Monday, June 16, 2014

Braves Have Weird Ideas

Last night included a rather exciting game and a perplexing idea. First, the game. Down 3-0, the Braves rallied in the sixth, eventually taking a 4-3 lead that they would extend to 7-3. The victory gave the Braves a series win over the visiting Angels while also propelling the Braves back into sole-possession of first place in the National League East. The game included a lot of the good things the Braves are well capable of doing. They worked three walks, added a steal, and strung hits together. Mixed in was a little power from Jason Heyward, who homered, and a key double by Tommy La Stella. The pitching cannot be ignored as Mike Minor struggled through five innings, but was able to limit the damage. Anthony Varvaro was tremendous in his two innings and the bullpen had one of its better outings even with the theatrics in the ninth.

However, Mark Bowman added a rather confusing column during the evening that hurt my brain. In it, he reports that "the Braves have at least started toying with the idea of moving Evan Gattis to left field." Why, you might ask? Why move a first-year starter putting up top numbers at his position back to left field where he was exposed seemingly every game last year, especially in the postseason? The article explains that the Braves were considering the possibility of calling up Christian Bethancourt from Gwinnett to be the everyday catcher while shifting Justin Upton to right field and Jason Heyward to center.

Ignoring Bethancourt for the moment, what kind of strange voodoo is this? First, let's address moving Gattis to left field. Out of need more than anything, Gattis moved to left field last season for 48 games, including 47 starts. The sample size is very low and it's probably unfair to mention the defensive metrics, but they are too rough not to. He was rated as -10 DRS. To put that into perspective, his glove cost the Braves ten runs last season, or roughly one every 4 to 5 games. That goes beyond Ryan Klesko-bad into a different level of awfulness. His -7.3 UZR in left was very, very ugly. Moving Gattis to left field hurts his value. His bat is too good at this point to do something so stupid. After another nice game Sunday night, Gattis is now slashing a cool .297/.348/.589. We don't know enough about what kind of hitter Gattis ultimately will be, but his .313 BABIP suggests that he hasn't just been lucky. He's been very good. It's difficult to fake your way to a .402 wOBA and 159 RC+ over 201 PA. Yeah, he's not a Gold Glover behind the plate and his pitch framing needs work. In fact, his glove might one day prompt the Braves to deal Gattis, but what's the point in moving him to left where he is even worse defensively? Possibly the pitching staff doesn't like dealing with him, but they certainly like his bat in the lineup.

And what this does to the outfield can't be overstated. 69 different outfielders qualify for the UZR lead in the majors. Heyward has the best total, 13.8 UZR. B.J. Upton is 21st with 2.5. Much lower is his brother, who is 42nd with a -0.9 UZR. Back to the older Upton for a second. Among the 20 CF who qualify, Upton ranks sixth in UZR and tied for seventh in DRS. While not a tremendous defender, Upton is still a good center fielder who, by the way, is outproducing Michael Bourn defensively. As an outfield, the Braves rank third in UZR and of 1806 innings logged entering Sunday, the trio of the Uptons and Heyward had played all but 139 of those innings. They added nine innings a piece in Sunday's game. Breaking up the outfield and inserting Gattis not only compromises left field, it compromises right field. While it can be argued Heyward would play center better than B.J., the difference is minimal.

And what of B.J.'s bat? Well, he had a decent night Sunday. In five trips to the plate, he walked to start the four-run sixth-inning rally and following Heyward's homer, he singled and stole second, reached third on a groundout, and scored on a wild pitch. He is now slashing .210/.284/.350. Yeah, his bat still sucks, but nobody has a gun to Fredi's head, forcing him to bat BJ second.

But here's the problem...why should we believe that Bethancourt would outproduce BJ the rest of the way? Bethancourt has been hot of late, hitting .314/.333/.372 over his last 24 games, pushing up his numbers to .274/.301/.371 for the year. He also showed a much better bat last season in his second taste at Mississippi where he OPS'd .741, his best single-season total at a full-season level. Still, his bat has considerable questions with it. B.J. is projected by Streamer to hit .221/.297/.373 the rest of the way while ZIPS has a similar projection of .225/.300/.397. These are easily beatable numbers, but should we believe Bethancourt will beat them? I'm inclined to believe Bethancourt would fail to do so. He is too hack-tastic.

So, the Braves would essentially be getting likely great defense behind the plate, woeful defense in left, similar defense in center, worse defense in right...and I am not sure they would improve at the plate. Why even consider this?  I haven't even got into who gets cut for Bethancourt cause frankly, the logistics of that wrinkle my brain.

Hopefully, this was merely a product of being in Denver and partaking in the lax weed laws and not given serious consideration. The Braves need to maximize their performance, not make it harder to win.

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