Saturday, August 18, 2012

What To Do With the Six-Man Cluster****

Again, sorry for the lateness of getting back into the blog posting bit.  Today, we signed the contract on our house and Tuesday, we have an inspection.  So...that part is good.

Against my advice, the Braves and their mental midget-in-charge Fredi Gonzalez chose to go with a six-man rotation now that Tommy Hanson is perfectly healthy (wink, wink) and no longer suffering from any back pain (nudge, nudge).  Tonight, Hanson went 6.2 ING against the Dodgers before being unceremoniously removed following an RBI double by Shane Dick-torino.  The basic lines were the same as usual.  7 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 2 walks, and 5 K's with a homer allowed.  And that included a pair of perfect frames to open the game.  62 of his 100 pitches went for strikes.  He again struggled to hit 90 mph with much consistency.

As my old friend Dennis Green might say, Hanson was who we thought he was.  Wait, he WAS who we THOUGHT he WAS.  I always forget to speak with the right amount of manufactured outrage. 

Meanwhile, Kris Medlen tossed a five-hit shutout against the Padres the previous night, lowering his already stellar ERA to 2.03 with a nasty 2.61 FIP.  He's been awesome and I am wondering if his work is making the Braves believe that with Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, and Mike Minor already returning (provided Maholm's option is picked up), Medlen fits nicely behind them and allows Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran to battle for the fifth spot.

Still...send him to the bullpen to close the year.

I know it's unfair and I know that Medlen deserves a better spot, but at the same time, the differences between Medlen and the other non-Hansonish starters is not great.  On the other hand, the difference between Medlen and Chad Durbin is huge.

It's not right and I do believe Medlen as the fourth starter in 2013 is a cinch provided he remains healthy.  However, the Braves need to find out what they have with Hanson.  In 2011, he looked like a budding ace.  In 2012, he's an afterthought.  I understand Atlanta is competing for a playoff spot, but Hanson's not so bad that he won't occasionally luck into a win.  He was "meh" tonight and the Braves were able to win.  Think Meh-anson could catch on?  I don't care, it's my new thing.

Meh-anson has roughly seven, maybe more, starts to remind Atlanta of what they have always envisioned.  I doubt he will suddenly be able to turn it on, but stranger things have happened (like the fact that Juan Francisco suddenly looks like a true MLB talent).  In the meantime, improve the pen with the arrival of Medlen.  Tonight, due to a six-man bullpen, Fredi must demand innings out of his starting rotation.  Every Day Cory was demoted and you have to think Fredi would have not sent Hanson out in the seventh inning of a 2-1 game if he had a seven-man pen.  Hell, knowing Fredi, he would have used three guys to pitch the seventh.  Regardless, maybe a run would have been spared.

This idea that the six-man rotation will be used until this run of 500 Games of Summer ends and the project is truly a try-out period seems utterly ridiculous to me.  Either you are demoting Minor or Medlen to the bullpen in September.  Meds has already proven his value coming out of the pen, even if Fredi doesn't realize it.  I'd scrap the entire idea, but okay, do your fancy six-man staff until September and prove to yourself what you already knew.  Medlen can be a starter in the majors. 

And he will be. 

In April of 2013. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Valuable is Ben Sheets?

With another solid outing the other night against the Phillies, Ben Sheets improved to 4-1 in his first five starts since June 15th.  He went a season-high 7.1 ING before being lifted and allowed one run on a solo homer while walking a batter and giving up seven hits.  Curiously, he struck out no one after entering the game with a superb 8.4 K/9 rate which might make us think that Sheets lacked his best stuff.  In addition, let's not kid ourselves - this version of the Phillies is hardly formidable.

Just the same, Sheets continued to build on his successful start and has brought a level of stability to the top of the rotation that simply did not exist after Brandon Beachy's injury.  Signing Sheets has appeared to be Frank Wren's best free agent signing to date since getting his current gig.

Naturally, Atlanta fans are beginning to be curious about how Sheets will fit in next year and beyond.  Or at all, for that matter.

Without getting the buggy before the horse, Sheets has five starts in two seasons and was last a major player for a rotation during a full season in 2008.  He's not exactly Mr. Durable.  So far, Sheets has relied heavily on his cutter to supplement his game, a stark change from his years in Milwaukee when he essentially was using his curveball to offset the hard stuff.  Now, he still has one of the game's best curveballs, but the cutter has kept batters off balanced and made his fastball all the more problematic.  The change began two years ago, when as an Athletic, he began to incorporate the cutter a career-best 5%.  Now, he uses it almost 14% of the time.  This is a considerable move for Sheets because before this year, he never had a third pitch.  He occasionally brought out the changeup, but 90-95% of the time, you either got a fastball or a curveball.  Both were great pitches and the Sheets' stuff and masterful location still made him successful.  His cutter isn't up to the level of his other two pitches, but it gives him something else and has helped to bring back the effectiveness of his curveball.

With every outing, Sheets is giving Atlanta what it desperately needed and is helping soothe the sadness of not getting an ace before the trading deadline.  In addition, he might be pricing himself out of the Braves' plans for next season.  This season, Sheets will receive the prorated amount of $2.5M, or a shade over a million.  He can and probably will reach all of his incentives if he remains healthy to add $1.5M to the total investment for Atlanta.  Even for three-and-a-half months, $2.7M or so is a paltry sum for Sheets.  He will not be that cheap in the offseason.

Obviously, I write this under the belief that Sheets remains healthy.  Chances are solid, I believe, that Sheets can command as much as $8M easily, especially over a short-term deal.  At 34 and with an injury-laden history, Sheets can probably only get two years and that's pushing it.  Some teams may look to get some assurances that they can get out of the second year of possible or simply make it a 1+1 year with an option for the second season. 

So, the question must be asked...will Ben Sheets be a Brave next year?  I want to believe that he will be provided some conditions are met.  Clearly, he has to remain healthy.  Second, I don't see the Braves engaging in a bidding war for his services.  Either their offer is good enough or he will be on his way.  That might require Sheets to take less.  And third, it cannot be anymore than two seasons.  So, if Sheets stays healthy, I'll plug in a 2-year deal with $16M plus another $4M in incentives.  $1M for 30 games started in both seasons, $1M for a Cy Young, $1M for 380 combined innings during the life of the deal.  My gut says Sheets will get more and I don't believe the Braves can match that. 

To help with finances, I would also lock up Tim Hudson for 2 years and $15M.  He has a $9M option for next season so the money saved won't be great, but Huddy might be willing to take some money deferred.  He obviously doesn't want to leave and having Huddy and Sheets at the top of the rotation until they are passed by some of the younger pitchers would provide stability and experience.  Both have injury concerns, but I believe Atlanta can take a shot.  If more payroll flexibility is required, trading Tommy Hanson is always an option.

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Not Braves related, but you may have noticed that this blog has received some sporadic updates lately.  Part of it was due to the internet issues I was having with the Verizon jetpack router.  The other part and the part that continues is that my wife and I are nearing closing on a house.  As we prepare for the move and get settled in the new house, updates might be tough.  I am excited about this blog and still have ideas.  This weekend, I hope to add a player to the Walk-Off Walk Favorite Atlanta Braves squad and also, another random prospect. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Should the Braves go to a 6-man staff?

So, as I am prone to doing, I brought up DOB's twitter account and looked for any interesting news.  Typically, there isn't much, but a retweet caught my eye.  AJC's Jeff Shultz contends that "Medlen should give Braves reason to consider 6-man staff."  Oh, really?

After explaining that Kris Medlen can do everything short of solving the debt crisis, Shultz says...
There is one option the Braves should consider, at least in the short term: a six-man rotation.
It’s a little out there, and not something a team would do in the season’s final pennant-chasing weeks (when you want your best pitchers to get as many starts as possible). But it makes sense now, both because of the circumstances of those in the Braves’ rotation and because there is an upcoming stretch of 20 straight games without an off day (beginning Friday in New York).
I like how Shultz explains the idiocy of the option and then contends how it makes sense in the next sentence.  The reason why you "want your best pitchers to get as many starts as possible" is because that helps your team win games.  And for the record, every single game counts the same.  They may mean more on September 25th than they do on August 12th, but they count the same.  In addition, yeah, it's 20 games in 20 days, but that's just four trips through the rotation and half of those games will be against sub-.500 opposition, including seven against the Padres.

Listen, I get why Meds is loved and if the decision is to let him start, that's not a terrible decision.  I think Atlanta has to explore every option under the sun to better their bullpen and that's with Medlen.  The urgency to pull a nice August trade for a good relief option (or two?) becomes all that more important.  However, if the choice is to make sure Medlen stays in the rotation, adding a sixth starter simply isn't an answer.

Shultz knows that will be the contention made by folks who have ever paid attention to baseball.

