Thursday, August 25, 2016

Braves trade Jeff Francoeur

Oh Jeff like Mongo, you just pawn in game of life. That's a Blazing Saddles reference kids, look it up. Actually if you're under 18 don't look it up because that movie is incredibly offensive. Actually, just look it up and don't tell your parents.

Jeff was traded by the Braves in a 3-way (giggity) trade with the Rangers-Braves-Marlins. The Braves get Dylan Moore and Matt Foley in the trade. Anybody that knows Saturday Night Live from the 90s is already making VAN BY THE RIVER jokes about Matt Foley. You're not original with those jokes people. He's probably heard that since he was born, and the worst part is he was probably 1 year old when that skit came out. I feel bad for that kid because he's going to forever be inundated with a bad Chris Farley routine for the rest of his life.

Foley is a catcher, and he's 22, plus he's from the state Massachusetts. He went to school in Rhode Island and now he's in the deep south. He's a 40th round draft pick, and in about 70 plate appearances he's barely above the Mendoza line in mostly rookie ball. This is the lottery ticket of all lottery tickets. Everything on paper tells you that this kid sucks. But MAYBE because he's in the bastion of player development that is the Marlins organization (that IS a joke) he's been underutilized and the Braves system will develop him better. Or he'll just wash out in a yeah. Either way we trade Jeff for him and we weren't using Jeff anyway except for Lefty starter days, which only infuriates me further that we actually care what hand a starter uses for our lineups.

We also got Dylan Moore, a boy from California (WEST SIDE!) that went to school in Cali and Florida. He's a 7th round pick and a combination up the middle infielder. With a much bigger sample size of PAs approaching 800, we have a better handle on what this kid might be. He's an .821 OPS guy in variations of single A ball, which gives you hope he can continue to develop as he moves up. In the California league recently he was hitting .351 which is a good sign for the guy that he's ready to move up to AA next season with the Braves. We don't really need another SS with Dansby occupying that position, but we might need another 2B as a backup if Albies doesn't pan out, or if Dansby craps out, or if they both get hit by a meteor. You can never have enough strong infield talent. Those are solid trade pieces even if he does get blocked.

And don't miss Jeff too much. He's up for FA again at the end of this season, and the Braves might cut him another deal off the scrapheap in spring training again. After all, it worked with Kelly Johnson. Buy those players, renovate their career, add some new paint and new shrubs, and flip that asset for a profit! It's the HGTV approach to baseball.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Braves trade Erick Aybar, Call Up Dansby Swanson

Whatever Jedi Mind Trick our GM Coppy has at his disposal, I'm glad he's using it for good instead of evil. Because nobody could have traded Aybar this season except for Coppolella. The trade with the Detroit Tigers was Erick Aybar for Mike Aviles and a Class A catcher named Mike Scivicque. That's Coppy, you couldn't trade for a guy named John Smith? I'm already breaking my spell check in half with most of the Braves roster these days, and Scivicque isn't helping.

Anyway, Erick Aybar started hitting over the last month, which probably facilitated this trade. I've been wanting to cut him, believing there was no way in Hell the Braves could actually trade one of the worst WAR players in baseball. But even though Erick has the 6th worst WAR in the majors according to Fangraphs, we still managed to trade him for a 35 year old utility player who can't hit this year. My guess is we'll use Aviles as a defensive replacement or matchup PHer in the latter half of the season, or just cut him outright. Aviles only made $2M this year, and most of that has already been paid.

But this move really opens the door for Dansby Swanson to play SS full time, a move that Braves fans have been salivating over for months. They get their wish tonight against the Twins. Hopefully, that means a full ballpark and plenty of cheering fans. That's wishful thinking on my part probably. In all likelihood, most of us will watch Dansby strike out 3 times in his debut as he gets used to MLB pitching. In fact, I'd almost prefer that, since the recent Braves players that went yard in their debut didn't exactly pan out here long-term.

So tune in tonight and take a break from the Olympics for DANSBY SWANSON! Savior of the Braves...maybe!

GO BRAVES!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Chris Ellis: The other half of the Simmons trade

Why do I say the other "half" of the Simmons trade when he was traded for 3 players? Because Erick Aybar doesn't count. Erick Aybar will never count. Only Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis will be the important parts of that trade, because those players are the reasons we made the trade to begin with. The Braves needed younger pitching, and they didn't need the best defensive SS in the game, who would always be a liability with a bat in his hand. If that seems harsh, Simmons is a .668 OPS hitter over 5 years. I await your rebuttal on his hitting.

