Sunday, September 8, 2013

Random Prospect of the Day: Omar Poveda

What we have today is the post-hype sleeper.  Not every prospect avoids all trouble as he climbs the minors.  Some have injuries that push them back or simply running into a wall.

Omar Poveda just completed his first year in the Braves system.  It might be his only one, unfortunately, but he was a solid, dependable pitcher for the Gwinnett Braves and if the Braves had the available room, he might have even earned a call-up before the season comes to a close.

Poveda was born on September 28, 1987 in Venezuela.  That day in Cincinnatti, the Braves would fall 6-5 to the Pete Rose-led Reds despite a 3-for-4 day from Gerald Perry.  Second-year shortstop Barry Larkin hit a three-run homer that would eventually account for the difference.  However, if Poveda emerged from his mother's womb the previous day, he would have born on the day of Phil Niekro's final game.  Random, I know.

After joining the Rangers' organization as a teen, Poveda quickly made his state-side debut in the Arizona League Rangers in 2005 while just 17.  He was only 18 when he debuted in A-ball the following season and more than held his own while striking out 134 in 154.1 innings (7.8 K/9).  Despite his success, the Rangers held him back a year and he repeated the level with even better results.  His 2008 season was wrecked by injuries, limiting him to just 17 starts at high-A, but he bounced back in 2009 when, at the age of 21, he posted a 1.39 WHIP at AA.  He even made his AAA debut and was considered to have a chance, though not a great one, to make the team for 2010.

However, he hurt himself early in spring training and needed Tommy John surgery.  Not exactly the season he was hoping for.  Half-way through the year, the Rangers traded him to the Marlins for Jorge Cantu.  For two seasons, he struggled to put up consistent numbers with his new organization, but after struggling badly in 2012 between AA and AAA, the Marlins out-righted Poveda and he became a minor league free agent.

Still just 25, The Braves took a chance on Poveda to round out the Gwinnett staff.  He led Gwinnett and finished second in the International League in both innings pitched and strikeouts.  His 1.30 WHIP was his lowest since 2007.  However, that's the problem.  It was good, but not great.  Poveda has never been able to shake the perception others have had him except that he's older so people no longer say, "he's okay, but he's young and can get a lot better."

That said, Poveda did have a good season.  As far as I know it, he throws both a two and four-seam fastball to go with a plus curveball and a good change of pace.  He's major-league ready, but will likely need a good deal of luck or a development of a new grip/pitch to succeed in the majors.  If the Braves can clinch NL's best record, maybe they could make some room for Poveda to get a start.  Would be a nice gift after the season he had for Gwinnett.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Braves Are Top Five In a Lot of Categories

It's been a decent season for the Atlanta Braves.

They have the best ERA in baseball at 3.18, the lowest mark since 2002 when they had a 3.13 ERA.  Atlanta leads the National League in homers and it's a ten-homer edge over the Cubs.  With 161 homers, they already have twelve more than last season.  Now, sure, for the third consecutive season, they will probably set the franchise mark in strikeouts in a single season.  Regardless, they are fourth in the National League in R/G with 4.34.  

But those are commonly discussed on TV, the radio, and other blogs - especially the strikeout part.  One more category surprised me today.

The Braves are fifth in the majors in positive difference in attendance per game compared to 2012.  Last season, the Braves averaged 29,071 per game through September 6th.  The league average was 30,984.  While the league average has fell to 30,558 this season, the Braves are averaging 31,399.  Now, that mark is only 16th in the game so it can't be celebrated all that much.  But the difference in +2,328 is the fifth most in the majors on a per-game basis.  Historically, Atlanta's attendance wains when school starts back up so attendance could suffer for the next few weeks, but while a majority of major league teams are attracting less people than they did last season, the Braves are in select company.  Only the Blue Jays, Orioles, Dodgers, and Nationals have a better difference.  

Now, that probably doesn't mean that the payroll will see any bump based on attendance figures and trends.  It's still good news if it's anything, though.  Atlanta hasn't averaged 31,000 people since 2008 and was under 30,000 in three of the last four years.  Now, being in first place helps, but Atlanta was competitive regardless over the past few years.  

Atlanta is an exciting team.  There is a lot of exciting youth on this team with Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and Alex Wood.  After a worrisome lost year at Gwinnett, Julio Teheran has became the force prospect "experts" believed he would be.  Brian McCann would like you to know that he would take Mike Minor against any other pitcher in the game.  And of course there's that whole bear guy.  Evan Gattis is such a fan favorite because he helps prove the whole adage.  You can do anything if you set your mind to it.  

Hopefully, the attendance stays above 31,000 for the rest of the season and maybe next year, following a World Title run, we'll see a nice attendance boom to go with it.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why did the Braves Go So Loe?

It's difficult enough to follow day games.  Work, family, school, General Hospital.  I mean...add baseball to that and it seems almost impossible to pay attention.  Of course, if you saw the pitcher matchup for today's game against the Mets, you might have said "why bother?"  Maybe you would have added some expletives.  Feel free.

Atlanta sent Kameron Loe to the bump to face the Mets because they hate their fans.  No, not really.  On the hating part because the Braves most certainly started Loe today.  Their reasoning was less about their fans' feelings and more about making a sensible choice for a game.  The twitterverse was less than thrilled.  One Braves group I am part of ran the gamut of making puns out of Loe's name (which I am very much in favor of) to WTF? to one fan in particular claiming that the Braves would rue the day they sent Loe out there.

The common theme was an inability to understand why the Braves started Loe in the first place.  So, allow me to attempt to explain my thoughts on this decision because when you enter with an open mind, it's a perfectly excusable decision...though hardly inspiring.

The Braves have, for a few weeks now, been looking for a way to rest some of their younger arms.  Plan A was simply activate Paul Maholm off the DL and that would allow the Braves to skip a starter each turn through the rotation.  It was an interesting idea because I've never heard of a team attempting such an approach.  That plan was quickly scrapped when Brandon Beachy lost his velocity and went to the DL.  Maholm simply replaced him in the rotation.  Plan B was for Freddy Garcia to play the role in Maholm's absence.  But that plan was subsequently scrapped as soon as Garcia was promoted following the September 1st because Alex Wood struggled badly on Sunday.  That unfortunate forced Garcia to throw 4.2 innings.

The following day, the Braves made the decision to go to Plan C, codenamed Operation Loe-Down Dirty Shame.  Loe had last pitched on Friday, which put him on regular rest to make a spot start for Wednesday.  However, there was no room on the 40-man roster for Loe as he had been designated for assignment in July.  The day before he was to be promoted, the Braves transferred Ramiro Pena to the 60-day DL to allow them to purchase Garcia's contract.  They followed a similar approach on Monday, transferring Tim Hudson to the 60-day DL.  In general, teams avoid the 60-day DL unless they absolutely need the room.  The reason, I believe, is tied into how teams have to add players back to the 40-man roster if they want to protect them for the Rule 5 draft so why force the extra move, which could be harder to make in the offseason if you are already at 40.

