Sunday, October 1, 2017

Braves Season is over, 2017 in review

Well friends, we all know I don't write much anymore. And if you know me at all you know why (planning a wedding, CFO job, travel, etc). I can't say I'll be doing this next year again, but we'll see what the cards hold. I'm always willing to take a look back at the end of the year though and see where I was right, wrong, and how the Braves surprised me.

So here is an analysis of my BOLD PREDICTIONS at the beginning of the season.

- The Starting Rotation will be bottom 10 in the majors: CORRECT! Hell, not only did one of our starters completely flame out and get released (Bartolo, and I called that one as being fat and old), but Julio Teheran had one of his worst years of his career (again, I called that he'd hit the skids), Folty didn't post an ERA under 4.00 (which I pointed out he never had), but RA Dickey and Garcia were nice surprises that kept it from being a total trainwreck. Savor this one because I get very wrong very fast.

- Dansby Swanson wins Rookie of the Year: OMG WRONG! I mean it's hard to win ROY honors when you're getting demoted to AAA mid-way through the season because you're sucking. My guess is he figures it out next season with a better mental approach, but I'm not betting on him lighting it up until he fixes a few holes in his game.

- Freddie Freeman hits 40+ homers: SLIGHTLY WRONG. I say slightly because Freddie missed almost 6 weeks of time and 48 games. If you take the 28 homers he hit in 116 games and play them out over a 156 game season (Freddie doesn't take many days off), he gets about 38 and comes up just short. And that's assuming averages. So I'm slightly wrong here due to math and such.

- The offense will be top 10 in runs scored: HILARIOUSLY WRONG. We're near the bottom middle in runs scored, and it's all because our infield was mostly pathetic at hitting the ball until we brought up some guys from AAA mid-year. Ozzie and Camargo I'm looking at you.

- The bullpen will be a trainwreck we still haven't fixed: OUTSTANDINGLY CORRECT. You should have bet your house on it. Not only is the bullpen one of the top 5 worst in ERA this year, we were also top 10 in Blown Saves. And that's pretty amazing because we only had 58 save opportunites all year long.

- Somebody will pitch a no-hitter in SunTrust Park: SLIGHTLY WRONG. Folty took one to the 9th back in July, but it was taken apart in the 9th inning as those things are so wont to do.

- Brian Snitker will get a contract extension mid-year: WRONG! Man, not only wrong but he might get fired after all this. Which would make this the weirdest offseason yet for the Braves team, if you believe the article that Ken Rosenthal put out there about the Braves front office in turmoil.

- Parking around the stadium will be fine by July: AWESOMELY RIGHT! Holy crap, if there was anything more overblown than parking concerns around SunTrust it was the narrative that the traffic would be horrendous. It's the easiest thing I've ever seen in Atlanta sports to get to that ballpark. It's also gorgeous and the best move that's been made by any team in this city. Getting out of downtown should be a standard for all teams moving forward. Downtown is an abyss of traffic wasteland.

- The Braves will change regular closers at least twice: CORRECT! The Braves used two closers regularly but didn't trust Jim Johnson after blowing 9 saves, so they tried Jason Motte briefly who also blew 3 saves without ever getting one, and finally settled on Vizzy.

- The Braves get 76 wins: WRONG BUT STILL RIGHT! They got 72 wins, which isn't 76, but it does cover the over 71.5 that Vegas predicted which means if you bet the over based on my prediction (which would be stupid, what were you thinking?) you still won. I'm calling this one a wash.

That means it's 4-5-1 in terms of right, wrong, and tied. That's pretty terrible by me, but hey, it was a pretty terrible season. I mean for heaven's sake the Nats clinched the division in early September and won by 20 games. I hate that Nats. I hope they lose in the first round again so we can go on mocking them for never winning a playoff series.


Ender Inciarte being awesome shouldn't be a surprise, but he was really awesome. Ender finished the year with 200+ hits on the season, joining a club of Braves such as ABSOLUTELY NOBODY since 1996 when Marquis Grissom did it.

Lane Adams might actually be a good utility guy. Lane had a .800+ OPS in over 100 plate appearances so I'd like to see more out of the guy in spring training 2018. He's got a chance to be a really great bench guy if not regular utility player.

Johan Camargo looks like an infielder of the future. The dude hit almost .300 on the year, and he's played very sharply at the hot corner and SS. He's only 23 and doesn't look scared in the least to be playing at the MLB level.

Ozzie wasn't bad at all! I gave the kid a lot of crap, but so far he's making me eat my words that Dansby would be the better prospect, given Ozzie's size. I hope he keeps it up because that's just more success for the Braves.

