Monday, June 30, 2014

Trade Winds: The Perennial Losing Chicago Cubs

Unlike the teams I've profiled that would appear to be sellers, the Cubs did not add salary this season. In fact, they dropped about $14M in payroll from 2013, continuing a downward trend that began after about $144M budgeted for 2010. With at least five free agents pending, the Cubs certainly will be attempting to have a similar July that they did last year when they cashed in Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Scott Hairston, and Alfonso Soriano. Theo Epstein and company are shrewd in trades, especially when there is a seller's market like with Garza.

On the plus side for the Cubs, they have shown improvement so far. Their .425 winning percentage is better than the last two seasons and their run differential of -14 gives the impression that the Cubs are rather competitive.  And there is a beginning of a core in Chicago that should help them get better provided they can find talent to surround those players. That's where the trade deadline comes in. While buyers will often end up regretting the deals they make if it doesn't result in a ring, sellers can grab young, team-controlled talent.

Would the Cubs make attractive partners for Atlanta? First, let's look at the pending free agents, the players the Cubs would feel the most pressure to trade rather than possibly get nothing depending on a qualifying offer.

Amazingly, no one wanted Jason Hammel this offseason. He didn't find employment until right before the season when the Cubs locked him up to an one-year, $6M contract. Hammel had been a very good starter for the Orioles in 2012 with a 3.29 FIP and 1.24 WHIP, but his numbers were poor last season. Unlike other average starters, Hammel's issue was that he wasn't an innings eater. He threw 170+ in three consecutive seasons for the Rockies between 2009-10, but his average in the five years since becoming a starter was 156 innings. Teams will pay for less than spectacular talent, but they expect innings. One of Hammel's teammates in Chicago, Edwin Jackson, has made an entire career of just throwing innings.

Since joining Chicago, Hammel has had probably his best run of pitching of his career. The 31 year-old has a 2.98 ERA and 3.11 FIP to match it. If that wasn't good enough, his WHIP of 1.01 is ridiculous considering his career and he already has one more strikeout than he did last season. Hammel looks like he's headed to a big pay day. Will it come after a couple of months with a Braves jersey on? Well, the Braves are linked to Hammel and with the injury to Gavin Floyd and recent string of "meh" outings from Aaron Harang, the interest would appear genuine. Hammel would seem easier to acquire than Jeff Samardzija, but can we buy into Hammel? His numbers show no real sign of a possible return to the mean, except that he does have the best control of his career (1.8 BB/9 compared to 3 BB/9 in his career). However, the Braves aren't the only team that could use Hammel. Unlike others, the Braves don't have a deep minor league system. Hammel would seem like a tough player to acquire without getting very creative and possibly adding a third team.

Emilio Bonifacio would also be a target, but he carries a certain amount of risk. Bonifacio has yet to begin baseball activities after being placed on the DL on June 13th with a strained right oblique. One of the most difficult injuries to get a read on is oblique injuries, as our old friend Tim Hudson knows. Provided he starts to progress, Bonifacio should be targeted by many teams for his flexibility, speed, and switch-hit bat. He was a big pick-up for the Royals last year as they tried to make a run toward a Wild Card spot and he hit .285 with a .700 OPS and 16 steals. Bonifacio has experience at all three outfield positions along with all of the infield spots except for first. He's hitting .261 and is overexposed as a starter. As a backup, he fits a nice 25th man role.

Chicago's other free agents are unlikely to attract much attention from Atlanta. They have no need for catcher John Baker and the other two, Nate Schierholtz and Carlos Villanueva, have been pretty bad this season. Offensively, outside of Bonifacio, there would seem to not be a decent fit. None of their players fit much of a role for the Braves.

Of course, of guys the Braves can team-control past this season, Samardzija would appear to intrigue the Braves. Averaging 8.6 K's every nine innings with a 1.20 WHIP, the former Notre Dame receiver has been talked about more about his win-loss record than anything. He recently declined an extension offer and the Cubs might want to cash in a huge chip when his value is at its highest. Problem with Samardzija for the Braves is that they have been burned by the big trade before. Giving up a lot of talent and not being able to sign Samardzija to a long-term contract would be a tough pill to swallow. Of course, if the Braves win it all, it becomes definitely easier to swallow that pill with a smile. Still, I can't see the Braves making the midseason blockbuster trade in this case.

They could instead seek out the price on lefty James Russell. With one more year of team control through arbitration left for Russell, he would appear to be a good target, though his numbers this season are not tremendous against lefties (.220/.304/.415). However, he's been very good of late and in his last 19 games, he has pitched 15 innings with only one unearned run allowed to go with eight hits, four walks, and 12 K's. He is a very good groundball pitcher.  While his numbers are good against righties this season, it probably is a little flukish and Russell should be kept from facing lefties. If the Cubs don't want to deal Russell, they might be more open to trading Wesley Wright, who they got last season from the Astros. He's similar to Russell as a LOOGY, though his K rate is a little down. Either pitcher would appear to fit a roll and keep the Cubs from possibly paying $4M or so for two LOOGY's next season.

The Cubs seem like a perfect target for a two birds, one stone type trade, the kind of move the Braves made two years to get Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson from the Cubs. Bonifacio and one of the lefties would appear to fill two holes for the Braves, pending Bonifacio's health. It would probably be less demanding of a trade than the Padres and Diamondbacks would demand for Seth Smith and Joe Thatcher, though the quality of the package is significantly less, too. Either way, the Cubs are a team to keep an eye on for Atlanta. I doubt the Braves make a move this July for a starter, but the Cubs have other pieces the Braves might be keeping an eye on. While reports will talk about how the Braves's scouts are at Cubs games to see a starter, it might be the other roster pieces they see as potential fits that the scouts are really there to see.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Random Prospect Sunday: Joey Terdoslavich

Every Sunday, I look at a random prospect in the Braves system, but this week is a little different, at least as far as definitions go. With 88 days of service, Joey Terdoslavich is technically not a rookie and therefore, he will be left off most "prospect lists." If that wasn't enough, being over 25 would push him off. But I make the rules here and Terdo can stay.

Born on September 8th, 1988 in Sarasota, Florida, Terdo was born on a day the Braves would lose, like many other future Braves whose birthday falls during the season during the 80's.  In San Francisco, Dale Murphy had three hits, but the Braves fell 3-2 after John Smoltz couldn't hold an early 2-0 lead. After growing up in the Sarasota area and attending high school there, Terdo was the #87th prospect in Florida and a second-team Louisville Slugger All-American. The success prompted the Devil Rays to draft him in the 35th round, but he didn't sign. Maybe if the Red Sox had drafted him, he could have been influenced to follow in his uncle Mike Greenwell's steps.

Instead, Terdo attended Miami in the ACC starting in 2008. He received immediate playing time and slashed .293/.371/.472 as a freshman with 5 HR. For whatever reason, though, Terdo decided to transfer after the season and left for the other side of the country and Long Beach State, who have the most amazing moniker. The Long Beach State Dirtbags! "Come to Long Beach State. Be a Dirtbag!" Seriously, if anyone wants the Braves to change their name because they feel its demeaning to Native Americans, I am starting the movement to rename them the Atlanta Dirtbags.

After sitting out a season because of transfer rules, Terdo had an even better season with the D'Bags in 2010, slashing .326/.384/.491 with 7 HR. The buzz was out on the switch-hitter and the Braves spent their sixth round selection and 194th overall pick of 2010 on him, inking him to $125,000 bonus ten days later. Terdo would begin his professional career with Danville shortly thereafter and with a .296/.351/.402 slash in 49 games, the Braves had to be thrilled with their immediate return on investment. Terdo was even better after being promoted to Rome to finish the season for a 21-game run.

