Sunday, August 30, 2015

Giving Up 20 Is Unusual

The Braves just lost 20-6 so I figured it was a good time to fire up the Play Index and check out other times the Braves pitching gave up at least twenty. This is a good moment to tell you that if you aren't already a Play Indez subscriber at Baseball-Reference, you should be. It's a fun way to look up things just like this.

One little note. Play Indez goes back to 1914.

The last time the Braves gave up 20 runs was July 1, 2003 when the then-Florida Marlins beat the Braves 20-1. I'll list the pitchers that day and you'll probably say, "well, that makes sense." Mike Hampton, Jung Bong, Trey Hodges, and Roberto Hernandez. Hampton alone was charged with nine runs while recording 12 outs. Funny thing about this game is that Rafael Furcal led off the game with a single and advanced to second when Florida's Brian Banks overran the ball. After a groundout advanced Fookie, he scored on a Gary Sheffield grounder against Josh Beckett so the Braves drew first blood. A bases loaded walk in the first tied it before Miguel Cabrera - HITTING 8TH! - led off the bottom of the second with a homer.

The most runs surrendered by the Braves came on July 3, 1945. The Cubs scored two-dozen runs against Boston to cruise to a 24-2 win. Whitey Wietelmann, who began the game at second, finished the game on the mound and gave up the final six runs. This game concluded a streak of 17 years without giving up at least 20 runs, the longest streak between 20-run massacres during this sample.

The most pitchers used in one of these bloodbaths came on June 8, 1990 when Atlanta called on six relievers after Derek Lilliquist started and was removed after recording just ten outs. Two weeks later, Russ Nixon would be removed from his job as Bobby Cox left the GM spot and managed the rest of the season. And the 20 to come.

The Braves have not been shutout in any of these games. They've scored one run three times, including in 1999 when Hall of Famer John Smoltz took the mound against Mike Mussina and the Orioles. Smoltz gave up as many runs as outs he record (seven each) and finished with a Game Score of 15. Justin Speier was awful, Kevin McGlinchy was putrid, Russ Springer was (consults thesaurus) dreadful, and Rudy Seanez just sucked. Only Mike Remlinger was able to avoid trouble in his one inning where he lowered his ERA to 1.47. Ryan Klesko hit a sacrifice fly to score Brian Jordan for the Braves' only run.

The "closest" blow-out game on June 2, 1928. The Reds, who have done this three times to the Braves, scored 20 runs with the help of a five-run ninth. Rogers Hornsby, who was Boston's manager and second baseman for the day, certainly liked his hitting a bit better than the team's pitching. He went 3-for-5 with a double and a homer while Les Bell, hitting behind Hornsby, homered three times. Yet, they lost by eight. It was one of four games Art Mills pitched in that year. He gave five runs in two innings and finished the season with a 12.91 ERA.

The Reds aren't the only team to put 20 or more on the Braves multiple times. The Dodgers did it twice - both while in Brooklyn - with the second time coming against Milwaukee, who only gave up 20 runs once. Also, the Giants have done it twice and have the honor of doing it while representing two different cities. I already spoke of the 1990 beating, but they also did it in the first half of a double-header back on September 10, 1924 at the Polo Grounds. The Braves also lost the second game 8-0 meaning that they were outscored 30-1 in one day. It should surprise you none that the '24 Boston Braves finished 53-100 with a run differential of -278. There's bad and there's 1924 Braves bad.

Not all the blame can fall on the pitchers. On July 2, 1925, the Boston Braves were defeated by the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) 20-7. Only five runs were earned due to six errors. Rube Marquard faced six batters and allowed all to reach before being replaced. All scored and only one was earned.

All in all, since 1914, Sunday marks the 13th time the Braves have surrendered at least 20 runs. It has never happened twice in one year and only twice (1924-25, 1970-71) has it happened in back-to-back years so if there is some kind of bet where you can wager if the Braves give up 20 or more runs in 2016, I'd put money on it not happening.

Random Prospect Sunday - Braxton Davidson

Keith Law said he had one of the best swings in the 2014 draft class. John Manual of Baseball America named him the best pure hitter and best power hitter that the Braves drafted last year. SB Nation's Matt Garrioch said that in this player, you find the rare "middle of the order impact bat." Certainly, Braxton Davidson is an intriguing prospect. Despite being given a mid-first round grade, he slipped all the way to the 32nd overall selection of the 2014 draft. If Davidson does become the player he could be, he might go down as one of the best first rounders Frank Wren's team selected despite being the last one.

Baseball America
Born June 18 in 1996, Davidson came into this world just as Jason Schmidt lost 3-2 to the Dodgers due to a pair of Mike Piazza homers. Davidson was an Asheville, NC native and would remain at home to attend T.C. Roberson High School and was committed to attend North Carolina before the Braves came calling. A pair of former T.C. Roberson players have appeared for the Braves - Cameron Maybin and Darren Holmes - but Davidson was the first player selected by the Braves out of the school since Conrad Pressley in 1972. Pressley never made it out of A-ball in his three years in the Braves system.

Davidson fell so far not because of his bat but because other teams weren't sure if he could play outside of first base professionally. Teams generally aren't anxious to select prep first basemen because the floor for being an elite first baseman is so high. But the Braves felt his hit and power tools were enough and rolled the dice he would retain enough foot speed to play in the outfield. After signing for $1.705M shortly after the draft, Davidson reported to the Gulf Coast League and the almost-18 year-old was ready for his first season.

He only had two hits in his first six games, but started to get it going and after a double header on August 12, Davidson was hitting .243/.400/.324 with 7 2B and a triple. He had yet to homer, but overall, the numbers were pretty good for an 18 year-old kid with no college experience. The Braves thought so much of his maturity that they promoted him to Danville to finish the year. He only had a half-dozen hits in 13 games in the Appalachian League, but also maintained a BB/K rate of 9/10 and carried a .348 OBP. Again, the power was non-existent, but the Braves confidently felt that was only a matter of time.

