May 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm by Ben Duronio under Defense
Fredi Gonzalez gets a lot of grief for many decisions he makes. Some are rightful criticisms and some are wrongful, but there are certain decisions he makes that are worthy of praise that often go relatively unnoticed. While he is not the most consistent with it, he does tend to set his lineup to avoid consecutive hitters of the same handedness, which is an extremely vital step in lineup creation. He also has seemingly made Jack Wilson the personal shortstop for Tim Hudson, which is a very wise decision. In each of the past two games, Wilson has started at shortstop when Hudson has pitched. While this is not definitely a trend that will continue, it does look to be something that the Braves and Gonzalez are testing.
Since 1999, Hudson’s rookie season, only five pitchers have recorded ground balls at a higher rate than Hudson. Everyone here knows he is a ground ball pitcher, and it is extremely helpful to the success of those pitchers that the infield defense behind them is quality. With the current assortment of defenders the Braves possess, there is really no way to ensure this for Hudson’s starts. There is, however, a way to at least improve it.
Tyler Pastornicky has not been a plus defender, you could even call him below to potentially even well below average in his first month plus of major league play. His skills at shortstop are limited in comparison to a majority of his peers, and at the infield’s most important position, this can prove costly for a pitcher like Hudson.
While Jack Wilson is nowhere near the quality of defender he once was, he is still an improvement over Pastornicky. The Braves lose offense in replacing Wilson with Pastornicky on these days, but the Braves have really had no issue scoring runs to this point in the season. Pastornicky has been helpful offensively, though he has struggled over the past few games, but the improvement that Wilson has defensively over Pastornicky is essential for games in which Hudson is pitching.
Hudson had a marvelous start yesterday and the only run he allowed, coincidentally, was on a single just out of the reach of Wilson. Confirmation bias should not get in the way of rational thinking, and starting Wilson at shortstop behind Hudson, if this is a season long concept, is a forward thinking way to improve run prevention by management.
April 10, 2012 at 10:32 am by Ben Duronio under Defense
It’s easy to look at Juan Francisco’s errors over the past few games and get sour on him. It was certainly a reason for the loss yesterday. Martin Prado is a better fielder than Francisco, but Francisco is not nearly as bad as he has shown over the past few games.
Francisco has three errors in two games, two of which are of the throwing variety. This is supposed to be his strongest suit, and he has shown pretty solid strength with his arm over the past few games as well. Despite that, he has been inaccurate with a few which has led to baserunners and eventually runs. His range, however, has impressed me. This was pretty unexpected, but he has gotten to a few balls on both sides that I did not expect him to have the ability to get to. He is definitely a large guy, so the range being as solid as it has been has surprised me. DOB is saying he wouldn’t say Francisco is better defensively than Terdoslavich, but I’d be surprised at this point if that were the case.
Offensively, he has hit the ball really hard thus far. It’s been a small sample size, but he’s ripped three line drives and recorded two fly balls — which is what you want out of a guy with Francisco’s skill set. Don’t let early season performances like Francisco’s, who is a better player than he has shown, make you form an opinion on him that isn’t accurate. He is no world beater, but he is not as bad as he has been in these few games either.
February 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Defense
I wrote an article for RotoGraphs involving Tim Hudson and how the Braves’ infield defense will hurt his overall value. We do not do much fantasy stuff over here, but I am pretty big on it and always like to discuss leagues, drafts, and player values.
Here is a snippet from the article.
The problem with the Braves defense, and what is likely to be an even bigger problem this season, was the infield. Freeman likely is not the plus defender many expected, but he probably also is not as bad as the one year UZR sample suggests. He is closer to average defensively, which is fine. Gonzalez was a top notch defender the whole season, which was the lone reason for the Braves sticking with him at shortstop for the entirety of the year was in his high quality glove.