Matt Adams was amazing for a while! I was shocked that Matt basically filled in when Freddie Freeman was out and went on an absolute tear at the plate. Matt hit 19 homers and 58 RBIs, but the Braves should have traded him mid-season when there was big interest, and they dropped the ball I think.

Sean Newcomb might be an answer. I can't say for sure, but the kid has some stuff and he's battled through an entire bad season with up and down results. Still, he was the best of the young guns that I saw and I like his upside for the long term.

And that's about it for the year. I look forward to the long wait until next year because I will forget the pain of losing this season and start to believe in our future and the process. That's what we hold to in 2018, that we'll finally be competitive team again. A .500+ team again. A team that can challege Washington down the stretch and possibly retake the NL East in this decade. Yes, that's a team I want to believe in.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where will the Braves finish

Since the Braves were 45-45 and playing .500 baseball, the insane rumblings of the fanbase were about how the Braves might be buyers at the trade deadline. That was and will always be the ravings of ignorant people about what the purpose of this team was this season. The job of the Braves this year was to be mildly entertaining enough so that people would want to show up to a new ballpark and drop their cash there while we waited another year to see the younger prospects get their turn. Nothing more.

We were never competing for anything, and now you're getting a full dose of that reality as a fan. Instead of a 45-45 team, the Braves are now a 7-19 team with 46 games left to play. If they continue on that pace, they will win about 12-13 more games and finish at best with 65 wins. That would be the worst season we've had since the rebuild started two seasons ago. But do I care if they finish with 65 wins or 70 wins? No, because it's all irrelevent. We know where the team is heading and that's a youth movement. And if you didn't know that by now, I'm sort of wondering what the true expectation was.

So year 3 will be in the books as another dud when we look at the finish. In about 3 weeks we'll see even more of the young guys come up as 40 man rosters extend the bench. That's when I think you'll see more full time debuts of pitching prospects we've only heard about, and maybe some young field players like Acuna that we've yet to see.

Year 4 is the year I expect this team will really move back towards relevence. Do I think they'll win? No. I think they'll probably finish with wins in the 70s, but they'll have a ton of on the job learning as the young prospects finally start to sink or swim. I don't believe you really start to compete until Year 5 of a rebuild and I've said that before. It's tough, but that's where we live.

What I'm looking forward to at the end of the year is seeing all the September call-ups and I hope the Braves don't waste the opportunity. September and Spring Training should be auditions for everybody under the age of 25 to make this team full time. I know certain positions like 1B and CF are locked up right now, but everything else in the field is going to be pretty wide open. The Braves may trade or release Nick Markakis if they have a better option in RF, and they are hoping Matt Kemp hits well enough that they would do a mid-season trade to take most of his salary away to another team to build up 2019 cash reserves for free agents.

But SS and 2B are still going to be a battle. 3B is a battle. Catcher is still a question. Most of the rotation for the pitching staff is up for grabs. I want to see these young kids fight for spots in September because that's what makes the team worth watching now. We're not competing for anything but the future, and W/L totals going forward don't bother me at all if it includes some on the job training.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dansby send to AAA, Garcia traded

I was dead wrong about Dansby Swanson this season.

One of my predictions was that he would be on pace for the Rookie of the Year honors, and there was no way he was getting sent down even after his on the field struggles. Enter Johan Camargo and everything changed for Dansby. Here's the true numbers for Swanson right now on this season, (compared to the league average):

Batting average - .213 (.255)
On-Base Percentage - .287 (.325)
Slugging - .312 (.427)
OPS - .599 (.751)

As you can see, Dansby is almost 150 points lower in OPS, 115 points lower in slugging, 40 points lower in OBP, and 40 points lower in average than a standard baseball player.

His WAR is -0.3, and his defensive metrics are terrible with 14 errors, a below average Zone Rating, and very average range for his position. Overall, he's just not a good player at this level, and so he needs to spend some time in the minors honing his craft.

Remember that Dansby has never played an inning in AAA. He was skipped from AA up to the majors which is now looking like a giant mistake. Mentally, he's not ready for the pressures of the league, and defensively he doesn't have the fundamentals down to play the SS position at the highest level.

However, this can be a good thing for Dansby who was something of a golden child for his entire career up to this point. If he takes the tack of Adonis Garcia, who was sent down to the minors also over his attitude and defensive ability, works hard down there, and then comes back up to the MLB level, he can really improve as a player and improve his defense and approach. I don't think he's done and I don't think the Braves are walking away from Dansby. I do think they are correcting the error of promoting him too early.

