April 17, 2012 at 9:31 am by Ben Duronio under Player Analysis
Right now, Jason Heyward is hitting .375/.444/.656 with a 222 wRC+ and has been worth 0.8 fWAR over 10 games. Obviously those numbers will drop, but this has been exactly the type of start we wanted to see out of Heyward.
His .435 BABIP is fueling this hot start, which is obviously unsustainable. But, what has been really great to see so far are his batted ball rates.
I looked quickly at Heyward’s ground ball issues over the past two years in January. Right now, Heyward has hit 20% line drives, 32% ground balls and 48% fly balls. For his career, he has hit 16% line drives, 54% ground balls, and 30% fly balls. This is a change for the better, and maybe his altered swing will lead to the grounders becoming less frequent.
We will have to see if he sustains these rates over the course of the year, but right now this is the best thing I see when I look at his stats page. The production has been great, but the higher line drive and fly ball rate are even better to see.
April 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm by Ben Duronio under Player Analysis
It is definitely early to say that Pastornicky will be a solid Major League shortstop, but over the past few games I have really liked what I have seen. There have been very few bright spots over the first four games of the season, but Pastornicky not looking over-matched on either side of the ball has been refreshing.
Defensively, he has shown a better arm than I expected. I did not see this type of arm in the spring training games I watched, so it was good to see him rifle a few balls in yesterday’s game. During the series against the Mets, his range to his left seemed solid and he made a nice play on what ended up being Kirk Niuenhuis’s first Major League hit — after looking at the replay it seemed to me that he was out.
Offensively, Pastornicky could end up benefiting in the eight hole. He has a very smooth contact swing and has shown plate discipline in the minors — though mostly in his tenure with the Blue Jays. Even so, with eight hitters being pitch around occasionally in order to get to the pitcher, he could thrive in the eighth spot if he remains patient at the plate. His swing has looked pretty solid as well, though he will likely have a very high ground ball rate. He doesn’t seem to get under many balls and has an up-the-middle type swing, which was on display in his triple and last night’s single.
Nothing about Pastornicky’s game will likely ever be tremendously impressive, but so far he is playing exactly like we had hoped before the spring. He has been pretty much average defensively and average offensively, which is all the Braves could really ask for given his skill set and past performances. I would be jumping to gun to say that this is the player we should expect to see throughout the season, but it is the player we hope to see. We’ll check back in a few weeks to monitor whether or not his solid play has continued.
March 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis
Kris Medlen threw a few curveballs in his start Tuesday against the Nationals. While a third offering isn’t a huge deal for Medlen while he’s in the bullpen, it will be important if he gets back into a rotation some day, which I’m sure will happen at some point. His curve has never been above average, according to run values, but he has shown flashes.
In 2009, he threw it 19% of the time with a whiff rate of 12%, according to Brooks Baseball. However, he nearly abandoned it in 2010 when he made 14 starts for the Braves, throwing it just 9% of the time with a whiff rate of 7%. Compare that to Tommy Hanson’s curve, which he has thrown just 13% of the time over his career, but it breaks harder and results in a 14% whiff rate, as well as a 3% drop in line drive percentage from Medlen’s.
Medlen had potential with it in 2009 when he threw it at a decent rate. His home run rate was solid, he induced a ground ball here and there, he picked up a 24.5 K%, and he put up a 3.35 FIP as a rookie.
When he almost trashed it in 2010, he had similar independent numbers, just the opposite way. His FIP went up to 3.78, but his xFIP went down from 3.65 to 3.49. This was due to an increase in home runs to more than one per nine innings. You could say an innings increase had some effect, but leaning much more heavily toward a two-pitch repertoire likely had some say in the matter.
His swing and contact numbers also prove the change to fewer curves and more changeups. His swinging strike rate saw a slight decrease and he had fewer strikeouts in 2010, and he saw an increase in swinging strike percentage outside the zone by nearly 10%, and greater outside contact that year by 5%. So while he traded strikeouts by curves for contact on the changeup, he got weak contact on many of those pitches. It’s basically a different way to achieve a similar result (note: similar, not the same).
