Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Braves TJ Victims

(Here is Ryan Cothran's third piece for Walk-Off Walk. Soon enough, he's going to have to get his own account working here at WOW :) His first piece, which was an analysis into BABIP, can be found here. In addition, his second piece, which discussed recent bullpen improvements and what's coming up the chain, can be found here. Remember to follow Ryan on twitter.)

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been a can’t waiter for years. I’m no longer going to be a can’t waiter. For the sake of my sanity, I can’t be a can’t waiter. What is a can’t waiter, you might ask? I guess I could assume you can’t wait to know. Well, I can’t wait to tell you.

A can’t waiter is an individual that looks at the Minor League teams of which he/she roots for, scours the roster, finds players that are having serious success, pines for said players to receive call-ups immediately, and talks daily how they can’t wait to see them kicking butt in the MLB like it’s a given that they’ll:
  • Stay Healthy  
  • Dominate the best baseball players in the world as much as they’ve dominated lesser players (although much better than anyone who’ll likely read this, your’s truly included).
Of the 2 listed above, the Braves have taken an extreme gamble by rolling the dice on (A) in their acquisitions/signings.  When I was writing for Tomahawk Take, I noticed a serious trend of the Braves signing/acquiring players that were either recovering at the time from Tommy John surgery, hadn’t made it back to the field from setbacks from Tommy John, or hadn’t found the success they were seeing prior to going down with injury.  I called it the Braves form of Moneyball, and you can click to see the old article.

*Disclaimer: Let it be known that aside from roster spots, a small chunk of change, and patience out the WAZOO, this gamble has been relatively small in terms of players traded and risks involved. 

At the time, it seemed really smart. Most of MLB teams weren’t in a place to offer these guys guaranteed money, give them a 40-man spot, or go through the bumps that comes with pitchers pitching back to form.  I thought it was brilliant!  In hindsight, it hasn’t worked out in most cases.  It was a gamble that others weren’t taking and with a rebuild in-tow, it was worth giving it a shot.

On Twitter, there have been many to poke fun at the Mets and their lacking ability to keep their pitchers on the field.  The Braves haven’t been much better. Their own list is VAST! While many of these didn’t succumb to injury while pitching for the Braves, it doesn’t negate the fact the we as Braves fans should not wag tongues or point fingers.  Here is a likely incomplete list of pitchers that have been in the organization in the last 5-6 years and have had the surgery:

Players that have been in Braves Organization and had Tommy John Surgery

Current Major Leaguers
  • Jason Grilli - TJ surgery early in his career and came back a stronger and more efficient pitcher. 
  • *Arodys Vizcaino
  • Eric O’Flaherty - hasn’t been same since 2013 surgery.  70 innings total, but 40 innings of bad baseball with the Braves
  • Alex Wood - traded in 2015, injured most of ‘16, and pitching brilliantly currently with Dodgers
  • Jason Motte - TJ in 2013, has pitched mediocre baseball since return. Been pitching well lately.
  • Sam Freeman - TJ in 2010, has had mixed results, although I’m not sure it’s related to TJ. Has been pitching brilliantly the last few weeks.
  • Peter Moylan - Had TJ surgery in 2008, was effective for the next 3 years in a Braves uniform. Has struggled lately with the Royals.
Current Minor Leaguers
Retired Major Leaguers
  • Billy Wagner - Had TJ surgery in 2008, came back dominant in Boston and then Atlanta
  • Tim Hudson - TJ surgery in 2008, pitched effectively for rest of his career.
Not currently affiliated with any team
  • Michael Kohn - Had TJ surgery in 2012, other arm injuries have kept him from contributing.
  • *Paco Rodriguez
  • Mark Lamm - Had TJ surgery, never made it to MLB and was last pitching in the Indy Leagues
Notice the players with asterisks and lack of breakdown? Know what they represent?  They’re some of the source of the “can’t waiters” happiness. These players were either bought low on due to injury or drafted low due to injury. They had big ceilings at one point and lost their luster due to injury. But should we be putting stock into these guys? Let’s dissect a bit…

Man, I can’t wait til we see *insert recovering flamethrower*

Manny Banuelos - When the trade went down, it was looked at as a landslide win for the Braves. Now? Manny is no longer with the Braves being DFA’d at the end of 2016. Meanwhile, Chasen Shreve has been part of the Yankees bullpen the last 3 years, pitching over 100 innings with a mid-3s ERA. All the while our left-handed relief pitching has been a dumpster fire for those 3 years.

