June 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis, Slow Starts, Statistical Analysis
Kelly Johnson has produced a rather underwhelming 2009. He is currently hitting .224/.290/.374, all career lows. He is constantly accused of being a “streaky” hitter, one that will get hot for a few weeks and post MVP type numbers then fall into a slump for a few weeks where the production is simply not present. This season, we’re seeing more of the latter. This is especially disappointing considering the Braves are really counting on Kelly to produce. And unlike another member of the Braves that isn’t producing, Kelly hasn’t shown much reason to believe that he is incapable of producing. In fact, he showed quite the opposite in September of 2008 when he went on a tear hitting .398/.429/.643 with 9 doubles, 3 triples, and 3 homers. He scored 19 runs, drove in 19 runs, and posted an OPS+ of 167. A monster month. But that has hardly carried over.
Prior to that month he hit .263/.332/.403 on the season. Which isn’t terrible, but not the kind of production the Braves were seeking. Especially since he doesn’t play lights-out defense. A note about his defense, though. He hasn’t been a below average defender by any metric this season. According to +/- he’s 3 plays above average having saved 2 runs in the field, ranking him 11th among 2B. According to UZR he’s also an above average defender. Yes, he makes some gross errors at times, but he’s an above-average defender, so we live with it, especially when he’s hitting.
But he isn’t hitting. In fact, he’s hitting below replacement level. His VORP is currently -3.1. The only position players that have posted a more offensive VORP for the Braves are rookie Jordan Schafer, rookie utility player Diory Hernandez, journeyman pinch-hitting specialist Greg Norton, and (by a fairly wide margin clear of everyone else) Jeff Francoeur. Runs Created tells the same story. And you don’t even need statistics to explain the fact Kelly Johnson is sucking. This level of suckage is fairly un-heard of, but you do need statistics to explain the fact that he’s not actually bad, just unlucky.
Well, first of all, he’s still making solid contact with the ball, which is most important. His Line Drive % is still 16, right in line with his career average of 17. Sometimes you hit the ball hard but it’s right at someone. His strikeouts are actually down this year, so he’s putting the ball in play more frequently than he has in the past. His walks, however, are also down. For this I blame Terry Pendleton who attempted to change his approach so that, and I quote, “he’ll quit looking at so many called 3rd strikes”. What this means is Kelly has become more aggressive in general and especially with 2-strikes and this has caused his BB% to decline. And people wonder why other people want Terry Pendleton fired.
What is shocking about Kelly’s 2009 is his BABIP. It’s low. Off the charts low. From 2005-2008, his BABIP was .326. This season? .247. Once a ball is put in play a hitter has no control over where it goes. Sometimes you hit a ball hard but it’s right at someone. That sucks. You have to go sit down. Kelly has done this a lot lately. And if history tells us anything, it is that things regress towards the mean. And the mean isn’t at .247.
I am here to tell you that Kelly Johnson will get better. The balls he puts in play will fall for hits more often. They will. He’s a talented player, a former first round draft pick and has a fairly impressive track record at the MLB level. He’ll quit getting so un-lucky, his BABIP will regress towards the mean, and his other stats: batting average, OBP, SlG %, will rise accordingly. It will happen.
It’s hard to be patient, especially with a player who irritates as much as KJ does with his costly errors (a game against the Phillies comes to mind). But if you are patient, good things will come. And trading him now while his value is low and he’s due to preform better? Well that’s a silly idea. Unless the club trading for him is willing to grossly overpay. The best thing to do is just ride this out. Because he’s not a bad player, just getting terribly unlucky.
Francoeur, on the other hand…
June 10, 2009 at 10:39 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Slow Starts
I’ll start this out with a conversation from the Bill James Online community.
Anonymous asks in the “Hey Bill” section:
Is there any point in the Braves holding onto Jeff Francoeur?
To which Bill responds:
Certainly. . .in fact, let me make the pro-Francoeur argument. To this point in his career, Francoeur’s strikeout/walk ratio has improved every year, and his slugging percentage has gone down every year. At some point this pattern must explode. When it does explode, we don’t know what will happen to his career–but he is still quite young. He may well be younger than the 2009 Rookie of the Year. I would argue that you don’t give up on a young player while he is going through this. I mean, look what happened to Wily Mo Pena. OK, bad example. . ..
