Sunday, January 29, 2017

TOT - Braves Break the Rules to Sign Seaver

Transaction of Today...January 29, 1966 - The Atlanta Braves drafted Tom Seaver in 1966, but pick was voided.

A star at the University of Southern California, Tom Seaver would arrive in the majors in 1967 as the National League Rookie of the Year. Two years later, he would be awarded the Cy Young award in the NL. That fall, Seaver faced the Atlanta Braves in the first Championship Series to decide who would represent the NL in the World Series. He didn't have his best game to open the series and surrendered five runs, but was the winner when the Mets scored five runs off Phil Niekro in the 8th to take a 9-5 lead.

You probably know the story from there. The '69 Mets went on to beat the Braves and then complete their miracle season by defeating the heavily favored Orioles in the World Series. Seaver threw all ten innings in a 2-1 win in Game 4. The Mets were flying high on their success, though it nearly didn't happen. Had it not been for a rather arbitrary rule, if New York had faced the Braves in the '69 NLCS, they would have faced Seaver rather than have him on their side.

Our story begins in 1965 when baseball instituted their first draft. Eight-hundred and sixteen players were selected. In the tenth round, the Los Angeles Dodgers made their pick and with the #193rd overall selection, grabbed Tom Seaver out of the University of Southern California. A sophomore, Seaver felt his value was much higher and declined to sign.

At the time, the draft was split up to allow for for winter graduates and players performing in summer leagues. That brings us to the 1966 January draft. The Atlanta Braves would pick at the end of the first round. Of the first 19 players selected before their selection, only seven would go on to sign. The 20th pick was the righty Tom Seaver.

The Braves immediately tried to lure Seaver away from a junior season at USC and a chance to up his draft stock for the June draft. It was a tough sell, but the Braves offered Seaver $40,000 and less than a month after picking the righty, Atlanta had their man.

Clearly, that was not to be. With the draft so new, some of its more arcane rules were not well-thought-out. One rule was that a player could only sign if his team's season was not under way. USC had began to play exhibitions in preparation for the '66 season.

Baseball commissioner William Eckert was only on the job for three years total so he had just few notable decisions in the job. His lasting impact on the game was to be so unpopular that the owners replaced him with Bowie Kuhn. When the Seaver mess was dropped in his lap, he was given a choice - enforce the rules with a severe punishment or fine the Braves for their mistake. He went with the latter. He voided the contract the Braves had with Seaver (and still fined them).

Seaver was stuck, though. He had signed a professional contract, which made him ineligible to return to USC. He was also going to lose his $40,000 - which prompted him to leave USC in the first place. Eckert came up with a solution - transfer his contract to another team so that Seaver could get his money and not have to wait until next June to get drafted again.

Eckert extended a chance to sign Seaver to every ballclub in baseball - minus the Braves. The only condition was that they had to match the Braves offer. Whatever team did would be in a hat and a winner pulled out. A literal hat. This is how Hall of Fame pitchers see their careers begin.

Three teams agreed to this condition. Philadelphia, Cleveland, and the hapless New York Metropolitans. The Mets were coming off their fourth-consecutive 100-loss season of their four-year run as a franchise. They needed a spark and a lot of luck. They got it when their name was pulled out of the hat.

Fifty-one years ago today, the Braves made a masterstroke. They had selected a future Hall of Famer to pair with Niekro. The potential was in place for a club that could contend for a number of years. Instead, due to a rather ticky-tacky rule, they had lost their man and after losing to Seaver's Mets in '69, they wouldn't make it back to the playoffs for another decade.

Reviewing My 2015 Top 30 Prospects (Part 2 of 3)

Prospect lists are a snapshot in time. My biggest reason for reviewing how my Top 30 looked two years ago is in order to show that prospect lists, while fun (and certainly I love doing mine) are not meant to be the final say in who makes it or who doesn't. They are based on perceived potential and expected results at the time.

A couple of weeks ago, I began this review by touching on prospects #21-#30 of the 2015 preseason list. Today, I'm going to look at #11-#20 to see how I did.

By slgckgc on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
20. Jace Peterson, IF, Grade: C+....I'm rather happy with my grade and ranking for Peterson here. I struggled when I graded him because he was having a tremendous spring at the time and was getting a lot of hype. His resume also included a pair of 40-steal seasons, though before Double-A ball. The previous season, he had slashed .307/.402/.447 and made his major league debut with the Padres. Many people felt like he was underrated based on the stats, though others - like me - felt he was overrated based on projections and scouting reports. I mentioned a future as "an utility player / second division starter." That remains likely in my opinion.

19. Dian Toscano, OF, Grade: C+....Oh, God. So, that one sucked. Even in an average farm system at the time (though deeper than when the 2014-15 offseason began), ranking Toscano this high was a mistake. First off, I broke my own rule by ranking a player who was over 25. Second, there wasn't much reason to be this excited about Toscano. I'll chalk this one up to Frank Wren overtaking my mind and soul for a few minutes.

18. Dustin Peterson, 3B, Grade: C+....It's easy to forget now, but when Peterson was acquired, there was hope the Braves finally found a third baseman of the future. That title was quickly transferred to Rio Ruiz and then Austin Riley and most recently Kevin Maitan, but when the Braves acquired Peterson in the Justin Upton trade, the hope was that he could bring stability to the position. He was pushed to left field, instead, and after a lot of struggles in the Carolina League in 2015, Peterson had a bit of a breakout summer with the Mississippi Braves. He'll be in my Top 20 this year (with a higher grade) so the future is still bright for Peterson.

17. Garrett Fulenchek, P, Grade: C+....I became a big fan of the 2014 draft - Wren's last draft. It was a slight departure from his usual drafting philosophy of smart college players with a reachable floor and low ceiling as he took two prep players in the Top 100. Fulenchek was the #66th overall pick and fit the mold the Braves coaching staff at the time loved from their pitchers - hard sinkers to set up a swing-and-miss breaking pitch. After a promising first half-season in the GCL, Fulenchek has struggled tremendously with his control over the last two seasons. He was also dealt to the Rays in July of 2015 for international slot money.

16. Mauricio Cabrera, P, Grade: C+....At the time, we didn't know if the Braves had finally decided to move Cabrera to the pen. After impressing fans and Braves coaches alike with his triple-digit heat that spring, it was clear that Cabrera was destined for a relief assignment. He would look pretty bad in 2015, but rebounded last year before a callup to the majors, where he shined. There remain questions about his control, but the stuff and velocity are both off the charts. If he can refine his skills and stay healthy, Cabrera could be a high-leverage arm for years to come.

