Friday, December 2, 2016

The New MLB CBA: What's in there?

OK so the CBA is long, and nobody really reads the whole thing except for journalists and agents and lawyers with too much time on their hands. So for that kind of thing you come to me and say, "Ben, what the hell is in this thing and should I be pissed off about it?" Well, constant reader, I can give you the answer to those questions here.

First off the CBA runs until 2021 so it's not really that long, but five years has actually become the standard for the last 3 CBAs under MLB. They were actually shorter than that before, with the shortest coming in the infamous 1995-96 agreement that only lasted 2 years. There's very little that really changes in this agreement but I'll go over a few of the key points here with my commentary.

ROSTERS REMAIN AT 25 PLAYERS - This was a key point of discussion where I think the players wanted a 26th man (they says otherwise but they lost so why admit they lost) on the rosters to make up for the daily inter-league crap. Basically you could carry a theoretical free DH on an NL team to adapt for the inter-league play. My solution to that is get rid of the DH completely or implement it MLB wide. I hate the DH but I hate the fact it's not mandated one way or the other in 2016. Make up your freaking minds. Anyway, this stays the same.

THE DISABLED LIST GOES FROM 15 TO 10 DAYS - With this one, a shorter DL supposedly promotes the idea of putting a guy on the list without losing him for 2 weeks, which then opens up a roster spot for somebody else to get MLB time. I can see both sides actually wanting this. From a player side you get more guys at the MLB level. From a team side, I get to place guys on the DL more often and get functional players on my roster without paying a 2 week plus penalty for it. I think you'll see the DL get a LOT more use for pitchers in the coming years (10 Days is basically 2 starts)

NO INTERNATIONAL DRAFT - The owners wanted a draft because drafts are great to keep costs down for teams when you can slot guys out and hold control. International players under the old CBA were part of a confusing bonus pool which is still in effect now, the only difference is the sliding scale isn't as big and there's a harder cap you can't violate. What does this mean for you as a fan? It means I'd expect to see less international bidding as a whole, which sucks if you're not from America as a player. But then again, the MLB doesn't really care because it's an American sport and this is SPECIFICALLY a pro-American rule being put in place, no matter how they sell it for savings.

HIGHER LUXURY TAXES - Did you know the MLB has a luxury tax? No? That's because the Braves have never even gotten close to it for a long time. Right now it's $189M dollars. It goes up to $210M dollars at the end of this deal. At no point will the Braves ever, ever, ever, EVER have to pay that, so you might as well call this the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers tax. Because only those idiot teams would pay it to then lose to the Royals and Cubs. Idiots.

NO MORE LOSS OF 1ST ROUND PICK FOR FREE AGENTS - In the old CBA, you'd lose a first rounder if you made a free agent signing of a player that got a "Qualifying offer" which was essentially an average of 125 top salaries. It's getting replaced by something that's so freaking complicated it makes the tax code look simplistic. Here's the rundown I got from http://www.sbnation.com/2016/12/1/13806488/mlb-new-cba-collective-bargaining-agreement-luxury-tax

  • If a team gets revenue sharing and signs a player who received the qualifying offer, they would lose their third-highest draft pick.
  • Teams that pay into the revenue-sharing pool will lose their second- and fifth-highest picks.
  • Those rich teams would also lose $1 million from their international signing cap.
  • The medium-market teams — the ones who don’t receive or pay revenue-sharing money — would give up their second-highest pick and $500,000 in international money.
  • A team that loses a player who declines the qualifying offer before signing for $50 million or more will get a draft choice between the first and second round.
  • If that player signs for less than $50 million, the pick will be after round B of the competitive-balance round, which is after the second round.
  • Reminder that the Cardinals occasionally get extra picks in the competitive balance round, which is still just the stupidest thing.
  • If a team is over the luxury-tax threshold, they’ll still get a pick for losing a top free agent, but it will be after the fourth round.
That's freaking ridiculous. I think you have to file three TPS reports to figure out which draft pick you're losing. Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

THE ALL-STAR GAME DOESN'T DETERMINE ANYTHING - Thank God. No really, thank you Lord for somebody having the common freaking sense to realize that Bud Selig completely screwed this up. This move alone almost makes the rest of the CBA fine because we're getting rid of one of the most egregious decisions in all of professional sports, based on one bad PR day when the game ended in a tie. I hate Bud Selig for many reasons but this one was the whipped cream and cherry of my disdain. Now the team with the better record will have home field in the World Series, as it always should have been. The end.

