Outlook

This season hasn’t exactly gone the way most Atlanta Braves fans have wanted but it is long from over. Atlanta has greatly underachieved and yet are just 5.0 games back of the Wild Card leading Colorado Rockies and 7.0 back of the National League East Philadelphia Phillies. 

Despite the early struggles Atlanta is far from done. Something I have noticed is that General Manager Frank Wren has been receiving a lot of criticism from fans for his “idiotic” moves. Let’s take a look and see how “idiotic” they really are.

The first move I would like to point out is the trade for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. Atlanta acquired the pair from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge. So far this year Javier Vazquez is 8-7 with a 3.01 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 140.1 innings pitched. Vazquez is tied for 3rd in the Major Leagues in WHIP (1.05) and has the 3rd best K/9 (10.13). In other words Vazquez has been spectacular this season. Logan on the other hand has been mediocre with a 4.50 ERA in 10.0 innings pitched.

Javier VazquezLet’s look at what Chicago got. Tyler Flowers, was the starting catcher for the U.S. Futures team. Great, right? Oh wait that Brian McCann guy is blocking his way to the majors. Brent Lillibridge is currently sporting a fantastic .162 BA in 26 games for the White Sox this year. The bottom line is Frank Wren robbed the White Sox. That trade was not in anyway fair.

Wren has received some flack for the signing of Derek Lowe. Lowe is signed for four years and is making $15MM this year. Not a great contract but Lowe brings the post season experience Atlanta could use. Lowe just happens to be the only pitcher in Major League history to be the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the Divisional Series, Championship Series and World Series in one post season. That’s experience for you. Lowe is also very durable so the 4th year on the contract does not seem so bad. Lowe has pitched in no fewer than 180 innings in the last 7 years. Had Wren not offered the 4th year on the contract there is no way Lowe would have chosen Atlanta.

John SmoltzFans were livid when John Smoltz was allowed to sign with the Boston Red Sox and when Tom Glavine was released.

That is just terrible because Smoltz’s 2-4 record and 7.12 ERA looks so great. As for Tom Glavine, his fastball was topping out in the low 80′s. Really? Atlanta wants to win, not give out pity contracts.

A controversial signing was that of Japanese veteran Kenshin Kawakami. So far he is just 5-8 with a 4.37 ERA. One should also know that the ball is smaller in Japan so it can take some time for Kawakami to adjust. For comparison Daisuke Matsuzaka was 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his first season with the Red Sox. The next season he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. I’m not saying this will be the same with Kawakami but don’t condemn him yet.

Next we have the Nate McLouth trade that in the thoughts of has decimated Atlanta’s farm system. Atlanta gave up Charlie Morton, who has pitched well (2-3, 3.60 ERA), Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke. In Hernandez’s 53 games for AA Altoona he is hitting a sparkling .239 BA with 5 stolen bases in 10 attempts. Stealing bases is what he does so that’s not looking so great. Not to mention Hernandez and McLouth play the same position so he could have potentially been blocked. In Locke’s 10 games with Advanced A Lynchburg he has a 1-4 record with a 5.31 ERA. Again, Frank Wren robbed a team.

Recently Wren traded Casey Kotchman for Adam LaRoche and cash. This deal was obviously made in an attempt to give the power starved Braves lineup an added boost. Kotchman has hit just 6 home runs this season while LaRoche has 13. Kotchman’s batting average is 30 points higher but he has no where near the power of LaRoche. LaRoche also traditionally gets hot in the second half.

Adam LaRocheAnother complaint is Kotchman’s amazing defense as he has yet to make an error. LaRoche has made just 1 this season while having 61 more total chances. LaRoche also sports a better range factor (9.94) over Kotchman (9.41). Is Kotchman’s defense really that much better? I don’t think so.

The bottom line is Wren has robbed 2 teams on the trade market and really made one signing that hasn’t helped Atlanta (Kawakami). That signing also hasn’t really hurt them either.

