Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Roundup: Losing Streak, Bench Issues, O'Flaherty's Sinker

It's been quite awhile since I last updated this blog. Life and all have played a factor as it tends to do. But let's move on with this week's recap and three things to keep in mind for this upcoming week of baseball.

Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr (Original version)
UCinternational (Crop) (CC 2.0) via Wikipedia Commons
April 17, 5-4 WIN vs. Padres
The week got off to a promising start as the Braves finished off a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres to open up SunTrust Park. Freddie Freeman homered twice, including a solo bomb in the 8th to tie up the score after the Padres had wasted a 3-1 lead heading into the 7th. In the ninth, Kurt Suzuki singled with one out and was pinch-ran for. With two outs, Emilio Bonifacio had a bloop double that put runners on second-and-third. After the Padres walked Ender Inciarte intentionally, Dansby Swanson had some luck for a change. He got enough contact on a belt-high, inside fastball to loop it to left field and the Padres left-fielder came up short on a dive, which brough home a run for a walk-off single. This recap will be the longest of the week because things got steadily worse.

April 18, 3-1 LOSS vs. Nationals
The Braves never led and Max Scherzer outpitched Mike Foltynewicz to allow the Nats to become the first visitor to SunTrust Park to win a game. Folty went seven innings in the outing and allowed a pair of runs. he walked four and struck out three. Kurt Suzuki broke up the shutout bid in the ninth with a bases-loaded walk, but the Braves rally ended when Emilio Bonifacio and Chase d'Arnaud failed to reach. d'Arnaud failed twice, actually. After a swing-and-a-miss on strike three from Shawn Kelly seemed to end the game, Ron Washington used a Jedi mind trick to convince the umpires that d'Arnaud had actually fouled the ball off. He hadn't, but it was a fun little moment before d'Arnaud struck out again.

April 19, 14-4 LOSS vs. Nationals
Bryce Harper homered twice off Julio Teheran - including a Grand Slam - while Ian Krol surrendered a Grand Slam of his own as the Braves suffer their worst beatdown of the year. Freddie Freeman set a new Atlanta Braves standard by reaching base safely in a dozen consecutive plate appearances while also clubbing his sixth homer in the process.

April 20, 3-2 LOSS vs. Nationals
R.A. Dickey pitched well, but Ryan Zimmerman jumped on a knuckler for a two-run shot in the sixth to provide the edge in this one. Zimmerman's homer was one of just three hits Dickey allowed in the game. Matt Kemp returned off the DL and struck out three times.

April 21, 4-3 LOSS at Phillies
Dansby Swanson was demoted to the 8th spot in the lineup and Adonis Garcia, who replaced him in the two-spot, had two hits including a solo homer in a rain-soaked ninth inning, but the Braves couldn't pull even with the Phillies to force extras. Bartolo Colon allowed four runs on eleven hits while Freddie Freeman smacked his 7th homer of the early season.

April 22, 4-3 LOSS at Phillies (10 Innings)
The Braves coughed up a chance to put an end to their losing streak. After tying the game up in the ninth and pulling ahead by one the following inning, the Phillies started a rally with one out in the tenth with a single. Cesar Hernandez hit what looked like it would be a double play, but Jim Johnson deflected it and everyone was safe. The next Phillie sent a hard grounder to short, but Swanson couldn't make the play. After a strikeout, the struggling Maikel Franco took a sinker that got too much of the plate to right field for a walk-off two-run single. Brandon Phillips had homered in the ninth to tie up the game and Adonis Garcia's infield single in the tenth had given the Braves a brief lead. Jaime Garcia worked six impressive innings with six K's.

April 23, 5-2 LOSS at Phillies
A rough 8th inning would kill any hope the Braves had of salvaging a game in the series. With Mike Foltynewicz and Zach Eflin pitching to a seven-inning 1-1 draw, the bullpens became involved. The Phils got through the 8th, but Arodys Vizcaino's attempt to hold down the fort went like this. Double, homerun, homerun. He threw seven pitches before being removed. To add insult to injury, Ian Krol entered and immediately gave up another homer. Matt Kemp, who had homered in the seventh, singled in a run in the 9th and the Braves threatened for more, but Dansby Swanson and Tyler Flowers were retired with the bases loaded to end the game.

This week: 1-6
Season: 6-12, 5th in NL East, 7 GB

Upcoming Schedule: After an off day, the Braves start a three-game set with the Mets in New York. Two night games before Thursday's 1:10 start. Atlanta ends the month with three games in Milwaukee (8:10, 7:10, 2:10).

Three Last Things
By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
1) Swanson's Struggles

A lot has been made about Dansby Swanson's start. The rookie shortstop has reached base safely just 12 times in 74 PA with only a pair of extra base hits. Will he be okay? Does he need more time in the minors? To the first question, yes. As many have pointed out, had Swanson had a bad June or July, no one would have batted an eye because he would have some numbers built up over the first couple of months to keep his season totals from looking so abysmal. But because that's not the case here, all we see is atrocious numbers. With that in mind, a few things stand out that suggest Swanson is having some rotten luck or needs a mechanical adjustment. Or both. First, his .175 BABIP is among the ten worst in baseball. While it would be ridiculous to expect last year's .383 BABIP over a full season, the balls are bound to start falling in more for hits. His line drive rate remains solid, though his flyball rate has climbed about 15 points. That suggests a bit of a mechanical flaw, but it might just be the way he's being pitched.

