Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 Spring Training Information (About.com)

In today's About.com's article, I shift gears from analysis to providing a basic portal to relevant links for spring training, including the rosters, schedules, stats, and articles I've written about spring training battles. This one is light on new information, but it's a valuable read for your questions related to spring training.

Thanks for reading!

This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things...Again

From David O'Brien's recent column on non-roster invitees, we get this little nugget. "He" in the following quote is Fredi Gonzalez.
“I think the world of Eric Young,” he said. “He can really bring a different dynamic that we haven’t had here since Michael Bourn, leading off against right-handed pitching or whatever you want to do. So that’s an exciting non-roster invitee, really.”
This is why Fredi Gonzalez is a mental midget. Now, most managers are, but this is a Braves blog so try to stay focused here. To compare EY Jr and Bourn, you have to drop all of their particulars skills aside from one, which appears to be the only dynamic Fredi is looking at. Speed. In that category, he is absolutely right. Young, like Bourn, is fast.

But that's not what Fredi ultimately says. He likens EY Jr. to Bourn as a possible leadoff option against right-handed pitching.

Is that a real comparison? In the one full season that Bourn was in Atlanta, his OBP was about .350 against right-handed pitching, or roughly six points higher than his career average. That's a pretty stout OBP and you probably can tell where I am going by focusing on that number. There are better stats, but for lead-off hitters, very few are more important than OBP.

Let's compare that with Eric Young's son. Last year, Young on-based .316 against right-handed pitching. The year before? Try a .305 OBP. Career-wise, it's a .321 OBP. If you believe in LOR, or leadoff rating (check this article for more), Young's LOR against righties is .239, or well below what we would consider a decent LOR for possible options leading off.

Yet, it sounds like Fredi is considering Young for a spot leading off against right-handed pitching. Why? The only possible explanation is that he's fast. It's fairly depressing in 2015 that this mindset still exists. The information is readily available. I'm not saying there's no room for Young on the 2015 roster...depending on the bench's makeup, he's a reasonable option. But he should only be the 25th guy on your team. Sadly, because some fictional book said you need speed leading off, that appears like a possibility for the upcoming year. Of course, this guy also batted Andrelton Simmons lead-off so in retrospect, Young might be an improved option.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trade Retrospective: Jair/Renty

Most have this belief that who ultimately wins a trade is based on the players that are actually in the trade. This tends to not be true in many instances. For instance, take the trade that sent Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft to the Padres this winter. Now, we can put up the value that Upton posts and compare that with the value that the four prospects the Braves got out of the deal post for the Braves (that may take awhile), but doing so ignores a few things. If Upton leaves San Diego after this season, the Padres likely present a qualifying offer to Upton, which will bring a draft choice between the first and the second rounds. Also, maybe the Braves end up trading Jace Peterson. There are levels of deciding the winner of a trade that ultimately take a few years to see. Of course, we can further complicate things by looking even deeper, such as did acquiring Upton help get the Padres to the playoffs, but that's an opinion. An educated one, but an opinion. So, I'm going to try to look at some big trades the Braves have done over the years and, using WAR from Fangraphs, let's see who the winner is.

October 29, 2007
The Atlanta Braves acquire P Jair Jurrjens and OF Gorkys Hernandez and trade SS Edgar Renteria to the Detroit Tigers

Background: The Braves pitching in 2007 was pretty horrendous. The front of the rotation was solid, but the 2007 Braves used Buddy Carlyle as a starter 20 times and gave a combined 43 starts to this group of failures: Kyle Davies, Jo-Jo Reyes, Lance Cormier, Mark Redmon, and Jeff Bennett. Their only pitching prospects had been traded to the Rangers. The Braves needed options and a MLB-ready pitcher like Jurrjens was a perfect addition. Renty had been phased out by a young double-play combination, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar. He also had one year left on his mega deal he had signed with the Red Sox, plus an option that the Red Sox would cover about 30% of. The deal would be Frank Wren's first as general manager and ultimately one of his best.
Atlanta Detroit
Jurrjens +9.0 WAR Renteria +1.2 WAR
First Level: Renteria would play only one season with the Tigers and, coming after two seasons where he was around 4 fWAR, his 2008 was a major letdown. His offensive profile was pretty similar to his one year with the Red Sox, though he did walk less. That season in Boston is why the Braves had him in the first place. As Renty wasn't offered arbitration, the Tigers did not receive a draft choice once he signed with the Giants. The Tigers will only receive 1.2 fWAR from this trade. Meanwhile, Jurrjens would outperform Renty in his first year with the Braves and would post back-to-back 3 fWAR years before injuries began to accumulate, leading to a trio of down years before he was non-tendered after the 2012 season. Hernandez would never play in Atlanta.

Nate McLouth +0.2 WAR
Second Level: Hardly much of an addition, McLouth was picked up during the 2009 season for Hernandez and two other prospects. McLouth posted pretty good numbers during his time with the Braves after the trade, giving him a 1.5 WAR. He would have an almost equally awful follow-up campaign. After a mediocre and injury-wrecked 2011, the Braves let McLouth hit free agency and did not get compensation.

Final Analysis: The Braves easily win the trade with 8.0 fWAR postive difference between the two teams. Of course, it could have been a lot worse had Jurrjens stayed healthy or had McLouth not fell on his face. I didn't include Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton, the two players who joined Hernandez in the McLouth trade, but if you added their collective WAR (6.3), the Braves are still looking pretty for now. But I didn't include those two because that trade should be looked at as its own trade. Ooo, the next Trade Retrospective is writing itself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kimbrel's 2015: How Rare of a Season Could It Be? (About.com)

Listen, I know Reds fans will disagree, but Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball. I'm not even going to support that with numbers - it's just a fact. Some argue that the Braves should trade Kimbrel if they are rebuilding (or remodeling (or retooling (or making up stuff as they go along))), but the Braves would need to have their socks blown off to make such a deal. As that is unlikely to happen, let's look at Kimbrel's 2015...most notably, will it be fairly quirky?

