February 28, 2013 at 11:32 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Last night I recorded a podcast with Brett Talley of The Fantasy Fix. I know a lot of our readers are fantasy players and it is a huge passion of mine as well. The podcast is very Braves-centric, or else I wouldnt’ be posting the link here. Check it out if you want to hear my analysis of Braves players from a fantasy perspective and some other things, like Jennifer Lawrence and car chases.
February 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Before we get too far into this, I just want everyone to understand that the ratings of a video game shouldn’t affect your outlook of a player or a team, and I’m just bringing this up because I think it’s fun. As for the game itself, I have a PS3, and I will be buying The Show for the 5th or 6th consecutive season. While it has definitely improved since its first attempt, I still miss the days of MVP Baseball by EA Sports, but there’s nothing we can really do about it now. I tried the 2K series, but it wasn’t as good in my opinion. Anyway, The Show revealed its ratings the other day, so I figured I’d talk about them a little bit because I find it fascinating.
The one thing I wish was published would be what rating makes a league-average starter, All-Star, Quad-A player, etc. It would be absurd, for instance, to get upset that Brian McCann is an 88. Without context, we have no idea what the 88 means. We do know that 99 is the top and 1 is the worst, but we have no real idea of the in-between. One would assume that 88 is a pretty solid rating, given to above-average players, but we really can’t be sure. We need context, a framework, to base our perception/analysis.
It would also be nice to know how they come up with the ratings. The best I could find was that “they changed” them for 2013, but they didn’t say how. I’m not asking them to reveal the exact way they do it, but it would be nice to know a basic structure of how they come to their final decision. What is a league-average starter? When a player switches positions, how does it affect their ratings? What is the most important attribute? How do the attributes fit together? Are the ratings based on algorithms? Last season’s stats? Scouting reports? Is someone responsible for one team, or does a group look at all of them? I think the answers to these questions could give us a little insight without revealing company secrets, but either way, you can simply edit players if you don’t agree. On to the Braves …
Looking at the position players, none of them look ridiculous when comparing them against each other. Going in order, they rank Heyward –> McCann, BJ, Justin –> Simmons –> Freeman, Uggla –> Reed –> Chris, Laird –> Francisco, Janish, Pena. None of that seems terribly out of line. Justin should probably be the highest rated of his group, but that’s a fairly minor nitpick. I’m sure some of you won’t believe Uggla and Freeman are similar overall players, but at this stage, they are, though I’m sure the algorithm will allow for Freeman to grow and Uggla to decline. But going farther down, it is a bit odd that Francisco and Janish are similarly rated. I’d probably bump him up a group, but we can’t see his component attributes. Nothing too terrible here.
The pitching staff is a bit more curious. Medlen gets really high marks for his 2012 second half run, which seems a bit much, but if Hudson gets an 89, the relative difference seems correct. As for Hudson himself, the rating seems a bit high, and the difference between him and Minor at this point probably isn’t that large. When I edit it, I’ll probably make it Medlen 89-90, Minor/Beachy/Hudson 86-84, and Maholm 81-82.
Moving on to the bullpen, a 99 seemed inevitable for Kimbrel, and as the number compares him to other relievers, it makes sense. The next bit is interesting as Venters beats out Walden and EOF with EOF as the worst among the group. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I do find it very interesting. This could be one of those things where EOF doesn’t have much national popularity, and Venters is a bit flashier. Martinez is a bit below them (makes sense) with Gearrin and Avilan a bit below him (some sense but should probably be farther away).
This works from a relative to other Braves perspective, but it’s also interesting to look around the league. For instance, the Seattle bullpen gets hammered when it has some interesting arms, and I’d take Carter Capps (70), Stephen Pryor (67), and Charlie Furbush (77) over Gearrin and Avilan. Continuing around, Jeff Francouer gets an 83, which doesn’t make sense given the context of the Braves, and with Martin Prado being an 82, it really doesn’t make sense. Jered Weaver is a 93, which places him a little worse than Medlen, and Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels are on the same plane. I’m not saying Medlen isn’t that good, but those guys have actual track records of success longer than a few months. There are a few other things around, so you can take a look yourself.
