October 27, 2010 at 4:47 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
2010 in review
The Braves battled adversity all year, eventually limping into the playoffs where they were eliminated in the first round in 4 games by a combined score of 11-9. By late September they were using a line-up that included two utility infielders that had no business playing every day and a grab bag of center fielders and left fielders that were more or less replacement-level. Braves left fielders ended the year with a .242/.302/.385 line and their center fielders hit .232/.329/.339. The emergence of Jason Heyward made the unproductive outfield spots easier to swallow, and despite the poor production from LF and CF for the entire year and two utility players playing every day down the stretch, the Braves were, overall, a good offensive team in 2010. They finished 5th in the league in runs per game and 3rd in OPS+. The primary reason for their success was their ability to take ball 4, they led the league in walks and on base average. Even after swapping a hitter who strikes out about as much as he walks for Alex Gonzalez (who has some of the poorest plate discipline in the majors) and replacing one of the most patient hitters in the game with Omar Infante (whose about as patient as Jeff Francoeur) the Braves fielded a very patient team.
The starting pitching was again solid, though unlike 2009 the team had no true “ace” on the staff. Derek Lowe had a nice bounce-back year, posting a 4.00 ERA in 193 and 2/3 innings and losing games 1 and 4 of the postseason despite pitching very well. Tommy Hanson had a strong first half, but his strikeout rate took a major turn south in the second half. It didn’t matter then because a) his walk rate also fell drastically and b) he was fortunate on balls in play, allowing him to finish the year with a 3.33 ERA in 202 and 2/3 innings. Tim Hudson returned from surgery to anchor the staff and led the major leagues in ground ball percentage, allowing him to post a 2.83 ERA in 228 and 2/3 innings despite a 1.88 K/BB ratio. He’ll need to improve the latter to sustain the former, but there’s a lot to like about Hudson’s comeback player of the year award winning campaign.
Beyond those three the staff was a bloody mess. Injuries limited Jair Jurrjens to 116 and 1/3 inning, in which he posted a 4.64 ERA. Kenshin Kawakami made only 16 starts before Bobby Cox irrationally decided he didn’t want to let him pitch anymore, bumping him from the rotation rather than Kris Medlen when Jair Jurrjens returned from his second series of injuries. Medlen was good in his 14 starts, but apparently he was not built to pitch in a rotation (we sort of knew this, his frame isn’t ideal for starting) and went down with a torn UCL. He’s out nearly all of 2011 on account of it and it didn’t have to be this way, but whatever. Mike Minor was summoned to take his place in the rotation, and he was good at first, but then he hit a wall and finished with a 5.98 ERA in 8 starts and 1 mop up appearance. When Jair Jurrjens went down again, Brandon Beachy took his/Minor’s spot for three solid starts down the stretch.
The bullpen was fantastic all year. Billy Wagner proved to be worth every penny of the $7 million he was paid, pitching 69 and 1/3 innings with a 1.43 ERA, a 0.865 WHIP, and a 104-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was absolutely brilliant all year and it’s a shame he’s so emphatic about retiring. Jonny Venters emerged as a top set-up man, posting a 1.95 ERA, a 1.205 WHIP, and a 93-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83 innings. Takashi Saito was solid when he pitched, but only appeared in 56 games. Still, the 2.83 ERA in 54 innings is probably more than Atlanta bargained for when they signed him. Eric O’Flaherty was again effective in a lefty-specialist role, posting a 2.45 ERA in 44 innings. The Braves got several shots in the arm late in the season from Gwinnett, including Michael Dunn who appeared in 25 games and posted a 1.89 ERA and Craig Kimbrel, who appeared in 21 games and posted a 0.44 ERA. Christhian Martinez spent a lot of the year as the long-man in the bullpen and managed a 4.85 ERA in 26 innings. Jesse Chavez was terrible, and traded mid-season for Kyle Farnsworth, who was only slightly better.
Defensively the team was awful. They finished close to the bottom of the pack in UZR, and that’s with Yunel Escobar for half a season. The bench was particularly bad in the field, with Melky Cabrera, Brooks Conrad, Eric Hinske, and Matt Diaz all providing zero defensive value. Troy Glaus was a bad defensive first baseman and the team’s center fielders didn’t produce in the field. It wasn’t all bad, Martin Prado was about average at 2nd base, Chipper Jones improved on his bad defensive campaign in 2009, and Jason Heyward was a plus defender in right field.