I see the article and respond:
You mentioned Francoeur’s Strikeout to Walk ratio has declined every year. Which was true, until this year. 2 months into the season, Francoeur’s K/BB has jumped from 2.85 in 2008 to 4.71 in 2009. His BB% has plummeted from an already abysmal 6% to 3.2%. And it ain’t because pitchers are throwing him more strikes. His K% is down from 17.1% to 15%, but his XBH% has declined every year and is now down from 7.2% in 2008 to 5.0%. Is there really any reason for the Braves to keep him around? Even throwing all the statistics aside, he looks awful out there. Swings at crappy pitches all the time. Doesn’t work the count. He just doesn’t do any of the things that hitters need to do to be good. I’m not saying they should release him, but he should not be on anybody’s major league roster. Not right now at least.
And as he frequently does (probably for professional reasons), Bill brushes the question aside with a joke:
There should be like a re-hab center for lost ballplayers. Betty Ford center type place. The Willie Aikens center.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was simply asking him a question; not trying to prove him wrong. Which I really didn’t, I agreed that he shouldn’t be released and there is actually reason to keep him around (hope for a miracle). But I think I dismantled his argument. I really think I did. If I were trying to do this, I would’ve phrased it differently, but I think I beat Bill on this one. He knows it too, but he can’t admit it for a few reasons (the primary one being he’s an employee of a MLB organization and it’d be wrong for him to tell a club how either a) to run it’s organization, b) bad their player is, or c) to just discuss their player in general). I’m not trying to brag, just getting to my point.
Basically, I used a bunch of statistics to say “Isn’t it possible that this pattern has already exploded and the explosion has come in the form of his K/BB ratio shooting through the roof?”. Which isn’t what I was trying to do, well, not for the sake of proving him wrong, but for the sake of letting him make a more informed assessment–I was sort of thinking, he can’t actually think this guy is worth keeping with a MLB team, can he?. I believe he made that assessment in his mind. I also believe that his assessment is consistent with many, many others’, self included. And it is that Francoeur does not belong on a Major League Baseball roster.
Shocking, I know, since I’m such a huge fan of Francoeur and everything</sarcasm>. Francoeur simply can not contribute to a big league club right now. He isn’t good enough. His only asset at the moment is his arm. He can’t see the ball at the plate. He swings at horrible pitches. He doesn’t work the count. He’s just an awful player. I can rattle statistics that tell you how bad Francoeur is until the cows come home, but that’s been done time and time again. I’m not here to bore you with that. I’m not going to dig up any nuggets because writers love to go after the guy whose struggling and all the nuggets have been found. Thousands of pieces have been written about how awful Francoeur is. They’re mostly right. But that’s not what I’m here to do. If you’re reading this, you probably already know how bad Francoeur is because you’ve probably got a grasp of advanced statistical analysis. We’ve all (baseball discussion community) played the Francoeur sucks thing out to a T. So I won’t waste your time and I’ll get straight to the point.
The organization has 5 options as I see it.
1) Let him stay with the big club and either he a) proves us all wrong and we tender him a contract this off-season or b) he doesn’t prove us wrong and we either non-tender him or trade him to get a dirty Richie Sexson game jersey from 2008.
2) Trade him now while he has little to no value.
3) Release him and get no more (lack of) production or any sort of trade value while still paying his 2009 salary.
4) Send him down to the minors to work on his game in an effort to either a) come back up and help the club or b) build his trade value. If his game doesn’t improve you obviously non-tender him at the end of the season.
5) Try to convert him to a pitcher?