Now, there are those ruled by “numbers” in baseball who might think this idea is ridiculous.
“Six-man rotation? You sir are a moron. According to Chapter 17, subsection 12, paragraph 2 of the Sabermetrics Guide To Pitching Rotations …”

But consider:

• No. 1 starter Tim Hudson has bone spurs in his ankle. He already has received two cortisone injections. The rest would help.
• Perceived No. 2 starter Ben Sheets has started four games after not pitching in two years. Wear and fatigue could be issues.
• No. 3 Paul Maholm would be taken out of his every-fifth-day rhythm. If you consider that potentially catastrophic, raise your hand. (Anybody?)
• No. 4 Mike Minor has long surpassed his career single-season high with 116 2/3 innings (he threw 82.2 last year). Another off day should be welcomed.
• No. 5a Medlen isn’t going to complain.
• No. 5b Hanson is in no position to complain.
All valid points, but not for the argument you are making.  Because of the flimsy nature of the staff, the Braves need their bullpen at full strength.  I assume the argument here is that one of the bullpen spots would go to a starter and that would stretch a bullpen to six relievers.  Activating Hanson and installing him into the rotation would probably take Cory Gearrin or Luis Avilan's spot and if Peter Moylan makes it back all the way, he likely gets the other spot.  Your bullpen, at that point, has one long guy in Lispy Martinez to cover any time where Hudson has an episode, Sheets shows the wear and fatigue, Minor forgets to trust his stuff, and really...Hanson needs a full pen every night he pitches.  The wear and tear on the bullpen would be immense.  And what happens after August 30th off-date?  Do the Braves switch back to a five-man rotation?  Oh, wait, I'm sure we will cross that bridge, right?

And I didn't even need to access my Sabermetrics Guide to Pitching Rotations or, as we call it, common fucking sense.  By the way, Minor pitched 183.1 innings last year when you combine his Gwinnett work.  He topped 160 innings the previous season.  Why cherry-pick only his MLB numbers from last year?
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he hadn’t thought of a six-man rotation until it was brought it up.
Great.  Now you gave this bad idea to a guy who thinks because it's quirky, it must be a good idea. Thanks a heap.

Then he said, “Yeah, I could see that. Those guys have pitched well enough and they could use a breather. Minor has some issues. Hanson has issues. There’s Huddy’s [ankle]. Sheets — who knows? We could do it. The only downside is we have to go at least one short in the bullpen or with a position player.”
Those are pretty significant downsides, especially in the National League.  Maybe in a DH-heavy portion of the schedule in the AL, giving this idea shot if you have a very flexible bench wouldn't be the worst idea.  Hell, I would rather do the Rockies' inane idea of a four-man rotation on 75 pitch limits than a six man staff.

By the way...in case you missed it, that wasn't a suggestion.

Schultz finishes the article by talking up Meds.  Really, I'm not against demoting Hanson either to Gwinnett or to the bullpen to work through his problems and leaving Meds in the staff.  I think Atlanta is better off with Meds in the bullpen simply because, if Hanson is your fifth starter (provided Minor's success continues), he's not a terrible fifth starter and Meds' value is higher to the bullpen, especially in close games.  Take today for instance.  Albeit, maybe Hanson doesn't give the bullpen the ball in the sixth with no outs, two runners on...but for argument's sake, if Hanson did that and looked cooked, you don't feel as skittish going to Medlen like you do when Fredi calls on Gearrin (for the FIFTH time in SIX days, mind you).  You have a level of comfort that Medlen, as Schultz contends, can "rescue a teammate in full mound meltdown mode."

However, the choice is either Medlen or Hanson, not BOTH.  Let's not screw around just cause it's different.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Best (and Worst) of July

Atlanta finished July by tying their season best of seven consecutive wins.  That streak allowed them to close the book on July with a season-best 18-8 record.  Sadly, the Nats were only one game worse than that record so Atlanta didn't gain much on the Nationals for the month, though they were able to open a lead in the second Wild Card spot.  Not to spoil anyone's fun, but the Cardinals have been one of the most unluckiest teams up to this point so...don't be surprised to see them make another run.

Regardless, it's time to hand out some Walk-Off Walk awards for July.  Course, I'm three days late, but internet issues led to that.

Top Rookie of the Month - N/A - With the injury to Andrelton Simmons and the demotion of Randall Delgado, pickens were slim here.  

Worst Pitcher of the Month - Jair Jurrjens - It was difficult for anyone to even compete in this category because, by large, success was experienced by the majority of the staff last month.  However, one guy truly stuck out like a sore thumb.  Jurrjens has, outside of a couple of outings, been horrible this season and July was more of the same for him.  A K/9 rate of 3.38, a FIP over 5.00, and a lost rotation spot.  That is how you see your career with the Braves head south in a hurry. 

Dishonorable Mentions - Tommy Hanson, Anthony Varvaro

Worst Position Player of the Month - Dan Uggla - What can you say about Uggla's struggles except that every time he has a hit, I am reminded of a line out of Little Big League.  "Kid, don't you think there's a problem when you get that excited over a seeing-eye single?"  Right now, it's like that with Uggla.  He's still playing pretty solid defense, especially for him, and is doing everything you ask from a baseball player except hit the ball.  Last month, his slash line was pretty brutal.  .115/.281/.179.  All you can say is "cool, he's walking."  Now, recently, Uggla has started to turn things around a bit.  Hope it continues.


Dishonorable Mentions - Paul Janish, Eric Hinske

Best Pitcher of the Month - Ben Sheets - I hate giving this title to relievers and while Craig Kimbrel deserved back-to-back months as Best Pitcher, I am giving this to Sheets.  Over three starts and 18 innings, Sheets gave up just one run.  He was lucky over the month with over 94% LOB rate, but he was also extremely successful with a 3 K/BB rate.  Sheets was a big second-half pick-up for Atlanta and the Braves need him to continue for their season to be as successful as they would like.  So far, so good.

Honorable Mentions - Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor

Best Position Player of the Month - Brian McCann - A tough choice because Chipper Jones was superb over July as well.  McCann was my choice last month for worst position player, but he turned it around and led the Braves in just about every offensive power-related category.  9 HR, four more than Jason Heyward.  21 RBI, 2 more than Freddie Freeman.  .296/.354/.704 with a .408 ISO and .434wOBA.  There are few catchers that can do that over a month and McCann has done it several times over his career.  Before July, I spoke several times of how important McCann and Freeman were to the Braves' hopes of getting to October, let alone catching the Nats.  Both had tremendous July's to go with Chipper's effort.  Last month's choice for this category was Heyward and he was solid in July, but not nearly to the level of the other three.

Honorable Mentions - Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman

Howdy Paul and Reed!

So, shortly after my last post, which was about a random prospect last Sunday, our wireless internet router from Verizon met our daughter and our daughter won.  She ripped the cord out, tearing out the little metal thing that the charger plugs up to.  After the battery in the router was exhausted, our internet was out.  By the way, the MLB trading deadline is an awful time for your internet to go out.

Last Monday, Atlanta made a deal with the Chicago Cubs that was not nixed by one of the players acquired as they picked up Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson.  In exchange, Atlanta said good-bye to a pair of pitchers in Aroyds Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman

Maholm has been a solid pick-up for the Cubs this year after leaving Pittsburgh as a free agent.  The left-hander inked a 1 year, $4.25M deal with a club option for $6.5M next season and has posted a 4.13 FIP and a 4.16 SIERA so far this year.  One thing Chicago has continued from last year's season with the Pirates is that Maholm is throwing is slider a lot.  The result has been a few less groundballs as people are getting under the pitch and when it's not moving, it can and will leave the park.  However, his control has become a true asset and his K/BB rate is the best of his career.

Overall, the opinion on Maholm is valid.  You can plug him into the fourth/fifth spot in the rotation, get a durable arm (26 or more starts in six consecutive years entering this one), and your defense will have to perform.  Maholm is not going to make the top of your rotation formidable, but he rarely have the Mike Minor/Randall Delgado type of game where he gets beat up early and gets removed, burning your pen.

Johnson made my Mining for Gold list and has already appeared in a pair of games for the Braves.  For fans that love the cliche term "gamer," Johnson is your guy.  There is nothing notably impressive about Johnson, but he does a lot of things well enough.  He hits lefties, a quality many on this team struggle with.  He won't walk much, but he will get hit-by-a-pitch.  He's not overly fast, but will swipe a base and play decent defense in the outfield, especially in the corners.  Overall, you get a good talent with Johnson and he was the kind of player the Braves needed.

The package it took could be considerable or forgettable.  Chapman has been in the system since 2006 and has been almost exclusively used as a reliever.  If Chapman was a lefty, he would have made it to the bigs already.  As a righty, he gives you K's at a great rate while also struggling with his control.  If he gives up less free passes, he will be a pretty solid arm out of any pen.  Still just 25.

Of course, the jewel of this deal was Vizcaino, the hard-throwing righty who is missing this season with Tommy John.  For Braves fans who look at the package the Braves received, the fact that they gave up one of the four big arms to do so seemed like a massive overpay.  However, maybe we as fans blew the idea that teams won't give up big talent in deadline deals anymore out of proportion.  Sure, you might not be able to get a draft choice in compensation, but you still want to win and prospects aren't helping you win today, especially injured ones.  Giving the choice between not upgrading his team and keeping all of his prospects and the opposite, Frank Wren made the right choice and gave up the right prospect.

Last year, Vizcaino was untouchable, but many scouts seem to believe that his future is in the bullpen.  Those guys are very valuable, but as much as we were disappointed to trade off Tim Spooneybarger and Joey Devine, did it really matter?  The value of a league average starter and a young, high-ceiling prospect who might be best used out of the pen will never work in the favor of the prospect.  Maybe Vizcaino becomes a starter and if so, this deal starts to look worse.  However, remember that the value of Chapman is really not large and the Braves essentially acquired two useful major leaguers for an injured prospect.  Also, that prospect threw a career-high 114.1 innings last year, hardly the typical huge amount of innings that we expect to possibly land a youngster in injury hell the next season.  In addition, Vizcaino missed over two months two years ago.  I think the Braves had enough to be concerned about. 

