Friday, May 26, 2017

Prepping for the Trade Deadline: Part 1

(Written by Ryan Cothran, a contributor at Walk-Off Walk for the last few weeks. Previous columns by Cothran include one on BABIP, the bullpen, and reviewing the Braves' buy-low philosophy on Tommy John survivors. Remember to follow Ryan on Twitter.)

By Arturo Pardavila III [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, the trade deadline is a little way off, but let it be known that Braves General Manager John Coppolella is always anxious to make a deal and a single date doesn’t hold weight on this trading stallion. Therefore, we need to be prepared, and this article will help us get there.

If 2017 is a mirror of the past 2 years of Braves baseball, it’s going to be an active trade deadline for Coppy and the crew. Whether it be buying, selling, or a little bit of both, you can bet your sweet pippy the Braves will be dealing.

Here’s a recap of trades orchestrated in the months of May-August of 2015. Note that at this time, Coppy was not yet named the GM, but most agree that these were Coppy's deals and John Hart was merely there to provide guidance and a helping hand:

And here’s a recap of trades orchestrated in the months of May-August of 2016:

What will 2017’s trade deadline look like for our beloved Braves?

2015 was all about selling off the veterans, dead money, or debt consolidation for wild card prospects. The team was dead in the water and had no chance to compete. We knew it. Braves knew it.

2016 was much the same, rather the prospects were better, the deals were riskier (acquiring Matt Kemp), but most worked out in the Braves favor.

2017...if only we had a crystal ball. What will the Braves record be like approaching the deadline? If the last few weeks are any indication, I’d say that this team will be hovering around .500 come late June and that is lightyears better than what we’ve had these last 2 abysmal years. In dissecting Coppy’s track record, we can see who’s most likely to be on another team come July: 1-year veterans.  Here’s a list of players that have 1 year of control on their contract:

Brandon Phillips
Bartolo Colon
Jaime Garcia
Jason Motte
Kurt Suzuki
Emilio Bonifacio
Eric O’Flaherty
*I’m not including R.A. Dickey or Tyler Flowers on this list even though they are both on 1-year deals, but have reasonable options.

Of the players above, Phillips, Garcia, Motte, and Suzuki are the 4 that have established some value this year.  Colon could be bought based on reputation alone, but I don’t think there’s any team that would even take O’Flaherty or Bonifacio for free at this point.

However, if the Braves are looking competitive AND their best hitter in Freddie Freeman is set to return, one has to weigh the +/- of trading any of the vets that have value. The biggest question to answer would be “Are there suitable replacements?”  That, my friends, is a hard question to answer.

Replacing Traded Pieces

Replacement for Brandon Phillips? Ozzie Albies has taken to adjusting at AAA Gwinnett. In his last 20 games, he has a .296/.367/.432/.799 slash-line with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 6 SB and 0 CS. He’s younger and at this stage of Brandon’s career, will provide better defense. But Brandon’s on pace for a 2.5 fWAR year, is putting up solid numbers across the board, and has been a really nice addition to a Braves lineup that’s lacked good production from 2nd base. If Braves are competing, I think it’s hard to pull the trigger.

Weigel | Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Replacement for Bartolo Colon? Lucas Sims and Sean Newcomb have both taken their lumps of late, but Bartolo has taken his the entire year up until last start. There’s no doubt that having Bartolo on the team has a positive effect on our players, especially Latin Americans, but from a player’s perspective, his production seems replaceable on the surface given either of the two above could get the call - along with guys like Kris Medlen, Luke Jackson, or even Patrick Weigel.

Replacement for Jaime Garcia? It sounds weird to “sell-high” on a starting pitcher that’s sporting a 4.07 ERA, but that’s what the Braves could do with Jaime Garcia.  Left-handed pitchers are coveted in the MLB and Jaime’s peripherals tell a different story than his actual production. I’m afraid that if the Braves don’t move him soon, his numbers could balloon or his injuries pop up again. Insert same guys for Jaime’s replacement with more emphasis on Newcomb for handedness.

Replacement for Jason Motte? There are plenty of candidates for a Motte replacement, but all seem to come with the dreaded taint of being walk-heavy.  Motte’s great start has been a bit smoky and mirrory as his LOB is a crazy 94.8%, but make no mistake he has been effective. Luke Jackson, Mauricio Cabrera, and Akeel Morris seem like logical fits should any of the three find their control.

Replacement for Kurt Suzuki? At this point, I think the Braves would rather extend Suzuki for another year rather than trade him. There aren’t real replacements at Gwinnett (David Freitas, maybe?) and Kade Scivicque is at Mississippi, but that’d be rushing his development, especially as a hitter. Trading Suzuki doesn’t seem wise unless the Braves can acquire their future catcher at the deadline.

Replacement for Emilio Bonifacio, Eric O’Flaherty? While this likely isn’t trade deadline stuff as I don’t think these three will be around by then, replacing these guys seem rather easy:
Lane Adams for Emilio
Rex Brothers for O’Flaherty

What to expect in return for these trades?

If the Braves are trading any of their 1-year veterans, the less the acquiring team has to pay, the better the return. With that in mind, a team in desperate need of 2B production could send a B/B+ prospect to the Braves. Prospects the Braves have acquired in the past 2 years that fit that description are John Gant, Robert Whalen, Touki Toussaint, Akeel Morris, and Travis Demeritte

For the rest, it depends on what Coppy has up his sleeve. There’s a lot he could do with excess cash at the trade deadline and filling holes with high-end cost-heavy talent wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

Thanks for reading! Look for part 2 of this piece which will address Organizational Surplus.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

No, Matt Adams Isn't Going to Play Third Base

By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr
It's not that I don't understand the impulse.