Davidson carried some franchise Top 10 rankings heading into the 2015 season even after the Braves retooled their minor league system. He responded by hitting just .243. It's been a great year for him.

Wait, what? Consider these two facts:
  • Davidson has walked 81 times this year in 116 games. Yes, he's struck out 127 times, though that's not an insane number that should scare you off. Many players succeed with a 27.4% of their PAs ending in a strikeout. On the flip-side, most who walk 17.5% of the time also succeed. Among minor leaguers, Davidson is tied for ninth in walks this season. Among players whose 2015 season is classified as their age-19 year, Braxton's 81 walks are 23 more than the nearest competitor - Norberto Obeso of the Blue Jays. Braxton's walk rate is 16th in the minors.
  • That age of 19 is pretty important as well. He was the third youngest batter in the South Atlantic League this season who played in at least 100 games. Admittedly, that's a little cherry-picking with the numbers because two younger players appeared in at least 98 games, including teammate Ozhaino Albies (profile), but it doesn't make Davidson's age any less amazing. Here's another fancy age-related fact. Davidson has not faced one pitcher this year who is younger than he is.
  • Though he's shown a clear enough platoon split this season, he hasn't been completely lost against lefties as his .372 OBP against them does attest to. It's at least good enough to feel a bit excited about his chances to be more than a platoon bat.
The Braves are the polar opposite of a club like the Yankees when it comes to minor league development. The Yankees are notoriously cautious while the Braves aggressively push their prospects. The existence of three of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League (Davidson, Albies, and Ricardo Sanchez) shows just how confident the Braves are in the chances those young players become great assets. Davidson has a long road between now and getting to the majors. He needs show his power more consistently in games and buck the prevailing opinion that he's defensively limited to first base. But there is plenty here for us, as fans, to be excited about. 19 year-olds like Davidson just don't fall out of the sky and post a .384 OBP in low-A ball.

Here's some first-half highlights. Forgive the awful music.

More Random Prospects...
Kyle Kinman
Mallex Smith
Fernando Miranda 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Jonny Gomes Pitching Was More Than a Novelty

Some so-and-so's on Twitter voiced their displeasure of Jonny Gomes pitching Friday night. "Embarrassing," they called it. Using Gomes was "making a mockery of the game."

Don't get me wrong - Gomes looked awful on the mound and every bit of a guy who has never pitched a game in his life (which he hadn't). His pitching motion evolved during the inning with him suddenly deciding to do a Luis Tiant-impression. His pitches confused Gamecast and Pitch f/x who thought he was throwing a knuckleball outside of his fastest delivery (classified as a changeup...somehow). Gomes threw batting practice fastballs that were sometimes pulverized. And really, how much did the team save the bullpen from throwing one more inning right before rosters expand?

But here's the thing...it wasn't about using the best prepared position hitter as a pitcher (Andrelton Simmons probably wanted the ball even more). It wasn't about saving the bullpen, though it makes for a nice reason. It wasn't even about a misguided idea of what respecting the game is, though if that were a concern, we could have asked Brian McCann his thoughts on the matter since he wrote the book.

No, it was none of these things. It was about September. It was about a clubhouse that was going through the motions of an awful season in which the Braves are only getting worse. Did you know the Braves are 3.5 games up on last place in the East? In two weeks time, they could be looking up at the Marlins and Phillies and that's actually okay. The Braves are who they are at this point. They own every bit of the league's worst offense and third worst pitching staff. Gone are Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, who combined for an OPS near .800. Also gone: Alex Wood, who was the Braves second-best starter this year, along with the four most-used relievers this season. Their replacements have often been underwhelming and that's unlikely to change this season. The Braves are trying to see what they have with Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler. Their bullpen is made up of down-on-their-luck veterans and guys like Matt Marksberry, Andrew McKirahan, and Arodys Vizcaino, who are all trying to remain in the picture for 2016. It's far more important to see what Atlanta has in Christian Bethancourt than keep playing A.J. Pierzynski, even though they are a better team with AJ in the lineup. All of these things come with expected growing pains.

So, Gomes taking the mound might seem like a small blimp in an otherwise-awful year, but I promise you that the Braves clubhouse had a different feel not present when the Phillies rocked them 12-2 on August 1. When the Brewers shut out the Braves 11-0 back on May 22, I am willing to wager that the Braves players felt worse about that game than they did about Friday's shellacking. The Braves took it on the chin, but came away with a smile. Sure, it was their 17th lost of August - which ensures that August will be their worst month this year. And yeah, it was the 19th time this season they lost by at least five runs. But at the end of the night, it was the most fun many of us Braves fans have had in weeks when it came to our team.

Look, losing sucks. I'll even paraphrase Heathers. Losing sucks losers dry. Well, that didn't make as much sense as it did in the movie (when losing was replaced with "real life"), but you get the point. Most of the time, losing is simply no fun and all-too-often, it's heartbreaking. The Braves lost last night like they have been doing with regularity since their 6-1 start. Williams Perez stunk, the bullpen wasn't much better, and outside of Freddie Freeman, the offense looked non-existent. But...the Braves still won. Their clubhouse was given something to laugh about. Their fans were given something to be happy about and almost as importantly, something to tune in to watch for. For one-half inning, the crushing weight of a crap-filled season was lifted. I'll take that mockery of the game over watching Edwin Jackson try to throw another inning any day of the week.

Minor League Stats Pack for August 29

Coming down the stretch for the minor league seasons, here is this week's Minor League Stat Pack. As usual, be sure to check out the major league companion article I posted today at About.com.

Gwinnett - Mallex Smith

For August, Smith has hit a robust .348 with 13 steals. He's walked 8 times to 16 K's and added eight extra base hits, a single-month high for this year. He's picked up a base hit in his last seven games, which matches his AAA personal record. It is not his best streak this year, though. He has a pair of eight-game hit streaks in AA plus an 11-game hit streak. But when you're hitting .310 on the year, you kind of expect to have a lot of hit streaks. He needs five more steals to match Randy Ventura's steal-total for the franchise-high.