Frank Wren has done an above average job whether Braves fans want to admit it or not. He is just so easy to blame for Atlanta’s problems. 

Runner up

We have all engaged in the discussion of who are the best players at their respective positions. When discussing the position of shortstop I think the obvious answer is Hanley Ramirez. He does it all. He hits for average as well as power. He drives in runs and steals bases. He even plays good defense. He is easily the best shortstop in the game. But who is number two? I’m going to make the case for Yunel Escobar of the Atlanta Braves.

Yunel EscobarEscobar plays solid defense but where he really shines is at the plate. Escobar has improved his contact hitting this year by sporting the 6th best .305 average. He has also shown he can provide the long ball with his 3rd best 11 home runs and drive in runs with his 58 RBI which also rank 3rd. The power numbers aren’t a product of a free swinger either. Escobar has shown excellent bat control and advanced plate discipline. He strikes out just 10.6% of the time which is only beaten by Orlando Cabrera (9.4%) and Miguel Tejada (7.6%). He is also the owner of the 3rd best SO/BB ratio with 0.80.

Escobar ranks 5th in OBP (.370), 5th in SLG (.471), 5th in OPS (.841), 7th in WAR (2.5), 7th in RC (55.8) and 4th in clutch factor (0.49). Escobar is in the top 10 in some of the most important statistics. He is among the best hitting shortstops as well as the most valuable to his respective team.

Yunel EscobarHe has a respectable 4.3 Range Factor when you look at the defensive aspect of his game. One thing that isn’t shown in a statistic is his strong arm. Many Braves fans were spoiled when Rafael Furcal would rifle throws across the field. Escobar’s arm is just as good if not better.

There are a handful of shortstops that have a legitimate shot at being the runner up to Hanley Ramirez at the position. Yunel Escobar has a pretty good argument.

The real ace

Coming into this season just about every team was frustrated with what seemed to be the best 1-2 bunch in any starting rotation. That dynamic duo is CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Sabathia is the clear cut ace right? Not so fast. Sabathia may have gotten the obnoxious contract but has he really earned it? The statistics seem to think otherwise.

Burnett and SabathiaBurnett has the clear advantage in record (10-4) over Sabathia (10-7). They have the same number of wins but every loss is critical in a tight playoff race. A tight playoff race is probably exactly what New York is going to be dealing with. As New York’s “ace” Sabathia should be the stopper in the rotation. He is the pitcher that has to stop the losing streaks and shut down the big lineups.

Burnett also has a large advantage in ERA. His 3.53 is much better than Sabathia’s 3.83. New York is paying for Sabathia’s 2.70 ERA that he posted last year with the Indians and Brewers and they are not getting anything close. Burnett on the other hand has gotten even better. His ERA has dropped over half a point from last year’s 4.07.

CC SabathiaBoth are big time strikeout pitchers. You would think that Sabathia as the “ace” would be better at his own game than Burnett. Wrong. Burnett has 4 more punch outs than Sabathia in 20.9 fewer innings. Burnett’s 7.99 K/9 blows Sabathia’s 6.63 K/9 out of the water. One advantage for Sabathia is that he has the superior WHIP (1.19 to 1.35). Sabathia may pitch the prettier game but Burnett gets the job done.

One characteristic of a true ace is his clutch factor. Which Burnett is again superior in. His .44 is much better than Sabathia’s -0.92. This is extremely important down the stretch as well as in the playoffs.

Sabathia has received the ace tag and the ace contract but is he really the ace?

Underrated

This season has really shed some light on the “real hitters” with players like Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer being thrust into the spotlight for all to see. Pujols is a legitimate complete hitter while Mauer is well on his way to solidifying himself as one.

While players like Pujols and Mauer steal the spotlight there is a player who is quietly one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball. We all know who it is, we just don’t necessarily associate him with greatness. He is an All-Star every year but just doesn’t get the credit he really, truly deserves. That player is Ichiro Suzuki.

