Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Braves win best game of the year so far 11-10

One of the things I'm trying to celebrate this year is when the Braves pull off the unexpected. That's honestly the best thing about a season where you know you're not going to compete for a title. When you get the unexpected upset of a really good team, you should latch onto it and savor it like a fine wine in between several belts of Kirkland Light Beer.

The Braves played the Nationals last night when Stephen Strasburg faced off against Mike Foltynewicz. They really didn't matter in the outcome other than to say neither pitched well at all. This game was an old-fashioned throwback 1990s era of the homer.

Do you like dingers? You bet you do. Chicks dig the long ball as Glavine and Maddux loved to remind us. There were not one, not two, not three, but EIGHT homers in this one game. And even the eighth one mattered in the result. This game was a roller coaster of lead changes. The Braves smacked around Strasburg in the top of the first with two homers for three runs.

But the Nationals came back in the next two innings with two more homers of their own and two more runs scored on a single and a sac-fly. At 4-3 Nationals, the Braves came back in the 3rd and Matt Adams smacked a 3-run homer to make it 6-4 Braves. Are you feeling like the last team to bat might win this game? It sure had that feeling to me.

The Nationals roared back in the 3rd and 4th innings with 5 unanswered runs, and I'm pretty sure in the 4th inning, they came one batter short of batting around the order. It wasn't pretty and that's what finally knocked Folty out of the game with supremely unimpressive line of 3.1 IP, 11 hits, 8 earned runs, 2 walks, and no strikeouts. He sucked. However, coming off a day where he was absolutely impressive in his last start, you can expect some up and down. This was the down. Obviously. Duh.

But the Braves weren't done. Down 9-6, they kept chipping away. In the 8th inning Matt Adams his a solo homer to make it 9-7. Then Inciarte hit a sac-fly with the bases loaded to make it 9-8. Down only one run going into the 9th inning, and the Nationals bullpen looking extremely vulnerable, a victory didn't seem impossible.

It was very possible.

After getting behind in the count, professional hitter Nick Markakis earned a lead off walk, followed by Matt Adams getting walked out of what I think was pure fear of throwing him another meatball he could crush into oblivion for his third homer of the game. That's when Tyler Flowers decided to step and and be the hero. With the game on the line, he belted a ball into the right field stands, stunning the crowd in Washington and giving the Braves an 11-9 lead!

But the game wasn't over. Washington wasn't going to go quietly. A leadoff double for the Nats came around to score on a 2-out single by Trea Turner, bringing the winning run to the plate in the form of Bryce Harper. All eyes were on one of the Braves Country's most hated players, willing Jim Johnson to get him out and not give away one of the most well-fought games of the season. Jim got Bryce to fly out to center harmlessly and the game was ours.

It's not a game you'll tell your grandchildren about but it absolutely was the best game of the season so far. It had everything except good pitching. And frankly, we don't have good pitching so that was supposed to be expected. I'm just happy we won, and I'm happy it was Bryce Harper who got stung for the last out. He can take his endorsements and 5 preseason championship rings back to his piles of money and gigantic house. The loser.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Braves refuse to roll over and die

If you watched the weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds (insert Major League movie joke here) then you may have noticed the Braves actually won a series on the road. Hot damn! When's the last time that happened? Let me pull out the old stat book <grabs a dusty tome from the corner and flips through it like an old fart>. Ah yes, it was about 18 days ago in Toronto when we took two off of them in the snowy North before they broke Freddie Freeman in half at the wrist. Stupid Canucks.

Anyway we won, against all odds. Frankly against all reason if you listen to the people on Twitter whine about what Snitker is doing. HE'S PLAYING GARCIA A LOT! WHERE'S RUIZ? WHAT'S THIS LINEUP! RIGHT/LEFTY LIVES MATTER!

Yes, we've entered a Braves New World where the team is winning in spite of whatever your computer says should have happened. That's a shock for some people and they don't seem to be taking it too kindly. I suggest you remind them that this is sports and wins are good. Just in case they seem to have forgotten that for a moment.

