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.