Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saturday Stats Pack: Flowers, Stolen Bases, Bullpen, Sims

Unlike last season where I posted two separate entries, I'm going to try to do one Saturday Stats Pack with both major league and minor league notable stats. So, without too much stalling, here is this week's edition.

Tyler Flowers (By Editosaurus (Own work) [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons)
.344 wOBA

Over the last two seasons, only six catchers have stepped into the batter's box at least 350 times and have a better weighted on-base average than Tyler Flowers. They include the current elite of the elite (Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy), the young Willson Contreras, a career-year from Wilson Ramos, the impressive Yasmani Grandal, and a part-time backstop in Evan Gattis. This is a surprise for White Sox fans, who saw Flowers post a wOBA of almost a hundred points lower during nearly 1400 PA playing in the black-and-white. To put it in simple terms, Flowers is simply making better contact. While with the White Sox, 20% of the balls he hit were given a soft-contact classification. There is a correlation between a high Soft% and a lower BABIP. Unsurprisingly, Flowers' BABIP has surged since coming to the Braves as he's lowered his Soft% to 13.4%. Meanwhile, his Hard-Hit rate has climbed 12 points. No catcher since 2016 can match it. Sure, there do remain sample size concerns here, but Flowers is winning over doubters every week that he continues to produce.

82.4%

So far, the Braves are 14-for-17 in stolen bases - a success rate of 82.4%. This would be some kind of franchise record. Only once in franchise history have the Braves reached the 80% threshold. That came in 1941 when the Braves swiped 61-of-76, good for an 80.3% rate. The Braves' best rate since moving to Atlanta came in 2012 when the Michael Bourn-Jason Heyward-Martin Prado outfield helped the Braves steal a shade under 76% of their attempts. Last year, they only stole 69%, which is still nice, I hear.

62.2 Innings

For all of the vitriol the Braves bullpen has received - and sometimes deserves - Brian Snitker has relied on his relievers for the third-fewest innings of any bullpen in baseball. Compared to the Reds, the Braves have needed 35.1 fewer innings from their relievers. To be fair, though...part of that accomplishment is because Atlanta has played, along with a few other teams, the fewest games in baseball - though the Reds have played just two more. Atlanta's starters have thrown 123 innings, good for 23rd.

What Are We, Anyway?

After Roger McDowell was let go, I wondered if it would alter how the Braves tried to pitch. McDowell was a guy who stressed the importance of pitching low and getting grounders. So far, the Braves pitching staff doesn't seem to be doing anything at a rate that suggests any kind of philosophy. Their strikeout rate is fourth worst, their walk rate is 11th worst, and only six teams induce fewer grounders. Their HR/FB rate is in the middle of the pact. However...they do one thing that stands out. 22% of the balls that batters connect on are rated as softly hit. This may be due, in part, because only the Cubs have a worse fastball velocity than the Braves. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if anything substantial comes from a Chuck Hernandez-led pitching staff like the McDowell years.

Rick Briggs (CC by 2.0) via Flickr
Minor League Stats of Interest...Gwinnett - 2.3 BB/9

There's nothing too exciting about the walk rate above until you bring it into context. Since 2015, Lucas Sims' walks per nine innings have ranged from 5.2 and 5.9. Before that, he kept it around 3.5 BB/9 - which isn't great, but certainly something that can be worked around as a starting prospect. Early on this season, we have seen a possible return to the pre-2015 version of Sims. In 23.2 innings, Sims has walked just six. Sims has always had the stuff and typically carries a low H/9 as a result. Now, he's keeping batters off base, though the BABIP is artificially too low and will climb. The Sims of 2017 is no longer a top prospect. Outfield Fly Rule did a composite list of his rating according to Braves' top prospect lists and he landed #21 - a bit lower than my ranking of #18. However, if he continues to pitch like the top-flight prospect he once was, it's only a matter of time until he gets a shot to show what he has.