Losing Gonzalez will be a big loss to the team’s defense, and it will especially hurt a pitcher like Tim Hudson. Hudson has relied on ground balls as much as any starter in the league since entering the Majors, so losing a quality defender at the infield’s most important position will certainly sting. Gonzalez’s replacement, Tyler Pastornicky, is expected to be about an average defender. Mike Newman shared those thoughts as well in a brief scouting report of Pastornicky.
December 30, 2010 at 1:26 am by Kevin Orris under Atlanta Braves, Defense, Front Office, Transactions
Right now, there is a big misunderstanding among fans about the current Braves outfield situation. There are in fact, two major league outfielders currently on the team. Then there’s Eric Hinske and Jordan Schafer, each with his own issues.
Hinske came into the big leagues as a third baseman, and until Chipper Jones decides to retire, he’s not going to return to the hot corner. His other fit would be at first base, but Freddie Freeman is clearly going to have every opportunity to succeed this season. Therefore, he falls into the outfield by default, regardless of his limited range.
Although Schafer’s issues have been fairly well documented between suspensions and off-the-field issues, I would like to share something that I learned from a anonymous and extremely reliable source earlier this month: At one time, he was juggling four or five agents, telling each of them that they were representing him. In reality they all liked him for the potential that he had on the field, but he was too much to handle. In summary, the time that it would require to babysit him, isn’t worth what will come from him.
Even if he were an angel in the clubhouse and outside of baseball, the skill set hasn’t been there since his first Major League at-bat in 2009. Bobby Cox is known for sticking with players through thick and thin, and Schafer managed to play so poorly, that he was ultimately demoted on May 31, 2009 and has yet to return.
I would like to believe that Nate McLouth will rebound, and same goes for the front office and a majority of the fanbase. For those who would like to see someone else, well too bad!
Truth is the Braves are going to have to live with their current outfield, with Hinske receiving most of the reserve time behind Martin Prado while allowing Joe Mather and Matt Young to audition in the spring.
I understand that it’s not the best outfield, but it’s hard for Frank Wren to do much of anything at this point. While Scott Hairston is a free agent, it’s unlikely that he will out produce McLouth in 2011. McLouth posted WAR of 3.7 in 2008, 3.4 in 2009, and -1.3 last season (obviously terrible). Hairston’s WAR in 2008 was a 2.2, followed by a 1.9 in 2009 and a 0.4 last season.
I don’t view this as much of an upgrade, especially considering McLouth is 18 months younger. All that this move would do is add to the payroll in a poor attempt to patchwork the outfield.
Regardless, the issue isn’t that the Braves need a center fielder; it’s that they need a fourth outfielder. They need someone with plenty of range and a decent arm that can serve as a reliable bat off of the bench and an occasional pinch runner. If I had my pick, it would be Matt Angle, a center fielder in the Baltimore Orioles organization.
Angle was drafted in the 7th round in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, and has had a fairly productive minor league career. Odds are low that he’ll ever appear in an All-Star Game or make a run for the triple crown, but he’s a guy that can play all there outfield spots and can contribute in a variety of ways.
Even if the Braves did acquire Angle, the issue of attempting to patchwork the outfield still remains with just one guy who started on a regular basis last season (Heyward).
Frank Wren has a theory of waiting 40 games into the season and at that point evaluating the team. This way, players have a chance to prove themselves and the front office will have a general idea of the contenders and pretenders.
I’m all for the Braves making a move to bring in that fourth outfielder, but I say let’s wait until that 40 game mark and view our options from there. In all reality, the difference between the six outfielders currently on the 40-man roster and the gentlemen listed here, isn’t going to make a big enough difference to stress about by that point in the season.
Important Note: It was announced on Twitter today that Jason Heyward has flown to Southern California to hang out with Freddie Freeman for the week. (Side note: This is the only tweet that I have ever “favorited” on Twitter and shall remain so for the rest of time.) I would give a lot to find out exactly what these two guys do when they “hang out.” Do they go to bars? The beach? Play catch?
Please, help me solve this mystery by leaving your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter (@kevinorris) or e-mail me at KevinOrris@CapitolAvenueClub.com.