15. Ricardo Sanchez, P, Grade: C+....When I wrote this, I had very high expectations for Sanchez which was a bit unfair to the lefty. Sanchez was a good international prospect, but he wasn't a "can't miss" guy. When the Braves acquired him, he had only been successful - impressively so - at Rookie ball. Never fall in love with a rookie league superstars, kids. Two years later, he has been hurt a good deal of the time, which has limited Sanchez to just 159 innings with Rome. Furthermore, the results just aren't where we hoped they would be. I dropped him to 17th last year and 33rd this year. There's still hope here and despite two years at A-ball, he's only turning 20 this year. That said, I probably ranked him a bit high here.

14. Jason Hursh, P, Grade: C+....Speaking of guys I ranked too high. This is a case of listening too much to the experts over following my gut. At the time, Hursh did rank highly in an improving, but still pretty bare farm system. He had the first-round pedigree and expected quick rise to the majors to go with impressive control. With a year, however, the Braves had already figured out that Hursh wasn't going to help their rotation and moved him to the pen during the second half of 2015. He did make it to the majors for two games last summer and will be in the mix for a bullpen spot this spring, but I've let my gut take over as far as his prospect status goes and Hursh didn't make my Top 50. Further, he wasn't really a bubble guy.

13. Alec Grosser, P, Grade: C+....I was aggressive with my Grosser love. He was coming off an impressive run with Danville where he struck out nearly a batter an inning with a 2.9 K/BB rate. I felt he wasn't just a sleeper, but a legit prospect. And then...he lost the strikezone. As in, he completely lost where the strikezone was. In 85.1 innings in 2015, mostly spent with Rome, he walked 65, hit 16 batters, and uncorked 26 wild pitches. He only appeared in three games with Danville the next season before being selected as the player to be named later in the Bud Norris/Toscano for Caleb Dirks/Phil Pfeifer trade and wouldn't pitch again in 2016. 

12. Jose Briceno, C, Grade: C+....Yet another example of me getting far too attached to a new addition to the system who had some brief success at the lower rungs of the minor leagues. Briceno was coming off an 84-game season in the South Atlantic League in which he hit .283/.336/.476. He was already 21, but the catcher-hungry Braves needed a prospect to believe in behind the dish and Briceno looked like he could be that guy. He spent one year in the system looking completely lost in the Carolina League before being shipped off with Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. He played in High-A, Double-A, and even briefly in Triple-A last year with a .602 overall OPS.

11. Mallex Smith, OF, Grade: B-....Despite the high rating, I was a bit less in love with Smith than others. He had posted absurd stolen base totals in the Padres' system and looked like a perfect leadoff hitter. As I wrote then, " My question and the reason why I'm not sold on Smith...will he hit enough?" I believe that question remains unanswered and further, I contend a second part of that question should be included - will he do enough to have enough value as an offensive player. I believe he'll walk a good deal, but will he have an empty batting average that will mute some of his value? I believe that's a bit reason some experts tabbed him as a reserve rather than a starter. That said, I grew more convinced that Smith had a good chance of being a solid player after a strong 2015 season. He'll get a chance to prove his worth in 2017 with the Rays.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Braves Bring Back the Meds

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational
(Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In 2013, the Atlanta Braves had finally come together. Frank Wren's team was young - Dan Uggla was its only starter over 30. Frank Wren's team was also very powerful and bashed 181 homers led the league. Sure, they struck out a lot, but they also scored runs in bunches.

But lost in all of the feast-or-famine articles about the Braves' offense was its fine pitching staff. While Brandon Beachy would miss most of the season, the Braves got breakout years from Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. Young Alex Wood also pitched in, which became important when Eric Young Jr. shattered Tim Hudson's ankle one night in Flushing.

The 2013 Braves also had a righty who had finally stayed healthy all year and earned an every-fifth-day assignment in the rotation in Kris Medlen. "Meds" had been lethal down the stretch in 2012 after finally receiving a late promotion to the rotation. The Santa Ana College alum followed it up with career highs in most categories in 2013.

But then, like Breachy, Medlen would not make it out of the 2014 spring training before needing a second Tommy John surgery. It was the first couple of dominoes to fall in what would be a franchise-altering season. Wren would be fired and a rebuild would be ordered - one that would not include Medlen, as he was non-tendered after the 2014 season.

There was some hope the Braves might bring him back, but two weeks after Atlanta cut him loose, the Kansas City Royals promised him $8.5 million to come to the midwest. His rehab took a long time, but Medlen finally returned to the majors on July 20, 2014. He had a few stinkers mixed in over a 15-game run with the Royals, but still pitched his way onto KC's postseason roster. He would pitch twice - once as a long reliever after Johnny Cueto got blasted and the other time in KC's World Series Game Three loss to the Mets.

The hope was that Medlen would stabilize a Royals' pitching staff in 2016 that would lose Cueto and was thin beyond newcomer Ian Kennedy, veteran Edinson Volquez, and young Yordano Ventura (may he rest in peace). Instead, Medlen would struggle over six starts - especially with uncharacteristic wildness. His shoulder was hurting, which put him on the shelf He made a pair of comeback attempts, but was never able to get back to the Royals. His final outing of the year included retiring just one of the five Oklahoma City Dodgers he faced before being lifted with a line of 0.1 ING, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER.

Let's try to compare the Medlen the Braves loved so dearly with the Medlen whose 2017 option was declined by the Royals. Pitch-wise, little has changed as far as usage and velocity go. He relies heavily on a low-90's sinker, throwing it 38% of the time last year. In fact, when you combine his four-seamer, about every other pitch on average is a fastball. He'll supplement that with a biting curveball that flutters to the plate at about 78 mph along with a changeup that has averaged 2-3 ticks faster since leaving Atlanta. He started to use a cutter toward the end of his Braves' stay and used it a lot more last year to mixed results.

One clear difference in Medlen since leaving Atlanta is related to release point, which the chart to the right shows courtesy of Brooks Baseball. In 2013, the ball was between roughly 5'9" and almost 6" feet off the ground when Medlen released the ball. Once he returned in 2015, he was releasing at more of a lower 3/4's rather than the high 3/4's of 2013. As a sinker-baller who depends on controlling the ball low-in-the-zone, not being able to get on top of his pitches won't help his effectiveness.

Medlen is a nice lottery ticket for the Braves to add - even as a relief option rather than a starter. If they can straighten his mechanics and get him to drop his changeup from the 84-85 mph range, it would be a big boost. Whether it was losing feel, the different arm slot, of Royals' coaching, Medlen lost his best pitch when he left Atlanta. In 2012, his changeup had a 16.6 wCH as far as pitch value goes. He didn't have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title so he didn't make the lead leaders list, but that pitch value would have ranked second. The next year, his breakout starter campaign, his changeup had a 12.6 wCH pitch value. That ranked sixth. It was his one true dominant pitch and it's been worth -2.4 since. That has to change.