I for one welcome a day when Snitker plays Markakis at 3rd base and we win the game 14-0. Why? Because we won, and that's all I really care about at the end of the day. There's being right, and then there's results. I care about results. I'm a CPA and a CFO. Wins are the end game of any endeavor, and for the moment, the Braves are getting results.

So how did we win? Was it starting pitching? Hell no, are you crazy did you watch any of the games? The starting pitching would put a bad name to the term greasefire, unless you happened to be named Mike. Teheran just gave up 7 runs in a win, Dickey gave up 5, and poor Mike Foltynewicz gave up absolutely nothing and the team lost the game anyway. Just goes to show you Mike, you have to make them earn it. But not too much, or they don't respect you in the morning.

No, the answer to winning was offense. Pure and simple unadulterated blast it into the second deck of the Great American Smallpark power. In the wins, the Braves scored 19 runs. In the loss? Two runs. Yeah, and we should have won the 2 run game because the bullpen gave that one away in the 9th. Man can you imagine a road sweep? When the heck did that happen last in a 3 game series? <finds the dusty tome again> Wow, September 21st against the Mets in 2016. They must have completely given up hope and sent in the clowns.

Don't get it twisted, I love this team. I'm just shocked at the mercurial way they seem to win and lose on a whim. Pull all the right levers against an easy opponent like San Francisco? We get bushwhacked. Play a bunch of hunches against a decent team like Cincy? We win 2 of 3 in the smallest park in all the land and probably should have swept the series. Go figure.

If you've got a good read on this team, please send me your tips because there's money to be made in the gambling market. I need to know your insights. After all, I need a nice lakehouse just like everybody else. We might as well get rich while we're waiting on the team to really compete, and enjoy the winning streaks while we we can.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Braves May Recap

What a month. This May was probably one of the bigger rollercoasters in my time watching this team. We went from the awful lows of a 6 game losing streak, to the dizzing highs of winning 10 of 13, and back to the terrifying lows of losing Freddie Freeman for most of the season. Then we found Matt Adams in a trade who turned out to be a pretty nice slugger. Then we beat the Nationals in a series! And after that we lost 6 of 8 at the end of the month.

Geez, up and down and round and round again.

What did we learn about this team in April? Well the starting pitching is pretty awful outside of Jaime Garcia, who finished the month with a 2.45 ERA. The rest of the starters? Dickey had a 5.70, Folty and Julio both had 6.12, and Bartolo had an 8.54. The fact we won 12 games in the month is something of a miracle with those stats.

The bullpen was slightly better. Jason Motte was awesome with 12 innings and no earned runs. Vizcaino had over 12 innings and 1 run (the one happened to be the game-loser last night unfortunately). Sam Freeman and Jim Johnson have combined for 5 runs in 25 innings, which is very solid. Then you have the guys like O'Flaherty, Wisler, and Collmenter who just got shelled. In the case of Collmenter is was so bad he was given his outright release.

So how in the world did the Braves win all those games? Timely scoring. In the Braves wins in May, they averaged 6.5 runs a game. Which if you think about it since the starter ERA was close to 5.50, you'd have to score over 6 per game to win. I can also tell you that if the recipe for success is your team scoring 6 runs a night? You're going to lose a lot of games. Even Houston and Washington, the best scoring teams in the league, only average about 5.5 a night right now. It's simply to much to ask of your hitters on a regular basis.

We learned that Bartolo Colon is basically finished, although if you read my blog a month ago I basically made that point already. We learned that Freddie Freeman isn't the only engine driving this offense, and that if we had him along with these other pieces you can see some glimmers of hope for scoring on a regular basis. We learned that Josh Collmenter wasn't the answer, and that Jason Motte may be nice trade-bait at the deadline. And lastly we learned that the division is already over in May because the Nationals are up almost 10 games on everybody, and nobody except Washington has a winning record heading into June. The NL East is starting to look like the AFC East in the NFL.

As we head into June, I only have one thought that really crosses my mind: When we will see the next generation come up and play at the major league level?