I investigate a couple of questions in today's article for About.com. Would it be rare for Kimbrel to lead the league in saves for a last-place team? What's an unusually high percentage of team wins to be saved by one player?

Also...I don't think the Braves will finish last. I very clearly make my argument that they won't in the article.

So please give it a read and follow me on twitter for more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Did Batting Leadoff Hurt Jason Heyward?

In a recent article with the St. Louis Dispatch, Jason Heyward commented that he felt batting leadoff with the Braves over the last couple of seasons contributed to his declining power because he felt that he was encouraged to work deeper into counts and not "let go." While I could never explain the psyche of a player - way above my pay grade - I wondered if there was much evidence to support that.

So, let's look at working deep into counts. Here is a table detailing pertinent numbers relating to that idea.

Year Pit/PA Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2010 4.13 39.4 79.1 8.0
2011 3.92 44.7 77.1 9.9
2012 4.02 46.7 75.4 11.2
2013 4.07 44.6 80.0 8.6
2014 3.91 43.8 82.2 7.6

At first glance, you might look at the Swinging Strike% and think that brings validity to Heyward's claims, but in many ways, Swinging Strike% should be considered an extension of Contact%. Heyward was making more contact and missing less. Fairly simple idea, right?

So, let's focus on the the first number, or pitches per plate appearances. If anything, this should provide clarity to Heyward's comments that he altered his approach to work the count. But...here's where the data just does not support him. Now, that's not to say he didn't feel the pressure to work the count as a leadoff hitter. We commonly want that from the guy starting the game. But the results of this philosophy did not pan out very well.

Mike Petriello did a tremendous study that goes far more in depth than I can. In his article, Petriello did find some validity in the argument in that Heyward too often let his pitches go. The problem then became related to his Contact%. Heyward was making more contact, but often in bad counts. This leads to weak shots the other way for singles and/or outs, not extra base hits to right field. It's interesting to note for you "strikeouts are awful" proponents that Heyward's best year offensively since his rookie season was 2012, the same year he posted his lowest Contact% and worst strikeout percentage (obviously, these numbers correlate with one another).

Long story short...there are numbers that both support and do not support Heyward's contention. Whether the Braves wanted him to sacrifice power to work the count or Heyward subscribed to the theory of what a leadoff hitter should be...that, I can't even begin to answer. As Petriello says, we won't ever really answer this question because if Heyward rebounds and hits 20+ homers, we could just easily cite the new park, new team, more productive lineup, playing for a new contract, and so on. If he doesn't, we can just as easily look at many of the same things and say "that's the problem!"

I like Heyward and always will, but I find his criticisms in efforts to deflect the reasonable question ("where did your power go?) as a foolish effort by a man trying to save face. At the end of the day, only Heyward could control what he did at the plate. Only Heyward could let some expectation for leadoff hitters affect his hitting style. Whether Fredi Gonzalez or Greg Walker or Frank Wren or the Ghost of Otis Nixon was in his ear, he owned his .113 Isolated Slugging last year. That one is completely on him.

Braves Bullpen: Help Wanter (About.com)

For a team that received a massive makeover, no single spot will look quite as different as the bullpen where only Craig Kimbrel and James Russell look like locks to open the year with the pen (and that might not be true...Russell is in the fifth starter mix).

In addition to the other locks, the Braves have at least two spots that players are vying for this spring. The names read out like some of the better pitchers of 2010, damaged goods, and guys with a fatal flaw. Will Arodys Vizcaino stay healthy long enough to show what he can really do? Can Luis Avilan rebound? Can veterans like Todd Coffey or Matt Capps somehow stave off retirement and become a functional major leaguer for the first time since 2012? Is Jose Veras an odds-on favorite? And what of the wild arms Michael Kohn or Juan Jaime? Is this the spring they finally put it together?

Options are a'plenty and the open bullpen slows are wide open for the taking. So, please give my article a read and feel free to comment below or on twitter with your thoughts.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Tom Thobe

Welcome to exactly why this series exists.

Tom Thobe spent eight years in professional ball, though that doesn't include a four year layoff. In those eight years, he pitched in just seven games in the major leagues. Players like Thobe wouldn't be much of a blimp in today's era of hyper-analysis, but he especially wouldn't get much of a mention in the mid-90's era of "just report the basics" news coverage. But like I said, that's why I love this series. As a fan of the game and long shots in general, giving Thobe some due is what brings me back to this column weekly.

Credit: http://www.tradingcarddb.com/
Born a couple of weeks after Woodstock '69, Thobe was born in Kentucky, but would graduate from Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California in 1987. That year, the Cubs made him their 38th round draft choice as part of a group of players that would also produce Matt Franco. Thobe would head to Wytheville, Virginia for the 1988 season and pitched 18 games with the Cubs. The results weren't pretty. That's what we in the biz call the classic "undersell." His ERA was five points away from an even 9.00, or an earned run for every inning thrown. It "led" the Appy League and his ten homers surrendered was three off the pace for the worst total.

So, I guess it wasn't too much of a surprise that Thobe quit baseball after 1988. After all, baseball is littered with guys just like Thobe. One and done. He went back home to California and while his parents were likely supportive, they also knew he was wasting his potential after one bad experience. Okay, a really bad experience.