The Braves have a whole at third base right now - though Rio Ruiz is doing his best to change that - and when Freddie Freeman returns, it would seem that Matt Adams is out of a starting job. Sure, you could shift him to left field, though he's blocked there by Matt Kemp.

Of course, with the way Adams has acclimated himself since the trade, it's easy to get excited about the prospect of finding an everyday spot for him. In his first three games, he's gone 5-for-13 with three extra-base knocks, including a pair of homers. Last night, Adams cranked out three of those hits - one that went sailing into the right field bleachers and another opposite-field single that scored the walk-off run.

That last hit even came against a lefty, which Adams typically struggles against. To be fair, Tony Watson has not been a good pitcher this year and lefties are hitting a robust .367 against him. Despite that, it was the first hit Adams had off a lefty all season long. Granted, he only had four plate appearances against them when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

So, Braves fans, I do get it. But let's get one thing straight - Matt Adams is not going to third base.

Many of you might be saying to yourself, "well, duh, he's a first baseman!" But still, others have suggested that to keep Adams' bat in the lineup, the Braves should consider moving him to third base in the future. There is a whole host of issues at play here, but let's focus on the most pressing one.

"It's Incredibly Hard."

In the film, Moneyball, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, visits the home of Scott Hatteberg, portrayed by Chris Pratt. Hatteberg, a former catcher who ruptured a nerve in his elbow, had just been released. The film takes some artistic liberties by suggesting Beane's call was the only one Hatteberg had received all winter. In truth, he had just been non-tendered.

As Beane, with infield coach Ron Washington, sits down with Hatteberg. As Beane informs Hatteberg of his plan to move the former catcher to first base, we are given this incredibly fun moment:

Now, that's just first base - long considered the position just about anyone can play. That's unfair because there is a great deal of footwork involved at playing first base. Regardless, first base is where players who lack range go to die (or play 20 years). Third base is often a position for former shortstops who outgrow the position, not first basemen who need a place to play.

Chipper Jones, who suggested Adams at third base during yesterday's rain delay, should know all about that. Jones came up through the minors a shortstop, but the 6'4" lanky kid bulked up and wasn't a fit at shortstop anymore. While he played an occasional shortstop in the majors - plus the outfield - Chipper found a home at third where he could use some of the skills that made him a shortstop (range, arm) to better use.

Most of the top third basemen aren't like Chipper, though. They started at the position early on. Robin Ventura, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen, David Wright, Evan Longoria - these guys were third baseman from the second they became professionals. Some like Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripkin Jr. later shifted to the position (Ripkin actually began at third base), but the hot corner isn't something you plop a guy at and hope for the best.

Even though that should be pretty easy to understand, the Tigers did just that with Miguel Cabrera in 2012-13. In their defense, Cabrera started his career as a third baseman. He knew how to play the position, though he hadn't played it regularly in a few years. But it didn't work out as well as the Tigers would have liked. Despite having the greatest hitter in the world at the most elite point of his career, the Tigers couldn't win a World Series. Part of that came down to the fact that defense matters. The Tigers said, "screw it, let's hit homers." Their pitching staff was put in an impossible position. Their offense was their only way to win, but to score that many runs, they had to play a bad defense that totaled -66 DRS. Again, defense matters.

Back in 2012, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian looked at how difficult it is to play third base. Ripkin is quoted in the article saying, "You have to make yourself ready for your own safety. On a ball hit to third, you can't afford to take a step back. You have to be like a hockey goalie. There's some fear. And there is no comfort zone. You're on edge. It's a highly stressful, anxious position."

Sound like something you want Matt Adams to deal with?

Throughout Adams nine-year professional career, he has played just one other position than first base. Left field - another position baseball teams think anyone can play. Like Ryan Klesko. Reading Cardinals blogs about the Big City in Left Field experiment, it was like watching an elephant try to flag down a flyball. Other than 34.1 innings in left field, Adams has been a first baseman and a first baseman only. Before you ask, prior to his professional career, Adams was a catcher before shifting to first base in college.

Further, Adams isn't that much of an athlete. He worked hard in the offseason to get in better shape, but he's still a big, lumbering player. He's never flashed much of an arm at first base, either. Since 2013, Adams' first full season, he's started eleven double plays. That's 39th. It's fewer than Lyle Overbay, who hasn't played since 2014. If you are curious, Freddie Freeman has started 62 double plays in that time period - good for second place. Maybe he should be considered for third base?

Just kidding.

Again, I think we all get it. Since Chipper's retirement in 2013, third base has been a position without an owner. Sure, Chris Johnson and Adonis Garcia brought some stability by just playing regularly at the position, but Atlanta is among the ten worst teams according to fWAR at third base since #10 stopped suiting up. It'd be easy to say "give Adams a chance." But this isn't a video game. You can't just throw players all over the field and not suffer from the side effects.

Braves TJ Victims

(Here is Ryan Cothran's third piece for Walk-Off Walk. Soon enough, he's going to have to get his own account working here at WOW :) His first piece, which was an analysis into BABIP, can be found here. In addition, his second piece, which discussed recent bullpen improvements and what's coming up the chain, can be found here. Remember to follow Ryan on twitter.)

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been a can’t waiter for years. I’m no longer going to be a can’t waiter. For the sake of my sanity, I can’t be a can’t waiter. What is a can’t waiter, you might ask? I guess I could assume you can’t wait to know. Well, I can’t wait to tell you.