I have a feeling it's coming soon with these starters struggling.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Braves replace Freeman with James Loney and Matt Adams

Now that Freddie Freeman is sidelined for about 10 weeks, the Braves had to have a better answer as everyday first baseman than Jace Peterson. That meant signing and trading for two new faces, James Loney and Matt Adams.

James Loney was signed to a minor league deal (ala what Ryan Howard was doing and failed at) so that he can potentially step in as a first base option. Loney is a 33 year old, 11 year MLB veteran with almost 1400 games played at first base. He had a career resurgance in Tampa back in 2013, but his hitting numbers have been in steady decline ever since, leading up to his outright release from Tampa in 2016. At that point, the Padres picked up him at the beginning of 2016 season, and then the Mets purchased his rights from the Padres. He played 100 games with the Mets in 2016 and had a very mediocre .703 OPS with a .265 average.

Loney at his core is a replacement player, and that's why he's been signed away from the Rangers and Detroit after they tried him in their minor league systems. I would hold out hope for this one working beyond just filling in as a below average defensive replacement with a tepid bat, but we'll see.

Matt Adams is another story. Adams was traded to Atlanta for cash and Juan Yepez, a guy I've never heard of mentioned in our minor league system even once. Adams is almost 29, been in the league about 6 years, and he's a career .270/.315/.452 slash line player. That's a strong slugging percentage but the reason Adams is likely getting traded from St. Louis is his defense, which is frankly abysmal for a first baseman. However, with more power comes more playing time, so while he's nothing like Freeman with the glove, he's less of a falloff with the bat.

Neither person can make up for Freeman, yet the team suddenly went on a winning tear against the first place Nationals, and they are pitching better than ever. Maybe the Freddie injury galvanized the team to actually try harder instead of staring at Freddie swinging the bat. Maybe the Nationals took their foot off the gas and just assumed they would steamroll the Braves. Either way, it's an odd time to see a team surge when they've lost their best player. I hope they can keep it up against the Pirates this week.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Freddie Freeman out 10 Weeks, All Hope is Lost

We had a good thing going didn't we? The Braves were sort of turning things around against Toronto and they were getting on track to possible get close to .500 again. Freddie Freeman was having undoubtedly the best start of his career. And now we learn that he's going to be out 10 weeks for a broken wrist because some idiot maple leaf syrup guy hit him with a fastball. Life isn't fair in baseball.


At least Dansby is improving and the team was scoring 4+ runs a game. If the pitching staff wasn't such a wreck, I'd feel pretty good about our chances to just weather the storm and play decent baseball if Freddie was just going to miss a month. But 2.5 months? There's no way the offense can recover from that kind of loss. You're talking about MAYBE Freddie getting back at the earliest in mid-July, and more likely at the beginning of August. The season will be truly over by then, and there's almost no point in having him worry about struggling with it, other than getting reps for next year.

I didn't think we'd win the division but I held some hope that with the offense improving Freddie would be the All-Star leader of the team and a possible MVP candidate. That's not going to happen now. I have to admit it really takes what was already a sort of questionable season and makes it completely awful. If we don't get the chance to see some of the young guys come up and play now? I don't know what the point of watching this team is beyond simply habit. I need to know that the guys we're playing will be here for the division run we hope to make.

That's not guys like Adonis Garcia, Nick Markakis, Jace Peterson, Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Flowers, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, RA Dickey, Emilio Bonafacio, or Brandon Phillips. I can pretty much say with certainty, most if not all of those players won't be on this team in 2019. And 2019 is the 5th year of the rebuild, the year I expect to compete for a division again.

So now? With no Freddie and only Dansby, Ender, and Kemp as 3+ year or longer parts of this team? I just start to feel like this season is a waste of time if we're not getting some younger players some time in the show to prove they can do it. I'm tired 2.5 years into the process still hearing that guys aren't ready. I'll continue to harp on that until it changes because we're not competing for a pennant this year.

