Heyward’s Struggles and Did You Know

Written by Caleb on July 1, 2011 – 9:43 am

I had hoped to write this article about the resurgence of Jason Heyward and how his return to the lineup has improved a languid Braves offense. Unfortunately, Heyward has only shown glimpses of his offensive prowess, with no consistency whatsoever.

Is a lingering injury still causing the lack of production? Does he just need time to readjust? I have no idea what is causing his lack of production, though I will show the statistics that point out how his approach has differed from last year and how that affects his offensive ability greatly. In addition, I will provide a “did you know” type fact on eleven players. Please note that all statistics are through June 28.

Let’s starts with Jason Heyward. Heyward has apparently forgotten how to hit baseballs into the air. If you see just a few of his games, you know it seems that a majority of the balls he moonwalk bounce house makes contact with end up rolling to the second baseman for an easy 4-3. Take a look at his spray chart for the year.

There are two pressing issues demonstrated by the spray chart, in addition to the glaring number of balls hit for outs to the right side. The first issue is the significant number of balls that do not leave the infield. This is evidenced by one unbelievable statistic. Heyward’s infield fly ball percentage (IFFB%) is an astounding 20.5% compared to last year’s 8.4%. One-fifth of the balls Heyward puts into play are fly balls in the infield. Think about how ridiculous that statistic is? It is no wonder he has played so poorly thus far.

The second issue is Heyward’s inability to hit towards left field. A majority of his hits have been to center or right fields, which indicates he is pulling the ball (hello 4-3). I am not entirely sure if his injuries have caused him to change his swing or his approach at the plate or what exactly. I am dubious of Larry Parrish’s ability to correct the issue.

The chart does not fully identify a few other disturbing trends. Heyward’s line drive percentage (LD%) has dropped form 17.8% last year to 13.3% this year. A line drive has a greater probability of turning into a hit than either a ground ball or fly ball. In regards to ground balls, which he has hit so frequently, his BABIP is .265 compared to .335 last year. Some people will contribute this to “luck.” I contribute it to teams adjusting to Heyward’s tendency to pull the ball with defensive shifts.

Heyward’s discipline at the plate has been up and down. He is more aggressive, which I doubt is a positive for him right now. Heyward is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone 28.7% of the time compared to 24.2% last year, while swinging at 67% inside the strike zone compared to 58% last year. Overall, he is swinging at 44.5% of all pitches up from 39.4% last year. This increases likelihood of contact on bad pitches, though his contact rate has dropped from 79.1% to 75.5%, which means more swinging strikes.This aggressiveness could stem from adjustments (Parrish’s doings?), pressing, if he is still injured or who knows what.

There is one positive. Heyward’s strikeout perctange (K%) has remained similar, while his walk percentage (BB%) declines slightly, but is not significant enough to elevate itself to a reason for his struggles in 2011.

I am hopeful that Heyward is just adjusting back to his swing from last year after dealing with the nagging injuries from this year. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks how he performs. I believe the All-Star break will give him so time to rest, adjust and come back swinging a more consistent bat. He has shown glimpses of it lately, so I assume with a break, he will be able to further focus on adjustments.

Did You Know?

Below is an interesting (I think) tidbit about each of the regular eight hitters, minus Heyward, plus Brooks Conrad, Jordan Schafer, Eric Hinkse and David Ross. The rankings I use are based only on those eleven, plus Heyward.

Brian McCann: He is leading the Braves with a fWAR of 3.2. Prado is second with a 1.7. Speaking of…

Martin Prado: Prado’s strikeout percentage is 11.7% (K%), which is the lowest of the twelve. Making contact does contribute to his team-leading GIDPs.

Alex Gonzalez: He has the most plate appearances by anyone with 312, which makes his BB% of 4.2 (the lowest on the team) even more frustrating.

David Ross: He has a wOBA of .399 and an ISO of .212. Yes, the Braves should be using him to pinch hit more.

Eric Hinske: In only 167 plate appearances, Hinske has eight homeruns.

Jordan Schafer: The Braves lead-off hitter has an OBP of .299 which is the third lowest.

Brooks Conrad: A team-high 40.4 K%, but a healthy ISO of .255. It is either a homerun or a strikeout for the “Raw Dog”.

Nate McLouth: He has an OBP of .339 which is second (for a starter) to McCann’s. And somehow he is still batting eighth or ninth.

Freddie Freeman: He has a BABIP of .327, second only to McCann’s .330. Neither of which do I believe are sustainable.

Dan Uggla: On the reverse end of the BABIP spectrum, Uggla has a BABIP of .188. Grounding balls into the dirt at every at-bat is not helping him break out of his half-of-a-season slump.