A can’t waiter is an individual that looks at the Minor League teams of which he/she roots for, scours the roster, finds players that are having serious success, pines for said players to receive call-ups immediately, and talks daily how they can’t wait to see them kicking butt in the MLB like it’s a given that they’ll:
  • Stay Healthy  
  • Dominate the best baseball players in the world as much as they’ve dominated lesser players (although much better than anyone who’ll likely read this, your’s truly included).
Of the 2 listed above, the Braves have taken an extreme gamble by rolling the dice on (A) in their acquisitions/signings.  When I was writing for Tomahawk Take, I noticed a serious trend of the Braves signing/acquiring players that were either recovering at the time from Tommy John surgery, hadn’t made it back to the field from setbacks from Tommy John, or hadn’t found the success they were seeing prior to going down with injury.  I called it the Braves form of Moneyball, and you can click to see the old article.

*Disclaimer: Let it be known that aside from roster spots, a small chunk of change, and patience out the WAZOO, this gamble has been relatively small in terms of players traded and risks involved. 

At the time, it seemed really smart. Most of MLB teams weren’t in a place to offer these guys guaranteed money, give them a 40-man spot, or go through the bumps that comes with pitchers pitching back to form.  I thought it was brilliant!  In hindsight, it hasn’t worked out in most cases.  It was a gamble that others weren’t taking and with a rebuild in-tow, it was worth giving it a shot.

On Twitter, there have been many to poke fun at the Mets and their lacking ability to keep their pitchers on the field.  The Braves haven’t been much better. Their own list is VAST! While many of these didn’t succumb to injury while pitching for the Braves, it doesn’t negate the fact the we as Braves fans should not wag tongues or point fingers.  Here is a likely incomplete list of pitchers that have been in the organization in the last 5-6 years and have had the surgery:

Players that have been in Braves Organization and had Tommy John Surgery

Current Major Leaguers
  • Jason Grilli - TJ surgery early in his career and came back a stronger and more efficient pitcher. 
  • *Arodys Vizcaino
  • Eric O’Flaherty - hasn’t been same since 2013 surgery.  70 innings total, but 40 innings of bad baseball with the Braves
  • Alex Wood - traded in 2015, injured most of ‘16, and pitching brilliantly currently with Dodgers
  • Jason Motte - TJ in 2013, has pitched mediocre baseball since return. Been pitching well lately.
  • Sam Freeman - TJ in 2010, has had mixed results, although I’m not sure it’s related to TJ. Has been pitching brilliantly the last few weeks.
  • Peter Moylan - Had TJ surgery in 2008, was effective for the next 3 years in a Braves uniform. Has struggled lately with the Royals.
Current Minor Leaguers
Retired Major Leaguers
  • Billy Wagner - Had TJ surgery in 2008, came back dominant in Boston and then Atlanta
  • Tim Hudson - TJ surgery in 2008, pitched effectively for rest of his career.
Not currently affiliated with any team
  • Michael Kohn - Had TJ surgery in 2012, other arm injuries have kept him from contributing.
  • *Paco Rodriguez
  • Mark Lamm - Had TJ surgery, never made it to MLB and was last pitching in the Indy Leagues
Notice the players with asterisks and lack of breakdown? Know what they represent?  They’re some of the source of the “can’t waiters” happiness. These players were either bought low on due to injury or drafted low due to injury. They had big ceilings at one point and lost their luster due to injury. But should we be putting stock into these guys? Let’s dissect a bit…

Man, I can’t wait til we see *insert recovering flamethrower*

Manny Banuelos - When the trade went down, it was looked at as a landslide win for the Braves. Now? Manny is no longer with the Braves being DFA’d at the end of 2016. Meanwhile, Chasen Shreve has been part of the Yankees bullpen the last 3 years, pitching over 100 innings with a mid-3s ERA. All the while our left-handed relief pitching has been a dumpster fire for those 3 years.

Paco Rodriguez - Was a bit of a throw-in in what is likely to go down as the worst trade of Coppy’s tenure. Was recovering from Tommy John when acquired and spent time rehabbing. After looking fair in 2017 Spring Training, he was released and word was leaked that he had poor work ethic.

Arodys Vizcaino - Acquired from the Yankees, traded to the Cubs, re-acquired from the Cubs, Vizzy has pitched 86.2 innings of good baseball out of the Braves bullpen, but has had his fair share of injuries along the way and hasn’t totaled 40 innings in either of the 2 full years since acquisition, granted the first year was due to an 80-game suspension.  He’s been pitching lights out lately.

Josh Outman - Gifted with an ideal surname for a pitcher, Outman was a buy-low project prior to the 2015 season due to 2014 Tommy John surgery and thought likely to break the Braves 25-man roster. He ended up pitching 8.2 innings in the Minors and had shoulder issues nearly the entire year.

Andrew McKirahan - Claimed from the Marlins and already down a Tommy John surgery, McK got busted for cheating, returned and pitched poorly for the Braves in 2015, then re-ripped his UCL, and hasn’t pitched since mid-2015. He's currently in the Reds organization after an offseason trade.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Jesse Biddle - Had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and was claimed by the Braves in March of 2016 by the Pirates. He’s now pitching meaningful games in Mississippi with mixed results.

Max Fried - Acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton deal, Fried was recovering from Tommy John surgery and was deemed recovered at the end of the 2016 season. Down the stretch, he was absolutely dominant but has struggled with consistency in 2017 which is very common the first year after Tommy John.