Furthermore, for whatever reason, Swanson has been taking a lot of strikes - especially strike three. After another on Sunday, eight of his 19 strikeouts have been of the "just looking" variety. Last season, only eight of his 34 strikeouts were looking. Swanson is a patient hitter, but he's just not feeling it so far.

As for the second question - should Swanson go to the minors? Not yet. While there is some concern he'll press and adapt even worse habits, Swanson's body language and attitude during this season's first month suggest that he's not obsessing over his bad play just yet. Give him some more time.

2) Bench Woes

The bench continues to be a massive weakness for the Braves. On Sunday, they went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt and strikeout. Adonis Garcia left two runners on base and Tyler Flowers left the bases loaded to end the game. Atlanta's bench is now 2-for-29 on the early season with Bonifacio a spectacular 0-for-10. Atlanta cannot continue to do this for much longer. A National League bench has to give its manager options. Ryan Howard, who made his debut last weekend for Gwinnett, could help, but the Braves might be forced to make some other moves. Twenty-seven year-old outfielders Lane Adams (.333/.352/.588) and Xavier Avery (.386/.426/.614) have both jumped out to big starts in Gwinnett while Kyle Kubitza (.306/.390/.444) has some defensive flexibility and could help at third base while the Braves wait for Rio Ruiz to get going.

While Howard, who went 2-for-2 with a walk in his debut, seems destined to move up the ladder at some point in the coming weeks, Atlanta might need to be open to other moves to at least shake up things as well.

3) Eric O'Flaherty is Still Broken

A lot was written this offseason and spring about O'Flaherty returning from surgery to clean up his elbow. The belief was that O'Flaherty could still be an asset once he was able to throw the ball freely once again. So far, the results show that there has been little change. As Braves fans know, O'Flaherty's bread-and-butter is a sinker that generates a high number of groundballs. At its best, the sinker could drop 5-7 inches with good armside fade.

To this point, the pitch is getting comparable movement to his 2016 numbers, which is closer to 4 inches of downward movement. The result is that to keep the ball down low, O'Flaherty has to start the sinker lower than previous years. The hitter is more apt to give up on it and let it miss the strikezone rather than be enticed to swing. That forces O'Flaherty to too often pitch behind the count, which only benefits the hitter. While it's too early to make any definitive claim to O'Flaherty's future in the bigs, it's not looking likely that O'Flaherty will round into form as a productive bullpen member.

That's it for this week!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Transaction Tuesday - Braves Finish Busy Week With Waiver Claim

I skipped last week's Transaction Tuesday recap because I only had a couple of items to cover (David Hale reappearing, Christian Walker's brief run with the Braves concluding). This week, I have quite a lot more to analyze, including a waiver pickup last night. Let's dive deep into a busy week.

Atlanta Braves
Claimed: LHP Kevin Chapman (Astros)...A fourth-round pick by the Royals back in 2010 out of the University of Florida, Chapman moved to the Astros in a trade before the 2012 season. He took off in the Astros' system, earning a promotion in 2013. Since then, he's been a regular on the Fresno-to-Houston flight. Despite parts of four seasons in the bigs, he's only appeared in 58 games and logged 55 innings. The results aren't too exciting. Capable of excellent strikeout numbers in the minors, (23%-to-25%), Chapman's K numbers are down under 20% in the majors while his walk totals remain pretty substandard (12.5%). He's prone to leaving the ball high or over the plate and has a 0.82 HR/9 rate in the bigs. All of those numbers lead to a FIP/xFIP/SIERA split of 4.29/4.60/4.35. Basically, he's not horrid, but he's not too good, either. As a left-hand specialist, he's difficult to square up against (zero HR allowed) and he strikes out a quarter of all lefties, but his control is still problematic. Against righties, he's been pretty abysmal (6.34 FIP in a limited sample). Chapman is a rare breed in that he throws five different pitches out of the pen, though his 92-93 mph sinker will be, by far, his most common choice. That said, it's more of a hard fastball with some sink to it and that's why Chapman doesn't get a huge amount of grounders. Chapman will also throw a slider and changeup along with a four-seam fastball and curve that he's added the last two seasons to the mix. None of his pitches look to be more than average. My impression is that Chapman is depth for the time being and a guy the Braves might try to sneak off their 40-man roster as he's out of options. Such a move led to Christian Walker's exit from the organization, but the Braves were able to move Adam Walker off the roster that way.

Disabled: RHP Daniel Winkler (60-day)...No timetable has been set on Winkler as he returns from a fractured elbow while throwing a pitch last April. However, the 60-days gives us an idea of where the Braves see Winkler right now. At the very least, we won't see Winkler throw a meaningful pitch until possibly May as he begins a rehab assignment and tries to get back to the bigs. If successful, Atlanta will have to keep him on the roster for at least 57 days (hat tip to Braves Options Guy).

Gwinnett
Optioned: RHP Jason Hursh (2nd option)...Despite making it to the majors last year for the first time, there was little chance that Hursh would make the opening day roster. The former starter and 2013 first-round selection didn't have much success this spring in his very limited showings and continues to serve as an example of bad high-floor drafting from the Frank Wren years.