But perhaps the biggest change from Medlen’s 2009 to 2010 is something I haven’t mentioned yet: walks. Medlen is known as a tremendous control pitcher, posting just 27 walks in 120 innings at Double-A in 2008, and performing other similar feats during his minor league career. However, his walk rate jumped to 10.2% in 2009. Whether some of it had to do with nerves is not known. But it’s worth noting that after nearly ditching the curve in 2010, his walk rate dropped to 4.8%. I can’t help but feel there is a connection.
Basically, I waffled throughout this, but the point is to show Medlen went about his business in a different way between 2009 and 2010, and both ways were successful. One way – establishing a curveball as a reliable third offering – potentially leads to more strikeouts and walks (as it should). The other way – relying heavily on the changeup and essentially being a two-pitch pitcher – potentially leads to fewer strikeouts but weaker contact and fewer walks (as it should).
As I said in the opening, if and when Medlen becomes a starter again, I feel he should at least attempt to maintain his curve as a third offering, because while his changeup is a plus pitch, his stuff is not overwhelming three times through a big league lineup. Based on the numbers, I think it will be there when he needs it.
March 4, 2012 at 6:00 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis
Over the last few years, me and Peter would occasionally make jokes about Prado giving pitchers a free strike one, as he just patiently watched a perfect meat ball get rolled down the middle of the zone. Then Prado would get lauded for his approach by casual fans. Somehow Prado’s counterintuitive approach made announcers gush, as he managed to work the count and be aggressive. So let’s look at Martin’s approach since 2009. (all of the graphs and stats in this post are compiled using all available data from 2009-2011, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info)
First, let’s get a sense of where Martin likes the ball, or at least should like the ball, by looking at his slugging percentage by area:
As we can see, power wise, Prado is an extreme inside ball hitter. This shouldn’t surprise anybody, as Prado has among the quickest hands in the game and can turn on virtually any fastball. He has an uncanny ability to get the head of the bat on anything inside and hit it hard. On pitches inside, Martin Prado has an astounding 1.044 OPS since 2009. 31 of his 39 homeruns have come on pitches on the inner half of the plate during that time span. By contrast, Prado has just a 0.613 OPS on pitches on the outer half of the plate and only a .642 OPS on pitches over the middle third of the plate. Basically the difference between Martin on the inside of the plate and Martin everywhere else is something like the difference between Barry Bonds and David Eckstein. This tells us that Prado should be picking and choosing his pitches as much as possible and waiting for any inner half pitches he can get and crushing them. Is this what happens? Let’s see:
Wait, what? From this graph it appears that Prado swings at most everything at roughly the same rate as long as it’s in the strike zone. He’s not picking and choosing his pitches by location, like his extreme splits on inside/outside perhaps indicate he should. he’s just swinging at everything in the zone about half the time. It’s not the extreme free swinging graph we saw from Freddie Freeman the other day, it’s just sort of bizarre.
The weirdness of this approach is most evident when looking at how he does on the first pitch. Saying he’s selective on first pitches would indicate he had some sort of plan as to what pitches he was going after on first pitches. He simply doesn’t swing at them, as we can see:
Contrast that with the three graphs of his swing percentages on 1-0, 2-0 and 3-1 counts, where a batter probably should be very selective:
How backwards are these graphs to the left? Why in the world would a hitter swing more in 1-0, 2-0 and 3-1 counts than in 0-0 counts? Prado swung at 16.9% of 0-0 pitches in the strike zone, compared to the league average of ~43%. Even in Martin’s ‘happy zone’, the inner third of the plate in the strike zone, he only swung at 21.6% of pitches thrown in 0-0 counts. On 2-0 counts, Prado swung at 41.1% of pitches overall, including swinging at 34.5% on the outside of the plate in the strike zone. Think about that for a second. Martin Prado is almost twice as likely to swing at a ball on the outside, where he’s a poor hitter, in a 2-0 count than he his over the inside, where he’s extremely dangerous, on a 0-0 count. It’s mind boggling. But the most truly mind boggling stat of all? Prado swings at 16.9% of strikes on 0-0 counts, as we’ve noted. Yet he swings at 21.5% of balls outside the strike zone on 2-0. That may be one of the most bizarre trends that has endured over a three year period I’ve ever seen. In a count where a hitter should chose their spots, he swings more often at balls than he swings at pitches in the strike zone in 0-0 counts. I had to type that again just to deal with the reality of it.