Mississippi - 38.4%

Travis Demeritte has routinely seen his prospect status hurt by his strikeout rate. It was 33% last season and 35% the season before. The offensive skills are intriguing, but the strikeouts are an issue. And, to be frank, a strikeout rate of 38.4% is very bad. The thing is...that rate is about 20% higher than Demeritte's, who has only struck out in 18% of his plate appearances this year. Instead, the 38.4% strikeout rate belongs to Connor Lien. The defensively minded outfielder became a bit of a prospect back in 2015 when he slashed .285/.347/.415 at high-A ball with a plethora of big defensive plays, but injuries limited him to just 64 games when he played at Double-A last season. So far this season, he's put a clinic on how not to reclaim your prospect status. Lien has hit four homers and stolen five bases - trends that could end with season stats that look rather solid. But at a near 40% strikeout rate (compared to a near 5% walk rate), he'll be in line for some problematic times.

Florida - 7.20 ERA, but Trending Up

Touki Toussaint is still a raw pitcher facing hitters that are older and more experienced than he is. He's trying to solve high-A ball for the first time and is still over a month away from turning 21. You might look at his 7.20 ERA and say "he's just not ready for the Florida State League." I, on the other hand, look at his K/BB rate and start to get excited. Like Lucas Sims, Toussaint's stuff is off the charts. In fact, his stuff is as good as anyone's in minor league baseball. What talent evaluators have doubts about are his ability to harness and control that stuff. He's been hit hard so far this season, but his 3.8 K/BB rate tells me he might be "getting it" a bit more. Consider that his career rate is 1.75 strikeouts per walk. Don't be discouraged if you see that ERA. Something good might just be happening here.

Rome - Waves Upon Waves

We've heard how John Coppolella and company want to build a farm system that will send prospects to the majors in waves. After last season's Rome pitching staff that included three former first round picks led the team to a league title, the next wave has landed in Rome and the South Atlantic League has turned into their playground. In 22 games, the staff has a 2.28 ERA. Starters Ian Anderson (1.93 ERA), Joey Wentz (2.70), and Bryse Wilson (2.55) were all plucked out of the first-thru-fourth rounds last year and each has been excellent. Relievers Thomas Burrows, Jon Kennedy, and Matt Custred each have ERAs under 1.00. As a staff, Rome has a K/9 of 9.7 per nine and have surrendered just four homers. It's early, but it looks like Rome will be a favorite to repeat in the South Atlantic League.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TOT - Bo Porter Joins the Braves. In 2002.

Transaction of Today...April 26, 2002 - The Atlanta Braves signed Bo Porter as a free agent.

Keith Allison (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
For ten seasons, outfielder Bo Porter kept hope alive that he could not just earn a trip to the majors, but actually stay in the bigs and carve out a career in the most competitive level of baseball. It would eventually happen, of course. All he needed to do was retire. Before that, though, the current Atlanta assistant also spent time in the Braves system under the management of Brian Snitker and Fredi Gonzalez. He would work with both when he returned over a decade later.

We'll get back to that, but let's look at the road that brought Porter to Atlanta in 2002. From the get-go, he was a longshot. Selected in the 40th round of the 1993 draft, Porter is one of two players that year to make it to the big leagues out of that round. It was the Chicago Cubs that had taken Porter that season and because it's the Cubs and it's not piling on anymore to make fun of them, it's time to point out that of the 83 players Chicago drafted that year, only eight made it to the major. If you're curious, Kevin Orie is probably the best of the group, though Brooks Kieschnick is the most interesting.

Porter signed a few months after the '93 draft, but wouldn't play until the following season. After a productive 66-game run with Peoria, the Cubs were cautiously hopeful that their late-round pick could become a decent enough prospect. Unfortunately, Porter struggled the next two seasons. He showed some good speed - 57 steals over two years - but struck out a lot for an outfielder not displaying much power. One good thing happened in '96, though. He upped his OBP by 57 points despite only improving his batting average from .217 to .231. Porter had figured out that it doesn't matter how you reach base - only that you do.

The next season, 1997, things came together for Porter. He hit .304 that season with a .386 OBP. He also more than doubled his career homerun output with 18 jacks. The Cubs had a legitimate prospect on their hands. He continued to hit the following year and stole a career-high 51 bases. He made it to Triple-A to stay in 1999 and bashed 27 homeruns, a career-high. That season is also notable for Porter because he achieved a dream of getting to the bigs. On May 9th, he K'd against Reds ace reliever Danny Graves in his debut and would spend just four games in the bigs before being shipped back to the minors. There he would stay until getting called back up when rosters expanded that September. As luck would have it, Porter's first hit came nearly four months to the day of his major league debut. This time, he singled off Graves.