The move gave them the room, but the question remained...why aim so Loe?  Let's look at the 40-man roster.  Before Loe's activation, the Braves had ten starters on their 40-man roster.  Five form the normal five-man rotation.  Hudson and Beachy make seven.  Garcia would be the eighth, but he had just thrown nearly five innings three days before.  That leaves two starters - David Hale and Aaron Northcraft.  Why not go with either one of them?  Hale would have been a fine option.  The Gwinnett pitcher has struggled with missing bats this season, but he's still somewhat a prospect.  However, he just pitched two days ago.  Northcraft was passed over for a pair of reasons.  Notably, he pitched Saturday so he would have been on short rest.  Additionally, the Mississippi Braves are in the playoffs and the big-league team would like to let them have the chance to compete for a league crown.

So, if not Hale or Northcraft, why did Loe get chosen over a different Gwinnett starter.  Well, some Gwinnett starters were in a similar position as Hale.  They would have had to pitch on short rest.  Omar Poveda is an exception.  The almost 26 year-old has been a decent addition to Gwinnett staff this season after signing as a minor league free agent.  However, Loe has been just as good or better at Gwinnett lately and has major league experience.

At the end of the day, sure the Braves could have gone with a better starter.  They could have kept Hale from pitching on Monday night, knowing that they were going to skip Teheran on Wednesday.  However, here's where just being the better option isn't the only thing the team considers.  The Braves have no vested interest in Loe.  If they run his arm into the ground - so be it.  They don't care about his options or service time.  He means nothing to the Braves and that's just fine.  Atlanta is giving him an opportunity to help secure employment in 2014 so Loe is happy to have a shot.  Sometimes, the better option isn't always to go with the better player.  Other conditions should be considered.

Loe sucked.  He got bombed.  The Braves may go with a different pitcher or Garcia next time they try to skip a young starter.  But that doesn't mean they made the wrong decision on Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Best (and Worst) of August

(Hi again.  This is me in italics.  Just wanted to say that I don't want this blog to die, but it definitely will take a backseat for the most part.  I started three online classes last Monday and am looking to finally secure my bachelor's degree.  As you can expect, that knocked down the priority this blog has.  That said, I am hoping to adopt a schedule for updating.  Basically, between Wednesday and Sunday, I want to update at least four times.  The main reason for that is that my classes that I have to meet for a virtual classroom are on Mondays and Tuesdays and I don't want to overdo it on those days.  But today is Tuesday, what gives?  I'm still going to update occasionally and the Best and Worst of the Month column doesn't take a lot of critical thought.  Some would argue that none of the posts here require much critical thought.  What are you, some kind of wise guy?  Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you stick around.)

I'm a little late, but here are August's Best and Worst.  It was a wonderful month for the Braves as they went 20-7.  Somewhere, Jeff Schultz and ESPN just said, "yeah, well, if you take out the 14-game win streak (though the streak actually began in late July)..."  Despite scoring their second-worst amount of runs, they cruised with the help of a tremendous month for the pitching staff as they allowed an average of 2.7 R/G.  Course, the offense took a step back when Jason Heyward broke his jaw on August 21st.  Just the same, anytime you gain 4.5 games on the opposition can be regarded as a good month.

Rookie of the Month

Alex Wood - For the second consecutive month, Wood earns the Walk-Off Walk Rookie of the Month.  In five starts, he allowed just three earned runs in 30 innings, a superb effort that also included a 2.60 FIP.  When the calander changed to September, he suddenly looked like a rookie for the first time, but hopefully when he makes his next start, we will witness the July-to-August Wood.  At this pace, Wood will slot nicely in the third spot in a postseason rotation.  Not bad for a guy whose future looked like it belonged in the pen.

Honorable Mentions: Julio Teheran (10.7 K/9, 3.75 FIP)

Worst Position Player of the Month

Dan Uggla - Maybe a little unfair because he was apparently blind for half of the month, but Uggla had an August to forget.  In 63 plate appearances, he managed four singles.  He did manage an on-base percentage that was a shade over two hundred points higher than his batting average, but that's of small consolation.  He managed a 21 RC+ for the month.  Well, Laser Eyes will hopefully end the season with a better month, but let's be honest...he couldn't have done much worse.

Dishonorable Mention: Evan Gattis (.139/.244/.194), Jordan Schafer (.144/.222/.207)

Worst Pitcher of the Month

Luis Ayala - It should be telling that I picked a depth guy in the bullpen for worst pitcher.  The options were minimal.  In the first month without Tim Hudson, the Braves pitchers rolled.  There was little to choose from so I went with Ayala, who was used frequently and without consistent results.  Aided by a 94.8 LOB%, he was able to look better than he pitched.  Compare his 2.00 ERA to his 5.04 FIP.  Course, that's an exceedingly low sample size, but the Braves didn't give me a shitty starter to plug in here.  As such, no dishonorable mention.

Best Position Player of the Month

Justin Upton - This could easily have been Heyward, but he missed the final week.  The younger Upton had been missing in action for some time, but over the last five or six weeks, he's back in form and the National League pitchers realized just how lucky they were before he found his swing.  He homered eight times in August while OPSing over a thousand.  In the number two spot, Upton got a lot of good pitches with Heyward on in front of him and he didn't miss too often.

Honorable Mentions: Heyward (.348/.419/.621), Freddie Freeman (.301/.378/.456)

Best Pitcher of the Month

Wood - As ridiculousness as Craig Kimbrel was in August, I will always lean toward giving starters awards when possible.  I don't have much else to say about Wood, though.  He's good.

Honorable Mentions: Kimbrel (16.1 scoreless innings, 1.08 FIP)

Here's a few additional notes:

  • Andrelton Simmons wasn't included in the discussion for best position player because his bat slumped throughout August, but his glove remained other-worldly and he posted the fifth best UZR for the month.  It's a shame it's difficult to look up DRS splits.
  • How much does your spot in the lineup impact your counting stats?  Chris Johnson hit mostly fifth and sixth in August and responded with 21 RBI's.  He had 23 during the first three months of the season.  However, after scoring 18 runs while batting mostly seventh and eighth in July, he crossed the plate only five times in August and only ONCE did he score without hitting a homer.  Having the ineptitude of B.J. Upton, Uggla, and Simmons behind him puts the onus on Johnson to get hits when runners are on base.  Fortunately, he's a good hitter.
  • Kimbrel's fastball averaged a team-high 97.5 mph.  
  • Lefties Luis Avilan and Scott Downs went with the hard stuff a lot in August.  For Downs, he threw his fastball 88.1% and Avilan wasn't much behind.  
  • The Braves stole 16 of 21 bases during August with half of the successful swipes coming from Schafer.  That bested the previous high in stolen bases for a month by two.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Making Sense Out of Baseball's Senselessness

Baseball is such a strange sport.  I have followed baseball for 31 years now.  Sure, when I was a little tot, I wasn't that interested in the rules of the game or the statistical analysis side.  Regardless, I was at the ballpark because my father was an usher for the local Carolina League team and I got in for free.  As I have gotten older, my understanding of the sport has increased in many areas...from the background of the sport, the implementation of statistics, and the strange rules that govern a variety of truly mundane features.  But just when I think I have a handle on my shit, I get slapped in the face by new knowledge.

For instance, you may have heard that Evan Gattis was demoted to Gwinnett for three days in effort to get the guy some at-bats.  Gattis seems happy about it.  Sitting on the bench probably hurt his bum.  Now, my immediate thought was why waste an option  to try to get Gattis some regular playing time for all of three games?