IchiroThis year Ichiro is hitting .358. No typo, it’s .358. Joe Mauer may be leading the majors in BA but he is also having a career year. Ichiro does this every single year. Ichiro’s lifetime average is .332. That’s after he played 8 seasons in Japan, where he hit .353 with 1,278 hits. After 8 years of excellence in Japan he packed his bags and landed in Seattle. He has been the backbone of the franchise ever since but has been overshadowed by players like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez.

Ichiro doesn’t bring the home run often, but true students of the game know that despite his small frame he has power. It just isn’t his game. He would much rather slap a single or bunt his way on and then steal second base. By the way he has 21 stolen bases so far this year. He doesn’t walk often but he doesn’t strike out often either. In his 391 at bats this season he has struck out just 35 times. His career high in strikeouts came in 2007 when he struck out 77 times. He is obnoxiously consistent while being one of the most durable players in the game. Since coming to the United States he has played in no fewer than 157 games.

IchiroIchiro does it all. Since joining MLB he has been an All-Star every year while earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2001. Not only did he win the ROY in 2001, he won the MVP for the American League while hitting .350 with 56 stolen bases. He has taken home a Gold Glove every year and is a 2-time Silver Slugger and 2-time AL batting champ.

When looking at his short time in MLB his statistics still warrant him the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. When combining his statistics with the his time in Japan he is one of the greatest hitters the game has ever scene. If you were to combine his statistics from both careers he would have 3,223 hits, 429 doubles, 1,023 RBI, 535 stolen bases and a .343 batting average.

There is no doubt that Ichiro is one of the best players in baseball. He is a household name but just does not receive the credit he deserves. He combines incredible bat control with outstanding defense and speed. Pujols, Rodriguez, and Mauer may have the power, but Ichiro has the complete game.

31

Over the past 20 years there have been dozens of pitchers that have challenged the best hitters in the game. They pushed the best teams to their limits and challenged some of the greatest records the game has to offer.

Pitchers like Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, and John Smoltz have lead the way. Through all the controversy there has been one pitcher who has truly weathered the storm. He has played the game with all the class in the world while bolstering one of the greatest resumes one could ever hope for. That player is #31, Greg Maddux.

Greg MadduxOn Friday Maddux will have his number retired by the Atlanta Braves. This is after he has had his number retired by the Chicago Cubs earlier this season. Here’s a look back on arguably the greatest pitcher in the last 50 years.

Greg Maddux began his career as a lanky pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in 1986 at the age of 20. Maddux would spend the next 7 season in Chicago, winning at least 15 games 5 times and at least 18 games 3 times. Despite having an excellent resume Maddux’s career was just about to take off. Maddux would then sign with the Atlanta Braves and begin a streak of dominance that has yet to be contested.

Greg MadduxMaddux would spend the next 11 seasons with the Braves and would collect 3 of his 4 Cy Young Awards while accumulating 194 wins. Maddux’s best season came in 1995, where he went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA. He would throw 10 complete games to go with 3 shutouts on his way to his 4th and final Cy Young Award and only World Series victory.

Maddux is an 8-time All-Star and an 18-time Gold Glove winner. Maddux was able to redefine the position from a defensive standpoint on his way to cementing himself as the great defensive pitcher of all time.

Maddux lead the league in wins 3 times (1992, 1994, 1995) and in ERA 4 times (1993, 1994, 1995, 1998). He lead the league in WHIP 4 times (1993, 1994, 1995, 1998) as well as walks per 9 innings pitched 9 times (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008). Maddux’s durability further proves why he is one of the greatest. In a stretch from 1990-1996 Maddux finished no worse than 2nd in the National League in innings pitched. That streak included 4 years (1991-1995) in which he lead the NL in innings pitched with no fewer than 202.0 (1994).

When it comes to all-time statistics Maddux ranks 13th in innings pitched (5008.1), 8th in wins (355), 4th in games started (740), and 10th in strikeouts (3371). This goes without mentioning he has only walked 999 batters in his entire career.