Mississippi
Optioned: LHP Jesse Biddle (2nd option)...This surprised no one. A former top prospect in the Phillies' system, Biddle missed last season with Tommy John surgery and will return to Double-A, where he's already logged 31 starts between 2014-15. However, it's a good spot for Biddle as it allows him to work on his game without the pressures of jockeying for position on what remains a talented Gwinnett rotation. Biddle made his return to live ball last week with an inning against his former Phillie mates. For more on Biddle, check out my scouting report.

Released: LHP Matt Marksberry...Though this is not official, Marksberry himself tweeted last week about his release as he thanked the Braves organization for an opportunity and changed his Twitter description to "Free Agent Believer." Marksberry appeared in 35 games for the Braves the last two years and despite little success, was a fan favorite due to his approachable nature on Twitter. Early in the offseason, Marksberry suffered from a seizure and dehydration after suffering some side effects from medicine he was taking. He was placed in an induced coma for a few days as doctors worked to bring up his shockingly low sodium levels. Marksberry was in the minor league camp after being removed from the 40-man roster last year.

Reassigned to Minor League Camp (Team To Be Determined)
LHP Sam Freeman...With 142 games already in the major leagues, Freeman looked like a strong contender for a bullpen spot after being one of the earliest free agents signed by the Braves this offseason. However, subsequent moves and Freeman's limitations on the mound - notably his failure to dominate lefties - put Freeman as a distant option heading into camp. He did little to impress, allowing six hits and six runs over one inning of work with a pair of walks. Freeman is still may find it hard to make Gwinnett or Mississippi's roster so don't be surprised if you see him cut later in camp.

LHP Adam Kolarek...A former long-time Mets product, Kolarek has struggled to stick in Triple-A and has logged just 36 games there since 2013. Kolarek has looked good in a specialist role, but most left-hand specialists rarely don't start that way. Typically, they hold their own against righties in the minors, which Kolarek rarely has done. Like Freeman, he'll compete for a spot at Gwinnett or possibly Mississippi.

By Sports Crazy on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
RHP Rhiner Cruz...Signed out of the Mexican League, Cruz has tossed three scoreless innings this spring for the Braves. A Rule 5 selection in 2012, Cruz struggled tremendously while spending the year in the majors. He saw action in the bigs again in 2013, but soon pitched himself out of the Astros' plans as they cut him in 2014 so that he could head to Japan. He works off a funky delivery with good velocity and a hit-or-miss slurve. Like many of the minor league free agents the Braves signed, he was added to compete for a spot with Mississippi or Gwinnett, but his solid work with the big league club will only help him find a job come opening day.

C Joseph Odom...In 52 games with Carolina last year, Odom came into his own with a .292/.349/.500 slash that included a .379 wOBA. A callup to Mississippi, however, took away most of Odom's power and hurt his chances of pushing his way up the prospect charts. A good defender, Odom is likely ticketed for a return trip to Mississippi with...

C Kade Scivicque...Acquired from the Tigers late during the 2016 season for Erick Aybar, Scivicque had a strong - and limited - showing in the Arizona Fall League and some solid numbers with the Tigers' top A-ball team before the trade (.282/.324/.379). Scivicque made my Top 50 rankings at #45 based on his potential plus his progression along with some defensive skills as a pitch framer and caller. While I doubt he'll ever hit enough to earn a full-time starting nod in the majors, Scivicque has the look of a decent backup catcher at some point.

OF Dustin Peterson...Being reassigned is more of a procedural move for Peterson, who broke his hamate bone in his left hand facing the Yankees on March 1. Peterson is coming off a year where he won the organization's Player of the Year award and set new personal-highs in a number of offensive categories. Just as important was his progression as a fielder in his second year after being moved away from third base. Peterson's breakout campaign still masked how young he is as this is his Age-22 season. Once healthy and after proving his timing is back, Peterson will head to Gwinnett where he will try to keep his name firmly in place as the first outfielder called up if an injury opens a spot. For more on Peterson, here is a small report on him from my offseason Top 50 prospects.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Roundup - Roster Beginning to Take Shape

The Atlanta Braves had a much better week of games than the previous horrorfest which included just one win. Let's recap the week and who helped and hurt himself the most.
From the Fort Bragg luncheon. By Sgt. anthony hewitt
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

PIRATES 6, Braves 3

Matt Wisler was a longshot heading into this spring after the offseason acquisition of three new starters. So far this spring, Wisler's play has helped to reinforce that the Braves were right to think they needed starting depth. With the Braves up 3-2, Wisler gave up three runs, including surrendering a homer to Jose Osuna. Offensively, the Braves were led by two-hit games from Jace Peterson, Anthony Recker, and Micah Johnson. Recker and Travis Demeritte each added their first doubles of the spring. Jaime Garcia started and though he gave up a two-run homer to Austin Meadows, Garcia settled in to strike out four over three innings. Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino each worked sketchy innings with Johnson allowing an unearned run while Vizcaino surrendered three hits (but no runs).

Who helped himself the most? M. Johnson
Who hurt himself the most? Wisler

BRAVES 3, Phillies 2

Braves snap a losing streak after Micah Johnson tripled in Rio Ruiz in the seventh inning to put the Braves on top. Johnson had also scored the Braves' first run after coming around on a Nick Markakis double that also plated Brandon Phillips. On the mound, Bartolo Colon was solid and efficient, working three innings and allowing just one single. Sean Newcomb, in his final outing before being reassigned to the minor league camp, worked two scoreless with four strikeouts. Jose Ramirez walked one in his quiet frame while Ian Krol set the Phillies down in the ninth for the save.