I learned something new!...to be considered an option, the stint in the minors needs to be at least 20 days.  Why 20?  No effin clue.  However, Gattis currently has a full collection of his options due to the fact his contract was purchased when he made the team out of spring training and a brief appearance in Gwinnett won't change that.

With the date being August 31st, we start to think about the playoff roster rules.  For a refresher, players are eligible for the playoff roster if they are, as of midnight this evening, on either the 25 man active roster, the disabled list, the bereavement list, or the suspended list.  That list of players can be referred to as the pool of playoff roster possibilities.  But wait, there's more.

I learned something else that's new (to me)!...there can be substitutions made that can increase your pool of players.  If a player is injured when the playoffs begin, that player can be substituted by anyone in the organization, regardless of position, as long as that substitute player was in the organization by midnight tonight.  Seems like a funky rule?  It is and it's also now limited to players who are injured next month.  This weird little rule is also why Gattis, who will not fulfill any of the four conditions from the preceding paragraph, will be eligible for the postseason roster.

So, let's recap.  You have your active 25 man roster.  At the moment, I am not sure who will replace Gattis, but the smart money is on Jose Constanza simply because Todd Cunningham was just demoted and (I think) needs to stay in the minors for ten days or until the end of Gwinnett's season (whichever comes first) before being eligible to be promoted.  But let's just say it's Constanza.  That gives you the 25 man roster.  There are 9 (count 'em, NINE!) players on the disabled list.  That potentially increases the playoff pool to 34 players, but hopefully Reed Johnson and Jason Heyward return along with maybe Brandon Beachy to take three of those spots back.  With Gattis, the All-Return Group would be four-people big.  Add the All-Return Group to the 25 man active roster as of 11:59 PM on August 31st and you have 29 total slots already reserved of a potential 34 man expanded playoff roster.  That leaves five extra spots that could be utilized by the Braves if they so chose.

That means if the Braves wanted to be a little crazy and add a player like Jose Peraza or Kyle Wren to the team for speed, they could do that.  Now, they probably wouldn't because of the unknown variables like being on a super big stage.  A more likely option would be adding Cunningham for his switch-hitting capability, defense, and speed.  Or adding Ernesto Mejia for a little extra right-handed power off the bench.  Or if Freddy Garcia is promoted in September and puts up wonderful numbers as a long reliever...he can be added to the playoff roster...however, I think there is a bigger chance of Wren being on the playoff roster than Garcia.

I hope you learned a few things.  I hope I did, too.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Alternate Universe: Braves Do Not Trade Yunel Escobar in 2010

(Hi.  I'm going to try this because I like the idea of how making one move ends up being quite significant.  I realize that it's impossible to take the numbers a player put up in one place and translate them to the next.  The league and park factors are ignored when you do that.  This isn't an exact study, but a simple exercise.  Hope you enjoy it and maybe I'll try this again soon.)

Figured I'd start a new series and this one was inspired by a lot of the comments directed to Yasiel Puig.  The 22 year-old, with a year of professional experience since his defection and even less time in the majors, has bothered both the Dodgers and opponents with his style of play.  Some believe he acts in a highly unprofessional manner with his playing style.  Mental lapses in judgement have occurred frequently on the field ranging from failing to hit the cut-off man to running into outs.  Let's be clear that most young studs who have a collection of skills that push them through the minors with explosive speed still have flaws in their games that haven't been hammered out.  After all, that's what the minors attempt to do and Puig didn't stay down there for very long (and with good reason).

The backlash toward him made me think of a former Brave in Yunel Escobar.  Back at the chopnation forums in their heyday, we used to refer to Escobar as Mr. Dynamic, a play on his description from one of the beat writers, probably David O'Brien.  Like Puig, Escobar was born in Cuba.  He defected through harsh conditions on a raft with over 30 others in 2004, reaching Florida and seeking asylum.  That allowed him to be included in the 2005 draft and the Braves took him in the 2nd round.

He rocketed through the minors and less than two years from the day he signed, Escobar made his debut on June 2nd of 2007.  While filling in for injuries, Escobar was used often by Bobby Cox at second, short, and third to keep his bat in the lineup.  He slashed his way to .326/.385/.451 and a sixth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting.

It was a great turn around for Escobar, who clashed with his AA manager, former Brave Jeff Blauser, over his attitude.  He would consistently whistle at the opposing players (and his own teammates) while taking his customary spot at short.  While he wasn't quite as bad about it once he reached the majors, it was still present and was a product of his time in Cuba.  Tom Glavine was distracted by it so much one time that he called Chipper Jones over to ask who was whistling at him.  He showboated and didn't care who he aggravated, his own team included.  The Braves tried to drum that out of him by the time he reached the bigs.  Nevertheless, he had his moments.  But for the first two-and-a-half years of his career in the majors, Escobar got a bit of a free pass.  Sure, he got a talking to from time-to-time, both by his coaches and teammates.  There were the occasional benchings, some we know about.  But the Braves also enjoyed his energy and enthusiasm.  As Cox said, "You can see how much he loves to play."

2010: The Honeymoon Ends and Our Fictional Journey Begins ...In his first 371 games in the majors, Escobar slashed .301/.375/.426 while posting nearly 10 fWAR for the Braves.  However, with three-and-a-half months in the books during 2010, Escobar slumped badly with a .618 OPS.  His isolated power, which was extremely solid for a middle infielder, looked like it belonged to a pitcher.

The Braves were willing to deal with Escobar and all of the baggage when he produced.  Now that he wasn't, the Braves were done with him and traded him to the Blue Jays for a trio of players, including Escobar's replacement Alex Gonzalez.  A good defender who came with a miserable on-base percentage, Gonzalez was welcomed with open arms in Atlanta as he received a standing ovation when he arrived in the clubhouse.

However, what if Escobar hadn't struggled so much in 2010?  What if he simply was okay like he was after the trade.  He hit .275 with a .696 OPS with the Blue Jays the rest of the way.  Had he produced at that clip in the first half with the Braves, would they have traded him?  Probably not.

2011: The First Year of Arbitration and a Chance to Bounce Back...With the Blue Jays, Escobar hit .290/.369/.413 during 2011.  However, in Atlanta, Gonzalez struggled badly that year, OPSing .642 with more than 100 strikeouts than walks...which is absurd when you think about it.  The Braves would notably collapse in 2011, but one can argue that Gonzalez did everything he could to avoid that fall from grace, slashing .291/.330/.558 over his final 27 games.  Meanwhile, injuries limited Escobar and he missed the final 14 games.  On one hand, the Braves probably win more games early with Escobar and probably win the Wild Card by a couple of games.  On the other hand, losing Escobar would have made a slumping club even worse.

2012: Our Journey Ends as Escobar Slips Again...In 2012, the Braves went with Tyler Pastornicky, also acquired with Gonzalez in the Escobar deal.  In Toronto, Escobar was ready to start his second full season in Toronto and was paid $5M for it.  Here's where it gets difficult.  Would the Braves have been willing to deal Escobar in our fictional world coming off a pretty decent 2011 season?  Pastornicky is still in Toronto in this world and probably with a chance to replace Gonzalez.  Remember that the Braves wouldn't have anybody close to taking over at shortstop as Andrelton Simmons just finished the season in high-A ball.  However, Atlanta's payroll was pretty high in 2012 already.  It seems unlikely that they would have been able to fit $5M more.  You can cut $1M from that by not bringing back the awful Jack Wilson.  Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez were signed late for a combined $1.65M.  The more likely situation is that with the presence of Escobar, the Braves don't trade for Michael Bourn during 2011.  They had a hole in center, but Escobar was a serviceable lead-off hitter.