Overall, my first thoughts were not warm on this deal and if I had internet at the time, maybe I would have blasted it.  A few days later, I like this deal.  It was the one the Braves had to make. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Random Prospect of the Day - Ian Marshall

Exactly four years before Rodney King was beaten up in 1991, Marshall was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  He became the second person from his high school to be drafted when the Mets took him in the 14th round of 2005 after a 5-2 senior season with 46 K's in 37 innings.  However, he chose to go to the University of Richmond where his brother Benji was a utility infielder. 

Marshall quickly joined the rotation, starting 8 of 11 games as a freshman with a 7.43 ERA.  2007 brought more of the same.  Despite a shutout in each of his first two seasons, Marshall was getting destroyed.  In 2008, he appeared in just five games, two starts, before injury killed his junior season.  Marshall and Richmond applied for and successfully were able to get a medical redshirt to give Marshall two more seasons.

He began to turn the corner a little in 2009 with 17 games, 5 starts, and a 6.12 ERA.  However, his K rate was the best of his college career.  He harnessed his wildness in 2010 with his best season as a five-year senior.  He went 4-4 in 19 games, 9 starts, with a 4.04 ERA, a 1.96 BB.9 rate, and set college bests in innings and K's. 

Marshall entered the 2010 draft with a small chance of getting drafted, but in the 40th round and 1,214th pick overall, the Braves selected the right-hander.  Tough to find much of a scouting report, but this blogger suggests that Marshall's velocity was in the low 90's, topping out at 94, with a curveball that was "inconsistent."  Soon after, Marshall joined the GCL Braves, but struggled in ten games, including seven starts.  He gave up five homers in 39.1 ING, but walked just 8 batters and struck out 26. 

He spent the final week-and-a-half with Danville, appearing in three games and two starts for the Braves and was pretty solid in a small sample size.  In 13.1 innings, he gave up eight hits, four earned runs, walked four, and struck out 13. 

With a shot to make a move in 2011, Marshall missed out as he needed Tommy John surgery, wiping out his entire first full minor league season.  It is difficult for guys drafted late to make a run toward the majors without injuries taking away a year. 

Marshall finally made his 2012 debut with the Rome Braves on May 11th.  The 25 year-old has pitched in eleven games with Rome and 11 more with the Lynchburg Hillcats, where he currently is assigned.  He has had more success with the former.  With Rome, in 16.1 ING, Marshall had a 1.53 WHIP, but a 9.9 K/9 rate and a 4.32 FIP.  Those numbers aren't that eye-catching, but his numbers with the Hillcats have been awful.  In 14.1 ING, he has given up four homers and nearly a 9.00 ERA.  In his last outing two days ago against Salem, Marshall gave up three hits in 1.1 ING. 

The chances that Marshall is in the Braves organization in 2013 are minimal.  He needs to start producing at Lynchburg because at 25, he is already too old for the level.  A solid run could get him to AA for 2013, but the results so far suggest that doesn't seem likely.  However, to give the guy a break, he is only 14-15 months from Tommy John surgery.  His walk rate has been high.  His BABIP is unbelievably high.  So, if he can continue to build arm strength and run some scoreless outings together, maybe the former Spider will get a shot next year.  As a Hillcat fan, I hope to see Lynchburg benefit from Marshall pitching much better in August and in the Carolina League playoffs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mining for Gold

With Kris Medlen headed to the rotation, plus reports that the Braves are looking to tinker with the roster rather than dramatically add to it, maybe it is about time to stop thinking about Josh Johnson, James Shields, and Ryan Dempster and move onto the bullpen and the bench.

This year's change to a two Wild Card method for each league is keeping a lot of teams on the verge of buyer/seller rather than knowing right now.  However, there are a few teams that the Braves should seek out for possible additions.  By my count, the Braves could use a pair of arms for the pen and a pair of bats for a punchless bench.

Chicago Cubs - RHP Shawn Camp, UTIL Jeff Baker, OF Reed Johnson
-Maybe Atlanta should pull off a multi-player deal with the Cubs to help improve their team rather than tinkering with several squads.  Camp has been one of the better players who came to camp on a minor league deal for any team this year.  After failing to get a good offer after a 3.91 FIP last season, Camp was signed by the Mariners, but discarded shortly before the season.  The Cubs pounced and Camp has a 3.35 FIP on the year.  He's not overpowering, but the Braves could use his 1.09 WHIP and 3.1 K/BB rate.  Baker has been overused on the season with 30 starts in 48 games so his WAR numbers are hurt by some bad defense, but he's having another good year with the bat (.280/.320/.466, .335 wOBA).  He's played 1B, 2B, LF, and RF and was at third base as recently as last year so he provides a flexible bat for the bench.  Johnson has always been a solid role player and this year is no different.  He hits lefties very well, though not quite as well as Matt Diaz has historically hit lefties.  However, he's not completely inept against right-handers.  All three of these players will hit the free agent market after the season and could be brought back at moderate cost.

Colorado - 1B Jason Giambi
-While he's not having the big power year he had last season, Giambi is the kind of player that could turn it around if brought into a postseason chase.  However, this is the kind of move you make if you can't get the guys you want for the right price.  Giambi should be cheap to acquire.

Houston - 1B/3B Brett Wallace
-A bit of a think-outside-the-box move.  Houston has avoided the option of putting Wallace in as the starter at first, even after dealing away Carlos Lee.  In fact, he's played more third base at AAA and even a little shortstop so maybe they envision him as a utility guy.  Wallace is posting an .871 OPS in the Pacific League, but that is a hitter's league.  He hit the ball well in a brief 11-game trail in the majors and would not be arbitration-eligible after the season so he could conceivably be a cheap option for next year.  Depends on how much the Astros value him, but a couple of arms at the A and AA level for Wallace seems possible.

Kansas City - P Jonathan Broxton
-Gone is the high strikeout guy, but Broxton has been effective this year to the tune of a 3.38 FIP.  He's no longer a dominant pitcher and the Braves shouldn't overspend for him because a team more desperate for late-inning relief probably will.  That said, if the price is right, Broxton could be a nice addition to the pen.

Milwaukee - P Kameron Loe
-Loe has been a solid performer for the Brewers for the last three years, but they might look to continue selling by cashing on one of their better pieces that could be on the market.  Loe is arbitration-eligible for one more season, though he could be expensive since he signed for $2.175M this year.  With Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty both in arbitration, adding Loe could be a lot for the team to invest into the bullpen.  Loe's stuff could play well in Atlanta as he depends on his defense to make plays for him.  His FIP is over a full run higher at 3.95 this year so the Braves should not overspend.

Minnesota - P Jared Burton
-Burton is a cheaper, less established option than Loe.  After being non-tendered by the Reds, Burton caught on with the Twins and after making the team, the right-hander has put up a 3.56 FIP, the second best K/9 of his career at 8.24, and a 3.6 K/BB rate.  He gets hurt by the homer a bit, though, so he is better suited for lower-leverage situations.  Also, like Loe, he has one more year of arbitration.

 New York Mets - P Jon Rauch, OF Scott Hairston
-Rauch is a pending free agent and MLB's tallest player ever has shook off a bad season with another good one for the Mets.  Last year with the Blue Jays, he was hurt badly by the homer ball, but playing in New York has helped eliminate that.  He has experience in high pressure situations and a 3.52 FIP on the season.  With the Braves outfield supporting him, he could be a nice, cheap pickup.  However, he has been dealing with some knee issues (Mets fans seem to hate him, too).  Hairston didn't get the memo that Not-Shea Stadium is supposed to kill your power.  His current .253 ISO is the best of his career.  Last year, it was .235 so this is legitimate power.  However, he is a severe platoon player and useless against righties, but for a team that struggles against lefties, getting a guy like Hairston could be important.  Like Rauch, he's a pending free agent.

Philadelphia - 1B/OF Laynce Nix
-Nix got a two-year deal to come to Philly and they might be hesitant to deal him, but if they are open to it, Nix could be a positive addition to the bench.  Like Eric Hinske, who he would probably replace (either right now or in 2013), Nix has to be shielded from lefties, but he has a history of beating up on righties.  In fact, of his 66 career homeruns, only two came against a left-hander. Still, that means 64 moonshots against righties and he has the ability to play all three outfield positions.

San Diego - OF Mark Kotsay
-The last Atlanta Brave to hit for the cycle won't give you any power, but is still a nice bat off the bench.  You generally keep him away from centerfield...actually, the entire outfield.  Still, I'm not looking for defense from bench pieces.  Braves could use a bat off the bench and Kotsay's can do that, though again for no power.  Free agent after the season.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Making Greinke Work

lol...I post this, turn on MLB Network, and they are reporting breaking news that Zack Greinke had been traded to the Angels.  So...this is mostly a waste.

So, from the majority of people I have in contact with, I've WAY too dramatic/pessimistic about Zack Greinke's impact on the team from what I said on my blog and at chopnation yesterday.  So, with that mind, let's rosterbate this out and fit Greinke.

July 28th, 2012: Atlanta sends Randall Delgado, Joey Terdoslavich, and Todd Cunningham to the Milwaukee Brewers for Zack Greinke.  I'm not sure it's enough, but we can quibble about that later.  I will concede that maybe Julio Teheran can be taken off the table from the Braves' side.  Milwaukee might want to deal Greinke before his scheduled start Sunday.

...a week later, Atlanta agrees to a 5 year, $102.5M contract with Greinke with a $5M signing bonus, half paid in 2012 and half paid opening day of 2013.  Now, that contract might be low.  I could be off on the total for up to $10M.  Anyway, the deal looks like this.  2013: 15.5M with $2.5M of the bonus, 2014: $21.75M, 2015: $21.75M, 2016: $21.75, 2017: $21.75.  I backloaded the deal a little so that the team would have more flexibility in 2013.