The quick success prompted the Braves to promote Terdo to Atlanta's new Carolina League team, the Lynchburg Hillcats. He not only became a massive fan favorite for his hustle and timely hitting, but made it an historic year by breaking a 65-year old Carolina League record with 52 doubles. Terdo added a .286/.341/.526 slash and 20 homers as a 'Cat. My favorite moment watching Terdo was after he drilled a single to drive in a key run and he tried to take second on the throw home. Though clearly safe (not even being a homer, he was safe by a mile), Terdo was called out. He slammed his helmet down and was immediately ejected. He didn't argue the call, but gathered his helmet and walked back to the dugout. Sitting on the third base side with my future wife, we were part of a crowd that gave him a standing ovation.

Not only was 2011 historic, it also gave the Braves the idea to move Terdo across the infield to play third base for 2012. With the knowledge that Chipper Jones was likely retiring, the Braves wanted to see if Terdo could handle third so that they could use his bat in the lineup. It wasn't exactly alien to Terdo, who had played third in college and played 36 games at third in the half-season after being drafted. However, for us who watched him awkwardly try to play first at Lynchburg, we were bemused by the prospect.

If that wasn't difficult enough for Terdo, the Braves sent him to Gwinnett to start 2012, bypassing Double-A. The results were very ugly. He hit .180 with a .515 OPS in 53 games. He also committed 22 errors at third base. After slightly more than two months of this experiment, the Braves admitted defeat and sent Terdo to Mississippi, where he would DH and play first base while rarely getting time at third. His bat returned and he posted a .852 OPS.

He would completely stowaway his third baseman glove for 2013 and would instead get time at the corner outfield spots. After hitting well in spring, Terdo reasserted himself as a prospect by slashing .318/.359/.567 with Gwinnett as a 24 year-old. The success got him to the majors and he was often used as a primary pinch hitter off Fredi Gonzalez's bench, though he did play a decent amount of 1B and the OF. As a pinch hitter, he was 4-for-30, but did walk five times. His numbers took a massive dive after August 28th when he went 0-for-19 with 3 BB. Overall, he hit .215/.315/.266 in 92 PA and didn't play in the NLDS against the Dodgers.

After the Braves acquired Ryan Doumit to essentially perform the same duties, Terdo was a longshot in camp. Unfortunately, after going to Gwinnett, his production has continue to fall. Part of his problem can be attributed to a .267 BABIP, but his .225/.309/.330 slash is miserable at any level for a corner outfielder/part-time first baseman. At those positions, you are expected to hit.

Terdo is easily likable and that goes beyond his nickname. By all appearances, his teammates generally like him and I've never seen him not bust his butt trying to make a play, even if hits athletic limitations made it difficult. While his future might be brighter in the AL as a flexible player who can DH or rest players at 1B, LF, and RF, I still think the Braves will benefit for having Terdo around, provided he can start hitting again and I think he will. Once he gets going, the Braves would be smart to find room on the team for Terdo, even if Doumit is around. A switch-hitter with pinch-hitting ability is a rare find.

A Little Carolina League History

Growing up around Lynchburg, VA provided its citizens few advantages. We continuously have to correct people's perception that the name comes from a racist and violent practice (actually, the city's named after John Lynch). Not all of us were Jerry Falwell acolytes, willing to believe that evolution was a faux science invented by homosexuals. Nevertheless, there wasn't a lot to do. For your rock fans, the music is rather lacking. For your movie fans, unless it was a summer blockbuster, you probably weren't going to have it coming to a theater near you.

But Lynchburg had one advantage over local towns and cities like Charlottesville, Farmville, Martinsville, or any other ville's. It had an advantage over Roanoke, though Salem is practically a continuation of Roanoke. Lynchburg had minor league baseball. The first professional team in recorded Lynchburg history was in 1886 and since 1962, with each spring came a new season. Parent clubs came and went, but having professional baseball so close played a large part in me becoming such a fan of baseball. Before I was a Braves fan, I was a Lynchburg fan. And yes, at the time, it was the Mets that were in Lynchburg, but please don't hold that against me. Or how I rooted for the L-Sox when the Red Sox came to town for seven years. Or the Pirates who were the first to play under the Hillcats name. Or even the one year the Reds were in town, playing under the 'Cats moniker after "trading" high-A clubs with the Pirates.

However, imagine my happiness and excitement when a match made in heaven started in 2011 when the Braves affiliation left Myrtle Beach and came to Lynchburg. Sure, our park is by far the oldest in the Carolina League. While expanded and remodeled a few times since it opened, Lynchburg City Stadium first hosted a game on April 11th, 1940. By the way, the game played that day was an exhibition between the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers. City Stadium's not the biggest and doesn't have the greatest concessions, but there is a great sense of character in Lynchburg and the memories of many its citizens from when they were children and standing in the parking lot waiting for a foul ball to come their way. Baseball in Lynchburg was one of its few endearing qualities.

A few days ago, the Hillcats accomplished something of particular greatness that is so rare, people wondered about its historical significance. Playing the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Royals farmhand, for a series starting on Wednesday night, the Hillcats were looking to position themselves for a strong second-half in efforts to punch a ticket to the playoffs. Because the Carolina League uses a split-season format, the winners of the first and second halves go to the playoffs of each division. Potomac had won the North Division in the first half. The 'Cats had finished in a tie for second with the Blue Rocks.

In the first game of a three-game series, the Braves squandered a 7-3 lead, but were able to push more runs across late to win 11-7. Hillcats relievers set the last eight down. That would become slightly important.

On Thursday night, the Hillcats sent Lucas Sims to the mound. It has not been the season Sims had hoped for coming into 2014. After looking brilliant in Rome last season with 134 K's in 116.2 ING to go with a 1.11 WHIP, the Baseball America #57th best prospect in baseball has languished all season for the Hillcats. Now, it should be noted that Sims has only faced one batter this season that's younger than he is. That's a nice way of saying that he's very, very young. But his numbers in June have been especially bad. Even with what would transpire on Thursday night, Sims still has a 6.04 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in June.

Sims rolled through the first six batters, getting three grounders and a strikeout, but he hit Jack Lopez to open the third. No worries. A double play followed and Sims was back on track. Sims' control got to him in the fourth. He walked a pair and uncorked a wild pitch, but got a strikeout to end the inning. Hillcats would push a run across in the fifth, but in the bottom half, Sims walked his third batter. A passed ball, error, and a force-out scored the runner to tie it up. Yet, there was still no hits.

Though he would walk one more batter, Sims finished up the seventh with no hits allowed and a 5-1 lead after the 'Cats put up a four-spot in the seventh without the aid of an extra base hit. Alex Wilson replaced him and despite his typically outstanding control, Wilson walked the leadoff batter and would walk another in the seventh, but he struck out a pair and was through eight with still no hits allowed. In the ninth, after a pair of flyouts, Lopez stepped in and with two strikes, Lopez swung at a pitch in the dirt. Cather Tyler Tewell tagged out the runner to end the game and despite six total walks, a HBP, and an error, the Hillcats got the no-hitter. They weren't too excited about the accomplishment after the game and were given a little heat for not celebrating enough.