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.
October 2, 2009 at 8:00 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Daily Post, Defense, Player Analysis, Prospects, Stat Leaders
By the time the Braves played yesterday the game was meaningless. The Rockies completed a 3-game sweep of the Brewers and clinched the NL Wild Card. So, the Braves won’t be playing October baseball this year. Well, not meaningful October baseball, as the regular season schedule extends into October this year on account of the World Baseball Classic.
It was a good run. Seeing all the progress this team made and the direction they’re headed in, the future is very bright. If you had told me that the Braves would still have hope for a post-season berth heading into the last week of the season 6 months ago I’d say they made extraordinary progress throughout the year. Think about it, this team lost 90 games last season. A shot at making the post-season is all you can really hope for.
This won’t be the season in review post or the let’s go get ‘em next year post. Those will be composed later. But think about it, we’re pretty lucky to be Braves fans. We’ve had a competitive organization for as long as I can remember and we watched the team play meaningful Baseball until October 1.
The good news? The Braves are looking better in the draft standings:
Moving on up. I’m anticipating a huge draft this coming summer.
Reasons To Watch The Braves
OK, so with the normal motivation of watching a meaningful game out the window, I’ll provide reasons to continue watching the Braves. They’re all related to our “races”.
- Brian McCann needs 8 more RBI to reach 100.
- Rafael Soriano needs 1 more strikeout to reach 100.
- Chipper Jones needs two more Home Runs to hit 20. He’d be the first player to hit 20+ HR in each of his first 15 seasons in MLB history.
- Peter Moylan still hasn’t allowed a Home Run. He’s appeared in 85 games this season. If he finishes the season without allowing a HR, he’ll own the record for most appearances in a season without allowing a HR.
Also of note: Javier Vazquez still leads Tim Lincecum for best xFIP in MLB (2.90 to 2.93). Lincecum and Vazquez are both done for the year, so Vazquez is going to finish the season as MLB’s xFIP leader. Garret Anderson recorded his 2,500th and 2,501st hits last night. Hopefully the Braves shut him down for the rest of the season. There’s simply no point in giving him at-bats in a meaningless September game.
Stat of the Day
Continuing my evaluation of the tedious, we’ll go with Fielding Bible Runs Saved. This covers the entire year and includes everyone who started at one point for the team:
So you can see why the team was pretty bad defensively. There aren’t very many good defenders on the team. There are precisely five. Yunel Escobar at SS, Ryan Church in RF, David Ross at C, Casey Kotchman at 1B, and Martin Prado at 3B. 3B belongs to Chipper, Prado’s just the back-up. Church hardly ever played because he was hurt or somehow in Bobby’s doghouse. David Ross is a back-up catcher. Casey Kotchman got shipped off for a below-average defender at the same position. The only overwhelmingly positive performance on defense was Yunel Escobar’s.
Jordan Schafer’s Lost Season
Perhaps the biggest question Braves fans had in their mind going into Spring Training was, “Who will play Center Field”. A trio of candidates would audition for the job–Josh Anderson, Gregor Blanco, and Jordan Schafer. Gregor Blanco elected to play the World Baseball Classic and the Braves weren’t impressed with what they saw out of spring training. Blanco hit .174/.321/.304–much a continuation of last year’s 2nd half line of .243/.382/.302–and basically played himself out of the race. Josh Anderson played OK, but Schafer’s impressive showing, featuring a line of .324/.378/.471, won him the job out of Spring Training*.
*Giving the job to Schafer turned out to be the right decision. Josh Anderson has posted a .236/.272/.301 line in 291 PA’s with the Tigers and Royals this season, and Gregor Blanco hit .228/.326/.279 at AAA this season.
But Schafer failed to live up to expectations, posting a .204/.313/.287 line in 195 PA’s before being optioned to AAA. That’s a .600 OPS. And though he was heralded for his defense coming into the season, he looked confused in the field and the advanced metrics rated him as a slightly below-average center fielder.