Moving on to the offseason, Atlanta has two players under contract once the season ends.  Zack Greinke and Dan Uggla = $28.7M (I'm ignoring the signing bonus for now). 

Options! Obviously, Chipper Jones' $7M club option won't be exercised since he's retiring.  Brian McCann's $12M option and Tim Hudson's $9M option, which are both of the club variety, will be exercised.  However, as my friend Bryce said, maybe the Braves can cut down on Huddy's option by extending him through 2014 with a two year deal for $12-$15M.  Jones did something similar a few years ago.  But for our purposes, the options will be exercised for McCann and Hudson for $21M, total, and puts the current payroll at $49.7M

Thinking Arby?  Atlanta has a lot of arbitration-eligible guys.  Martin Prado will probably double his $4.75M salary in the final year of arbitration with the season he's having.  Atlanta might be better off extending him to the tune of 3 years, $27M.  However, for now, let's settle at $8.75M as Atlanta plays hardball.  Eric O'Flaherty has not been as dominant, but will get a raise over his $2.75M salary to $3.5M.  Paul Janish...is it better to spend a million on him or another veteran infielder?  I don't want to bring in a lot of new guys so we will keep him around for a million, plus incentives.  The first-time arbitration guys are serious players, too.  Typically, teams try to lock up their young stud outfielders before arbitration.  Justin Upton, Grady Sizemore, Nick Markakis, and others were locked up either before their last pre-arbitration year or after the last pre-arbitration year (but before settling on a salary for that arbitration year).  Even if Atlanta does lock up Heyward, the first year of the deal will likely mimic his first arbitration year.  Adam Jones got $3.25M so I think Heyward should be in the same neighborhood.  $3.5M for Heyward.  Tommy Hanson is a tough one, but in his first year of arbitration, I'd say he would get near Heyward.  Let's put him at $3.25M.  Jonny Venters will get more than O'Flaherty did, but his struggles this year will be used to land at $2M.  Kris Medlen doesn't have a lot of reasonable comparisons, but we will put him at $1.5M, especially if he does move to the starting staff.  Old Lipsy Martinez might be arbitration eligible, but we will put him at $800K.  Am I missing anyone?  OHHH...Jair Jurrjens.  Yeah, non-tender, goodbye.  That gives us 12 players.  Total payroll at $74M.

Keeping Free Agents.  Love Michael Bourn, but the market is likely to overvalue him.  Not Carl Crawford overvalued, but overvalued.  We just can't devote roughly half of the left-over payroll to him.  See ya, Mike.  Matt Diaz?  Maybe a minor-league invite if this thumb issue keeps him out for the rest of the season.  But we will say goodbye for now.  Eric Hinske?  Not working, guy.  Jack Wilson and Chad Durbin?  Adios, guys.  That leaves the two significant free agents.  David Ross and Ben Sheets.  Provided Sheets continues to perform without any injury problems, I see him as an $8M guy in free agency.  He might love Atlanta and be thankful for the opportunity we gave him, but at this point, Atlanta is bargain shopping and Sheets just doesn't fit.  As for Rossy, it all depends on how much of a raise Ross wants from his $1.625M salary.  Two years ago today, he signed his extension.  Ross seems to love Atlanta and would provide us a veteran possibility for 2014 if McCann leaves.  He inks an incentive-laden deal that will pay him $2M a year for 2013 and 2014.  Total payroll at $76M.

Renewing Some Guys.  Atlanta may want to consider keeping costs low and try to buy out arbitration years for Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel.  Between those two, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor, I would say the Braves are committing around $2.15M just to keep them happy with over $500K rather than simply renewing their contracts.  We are at 17 players, though one is disabled.  Let's go ahead and average out $480K to get us to 30 players.  I realize that the major league roster is 25 players, but due to injuries, split contracts, and so forth, guys will ultimately get close to what I'm guessing even if the Braves add some players.  With that $6.24M added to the $2.15M from early, total payroll is at $84.39M.

Pre-Free Agency Roster
Starting Rotation - Greinke, Hudson, Hanson, Minor, Teheran/Medlen
Bullpen - Kimbrel, Venters, O'Flaherty, Martinez, Vizcaino, Avilan, Varvaro/Medlen
Catcher - McCann, Ross
Infield - Freeman, Uggla, Simmons, Prado, Janish, Pastornicky, Francisco
Outfield - Heyward, Durango, Constanza, Gartrell

Don't feel bad if you don't know the guys in the outfield.  With Prado moving to third to replace Jones and Bourn moving on to riches, the outfield becomes super thin.  I have seen zero from Francisco to believe he can be a legitimate option next year and he's a placeholder more than anything.

With about $10M left, Atlanta has serious questions in the outfield and needs at least two players, if not a better fourth outfielder.  Let's check the market and see what we can come up with.

Center field:  The free agency market for center fielders is dead after Bourn. B.J. Upton will likely be overpaid and Shane Victorino is a switch-hitter in name-only.  As much as I hate adding a left-hand bat to the equation...Atlanta sends Zeke Spruill (and maybe another piece) to the Twins for Denard Span.  A superb defender to replace Bourn, Span is a solid 3-4 WAR guy who, despite hitting left-handed, has an almost even split against left-handers as he does against right-handers.  The Twins have supposedly had Span on the market for awhile and might reallocate the money due to him ($4.75M in 2013, $6.5M in 2014, $9M club option in 2015 with a $500K buyout). 

Left field: Using Spruill to answer the problems in center gives the Braves one less trading piece for left field.  I'm keeping Gilmartin as my reserve starter in Gwinnett next year so he's off the market.  I'm thinking a platoon option might be my best bet.  To replace Matt Diaz, Jonny Gomes is signed for $1.25M.  He can't hit lefties so keep him away from them.  However, against righties, you can plop him into the middle of the order and let him rock the kasbah.  Meanwhile, I am thinking Angel Pagan does not have many suitors.  He's always been the opposite of Victorino in that even though he's a switch hitter, he historically is much better against right-handed pitchers.  $4M base salary for 2013, $6.5M team option for 2014.

Total payroll now sits at $94.39M.  I hate the bench, I'm nervous about the rotation, the bench is not improved, and I'm iffy on my pickups, but I did think that this is the kind of thing that could happen.  The bench could be improved by late spring pickups/surprises.  Still, God help this team if Hudson goes down.

Lineup - (against RH) - Span, Prado, Heyward, McCann, Uggla, Freeman, Simmons, Pagan
Lineup (against LH) - Span, Prado, Heyward, Gomes, McCann, Uggla, Freeman, Simmons

I guess it could work, though I still don't like it.  I'm not even going to get into the long-term picture just yet.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is Zack Greinke Worth It? Please.

As the saga of Ryan Dempster has became an afterthought, Frank Wren reiterated yesterday that Atlanta has moved on and is "looking for impact pitching."  While names like Josh Johnson, James Shields, and Jon Lester have been brought up, the guy who seems to get the bulls-eye is Zack Greinke.  The package could be substantial.  Unlike Dempster, Atlanta has to potentially deal with a lot of teams after the Brewers right-hander.  The Rangers, Orioles, and White Sox all look to be heavy on Greinke with a team like the Nationals as a possible last-minute addition to trade talks.

Would a package of Julio Teheran, Zeke Spruill, and Joey Terdoslavich be enough to get Greinke?  I would think that it probably would be or would be close to the price, but should the Braves do it? 

No.  The chance that Greinke would provide a significant impact on this season is minimal.  I know that the difference between Jair Jurrjens and Greinke is tremendous, but one of baseball's secrets is that deadline, impact players rarely turn a season around, nor deliver a championship.  The Giants gave up Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, who was superb and posted an OPS over .900 down the stretch (though I believe he had a few injuries).  But it did not fix San Francisco's offense, which finished dead last in R/G.  The Giants finished four games out and due to his contract's details, the Giants couldn't offer arbitration.  He left for the Cardinals.  Meanwhile, Wheeler may land in New York for the Mets sometime next year and cracked the Baseball America Top 40 before the season. 

In fact, World Series winners typically tinker with their club, not go after the best available player.  The Cardinals gave up on Colby Rasmus and added a hodgepodge of players last July, including Octavio Dotel, Rafael Furcal, Edwin Jackson, and Mike Rzhoweverthefuckhisnameisspelled.  The 2010 Giants added Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez to help their bullpen.  The 2009 Yanks added Jerry Hairston Jr.  The 2008 Phillies did acquire Joe Blanton, which some might have deemed a big move.  The '07 BoSox got Eric Gagne (who sucked).  In 2006, the Cardinals acquired Ronnie Belliard and Jorge Sosa (from the Braves).  The 2005 ChiSox went after Geoff Blum.  Now, in 2004, the Red Sox made a huge trade with a lot of moving pieces to bring Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mie-whatever in, but the guy they dealt (Nomar Garciaparra) was arguably the more notable guy. 

(Note: I realize some, if not all, of these teams made deals before July and even in August.  I'm focusing more on deadline trades.)

And as most people know, due to the new CBA, teams can't pick up compensation picks for rentals.  That's not to say that the Braves should stay pat.  They should seek out pitching, both for the rotation and bullpen.  They should seek out an outfielder to replace Matt Diaz.  They should fire Fredi Gonzalez.

But I don't believe Zack Greinke will make the Braves a contender, nor be worth the package of players the Braves will have to surrender.  But, wait, what about a window to sign an extension?  That changes everything, doesn't it?