Daniel Winkler - A personal favorite of mine (but this was when I was all-in on the strategy of acquiring Tommy John guys and stashing them) pitched 4 innings in MLB between ‘15&’16 before breaking his elbow AFTER he’d already rehabbed from Tommy John. He's a rule-5er so he has to stay on the 25-man roster unless he’s on the DL. Currently, he’s still at extended Spring Training strengthening.

A.J. Minter - Would’ve been drafted early in 1st round had it not been for blowing out his elbow pre-draft. He’s had some flare-ups in the elbow area and other ailments that are apparently non-elbow related. Still, he’s only pitched 1 inning this year and remains out with no timetable set on his return.

Jacob Lindgren - Pitched with the Yankees, blew out his elbow, then they tried to sneak him through waivers. He was picked up by the Braves and will miss the entire 2017 season. He, like Minter, are key “can’t waiters” in the organization.

Has this strategy paid off for the Braves Front-office?

What is the expectation? In essence, I guess one can say that most of these guys were/are lottery tickets and anything gained is just gravy (examples: La Stella/Vizzy+INT slot money, Winkler in the Rule 5), but some cost real players (Fried/Man-Ban/Paco), roster spots (Winkler/McK), and high-draft choices (Minter). Thus far,  Man-Ban DFA’d, Paco released, Outman out, McK cheated then re-broke himself then was released, and Winkler rehabbed then broke elbow again.

The only success story that has played out in the bigs has been Vizzy and he’s not been a guy that a manager can give the ball to 70 times a year. Hopefully, this changes this year and we can reflect on the Tommy John Survivor strategy as a positive one.

Obviously, we have yet to see Minter, Lindgren, Fried, and Biddle, and there’s still a chance that Winkler can come back and be a force out of the bullpen, but we as fans need to be cautious when our expectation of these guys is that they’ll be healthy AND dominant.  It’s just not that simple.

A Piece of Advice for Myself

Pitching health in today’s game is so fickle. Pitching health after suffering a major injury, undergoing major surgery, and grinding through an extensive rehab is a crapshoot.  When it comes to these guys, we as fans might benefit by looking at them as luxuries rather than unequivocal future pieces. Be excited about these guys, watch them grow as pitchers, root for them to stay healthy, but learn from my mistakes and refrain from putting them in the category of “Can’t Wait” guys. Rather, leave them in a separate chamber of your heart that is more accustomed to heartbreak.

Thanks for reading! Go Braves!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Braves Bullpen Sittin'em Down!

(Here is Ryan Cothran's second piece for Walk-Off Walk. His first piece, which was an analysis into BABIP, can be found here. Remember to follow Ryan on twitter.)

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Braves have won 7 of their last 10, many without our beloved Freddie Freeman, and are looking like a team that could truly hover the .500 mark until his return. Granted, over the course of this season, they’ve looked like that team several times as they’ve put up several long winning streaks, followed by several longer losing streaks. While the starting pitching has shown signs of coming around in a small sample, the real story that has broken through in a mighty way has been the bullpen. Check these season numbers out:
  • Jim Johnson: 19 innings, 2.84 ERA, 9K/9, 1.42BB/9, 0.5 bWAR
  • Jose Ramirez: 20.2 innings, 1.31 ERA, 7.4K/9, 2.18BB/9, 0.8 bWAR
  • Arodys Vizcaino: 18.1 innings, 2.45 ERA, 10.8K/9, 2.5BB/9, 0.5 bWAR
  • Jason Motte: 11.1 innings, 1.59 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 3.2BB/9, 0.4 bWAR (and hit 99 MPH last night...what?)
  • Sam Freeman: 8 innings, 9K/9, 0.00 ERA,  5.6BB/9, 0.2 bWAR
That is some impressive numbers from the core 5 of the Braves bullpen. Both Motte and Freeman have something in their low (or non-existent) ERAs that make statisticians leery that their success is real, but I could see at least 4 of these 5 guys having very successful seasons should they stay healthy.

Now for the rest of the guys? The 2 others LHPs Ian Krol and Eric O’Flaherty are sporting ERAs north of 6 and are getting hit frickin’ hard. Josh Collmenter, the long man hasn’t been able to stay in long and has caused more headache than help with an ERA sitting in the mid-5s. On the contrary to the prediction above where I could see 4 of 5 of the being successful, there’s nothing good about what’s going on with these 3: high BB rates, low K rates, and getting hit hard.

*Of note, Luke Jackson is still having a hard time harnessing control as shown by his larger sample of innings at AAA, but I wouldn’t put him in the same category has the aforementioned 3. Hopefully he can find the strike zone this year and turn into a dominant reliever.

Solutions on the Farm?

So what can the Braves do?  As of now, it looks like they’re going to have to be patient. Help is on the way, but not quite ready yet in terms of health. Here are a few guys to keep an eye on:
  1. Rex Brothers- a LHP that has a mid-90s fastball that found success is just now getting healthy again after Tommy John surgery...hip surgery...and shoulder surgery. He could most definitely help if he can just stay on the field. He’s only pitched 2 innings in the MiLB this year, but struck out 5 of 6!
  2. A.J. Minter- still on the mend at extending Spring Training, but I have no doubt he’ll be on the fast track once he gets back to health.
  3. Mauricio Cabrera- Not sure what to think about Mo-Cab. Until last year, I would’ve predicted a Juan Jaime clone. In case you cannot remember, Juan Jaime could also throw it through a barn...if he could hit it.
  4. Akeel Morris- Still walking a ton, but striking out a ton as well. If he can harness his control, he’ll be up as he’s already on the 40-man.
  5. Lucas Sims- Had a rough last outing, but he’s turned the curve in his control. Could be a smart replacement for Collmenter, and a good way to test his worth at the MLB level.
  6. Kris Medlen- A new delivery in-tow, if Meds can stay on the field, it’s only a matter of time before he’s back in the bigs in some capacity.
There are others, but I think the pecking order starts here, with a mix of veterans on the mend, some top-notch talent, and guys currently on the 40-man.  Could be a fun season after all!