His mother informed him of a open try-out and asked him to give baseball another try. Worst case, you give it your best shot and move on with life. After the open try-out didn't produce the velocity he needed, Thobe was set up by a former coach for a personal showing for a Braves scout. He found another couple of ticks of velocity and with his curveball looking good, the Braves signed him and brought him to spring training ahead of the 1993 season. He started at Macon that year and played well enough to skip past Durham and head to Greenville for 1994. Again, the production was there. That led him to a 1995 season with the Richmond Braves were he dominated the International League, posting a 1.84 ERA in 88 innings with a 1.03 WHIP. His great year didn't end there, though. By late September, Thobe was getting a cup of coffee with the big league club. As he walked into the locker room, he saw his jersey sandwiched between the jerseys of Steve Avery and Greg Maddux. Pretty special.

Thobe struggled in two of his three outings, but he did get something for his troubles. A World Series ring. And if you have an extra $20K, you can have that very same ring.

In 1996, Thobe broke camp with the Braves as an extra left-hand arm. He wasn't one of Bobby Cox's guys, which is why he probably came in for a wild game on April 21. Avery had tossed eight scoreless that day against the visiting Padres, but the ageless Fernando Valenzuela had gone six scoreless himself. The Padres got a run, charged to Brad Clontz, in the ninth, but a two-out walk by Chipper Jones against Trevor Hoffman led to a game-tying double by Fred McGriff. The Braves worked through the rest of the pen as the game stayed tied. In the 13th, the Braves had a chance to win it. Marquis Grissom doubled and with one out, Chipper walked again. However, this time, McGriff could only fly out. The pitcher's spot was due up next and the Braves had to waste Mike Bielecki, who only threw one inning, and their last position player, Tony Graffanino, in order to go for the win. Graffy K'd on four pitches.

That led to Thobe, the last guy out of the pen. He worked around a single to pitch a quiet 14th. In the 15th, things kinda unraveled. Rickey Henderson singled and on a grounder that followed, Thobe would be charged with a throwing error. He would pick up a second error when he missed first base on the next play. Bases loaded, nobody out. He wouldn't give up another base-runner, but he did surrender a sacrifice fly. The Braves would rally to try to prolong the game in the 15th. Mark Lemke singled, but after Chipper struck out looking for the second out, the Padres could see the bench was empty and Thobe was due up next. They put McGriff on, putting the tying run on second, but getting the far less threatening hitter at the plate. Ted Turner was yelling, "Get 'em, Lefty!" Cox was putting the take sign on in hopes the opposing pitcher walked Thobe. But Thobe missed the sign. Twice. Oopsie. He grounded out to second and after one more appearance in the bigs, his major league career was over.

Thobe struggled with Richmond after his demotion in 1996 and wasn't impressive the following year, either. The Braves and Thobe parted ways and he would pitch the next two seasons for three different squads, including two stops in independent ball, but his career was over before the end of the century. He returned home to work in the hotel business before transitioning into a project manager at Ben's Asphalt of Santa Ana. One of their biggest projects? Resurfacing the parking lot of Angels Stadium. Thobe might quit baseball, but he somehow finds it again regardless.

Recent Random Ex-Braves...
Mike Cather (1997-99)
Kenny Lofton (1997)
Steve Bedrosian (1981-85, 1993-95)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Did the Braves Waste a Chance with Beachy?

Brandon Beachy finally found a home for the 2015 season, signing a one year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that will pay the former Braves righty $2.75M in 2015. Also included is an one-year option for between $3M and $6M depending on the amount of innings Beachy is able to pitch this season. He's not expected to be ready by April, but should be back on the mound at some point this year.

Some Braves fans are still sore about this. Do they have a point?

Well, here's one thing...Beachy got more from the Dodgers than the Braves probably would have paid him in 2015. Beachy earned $1.45M in the first year as an arbitration-eligible pitcher last season. Considering he missed all of the season, chances are he wouldn't received much of a raise. MLB Trade Rumors projected he would make about $1.5M, which even if you believe that's a bit of a conservative estimate, it's a nice floor from which to work with. I'd guess he'd settle under $2M - maybe something like $1.75M - and that would be a million less than the Dodgers gave him. If successful in 2015, he wouldn't have earned much more than the option year the Dodgers gave him and if he got hurt again, the Braves could non-tender him after 2015.

So, again, did the Braves made a mistake here?

Well, that depends entirely on what their medical team was saying. On one hand, you might argue that they felt his elbow was shot. It's a perfectly reasonable assumption considering he just went through his second Tommy John, has an ugly delivery, and has yet to eclipse 150 innings in a season. Why even take a $2M chance on Beachy? After all, the Braves should have a pretty good rotation anyway and a lot of young arms coming.

The one flaw to the first point about the Braves feeling his arm wasn't worth a gamble is that it doesn't seem like it's based in reality.  If you believe, as Mark Bowman told us in the MLB Trade Rumor link, the Braves were interested in retaining Beachy's services, why would they want him back if his elbow is shot? Did the Braves want Beachy back at an even lower rate than he was projected to receive in arbitration? Did they want him to agree to non-guaranteed money? Or did they not want to find a spot in their rotation at some point in 2015 for him? Did the Braves try a Kris Medlen contract and suggest big 2015 money with low money on an option for 2016?

Or, and this is my guess, did the Braves move on after Beachy declined an offer earlier this offseason? Maybe the Braves did offer something like $1.5M with incentives for 2015 and Beachy, thinking he could get more, said "thanks, but I'm keeping my options open." In the mean time, the Braves moved on with veteran fill-ins like Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez, plus competitive youngsters like Manny Banuelos and Michael Foltynewicz. Even if Beachy was still interested, the offer may have been rescinded and the Braves had closed the book.

Either way, on the surface, the Braves look bad. There is almost no way Beachy gets his Dodger money in arbitration. But maybe $1.5M was still too rich for the Braves to feel comfortable in committing to Beachy.

