Thursday, September 7, 2017

Brian Snitker isn't the Problem

You may have read that headline and thought this was going to be a post defending or advocating for Brian Snitker as manger. This is not that post. I don’t think Brian Snitker is particularly good at managing a baseball team and given the choice between a good manager or bad manager, I’ll take the good manager. But this isn’t the Braves problem. At least not their main problem.

You win based on your talent level. There are other factors that contribute to winning of course; luck, randomness but talent is the one most responsible and the one you can control most, and therefore the most crucial. Managers often get the axe when things don’t go well, creating this misconception that a great manager somehow holds the key winning while a bad one will be your downfall. The reality is managers get fired because that’s hell of lot easier than firing 25 players or firing yourself as GM. It’s the path of least resistance. Let’s not mistake it for some monumental change. A great manager adds maybe 2 wins to your team? A bad one probably cost about the same. There’s just not that much value to be had. And most a what a manager does isn't seen or quantifiable anyways. No, what moves the needle is talent. And the bottom line is Atlanta doesn’t have enough talent.

Not having enough talent and having a bad manager is akin to having a broken pinky and a gun-shot wound. Yeah, eventually you’ll want to address that broken pinky just because life is better with a fully functioning pinky but it’s hardly the thing holding you back. The Braves have to get substantially better on the field or what they have in the dugout will cease to matter. 

We'll go position by position.

Freddie Freeman is amazing. This isn’t news. Get him healthy and first base is taken care of for the foreseeable future.

Ozzie Albies looks like the guy he’s been billed to be the last few years. Dynamic, young, a little more powerful than he may appear to have and very likely the second baseman of the future. You’re set there.

Shortstop is where it starts to get a little fuzzy. Dansby Swanson has eased the minds of a lot of Braves’ fans with the way he’s played since returning from demotion but the overall numbers are still bad. Him turning into a solid, everyday player would go a long way for the organization and he’ll at least get every opportunity to do just that.

Third base is a black hole. I wrote a couple weeks ago about Atlanta’s struggles finding a 3B since Chipper Jones retired and they haven’t solved them yet. Plenty of people will tell you Johan Camargo or Rio Ruiz will fill that spot but I’m not sold on either one as an everyday guy. You could potentially look at a platoon here but this is a spot I think Atlanta needs to be looking at serious upgrades. They could change the dynamic of the their whole lineup if they go and get legitimate guy for third and use guys like Camargo and Ruiz for the bench.

Right field is a weird problem. I say weird because Atlanta has an elite talent ready to step in and take that role for the next decade in Ronald Acuna. But they have a tricky path in clearing space for him. Nick Markakis is still under contract for next year at around 11M and has shown yet again this year he isn’t worth giving a full-time job too. His contract is underwater at this point and the Braves will almost certainly have to eat a chunk of it to move him. I’d like to say that’s certainly what they’ll do but this front office has already had to convince ownership to pay players while they play for another team and there may be more coming after Markakis so how they handle this will be interesting. Whatever they do with Markakis, bottom line is right field needs an upgrade which means Acuna needs to play.

Center field is set. Ender Inciarte is tremendous and there's zero reason to mess with that position at all. Moving on.

Left field. Oh boy. This is the biggest headache facing Atlanta, at least among position players. Matt Kemp is a replacement level player making a ton of money and signed for another 2 seasons after this one. He's absolutely, 100% not an outfielder anymore and should be playing out the rest of his career as a DH in the AL. Problem is how to get him there. Teams aren’t lining up to trade for a guy putting up his numbers, making his salary and this is another scenario where Atlanta most certainly will have to eat a large portion of the contract to move the player. I just don’t know how much of this ownership is willing to do. Atlanta is a small market team when it comes to payroll. They have a hard enough time competing with the big boys when all their money is going to people playing for them. Paying guys to play for someone else gets old and there’s only so many times you can go to that well. However they do it, though, LF is spot in desperate need of real talent, and at least for now, there doesn’t seem to be a way to achieve that.

Catcher has the been the brightest of bright spots this year. Both Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have been way better than advertised. Flowers is under contract next year for a steal at 4M while Suzuki becomes a free agent. Suzuki has done enough this season to warrant a starting job next year which I bet he gets so my guess is Atlanta will have to find a decent back up somewhere. But given Flowers’ production as well as the other issues facing the team, this is one I’m not too worried about. Though I guess if we’re being prudent, we should assume Tyler won’t have the same BABIP luck next year and should expect a regression in his production but like I said, Atlanta has bigger fish to fry. If catcher is the biggest problem they have next year, then they’ve done a hell of job.

Starting pitching is most definitely a sore subject in the Braves offices at the moment. Atlanta comes in to tonight’s action with a starter’s ERA of almost 5. (4.90) This after Atlanta spent almost 30M in the offseason on three veteran starters that were supposed to stabilize the rotation. Combine that with the 5 or 6 SP prospects that have already debuted with average results and you can believe starting pitching will once again be the main priority this offseason. It’s easy to just say let kids pitch but each one of the guys that have appeared so far has major red flags in their profile. Whether it’s not missing enough bats, not being able to get opposite handed hitters out or having serious command issues, it’s probably not wise to trust an entire season’s worth of innings to just prospects. Bottom line is Atlanta’s starters have produced a combined total of 5.4 WAR this year which will end up being behind several individual pitchers. There is no spot on the field where Atlanta needs to see a greater jump in production than starting pitching.

If starting pitching is the number one problem then the bullpen is number two. Braves are dead last in the NL in bullpen production and 29th in all of baseball. The principal problem is Jim Johnson who is owed over 4M next year while producing a 5.81 ERA this year and ultimately being removed from the closer's role. Braves have shuffled guys in and out all year with the overall results being poor. There have been some bright spots in Sam Freeman and Arodys Vizcaino as well as younger guys like Akeel Morris and A.J. Minter so not all is lost. Combine some of those guys with starters like Lucas Sims who probably becomes a reliever and there’s something to build on. But production has to go up. It’s almost impossible to achieve anything of worth in a baseball season while having one of the worst bullpen in the league. Unless you’re the Nats.

The bench has been one of the bright spots for the 2017 season. What started as a major weakness with names like Emilio Bonifacio and Chase d’Arnaud has evolved to include guys like Camargo, Ruiz and Lane Adams. I think Atlanta can put together a decently competent bench with just internal guys assuming they go outside the org to fill certain starting jobs. We’ll see.

So there you go. A lot of work to do. I count SS, 3B, LF, RF, SP and RP as areas Atlanta needs serious production increases. Some of that will happen internally of course. Dansby can bounce back, Acuna could be the starting RF, some of the starters could take a step forward, etc. But those steps forward aren’t guaranteed and should never be assumed. Especially the pitchers. It would be unwise for the Braves to leave all of this needed production up to young players. They need external additions as well. Probably at 3B. Probably in LF. Probably somewhere in the rotation. 

And yes, it be nice if they had a fully competent manager. Snitker is a problem but as the title says he isn't the problem. They could stand for an upgrade in the dugout, no doubt. But having a working pinky isn’t worth much if you died from that gun-shot wound.

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