Furthermore, even in 1-0 counts, where Prado is reasonably appropriately selective, he’s selective in a weird and counterproductive way. As we will go into greater detail with below, in a 1-0 count he should be looking for a pitch he can hit hard and drive. Instead it seems like in 1-0 counts he’s looking for pitches he can dink into right field.
As Prado has gained in reputation, pitchers have really honed in on Martin’s habit of taking the first pitch no matter what and are increasingly using this habit to get a free strike. More often than not Prado only really makes use of 2 of his 3 strikes, basically giving one away. After getting Prado in a 0-1 hole, an intelligent pitcher can use Prado’s aggressiveness in later counts against him and then get him to chase poor pitches off the plate on the outside.
Something you will hear quite often is that “Martin’s game is going the opposite way, tagging those pitches on the outer half to right field, he gets himself in trouble when he gets pull happy and yanks too much to left field.” That was a direct quote from Braves announcer Jim Powell during today’s thrashing against the Tigers. While this may be the conventional wisdom, it simply couldn’t be more wrong. When Martin Prado pulls pitches on the inner half of the plate, his batting average is .498 with a .996 slugging percentage. This leads to a stupefying .616 wOBA when he pulls pitches on the inner half of the plate. Contrast that with his line of .324 BA, with a .429 slugging percentage and a .324 wOBA when he hits pitches on the outer half to the opposite field. Obviously both of those lines are pretty good, because a player is going to do well when they pull inside pitches or hit outside pitches the opposite way, but one is stupefyingly good and one is average. Martin’s game should be looking for pitches to pull in favorable counts, and then when he’s behind in the count going the opposite way with pitches on the outer half.
The graph to the left is a graph of expected wOBA Delta by location on swings. Which sounds complicated, but really isn’t. The graph takes wOBA, perhaps one of the better single composite measures of a player’s offensive ability, then graphs it out by location. The expected delta part means that this particular graph then measures it against what should be expected given the current count. So, for instance, if a player’s wOBA on 3-1 counts is .367, and a player gets a double it compares the weighted value of this double and subtracts .367, which is what would be expected for any pitch given that count. Furthermore, for this graph I only used times when Martin swung, to get an idea of where he hits best.
So, to make all that a little more easily understandable, that graph simply shows the locations that a hitter does relatively best when he swings, ie his personal hot zones. And as we can see, Martin is very clear as to what his hot zone is when he swings. The red parts indicate areas where him swinging produces better results than would be expected for an average pitch, while the blue areas indicate locations where him swinging produces worse results than would be expected. So, no Jim Powell, Martin’s game should not be hitting outside pitches the opposite way. In an ideal world, in hitters counts, a players swing rate graph should closely match his expected wOBA delta on swings graph.
Now, I don’t want to get too down on Prado’s plate approach, as it may simply be the case that he has a hard time differentiating strikes from balls, inside from out, and there’s not much he can do about it. I doubt that is the case, but it’s at least a plausible explanation. However, if it’s possible for him to do so, Prado could definitely see a large spike in his productivity if he was more intelligently selective. He gets himself into far too may 0-1 counts by taking pitches he could rake and then he swings at far too many poor pitches in hitters counts where he should be selective and wait for a pitch. Even putting aside the holes he gets himself in, Prado should be looking for inside pitches to drive in favorable and early counts much more. When he’s ahead in the count he should lay off outside pitches, and then only leverage his ability to slap the ball into right field when he gets behind in the count, not when he’s ahead in the count.