Ultimately, I doubt the Braves will really miss Beachy. They have options coming up through the minors and without a reworked delivery, the chances Beachy stays healthy for long are slim in my opinion. Still...you can never have enough pitching, right?

Favorite Braves List - Backup Catcher

(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
#4 Starter - Tom Glavine

Closer - Craig Kimbrel
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones 
Left Field - Ryan Klesko
Center Field - Andruw Jones
Right Field - Jason Heyward

Honorable Mention: Charlie O'Brien was an influential catcher for his redesigned catcher masks, but he was also a solid guy to pair with the young Javy Lopez. David Ross was as good as backup catchers go, even snaking a playoff start from Brian McCann because he was outperforming the injured McCann.

Favorite Braves List - Backup Catcher
Eddie Perez

I have made it to the bench for My Favorite Team and there's nowhere better to start than to find a backup for our starting catcher. Today's option is the perfect compliment to McCann.

It takes a special perseverance to keep plodding along year-after-year in the minors as prospects pass you by on their way to the majors. It also takes a special player and Eddie Perez is not only that, but also a special person. Originally signed out of Venezuela in 1986, it would take Perez nine years in the minors to finally get to the point where he could claim a spot in the majors, but once he did, he endeared himself to teammates and fans alike.

A smart player with superb glove work, Perez played in places the Braves have long stopped working relationships with such as Burlington, Iowa and Sumter, South Carolina. There wasn't anything amazing about his minor league reign. He did hit pretty well in 1991 for Durham, posting a .728 OPS and setting a personal-high with nine homers. He actually played first base a lot to allow Lopez to get the bulk of starts behind the plate. Perez would play two seasons in Greenville and two in Richmond with a cup of coffee with the big-league Braves in 1995. Due to Bobby Cox's desire to carry three catchers in the playoffs, Perez was even on the postseason roster, though he never got an at-bat.

O'Brien, who had been the primary backup for Lopez during his first two years in the majors, left for more playing time with the Toronto Blue Jays after getting a ring with the Braves. That finally gave Perez the chance to win a spot on the bench in 1996. Greg Maddux would eventually call on Perez to be his personal catcher after not feeling comfortable with Lopez, leading to Perez and Maddux's working relationship. Perez still couldn't hit much, but he did post a surprising .336 average in 1998 with a .941 OPS, out-performing Lopez's weak .868 OPS.

This led to 1999 and Perez's only real shot at being a full-time catcher for the Braves. For the first few months, Perez was doing his typical personal catcher gig, but Lopez was dinged up here-and-there, leading to chances to start more. Finally, in late July, Lopez suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for the rest of the year. This sent Perez to the top of the depth chart. He would not touch his 1998 stats, but he did perform better once he settled into his starting role, hitting .252/.321/.417 after Lopez was hurt. Add that occasional offence with his defense, Perez provided the Braves with enough value. Though the Braves did pick up Greg Myers, he wasn't a threat to Perez's playing time.

1999 ended with another trip to the playoffs and after a four-single performance in the NLDS against the Astros, Perez would put the Braves on his back for a wonderful NLCS run. He had a double and a homer in Game One while also providing a sacrifice bunt that led to the final run in a 4-2 win. He even threw out Roger Cedeno, who had stole 66 bases that year. Perez would have a couple more hits in Game Two, including a two-run blast in the sixth inning that provided the difference in a 4-3 win. He added two more hits in Game Three and this time threw out Shawon Dunston. Game Four was his worst game of the series. He went hitless at the plate and yielded a trio of steals. He did reach base three times in Game Five, but was gone by the time Robin Ventura blasted his famous 15th inning Grand Slam Single. Perez was back with a vengeance in Game Six. His two-run single in the first was part of a five-run first inning. A sacrifice in the sixth led to a two-run single by Jose Hernandez to put the Braves up 7-3. After the Mets tied up the game and eventually went ahead, Perez started a rally in the 8th with a single. Otis Nixon would run for him and swipe second before scoring the game-tying run. Of course, the Braves would end up winning in 11 and in doing so, gave this blog its name.

Overall, Perez was 10-for-20 in the NLCS with 2 doubles, 2 HR, and five driven in. He was selected the MVP of the series. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as successful in the World Series. Perez would suffer through a pair of injury-filled campaigns over the next two seasons before the Braves moved him to the Indians for a minor leaguer before the 2002 season. After two seasons away, Perez would return to Atlanta, but this time he would backup first-year starter Johnny Estrada. He returned to do the same thing in 2005, but shoulder tendinitis sidelined him for most the season, opening the door for a young Brian McCann. Perez would eventually make it back, but only to ground-out in his final at-bat on September 27, 2005.

The next season, he would serve as a player/coach for Mississippi before Bobby Cox named him his bullpen coach in 2007, a role he has served ever since. When people talk about possible replacements for Fredi Gonzalez, Perez's name naturally comes up. He has managed three seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League and is a well-respected coach who wants the shot. Whether that means he'll be a good fit for Atlanta, I don't know. Maybe he should cut his teeth in the minors as a manager for a few seasons. Either way, Perez is likely going to be interviewing for managerial positions over the next few years and might even get a chance, even if it's not in Atlanta. Then again, considering the current regime's love for the Braves Way, what better choice for amanager than a guy who who stuck around in the minors forever just to get a shot in Atlanta?

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Braves Might Struggle, but here are 4 Reasons 2015 Won't Be So Bad (About.com)

In today's article at my second writing home, About Sports, I search for the reasons that 2015 won't be so bad for fans even if the Braves lose 90 or so games as many projections suggest they will. After all, we have players like Michael Foltynewicz, Christian Bethancourt, and others to both watch for and look for their moments of flash amid what understandably will be a learn-on-the-job season if they are in the majors.

Give it a read!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Does Jackie Bradley Jr. Make Sense for the Braves?