Not only is Maddux one of the greatest on the field, he has been an amazing human being off the field. In 1993 Maddux formed The Maddux Foundation which has raised over $850,000 for other various charities.

Greg MadduxThere is no doubt that he is a first ballot Hall of Famer and is one of the greatest pitchers to ever grace the field. A tip of the cap to a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person.

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”- Warren Spahn


~Ben

Inside the numbers

Hitters vs. Sluggers

In today’s game of baseball there seem to be two types of offensive players. You have the hitter. The player who can hit for a high average as well as drive in runs. They can work the count and draw walks. They can move runners over with the sacrifice or hit to the opposite field. They get on base but don’t necessarily always posses the fan favorite tremendous power.

Then you have the slugger. The player with tremendous power. The player who can drive the ball 400 feet with the flick of the wrist. They can change the momentum of a game with one swing at any given moment. Pitchers avoid them with runners on base and are cautious with the bases empty. They hit for power and drive in runs, but rack up strikeouts and can cripple rallies.

Both contribute to their team in many ways, but which is better?

A quick look inside the numbers quickly separates most players into one of these two categories. There however are a select few that can just do it all. Some of those players are Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Morneau, and Prince Fielder. They hit for the high average as well as tremendous power and are RBI machines.

Albert PujolsSome high profile hitters are players like Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Shane Victorino, and Kevin Youkilis. They put the ball in play, can draw walks, and move the runners over when their team needs them the most. These players are pure hitters.

Carlos PenaSome sluggers you may know are Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Pena. They can drive the ball with anyone, drive in runs, but rack up strikeouts at alarming rates.

A statistic that I find accurately grades the value of a hitter is Runs Created. Of all the sluggers in the league only Adam Dunn (7) ranks in the top ten in runs created. Ryan Howard (38) and Carlos Pena (23) rank further down the list. As for the hitters Carl Crawford (14), Ichiro Suzuki (9), Shane Victorino (16), and Kevin Youkilis (27) rank further up on the list. The previously mentioned freaks happen to all be in the top 6. Pujols and Fielder come in a 1 and 2 while Morneau sits at 4 and Ramirez at 6. They contribute to their team in a ton of different ways offensively.

Personally I would rather take the hitter because of the fact that they can do more. I would take the guy that hits .310 with 10 home runs and 80 RBI, but can move runners over and put the ball in play over someone who hits .260 with 35 home runs, 110 RBI, and 160 strikeouts.

Adam DunnThe strikeouts are a big factor because not only are they an ugly stat but they are a rally killer. If you are going to end a rally at least put the ball in play. Strikeouts are also an easy tell for someone who is just swinging as hard as they can. The hitters will shorten their swing with 2 strikes and look to put the ball in play rather than drive it into the gaps. The sluggers however tend to swing for the fences regardless of the situation. Not only is that not going to work out too well the majority of the time it sets a bad example for the younger players.

I guarantee that if any of the before mentioned freaks were to take up the slugger mentality they could put 55-60 balls out of the park every season. The home run is a great thing, but I think it’s time the hitter gets more recognition for his talent than the slugger.

Happy blogging,

Ben

What could have been

Have you ever found yourself watching a baseball game or even Baseball Tonight and see one of your team’s former players and think to yourself “What could have been if we held onto him?” I do it on almost a daily basis. I decided to put together a team of former Atlanta Braves. Almost all have been developed by Atlanta but a few were acquired by trade and for one reason or another allowed to move on.

One former catcher is Texas Rangers starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Salty” is currently hitting .250 with 6 home runs and 29 RBI in 64 games for Texas. Another catcher is Kansas City Royal Brayan Pena. Pena is currently hitting .319 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI in 22 games for the Royals. Both Salty and Pena are switch hitters.

Jarrod SaltalamacchiaAt first base you have a former fan favorite in Adam LaRoche. He is currently hitting .259 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At second base you have that Mark DeRosa guy. You may have heard about him being amazing at a handful of positions. You’re welcome St. Louis. Atlanta fans have been crying about letting him go for years now. DeRosa is currently hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI.