No.  Matt Cain's $112.5 M extension over five years and Cole Hamels's freshly signed $144M extension over six years has upped the price tag quite a lot for Greinke to be a long-term option.  Even if he says "I love Atlanta, I want to be here" and signs a potentially below-market extension around $95M over five years, that's just not a price tag I believe Atlanta can deal with.  If the payroll limit is in the $95M range, paying Greinke $19M a year means that you are devoting 20% of your payroll to a pitcher who gets the ball 33 times a year, if healthy.  Adding Dan Uggla and the likely exercised options of Tim Hudson and Brian McCann and for four players, Atlanta would be devoting $53M, or 56%, of the payroll.  Martin Prado and Eric O'Flaherty have a year of arbitration left and the list of those beginning arbitration is noteworthy (Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, and Jonny Venters).  Michael Bourn and David Ross are free agents. 

Conservatively, if you add the arbitration-eligible guys I mentioned, I would say the Braves would have $25M to fill the rest of their team (15 players).  That's the entire bench and a hole in CF without any legitimate in-house options.  McCann/Hudson are free agents after 2013 and Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel are added to the arbitration crowd in 2013. 

Atlanta would be better off tinkering with the team, dropping some deadweight, and hoping to catch lightening in a bottle.  Trading for Greinke is exciting, but unless Liberty Media wants to give Frank Wren another $10-$15M of payroll space to work with, extending Greinke could potentially railroad the Braves.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Too Much Meds

As Tommy Hanson walked a small village (and showed them second base as well) over five miserable innings (but he got the win because he's a gamer), Fredi needed to go to the bullpen quite early.  He called upon Kris Medlen and all Meds did was not allow a hit over three innings and walk just one while striking out five.  In five innings, Hanson allowed an average of two runners an inning and Meds only allowed one while facing ten batters.

Since early this season, "Medlen to the rotation" has been a supported alternative by Braves fans to the mess that has become the rotation.  The Braves entertained the idea briefly as they sent Medlen down for a three-start run as a starter at Gwinnett.  However, the results weren't that particularly noteworthy.  He struggled in his debut, was solid in his second game, and average in his third outing.  In the time he went down, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado showed some life, the bullpen was struggling badly, and the choice was pretty easy to put Meds back in the pen.

Since the recall, he's allowed four earned runs in 26 innings with solid metrics to back up his success.  His July FIP is at a Kimbrelesque 2.34.  So why are the Braves fiddling around with Jair Jurrjens or acquiring some guy named Ryan Dempster (hey, Ry-Ry...thanks for the love)?  Why not just do what the Braves were thinking about in early June and put him in the rotation?

I have been pretty consistent on my thinking when it comes to Medlen - Leave him in the pen.  Not because I support Atlanta's decision-making process (flip a coin, eeny-meeny-miny-moe, jump to conclusion mat).  Instead, I look at the data and, while the Braves could add a player or two to change this decision, I question how you can move Meds from the pen when it had been pretty miserable this season.

When Jonny Venters began to struggle with his sinker, the bullpen was undone by its reliance on him.  With Venters right, the bullpen looked stellar with the O'Ventbrel combination supported by long man, Lispy Martinez, and rubber arm Chad Durbin.  However, in a major league bullpen, one weak link could screw up everything.  Not that it has been all Venters' fault.  We have seen O'Flaherty struggle, Lispy has been incredibly unlucky (2.98 FIP, 2.55 SIERA, 4.21 ERA), and really, who in their right mind ever wants to depend on Derrrbin to do anything but suck?

But Venters was the key to success or failure for the Braves and his numbers took a bad dive.  Since his activation, he has looked more like himself in low pressure situations, but I'm not ready to say he's all the way back.  Even if he is, I'm not sure moving Meds out of the pen makes a lot of sense.  Someone else has to be relied on in close games than the top three.  Martinez has been used in low-leverage long-relief situations and maybe he deserves a bigger, expanded role...but the baseball Gods have shit all over him this season.  Durbin?  Please.  Peter Moylan's on the comeback trail, but he hasn't been a solid, healthy player since 2009.

Moving Meds might seem like the simple, easy answer.  But beyond just the impact that a move would have on the bullpen, who's to say that Medlen's success would translate to the starting rotation?  It's tough to value his split statistics because the sample is small, but in a shade over a hundred innings as a starter, Meds has posted a 4.22 FIP.  Like I said, that number is hurt by the sample size, but common sense tells us that that there is a difference between starting and relieving in how pitchers attack hitters, use their pitches, and conserve energy.  In Medlen's case, however, that might not be that significant.  Medlen's K/9 numbers aren't significantly impacted by starting/relieving and in fact, this season, Meds has slightly re-invented himself and given up K's for groundballs.

And while it may seem logical to say that the Braves should acquire a reliever or two and move Meds to the rotation, does that make the Braves more formidable?  It might make them slightly better, but the Braves still need a better starter, especially with Hanson continuing to regress to Kyle Davies II.  Unless you believe that Medlen can be that guy to fortify the top of the rotation that is a Tim Hudson oblique strain away from being non-existent.  I like Medlen, but I don't think he will provide much of a change over Delgado at this point.  I'm warming up to the idea of allowing Medlen to battle for a spot next spring, but at this point, his value is just too high in the pen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Correction: Mike Minor Is Showing Progress

If I am going to call out other bloggers for their comments, it is only right that I call out myself when I make a booboo.  When the choice was made before Ben Sheets' return to go with Mike Minor over Randall Delgado, I questioned it here.  While I would later walk it back a little by sharing the fact that demoting Minor would use up his final option, I did not believe from a pitching standpoint, the move was the right one.

Meanwhile, Minor has gotten better in each start since Boston destroyed him on June 24th.  He has given the Braves six innings in his last three starts while allowing less than three earned runs in each of them.  His metrics in those starts have improved over what has been a disappointing season.  Of course, this being Atlanta, he's 1-1 in those starts, but the efforts have simply gotten better.  Yesterday, for the first time since May 11th and fourth time this season, he didn't walk a batter.  He's going to give up homers because he's a young flyball pitcher, but the Braves need him to limit the damage of those homeruns and one quick way is to make hitters have to "hit" their way on (get it?).  Walks and not homers have been the smoking gun for Minor's success.  Avoid the free passes, possibly get deep into the game, ultimately give the team a better chance to win.

It's a simple formula.  In The Office, Pam said her formula to win a race was to start out fast, run fast during the middle, and run fast at the end.  Jim asked why more people don't do that?  It's quite difficult to avoid walks, especially when you can't just rear back and throw a killer fastball.  You need to be able to throw quality strikes and force hitters into counts where they have to go after the curveball and slider in hopes of staying alive. 

Minor has been able to do that recently.  He has shown the progress that Fredi Gonzalez said he was.  He has an important two months left to stake his claim to a rotation spot for next season.  More games like last night and he will likely be the fourth starter to open next season and won't have to fight for his spot.  A regression back to the first three months and the Braves will be forced to solidify the rotation this offseason.  Well, they might have to regardless, but it would force their hand instead of being in a position to make the move if it's there.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oh, Jair...

After getting lit up yet again, it is time for the Atlanta Braves to Kawakami Jair Jurrjens and give up on this dream that he will get it back. 

Not to get into a hyperbolic sermon that the media typically goes to in efforts to make more out of a game/series than needs to be made, but today's game and this weekend series with the Nationals was pretty big.  After the magical Friday victory and Ben Sheets the Sequel going well, Atlanta had failed against John Lannan in the night-cap of Saturday's double header and needed Sunday for a series win.  On the mound was Jurrjens, who San Francisco pounded for 8 hits and 8 runs in 3.1 ING his last time out. 

But before many in the crowd had even found their seats, Jurrjens had just about handed the game to the Nationals (though Friday's game had to weigh on their minds).  Three batters in, it was 2-0.  At the end of the first, the deficit had doubled.  After navigating through the second with no further damage, Jurrjens couldn't put away Ryan Zimmerman with two strikes to open the third.  On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Zimmerman pulled his second homer of the day.  After a double and a grounder, Jurrjens gave up another double to end his day.  2.1 ING, 9 hits, 6 runs.  So, for funsies, that's 17 hits and 14 runs in his last two starts, which amounts to 5.2 ING and a 22.24 ERA.  Now, I think ERA is a stupid statistic, but there's no amount of variables to put a nice shine on that. 

Sidebar: During MLB.com's Gameday coverage, they put little things up called "Scout" tips.  Basically, they are little odd stats that often are useless, but I like this one that came up when Michael Morse followed Zimmerman's second homer with a double.

"Scout: That was pitch number 45 for Jair Jurrjens; his effectiveness may start slipping, as he holds opposing hitters to a .310 average in the first 45 pitches but they hit .400 off him after that."

Makes ya think that maybe, just maybe, this is some computer that saw a perimeter where there was a .90 point swing in the batters' average and added it to Gameday.  No rational person would have considered the first .310 average to be at all worthy of even implying effectiveness.

Incidentally, the game where everyone thought Jurrjens was back was exactly a month ago.  Against the Red Sox, at Fenway, Jurrjens pitched into the 8th inning and kept the Sox at bay while showing slightly increased velocity and a better ability to get strikes than he did in his four shitty April starts or his ten shitty AAA starts.  Since then, he hasn't been quite as good/lucky.  He hasn't gotten Giants/Nats plastered in all of his starts, but when your walk rate matches your strikeout rate over five starts, something is amiss, especially when before this season, you average 2 K's to a walk. 

