Sunday, June 30, 2013

Random Prospect of the Day: Ross Heffley

Welcome back to one of Walk-Off Walk's first ongoing segments, the Random Prospect of the Day.  As of today, there are 162 players who have received an at-bat in the Braves minor league system.  Using random.org, I got the number for Ross Heffley.  Let's meet him.

Not the best home run stare in the world, Ross.

Ross Heffley was born in Georgia back in January of 1990 and helped to lead Brookwood High to a 2008 State Championship, even going so far to hit a walk-off jack in the state finals.  After numerous accolades in Gwinnett County, Heffley accepted an offer to attend Western Carolina University and was an immediate performer for the Catamounts, being named the 2009 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.  Kid hit .391 with a 1.009 OPS, ridiculous considering he only hit four home runs.  Not too shabby for a guy who generously was listed at 5'8".  Us short guys have to love the short ballplayers.

His sophomore year was quite solid, though not nearly to the level of his freshman year.  He made up for it with his All-American 2011 campaign.  He hit .419 with 11 homers and a Bondsian 1.142 OPS.   Fun fact.  His average never fell under .384.  Yeah, I'd say he had a good season.  In 53 games, he had more than one hit 33 times.  He batted ten times in an epic 20-inning thriller against Elon in the Southern Conference Tournament, hitting a two-run bomb to put Western Carolina ahead.

Much like his sophomore year "letdown," Heffley wasn't quite as awesome during his senior year, but did walk an astounding 35 times to 14 K's.  He left Western Carolina with the most hits in school history.  That June, the Braves made him the 569th player taken when they grabbed him in the 18th round.  Heffley wasn't the first Catamount the Braves have selected in recent years.  They took Chris Masters in 2009 and notably selected Charles Thomas in 2000.

Heffley skipped rookie ball, settling into Rome and made an immediate impact.  Rome, which had languished through a terrible first-half, inserted Heffley at second  in the field and in the lineup and had a much more productive second half, winning 44 games after winning just 18 during the first half.  Heffley played a significant role in that effort, posting a .751 OPS with .328 wOBA.  He was also praised for his defense.

The move to Lynchburg this season brought Heffley some considerable trouble.  He hit just .218 with an OPS under .600.  Difficult to keep plodding about with production like that.  A few weeks ago, Heffley was demoted back to Rome in efforts to shake his season-long troubles.

Dan Uggla is signed through 2015 so there is time for Heffley to insert himself into the Braves' future, but beyond a failed attempt to conquer high-A ball, Heffley is not the top second-base prospect in the Braves organization currently.  That honor falls on Tommy La Stella, drafted from Coastal Carolina in 2011 and currently in his first season at Mississippi, though he's hurt right now.  La Stella was actually hurt to begin the year and opened with a week at Lynchburg before going to Mississippi, where he hit .330 before getting hurt again.  In addition, Heffley's demotion was welcome news for Levi Hyams, who was handling second base duties in Rome and got the call up to Lynchburg.  Drafted a round after Heffley last year out of the University of Georgia, Hyams did his best Heffley 2012 impression at Rome before the callup.

Heffley is a guy to root for.  He's short, needed a dramatic homer at the end of his high school career to even get a scholarship offer, and he's short.  However, he has a lot of work to do before he can become more than organizational filler. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Atlanta Braves 2013 Myths: Part III

Earlier today, I touched on another myth I have seen and a couple of days ago, I began this series. Time to turn a corner and possibly find some truth in a myth.

Possibly.

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.
2. Atlanta seems to fall behind early and has to play catch-up. 

3.  Atlanta can't win if they keep striking out so much!

Commonly, we hear about the strikeouts being the Achilles's Heel of the Atlanta Braves by "experts" and "analysts" and "Harold Reynolds."  In addition, the mantra is repeated often on message boards, twitter, and in the ballpark.  There is some degree of truth, though not entirely related to the Braves.  Often, especially in history, a plethora of strikeouts is a sign of a bad offensive ball club.  However, the mantra itself does not tell us all that much.  There are 7.53 strikeouts on average by a team per game this season.  In 2000, the average was 6.45.  To put that simply, every team in baseball, on average, is striking out one more time per game and 162 more times in a season than they were 13 years ago.  Every year since 2005, MLB teams have struck out more than they did the year before.