Again, this is mostly for fun, and I’m currently trying to get in contact with The Show to ask a few questions (though I doubt it will materialize). Agree or disagree, there’s always the edit option.
February 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
With Martin “prototypical #2 hole hitter” Prado gone, a lot of debate has gone into who should hit 2nd, and relatedly, where to best leverage Jason Heyward’s talents. As of now, the plan has seemingly been Heyward in the #2 spot in the lineup, which we at Capitol Avenue Club have lauded, regardless of whether or not we have Heyward on our fantasy team. Here I’ll outline a couple of the reasons why we like this so much, and also address the primary criticism of it, that Heyward strikes out too much to hit second.
When it comes to lineup optimization, the most exhaustive research into the topic ever compiled in one place is Tom Tango’s The Book. What Tango found is that your two most important hitters are in fact your 2nd and 4th hitters, not your 3rd place hitter, as conventional wisdom goes. The reason being is that the 3rd hitter comes to bat with two men out more frequently, and with two men out the only consistent way to create runs is with homeruns. In fact, #2 actually tends to be the most impactful spot in the entire lineup. If you have a dynamic offensive player on your team, you want him here.
There are also other concerns, because a lot of the #2 hitter’s value comes in the form of being on base in front of other good hitters, you also want him to be a great baserunner. And while stealing bases is okay from that spot, you especially want him to be successful when he does steal bases. Essentially, you want most likely your overall best hitter, who gets on base and is a good baserunner. ie you want Jason Heyward.
However, there has often been one criticism of Heyward in that spot, namely that he strikes out too much. The line of thinking goes that the #2 hitter should be a contact guy, adept at moving runners over. Under this theory, you want a guy who doesn’t strike out much, and slaps the ball behind runners. Under this mode of thinking you want Martin Prado.
Two very good hitters don’t get much different than Martin Prado and Jason Heyward. Prado is a high contact guy who doesn’t strike out much but doesn’t walk much either. Heyward is a high power guy who does strike out a lot, but also walks at a decent rate as well. How can they both be the prototypical #2 hitter? Well, they can’t; Jason fits better.
One of the more overlooked findings in Tango’s book is that out of the #2 spot, of the ways to make an out, strikeouts are actually the LEAST harmful. Huh, wha? Essentially this is because the #2 hitter comes to bat with a runner on first and less than two outs the most of any hitter. The double play is a huge threat from the #2 spot. Think about how a strikeout happens, by definition you had two strikes, you swung at a pitch (or took a tough pitch to hit) and missed. Now imagine making contact on that pitch instead. It will most likely be weak contact, ie contact that is particularly prone to a double play. Contact hitters can be particularly harmful in the #2 spot, as the popular twitter meme “GIDPrado” indicated.
Now, this effect isn’t huge, it is likely only worth a couple of runs over an entire full season. However, the point isn’t that it’s a huge deal, it’s more that striking out (v. grounding out) isn’t a negative out of the #2 hole. If you happen to have a great hitter who does strike out a lot, it’s actually the best place to put him. So, not only is the idea that Heyward strikes out too much for the #2 spot and this will kill our offensive production flawed, if anything it gets it backwards.
February 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Franklin, Ben and Ethan talk lineup construction, final bench spots, Teheran/Gilmartin and what we can learn from Spring games among other topics.
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February 25, 2013 at 10:47 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
If you follow me on Twitter or have been around the site the past week, you probably think I have a weird fascination with Paul Maholm. That may or may not be true. I do think he is more intriguing than most though. It’s clear he doesn’t have the exciting upside of Medlen, Minor and Teheran, or the past high level of performance like Tim Hudson. Maholm is just a league average left-handed pitcher who doesn’t exactly light up the gun, but there is still some real value behind all that.
Paul Maholm has been one of the more consistent pitchers since his first full season in 2006. In the past seven years, he has averaged 30 starts and 185 IP at what would be considered league average (103 ERA-/101 FIP-/ 99 xFIP-). He has also been fairly healthy, only missing a couple of starts in 2011 due to a shoulder injury. Now, this doesn’t exactly mean he will continue to do so, no pitcher is a guarantee, but it is definitely a positive to take note of.