They would keep that in mind. The next night, it was Cody Scarpetta on the mound. While Sims was a big prospect, Scarpetta was just trying to stick around and get back on track. Scarpetta was a 11th rounder by the Brewers in 2007 and had reached AA by 2011, but like so many pitchers nowadays, Tommy John surgery was the suggested path after arm troubles propped up. Scarpetta would not pitch in 2012 and missed the first two months of 2013 before finally coming back to Brevard County, the high-A team for the Brewers. He struggled massively with his control, walking 36 in 34 innings and Milwaukee would cut him ahead of the 2014 season.

Trying to remain active, Scarpetta signed with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League.  Playing alongside guys like former Yankee Greg Golson and one-time Giant Fred Lewis, Scarpetta made eight starts for the Pennslyvania-based team and while success eluded him, the Braves saw something they liked and signed him in early June. He would made his debut for the Hillcats on the 12th and on Friday night, he was appearing in his third start with the 'Cats.

The Hillcats gave him a 1-0 lead in the second and Scarpetta was perfect against the first 17 batters before a walk ruined his attempt at 27 up, 27 down. He would also hit a batter to open the bottom of the seventh after the "Cats increased the lead to 4-0, but a grounder and a pair of K's ended the threat and ended his night. He struck out seven over his seven tremendous innings.

Lynchburg added another run in the top of the 8th before calling on Benino Pruneda to pitch the bottom half. Like Scarpetta, Pruneda had an interesting story. He was a good looking reliever when he averaged well over 10 K/9 as he climbed the ladder, reaching Mississippi to end 2010. His strikeout numbers fell in 2011 in a repeat effort with the M-Braves. Before the 2012 season, it became clear something was wrong with Pruneda. He would miss both the 2012 and '13 seasons following Tommy John surgery. Before the injury, Pruneda could hit triple digits, including humming it in at 103 mph.

Pruneda quickly dispatched with the Blue Rocks in the 8th, striking out one and the Hillcats with three outs away from the unlikely prospect of back-to-back no-hitters. After the Hillcats did little with their ninth inning, Pruneda came back out to pitch the ninth. He would walk the leadoff batter, but a fielder's choice and a pop-up to shortstop got Pruneda within one out away from finishing it up. Jared Schlehuber stepped in to face Pruneda. With two strikes and Pruneda throwing fastballs, Schlehuber nearly got around on one, sending a blast that was a few feet away from being a fair-ball two-run homer. Instead, Pruneda struck out the former Oral Roberts product to finish up the back-to-back no-hitters. Catcher Tewell caught the entirety of both games.
Ken Inness/MiLB.com
The Hillcats would extend their hit-less streak to 21.1 innings before a two-run homer early in Saturday's game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans put an end to it. It is thought to be the first time in Carolina League history that a team has no-hit another team in back-to-back nights. In major league history, no team has no-hit another team in back-to-back games, though it did happen on back-to-back days after the St. Louis Browns threw a no-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader following a no-hitter the previous day.

After finishing up their second no-hitter in as many days, the Hillcats celebrated loudly, maybe more aware of how rare of an accomplishment they had achieved was. They deserved it and as a long-time fan of Lynchburg baseball, both before the Hillcats and well before the Braves showed up, congrats 'Cats!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some Recent Braves History in Doubleheaders

Starting at 2:05 EST, the Braves will begin a day-night doubleheader in Philadelphia. It is the first doubleheader of the season for Atlanta and will make up a previously postponed game because of weather. The development gave me reason to investigate how the Braves have performed in recent doubleheaders. I should add that today's games and most, if not all, of the doubleheaders the Braves have played in recent history cannot be classified as true doubleheaders. If you empty out the stadium, it's not a real double dip. You're merely playing two single games in the same day. But I digress.

Last season, the Braves played three doubleheaders. The first came in Denver during the Braves' only trip to Colorado. In the opener, the Braves and Rockies completed their scoring by the fourth inning and the Braves sneaked passed 4-3. The night-cap saw the Braves crush the Rockies. They built a 6-1 lead before adding a four-spot in the ninth to turn it into a complete rout on way to a 10-2 win. The Braves counted on their usual starters with Mike Minor and Julio Teheran because the postponement came only a day before. Typically, that is not the case and usually, like today, the starter for one of the games is either coming out of the pen or from the minors. The other two doubleheaders were a little more planned, but had much less success. On June 18th, they dropped two to the Mets, getting outscored 10-4, and on September 17th, they lost two in Washington with the first game including a walk-off against Craig Kimbrel.

The Braves played the Nats in Washington for another doubleheader in 2012. On July 21st, they split a pair against the first-place Nats with Ben Sheets throwing six shutout innings in the opener. That allows me to use my Sheets tag for the first time since 2012. The split with the Nats was the only doubleheader of the year.

2011 quickly saw the Braves play a pair at home against the Mets on April 16th. They allowed two runs in the opener and none in the second game, rolling to a sweep behind the arms of Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens. On May 4th, they again played a doubleheader with the Brewers and absolutely rolled with eight runs in both games to get above .500. They would sweep their third doubleheader of the season on September 8th, this time in New York against the Mets. Making up a postponed game on a shared off-day, the Braves had one of their few bright moments of that September collapse and Teheran picked up his first major league win in the night cap.

In Bobby Cox's final two seasons, the Braves would play no doubleheaders. In fact, you have to skip to 2008 for the final doubleheaders of Cox's reign. The Braves played a pair in slightly more than a week that May. In a nine day span, the Braves played ten games (and still had an off day worked in). On May 12th, they split a pair in Pittsburgh with Tim Hudson winning 8-1 in the night cap and on May 20th, they swept the Mets with Tom Glavine and Jorge Campillo getting the starts. Later that season, they dropped a pair in Chicago with Charlie Morton and Campillo starting the two games where the Cubs combined to score 18 runs. Not done, the Braves locked up with the Mets yet again and split a pair of games in Flushing.

The Braves would play a road twin billing with the Boston Red Sox on May 19th to jam a pair of games into a quick series. It was an uneven day where Anthony Lerew would get hammered in the opener and the Braves would roll 14-0 behind John Smoltz in the second game.  A few weeks later, they again split a doubleheader, this time with the Marlins on June 5th with Smoltz losing the night cap 5-1.

In 2006, the Braves matched up with the Diamondbacks at home and managed to lose both games on June 3rd as part of a four-game sweep. Smoltz lost the opener and John Thomson had a poor outing in the second game. The Braves fell to .500 that day and under .500 when the D'Backs completed the sweep the following day. They would never sniff .500 again that season. Atlanta would have a weird few weeks in early September where they played back-to-back doubleheaders in Philly and split all four games. Starters included Oscar Villarreal, Kyle Davies, Hudson (who gave up six runs), and Lance Cormier. It's actually amazing they split the four games. Not done with doubleheaders, Atlanta played another one in New York on September 6th and the Mets won both with the Braves only scoring one run. Still not done, they met the Phillies for yet another doubleheader, this time at home on September 13th and dropped both games.

So, since 2006, the Braves have played 19 doubleheaders, or an average of between two-and-three doubleheaders a season and in two of those years, they played none. They have swept five of the twin billings while being swept seven times. Seven other times, they split the doubleheader. This actually holds true, as a paper by Michael Goodman pointed out double headers are swept more times than they are not, especially in recent history. Our natural inclination would state otherwise, but the facts are the facts. Since the start of 2013, 24 of 36 double headers have been sweeps. It's also more likely that the home team gets the sweep so that doesn't benefit the Braves. However, it's the Phillies. They like to lose.

What Could Have Been? - Catcher

Last week, I finished up a series on the 1995 minor league teams. I like weekly columns because they're easy to stick with and today, I unveil the first of a team I like to call the "What Could Have Been" bunch. Guys who, for whatever reason, were not able to stick around for long either in Atlanta or elsewhere.