Face it, Braves.  Jurrjens is cooked.  Maybe you can take some other team's project back in a trade, but not even sure you want to do that.  But he should be demoted tomorrow before the Braves open their series with the Marlins.  According to DOB, since the 26th man for double headers is kind of a quirky little rule, players called up as the 26th man are not bound by the rule that a player demoted must stay down ten days unless an injury forces the call up.  That said, Randall Delgado should be getting his shit together for a trip down to Miami.  Delgado has not been great this year, but compared to Jurrjens, he has been amazing.  If he can learn to adjust to the batters' third time seeing him, he might be a true asset over the final two months.  That's more than anyone can say about Jurrjens.

It's been fun, Jair.  Really has.  When Wren/Schuerholtz fleeced the Tigers of you for an aging Edgar Renteria, it was a great move.  Not sure if it was the knee, the confidence, the SABR catching up to you, or what...but you are finished.  At least in Atlanta.  With his track record, Jurrjens will likely get a small base salary contract next year after he's non-tendered.  Probably plenty of incentives.  A team like Houston would love you, but see about San Diego or Seattle first. 

Of course, there is the very real possibility that Atlanta will stick with him unless they pick up a starter in a deal. 

If that's the case, this blog will likely start looking toward 2013. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

An Odd Friday Night

I don't usually care to sit here and talk about how awesome it is to be a fan.  There is a place for that, but that's not my blog.  I'd prefer to analyze players, question Fredi Gonzalez's choices, and talk about random prospects that probably get no play anywhere else.  I'll leave the fandom to the amazing Lauren at Love My Bravos.

Usually.

However, tonight was different.  Just a lot.  Coming into what has to be termed a huge series (though not as huge as the media wants to play it), Atlanta touched down in Washington after a disappointing series against Melky "Douchenozzle" Cabrera and the Giants.  They were 2-6 against the Nats on the season with four games on tap, including a double header tomorrow.  Down 3.5 games (three less wins) in the standings, a bad series against the Nats would put them in a tough spot.  A good series might be the catalyst to catapult past the Nats in August.  Splitting the series wouldn't have been bad, but not ideal.

So, Tommy Hanson not taking his "do-not-suck" pills before coming to the park didn't help Atlanta's chances.  With two outs in the first, Hanson became unglued and gave up a three-run bomb to Michael Morse that ricocheted off the Washington Monument.  In the fourth, he again went to pieces and the Nats again began a rally with two outs and finished with another monster homer, this time by Ryan Zimmerman.   6-0.  Game was over at that point.

Hanson preceded to continue his transformation into Kyle Davies II with a fifth inning that began back-to-back singles as Hanson couldn't hit his spots.  Fortunately, that was it for Hanson as Fredi came out to tell him to tip his cap and thanked him for not getting spooked.  Walk-Off Walk favorite, Luis Avilan, got the call.  After a line-out, a wild pitch, and a walk, Avilan faced Stephen Strasburg and...walked him.

I turned the TV off.  I didn't exactly give up on the Braves because I continued to keep the game channel up to keep an eye on the game, but I simply couldn't watch as the game went from a seven-run deficit to a nine-run bloodbath.

Resigning myself to a terrible start to the series that still promised starts from Jair Jurrjens, Randall Delgado, and Ben Sheets (the Sequel), I wondered how the bullpen would be overworked.  Maybe Avilan could go a few innings.  Maybe Lispy Martinez could get to the final out.  Maybe the bullpen would be saved a little.

But a strange thing started to happen as I occasionally clicked the tab for the game under my Firefox.  Brian McCann hit a two-run homer off Strasburg.  Cool, we won't be shutout.  Later in the inning, Dan Uggla singled and Eric Hinske hit a double that nearly was another two-run shot.  Martin Prado would bring them in with a double.  9-4

Oh, shit.  This is kind of an actual rally.  Now, I love numbers and I don't get too much joy from superstitions or believing the game has some magical quality where anything, however ridiculous or unlikely, can occur.  But as I was given the choice to see where this now 9-4 game after six innings would go, I couldn't turn the TV back on.  With it on, they got blasted 7-0.  Since I pressed the power button, they were leading 4-2.  Probably nothing, but it doesn't hurt to believe you actually matter in some small way, does it?

The seventh passes quietly and we head to the 8th.  Former Nats closer Drew Storen gets the call and here is a guy who just made it back from surgery and was dominant at times for Washington last year.  Uggla steps back in and singles.  Not satisfied, the guy who fans think should be benched swipes second.  That's cool and all, but reality is about to step in...wait, Paul Janish walks?  Hmm, if Juan Francisco can line up one of his occasional moonshots, it's a two-run game.  No, he K's.  That's the Francisco I know.  Michael Bourn will step up and...wait, another K.  Well, the rally was fun while it lasted, but...oh, Prado works a walk to load them and Heyward follows suit, scoring Uggla.  Yeah, but everyone knows the Braves don't get a hit with runners on so...Grandpappy Chipper becomes the All-Time Leader among 3B in RBIs with a two-run single.  Freeman singles home Heyward.  Holy hell, it's 9-8.  This shit just got real!

Still, I refuse to turn on the game.  I know perfectly well the team doesn't give a shit if I watch or not.  I know that there are no baseball Gods saying "don't you dare mess with the cosmic forces."  But...I gotta hold out some hope on this one.  Suddenly, it was October 9th, 2005 again.  Braves/Astros, Game 4 of the NLDS.  It was sitting in the same spot thinking that this could be the moment the Braves take the lead.  Have I mentioned that I hate Chris Burke?

Momentum's wonderful and all, but the Nats had Tyler Clippard in their arsenal and the Braves have always treated him like Cy Young (1.04 ERA in 26 games) so this game is in the bag for the Nats.   And there's Uggla AGAIN.  And he walks to open the inning.  After a wild pitch, Janish tries to bunt him to third and Clippard beans him instead.  What the what?  David Ross steps in and K's for the first out.  Bourn follows with an amazing piece of hitting, tripling off Clippard to send the two runners home and make it 10-9.  You can't make this shit up.

Of course, being Atlanta and more specifically, the 2012 Braves, Craig Kimbrel gives up a one-out homer to Danny Espinosa.  10-10.  Kimbrel, working his third straight day, probably didn't have as good moment as he expects.

This game is over.  No way, with the Braves bullpen, do the Braves win this one now.  All of those hopes were for nothing.  Might as well start watching now and I went ahead and finally turned the game on, expecting a walk-off from the Nats at some point.  After a quiet tenth, the eleventh opened with Uggla...AGAIN...AGAIN...hitting a grounder that Ryan Zimmerman somehow gets to.  He rushes a throw while doing a 360 and it gets past Adam LaRoche.  Uggla takes second and then third as a wild pitch to Janish, who again was only trying to bunt, puts Atlanta in prime position to take the lead.

With the infield in, Janish sends a blooper to short left.  Ian Desmond gets there, but can't make the catch.  Uggla, taking a chance that even if he does, he won't be able to throw him out trying to get back to the bag, had bolted home before the ball dropped.  He scores for the go-ahead run and it's 11-10.  Braves have another shot to increase the lead, but Jason Heyward grounds out on a 3-1 pitch.

All up to Chad Durbin.

Shitballs.

But a strange thing happened.  Durbin delivered that often spoke-of, never-seen "shutdown inning."  To cap if off, Uggla (AGAINx3) makes a stupendous stop on a what should have been a two-out single and throws the runner out to end the game.  The Braves had come all the way back from 9-0, weathered the storm after their awesome closer blew just his second save, and won in eleven innings.  The ramifications won't be known until later.  Was this the game that changed everything?  Will Atlanta sweep the Nats and run away with the division?  Or will the good feelings created by the game be dashed by a double-header sweep by the Nats tomorrow?  The future will ultimately decided just what this game meant, if anything.

Regardless, tonight a fan went through all the motions.  Excitement, dismay, wondering why he cares, why he even bothers with this team...to...amazement, disbelief, and wondering why anyone, anywhere, can ever say that baseball is boring.  This is the world's best sport.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Random Prospect of the Day - Joe Leonard

Time to get back to the offensive side of the Braves' prospects with the random number #82 under the offensive stats minor league page at baseball-reference to get today's choice...Joe Leonard.

I love using photos from the Hillcats mainly because that's the franchise I grew up around and plus...every other minor league affiliate uniform is the same. At least the green-and-gold is different.

Leonard is a big boy.  His minor-league profile has him at 6'5" and he looked it when I saw him frequently in Lynchburg last season.  A third-baseman, Leonard enters any discussion on Chipper Jones's future replacement by default, though Leonard has not provided the kind of pop Atlanta had to be hoping for after spending their third round selection of 2010 on him.  Leonard's father played briefly in organized ball in 1982 for the Bluefield Orioles as a teammate of Billy Ripkin.  John Leonard had this fun nugget.  He was drafted six times and twice by the O's before signing.  Back then, they had a secondary phase to the draft so that added up.  Still, Leonard only played three games with Bluefield in the Appy League. 

The younger Leonard went to the University of Pittsburgh after starring at a high school roughly 60 miles away from Pittsburgh.  At Pitt, Leonard quickly became a starter for the Panthers, starting all 52 games he played in.  He hit .335 with a .879 OPS as a freshman while striking out 40 times to 17 walks.  His sophomore season was pretty similar, though over a shorter amount of time (42 games).  Not sure if he was injured or the Panthers played less games for postseason/weather reasons.  He improved his K/BB rate to 23/12.