Basically, everyone expected more out of Schafer. The prospects guys hyped him to no end. In fact, here’s what Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote about Schafer in November:
3. Jordan Schafer, CF
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, Winter Haven HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .269/.378/.471, .263 EqA at Double-A (84 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Year in Review: Last year’s breakout performer missed two months early in the season serving a 50-game suspension for some kind of involvement with HGH—the facts are still not clear. He got off to a slow start due to rust and plenty of distractions, but found a groove in the second half, batting .303/.387/.526.
The Good: Schafer’s tools rate as average or above across the board. He’s a patient hitter with a quick, quiet swing and at least average power. He’s a 60 runner and an even better center fielder because of his outstanding instincts, with one scout adding, “I don’t think I ever saw him break wrong on a ball.” His arm is another weapon due to both its strength and accuracy.
The Bad: Schafer struggled against left-handers in 2008, who found success both in busting him inside and getting him to chase good breaking balls. The suspension seemed to hang over his head much of the year; he was clearly pressing at times, and his body language left many wondering if he was having any fun out there.
Fun Fact: While 12 players have been drafted out of Winter Haven High School, Schafer is aiming to become the first to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday star-level center fielder who annually hits .300 with 20/20 power/speed numbers.
Glass Half Empty: He turns out to be a one-sided star in desperate need of a platoon partner, a la Ray Lankford.
Path To The Big Leagues: Gregor Blanco does not provide a significant roadblock.
Timetable: The Braves still have the utmost confidence in Schafer, and while they do not go into detail, they have no long-term concerns about his suspension. Schafer is their center fielder of the future, and there’s an outside chance that the future could begin in April.
The Braves scouts at spring training were obviously very impressed with Jordan Schafer, because nothing about his minor league numbers suggested he was ready. He was about 400 PA’s shy of normal development time (I often hear minor-leaguers need 2,000 PA’s before they’re MLB ready. Schafer had 1,597 coming into 2009). Additionally, his only experience in the upper minor-leagues was 349 PA’s at AA.
But you know what, the Braves scouts were probably right. Because had it not been for a pesky wrist injury, who knows what Schafer would’ve done? Certainly more than the aforementioned Josh Anderson or Gregor Blanco. I think the scouts looked at Schafer and saw a .273/.415/.439 hitter. Why did I choose that? That’s what Schafer hit in the month of April. The timing of Schafer’s wrist injury is uncertain. All I know is a) his wrist was seriously injured for a significant amount of his time in MLB stint, b) he waited until after his demotion to disclose the injury, and c) the injury most undoubtedly affected his performance. So like I said, I don’t know exactly when his wrist was injured, but the .273/.415/.439 line in April and the .158/.239/.188 line in May suggests the calendar’s flipping may be a good demarcation point. Additionally, he posted a 23-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 7 XBH in 82 PA’s in April, but a 40-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and only 3 XBH in 113 PA’s in May.
I suspect the organization has considered all of this. And I suspect they’ll give him the same shot they gave him last Spring, a chance to compete for the CF job. Though this time, the competition is going to be a bit tougher. Nate McLouth, who has hit .261/.356/.412 in 370 PA’s with the Braves, represents a formidable alternative. No such thing existed last go-around. On the other hand, the below-average defense suggests McLouth is a better fit for left field, even if his bat won’t play nearly as well there. So if Schafer recovers from his wrist surgery and has a good spring, I don’t see any reason that he shouldn’t be helping the Atlanta Braves improve their 21st ranked defensive efficiency in April of 2010.
The alternative is you sign a free agent, make a trade, or go with the group you’ve got. In the mix for LF and RF include Brandon Jones, Brian Barton, Gregor Blanco, Ryan Church, Matt Diaz, and Jason Heyward. Independently of what the Braves do with Heyward, they have a nice platoon of Matt Diaz and Ryan Church that could potentially fit at a corner, and a couple of spare parts. It seems to me like with Diaz and Church, your next best internal options to round out the outfield are McLouth and Schafer. Even when you add Heyward to the mix, I think you want all 5 of them on the roster.