I will leave everyone with this question. There has been plenty of talk around about trading Jair Jurrjens. What do you think? Would a Jurrjens for Curtis Granderson trade be alright with you or is there some attachement to Jurrjens that the Braves should continue to pursue?


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What to Do in the Outfield?

Written by Caleb on June 17, 2011 – 11:26 am

The Braves outfield, in a word, is in disarray. With Jason Heyward returning on Wednesday, the outfield now has one opening-day starter roaming the Turner Field grass. For the most part, it seems the reserves have underperformed the starters, but how true is that statement? While answering that question, I’ll also provide an answer for the question that everyone seems to asking; who will be starting in center field once Nate McLouth returns?

The chart below will be used throughout the rest of the article. The following definitions are a quick refresh:

PA – Plate appearances
wOBA – Weighted on-base average
wRC+ – Weighted runs created
Bsr – Baserunning; Ultimate Base Running statistic used by Fangraphs
Spd – “…Stolen Base Percentage, Frequency of Stolen Base moonwalk bounce house Attempts, Percentage of Triples, and Runs Scored Percentage.” (Source)
fWAR – Fangraphs wins above replacement

Name

PA

wOBA

wRC+

Bsr

Spd

fWAR

Martin Prado

279

.328

105

2.0

2.7

1.7

Eric Hinske

149

.327

105

-0.2

1.2

0.8

Jordan Schafer

87

.284

75

0.6

8.0

0.8

Jason Heyward

165

.322

102

0.9

4.7

0.5

Nate McLouth

194

.305

89

2.8

2.7

0.1

Matt Young

52

.223

34

0.2

2.2

0.0

Joe Mather

80

.255

56

0

1.1

-0.4

*Data used from Fangraphs and is through the game on June 15, 2011.

Let’s start with a positive. The left fielders in the Braves organization have done well this far into the season. The majority of the time in left field has been split between Prado and Hinske, with fWAR of 2.4, which ranks fourth in the MLB. However, right fielders and center fielders have a fWAR of 0.8 which ranks twenty-first and twenty-second, respectively in the MLB. The total of 3.3 fWAR for the entire outfield ranks seventeenth.

It is no surprise that the outfield has performed poorly. It was never going to be a strength of this Braves team. But what lineup would be the best of the current crop of players?

Left field is Prado’s once he returns from the disabled list (assuming he is not playing third base). He has played well and there is no reason to think that he would not when he returns. Eric Hinske has been the main reserve to replace Prado. Hinske has played adequately in left, but still quite a ways from Prado.

Right field has been barren ground for the Braves this year. Heyward has struggled through injuries, but one assumes he’ll return to form after a few games of being reacquainted with the diamond. Right field reserves have consisted mainly of Hinske and Mather. Hinske has played as a replacement-level player in right. He does not have the range or arm strength to be a significant contributor. Where does one being with Joe Mather, who is playing below a replacement-level player? I am still not entirely sure why he is still on the roster. If Heyward spends more significant time on the disabled list, someone else must be brought in to play right field.

Now onto the most perplexing situation. Who should play center field? Neither McLouth nor Schafer have played particularly well. Assuming Frank Wren does not make an acquisition of another outfielder, which one should Atlanta utilize?

I, falsely, hypothesized that the answer would be simple and straight-forward. The Braves have made their intentions public that they would like Schafer to spend an entire year in AAA, primarily to see how he develops through an (hopefully) injury-free year. With McLouth’s disabled-list stint, Schafer was brought in to fill the void. If you ask most casual Braves observers, they will, more than likely, praise Schafer on his speed, his defense and his new approach at the plate. Without a doubt, they will say he should still be roaming center field after McLouth’s rehab games are completed.

I do not believe this should be the case. Yes, Schafer has a higher fWAR (mainly because of his defensive prowess), but he is lower than McClouth in wRC+ and wOBA. The Braves’ defense is quite alright if we are deciding on whether we need more offensive output or defense output at the moment. Runs need to be scored.  Furthermore, I am wary of Schafer’s new approach at the plate. His low strikeout ratio and high walk ratio are not sustainable for the course of the season.

By default, I end up with the conclusion that Nate McLouth should continue to play center field. This allows for Schafer to continue to develop in AAA, which would hopefully aid in fielding a team for next season. McLouth’s positive will be creating more runs than Schafer for the Braves. I do not think the defensive differences are significant enough to voice support in having Schafer start over McLouth. Are the Braves going to send down another high-profile, highly-paid player to AAA?

Having McLouth in center field is not desirable or ideal, but it is the best option at the moment until Frank Wren decides he would like to add another person to the mix.