Elvis AndrusShortstop is what really gets me mad. You have studs like Rafael Furcal (.254, 3 HR, 19 RBI) playing for the Dodgers and Elvis Andrus (.262, 3 HR, 15 RBI) playing for the Texas Rangers. Texas thought so much of Andrus that they made Michael Young (5-time All-Star, 2005 AL Batting Champ, 2008 Gold Glove winner) change positions to third base. At third base you have current Tampa Bay Ray Willy Aybar. He is currently hitting .279 with 7 home runs and 25 RBI. Atlanta had plans for Aybar before he had issues with substance abuse. It’s such a shame to see someone with so much talent get moved around like he has been.

Moving to the outfield you will see current White Sox star Jermaine Dye. Dye is hitting .297 with 20 home runs and 54 RBI. He would be great in the current Atlanta offense that is starved for power. Another former Brave is Andruw Jones who is currently having a solid season with the Texas Rangers. He is only hitting .250 but has 14 home runs and 34 RBI. Two former outfielders who were acquired by trade and then allowed to move on are Gary Sheffield (.277, 10 HR, 31 RBI) and J.D. Drew (.260, 12 HR, 37 RBI).

When you get to the list of pitchers it can really get ugly for Braves fans. A rotation could consist of Jason Marquis (11-5, 3.61), Kevin Millwood (8-6, 3.34), and Adam Wainwright (9-5, 3.09). Not to mention John Smoltz of the Boston Red Sox. The bullpen could have Joey Devine (0.59, 11 Holds) at the end of games.

Losing players in trades or to free agency is part of baseball. But it’s always nice to wonder, what could have been?

You don’t know what ya got till it’s gone,

Ben

The Real All-Stars

I think just about everyone who voted on this year’s All-Star teams has been frustrated in some way or another. Some guys got snubbed despite having a stellar season in favor of someone having a mediocre season but has that “reputation.”
2009 ASGAs an Atlanta Braves fan my biggest issue is having Brian McCann make the team as a reserve and not a starter in favor of Yadier Molina. McCann is easily having the better season despite spending time on the DL and having horrible eye problems. Molina just happens to be the more popular player so he gets the nod even though he hasn’t been playing as well.

Another issue I have as a Braves fan is the fact that neither Rafael Soriano (1-1, 1.63 ERA, 8 saves) or Mike Gonzalez ( 3-1, 3.20 ERA, 9 saves) got voted in. I try to be as unbiased as possible but dammit at least one of those guys deserves to be in St. Louis. Instead of one of them Ted Lilly (8-6, 3.32 ERA) made the team. I obviously see that his record doesn’t tell the tale of his season but if you want to play that game then Jair Jurrjens (6-7, 2.91) deserves to be there.

Lance BerkmanSomething that puzzles me is why does the National League have 4 first baseman? They have 4 first baseman while only carrying 2 shortstops and 2 third baseman. As for the first baseman I think Lance Berkman is having just as good a season as Ryan Howard. People talk about versatility, Berkman can play the corner outfield positions as well as first base. Did I mention he switch hits? Ryan Howard already as 95 strikeouts. Who wants to see a guy take an 0-2 with 2K in a freaking All-Star game? There are 4 first baseman while someone like Casey Blake is left off the team.

In the American League Dustin Pedroia who is having a solid season is starting over Aaron Hill while Brian Roberts didn’t even make the team. Everyone jumped on the Josh Hamilton band wagon and sent him there, the guy hasn’t even played. Hamilton himself said he didn’t deserve to be there. He made it instead of a guy like Juan Rivera, who is killing the ball this year.

Juan RiveraWhat this all boils down to his the All-Star game is a popularity contest. The average fan knows the most popular players and that’s about it. The most popular players aren’t always the best ones. As long as the All-Star game actually “counts” the leagues need to be presenting the best team possible. Something interesting, the National League has 2 more teams than the American League which means they have to have a representative from 2 more teams.