Who helped himself the most? M. Johnson
Who hurt himself the most? Ruiz (0-for-2, BB, K)

Yankees 8, BRAVES 7

Big innings have been a theme during many Braves losses and this one was no different. With a 2-1 lead handed to Blaine Boyer after Aaron Blair and John Danks shared the first five frames, Boyer continued his rough spring by retiring just one of the eight batters he faced - and that came via a sacrifice bunt. Eric O'Flaherty entered and got out of the frame, but six runs were in. After O'Flaherty, who gave up a run in his 1.2 innings of work, Chaz Roe entered and had his first decent outing of the spring, though he still loaded the bases before getting a strikeout. Danks also had a decent outing, surrendering two hits and walking one over 2.1 innings. The Braves would fight back to score three in the sixth and two in the ninth on a pair of Matt Tuiasosopo homers, but could not make the final push. With no right-handed bat off the bench, Tuiasosopo has a shot to impress the Braves this spring and potentially break camp with the team. Also of note was that Ozzie Albies played in his first game since fracturing his elbow last September during the Southern League playoffs. He singled and scored on a double in the first inning.

Who helped himself the most? Tuiasosopo
Who hurt himself the most? Boyer

BRAVES 5, Mets 2

Both teams wasted several opportunities, but despite leaving ten runners on base, the Braves still prevail with the aid of three homers. Matt Tuiasosopo blasted his third homer in two days while Brandon Phillips and Adonis Garcia each homered for the first time this spring. Johan Camargo continued his hot hitting with a pair of hits, including a triple, while Rio Ruiz also added two hits and a double. On the mound, Lucas Sims got the start and held his own against a Mets lineup without many regulars in it. Of particular importance was that he didn't walk a batter in his three innings. Josh Collmenter continued his strong pitching with two scoreless while Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Max Fried, and Luke Jackson each finished with a scoreless inning. Jackson has quietly had a strong spring, though he's rarely faced major league hitters. Still, with a lot of games still left to be played, Jackson has performed well and put himself in position to potentially claim a bullpen spot.

Who helped himself the most? Jackson
Who hurt himself the most? Nobody (yay!)

Braves 2, CARDINALS 2

Akeel Morris couldn't locate his pitches in a troublesome ninth and the Braves had to settle for their first tie of the spring after neither team scored in the tenth. Atlanta never trailed in this one, pulling ahead 1-0 in the fourth on Tyler Flowers' RBI single that plated Emilio Bonifacio. St. Louis tied it on a mammoth Matt Adams blast off Mike Foltynewicz, but The Great Balbino made it 2-1 with his first homer of the spring in the sixth. Fuenmayor had half of Atlanta's four hits in this one. Foltynewicz was very solid outside of the pitch to Adams which caught way too much of the strikezone. He K'd 3 in four efficient innings. Jose Ramirez worked a quiet two-K inning to keep in the hunt for a bullpen spot while Ian Krol, Mauricio Cabrera, and Paco Rodriguez all worked scoreless frames. Morris, who struggles with consistency in his delivery and release point, was banged up by former Braves farmhand Todd Cunningham for a game-tying single in the ninth. Throwing away the ball on a failed pickoff attempt didn't help matters any. Caleb Dirks, the "just-in-case" guy for the Braves, pitched a solid tenth to finish the tie.

Who helped himself the most? Ramirez & Bonifacio (1-for-3, 2 SB)
Who hurt himself the most? Rio Ruiz (0-for-3, K)

Braves 10, YANKEES 2

Kurt Suzuki had a big Sunday with a 3-for-3 day including a trio of doubles as the Braves teed off on C.C. Sabathia for a half-dozen runs in the first frame, sending the former Cy Young award winner to the showers before the first inning was complete. On the mound, Jaime Garcia rolled against a Yankees lineup that including a number of members of their projected opening day roster. He faced 10 batters, allowed two to reach, got a twin killing to wipe out one of them, and struck out one. Matt Wisler entered and went three innings while allowing two solo homers. He did strike out three. Eric O'Flaherty, Blaine Boyer, and Joel De La Cruz tossed scoreless innings in relief to finish the outing. The star of the game, though, was Ronald Acuna. He picked up two hits, including a two-out triple that scored a pair of runs. He also walked and played the entire game in center field. With Ender Inciarte still in the World Baseball Classic, there are plenty of at-bats in center field and even though Acuna won't make the opening day roster, he could continue to receive a long look. Or maybe I just hope he does because he's so fun to watch.

Who helped himself the most? Boyer
Who hurt himself the most? Wisler

Week 3 Record: 3-2-1
Grapefruit League Record: 5-10-1, 12th place, 7 GB

Seven-Day Forecast with TV coverage if available: vs. Pirates, @ Phillies (TCN) , @ Tigers, vs. Tigers, @ Astros (ROOT), vs. Tigers, vs. Cardinals (FSSE)

Projected 25-Man Roster (3/13 edition)
Rotation - Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey, Mike Foltynewicz
Bullpen - Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Ian Krol, Mauricio Cabrera, Josh Collmenter, Jose Ramirez, Paco Rodriguez, Eric O'Flaherty *
Catchers - Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki
Infielders - Freddie Freeman, Brandon Phillips, Dansby Swanson, Adonis Garcia, Jace Peterson, Chase d'Arnaud
Outfielders - Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Micah Johnson

* - Based on a projected eight-man bullpen. If the team decides to go with seven, I project they'll keep Emilio Bonifacio.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Stats Pack - Early Spring Training Observations

During the season, I like to throw out some numbers that have piqued my interest. Spring training stats are not the most reliable numbers to utilize due to sample size and competition, but it's all I got so here you go.