There has been a lot of buzz recently that the Braves have an interest, sometimes called strong, in Boston outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. David O'Brien tweets that the interest was early this offseason, implying that the Braves have backed off. If that latter part is true, this might be the case of someone high up in the Braves front office liking Bradley and wanting to see if Boston had soured enough for the Braves to sweep Bradley away for nothing.

But if the Braves still are interested in Bradley, there are two bugaboos to look at.

Jim Rogash | Getty Images Sport
Where Does Bradley Fit?

Notice that I'm not saying the Braves shouldn't target Bradley. Many have made the mistake of putting too much focus on his first two years with major league time while undervaluing his potential. Here's what we know. Bradley, like Andrelton Simmons, brings a lot of value to the table because of his defense. But will he hit? So far, not so well. In 530 PA, or essentially a full season, he's hit a putrid .196/.268/.280. But, when Bradley was rocketing up the ladder, he was much more productive. Two things are notably missing. In 232 minor league games, Bradley posted a .394 OBP. That was built largely on a 12.7 BB% to go with a 18 K%. In the majors, those rates go the opposite way you'd like by considerable amounts (7.7 BB%, 28.7 K%). Bradley also posted a .166 ISO in the minors, about 50 points higher than his major league total. 

But Bradley's only 24 coming into his age-25 season. Before 2014, Bradley was a Top 50 prospect. His prospect status was even higher the previous year. Bradley is the right guy to take a chance on, but should it be with the Braves? Does he fit in?

Short answer, if he performs, sure. Yes, I know the Braves have a CF and probably will for the foreseeable future, but let's not get stuck on his implications on other players. I'll put it this way: if acquired, Bradley could be the most talented major-league ready outfielder the Braves have in 2015. Better than B.J. Upton? Duh. Better than Nick Markakis? Absolutely. Better than the Jonny Almonte monster? You betcha. Bradley has the potential to be better than all of them. Again, he'll have to perform, but the Braves can find a way to make it fit even if it costs people playing time. 

Do the Braves and Red Sox Match Up as Trading Partners?

The easy part is done. Should the Braves be interested in Bradley? That question is too easy. But is there a trade to be made here? That requires the two teams to find a common ground. The first problem is found in how highly the Red Sox value Bradley. As Over the Monster suggests, even if the Red Sox have soured on Bradley, they might not want to deal him when his value is so low. The Red Sox would probably be better off sending him back to the minors and letting him produce at a higher level before trading him. At the very least, as Peter Gammons says, this is a post St. Patrick's Day at best.

But even if the Red Sox are still interested, the Braves will probabaly have to give them a good prospect. That's not a deal breaker, but it depends on what the Red Sox are looking for. Giving up on Mike Minor now would be a waste even if the relationship has been strained by arbitration. Several of the prospects the Braves have acquired are too valuable to the near future (Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, Max Fried) for the Braves to trade right now. Would the Red Sox be interested in a long-term asset like Ricardo Sanchez? Or would they want someone with the chance to help them sooner (i.e. Tyrell Jenkins)? Maybe they will remain bullish on Lucas Sims and the Braves balk.

This is where this deal is hard for me to see. I see the Braves interest, but I am having trouble seeing a trade unless the Red Sox want to sweeten the pot with lefty Brian Johnson or right-hander Matt Barnes and take back Minor in return. But would the Red Sox want to add yet another middle-of-the-rotation guy to their cadre of similar pitchers? Does Minor actually represent a noticeable improvement? Again, this is where this trade doesn't move from spit-balling to a real possibility for me. I'd like to add Bradley to the rebuild movement and I can see why the Braves would want the same thing. I can also see why Bradley doesn't fit with the Red Sox after the emergence of Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo, which is why Bradley might be expendable, but the Red Sox naturally aren't anxious to trade a guy with a higher upside at his lowest for trade value.

Overall, I'd be happy if the Braves acquired him, but I think the price will be prohibitive. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Service Time: Explaining One of Baseball's Nuances

Why would the Braves wait on bringing up Jose Peraza if he shows he belongs in the spring? Why can't a team send a guy down for one day to hold off his arbitration for another year? Why is Mike Minor arbitration eligible for the second of four times this year when most players only get three? In my most recent column at About.com, I look at one of the more confusing things in baseball - service time. Please give it a click to either challenge what you think you know or learn something that's always been a little odd to understand.

Read the article!

Furthermore, you may have noticed if you are more than a casual reader that I have moved to my own domain at blog.walkoffwalk.net. I have bigger ideas down the road as well. In the mean time, you might click on a link that brings up a redirect page. It's completely safe. I may alter that, though. Kind of a hassle. But if you use a RSS reader, please update your reader for the new RSS feed. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spring Training Preview: Outfield

Previous previews: Starting Rotation / Bullpen / Catcher & Infield

The Atlanta Braves have invested at least $48M into the outfield this offseason to go with an additional $46.35M that was already on the books. Regardless, many believe that this might be one of the worst outfields in baseball. Too bad money can't buy talent. Well, it should, but apparently, it doesn't.

Welcome to the last pre-spring training preview for the pre-Braves. While there are question marks all over the team, some of the biggest remain in the outfield, which was gutted by trades. With that in mind, let's say goodbye to... Emilio Bonifacio, Ryan Doumit, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton. The first two names were crash-and-burn utility types that struggled with the Braves, but the losses of Heyward and Upton in the same offseason will be particularly difficult to replace. While there is a perfectly reasonable argument to be made that Heyward was not the offensive juggernaut that many projected him to be, for a team that didn't get on base last year, replacing a .351 OBP is no easy task. Nor is replacing Upton's 29 HR and .270/.342/.491 slash. Again, like Heyward, reasonable people can say Upton was not the player many projected him to be. Even so, that's a 7 WAR player over the last two years the Braves will not have around in 2015.