All told, Porter went 5-for-26 with a double, two walks, and 13 K's. After the season, the Cubs designated Porter for assignment and hoped to keep him moving into 2000. However, the A's swooped in and picked Porter up in the Rule 5 draft. Though Porter failed to make the A's squad, Oakland still kept Porter via a trade of some sorts and the now 27 year-old spent most of the season in Sacramento - where he again posted solid, though not spectacular numbers. He also logged 17 games in the bigs after rosters expanded and managed a pair of hits in 15 plate appearances. That includes a two-run bomb off Tampa's Tony Fiore.

His time with the A's was short. After being waived in the offseason, Porter took his talents to Texas to join the Rangers. It was in Arlington that he received his longest run in the majors. Over 48 games and 98 PA, Porter slashed .230/.296/.356 with a homer. He made that sole homerun count. It came in the 8th inning against former teammate Mark Mulder and erased a 1-0 deficit to put the Rangers up 3-1. It would be his final homerun in the majors. On August 7, he singled off Detroit's Matt Perisho to salvage a hitless day. It would be his final hit and final plate appearance of his career. He spent the rest of the season in the minors.

In 2002, Porter joined the Colorado Rockies, but failed to make their roster and was ultimately released after playing in just 14 games at their Triple-A affiliate. That brings us to today in 2002 when the Braves signed the outfielder. He spent two games with Greenville under Brian Snitker before heading to Richmond, where he played 108 games with the Fredi Gonzalez-managed squad. Richmond was anchored by Mike Hessman, Damon Hollins, and young Wilson Betemit that season. Porter settled as Hollins' primary backup in center while splitting time in the corners. It was a solid year for Porter as he slashed .296/.374/.434 for Richmond.

Porter loved the organization so much that he re-upped with them after the season. The 2003 Braves had a deep outfielder with All-Stars Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield in the mix. The fourth outfielder job seemed pretty sewn up, too, as Darren Bragg had hit .269/.347/.401 with the Braves the previous year. Porter was a regular in left field for Richmond to open the season, but never got going. In mid-July, the Braves cut the 30 year-old after a .240/.309/.382 slash over 300 PA. He would never play again.

Porter would not stay away from baseball, though. Joining the Marlins organization, he began his second career by becoming an A-ball hitting coach in '05. The following year, he got his first taste of managing and guided the short-season A-ball Jamestown Jammers to a 33-39 record. He headed to the majors in '07 as a third base coach for the Marlins and their new skipper, Fredi Gonzalez.

After two years under Gonzalez, Porter jumped at an opportunity to join the Arizona Diamondbacks. He spent just one year there and even interviewed to replace Gonzalez after the latter was fired by the Marlins. Porter next joined the Nationals after the Marlins and Pirates passed on him as their next manager.

Following the 2012 season, Porter left the Nats to become the manager of the Houston Astros as the latter moved to the American League. At just 40, Porter was young, energetic and ready to lead a young Astros team that has lost 107 games the previous season. Unfortunately, nothing Porter could do helped the team avoid even more loses - this time, 111. In his defense, of his regular starters, only DH Carlos Pena was over 27. The pitching was atrocious. Only one starter had an ERA under 4.50 and started at least ten games. Porter returned the next year and while the Astros showed improvement with the maturation of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the offense was still searching to find Jose Altuve some help. The Astros would win four of their final six games in August to improve to 59-79. They were even 19-22 since the All-Star Break, a helluva an improvement. However, the Astros were ready to pull the plug and fired Porter on an off-day. His managerial record in the majors stands at 110-190.