NO MORE TOBACCY FOR YOUNGENS - If you're old and intent on rotting your jaw off and dying like Tony Gwynn did (not a shot at Tony, I miss him badly and wanted people to learn from what he did to himself), then you can chew this disgusting stuff. If you're young, you can't chew it on company time. Frankly I'm proud of the MLB for doing this and also pissed they didn't take it all the way just to force current players to make better decisions.

MORE DAYS IN A SEASON - I think they added like what? Four more days or something? That just means more off-days for guys so I don't really care one way or the other on this one.

MORE DRUG TESTING - Good, because those dopers were still doing it and being dumb about it, also supposedly HGH testing which is good. The Braves typically have never been really involved with this stuff at an organizational level so I think it benefits us to crack down on those guys doing it for Free Agent money like Ryan "I'm a loser" Braun.

EVERY CLUBHOUSE MUST HAVE A CHEF - Yeah supposedly that's in there according to Jeff Passan on twitter which I find hilarious. Also Bartolo Colon is like...SUPER pumped about this idea. Unless the chef is one of those hippy Vegan farm-to-table people, then Bartolo may just eat him.

HIGHER MINIMUM SALARY - Yep, everybody gets a little bit more in the bank just for showing up. The minimum wage before was around 500k a year, I have no idea what it is exactly now, but I can assure you that everyone will still be able to afford their morning Starbucks lattes for the holidays. Rest easy peons.

That's pretty much it. The whole thing is very much a "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" kinda feel to it which makes sense. The MLB is making gobs of money and people decrying it's death are basically stupid. There's no reason to derail this golden train and both sides knew it. So onward and upward gals and fellas! We have a new season to look forward to now that the deal is in place.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Braves sign Sean Rodriguez plus other moves

The Braves moves continue to roll in, and the Braves have signed Sean Rodriguez, the former 1B from the Pirates who managed to famously beat the crap out of a Gatorade cooler when he lost his mind in a game. Well, he's LISTED as a 1B position player, but in reality he's a defensive specialist that can play anywhere in the field. Think of a 32-year old Martin Prado type replacement player that can give guys a day off while providing a sub-par bat.

And let's be honest, Sean-Rod has been a .260 hitter while he was with a Pirates with some unexpected power. In 2016 he hit a career high 18 homers. The year prior he hit 4 homers. His average per 162 games played is around 12 which would be fine for me. I need him to be a gap-to-gap player that gets on base and can play defense anywhere, which I think he can provide for the most part. For $11.5M over 2 years, you need to basically get about 1 WAR a year from a guy like that, and I think Sean will live up to that billing if he hits decently.

Other signings I haven't really covered are lesser moves, but the Braves also acquired a catcher named Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers from the Dbacks, extending the amount of players that Coppy wants to sign with ridiculous or complicated spelling names. Seriously, we're turning into Fraggle Rock over here with some of these players. Is Tuffy any good? Not really, he's a 33 year old catcher that's never played a combined full year in the majors. So until proven otherwise, I'm not really going to worry about him making an impact on my roster.

The Braves also purchased the minor league contracts of Lucas Sims, Max Fried, and Johan Camargo. You do that so you can avoid those guys coming up as options for other teams in the Rule 5 draft. If you don't understand the Rule 5 draft, basically know it's a way for other teams to steal your prospects in your minor leagues if you don't place them on your 40-man roster for the year. That's the simplest way of explaining it. So Sims, Fried, and Camargo are all now on the 40-man roster for 2017.

In the coming weeks, I'd expect some more information on moves for bats. Nothing huge, but the Braves don't really have good answers at 2nd or 3rd right now, and I don't truly trust that Adonis Garcia is a long-term answer. So I wouldn't be shocked if the Braves look for a platoon option at 3rd in one of their deals. Like I said, nothing earth-shattering but it's something I would want to target.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Braves sign R.A. Dickey for 2017

That's right, old Dickey is going to be one of our pitchers in 2017 for the low low price of $7.5M dollars. He's also 42 years old which means he's old enough to be Ozzie Albies' dad if the timing was right. I mean hell, the Cubs called David Ross "Grandpa Rossy" and he was only 39. What are we going to call R.A.? Old Man Dickey? I'm pretty sure 680 the Fan here in Atlanta has that nickname already trademarked.

Is it a good signing? Well, Dickey is a knuckleballer so they don't age like other pitchers. There's no strain on the arm like when you throw a 95mph fastball. As a result, you can be effective well into your 40s. Jamie Moyer pitched until he was 49 years old as an example. But what makes you effective also means that when you mess up it's just a hanging 65 mph pitch over the heart of the plate. That usually gets ripped to shreds.