Mississippi - Rio Ruiz

Speaking of hit streaks, Ruiz currently has a 13-game hit streak and has finally started to hit this season after a disappointing season in Mississippi. In August, Ruiz is hitting .316 with 11 extra-base hits, including three homers. For reference, he had 13 extra-base hits during the first four months of the season and just one homer. He's shown great plate discipline, but the rest of his game coming along is a huge boost. For the record, of his 457 plate appearances this year, only eight have come against pitchers younger than Ruiz, who turned 21 on May 22. The Braves are aggressive with their youth and sometimes it leads to long adjustment periods. Ruiz is finally coming around.

Carolina - Jake Schrader

He won't make many prospect lists, but Schrader has been a consistent bat ever since the Braves drafted him out of Tampa in the 2013 27th round. After hitting .290 for Rome, Schrader has hit .265 with a team-leading 14 homers for Carolina. His 174 total bases paces the club while his 28 doubles is tied for the team lead. One slight problem with Schrader. Ignoring that his power is still less-than-ideal for a 1B and he's old for the Carolina League at 24, Schrader has never seen a pitch he didn't like. The fact that he's walked 19 times this year in 399 PA is a testament to the wildness of youngin's at that level. Amazingly, it's not even the most extreme numbers of walks to plate appearances we've seen this year in the Braves system. Sean Godfrey has walked just 15 times in 437 PA.

Rome - Touki Toussaint

Shut down for precautionary purposes, Toussaint finished his first full season with just 87.2 innings in 17 starts as both the D'Backs and the Braves heavily monitored his pitch count. He walked a lot of batters (48) and overall, his numbers look poor. Even with that in mind, the Coral Springs Christian Academy alum will be on the Top 100 lists for many publications heading into 2016. The potential of Toussaint may have been most on display on July 20. He shutdown the Lakewood BlueClaws over six innings without allowing a hit. He walked four batters and struck out eight before leaving after 85 pitches. There's a lot to be excited about. He's only scratching his surface.

Danville - Juan Yepez

After struggling after a well-earned promotion to Danville, Frank Wren's final high-priced international prospect has turned the corner. With hits in his last seven games, Yepez has increased his batting average to .282 from the .169 it was before. He's worked a trio of three-hit games into this streak and has hit his 2nd and 3rd homers the last two days. Yepez has only played first base and DH'd since his promotion as Austin Riley has handled third base, but Yepez may still turn into a good hitter in his own right. The 17 year-old is hitting .295/.367/.459 with 4 HR in 55 games overall.

GCL - Jonathan Morales

A 25th rounder out of Miami-Dade College, Morales saw his playing time opportunities increase in the wake of Lucas Herbert's injury. The 20 year-old Morales has taken advantage, hitting .295/.372/.508 with 7 HR and an even 14/14 BB/K ratio. He's also thrown out 43% of potential base stealers. There wasn't much written about Morales before the draft, nor a lot since, but the Braves have to be thrilled with the immediate returns. Like Schrader, we must caution our enthusiasm since Morales is facing a lot of younger pitchers, but any 25th rounder posting his numbers deserves a second look.

DSL - Luis Mora

Unlike many that might get mentioned from the DSL, Mora was repeating his stay in the Dominican. The 6'4" righty threw 38 innings last year with more walks than strikeouts - or innings pitched for that matter. The 20 year-old continues to be winless in his professional career, though that doesn't tell us much. However, he lowered his WHIP from 2.18 to 1.18, his ERA from 10.18 to 3.80, and his K/B rate from 0.81 to an even 2.0. It was night-and-day for Mora, who might need to get pushed to Danville because he'll be 21 when next year's rookie squads are preparing for the 2016 season.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - International Edition

One more look around the world as this series takes us to the players who are playing in either Japan, Korea, or Mexico. For a previous look at this list from way back in May, click here. As usual, these lists cannot be considered exhaustive and with more research, I probably could find more.

Japan / Nippon Professional Baseball
Barbaro Canizares (Fukoda)...A Cuban refugee, Canizares joined the Braves in 2006 and made his major league debut three years later when he had four hits in 21 PA. A trade sent him back down to Gwinnett at the trading deadline. He would spend 2010 with Gwinnett before playing three years in Mexico plus a stop in the American Association. He's trying his luck in Japan and recently hit his first homerun.

Deunte Heath (Hiroshima)...We often think of the hitters that enjoy a move to Japan, but Heath has been solid since moving to Hiroshima last season. The Atlanta-born righty was cut in 2010 and later appeared for the Chicago White Sox, but didn't stick. In 36 total games since last season, Heath has a 2.13 ERA and 1.17 WHIP to go along with over a K an inning.

Ernesto Mejia (Saitama)...Like Canizares, Mejia was blocked at Gwinnett and last year, in his third year with them, the Braves allowed him to seek an opportunity in Japan. He hit great last year (.950 OPS, 34 homers), but has struggled this season though he has continue to hit homers at a nice rate (18 in 101 games).

Ken Ray (Tohoku)...The Atlanta native, who pitched in 69 games with the Braves in 2006, didn't play last year. That hasn't stopped the now 40-year old from pitching in 17 games this season, including 14 starts. He's been a solid pitcher for the Golden Eagles and leads them in ERA among starters (3.10). Crazy that he's still around.

Korean Baseball Organization
Jung Bong (LG/Seoul)...I feel bad for missing this guy last time I did this. Bong is in his ninth year with the LG Twins and his fourth year since moving from starter-to-closer. His first three years were solid, but he has been homer-prone this year. Bong appeared in 45 games with the Braves and three with the Reds after being dealt for Chris Reitsma.

Andy Marte (KT/Suwon)...He's hitting about like you might think he ought to considering he's never had much of a problem hitting pitching that grades below major league (.361/.426/.614). Marte, who hit his first MLB homer in four years with the D'Backs last season, but that just shined light on what Marte never became all those years ago when he seemed like a sure bet.