Number 1, letting him stay with the big club, is probably the most probable option. It shouldn’t be and it isn’t a solution to a HUGE problem the Braves have, but it’ll probably be the course of action the Braves take. I’d love to think otherwise. I don’t like number 2 unless we’re getting someone good to replace him. Our options in AAA include Brian Barton who is hitting .246/.338/.381 with the Gwinnett Braves and Brandon Jones who is hitting .306/.400/.371. I’d take a .400 OBP, but it likely won’t be even close to that at the big league level. And if you’re not getting much value from Francoeur and his replacement is no better, just hang onto him and hope for a miracle. But if we’ve secured another quality OF, I’m all for moving him and his salary. Releasing him is just a silly idea. He has 2 minor league options left and we’ve guaranteed his contract. His salary is a sunk cost, so releasing him has absolutely no upside. Other than not having to look at him, which is actually plenty of upside (ha). Option 4 is the one I would probably choose. His game probably isn’t going to improve, he’s 25 years old, but if he does hit maybe he draws interest from teams and you get some value in return. Or maybe his game actually does improve. I don’t know, but getting him off the 25-man but keeping him in the organization sounds most ideal to me.
You probably thought number 5 was a joke. It sort of is, but let us remember that Francoeur pitched in High School and threw very hard. He has an over-the-top delivery and doesn’t generate much life on his fastall, but he used to throw 97 MPH in H.S. He’d have to want to do it, but it might possibly work. I mean, he most likely isn’t going to make it as a hitter, so why not give it a shot? Then I remember how stubborn he is. So scratch that idea.
Anyway, the Braves need to be looking for more OF production on the trade market. In the mean time, a mix of Garret Anderson, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Jones, and Brian Barton should be filling in at LF while Matt Diaz takes over full-time in RF and we send Francoeur to the minors. He can’t contribute to a big league club. It’s obvious his bat is done contributing (for now and probably ever). The sooner the Braves realize he’s a bust and quit running him out there every day is the sooner they’ll start winning more games, because Francoeur is only making the rest of the line-up weaker. He’s dragging the team down, and the organization needs to put its’ foot down and say, “I’ve had enough, this won’t continue”.
It’s all probably wishful thinking, though.
May 19, 2009 at 8:36 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, NL East News, Pitching, Player Analysis, Slow Starts
Just a few tidbits of news.
The Braves have called up Kris Medlen and will place them on their active roster on Thursday to take Jo Jo Reyes’s spot in the rotation. Reyes will transition to the bullpen for now, and the Braves will make a decision regarding the pitching staff before Medlen is made active. Parr and Reyes are candidates to be optioned to AAA while Carlyle and Bennett are candidates to be DFA. I’m sure they would both clear waivers, but I have a feeling Parr will be headed to Gwinnett on Thursday morning. I think keeping Reyes with the big club in the bullpen where he can pitch in low-leverage situations is probably the best thing for his confidence. Glavine made a great point in an interview I heard the other day. He said when him and Smoltz were called up, the team was so bad that the only goal they had for them was to get better. Now, rookies are expected to jump in and immediately contribute towards a winning ballclub. Our patience would’ve worn thin with Glavine and Smoltz had they come up and played like they did when they first came up in 2008. Patience is key with young pitchers. And the organization knows that. Nobody is ready to give up on Reyes. Although it was clear that the rotation is not for him at this time, so replacing him was a good move.
Medlen’s call up will be short-lived. When Glavine is ready, he’ll be back on the roster and I assume Medlen will spend a few more weeks in Gwinnett to avoid Super 2 status down the road, a good decision for the club financially.
Speaking of Glavine, he threw in a simulated game today. Apparently all signs point toward him coming back. The next step will be a rehab start Saturday. He’s aiming for a return to the rotation by late May. I hope he comes back and throws well, but the odds of that are low.
It’s time to bench Francoeur. He’s not producing. He got benched the other day because he sucks, but until he starts being more selective and only swinging at pitches he can do something with, he’s just going to be a free out. No opposing pitcher fears facing Jeff Francoeur, and his lack of presence is dragging the club down. If I were Wren, I’d tell Francoeur he has 2 weeks to start producing, or his @$$ is gone.
That’s all I got. I’ll have more on Francoeur later. I won’t be doing a series thoughts/series preview this time. I’ll pick it up after the Rox series, group the NL West teams into 1 post in the thoughts portion, and do a preview for the Blue Jays series. Interleague play is almost here. Joy.
May 5, 2009 at 11:35 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Pitching, Player Analysis, Slow Starts
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of Javier Vazquez. I like him. I like watching him work. The way he mixes his pitches is very unique. I like the fact that he throws strikes and nearly always gets ahead in the count. I expected good things when he came to Atlanta. The secret is, I was silently hoping for great things, as many others were. While he has been good, not great, this is about what I expected.