By slgckgc on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Jace Not On Base

While his spot is pretty much set in stone, Jace Peterson has struggled to open this spring. Despite receiving the most plate appearances of any Brave, Peterson has only reached base six times (four singles, two walks) and comes into Saturday's play with a .200 OBP. He has stolen two bases, though, and has looked passable at shortstop - a position he'll likely be counted on to provide depth in 2017.

My Curve Is Better Than Yours

One of the first things I looked up after purchasing Baseball America's 2017 Prospect Handbook was "Best Curveball" in the Braves' farm system, which full of devastating hooks. That honor was given to Max Fried and the former Padres prospect has looked excellent this spring. In four innings, he's surrendered a hit, walked three, and struck out five - many with the curveball I just referenced. While Fried wasn't going to jump from Rome to Atlanta come opening day, his success may help convince the Braves that he's ready to advance to Double-A rather than head to the Florida State League to begin his Age-23 season.

Short Sample Size Basher Part 1

Johan Camargo hit .267/.304/.379 last year with four homeruns while playing in Mississippi. It was actually the first season since the Dominican Summer League in 2012 that his ISO ventured over .100 while the four homeruns matched the total of his previous four seasons. Flash forward to this spring and Camargo has excelled with a .261/.370/.609 slash. It's only 27 at-bats and Camargo seems unlikely to continue his success, but for Camargo, this spring was never about playing his way onto the 2017 opening day roster. It was about putting himself in contention to get a quick call-up if an injury takes down one of Atlanta's middle-infielders. So far, so good.

By Keith Allison on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ready to Play

While veterans like John Danks and Blaine Boyer have struggled this spring, one minor league free agent pickup has handled the load pretty well. Eric O'Flaherty has struck out six over 4.2 innings and allowed just three hits and a run. After a rough 2016 that ended with elbow surgery, O'Flaherty re-Braved for a third time this winter with no easy path to making the roster. So far, his sinker has some life on it that was missing last year. He's been mostly utilized for late-inning assignments which limits his exposure to better major league players. If he continues to pitch well, though, he'll likely get bigger challenges as he tries to secure a bullpen spot.

Short Sample Size Basher Part 2

He's been a professional ballplayer since 2004, but Matt Tuiasosopo has made just two opening day rosters (2010 and 2013). Could 2017 be a third? Well, probably not, but Tuiasosopo has gotten off to a good start while taking advantage of the increased playing time in the wake of Freddie Freeman's play in the World Baseball Classic and the Braves losing Christian Walker on waivers. In 24 PA, Tuiasosopo has belted a team-high three homers and his OPS sits at an even 1.000 coming into play on Saturday. Naturally, the question is if that will be enough to put him into the conversation for a spot on the Braves' bench. Tuiasosopo does have legitimate power (68 homers in his last five full-time stints in Triple-A), but his numbers in the bigs are pretty abysmal (32% strikeout rate, .288 wOBA). To be fair, his longest stretch in the majors was 191 PA with the Tigers in 2013, but it still seems a stretch to think Tuiasosopo will be anything more than Gwinnett-bound.

The Constanza Effect

I mentioned this on Twitter several days ago, but I believe there is a thing called The Constanza Effect. Named after Jose Constanza, it's the fear that Braves fans have that a player - who probably shouldn't be on a major league roster - will get lucky at the right time and receive more playing time. This player typically gets labeled gritty and commentators will prop up his intangibles that sabermetrics just cannot measure. This year, the Constanza Effect is in full bloom with Emilio Bonifacio. Formerly a valuable utility player, Bonifacio has been abysmal over his last 125 PA in the majors (-1.3 fWAR). Sure, it's a short sample size, but in four of the last five years (excluding 2014), Bonifacio has been worth -0.2 fWAR. Bonifacio is the guy who you say "Just cause he can play this position, that doesn't mean he should." However, Bonifacio has hit .294/.400/.529 over nine games this spring. Micah Johnson, another primary player in the fight for a bench spot, has also held his own, though Bonifacio looks more natural in the outfield due to experience than Johnson right now. Johnson's status on the 40-man roster could help his case, but Atlanta will find room for Bonifacio if they want to.

Chaz Out

Coming into this spring, I felt Chaz Roe was a bit safer in his effort to keep his bullpen spot than Jose Ramirez. Roe's metrics last season - especially after coming over from the Orioles - were superb. In 20 innings with the Braves, Roe had a 1.75 FIP, 2.75 xFIP, and a 2.52 SIERA. He always had an arm that teams were interested in, but it looked like Roe had finally started to put it together. Not so fast, kids, as Roe has had a rough go-of-it this spring. In just three games, he's recorded six outs and allowed a dozen batters to reach - seven of which scored. He did work a game two days ago and left the outing with no runs allowed, but still loaded the bases with two outs before striking out Pete Kozma. It's still early, but Roe needs to turn the corner soon to avoid the unemployment line.