Yunesky Maya (Doosan/Seoul)...Formerly a Cuban defector the Nats signed, Maya appeared in 16 games between 2010-13 with Washington and sucked in nearly everyone of them. The Braves tried their luck last season with Maya and he was decent enough with Gwinnett, though gave up well over a hit an inning by the time they moved on in July and he went to Korea. While okayish last year, he stunk this season and was later cut.

Mexican League
Luis Ayala (Tabasco)...As much as I cringed when he came into games during 2013, Ayala stayed out of trouble and got groundballs. He spent some of last year with Buffalo for the Jays and then a stop in Tabasco. His 2015 season was a more extended stay with the Olmecas and he was very solid with a 2.04 ERA and 17 saves in 51 games. Gotta wonder if this is it for Ayala, who turns 38 in January.

Kyle Farnsworth (Puebla)...Yep. Farny is still around. A little more than a month ago, he began his return to life action by appearing in middle relief for the Pericos. Before that, Farnsworth was last seen getting cut by the Astros last June.

Freddy Garcia (Monterrey)...A recent addition to the Random Ex-Braves collection, Garcia started the year with the Dodgers organization, but after being cut, he headed to Tabasco. He wasn't much better there, but has gotten on a nice run with Monterrey since July.

Diory Hernandez (Veracruz)...Signed back in 2002, Hernandez spent portions of three seasons with the Braves between 2009-11 and hit .157. I'd like to say that was unfair, but Hernandez was known for his glove and not much else. The Braves released him and after a 2012 spent with the Cubs and Astros organizations, Hernandez headed south of the border.

Wil Ledezma (Puebla)...I hated the trade to get Ledezma. I hated the deal that sent Ledezma away. After failing to make the Twins roster this spring, Ledezma headed back south to play with Puebla, an eventual playoff team.

Donell Linares (Saltillo)...Another Cuban defector, Linares first played with the Braves in 2008 and after a solid year with Myrtle Beach the following year, he spent two years at Mississippi hitting .259 with a .689 OPS. Atlanta cut him and he headed to Mexico where he has played since. He's been a .333 hitter in the Mexican League...for whatever that's worth.

Michael Nix (Saltillo)...Still living the dream. Nix was a 2005 11th rounder out of Auburn who made it to Richmond in 2008 before being cut. He's bounced around since with stops in the Rockies, White Sox, and most recently, Padres organization. He's also spent parts of six seasons in the Atlantic League. Seeking to increase his jersey collection, he's in Mexico this year where he's been a sturdy starter for the Saraperos, which, if Wikipedia is to believed, means serape user. Okay...

Max Ramirez (Tabasco)...I hated the trade to acquired Bob Wickman in 2006, but only because I loved Ramirez. However, the young catching prospect never developed into a hitter, batting .217 over 45 games with the Rangers during 2008 and 2010. He did show plate discipline and still does. After playing in eight different organizations, Ramirez has spent this year in Mexico for two different teams and posted a near-.900 OPS. He'll only be 31 this October so you have to think someone will give him a chance this offseason.

Atahualpa Severino (Monterrey)...The 5'10" southpaw spent last year with Gwinnett as he tried to get back into the majors, but never got much of a look. He tried the Angels this offseason, but the PCL didn't agree with him and he was cut. His control has been awful since heading to Mexico.

Oscar Villarreal (Monterrey)...Yep, El Vulture is still around. Few Braves deserved more disdain than Villarreal in 2006. He seemed to come in just to give up a run so that the starter lost a chance at the win. The offense would take the lead back and magically, Villarreal was 9-1 on the season with a FIP of 4.83. He even started four games because we couldn't have nice things in 2006. Villy has spent the bulk of the last three years with Monterrey both as a middle reliever and closer and has been pretty decent, but as a Braves fan, I still get flashbacks of Bobby Cox going to him and holding on for dear life.

Recently Profiled in Once a Brave, Always a Brave...
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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Happy birthday, Julio!

Today is Julio Franco's 57th birthday. Yes, he's just 57. Isn't that an odd idea that someone can only be just 57?

Jed Jacobsohn | Getty Images
It was 2001 that Franco magically arrived on the team. After letting Andres Galarraga leave, the Atlanta Braves made the decision that Rico Brogna was their guy at first base. Rico had been a productive player between 1995-1999, bashing 20 homers four times, but Brogna was a Brave because he was cheap. He had hit .232 in 2000 while splitting time between the Phillies, Red Sox, and injuries. The Braves got him for $1.5M as a stopgap option. He got off to a good start, but after April 14, Brogna posted a .570 OPS with 2 HR.

Shortly before Brogna's season came to a close in mid-July, the Braves spun the Wheel of Guys Who No Longer Could Play Baseball and came up with Ken Caminiti. Braves fans remembered the damage the steroid-aided Caminiti did to the Braves when the Padres beat Atlanta in the '98 NLCS. He would also bash the Braves for three more homers in the NLDS as an Astro in 1999, but the Braves won that series. However, a year after hitting .303 for the Astros while dealing with injuries, Caminiti had been a failure for the Rangers, who cut him on July 2. Three days later, the Braves came calling. It would have been one thing if Caminiti hit as a Brave, but he didn't and instead, we were tasked with watching him look exactly like a guy who had never played first base in his life. As Philip Seymour Hoffman said while portraying Art Howe in the film Moneyball, "First base is the moon to him (Scott Hatteberg)." But it wasn't the moon...it was Pluto to Caminiti. He had been a three-time Gold Glover at third base (though that was 1995-97), but at first base, it was as ugly as you might expect.

All the while the Braves offended the baseball Gods with Brogna and Caminiti, they also had the 25 year-old rookie, Wes Helms, who actually started nearly as many games as Brogna. While Helms would rocket ten homers during the year - more than Brogna and Caminiti combined - he only on-based .293. He wasn't an option, either. Neither was Dave Martinez, who got four starts at first. No, the Braves needed another option.