As much as pitchers hate the term, Dickey is still good to eat innings. He had almost 170 innings in 29 starts last year, and well over 200 innings in his prior 5 years before that each year. Plus he was pitching in the AL for these last 4 years as his ERA inflated. Heading back to NL hitters should help drop him back down a bit, but probably not to the levels he was at with the Mets when he was a 2.73 ERA pitcher. However, a 3.80 ERA starter that can give me 180 innings in this rotation? I think that's worth $7.5M in today's market. I just need Dickey to be about a 1.0 WAR pitcher to get some value off that deal. He's been much more than that every year except for last year.

Also, $7.5M to be "a guy" in this rotation of young kids is fine. We're going to be shuffling pitchers around like crazy as we sort out who can make it in this league besides Julio. Guys in the minors that we traded for will be given a chance in the 2-3-4 slots. Meanwhile Dickey provides you a solid 4-5 at the end of a rotation that you can rely on to keep you in the game and given you 6+ solid innings per start. That's valuable in today's baseball, whereas before you probably would have scoffed.

Overall, I like the idea. Even if it falls apart it's a one year deal with an option, and the Braves can simply cut a check for him to walk away. But I would hope we could get some real pitching out of Dickey especially since he's had more success against NL hitters. It could be one of those under the radar signings like Aaron Harang that really give this club a boost.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Brian Snitker retained as manager for 2017

The Braves announced this morning that they will retain Brian Snitker as the manager of the team for the 2017 season. But not only that, they've hired Ron Washington to be the 3rd base coach for the team. You may remember Ron from his stint as the manager of the Rangers, but he had some personal issues that cost him his job, and the Braves saw fit to give him another opportunity.

The rest of the staff should remain relatively intact, with the exception of Bo Porter who will move from being the third base coach to the front office as a special assistant. Also because the Braves released Roger McDowell from his pitching coach contract, they decided to go with Chuck Hernandez as the pitching coach for the team. The Braves picked up Chuck in 2015 to oversee the minor league pitching operations, so it makes sense they've move him to pitching coach now that those prospects are coming up to the major league level.

Honestly, I love the move. I didn't want Bud Black as my last article indicated, mainly because I thought that Snitker proved he understood the psychology of this team. John Hart admitted openly in the announcement on 680 The Fan in Atlanta that he didn't expect to hire Brian when they gave him essentially a placeholder position in May. The goes to show you how the plans of mice and men work out in real time. Everything I've heard suggests that the players lobbied hard for Snitker, and the front office listened to their young team. And why not? You need a focused team heading into a new building for your big $$$ fans that decided to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on seats up close.

This also goes to show you how the Braves front office really like to promote from within, and how they love to retain talent even when it gets displaced. Snitker has been in the organization for almost 40 years now, and guys like Eddie Perez, Bo Porter, Kevin Seitzer, get to keep their jobs even after the manager change. That's important because I honestly believe in continuity at the MLB level since the management staffs job is primarily to help keep the players mentally focused more than it is about mechanics (although those still matter, you can't ignore the fundamentals).

Snitker makes sense for this team because I think the players respect him, he's not going to be an expensive hire for the team, and his personality seems to be very calming. He doesn't get too high or low. He's seen this game forever and he's not going to let streaks get to him. He will protect his players and argue calls with umps so his guys don't have to. He knows the game inside and out, and he also seems flexible because this is his first managerial job at the MLB level. Also, he said that he wanted the job, he wasn't reluctant, and he is in my mind a quality human being with a good head on his shoulders.

Hopefully it continues to go well in 2017, and we see the first winning Braves teams we've seen in a long time.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Potential Braves Manager in 2017

By now you've heard two names surface for the managerial job for the Braves when they move to the new ballpark in 2017. On one side you have Brian Snitker, who took over the sinking ship of morale that was the Braves under Fredi Gonzalez. On the other side you have Bud Black, a man who managed the Padres for 8 seasons, played in the league for the Angels, and won 2 world series as a player for two different teams, and won NL Manager of the Year in 2010.

I make no bones about this, I do not want Bud Black as the manager of the Braves. While I'm certainly not in love with Snitker's decision-making, ultimately I believe the manager of a baseball team has one job: manage the psychological and morale issues of his players. That's it. All the other spreadsheet up and down bullpen and lineup decisions don't really have a major effect on an MLB team over 162 games. However, being a good leaders, setting a tone for the team, and giving the players the mental support they need to succeed? That's the non-quantifiable part of true leadership I think matters most in a clubhouse.