Feast or Famine

You have seen the best and worst of Adam Walker in limited opportunities this spring. 11 PA, 2 HR, BB, 6 K. But whereas we are getting strange short-sample sizes out of Tuiasosopo and Bonifacio, it's nice to see the predictability of Walker.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday Throwback - Reed Johnson

Sometimes, moves just don't pan out like they ought to. That was the case of the 2012 midseason trade that sent Reed Johnson, along with Paul Maholm, to the Braves. The trade was born out of a move that didn't happen and ultimately, failed to deliver despite looking like a good deal on paper for Frank Wren. Even when Wren made the right move, it just didn't seem to work.

But long before that trade, Reed Johnson was born a few weeks before Christmas in 1976. A product of Riverside, California, Johnson was a star in both baseball and soccer in high school. His success there landed him a coveted scholarship opportunity with Cal-State Fullerton, where he was an Academic All-American and posted strong offensive numbers as a catalyst for the Titans' offense. Undrafted out of high school, Johnson played well enough during his college years to move into the 17th round of the draft, which is where the Blue Jays took him. The '99 draft wasn't very good for the Jays. They took Alex Rios with their first round pick and he did develop into a decent player, but only three other players made it to the majors, including Johnson, the second-best player taken that year by Toronto.

After a summer of adjusting to pro ball, Johnson became an overnight prospect in 2000. He spent the year at two different A-ball stops and slashed .298/.420/.479, flashing plus-plus plate discipline and enough power and speed to be a very intriguing prospect. In 2001, this time at Double-A, Johnson became a name to watch. Spending the year with the Tennessee Smokies, Johnson slashed .314/.384/.451. The walk total was a bit of a letdown, but Johnson filled out his baseball card with 29 doubles, four triples, 13 homers, and 42 steals. The Southern League All-Star looked like he was a great late-round find for the Blue Jays and a player that could help them very soon.

After missing most of 2002 with injury, Johnson worked his way into the picture for the big league club in 2003. After opening the year in the minors, Johnson would soon establish himself as a major league performer with a strong summer. In 114 games in the majors, Johnson hit .294 with 10 homers and a .353 on-base percentage. The Jays had opened the year with super sub Frank Catalanotto in right field, but an injury to Shannon Stewart opened left for Catalanotto and allowed Johnson to slide into right field. Bobby Kielty would later join the team, cutting into Johnson's playing time, but Johnson proved his worth by being the Blue Jays' most used leadoff hitter.

For the next two years, Johnson was the regular left fielder for the Jays and was unspectacular in his job before a breakout 2006 campaign saw Johnson hit .319/.390/.479 with 12 homers. He led the AL in getting hit by a pitch that season as well. However, his success was short-lived. During an injury-marred 2007 season, he hit just .236 over 79 games. Johnson struggled the next spring as well and with the Jays feeling a roster crush, Toronto surprisingly released Johnson as spring training was nearing its end. The five-year pro would not remain available for long as he landed with the Cubs. A bench bat and platoon player, Johnson was a perfect fit in Chicago. He OPS'd .778 his first season with the Cubbies before slashing .255/.330/.412 during an injury-shortened 2009 season.

Johnson took his talents out west and played for the Dodgers in 2010, which wasn't much of a trip from the city he was born (Riverside). He struggled with in Los Angeles, though, and lasted just one year before returning to the Cubs in 2011. Like he had never left, his success returned.

That brings us to the 2012 season. The Cubs were in the first year of their rebuild under Theo Epstein. The former Red Sox mastermind had just hired Jed Hoyer to be their General Manager. That season, the Cubs were breaking in young Anthony Rizzo at first base (who, interestingly enough, Hoyer had dealt to the Cubs as the Padres' GM) and Chicago was trying to add young talent to the mix to build what eventually would become a winner. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves were trying to get back to the playoffs after their 2011 collapse during then-manager Fredi Gonzalez's first year at the helm. The Cubs and Braves seemed like a perfect match and a week before the trading deadline, a deal seemed imminent. However, neither Johnson, nor lefthander Paul Maholm, were part of it.

Atlanta was desperate to add a starter to their team that they could count on. With Jair Jurrjens looking like a lost cause, the Braves had turned to Ben Sheets. 25 year-old Tommy Hanson was struggling and Brandon Beachy, also 25, had made just 13 starts before going down with injury. They still had Tim Hudson while Mike Minor was improving, as a team with playoff aspirations, Atlanta did not have the kind of rotation that would be able to compete against the big boys of the National League. Atlanta thought they had found their man in Ryan Dempster. The former closer had been excellent to begin 2012 with a 2.11 ERA through his first 15 starts. While Dempster wasn't an ace, he was the kind of bulldog starter that gave his manager and general manager a bit more confidence than hoping Sheets could make it through the summer or that Hanson could turn the corner.

Wren and Hoyer found the right mix of players that would make the deal happen. Atlanta would send young Randall Delgado to the Cubs, which would finally separate the four pitchers of the future (Minor, Delgado, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino). Another prospect would head to Chicago as well and the Braves would get Dempster. One little problem, though. With over 14 years of experience, including eight full seasons with the Cubs, Dempster qualified as a 10-5 player and could nix any deal. Dempster was open to a trade, but preferred to head out west where he could join his good buddy Ted Lilly and the Dodgers. While Dempster weighed his options - and definitely held out hope for a move to the Dodgers - the Braves grew agitated. All the perimeters were agreed upon and the deal had been leaked out to the public. Wren set a deadline for Dempster, but the right-hander refused to make a decision as he held out hope Los Angeles would step up. Atlanta ultimately took themselves out of the process rather than watch Dempster play the part of the girl with a date to the Prom all lined up, but is still hoping to go with the high school quarterback rather than the dude that actually wants to be with her. Not that I know anything about that...