A month later, the Braves hired Porter to join Fredi Gonzalez's coaching staff as a third base coach, along with overseeing the outfield and baserunning aspects of the team. He would remain in that position after Gonzalez was fired and replaced by Snitker. Last offseason, Porter interviewed for the Braves managerial position, but was passed on. He was then moved out of the dugout to be a special assistant to Braves GM John Coppolella.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Transaction Tuesday: Howard, Dirks, Sobotka, Roney

Articles in back-to-back days here as Walk-Off Walk as we work into the final week of April. If you're new to the blog, Transaction Tuesday is a recap of the moves in the Braves organization from Atlanta all the way down to rookie ball. It's a simple way to keep track of player movement.

A note on this report - moves referenced today took place between April 18 and April 24. Taxi Squad refers to a Braves minor league team "sending" a player to Danville just to get him off the active roster. In most cases, the player will stay with the team that just demoted him until he is brought back onto the active roster. Prospect Numbers are derived from my preseason Top 50.

Atlanta Braves
Rehab and Activated: Matt Kemp...All told, Kemp spent the minimum ten days on the disabled list dealing with a right hamstring injury. He appeared in one game for Gwinnett, his first taste of minor league action since 2013. He went 1-for-3 with a single and a strikeout. In four games since being activated, Kemp is 3-for-17 with a homer and two strikeouts.

Promoted and Optioned to Gwinnett: Aaron Blair...With the bullpen tired, the Braves called up Blair last week for a few days before sending him back to Gwinnett. Atlanta didn't want to get Blair off his regular pitching schedule too much so a demotion was appropriate even though Blair never appeared during his brief return to the bigs. In three starts with Gwinnett his year, Blair has racked up 16 K's, but still lacks the consistency that made watching him so frustrating for both Braves fans and team management.

Promoted: Matt Wisler...Replacing Blair on the roster was Wisler, who has also made three average starts. The control is superb as usual, but Wisler continues to struggle to set down batters and shorten innings.

Optioned to Gwinnett: Johan Camargo...The switch-hitting shortstop from Panama got into five games during his first stint in the bigs and went 1-for-4 with 3 K's. His pinch-hit single made Camargo the second Atlanta Brave this year, along with Tyler Flowers, to have a hit in a pinch-hit appearance. Camargo has been a surprise with the bat since spring training began and already has two homers with Gwinnett.

Optioned to Gwinnett: Luke Jackson (#24)...After making a start in his season debut with Gwinnett, Jackson joined the Braves roster after Chaz Roe went on the DL. He worked a trio of games during his time in the majors flashing his swing-and-miss potential. The Braves are working with Jackson to throw more strikes to take advantage of his talented right arm and so far, so good. He'll continue his quest to get back to the bigs - this time to stay - as he continues his journey with Gwinnett.

Traded to the Angels: David Hernandez...Signed just before the season began after he failed to make the Giants roster, Hernandez had a good beginning to his season in Gwinnett. In seven games, Hernandez picked up four saves and allowed just one earned run in eight innings. He also K'd nine and walked two. Many Braves fans wanted to see him get a shot with the big league team, but he'll now head west. I have to believe the Braves weren't enamored and saw a chance to acquire anything (in this case, a player to be named later or cash) rather than watch Hernandez opt out of his contract on May 1.

Gwinnett Braves
By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Promoted from Extended Spring Training: Ryan Howard...The former Phillies slugger had been working out with some of the youngest Braves prospects after signing with the team and has now finally been activated. In his first game on Saturday, he went 2-for-2 with a pair of singles, a HBP, and an intentional pass. Of course, with the Braves' bench full of issues, Howard's success in Gwinnett could push the first baseman to the majors in a hurry.

Promoted from Rome: Enderson Franco...Needing a fresh arm, the Braves brought up Franco for a reinforcement. Franco had begun the year in Rome, a step-down from his 2016 campaign in Carolina. He appeared twice out of the pen in the South Atlantic League, but was immediately put into a starting role last Saturday and worked four good innings in Gwinnett's 5-2 win against the Pawtucket Red Sox. It was his first outing above A-ball in his eight-year career.

Demoted to Mississippi: Adam Walker...Almost nobody in the Braves' minor league system can match Walker's power, but the flaws that have plagued his career were an issue to open the 2017 campaign. He struck out 16 times in 44 PA (36%) and reached base safely via a hit or walk just 9 times. He did have three doubles a homer in ten games. In three games with Mississippi, he's already smacked a pair of homers and struck out five times.