By now you've likely heard of Sean Newcomb and where he ranks in the Braves system. I trust another blogger like Gondeee who does a great job of this kind of analysis on his own site, and he has Newcomb as the #2 overall mid-season prospect for the Braves this season. He also has Chris Ellis at #22, which is way the hell down the list when you consider there are 12 pitchers ahead of him. That's a lot of pitchers even for the Braves, and several of them have seen MLB time already. You can check Gondeee's list here: http://www.gondeee.com/

But what about Ellis? Why the drop in the order so to speak, and why do we never hear about him in relation to this trade? He's almost like the kick-in player that nobody talks about. Well, for one thing he was drafted in the 50th round in 2011 by the Dodgers, which means that many GMs thought Ellis wasn't very good. So instead of going into the MLB out of high school, Ellis went to college at Ole Miss. In 2014, he came back out into the draft again, and this time he was selected in the 3rd round by the Angels. But then again, what is 47 rounds of difference between friends right? Turns out it was worth about $575,000 since that was his signing bonus. That would be about 10 years of salary for a normal student coming out of college now, so I'd say getting a higher education paid off for young Mr. Ellis.

Coming out of Ole Miss, Ellis was a big 6'5" guy that threw hard in the mid-90s, and had a decent change-up. That was about it. And that's usually good enough to dominate college players because most of them aren't going to go pro. It's an entirely different ballgame when you show up in AA for the first time, as Chris learned. In the Angels organization, Chris did well in A+ ball with a 3.88 ERA in 11 starts, and he got promoted. Things didn't go as well in AA where he posted a 4.85 ERA in 15 games and really struggled with keeping players off the bases. His WHIP ballooned to 1.56 and his hits per 9 innings were 8.9, which if you're giving up a hit an inning you aren't long for baseball.

Those AA number probably soured the Angels on him as a prospect, and that's why he got traded for Simmons. However, when Ellis showed up in AA for the Braves, he suddenly posted great numbers. In that time frame of 2015-2016, he obviously got a better handle on his command and in 13 starts in Mississippi, Ellis had a 2.75 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. As expected, he was promoted to AAA. And as expected like his last promotion, he's had major struggles with base-runners again. In Ellis' time in Gwinett so far, he's had 10 starts, a 6.64 ERA, a 1.97 WHIP, and 10 H/9. That's even worse than his AA struggles, which explains the hard slide down the rankings to #22 on Gondeee's rankings board.

However, let's remember what happened after 15 starts in AA. Suddenly Ellis started to figure things out, and after this season with some work in the offseason we might see similar results from Ellis in 2017 at AAA. In fact, you can see the improvement starting already. If you pull his last 4 starts, you have 3 games where Ellis gave up a combined 3 runs in 15 innings. Then you have one game where he was shelled for 6 runs in 3 innings on the road. And that's fine for a young guy who is developing, because he's going to have ups and downs. But I like the fact that he's starting to have more good games than bad.

Yes, Ellis is still a little wild. Yes, he's going to have to learn how to turn one bad inning into just one inning instead of a complete meltdown. That's all part of the process when it comes to young arms. But the scouting report doesn't lie on Ellis, and he has a lot of tools you would really want in a starting pitcher. He's tall, he's got a live arm, he's got stamina and can give you innings, and he projects as a good 3-4 starter in a rotation for a relatively cheap price. All those things work in the Braves favor if they are willing to let this guy take some lumps in the latter half of 2017. I think that's when I'd project Ellis to get some time. But also remember that with every promotion, Ellis has gotten rocked. If you see him at the end of 2017 and he's struggling with runners and looks lost, that's just his M.O. at this point. He needs the time to adjust and has come back stronger with every promotion.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Braves trade Hector Olivera for Matt Kemp

Imagine yourself about 4 months ago, with Hector Olivera just starting to serve his 82 game game suspension for domestic abuse, and every Braves fan wondering how in the wide world of sports we were going to get out from under his contract. Most of us assumed it would fall on a legal case of some kind, or outright cutting him from the team. Absolutely NOBODY assumed he would get traded.

Now fast forward to today. Hector Olivera is gone to the Padres for a hot second, and they DFA'd him. Why? They made a deal in exchange for the Braves taking on a toxic contract in Matt Kemp. Yes, I refer to these as the Wall Street Cutting Your Losses trades. When you have assets that are no longer performing, sometimes you just have to walk away from those assets and send them back to the market. So you accept that they aren't going to rebound, and you sell them off to another sucker/investor who is betting on small incremental changes to help themselves.

