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.
Year rPM DRS RZR OOZ UZR
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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Are Innings a Concern - Revisited

Way the hell back on July 19th, I posted a blog talking about whether or not innings are a concern entering the second half.  At the time, Atlanta had a six game lead in the NL East and their record of 54-41 was just four games off the pace for the best record in the National League.  It was a promising first half and the rotation played a significant role in that.  For the most part, they had five healthy starters - including two veterans - and a young lefthander and a returning stud (in more ways than one, ladies).  The depth was enviable, especially as teams scrambled to fill out their rotation.

However, a possible issue was developing.  While there's no hard rule available, teams keep track of how many innings a pitcher logs compared to his recent history.  Some like pitchers who are 25-and-under to avoid pitching more than 30 innings vs. their previous season.  For example, if pitcher A throws 155 innings in 2012, you would like to see him throw no more than 185 the following year.  While rarely clubs employ a strategy that includes shutting down a pitcher when he hits his innings limit, clubs can use the number as a goal to try to aim for.

For Atlanta, with a rotation that currently includes four starters who are 25-and-younger, keeping an eye on innings could be important in a pair of ways.  First, the Braves badly will need their starters to be good in October.  Losing effectiveness at the wrong time could be catastrophic to the Braves' hopes of winning their first Championship since 1995.  Also, the Braves are built for the long-term.  While winning this year is the most important thing, keeping an eye on the next two-to-three seasons is a must.

With that in mind, let's go over the four youngsters.  In addition, I'm including one because his assorted injuries have limited his innings thus far.  On the other hand, I'm not going to include Paul Maholm because he's older.  When I did this column a month ago, I including a three-year average. I will continue to do that, but I think last year's innings total are more important so I'm adding that along with a new innings pace to compare with where they were a month ago.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
158.2 208 207 179.1 175
Despite a rough start Saturday against the Nationals, Minor has consistently put up big inning outings.  In fact, the marathon outing was just the second time this season Minor has failed to pitch at least six innings and the first time since April 10th.  For the record, he logged 5.2 ING that day.  Hopefully, Saturday was a product of an iffy start time because of monsoon season.  Still, the Braves may want to see if they can limit him down the stretch.  If he's laboring badly like he was Saturday, give him a quick hook.  Let him start anew the next time out.  Either way, you'd like if he was reaching 200 innings and higher in the postseason rather the last week or two of the regular season.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
148 194 193 151.1 87

Unlike the rest of the pitchers in the current staff, Medlen is above 25 as this is his age 27 season.  However, I include him because his arm has never had to shoulder close to this much of a load.  Until 2008, he was a reliever and just set his personal high in innings last year.  He should pass that high in his next start (if not next extra inning relief appearance).  What complicates issues is that Medlen has struggled to regain his 2012 form and with the injury to Tim Hudson, Atlanta has a team-wide competition for the playoff slots behind Minor.  Medlen had a pair of good starts before coming out of the bullpen on Saturday and is scheduled to take the ball Friday against the Cardinals, which could be a tough match-up.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
149 193 195 164.1 142
The Braves have done a fairly good job limiting Teheran's innings when they can.  They will need to continue to do that.  If you buy into limiting pitchers to no more than 30 innings more than they pitched the previous season, Teheran is on pace for that.  Teheran has games where he labors and struggles with his consistency. It's imperative in those games, especially in September, to get the pen working.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
64 NA 84 146.2 96
It's difficult to make any sort of projection for Beachy's innings.  I didn't bother last time, but I put a pace up this time, though its value may not be big.  Nevertheless, Beachy looks ready to breeze past that total with three-to-four starts.  There really shouldn't be any innings worry with him.  Instead, his pitches per game must be charted and decisions should be made off that.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
113.2 135 148 155 86
As expected, with him transitioning to a full-time starter, his pace altered significantly.  It will only to continue to do that. However, with the time he did spend in the bullpen, Wood shouldn't need to be babied much down the stretch.  Last year, between Georgia and his time in the minors, he logged 155 innings.  Even as a full-time starter in a five-man rotation for the rest of the season, he shouldn't throw many more than he did last year - if any.

In the end, one of the things that might help out the young hurlers with their innings is the return of Maholm.  Either as a part of a six-man rotation or subbing for a starter every turn through the rotation, Maholm will give the Braves an option to limit innings.  If a six-man rotation is adopted in September, the concern of its impact on the bullpen becomes an afterthought with expanded rosters.  