As a side note, I’d like to recommend a book this week, and maybe more books in weeks to come. I just finished re-reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis and it is a better book with every read. It’s a great look at the Oakland A’s and Billy Beane. Coincidentally enough, the trailer for the movie coming out in September hit the internet on Thursday. Check it out if you have not seen it already.


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Comparing the Braves Offense

Written by Caleb on June 3, 2011 – 1:15 pm

A friend brought up an interesting question the other day. How do the 2011 Braves compare to the 2010 through the first 2 months of the season offensively? I really did not know the answer. I assumed they were similar, but then I started thinking about the offensive surge in May and wondered if the 2011 team is performing significantly worse.

The first table belows compares key moonwalk bounce house statistics from March/April 2010 to March/April 2011. The second table compares key statistics from May 2010 to May 2011.

March/April 2010 NL Ranking March/April 2011 NL Ranking
K%

22.2%

11 20.4%

5

BB%

12.2%

1 8.6%

7

ISO

.114

15 .145

6

BABIP

.272

16 .258

16

AVG

.227

16 .229

14

OBP

.326

12 .298

15

wOBA

.301

15 .296

14

 

May 2010 NL Ranking May 2011 NL Ranking
K%

18.2%

2 22.7%

11

BB%

11%

1 8.8%

5

ISO

.154

5 .130

9

BABIP

.314

3 .308

4

AVG

.279

2 .258

5

OBP .364 2 .326

5

wOBA .351 2 .314

7

Let’s discuss the over-arching facts out of the way. The Braves offense, for the past two March/Aprils, has been putrid. The positive note is the high walk rate in both years, or rather high walk rate in 2010 and average in 2011. That statement alone shows you how feeble the offense was if I had to use an average statistic as a positive.

Then the calendar turns to May. May 2010 might be the best month of baseball I have ever seen the Braves play. Each statistic ranked in the top 5 for the NL league. The only one that was not in the top 3 was the power (ISO) number. That’s certainly something I can deal with when the wOBA is a nice .351.

However, May 2011 is not the same type of month. Admittedly, May 2011 is a significant improvement over March/April 2011, but it does not compare to May 2010. For the most part, the Braves in May 2011 were an average team offensively, but couple that with the excellent level the pitching staff provided, the Braves finished May with a decent record.

How does the rest of the season play out for the Braves offensively? I have no idea. Martin Prado, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones seem to be on the right track. Alex Gonzalez will his career averages while still providing the glove-work. Freddie Freeman will continue to impress and meet expectations (unless your expectations thought he’d have a Jason Heyward-type of first year.)

But what about the rest? I keep expecting Dan Uggla to return to his career averages, but that doesn’t seem that likely anymore. He has to go on an incredible tear to reach a .250 average. He has admitted the contract has created added pressure, but is that really all there is? Rumors have swirled about eyesight problems, but that could easily be people grasping at straws to explain his dramatic downturn. It will be interesting to see how Heyward returns. Will he be healthy or will he have lingering side-effects from his injury? Will he play through pain again?

The most interesting match-up is between Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth. I fully believed that Schafer would not perform well enough at his stint in centerfield while McLouth was sent to the disabled list. Schafer’s 17.5% walk rate and 9.4% strikeout rate will not continue. I do not see this being sustainable. However, his defense is. The final out of the Wednesday game against the Padres was a great catch by Schafer. Nate McLouth does not reach that ball and probably sees it bounce off the wall and past him, scoring the tying run and allowing a base-runner to reach a scoring position. Is Schafer’s defense enough to make up for his offense? Or maybe his offense is not that terrible compared to McLouth’s?

The next few weeks will be a telling time for the offense. With Heyward and McLouth returning, it will be prudent to keep an eye on the offensive numbers for June. If Uggla somehow returns to his former self, if Heyward returns healthy, and if the pitchers continue to throw great games (which I think they will), June could be an illustration of what the Braves could be for the rest of the season. Here’s hoping the month continues as it has begun.

 


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Does Spring Training Even Matter This Year?

Written by Jonathan on February 14, 2011 – 1:15 pm

Today is one of my favorite days of the year.  People are running around with candy and flowers and balloons and ridiculous-looking stuffed animals.  And don’t forget the cards and the jewelry and fancy dinners.  After all, what better way is there to celebrate pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training.  Love is in the air and I love baseball!

It’s a little over a week and a half until spring games start, but players are starting to trickle in to Spring Training along with the mandatory reporting for pitchers and catchers.  Besides, it’s supposed to be in the upper-70s all week in Lake Buena Vista.  Who wouldn’t want to be there?

I hear it every spring.  It’s usually in some variation of, “Spring Training doesn’t matter.” or “Why do we even care? These people aren’t going to make the team.” and the most common, “The games don’t count”.  To the first one, it does matter, a lot.  To the second, even if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing a number of the faces of Spring Training in Atlanta rather soon.  And to the last one, it’s true, the games don’t count.  But you know what?  It’s baseball season.