Escobar struggles through 2012, OPSing .644, his worst single-season OPS for a full season.  The Blue Jays had signed Escobar to a contract extension after 2011.  The Braves probably don't do that because they rarely lock up arbitration-eligible guys long-term.  Simmons might even replace Escobar like he replaced Pastornicky during the season with Escobar's terrible 2012 campaign. Either way, with one more year of arbitration, Escobar gets non-tendered with or without the gay slur on his eye black that gets him suspended in September of 2012.  He doesn't get used in the mega Blue Jays/Marlins deal last offseason.  He also doesn't get traded to the Rays by the Marlins.  Now, the Rays seem like a good landing place on a make-good contract for Escobar, but maybe he signs with the Mets instead.  Or the Twins.

Either way, even if the Braves don't trade Escobar in 2010, his time in Atlanta would be short-lived. Simmons was progressing through the minors with a developing bat and a major-league ready defense.  Whether he arrives in June of 2012 or April this season, he was coming and Escobar - with all of the baggage - would have had to hit a lot better than he actually did in 2012 to stave off Simmons' arrival for another season.

Once he arrived in the majors, Escobar was an exciting enigma.  He was a solid defender with a good bat, but often found controversy wherever he went.  The Braves could deal with that when his production was high.  The occasional defensive mental error or baserunning mistake was part of the package for one of the better shortstops in the league.  When he stopped producing, though, the Braves were finished with him.  Not that Puig will follow a similar path in Los Angeles.  He is thoroughly more talented.  However, if your antics cause both your opponents and your own team grief, you can't suck.  Just ask Mr. Dynamic.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Braves Should Extend Both Gonzalez and Wren

In the film Moneyball, Oakland Athletics manager Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, brings up his discontent with managing in the final season of his contract with general manager Billy Beane.  Portrayed by Brad Pitt, Beane is not willing to talk about an extension with Howe and provide the aging manager job security.  In real life, Howe was in the first year of an extension that led into the next season.  But in Hollywood, facts really don't have all that much value.

Both manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren have one more year on their contracts.  Gonzalez was originally inked to a three year contract in October of 2010 that also came with a 2014 option, which was exercised last December.  Two months before that, the Braves signed Wren to a one-year extension, covering the 2014 season.

Entering 2013, Gonzalez wasn't so much on a hot seat because the Braves were pretty good in 2012, but expectations were definitely high.  Frank Wren had acquired the Upton Brothers to help the Braves move forward after the retirement of long-time fixture Chipper Jones.  He also shrewdly added a young arm in need of some adjustments in David Carpenter.  He turned struggling starter Tommy Hanson into Jordan Walden.  He increased the team's depth with Gerald Laird, Ramiro Pena, and Jordan Schafer and whether by design or just being handed the player, Wren helped secure the services of Chris Johnson.  Regardless of the experts who seemed to slot the Washington Nationals ahead out of laziness - some even said the Phillies would finish higher than the Braves - the expectations for 2013 should have been high.

With thirty games remaining - so far, so good.

It hasn't been an easy ride.  Brian McCann missed the first month or so.  Jonny Venters went down before the season and was joined on the season-ending DL by Eric O'Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez.  All three were counted on to perform their roles as well as they had the previous two seasons.  Pena, the team's new super sub, took his .773 OPS to the DL for the remainder of the season in mid-June.  Of the eight regulars, only the left side of the infield and Justin Upton have avoided the DL, though the trio have been nicked up from time-to-time.  In the last several weeks, the Braves also said goodbye to Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward, though the latter might return this season.  Oh, and Tyler Pastornicky also went down recently, but fortunately he's only Tyler Pastornicky.

If that wasn't bad enough, there has been Dan Uggla's continued decline, Andrelton Simmons strong pop-up skills, and the woeful season from B.J. Upton.

Frankly, with all that happening, the Braves should be struggling with .500 - like the Nationals have.

Instead, the Braves have rolled through the East.  If you think it's from just beating up on the division, try again. Atlanta is 37-22 against teams with a .500 record or better.  Do you know how many NL teams have a winning record against all three of the NL divisions and durng interleague play?  One - Atlanta.  They are 21-14 in one-run games, a product of both a strong bullpen and the ability to score with one swing of the bat at a prodigious rate.

Knowing all of that, there should be little doubt that both Wren and Gonzalez should be extended after the season.  Yes, the season isn't over and the playoffs still are over a month away, but regardless of the rest of this season, both have done more than enough to not have to wonder if 2014 is the end of the road in Atlanta for them.  Since Gonzalez took over the manager duties, the Braves have a record of 263-193, good for a winning percentage of .577.  The wins are already 12th in franchise history and only Bobby Cox and Lum Harris have more since the move to Atlanta.  Only Cox and two other managers are 70 or more games above .500 like Gonzalez and of managers with 400 or more games with the Braves, only two have a better win percentage.  That's not to say that I think Gonzalez is the best manager in baseball.  He often over-manages his bullpen, plays match-ups too much, and it took him a hundred games to change the lineup.  Still...results are results.  If Cox gets a break because of the results, why not Gonzalez especially when Gonzalez might be an even better in-game manager.

Moving on.  Since Wren was promoted to general manager, the Braves are 512-430.  Some of Wren's free agent pickups have absolutely bombed.  In fact, all of the high-priced ones from Derek Lowe to Kenshin Kawakami to B.J. Upton (thus far).  But he has been superb on the trade market, acquiring Michael Bourn and Walden for nothing while showing bold confidence in acquiring Justin Upton and Johnson.  He's listened to his scouts and has been wonderful on the waiver market, grabbing Carpenter, Schafer, and O'Flaherty for pennies.

It may be a little early to talk extensions for the duo.  Regardless, both deserve some job security.  I'm not advocating a ten-year extension or anything.  Two years to secure their future through 2016 would seem like a good start.  As the Braves formulate their off-season plans after the World Series (that includes a wonderful parade in Atlanta), their first priority should be to lock up both Gonzalez and Wren.  They've earned it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Random Ex-Brave: Marvin Freeman

(I write these Random Ex-Brave blogposts ahead of time with the idea that I can utilize them if I am ever dealing with writer's block or very busy.  The latter is the case today as I am currently away from home after spending last night in a classroom.  I am continuing my education so I will try to see how this blog fits into my schedule.  Obviously, it won't be ahead of family or school.  Just the same, even if some days are filler days like today, I plan to regularly update the blog because I have had a lot of fun finding my voice, even if it angers certain readers.)

In the third installment of the Random Ex-Brave series, we touch base with a right-hander who pitched 151.2 innings with the early 90's Braves, but struggled to stick around for very long with the division-winning teams.  On the bright side, his nick name is the same as a beloved cartoon character.  So, really, a long baseball run with the team of the 90's or slick nick name?

Marvin Freeman went undrafted out of high school and went south to became a star at Mississippi State, prompting the Phillies to draft him in the second round of the 1984 draft.  That round was a particularly noteworthy one for the Braves.  They took Tom Glavine two picks ahead of Freeman and earlier in the round, the Chicago Cubs selected Greg Maddux.  In addition, John Farrell was selected after Maddux and Al Leiter was chosen following Freeman.  All told, 264.4 bWAR from the second round.  Not too shabby.