Unless the Braves acquire a sure-thing LF’er in the off-season, they’d probably be best served to use Jordan Schafer to both shore up the defense and increase the overall athleticism of the club.
That’s all I got.
I don’t really care if the Braves win and almost want them to lose to get a higher draft pick.
October 1, 2009 at 10:33 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Daily Post, Defense, Draft, Front Office, Statistical Analysis
Ravens 24 at Patriots 23
Buccaneers 10 at Redskins 11
Titans 17 at Jaguars 20
Raiders 10 at Texans 27
Lions 3 at Bears 13
Bengals 31 at Browns 9
Seahawks 17 at Colts 27
Giants 31 at Chiefs 6
Jets 24 at Saints 31
Bills 35 at Dolphins 31
Cowboys 31 at Broncos 14
Rams 10 at 49ers 21
Chargers 17 at Steelers 21
Packers 31 at Vikings 30
The title says it all. The best the Braves can do at this point is tie. With a strange loss last night and a Rockies win, the Braves are 4 back with 4 to play. Their elimination number is one. Here’s the chart to illustrate:
|To Tie After 162|
It’s a shame the Braves will probably be eliminated, because they’re a good team. But this run has been fun, no question.
Gaffe Last Night
I’d like to make a few comments on the 2nd biggest base running gaffe in Braves’ history. First of all, you can’t hate Matt Diaz no matter how bad of a mistake it is. Matt Diaz is too like-able of a guy. I’m glad it was a like-able guy because the fans and front-office won’t overreact and condemn the player for one play despite all of his good work. Kelly Johnson, for instance, isn’t an extremely like-able guy, though I suppose he is as like-able as the next guy. But because he’s not a super-like-able guy, his reputation has never recovered from the “dropped pop-up“. Because it’s impossible for Matt Diaz to do wrong, his reputation won’t be extremely tarnished from one play.
Secondly, Bobby Cox states after the game:
I haven’t seen too many end like that — and Matty’s our best base runner.
Well, Matt Diaz has cost the Braves more runs on the base paths than anyone on the team except the departed Casey Kotchman, Chipper Jones, David Ross, and Brian McCann. None of their EQBRR’s are below -3 (except Kotchman, who is a painfully bad base runner. PAINFUL) and this is largely a function of the opportunity to cost runs (i.e. times on base). And of course, the team leader, Omar Infante, has just over 2 EQBRR, so we’re not talking a ton of difference here. I mean, all together this is a very bad base running team. But Baseball Prospectus thinks Matt Diaz is below-average on the base paths, and 29th of 33 Braves. So you know what my position on Diaz’s base running probably is*. But let’s assume, for a second, that Bobby Cox doesn’t check the Baseball Prospectus EQBRR numbers as frequently as I do.
*It’s actually a lot better than 29th of 33. Diaz, I had always thought, was good at taking the extra base and just sort of “heads up” base running moves. This year he’s tried to steal more and his 70.59% success rate hurts him a bit. He’s also made a gaffe or two, like last night. But I don’t think the numbers necessarily represent Diaz’s actual value, here. Though any way you slice it, he isn’t a significantly above-average base runner.
What makes him think Diaz is the best base runner? Him and Nate McLouth both have identical SB-CS numbers (12-5), but McLouth has accomplished it in 50 fewer PA’s. They lead the team in SB. Kelly Johnson’s 7-for-9 in SB (77.78%), Chipper and McCann’s 4-for-5 (80.00%), and the four players that have stolen a base but haven’t been caught–Omar Infante (2), Gregor Blanco (2), Garret Anderson (1), and Reid Gorecki (1)–are all better SB success rates than Matt Diaz’s 70.59%.