Enter Franco, who had been playing for the Mexico City Tigers and hitting .437 with 18 HR over 110 games. Franco's time in the majors since the end of the 1997 season had included one game where he struck out in his only at-bat as a Ray. Outside of that, he had played for Samsung in Korea between a pair of seasons with Mexico City along with a run in 1998 with Chiba Lotte in Japan. It was a shot in the dark, but once Franco joined the Braves when rosters expanded, he immediately joined the lineup. He was like a myth come to light. 43 years YOUNG and with a body that made the 24 year-old Andruw Jones look fat, Franco stepped in and went 0-for-4 against the Cubs. The next day, he had two hits. Three days later, a three-hit game and a homer and he was off. Over his last 19 games, Franco hit .328 with 2 HR and an .878 OPS. Suddenly, for the first time all year, the Braves had a first baseman. Franco even homered in both the NLDS and NLCS.

Franco became a force for the Braves. While he destroyed lefties, he handled righties well enough to hit .291 as a Brave. Platoon partners cycled in and out of Atlanta. Matt Franco in 2002, Robert Fick in 2003, and finally a rookie Adam LaRoche in 2004. The emergence of LaRoche led the Braves to finally decide to cut the cord with Julio after the 2005 season. He would head to where old Braves went in the 2000s to remain competitive...the Mets. He hit .273 in 2006 with New York and even played some third base for the first time since his rookie year of 1982.

The game seemed to finally catch up with Franco in 2007. He hit an even .200 over 50 AB with the Mets and it no longer became a cute story. The Mets released Franco on July 16. That allowed the Braves to swoop him and pick him three days later. For the Braves, Franco represented yet another option to provide stability to first base like he had done in 2001. Scott Thorman had bombed, Craig Wilson had been released, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was hitting .284, looked uncomfortable at first base. Of course, Franco's chances of playing meaningful time ended before it even really began as the Braves acquired Mark Teixeira less than two weeks after Franco signed. That left the veteran without a purpose and he was sent to the minors where he would stay before returning in a pinch-hit role when rosters expanded. His last at-bat came on September 17. With Atlanta leading 10-6 in the 8th, Julio Franco, then 49 years-old, hit for Peter Moylan and singled in Kelly Johnson.

Atlanta moved on and in 2008, Franco opened the year with the Quintana Roo Tigers before announcing his retirement. He briefly served as a manager in the Gulf Coast League and the Mexican League, but Franco would return for seven games in the since-folded United Baseball League in 2014. This year, he's a member of the Ishikawa Million Stars where he serves as player-manager. One of his players is Eri Yoshida, a side-arming knuckleballer who taught herself to throw a knuckleball by watching Tim Wakefield.

Franco remains one of the most well-loved players in recent Braves history. His run with Atlanta was amazing and at 56, he still keeps busy with the game he adores.

This Week at About.com

In addition to my award-winning* posts here, I also write for AtlantaBraves.About.com and this week saw the publication of three new articles there. I have one ready for Monday so keep an eye open for that. As always, I would be indebted if you would click on the following links as page clicks there are kind of nice.

Braves Having No Regrets About Trading Heyward

Yeah, Shelby Miller's win-loss record is poor. It goes beyond just playing for a bad team when you are 5-10 with a 2.50 ERA. Miller has just been unlucky, but that hasn't stopped the Braves from feeling like they made the right deal in sending Jason Heyward to the Cardinals. Regardless of what Tyrell Jenkins does - he's been shut down for the season - Miller's success and three more years of team control makes this deal a clear winner for the Braves...though depending on how the Cards finish October, they may also think of this deal as a winner.

The Top 5 Left-Handed Starters in Braves History

The Braves have two of the very best left-handed starters in history with Tom Glavine and, maybe the top southpaw, Warren Spahn. However, who else makes this list? Did Alex Wood do enough in his short time? How about Steve Avery? Suffice it to say, those not making this list include: Mike Hampton, Jo-Jo Reyes, and Chuck James.

Saturday Stats Pack

In this week's major league companion to the minor league series I do here, I looked at a few fun or odd observations such as where the Braves rank all-time in players used this season, diving into Shelby Miller's two-seamer, Andrelton Simmons' strikeout percentage in context, and how the Braves may need a strong finish from Mike Foltynewicz to avoid doing something they haven't done since 2008.

Thanks for reading and remember to subscribe or follow me on Twitter for updates.

*My Mom awarded me "Best Little Blogger" award.

Random Prospect Sunday - Kyle Kinman

One of five All-Stars this season for the Rome Braves, Kyle Kinman quickly earned a promotion and then another one and in his second season, Kinman is with the Mississippi Braves. It pays to throw left-handed with skill.

I like to point out what happened with the Braves on the day these prospects were born because I'm a wee bit of a nerd that way. On September 25, 1990, Kinman joined the world in Omaha, Nebraska while the Braves whipped the eventual World Champion Reds 10-0 at that ugly park they used to play in. Tom Glavine tossed seven scoreless, David Justice hit a Grand Slam, and the Braves sported an infield of Francisco Cabrera at first, Jeff Treadway at second, Jeff Blauser at short, and Mark Lemke at third. Having 90's flashbacks yet?

Kinman as a Bellevue Bruin
Kinman graduated from Northwest High School, but the undersized southpaw received little in terms of interest and attended Butler Community College, where he was the 2010 Freshman of the Year out of the Jayhawk Conference. He was a two-way player who belted ten homers and won eight games. He later transferred to Bellevue University and starred for two seasons. At the plate, the outfielder hit .345 with 14 HR in 113 games, but on the mound, he showed some intriguing possibilities - especially in 2014. After sharing time between the rotation and bullpen in 2013, Kinman became a solid starter for the Bruins. He completed seven of his 13 starts and struck out an astounding 141 batters in 92.1 ING. Sure, it's just NAIA ball and it's not like the Bruins were competing against Texas or anything, but he did enough to influence the Braves to take him in the 25th round of the 2014 draft. The 25th round seems like a good time to take a chance on an undersized college lefty. In 2012, the Dodgers spent a 25th rounder on Daniel Coulombe, who has appeared in 10 games with the Dodgers over the last two seasons.