Prado has obviously been a great player during his tenure for the Braves. I’m simply saying that given his talent level, he could actually be an even better hitter.
edit: Here is a great video showing why Martin is so deadly on inside pitches. Look at how fast he clears the head of the bat. He doesn’t even really start his swing until the ball is around 15 feet away, but still gets the head of the bat all the way around on a fastball and pulls it.
edit2: There has been some wondering if Martin just doesn’t get a whole lot of inside pitches to hit, and thus that shapes his outlook, ie because pitchers throw him pitch after pitch outside, he starts looking that way, and is thus surprised when he does get one in his wheelhouse inside and is frozen. Reasonable quandary, but numbers just don’t bear it out. Here is a graph of where he gets pitched:
As we can see, pitchers shy away from the inside part of the plate a tiny bit, but that’s a pretty normal amount for any hitter, and it indicates that Prado is being thrown a pretty fair amount of pitches inside.
December 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis
In 2011 the Braves were a game away from making the playoffs despite having no players with a Fangraphs WAR above 3.7. The team was well on pace to make the playoffs before the monumental collapse, as we all know, so expecting this team as currently built to again contend for a playoff spot is certainly plausible.
Not heavily relying on any individual player offensively or on the mound and still being able to win 89 games is very impressive. It is good that the Braves have the depth throughout the roster to be able to compete with the upper echelon of National League teams, but top tier production from a few players could push this team into contention for the NL East and assure them a wild card, barring a rash of injuries.
Below are the most likely candidates to have a season worth 4.5 Fangraphs WAR or more, in order of most likely to achieve said status, in my opinion. ZiPS projections for the Braves come out tomorrow, and we will see where they rate each player as well. I will comment on those projections around the same time tomorrow. For the rest of the post, I will simply state WAR when speaking of Fangraphs WAR.
We all know the story behind Heyward, an uber prospect with a sensational rookie season that struggled immensely during his sophomore campaign. Despite the poor offensive year, he was still able to produce a 2.2 WAR playing his entire season in right field, where he receives a -5.1 positional adjustment.
Heyward was still able to be the Braves’ most valuable outfielder and third most valuable position player according to WAR by playing excellent defense and being solid on the base paths. In fact, if you replace UZR with DRS, Heyward becomes a 2.7 win player instead of 2.2, which would make him more valuable than any position player aside from Brian McCann. That is pretty impressive given the fact that he had the least amount of plate appearances of the entire top five.
I expect Heyward to bounce back. He may not perform as well as some imagined in terms of the power numbers, but he is still an excellent player with solid secondary skills that help his overall value.
Three year average ( two seasons): 3.65
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 5.0
My projection: 4.8
Bourn has hovered around this mark for each of the past three seasons, mostly due to his position, base running, and defense. UZR disliked Bourn’s defense in 2011, but I put more of that on the metric’s massive volatility than on Bourn’s skills defensively decreasing. For what it’s worth, DRS had Bourn at -1, so it is possible that he had a poor season in the outfield, but a combined +27 over the past three seasons suggest his true talent level is among the best in the game in center.
He probably will not have as much luck on balls in play as he had last year (.369 BABIP in ’11 compared to .341 for his career), but he has had two seasons with a mark over .366, so it is possible. Bourn should also walk a bit more, which should keep his on base percentage around the same .345-.350 level that it has hovered around throughout most of his career, sans 2008.
Three year WAR average: 4.6
Fans projection via Fangraphs: 4.1
My prediction: 4.5
McCann was in the midst of one of his best seasons ever until he ran into a late season slump. In the season’s final two months, he batted just .180/.292/.346 compared to .306/.374/.514 from April until July 26. That was the last day McCann played before hitting the disabled list, and he returned on August 14 when he put up that awful slash line to end the year. There is legitimate reason to believe the injury hurt his performance, so I do not expect the poor tail end of the season to linger on into 2012.
The rough end of the year left McCann’s WAR at 3.7, the lowest since 2007 and second lowest of his entire career. McCann has a lot of games and innings behind the plate now, so injuries could unfortunately become more prevalent. Hopefully he is able to stay injury free, but at this point I am at least a bit skeptical of whether that will happen.