There are always storylines to watch in Spring Training that make up the exact reason that it matters.  For the Braves in 2011, here are a few of the main stories to follow and watch for:

Does Chipper Jones Jumping castles still have it? Chipper will turn 39 early in the 2011 season and is trying to make a return from a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee.  Reports are that he’s hitting well and feeling well, but for this team to be successful in 2011, we need him to be healthy.  Having a fill-in at 3B for an extended period of time will put a strain on the depth of the lineup.

Can Nate McLouth return to form? No doubt about it, Nate McLouth had a horrendous 2010 season.  We can’t afford to have a .190-hitting everyday center-fielder out there for this season.  Otherwise, the Braves need to be looking for some outfield options.

What can the young guys add? There are some young guys in Spring Training that finally need to step into the spotlight.  Freddie Freeman has the job at first base and needs to continue to shine.  Craig Kimbrel will need to prove he’s ready to step into a closing role.  And this could be Jordan Schafer’s last stand.  He needs to prove that he’s over his injuries and the strikeout woes are behind him or the former top-prospect may be out of luck with the Braves.

The answers to these questions are going to play a big part in the success or failure of the Atlanta Braves in 2011.  So yes, Spring Training does in fact matter.  And if nothing else, just know that it means that baseball season is right around the corner.


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Schafer Demoted, Blanco Called Up

Written by Colin on June 2, 2009 – 4:55 pm

The Braves sent the struggling Jordan Schafer to the minors today, calling up Gregor Blanco to take his place as the Braves’ center fielder. Schafer is hitting just .204 with 63 strikeouts in 167 at-bats – considerably slowed after a hot start. That’s a lot of striking out this year. The Braves tried to give Schafer a chance, but it’s been almost a month since his last game with more than one hit.

Gregor Blanco will start tonight against the Cubs. He’s hitting .384 in the past two weeks in Gwinnett. The Braves need more offensive production and hope that Blanco can provide some pop and a spark for the team. Jonathan is thrilled – he’s a huge Blanco fan and will enjoy watching him play tonight. Drop by the front row of 435 if you’re at the ballpark to find Jonathan and chat if you want.

Schafer still has potential as an outfielder in the big leagues – he just needs some more seasoning. We’ll see if he can turn it around in Gwinnett hitting off lesser pitchers.

What are your thoughts on the move? Good or bad for Schafer? Should we have traded Josh Anderson in hindsight?


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The Issues From The Nats Series

Written by Rue on April 12, 2009 – 7:53 pm

Fans at Turner Field definitely got their money’s worth this weekend during the Braves 2009 opening series versus the Washington Nationals. From torrential downpours, hail and extra innings to watching our favorites hit in run after run, the Braves definitely left many of us feeling a little better after a topsy-turvy off-season. However, I don’t want to talk about Frenchie’s two triples, or Kelly Johnson’s home run, or a standard Chipper Jones RBI or two. These are things that should be expected from the names that front the Braves organization. After all, constructive criticism is what facilitates positive change – so let’s look at where we fell short.

First point of discussion: should the Braves have expected to sweep the Nationals? Or is it more a taste of what is to come for the remainder of the season? Are we just getting warmed up, or are we the type of team that just squeaks on by? Or did we more than squeak by?

Second point: should we keep our lineup the way that it is? During games, I do regular score-keeping. I scored the Friday and Saturday games and noticed that at a certain point in the batting order, we tend to leave runners on base. Francoeur did a wonderful job today showing us what we used to love about him – two triples, but let’s look at the big picture. Yes, he hit that homer in Philadelphia, but Frenchy’s OBP is only 0.269, and on Saturday, he was 0-4 with a walk.

Matt Diaz is more impressive than we’re giving him credit for. He’s not turning out incredible stats, but keep your eyes on him. He has a higher on base percentage than Francoeur, and has dropped some of those extra pounds so is showing a lot more speed. Jordan Schafer is living up to his hype and was beyond impressive on Saturday night in my book. Anyone complaining about his strikeouts better not claim that makes him inferior to his predecessor, Andruw Jones, or less of a young attribute than Jeff Francoeur. So far, the Braves’ weak spots are not what anyone would have expected. Statistically speaking, Francoeur, McCann, and Kotchman are where we see those LOB stats add up, with the lowest on-base percentages. Do we break that up, move it around, keep it, change it? Or is it too early to tell?

As an armchair GM, what changes would you propose? Would you change the lineup? Where are we falling short? What should we be noticing but aren’t praising?