Right Field

The simple replacement for Heyward is the $44M man, Nick Markakis. My thoughts on the deal are both on this blog and at my About.com site, but suffice it to say, I get why people argue that Markakis replaces Heyward in many ways with the bat. I also understand if people think Markakis replaces Heyward in the field considering he has two Gold Gloves. I get it, but the Braves did take a step back in right field and the reasons are clear.

  • Age - Markakis is six years older than Heyward. While the latter is entering the prime of his career, the former will likely be heading into the post-prime of his. Heyward can improve while Markakis has a strong chance to get worse.
  • Defense - Gold Gloves are nice and I'm sure the Braves have proprietary defensive metrics that likely state Markakis is better than the widely available defensive metrics argue, but Heyward's defense was top notch. Even if Markakis outplays his is typically below league average UZR, he will look bad compared to Heyward.
  • Baserunning - Well, duh.

Now, that's not to say the Braves should have kept Heyward, whose contract extension should be an interesting one considering his collection of all-around talent and potential to get better. No, my point is simply that this isn't a lateral move. The Braves are worse in right field. It's worth adding that Markakis's neck surgery is not expected to keep him from being ready for spring training.

Center Field

Let's get one thing straight. The Braves do not have a better option than B.J. Upton. I'll mention a slew of guys who are around in the bench section of this article, but the Braves' best option is to play Justin's older brother and hope the work Melvin has put in this offseason with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer  pays off. We can look at B.J.'s problems all day, but a couple of things stand out to me. His groundball rate is up from the 40% range it was in his final three years with the Rays to about 44% with the Braves. That means less flyballs. Less flyballs means less extra base hits. Less extra base hits means less value. Less value loses games.

Whether it was his vision problem or a swing problem, B.J.'s not getting around on fastballs. He either misses or beats them into the ground. When he does elevate them, he tends to pop them up. Contrary to what you've seen with B.J. as a Brave, he was a pretty good fastball hitter with the Rays. The uppercut in his swing has always made him a good breaking ball hitter (and he was last year), but 60% of the time, he's being thrown fastballs. That's nothing abnormal, but he used to hit those pretty solidly, especially in his last two seasons with the Rays. This has led to a notable decrease in Zone-Contact% from over 80% with the Rays to about 73% with the Braves. That's a lot of pitches in the zone that he's swinging and missing on.

He still remains the best option for the Braves. That's not to prop up the guy or anything, but it's an observation based on the alternatives and the fact that B.J., despite his defensive miscues from time-to-time, is still a pretty good defender. His speed and generally smart routes is supported by a decent rate in Inside Edge Fielding on balls that have a remote or unlikely chance of being fielded.

Left Field/Bench

The Braves do not have one player capable of being an everyday guy in left. I have blogged a couple of times that the best option is likely a platoon and I think the two best options for that platoon are Zoilo Almonte and Jonny Gomes. The latter was brought in specifically to be the right-hand hitting portion of a platoon. Oh, and to crack jokes in the clubhouse. Whether he's funny or not withstanding, he remains a threat against left-hand starters and relievers alike. Even though he has a vesting option for 2016, I imagine he will be trade bait unless the Braves are THE surprise club of 2015. Almonte is a switch-hitter and probably a better fielder, which allows him to caddy Gomes. In addition, he has shown a good ability to hit right-handed pitching in the minors. Together, they could make a solid platoon that - again - could combine for an .800 or so OPS.

But there are certainly other options. Recently signed Eric Young Jr. has received a lot of positive press, though I imagine it's because people still think he's the hitter his dad was. Young possesses a career .662 OPS for a reason. The good news is that he's a fairly skilled defender, especially in left field. With his speed and ability to move to the infield in the pinch along with playing center if needed, that could be enough to secure a spot on the bench. Still, if EY Jr. is starting for you more than a handful of times per month, you should see what you have in Gwinnett.

Which might be Eury Perez, a guy I profiled when the Braves claimed him. Perez has hit pretty solidly at least in terms of batting average in the minors, but shows little plate discipline and appears vulnerable to righties. He's a better defender than Young and if the Braves absolutely want to play someone over B.J., Perez is likely the only option who can at least match, if not surpass, B.J.'s defensive capabilities in center.

Joey Terdoslavich and Todd Cunningham should have a youtube series about hijinks in Gwinnett. The two have been stuck in AAA for the last few years trying to get an opportunity. Terdo can move to first if you need him to, but is limited to a substandard corner outfielder otherwise. He's displayed pretty good power in the minors at times and his switch-hit bat could interest the Braves as a bench option, though I doubt he'll be part of the LF battle royale unless he's sold his soul for a better hit tool. Cunningham didn't play in the majors last year, but did post a .754 OPS in the minors, which is good for his second-best OPS. He has the skills and intelligence to play a passable center field and if he sustains pop from last year (28 2B, 8 HR), he could push Perez on the depth chart.

Jose Constanza is still alive.

Another option is Dian Toscano. The 25 year-old who hits from the left side is probably limited to left field, but the Braves liked the Cuban enough to promise him a nice major league contract. Kelly Johnson has played left field, including 50 games with the Rays in 2013, and even picked up a start in right field last year. You might think he would be a reasonable possibility to platoon with the right-hand-hitting Gomes, but KJ oddly has reserve splits, though the discrepancy is not that notable. Oh, Cedric Hunter got an invite to spring training after hitting .295/.386/.495 for Mississippi last year, but don't get your hopes up. Hunter was last a prospect in 2008.

