Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Will Matt Adams be a Brave in 2018?

When Freddie Freeman went down, the Braves started Jace Peterson at first and signed James Loney. And for a minute, we thought that was the best the Braves could do. John Coppolella changed that by acquiring Matt Adams from the St. Louis Cardinals for minor leaguer Juan Yepez. While expectations weren't great for Adams, he was clearly an upgrade over in-house options - including Loney who asked for a release. Adams, who had been stuck on the Cardinals bench after they moved Matt Carpenter to first base, would take off after arriving in Atlanta. Over 39 games while Freeman was out, he blitzed the league to the tune of .285/.333/.589 with 12 HR. So good was his performance that when Freeman was ready to return, the Braves took him up on his suggestion and moved their franchise cornerstone to third base just to keep Adams in the lineup.

That would last most of July and while Adams continued to produce, he definitely cooled down. As the calendar changed over to August, the Braves moved Freeman back to first base, leaving Adams to play left field in Matt Kemp's absence or pinch-hit. He's hit just .227 since but has bashed four homers - including two pinch-hit moonshots.

As the season rolls to an end, the Braves have a choice to make with Adams. Let's look at the options:

Trade him: Easier Said Than Done

In 2017, Adams was paid $2.8 million for his services and will be arbitration-eligible for just one more season. He's a career .270/.315/.470 hitter with 75 home runs. He falls under the spectrum of productive, but not so productive that other teams are willing to spend much in terms of assets to acquire him. The Braves traded a corner infielder who has hit just 13 home runs in 201 games and might only profile as a first baseman because his defense at third base is so suspect. First basemen without power don't tend to keep a job for very long (i.e. James Loney).

Adams does have power - a good deal of it - and can hit the ball hard. Adams currently rests just outside the Top 50 in Barrels per plate appearance, which rates the quality of contact. When he puts the bat on the ball, it has a good chance of finding a hole. Does he have .283 ISO-type power, like he has shown this year? It's probably not something he can sustain, but he qualifies as a true power hitter with a career .199 ISO. That's a big boost to his value.

However, several things are working against the Braves as they consider dealing Adams.
  • He's platoon-dependent. Over his career, Adams has a .256 wOBA against lefties. It's just as miserable this season at .244. Unfortunately, every team has access to Fangraphs so they also have this information. Acquiring Adams only works if you can match him up with a right-handed hitter who mashes lefties in the Matt Diaz mold. 
  • He's position-dependent. Adams is a fine first baseman. He's not gifted at the position by any means, but since 2014, Adams actually profiles better than Freeman as a first baseman (4.8 UZR/150, 17 rPM, 15 DRS). Nobody is paying anyone for first baseman defense, though. Adams has played just 129.1 innings in left field and we simply can't gauge much of anything of his numbers, but the eye test suggests that Adams is probably going to be a negative defensively. It's too much of a stretch to believe he can play anywhere else. He's a first baseman who might play left field for you in a pinch. That limits his value to NL clubs who know they are going to have to platoon him. The AL teams that could have interest do have the DH, which opens up more possibilities.
  • He's under team control for just 2018. The Braves paid next-to-nothing to acquire Adams and that was with a year-and-a-half of team control. The team acquiring Adams will have even less.
None of these conditions will erase any chance the Braves have of trading Adams, but they certainly limit the opportunities. One thing could work in their favor, though. Of the 21 full-time qualified first basemen this season, five are free agents. Two others, Lucas Duda and Mike Napoli, didn't qualify but have been regulars in the lineup and could also be free agents this offseason (Napoli has an option). Further, a DH like Carlos Beltran will also hit the open market. In addition, the Angels are a team that might entertain the idea of improving their first base production after a combined 0.7 fWAR from C.J. Cron, Luis Valbuena, and Jefry Marte. Suffice it to say, the market is theoretically available for Adams.

That said, a number of open jobs at first base/DH doesn't mean the same thing as open jobs in center field or at shortstop, positions where the market is depressed by so few capable players at the position. A number of the free agents this offseason with history at first base were also free agents last year. This is because most teams look at first base in this regard - it's great if you have a Freeman, but if you don't, you can find something that will work. You don't even need to be in a rush. The Rays signed Logan Morrison a week before spring training for nearly $2 million less than they paid him the previous year. It worked out pretty well for them and they weren't alone. The first base market rarely invites huge paydays because teams can just wait it out and go bargain shopping.

With Adams likely to earn $4M to $5M in arbitration, would any team really spend assets to acquire a guy that resembles several free agents that are already available and won't require a prospect? For that matter, they could be even cheaper than Adams. This is a problem the Braves will face in regards to dealing Adams this winter.

Non-Tender Him: But Why?

The Braves could see Adams as a luxury they can do without and simply non-tender him to open a 40-man roster spot. Such a decision would be a mistake in my view.

At $5M or so, Adams is an expensive bench piece, but the Braves will probably be able to deal with that. If they don't sign a third baseman - and Ronald Acuna takes over in right field as many expect - the Braves will open the season with half of their position starters earning the major league minimum. It would be a fair assumption that two of their rotation members will also make the minimum. Paying $5M for a bench player becomes much more bearable when you aren't spending heavily at other positions.

Beyond that, Adams does have value - value that would be wasted as a non-tendered free agent. I mentioned many of the negatives earlier because that hurts his trade value, but his offensive value is still quite apparent as he has a .335 wOBA since 2013. That ranks 74th among 238 players and it's better than Adam Jones, Beltran, Todd Frazier, and Evan Gattis. And since we know that he's a platoon player, we can reasonably assume that his wOBA would only look better if you limited it to facing right-hand pitching. And why assume when we can just look it up? Since 2013, Adams' .355 wOBA against right-hand pitching ranks 59th of 482 players (min. 370 PA against RHP).

If the Braves were in a financial crunch, I'd understand non-tendering Adams if a trade market never materialized - which is a real possibility. But I don't believe Atlanta will have to worry about that so why not keep Adams? Further, perhaps a trade market would come together as players go down or don't perform after spring camp opens up. Regardless, just cutting Adams is short-sighted and I think more of John Coppolella than that.

Keep Him: Cause Why The Hell Not?

If the Braves can't trade Adams and non-tendering him is a dumb move, that leaves the third option - keep him. And frankly, it might be the best option available even if Atlanta gets much interest in Adams this offseason.

The Braves are unlikely to trade Matt Kemp this winter. It'd be great if they can, but the sheer amount of financial responsibility the Braves would have to shoulder just to unload Kemp might be too much for the Braves to accept. Trading Nick Markakis to open up a spot for Acuna seems like the easier and more likely play. That leaves Atlanta to hope Kemp loses all the weight, keeps it off, and performs once again. Pretty much the same thing they hoped for last winter.

Whatever the case, the Braves seem stuck here. Here's the thing, though. If you are willing to play Kemp in left field with all of his atrocious defense, why wouldn't you also be willing to play Adams out there? Both players need a defensive caddy (Hi, Lane Adams!) and with Kemp seemingly always dealing with hamstring and knee issues, having Matt Adams' bat around could be useful for the Braves. Yeah, the defense sucks, but honestly, Adams could be better than Kemp defensively. Here's a fun stat for all of you Josh Browns of the world. Sprint speed is measured by feet per second. 447 players qualify currently and ranking 398th is Kemp with a sprint speed of 25.6 ft/sec. Adams is slightly quicker at 26.1 ft/sec. While speed isn't everything (Ender Inciarte ranks 173rd overall), there's at least an argument that Adams is a comparable - maybe even better - left fielder than Kemp. Probably not better, but Kemp is so bad that Adams can't be any worse. Presumably, with even more time in left field, Adams stands a shot at improving. Not a good one, but we know Kemp isn't going to get any better.