Again the Braves cost themselves runs on the basepaths, though they were closer to league average in 2010 than 2009–when they finished 29th in EqBRR. While it’s nice to have a good baserunning team, it’s insignificant when compared to hitting, pitching, and defense, and not worth worrying a whole lot about.
What They’ve Got
The Braves have seven players under a guaranteed contract for 2011–Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Chipper Jones, and David Ross. They hold club options for the 2011 services of Kyle Farnsworth, Alex Gonzalez, Omar Infante. Rick Ankiel has a mutual option for 2011 and he’s almost guaranteed to exercise his portion of it, so the Braves basically have a club option there. The Braves control six players that are eligible for salary arbitration, Matt Diaz, Peter Moylan, Scott Proctor, Jair Jurrjens, Eric O’Flaherty, and Martin Prado. They also controlled Melky Cabrera, but he was mercifully released, thank god. The club has three players eligible for free agency, Derrek Lee, Troy Glaus, and Eric Hinske.
Going position-by-position, at first base they’re set with Freddie Freeman making league minimum. At second base, Martin Prado will be the primary second baseman. Alex Gonzalez’s club option is affordable, only $2.5 million, and they’re going to pick it up and use him as their every-day SS. Chipper Jones will be ready to play at the start of Spring Training and is the club’s every-day third baseman. Brian McCann is their catcher. They’re set in the infield. Jason Heyward will look to build on his ROY-deserving campaign, hopefully with his thumb fully healed, as the club’s every-day right fielder. Beyond that the outfield is up in the air. Nate McLouth makes $6.5 million in 2011 plus a $1.25 million buyout on his 2012 club option, so the Braves would have a tough time moving him. Though just because he’s staying put doesn’t mean he’s their every-day center fielder. McLouth showed glimpses of his former self in September, and there’s not a better option in the organization right now. Still, they may bring someone in to play CF. The club has no acceptable every-day left fielder, and they’ll have to go shopping this winter.
In the rotation, the Braves control seven players capable of filling a rotation spot, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, and Kenshin Kawakami. Kawakami will not return to the big club in 2011, he’ll be traded elsewhere. It’s been reported that multiple Japanese teams are interested in Kenshin and willing to assume as much as $3 million of his salary, and if trading him to Japan for nothing and eating only $3.67 million is the worst-case scenario that’s going to happen. The first four mentioned are virtually guaranteed spots in the rotation unless they’re moved (unlikely), and Minor or Beachy will fill the 5th spot, the other going back to AAA and serving as the emergency starter.
The Braves have a lot of flexibility in the bullpen, which is especially nice considering they also have lots of cheap, effective options. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters will most likely be penciled into the 8th and 9th inning roles. Michael Dunn has probably done enough to earn a role in the 2011 bullpen as well. Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty won’t receive huge arbitration raises and have both been effective for awhile. I would caution the team against bringing Peter Moylan back, though. His walk rate has increased each of his past three healthy seasons, culminating in a completely unacceptable 5.2 BB/9 in 2010. I’m very skeptical of his ability to be an effective reliever in the future. O’Flaherty has been a rock-solid lefty-specialist for two years and most likely can be retained for less than $1 million. The Venters, Dunn, O’Flaherty trio should give the Braves a potent trio of lefties capable of shutting down opposing left-handed hitters. Stephen Marek did enough last year to earn a spot in the 2011 bullpen, and if he’s in shape and pitching well he should get one. With Kimbrel, Marek, Venters, Dunn, and O’Flaherty in the fold, they have two roles unsettled–long-man and high-leverage right-hander. There are a slew of options for the former, Christhian Martinez being the frontrunner, while there’s not much to work with in-house regarding the latter role.