To be clear, this team will not include Jason Schmidt, Elvis Andrus, or even Garrett Jones. This is not the "what could have been had these guys stayed with Atlanta" team. Those guys have been something. Instead, this is a team full of disappointments. Some positions were harder than others, but I think this team is full of a lot of guys who were supposed to be so much more than they were. That's not to say a couple of them weren't productive at times in the major leagues, but they never reached near their potential. If you think the choice was wrong, let me know. Much like my Favorite Braves list, I'm going to limit this to 1991 to present. I realize that cuts out a lot of prospects from the 80's whose failures had a direct result to the struggles, but I didn't follow the team at that point so my understanding of those minor league prospects is a little low.

Typically, I will add more than one player to this team, but I felt this series needed a bit of explaining so for brevity (not something I'm known for), we'll go with just one player.

What Could Have Been...at Catcher?
Tyler Houston

Long before some of the massively hyped star prospects of today where we know all about Bryce Harper and Mike Trout before they get to the majors, there was Tyler Houston. He was such a figure in Las Vegas sports that there was an increase in "Tyler's" after Houston's exploits at Valley High School in the late 80's. While colleges drooled over Houston and what he could do for their teams to help lead them to a College World Series appearance, it seemed unlikely with Houston's potential. Professional teams with big bank accounts would come calling first.

After All-American Ben McDonald was drafted by the Orioles and went straight to the majors, the Braves made Houston the second selection in the 1989 draft. Five picks later, the White Sox picked a man-child out of Auburn by the name of Frank Thomas. But that's the draft for you. Sandwiched around Houston as Braves' first picks was #3 overall Steve Avery in 1988 and #1 overall Chipper Jones in 1990. Obviously, the Braves didn't make it 3-for-3 in great top 5 picks.

Houston joined the rookie league Idaho Falls Braves after signing as an 18 year-old for a $242,000 signing bonus. After posting a .717 OPS for Idaho Falls, Houston was ranked by Baseball America as the #92 prospect in baseball and the seventh best prospect in a loaded system that included Avery as the #1 prospect in baseball. Houston's value increased after 13 homers in 1990 and he was the #28 prospect in baseball entering 1991. However, the cracks were starting to show. He had been charged with 27 passed balls in 84 games behind the plate with Sumter in 1990 and committed an unreal 18 errors. He also on-based .288 and struck out 101 times.

Still, his potential was huge and catcher was a position that was ripe for the taking before 1991. Of course, it would have helped had Houston's 1991 season not been so miserably disappointing. Playing for the first-year Macon Braves, Houston hit just .231, hit only eight homers, and finished with a .669 OPS. Defensively, he remained a bit of a mess, though his numbers showed some improvement. Some. After the season, though, it was not Houston who was ranked as the Braves top catching prospect. Instead, Javy Lopez had passed right by him. Such a development increased the importance of 1992 for Houston and he responded with his worst season, OPSing a woeful .588 with Durham and as Lopez hammered AA pitching on his way to a cup of coffee with the big league squad, Houston was getting used to using new gloves to play first and third base. His days as a full-time catcher were effectively finished.

Houston did appear to get back to the Braves' good graces with a 1993 season that saw him post a .710 OPS in 84 games with Greenville, but those numbers remained pretty muted over what the Braves had expected from a guy who was selected 23 picks ahead of Chuck Knoblauch. Still, some progress is better than what he had been doing. Houston would go to languish at Richmond while Lopez flourished in Atlanta. Houston added corner outfield to his resume and would still catch a little along the way. Houston never OPS'd over .702 and his OBP stayed south of .300 while with Richmond.

All of that couldn't keep Houston out of the majors, though.  With Houston out of options and with spots open on the bench following the departures of 1995 rentals Mike Devereaux and Luis Polonia, the Braves chose to bring Houston north with the club following spring training. In the second game of the year, after the Braves had built a commanding 12-2 lead, Houston hit for Brad Clontz to open the seventh against the Giants. On the first pitch from Mark Dewey, Houston rocketed a double to center. He would score later in the inning on a single by Fred McGriff. Houston would replace the Crime Dog in the field for the remainder of the game, striking out against the typically nasty Rod Beck in his second at-bat.  Later that year on May 20th, Houston would again get garbage time at-bats after the Braves had built a 11-0 lead. In the sixth, he would hit his first major league home run off Doug Jones of the Cubs. He would add a two-run single and finished the day with three innings played and 5 RBI.

Nevertheless, Bobby Cox was not impressed and never called upon Houston to get a spot start for McGriff or at any of Houston's other positions. In fact, he only played 23 innings in the field with all but two as a replacement at first for McGriff typically after the fate of the game had already been decided. The relationship was hardly working and the Braves, rather than lose Houston for nothing, sent the former second overall selection to the Cubs for Ismael Villegas, a Puerto Rican the Cubs had plucked out of the fifth round in 1995. Villegas would never become a prospect of any value and appeared in one ugly major league in 2000.

With the Cubs, Houston would finally get a chance to play. In his first start against the Cubs, he went 4-for-5 with 4 RBI while starting behind the plate. He would get regular playing time against right-handed pitching and homered in back-to-back appearances on July 24 and 26. The Cubs would visit Atlanta on August 24th and Houston had a bunt single to third against Mike Bielecki, but the Braves would win that day. Houston finished up 1995 with a .339/.382/.452 slash with the Cubs and a .815 OPS overall. Suddenly, it looked like he had arrived.

He would fall back to Earth over the next two seasons with a .662 OPS while playing the utility role for the Cubs. He did face off against the Braves in the 1998 NLDS and in Game 1, he started and homered off John Smoltz in the 8th. That homer meant the Cubs would not get shut out, but lose 7-1. He was quiet for the rest of the NLDS, a series that would end in a three-game sweep for the Braves. Houston would never appear in the playoffs again.

Toward the end of 1999, the Cubs sent Houston to the Indians, but despite Cleveland facing the Red Sox in the ALDS, Houston was not active. The Indians had seen enough. They would not offer Houston a contract in the offseason and he would land in Milwaukee. With the Brewers, Houston would have his most success. In 305 PA during the 2000 season, the 29 year-old hit .250 with 18 HR, including a magical July 9th day against the visiting Tigers where he blasted three homers by the sixth inning and drove in six during a 10-3 victory for the home team.

Houston followed up his good 2000 with an even better 2001, posting a .289/.343/.472 slash with 12 homers in a season that was limited by injuries. He failed to catch that season and in fact, after 2000, his catching days were behind him for good. During another productive season with the Brewers in 2002, Milwaukee basically decided they were more happy trading the future free agent than keeping him through the entire season and trying to extend him. On July 23, they traded him to the Dodgers. Again, Houston was on a contender, but he struggled and was rarely used down the stretch due to his .200 average. The Dodgers, like the Indians before them, had enough of Houston and let him leave.

The Phillies came next and Houston was an often-used pinch hitter for the 2003 Phils and did well at his job, hitting .278/.320/.402, but for conflicting reasons, the Phils cut Houston in right before rosters expanded. General Manager Ed Wade and worthless manager Larry Bowa felt that Houston was becoming a divisive figure in the clubhouse. Players like Mike Lieberthal felt that while Houston wasn't shy from speaking up, he was not a detriment. Instead, it may have been simply that during the circus days of the early-to-mid 2000's, with a truly divisive figure like Bowa in charge and the fights he had with more high-profile players like Pat Burrell, cutting a guy like Houston was simply a way to make a point that management needed to be respected.