Go Braves!

Transaction Tuesday: Ruiz, Gohara, Jackson, and poor poor Freddie

Last week's update included a surprising amount of transactions involving the major league squad - zero. This week was not nearly as quiet. Prepare for an epic journey through the system.

A note on this report - moves referenced today took place between May 16 and May 22. Taxi Squad refers to a Braves minor league team "sending" a player to Danville just to get him off the active roster. In most cases, the player will stay with the team that just demoted him until he is brought back onto the active roster. Prospect Numbers are derived from my preseason Top 50.

Previously, I went over the trades to acquire Matt Adams and Enrique Burgos.

Promoted: Luke Jackson (#24)...Here's a pitcher I hope takes advantage of his callup and sticks this time. It'll come down to control for Jackson and interestingly enough, he hasn't walked a soul in his four innings at the major league level. Of course, that's an exceedingly small sample. The potential has always been there. Will the results come?

Promoted: Rio Ruiz (#20)...This might be the promotion that sticks for Ruiz. Despite being passed over earlier in the week when a certain third baseman hit the DL, Ruiz got called up shortly after and has played in five games since with a 3-for-12 start, including a homer, two walks, and 4 K's. After a bad beginning to the year with Gwinnett, Ruiz turned it and was the top minor league club's hottest hitter before his recall. His defense is much improved and his work ethic can no longer be questioned. Even Brian Snitker has suggested Ruiz will be kept once the former everyday starter at third base returns. Now, Ruiz isn't a huge prospect, but he's definitely worth keeping over the alternatives.

Promoted and Optioned to Gwinnett: Johan Camargo...While Braves fans hoped Emilio Bonifacio would get cut to make room for Adams, it was Camargo getting the boot back to Triple-A. This was the second brief cameo Camargo has made. His defense looks solid, but the Braves are less sure about his bat. He had a big spring and has a .354 wOBA at Gwinnett over 22 games, but never impressed with the bat before. While it would have made some sense to keep Camargo as a platoon option for Ruiz, for now, he's not in the Braves' plans.

DL'd: Adonis Garcia...An Achilles injury and the next injury we'll talk about opened the door for Ruiz. Garcia wasn't providing much value to the team before the injury either. His .274 wOBA was only better than 13 players so far this season. It's beyond time for the Braves to accept that Garcia is a platoon-only bench player.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
DL'd: Freddie Freeman...You can't replace an elite hitter and the Braves aren't going to be able to. In Adams and Ruiz, they'll try to do the best they can do to replace his production, but Freeman was playing out of his mind before getting his wrist shattered. He'll be out until mid-to-late July.

DL'd: Eric O'Flaherty...The veteran aggrevated his back apparently due to the brief run through Toronto last week - and not the homer he gave up to Jose Bautista. O'Flaherty's metrics early looked better than his ERA and that continues still, but the metrics have continued to decline to the tune of a 4.95 FIP, 4.78 xFIP, and 4.62 SIERA. All three marks are worse than last year. It might be about time to stick a fork in this one.

Transferred to 60-day DL: Chaz Roe...Apparently, his lat strain is worse than originally feared. Outside of one rehab game, Roe hasn't pitched in a game since April 7. Since he was never activated, this only means he's definitely out until after the first week of June. As I mentioned, he did make an appearance for Florida on May 6 and worked an inning.

DFA'd: Anthony Recker...After hitting .278/.394/.433 over 33 games with the Braves last year, Recker saw the Braves flirt with Jason Castro and ultimately sign Kurt Suzuki. Some weird roster math still gave Recker a chance to break camp with the team and he went 1-for-7 in mostly pinch-hit appearances before being optioned out. He bashed three homers in 14 games for Gwinnett, but the big league club needed a spot on the 40-man roster and Recker was chosen. Recker can elect free agency, but I'm sure the Braves are hoping he stays.

Signed and Released: James Loney...Well, that didn't take long. Loney played two games for the Gwinnett Braves. He had one single, a walk, and a strikeout, and he reached base due to catcher's interference. However, Saturday's trade for Matt Adams forced Loney to re-evaluate things and the veteran wanted out. The Braves didn't stop him and cut him yesterday. After it was all said and done, Loney sent out this salty tweet showing his displeasure. He will be missed.

Promoted from Mississippi: Carlos Franco...On the same day Loney was signed, Carlos Franco was called up. It took Franco four years to get out of rookie ball and with the exception of a decent 2015, Franco has not been on the prospect watch until this year when he smashed the Southern League over 41 games to the tune of .293/.358/.560 with 11 homers. Franco has a reputation of a free swinger, but he takes his walks. One thing that stands out about Franco this season is his ground-ball rate. From 2012-to-2016, Franco's GB% has fluctuated between 53% and 62%. That will limit a player's ability to hit homers. This year, it's down to 42% and he's pulling the ball more as well. It was working for him in Mississippi. Hope it works for him in Gwinnett.