Three year average: 4.2
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 5.0
My projection: 4.1
Beachy is my pick to provide the most value from the rotation in 2012. His phenomenal rookie year was somewhat quiet on the national scene due to his low win total (he ended the season just 7-3) and the fact that he threw just over 140 innings.
Beachy’s strikeout rate was simply outstanding, and there is little reason to expect that number to drop below one per inning. He led the league among starters who threw over 140 innings, slightly edging out Zack Greinke. Even if Beachy’s strikeout rate regresses, expecting over a 16.2% decrease (the percentage difference between his 10.74 mark and 9.00) in his strikeout per nine rate is being pessimistic. Most signs point to Beachy’s ERA decreasing, as the spread between his ERA and FIP, SIERA, and xFIP is rather vast. If he remains healthy and all things remain equal, Beachy should be the top pitcher on the Braves’ staff next season in terms of WAR.
Three year average (one season): 2.8
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 3.6
My Projection: 4.0
Hanson suffered a similar fate as McCann. Stellar start to the year followed by an injury, trailed by an attempt to play through the injury which subsequently destroyed his statistics. In his first 17 starts, he had a 2.44 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 35 walks in 103.1 innings. His season at that point was comparable to almost anyone in the league, and there was little reason to expect his performance to drop the way it did, though a slight regression was expected due to the spread between his ERA and FIP.
Three of those 17 starts actually occurred after returning from the disabled list, but the rotator cuff tendinitis began to bother Hanson in mid-July, causing him to throw just 26.2 more innings in the season to the tune of an 8.10 ERA. Hanson’s ERA ballooned up to 3.60 from the aforementioned 2.44, and he missed the remainder of the season due to the complications in his shoulder.
I expect Hanson to return to his ~3.30 FIP performance, but the shoulder issues leave some cause for concern that he will be able to throw 200 innings as he did in 2010. Expecting him to pitch around 180 innings is probably more realistic at this point, which will likely cause him to fall shy of the 4.5 win mark.
Three year average: 2.9
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 3.2
My projection: 3.8
The joke around the Braves blogosphere and on twitter was that Dan Uggla should have won the comeback player of the year due to his performance in the second half of last season compared to his performance to start the year. The oddness of Uggla’s start to his tenure in Atlanta is well documented, and he straightened everything out to put up a rather productive offensive season that was just a tad below what was to be expected based on his career averages.
Uggla’s performance seems to be tied to his BABIP. When he has had a BABIP north of .300, he has put up 4.5, 4.6, and 4.9 win seasons. When his BABIP is below .300, he has had 2.7, 2.7, and 2.5 win seasons. In fact, in the years that his BABIP was below .300, it was never eve above .279. Uggla has only had a BABIP below .279 or above .309, which to me is just incredibly strange. This makes projecting him on a year-to-year basis very difficult, as he has really only had very good or decent seasons, with no solid good years in between.
Three year average: 3.4
Fan projections via Fangraphs: 3.7
My projection: 3.5
Tim Hudson was excluded from this exorcise due to the fact that this version of WAR dislikes him so much. Fangraphs’ WAR uses FIP, which does not account for Hudson’s ground ball tendencies. He has consistently outperformed his FIP over his career, and should be one of the top pitchers on the staff if his back injury does not cause him problems over the course of the season.
If my projections are accurate (far from certain), the Braves will have five players with a WAR higher than 3.7. The outfield would go from being an annual weakness to potentially harnessing the top two most valuable players on the roster. A full season of Bourn and a rebound from Heyward make that rather likely, so the projections do not have a ton of optimism in them.
A newly acquired left fielder could also provide performance north of 4.5, but I doubt this is the type of player the Braves actually do acquire. It seems as though Wren is confidence that his team will be able to rebound, in the depth of the rotation, strength of the bullpen, and anticipated performance of the offense. Make no mistake, the Braves still have a quality roster despite being very quiet this offseason.