Did I miss anyone? How the outfield takes shape may ultimately be decided by who is out of options at the end of spring training for another team and is getting squeezed out, such as the case with Juan Francisco in 2012. No matter how you slice it, there will be a lot of players battling for playing time, especially in left field. Whether the outfield is as bad as people thinks may ultimately depend on if B.J. can at least approach a league average production at the plate. With his speed and defense, that would give him, and the team, a good amount of value. Without those fairly low expectations for B.J. being reached, I can see why some have ranked the Braves outfield among the worst in the game. This is where you say, "that's why they play the game and baseball players aren't computers."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spring Training Battle: 5th Starter (About.com)

The Braves uber-busy offseason has left the fifth starter position still unresolved, but with a wide-open competition for the spot. The Braves could go with a veteran like Wandy Rodriguez or Eric Stults to simply provide stability at the bottom of the rotation while the young hurlers develop in the minors. Or maybe they should go with one of the young guys like Manny Banuelos or Michael Foltynewicz and see what they have. And don't sleep on Cody Martin, who the Braves left unprotected in the Rule 5. He's never found a level he couldn't conquer to this point. Or maybe a trade or late spring signing like Aaron Harang will provide come clarity. One thing's for sure. As pitchers begin to report, there is a big open slot for someone to claim. Who will it be?

Read the article

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Mike Cather

One thing I love about following a team is guys like Mike Cather. He was never much of a prospect and had little success in the minor leagues, but he was able to, for a couple of seasons, make the National League forget that he shouldn't have been in the majors to begin with. Then, like someone decided that was enough, Cather was gone from the major league picture. It's funny how these guys seem to emerge every year.

Cather was born about a week before Christmas in 1970 in the San Diego area, graduating from Folsom High School in 1990. Three years later, he was selected by the Texas Rangers out of Cal-Berkeley. Even if Cather's career was short-lived and not very successful, he was easily the most productive player selected that year in the 41st round. A side-armer, Cather's career was destined for the bullpen and he grabbed the occasional saves for the Rangers organization as he pitched well in the Gulf Coast League, not so well in the Florida State League, and okayish in the Texas League. It was the last stop, as a member of the Tulsa Drillers, that Cather's career got its first bit of bad news. Probably due to a number crunch, Cather was cut by the Rangers organization in mid-June of 1995.

With his first professional organization behind him, Cather headed north of the border to join the Winnipeg Goldeyes to finish out the 1995 season. Winnipeg, who finished a game behind the St. Paul Saints in the first half, would struggle down the stretch, though Cather was a solid addition, posting a 1.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP for the Goldeyes.

That level of success garnered some attention by the Atlanta Braves, who purchased Cather from Winnipeg just weeks before pitchers and catchers reported for the 1996 spring training. Cather received a look, but was ticketed for a trip to the minors and with Greenville, he pitched in a new career-high 87.2 ING, but the numbers were average at best (1.35 WHIP, 2.1 K/BB). Cather was the most often used arm for Jeff Cox and the G-Braves that season, but that was more due to better liked players moving past Cather.

The side-winder opened 1997 with the G-Braves, but was able to secure a callup to Richmond. With the R-Braves, he dominated over a baker's dozen games. It was a great time to be successful because the Braves bullpen was having troubles. The struggles of Paul Byrd and Joe Borowski led the Braves to look for reinforcements and on July 13, 1997, both Chad Fox and Cather left the Richmond bullpen and made their major league debuts for the Braves. Both rookies would be called upon at least 30 times down the stretch, bolstering a middle relief for the Braves that was just putrid with Mike Bielecki and Brad Clontz both having issues with baserunners. A third rookie, Kerry Ligtenberg, joined the pen a month after Cather and Fox.

Cather settled in quite nicely, pitching two scoreless in his debut and working around a trio of walks to pick up his first hold the next day. A desperate Bobby Cox did not hesitate to use Cather has a primary setup man and he finished the year with a 1.16 WHIP in 37.2 ING with a 2.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP. He walked too many, though four of his 19 walks were intentional. But that's nit-picking. Overall, it was a solid campaign that included 4.2 scoreless postseason innings.

1998 saw Cather open the season in Atlanta, but he wasn't the same trusty right-handed arm out of the pen as he was the previous year. He struggled to have clean outings. In fact, it took nine tries before he got his first no-hit, no-walk outing. He was able to right the ship and settled back into his setup role through May, though fans grew nervous whenever his name was called. By the All-Star Break, the Braves had seen enough and banished him to Richmond. He would struggle there before, it appears, he was shut down.

It wasn't the season the Braves, nor Cather, expected. Still, he broke camp with the Braves the following season. He would pick up the win on April 12 of 1999, but we call it a "blown win." He entered with a 6-4 lead, but gave up homeruns to Alex Arias and Scott Rolen to tie it up. A two-run homer by Javy Lopez rebuilt the lead and the Braves were able to finish the game from there. That win was Cather's fifth major league win and the last of his career. The Braves sent Cather to Richmond, where he would pitch pretty badly. His career with the Braves would end after 1999.

He would spent the next two seasons trying his luck with the Calgary Cannons (Marlins) and Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals), but he wasn't able to recapture his previous glory. Worse, the arm issues were mounting and with them, the calls to keep playing stopped coming. Cather would attempt a short comeback with the Macon Peaches in 2003, playing for the independent Southeastern League team that had sought to replace the Macon Braves after the latter's move to Rome. He even played with former teammate Terrell Wade. The comeback lasted all of seven innings.

With his playing career finished, Cather continued to be a private pitching instructor before returning to organized ball as a pitching coach for the Red Sox organization. He also would work for the Red Sox as an advanced scout before returning to the bench as a pitching coordinator and, later, coach for the Padres organization, making it to AAA last season. In fact, he oversaw a few pitchers with that El Paso team with Braves connections such as Blaine Boyer and Michael Nix. Oh, and Jeff Francoeur. Cather hopes to one day be a major league pitching coach.