Basically every projection of Maholm has him repeating what he has done over the past seven seasons; between 170-190 innings with a FIP between 3.80 and 4.20. Using those as rough, but comfortable estimates, I went back and quickly looked at pitchers who fell into both of those groups over the past 10 seasons. There were 56 pitchers who met both requirements and resulted in an average fWAR of ~2.65 during those seasons. This is reasonable of what most expect from Maholm this season, nothing groundbreaking.
Using $5/win as an assumption for 2013, which could be closer to the lower end, that projects to be worth around $13.25M in value. Considering the Braves picked his option, only $6.5M, Maholm could bring a strong return this year, about twice as much as what they will be paying him. Having the team friendly club option was one of the bigger reasons I liked the trade for him at the deadline last season.
Looking closer, Maholm has shown a fairly large R/L split (4.44 FIP v. RHB, 3.10 FIP v. LHB) throughout his career. As one could expect from a left-handed pitcher who doesn’t break 90MHP, getting right-handed batters out isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. As Ben noted in the rotation podcast, Mahlom has added a cutter. Depending on the PITCH f/x source, there are discrepancies about when he actually began throwing the pitch or when it became classified as a cutter. Either way, we can basically agree that it was added in either 2011 or 2012. According to Brooks Baseball, Maholm threw his cutter the majority of the time against right-handers (21% v. RHB, 5% v. LHB), as complement to his changeup (17% v. RHB, 1% v. LHB) and sinker (28% v. RHB, 36% v. LHB) last season.
Looking at splits over individual seasons is always tricky because it can be filled with small samples, but looking strictly at how he has fared versus right-handers, we can at least get a sample of around 650 batters faced per season. Maholm would appear to have improved in that area over the course of his career. Whether you look at his triple slash, wOBA against, or K%, he has had his two best seasons against righties in 2011 and 2012. Continuing to implement the cutter could continue to show marginal overall improvement considering he faces right-handers around 80% of the time. It’s something to look out for this season to see if this trend continues.
Maholm will never carry the headlines or all of a suddenly form into anything more that a middle of the rotation type starter, but his value to the team this season shouldn’t be overlooked.
February 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Prior to yesterday’s home run, a name seldom heard this spring — at least compared to last year — has been that of Joey Terdoslavich’s. This time last season, he was trying to make a defensive transition to hopefully be able to be the heir apparent at third base for Chipper Jones. The struggles he had both offensively and defensively are well documented, and the lack of success Terdoslavich had in the transition caused him to be kind of a forgotten man. I have never been as high on Terdoslavich as most, but I have always viewed him as a legitimate role player on this team down the line. With the current construction of the roster, he looks like the best player to fill the team’s final bench spot.
He would have to be added to the 40-man roster, which the Braves have room to do regardless, so that issue does not seem to be too worrisome if he plays well enough to earn the spot. In being a switch-hitter and a primary first baseman, he fills two holes the Braves currently have on the bench. The first would be left-handed bat off the bench, which is a pretty important role over the course of the season. The other is backup first baseman, as Chris Johnson is the likely favorite or potentially Ernesto Mejia — I would be vying for Mejia if he were left-handed. Terdoslavich is no gold glover at first, but he is certainly better than Johnson defensively, at least at his accustomed position.
Terdoslavich could also be used in the outfield a bit if the team suffers injuries at the corners. As it currently plays out, the Braves would be forced to play Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer, Jose Constanza, or potentially Todd Cunningham against right-handed pitchers if Heyward or Upton were to be injured. With how much the offense should rely on those two players, getting at least close to replacement level offense is vital. It is doubtful that any of the four aforementioned outfielders would be able to do that for any legitimate stretch, but it seems reasonable to expect Terdoslavich to be the best hitter of the bunch against righties. The defense would not be as adequate, but if the team is looking for offense from a corner he looks like the next best bet.
I am not suddenly bullish on Terdoslavich — and especially not just because he hit a home run yesterday — but it just seems like his overall skill set fits with what the Braves need from him at this point. With his failure in transitioning to third base and the Braves acquisition of Justin Upton, there is no spot for Terdoslavich to find regular playing time at in the next three years. The Braves have made it clear that they do not see him as a starter at left field, right field, or first base with how they have constructed their roster, so it is time to put his skills to best use and make him one of the team’s more flexible bench options.