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The Good News and the Bad News From Philly

Written by Kent on April 9, 2009 – 6:38 am

Well, that sucked, didn’t it?! Sure, the Braves achieved their goal of winning the series in Philly. Still… that Wednesday loss stings. Badly. It was punch to the gut. No… that’s not strong enough. It was a kick to the groin. With a size-15 steel-toed boot.

This was a disgusting loss. Sickening. It was all I could do not to throw the remote through the living room window. Part of me feels that Blaine Boyer and Jorge Campillo should take turns beating the #[email protected]%^ out of each other just to make peace with the universe after that pathetic display. (Moylan must be forgiven, under the circumstances. It was, after all, his very first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery).

That’s the bad news.

But despite the physical illness all Braves fans no doubt share after Wednesday’s bullpen meltdown, there is good news to report after this opening series. A LOT of good news, actually.

Here are some things Braves fans can take away from this opening series in Phili:

  • Derek Lowe looks like he’s up for the challenge of being the new Atlanta “Ace”.
  • Jair Jurrjens was very good in his start, and Javier Vazquez was solid against a tough lineup in a hitter’s park. 
  • Though he got off to shaky start, Mike Gonzalez settled in and closed the door in game one. He then breezed his way through hitters in game two. And Rafeal Soriano was excellent in his first appearance of the season on Tuesday. Back end of the pen looks solid. 
  • Brian McCann appears to be locked in, and could be headed toward a big season. 
  • Chipper Jones looks like he’s ready to make good on his promise to hit a few more into the seats this year (that is, when he’s in the lineup). 
  • How about that KID?!! There’s a long way to go, but Jordan Schafer has given us reason to think he might turn out to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year Award candidate. 
  • Yunel Escobar (who may have been robbed of a homerun on Tuesday) is showing some nice pop in his bat early. 
  • Jeff Francoeur’s game-one homer, and solid RBI single up the middle on Wednesday provide further evidence that he’s back on track. 

The Braves’ offensive depth and balance was on display, proving that there are no coffee breaks in this lineup for opposing pitchers. Every single member of this lineup is a quality, professional hitter – with at least moderate power – who can hurt you. I’m not sure there’s another lineup in the league that can say the same.

And oh yeah… I suppose it is good news that the Braves did, after all, win the series on the road, even if they did throw away a sweep that was all but in their pocket.

And there’s more good news for the Braves… in the form of bad news for the Phillies. It is quite clear that the defending champs have starting pitching problems. There is a lack of depth in the Philadelphia rotation that will go from apparent to neon-lights if Cole Hamels misses any more time this season.

But the Phils aren’t alone. There is also some doubt surrounding the depth and quality of the New York Mets’ rotation, after Johan Santana. Doubts that Mets’ #2 starter, Mike Pelfrey, did nothing to alleviate Wednesday night with a lackluster performance in Cincinnati.

There are no perfect teams in the NL East. Each team has potential problems areas. Many expected offense to be a weak link in Atlanta’s game. But after getting a live look at this Braves lineup; after seeing the kinds of swings Jeff Francoeur is putting on the ball; after seeing the kind of talent (offensive and defensive) they now have roaming Center Field; and after seeing the depth and balance of this lineup… I’m not buying the notion that Atlanta is offensively challenged. I think this lineup is going to be a strength for the Braves. And decidedly so.

The offense looks good. The back end of the bullpen looks good. And unlike their two most talked about division rivals, the Braves appear rich – or at least reasonably well off – when it comes to starting pitching. That leaves middle-relief as the only apparent pothole on the post-season highway.

My point is this: If the Braves do indeed have a middle-relief problem… then they have a better problem than the one potentially facing the Mets and/or Phillies.

A middle-relief sized crack in the hull is a helluva lot easier to repair than a starting pitching sized gorge. And the Braves certainly have the trading chips, should they find it necessary to bolster the middle of their ‘pen. Also, it should be noted that, in addition to the Mets’ starting pitching challenges, they too have unanswered questions where their middle-relief is concerned. 

In short, despite a game-three finish that drove me into a frenzied fit of profanity reminiscent of the furnace-fighting scene in A Christmas Story, I’ve seen enough to earnestly say… “I like the Braves chances this year.”

How about you? Good news? Bad news? Whaddya think of this team after watching them play the champs up in Philly?


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Braves Baseball Is Back!

Written by Colin on April 6, 2009 – 8:44 pm

It’s far too late for me to write a game recap (forgive me, I was in Phoenix last night watching the game from a crappy hotel room) – but I do want to throw together some thoughts I had last night during the game. Please feel free to add your own, argue with mine, or just sit there and read this complacently before moving on to another website.