Activated: Dustin Peterson (#15)...With little fan fair, Dustin Peterson just showed up back in the lineup this weekend. A year after vindicating the Braves for wanting him in the Justin Upton trade, Peterson came to spring training looking to impress the team coaches before an inevitable trip to Gwinnett to start the season. He was doing that, but a broken hand took him out of action. He's 2-for-11 so far with a double, two walks, and a pair of strikeouts. Last year, in 132 games with Mississippi, Peterson hit .282/.343/.431 with a .356 wOBA. With Nick Markakis's recent struggles against left-handers, could bringing up Peterson at some point later this year be something the Braves may consider? It's possible if his bat takes off in Gwinnett.

Activated: Braeden Schlehuber...This will mark Year 10 for Schlehuber when he steps up to the plate for the first time. A well-regarded receiver, Schlehuber was a Carolina League All-Star back in 2012 and that's his career highlight.

DL'd: Emerson Landoni...After spending the first month on the DL, Landoni is back on it. The minor league veteran and utility player was hitting .091 in 23 PA before this most recent trip to the trainer's.

Activated and later Released: Blake Lalli...A year after being utilized as a top pinch hitter in the season's final month, Lalli gets his walking papers. He wasn't playing too much in Gwinnett and when he was, the results weren't there.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Assigned: Rex Brothers...There was a time the left-handed reliever became an impressive option coming out of the Rockies bullpen. From 2011-13, he was worth 2.6 fWAR - good for 32nd among relievers during the time period. But his strikeouts fell and his walks ballooned the next year and then the injuries began. After missing 2016, he's back in the saddle with the Braves and has looked dominant against the seven Southern League batters he's faced so far as he's amassed five strikeouts and a walk. He's a long shot, but if early impressions are any sign, the Braves will be ecstatic with their pickup.

Activated: Reed Harper...His time on the DL was short. Harper's just a guy in the Braves system who last posted an wOBA over .285 in 2013 in rookie ball.

Activated: Evan Phillips...Things were ugly for Phillips before the move to the DL with an 11.93 ERA. In his defense, over half of the 19 runs he had surrendered in 14.1 innings came in just two outings. Relievers will spend much of the season working off the effects of a six-run and five-run barrage over a three-game run. Since returning, he's logged three innings with a walk and four strikeouts.

DL'd: Luiz Gohara (#7)...Unfortunately, Gohara left his first start in Double-A with a triceps injury. The move to the DL is apparently precautionary and the hope is that he'll return this week. Considering how much he dominated the Florida State League before his promotion (2.11 FIP/2.67 xFIP), definitely hoping some injury won't keep his rise in the prospect lists from not continuing now that he's with Mississippi.

DL'd: Danny Reynolds...Signed after finishing up last year in the independent American Association, Reynolds has struggled to the tune of a 6.20 ERA. The weird thing is that Reynolds has only allowed an opposing OPS of .670. Sure enough, he has a tragically low LOB% of 53.3%.

Assigned: Kris Medlen...With little press coverage, Medlen worked his way back and this weekend, Meds tossed six scoreless innings in his first game since last September 2. He gave up just one hit, walked three, and struck out three. By now, we all know Medlen's story, but just in case, here is a brief recap. After a monster 2012 (1.57 ERA in 138 innings) and respectable follow-up season, Medlen missed 2014 with his second Tommy John surgery. After the Braves non-tendered him, he tried his luck in Kansas City. He never was able to reclaim his former glory there, though. Now, could it happen in Atlanta? He definitely has the support of legions of fans that recall how well he once pitched for the team.

Promoted from Rome: Tanner Murphy...Before the Braves started to add catching prospects to the mix, it was Murphy who was their biggest hope for a long-term option behind the plate. Murphy struggled with Carolina for half of the year last season, but made some adjustments and slashed  .288/.412/.390 with 3 homers over his final 45 games with more walks than strikeouts. However, the numbers game worked against him and he opened the season with Rome. Playing time has been tough with Lucas Herbert and Brett Cumberland also getting reps behind the plate, but Murphy did use his superb plate discipline to walk 17.7% of the time and slash .227/.362/.320. He'll share time behind the plate in Florida with Jonathan Morales.

Activated off Taxi Squad and later demoted to Rome: Carlos Martinez...Martinez has been used as a fill-in catcher for the Braves and even appeared in a game for Florida - his first of the year. He's got a strong arm, but the bat is nearly non-existent.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
DL'd: Alex Jackson (#21)...It's unfortunate to see Jackson hit the DL considering the season he's had to this point. In 39 games, he's bashed ten homers - or one less than he hit last season - and slashed .297/.355/.568. The strikeout and walk rates are still substandard, but other than that, it has big a big bounce back from the former sixth overall pick who the Mariners basically gave away. His work behind the plate hasn't received many glowing reports, but he's got time to improve there. I am not sure of the nature of the DL trip, though Braves GM John Coppolella mentioned in last week's #AskCoppy that it's soreness and not a fracture.

Taxi Squad: Andres Santiago...A long time Dodgers minor leaguer, Sanitago has appeared in eight games this year - including two with Rome - and pitched pretty well (FIP and xFIP well under 3.00). He's also 27, so dominance against Single-A hitters isn't all that impressive.

Activated off Taxi Squad: Thomas Burrows (#37)...You have to assume Burrows might be next-in-line for a promotion to Rome. Acquired in the Gohara deal last winter, Burrows has a 2.01 ERA and a near 55% groundball rate over 22.1 innings with Rome.