On the bench, Omar Infante’s $2.5 million club option is a lock to be exercised while David Ross will serve as the club’s back-up catcher. Despite Brooks Conrad’s terrible defense, he’s cheap and an effective pinch-hitter and should be retained. There are two roles the Braves don’t have players to fill. One is a 4th outfielder. Yes, Matt Diaz is in the fold, but if he’s brought back the offseason was a failure. The team needs to get better defensively and the 4th outfielder spot is one of the most obvious places to do that, they need a true center fielder in that spot. Additionally, there isn’t an opportunity to get Diaz semi-regular PA’s on a properly constructed 2011 roster. Jason Heyward is the team’s every-day right fielder and left field represents the only opportunity for the team to add a power-hitting right-handed bat, which they can’t platoon with Matt Diaz for obvious reasons. The other unsettled bench role is the proverbial left-handed bench bat. Eric Hinske was very good in that role last year and the team should try their best to retain him.
What They Need
As previously mentioned, the team needs a right-handed power-hitting left fielder. They’ve needed this for three years, actually. Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee provided some of the bat part of this last year, but Freddie Freeman–a left-handed hitter–is slated to take over the every-day 1B job in 2011. To balance the line-up and fix the systematic power issue, they have to acquire a right-handed power bat who can play left field.
They also need one more right-handed reliever, capable of pitching the 8th inning. These kind of players are had for $2-4 million every off-season and there’s no need to spend big on it. They just need a strike-throwing righty who can miss a few bats. Preferably he’d also have ground-ball tendencies, because Marek, Kimbrel, Dunn, and O’Flaherty are all fly-ball pitchers.
They need a good, preferably elite, defensive outfielder to occupy a bench spot. It’s hard to find these guys, granted, but they desperately need one and should make it one of their top priorities. There are exactly two places I see the defense improving in 2011. One is at first base where Freeman is an excellent defender, the other is at the 4th OF’er spot. Bad defense has plagued this team for three straight years, fixing the systematic weakness would do a lot to help the pitching staff.
Finally, they need a left-handed bench bat. They probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs without a competent pinch-hitter in Eric Hinske, and even if they don’t retain him they need someone who can do what he does.
What They Don’t Need
The Braves do not need a lead-off hitter. Speed is nice but isn’t integral to success, and the team has several players capable of leading off, including Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, and Chipper Jones. The only thing that’s crucial to success WRT the lead-off spot is the ability to get on base, and the Braves have plenty of players that can do that.
The Braves do not need for Omar Infante to play every day. No, no, no, no, no. This guy is a utility player for a reason, he is not good enough to play every day. His batting average with Atlanta is an illusion, he doesn’t hit for power, and he walks less than JEFF F’N FRANCOEUR. No, absolutely not. Please keep him on the bench.
The Braves do not need a first baseman, they have one in Freddie Freeman.
The Braves do not need a third baseman, Chipper Jones is going to be ready to play and he’s one of the best offensive third basemen in the game.
The Braves do not need Matt Diaz for reasons previously mentioned.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Matt Diaz – Non-tender. I love the guy, but it has to be done unless they can trade him for something of value after tendering him a contract.
Peter Moylan – If you can trade him, tender him a contract. He’d be a good starting point for acquiring the aforementioned defensive specialist bench OF’er. Otherwise, non-tender.
Scott Proctor – Hell no, non-tender. He was awful in the minors and majors.
Jair Jurrjens – Very obviously tender him a contract.
Eric O’Flaherty – Tender. He’s effective and won’t cost a whole lot.
Martin Prado – See Jurrjens, Jair.
Kyle Farnsworth – Decline.
Rick Ankiel – Decline.
Omar Infante – Exercise.
Alex Gonzalez – Begrudgingly exercise.
Troy Glaus – Let him go. He was good when he was good, but the 2011 team has no use for him.
Derrek Lee – Like Glaus, the 2011 team has no use for him. Thank him for helping the team get to the playoffs and send him packing.
Eric Hinske – Try to retain him for under $2 million. He’s a great bench-player, but he’s just a bench player.
2011 Roster Blueprint
What I think it should look like:
Italics = arbitration salary.
Bold = acquisition.
Assuming the payroll is around $88 million and the Braves save $3 million by trading Kenshin Kawakami, they’ll have about $16.5 million to add the four pieces they need. That is very, very doable, and if the front office constructs the roster properly in 2011 they should have a team capable of both winning their division and having a successful post season tournament once they’re there.