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.