At his best, Medlen can fool hitters with his fastballs and changeups and go to his curveball for strike outs. We haven't seen that version of Medlen since 2013. If the Braves are lucky, we could see it again in 2017, though it won't be until midseason at the earliest. Until then, it's nice to hope.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Braves Add Walk-Off Walker

Last Saturday, I wrote a post here titled "Braves Go Older, Add Boyer and Suzuki." In it, I briefly went over how for a rebuilding team, the Braves are mighty old. I received three responses which may have all been from the same person as all were authored by "Anonymous" and I doubt it was the hacktivist group. Each reply went over the possible benefit of going younger with Adam Walker, an outfielder who had been recently DFA'd by the Orioles. I agreed he was worth a flyer. Turns out: I may have been talking to John Coppolella.

Probably not, but there's a chance because just a few days later, the Braves have added Walker off waivers. In a corresponding move, the Braves dumped Tuffy Gosewisch, who heads to the Mariners. There's not much to talk about with Gosewisch, who was picked up earlier this offseason off waivers from the D'Backs. He can't hit and had no chance of unseating the aforementioned Suzuki.

With that in mind, let's look at Walker, or as my Anonymous brother called him, Walk-Off Walker. By the way, I'm stealing that.

Walker is a Wisconsin native who was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Jacksonville University. He quickly showed his power potential in 58 games with Elizabethton. With 14 bombs, he tied Patrick Leonard for the most homeruns in the Appalachian League that year. It was four more homers than teammate and future big prospect Max Kepler.

The 6'5" behemoth headed to the Midwest League and Cedar Rapids. He bashed 27 homers there. He knocked 25 more in the Florida State League in 2014 and then set a new personal high with 31 homeruns in the Southern League. It was 14 more homeruns than second place. Last year, Walker made it to the International League and smacked 27 more dingers, good for second in the league and 16 more than Matt Tuiasosopo, who led the Gwinnett Braves.

Despite 124 homeruns and a .235 career ISO, the Orioles decided to waive him. They weren't the first team this offseason to do that. The Brewers claimed him from the Twins in November before designating him for assignment ten days later. In a game where cheap power is hard to find, why would Walker be waived not once, but thrice in one winter?

Strikeouts. More specifically, a lot of them. His strikeout rates are the stuff of nightmares for hitting coaches. There are three seasons where he struck out at least 30% of the time with an absurd total of 38% last year - or 202 strikeouts in 531 PA. With shoddy plate discipline leading to low walk totals, Walker is an example of a True Two Outcomes hitter. Or, as Atlanta Braves fans referred to it a few years ago, all-or-nothing.

Comparables for Walker often include Rob Deer or Mark Reynolds. I'll throw a third name into the fray - Pedro Cerrano. Yes, the fictional Cuban defector from the Major League movies. This quote sums it up - "I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid." I don't know if Walker has already tried to offer Jobu some cigars and rum, but it's not the worst idea he could try. Walker simply can't put the wood on the ball enough. Watching him from the 2015, his swing looks a bit wonky at times.

It is okay to strike out a lot when you hit a lot of homers while also getting on base enough to supplement your game. This is where Walker struggles the most. He walked 9.1% of the time in 2015, a new high. Last year, it was 8.8%. In doing so, he did something that's never been done in the majors - strike out 200 times while walking less than 50. Only two players (Drew Stubbs and the aforementioned Reynolds) have ever struck out 200 times and walked less than 70 times.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Walker's defensive capability. He's decently athletic, but nothing about his defense stands out. Walker fits into the mold of "will make all the plays he can get to." He can challenge for double-digit steals, but gets caught too often to be considered much of a stolen base threat.

Kevin Seitzer and company have their work cut out for them. Their mission is to take a player with major league power and get him to make enough contact to make him a viable major league player. It's a worthwhile endeavor considering how legit Walker's power is.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

TOT - Braves Add Hall of Fame Lefty; Don't Use Him

January 25, 1943 - The Boston Braves purchased Lefty Gomez from the New York Yankees for $10,000.

Public Domain
Vernon Louis Gomez would end his career as one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time. He won all but one of his seven World Series starts (he left his last Series start with a stomach injury after one inning). He twice led the American League in ERA and in both years captured the pitching Triple Crown.

But the end of the 1930's had not been kind to Gomez. The innings had taken its toll on his shoulder and he would throw just 263.2 innings between 1940-1942. His manager, Joe McCarthy, had lost faith in him to such a degree that he didn't use possibly the most dominant World Series starter in the '41 Series and in 1942, the only action he saw in October was as a batting practice pitcher.

By the end of 1942, with the Yankees coming off five-game World Series loss to Cardinals, Lefty Gomez was one of many players for the Yankees who would not return the following year. Many would enlist and serve the military in some fashion in World War II. Others, like Gomez, would get the boot.

Like the addition of Babe Ruth eight years before, the Boston Braves were adding Lefty Gomez's name more so than his arm. The idea of pairing Gomez, who had earned the moniker Goofy, with Braves manager Casey Stengel was sure to be a match made in -isms heaven. There are numerous examples of Gomez's hilarious remarks. After Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in an All-Star Game, Bill Dickey singled. That brought up Gomez, who struck out. Gomez's response? “If Bill had struck out, Hubb would have struck out seven of the greatest hitters in history.”

My favorite story about Gomez also involves Lou Gehrig. After Gehrig removed himself from the starting lineup and took the lineup card to home plate before the game, everyone knew it was likely the last time he'd ever play after 2,130 consecutive games. It was a somber and emotional feeling when he returned to the dugout. Finally, Gomez walked over to him and said loudly enough for all to hear, "Hell, Lou, it took fifteen years to get you out of the lineup. Sometimes I’m out in fifteen minutes." It was the kind of levity that Gomez was known for.

He was still that Gomez on this day in 1943, but he was no longer the pitcher who dominated the best the National League had to offer. How Gomez came to the Braves is also a story. The general manager of the braves, Bob Quinn, had a son who dated the cousin of Gomez's wife. Yeah, that's how these things start. With nothing to lose and some of baseball's best lost to the war effort, Quinn gave Gomez a chance to maybe find some magic with Stengel.

None of this was lost on Gomez. He said, "What a nine we had. Stengel as manager and all of us non-draftable because of dependency, injuries, or bad health. We couldn't see, couldn't walk. Casey had been hit by a taxi and, after the accident, he hobbled around the field. Every two weeks this team of lame ballplayers left Braves Park and marched in back of Stengel with his bad wheel next door to the Commonwealth Armory to have an up-to-date army physical to see if we could make the list."