Once signed, Kinman reported to Danville. At 23, he was already a little old to be playing rookie ball even though he was just drafted. As such, he didn't struggle much in the Appalachian League. Kinman K'd 43 in 29.2 ING while walking just six. For you mathematicians out there, that's a rate of 7.17 strikeouts for each walk. Sure, it was a short sample size and yeah, I agree, he wasn't exactly an impressive lefty considering his age, but that's still pretty stout. Of the 30 left-handed batters he faced, seven (or a .233 OBP) reached base. His numbers look even better when you take out his first three appearances. Of his final 16 games, he allowed two earned runs in 25 innings, or an ERA of 0.72. This includes four walks and 37 strikeouts. Here's a small video involving Kinman. You only see two pitches before Kinman surrenders the only home-run he has ever given up professionally.

Despite the results of that at-bat, Kinman needed some kind of challenge so the Braves moved him up to Rome to start this season and over two-and-a-half months, the southpaw showed some good things (30 K's in 27 innings, 11 saves) and some concerning things (he walked 16, or 5.3 BB/9). It wasn't as pretty and tidy as his work with Danville the previous summer, but it was still productive and as the calendar flipped to July, the Braves moved Kinman to Carolina. He was with the Mudcats for about three weeks. In his six games, he logged 10.1 ING and struck out 16 to just three walks. It was pure domination and the Braves got the message, promoting Kinman to Mississippi for his first AA outing on July 25.

With the M-Braves, Kinman has once again received some ninth inning duties. He hasn't been scored upon in seven of his nine outings and picked up a handful of saves in the process. He matched his Carolina output with 16 K's in his first 10.1 ING, though he has been far less effective. He's been hittable, though that may be a fluke (.423 BABIP). His 6.1 BB/9 rate, though, needs work.

As far as a scouting report, Kinman relies on a four-seam fastball which has mid-90's velocity on the high end. He also mixes in a slider. Despite being a four-seamer, Kinman - to this point - has pitched like a groundball pitcher, though I wonder if that flips as he advances.

Kinman is a month away from turning 25 and with younger, better-sized players being churned out by the system, you might think that Kinman's time is now. If he stumbles, others will move past him in a system full of intriguing arms. But if Kinman keeps performing, he'll get a look. Left-handed relief is wide open for 2016 as far as the Braves are concerned. Andrew McKirahan and Matt Marksberry are already in the majors and while both have upside, neither has a grasp on a roster spot just yet. Mitchell Lambson was acquired in early July as another option plus Brady Feigl, who impressed this spring, is on his way back from Tommy John. Still, the lack of a veteran lefty might make the Braves anxious to bring in a reliever to help stabilize things, which only hurts the chances of Kinman making the 2016 roster. Nevertheless, it's a pretty good situation for Kinman and he could get an extended look next spring as Atlanta looks for options.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Minor League Saturday Stats Pack

Last week, I began a series I hope to continue next season that runs as a companion to my Saturday Stats Pack article I try to post weekly at About.com. This series looks at one player for each minor league affiliate that I find a bit interesting. Sometimes, it's less the player and more the team as the first entry will point out.

Gwinnett - Cedric Hunter

Hardly a spring chicken, Hunter was originally a third rounder in 2006 by the Tigers who appeared in the bigs in 2011 for six games. Now in his season with the Braves organization, Hunter leads the G-Braves with 11 homers. In fact, his homer output reflects a quarter of Gwinnett's homerun production this year. That's right. In 126 games, Gwinnett has hit just 44 homeruns. Ranking second behind Hunter is a three-way tie with four homers a piece. As powerless as the big league club has looked this season, they make Gwinnett look downright embarrassing. Then again, Gwinnett is ten games over .500 so...there's that.

Mississippi - Lucas Sims

It's been a tough year for the prospect. He started off poorly for Carolina, but once he started to round into form, he was involved in the bus accident. He returned in late June for a pair of rehab starts in the Gulf Coast League before looking good in two starts with Carolina, earning him a promotion to Mississippi. Just 21, Sims has struggled with his control and sometimes has looked not ready for AA as a result. He's also earned a lot of K's in a short time. In his last three starts, Sims has thrown 16.1 ING, allowed four runs, walked 11, and struck out 19. Sims gets lost in this organization due to the amount of pitching prospects, but he's still got a chance to be special.

Carolina - Jose Briceno

When the Braves acquired Briceno, he looked like a hitting catcher prospect who needed to mature behind the plate, but five months in the Carolina League have tested that observation. He's hitting .181 on the year with a miserable .474 OPS and worse, he's regressing. After entering June with an OPS in the .435 range, he hit .318 with 2 HR in June and looked like he might be getting on track. In 33 games since, he's hit .158 with an OPS around .370. At 22, Briceno is age appropriate for his league, which makes it even more difficult to search for a silver lining on what has become a completely lost season. He's likely Rule 5 vulnerable next year, though I doubt anyone will take a chance.

Rome - Alec Grosser

Also having a lost year is Grosser, who was a fifth round pick in 2013 and posted a 3.19 ERA over 93 innings in rookie ball the last two seasons. This season, however, has been ugly across the board. In 25 games, 14 as a starter, Grosser has walked 62 batters in 82 innings. He's hit an additional 15 and uncorked a gaudy 25 wild pitches. In his last four outings, which does include a start, he has pitched 4.2 innings. He's allowed 7 hits and struck out three. Here comes the hammer - 14 earned runs, 10 walks, and 3 HBP. Of the 34 batters he's face, 20 have reached base.

Danville - Matt Custred

A 31st rounder this year out of Texas Tech, Custred might be wondering when this professional baseball thing is supposed to get difficult. After a game in the Gulf Coast League, Custred moved up the chain to Danville and in 14 games, he has logged 26 innings that includes just five walks, 35 strikeouts, and only one extra base hit charged to him (he gave up a double in his last game). The 6'5" righty is a long shot, but he's likely bought himself a little time at Rome next year with this level of success.