Pinch-Hit Homers by the Braves
Remember when I said that keeping Adams maybe even better than trading him? Think about what the Braves might get for trading Adams. Well, we don't really know that, but we can make the reasonable assumption that it won't be greater than what the Braves gave up to originally acquire him. That would mean Atlanta would likely receive a borderline Top 75 prospect in this organization. Probably something between what they received for Jaime Garcia (Huascar Ynoa) and Brandon Phillips (Tony Sanchez). Now, that player could be a fun project, but it's probably going to be a guy who won't ultimately play for the Braves or turn into a good tradeable asset. And by the way...the Braves' lower minor league teams are already packed with project players.

Keeping Adams gives the Braves a bat off the bench - something they lacked when the 2017 season opened - who provides depth at 1B and LF. That depth could be important when you consider that Freeman has missed about 80 games to injury over the last three years (including a healthy 2016). Conversely, Kemp bends over and misses two weeks. That's being mean, but having Adams for depth could be useful to help the Braves should either player go down. Further, Adams could fetch a better prospect from a desperate team later. That last part is wishful thinking, but it's not impossible.

In the end, short of being surprised on the trade market this offseason, the best bet is to keep Adams moving forward into the 2018 season. Do you agree? Let me know in the comment section.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Braves and Shohei Ohtani

If you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a rather large story brewing on the international prospect scene. His name is Shohei Ohtani and he's the best prospect to come out of Japan in years, arguably being a once-in-a-generation prospect.
Wiki Commons

If you’re unfamiliar, Ohtani is a 23-year-old, two-way player who regularly hits 101 mph as a starter and regularly destroys baseballs as a hitter. In the states, if this guy was on the free market, free to sign wherever and for however much he wanted, numbers like $300 million would be in play. He’s that special of a player.

But that’s where it gets complicated for everyone. Ohtani isn’t in the states, and he isn’t a free agent and now he’s tied to a system that was never designed to handle a player of his caliber. Because Ohtani is under 25, he’s subject to MLB international signing restrictions, which are complicated in themselves, but basically is going to restrict Ohtani from signing for anything more than $10 million. We can discuss the right and wrong of forcing a player to accept a contract 1/30th the value of what he’s actually worth another time but the bottom line is this, if he comes over this offseason, as reported, he’s leaving hundreds of millions on the table.

And this is big news for the Braves. If I’m honest, I haven’t really been following the Ohtani sweepstakes that closely simply because I really didn’t think Atlanta had a chance. If he waited until after he was 25, then it’s an open market and Atlanta would simply get outbid. If he came before 25, Atlanta would still be in the penalty box from their 2016 class, which included Kevin Maitan, and would only be allowed to offer 300K to any player. These two realties convinced me Ohtani certainly wouldn’t be wearing a Braves uniform.

But the thing is, it isn’t certain. Jeff Passan of Yahoo sports put it best in a recent series of tweets on the subject:

“Free agency where money almost literally isn’t a factor.” This is Atlanta’s type of free agency. In a world where money isn’t king, Atlanta has as good a shot as any. By coming over now, Ohtani is telling the world this decision won’t be based on the biggest number he sees on a check. 

There’s another factor too. Like I mentioned above, Ohtani is a two-way player. He loves to hit. But it’s very unlikely any MLB team is going to let such a special arm play in the field the 4 days a week he isn’t starting, especially when the financial commitment increases. This has led many to believe Ohtani will choose a National League team. A scenario where he gets to hit 3 or 4 times every 5th day as well as being a legitimate pinch hit option seems like it would appeal to Ohtani much more than going to American League and basically being told his hitting days are over. If this is the case then Atlanta just increased their odds from 1 in 30 to 1 in 15.

There are other ways to increase their odds as well. One interesting idea that some have suggested is a team should agree to non-tender him after two or three years. Under the rules of baseball, after Ohtani signs he will be subject to the same 6 years of team control before free agency as all other players. By agreeing to non-tender after certain amount of time, he gets to free agency quicker and you get two or three of having him vs some other team. Atlanta could certainly get creative like this. And even if you only had him for 2 or 3 years, the benefits are insane. Even if you’re not ready to compete in that time frame he becomes a first-rate trade piece. It's an interesting idea but just like everything else in this case, it's more complicated

MLB has set up these international spending rules, in part to save owners a lot of money, but also to maintain competitive balance. Put a cap on it and it doesn’t matter if you’re the Yankees or the A’s, you’re operating on the same financial playing field. And MLB is serious about this. They’ve sent out multiple league wide memos reminding teams that any contract for Ohtani, just like all other contracts, must be approved by the commissioner’s office and any attempt to circumvent the rules will result in not only a voided contract, but harsh penalties. This is a measure intended to prevent teams from orchestrating an under-the-table agreement with Ohtani, like the one mentioned above, or any kind of pre-arranged extension.
But it’s important to remember that the commissioner’s office doesn’t wield power unilaterally over baseball. The sport is governed by a collective bargaining agreement and any and all clauses and penalties regarding contracts must be laid out in the CBA. Now I’ve heard this new CBA will have such language in it but it’s obviously very difficult to include every possibility. Teams have people on their payroll whose entire job it is to find legal ways around the CBA. Such is the reality in an ultra-competitive world. If a team comes up with a creative way to get Ohtani paid quicker while still staying within the parameters of the CBA, MLB is going to have a mess on their hands. Again, this system was never designed for a guy this valuable.

This will all be fascinating. To be clear, the Braves certainly aren't the favorites. That distinction probably belongs to the Dodgers, the Cubs, or the team that signs Yu Darvish. But Atlanta is certainly in a better position than they were before and the idea that money will play such a small role basically makes this a wide-open race. The Atlanta Braves could get Shohei Ohtani. And that's kind of cool.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

What do the Braves have in Lane Adams? With Q&A

Minda Haas Kuhlmann (SA BY CC 2.0) via Flickr
Lane Adams is 27 years old. Up until this year, he's been a career Minor Leaguer with a .755 OPS, average power, above average speed, and a pretty good glove that can play all three outfield positions.

But there's something happening here and what it is ain't exactly clear.  There's a Lane with a bat over there, and he's telling MLB they've got to beware. Ok, I'll stop here.

What's that sound? Everybody looks what's going down.

Ok. I'll really stop now. While this season has been a wash for the Braves, there's been a some very pleasant surprises on this team:
  1. Johan Camargo developing into a real Major League threat after being an incredibly mediocre Minor Leaguer.
  2. Sam Freeman ditching his reverse splits to become a legit force against left-handed hitters (.471 OPS against).
These are great developments for a team that was in need of a good super-utility type and a shutdown left-handed reliever, both of which hadn't really been present for half a decade on the Major League club. In enters something Braves haven't had in a long time as well... a good 4th outfielder, Lane Adams. Called up in late April, Lane received two handfuls of plate appearances but was mostly used for his speed in pinch running opportunities. He received no starts in this stint and was sent back to the Minors on May 8th after compiling a .667 OPS.