Placed on Taxi Squad: Caleb Dirks (#34)...No Gwinnett reliever had worked more innings than Dirks when he was pushed off the active roster. In five games, Dirks has allowed four runs in 9.2 innings with eight strikeouts. His control, normally excellent, has been missing with a handful of walks. Hopefully, the mini-break will help him moving forward.

Mississippi Braves
Activated: Joe Rogers...A late signing after the Tigers cut him on March 19, Rogers is a former 2012 fifth rounder out of Central Florida. Injuries have limited him throughout his career to the point that last year's 36.1 innings stands as his personal high. A lefty, Rogers has just 20 games above A-ball with some miserable results. Well, his numbers at A-ball aren't that good, either. Rogers is just an arm at this point who, I assume, a scout liked enough to convince his boss that he was worthy of a longer look.

Placed on Taxi Squad: Chad Sobotka (#40)...To make room for Rogers, Sobotka was moved off the active roster. After a fractured back suffered in college kept the 2014 fourth rounder out until the following year, Sobotka has slowly worked his way up. Other ailments limited him to just 15 games in 2015 and 30 games the following year. Sobotka, who is an intimating presence on the mound at 6'7", has good stuff, but can he shake the injuries to push his way into the big league picture? If so, he'll give the Braves an intriguing option possibly as soon as the second half of this year.

Florida Fire Frogs
Rehab from Gwinnett: Bradley Roney (#38)...One of the top strikeout arms in the minors, Roney struck out two in two different appearances for Florida this week as he rehabs back from an injury that forced him to miss the beginning of the season. He also walked three, hit a batter, and uncorked a wild pitch. That continues a career-long problem with control for the 24 year-old. From a stuff standpoint, Roney holds his own with any reliever in the Braves organization - including the majors. He simply hasn't been able to control it. Last September, with a chance to go up two games to none in the Governor's Cup, Roney hit a batter and walked two before being removed. Maikel Cleto replaced him in body, but not in spirit as he walked in first the tying run and then the winning run. The Braves lost 2-1 despite allowing just one hit. They would get shut out the next two games to lose the series. A week before that, the dominant Roney was on display as he went 3.1 innings with 8 strikeouts as the Braves won 5-4 in the opener of their first-round series against Columbus. I point that out because to this point, sometimes you get the wildly ineffective Roney and other times you get the shutdown Roney. If he can ever show us more of the latter and less of the former, he's going to be a high-leverage pitcher in the majors.

Demoted to Rome: Raymar Navarro...Signed out of Cuba in the summer of 2015, Navarro made his debut last year with 28 forgetful games in Carolina. He was ticketed for another stay in high-A ball, but a numbers game and a DL stint to begin the year have sent him north to Rome. In his first outing, he K'd a trio of SALLY League hitters in two frames. Navarro is way too old at 26 to be in the South Atlantic League for long, but it's tough to find many innings for project pitchers in this system.

Placed on Taxi Squad: Josh Graham...A fourth rounder in 2015, Graham transitioned to the bullpen full-time last year and the former Oregon Duck was one of Rome's best relievers. He K'd 50 over 42.1 innings while walking just 12. That's a top-notch rate of 4.2 strikeouts per walks. Not a huge prospect, but a good enough one to keep an eye on, Graham opened the season in Florida and the results have been ugly. He's yet to avoid a run-scoring outing and his control has been MIA. This stint "with Danville" is likely a chance to give him some time to clear his head. If everything is right physically and mentally, I expect Graham to rejoin the roster sometime this week.

Rome Braves
Brought back from Taxi Squad: Matt Custred...Like the aforementioned Graham, Custred was a pick in the 2015 draft, though Custred was picked over 20 rounds later in the 31st round. The Texan and former Texas Tech Red Raider has been excellent during his career. Last year, he picked up 64 K's in Rome over 56.2 innings, though he was a bit wild. With the Florida roster packed, Custred was a surprise return to Rome to open the year and has four outings sandwiched around a brief stint "in Danville." He's been great again for Rome with 12 K's in 8.2 innings, though five walks are still too many. At 23 years-old, he is waiting for a promotion to Florida to challenge himself there.