I know “the best” and “the most valuable” don’t always equal, otherwise clubs wouldn’t spend millions of dollars on the development of their prospects, but I think the evidence is pretty clear that Matt Diaz is not the Braves’ best base runner.
But this brings up a bigger point. The Braves are horrible at running the bases. When your manager, and one of the best all time, mistakes the 29th most valuable base runner for the best, you simply, as a whole, are indistinguishable and overwhelmingly mediocre. The Braves are currently, and will finish at best, 28th in baseball with -13.536 EQBRR. I discussed earlier the impact of base running and concluded that if you’re looking to build an offense around base running and that’s the only feature of the offense, the offense will fail. To that end, I don’t suggest the Braves go out of their way to fix their base running problems by acquiring players to improve base running at the expense of another area. It’s absolutely easier to win with the 28th best EQBRR than the 28th OBP or SLG% or AVG or ERA or Home Runs or Home Runs Allowed etc…
But I think it should be Jeff Porter’s mission to have all of the players on a diet and work-outs geared towards getting faster next year. It theoretically helps defensively and with regards to base running. The Braves two biggest weaknesses of the four major categories (Pitching, Defense, Hitting, Base Running) are defense (the Braves are 19th in defensive efficiency) and base running.
I concluded earlier that the way the Braves are configured, they’re not in a position to add an impact defender. Their only conceivable positions to add a player are 1B and corner OF, you’re not going to get an ultra-valuable defensive player at either of those positions. So, if they want to get better defensively, they’re probably going to have to do it internally (using more favorable alignments and a commitment from the players to get better individually and focus more). By the same token, base running isn’t an important enough category to justify adding an impact player at the expense of adding an impact player in another category. So to get better on the base paths, the Braves are probably going to have to just do it themselves. And I think Jeff Porter needs to step in here and have the players commit to being in better condition next year. For the sake of defense and base running.
Of course, this also begs the question, should Brian Snitker be fired? And you all know my position on that issue. (In case you don’t, the answer is a “yes”).
Thoughts on Closers
When asked what I thought about the possibility of bringing in a free agent non-closer and letting him try to close, this was my response:
I like the idea of bringing in someone who hasn’t closed before (or in awhile). Paying market rate for closers is the fastest way to add a bad contract to your team. See this year: Francisco Cordero, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez, Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge, B.J. Ryan, Kerry Wood, and Brian Fuentes. All of these pitchers were significantly less valuable than their contract and they were all either signed as free agents or locked up at market-rates before they hit free agency. The list of economically successful post-FA closers is much smaller. Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, and Trevor Hoffman (but for the deal he signed, he’s hardly being paid market-rate for a closer).
So if you want to shore up the bullpen, paying market rate for a free agent seems like the worst way to do it. That leaves a) paying less than market rate for a closer on the FA market, b) acquiring a non-closer like you suggested, or c) making a trade for a reliever. I’d hate to give up prospects for a reliever, although a spare part (Kelly Johnson, Ryan Church, etc..) for a reliever could work.
Otherwise, you’re left with scrap heap closers, the type of acquisition you pray will work out and rarely does, and those that never got the opportunity to close. And if you’re good with your scouting and research, you might be able to find someone who is just as capable as the best reliever on the market (the one who is being well overpaid to close games for the Cubs) from the group of FA RP’s that have never closed.
Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. There’s inherent risk every time you bring in a new RP, regardless of whether or not they’ve closed before. RP’s are so volatile in the first place that you assume risk with each pitcher you acquire. There’s always that chance that they injure themselves or forget how to get outs. I think there’s more uncertainty in the bullpen than any other position in baseball. Teams cycle through relievers, discard them and recall them at their whims. That’s because they accept the risk and choose to get by riding the hot hand rather than devote resources there.