The Padres wanted one thing out of this trade, they wanted to salvage some part of Kemps $54M remaining salary. The Braves wanted one thing out of this trade, they wanted to get rid of Olivera without DFA'ing him for nothing. Both sides got what they wanted. In the end, we only care about the Braves since this is a Braves blog, and they get Matt Kemp under control for 3 years at approximately $8.5M extra per year.

Now I ask the question, what is that worth? Did we just get a bunch of snake oil in a 31-year old body? If you know anything about me, you know I hate hate hate paying sluggers in their 30s big money to hit homers. Mostly because at some point they stop hitting enough homers to justify their gigantic money-drains on the team. And yet GMs have done it time and again because they never learn. So, with a guy like Kemp, I just have to ask myself if he can produce every year for the remaining 3 years enough to justify essentially a $8.5M contract. If you think of it as a $21.75M contract per year, which it really is, he will NEVER live up to that deal. But we're only concerned with the net expense to the Braves, not the total. That's why the deal works for us.

Right now Matt Kemp is a career .286/.340/.489 hitter. He's hit 228 homers in 11 seasons, and averages about 27 dingers per 162 games. In 2016 so far, he's hit .262/.285/.489 with 23 homers. He's automatically the best home run hitter on the team just by joining the Braves, who have been woeful hitting the long ball. Putting him and Freeman back-to-back in the lineup would provide some immediate protection for Freddie, forcing pitchers to pick their poison if anybody is on base in front of them. That's a good thing for Kemp if he can continue to produce on a slightly reduced pace as he ages.

Hitters that aren't on steroids start to break down around age 32. That's just science. Your body isn't meant to hold up consistently over our 30s unless you're a physical freak. And MLB players are no different. Right now, Kemp is in some form of decline as a hitter, and it will get worse. Kemp is also a defensive nightmare as an outfielder, which takes his WAR levels from respectable to abysmal. You know my feelings on WAR at corner outfield slots though, I don't give a crap about them if you can hit. Kemp can hit. His oWAR levels are 2-4 on average every year, which is all I need. Just don't trip over yourself in left field and we'll work out the rest, Kemp.

What I can't have is a huge dropoff from Kemp offensively, because that's his only value to the team, and the NL doesn't allow a DH. As long at Kemp holds the line at 20+ homers a year, slugs .450+, and keeps the strikeouts below 150 per season to go along with a .300+ on-base percentage? He'll have enough value to the Braves to make this deal worth the time. If he doesn't produce those numbers? It's a bad deal for us, even offloading Olivera, and we'd have been better off just releasing Hector outright. Those are the terms as I see them.

But at minimum the Braves unloaded a team cancer and got back a possible asset in return. I can't fault Coppy for doing that, because it was almost doing the impossible. He traded what some were calling Olivera, "The most untradable player in baseball."

Coppy disagreed. The only untradable player right now in his mind is Julio Teheran. He's said as much time and again.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Braves trade Lucas Harrell for Travis Demeritte

Yes, the Braves magician and GM John "Coppy" Coppolella has swung another deal for an asset the Braves really didn't need, and turned that asset into prospects. We love prospects these days. Braves fans wrap themselves up at night with their Braves prospects sheets that have all the young faces printed on them. Don't you want to sleep with Dansby Swanson on your pillow? I can guarantee you if not, your wife or girlfriend does.

But what did the Braves get? In the first fifteen minutes Twitter was abuzz about the potential of the new prospect from the Rangers named Travis Demeritte. Which is great because I like when the Braves family gets excited in a bad season. After all, we have nothing to look forward to right now except the potential of our minor league players. That's just the hard truth. Still, is the trade worth the buzz it's getting? Did the Rangers really give up a big-time prospect for essentially two mid-year pickup players the Braves didn't even want?

I've heard crazy things about how much of a future 3B player Travis will be for the Braves. Yeah, well that's a little nuts, because Travis has been in some version of A-Ball since 2013, which is a little odd. I have to wonder why a guy who hits 25 homers in a season at an infield slot wouldn't get advanced in the minor league system over almost 300 games. Well, for one thing he got hit with a banned substances suspension in 2015, and that was 80 games. So I immediately throw out his numbers from before that, because he was likely on the needle. Frankly, even after his suspension I have to question if he's still using, because several players have continued to use banned substances even after their first violation. It shows you're careless, and stupid, and you're willing to cheat in the minors to get ahead. I'm not a fan of that at all.