Derek Lowe Is Solid

He’s not going to wow us every night with heaters – he’s not the typical power pitcher ace most people think of – but he’s a very solid, methodical pitcher who is going to give us quality start after quality start. And when he’s on – like he was last night – he can be very, very good.

Francoeur Will Be Back

You saw Francoeur’s line drive home run last night – he’s going to hit the ball hard night after night this year. Once he gets more used to his stance, we’ll see more power forthcoming – but I’ll take the Francoeur we saw last night. That said, he needs to work on his throw from the right field corner to third. He’s got a reputation to keep.

Jordan Schafer Is Fast

Did you see how fast he cleared the bases after his homerun? What about when he almost ran over Kelly Johnson who was taking a couple steps back to field a fly ball in short right center? The guy has legs. What a night for his first game – a single, an intentional walk and finally a strikeout that made him look silly. I think we’ll see some good stuff from Jordan this year – I’m certainly looking forward to it.

The Braves Looked Good

Lowe pitched well. Schafer showed us a little bit of what he can do. Francoeur looks good. But let’s not forget Chipper – who did what Chipper does – stroking balls comfortably the other way. Yunel almost knocked a homer of his own. Kotchman showed us some defense. McCann crushed a ball that almost landed in another state. Gonzo came out of the bullpen with (a little too much) energy – but once he gets that under control he’ll be the dominant closer he is. When all was said and done, Lowe had an 8 inning, two-hit performance and the Braves beat the Phillies 4-1.

For the first time this season, New York Mets fans cheered for the Braves. And when the Mets played today, Braves fans cheered for the Reds. It’s baseball season, folks. It’s back, and so are the Braves. Now we just have to prove that to the rest of the baseball.


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Braves Have Added More Than You Think

Written by Kent on March 23, 2009 – 6:00 am

There has been plenty of buzz this spring about the new faces the Braves have added by way of trade and free agency. And rightly so. Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, and Garrett Anderson, among others, signify a major upgrade to last year’s injury depleted squad. But if you think these four players represent the only substantial improvements to the Atlanta roster… think again.

Unable to help the Braves much, if at all, in 2007 (because of injury, underperformance, or having not yet arrived in the big leagues), there are several bats and arms in the Braves’ camp that could have a substantial impact on the ’09 season.

EACH OF THE FOLLOWING PLAYERS COULD PROVE TO BE THE EQUIVALENT OF A SIGNIFICANT FREE AGENT SIGNING:

Rafael Soriano: Having spent the majority of last season on the disabled list with discomfort in his pitching elbow, Soriano now appears healthy and ready to help anchor the back end of the bullpen. Since moving to the ‘pen in his sophomore season with the Mariners, Soriano has a career ERA of about 2.50. When healthy, the hard-throwing righty is one of the top setup men in the game.

Peter Moylan: The submarine-tossing ‘Ausie’ posted the third best ERA (1.80) in baseball in 2007, over 90 innings pitched. After missing most of last season recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, Moylan’s rehabilitation is ahead of schedule, and he is expected to be ready on opening day. The return of Peter Moylan could give the Braves another dominant late-inning reliever to go with Soriano and closer, Mike Gonzalez.

Tom Glavine: The legendary lefty’s rehabilitation from off-season surgery (to repair his pitching arm) is on track, and Glavine is expected to make his first start, on schedule, in late April. In 2007, Glavine was fifth in the NL in quality starts with 23, and not coincidentally, he finished the season with 13 wins. If healthy enough to regain his ’07 form, baseball’s only active 300-game winner could once again notch double-digit wins for the Braves.

Tommy Hanson: Considered by many to be the top overall pitching prospect in baseball, Hanson this spring has given the Braves all the more reason to believe he’s ready to record outs in the big leagues. With an already fully staffed starting rotation, it appears that an injury to a Braves starter would be the only immediate path to the Atlanta’s 25-man roster. However, while not particularly likely, it is conceivable that the Braves might consider trading one of their starting pitchers at some point during the season, creating a Major League job opening for Hanson in ’09.

Tim Hudson: The Braves ace is currently ‘rehabbing’ from “Tommy John” surgery, and is believe to be on track for a late August or early September return. While the Braves certainly are not counting on Hudson in any way for the upcoming season, he could give this Braves team one more considerable weapon down the stretch.

Jeff Francoeur: After experiencing a season-long slump in ‘08 that saw him hit just .239 with only 11 homeruns, “Frenchy” is on a mission to (at least) regain his pre-2008 form. So far, so good. As of this writing, he is hitting .350 for the spring. He has just 1 strikeout in 40 at-bats, to go with 6 walks and 9 RBI. He is driving the ball to all fields and has shown nothing of his prior tendency (even in his better seasons) to swing at pitches well out of the strikezone. Replacing the ’08 model of Jeff Francoeur with the ’07 version – or better- would be tantamount to having inked a big free agent slugger over the winter.

