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.

4 comments:

  1. They need to go younger and add Adam Brett Walker from the Orioles. The O's just DFA'd Walk-Off Walker. Averaged 28 home runs over the last 4 seasons and 96 RBI. Not a bad pick up for a 25 year old with major upside. He stands 6'5 / 230 lbs and plays OF/1B. He runs fairly well too. Between college and the minors, Walker is 86 for 97 in stolen bases. With only 3 outfielders on roster, he's not a bad spring training flyer. Now that would be a power claim.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyY_WH2SkZA

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    1. I love Walker's athleticism and raw power, though I do question how much upside you can expect from a player who has an OBP of under .310 against right-handed pitching the last three years and puts up pretty ridiculous strikeout numbers. He's worth a flyer as you suggested, though I'm not sure the Braves would be willing to stash him on the 40-man roster to do so.

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  2. Claim him - DFA him - Stash him in Gwinnet after he clears waivers (4th time around). After watching above video - I'm sold

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  3. In 110 ABs last year, while leading off an inning - Walker had a .365 OBP. Most people assume he bats in the heart of the order, but he hasn't in the last 3 years. He's done most of that damage batting 6,7,8 in that time span. And his K rate has risen. The only year he did bat 4 & 5 in line up he had a 20% K rate and won league MVP. [31 doubles - 7 triples - 27 homers - 109 rbi & 115 strikeouts]

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