Here's an article I reference all the time about how most managers don't matter. It's from your favorite analytic crew over at fivethirtyeight: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/most-managers-are-headed-to-the-hall-of-mediocrity/

People argue with me on this all the time. People that especially think they know the game better through charts think this is crap. They want managers to follow the data and nothing else. But consider this point I saw on Twitter today: In both Wild Card games, two managers made different bullpen decisions and both lost. One manager didn't use his best reliever, stayed with his current guy, and lost to a 3-run homer. The other manager DID use his best reliever, and lost with a 3-run homer. Why? Because players executing plays matter way more in baseball than the statistics when you take into account one play. And one play can be all that matters in the playoffs.

 So why don't I want Bud Black? Mainly because he failed to ever get to the playoffs in 8 years with some pretty good Padres teams by talent, and because he presided over the worst September collapse in Padres history. I lived through that already with Fredi Gonzalez, who presided over the worst September collapse in Braves history. Also, I have a known quantity in Brian Snitker, who has already proven he knows how to motivate, educate, and promote a team that had no business winning 68 games after a 9-29 start under Gonzalez. Think about that. This Braves team went 59-65 after Snitker showed up, and most of that was still before they called up the real talent like Dansby, Mallex, and traded for Kemp.

But even more than not wanting Bud Black because I don't think he's an advantage over Snitker, I don't want him because it would prove to me that the Braves made a back-door deal with Black long before the season was over. If Bud Black gets the job after what Snitker did for the this team, it tells me that he never had a shot at this job, and they picked him to manager specifically because they thought he'd be a nice placeholder who would suck in the position and allow them to let their hand-picked guy ride in on a white horse.

Except that didn't happen. Snitker's team has prospered along with the prospects, and it tells me a lot about Bud Black that if he wasn't willing to step in mid-season and take the slings and arrows along with this team, he's not the right man for the job. I want a manager who can come in for the worst of times in an organization, and get those guys ready to play every day with a mindset of winning. I don't want a guy who sits on the sidelines for a bad season to end so he can come in with a pristine record and a whole new set of players.

Is that completely fair to Bud Black? Probably not. I'm not privy to all the facts and I'm assuming a few things that could be inaccurate. But Black didn't have a job all year, and if they really wanted to make him an offer, he easily could have taken the job mid-season. And if they hire him now, either the front office didn't want that option, or he didn't. Neither would make me happy, especially since these younger guys have gotten used to Snitker and they seem to be playing like one of the best offensive team in the NL at the end of the year. Why would you sacrifice that for the unknown when I think we all know the managerial decision-making (which is probably where Black would have an advantage by experience) really isn't that critical.

Personally, I say give Snitker the job on a year-by-year deal. He's got no other options, and honestly I don't think Bud Black is right for this team. If you don't like Snit after a year, go a different direction, but at least you are sticking with something that was working. Nobody can second guess that. They CAN second guess you switching managers after one of the best offensive months in baseball for the Braves in the long time.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Goodbye Ted, Hello Predictions: Braves 2016 Recap

You won't see me get misty over saying goodbye to Turner Field or this version of the Atlanta Braves in 2016. Some fans get nostalgic over buildings, but I think of the Ted more as a house of horrors than an actual friend we're losing. It was never a true baseball stadium. It was too big, retrofitted, and essentially formless in terms of defining features. The best thing that most people can say about it is that they spent times with family there so they have memories of those times. Which again, those can happen anywhere. It's the family and friends and teams that make those memories, not the building. So I don't weep for the loss of the Ted. Frankly, I've hated its location forever even though I have season tickets.

With that said, I think we're all excited about how the Braves played in September. I didn't cover it much because I rarely write about this team once we're eliminated until the final recap. But I will say that we saw some signs of potential greatness in this squad late in the year. Offensively, it was one of the strongest months in all of baseball, with the Braves finishing 1st in the NL in runs for September. We saw Freddie Freeman have his best second half of the season of his career, and we say Dansby Swanson make his debut. We saw Ender Inciarte become a possible staple in the outfield and Mallex Smith return from injury. We saw Matt Kemp join the team and change the complexion of the lineup. All in all, we saw a lot of positive things that can give us hope that the future is bright.

Also, the team won 68 games. Last year they won 67 games. For months I've heard whiner fans tell me that John Hart and John Coppollela lied to us, saying the team wouldn't be worse than 2015. Well guess what? It's not. It was one game better, and that makes their statement true. But even more than that, the team as constructed looks like a functional baseball team now with offensive firepower. The best part is the young pitching isn't even really sorted out yet. We were winning games in September with mostly bigtime scoring. If we can train up the young staff to form a killer rotation, this team is playoff bound again.

But let's look back at my bold predictions from the beginning of the season shall we?