December 1, 2011 at 10:58 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves, Economic Analysis, Farm System, Player Analysis, Transactions
So David O’Brien stoked up the fires of Braves fans everywhere with his most recent blog discussing the prospects for a Brian McCann extension. It was actually a very good article, though it more reported the facts than went into analysis of what will happen (DO’B is actually excellent at these kinds of articles). However, many Braves fans were highly perturbed that O’Brien would even suggest the possibility that the Braves may go with young Christian Bethancourt instead of extending McCann into the golden sunset. One Twitter follower even missed the point so badly that he tweeted O’Brien asking “you’re seriously comparing a future HOFer to a guy who has 0 MLB at bats (Bethancourt)?!”
Braves fans are just now coming to terms with the fact that Jair Jurrjens at the very least won’t be extended, and will probably be traded before he hits free agency. Then there’s the idea of also trading the gritty, scrappy, ‘just loves playing the game of baseball’ Martin Prado that’s also had some among the Braves faithful reigniting their disdain for GM Frank Wren. Not keeping McCann long term would just break their backs. Stay calm Braves fans. Brain McCann, barring a significant injury within the next year, will sign long term and here’s why.
Brian McCann likes being a Brave. This much is obvious, it’d be a great inconvenience for him to leave, personally. He’s built his whole life around this area and seems to genuinely love the area. If there was ever a candidate for a guy taking a hometown discount, it’s Brian McCann. No, he wouldn’t accept 7 years at 6 million a year or anything absurd like that. But I truly believe he’d take at least 2-3 million under what he’d get on the open market. As O’Brien also points out, he also has an agent that has taken team friendly deals in the past with Chipper Jones. Now, this isn’t so much about the agent, as it is a signal of McCann’s intentions. If McCann was fully intending to try to get the maximum he could squeeze out of the Braves, then he’d likely have changed agents by now. B.B. Abbott is the agent you choose when you want more of a ‘lifestyle deal’. While Scott Boras is excellent at what he does, he actually tends to avoid clients that aren’t seeking the maximum they can get, or at least he tries to convince them of the errors in their ways. The fact that McCann has chosen, and stuck with B.B. Abbott is a very good sign for Braves fans.
Now, the other issue is that Brian McCann may be worth more to the Braves than any other team. I know most of the SABR crowd is loathe to valuate a player on anything other than strictly on the field metrics. But the Atlanta Braves have spent a lot of money in marketing Brian McCann. While the ‘face of the franchise’ idea can often times be overplayed, some also might underplay it. The Braves marketing department has tied up a lot of the value of the Braves brand into the Brian McCann brand. In my view, they’ve in many ways put in a large long term investment in him already as a selling point both team value wise and ticket wise.
There are some counterbalancing factors here as well though. On a strictly ‘on the field’ measure McCann would likely be more valuable to an American League team, where he could transition to DH if his body wore down too much to be an effective catcher, and even if it didn’t, he’d provide additional value as a DH during his scheduled off days, much like Mauer has for the Twins.
However, it’s my firm belief that with the Braves substantial investment in marketing McCann as the selling point to fans for the franchise, and McCann’s comfort with the area, it is so far in both parties’ interest that it seems highly improbable that he won’t sign at least one more contract as a Brave. I believe the chances are high that after his next contract he would go to an AL team as his body continues to wear down from catching, but I think both sides, McCann and the Braves, will be willing to risk another 5-7 years (from this point forward, not 5-7 years from 2014) of McCann as a full time catcher.
Now, all that might not matter if the Braves just flat out cannot afford to sign him to an at least reasonable long term contract without crippling the franchise. So we have to explore what flexibility the team will have over the next 7 years and whether or not this would allow them to sign McCann.