Not all of that is due to hitters just not caring about strikeouts or whatever jibber-jabber they spout on MLB Tonight.  There are some REALLY good fucking pitchers in today's game and every year, more of them seem to develop.  People are throwing harder and with more movement than ever before.  Now, hitters and teams have begun to adopt a model that downplays the importance of strikeouts for batters, focusing on value elsewhere.  And let's be honest, strikeouts generally aren't that worse than any other out.  In situational hitting, that truth can lose its effectiveness. 

With that in mind, I decided to find if there was a certain number that truly defined the breaking point for the Atlanta Braves as far as strikeouts go.  If they strikeout, say 10 times, are they more/less likely to win and does that data have much importance?  And because I can totally kick butt at tables now, here's another one.

# of K's # of Times Record ExtIng
3 1 1-0 NA
4 7 5-2 NA
5 3 3-0 NA
6 10 9-1 NA
7 10 6-4 0-1
8 10 5-5 1-1
9 5 3-2 NA
10 12 4-8 3-2
11 9 5-4 NA
12 4 2-2 2-0
13 3 0-3 NA
14 2 1-1 NA
15 1 1-0 NA
16 3 2-1 NA
18 1 0-1 NA

What's to gain here?  Anything?

Well, from the raw data, if the Braves strikeout 10 times or more, they are 15-20 with only 10 of those wins coming in nine-inning games.  If they strikeout less than 10 times, they are 32-14.  However, the league average is 7.5 K's a game.  Rounding that up to 8 and below, the Braves are 29-12.

If the Braves don't strikeout, they do win.  However, is that truly the myth?  Hell, if they strikeout 14 times or more, they are 4-3, sample size be damned.  Regardless, you would have to assume that when the Braves strikeout more than the league average, they are often facing pretty good starters.  Typically, that does play out.  Anibal Sanchez, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner (twice), Stephen Strasburg (twice), Patrick Corbin, Gio Gonzalez (twice), Zack Greinke, and Cliff Lee were some of the good starters they faced and most often, those starters had good game scores and the Braves were headed to a loss.  The average game score in those games was 67 and the Braves were 4-8 in those games.  Seems to make sense, right?  If there is a good starter on the mound and he's dealing and you strikeout over 10 times, you lose.  However, when the starter isn't dealing, the Braves tend to strikeout a lot regardless, but when they aren't striking out, they are getting hits, hitting homers, taking walks, and most importantly, scoring runs.

The strikeouts in themselves are not a problem.  It goes way deeper than that.  It's why the Braves can strike out 18 times and lose 10-0, but strike out 16 times and win 9-2.  You are going to get strikeouts with this team and quite often, more than you can bear because the ones that you agonize over occur in close games, a good deal of which are lost.  If only Dan Uggla had made contact...or one of the Uptons...or so on...and you come to the knee-jerk conclusion that the strikeouts are the problem.  And they can be.  But win-or-lose, the Braves are, on average, going to strike out 8.8 times a game.  When they strike out less, they often are going to win, but remember, if a strikeout team isn't striking out, it typically means the opposing pitcher is crap or at least pitching like crap.

In the end, I came away from this little exercise surprised by the layout, expecting more victories with 10 or more strikeouts.  However, the more I delved in, the more I saw that you have to see more than the strikeouts.  Was the pitcher dealing or were the Braves simply striking out because that's part of their game?  And in the end, all of this is sample size dependent.  The biggest sample I can take from this is that in 57% of their games, the Atlanta Braves strike out 6-to-11 times, but that's a small sample to take from this.  They have a blistering .695 in those games if you are curious.