Cather only spent 75 games in the majors and never saved a game. But for a brief run in 1997, he was a boost to a weak Braves bullpen. That's something that no one can take away.

Recent Random Ex-Braves
Kenny Lofton (1997)
Steve Bedrosian (1981-85, 1993-95)
Pete Smith (1987-1993)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

John Hart's Leap of Faith (About.com)

The signing was questionable at the time, but the answers have become even more difficult to understand. Why did the Braves sign Nick Markakis to a four year contract, possibly outbidding other teams that weren't in the middle of a team rebuild? That was a head scratcher and it was made worse by the trades that followed and the neck surgery the Braves apparently knew all about. In my most recent article at About.com, I revisit the signing.

Read the Article!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Top 5 Second Basemen in Braves History (About.com)

As I have successfully got back into the schedule of things, I have added another column at the About page with a run-down of the top five second baseman, by WAR, in Braves history. What I love about doing articles like this is players who I never really considered become part of the discussion. I love reading about Ross Barnes and how dynamic a player he was for Boston before the turn of the century. Also, before Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance could become a thing, Bobby Lowe kept second warm for the young Evers after his time with Boston had ended.

I am anxious to see if Jose Peraza puts his name in the Top 5 at some point.

Read the article!

Random Ex-Brave: Kenny Lofton

After the 1996 World Series ended in complete disappointment, the Atlanta Braves were at a crossroads that would decide the next half-decade. They still had a cadre of players who were young and productive like Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Chipper Jones, and the surprising rookie, Jermaine Dye. But their starting pitching had finally shown signs of cracking. Steve Avery had began to fade, prompting the trade of Jason Schmidt and other pieces to the Pirates for Denny Neagle. Far more worrisome, however, was the pending free agencies of superstars Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. How can you replace two Hall-of-Fame talents who were still in the primes of their careers?

The Indians offered a way. Trade away the long-term contracts that David Justice and Marquis Grissom had and open up money that can be used to sign the two starters through their early 30's. It was a deal that would be ridiculed, but rarely understood. The Braves had been, at the time, in four World Series in the 90's, but only took home one ring. Justice and Grissom were instrumental in that 1995 season with Justice smacking a ball into the Atlanta night for the only run in a deciding Game Six while Grissom made the final put-out of the Series. However, John Schuerholz valued Glavine and Maddux higher.

Meanwhile, the Indians were also trying to find a way to keep their core together. Albert Belle was leaving Cleveland for the big dollars Baltimore was offering. With one year remaining on his contract, Kenny Lofton had turned down a $44M, five year offer that was actually more than the Indians had offered Belle. John Hart was convinced that Lofton would test free agency and leave the organization. Having already lost Belle for nothing, the Indians were definitely open to avoiding a similar circumstance.

The Braves originally were hesitant when the trade talks left the hypothetical and went into real discussions. Schuerholz struggled to weigh the pros and cons. Lofton was never going to stay in Atlanta and regardless of what Schuerholz writes in Built to Win about Lofton's unwillingness to "buy into our ideals" and so forth, it was pretty clear the Braves weren't keeping the center fielder beyond the one year. After all, if the Braves needed the money to extend their aces, why would they extend Lofton? Plus, with the Braves having surging youngsters like Dye and the Baseball America #1 Prospect Andruw Jones, Atlanta had the replacements they would need. It was the money that was already committed to their veteran outfielders that Schuerholz wanted.

Once Schuerholz did finally come around on the trade, it was with days left before the 1997 season. Justice, who had missed most of the previous season after a shoulder injury, was hitting with force once again. And the closer the season became, the more it appeared that trade would not happen. Schuerholz would even throw in a last issue...he wanted more from the Indians than just Lofton. They settled on Alan Embree, a left-hander with control issues who had flamed out as a starter. On March 25, 1997, the two teams announced their blockbuster. Grissom and Justice for Lofton and Embree.

Fans were naturally upset. While Atlanta struggled to ever warm up to Justice, Lofton was a showboating ego-driven guy. Sure, he was fast, but the Braves had lost two starting players in their lineup for one year of a jackass and some lefty no one ever heard of. Schuerholz would compound the fans' disappointment by dealing Dye two days later to the Royals for Michael Tucker and Keith Lockhart. While the Indians deal makes complete sense, the Dye one still boggles me.

Lofton would get off to a tremendous start in his one year in the A-T-L. He nearly hit .400 in his first month with the new team and swiped 11 bases. While it would remain a productive year, injuries and probably an unfamiliarity with the opposing pitchers and catchers led to a disappointing season. He'd slash .333/.409/.428 in 122 games, finishing fourth in the batting race. However, in 47 stolen base attempts, he was caught 20 times, which would be the last non-defensive stat he would ever lead the league in. He on-based .214 in the playoffs, getting caught stealing in two of the three times he even attempted a stolen base. For a season that looks good on the surface, it was still a disappointment.

However, the main reason for the trade from Atlanta's point-of-view played out. They were able to sign Glavine to an extension that would pay the lefty $42M over five years just two months after the trade. That made Glavine the highest paid pitcher in baseball for all of three months. In August, the Braves extended Maddux for $57.5M for five years.

Meanwhile, Lofton quickly headed back to Cleveland, but it didn't take long for one of the most dynamic players of the 90's to become a good complimentary player over the kind of guy who was seeking "Albert Belle money."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What did the Braves Get in Dian Toscano?

In my latest About.com column, I went over some scouting reports on Dian Toscano. The Cuban was not a big prospect compared to other players that defected from the island nation, but the Braves saw enough to send $6.1M his way. What kind of player will he be? Well, it's only guess work right now, but on the bright side, he could post production resembling a Marlin outfielder. No, not that guy.

Read my column.