Starvin' Marvin's minor league career was not all that promising.  He struggled badly with control, walking 111 batters at AA Reading in 1986 compared to 113 strikeouts.  Amazingly, the Phillies still brought Freeman to the majors that season and he made 3 starts with the Phils that season, posting 10 walks to 8 K's, but getting lucky to the tune of only six hits allowed and a 2.25 ERA.

The following season, Freeman shuffled between Reading and Maine, the AAA club for the Phillies.  He would get back to the majors in 1988, but walked more batters than he struck out in a shade over 50 innings.  Injuries limited him to 17 innings in 1989.

In 1990, Freeman was at a crossroads.  He again struggled with the Phillies and his production at AAA had waned.  Attempting to get something for their former second rounder while also making up a 4.5 game hole in the NL East, the Phillies sent Freeman to the Braves for Joe Boever, a reliever who would pitch well down the stretch for the Phils, even as they fell out of contention.

Meanwhile, the Braves sent Freeman to the bullpen and he showed some promise in his nine games in 1990 before becoming a solid reliever for the Braves in 1991, appearing in 34 games with a 2.92 FIP.  He finally was able to harness his control, lowering his walk rate to 2.44 BB/9.  Leo Mazzone is often given the credit for the success of other better-known pitchers, but Freeman's impressive improvement in control seems a product of Mazzone's philosophy.  Freeman's season came to unfortunate end on August 17th with arm trouble and eleven days later, the Braves traded for Alejandro Pena, though the trade may not be related much to the injury to Freeman.

Healthy again, Freeman returned in 1992, though his control did get worse (4.1 BB/9).  He appeared in a career-high 58 games and 64.1 innings.  He would make it onto the NLCS roster against the Pirates, but had little success.  In his first outing, he allowed an inherited runner to score.  He gave up a run in Game 2 and was roughed up for five runs in the Game 6 13-4 beatdown.  He did not appear in the World Series.

Freeman would struggle to stay healthy in 1993 and pitched poorly when he did stay healthy.  After the season, the Braves released Freeman rather than bring him back for another year of arbitration.  He caught on with the Colorado Rockies, who were in their second year.  He would finish fourth in the Cy Young race, but had his brilliant campaign cut short by the labor strike.  On June 13th, he helped beat the Braves and Glavine 7-2, stopping a streak of 16 consecutive loses to the Braves since the Rockies began play.

His success was short lived.  In 1995, his WHIP reached 1.72 and the following season was only marginally better at 1.62. He again struggled to stay healthy and on August 31st of 1996, he was selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox.  They gave him one start in the final month of the season, but after two innings, Freeman's run with the ChiSox was over.  In 1997, he tried to prolong his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, but after one start with their AAA squad, his time was done.

But he will always have that nickname.  So...that's something.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Freddie Freeman - Understanding Criticism

It's actually not that often that a tweet really gets my attention.  Maybe it's the character limit.

However, I saw this one today from David O'Brien and it did garner some thought:
My first thought was what would Jo Bennett's printer company have to say about baseball?  What, has Gabe Lewis been transitioning from watching awful Japanese horror movies to watching baseball?

However, my second thought was more along the lines of what DOB was attempting to portray.  There are some people who, in addition to living in their mother's basement and drinking a lot of Red Bull, also think that Freddie Freeman is not a good first baseman.  He further clarifies that to be an indictment of Freeman's defense by saying that over the last 14 or so days, three (that's more than two) out-of-town writers have said that Freeman is a Gold Glove talent.  Not only that, but two coaches (still more than one) for other teams have agreed with those three writers.

Case closed.  Freeman is the greatest first baseman in the National League Majors.  No, in the world.  NAY! In the entire universe!

But here's the thing and this is why DOB pisses me off from time-to-time.  He has a well known history for not valuing the opinion of saber guys.  Probably hates that sport bloggers, like blogging in general, are killing newspaper print as we know it.  A lot of those idiot bloggers who sometimes don't even have credentials are also saber guys in that they do use statistical analysis.  For the record, so does DOB.  Just last night, he added this nugget: Among 278 major leaguers with at least 250 PAs, Frenchy's .536 OPS ranks 277th (B.J. has a .554 OPS).

Jeff Francoeur sucks.  Though...so does B.J. Upton...but apparently, according to DOB's statistical analysis, not quite as much as Frenchy.

But I digress.  What does "good 1B" really mean?  Because, to my reasoning, most people say he's good in that he's not bad.  I guess that's a way to place Freeman in the "average defender" category.  If he was great, he would be a Gold Glove candidate, right?  And according to grammar rules, to be great at something means you're better than good.  So, which is it, DOB?

Here's the common narrative I have seen written about Freeman's defense and I personally also subscribe to it.  He makes nearly all the plays he can get to.  He has a pretty good arm for a first baseman.  He doesn't, however, have much range and that is why he's not a Gold Glove-quality player.  Of course, that's implying that Gold Gloves go to the best defenders at their position.

Let's see what the numbers say and if that narrative has much support.  The following table shows Freeman's rank this season and since the beginning of 2011 in a few advanced metrics including rPM (plus or minus runs saved), DRS (defensive runs saved), RZR (revised zone rating), OOZ (plays made out of zone), and UZR (ultimate zone rating).  To make it tidy, I am not including the actual numbers, but the rank.  For the numbers defensively for Freeman, see his fangraphs page.  The ranks are among qualified MLB 1B for this year and qualified MLB 1B for the last three years.  I realize that does little to answer the question about NL Gold Glove, but it's easier this way.
2013 t-7th t-5th 12th 3rd 13th
3-Year 8th 6th 14th 2nd 14th
This basically supports the narrative.  He makes all the plays, but his range is limited.  Note that only Ryan Howard has had weaker range and only Eric Hosmer has had a worse UZR over the last three years among qualified 1B.  He saves a decent amount of defensive runs and seems to make a good deal of defensive plays out of his zone.  I wonder how much of that comes down to the liberal use of defensive positioning by the Braves braintrust.

There are some potentially good things to add to this.  Freeman is having - by a significant margin - the best defensive year of his career.  His 1.7 UZR is not gaudy, but it's marginally better than his -2.0 UZR last year and a huge improvement over his woeful -11.8 UZR from 2011.  I believe that the rookie number is the outlier here, not the positive UZR this year.  To me, he's likely to have years where he is a little below average, years where he is a little better.  It's the defender that he is.  He could continue to show marketable improvement next season, though, and set a new higher baseline of the defender we should expect.

Either way, he fits the narrative I have heard and told myself.  He does certain things well, but his range continues to limit him from potentially being a great defender.  Truthfully, his range only looks that bad because Dan Uggla is next to him.  Of course, all defensive metrics have to be taken with a little grain of salt.  They aren't quite as good as offensive metrics, but are improving.  The numbers do support where I stood on his defense, though.  Regardless, in the end, it's better to understand the criticism about Freeman.  No one seems to say he's bad.  He's just not great.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Random Prospect of the Day - Elmer Reyes

There's no doubt about it.  Elmer Reyes is not the biggest shortstop prospect in the system.  In fact, he's not the biggest shortstop prospect at A-ball with Jose Peraza at Rome.  The 22 year-old native of Nicaragua would like to become just the second Atlanta Brave from the country in recent memory (the most famous baseball player from the country is Dennis Martinez).  However, he has a long battle to get to the bigs on his hands.