Houston would look to extend his career with the Yankees in 2004, but after they picked up a certain roid user, Houston decided he would rather just retire than receive no playing time.

On one hand, Houston had a somewhat successful career. He made over $6M, hit 63 homers, and played in an even 700 games over eight seasons. But he never lived up to the hype that he garnered after hitting majestic homers in the Las Vegas area. As such, he is a fitting first member to the "What Could Have Been" squad.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chris Johnson's Historically Bad Plate Discipline

One of the strangest numbers this season comes from Chris Johnson. With seven walks compared to a ridiculous 78 strikeouts, Johnson has a 0.09 BB/K ratio. Before I show you how odd of a number that truly is, let me first say that yes, Johnson has never walked much. In 2012, he walked a career-best 5.9% of the time and in his first season with the Braves, that number fell to 5.3%. His strikeout percentage this season is not that abnormal. Johnson's K% of 21.2% last season was a new career low for him, but ignore that year and his K% has been above at least 24%.

However, a 2.3 BB%? A 0.09 BB/K rate? How rare is that?

Over the last ten years (2005-2014), Johnson's 0.09 BB/K rate is slightly percentage-points ahead (or worse?) of Ivan Rodriguez's 2007 season with the Tigers. But that doesn't really show how historic this number is. Fangraphs does a wonderful job of allowing you to easily investigate this particular rate and you can research it back to 1913. So, in a staggering 102 seasons of major league baseball, here is your top ten from tenth to first. I'm using their BB/K ratio to the fourth decimal point to better show the difference.

10 Shawon Dunston 1995 Cubs 0.1333
9 Alex Gonzalez 1999 Marlins 0.1327
8 Tony Pena 2007 Royals 0.1282
7 Junior Lake 2014 Cubs 0.1266
6 Todd Cruz 1982 Mariners 0.1263
5 Juan Encarnacion 1999 Tigers 0.1239
4 Ivan Rodriguez 2005 Tigers 0.1183
3 Shawon Dunston 1997 Cubs/Pirates 0.1067
2 Ivan Rodriguez 2007 Tigers 0.0938
1 Chris Johnson 2014 Braves 0.0897

Now, you have some kind of perspective on how rare this lack of discipline really is. Here's something else you should know. Of the 30 lowest BB/K rates since 1913, only six have had a RC+ above 100. To put that simply, only six times has someone had this poor of a walk-to-strikeout ratio and still produced AT LEAST a league average offense. Of the ten I just mentioned, only Dunston's 1995 season, which ranked as the tenth lowest BB/K rate since 1913, had at least a 100 wRC+. In fact, that season by the Cubs shortstop was the only one of the lowest 16 BB/K rates that was able to accomplish a league-average offensive season. For the record, Andres Thomas's 1988 ranks as the 22nd lowest BB/K rate and the lowest by a Brave. Thomas had a career OBP of .255 and a -4.6 fWAR during his six year career long-time Braves fans still think lasted six seasons too long.

In Johnson's case, we know if he's not hitting, he's not productive in any way because he's a below-average defender and has no speed. Now, it should be noted that Johnson has shown a few positives signs lately. He's hit .323 this month with a 110 wRC+. So, he's at least been hitting recently. But if you're curious, his BB/K rate hasn't improved this month. Actually, it's the reverse. He has 24 strikeouts to two walks and it should be added that one of those walks was intentional.

Can he continue to build upon this month and despite a ridiculous BB/K rate, produce a similar fWAR to last year (2.8)? After all, those of us that stared long and hard at his BABIP last season were convinced it would eventually free fall. We were wrong in that case.

Even if he doesn't produce with the bat, sheer averages should work in his favor to push up his BB%. I'm not saying it absolutely will, but it should. After all, while not as historic, Johnson's current walk rate is the 38th lowest since 1913. Again, that walk rate is also about 2% worse than his career average and 3% worse than his last two seasons. So we should see Johnson walk more this season. Should.

But this is a problem and this kind of hyper-hacktastic approach is making it easy on pitchers facing the Atlanta Braves this season. Throw them junk and they'll swing. Johnson has swung at about 44% of pitches outside the strikezone. He's making contact on Ball 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 on 52% of those swings on pitches that probably won't be called a strike. And while he's not the only Brave who does that (I'm looking at you, Evan Gattis), he sure isn't hitting those balls with much authority (again, that's you, Gattis).

I wouldn't put money on Johnson setting a new low walk-to-strikeout rate this season. Too many variables and too much history to indicate he will likely walk more. But you make it much harder on yourself to produce when you hack at literally anything the pitcher throws at you. For Johnson to be productive, he has to hit. It might be a bit easier if he hit balls he can actually drive.

Trade Winds: The Disappointing Colorado Rockies

To look at other recent blogs on possible teams to look at in the trade market before July 31st, click here.

Like so many clubs, including both the Diamondbacks and Padres, the Rockies added salary this year and have been disappointing. Despite an extra $20M, Colorado has been stuck in reverse since April when they are 16-13. Since? 19-30. Part of that is their offense has come a little back to Earth, but it remains very, very good. The bigger reason is a pitching staff that has gone from an ERA in the low 4's to an ERA well over 5.00 since. Even great offenses can't make up for that.

It's unlikely that they'll get into the rearview mirrors of either the Dodgers or Giants, and thus, they probably won't make any noise in the Wild Card race. Therefore, it's another summer of trading pieces to get younger and hopefully better for the future in Denver.

The Braves could hypothetically have interest in high-priced pending free agents like Jorge De La Rosa or Michael Cuddyer, but there are some problems there. (1) Like I said, they're high priced as both are still owed half of at least $11M. Without financial help, it would appear that would put eliminate the Braves' interest on both. (2) If it didn't, both could attract a lot of interest from other teams willing to give the Rockies significant talent. (3) Even if the Braves are still interested in Cuddyer, he's hurt with a separated shoulder and will likely be out until at least late July.

Maybe a reliever and former Braves' second rounder in 1998 could intrigue the Braves. Matt Belisle never pitched for Atlanta because they sent him to the Reds to acquire Kent Mercker in 2003. Since 2009, he has pitched in 359 games with the Colorado Rockies, but is short of the 10/5 designation that would make it more difficult to trade for him. While his ERA the last two years has been well above 4.00, Belisle has had a 3.23 FIP, 1.23 WHIP, and 3.95 K/BB since the beginning of 2013. He recently turned 34 and is headed to free agency after the season. He's expensive for a middle reliever and the Braves might want some added cash from Colorado's side on what's left of the $4.25M he is owed for the remainder of the season. Won't provide much in terms of set-up work, but Belisle can be counted on for a pretty good inning and is durable.

Sticking with the Rockies bullpen, closer LaTroy Hawkins has been around since 1957, but he continues to pitch pretty well even though he can't strike out anyone (3.7 K/9 this season). He has locked down 14 saves, though has rarely been needed since April. I don't know if I would want him to pitch the seventh inning, but he adds depth on the cheap. He's due about half of his $2.25M and he has a club option for 2015, but it's a cheap buyout of $250K.

Outside of those two relievers, Colorado doesn't seem like a great place to target for improvement. They have a lot of young players who are just entering arbitration, which means they're still cheap and team-controlled. And neither Belisle or Hawkins should be a primary target. Both could be useful, but they are more depth than anything and while depth is important, it won't provide a dramatic change for the Braves.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Trade Winds: The Hapless San Diego Padres

Like many teams this offseason, the San Diego Padres saw their payroll increase dramatically with the help of a new media deal. However, the bang for the buck has been miserable so far for the Padres. No offense has been anemic, even the Braves offense, and despite a park that helps produce great pitching, the Padres can't keep the score low enough for their offense to score enough runs.