However, I can move past that if he's cleaned up his act, and there's been no more suspension since then. What did happen in 2016, was he again his 25 homers at A-Ball. Which begs the question yet again, why is he still in A-Ball? Many times it's because a player is blocked by upper tier talent, and when I look at the Texas farm system that might be the case in some areas. For example, at the MLB level Beltre and Odor aren't going anywhere at the 2B and 3B slots, and at AAA they have a kid named Joey Gallo playing 3B who is hitting over .900 OPS. So sure, he's unlikely to move up there right now. But why not AA? Why is he stuck down in A ball still?

I have a guess, and that's because the Rangers knew they could likely get some value with a guy boasting HR numbers at the lower leagues, and they didn't want to risk bringing him up to AA where he might struggle and decrease his value for no reason. I don't think they believe the kid has a future in their organization at all, partially due to blocks, partially due to the suspension, and probably even more that he's a slugger with a shocking 125 K's in 378 PA's at A-Ball. Let me tell you something about strikeouts, they don't get better as you see better pitching with ungodly breaking stuff. You have to make some serious adjustments to get rid of those swing-and-miss numbers when they are that high.

So is this trade a complete coup? No, I don't think so, but I do think it's a low risk value move. I think it's a young player with power potential, but he's swinging from his heels in A-Ball and would have to learn how to harness that power more effectively. People will go nuts over the homer numbers, and that's fine. But homers in the California league won't necessarily translate to banging the ball out of the yard against the next two tiers of minor league pitching, let alone the majors. He's a lottery ticket bet for the Braves, which is a fine bet considering they gave up almost nothing of value for Travis. That's the key point. I love the trade for that part of it alone, because it's not like they gave up Simmons for this kid and some pitching. The value trade of the play is completely dependent on Travis' value, but there's little to no downside for the move.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Who is as bad as Erick Aybar?

By now you know that Erick Aybar is terrible and deserves to be publicly flogged in the town square while children throw apples at him. But exactly how bad is Erick Aybar? Is he as bad as a recent Wall Street Journal article declared him "potentially the worst player in a generation"? And why the hell are the Braves still playing him everyday when we have a guy like Dansby Swanson in the minors, begging for some big show time?

I got into this discussion recently with a few of my Twitter followers. Most of them agree that the reason we are trying to play Aybar is to showcase him for a trade. The question is, can the Braves trade the worst player in a generation? Can they even get a bag of balls for the guy? I suppose since they were able to unload BJ Upton, there's always a chance the Braves can move him (although BJ/Melvin suddenly started playing well again so ha-ha front office he just hated it here, not baseball in general).

The other things I've heard related to service time for Dansby, not really having a proven better option at SS (except maybe Castro), and possibly the fact they are tanking for a first place draft pick by finishing dead last. I think if you want to finish last you should play Erick Aybar and act like a nice guy (because nice guys finish last hur hur). If you want to at least win some games, I'd put someone above Aybar's dismal -1.5 WAR on the field. HINT: That's anybody. He's terrible. Anybody would be better than him. Well maybe not ANYBODY, as I'll show you with some quick analysis.

So who is worse than Aybar right now? Prince Fielder and Alexei Ramirez, both with an astounding -1.8 WAR on Fangraphs. Which is funny because Prince is getting paid $24M this year to be the worst player in baseball, a defensive nightmare, and terrible at the only position he can play which is DH in the AL. That makes Aybar look like a gem in comparison. It gets worse when you see the Rangers are on the hook for $24M for another 4 years of Fielder, who is 32. You know what post-steroid power hitters don't do in their mid-30s? Get more powerful. That was reserved for guys riding the needle. In today's game, go look at Albert Pujols numbers when he turned 33 and beyond. That's what you get. MAYBE one good year out of every 4 left.

Alexei Ramirez is 34, playing on a $1M buyout option with the Padres, and sucking. He's worse than Aybar, but he costs much less $$$, which is probably the reason the Padres keep playing him. If there was an option to make a Redneck Swap Meet Trade (I take your junk, you take my junk, we try to fix each other's junk), then I've say Ramirez for Aybar makes sense. They are both SS's who may just need a change of scenary since neither team is going anywhere. Maybe you can get a prospect for Aybar out of San Diego because they've taken dumber trades from us before.

But in reality, there's no market for Aybar. He costs the Braves $6M this year, which means he only has about $2.5M left on the deal, and on top of that he's not signed beyond 2016. So what are you trading exactly? You want to rent Aybar for 2 months for your playoff run other GM's? What GM would be that stupid? If you want to try and fix Aybar, you can get him for next to nothing come December, and sign him to a minor league deal where he can work his way on a roster for a prove-it minimum. You don't pay $2.5M for Aybar's sub-.600 OPS and horrible defense.