Using Cot’s Atlanta Braves contract obligations page, we see that the Braves do indeed have substantial payroll flexibility. Not only are they only on the hook for Uggla after next year, but it appears they will be able to field an excellent pitching staff entirely based around ML minimum and arbitration players. This will likely allow them to field an entire starting staff for around the cost of C.C. Sabathia. During that time it seems likely that SS, RF and 1B will also be comprised of arbitration and ML minimum players (Pastornicky, Heyward and Freeman). It is difficult to know exactly where all these arbitration numbers will fall, and which players may or may not be non-tendered, but my estimate is that for 2014 (the first year the Braves wouldn’t control McCann), the Braves are looking at being able to fill 5 starters, Closer, Primary Set Up Man, 1B, 2B, SS and RF for around 35-40 million. There’s no reason to think the Braves budget will significantly deviate from the ~88 Million it’s been at in previous years. Leaving the team with roughly 50 million dollars to fill Catcher, 3B, CF and LF (along with bench spots and filler bullpen roles). I’ll just guess that the mix of 3B, CF, LF and bench/bullpen will cost somewhere around $30 Million, with a mix of prospects, trades and free agents filling those roles. That leaves the Braves with something like a max of $20 Million for McCann in 2014.
However, the issue isn’t McCann’s first year, it’s the subsequent years as players like Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel continue to see their salaries escalate through the arbitration ranks (or possibly having their arbitration and first few years of free agency bought out in an extension).
This would be the one drawback to having such a productive farm. The Braves would either be forced to trade at least some of these players, or have serious payroll restrictions. If many of these players perform like we expect them to, they could see arbitration awards in the neighborhood of 6-10 million, especially in their final years of arbitration. Beginning in 2016, the Braves will begin to feel a substantial pinch, as many of their top flight players are scheduled to hit the free agent market. If they aren’t resigned at substantial cost, and there isn’t a rookie waiting in the wings, they’ll have to be replaced at a substantial cost.
This is the part where things become tricky. If the Braves do sign McCann to a long term deal, they’re not only taking a gamble that McCann’s body will hold up to the rigors of catching full time for several more years, they’re also gambling that their farm system will continue to be just as productive as it has been in recent years. Especially 2015-2016. If the Braves begin to see the farm system well dry up during that time span, things could get ugly, as they’d be forced to either depend on substandard rookies or cheap free agents to fill in the gaps in 2015-2016.
With Bethancourt, the Braves would be taking substantially less of a gamble. Sure, he might not, in fact almost certainly will not, be the player that McCann is. But with Bethancourt at the ML minimum for a few years and then as a lower cost arbitration player, the Braves would have substantially greater payroll flexibility to cover over potential shortcomings in other areas.
That being said, I think that’s a gamble the Braves take. Wren seems justifiably confident in his ability to build and maintain a productive farm system, and the fact that the new CBA will no longer punish the Braves draft penny pinching ways quite as much bodes well for the future of the farm system. We can also take into account that if Bethancourt continues to mature into a highly valuable prospect, he could be traded to either bring in a missing piece, or more likely substantially bolster the farm system in areas of greater immediate need.
So, finally, let’s look at the exact dollar amounts that it would likely take to get it done. First we have to set the top and bottom of the market. Those two numbers are easy enough to set: McCann won’t take a paycut from his 2013 pay and no team is going to pay him more than the Twins shelled out for Mauer. That establishes his bottom number as $13 million and his top number as $23 million. Obviously however there is a lot of room between those two numbers.
First, I think we can attack the top number somewhat. Joe Mauer was also a hometown product (Born in St. Paul Minnesota), so many of the similarities between the two are stunning. However, I think that Mauer’s injury has scared some of the more skittish GMs, who might otherwise lavish money upon McCann, at least a little. Additionally, while McCann’s career numbers compare very favorably to Mauer’s, McCann hasn’t had a year like Mauer did in 2009, which was likely also overvalued by the Twins, because they seem to organizationally care a lot about batting average. I wouldn’t think McCann would be able to find much in excess of $19 million per on the free agency market. Especially since the Yankees seem content with a young catcher, the Red Sox seem to be going forward with Salty (interesting McCann gets blocked by Salty) and the Angels seem to be really high on Ianetta’s OBP. While all of thsoe are fluid situations, it likely precludes any of those teams from being able to fully just blow away the Braves offer. So, for now, let’s estimate the top of the market at $19 million.
At the bottom, I don’t see McCann taking anything under a $3 million raise from his option year on his current contract. So, we can then say the absolute bottom will likely be $15 million.