Matt Diaz: Diaz lost much of his ‘08 season to a knee injury after getting off to a slow start as the Braves everyday left-fielder. But it should not be forgotten that he hit .333 in 655 combined at-bats in ’06 and ’07. While the addition of Garrett Anderson undoubtedly represents an upgrade to the Atlanta outfield, the return of a healthy and sharp Matt Diaz may prove every bit as valuable. Diaz is currently batting around .400 with 5 extra-base hits and 11 RBI in just over 40 at-bats this spring.

Jordan Schafer: One of the most heralded prospects in the Braves organization, Schafer appears ready to contribute at the Major League level. Despite frequent strikeouts, Schafer has hit nearly .400 so far this spring, and has demonstrated why he is considered a “5-tool” top-quality prospect. For a variety of reasons (NOT related to his spring performance), he may start the season at AAA, but don’t be surprised if Schafer makes a big league splash in 2009.

If the afore mentioned players are healthy and performing well (and so far this spring, all systems are “go”) the Braves will have essentially added the following for the 2009 season:

4 quality starting pitchers, including a #1 starter… 2 dominant late-inning relievers… 1 big middle-of-the-order bat, and at least 2 other quality hitters.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Braves expect better things from Mike Gonzalez (who is now entirely healthy/rested and back at “100%”), and Blaine Boyer, who won’t be overworked or prematurely thrust into late-inning duties, as he was last year. What’s more, Braves officials feel we haven’t seen the best of Yunnel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, or Casey Kotchman.

When you put it all together, we are looking at a Braves team that could surprise a great many people in 2009.  How do you feel about this team? What do you think about the pieces the Braves have added, both from without and within the organization?


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Anderson, Schafer, Freeman Injured

Written by Jonathan on March 8, 2009 – 11:14 am

Garret Anderson has only been a Brave for two weeks but he’s already been bitten by the injury bug.  During pregame warmups on Friday, Anderson strained his right calf muscle while jogging.  They’re still not certain on the extent of the injury and he is listed with a day-to-day status.  Both Anderson and Bobby Cox understand however that the injury could take more than a week to fully heal.  We should hopefully get some more news this week as to how his recovery is going.  I think it’s a pretty safe statement however that some of our young talent will get the chance to fill in in the majors this  year during injury times.

The prospects aren’t immune to injury either, however.  Jordan Schafer is sidelined with a strained right shoulder that he sustained while attempting a diving catch in Saturday’s game.  He’s currently expected to miss four games with the injury, but it will likely take a toll on his chances of beating out Josh Anderson to be the starting center fielder for the Braves this season.

Freddie Freeman has been bothered by a strained quad since the first days of camp, but has continued to play.  He is, however, expected to miss the next few games while trying to rest the muscle and get back out there.  Freeman doesn’t have a chance at making the squad out of Spring Training this year, but has made a huge impression on everyone in camp.

The biggest concern out of all of this is the injury to Anderson.  Muscle strains in the legs are the types of injuries that go on to nag a player all season, much like they have with Chipper in the past.  And at age 36, Anderson won’t bounce back quite as quickly as his younger teammates.  It will be interesting to see how this evolves and hopefully it’s only a minor strain as the Braves as a whole are still thin in the outfield.  I look for Schafer and Brandon Jones to get some chances throughout the season to fill in in outfield roles however.  Should we be terribly worried about Garret getting hurt?  Only time will tell.


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Posted in Injuries | 2 Comments »

Young Bats Produce, Braves Fall

Written by Jonathan on February 25, 2009 – 6:57 pm

The Braves kicked off the Grapefruit League season this afternoon with a 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers.  Jair Jurrjens made the start for the Braves and allowed 2 earned runs in 2 innings of work on 4 hits.  He escaped potential further damage by getting Carlos Guillen to ground into a double-play to end the first inning.  Not the greatest start for Jurrjens, but it’s still early in the preseason and not much to worry about at this point.  Reyes, O’Flaherty and Perez each allowed an earned run while Acosta and Marek both tacked on an inning of scoreless work.

Trailing 3-0 in the top of the fifth, the Braves proceeded to put 3 unearned runs on the board to tie up the game.  Future first baseman prospect, Freddie Freeman, brought two runs in with a two-out single and Brian McCann also added an RBI in the inning, plating Jordan Schafer.  Jordan also cracked the board later in the game with a leadoff home run in the top of the seventh.

Everyone anxious to see Jeff Francoeur at the plate today will still have to wait to see some performance out of him.  Jeff went 0-for-4, but it’s only the first game.  Most will say you can’t count on much that happened today to be telling as to how the season will go.  These early Spring Training games are where we really should be looking toward the young guys and seeing what they can do.