Fast-forward to June 7th, and Lane gets the call back to the bigs and was used exclusively off the bench for over two months as Danny Santana, Jace Peterson and Matt Adams were used in spot starts in left and right field. Meanwhile, off the bench, Lane was coming up with some pretty big hits and playing solid defense in late-innings. I, along with nearly everyone that was watching Santana at the plate and in the field, was wondering aloud who Lane had to kill to get a start.  And finally it happened...not the killing part.

It took a day off for Braves elite defending Ender Inciarte for Lane Adams to get the first start of his professional career. He went 1-3 with a walk and a run scored. You'd think that would earn him some starts over the likes of Jace Peterson and Danny Santana, whom were not swinging the bat well nor fielding above average, but alas no. It took 3 more weeks before Snitker started Lane again, and yet again, he had a good start going 1-4 with another walk.

Thus far, in little under 100 PAs, Lane has a .912 OPS, an 11.4% BB-rate, a 24.1% K-rate, and has 8 stolen bases to 0 caught stealing. However, there's plenty to be cautious about when it comes to his 2017 MLB stint:
  • An inflated BABIP of .391
  • A stat-line that far surpasses what he's been able to do at any MiLB level in every offensive category.
If there's anyone out there that expects Lane to continue hitting above a .900 OPS for the rest of his professional career, I'd ask you to lay off the painkillers. As intelligent as Lane is, I think he'd say the same. However, there's a lot to like about Lane, his approach, and the time, effort, and energy he puts into making himself an all-around better player. He studies the game, its mechanics, and has the intelligence to maximize his skillset. But enough of me talking about Lane. How about we let Lane talk about Lane! Buckle in as he has a lot to say and it's very, very good stuff. Like me, I'm sure if you read this, you'll be glad that he wears a Braves uniform.

First and foremost, thank you for taking your time out to answer a few questions for us at Walkoff Walk! We’re all big fans of the Braves and your stint with them has made an impression on all of us. On to the questions.  I am a teacher so you will be graded on your responses. 

For those of us that have been following you on Twitter, we have seen you discuss some advanced metrics that have been thrown around baseball lately, i.e. launch angle and exit velocity. We’ve also noticed a spike in your numbers this year, and was wondering if there was any particular metric you’ve been drawn to that has rewarded you with the great numbers you’re putting up at the MLB level?

I have to give you the background first.

Well growing up I played basketball and baseball. My first sport was basketball. Never put any emphasis into baseball growing up. In basketball, I studied the game's best shooters and scorers. Trying to add what they did into my game. As far as baseball goes, I just showed up and played. After games and practice, I usually went to the gym to get up some shots and to implement the moves I studied. When I played baseball, there was no studying, no technique, no mechanical issues or any mechanical adjustments to be made. Just sorta went out there and played and let myself be an athlete. Mainly just waiting for the game to be over so I could go to the gym. I'm sure you're all aware of the story of me trying to quit my sophomore year but my mom vetoed that decision.

I then get drafted. I get to AZL rookie ball league for my first go at professional baseball. Within the first week of my professional, I was told I needed a change in approach and in my mechanics. Naturally I thought "these are professional coaches they must know what they're talking about". Without any questions or knowledge, I proceeded to abide by their instruction. This is no knock to the coaches who at this time had a lot of major leaguers come up through that system and have had a lot of success. But for myself, I was a literal person. You tell me to swing down and try to create backspin I'm going to literally swing down and create backspin.

For the next 4-5 years, I was searching for a consistent swing. Deep down I knew something with my swing was off. We weren't allowed to watch video until 2015. And if we did it had to be with a coach. I would watch big leaguer after big leaguer watching swing after swing trying to figure out what I could do, but not knowing what I was looking for. I heard big leaguers talk about it and they'd give the old conventional hitting terms; swing down, back spin etc.

It wasn't until 2014 when I was called up that we played tigers out 10x in the month of September. That was the year JD Martinez broke out.  I went out and watched the Tigers BP one day and casually walked by JD to see how big he was compared to me. He might have had 5-10 lbs on me. But I kept asking myself why he was hitting balls out to the opposite field the way he was. At the time Raul Ibanez was with us. We would talk hitting all the time. I asked him where this guy came from. Raul told me JD went to a guy and overhauled his swing. Raul also worked with the same guy earlier in his career. He tried to go into detail about his technique and philosophy. I didn't comprehend it at the time. I was a shy 24-year-old and I didn't want to pester Raul with questions. Although he would've talked to me all day if I wanted him to. Raul has been one of the most genuine guys I've met still to this day.

2015 & 2016 were years of trial and error. Still searching for what worked for me. I ended up trying to hit homeruns and drive the ball. That leads to a lot of overswinging and the K's racked up. Sporadically swinging for the fences wasn't getting it done at AA.

Fortunately, a buddy of mine in the hitting coach department put me in contact with JD's guy. I flew out to California and hit with that guy for 5 days. They said it best. "I knew what to do I just needed the direction to get me there." They gave me that direction. The swing they taught me kept my bat in the zone longer. On a plane more south to north. Spent the whole winter working and working on implementing the changes. 26-year-old habits are hard to break. Old habits kept creeping in and that I had to address and stay on top of. I struggled in spring training but I knew it was right so I just kept working and stuck to the plan. At Gwinnett, I was hitting more balls in the air naturally instead of rolling over balls the left side when my timing was off I'd hit balls in the air through the middle of the field and they would fall for hits.

 Are players of today more apt to know about sabermetrics? Is there a divide - almost cliques - in which some players have bought into modern stats and others haven't? 

The thing about metrics and analytics are they aren't intended for the player. Knowing metrics and analytics doesn't make me a better player. Same as not knowing metrics and analytics don't make you a bad player. Advanced stats are intended for the guys up in the front office gauge a player's true value. Baseball is a business. Baseball Executives use analytics to find a player's true value to save money. Instead of paying a free agent such and such dollars when a player that has rookie status can bring you the same value. Advanced stats are used to so the baseball bosses can get the most bang for their buck. I will say a majority of players in today's game don't take analytics seriously. Baseball is a traditional sport so naturally, guys will look at the traditional stats to weight their performance. Which is fine, but traditional stats don't tell the whole story. Advanced stats can't tell you everything about a player either. There has to be a balance. You see old school guys saying nerds are ruining the game, which I don't think they are. Teams aren't hiring guys with Ivy League degrees because it's the new trend. They're being hired because it's an adapt or die business. Just like everything else in this world. Things get better and evolve and you either keep up or fall behind. The iPhone X is significantly better than the iPhone 1.

How widespread is the "hit the ball in the air" philosophy in both the majors and the minors?

I personally believe the hit the ball in the air is nearing a tipping a point. Though I prefer hitting the ball in the air far more than on the ground. But there's a way to do it. Too high of an average launch angle will lead to more frequent pop ups and a higher punch rate. I want to think a guy with an average launch angle of 15-20 degrees will have more consistent success. You can compare a BABIP and average launch angles. Not going to tell the whole story but it will lead you to know which player is relying more on luck.

What coach, past or present, has been most influential on your career? Why?