Regardless, there is little evidence that striking out is the problem.  For instance, the Atlanta Braves have had 10 games of 10 or more strikeouts this month, a month that has seen their R/G fall over a run from May.  Despite 10 or more strikeouts in 27 games this month, the K rate is the lowest it has been all season (though it's still 8.2 K per game).  Hell, they are walking a lot more and have a new month-high in steals this month.  Why so few runs?  Worst month for homers so far.  That is the telling number about this team.  They're going to strikeout and they will probably walk a good deal.  I'm a little surprised they haven't been more proficient in stolen bases, but whatever.  Their weapon of choice is the homer.  If it's not coming, the Braves aren't scoring like they should.

However, with 6 homers in the last 5 games, maybe the Braves offense is getting back to their bread-and-butter.

Atlanta Braves 2013 Myths: Part II

Previously, I began a series to seek out the truth behind some of the comments typically made about the Braves, often from observational bias.  Today, we continue as we try to find out more truth about the Atlanta Braves current philosophy.

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.

2. Atlanta seems to fall behind early and has to play catch-up.

I'm not entirely sure where this idea comes from, but I have seen it presented on message boards and on facebook, typically after a loss or even a come-behind win.  Sometimes, commentators will add a sense that the players just don't care early, though the idea is rather absurd.  Not that a player might not have his head elsewhere for a game, but truly, to believe these guys just don't care all that much whether or not they make an out or get on base is ridiculous.

But hysterics aside, the entire idea being presented is just wrong.  Here is a breakdown for Atlanta's run-scoring abilities at different points in the game.

Innings Runs Scored
1-3 98
4-6 129
7-9 91
Hey, cool, a table.  A crude one, but it's been several years since I have attempted a table.  Go me!  Anyway, the evidence doesn't support the notion that Atlanta turns it on late.  In fact, they seem to turn it on middle.  Course, there are several possible of reasons for that.  Hitters are typically seeing the opposing starter for the second and third times in the middle of the game.  That not only helps hitters time a pitcher, but pitchers make more mistakes when they are deeper into a game.  The OPS for the team from the first time they see a pitcher vs. the 2nd rises 51 points.  From the second to third time, the OPS rises an additional 80 points. 

In addition, the little change between early and late in the game also is added up when you compare the first time the team sees a starter vs. the first time the team sees a reliever.  Atlanta does fare slightly better in those situations (.693 OPS vs. 680), but there is not much difference. 

I understand that we tend to associate what we think we see with the truth.  Maybe for a week this season, Atlanta didn't seem to wake up until the seventh inning and after that, we seem to recall the instances where that also occurred.  However, typically, this could not be more from the truth.  The Braves might struggle early to get going, but once they get a look at a pitcher and what he is bringing that particular day, Atlanta's chances of producing rightfully improve.  The more chances, the better it typically gets until the bullpen gets the call for the opposing squad. 

Makes sense, right? 

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Couple of Trade Ideas

Last July, I wrote a blogpost called Mining for Gold in which, among others, I brought up the idea of trading for Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker before Atlanta acquired both in separate trades last summer.  This won't be as in depth of a blogpost, but I figured I would do half of Frank Wren's job and give him the ideas that he would later act on.

So, yeah, I truly feel Wren follows me and gets his best ideas from me.  Any day now, he will talk about how the Braves do an adequate job in making productive outs.

If you missed the news, the Atlanta Braves announced that Ramiro Pena, already on the disabled list, would need surgery to fix a torn labrum.  Essentially, the same surgery Brian McCann needed.  It was smart for Pena to go down this route.  McCann was a shell of his former self last season and his already mediocre throwing arm became an embarrassment to watch.  Pena had done enough to put himself into prime position to go into next spring with a job in the 2014 Braves right now, though that could easily change.  Pena's display of power was probably unsustainable.  He had never came even remotely close to the .165 ISO the Braves saw from him through 107 plate appearances, but even if that fell closer to his career norms, he was pretty valuable. 

Defensively, the most time he received in the field predictably came at third base.  He only started five games there, but appeared in a ridiculous 32 at third, largely as a defensive replacement in close games and games where Atlanta had a significant lead.  He also logged six starts at second and seven at shortstop. 