Activated off Taxi Squad: Tucker Davidson...It's a weird dynamic with Davidson. His control is pretty good and he gets a bunch of strikeouts, but he still gives up a lot of hits. Some of that is the less-than-stellar infields in the lower minor leagues compounded with iffy defenses, Another part is that he racks up dominating stats against lefties, but faces a lot of righties and he's not that good against them.

Activated off Taxi Squad: Raymar Navarro...The Cuban righty opened the year in extended spring training and since late April, has been a regular member of this column as he gets shifted onto the team and back off. In five innings, the 26 year-old has yet to allow a run. He had a 5.78 ERA in 28 games with Carolina last year.

Demoted to Taxi Squad and later activated: Yeudi Grullon...Last week's pitching appearance for Grullon wasn't his first - he actually made two for Rome last year. He worked around a double and an intentional walk in the 17th, but gave up a two singles (with a pair of steals mixed in) to give up a go-ahead run in the 18th. A slick-fielding infielder, Grullon has flashed decent plate discipline and not much else.

Demoted to Taxi Squad and later activated: Kurt Hoekstra...A 21st rounder in 2015 out of Western Michigan (go Broncos!), Hoekstra has received regular playing at first base over Anthony Concepcion, but neither have hit well. Hoekstra is a max-effort utility infielder, but is a long shot to make it to Triple-A.

Demoted to Taxi Squad and later activated: Adam McCreery...Acquired in the Jhoulys Chacin trade last year, McCreery has been up and down with Rome this year with a few absolute stinkers mixed in. Beyond that, he's been mostly reliable. He worked last week's 18-inning affair and tossed three innings. He allowed no hits, faced two over the minimum and struck out four. The control he showed last year, which was much improved over his Angels' days, has not always been there for the southpaw this year, but the strikeouts are aplenty (28 in 17.2 ING).

Demoted from Mississippi and later demoted to Taxi Squad: Joe Rogers...After a two-game run with Mississippi was interrupted by a trip to the DL, Rogers got into his first game in nearly three weeks and pitched extremely well by striking out three of the seven he faced and not allowing a base runner. Presumably, he went to "Danville" for a fresh arm.

DL'd: Luis Mora...A recent addition to the Rome roster, Mora hit the DL after just 4.2 innings. He is notable for having triple digit max velocity, but struggling to pair that heat with secondary pitches.

DL'd: Joey Wentz (#14)...The Braves didn't need something like this to happen this weekend after watching Freeman, Gohara, and Jackson all hit the DL. I have not seen any updates, but we do know Wentz's trip to the DL came after taking a liner off his left leg. So far this season, Wentz had struck out over a batter an inning with impeccable control (1.8 walks per nine). His 2.13 FIP/3.03 xFIP was helping Wentz to live up to the early hype.

Special thanks to Jeff Morris, who takes some tremendous pictures of Braves minor leaguers. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeffAtlBravesJeff.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Braves Pull Off Two Deals

By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr
What a day to spend most of it out with the family at the annual Monacan Powwow here in central Virginia. We have two trades to digest - one far more interesting than other so let's start there as the Braves agree to a one-for-one exchange with the Cardinals in which first baseman Matt Adams heads to Atlanta for minor leaguer Juan Yepez. Unknown cash considerations will also be part of the deal to help pay for the remainder of Adams' $2.8M salary. The Braves also designated Anthony Recker for assignment.

Let's talk about Yepez first. The 19-year-old was hitting .275/.309/.387 this year and was mostly playing third base this season after being stuck at first base for the majority of his first two seasons. Overall, Yepez has hit .281/.335/.407 in parts of three years, including notably worse numbers over 59 games with Rome.

I had Yepez ranked #27th in the system before spring training and he does have some good projection left in his bat. He was Frank Wren's last big signing on the international market and if the power ever became legit, his hit tool would help Yepez climb up some prospect lists. But you can say that about any number of prospects. The bigger problem for Yepez is one, I, and I don't think I am alone, was not convinced he had the chops to stay at third base. Once you take him off third base and put him at first, his prospect status is hurt. It'll be interesting to see if Yepez continues at the hot corner after the trade, but even though I liked Yepez, his loss just doesn't do much for me. Of course, if Yepez starts to perform up to his best-case projections, this deal won't look so hot in five years.

Moving on to Adams, the Braves have acquired a stopgap first baseman who should be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Adams posted a combined 3.6 fWAR in his two seasons as an unquestioned major leaguer, but injuries and poor play have resulted in a 0.7 fWAR since the beginning of 2015. Things were so bad this season that Adams not only lost a timeshare ownership of first base - he became a backup as the Cardinals moved Matt Carpenter to first base. Early on, the Cardinals tried him out in left field, but he's ventured into the outfield just once since April 10 and it happened to be the game in which he hit his only homer of the year against the Braves. Other than that, he's been a pinch hitter who occasionally plays a little first base.

Overall, Adams has played 31 games this season and picked up 53 PA. With those trips to the plate, he's hit .292/.340/.396. He carries a negative fWAR mainly because his time in left field has looked extra-strength terrible so far.

Let's dive deeper into Adams. A left-handed hitter, Adams has a .332 career wOBA and 110 wRC+. Basically, that's Jason Kipnis territory without the added bonus of being a very good second baseman. Adams displays plus-pop (.183 ISO) and while strikeouts can be expected (23.2%), it's worth noting that since 2011, Adams ranks 94th of 395 players in strikeout percentage. Adams is not going to walk that frequently and will depend on a solid BABIP to keep his average and OBP in decent standing.