Losing Freddie sucks and I'm bummed.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dansby Swanson isn't going anywhere

Look I hear a ton of whining about Dansby Swanson lately, and it's warranted with his stat line. Dansby is a starting shortstop with a .151/.222/.217 slash line, and he's 174th out of 185th among qualified starters in WAR. Turns out the worst player in baseball right now is Carlos Gonzalez, which is pretty funny considering he's making $20M this year. So I don't expect that to continue for Cargo, nor do I expect this slump to continue for Dansby.

When you look at the Braves future, Dansby is a top candidate. Right now, as usual, people are panicking over his slow start and not looking at the big picture. Does Dansby look awful at the plate? Yes. Would you start anybody with those stats if they were an MLB vet and you weren't sunk by a contract? No. But that's not where the Braves are right now as an organization. Winning is NOT the most important thing to the front office right now. What is important is developing talent at both the MLB and the minor league levels, and accelerating it to the MLB level so we can have a functional team in 2018 and a contender for the division in 2019-2020. That's how long these things take. Rebuilds are 5 year processes, and we're really in year 3 of the process.

This is the year where I expect to take the worst lumps, because it's the time when the young guns will emerge and struggle. Dansby is just the first. I expect to see several pitching prospects up here by mid-year, and then watch them flounder. Looking back, I wouldn't be shocked to see this team finish with less than my original projection of 76 wins, simply because we're going to see a ton of turnover as some point, especially with the pitching staff. But the key thing to remember is that Dansby is the first guy to show up, and there will be more, not less.

It makes no sense to send Dansby back down to the minors. He's never going to learn there, and now is the time for us to figure out if he can play for an entire season. He needs the time to readjust to the majors and make an impact. When Dansby originally came up last season, he was hitting over .300, and that's not an accident. He has the tools to be successful, but hitting in the majors is a constant cat-and-mouse game of adjusting over and over again to pitchers as they adjust to you.

So for those of you asking if Dansby will get sent down? The answer is a hard no. If he's still under .200 in July? The answer then might be a soft no. But the Braves are going to give Dansby at least 3 months if not the whole season to get this right, and the only reason they might send him back after that is to regain confidence with his new swing approach.

In the meantime just root hard for Dansby to pull it together and pull out of this funk, along with the rest of the Braves.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Braves Starting Pitching is a Disaster: Some Advanced Stats

Here's the problem I have with the team right now, and this will be mildly ranty and really stat-driven so just be prepared for that. I have had a problem with the way our starting pitching staff was designed from Day 1, and if you go back in time to when they first announced the rotation I did some bold predictions. One of those predictions (in fact the absolute first prediction) was that the starting rotation would be bad. I questioned everything except really Teheran, and even with Teheran I said that I expected a small fall-off

And so here we are in May, and I've had a month to watch this pitching staff. There's only 6 months in the baseball season if you don't count the playoffs (and let me tell you with this crew, we ain't counting on October) so I believe 1/6th of a season is enough to start analyzing what we've seen.

I don't like what I've seen at all with the pitching.

Now like I said before, I can't say I'm shocked. I expected the pitching staff to suck, and I wrote that down in the predictions on both the starting and the reliever fronts. What I'm shocked by is that we are DFL (Dead Freaking Last) in the major leagues in ERA for our staff. The starters? 24th in the league. The relievers? 28th in the league. And why is is so bad? Who is the problem? Allow me to elaborate.

Our best starter by ERA right now is RA Dickey, and that's misleading. He's at 3.94, Garcia is at 3.99, Teheran is at 4.33, Folty is at 4.55, and Bartolo is at a whopping 6.27. Among qualified starters, our absolute BEST pitcher by ERA is going to rank 51st out of 100. That means every pitcher we're tossing out there is in the bottom half of the league.

But wait! Stat guys always tell us that ERA doesn't matter, that it's actually FIP (or fielding independent pitching) that matters. That's basically ERA adjusted for an average defense. OK, sure let's look at the pitchers FIP. It actually gets worse. In that case, Julio is the best ranked Braves pitcher with a FIP of 4.31, and that's 59th out of 100 in the league.