I know it's not sexy.  We want our starters to pitch seven innings or possibly complete a game here and there.  But Atlanta has home field advantage to play for and a title to win.  Going an extra frame or two in early September or getting a start pushed back doesn't seem like it might make a big difference and there's no real way to tell if it will.  However, better safe than sorry.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

2013 Atlanta Braves Myths: Part IX

For a few weeks, I thought I was finished with investigating myths that serve as potential pitfalls to the Atlanta Braves celebrating this season with a parade down Peach Street.  But one narrative continues to survive, spoken by commentators around the media landscape.  Some Braves fans follow blindly, believing the logic is so sound, it must be true.  Let’s find out.


9. The Atlanta Braves Won’t Win It All Because Their Staff Lacks Postseason Experience

When Tim Hudson went down, the Braves didn't just lose a clubhouse leader and a good guy at the bottom-of-the-rotation.  They lost their only player with a notable amount of postseason experience.  While a member of the A’s, Tim Hudson appeared in seven games with six starts as Oakland failed to get out of the ALDS.  Since becoming a Brave, he has made three starts, including one in 2010 where he tossed seven scoreless innings for a no-decision.  All told, he has logged 54.2 innings in the postseason.
Once you remove Hudson, the only other pitcher with a postseason start on the roster is Kris Medlen, who was handed the ball in the memorable Wild Card Game last season. 

The rationale follows as such: The postseason is a different animal.  Pitchers are relied upon with such a higher degree that not having experience in how to deal with those expectations can wreck pitchers the first few times they go through it.  The only cure to this is experience.  Relying on a rotation with youth will destroy Atlanta in the postseason.

Like any hypothesis, this theory must be tested.  I went back to 1991 just to make this tidy, but I’m sure you can go back a lot longer.  Remember, before 1969, only two teams made it to the playoffs.  You have to accept a lot of teams that earned the right to play in the World Series for the first time in ten or so years had little postseason experience in their starting staff. 

In this sample, I found five World Series Champions who meet the criteria.  All have occurred since 2002 and some sported staffs that lacked postseason experience across the board.  

2002 – Anaheim Angels…Though they finished as the Wild Card behind Hudson’s Athletics, the Angels defeated the Yankees and Twins with little trouble before beating the Giants in seven games to win the Series.  Of their top four starters, only Kevin Appier had any postseason starts.  One start, to be more exact and just two games overall.  The other three – Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn, and fresh-faced rookie John Lackey – had no postseason experience.

2003 – Florida Marlins…Another Wild Card entry, the Marlins reached the playoffs largely from their young, high-performing players.  Their staff was all under 30 and none of the five starters had a single game of postseason experience.  The unorthodox Jack McKeon would use all five to start at least one game in the playoffs and in 17 games, they won more than they lost and took home their second World Series Title in franchise history.  The playoff scene did little to take Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, and others off their game.

2005 – Chicago White Sox…The ChiSox of ’05 had more experience than the previous two, but two of the starters they relied on (Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland) had one game out of the bullpen in the postseason between them.  Jose Contreras had postseason experience during his time with the Yankees, but never started a game.  Didn't stop their title hopes.

2008 – Philadelphia Phillies…Though they had the geriatric Jamie Moyer and his five postseason starts, the Phillies didn't have much starting experience in the playoffs outside of him.  Cole Hamels had one start and Brett Myers and Joe Blanton were used as relievers in their only postseason nods.  Yet, they rolled through the postseason with relative ease, winning 11-of-13.

2010 – San Francisco Giants…The final entrant resembles the 2003 Marlins.  While they had veteran Barry Zito on the staff, his ineffective play dropped him from the postseason roster.  Instead, the Giants relied on four postseason rookies and were matched up with the Phillies in the NLCS.  Philly was no longer the postseason newbie they were in ’08, having won the previous two NL pennants.   Nevertheless, the Giants took that crown away in six before breezing by the Rangers in five for the World Championship.

Postseason experience is nice.  But it’s not a necessity.  Even in 1991, the Braves and Twins matched up with one starter on each side who actually had a decent amount of postseason experience (Jack Morris and Charlie Leibrandt).  The rest of the starters, and there were some tremendous ones on both sides, were new to the postseason scene.  We still got one of the greatest World Series in history. 

Experience doesn't beat talent and execution.  I will grant you that postseason experience does nothing but help players, but its actual impact seems very low.  And though he’s hurt, Huddy is around to provide advice to the young guns on the staff.  Either way, if the Braves fail in the playoffs – and hopefully, they don’t – the reason for that failure will not because the other team was more seasoned than the Braves.