Placed on Taxi Squad and brought back: Bladimir Matos...The time is running out on Matos. Signed shortly before his 21st birthday, Matos was already old to begin his career considering he was an international signing. To this point, the results just haven't been there. Nobody doubts he has the stuff to be a professional pitcher with over a K an inning during his career, but the wildness has limited him. That continues with Rome. In nine innings, he's struck out 13, but walked six and hit a batter. Now 23, Matos has got to show something if he wants to stick around.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Roundup: Losing Streak, Bench Issues, O'Flaherty's Sinker

It's been quite awhile since I last updated this blog. Life and all have played a factor as it tends to do. But let's move on with this week's recap and three things to keep in mind for this upcoming week of baseball.

Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr (Original version)
UCinternational (Crop) (CC 2.0) via Wikipedia Commons
April 17, 5-4 WIN vs. Padres
The week got off to a promising start as the Braves finished off a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres to open up SunTrust Park. Freddie Freeman homered twice, including a solo bomb in the 8th to tie up the score after the Padres had wasted a 3-1 lead heading into the 7th. In the ninth, Kurt Suzuki singled with one out and was pinch-ran for. With two outs, Emilio Bonifacio had a bloop double that put runners on second-and-third. After the Padres walked Ender Inciarte intentionally, Dansby Swanson had some luck for a change. He got enough contact on a belt-high, inside fastball to loop it to left field and the Padres left-fielder came up short on a dive, which brough home a run for a walk-off single. This recap will be the longest of the week because things got steadily worse.

April 18, 3-1 LOSS vs. Nationals
The Braves never led and Max Scherzer outpitched Mike Foltynewicz to allow the Nats to become the first visitor to SunTrust Park to win a game. Folty went seven innings in the outing and allowed a pair of runs. he walked four and struck out three. Kurt Suzuki broke up the shutout bid in the ninth with a bases-loaded walk, but the Braves rally ended when Emilio Bonifacio and Chase d'Arnaud failed to reach. d'Arnaud failed twice, actually. After a swing-and-a-miss on strike three from Shawn Kelly seemed to end the game, Ron Washington used a Jedi mind trick to convince the umpires that d'Arnaud had actually fouled the ball off. He hadn't, but it was a fun little moment before d'Arnaud struck out again.

April 19, 14-4 LOSS vs. Nationals
Bryce Harper homered twice off Julio Teheran - including a Grand Slam - while Ian Krol surrendered a Grand Slam of his own as the Braves suffer their worst beatdown of the year. Freddie Freeman set a new Atlanta Braves standard by reaching base safely in a dozen consecutive plate appearances while also clubbing his sixth homer in the process.

April 20, 3-2 LOSS vs. Nationals
R.A. Dickey pitched well, but Ryan Zimmerman jumped on a knuckler for a two-run shot in the sixth to provide the edge in this one. Zimmerman's homer was one of just three hits Dickey allowed in the game. Matt Kemp returned off the DL and struck out three times.

April 21, 4-3 LOSS at Phillies
Dansby Swanson was demoted to the 8th spot in the lineup and Adonis Garcia, who replaced him in the two-spot, had two hits including a solo homer in a rain-soaked ninth inning, but the Braves couldn't pull even with the Phillies to force extras. Bartolo Colon allowed four runs on eleven hits while Freddie Freeman smacked his 7th homer of the early season.

April 22, 4-3 LOSS at Phillies (10 Innings)
The Braves coughed up a chance to put an end to their losing streak. After tying the game up in the ninth and pulling ahead by one the following inning, the Phillies started a rally with one out in the tenth with a single. Cesar Hernandez hit what looked like it would be a double play, but Jim Johnson deflected it and everyone was safe. The next Phillie sent a hard grounder to short, but Swanson couldn't make the play. After a strikeout, the struggling Maikel Franco took a sinker that got too much of the plate to right field for a walk-off two-run single. Brandon Phillips had homered in the ninth to tie up the game and Adonis Garcia's infield single in the tenth had given the Braves a brief lead. Jaime Garcia worked six impressive innings with six K's.