Jaime Garcia was also traded this week for cash and a bag of balls named Huascar Ynoa, who you will probably never see outside of the minors, and adds to the list of names I'll never want to learn to spell consistently. The Braves did this deal to save $4.7M of Garcia's money. That's all. It's simply a cost control move and a lottery ticket in Ynoa. I can't get excited about that because I know that money under Liberty Media's ownership is unlikely to ever end up back in roster decisions.

I'm going to do another article at the end of the week detailing where we are in the season after 100 games, but needless to say I think we're all indifferent to this team at this point. After a run of getting to .500 they've full accepted the fact they are sellers, and NFL presseason football is less than a week away. Once you hit August with a MLB team you know can't win, we all sort of move on to watching the presseason and looking at our college football teams.

I can't wait for both to be honest.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Braves at the Half-Way Point

Standard disclaimer, I realize I don't write as much as I used to, and that's because my new job and new FIANCE (WOOOO!) keep me very busy in the summertime. But that's not an excuse to do less than an article a month, so I'm logging in today to talk about several things we've witnessed over the last 30 days.

Bartolo is finally gone, and it happened way too late. I said back on May 6th, well over 2 months ago that he was basically done in my mind. He was done then, and he went on to pitch 7 more games, where the Braves lost 5 of them. His ERA was 8.14 when he was finally cut from the team in July, and that was after spending a fake stint on the DL. It was a terrible move that didn't work out and cost us $12M in the interim. But sunk money is sunk money and they needed to realize it faster. I think we easily could have won 3 of the games he lost at the end, and we'd be sitting at .500 right now.

The Braves are 42-45, three games under .500, and about 10 games back of the Washington Nationals for the division. The Nationals are not what I would call a strong team. They have massive bullpen problems, and I think their manager puts entirely too much stress on the starting staff, which will be an issue come playoff time. However, do I think the Braves can win this division? No. Our starting pitching and bullpen depth isn't good enough to make up a 10 game deficit in 75 days. Nor do I think we should chase that division by trading for people at the deadline. We are not buyers, we should be sellers to set up the 2018 season where I think we'll really have a chance to compete for the first time in a long time. I've said that the whole way down. You stick to the plan and don't do something stupid.

Freddie Freeman is back and looks like he hasn't missed a step at all. The man was out for 6 weeks with a broken wrist injury most doctors said would take 10 weeks to heal. He's a freak of nature when it comes to wanting to get on the field, which I love from somebody making over $100M on his contract. Freddie has already hit 2 homers in just 6 games back, with a .385 average in July and slugging over .700 for the month. He's insane. I can't get over how fast he came back and how well he's playing off an injury that might cost many guys the season and all their momentum.

Johan Camargo is a bigtime surprise that's caught the eye of many Braves fans. In 40 games, Camargo is hitting .327/.355/.500 slash line with 14 RBIs. The only thing I want Camargo to improve is his on-base, which is lower due to his 5BBs/24Ks. I would like to see the walks increase to at least get to a 1/2 BB/K ratio. However, it's not just at the plate for Camargo, it's in the field. He's had only one error in all his games played, which goes to show he can play the up the middle positions very competently.

Dansby Swanson is having some issues, and it's not pretty to watch. In the exact opposite version of Camargo, Swanson is struggling hard at both the plate and in the field. Not only does Dansby have the most errors on the team at SS with a whopping 14, but he also has the 2nd most errors in the major leagues. That would still be an issue if he was hitting well, but he's not. Dansby's OPS is .620 in an era where anything under .700 is awful. There's hope on the horizon if he can hit well through the later half of July, but if not he's going to be pressed by Camargo and Albies for the up the middle spots on this team.

Sean Newcomb looks like he might be an answer on the mound, even as he struggles with some early growing pains. When I see a pitcher have 4 games that are quality starts, and then two games that are implosions against two of the best teams in baseball right now? That's normal. He's 24 and he's not ready to take on the best lineups in baseball. He is finding his place against the average MLB team, which is all I want right now. I'm interested to watch all of his starts, because I love how he can work his way out of damage with his strikeout stuff.

Lastly, Ronald Acuna is getting promoted to AAA today, and Acuna is a kid that even Chipper Jones himself compared to Andruw Jones. Acuna was promoted out of AA in about 60 games hitting over .300 with a massive pile of doubles under his belt. The kid can hit, and apparently he can play every position in the outfield, which would be a huge boon when the club trades or runs out of contract on Kemp and Markakis. I look forward to seeing him get some playing time in 2018 at some point.

That's it for now. More to come at the end of July when we're looking at the final two months of the season. I can only hope that like THE FREEZE, the Braves can narrow the gap on the Nationals big lead.


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.