Internally, the Braves don't have many options to reasonably replace what Pena provided.  Tyler Pastornicky might be reasonably expected to put up a similar wOBA to what Pena had, though let's adjust that because Pena's power was likely unsustainable.  Pastornicky could post a .310 wOBA off the bench for the Braves, but he doesn't replace Pena in any other facet.  He can't play third, for one.  Chris Johnson's horrific defense at third necessitates a need for a defensive caddy.  While it's difficult to find much value in Pena's defensive metrics, it seems clear that he could play a reasonably efficient shortstop and second base.  While Pastornicky might be capable at second, though I can't speak to that with much certainty, Pastornicky CANNOT play shortstop at a major league level.  This isn't your church league softball team.  A major leaguer should only play positions they are capable of playing outside of the most extreme of situations.  Runs in major league ballgames often come at a premium.  You just don't give them away by playing a poor player at such an important defensive position. 

On the other hand, Paul Janish can play shortstop at this level.  It's why Atlanta, pressed with an injury to Andrelton Simmons last summer, chose to trade for Janish rather than see Pastornicky again.  Janish seems capable of playing third base and second as well.  However, his only value comes as a defensive replacement and it's incredibly difficult to give a spot on a 25-man National League roster to a defensive replacement and not suffer from it.  However, compared to Pastornicky, Janish is a much better option. 

If Atlanta is willing to go outside of the organization, maybe the Dodgers would be willing to discuss the availability of Nick Punto.  A switch-hitter, Punto is doing an adequate job at holding down shortstop for the Dodgers, posting a 0.9 WAR in a shade over 200 PA, more than he received in each of the last two seasons.  Paid only $1.5M this season, Punto won't confuse you with much power (16 homers in over 3300 PA).  He supplements his offensive game with a walk rate over (sometimes well over) 10% (though it is a little lower at 9.4% this season).  But his true value comes from his ability to play an above-average infield.  He brings together Pastornicky and Janish's skills, much like Pena. 

Of course, the Dodgers have to be willing to trade off a soon-to-be free agent and accept their fate as a team incapable of competing for the division lead this season.  In addition, Atlanta can't overspend for a utility infielder, even if he might be the best one available.  But with Pena out for the rest of the season, it's time Atlanta makes the cross-country call and see if they can make this happen. 

Elsewhere, the Chicago Cubs, another historic franchise heading to an abysmal season, is looking to get a jump start on the market.  According to twitter and so on, the Braves have some interest in Kevin Gregg.  Having possibly his best season, Gregg is posting a 2.85 FIP and a 0.99 WHIP with a 9.2 K/9.  These numbers run in stark contrast to what Gregg typically has done as a major league pitcher.  A .246 BABIP would seem to play some role.  A LOB% over 90% plays a SIGNIFICANT role.  As do significant positive trends in K/BB rates and his walk percentage rates.  How much using his split-fingered pitch 5% more of the time than his career would suggest plays a role is unknown, but there's little to explain his sudden great luck. 

His uptick in production might allow the Cubs to receive a bigger package for him, though most teams would likely look at the last three seasons while they are making their trade offers.  Gregg is an okay veteran for the back of the bullpen as Scott Linebrink once was.  If picked up, Gregg does little to potentially resolve the question of high-leverage options.  But does Gregg provide a better option over David Carpenter or Cory Gearrin?  Probably.  If the package is minimal, and it should be, Gregg could help the Braves this season. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Atlanta Braves 2013 Myths: A New Series

I love numbers.  I'm not naive to argue that "numbers never lie," but they, when properly used, can often strike down the evils of observational bias and provide some clear thinking based on actual facts.  With that, let's start a new series on these myths.  Each article in the series might answer one myth or maybe two myths.  Did I mention I started a new series?  How professional is this shit?

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.