Don't expect many groundballs off Adams bat. He ranks 50th since 2011 in GB/FB ratio. Similar to former Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche, Adams gets under the ball a good deal in order to drive it. Unlike many guys who have such a pronounced uppercut to their swing, Adams isn't a hyper-pull hitter (actually, he's just about average).

The comparison to LaRoche also continues into their hit profile. These numbers are since 2011.

Name GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Soft% Med% Hard%
LaRoche 0.90 21% 37.4% 41.5% 6.8% 13.9% 12.1% 52.5% 35.3%
Adams 0.91 21.2% 37.5% 41.4% 6.5% 12.5% 14.7% 50.0% 35.3%


This is the part of the article where I talk about splits data. The Cardinals, who again rarely started Adams this season, have been able to keep the first baseman from facing lefties as a result. Just three times this season has Adams faced a lefty - he's 0-for-3, by the way. Let's roll those three plate appearances into the last three seasons of his data and we see a sad result. Since the beginning of 2014, Adams has been owned by lefties. He's managed just a .256 wOBA against them and a putrid 59 wRC+. Hence why the Cardinals realized pretty early that Adams was not meant to be a full-time starter.

Defensively, Adams ranges from adequate to above-average at first base over his career with a 15 career rPM and 12 total DRS to go with a 2.0 UZR/150. His range isn't great and he's a bit prone to lapses in judgment. Plus, he's not one of those guys who starts a bunch of double plays (like Freddie Freeman). Basically, he's not bad, but he's never going to look like a Gold Glover.

The acquisition of Adams cost the Braves a potentially good prospect. Could it also bring in a good prospect should Atlanta choose to trade him before the July trading deadline? It's doubtful. Another team will have to be as desperate as the Braves are right now because Adams is a flawed player. To use him properly, you need a right-handed option at first base which, by the way, Atlanta also lacks. But if Adams bashes a dozen or more homers during his run with the Braves, a team could be willing to give him a longer look.

Moving forward, Adams looks like the everyday starter at first base. There are a few issues related to this. #1, who goes down? It would appear that answer is Rio Ruiz just because he was only brought up because of Freeman's injury. That might be a mistake - nearly as big of a mistake as Max Scherzer's pitch that Ruiz jumped on for his first career homer yesterday. Obviously, it's premature to base much on one game, but Ruiz was scorching at Gwinnett and many of us felt he had earned an opportunity in the majors. Like Adams, he needs to be protected against lefthanders, but as the Braves search for offense to replace Freeman, having both Adams and Ruiz in the lineup against righties is a good move.

Obviously, this leads me to think Emilio Bonifacio or Danny Santana would be better players to kick off the team. Neither have options, but neither are long-term assets that the Braves need much of a look at. Atlanta could also demote a pitcher rather than carry eight for the bullpen.

That said, I do expect it to be Ruiz. Atlanta has had many opportunities to get rid of Bonifacio. Instead, he has played in 30-of-40 games. Brian Snitker loves what Bonifacio brings to the table.

For reasons.

Turning back to Adams, his time with the Braves could be short. Atlanta could decide to repackage him in a deal in July - theoretically, around the point Freeman is ready to return. The chances of that and how well the Braves might do in a trade would be dependent on Adams' performance. Either way, it's difficult to see Adams playing for the Braves beyond 2017. He's arbitration-eligible for one more year and the Braves could bring him back, but he would be due a raise beyond his $2.8M and the Braves simply aren't going to pay a backup first baseman that kind of cash - even if you can occasionally swing him into left field to answer the question of who was the better defensive left fielder, Evan Gattis or Adams?

Before I forget, in an unrelated move, the Braves acquired righty Enrique Burgos from the Diamondbacks for cash. Burgos had recently been designated for assignment by Arizona to open up a spot on their 40-man roster. He's pitched often the last two seasons for the big league club (73 total games) and struggled with control and keeping the ball in yard. Burgos can strikeout a small village, but like many young arms the Braves take a chance on, he's prone to losing the strike zone on the regular. This season, in 13 innings, he's walked eleven. His walk rate has fluctuated between 11.5% and 22.7% during his career, but it's typically in the 13%-15% range. That puts a lot of unneeded stress on a pitcher.

His control issues also present themselves in another way - because he can't control the strike zone, when a pitch does flutter into the zone (typically in hitter's counts), it leads to good contact. AZ Snake Pit put it this way when referring to his numbers in the majors the last two years, "If we look at the 214 relievers with 60+ innings in 2015-16, Burgos’s BABIP of .339 ranks ninth. And his LOB% (runners left on base) of 65.8% ranks 209th. Put another way, when batters put the ball in play against him, they were considerably more likely than usual to get on base. And when runners got on base, they were considerably more likely to come around and score, rather than be stranded. The former is partly on Burgos; his hard-hit rate was 34.3%, ranking him 21st, and those hard-hit balls are more likely to turn into hits."

Burgos has a good fastball that averages 95.7 mph in the majors. He pairs that with a slider that is roughly 8 mph slower. If he can get ahead on the fastball, the slider has swing-and-miss properties.

If you are curious, Burgos has used his final option this season.

Whether or not Burgos joins Adams in the major leagues at some point is unknown. His numbers don't warrant a call-up. Right now, he's a project for the Braves to work with. A scout probably saw something that might be fixable. Hopefully, it is. Either way, you always take a chance on power arms when you can get them for cheap.