The Braves open up their home Grapefruit League season at Wide World of Sports tomorrow against the Astros at 1:05pm EST.  Jorge Campillo will take the hill for the Braves, making his campaign for a long relief spot in the bullpen.  Catch the game on ESPN.  So one Spring Training game closer to the season, what’s the good news of the day?


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No Griffey….Now What?

Written by Kent on February 20, 2009 – 8:00 am

We’ve finally settled on it, Griffey’s out of the picture. Where do the Braves go from here? Let’s take a look at the 5 possible left field options (that we’re aware of), counting down in order of likelihood:

5 – Xavier Nady: From a performance standpoint, Nady would be the perfect answer to Atlanta’s need for right-handed power. He hit .305 last season with 25 homers and 97 RBI for the Pirates and Yankees. However, his price tag (both in terms of salary, and talent to be surrendered via trade), a contract that expires at season’s end, and his notoriously hard-driving agent (someone named Boras), make Nady the least likely candidate to fill the Braves Left Field job opening.

4 – Nick Swisher: Swisher is a switch-hitting Yankees slugger who the Braves’ believe could nicely address their outfield power deficiency. Before the Griffey rumors began to percolate, Swisher, who is under contract through 2012, appeared to be the Braves top target. However, it was rumored that they wanted the Yanks to assume 2 million dollars of his annual salary (roughly 5.5 million dollars for 2009).
The Yankees are open to Atlanta’s request, but would require “higher quality prospects” in return, which the Braves are reluctant to yield. Given Atlanta’s recently stated commitment to guarding their best young minor league talent, it doesn’t seem likely that the Braves will meet the Yankees’ asking price for Swisher.

3 – Jim Edmonds: The now 38-year-old Edmonds showed Cubs fans last year that he can still club right-handed pitching. His 19 homers and 54 RBI in 292 at-bats against RHP made his humble .250 batting average VS. righties forgivable. On the flipside, he’s a dollar short of worthless against lefties. In 48 at-bats VS. LHP, he hit .146, with 1 homer and 1 RBI. But his ability to slug against right-handed hurlers makes him a viable platoon partner for the right-handed hitting Matt Diaz. He could also serve as a quality back-up Center-fielder.

I think Edmonds makes a fair amount of sense for Atlanta, and he should fit their budget. That said, there hasn’t been so much as a whisper of Edmonds’ name in connection to the Braves, which causes me to think such a marriage is improbable, but that could change at any moment.

2 – Garret Anderson: The longtime Angels outfielder is likely to play baseball without an “A” on his cap for the first time in 15 years. Or is he?Anderson has lost much of his once considerable power, but he is still a solid big league hitter. With the exception of a modest on-base percentage, Anderson’s 2008 numbers compare very favorably to Griffey’s. He hit .293 last season with 15 homers and 84 RBI.

The left-handed hitting Anderson handles lefties well (.290 vs. lefties last season), however, all but one of his homers came at the expense of right-handed pitching, which makes him another excellent (and affordable) candidate to platoon with Matt Diaz in Left.  We’ve covered more details earlier in the offseason.

1 – Let the kids play: If the Braves aren’t attracted to the remaining external outfield options, it would seem that they’re prepared to play their current hand, and reassess the outfield situation a couple of months into the season. The most likely existing candidates for the two available outfield jobs are left-hand hitting center-fielders, Josh Anderson, and Jordan Schafer.

Josh Anderson is out of minor league options, which means the Braves will either have to add him to the Major League roster, or trade him. If the Braves do not import another outfielder, Anderson will battle Jordan Schafer for the starting Center Field role this spring. The speedy Gregor Blanco may also compete for the job. If Anderson fails to win the full-time position in center, he will likely share playing time with Matt Diaz in Left Field. In 203 big league at-bats (2007/2008), Anderson has a .315 batting average, a .364 on-base percentage, and 11 steals in 13 tries.

Jordan Schafer was once considered the Braves top position prospect before a 50-game suspension for alleged “HGH” use last year, however, his star has not fallen. The Braves sill think quite well of the talented “5-tool prospect”, and reviews of his early work at the Braves Spring Training facilities have been positive.

Whether the Braves ink a free agent outfielder, such as G. Anderson or Edmonds, or let youth movement have a go, Matt Diaz is likely to see the majority of his playing time against left-handed pitching. Over the past three seasons, Diaz has hit .319, .338, and .327 against lefty hurlers.

So… if Frank Wren were to call and ask your advice, what would you tell him? Trade away? Sign an inexpensive veteran? Or let the kids play?


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Posted in General | 21 Comments »

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