A lot of the myths about the 2013 Braves stem from their frequency in strikeouts.  The league average of all plate appearances ending in a strikeout is 20.1%.  Atlanta has five starters above that mark along with often-used subs like Evan Gattis and Jordan Schafer.  Atlanta has a whole strikes out 23.6% of the time, led by Dan Uggla's staggering 34.3% of the time.  To put that in more expressive terms...

DAN UGGLA STRIKES OUT A THIRD OF THE TIME!!!!!

Holy crap, that's a lot.  All those strikeouts must mean a lot of unproductive outs.  Right?  Well, considering this a "myth" column, I bet you know the answer.  Baseball-reference tracks the statistic "Productive Outs" which goes a long way toward providing the evidence of the often talked about strategy.  The number basically is found by adding up any of the following situations: Successful sacrifice for a pitcher with one out, advancing any runner with nobody out, or driving in a baserunner with the second out.  Currently, the league average is in 32% of the situations, success is found.  That runs in striking contrast to the mentality, perpetrated by probably 95% of baseball analysts, that making the productive out is the "easy" thing.  To compare the league average, I picked three seasons from Atlanta Braves past (1985, 1995, 2005) to see, briefly, if there was any notable difference in the times.  The league average for those three years were 34% success, 34% success, and 32% success in 2005.  As the game has changed, the approach has altered, but only slightly.  Someone with more time, resources, and a much better internet can do further research and my usage of the Productive Outs statistic is not to say it's a perfect statistic, but it can help to tell a story. 

If the league average is 32% this season, and the Atlanta Braves strike out a lot, and Harold Reynolds says that strikeouts are highly unproductive, the Atlanta Braves must be failing tremendously to even be league average.  Mediocre.  Run-of-the-mill. 

Observational bias is inherent and we all suffer from it.  It is almost impossible to approach everything in life without it.  In arguments with our significant others, we often only recall the things that help our side, ignoring everything else. 

But baseball doesn't need to suffer from it with information so readily available.  Again, the league average on productive outs is 32%.  This number is pretty consistent with the last 18 years based on our sample.  Atlanta is slightly below average in productive outs at 31%.  However, if we just look at players who receive significant playing time, we come away with the conclusion that Atlanta, at worst, is at least average at the notion of productive outs.  The trio of Andrelton Simmons, Dan Uggla, and Justin Uption have been successful in 35% or more of their productive outs opportunities.  Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis are both slightly above league average, Ramiro Pena slightly below.  Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson, and B.J. Upton are both well below, especially the older Upton, who has only been successful in 3 of his 18 attempts.  The sample size for all players is tremendously low, but it's the closest thing we have to being able to quantify productive outs. 

For what it's worth, the 1985 Braves were successful in 31% of their opportunities, the World Series Champion 1995 Braves were successful in an abysmal 30% of their opportunities, and the 2005 Baby Braves were successful in 33% of their opportunities.  Further observation seems to point to a small trend.  Slap hitters are generally better at the successful productive outs, but that should be expected, though not just for the reason you expect.  Mark Lemke was successful in 39% of his chances in 1995, but he was also 7 for 9 in sacrifice bunt attempts. 

I hope you learned something.  Productive outs are a key staple to the idea of small ball.  Atlanta is not built for such a game, but they do an adequate job at successfully capitalizing on productive out opportunities, at least according to their peers. 

Are the Braves just...lucky?

I scour the facebook landscape for the best commentary on the Atlanta Braves.  Well, not the best, but the strangest.  And in a great many of these wonderful, level-headed exchanges, I, and other crazy bastards like myself, have provided this irrefutable fact.  The Atlanta Braves are in first place. 

I even looked it up.  Yep, the Nats, after beating the Diamondbacks, are 38-38.  The Braves, after beating the Royals, are 45-33.  According to math, a foreign concept, that comes out to a six game difference.  And that six-game cushion is pretty consistent.  Sometimes, it trickles down to 4.5 games, sometimes it rises to 7.5 games.  But generally, Atlanta has not had to worry too much from their NL East rivals that their division lead was in jeopardy.  They took over sole possession of first place on April 7th, or after game number six, and have yet to wake up one sad morning with someone else in first.