If MLB wants this game to actually count then I want the players making the decisions. No one knows the players like the players so it’s only right. If they want the fans to get involved then make the game count for nothing or give them power over the reserves at most.

Over and out,

Ben

Inside the Numbers

The art of the stolen base…

For what seems like a decade now the stolen base has been a lost part of the game. Teams relied on the more spectacular 3-run home run. Stealing bases was just too risky. If the runner makes it he is in scoring position and also eliminates the traditional double play. On the other hand, if the runner gets caught you have a wasted out. Teams didn’t want to take that chance.

Carl CrawfordThis year it seems as though teams are bringing it back. More teams are running and it speeds up the game as well as makes it more exciting. This year 13 teams have at least 52 stolen bases. I think that is a pretty nice statistic. Teams are no longer sitting back and waiting for that home run. Teams are being more aggressive and I think it is great for the game.

Not only is stealing bases exciting, it is almost essential for a team’s success. Of the top 10 teams in stolen bases 8 of them have winning records. The two who aren’t quite up to par are the New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks. Of the bottom 10 teams in stolen bases only 5 teams have winning records. (The Chicago Cubs are only 40-39).

stolen baseStealing bases also leads to scoring more runs. Of the top 10 teams in stolen bases 7 of them are also in the top 10 in runs scored. (The Los Angeles Dodgers were 4th in stolen bases and 11th in runs scored).

Stealing bases also helps prevent the double play. Of the top 10 teams in stolen bases only 2 (Boston and the New York Mets) were also in the top 10 in double plays hit into. However 5 of those teams were in the bottom 10 in double plays hit into with no more than 55 (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and as few as 48 (Arizona Diamondbacks).

Even just having one great base stealer on your team can greatly improve it
. Of the top 10 leaders in stolen bases 7 of them are on winning teams. Even if that player doesn’t steal a base just his presence on the base paths can cause havoc for the pitcher. Not only does the pitcher have to concentrate on the batter he also has to keep that threat close. The stolen base is making a comeback and I freaking love it.

Thanks for reading,

Ben

Gotta love Hanson

The player, not the band. That would just be gross. (I can’t believe I actually watched a full minute of that video after linking to it…)

Tommy HansonBack to the real Hanson, Tommy Hanson. This guy has just been a flat out stud for Atlanta. His fastball usually clocks in at around 91-93 but he can crank it up to 97 when he needs to. He brings a knee buckling curveball at around 73 or so. He also likes to mix in an above average slider with a solid changeup. The great thing is he can throw all four pitches for a strike in any count.

From what I can see the best part about Hanson’s game is that he has such great composure so quickly. He looks like a seasoned veteran out on the mound and I feel that is the most important part of his game right now. Of course his stuff is going to be good, but most guys don’t have the mentality to play the game. Hanson has appeared unfazed even when faced with the stacked lineups of Boston and New York.

Against the Red Sox Hanson threw 6 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits. In his previous start he threw 5.1 shutout innings against the Yankees. These are not easy lineups by any means. They are freaking stacked.

Tonight Hanson had a streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings broken by Adam Dunn‘s 300th home run. (Hanson went 7 innings allowing just the 1 run by the way.) The kid makes one mistake and it has to be against an all or nothing slugger. Regardless, he pitched a fantastic game and got stuck with the no decision when Mike Gonzalez brought the suck.

The only issue I have with Hanson so far is his command. It was much better today against the Nationals but then again, it’s the Nationals. Hanson walked just 1 batter in today’s game which is a huge improvement over recent starts. In 36.0 innings pitched this year Hanson has 18 walks. Hanson has only struck out 23 batters so far but his dominance is shown with his 2.25 ERA. So far Hanson is 4-0 and I think if he continues his dominance he will be an easy choice for Rookie of the Year.

Till next time,

Ben

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