While Ms. Reyes was getting ready to pop out a baby boy, the Braves were likely talking to Terry Pendleton, who they signed a week or so after Reyes came into the world.  Born on November 26th, 1990, the dimunitive middle infielder signed sometime before the 2009 Dominican Summer Leage season.  Sometimes, especially with smaller prospects, it's difficult to find the date they actually inked their first professional contract.  His first bit of experience was decent and got his feet wet with a good walk-rate.

However, that walk rate quickly disappeared in his North American debut in 2010.  Still, he grabbed some attention when he hit .301/.363/.472 at rookie-ball with all but six of those games with Danville.  His 19-age season made him a bit of a sleeper.  While his walk rate fell (in 111 more PA, he walked three fewer times compared to 2009), he showed a surprisingly repeatable ability to get on base via the hit-by-pitch.  In just 59 games, he was plunked 13 times.  Amazingly, that is not his season-high.

2011 was looked on by prospect analysts as a chance for Reyes to become a notable prospect in the Braves system.  He got off to a decent start, posting a .717 OPS through his first 12 games.  However, the wheels came off and over his next 49 games, Reyes slumped to the tune of .159/.206/.203 and the Braves demoted Reyes back to Danville for the rookie season.  Once back in the Appalachain League, Reyes began to hit again and even hit for the cycle on August 5th, getting the feat out of the way with a base hit in the 7th.  He hit his only homer for Danville during 2011, but he'll take it.  Reyes came back to Rome to finish the season for three games and was tapped for a return trip in 2012.  He did set a career-high with 14 HBP between his time at Rome and Danville.

While his offensive numbers were better - probably because he couldn't be much worse - Reyes was hardly an offensive threat in 2012.  Playing shortstop full-time for the first time since 2009, Reyes OPS'd just .686 with an 87 RC+.  He did make it three consecutive years with double-digts in HBP, but that's not much to prop up.

Nevertheless, Reyes got a little bit of a look in spring training this year, especially early.  Of course, that was only because Andrelton Simmons was playing in the World Baseball Classic.  He showed okay range, though his arm wasn't much to write home about.  The experience appeared to do him good as he's turned in a good year with the Lynchburg Hillcats this season, hitting .291/.328/.738 - by far, his best experience in full-season ball.  He's had a pair of four-hit games and has been explosive in August, slashing .383/.419/.519.

The success will allow him the opportunity to head up a level for 2014.  With Peraza pushing him, Reyes future at shortstop is grim. He has played a lot of second base, which he seems best suited for, and can slot over to third base, but that's not ideal.  He has shown a miserable 4.3% walk rate over his career so he depends on his batting average to get on base.  Well, that and a ridiculous tendancy to get plunked.  A career .260 batting average means he's not going to get on base enough and he doesn't possess tremendous defense and/or speed to provide another quality to make him more valuable.

All that said, he's still young.  This is his age-22 season.  He will head to AA next year and with any luck, he could become a legitimate bench option with positional flexibility and enough pop off the bench to keep him around.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Howdy Freddy!

You know when people leave ridiculous statements in your yearbook like "what a long and strange journey it's been."  It's supposed to be a deep statement that reflects all the twists and turns during a set time period.

For Freddy Garcia, it's more than a cliche.  Garcia was acquired Friday from the Orioles for cash, which was surprising on two fronts.  One, I had no earthly clue Garcia was still toiling around somewhere and two, when did the Braves start trading cash for anyone?  For the time being, Garcia was sent to Gwinnett to continue a decent run in the International League he has had this season.  If he is is promoted - which is likely - the Braves will be his seventh major league club he has pitched for.  That doesn't include the Mets (two starts at AAA in 2009), a failed attempt to make the Padres roster this season, and the team that originally signed him, the Houston Astros.

A long time ago, the Mariners acquired Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama for "The Big Unit" Randy Johnson.  A year later, Garcia finished a tremendous rookie season that helped him finish second in the AL 1999 Rookie of the Year voting.  Seattle couldn't lock him up to an extension and sent him at the White Sox at the 2004 deadline for a trio of players, including Mike Morse.  After the 2006 season, the White Sox were in a similar position as the Mariners in 2004 and decided to send Garcia away rather than give him an extension.  He went to the Philies for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez.  Since then, he has been regularly described as "pending free agent."

After failing to make the Padres roster in spring training, the O's signed him and after a good month in the minors, they promoted him for an one-and-a-half month run where he struggled mightily with a 5.77 ERA, 6.71 FIP, and an asinine 2.7 HR/9.  It was more of the same from his woeful 2012 season.  He actually was quite successful for the Yankees in 2011 and posted a 2 WAR, but beyond that, Garcia has been fairly awful since 2007, though a good deal of injuries haven't helped.

Garcia can throw up to six pitches, but relies most on his sinker.  Despite that, he has never been that gifted at inducing groundballs.  Think of him as a sucky Derek Lowe.  Or Derek Lowe.

The only value Garcia has is that you just don't give a damn about him.  He's Paul Maholm, but worse.  The Braves can throw him out there and rest pitchers they actually care about.  Whether he comes in as a reliever or starts a few games in September, he doesn't have a prayer of reaching the postseason roster.  He sucks, we know he sucks, he knows he sucks...but he's getting a prorated vetern minimum so what does he care?  And the Braves have another veteran arm they have no desire to have back in 2014 so what do they care?

Watch him be lights out for two weeks in September now.

And when the hell do we talk about this additive need to grab every possible spelling of Freddy (or Fredi (or Freddie))?  Will the Braves go simple and sign a Fred next?  Wonder what Fred McGriff is up to?  Maybe the Braves will branch out with Astros pitcher Frederick Tiburcio, currently in rookie ball.  Or stay in rookie ball and grab Frederis Parra from the Cardinals?  Sadly, Alfredo Aceves is on the DL for Boston.

Friday, August 23, 2013

It's Never As Dark As It Seems

The news just keeps going from bad to worse.  A day after watching Jason Heyward stagger off the field after fracturing his jaw on a pitch to the face, the Atlanta Braves sent Brandon Beachy to go see the Harbinger of Death, Dr. James Andrews.  Today...locusts?

Braves fans, as they have been ingrained to do, panic at the first sign of bad news.  Two bad things and a loss?  The crisis hot lines in the Atlanta area simply can't deal with the call overload.

And make no mistake - it's bad.  Heyward was as hot as anyone in baseball since his overdue move to the top of the lineup.  He was no longer an okay offensive player with tremendous defense.  He was now a true offensive threat that other teams had to work around.  With tremendous defense.  Nevertheless, the Braves seem unsure if Heyward will play again this year.  For a guy who has had lengthy DL trips in two-of-the-last three seasons, that's worrisome.  Hopefully, he will be back for the playoffs, but he will have to deal with the psychological issues of getting back into the box compounded with zero minor league games to knock off the rust.