Even though the Padres were not expected to be big contenders in the West, this level of poor play has already cost Josh Byrnes his job in his second stint as a major league GM. Clearly, the Padres are in rebuilding mode and they would like to cash in with some talent for their unproductive ballclub. Could the Braves be intrigued?

Let's start with the future free agents. Closer Huston Street is making $7M this season and has a 0.96 ERA over 28 games. In his third season with the Padres, Street is controllable with a $7M team option for next season. Even if he has been as productive as he ever has been, I can't see the Braves being very interested in that salary or asking price teams would have to agree to to acquire Street. There is already expected to be a lot of interest for Street from teams with worse late-inning options than the Braves.

Back in the NL West, corner outfielder Seth Smith has been superb, OPSing over .900. Those numbers get even better when you take out his at-bats against lefties, who he simply can't hit. In the middle of a one-year, $4.5M contract that covers his final year of arbitration, could the Braves be intrigued by adding Smith? I'm sure they could be. He would simply replace the often ineffective Jordan Schafer on the team, though it would force Jason Heyward into a position where he is the backup center fielder. Nevertheless, Smith could provide a legitimate alternative to playing B.J. Upton night-in, night-out and provide some left-handed thunder to the bottom of the order. Like Street, though, other teams could be very excited about the prospect of trading for Smith, which theoretically would increase the Padres' bargaining position, even if people like Omar Minaya are making the call. I would file Smith under the "would love it, not sure if truly possible."

While the Padres have a few other pending free agents, I don't think they would interest the Braves. And I don't buy them being interested in Joaquin Benoit due to the price, both in money and package of prospects. On the flip-side, while the Braves might be interested in relievers Dale Thayer or lefty Alex Torres, the Padres probably don't want to trade the cheap, team-controlled players without getting prospects in return. Maybe if the Braves were willing to offer a prospect of significance for Smith, they would demand Thayer or Torres and the Padres would agree because of the prospect they are getting in return. However, short of Lucas Sims or Jose Peraza, I don't know of a prospect that the Braves would put on the table.

With all of that in mind, I would be majorly surprised if the Braves agree with a deal with the Padres.

Random Ex-Brave: Javy Lopez

Very few catchers had a more memorable career with the Braves than Javy Lopez. A quiet man from Puerto Rico, Lopez became one of the best hitting catchers and clearly, from the attention from female Braves fans, great eye candy night in and night out. Recently elected to the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame, Lopez's career seemed over far too early, but he remains a figure to compare all Braves catchers to. Typically, this random Ex-Brave column gives me truly random people, not core players the Braves were built on. This is a little different.

Lopez was originally signed as an amateur free agent in 1987 and until 1992, he was not the hitter we remember him being. Even though he climbed into the top 100 prospects before the '92 season after OPSing .672 with Durham the previous season, Lopez was hardly an elite catching prospect. That all changed in 1992 when he hammered the Southern League to the tune of .321/.362/.507 with 16 HR. He finished the year in Atlanta, where he was the third catcher. He went 6 for 16 in his first taste of the bigs and was in the bullpen when Francisco Cabrera drove in Sid Bream to win the pennant.

1993 saw the 22 year-old return to the minors for more seasoning while Damon Berryhill and Greg Olson handled the catching position with defense and not a whole lot else. Richmond would benefit from Lopez spending another year in the minors as he belted 17 homers with a .845 OPS. Again, he would finish the season with the Braves, getting four starts down the stretch, including one on August 21st at Wrigley Field where he homered off Shawn Boskie for his first major league homerun.

After the season, the Braves moved to install Lopez behind the plate full-time and brought in veteran Charlie O'Brien as his caddie. His first season included 13 homers in the strike-shortened season, but he only on-based .299 over 303 PA. He did catch Kent Mercker's no-hitter on April 8th, 1994 and served as the catcher in 22 of Greg Maddux's 25 starts in 1994. The following season, O'Brien would take over and start 22 of Maddux's 28 games and the strange relationship began where Maddux, for whatever reason, preferred a different catcher than Lopez behind the plate.

It helped that Maddux's pitching was ridiculously good because he missed out on a lot of offense. In 1995, Lopez broke out offensively, slashing .316/.344/.498. He would hit 20 homers for the first time the following season and in 1997, he finally got to the All-Star Game after OPSing .895. While the Dodgers had Mike Piazza, Braves fans were very happy with their guy behind the plate.

Lopez would smack a new season-best 34 homers in 1998 and looked on the verge of an MVP calibar season, but injuries shortened his 1999 season to just 65 games. After a good bounce-back campaign for the 2000 Braves, Lopez's numbers slumped over the next two seasons, bottoming out with a career-worst 2002 where he hit just .233/.299/.372. Fortunately, he had an even worse hitting backup in Henry Blanco because Lopez looked like he was hitting an early twilight to his career.

After trimming down to just musle, Lopez came to camp in 2003 ready to reassert his name with the best-hitting catchers in baseball. The future free agent hit just .250/.282/.471 during the first month of the season, but would be an unstoppable force for the rest of the year. He finished the season with his first Silver Slugger, an All-Star appearance, fifth place in the MVP race, and a slash of .328/.378/.687. He also blasted a career-best 43 homers. One of them was a pinch-hit homer, but the 42 homeruns as a catcher broke Todd Hundley's seven year-old record for most homeruns by a catcher in a single season, a record that still stands.

The Braves had previously acquired Johnny Estrada ahead of the 2003 season and were looking to save salary so they allowed Lopez to leave Atlanta without so much as an offer. Lopez would land in Baltimore on a three-year contract that guaranteed the catcher $22.5M. His first season in Baltimore was a bit of a let-down, but still highly productive with a .872 OPS and 23 HR while utilizing the DH to play in a career high 150 games. Unfortunately, Lopez would start to break down in 2005 with a .780 OPS and only 103 games played. He even played his first two innings at first base. A pending free agent following 2006, Lopez did not have the same success of his 2003 walk year. Instead, he struggled to stay in the lineup and OPS'd .727 by August 4th when the Red Sox acquired Lopez. After a month of action with the Red Sox where he only OPS'd .485, the Sox cut Lopez in early September.

That winter, Lopez signed with the Rockies, but was cut before the 2007 season and it looked like Lopez's career would end. He would get a last chance with the Braves before the 2008 season. No longer looked at as a starting option, Lopez was a possible backup for new franchise catcher Brian McCann. However, the Braves preferred Corky Miller to Lopez and brought Miller north. Lopez couldn't throw out a single base runner that attempted to swipe second and even Lopez conceded that a backup catcher should "be able to throw every single runner out." Lopez officially retired before the 2008 season.

Ultimately, Lopez was a great hitting catcher who hammered 214 homeruns with the Braves during his 10+ seasons with the Braves while posting a .839 OPS. Sure, there have been many ties to steroids with Lopez and he just about admitted to such when he said that "I’d be stupid enough not to use" steroids. Still, Lopez was a beloved catcher with Atlanta, an amazing breaking ball hitter, and apparently quite handsome if you're into that sort of thing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Favorite Braves List - #4 Starter

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones

Honorable Mentions: My plan was to only name four starters for my Favorites List, but I can always add a fifth after the team that I've already charted out is finished. After all, it's my team. For now, here is a few that didn't make the cut. Kevin Millwood was a bulldog on the mound. His 1999 season where he posted a league low 0.996 WHIP with a career high 205 strikeouts was his best season with the Braves and when you add the complete game one-hitter in the playoffs and save two days later against the Astros...a wonderful run. Steve Avery was one of my favorite Braves when I started to follow them and the babyfaced left-hander was a monster in the early 90's, pitching 22.1 shutout innings in the NLCS between 1991-92 and it was Avery's solid relief in Game Seven of 1992 that allowed Francisco Cabrera the chance for his one shining moment. Julio Teheran could easily join the Favorites Team with time.