Julio isn't pitching well. Nobody is. Why? A big issue is that the starters excepting Julio are all giving up well over a HR every 9 innings, which is a bad ratio is you want to keep scores down. At the absolute best if you're giving up a homer every start, you're giving up one run. And it can get worse. Folty as an example is giving up 1.52 HR/9, which ranks him 74th in the league out of 100.

Julio's problem seems to be command. He's given up the most walks on the team at 18, he has given up almost a hit an inning with 32/35.1 innings, and his batted ball numbers are awful. Guys are squaring him up well, and that leads to more hits and runs. Over 26% of Julio's hit balls are line drives, which a BIGTIME problem for a pitcher. Right now that would put him 94th out of 100. That's why he's getting crushed. He's struggling for command of the zone, and when he's in the zone, hitters are teeing him up for hard hit balls. Compare to say a guy like Max Scherzer who only has 13% line drives in the top 5 of baseball, it's no surprise that Max's ERA is at 2.66 while Julio has ballooned to over 4.00.

Bartolo is basically done at this age in my mind. He's too old to have strikeout stuff anymore, so he mostly relies on people getting out on balls in play. The problem is that if you look at his hard-hit balls, he's giving up almost 40% hard contact (that's 8th worst in the league.) When you're getting blasted that hard, it's tough for the defense to react, and that's causing some issues in addition to his 22% line drive rate. It tells the tale of a man who like Julio is missing in the zone, and he's paying the hard prices for it. And he'll continue to pay them unless he can cut down on the hard hit balls.

Folty's problem is homers and run support. He's gotten exactly 5 runs scored for him in every game he's pitched, meaning he's always pitching from behind. That's never good for the psyche. But he's got some great strikeout stuff with 8.19 K/9, and only 2.45 K/BB ratio. Near 2.5 to 1, is really really good. So he's got the command of the zone, and he's punching people out. Here's the problem, he's given up 5 homers, and of those homers 4 of them came in his last 2 starts, and 3 of the 4 were multi-run homers. You can survive solo shots, but if you're giving up 2 and 3 runs shots en masse? Big problem. However, Folty is still one of my smallest concerns because he's got the strikeout stuff to get out of trouble, and he's not really giving up a ton of big-time contact around the yard. With the exception of last night, he's been pretty good and just needs some run support to take the load off his mind.

Garcia and Dickey share the same problem, and it's that they can get any swings and misses. For Dickey, that's normal because knuckleballers don't strike people out. For Garcia? That's a bigger issue. With K/9 rates in the 5.00s? You better not be giving up a ton of big contact. What the FIP stats and BABIP stats would tell you about Garcia and Dickey is that you should be a lot more worried about them than what we've seen. If anything they've been getting lucky not to give up more runs. What do I mean by that? The average BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is around .300 for hitters. Both Garcia and Dickey are in the .240s right now. That's extremely low to the point where they are in the top 20 in the league for lowest average. The issue? That's unsustainable unless you're a guy like Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw. Garcia and Dickey are neither. I'd expect their ERAs to start trending up in the future as their luck runs out, not down.

So in a nutshell, we have the worst pitching staff in baseball, and I don't really think it's fixable for about 60% of it or worse. And yet, I look down at the minors and think to myself, Wow, Kolby Allard has a 1.36 ERA in AA. Wow, Sean Newcomb has a 3.08 ERA at AAA. Wow, Lucas Sims has a 2.83 ERA at AAA. And yet we're still throwing these veterans at the starting rotation for reasons I don't understand.

Bartolo's value is going to tank if you don't do something soon. The second he starts to have a remotely good streak (if ever again), Coppy needs to unload him before his value goes to zero. I'd say the same thing with Garcia and Dickey before people figure out they have been getting lucky on borrowed time for about a month. We need to get the old guard out of here and get the new guard in here by the All-Star break.

I'm okay with losing if I'm seeing young talent develop. I'm not okay getting kicked around if we're running a bunch of old farts out there with one year deals.