Beachy looked like he was finally getting his stuff back, but after an inning that saw his velocity plummet, both the pitcher and the Braves are rightfully concerned.  Losing him for another extended time is problematic in that he could be a real asset in October and it drops the Braves' depth back to five starters just as they were going to adopt a plan to rest a young arm each time through the rotation to limit innings and help keep pitchers fresh for the stretch run.  Now, just seeing Dr. Andrews doesn't mean you go under the knife.  Maybe it's not serious and Beachy will be able to get back into the rotation at some point.  Still...when your pitcher even has a friendly chat with the doctor who the Braves have on speed dial, you cross your fingers that the words "season-ending surgery" doesn't follow.

The Braves disabled list is a list of well-known and productive players who any team would miss.  Eight players currently show up with a little red-cross next to their names.  Almost all of them except for Dan Uggla and Reed Johnson are considered lost for the season, though still crossing my fingers on Heyward.

Yet...there are the Braves.  With a 77-50 record.  The best record in all of baseball.  Despite all of the injuries or the insane lack of productivity up the middle offensively, the Braves get by.  The Nationals haven't exactly threatened - mainly because they aren't as good - but that doesn't diminish what the Braves have accomplished to this point.  The depth has been tested and while not nearly as good as it was at full strength, the Braves continue to get production from unlikely sources.  Who knew the Braves would rely so heavily on Joey Terdoslavich this season?  The rotation was remarkably healthy until mid-July, but that luck ran out very quickly.  Just the same, the young guns have been very good.  Sure, they lack the star power and they often aren't great, but it's just as rare for them to be pitch poorly.  Of course, the bullpen has been outstanding from day one.

Injuries are part of the game.  Losing Heyward is a major loss and there's no way to replace him.  I don't think starting Evan Gattis makes much sense because he hasn't hit much better - if at all better - than B.J. Upton since the beginning of June and looks like a lost child in left.  But regardless, there's no way that the Braves will replace Heyward in right field or at the top of the lineup.  If Beachy goes down, it will be taxing for the rotation, but it's not as significant as the Heyward injury.  Nevertheless, it would make things more difficult.

And the parallels to this team and 2010 are starting to pile up.  You might recall the 2010 team that limped into the playoffs without Chipper Jones and Martin Prado only to see Billy Wagner get hurt facing his only batter of the playoffs.  That team held together by glue and chewing gum fell in four games to the eventual champions, the San Francisco Giants.

Hopefully, the Braves will avoid any more big injuries and with the return of an Uggla that can pass an eye exam, with any luck, the Braves will be just fine and getting Heyward back would only make a great team greater.  Regardless, even with the club that faces the decision to start either Elliot Johnson or Paul Janish right now...it's really not as awful as it seems.  This team still has an emerging first baseman and a guy having a career year at third.  Justin Upton and Brian McCann are still very good, though the latter is scuffling.  The rotation didn't suddenly forget how to pitch and the varsity club of the bullpen (everyone but Luis Ayala and Anthony Varvaro) is solid.  Yeah, they are better with Heyward than without.  But they are still very good even without him.

Getting home field advantage became quite a bit more difficult without Heyward in right.  But before you think the season is over, remember that the Braves were a decent team with the entire offense, sans Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, not hitting for half of the season.  Now that the younger Upton is hitting, the Braves have the players to get to the end of season with the best record.  And with any luck, Heyward will be back and ready to help them the rest of the way.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Most Expensive Platoon Guy EVAH No More

At this point, B.J. Upton must be wondering what happened between leaving Tampa Bay and beginning this chapter of his career with the Braves. It was supposed to be a wonderful fit.  The Braves viewed Michael Bourn as overpriced and more likely to regress as his entire value was built on his speed.  Upton was younger, an accomplished base stealer of his own, and could play great defense even if it wasn't otherworldly like Bourn.  Plus, he had power, and was less likely to regress over the life of a long-term contract.  Yeah, sure, he never hit for much of an average and he never really became the hitter many expected him to become when he arrived on the scene.  Ya know, back when the Rays were the Devil Rays.

Oh, and did I mention that the Braves traded for his younger brother?  For the foreseeable future, he could come to the ballpark and play with his brother.  Add in the young phenom Jason Heyward and the outfield looked like it could be epic in 2013 and for many years to come.  Plus, its a sitcom waiting to be written.

It wasn't that big of a deal that he went hitless in the first four games of the year.  Or that he ended April with an OPS of .500.  Though, when that OPS somehow fell by the end of May, it became a little worrisome.  A decent June got his OPS close to .600 and maybe things were starting to look up, but they quickly crashed and in a series against the Reds right before the All-Star Break when Upton - and his younger bro and Heyward - all would go down with injuries.

He came off the DL on August 3rd and immediately started a five-game hit streak.  It maxed out with a 4-for-5 day in Washington back on August 7th and his slash was .198/.283/.319 with his OPS over .600 for the first time all season.  Braves fans began to wonder if Upton was finally going to get hot and what kind of weapon that would be for the rest of the season.

Two hitless games followed.  And worse yet for Upton, Jordan Schafer was activated off the DL on August 11th.  Schafer had slashed .312/.399/.464 when he was played on the DL.  In a sign of things to come, he started four consecutive games before suffering an injury on June 26th.  It seemed like the Braves were going to have a problem keeping Schafer out of the lineup, even if the Braves had finally found their leadoff hitter in his absence.

On August 11th, it was Schafer who patrolled center field in a 9-4 win over the Marlins, not Upton.  However, Schafer started only the middle game of a three-game series with the Phillies.  Maybe Fredi Gonzalez just wanted to get Schafer's feet wet with an early start.

Nope, Schafer would start the first two games against the Nationals, including playing the entirety of the ridiculous extra-inning game on Saturday.  Upton got back in the lineup in the rubber game but much like the series with the Phillies, there was a reason.

Bossman, who is still owed the lionshare of $75.25M from the contract he signed as a free agent, had been reduced to a platoon.  When there was a left-hander on the mound, he got the start.  When there wasn't, he sat, awaiting a call from Fredi to pinch-hit.  Since his four hit game, Upton is hitless in the 24 plate appearances that have followed with a walk, a sacrifice fly, and 12 K's.  Schafer hasn't come off the DL hitting the ball everywhere, either.  He's 3-for-22 with 3 walks.  But compared to Upton, that is a monster improvement.  Upton had lost the majority of starting nods to a guy who entered this year with a .221/.305/.301 slash in a shade under 900 PA.

It's too early to say Upton has been a complete bust.  The Braves hope that after the 2017 season, they will look back at 2013 as a weird anomaly.  Regardless, the last thing they envisioned was that five months into a five-year contract, their prized acquisition would become a platoon hitter (and not a particularly good one at that).  For his part, Upton is saying all the right things. As he said, "We’re going way too well for me to be worried about what I’m doing."  He also added, "I don’t really have an argument. What’s my argument?"

Yeah, he really doesn't have one.  True, he's probably been a little unlucky.  His line-drive rate is within his career norms, but his .260 BABIP is 57 points below his career average.  But his 32.8 K% is also the highest of his career.  His swing has been slow and his adjustments have been even slower.  The only pitch that doesn't seem to be completely embarrassing him is the curveball, but pitchers aren't throwing that often against him.  And his defense hasn't been truly valuable this season.  Everything is off the rails at this point.