Gomez would take a veteran role with the Braves and guided many of their younger pitchers that year such as Al Javery. That would end up being his downfall, ironically enough. Before he had even appeared in a game, he was released so that the Braves could open a roster slot for a younger pitcher helped by Gomez. The southpaw had spent a month on the bench waiting for his first game as a Brave, but never appeared in one.

His release also came soon after a bit of a disagreement with Stengel. Back in the days of National/American League pride, Stengel wanted to do things like John McGraw did things. Gomez, a lifer in the American League, finally spoke up. "Case, the trouble with this National League of yours is that McGraw’s been dead for ten years and you fellows don’t know it." He was cut less than a week later.

Gomez would appear just once more as a major leaguer - a start with the Washington Senators in which he walked five and struck out nobody in 4.2 innings against the White Sox.

Lefty Gomez was not only one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, he was one of baseball's best ambassadors. His time with Boston was short and a blip in an otherwise wonderful career, but even without pitching, Gomez's mentorship helped to push the Braves from 7th in ERA (out of 8 teams) to 4th.

Braves Add Xavier Avery, Not Nady

Keith Allison via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
True story. When I originally heard the Braves signed a new outfielder, my first thought was, "Xavier Nady is still around?"

But that was not to be as the Braves added local product Xavier Avery to a minor league pact. The left-hand hitting outfielder just turned 27 on New Year's Day and graduated from Cedar Grove High School (Ellenwood, GA) back in 2008. That was when the Orioles picked him in the second round. He quickly inked a contract with the O's to begin his career.

Not Nady's minor league career includes one year of double-digit homeruns, two years of 30+ doubles, five seasons of 30+ stolen bases, and a career-best .756 OPS in 2014 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. In addition to his time with the O's, Avery has played for the Mariners and in one year, had runs with the Triple-A squads for the Tigers, Twins, and Giants. Last year, his ninth year in professional ball, was a homecoming of sorts as he returned to the Orioles' organization and hit .248/.332/.363 in the International League.

Avery's greatest asset is the ability to play a passable center field - though Clay Davenport's metrics paint the picture of someone better suited for left field. Regardless, it's not like the Braves don't need bodies for the outfield. With Connor Lien likely returning to Mississippi while Dustin Peterson climbs to Gwinnett, the rest of the Gwinnett outfield includes holdovers Ronnier Mustelier, Mel Rojas Jr., and Matt Tuiasosopo along with newcomer Lane Adams. Of course, there's also the possibility of Emilio Bonifacio. That doesn't include the chance that one of the previous names will make the final roster coming out of spring training as a 4th outfielder.

Avery is unlikely to be part of that mix, though he did have a 32-game run in the majors back in 2012. Nevertheless, you need bodies at Triple-A and Avery is that.

For all of the Braves' minor league free agent comings and goings, you can see this page.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Braves Top 50 Prospects, 2017 Preseason: #30-#21

Today, I continue my Top 50 prospects with the middle ten ranging from the #21st prospect to the #30th. Many of these prospects would be in the Top 20 of other systems, but the incredible depth of Atlanta's farm system has them just outside my Top 20. I want to thank all of you for reading. At the bottom, you'll find a running countdown with links to previous versions of this list. Feel free to share as well to other Braves fans.

30. Akeel Morris, RHP, 24 years-old, Grade: C+

Judging by this winter's moves that sent both Robert Whalen and John Gant packing, Morris could be moved sometime next winter. Like the two aforementioned righties, Morris was acquired from the Mets for Kelly Johnson (though a year later). He has appeared once in the majors - and it was pretty ugly. Facing the Blue Jays in June of 2015, Morris walked the first two batters he faced before getting a groundout. A pair of singles followed, scoring two runs before Danny Valencia hit a three-run bomb off Morris. He retired the next batter before walking yet another, which finally got him the boot. It turned a 3-0 game into an 8-0 blowout. Morris' final line - 0.2 ING, 3 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 67.50 ERA.

Outside of that, Morris has been quite effective in the minor leagues as he slowly made his climb up the ladder. In 2014, his first season at full-season ball after three years at the short-season/rookie level, Morris had some video game stats in the South Atlantic League (57 innings, 1.90 FIP, 14 K/9, 3.5 BB.9, 16 saves). The season cemented his prospect status and while his 2015 wasn't quite as dominant, it was still a solid campaign split between High-A and Double-A. Surprisingly - to me - he was left in Double-A to open 2016 and perhaps the lack of a promotion messed with him because his numbers took a climb in the wrong direction before a midseason trade to the Braves. His control was still a bit iffy, but he cut his FIP by two runs.

Morris works off a mid-90's fastball and a plus-changeup. He can get by on those two pitches, but his slider could be the difference maker in getting him into higher-leverage situations as it changes the batter's eye. For Morris, it's all about his mechanics. There's a good deal of herky-jerky movement in his delivery that can lead to some mechanical problems. Plus, he drags his arm through on his follow-through, which demands great strength and depends on Morris having the rest of his mechanics down to be effective. He has a talented right arm and could be in the majors to stay very soon if he can find consistency in his delivery and release point.

29. Matt Withrow, RHP, 23 years-old, Grade: C+

Former Brave Chris's little brother had a pretty impressive campaign last year in Carolina. The Texas Tech alum finished second in the Carolina League in strikeouts and even in a stacked system, he still had the fifth most strikeouts with 131.

The only real criticism of his season comes down to walks. That is to say, there were too many of them. Sixty-eight in total - all unintentional - for a walk rate of about five per nine innings. He also uncorked eight wild pitches and hit nine batters. These are things that will have to be cleaned up if Withrow is going to remain a prospect as a starting pitcher.

Withrow possesses a heavy fastball that sinks as it reaches the plate. When he can effectively throw the heater for strikes both low and high in the zone and hit his corners, it can be a difficult pitch to properly read. He can hit 96 or so with heater, though typically sits a few ticks slower. He pairs the fastball with a slider that has swing-and-miss potential at the major league level. About 10-15 mph slower than his fastball, the break on the breaking pitch is solid and is difficult to solidly connect on. He also either has a curve or takes something off his slider to give it more of a curve feel. What might decide his future is his changeup. He gets good movement on it and if he can locate it, he'll have the collection of pitches needed to be a starter. Withrow, who skipped Rome last year, will get his shot to prove that he belongs among the top Braves prospects with Mississippi in 2017.

28. Michael Mader, LHP, 22 years-old, Grade: C+

Mader is the kind of quiet and good pitcher the Braves seem to trade for in bunches over the last few years. He's good enough to deserve Top 30 consideration and might be even better than that. We just don't know yet - but results so far are impressive. Acquired, along with #47 Anfernee Seymour, last summer in the Hunter Cervenka deal, Mader was a third round pick in 2014 out of Chipola College.