Favorite Braves List - #4 Starter
Tom Glavine

Despite watching many of Glavine's starts on TBS and following the Braves during Glavine's best seasons, I still look at his numbers and marvel at his success. So few pitchers did more with less than Glavine. He was willing to re-invent himself to stay effective, adding pitches and subtracting others in effort to deal with declining velocity that toward the end of his career was topping out at 85-86 mph. Yet, he remained productive and was an easy addition to this list.

Glavine was born in Concord, Massachusetts in the spring of 1966. A tremendous student and two-sport star at Billerica Memorial High School, Glavine had a choice to make after high school. Both the Los Angeles Kings (4th round) and Atlanta Braves (2nd round) had selected him out of high school. He could even head to college. Instead, he chose baseball over hockey and the Braves would benefit from that personal decision for years to come. Let's look back at that 1984 draft for a second, though. Glavine was chosen with the 47th overall pick. Two picks later, future Brave Marvin Freeman was picked and three picks after Glavine, long-time successful left-hander Al Leiter was plucked out of New Jersey. But despite Glavine's success, he wasn't the best player selected in the round. That honor went to 31st overall pick, Greg Maddux. The success of the second round is notable as the first round included a lot journeyman players like Terry Mulholland and Shane Mack along with roid user Mark McGwire. Oh, and who did the Braves pick in the first round? Drew Denson. He played in 12 games for the Braves in 1989 and four years later, he got into four games with the White Sox. Two picks after Denson, the Phillies selected Pete Smith, who would join with Glavine, Avery, and John Smoltz as the future of the Atlanta Braves. Maddux would join the party in 1993.

Glavine rocketed through the minors, reaching Richmond at the end of 1986 and after 22 starts with the R-Braves the following season, Glavine was called up on August 17th and got blasted around by the Astros and failed to make it through four innings. Five days later, he got the first of 305 wins by beating the Pirates 10-3 with 7.1 quality innings. After a 5.54 ERA in 1987 over nine starts, Glavine would spend the next three years playing with a shoddy defense behind him and a poor offense supporting him.

All of that changed in 1991. Glavine would lead the lead with nine complete games and his adjusted ERA+ of 153 also led the National League. While winning his first of two Cy Young awards, Glavine's Braves went worst-to-first with the left-hander leading the staff. He picked up his first four of 35 postseason starts that year, which included a complete game loss in Game 2 of the World Series 3-2.

Glavine pitched a career-best five complete game shutouts in his Cy Young follow-up season of 1992 while finishing behind Maddux in the Cy Young race. He would finish third in the same race behind new teammate Maddux in 1993 as he started 36 games, a career high he would equal twice more. He was able to achieve that number in 1993 when the Braves went to a four-man rotation in their efforts to catch and pass the San Francisco Giants in possibly the last great true division race. He was the starter on the final day of the season against visiting Colorado Rockies and picked up the win while the Giants were pummeled 12-1. It was the 104th win of the season for the Braves.

After a down year in 1994, shortened by the Strike but certainly his worst season since 1990, Glavine came back to form in 1995, finishing third in the Cy Young race. His best moments came in the postseason. After six quality innings in a Game 2 victory, Glavine gave up just a bloop single in Game Six over eight innings. He walked three and struck out a personal high of eight batters before giving way to Mark Wohlers in the ninth. The latter closed the door and the Braves won their only World Series since their move from Milwaukee.

Glavine would go on to win his second Cy Young in 1998 over Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and while productive over the next four seasons, his ERA was a little more kind to him than his FIP, which climbed over 4.00 and stayed there from 1999-02. After 2002, the Braves felt Glavine's best days were behind him, but it's difficult to let a guy go who just put up a 2.96 ERA.

Of course, the winter of 02-03 goes down as the winter the Braves and Glavine had a rough divorce. A low-ball offer from the Braves damaged relations between the two and even as the Braves tried to increase their offer to a more reasonable total, the writing was on the wall. Glavine left the Braves for the divisional rival New York Mets and during five years in Flushing, he continued to deal with decreasing velocity. His time with the Mets was known for its ups-and-downs and his 300th win. However, what many Mets fans may remember the most was his start on the final day of the 2007 season. Needing a win to stay alive, the Mets sent Glavine to the mound and he had one of the worst starts of his long career. He faced nine Marlins that day. All but one, Dan Uggla, reached base. By the time he hit the opposing pitcher Dontrelle Willis to force a run in, the Mets removed Glavine with a 5-0 deficit. Uggla would make it 7-0 with a two-run double. The Mets would lose 8-1 and their season came to a close with them a game behind the Phillies.

He would come back to the Braves in 2008 after declining a $13M player option to stay in New York, but the 42 year-old finally broke down, starting just 13 games. It was the first time he had been placed on the disabled list. He wanted to continue and the Braves brought him back for 2009, but after six scoreless innings for Rome on July 2nd during a rehab stint, the Braves decided to release Glavine and promote young Tommy Hanson instead. I don't think it was because of a cap on possible Tommy's for the Braves.

Glavine decided to take the rest of the season off and in February of 2010, he officially retired.

Like other Braves pitchers, Glavine knew how to help himself out with the bat, a skill certainly lacking with current Braves. He won his position's Silver Slugger four times, second to Mike Hampton, and hit .186 during his career, a respectable number for a pitcher. He was adapt, again especially for a pitcher, at working walks and in 2004 with the Mets, he walked ten times to ten strikeouts in 72 PA. That gave him a .328 OBP, his second best career OBP to his Silver Slugger Award winning 1996 when he slashed .289/.333/342. Amazingly, he only smacked one homer. He took the first pitch he saw from John Smiley in the sixth inning to left-center on August 10th, 1995 for the tater. He also had a bases loaded triple in Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS against the Cardinals, a game that ended 15-0.  Of course, he also handled his typical hitting duties of bunting the runners along very well, finishing in the top ten nine times in sacrifices with a career and league high of 17 during 2001. His 216 sacrifices ranks 69th overall, but since 1970, only Omar Vizquel had more.

And yes, we can talk about the liberal strikezone Glavine received. We can talk about how Braves catchers took liberties with the catcher's box. We can even talk about how Glavine, the player's representative during the 1994 strike, took a massive PR hit with his steadfast support for the Union. But really, all that is noise. Glavine, who will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer, was an artist at his profession. Every fifth day, Glavine took the ball and stoically fought batters with guile and intelligence. Glavine would stubbornly never give in to hitters and that made him so easy to love. Watching hitter-after-hitter leave the box wondering just why they offered at these pitches a foot outside was delicious for Braves fans.

His color commentating can use some work, though.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - AL West

It's Tuesday which means it's another chance to look around the league at former Braves and how they are performing. Today's division is the AL West. Is anybody still struggling with the idea that Houston is in the AL West?