The Braves still wanted a pitcher, but could not find a Dempster-like arm on the trade market. Instead, they called Hoyer up and asked about Maholm. A long time Pirate, Maholm had joined the Cubs the previous offseason and he was also having a good season. Not a great one like Dempster, but would give the Braves a serviceable left-hand arm for their rotation. Meanwhile, the Braves did find their front-of-the-rotation arm by moving Kris Medlen into the rotation.  Coming along for the ride with Maholm and some bags of cash was Johnson. The Braves were stacked in the outfield with rookie Jason Heyward joining Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, but the prospect of adding a right-handed bat like Johnson to pair with Eric Hinske coming off the bench was a great fit. The Braves still broke up their four previously untouchable arms by sending Arodys Vizcaino to the Cubs in the deal along with reliever Jaye Chapman. Vizcaino was on the mend after having Tommy John surgery that spring.

Johnson got into 43 games down the stretch for the Braves and hit .270. He would get fairly regular time with Prado moving all over the field and helped to give the Braves their first real backup option to Bourn during the 2012 season. Both Prado and Bourn would be gone the next winter and would be replaced by Justin and Melvin "B.J" Upton Jr. Johnson, a free agent, liked Atlanta enough to return for a second year. He missed all of August with Achilles tendinitis, but missed even more time because Johnson was not a regular in the mix for the Braves even with the failures of the elder Upton. Instead, Johnson took a back seat to Jordan Schafer, who had returned after being claimed on waivers, and rookie Evan Gattis, who occasionally played left field to get his bat into the lineup more often. Johnson received five fewer plate appearances than Gerald Laird during the 2013 season and Johnson struggled to connect the bat to the ball with any authority.

During his year-and-a-half with the Braves, Johnson hit .256/.308/.332 with one homer, a pinch-hit two-run shot off former Braves farmhand Todd Redmond - then a member of Johnson's first team, the Jays. Johnson would struggle during a 2014 season spent as a reserve in Miami and continued his tour through the NL East with a stop in Washington next. A torn tendon in his left calf limited him to just 17 games with the Nats. He returned to DC the following year, but failed to make the roster coming out of camp last spring. I do not know if he's given up the dream of playing baseball again or not, but at 40 years-old, it seems unlikely that he'll continue his career.

His time with the Braves was short and ultimately uneventful. In the end, like many of Wren's deals, it just never worked like it should have. Of course, the Braves ended up re-acquiring Arodys Vizcaino from this deal so it cost precious little for Atlanta - even if it wasn't the deal they wanted.

Previous Throwbacks...
Mike Mordecai (1994-97)
David Ross (2009-12)
Ryan Langerhans (2002-03, 2005-07)

...or view ALL of them.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Monday Roundup: Bad Innings Lead to Losing Streak

Spring training results are more about individual player performances, especially those competing for a job, than they are win-loss records. This week, the Braves had some big individual performances, but a few players have truly put themselves on the outside looking in after some bad outings. Here's your Monday Roundup for the second week of spring training games.

Chaz Roe struggled against the Tigers / Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version)
UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
TIGERS 10, Braves 7

Chaz Roe's spring debut was about as awful as he could have hoped. He faced six batters and all of them reached base. Jason Hursh entered and was able to get out of the inning, but when you add the three runs he surrendered to the five runs Roe gave up, the Tigers had turned a 6-2 deficit into a 10-6 lead. R.A. Dickey got the start and surrendered two runs, one of them earned. Arodys Vizcaino also got into action with a 2-K perfect frame. The star pitcher of the day, though, was Max Fried. Facing Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton, Fried worked a perfect inning with a strikeout of Upton - who the Braves traded in the deal that brought Fried to the Braves. At the plate, Micah Johnson started in right field and went 1-for-3 with 2 BB. Dansby Swanson and Adonis Garcia each had three-hit games.

Who helped himself the most? Johnson
Who hurt himself the most? Roe

BRAVES 2, Cardinals 0

Mike Foltynewicz had a fun first inning. He gave up two hits and walked a batter, yet faced the minimum after two pickoffs yielded three outs. Josh Collmenter tossed two scoreless to match Folty's two scoreless innings and the veteran righty got the win after Brandon Phillips doubled in a pair in the fourth. That was all the Braves needed. After Collmenter left,  Jim Johnson entered and pitched a quiet inning. Lucas Sims (2 ING) and Patrick Weigel (1 ING) kept the Cards at bay before Mauricio Cabrera's 100 mph heat finished the game in the ninth. Freddie Freeman had half of the Braves' four hits with Ender Inciarte adding a single.