But...but...wait...ESPN said, and Harold Reynolds said, and everyone was sure that the Nationals were going to be THE team in the National League East.  Surely, the best chance for Atlanta to head back to the playoffs was via the one-game playoff.

Why the continued ownage by the Braves over the NL East?  Well, the Marlins are horrible and Jeffrey Loria probably should be publicly flogged.   The Mets are just cute.  Sometimes, they win.  Often, they lose.  But they are just so cute the way they try to play baseball even though it seems like its the first time they ever have.  Some make the mistake of bringing up the Phillies.  I don't know why a team that won 81 games last year (and lost 81), was one of the oldest teams in the league, and simply got older in the offseason was considered a challenger for the NL East crown.  Was is Chase Utley's inability to get through a day without a limb falling off?  Maybe it was the fact that Ryan Howard appeared in The Office's final season.  I don't know why that would help, but on the other hand, I don't know why anyone thought the Phillies were going to turn it around despite no noteworthy pickups.

BUT...the Washington Nationals were going to be the team that ran away with the division.  And they still might.  It is, after all, late June.  However, considering the Nationals have a been a game from .500 (over or under) or right at .500 for six straight games and an astounding 15 of 16 games, I just wonder if they are ever supposed to be the team people assumed they would be.  I get it that Bryce Harper has been injured with self-inflicted wounds, but are they off from where they are supposed to be?  Gio Gonzalez is reverting back to a pretty good pitcher, but he wasn't the worldbeater he pitched like last year.  Tyler Clippard continues to be very lucky, but he's not the fireballer he was last year.  And Ross Detwiler is figuring out that if you throw two pitches and pretty much at the same speed, your success is often short-lived.  What it boils down to, and why the Nationals, like the Braves, have been shut out a good deal of times is that their offensive players are not performing like they expected.

Unlike Atlanta, however, it's not really that the Nationals are under-performing.  They are just reverting back to the mean.  Denard Span has been healthy this year for the most part, a stark contrast to recent seasons, but his production is minimal.  However, its not because of a huge negative turn in his BABIP or something like that.  Basically, he's just not the guy who, in 2009, posted a 10.4 BB%, a .359 wOBA, and a 3.9 WAR (that was muted because of a bad UZR number despite that he is, and remains, a solid defender in center).  His walk rate is a little down this year, but not much.  His ISO is down from last year, but in line with his 2010-11 numbers.  His K-rate is a little up, though not much to believe it's anything more than a mild adjustment.  And yes, what concussions have done to his numbers can't be truly stated.  However, he's about what you would expect.  A strong fielding player with a bat that does not threaten.

Adam LaRoche homered today, his eleventh and his power is considerably down, though he tends to heat up later in the season.  His BABIP is also down so he probably will get better.  But he went from a 2.2 career-best WAR to 3.4 last season.  It should have been expected that he was due for a fallback season.  Jayson Werth seems always hurt, though he was very durable from 2009-2011.  And while his walk rate is down along with his ISO, even if they revert back closer to his career norms, he doesn't seem capable of getting his Phillies years production back.  Though, to be honest, we all know the park had a little something to do with that.  He's also became a liability in the field, turning in negative UZR's in three of the last four seasons.  Are we to expect the 34 year-old to get better?  Really?

Oh, but Ryan Zimmerman was the face of the franchise and he has underperformed?  Again...has he?  Zimmerman has steadily went from a defensive force to a liability over the last four seasons.  He again is terrible and some have flirted the idea of dealing LaRoche, moving Zimmerman across the field, and putting the youngster Anthony Rendon at third.  Let's be clear, though.  Zimmerman, while he striking out a bit more than usual, is about on target with his recent numbers.  He's just so awful in the field that his WAR is getting muted. 

But Kurt Suzuki (hasn't been good since 2009)...But Wilson Ramos (can't stay healthy)...But Roger Bernadina (really?)...okay, I grant you that Danny Espinosa has significantly under-performed, but he's always been a stronger defender than a hitter.