There's a lot of coaches and players that I have gathered information from. I love information (whether) I benefit from it or not. I like to hear how people perceive and analyze things. Hitting is personal feel. Each individual player receives information differently. Mike Trout thinks swing down and create backspin. That feeling/cue gets him to take his best swings. Is he wrong? No. I try to swing down and create backspin and I will literally swing down. So for me, I have to think differently than Trout. There's no cookie cutter way to teach hitting. Everybody player is different. Up until the last year, I relied on other people to apply their ideas of the swing when I needed to apply my own for a better understanding. Since I'm the one swinging the damn bat and all. I didn't have success until I had personal clarity and conviction to what I was wanting to do with my swing. Cue old phrase "different strokes for different folks"

If you could continue your baseball career in a different field, would you choose front office or manager? Why?

I think my ideal job after my playing days would be head of player development or something in the front office. I would like to help younger players just getting started to find themselves as a player. Give them information. Teach them how to analyze/process it and help them build a foundation for them to chase their goals. I personally believe baseball development falls too much under the everybody do this and that and follow the line. I believe players will have more conviction and clarity in what they're doing if they can have some I freedom in their journey. Of course, you'd have to help guide them. Ask them questions like; what's your goal? What are you going do to get there? At the end of the day, it's the player's career. I rather have them do everything they think they could do in order to reach their goals. Put responsibility on the players for their journey to the big leagues. Everybody talks about having a process in this game. But who's process is this? The organization for the players?

This is merely theoretical...no story behind it. But if a guy evacuated from Florida, left the best tickets of his life before the bottom of the 9th inning last Sunday and missed Braves tie it in the 9th and your walkoff dinger in the 11th, what would you say to him?

I'd tell him, he and my girlfriend should go have a coffee together and talk about their decisions. She had a flight to catch and she was cutting it close. She had to leave early and got the update on the MLB app when she walked out of the stadium gates.

I want to think Lane Adams for answering some questions for us. You can - and should - follow him on Twitter @LA_Swiftness.

Post-Interview Reflection

I talked on Twitter how Lane could be a serious late-bloomer to the game of baseball, and the potential is affirmed in this piece as he's changed a good deal of his approach and is getting good results, especially in his medium to  hard contact rate which is over 80% in his 2017 MLB stint!  A smart dude. A heck of an athlete. A pupil of the game.  I'm excited to see what he can do on the diamond!  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Youth Movement Is Finally Here

G-Braves Media
You'd be forgiven if at times this season, you said, "where's all these prospects we traded everyone I knew for?"

The opening day lineup included five players over the age of 30. Two of the five reserves used that day were over 30. That doesn't include Emilio Bonifacio, Kurt Suzuki, Jaime Garcia, Jim Johnson, Sam Freeman, or Josh Collmenter - all regular faces over the first few months who were in the Age-30 season or older. Oh, and that definitely doesn't include R.A. Dickey or Bartolo Colon, who both hit their 30's over a decade ago. For a team that was all about the rebuild, this was an old team and a guy like Jason Motte didn't help make it any younger.

It was frustrating for casual and decidedly more-than-casual fans of the team to watch as prospects began to accumulate in Gwinnett while Adonis Garcia and Eric O'Flaherty appeared with regularity and disappointment over the first few months. You may have even lost a bit of your faith in the Braves front office and management. It's okay if you did. Like I said, you're forgiven.

On Wednesday night, we witnessed the latest example of what this youth movement might mean. Facing a playoff bound team destined to win 95 or so games, the Braves beat the Nationals with ease, leaning on a young quartet of pitchers. Sure, Matt Kemp's Grand Slam was the Sportscenter highlight, but the real story of this game was the youngins.

On the mound to begin the game was Luiz Gohara, who just turned 21 on the last day of July. Embarrassed by first-game jitters his last time out, Gohara took the mound against Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman and made the Nationals quite aware that the young lefty just might be a problem for them to deal with for the next half-decade. With control that was missing his first time out, Gohara surgically placed his 97 mph fastball wherever he wanted throughout the evening. He then followed that up with his slider, which had the Nationals swinging themselves into pretzels. He was even able to spot his much-improved changeup, using it effectively to keep the Washington hitters at bay. It was the kind of stuff that may have made Bryce Harper happy to still be on the shelf.
He's right, ya know.

The Braves followed Gohara's outing with the 27-year-old rookie, Dan Winkler. Since he returned to the team last month, Winkler has been nearly as a lights-out as he was at the beginning of last season before he fractured his elbow. A rare bullpen piece that throws five pitches, Winkler gave his changeup the night off and worked instead off his four-seamer, cutter, and slider with a sinker tossed in there for good measure. Whatever he threw, the Nats were powerless. Howie Kendrick hit a grounder to short while Michael Taylor struck out looking. Jayson Werth saw three fastballs, including a cutter, before swinging over an 82 mph slider.

A.J. Minter got the call next and Turner singled off him. That at-bat followed back-to-back strikeouts of Matt Wieters and Raudy Reed with the latter looking just sad against Minter's slider. Randy, don't disappear. You aren't the first, nor will you be the last to look to the heavens as the slider defies physics. Minter toyed with Wilmer Difo next, throwing the infielder four sliders at 89-90 mph before throwing a 97 mph fastball that Difo could only look at.

With the lead safely in hand, the Braves called on Lucas Sims to finish it. A starter by trade, the 23-year-old Sims has been moved into a bullpen role and he drew three of the better bats in Wednesday's lineup - Rendon, Zimmerman, and Kendrick. They didn't have a chance against Sims' four-pitch mix of a 93-94 mph fastball, 87-89 mph slider, and the occasional 84 mph change and 82 mph curve. Zimmerman struck out for the second time in the game and the Braves' rookie arms struck out 12 overall.

Not to be outdone, the front two batters in the lineup, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, reached base a combined four times, scored twice, and were credited with three runs driven in. Lane Adams, another 27-year-old rookie who keeps hitting, filled in admirably for Ender Inciarte with three hits, including his first major league triple.

On Wednesday, we didn't see Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, or Johan Camargo, but all four are 25-and-under and contributing.

This season has been trying for Braves fans - myself included. Watching Jason Motte get innings while Akeel Morris remained in Gwinnett was difficult. And watching Adonis Garcia play over Rio Ruiz was very frustrating. For a rebuilding team, the Braves of the first several months seemed awfully focused on the here-and-now while ignoring the future. That much appears to be changing. The Braves are beginning to put the kids first and it's about time.

On Thursday, the Braves started just three players over the age of 30.

It's progress. And progress, my dear friends, is a good thing.

Walk-Off Talk 1.9: The 2018 Bullpen

(Every now and then, we hold informal discussions on something related to the Braves. Today, Ryan Cothran and me, Tommy Poe, look at the bullpen in 2018.)


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like the Atlanta Braves won’t make the playoffs this season. And while it’s fun to talk about prospects like Kevin Maitan and Joey Wentz, there will be a major league season in 2018 and the Braves need to build a roster for it. On that roster, there will be a bullpen. So, let’s take a look at what that pen might look like.

Before we start, I have to admit something. For two consecutive years, I was sure the bullpen would be a strength and I was wrong. But I can’t be wrong three consecutive times, can I? 2018 has to be the year it all comes together, right?

To help answer that question, I want to look at where the bullpen is now and what the makeup might look like in 2018. We’ll cover some of the guys we want the Braves to keep, some of them that need to be moved, some of the guys coming up from the farm system, and any specific guys we would like the Braves to target in the free agent market or via trade. I’ll start.