GCL - Isranel Wilson

One of the late signing period pick-ups by the new Braves scouting staff, Wilson was born in St. Martin and decided that, rather than stay on the island and go to school, he would head to the Dominican Republic for a baseball academy. It was a good decision for the former little league star and Atlanta thought so much of the outfielder, they started him in the Gulf Coast League. He's only hit .215, but has shown great plate discipline (.340 OBP) and plus-power (8 homers in 42 games). While he signed as a shortstop, the Braves see his future in the outfield and he's racked up three outfield assists so far.

DSL - Anthony Concepcion

Though he's old for the Dominican Summer League at 20 (average hitter is 18-19), Concepcion deserves a look because he has been the lone source of power for the DSL Braves. He paces the Braves with 15 doubles and 5 HR, but he also has swiped 12 bases, posted a .411 OBP, and a team-leading .863 OPS. Again, his age keeps us from getting too excited, but it's a solid first year of his career and the 1B/LF will hopefully get a push up the ladder next year. To get a real sense of where he is, Atlanta might need to start him in Danville.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Freddy Garcia

His career with the Braves lasted just 27.1 regular season innings, but Freddy Garcia humorously became a part of Braves lore by uttering a simple statement. "I just make pitch." Yes, Freddy, that you do.

Stephen Dunn | Getty Images
Garcia originally arrived in the majors in 1999 for a Seattle pitching staff that was still looking for answers in the post-Randy Johnson world. Speaking of the Big Unit, that's how Garcia joined the Mariners after being an Astros prospect. In his rookie year, he threw his first of a dozen career complete games on August 7, but took the loss. 17 days later, he toyed with a Detroit team that would lose 92 games that year, shutting them down for his first of four career shutouts while striking out 12. He needed 139 pitches to do it and the game was a career best for him in terms of Game Score (89) and set what would be his career high for strikeouts in one game (matched three years later against the Rangers).

Limited to just 21 games in 2000, the 24 year-old Garcia had his finest single season the following year. He paced the American League in ERA and innings while picking up a trio of shutouts. He was even better in the second half, increasing his strikeout numbers while walking fewer as the Mariners won 116 games. Garcia was an All-Star that season and in 2002, though his numbers aren't nearly as good. With the Mariners slumping two years later, they sent the righty to the White Sox for a trio of players, including Mike Morse. He stuck with the White Sox for two more seasons and pitched his final 200 inning campaign in 2006 - the 7th time in 8 years he had accomplished the feat. His highlight in the South Side came on October 26, 2005. With the White Sox leading the Astros 3-0 in the World Series, Garcia faced Brandon Backe. Yeah, pitching wasn't all that good back then. Each pitcher went seven scoreless innings with seven K's before the Astros went with Brad Lidge in the 8th. Willie Harris hit for Garcia and singled. Two outs, another former Brave, Jermaine Dye drove him in with a single. When Bobby Jenks induced a groundout from Orlando Palmeiro, Garcia was credited with a win in his only World Series game - a deciding one at that.

It might be tempting to read ERAs like 4.51 in his final year with the M's and 4.53 with the White Sox in 2006 and think that Garcia wasn't a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm, but over six years where he logged 200 innings or more (2001-06), Garcia averaged 3.7 fWAR. He was a good performer - often underrated as a result of never being overpowering. He was a bit better than Russ Ortiz or essentially a pitcher that's good, but looks even better on a great team.

But Garcia would struggle badly in 2007-10. Dealt by the White Sox to the Phils for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez (ouch) because his former GM, Pat Gillick, still liked him, Garcia couldn't stay healthy for the Phils in 2007. He finished the year with 58 innings over eleven starts. Despite pitching for a team that finished 16 games over .500, the Phillies were just 5-6 with Garcia on the mound. He reached free agency for the first time and nobody came calling to his liking. It wasn't until August 12 of 2009 that he finally got signed - by the Tigers. He made three starts in September and got beat around a little. After the year, he signed with the Mets, but failed to make their 2009 squad and was cut before the season.

A few months later, the White Sox brought him back and he would start nine games with them, showing improved control. That bought him a return trip in 2010 and he made 28 starts, though all of his numbers suffered and despite a nine-start run the previous year being worth 1.5 fWAR, he managed just 1.4 in three times as many starts in 2010.

Still, Garcia was now a guy who provided veteran "presents" and a team looking for depth could use that. Right before pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report to camp in 2011, the Yankees added Garcia. Along with Bartolo Colon, the two righties helped to stabilize the staff while youngins' Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes matured. Garcia posted the second lowest ERA of his career at 3.62 and appeared in his first game out of the pen since 2011. The Yankees resigned Garcia for the following year, but he couldn't stay in the rotation this time and suffered through a 5.20 ERA in a shade over a hundred innings.

2013 would be an interesting year for Garcia. He signed with the Padres, but couldn't earn a spot on a rotation that sported the likes of Eric Stults, Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis and Clayton Richard. Instead, he was cut and picked up by the Orioles. It would be his first extended stint in the minors since 1998. Over 13 starts, he did his job to the tune of a 2.84 ERA. He also saw time with the major league club, though the results were ugly (5.77 ERA, 6.73 FIP, 2.7 HR/9). By late August, he was back in AAA and probably looking at a possible recall to the majors in September for blow-out game duty only, but luckily for him, the Braves were desperate.

Atlanta had seen Tim Hudson go down in a heap in Shea Stadium and Paul Maholm was working his way back from his own injury. Atlanta was looking for adding support in case Alex Wood, who was in his first full professional season, faltered. Enter Garcia, who started one game for Gwinnett after the Braves "purchased him" before joining the influx of players once rosters expanded for September. He appeared in three games out of the bullpen with his first outing lasting 4.2 scoreless in relief of Wood, who had surrendered seven runs to the Marlins. The Braves ultimately flip-flopped Wood and Garcia with the latter joining the staff for three starts between September 12-24. The Braves won two of them and Garcia pitched well enough to win the one that Atlanta lose (7 ING, 1 R to the Nats).