Who helped himself the most? Collmenter
Who hurt himself the most? Rio Ruiz (0-for-3, K)

By: Keith Allison via Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0)
YANKEES 8, Braves 7

The kids led a furious rally as the Braves scored seven runs in the 7th and 8th innings to make a blowout much closer, but Atlanta still came up short in their first night game of the spring. Jaime Garcia surrendered a run in his Braves debu and Matt Wisler struggled tremendously in his two-inning stint that followed. After a quiet 2-K frame from Ian Krol, the Yankees teed off on Sean Newcomb, who couldn't locate his pitches with any authority. The Braves' rally began with the aid of David Freitas and Balbino Fuenmayor, who each had singles with one out in the 7th. After an error led to a run, Johan Camargo hit a three-run bomb. Micah Johnson, who started in right field and also played center, followed Camargo's moonshot with a homer of his own. Atlanta's power showed up again in the 8th when Adam Walker hit a two-run opposite-field homer. Despite Luke Jackson and Eric O'Flaherty keeping the game close after Newcomb's disaster, Atlanta couldn't finish the comeback. Of particular interest was Jace Peterson starting at shortstop. A former minor league shortstop, Peterson might be counted on to fill in from time-to-time if the Braves decline to keep Chase D'Arnaud. Sadly, the Braves received some bad news as Dustin Peterson broke his a bone in his left hand on a check swing during the game and will miss at least two months.

Who helped himself the most? Johnson
Who hurt himself the most? Wisler

CARDINALS 9, Braves 4

John Danks has not had a good spring so far. After relieving Bartolo Colon with a 3-2 lead in the fourth, Danks gave up three runs in two innings to take the loss. Blaine Boyer, who is also trying to make the roster after signing a minor league deal, gave up a three-run homer in his only inning of work. Jose Ramirez also gave up a homer in the 8th. The only real positive sign was Paco Rodriguez, who pitched a perfect 7th with a strikeout. It was his first outing since 2015. The Braves had jumped out to a 3-0 lead after Dansby Swanson, who led off, homered to begin the game. Later in the inning, Adam "Walk-Off" Walker hit his second two-run homer in as many games. Ronald Acuna, who started in center, went 3-for-4 with two doubles, including one that plated the Braves' fourth run. Rio Ruiz got the DH assignment and made the most of it with three hits and a walk.

Who helped himself the most? Ruiz
Who hurt himself the most? Boyer

Red Sox 9, BRAVES 1

Sam Freeman became the latest minor league free agent to have an epic fail of an inning. After Julio Teheran pitched three masterful innings, the lefty Freeman came in to pitch the fourth. He faced seven batters and they all reached base. When the disaster was over, Freeman had given up six runs. The Sox kept scoring, getting single runs off Joel De La Cruz, Aroyds Vizcaino, and Jason Hursh to increase their lead. Atlanta's offense had few answers for the Red Sox pitching. Emilio Bonifacio, who entered for Ender Inciarte, singled and homered to lead the Braves' offense.

Who helped himself the most? Bonifacio
Who hurt himself the most? S. Freeman
Aaron Blair left his start early with an injury /
Editosaurus (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

PHILLIES 7, Braves 4 (SS)

Aaron Blair's distant bid to snag a rotation spot wasn't helped by an early exit against the Phillies. Facing Cesar Hernandez to open the bottom of the first, Blair took a hard shot off his non-throwing hand and was immediately lifted. Josh Collmenter was scheduled to pitch next and threw three innings to get the Braves back on schedule. He allowed Hernandez to score, but nothing else. Jesse Biddle took a big step in his return after missing all of 2016 by throwing a scoreless frame against his former mates with a walk and 2 K's. The Braves were leading 4-1 in the 7th when the Phillies exploded all over the duo of Michael Mader and David Hale, who had quietly been signed this winter. For more in-depth analysis on Hale's signing, click here. Back to the game, when the disaster of an inning was over, it was 7-4. Christian Walker hit a homer for the Braves as they managed just four hits.

Who helped himself the most? Collmenter
Who hurt himself the most? Micah Johnson (0-for 3, 2 K)

Marlins 8, BRAVES 6 (SS)

R.A. Dickey was hurt by a Dansby Swanson error and surrendered three unearned runs to go with his two earned runs in his three innings. Ian Krol also gave up a three-run homer as the Braves gave up runs in bunches. Outside of those two, Jim Johnson, Eric O'Flaherty, and Mauricio Cabrera all tossed scoreless innings with Max Fried working two scoreless frames. Swanson did pick up two ribbies and a stolen base. At one point in the game, the Braves had Austin Riley at third and Ronald Acuna and Braxton Davidson flanking Jace Peterson in the outfield. Riley had a pair of hits, including a double, after replacing Adonis Garcia earlier in the game.

Who helped himself the most? O'Flaherty (ING, 2 K)
Who hurt himself the most? Krol

RED SOX 11, Braves 1

For the second time this weekend, the Braves got smacked around by the Red Sox. This time, it would be Patrick Weigel who faced a bunch of batters - six in total - and couldn't retire a single one. All would score. The Red Sox added two more in the long seventh inning off Lucas Sims to turn a 3-1 game into a blowout. Mike Foltynewicz had opened the game with a troublesome first inning, but only gave up one run over three innings. Jose Ramirez worked a quiet inning, which he needed, but Chaz Roe was roughed up again for two runs and now has a 63.00 even ERA. The only other Braves pitcher to work was Blaine Boyer, who pitched a perfect sixth inning. At the plate, Kurt Suzuki singled in Ray-Patrick Didder in the sixth for Atlanta's only run after Didder doubled.

Who helped himself the most? Ramirez
Who hurt himself the most? Roe

Week 2 Record: 1-7
Grapefruit League Record: 2-8, 15th place (last), 5.5 GB

Seven-day Forecast: Idle, @Pirates (ROOT), vs. Phillies, vs. Yankees, vs. Mets, @ Cardinals (FSSE), @Yankees