So, no, the Braves haven't been lucky that the Washington Nationals have been awful.  The Nationals are a good team with a couple of superb ballplayers, a true Big Three in the rotation, and a great closer.  However, simply math should have been enough to cause people to wonder if the Nationals were truly the NL's best team entering 2013.  In fact, considering how much the Braves have under-performed, that six game cushion is lucky for one team.  The Nationals.  If Atlanta truly gets rolling, and I believe they will sooner rather than later, the Nationals better hope for some of that 2012 magic if they hope to get to the playoffs.

In the one-game Wild Card playoff, of course.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Random Prospect of the Day: 2012 Review

I had a couple of recurring posts during the first go-around...hey, I did have 46 posts so it's not like I never updated this blog...and one of those recurring bits was the Random Prospect of the Day.  Generally, every weekend, I would get a random.org number, go to b-r, and alternate pitcher/position player to introduce myself and any sad bastard reading this blog to a (often unknown) player in the organization.  Six times I did this.  And 1 in 6 received the Walk-Off Walk Bump.  Let's see how the dirty half-dozen is doing.  If you would like to see the original article with amazing information that you can't find anywhere (except on google), each player's article is linked.

Braeden Schlehuber

Fun fact.  When I wrote this article, I had his name copied-and-oh,so-ready-to-paste.  Schlehuber went to the Carolina League All-Star Game after getting a small bump from me, but not near the bump I gave the second person in the series.  Unfortunately for Schlehuber, he went to Mississippi this year and Christian Betancourt still doesn't know what to do with his bat, leaving the Utah native to ride the pine.  Not that he's done much with his time.  He is hitting just .218.  Career .634 OPS over nearly 1500 minor league at-bats won't get you any TOPPS Top Prospect cards (provided they still make those?).

Luis Avilan

"...but there's little in the numbers to think Avilan is again putting his name into the hat for an opportunity, which is a shame considering how the Braves bullpen could really use an arm like his if he was getting similar results to his play at A-ball.  There is some potential here.  Just hoping it comes out. "  That was how I ended my article about Avilan.  It seems - so far, at least - that the potential has come out.  A couple weeks after I wrote my article, Avilan replaced an injured Jonny Venters in the bullpen.  He hasn't looked back since, becoming a more significant member of the staff.  Of course, injuries have helped.  In 66 games, Avilan has a 1.01 WHIP, though his K/9 numbers are lower than you would expect from a reliever throwing 95.  He relies on getting the opposition to make outs, though he walks too many to be overly trustworthy, especially against righties.  Still...Walk-Off Walk Bump established!

Matthew Kennelly

The second catcher of the series, Kennelly is also the first random prospect to be released.  In early May, the Braves released the Aussie native after appearing in just five games in which he was 5 of 12 for the Gwinnett Braves.  All told, he appeared in just seven games for the G-Braves during his time in the organization.  Good news, though.  The Reds added him on a minor league deal and he plays for their AA team, Penascola.

Matt Talley

Yet another former farmhand.  This series seems like it's killing guys' careers.  Talley played for four teams last year in two different organizations.  He was still kicking in the Braves organization in early July when I wrote about him, but a few weeks later, he was in the White Sox organization pitching for their low-A ballclub along with their rookie league squad.  According to his twitter page, he is now a transmission engineer.  Apparently, to get Avilan to the bigs, the Walk-Off Walk Bump demanded a sacrifice.  Sorry, Matt. 

Joe Leonard

Hey, cool, somebody actually progressed outside of Avilan.  Unfortunately, Leonard still can't really hit that well.  Playing a solid defensive third base for the Gwinnett Braves, Leonard is homerless through his first 199 at-bats with a .609 OPS.  I mean, you kinda expect more out of a corner infielder, right?  If you could somehow merge Leonard's glove with Chris Johnson's bat, you would have a half-decent player.  All-Star Break isn't that far away.  Procedure wouldn't even need a trip to the DL.

