here and plenty of overwhelmingly bad things are going on here. I have previously concluded that the Braves probably aren’t in the position to add an impact base runner, so they’re probably better off just trying to improve within. I don’t see any reason it can’t be done. With a little bit of focus, some coaching, and some re-tooled workouts, I don’t see any reason why this team has to continue killing themselves on the base paths.
Part III: Where They’re Going
After losing 90 games in 2008, losing most of the rotation and the centerpiece of the offense, Frank Wren was tasked with trying to re-build the club. He was able to field a competent pitching staff–the inability to do so was the downfall of the club in 2008–but the offense didn’t take off until Wren made some in-season moves. As it stands, the club is probably good enough to make the playoffs in 2010, but Wren has some interesting decisions on his hand. We’ll take a look at the payroll commitments for 2010:
|SP -||Derek Lowe||$15,000,000|
|SP -||Javier Vazquez||$11,500,000|
|SP -||Tim Hudson||$12,000,000|
|SP -||Jair Jurrjens||$400,000|
|SP -||Tommy Hanson||$400,000|
|SP -||Kenshin Kawakami||$7,333,333|
|RP -||Peter Moylan||Arb 1|
|RP -||Eric O’Flaherty||$400,000|
|RP -||Manny Acosta||$400,000|
|RP -||Kris Medlen||$400,000|
|RP -||Boone Logan||$400,000|
|C -||Brian McCann||$5,666,666|
|2B -||Martin Prado||$400,000|
|SS -||Yunel Escobar||$400,000|
|3B -||Chipper Jones||$13,000,000|
|LF -||Nate McLouth||$5,000,000|
|CF -||Jordan Schafer||$400,000|
|RF -||Matt Diaz||Arb 2|
|BC -||David Ross||$1,600,000|
|UT -||Omar Infante||$1,850,000|
|UT -||Kelly Johnson||Arb 2|
|OF -||Brandon Jones||$400,000|
|OF -||Ryan Church||Arb 2|
You’re basically looking at 6 starters, 5 relievers, 2 catchers, 5 infielders (no 1B), and 5 outfielders. The Braves probably need to add a reliever or two (which could be accomplished by moving a starter to the bullpen), and add a 1B and OF. They’ve probably got about $12 million to play with right now. I won’t start playing the roster game, because I’ll never stop, but there are plenty of options.
The outlook for 2010 is good. Right now the Braves have one of the best teams in the NL and they’ll just be looking to re-tool, as opposed to completely re-construct a pitching staff and offense. Adding an impact bat and reliever would certainly make this team very formidable, but they’re probably good enough to make it as they’re currently constructed.
It was a very successful season. The pitching staff was completely re-built, Francoeur is a Met, the rest of the out-machines are elsewhere, and the Braves finally played meaningful games. They enjoyed the successful run that almost took them to the post-season and will look to build on it in 2010. With the much-anticipated arrivals of Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward, among others, the Braves could be looking to begin another run similar to the one they experienced in 1991.
While the Braves didn’t make the playoffs, the future is very bright and there’s plenty to be excited about going forward. 2010 will be a good year for the Braves. Count on it.