Mader struggled with control and consistency in 2015 in the South Atlantic League but had turned it around in the Florida State League last year prior to the trade. In 103 innings, his strikeout rate was 4.7% higher, his walk rate was 1.5% lower, and his FIP had dropped a run. After the trade, Mader got a taste of Double-A and in five starts, Mader was unbeatable. Well, not really because he was saddled with three losses to no wins, but all the previous rates that looked better in the FSL looked even better in the Southern league.

Mader's fastball has a high-end velocity in the mid-90's, though it's more likely to sit in the low-90's. It's a good pitch that Mader fools hitters with routinely. He also throws a slow looping curve with 12-6 movement and a harder curve. He adds a change-of-pace that looks like his fastball right up until it's right on the hitter. I look at Mader as a guy with high-leverage inning potential as a reliever, but he's still a starter option. He'll likely join Withrow to help lead the Mississippi rotation.

27. Juan Yepez, 1B, 19 years-old, Grade: C+

After a strong debut season in which he slashed .299/.364/.458 over two rookie-league stops, a lot was hoped for with Yepez entering 2016. Unfortunately, injuries played a major role in a big letdown. He homered just once with Rome and had a sub-.100 ISO over 26 games total.

Frank Wren's last big international signing, the hope was that Yepez would help solidify third base. However, the addition of Austin Riley and Yepez's defensive limitations at the Hot Corner have led Yepez to be moved across the infield to first. Armed with quick hands and a strong hit tool, Yepez should add more power to his game as he matures.

The big question for Yepez is his plate discipline. Like many young players, Yepez tends to think that just because he can put wood on the ball means that he should swing. That leads to a lot of weak contact, though in his defense, his quick bat leads to a lot of "out-of-the-zone" hits. Nevertheless, you'd like to see him show more maturity in 2017 as he repeats Rome.

No video available

26. Cristian Pache, OF, 18 years-old, Grade: C+

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2015, Pache made his professional debut in 2016 and in doing so, set himself up to be the next IT prospect for the Braves. In 27 games as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League, Pache slashed .283/.325/.377. He'd look even better in 30 games to finish the season with Danville. Overall, Pache hit .309/.349/.391 with 4 doubles, 7 triples, and 11 steals. Oh, and he faced just one pitcher all year younger than he was.

The Braves under The Holy John Trinity have shown a willingness to aggressively push young prospects and Pache experienced that last year. I believe he won't be pushed like that this year, but mainly because the Braves like to let their prospects spend a whole year at Rome to get used to full-season ball. Regardless, if the 6'2" right-handed hitter adds some bulk without sacrificing his ability to play center field, he could make a Ronald Acuna-like jump. 

25. Brett Cumberland, C, 21 years-old, Grade: B-

Drafted with the 76th pick last June, Cumberland was just a sophomore when the Braves grabbed him out of Cal. He headed to Danville after signing and struggled down the stretch - especially with contact. He struck out 49 times in just 189 PA - or a quarter of the time. He flashed limited power (.123).

I still like his potential, though, and if his defense can improve to an acceptable level, I believe he has a future as a hitting catcher. Far more concerning than his defense to me is his contact rate. Cumberland's hit tool has too much potential to be squandered by a 25%+ strikeout rate. The Braves could opt to shield Cumberland from a potential worrisome assignment at Rome to begin 2017, though I doubt it. Like Tanner Murphy before him, he'll be given the sink-or-swim scenario. It didn't work for Murphy, but Cumberland's bat is much better.

24. Luke Jackson, RHP, 25 years-old, Grade: B-

One of the oldest prospects on this list, Jackson was acquired from the Rangers in the Tyrell Jenkins deal last month. Originally a first rounder out of Fort Lauderdale in 2010, Jackson had a strong beginning to his career as he quickly climbed to Triple-A by the end of 2014. That's where the stagnation began. In 128.1 innings, Jackson has an ERA near 6.00 at the minor league's highest level. The walks (5.5 per nine) are particularly alarming and he's been prone to serve up homers.

Originally a starter until moving to the pen in 2015, Jackson sits in the high-90's that will make-or-break any particular appearance based on whether or not he shows feel for his heater. Also, he has enough giddy-up on the pitch to reach triple digits. His other pitch is an inconsistent curveball which has strikeout ability, but is dependent on Jackson's mechanics being tight - and that's not always the case. Finally, Jackson has a changeup from his starter days, though you could go a week or two without seeing it.

From a stuff/movement perspective, there's a lot to love about Jackson. He gives the batter something to think about with a little skip in his delivery and when he's on, Jackson has a pair of plus-pitches that compliment one another coming out of the pen. The problem is that I have to condition it "when he's on" because he has some mechanical issues that can lead to him missing his spots badly. The Braves took a bet on his arm and their ability to get him to use it better. If they are successful, they have a high-leverage reliever with closer potential.

23. Derian Cruz, SS, 18 years-old, Grade: B-

After inking a $2 million signing bonus in 2015, Cruz made his professional debut last summer. It was a bit of a mixed bag. Similar to the other big member of that signing period (Pache), Cruz handled the Gulf Coast League with ease before spending the final month or so with Danville. However, unlike Pache, Cruz struggled with his new assignment both at the plate (.183/.204/.279) and in the field (12 errors in 24 games). Again, just like Pache, he faced just one pitcher all year younger than he was.

Cruz entered the international signing period in 2015 as the #5th best prospect according to Baseball America. Lauded for his athleticism and potential 80-grade speed, Cruz doesn't have quite as much current ability as Pache and his performance made that clear. Nevertheless, Cruz is a switch-hitter with explosive natural gifts who should be capable of staying at shortstop. If his bat comes along as the Braves obviously believed it would when they signed him, he'll be the next in a long line of strong prospects the Braves have developed at shortstop.

22. Braxton Davidson, OF, 21 years-old (6/18), Grade: B-

I've been waiting for two years to see the Brax Show break out and while there have been some good signs, it's only made it clearer where Davidson hasn't shined yet. Could 2017 change that? I really hope so because if Davidson puts his game together and lives up to the hype he had entering the 2014 draft, he'll give the Braves some monster raw power that they simply have struggled to develop over the last number of years.

A native of Asheville, NC, Davidson has hit just .232 as a professional. That's despite strong BABIP numbers (.337 in 2015, .360 last year). To put it bluntly, Davidson is not making enough contact as his 30% strikeout rate indicates. He does walk a lot to the tune of 16% of the time. Add those percentages together and Davidson is only putting the ball in play a little more than half of the time he steps into the batter's box. There's patience and then there's Davidson.

