Sunday, September 8, 2013

Random Prospect of the Day: Omar Poveda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Braves Are Top Five In a Lot of Categories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why did the Braves Go So Loe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Best (and Worst) of August

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

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

Rookie of the Month

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

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

Worst Position Player of the Month

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

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

Worst Pitcher of the Month

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

Best Position Player of the Month

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

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

Best Pitcher of the Month

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

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

Here's a few additional notes:

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