 Vizcaino | By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I think the pen is a dicey position myself. It has a bullpen FIP that has often hovered around 5.00 since the All-Star Break (down to 4.61 now) and while we can blame Jim Johnson for much of that, others also struggled. Even some of the guys that have been so successful are players I'm not so sure I want to rely on moving forward. Jose Ramirez has a 2-run difference between his ERA and FIP and his xFIP is even higher. Can we really count on hitters becoming outs 8-of-10 times they put the ball in play moving forward as has happened for Ramirez this year (.209 BABIP)? Can we really count on Sam Freeman doing the thing he never did before - get left-hand major league hitters out - in 2018? Can we really count on Dan Winkler's arm not falling off from just signing an autograph?

It’s clear that I have my worries about this bullpen in 2018. That said, there are a few names that demand excitement. A.J. Minter has arrived and as long as he's healthy, he's probably the most dominant reliever the Braves have. Akeel Morris's incredible changeup will be in the mix as well - if the Braves remember he's in the organization. Arodys Vizcaino continues to impress, though he’s given up a few too many homers. Still, I’ll take him compared to others. Later, I'll talk about the two or three guys I really like coming up from the minors as well.

Generally, I'm seeing a bullpen that could go either way. Guys like Matt Wisler and Luke Jackson could finally get it. Winkler could stay healthy. Ramirez could continue to battle - and defeat - the SABR Gods. At the same time, there is a probably a better chance none of those things happen. So...that's a downer.

Here’s how I currently fall on things:
Keeping: Vizcaino, Minter, Morris, Winkler (I do like the arm)
Trading: Ramirez and Freeman - if there’s anything decent out there.
Keeping, but on thin ice: Wisler, Jackson, Hursh - next spring is their last chance.
Gone: Johnson (trade, DFA, pretend he’s Akeel Morris and lose him, whatever it takes), Krol, Motte, Brothers

I got the four I am comfortable moving into 2018 with, the three who I will give the last chance to (plus, they have no trade value), and a couple I’ll trade if there’s a good deal out there. I’m dropping veterans like it’s hot. Regardless, this pen needs plenty of work. What do you guys think? Am I wrong to be this pessimistic? Or am I seeing it way too clearly?


Hey, Tommy!

Super-excited to be doing another Walk-Off Talk, especially one concerning the bullpen as I have a whole heck of a lot to say on the matter. First and foremost, I’ll say that I think we as Braves fans finally see the bullpen turn the corner in 2018.  There’s fruit that is blossoming in front of our eyes, young men becoming staples in the ‘pen, old dudes getting squeezed out, and fringe guys looking bloody awful and naturally being pushed out of roles.  While that all doesn’t sound good, there’s much research and evidence that shows you have to fail before succeeding.  We’re there.

In the 1st section, I’m going to look at the guys that we’ve seen in 2017 1 by 1, try to find underlying reasons for their success or failures, and decipher whether I think they have a shot at the 2018 bullpen.  Ready? Here we go! Who’s a KEEPER? Who’s a HEAPER?

  1. Jose Ramirez- KEEPER. 2.28 ERA through 59.1 innings. Like Jason Motte’s early “success” this year in which he was getting roped but the ball was hit right at fielders, ERA can be a fluke stat, especially when we’re talking relievers and 1-2 inning stints at a time. With Motte, every person watching could see it was only a matter of time before it blew up in his face. The day it blew up on him was our beloved country’s birthday and since then he’s had a 9.28 ERA. This brings us to Jose Ramirez.  Like Tommy mentioned above, there’s a lot that’s went right for Jose this year: low BABIP, high LOB%, but there’s also a decrease in hard-contact as soft and medium contact make up for about 70% of the total while hard comes in at 32.3% - a serious decrease from previous years. It’s also worth noting that his groundball rate has increased significantly which, when adding in that his soft/medium contact rate has increased, bodes well for long-term success. Lastly,  Jose’s had an increase in velocity as his average fastball is 97.3, when it was previously 95ish. It’s appropriate to taper expectations for Jose as asking him to duplicate his 2.28 ERA is wish-casting, but increased velo, softer contact, and the ability to keep more balls on the ground makes me think Jose can be a mid-3s ERA in 2018.
  2. Jim Johnson- KEEPER. This is tough. I don’t want to see Jim Johnson in a Braves uniform in 2018, but the reality is that it’s not that easy. He’s owed 5MM and the Braves at least need to give him a shot to rebound before throwing in the towel. Give him April in low-leverage situations and let’s see if he can make that sinker sink again - otherwise, his career will be the thing sinking.
  3. Arodys Vizcaino- KEEPER. While not as extreme, Vizzy has also benefited from a low BABIP and a high-strand rate, but unlike Jose he’s kept his BB-rate low and his K-rate above 9. He might not be able to sustain a sub-3 ERA yearly, but if I were betting on anyone to do so in 2018, he’d be there.
  4. Sam Freeman- KEEPER. The surprise of the bullpen in 2017, there’s not much fluke in Sam’s stat line as everything seems pretty normal. His fastball/slider combo has been downright filthy and he’s under control for 3 more years. No reason not to bring him back.
  5. Ian Krol- HEAPER. I’d like to believe that Ian Krol’s mishaps are all bad luck, but it’s just not true. The pitch that made him valuable last year (fastball) has stayed up in the zone this year and has gotten crushed. His K-rate has dropped, BB-rate increased, and there are at least 2 LHPs in front of him in the pecking order. He’d also be entering his 2nd year in arbitration and the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.
  6. Luke Jackson- HEAPER. Really, there’s not much to like here. He’s got a pedestrian fastball that has velocity and that’s it.  Luke’s got a lot to figure out in AAA before he even becomes an average MLB reliever.
  7. Rex Brothers- HEAPER. Was super excited to see Rex signed this offseason as I’d pined for it. However, it’s just not worked out. His advanced metrics show he’s been really unlucky and hopefully, he can turn it around this last month. For now, like Krol, there’s just more effective LH options available. Like Krol, hopefully, the Braves can trade Rex for something of semi-value.
  8. Matt Wisler- HEAPER. For the 3rd year in a row, Wisler just isn’t missing bats. And really, it goes beyond that as he hasn’t missed bats since 2013, which was the last time his ERA was below 4. I don’t know what there is to figure out at AAA and maybe a change of scenery is needed.
  9. Jason Hursh- HEAPER.There was this one outing where Hursh was running it up to 96 and pitches were darting every which way. Aside from that, it was a step back year for the former 1st rounder. Like Wisler, his best opportunity might come in another organization.
  10. Akeel Morris- KEEPER. Must be the black sheep of the Braves 40-man roster as that is the only reason I see for him to not be in the bigs right now. Good K-rate, walks are coming down, and his 2-pitch mix looks pretty doggone good.
  11. Daniel Winkler- KEEPER. In my opinion, this dude’s stuff is downright filthy.  I’ve wondered aloud whether Braves will keep him around due to injury, but if they do, I think he can be a serious 1-inning force.
  12. A.J. Minter- KEEPER. We are getting a taste of what he can do now and it’s delicious. A serious powerhouse lefty that’s capable of throwing high-leverage innings to any hitter.



We mentioned a few names that came up from the minors this season and, as you said, will probably be keepers in 2018. Of course, I’m speaking of Minter and Morris - if he ever apologizes for whatever great offense he did to the Braves front office. Seriously, do as I do with my wife, Akeel. Make your apology sound super sincere even when you have no idea why they are mad. And maybe break down and watch Empire with The Holy John Trinity. Perhaps that last thing only helps with my wife, but it’s worth a shot.