Aybar isn't going anywhere until we get the 40-man roster callups, and he may not even leave then. Because I just don't think you have enough answers at SS in case somebody gets hurt for the long haul, and you're paying him already in a lost season. So why not keep playing him and annoying the hell out of me? I'm sure that's what the Braves are thinking. Well they better have a good option for 2017, because the shine will come off that stadium real fast if this team doesn't start looking like a professional baseball club soon.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is Ender Inciarte a Braves outfielder of the future?

Many people who watched the Braves in this terrible season have fallen in love with a few players. I think one of the primary players is Ender Inciarte, who has been something of a defensive revelation in center field. His speed and ability to make contact effectively have made him a unique asset in the organization that I didn't really expect.

The Braves acquired Ender as part of the famous Shelby Miller deal to the Diamondbacks, along with Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. If even one of those guys turns out to be a long term answer, that trade is a win. If two guys pan out it's an overwhelming win. The chances that all three pan out is damn near impossible but if that happened it would be one of the biggest one-sided trades in all of MLB history. And that's excluding if Shelby is a good player or not.

Offensively Ender has been pretty bad this season in total. He's hitting with a .599 OPS which is on the wrong side of terrible. He's batting with a .227 average, but almost no power as he's slugging .306 on the year. That slugging number is really the problem. For a center fielder with his speed, I need Ender to be a gap to gap doubles machine, with the ability to steal second or third when he's on base. And make no mistake, these are the lowest slugging numbers of his career, as he was slugging .386 for two seasons in Arizona. I could live with .386 and a .350+ OBP. I can't live with a .306 slugging number.

Ender's strikeout to walk ratio is good right now at 29-20, so he's not giving up a ton of outs at the plate and he has a good eye, which is key because he needs to be on base for his speed to be an asset. That brings up something of his bad luck when it comes to balls in play, because his current BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) is .255 on the year. Now, BABIP only matters for a couple of reasons, when it's absurdly high or low. When it's high, people will warn you that the player is out over his skis, and that he's got to return to normal at some point. When it's low, people will say he's having bad luck and he's not as bad of a hitter as his numbers. An average BABIP usually settles in somewhere between .290-.310 for a season. So by those metrics, Ender is getting screwed and is nowhere near as bad of a hitter as 2016 numbers would tell you, which also makes sense because he's at his lowest OPS in the last 3 years.

So based on what I'm seeing from Ender's career, assuming a normal average on balls in play over time, I think he's about a .270/.325/.380 slash line player offensively, with some room to grow. That would make him a .705 OPS guy, which isn't much to write home about, but there's some other elements to consider about Ender's value to this team. The first is his base stealing ability. He's stolen 48 in his career, and been caught 16 times. If he was an everyday starter, I'd imagine he could steal about 30 bases a year if the Braves made it a priority. That's a couple of ifs, but it's a key point that more steals means more RISP chances for him to score runs. And that's where Ender's value is going to be on this team, not with his slugging, but as a guy who increases his on-base percentage and crosses the plate a lot.

The other value Ender bring is defensive. As you know, I consider defense to be overrated when looking at player value at many positions. Center field is NOT one of those positions. Your up the middle infielders, and center fielder need to be the strongest defensive positions on the field. Your center fielder has to make reads, cover the most ground, and captain the defense in the outfield. Ender can do all that very well. In fact, he's already accumulated a 6.1 dWAR on baseball reference in 2.5 seasons. In fact, if you look at players that have over 1000 innings on Fangraphs over the last 3 years, you'll see that Ender ranks as 8th defensively in CF. Ahead of guys like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Carlos Gomez. That's not bad company.

Overall, we have to look at Ender Inciarte's value to the team related to contracts. He's 25 years old, under control until 2021. He'll hit arbitration next year and the Braves can decide to give him a longer term deal or not. I think they should, because it likely won't be that expensive to hold him. Right now he's making the league minimum essentially. If Ender can improve his batting slightly and hold on to his speed for another 5 years, I'd sign him to that deal. HOWEVER, I would never sign a guy like Ender for a second deal, because his speed is going to slump in his 30s, and he's not a good enough bat as constructed right now to demand that kind of value.

So is Ender Inciarte a longer term piece? I think for the near future it could work. I'd want him to anchor my outfield while guys like Mallex learn how to play in the corners. For what it will cost the Braves and the value they could get back? It makes a lot of sense to me that Ender will be a part of this club in SunTrust Park.