Ian Marshall

Another poor soul, sent packing by the ugliness that is the Walk-Off Walk Sacrifice MACHINE!  But I did warn about this one so it wasn't a complete surprise.  "The chances that Marshall is in the Braves organization in 2013 are minimal."  Marshall is playing for Southern Maryland of the independent Atlantic League this season and in 12 starts, he is 6-3 with a 1.46 WHIP. 

There you have it.  One major leaguer, one backup catcher in AA, and one third baseman who is a designated fielder.  Oh, and two castaways and one retired pitcher who is now a transmission engineer.  Well, at least Luis Avilan owes his career to me.  That may come in handy. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

So...hey..

I am not so good at keeping a blog active.  Real life got in the way...new house, remodeling our old house and selling it, being an awesome stay-at-home dad...but I would like to get back into this blog and since nobody is reading, this would be a superb way to waste my time.

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I am baffled by Atlanta Braves fans, even though I know I shouldn't be.  Comments I read after losing 3 of 5 to the Mets - disgraceful, pathetic - convince me that people one, don't understand that baseball is a marathon, not a spring, and two, people don't understand that even the weaker major league squads still have a good deal of major league quality players. After every loss, the reaction of many Braves fans is quite fanatical.  Atlanta remains six games ahead of the Nationals, the largest lead of any division leader by two full games.  They have just four fewer wins than the Cardinals, who currently pace the bigs with a 47-26 record. 

And...it should be noted that the Braves have done this despite nearly no offensive production from Andrelton Simmons, Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, and B.J. Upton.  Or, as it may also be known, HALF OF THE LINEUP!  Batting average is a weak gauge of true offensive performance, but nevertheless, only two hitters are above .250.  And one of those two (Chris Johnson) needs a .407 BABIP to be successful.  Of course, it would not be fair to fail to mention the bench contributions that have significantly boosted the lineup's performance.  Evan Gattis leads the team with 1.9 fWAR while Ramiro Pena has been steady behind the infield's issues (Simmons and Uggla can't hit, Johnson can't field).  Both are on the DL now, though.  Somehow, Tyler Pastornicky and Paul Janish aren't quite the same players.  And we can't forget the surprising contributions of Jordan Schafer.  Once the expected fixture in center field when he came up after an impressive spring training, Schafer quickly fell out of favor and was traded to the Astros.  Things got so bad for him in Houston that they waived him.  Yeah, because Houston has so many amazing talents.  But Schafer has been impressive with Atlanta, walking nearly 14% of the time with a slightly better ISO than Heyward (though that says more about Heyward).  Like Johnson, his BABIP is impossible to continue.  Unlike Johnson, if Schafer continues to walk and hit with a little pop, his other skills (speed, defense) will make him quite valuable.

The youngsters in the rotation have been the most consistent, led by Mike Minor and his tremendous K/9 and K/BB rates.  He will give up some homers because he is a flyball pitcher, but he has staked his claim to the notion of ace of the staff.  Julio Teheran isn't far behind.  He struggled early, but since finding his comfort level, he has been quite solid, rarely walking anyone and improving his K rate to over 7 per nine innings.  Huddy and Maholm provide good groundball guys who have also pitched well. 

The bullpen is a problem.  Contrary to comments by many on the Internet, Craig Kimbrel remains one of the best pitchers in baseball.  Jordan Walden looks like he can handle a high leverage role, but I don't have much confidence in anyone else to get the outs late and close.  I know some call that clutch, but I call it needing outs without giving up baserunners.  Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin can handle themselves when giving up a baserunner or two isn't that important.  I have zero confidence in them, or Anthony Varvaro, or David Carpenter, or Alex Wood in high leverage situations.  Atlanta will have to make a move here before the deadline.

Overall, you have to assume that the offense will improve because the BABIP's of Heyward (.250), B.J. Upton (.215), and Simmons (.254) seem sure to go up.  The starting staff looks considerable and there's little to indicate that a fall should be expected.  Yet, after every loss, everyone online seems ready to break everything up and start over.  This team...really isn't that bad. 

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I aim to update again at least once this weekend.