Who might join Minter and Morris next season as young arms arriving in the bigs? Let me preface this by saying that I would love to include Kyle Kinman in this group, but coming off Tommy John surgery, I think that’s wishful thinking. Also, nobody knows where they put Armando Rivero so until we find him (I’ll check the couch), there’s no real reason to include him in this discussion.

Clouse | By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
One name that pops out immediately is Corbin Clouse. He logged 41 games between Florida and Mississippi this year, finished with the fourth most strikeouts in the system from those pitchers who didn't start a game, and hitters struggle to get the ball elevated against him due to a heavy 91-93 mph sinker and a wipeout slider. I'm sure this is going to be a common theme with these young arms, but in reference to Clouse, his control can waver from time-to-time. That said, when he's on with his delivery and follow-through, he's a nasty guy to deal with on the mound. Low-end projection, he'll be a left-hand specialist. But I think his stuff plays up to the righties as well. I think he could be a left-handed and maybe a little less effective version of the Tigers' Shane Greene.

Another arm that started in Florida only to finish the season in Mississippi was Devan Watts. Similar story to Clouse, except he's right-handed and has flashed very good control. Same sinker/slider combo, but with a bit more velocity and holy crap, does his sinker move. I've also seen a changeup out of him, though I'm not sure if it'll play in the majors. The Braves are downright scary with how they uncover these small college arms (Tusculum College alum) and develop them into relief prospects. He checks all the boxes you are looking for and should be in the mix come spring training.

Phil Pfeifer, unlike Clouse and Watts, has logged some time in Triple-A. He has a more prototypical heater, though this velocity won't blow you away. He'll mix in a changeup and a late breaking power curve. Sometimes, especially against right-handers, he'll slow the curve down to give the hitter something else to look at as it drops in a more traditional loopy fashion. Picked up from the Dodgers last year, it all boils down to control for the southpaw. He's quick through his delivery and gets a lot of movement on his pitches, though I sometimes feel like he's trying to get through his delivery way too fast and would be better off slowing things down a touch. Either way, there's a lot to like, but you can't walk 16% of hitters in the majors and be an effective reliever.

Finally, I have to mention the guy who came over with Luiz Gohara - Thomas Burrows. The Braves were super cautious with the former Alabama closer (Tide Roll! - right?), but I imagine the dude will be on the quick track next year after spending his Age-22 season in Rome. He struck out nearly a third of the batters he faced, got a heavy dose of grounders, and kept the walks to the minimal. Do I think he'll jump from low-A to the majors this spring? No, but could he be in the mix by midseason? Oh, absolutely. He's tried-and-tested in the SEC and has continued his success into pro baseball. And have I mentioned that he's another sinker/slider pitcher. Seriously, with all these sinker/slider guys, we should have never let Roger McDowell go. He'd be giddy with this crop of relievers. Oh, well.

I know there are more arms I haven't mentioned here. Why don't you point them out, Ryan?


I will do just that, Tommy! But might I say that of the guys you mentioned above, Devan Watts really tickles my fancy.  Some twitter guys had his velo up to 98 at the end of this year. Add to that a low-BB rate, high-K rate, and a 2nd pitch in a slider that varies in MPH and is more of a plus pitch than his fastball, and you’ve essentially got what the Braves wanted out of Shae Simmons without the arm injury history. I’m all-in on THAT!

But enough about you and your guys! What do you think this is, the Tommy show?  I want to talk about my dudes!  Ready?

Jacob Lindgren (LHP)- In this section, Lindgren, in my opinion, is by far the guy to be most excited about.  But keep your pants on, Braves fans.  He went under the knife last year with Tommy John surgery and has yet to pitch.  Stolen from the Yankees, Benjamin Chase compares Lindgren’s fastball and slider to Jonny Venters, and from all the video I’ve watched, it’s on the money. Unfortunately, the pitch that likely aided in the injury is Lindgren’s calling card: a slider that simply disappears on hitters. Keep an eye on Lindgren this winter as the Braves could send him somewhere to get some innings in January, but more likely would be a return to action in Spring Training for an Opening Day audition.

Wes Parsons (RHP)- Wes has been in the organization since 2013 and at one point was a top-10 prospect in a very weak system. Now that the Braves have the best farm in the Majors, Parsons has been a bit of an afterthought as he’s been moved full-time to the bullpen. However, it seems to have done him a whole lot of good, revitalizing what seemed to be a dead career as a starting pitcher. Parsons has added a couple MPHs (tops out at 96) to his fastball and rebounded to a 3.15 ERA across 2 levels with healthy. For me though, I’d file him under the same headline as failed starting pitchers turned fringe MLB relievers with Matt Wisler and Jason Hursh. Parsons has a chance to be a good relief pitcher, even if it’s just a sliver of hope.

 Biddle | By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Jesse Biddle (LHP)- Before Lindgren, there was Biddle. Claimed from the Pirates prior to the 2016 season, Biddle was another guy that the Braves got for nothing due to recovering from Tommy John surgery when the Pirates tried to sneak him through waivers. In his first year of on-field action with the Braves, Biddle worked exclusively out of the bullpen and put up good numbers through 49.2 innings at AA. The BB-rate was below 3 per 9, the K-rate was above a K per inning, and the ERA sub-3. What’s bizarre is the fact that he’s on the 40-man and yet the front office didn’t bring him up for a cup of coffee. There are some undertones in this statement and maybe none of these are correct but I think Braves either don’t see him as a real piece, want to limit his innings, or dislike something in his demeanor. He seems like he could be a useful Major Leaguer and hopefully, he gets his shot next spring.

Caleb Dirks (RHP)-  Dirks was in the Braves system, traded to the Dodgers, and reacquired last year. Dirks is known for his deception as both video and scouting reports show jerky movements before delivering the ball, which has Benjamin Chase comping him to Jordan Walden. The problem is that is where the comp ends. He doesn’t have electric stuff, nor does he have electric velocity. In my opinion, there’d have to be a whole lot go right for him and wrong for others for Dirks to get a shot in the Braves bullpen. Like many fringe guys, his best path to the bigs will likely be outside this pitching-heavy system.


Love “The Strikeout Machine.” Lindgren and Minter together are going to be hell on the opposition - especially the poor left-handed hitters they leave in their destruction.

Moving on, let’s talk about a couple of guys that might benefit from a switch. Specifically, Mike Foltynewicz and Lucas Sims. I’m glad I can address this subject again because Stephen stole my thunder awhile back with his column on Folty from the beginning of August and I want it back. He pointed out something that many Braves fans rather disagreed with, but that I have had a sinking feeling would be the inevitable conclusion on Folty. Simply put, he's miscast as a starter. That isn't to denigrate Foltynewicz, but over more than 350 innings, we have witnessed a few things about Folty that seem impossible to disagree with. One, he's got lethal stuff. Second, he's in stagnation since joining the Braves. He's improved, sure, but only incrementally. To put it another way, he's gone from a bad rookie pitcher to a mediocre third-year starter. And sure, we can sit here and condition this by saying Folty is really in his first full season as a major league pitcher after spending ten starts in the minors in 2015 and working his way back from injury last year, but that excuse only gets us so far.