After last night’s game, Vazquez is 2-3 with a 4.19 ERA and a league leading 50 K’s in 38 and 2/3 innings. Last season, Vazquez, with a terrible defense behind him, in a hitter’s park, facing tougher hitters and a DH in the AL, and with Ozzie Guillen constantly publicly berating him, Vazquez posted a 12-16 record with a 4.67 ERA, 200 K’s, 61 BB’s, and a WHIP of 1.32 in 208 and 1/3 innings. He figured to improve based on switching to a more favorable set of circumstances. We’ve seen Javy improve, but not like I’d hoped he would.
Vazquez’s numbers are nearly all up from last year. For instance, his home run rate is down from 2.8% to 0.8% (partially due to pitching in a less homer-happy park against weaker hitters and no DH, but also because he’s pitched better), his strikeout rate is up from 22.5% to 31.3%. His walk rate is down from 6.9% to 6.0%. His XBH% is down from 9.7% to 5.2%, and his ratio of XBH to Hits is down from 40% to 23%. Yet his ERA is only slightly better. Let’s take a look at why.
1) No Double Plays.
Vazquez has faced a batter with a runner at 1st and less than 2 outs 23 times, but is yet to record a double play. While 1 extra out seems meaningless, double plays ARE quite significant because they frequently silent, if not erase, rallies. Looking at each inning as a separate event makes them even more significant because once your defense has turned a double play, 2/3 of the innings’ outs have been erased. The currency of baseball is outs, and using 2 of them in 1 play is ALWAYS favorable for the pitcher. In his career, about 10% of the time he has a double play opportunity he records one. This year, we’re sitting at 0%.
Vazquez isn’t allowing the ball to be put in play very much. When you’re striking out 31.3% of the batters you face, it stands to reason that not many people will be putting the ball in play. However, when the ball is put in play against him, it has been falling for a hit at an abnormally large rate, both this year and, to a lesser extent, in his career. This season, the batting average on balls in play against him is .366, up from .318 last year and his career average of .304. I don’t view this as a trend, but rather a result of 3 components.
- Bad defense behind him. It is no secret that the Braves have been terrible in the field this season. They’re currently 26th of 30 in defensive efficiency. Vazquez hasn’t benefited from this, as the Braves have been particularly bad when he’s on the hill, turning only 63.4% of the balls put in play into outs. Vazquez wold be a whole lot worse if it weren’t for his excellent K/BB ratio.
- Vazquez’s LD% is way up this season. Ground balls and fly balls rarely fall for hits, but line drives rarely don’t. That’s why smart hitting coaches want their hitters to hit line drives. Vazquez has allowed 21% of his batters to hit line drives off of him in his career and only allowed 18% to do so last year, but he’s currently up to 27%. This is pretty alarming and he needs to work on bringing it down, but it alone isn’t enough to account for the .366 BABIP.
- Bad luck. I mentioned fly balls and ground balls rarely fall for hits. Well against Vazquez, they’ve nearly all fallen for hits. That’s an exaggeration, but I’ve never seen someone give up so many ground-ball singles, infield singles, bunt singles, bloop singles, broken bat singles, etc. A lot of funny things happen in baseball when a round ball hits a round bat, which are out of both the pitcher’s and hitter’s control. Singles that aren’t line drives are generally more luck than skill/ability/whatever you want to call it. A hitter breaks his bat, a ball flys over the 2B head and drops 4 seconds later just out of the reach of the 2B and RF. The hitter wasn’t trying to do that, he just got lucky. It’s a quasi-random event and you can’t blame the pitcher for giving it up. If anything, you can blame the defense. Once the ball is put in play, the defense is charged with the task of turning it into an out. The failure to do so shouldn’t reflect the pitchers’ performance.
Overall, I like what I’m seeing from Javier Vazquez. Hopefully, the defense will pick it up and he’ll get his LD% down and have a decent shot at being one of the best pitchers in the league. I think the ability is there. He’s no Johan Santana, but he’s capable of putting up Santana-like numbers for a season. I’d like that season to be this one (or next, if we decide to not start scoring runs).