1 - The Braves will finish with more than 100 home runs - TRUE! They finished with 122 after an awful start to the season hitting the long ball. The real hero there was Freddie Freeman with a monster 34 on the season and his career high. He hopefully can carry that momentum into next year.

2 - The Bullpen will be better than 2015's greasefire - TRUE! The bullpen finished with a 3.95 ERA on the year, which isn't stellar but still way better than the 2015 finish of 4.69. Blech.

3 - Jason Grilli won't be on the team in the second half of the season - TRUE! Jason Grilli was traded on May 31st to the Pirates. Most of you can barely remember he started with the team, so this one was probably a reminder.

4 - Hector Olivera will lead the team in batting average - FALSE! Way false. He was a disaster, and he wasn't allowed to finish the season with us due to a domestic violence charge and suspense of 82 games. Then we traded him for Matt Kemp who turned out to be awesome. And slightly fat but still awesome. The actual batting average leader for the team with over 200 ABs was Freddie Freeman at .302. However, Dansby Swanson also hit .302 in 129 ABs, so look out!

5 - Defense will be a major problem for this Braves team - TRUE! Man, it was a mess in the first half of the year. Bigtime. Going by defensive ratings on Fangraphs, the Braves finished the year with a -29.6, which puts them 23rd in the league. And that's having improved some in the second half of the year.

6 - Julio Teheran will have his best season so far - TRUE! Julio Teheran finished the year with 188 innings, 30 starts, and a 3.21 ERA. Baseball reference gave his WAR on the year a 4.8 which is the highest total of his career. The key was that his H/9 was the lowest it's ever been, and his BB/9 was the lowest it's ever been as well, while also increasing his K/9 along with it.

7 - Braves will have their first no-hitter since 1994 - FALSE! Not with this pitching staff. We didn't really even get close to this because of the issues with the rotation. Oh well, that was a long shot.

8 - Much fewer shutout losses in 2016 - TRUE! We had 17 shutout losses in 2015. In 2016 the Braves only lost while scoring zero runs 12 times. That's a 29% reduction on shutout losses, and that's a good thing, because those are unwatchable. And when it was over 10% of the games last year, that sucked.

9 - Three All-Stars for the Braves in 2016 - FALSE! We only had one, and it was Julio. We should have had two based on Freddie's total year, but he didn't turn on the jets until the second half so there's no way he was going to win the vote.

10 - The Braves will have the highest team OPS since 2010 - FALSE! The Braves OPS in 2010 was .740 on the season. It was the highest total over those last 5 seasons leading into this year. The Braves finished this 2016 season with a .705 OPS so it wasn't even close. But I'll blame most of that on the fact the team struggled to score at all for about 60% of the season.

And the final prediction, I picked the Braves to win 72 games. Close, but they only won 68. Still, the win total for the team in Vegas was 65, and I was taking the over. And you know what? We won that bet.

SEVEN predictions right, FOUR predictions wrong. And another baseball season behind us. Here's to the new season in SunTrust park in about 5 months, Braves fans. Can't wait.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Braves have won 6 in a row

Don't look now, but the Braves are the hottest team in the National League. A bit late I admit, but let's take a look at second half including the surge after the Braves signed Matt Kemp. The Braves right now are 31-33 since the All Star break, and they look like a completely different club.

Imagine if you will this team suddenly with a huge burst of offense. Now stop imagining and look at the numbers for the month of September. That's right, the Braves are 3rd in the MLB in runs, 2nd in OPS, and 2nd in doubles. They are doing this because Freddie Freeman is hitting .397 on the month with 4 homers, and Matt Kemp is hitting .361 with 7 homers. Oh and Ender Incirate and Dansby Swanson are both hitting .330+ in September, while even Adonis Garcia and Nick Markakis have 3 bombs a piece on the month. It's a power surge!

What does this mean? Well if the Braves were playing the whole year like they played in the second half, the record would be about 79-80 wins. And that would be an improvement on the year. What I'm really hoping for right now is that the Braves win at least 6 more games, they have 68+ wins and they finish with a better record than 2015. You know why?

So every one of those whiners who complain that Coppy and John Hart lied to us can suck it. That's right, suck it. I'm sick of those people who are treating a PR statement before all the pieces even came together as some sort of gospel. What did you expect them to say, "STAY HOME WE DON'T NEED YOUR MONEY WE'RE REBUILDING!" Don't be dumb.

Either way, this team is better than when it started, and it's showing signs of being a powerhouse offense for next season as well. That's exactly what we need to compliment the young pitching we're destined to see in the new ballpark in 2017. And I for one am excited about that prospect. That's a pun kids.

GO BRAVES!