His junior season of 2010 was a bit more explosive as he batted .433 in 55 games, posting a ridiculous 1.151 OPS with new highs in every offensive category.  He was selected Big East Player of the Year, a second team All-American, and even closed down a team-high eight games for the Panthers.  After the Braves grabbed him with the 101st overall selection, six picks after Addison Reed was picked, Leonard held out until the end of June before signing on.  Of the top ten selections for Atlanta that year, he was the final one to sign.  Leonard could have returned to school, but a nearly $325,000 bonus gave him enough reason to become a Brave.

Once signed on, Leonard joined Danville for a brief ten-game run, but the Braves aggressively moved him up to Rome to finish 2010.  Overall, in 39 games between the two stops, Leonard hit .270 with a disappointing .310 OBP, but an encouraging .439 SLG.  He picked up 15 extra-base hits, four of which left the yard, but his K/BB ratio was 29/9.  Still, being that he turned 22 that August and didn't fall flat on his face, the Braves were going to keep pushing him along.

I saw Leonard often in 2011 as a member of the Hillcats.  I remember that he, along with Adam Milligan, often came to the plate to country music and because I hate country music, I never really liked to see them come up.  The results at the plate, at least for Leonard, were not what he had in mind.  He struggled to a .247 AVG, picked up a .311 OBP, and failed to slug .400.  Not what you expect from a corner infielder.  He finished third on the team with 27 doubles and fourth with 8 homers, but his experience in the Carolina League was hardly notable.  He did display some relative smoothness at third, which goes in line with the college scouting reports that he had the ability to be an above-average fielder. 

However, with Edward Salcedo coming to Lynchburg, Leonard had to move on and has shown more life in Mississippi this year.  He's hitting .272 with a .343 OBP, but his slugging is still lagging at just .402.  When you look at Leonard, you expect power and up to this point, he hasn't been able to show it.  He has homered in two of his last six games, but that only gives him six for the season.  Atlanta has tried to give him a couple of games at first to probably improve his versatility as well.

Overall, with Leonard, the next month-and-a-half is very important.  A rocking August could put him in the running to get a spring invite with a shot to impress next year.  With the failed Joey Terdoslavich as a 3B experiment behind us, Leonard becomes the most "ready" option in the minors to replace Chipper Jones.  He has the opportunity to become a player.  But first, he has a to cement himself as a legitimate prospect.  The Braves are patient, but if he gets lapped by Salcedo, Leonard's chances are slim to stake his claim to a roster spot in Atlanta.  He's got to establish himself before the 2014 spring training. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to Leonard's power.  If he can hit a few more out of the park, he becomes a viable option because he should hit for a good enough average, has shown improving plate discipline, and seems to be defensively adequate at worst.  But 10-15 homers from a 3B?  Don't think that will be enough. Though, the Walk-Off Walk bump was enough for his Mississippi teammate Luis Avilan.  Maybe it will give Leonard another five-to-seven moonshots this year. 

The Starting Rotation: Most Disappointing in 20 Years

This blog post seems oddly timed after Mike Minor gave me the old "screw you" for my comments the other day by throwing six fairly solid innings against the San Francisco Giants before the bullpen was destroyed by Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco (12 homers in over 1600 plate appearances between the two).  Nevertheless, one game does not change the fact that the argument can be made that no starting rotation has been more frustrating in the past 20 years than the one that has been out there for the Braves this season.

Not all of it is truly the rotation's fault on performance alone.  You can't prepare or predict for the injury to Brandon Beachy and Tim Hudson did miss roughly a month.  And having Tyler Pastornicky start at shortstop and post a -12.3 UZR in 327.2 innings at one of the top three most important defensive positions on the field can't help your pitching staff.  Further, let's be honest...you can't escape bad luck and Atlanta has had its fair share for John Schuerholtz selling his soul for 14 division titles.

Regardless of those things working against them, this rotation had incredibly high expectations and has not come remotely close to performing at that level.  Even 80% of what the Braves could have expected would have been a noticeable improvement over the struggles this staff has had.  I don't care if Craig Kimbrel is awesome times awesome (awesome squared), he shouldn't lead your pitchers in WAR.  He's a closer!  He pitches three-to-five innings a week and often, less.

Tommy Hanson is 10-5, which sounds awesome for a guy whose win-loss record has often been "meh," but as I said about Greg Maddux, win-loss records are stupid.  Hanson is having the worst season of his major league career and it sadly has occurred in the season he was probably the most important pitcher to the Braves.  Beachy's performance was able to hide Hanson to a degree, but since Beachy has gone down, Hanson has continued to perform at a sub-standard level with a 4.47 FIP and 4.05 SIERA.  Both marks are considerably higher than his previous worsts.  He's suffering from Jurrgenitis, a condition that lowers velocity, takes away movement from the fastball, and allows for more flyballs to leave the yard.  Last year, Hanson's K rate rushed past one an inning and his performance was more in line with a budding ace.  This year...he's been the quiet reason why Atlanta's rotation has failed so fantastically.

Of course, the originator of Jurrgenitis, one Jair Jurrgens, is another big reason, but the Braves really shouldn't have been that surprised by his failure.  I realize Jurrgens has always been able to outperform his peripherals, but shouldn't Atlanta have been able to take that under advisement?  Maybe they did and that's why he's often entered trade rumors.  I don't know.  Frank Wren never returns my phone calls and apparently, I deserved some lawyer calling and throwing around terms like harassment and verbal abuse.  You can make the argument that Atlanta should send Jurrjens to the pen and bring back Randall Delgado, but the difference between the two isn't that stark, I suppose, and I guess Wren can hold out hope someone has some serious beer goggles and sends him a gift card to Lowe's for Jurrjens.  Otherwise, Jurrjens will almost certainly be non-tendered and become some other team's problem.

Or...have a super season, become an All-Star, mock the Braves, and land a big multi-year deal.  By the way, fuck you Melky Cabrera.

Delgado is part of the troublesome rookies with Minor.  Both have had their moments, both have had their terrible outings.  I still like Delgado over Minor, but other factors (options, most specifically) neutralized my venom.  Neither has taken a true step forward and Atlanta needed one of them, or Julio Teheran, to do so this season.  Teheran has lost some of his luster as his struggles in AAA have continued from month-to-month, though a good number of experts on the subject point to his age and the likelihood he's still figuring out how to best use all of his pitches as a likely cause of his disappointing 2012.

The impact that this rotation has had on the rest of the team is tremendous.  The bench has been a major let-down and the bullpen has been horrid save Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, and Eric O'Flaherty.  But the rotation is key and has magnified the weaknesses of the bullpen and of the bench has it has placed too much importance on those other facets.  Delgado has gone six innings five times and never back-to-back.  Hanson has gone six in eleven of his games so that's slightly more improving, though he's actually pitched worse than Delgado.  Jurrjens?  Twice in nine games.  Minor went six innings four consecutive times in his first five starts, but only four times in his last twelve, though he has done it in back-to-back games.  That's a lot of wear-and-tear on the bullpen.  That's a lot of at-bats for the bench to be a deciding factor in the pitcher's spot.

The talent level of this rotation doesn't match the Big Three years by a long shot, but I would say it's considerably better than rotations expecting key contributions from Horaco Ramirez, Kyle Davies, John Thomson, Chuck James, and Jo-Jo (seriously, fuck you too) Reyes.  And while this rotation will outproduce those rotations, it should be by a larger margin.  It shouldn't be even close.  Hanson employs a deliriously good slider.  Hudson has the ability to induce 20 groundball outs and not even be dominant while doing so.  Minor and Delgado are legitimate top prospects, whose numbers in the minors weren't smoke-and-mirrors but notable and true.  Jurrjens has always been waiting for the other shoe to fall, but he shouldn't have regressed this badly to the other side of the mean.

The expectations were reasonably high for this rotation.  It may have lacked the star power of the Phillies and Nationals, but its depth and overall level of ability from 1 to 7 was high and only matched by one or two teams.  Injuries will play its unfortunate role and who knows if Arodys Vizcaino would have been the x-factor.  But that does not excuse the undeniable disappointment this rotation has been.  Braves fans shouldn't have to be this excited about Ben Sheets.  They shouldn't droll at trade targets to be the answer.

But they are.  This rotation, to this point, has given them no reason not to.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Favorite Braves List - Ace

(Previous information about this list can be found here.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
CA - Brian McCann
1B - Fred McGriff

To keep this list from dragging on from position-to-position, from now on, there will be a pitcher added to the team followed by a position player.  And unlike position players, there are no honorable mentions for most of the pitchers.  After all, while they may not be the ace of the starting staff, they could still make the team elsewhere.  Adam LaRoche has only one shot to make the team. 

Favorite Braves List - Ace
Greg Maddux

There are so few players that are more fun to use when playing the game "Fun With Numbers" than Greg Maddux.  For instance, Maddux recorded 546 putouts as a pitcher.  That's the best in history, but what is far more amazing than just being the best is the difference between first and second place (Kevin Brown in this instance).  Brown recorded 158 fewer putouts.  Jaime Moyer is considered the active leader at 279 and Moyer has pitched for 72 years.  Tim Hudson is second on the active list with 226, or 65th all-time.

I mean, in the sheer volume of amazing statistics that Maddux amassed in his illustrious career, putouts as a pitcher is hardly the most exciting, but it's still fun.  For me.  But, I am a dork. 

While Tom Glavine was the franchise's pick and John Smoltz left everything on the field, Maddux took the ball every fifth day (33-36 starts in every non-strike-shortened season) and performed often at heights few in this game have ever reached.  As a Brave, he took home fis final three Cy Youngs of his four straight award-winning seasons.  Twice, Maddux finished in the top five in MVP voting.  He did so without the aid of a mid-90's fastball, the world's best changeup, an unhittable splitter, or even an Eephus pitch.  Instead, Maddux employed sound mechanics, fearless resolve, and out-thought even the most astute hitters.  Well, aside from Tony Gwynn.