February 22, 2013 at 10:00 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
One of the most commonly misunderstood things about baseball analysis is what is meant by luck or random variation. Neither of those terms truly describes what’s happening. Sometimes, players really do suffer from rotten luck – broken bat singles, line drives right to the shortstop, great diving/home-run robbing catches – and if you think the world generally evens things out, you need to look at the world again. Sometimes, random variation happens – hit a ball hard in Arizona and it goes out while you hit it as hard in Petco and it doesn’t – and you can’t always control when certain things happen. What most people mean by luck and random variation is that, given enough time, so many events will happen that things will get relatively close to evening out. But a lot of times there are reasons why players go into slumps, and yet, we still expect things to even out. Let’s look at Jonny Venters to explain.
Venters 2012 first half didn’t go according to plan. By the All-Star Break, the sinkerballing reliever who had ERA below 2.00 in his first two seasons saw his ERA skyrocket over 4.00 to almost 4.50. Looking at his peripherals, however, told us not to worry. His strikeout rate was near 12 per 9, and his walk rate was near 4.5. Considering his career marks are 10 and 4.5, Venters’ stuff seemed to remain strong despite losing a mph off his pitches. Batted balls? Well, his GB/FB rate was 3.79, which was down from his career rate near 4.50, but that seems like a slight change for such a dramatic difference in ERA. But Venters also gave up a lot of home runs. Was something off causing that?
First thing is to look at pitch location.
While Venters wasn’t as good in 2012 as 2011, he wasn’t really much worse than he was in 2010. What about differences in pitches?
Again, the sinker isn’t as good as 2011, but it’s still not that drastic of a change. The slider?
Welp. Not much difference there, either. But these are for the entire season, and in many ways this backs up the “he’ll be fine” idea. Over the course of the season and because the overall peripherals were okay, chances are that he was going to recover, which he did. But what about the first half vs. the second half?
Now we see some difference, and we should note a couple things. The first thing is the drastic shift in location between the two. In the first half, Venters was often throwing to the glove side of the plate, and when he threw it to the arm side, he might as well have started screaming, “Back, back, back” as soon as he threw it. Going to the second half, his pitches return the lower area of the arm side of the plate, and the location is very concentrated. The second thing we should note is that Venters’ first half is a severe departure from his career strategy, while his second half was much more similar to his career. Why did this happen?
The immediate suspect was his “elbow impingement”. This injury doesn’t allow the elbow to extend in a normal way, which certainly seems like it could have been a problem. Was it?
Well, it didn’t affect his release point. What about movement?
Ah, here we go. Notice anything? Look at the sinkers (the pinkish triangles). You should notice a few things. One, they’re more concentrated, which means he was getting consistent movement. That’s helpful with things like hitting your spots. Two, the movement is more vertical instead of horizontal. For some reason (be it injury or mechanics), Venters’ sinker was flattening out in the first half. Instead of diving, it was sliding, and when it slid, it stayed belt high instead of going to the knees. If you have trouble locating and often locate farther up when you’re trying to sink the ball, you’re going to (or at least you should) give up harder contact, fewer groundballs, and more home runs. Did he deserve a 43% HR/FB rate? Probably not, but this certainly explains why he gave up more home runs and, thus, more runs.
But here’s the thing – Venters and the coaches down in that clubhouse are not idiots. Whether they pore over PITCH f/x charts or not, they probably noticed that Venters wasn’t hitting his spots and that his sinker wasn’t sinking as much. As a result, they probably looked at more film to see what was wrong, and when they did, they tried to fix it. Perhaps the mechanical changes weren’t having an effect because the impingement wasn’t allowing him to throw his pitches the way he wanted. It really doesn’t matter. The point is that baseball, like many sports, is a game of adjustments. Sometimes it’s adjusting strategy. Sometimes it’s making physical adjustments to deal with injury. But it happens to every player in every season. When things are going great, you let it ride, and when they go poorly, you work to correct it. But by the end of the season, we expect that the results will be similar to the year before because guys have hot streaks they can’t sustain and slumps they won’t endure. Sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s random variation. And a lot of times there are actual things going wrong that probably won’t stay wrong long.