The Braves chose Garcia as the fourth starter over Maholm and prepared for the NLDS. Atlanta would split a pair of games at home before heading to LA and getting smacked around 13-6 in Game 3. With a win-or-go home game tabbed for Monday, October 7, the Braves saw the Dodgers go with Clayton Kershaw on short rest while Garcia took the ball for the Braves. Kershaw, who graduated high school the same year of Garcia's final 200 inning campaign, was a tough task even on short rest, but Garcia wasn't worried. He told David O'Brien, "I don't panic. I just make pitch." It was a stupid rallying cry, but it gave us hope. Maybe he could just pitch and get this series back to Atlanta.

His fifth pitch to Dodgers leadoff batter Carl Crawford was a homer. His sixth pitch to Crawford in the third was also a homer. But the Braves bounced back in the 4th. A single, an error, and a wild pitch set up Chris Johnson, who singled in a run. A groundout led to a game-tying run and Garcia was back even with the Dodgers' ace. He was pinch-hit for in the seventh with Elliot Johnson on third after a triple. Jose Constanza rocketed a 2-1 pitch up the middle for an RBI. Suddenly, Garcia was the pitcher of record. Just need nine more outs.

But had the Braves done that, we would have never seen dejected Craig Kimbrel with his arms crossed. So, I guess that's something. After Juan Uribe broke David Carpenter and the Braves lost, Atlanta was still impressed enough to bring back Garcia to compete for a starting spot. Injuries seemed to help his chances, but the signing of Ervin Santana and surprising pitching of David Hale led the Braves to cut Garcia. He would not pitch again until the winter leagues. He was a late spring pick-up by the Dodgers heading into 2015, but lasted a month before being cut from their AAA roster. Since June, he's pitched in the Mexican League.

Garcia has slightly more than 2,250 innings in the major leagues and been a part of some good teams. He rarely impressed so much that fans of other teams wanted him on their team, but - especially before 2007 - he often pitched well enough that his own team's fans were pretty confident they had a good chance to win after Garcia took the mound. Now 38, Garcia may try to stick around through next spring and hope he gets an opportunity to make a roster. Hey, if his old teammate Colon can still do it, why not Garcia?

More Random Ex-Braves
John Thomson
Kent Mercker
George Lombard

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - The Indies Revisited

As a part of this little series of mine, I look at former Braves in the independent leagues. Some of these guys may surprise you. Let's take a late season look at who is still kicking it for plays like Bridgeport and Sioux Falls. As I did last time, I'll just report on players I find by league rather than by team and if there's anything interesting to add, I'll do just that.

American Association
Winston Abreu (Joplin)
Yenier Bello (Joplin)
...apparently, anyone can have bonkers stats in Cuba. Put Bello in the American Association and...ugh.
Stefan Gartrell (Amarillo)
...Over three years, Gartrell was a fixture with Gwinnett, including hitting 45 homers combined in his first two years, but he never got to the majors. He didn't play last year, but has made a pair of Amarican Association stops this year in efforts to get another look.
Luis Hernandez (Wichita)
...Smooth glove guy who the Braves sent to the O's before 2007. He's logged 122 games in the majors, but just two of them since 2011. He's in his first year in independent ball.
Ken Oberkfell (Lincoln)
...played nearly five years with the Braves back in the 80's and has managed Lincoln for the last three years. Lincoln's pretty bad this year, but played in the Finals last year where they swept by Wichita.

Atlantic League
Jose Constanza (York)
...honestly surprised we didn't pick him back up when he was cut a few weeks back.
Matt DeSalvo (York)
...he pitched two too many games with the Braves. York just cut him.
Tim Gustafson (Sugar Land)
Ty'Relle Harris (York)
Brandon Jones (Retired)
...earlier this month, Jones finally gave up his dream of getting back into affiliated ball for the first time since 2011 or returning to the majors for the first time since 2009 with the Braves. He had played for three different Atlantic League teams this year and struggled all year.
Mark Lamm (Lancaster)
...a bit of a surprise release in late July if only because he had a 2.93 ERA with Mississippi this year, but his peripherals were pretty bad. A sixth round failure out of Vanderbilt in 2011.
Anthony Lerew (York)
...remember how much we loved him? He's been on the DL since the end of June.
Kameron Loe (Retired)
...along the time Jones announced his retirement, Loe did the same.  Both finished with Bridgeport and both saw their last action in the majors with the Braves. Loe had been suspended this year for a second positive test for a "drug of abuse."
James Parr (Sugar Land)
...in a baker's dozen games between 2008-09, he showed he wasn't quite ready for prime time. After another year in Gwinnett, his time with the Braves came to a close. Four years later, he washed up in the Atlantic League.
Cody Scarpetta (Bridgeport)
...you might say who? I say read this and find out.
Gus Schlosser (Somerset)
...he was part of my last edition of this series, but got cut soon after.
Donnie Veal (Long Island)
...he got into a handful of pretty ugly games with the Braves this year, but ultimately chose free agency rather than head back to Gwinnett. Since joining Long Island, the lefty has been pretty decent (1.38 ERA).
Kelvin Villa (Sugar Land)
Daryle Ward (Sugar Land)
...I love a guy who is 40 and still trying to stick around. Hasn't played in the majors since 2008.
Matt Wright (Sugar Land)
...drafted in the 21st round of 2000. If you aren't good at math, that's 16 years! He pitched for Macon and Richmond.

Frontier League
Jarett Miller (Southern Illinois)
...a 21st rounder in 2011, Miller spent four years in A-ball for the Braves. He opened this year in the O's system, but has spent the last couple of months with the Miners.
Navery Moore (Joliet)
...that 2011 draft has produced 8 major leaguers so far so it's not terrible, but four of them (Schlosser, Lamm, Miller, Moore) selected between rounds 6 and 21 are in independent ball.
Tyler Tewell (Gateway)
...remember the back-to-back Hillcats no-hitter that Scarpetta took part in? Tewell caught both games.

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