The challenge for the Braves is getting Davidson to be more aggressive. At that point, we'll know more about his actual batting eye versus being fickle as he waits for his pitch. To take that next step, Davidson is going to have to show he can put the bat on the ball more frequently while accessing more of the raw power he was lauded for entering the draft three years ago. If he does that, even if his hit tool is never great, he's got the capability of posting strong OBP/SLG marks in the majors if his batting eye is true. He likely needs another year in High-A ball before pushing him up to Double-A so I hope Atlanta is patient with him.

21. Alex Jackson, Catcher/Outfield, 21 years-old, Grade: B-

I was quite tempted to boost Jackson up the rankings by the confirmation that the former sixth overall pick was going to be moved back to catcher, but I will stick with this ranking for now and wait for Jackson to earn a Top-20 slot rather than be gifted it because of his position. Good news there is I do expect Jackson to climb this list by midseason.

We know the story about Jackson so far. Picked sixth overall, he struggled with injuries and a nagging reputation of having maturity issues. Last year, his Age-20 season, he played in 92 games with Clinton in the Midwest League and hit .243/.332/.408. The bad news here, beyond the slash, is that he K'd 27% of the time. The good news is that he posted a .165 ISO against mostly older pitchers and slashed .274/.358/.430 over his last 300 PA. He also had a .346 wOBA so the talk about how disappointing his season was is tremendously overblown.

Jackson was the best prep hitter heading into the 2014 draft for a reason. He was selected sixth overall for a reason. He was ranked among the Top 100 prospects heading into 2016 for a reason. On the other hand, I rank him outside my Top 20 also for a reason. I want to be impressed because right now, I see both the good and the bad, but with 2.5 years of professional experience, I have yet to have my socks blown off. I think Jackson can do that, though. The raw power he possesses immediately rivals Austin Riley, though the latter is higher ranked because he has done a better job taking his raw power and turning it into game power.

It's incredibly difficult to spotlight one prospect in this system because it's so rich in them. That said, it's hard not to be intrigued by Jackson. If he can turn the corner, even if it's repeating Low-A, and shows the ability to catch, he's got All-Star potential. I wouldn't be surprised, nor disappointed, to see the Braves start Jackson in Rome. With the position switch, change in scenery, and so on, it could be a good location for him. The opportunity to work with Ian Anderson and company wouldn't be the worst idea, either. 

2017 Walk-Off Walk Top 50 Prospects*
5 Looking In (Honorable Mentions)

The Walk-Off Walk Top 52 Prospects (to recap)
52. Jon Kennedy
51. Isranel Wilson
50. Yoeli Lopez
49. Carlos Castro
48. Dilmer Mejia
47. Anfernee Seymour
46. Bryse Wilson
45. Kade Scivicque
44. Yunior Severino
43. Abrahan Gutierrez
42. Jonathan Morales
41. Steve Janas
40. Chad Sobotka
39. William Contreras
38. Bradley Roney
37. Thomas Burrows
36. Connor Lien
35. Jesse Biddle
34. Caleb Dirks
33. Ricardo Sanchez
32. Lucas Herbert
31. Ray-Patrick Didder
30. Akeel Morris
29. Matt Withrow
28. Michael Mader
27. Juan Yepez
26. Christian Pache
25. Brett Cumberland
24. Luke Jackson
23. Derian Cruz
22. Braxton Davidson
21. Alex Jackson

*Top 50 was increased to Top 52 after a trade.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Top 10 Braves Not in the Hall of Fame

Last Wednesday, the 2017 Hall of Fame class was announced with first timer Ivan Rodriguez joining Jeff Bagwell and long-overdue Tim Raines as the latest inductees into Cooperstown. It got me thinking - who are the best Braves not in the Hall? And why just think it when I can attempt to quantify it? Hence, today's list of the top ten Braves to be shut out of Cooperstown. To be clear - this list isn't ten players who should be in the Hall of Fame. It's not a great injustice that these ten players collectively aren't in the Hall. I feel like only one really deserves it while others have legitimate arguments, but I feel aren't Hall of Fame-worthy.

To preface this list, let me tell you how I arrived at the Top 10. This is a Braves-centric blog with a Braves-centric list. These are players who, if they are ever enshrined, would have gone into the Hall as Braves (or Beaneaters, Doves, etc.). A good example of someone who doesn't apply for this list is Gary Sheffield. A borderline choice for the Hall of Fame, Sheff is a no-go for this list because he only played two years with the franchise. Fred McGriff spent five years with the Braves, but missed this list as well. McGriff only had 11 bWAR as a Brave - way too little to make this list. To put it in another way, a player's accomplishments elsewhere are meaningless.

Well, that's not entirely true as I'm not going to split all of their stats up by franchise - especially the Hall of Fame metrics. However, I will split up WAR because that's pretty easy to do so the WAR I list is limited to the player's time with this franchise. I wanted to make my reasoning clear before you comment "Crime Dog!" or "Billy Wagner!"

I tried to use era-comparable stats like WAR (both main versions), wRC+, and FIP over traditional counting numbers. FIP isn't perfect, but I don't really have a pitcher's stat that compares well from era to era. Further, consideration was given to other stats which tried to compare the player's accomplishments and numbers to members already in the Hall of Fame (HOFm, HOFs, JAWS). For more information on HOFm and HOFs, click here. To read up on JAWS, try this.

Finally, a player actually has to be eligible for induction, which keeps out Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones.

With all that out of the way, here are the Walk-Off Walk Top 10 Braves Players not in the Hall of Fame.

10. Johnny Logan
33.0 bWAR, 31.1 fWAR, .321 wOBA, 96 RC+
28 HOFm, 19 HOFs, 31 JAWS

The everyday starter at shortstop for the Braves between 1952 and 1960, Logan was considered a spark plug for some good Milwaukee teams. Four times, he was selected as an All-Star and he received MVP support in six consecutive years from '52 to '57. A strong defender, Logan hit .275/.334/.395 during his first eight full seasons. Logan was elite for his time and ranks third in fWAR for shortstops during the 50's and has the 24th best fWAR of the 50's.

However, he declined like he fell off a cliff. In 1960, he hit .245/.309/.334 over 136 games. He would play just three more years and appear in only 170 games, in which he hit .241/.315/.286 mostly as a reserve. He does hold the distinction of being the first major league ballplayer to be on title-winning teams in both the United States and Japan as he played one year for Nankai in '64. As it will become clear for most players on this list, how they finished their career is often what keeps them out of Hall of Fame consideration. Logan just didn't have the staying power - partly because he only got to the majors as a 25-year-old.

9. Del Crandall
27.3 bWAR, 29.0 fWAR, .315 wOBA, 93 RC+
82 HOFm, 26 HOFs, 26.5 JAWS

Crandall became the everyday catcher for the Braves in 1953 and hit 151 homeruns over the next eight years - well overshadowed by his teammates Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. Crandall may have garnered even more support for a Hall of Fame vote had he not missed two whole seasons by serving his country in Korea.