It's not that Folty isn't useful in his current role - only that he's not best suited to be a starter. I was doing a Saturday Stats Pack less than a week before Stephen's article where I pointed out that since 2015, only two pitchers (the washed up version of Adam Wainwright and the journeyman Jeremy Hellickson) had higher line-drive rates against them. Line drives turn into hits nearly 70% of the time and many of them also become extra bases. Some, you can argue some of this is due to the fact that Foltynewicz has thrown his fastball nearly 65% of the time and it's a hard fastball. Fair enough, but even the most optimistic fan has to be worried about that line drive rate.

Foltynewicz simply doesn't have the offspeed pitch to keep hitters honest. Once they time his fastball, they don't have to worry about being fooled by a changeup. They can then sit dead red and react to the slider and curve, which both are better since his rookie year, but both suffer from repeated viewings of the pitch. Further, as Stephen said a month ago, Folty has never been able to get out lefties. Perhaps if they didn't see him multiple times in the same game - and he was given a chance to unleash his heater at full strength with either of his breaking balls - Foltynewicz could have more luck.

I know it's unpopular, but in my book, it's time to embrace the inevitable here and turn Folty into the Braves' version of Chris Devenski. Like Folty, Devenski has amazing stuff and he's given the opportunity to unleash it without the fear that he needs to hold back for the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. Moving Folty to the bullpen could hurt a rotation that appears wide open already, but a sign of good management is put your player in the best position to succeed. With Folty, I believe that he'll succeed the most coming out of the bullpen.

On the flip side, Lucas Sims has always had an arm scouts raved about, but the results haven’t been equally as impressive. He seemed to take a step forward this season with the lowest walk rate of his career in his second try at answering the Triple-A question, but also threw a lot of grooved fastballs that were hammered to deep Estonia. The strikeouts were there, but like we've seen with Sims, it was two steps forward, another step back. His first taste of the majors as a starter has been Matt Wisler-like. He's still avoiding the walks, which plagued him the last two years, but he's looked exceedingly meh. If that's possible.

One of the thing that stands out to me the most about Sims so far has been the inability to induce a swing-and-a-miss. The major league average is 10.3%. Sims, as a starter, had a 7.8% swinging-strike percentage. Hitters are making too much contact and those balls are screaming around the park.

The Braves have already announced that Sims will work out of the bullpen for the rest of the season and that might be for the best moving forward. We haven't seen a lot of Sims just as as a reliever, but the early returns are promising. Sims doesn't have the same kind of electric stuff as Foltynewicz does, but he does have lively movement on his pitches when he can repeat his delivery and arm slot - something that is easier said than done with him. Don't believe me? Check this out:

If he cleans that up, his fastball location should be better. Because his curveball is so good, he only needs to be able to locate his fastball and good things will come. In my opinion, that will come in shorter stints - the kind of appearances he had in the Arizona Fall League last year when he reestablished his value.


Kudos on that, Tommy! I think we all at Walkoff Walk can agree that Folty would be better served to unleash all that holds him back 1 inning at a time. Could you imagine a bullpen that featured Folty coming in throwing triple digit heat? I need to see more at the MLB level on Sims, but I have a hard time distinguishing between what he brings and what Matt Wisler brings. At one point, I thought Wisler could be a stud bullpen piece with a couple of ticks in added velo. Now, not so sure. Hopefully, you’re right and Sims will take to a role in the bullpen.

But now that we are done with the in-house guys, it looks like we have enough candidates to make a pretty good bullpen. However, we all know that if a team starts the year with 15 candidates, they’ll be looking for more come April. So, is there anyone out there on the free agent market that could prove valuable in a 2018 Braves bullpen?  You bet there are and I want to take a look at some of those options.

With Minter, Clouse, S. Freeman, Lindgren, and Biddle, I think the Braves have the LH relievers in-house that they need, but there’s a few free agent RH that I’d like to see the Braves go after for 2018, but before that, let’s make a mental note: I think there’s a really big chance Craig Kimbrel comes home for the 2018 season, therefore the guys I’m looking at aren’t the top-tier, but right below that. Also, it’s worth noting that the guys I’m looking at carry a low-BB rate which is very much needed in a bullpen chock full of young, wild electric arms.

Anthony Swarzak- Fastball has picked up velo and has been downright dominant this year.  Having the best year of his career and a good time to do it.
Addison Reed- In a walk year, Addison Reed is pitching well for the 3rd consecutive year and inducing ground balls at a 40% rate.

The bad contract swap route?

A while back, I posted a waiver trade idea between the Braves and Orioles in which the Orioles brought home Nick Markakis and Jim Johnson. With Johnson tanking, I think that deal as it was is dead and gone.  But Markakis? That could still be something the Orioles are interested in this coming offseason. But maybe the Braves can knock off most of Jim’s contract and send him to them? Here’s the proposal:

Braves get Darren O’Day
Orioles get Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, and 3MM dollars

O’Day has rebounded from his atrocious start in which his ERA approached 7 close to the midway point. Now, it’s a respectable 3.86. Still, he’s owed 18MM through 2019 and the Orioles could look at this as a peace offering to their fan base to start their rebuild. They’ll clear all of O’Day’s 2019 salary and pay JJ and Kakes 13MM for 2018.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Day I Evacuated...on the Braves

August 19, 2005, Port Sulphur, Louisiana. I was a week into my 27th round trip around the sun, and 2 weeks into the biggest purchase of my life: an engagement ring for my girlfriend of 4.5 years, Anna.

Port Sulphur, a little fishing community located at the "sock protruding from the boot's toe of Louisiana", was my new challenge in the educational world. It was my 2nd year teaching there, my 5th overall, and seeing that culture was one of many life-changing events that had occurred in my life up to that point, but Hurricane Katrina tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hold my beer".

Like the stem of a leaf, Belle Chasse Highway is the one way in and the one way out of Plaquemines Parish. Port Sulphur is located about 45 minutes down that road, and if you continue down that desolate highway you'll reach some of the best fishing in the world, then will eventually come to the Gulf of Mexico. When you get there, I suggest stopping unless you've got a car that's much cooler than mine.

The buzz throughout the teacher's lounge was nonchalant. The people of Plaquemines had been threatened time out of mind from nature and their guard had been stored away like yesterday's technology. There was one guy that was on high-alert...but he was always on high-alert. For the sake of anonymity, let's call him Mr. K. He was a heck of a fellow, but was a bit of a worry-wart on all things weather-related, but he had leveled-up his worry for this storm.

Mid-day Friday was when Mr. K started losing hair, and at that point, no one was expecting the then Category 3 storm to come near New Orleans, rather terrorize the Panhandle once again (Ivan hit in 2004 and Dennis hit earlier that year). Of course,  people were telling Mr. K to "get out of town" with his worry and he was advising them the same. On the way home that day, I drove the hour back with a bit of worrisome energy as my co-worker and I discussed our evacuation plans. In short...we had none.

But when we arrived home, it was a different story. The Weather Channel's report of Hurricane Katrina's track had changed...drastically. In 6 hours since the last projection, the storm had shifted it's path 175 miles west and the eye of the hurricane? Projected to hit dead center of Plaquemines Parish.

Ok, Katrina. You've got my attention.

Anna and I were by no means locals quite yet only spending 4 years in the city and we weren't taking any chances. Friday night, we packed a small bag and headed to my parents' house in northern Alabama on Saturday's first light. Most of our friends did not take heed of the new path and had a hurricane party Friday night, of which they regretted for the next 48 hours as that's how long it took them to get to Houston.