Paco Rodriguez - Was a bit of a throw-in in what is likely to go down as the worst trade of Coppy’s tenure. Was recovering from Tommy John when acquired and spent time rehabbing. After looking fair in 2017 Spring Training, he was released and word was leaked that he had poor work ethic.

Arodys Vizcaino - Acquired from the Yankees, traded to the Cubs, re-acquired from the Cubs, Vizzy has pitched 86.2 innings of good baseball out of the Braves bullpen, but has had his fair share of injuries along the way and hasn’t totaled 40 innings in either of the 2 full years since acquisition, granted the first year was due to an 80-game suspension.  He’s been pitching lights out lately.

Josh Outman - Gifted with an ideal surname for a pitcher, Outman was a buy-low project prior to the 2015 season due to 2014 Tommy John surgery and thought likely to break the Braves 25-man roster. He ended up pitching 8.2 innings in the Minors and had shoulder issues nearly the entire year.

Andrew McKirahan - Claimed from the Marlins and already down a Tommy John surgery, McK got busted for cheating, returned and pitched poorly for the Braves in 2015, then re-ripped his UCL, and hasn’t pitched since mid-2015. He's currently in the Reds organization after an offseason trade.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Jesse Biddle - Had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and was claimed by the Braves in March of 2016 by the Pirates. He’s now pitching meaningful games in Mississippi with mixed results.

Max Fried - Acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton deal, Fried was recovering from Tommy John surgery and was deemed recovered at the end of the 2016 season. Down the stretch, he was absolutely dominant but has struggled with consistency in 2017 which is very common the first year after Tommy John.

Daniel Winkler - A personal favorite of mine (but this was when I was all-in on the strategy of acquiring Tommy John guys and stashing them) pitched 4 innings in MLB between ‘15&’16 before breaking his elbow AFTER he’d already rehabbed from Tommy John. He's a rule-5er so he has to stay on the 25-man roster unless he’s on the DL. Currently, he’s still at extended Spring Training strengthening.

A.J. Minter - Would’ve been drafted early in 1st round had it not been for blowing out his elbow pre-draft. He’s had some flare-ups in the elbow area and other ailments that are apparently non-elbow related. Still, he’s only pitched 1 inning this year and remains out with no timetable set on his return.

Jacob Lindgren - Pitched with the Yankees, blew out his elbow, then they tried to sneak him through waivers. He was picked up by the Braves and will miss the entire 2017 season. He, like Minter, are key “can’t waiters” in the organization.

Has this strategy paid off for the Braves Front-office?

What is the expectation? In essence, I guess one can say that most of these guys were/are lottery tickets and anything gained is just gravy (examples: La Stella/Vizzy+INT slot money, Winkler in the Rule 5), but some cost real players (Fried/Man-Ban/Paco), roster spots (Winkler/McK), and high-draft choices (Minter). Thus far,  Man-Ban DFA’d, Paco released, Outman out, McK cheated then re-broke himself then was released, and Winkler rehabbed then broke elbow again.

The only success story that has played out in the bigs has been Vizzy and he’s not been a guy that a manager can give the ball to 70 times a year. Hopefully, this changes this year and we can reflect on the Tommy John Survivor strategy as a positive one.

Obviously, we have yet to see Minter, Lindgren, Fried, and Biddle, and there’s still a chance that Winkler can come back and be a force out of the bullpen, but we as fans need to be cautious when our expectation of these guys is that they’ll be healthy AND dominant.  It’s just not that simple.

A Piece of Advice for Myself

Pitching health in today’s game is so fickle. Pitching health after suffering a major injury, undergoing major surgery, and grinding through an extensive rehab is a crapshoot.  When it comes to these guys, we as fans might benefit by looking at them as luxuries rather than unequivocal future pieces. Be excited about these guys, watch them grow as pitchers, root for them to stay healthy, but learn from my mistakes and refrain from putting them in the category of “Can’t Wait” guys. Rather, leave them in a separate chamber of your heart that is more accustomed to heartbreak.

Thanks for reading! Go Braves!

2 comments:

  1. In a sense, Kris Medlen's 2nd stint with the Braves is the same gamble and in all likelihood, he'll be the next guy to get a shot.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Outstanding, no-punches-pulled analysis of the TJS Lottery Strategy. Your article also reminded me that this type injury took from us Brandon Beachy, who was on a career path that could have taken him to Cooperstown.

    ReplyDelete