Between 1953 and 1962, he was an All-Star eight times, a Gold Glover four times, and helped to lead the Braves to a World Title in 1957. However, while he was an elite defender and had good pop, he just doesn't stand up to other peers like Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella.

Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons
8. Tommy Holmes
34.7 bWAR, 33.8 fWAR, .375 wOBA, 122 RC+
55 HOFm, 22 HOFs, 32.6 JAWS

Like many greats during the franchise's post-1900 years in Boston, Holmes' prime seasons were wasted for some bad teams - which makes him easy to forget. His lack of longevity also hurt him as he played just 11 years, including just 7 at a starter-level. His fourth full season in the majors, 1945, was a huge campaign for the then-28-year-old. He led the league in hits, doubles, homers, slugging percentage, and OPS and finished second in batting average and RBI - which ranks him among the closest any modern-era Brave has ever been to a Triple Crown season. His most amazing stat in 1945, however, was his 70-to-9 walk-to-strikeout rate. Since 1901, only 19 times has a player received at least 600 plate appearances without striking out at least ten times. Holmes is the second most recent and it is also the only time a hitter belted 20 homers while striking out fewer than ten times.

Holmes had a Hall of Fame beginning to his career, but the power numbers cratered after '45 when the owners moved the fences back out after bringing them in the previous year. By 1950, his career was basically over as a professional ballplayer, which kept him from putting up the numbers that might warrant Hall of Fame consideration.

7. Lew Burdette
26.2 bWAR, 29.3 fWAR, 3.70 FIP, 24 SV
84 HOFm, 31 HOFs, 26.4 JAWS

For 13 years, Burdette was a Brave and for most of those years, he was their #2 starter. It's not the worst thing to be #2 when your teammate is Warren Spahn. A control pitcher who was also a joker (he once intentionally posted as a left-hand pitcher for his baseball card), Burdette was a true character. He also helped to bring the Braves its only title while in Milwaukee. In Game 2, Game 5, and Game 7 of the 1957 World Series, Burdette gave up two runs while throwing complete games in each three - all wins. The final two, pitched over a four-day period, saw Burdette not allow a single run.

If one could be in the Hall of Fame for a dominant World Series performance, Burdette would be near the front of the line. However, his overall numbers just aren't there.

Boston Public Library/Public Domain
6. Fred Tenney
39.1 bWAR, 41.1 fWAR, .357 wOBA, 111 RC+
36 HOFm, 25 HOFs, 36.1 JAWS

It is rarely rewarding to be an elite defensive first baseman. Tenney revolutionized how first basemen play defense from playing deep and off the bag to popularizing the 3-6-3 double play. A strong hitter, Tenney hit .318/.376/.376 in 1897, his first season as Boston's first baseman. He would hit .300 four more times, but even by the standards of his time, Tenney never displayed much of ability to hit for extra base hits. Tenney did steal 285 bases and walked nearly 300 more times than he struck out. It was a very successful career that included time as a manager, but his stats never really added up to Hall of Fame support.

Here's a fun story about Tenney that's not that important to his chances to head to Cooperstown. After his days with Boston were finished, he spent two years with the Giants and on September 23, 1908, New York was facing the Cubs. Tenney's back, which had been ailing for some time, was so bad that he missed his only start of 1908. His replacement that day was Fred Merkle. With the game tied 1-1 in the ninth, Al Bridwell singled with runners on the corners and two outs to score the go-ahead run. The only problem was that Merkle, believing the game was over, never reached second base and started to head back to the dugout. Future Brave Johnny Evers saw this and implored his teammate to throw him the ball. He did and Evers forced Merkle at second base. The game would be suspended because of darkness and re-played on the season's final day - a game the Cubs would win to propel them into the World Series, which they also won. So, you see, Merkle's Boner doesn't happen without Tenney's back hurting too much to play that day.

5. Wally Berger
36.6 bWAR, 42.7 fWAR, .393 wOBA, 136 RC+
60 HOFm, 29 HOFs, 38.9 JAWS

Berger's .393 wOBA is just outside the Top 100 of all time. It's better than David Ortiz, Mike Piazza, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey. Only three players hit more homers during the 1930's than Berger and all three are in the Hall of Fame (Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Mel Ott). So, why is Berger on the outside looking in?

Similar to the case of Albert Belle, Berger was an elite outfielder who stands up well against his peers, many of whom are enshrined. But also like Belle, his run was shorten by injuries and his counting stats suffer considerably as a result. With that said, for several years after Berger arrived in Boston, he was one of the best in the game.

Photograph of the Boston Beaneaters infield, 1900. Top:
Fred Tenney (1B), Right: Herman Long (SS), Bottom: Jimmy Collins (3B)
and Left: Bobby Lowe (2B). Boston PublicLibrary (Public Domain)
4. Herman Long
35.2 bWAR, 41.1 fWAR, .342 wOBA, 93 RC+
88 HOFm, 41 HOFs, 30.9 JAWS

The original "Flying Dutchman," Long is another in the long line of 1800's Boston players whose career had long been over by the time the Hall of Fame opened its doors. Otherwise, Long likely would have been enshrined as one of the game's best shortstops of the 1890's. With time working against him, his numbers paled to compare to many other star shortstops. Unfortunately for Long, when he does show up in career leaderboards, it's not for the most flattering statistics. With 1,096 career errors, he is on top of a category no one wants to be. That said, many contemporaries felt he was one of the slickest fielding shortstops of his time.

As it stands, it's difficult for Long to receive much support because comparatively, his numbers just don't add up to a Hall of Fame plaque. For more on Long, I recently wrote about how he came to the franchise and how a convoluted Hall of Fame vote gave him an unusual amount of support.

3. Jim Whitney
33.5 bWAR, 47.2 fWAR, 2.75 FIP, 2 SV
110 HOFm, 31 HOFs, 35.9 JAWS

Grasshopper Jim was one of the game's first great pitchers and the Babe Ruth of his era (.323/.382/.510 in 1882). In an era where starters WERE the team, Whitney was a workhorse who threw 2263.2 innings for the Boston Beaneaters over just five years. He completed all but 12 of his 254 starts for Boston while finishing 1st to 5th in bWAR for four consecutive years.

Whitney continued to pitch for five years beyond his Boston days, but was never as dominant. His run to begin his career could have generated some Hall of Fame support. However, he just didn't have the lasting power to keep it going.

2. Dale Murphy
46.2 bWAR, 44.3 fWAR, .357 wOBA, 119 RC+
116 HOFm, 34 HOFs, 43.6 JAWS

It has long been a criticism of the Hall of Fame by Braves fans that The Murph wasn't enshrined. For 15 years, starting in 1999, Murphy languished on the ballot with little support. His best year, 2000, saw him still not reach a quarter of all ballots. Even a last-year effort by his supporters only garnered 18.6% of the vote in 2013.