Katrina changed my life. The recently purchased ring was in mail limbo and not recovered until November. Anna, who has just been accepted to Law School, spent her 1st semester in Houston. Nearly every one of my friends had homes partially or completely destroyed. And Plaquemines Parish? The south end was 30 feet under water and the school was just a shell and pile of rubble.  Entire houses (and not of the trailer variety) had been lifted and planted dead center down the highway like something portrayed in a post-apocalyptic novel.

When school started back in October, the entire teaching community of Plaquemines Parish was moved to 1 school at the north end, and I taught a 4th grade crew self-coined "The Refugee Class". That year, we laughed, cried, and most importantly, loved the heck out of each other. It was the hardest and most fulfilling year of my life.

Now fast-forward 12 years....

Another hurricane is threatening the Gulf Coast. And while the turn wasn't immediate, over the course of 48 hours, Irma turned its projected path 125 miles west, from the east coast of Florida to hugging the west coast and predicting torment to the entire state. It was too much for me and eerily reminiscent of Katrina's turn. Anna and I once again packed up, but with 2 year old Murphy Jo and our trusty 4-legged companion "The Dude" in-tow, and headed north to Georgia.

As I was not in a good state of mind, it didn't dawn on me that the Braves were at home until mid-evacuation. Then I recalled that the Braves were giving out free tickets to Florida residents fleeing the storm. And lastly, greeted with a beer from my brother-in-law, upon arrival, and 1 phone call later, I had made my plans to venture to Suntrust Park for Sunday's matinee. Now to get my tickets...

Since it was my uncle and cousin that planned to go to the game with me, I couldn't go full refugee plan as they are both Georgians, so I reached out on Twitter to see if any season ticket holders were not using tickets on Sunday that I could purchase for a discounted rate. Within minutes, Front Row Seats had reached out and said they'd hook me up. And hook me up they did! By happenstance, my uncle and cousin cancelled and it ended up being 2 refugees and 2 people housing refugees.

It was an entertaining game. A tug of war of sorts that was tied 5-5. Enter Jose Ramirez for the 8th. I knew deep down that Jose was due to give up a few runs at some point as his extremely low BABIP against just wasn't sustainable, then....dinger. Dee Gordon of all people laced one into the right field stands. But still, it's 6-5 and the Braves of 2017, if nothing else, are late-inning fighters. Bottom 8, nothing doing for the Braves so we're headed to the 9th and it's...

Matt Wisler. Matt frickin' Wisler is coming on to pitch a contest in the top of the 9th when the Braves are down 1. It was too much for me. Too much for a guy that studies probabilities of baseball related activities. Before I could even tweet my distaste of Brian Snitker, Wisler had already given up 2 runs.

My mind: Braves are going to lose this game. I'm going to get caught in traffic and be late for our dinner reservation. We need to leave. So what did I do?

I evacuated.

You guys know the rest of the story. Braves score 3 in the bottom of the 9th and win it with a walk-off HR from Lane Adams in the 11th, whom I've really come to enjoy this season.

Like Katrina, sometimes we can't appreciate what we have when it's right in front of our face, until we are forced to leave it.

But unlike Katrina, I was in one of my favorite places on earth, watching my favorite team, with my favorite person in the world, and I let a silly thing like probable outcome come in the way of that enjoyment. There was no excuse for this evacuation. Sometimes we think we know so much about something that we lose the value of that thing we love and things like probability get in the way of enjoying a game for the sake of the game.

I'm proud of the Ryan from 2005 for being so strong in a time where crisis was omnipresent and ashamed of the Ryan from 2 days ago who forgot what was really important in life.

But today's Ryan is still a work in progress and, no matter the outcome, he will always say...

Go Braves!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Logic Behind Trading Ender Inciarte

As Ronald Acuna spent the last 18 months destroying minor league baseball, there’s obviously been plenty of discussion of how and when he’s going to make his debut in Atlanta. 

The "when" has basically been answered as he almost certainly will be up at some point in 2018, with opening day being a real possibility. The "how" is a little more complicated, however, as the Braves have three full-time outfielders under contract for 2018, with the two most likely candidates to be replaced also being the two most expensive and difficult to move. It’s been my assumption all along, and still is, that Atlanta would find a trade partner for NickMarkakis, pay down however much of the contract is necessary, and open up RF for their number one prospect.

But there is another option that at least needs to be considered. 

The other day in his weekly chat, ESPN prospect analyst Keith Law gave this answer in response to a question on the subject:

It should be noted that while Law is very connected within the game of baseball and specifically with the Atlanta Braves, this response seems to be his opinion of what should happen and not necessarily something he’s heard will happen from a source.

But that’s quite an opinion. Trade Ender Inciarte. Braves’ country reacted exactly how you would expect calling the suggestion ridiculous and stupid with many offering the same insults to Law himself. Neither of those things are true, but I’ll admit even my reaction to this idea was negative at first. “Braves don’t have enough good players as it is, how can they think about trading one away…” was my exact response, and while I still wouldn’t do it, it has more merit than may first appear.
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First of all, regardless of whether you move Acuna to RF or if you move Ender, you’re giving up potential value somewhere. Both guys are true center fielders and while there is value in playing great defense in RF, it’s a step down from the value you get from elite CF defense. I’ve seen people argue against this idea by saying Kemp-Ender-Acuna is way better than Kemp-Acuna-Markakis and while that specific statement is true, it’s actually not the question at hand. What you’re actually weighing is Kemp-Ender-Acuna vs Kemp-Acuna-Markakis and whatever you get in return for Ender in a trade. Theoretically, the value Inciarte brings to Atlanta as a CF can be extracted out via trade which you can add to another part of the team and would be greater than the diminishing value you’d have by moving one of the CFs to RF. The economic term for this, as Law mentioned, is a surplus. This idea only works, of course, if you're getting equal or greater value back in return for Ender so one thing Atlanta has no business doing is trading him for salary relief. Clearing bad contracts off the books is something the team will have to address at some point but using your valuable assets to facilitate such a move is a terrible idea. That's how Craig Kimbrel trades happen. No, it has to be talent for talent to make any sense. And regardless of your personal feelings toward Inciarte, it’s a valid argument.

But that isn’t the only argument. There’s another variable to trading Inciarte that has nothing to do with Ronald Acuna. Ender is an outfielder who derives just about all his value from defense. Ender was also a late bloomer in baseball and because of that he starts next year already 27-years-old. Those two facts combined have significance.  As we’ve learned more and more about defensive value and metrics over the last few years, one truth discovered is defense is a young man’s game. Especially outfield defense. The first things to go as players age is their legs, speed, and range and given that, it’s not hard to understand why outfield defense ages so poorly.

And in Ender’s case this is especially significant because he doesn’t have the bat to supplement that value. Inciarte’s wRC+ sits at 100 this year and at 96 for his career. That’s what he is, right at a league average hitter. Combine that with elite CF defense and you have a 3-4 WAR player. Take away that defensive value and you have Nick Markakis. Now at 27, Ender is in no threat of losing his defensive value next year, or probably the year after that. But the year after that? Maybe. And that’s most likely when Atlanta’s contention window will just be opening. And having one of your best players declining as you begin winning isn’t great planning. So this is an idea that has to at least be considered.

This is all very unlikely, of course, as I don’t think they'll do it and like I said at the top, I’m not even at the point where I think they should do it. But if a team looking to win a World Series in the next couple of years offered a serious package of prospects, and considering all the other factors, I seriously consider pulling the trigger.