April 23, 5-2 LOSS at Phillies
A rough 8th inning would kill any hope the Braves had of salvaging a game in the series. With Mike Foltynewicz and Zach Eflin pitching to a seven-inning 1-1 draw, the bullpens became involved. The Phils got through the 8th, but Arodys Vizcaino's attempt to hold down the fort went like this. Double, homerun, homerun. He threw seven pitches before being removed. To add insult to injury, Ian Krol entered and immediately gave up another homer. Matt Kemp, who had homered in the seventh, singled in a run in the 9th and the Braves threatened for more, but Dansby Swanson and Tyler Flowers were retired with the bases loaded to end the game.

This week: 1-6
Season: 6-12, 5th in NL East, 7 GB

Upcoming Schedule: After an off day, the Braves start a three-game set with the Mets in New York. Two night games before Thursday's 1:10 start. Atlanta ends the month with three games in Milwaukee (8:10, 7:10, 2:10).

Three Last Things
By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
1) Swanson's Struggles

A lot has been made about Dansby Swanson's start. The rookie shortstop has reached base safely just 12 times in 74 PA with only a pair of extra base hits. Will he be okay? Does he need more time in the minors? To the first question, yes. As many have pointed out, had Swanson had a bad June or July, no one would have batted an eye because he would have some numbers built up over the first couple of months to keep his season totals from looking so abysmal. But because that's not the case here, all we see is atrocious numbers. With that in mind, a few things stand out that suggest Swanson is having some rotten luck or needs a mechanical adjustment. Or both. First, his .175 BABIP is among the ten worst in baseball. While it would be ridiculous to expect last year's .383 BABIP over a full season, the balls are bound to start falling in more for hits. His line drive rate remains solid, though his flyball rate has climbed about 15 points. That suggests a bit of a mechanical flaw, but it might just be the way he's being pitched.

Furthermore, for whatever reason, Swanson has been taking a lot of strikes - especially strike three. After another on Sunday, eight of his 19 strikeouts have been of the "just looking" variety. Last season, only eight of his 34 strikeouts were looking. Swanson is a patient hitter, but he's just not feeling it so far.

As for the second question - should Swanson go to the minors? Not yet. While there is some concern he'll press and adapt even worse habits, Swanson's body language and attitude during this season's first month suggest that he's not obsessing over his bad play just yet. Give him some more time.

2) Bench Woes

The bench continues to be a massive weakness for the Braves. On Sunday, they went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt and strikeout. Adonis Garcia left two runners on base and Tyler Flowers left the bases loaded to end the game. Atlanta's bench is now 2-for-29 on the early season with Bonifacio a spectacular 0-for-10. Atlanta cannot continue to do this for much longer. A National League bench has to give its manager options. Ryan Howard, who made his debut last weekend for Gwinnett, could help, but the Braves might be forced to make some other moves. Twenty-seven year-old outfielders Lane Adams (.333/.352/.588) and Xavier Avery (.386/.426/.614) have both jumped out to big starts in Gwinnett while Kyle Kubitza (.306/.390/.444) has some defensive flexibility and could help at third base while the Braves wait for Rio Ruiz to get going.

While Howard, who went 2-for-2 with a walk in his debut, seems destined to move up the ladder at some point in the coming weeks, Atlanta might need to be open to other moves to at least shake up things as well.

3) Eric O'Flaherty is Still Broken

A lot was written this offseason and spring about O'Flaherty returning from surgery to clean up his elbow. The belief was that O'Flaherty could still be an asset once he was able to throw the ball freely once again. So far, the results show that there has been little change. As Braves fans know, O'Flaherty's bread-and-butter is a sinker that generates a high number of groundballs. At its best, the sinker could drop 5-7 inches with good armside fade.

To this point, the pitch is getting comparable movement to his 2016 numbers, which is closer to 4 inches of downward movement. The result is that to keep the ball down low, O'Flaherty has to start the sinker lower than previous years. The hitter is more apt to give up on it and let it miss the strikezone rather than be enticed to swing. That forces O'Flaherty to too often pitch behind the count, which only benefits the hitter. While it's too early to make any definitive claim to O'Flaherty's future in the bigs, it's not looking likely that O'Flaherty will round into form as a productive bullpen member.

That's it for this week!