The greatest detriment to Murphy's hopes were that his elite stage from 1982 to 1987 was Hall of Fame worthy, but that was just six years of a 14-year career. He was especially not worthy during his final five full seasons in which he slashed .238/.311/.403 while still under the age of 35. It leaves a bad last impression of Murphy along with dragging his numbers to fairly pedestrian totals for a Hall of Fame outfielder. That said, Murphy was always well-respected and could still get consideration from a Veterans Committee at some point.

1. Tommy Bond
41.2 bWAR, 36.9 fWAR, 2.41 FIP
142 HOFm, 48 HOFs, 61.9 JAWS

Not only is Bond the most deserving Brave to not be in the Hall of Fame, he is one of the most deserving players ever to be shut out. Born in Ireland, Bond came to the Boston Red Stockings in 1877 and in a time of rubber-armed players, Bond was as dominant as they come. Here's a fun number: 2127.1 innings. Why is that so fun? Because it came in just five years. Really, it came in four years because he made just three starts in 1881. To put that into context, Tim Hudson threw just over 1500 innings for the Braves in nine seasons.

It was a different game, no doubt, but Bond was as dominant as they come. For a four-year run, he completed 223-of-238 starts with 29 shutouts. In those 2100 or so innings, he walked just 140 batters, which comes out to a 0.6 BB/9 rate. Greg Maddux who? Bond threw a good fastball for the time, a wonderful curveball, and was particularly gifted at throwing the spitball.

Now, we can quibble about the lack of longevity, but he was elite in the major leagues and arguably the game's first true great pitcher. He became the first pitcher to win a Triple Crown in 1877 and of pitchers with at least 2000 innings pitched before 1900, Bond's career 2.51 FIP ranks second to John Ward. In terms of bWAR, he was the career leader in that category for five years from 1879 to 1883. However, when the Veterans Committee voted in 1936, Bond received just one point. That would be the end of Bond's chances to gain enshrinement. His only hope rests on the Early Baseball electorate of the Eras Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee). They next meet in 2020, though, and won't meet again until 2030. Bond, who died in 1941, will hopefully receive a longer look in three years than he received in '36.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Braves Go Older, Add Boyer and Suzuki

This tweet is pretty fair.
Yes, the roster continues to age as the Braves sign catcher Kurt Suzuki and right-handed reliever Blaine Boyer. The latter was announced a few days ago and is a minor league pact with a spring training invite. Suzuki's contract calls for a base salary of $1.5 million in 2017 with an additional $2.5 million to be earned through yet-to-be-named incentives.

Let's start with Suzuki because that's the bigger deal here - relatively speaking. After maturing in the uber-successful Cal-State Fullerton program, the native Hawaiian was a second-round pick by Oakland in 2004. Three years later, he was in the majors and had a pair of three-win seasons his first two full years with the A's. Since then, he's been in the 1-2 win area while often failing to reach 1 fWAR. In fact, since 2010, Suzuki has a triple slash of.248/.303/.360 with a .292 wOBA and 81 wRC+. Last year, his offensive numbers were pretty in line with that.
Keith Allison (CC by 2.0) via Wikipedia Commons

So, we can hypothesize that Suzuki continues to receive 300+ PA because of his defense, right? Kind of. Of the 24 catchers who have caught at least 2000 innings over the last three years, Suzuki ranks 19th according to Fangraphs' Defensive Component. For reference, Tyler Flowers ranks 22nd and A.J. Pierzynski ranked 23rd. Susuzki's rSB, which seeks to rank a player by how well he controls the running game, is -14 over the last three years - the worst mark of the sample I just cited. On the plus size, he is tied for fourth in rGFP, a stat that is a good sign of athleticism behind home play (the top three are Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey, and Welington Castillo). That suggests a catcher who is very capable of making the kind of play pictured to the right.

Pitch-framing wise, Suzuki's been below average in pitch framing since his rookie year according to Statcorner.com. Baseball Prospectus agrees - though has been a bit harsher than Statcorner. It should be said that Suzuki has been amazingly durable throughout his career.

So, if you are like me, you don't really understand this signing based on the information I have provided. On one side, I fully get the argument that Suzuki is likely a better choice than Anthony Recker and Tuffy Gosewisch, who were the current in-house options to play behind Flowers. That's a fair argument to make, too. Gosewisch has a career -0.8 fWAR because he can't hit while Recker's only had the briefest of success in the majors. And the Braves invested very little into Suzuki - who could turn into this year's Emilio Bonifacio. Signed to a similar deal last winter, Bonifacio was still cut with the Braves absorbing his salary at the end of spring training.

Personally, however, it does seem like an unnecessary addition. Suzuki might make the Braves better in 2017, but the difference between him and Recker is so minuscule that it's barely worth mentioning. Further, with Recker's recent success, you could argue that there is the slimmest chance he continues into 2017. The scene from Dumb and Dumber might be playing in your head - "so, you're saying there's a chance?" To be fair, it's not likely that Recker does that. Also in Suzuki's favor is that the team has another veteran capable of taking over full-time should Flowers falter into the mess that was the guy catching for the White Sox. Suzuki won't be much better than that version of Flowers, but is a stabilizing force.

That said, I would have preferred an open competition and a non-roster catcher or two with a chance to push Recker and Gosewisch.

Ken Lund (CC by 2.0) via Flickr
As for Boyer, you really ought to read Travis Sawchik's article at Fangraphs on Boyer. One of the true amazing things about Boyer is how through Statcast, we now are looking at him in a difference light. Boyer, who doesn't strikeout anyone, "allowed the lowest rate of barrels (1.0 percent), on the strength of an average 86.2 mph exit velocity that ranked 11th." What happens now is particularly interesting. How much control does a pitcher have on the quality of contact he allows and is it a skill or just luck based? Boyer might not get an opportunity to give us any sort of answer because he's not promised a spot. Again, this is a simple minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

With that in mind, Boyer is battling some pretty interesting arms for a spot on this year's roster. He'll need a strong spring training and for whatever it's worth, Boyer has had some ugly limited samples in three of the last four spring training's. You have to imagine that a veteran who relies so much on control and feel would be particularly vulnerable to his spring stats going haywire quickly. Either way, Boyer is unlikely to be a major part of the Braves' 2017 bullpen even after the trade of Shae Simmons.

Both moves are meh in nature. That is to say that neither move will push the needle very much, though the limited commitments won't hurt the Braves any either. That said, adding a 33 year-old catcher and a 35 year-old pitcher during a winter where Atlanta has already picked up a pair of plus-40 pitchers does back up Szymborski's tweet.