With a range of $15 million to $19 million, I’d expect that the Braves will first exercise their club option on McCann for 2013, then extend him midseason through 2018, for a total of 5 years, $80 million at $16 million per, with performance bonuses that could put him up to $18 million per.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides here. McCann will likely be leaving some money on the table, for stability and security. The Braves are taking a substantial risk that McCann will stay healthy and that their farm system will continue to provide the big club with several cheap younger players in future years. However, given the investments both parties have made in this relationship to this point, I don’t see any scenario (except substantial injury in the next year and a half) where both sides fail to agree to continue the relationship. I don’t even expect the dealings to be especially contentious.
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January 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm by Kevin Orris under Front Office, Player Analysis, Q&A
Earlier this month, I received a question from a reader that wanted to know:
Why is Nate McLouth essentially being handed the starting center field job in 2011 while Kenshin Kawakami is being shown the door?
While I e-mailed him my response, I wanted to share it here for those of you who may be wondering the same thing.
For those unaware, Kenshin Kawakami is currently a member of the Mississippi Braves, the Braves’ Double-A affiliate. Therefore, he is still a member of the organization, however, Frank Wren has been trying to move him.
According to Wren, he has received multiple offers for Kawakami, including one from a NPB team in Japan, but he has not found an offer that has satisfied him to this point. I am positive that the Baseball Operations department has been evaluating plenty of scenarios, with every one of them having Kawakami dealt before Opening Day. He’s set to make $6.67 million next year, which would make him one of the highest paid minor league players of all-time.
From what I remember, most of the offers that Wren has received involve the Braves taking on around $4 million worth of salary. Right now, they are just waiting to receive an offer that provides bigger returns than those previously offered whether it is through cash or players. There’s an outside shot that they could trade a bad contract for a bad contract, but more likely that they trade him for a handful of washed up minor leaguers.
If they cannot find a suitor or an offer that they are satisfied with, I am sure that he will be invited to camp with a chance to compete for a role, but it’s unlikely that he will win one.
The Braves are committed to developing their young talent, therefore, Kawakami has no shot of making the rotation out of camp. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, and Mike Minor currently make up the rotation with Brandon Beachy next in line.
While it once seemed like the bullpen could be a realistic landing place for KK, there are far too many superior arms at this point in Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Scott Linebrink, and George Sherrill. There are also a handful of arms competing for a potential eighth bullpen spot: Scott Proctor, Erik Cordier, Juan Abreu, and Cristhian Martinez.
There aren’t many teams with money left in their budgets that are in desperate need of a back-end starter, so there’s a chance that he does compete in the spring, but even then, it only improves his trade value. Bill James projects him to pitch 50 innings this year with a 4.32 ERA. I’m not sure where he expects him to pitch, but there aren’t many players that the Braves would be willing to remove from the 40-man roster in order to make room for KK.
It’s interesting that you mention the Nate McLouth vs. Kawakami comparison. Fans might not realize this, but Kawakami posted a positive WAR last year, 0.6, while McLouth had an abysmal -1.3.
Obviously, any time that a player is costing you wins, it’s a bad thing. If WAR didn’t exist though, I would think that Kawakami cost the Braves more actual wins than McLouth did. (This is just an observation based on memory and no actual research)
The reason that McLouth has been handed the center field job is because of depth. While both are scheduled to make more money than they are probably worth, McLouth has more value over the alternative compared to Kawakami, who presents negative value to the pitching staff.
While McLouth had a sub-par season last year, he is still the best center fielder that the Braves have available. Kawakami isn’t even one of the best six starting pitchers available to the Braves, hence the difference.
In a perfect world, both would come into Spring Training and produce better numbers than ever before, but this is far from a perfect world. Don’t expect anything right out of the gate, but after the 40 game mark, the Braves are going to be forced to acquire an upgrade for McLouth if he fails to produce.
Have a burning question? E-mail me at Kevinorris@capitolavenueclub.com and I’ll answer them through e-mail and on the website on a regular basis.