The Braves could definitely use a little of Tampa Upton down the stretch after learning that Heyward may miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured jaw.  It's not the way Upton probably wanted to get more at-bats, but it's what has been thrust at his feet.  Losing such a valuable member of the team hurts in the field, at the plate, on the base-paths...you name it, Heyward could do it.  Upton can't replace him, but the one thing he can do is produce.  At least, I think he can.  Evidence to this point has been a little lacking.

He had no argument to be in the lineup.  When Heyward returns, which hopefully will be sooner than the end of the season, maybe there will be no argument to take Upton out.  The Braves surely hope so.  While conventional wisdom says this is a lost year for Upton, the season is not over.  With 36 games left, a division to wrap up, and home field advantage to play for - there damn sure is plenty for the Braves, and Upton, to play for.  He said all the right things.  Now, let's hope he can turn that goodwill into cheers with a good month of baseball.

And an awesome month of October.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Howdy Elliot!

Earlier this season, the Braves looked like they had a wealth of depth in the middle infield.  In addition to their unquestioned starters, Ramiro Pena provided excellent numbers off the bench to go with valuable defense.  In the minors, there was last year's opening day starter at shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky, and defensive wiz Paul Janish.

But baseball has a way of destroying depth with unmatched quickness.  First, it was Pena's shoulder.  Recently, it was Dan Uggla going all Blind Guy McSqueezy.  That brought Pastornicky back from Gwinnett.  At least, it did until Jason Heyward decided that his presence was unacceptable and decided to murderball him.  The middle infield depth was reduced to Janish and Ryan Gosling's brother to go with Andrelton Simmons.  

So, it wasn't all that surprising that the Braves claimed a middle infielder.  What was surprising was that they passed on others for him.  

The Royals waived Elliot Johnson, a super utility guy who they just acquired in the offseason in the James Shields/Wil Myers trade.  He came up to the majors with the Rays in 2008 and played in 200 games in three seasons.  The majority of that came in 2012 when he hit .242/.304/.350 with 18 steals.  After the trade, he came off the bench with a fair bit of regularity for the Royals, but he only OPS'd .458 in the process.  He was 14 for 14 in steals, though.

Johnson has some value.  He has played everywhere except behind the plate and on the mound.  He's a good base-runner with 38 steals in 52 attempts and a career 2.4 BSR.  And that's the end of the "Johnson has some value" narrative because after defensive flexibility and base-running, there comes the bat and Johnson has yet to have much to provide there.  A career .212 hitter with a .580 OPS, Johnson is not a post-hype sleeper who had stellar minor league numbers.  He's just a light-hitting backup.  You might call him a scrapper.  

As a depth pickup, Johnson helps.  Just not a great deal.

Gotta wonder why the Braves passed on Ryan Roberts for him.  Possibly Frank Wren was stuck on the idea of adding a backup infielder capable of batting left-handed as Johnson can switch-hit.  That's the only reason I can come up with.  Oh, well, all the same...Howdy Elliot!

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - AL West

...excluding Bobby Bonilla.

Let's head out west to catch up with some former Braves.  Is anybody used to the idea that the Houston Astros are in the AL yet?  It really wasn't that long ago that the Braves seemed to play them every October.  Oh, that reminds me, screw you, Chris Burke.

Houston Astros

P Paul Clemens - Part of the Michael Bourn trade a few years ago, Clemens made it to the majors this year during his sixth professional season.  However, a 6.17 FIP has been hardly impressive.  Just 25 years-old, Clemens has been a starter throughout his career, but all 30 games for the 'Stros have been out of the pen.  Most mind-boggling stat...13 HR in 46.2 ING, an absurd 2.5 HR/9.  Only Freddy Garcia has had a worse rate this season for pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings.

P Brett Oberholtzer - Also acquired for Bourn, Oberholtzer has appeared in seven games - four starts - with the 'Stros this season and has been the guy we basically all thought he was.  He won't get many K's or walk too many batters.  Those qualities have kept him from being a big prospect.  Just the same, he can throw a variety of pitches, including a very nice changeup.  Could see him occupy the bottom of a rotation for awhile.  Seems like a perfect fit for the Twins.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

P Tommy Hanson - Talked about Hanson a week or so ago.  He sucks now.  Poor guy.

P Cory Rasmus - Traded for Scott Downs at the deadline, Rasmus has been closing for the Angels' AAA squad.  We know he should get some swing-and-misses, but he's got to start throwing more strikes.

3B Andy Marte - Yeah, he's back.  He last played in the bigs in 2010, but the former three-time Baseball America Top 20 player recently joined Salt Lake after OPSing .893 in 96 games with York in the Atlantic League.  He turns 30 on October 21st.

OF Matt Young - He's actually now in the Mexican League, but not sure if he was loaned or flat-out released by the Angels.  He wasn't hitting.  A former internet sensation at Braves' blogs, Young broke camp in 2011 with the Braves, but didn't stay up long.  He played for about a week with Detroit last season.

Oakland Athletics

P Jesse Chavez - I am absolutely astonished by the fact that Chavez is still in the majors.  When the Braves got him before 2010 after Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration, expectations were low and he still found a way to under-performed them.  The Royals gave him a try because they sift through the Braves' trash like a stalker.  Last season, he actually started two games in the bigs.  Yeah.  Now, he's a fairly okay reliever for the A's, who seem to take guys who shouldn't be in the majors and turn them into decent options.

P Chris Resop - A converted pitcher, Resop has been around for awhile.  He turned in a pair of good seasons with the Pirates after the Braves sent him packing.  However, he has struggled in 18 innings with the A's this season.

Seattle Mariners

P Moises Hernandez - Here's Hernandez's only fun fact.  The Braves acquired him after the 2005 season as compensation for allowing Leo Mazzone to leave for the Orioles.  Hernandez is also Felix Hernandez's younger brother.  For the last three years, the now 29 year-old has been stuck toiling around in AA.  But hey, if employing his brother keeps King Felix happy, I think Moises has job security.

C Henry Blanco - There are just not that many players left who signed during George H. W. Bush's presidency. Hank White has played in over 950 major league games with eleven teams, including 136 with the Braves between 2002-03.  He's the second oldest player in the AL this season.  For the last two months, he has been with the M's after starting the year in Toronto.

C Jesus Sucre - The Braves signed a teenage catcher out of Venezuala in 2005.  In late May, that catcher finally got to the bigs.  Sucre has never been a hitter.  He's essentially a younger Blanco who was fortunate enough to play for a team that is employed seven different catchers this year.

Texas Rangers

P Neftali Feliz - The 2010 Rookie of the Year has struggled to stay healthy after moving to the rotation in 2012.  He was recently shut down again, but the Rangers hope to get him back in September.  Regardless, he's a true talent.  Sadly, the Braves didn't have him long before trading him for Mark Teixeira.  And he wasn't the only one...

P Matt Harrison - Matt Harrison arrived on the scene to stay in 2011 and followed it up with a very solid 2012.  However, injuries have wiped out his 2013 season.  Fortunately for him, he signed a huge extension already.

SS Elvis Andrus - Also with a big extension in his back pocket is Andrus.  He arrived for the Ranges in 2009, less than a year-and-a-half after the Teix trade.  His offensive game hasn't improved much, but Andrus provides good value in the field and on the base paths.

UT Jeff Baker - A depth addition, Baker spent September with the Braves last season. He has found a nice home in Texas, posting an OPS well above .900 as useful utility guy off the bench.