John Schuerholz understood this perhaps better than anyone. In the age of relievers getting huge contracts and closers being paid like DH’s, Schuerholz never committed long-term to something as volatile as a relief pitcher. As well he shouldn’t have. Look at all the different single-season saves leaders (and others that saved at least 10 games) during the playoff run:
1991 – Juan Berenguer – 17 (Alejandro Pena – 11)
1992 – Alejandro Pena – 15
1993 – Mike Stanton – 27 (Greg McMichael – 19)
1994 – Greg McMichael – 21
1995 – Mark Wholers – 25
1996 – Mark Wholers – 39
1997 – Mark Wholers – 33
1998 – Kerry Lightenberg – 30
1999 – John Rocker – 38
2000 – John Rocker – 24 (Mike Remlinger – 12, Kerry Lightenberg – 12)
2001 – John Rocker – 19 (John Smoltz – 10)
2002 – John Smoltz – 55
2003 – John Smoltz – 45
2004 – John Smoltz – 44
2005 – Chris Retisma – 15 (Dan Kolb – 11, Kyle Farnsworth – 10)
That’s 12 people that saved at least 10 games in 15 seasons. There was zero stability there. So whoever says you have to have a big-name, established closer to win is full of it. And someone who says you have to have a big-name, established closer to win in the post-season is even stupider. The Braves made the post-season 14 consecutive times. And the three years that the best closer they’ve ever had was closing games for them, they lost in the post-season, too.
I should add that I think keeping everyone on the pitching staff except Soriano and Gonzalez is the correct decision. Whether that sends Lowe, Kawakami, Hudson, or whoever to the bullpen, I don’t care, but the invaluable rotation depth is something the Braves should value and preserve at all costs. Even that of the bullpen. If you’ve got enough resources to bring in a 1B or corner OF and you can bring in some bullpen help, then you go cowering through the trade market and free agents searching for a bargain bullpen arm. But that’s the last thing you add.
- Brian McCann is still at 92 RBI.
- Chipper Jones is still at 18 HR.
- Peter Moylan is still at 85 appearances and still hasn’t allowed a Home Run.
- Rafael Soriano still has 96 strikeouts.
- Javier Vazquez still leads Tim Lincecum 2.90 to 2.93 in xFIP.
At Least the Nationals are here
But it doesn’t really matter. Nothing like playing a meaningless game with the Nationals again. The Braves played so many of them last year (18) and only managed to win 6 of them. And who knows, maybe the Braves improve their draft order. They’d pick 23rd if the season ended now, so here are the teams the Braves could potentially overtake in the draft standings over the next few days:
San Francisco, Florida, and Texas have been eliminated, but the Tigers still have to clinch the AL Central (they could do so with a win against Minnesota today). So there’s probably a decent chance the Braves will pick 22nd or even 21st. The best-case scenario is would be 19th. Regardless, they’re not getting a protected 1st rounder, so I wouldn’t advise signing Type A Free Agents that have been offered arbitration by another club.
Fixing a Hole
As much as I ramble about defense and base running, the Braves’ biggest hole for over a year now is the absence of a right-handed power hitter. Jeff Francoeur was supposed to be that person and, well, that didn’t work. It looks like the Braves will make fixing this hole a priority this off-season. Per David O’Brien:
As it relates to Braves, you should presume Braves will focus on right-handed power bats, not another lefty. They’re serious about getting a right-handed bat, from what I hear. Not lefty.
He also goes on to dismiss the notion that the Braves should push for Chone Figgins (a stupid suggestion in the first place).
Who doesn’t love Chone Figgins’ game and think he could help their team? But the Braves want to add a power bat, and he’s not that. He’s many things, but not a big power hitter.
I think it’s good that the Braves are looking to fill their need. The two most logical targets, though, are Paul Konerko and Derrek Lee, two players with no-trade clauses and players whose teams don’t match up well with the Braves for a potential trade. Perhaps they add a OF. I hope they don’t go with Jermaine Dye. I can’t take another year of bad OF defense.
Elias Rankings Update
Remember when I said Hudson is a Type B? Forget I ever said that. The rankings were wrong. He’s not a Type B and likely won’t be. Not that it’s of huge impact. Everything else is correct.
That’s all I got.