When people like to cite win-loss records for pitchers, I tend to think of Maddux.  From 1992 to 1998, Maddux finished with a FIP of 2.85 or lower.  He finished 1996 with a 15-11 record, but a 2.73 FIP.  That same team helped John Smoltz to his Cy Young-award winning season of 24 victories and finished fourth in runs scored for the season.  However, I guess it hurts that in 16 of his 35 starts, Atlanta scored three or less runs.  Maddux even lost two of his five complete game efforts. 

The even crazier thing is Javy Lopez caught 17 more innings than Eddie Perez for him that year.  Win-loss records are fucking stupid.

Mad Dog played for three other teams, but pitched over 500 innings more with the Braves than he did with the Cubs and had his best years with Atlanta as part of the Big Three.  Probably the biggest free agent acquisition of the franchise's history (yes, that includes some lady named Ruth), Maddux arrived in 1993 and simply posted the third best WAR of his career.  His two best seasons had yet to be played.

A strike-shortened 1994 robbed Maddux of seeing where his 1.559 ERA would ultimately rank over a full season, but since the dead-ball era, only Bob Gibson (1.123 in 1968) and Dwight Gooden (1.529 in 1985) have posted better ERAs than Maddux did in 1994. 

Since 1994, the closest anyone has come to Maddux is...well, Gregory Alan Maddux in 1995 with a 1.631 ERA.  Maddux posted his first of two 8 WAR seasons with an even 8.0 WAR while posting a 0.99 BB/9.  That's asinine.  It would be even more astounding if Maddux didn't better that number two years later.  His 0.81 WHIP in 1995 was sixth all time.  Better than Christy Mathewson ever did.  Better than Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, Mordecai Brown, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and even better than Old Hoss Radbourn.  Thank God I could reference that name!  When Maddux completed his 1995 season, that WHIP actually stood fifth all-time, but Pedro Martinez's historically awesome 2000 season was better and pushed him down a notch.  In fact, Martinez owns the single season record in WHIP with 0.74. 

After his absolutely crappy 1996 season with just a measly 15-11 record (and 7.8 WAR), Maddux posted his single-season best of 8.2 WAR in 1997.  Included was a ridiculous walk rate of 0.77 BB/9.  To put that in terms of holy shit, Maddux walked 20 batters in 232.2 innings pitched.  Oh, and six were intentional. 

After a 7.6 WAR follow-up season in 1998, his production level tapered off a little to merely damn good. For the first time since 1988-1991, he posted four consecutive seasons with a FIP over three (the nerve) and the Braves, with the added pressure of financial troubles, decided to let Maddux go after a 36-start 2003 season in which Maddux turned 37.  He returned to Chicago and for five seasons, continued to take the ball whenever asked and at 42, while admittedly pitching in some friendly parks in Los Angeles and San Diego, Maddux turned in a 4.09 FIP and a 1.21 WHIP.  You have to be insanely good in your career to end your career with that much of a "down season."  From 1988 to 2008, his final season, his innings pitch LOW was 194 innings.

But Livan Hernandez is durable.  Maddux was extraordinary at his best and above average at his worst.  While a Brave, he was simply awesome.  In 363 starts, a shade over 2500 innings, and nearly 200 victories, Maddux put up a 2.63 ERA.  Only the dead-ball pitchers in franchise history were ahead of him when he left the Braves.  His WHIP as a Brave?  1.05...franchise best for anyone over a thousand innings. 

And I don't want to hear a thing about how he was small come October.  First, I hate the sample size issues with the playoffs, but regardless, he did post a 3.27 ERA in almost 200 innings in the playoffs, the lion-share coming with the Braves.  He recorded some notable stinkers along the way, but competition is pretty stiff in the playoffs.  To put it simply, the Braves have only one World Championship to show for their Streak, but the fault isn't on Maddux. 

To sum up, the Professor was an easy choice to be the ace of this four man rotation that will lead the Walk-Off Walk Braves. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ben Sheets: First Impressions

I left the house at 1:30 this afternoon for some father/daughter time, though the off-and-on rain put a damper on that.  Still, after some fun, we got back around 5:00 in time to send the wife to work and get dinner ready for the munchkin before bed time.  Then...it was to the TV and lovely DVR recording of the Mets/Braves. 

Ben Sheets was superb and that goes beyond just the numbers, which were excellent at 6 innings, 2 hits (including a double), a walk, and five strikeouts.  He threw 88 pitches and 57 went for strikes and with the highly inconsistent C.B. Bucknor behind the plate, that is an insanely notable accomplishment.  Probably was (and should have been) on a pitch limit so six efficient innings and a win to his record (and my J.V. fantasy team). 

His curve was working for most of the game, but was especially good early.  Ruben Tejada K'd on one to open things, Daniel Murphy flew out to Michael Bourn on another, and another ended the first when Ike Davis essentially flipped the bat after it to fly out to Jason Heyward.  He did fall in love with it a bit much in his one "bad" inning in the third.  Against Murphy, he used a pair of curves to help get a strike two and had Murphy guessing curve again, but Sheets went with his fastball and Murphy purposely fouled it away without much of a stride.  Instead of doubling up on the fastball with Murphy sitting curve, Sheets threw another breaking ball and it was a hanger.  Murphy drilled it to left-center and only the slowness of Jose Thole kept a run from scoring.  Sheets navigated the potential disaster by retiring David Wright and didn't allow another runner to reach.

Sheets' fastball was sitting around 91 mph, though he did get it up to 93 mph from what I saw.  What was more key that velocity was that he kept it low and generally on the corners.  He hit Brian McCann's glove with regularity.  He didn't go up in the zone with it very much, though he did get a K against Wright to end the sixth that way. 

Early on, he struggled with his cutter as it had a little too much movement to it and righties easily laid off of it.  Later in the game, he was able to effectively utilize it and when Sheets has all three pitches working like that, there is not a lot a hitter can do.  It's difficult to tell the difference in velocity between his cutter and his changeup so maybe more of his cutters were actually changeups because I don't recall many of them.  That said, they tended to still have a good deal of bite to them, but were closer to the zone to allow hitters to offer at them.

Overall, you love when a pitcher exits a game and your sole complaint is that he should have gotten a bunt down.  Damn good performance.  Now, hopefully the sequel isn't a letdown. 

Mike Minor Over Randall Delgado? RLY?

Updated: 10:30 PM, 7/15 - Dr. Brave at Chopnation brought something to my attention that I forgot in my haste to complain about this move.  Demoting Mike Minor would likely exhaust his options and force the Braves (and any team they possibly trade him to) into a tough decision if Minor plays himself into a demotion at a later date.  When you look at it that way and with Randall Delgado not exactly setting the world on fire, I am tempted to completely withdraw my objection to the decision.

According to something that goes by the name Vivlamore, the Braves have decided to demote Randall Delgado for Ben Sheets.  I get the idea.  Delgado gets a start Monday at Gwinnett and gets brought back up on Saturday for the double header in D.C.  That's cool.

The move means left-hander Mike Minor will keep his spot in the rotation and will likely pitch Wednesday against the Giants. The Braves had to choose between Minor and Delgado to make room for Sheets as both youngsters have struggled this season.
“It was a tough decision between him and Minor,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The last couple starts with Minor we felt there was some progress being made.”
Wait...what?  First off...why would you need to throw out Minor on Wednesday?  Ya know, I'll get back to that.

What "progress" is being made by Mike Minor?  He looked decent against the Cubs on the fifth, but it is the Cubs after all and they lost their offense in the ivy (along with Andre Dawson, apparently).  Minor gave up three hits, walked three, and K'd six over six innings.  Three runs scored and one homer was surrendered.  The game snapped a streak of three straight with four or more runs given up.  After beginning the year with three solid starts, Minor has three quality starts in 13 games.  Four pitchers have a worse FIP.  He's tied with one of those guys in HR/9 and it's not like Minor really plays in a homerific park.

And sadly, Gonzalez thinks he's showing improvement.  It is true that he has not allowed homers at a head-spinning rate like he did when he gave up eleven in five starts (he's been touched up for seven in seven starts since), but just because not as many balls have left the reservation doesn't mean he's pitching at all well.  Has he been unlucky?  Sure.  Probably.  Maybe.  But progress?  Apparently, Gonzalez thinks "progress" means something else.

Not to say Delgado has been awesome by any means because he hasn't, but he's been noticeably better than Minor.  Of the current rotation, only Tim Hudson has outperformed Delgado's 4.21 FIP and 4.17 xFIP.  Delgado's walks have been an issue, but in an ACTUAL example of progress, Delgado has issued five walks over his last four starts (19.1 ING), an improvement if only because he issued six in the game preceding the previous four.  Still considering he's walked three or more in nine of his 16 starts, to have a run of four starts without running into considerable control issues is progress.

A part of me believes the difference isn't severe between the two, but regardless, shouldn't you want the better starter on the mound?  Another part of me believes Minor is the guy they are trying to sell to Milwaukee in any potential Zack Greinke deal.  Still another part of me thinks Gonzalez flipped a coin and built a BS story to justify the Gods' choice.

By the way...with an off day Monday, why start Minor on Wednesday?  Jair Jurrjens could go Tuesday and back to the rest of the staff on regular rest (Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Sheets) to set up Minor/Delgado for the double header.

But I forgot to consult my Book of Random Decisions.