Houston Astros
P Paul Clemens - Much like last season, Clemens has been on the shuttle between Houston and Oklahoma City. Acquired in the Michael Bourn trade, Clemens was a an okay starter in the minors for the Braves before the trade and has remained simply okay in the minors, though he does have a 0.82 ERA in 22 innings this season. Course, that success is tempered by a 6.08 ERA in 23.2 ING in the majors. Amazingly, in 97 career innings at the major league level, Clemens has given up 21 homers. A.J. Griffin has given up 1.62 HR/9 to lead the majors since the start of 2013. If we drop the qualifications to 90 innings pitched over the last season plus, Clemens ranks second in HR/9 with 1.95 behind Joe Blanton, who retired this April.

P Kyle Farnsworth - A surprising cut from the Mets earlier this season considering he was their de facto closer, Farny landed in Houston, the location of his 2005 meltdown. He has been less productive with the Astros, walking more batters than he has struck out. Since nailing down 25 saves with a 0.99 WHIP with the Rays in 2011, Farnsworth has struggled to regain his stuff and at 38, we may not see him pitch much longer.

P Brett Oberholtzer - Like Clemens, Oberholtzer was part of the Bourn trade that also included Jordan Schafer. He broke camp with the Astros this year, but despite an almost equal FIP, Oberholtzer hasn't had the same amount of success as he did last season when he posted a 2.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Instead, his ERA is exactly three runs higher (4.76) and his WHIP is sitting at 1.39. He's been mostly cast off to the minors since June and his ERA has been brutal, but it's the Pacific Coast League. A 31 K/3 BB rate in 31 innings is at least promising.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
P Anthony Lerew - If your first thought was "He's still pitching?" then you share something in common with me. Lerew was twice ranked in the Baseball America Top 100 as a Braves prospect who made it to the majors in 2005. He was horrible and did himself few favors by playing hurt without telling anyone. The Braves eventually cut him and the Royals did their thing of sifting through the Braves' trash. Still not successful, Lerew tried his luck across the Pacific with a year in Japan and two years in Korea, the last year as a closer who locked down 20 saves. This season, no MLB team came calling so he pitched the first month with York in the Atlantic League and his 24 K's in 24 innings attracted the interest of the Angels. However, in six starts with their organization, Lerew has been pretty awful with a 1.89 WHIP. That number would be impressive as an ERA, but mind-boggling bad as a WHIP. Still, remember when he came up for the pitching starved Braves in 2007 and had a good game against the Padres with 7 K's in six innings? Yeah, that was nice.

P Cory Rasmus - If you can throw the ball hard, you will have a job. Rasmus was a former 38th overall selection out of a high school in Alabama who was sidetracked by injuries before finally moving to the pen in 2012. After that, his live arm garnered attention and a promotion to the Braves last season where he found a way to surrender four homeruns in just 6.2 ING. Acquired at the trading deadline for Scott Downs, Rasmus has bounced between Anaheim and Salt Lake, still struggling to show the promising arm that intrigued the Braves all the way back in 2006. If you're curious, Rasmus has faced his more famous brother Colby Rasmus once. His older brother doubled off him.

Oakland Athletics
P Jesse Chavez - Seriously, how did this happen? How did a guy go from not being even good enough in long relief to throwing seven scoreless against the Red Sox last Saturday to lower his ERA to 2.71? He was once known as the guy the Braves had to take in exchange for Rafael Soriano after the latter accepted arbitration when everyone thought he was headed to greener pastures. The Braves had already moved on and took Chavez, a below-average reliever in exchange for their closer. After being moved to the Royals in a deal that brought Farnsworth back to Atlanta, Chavez spent 2012 sucking for the Blue Jays and A's. However, he did add a cutter to his game to go with a curveball as he moved away from a flat slider. By May last year, he started to establish himself out of the pen as a long reliever for the A's and now, he has been an important part of one of the best teams in the American League. This from a guy who had a 5.89 ERA with the Braves in 28 games back in 2010. Ugh.

P Eric O'Flaherty - One of the most liked Braves relievers once picked up off waivers, O'Flaherty left the Braves via free agency for the west coast after needing Tommy John surgery last season. He made his season debut with the A's organization on June 6th and recently tossed two innings for the first time on 20 pitches. He has yet to pitch on back-to-back nights, probably something the A's would like to see before promoting him, but his time in the minors looks to be just about over.

Seattle Mariners
P Zach Miner - It was the year 2000. We had a lot extra batteries because of Y2K. Some Texas Governor who couldn't keep his foot out of his mouth was running for President. And the Braves drafted Miner out of Palm Beach Gardens High School. Five years later, they sent Miner to the Tigers in a trade to bring back Kyle Farnsworth (that guy is getting a lot of digital ink in this column). From 2006-09, he appeared in 157 games, including 35 starts. Since then, Miner has been on less of a personal journey and more on a journey to keep getting paid to play baseball. Good gig if you can get it. Since 2011, Miner has been in four different organizations, including a return to Detroit, and after having no luck in Tacoma, Miner was a couple of weeks ago. He did get back to the majors with the Phillies last year for 16 games, including three starts, but it was the Phillies. Playing with them is hardly an accomplishment.

C Jesus Sucre - Sucre spent 2006 to midseason 2011 trying to advance to AAA in the Braves system, but was not successful. The defensive-first catcher has played in the Mariners organization ever since. He even played in eight games with the big league club last year, managing five singles in 26 AB. His first plate appearance ended in a double play. Ouch. Sucre is back at Tacoma where he has a .273 OBP. Well, hitting's not his thing.

Texas Rangers
P Neftali Feliz - What an interesting turn Feliz's career has taken. In 2010, he saved 40 games and won the Rookie of the Year award. Over the last three seasons, he has appeared in 14 games in the majors, including seven starts, and is back in AAA as a reliever who can't get back to the majors with a bullpen that has Scott Baker in the bullpen. Nothing against Baker, but you're telling me Feliz has no role in that bullpen? Of course, Feliz was one of four future productive majors leaguers the Braves surrendered for Mark Teixeira. What a fun...fun...sigh...fun time it was to watch Teixeira play for the Braves.

P Matt Harrison - Hey, Harrison was part of that trade, too. Harrison wasn't an immediate success like Feliz. It took him until 2011, the fourth season he had played in the majors, for Harrison to start to be successful. His follow-up campaign garnered Cy Young votes. The season prompted the Rangers to sign Harrison to a five-year, $55M contract. Seemed like a no-brainer. Buy out his prime years without needing to bid against other teams. Since signing, Harrison has made six forgetful starts. Back problems have threatened his career and he recently underwent spinal fusion surgery. That just sounds awful.

SS Elvis Andrus - Hey, Andrus was part of that Teixeira trade, too. The 2009 Rookie of the Year runner-up has been to a pair of All-Star Games and played very good defense. He's twice been a 4 fWAR player, which is pretty impressive. Is he worth the $120M the Rangers invested into him? His defense isn't that great, I would argue, and a career .686 OPS and 85 wRC+ won't win any offensive awards.

IF Brent Lillibridge - Ah, Lillipad. Flexibility keeps you around and Lillibridge is flexibility. The only positions he has not started at, or played, in the majors is catcher and pitcher and I'm sure he often got saddled with the role of emergency catcher during his time. Originally a Pirate farmhand, he was picked up by the Braves in the Mike Gonzalez/Adam LaRoche trade before being moved a year later in the trade that brought Javier Vazquez to the Braves. He played in 29 games with the Braves during his one year in Atlanta and has played with the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees, and both Chicago teams since. He hasn't been overly productive for Round Rock in the Rangers system this year, but he continues to play nearly everywhere on the field, providing a fun last man on the bench for any team.