Tuesday, March 19, 2019

2019 Braves Potential Lineup

I listened to an interview on 680 the Fan this morning here in Atlanta, and the Front Row Show had Brian Snitker on to talk about the team. One of the most interesting discussion points was Ronald Acuna, and how impressive he is coming off his rookie season. So impressive, in fact, that Brian Snitker said he's planning to bat him in clean-up spot for opening day.

I tried to remember the last time a Braves player went from his rookie year to batting clean-up for the team. The one that immediately jumped to mind was David Justice, who in 1990 after his rookie year hit in the 4th slot in many of his games (42), but he also batted 5th and 6th quite a bit that year. That may not be the most recent one, but it was certainly the name I though of easily.

The conversation got me thinking. If I'm Brian Snitker, how would I set the lineup today?

Here's my thoughts of who to put where, and why.

  1. Ender Inciarte/Ozzie Albies - Of the 4 guys who have some speed, Ender has the best on-base percentage with the lowest slugging. He's not going to be a home run hitter, but he can get to first and possibly stretch that into a double while driving the pitcher crazy on the bags. Ozzie can go here against Left handed pitching, which I'll explain later on.
  2. Josh Donaldson - This is where he wants to hit, and in his last full season he hit 33 homers with .560 slugging. I want him to get as many ABs this year as we can for his $23M
  3. Freddie Freeman - That's his spot, fight him.
  4. Ronald Acuna - He had highest OPS on the team, and he was a rookie last year. I think this is the perfect spot for him to have his 26 homers he hit in a shortened 2018 season to turn into a lot more 2 and 3 run homers.
  5. Nick Markakis/Ozzie Albies - I want a guy who can hit for higher average here, and drive in the runners with possibly 2 outs. Nick is the best contact hitter we have on the team (who also has no speed and thus won't hit lead-off), and his .308 average and 35 RBIs with 2 outs really put a dagger in teams psychologically. When you can score runs instead of ending up with nothing for an inning, that's a big swing in every game. Case in point, the 2018 World Champion Red Sox were TERRORS with 2 outs, and that made a big difference in why they won the title. I've put Ozzie here as well but I'll explain why in the #6 slot
  6. Ozzie Albies/Johan Camargo - Ozzie can go in either the 5-6 slot until he can figure out how to hit Right handed pitching, which is the majority of the ABs he's going to get. His splits there are .696 OPS against RHP, and .905 against LHP, which is a huge difference. Against lefties he will move up in the order. Also, until somebody tells me we're going to have somebody else play 3rd, I'm assuming Camargo gets the job. He's a fine hitter, .800+ OPS last year, and he can play most positions in the field.
  7. Brian McCann/Tyler Flowers - The two catchers will rotate, but I think putting them in the 7th slot makes sense. Tyler is a mediocre hitter at best, but Brian if he can revert to 2017 form before the 2018 injuries is a lot more dangerous with his bat. 
  8. Dansby Swanson - I've seen nothing that says Dansby is getting benched, but this is a make-it-or-break-it year for him. Otherwise, one of the younger upstarts will eventually replace his spot on the infield by either taking it directly, or rotating somebody else like Ozzie or Camargo into SS. 
  9. Pitcher - Because it's still the NL until they force the DH on us.

Thoughts? How would you rank them heading into the season?


EDIT: Left out my commentary on Ozzie, stupid.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Two weeks to Braves opening day

In a weird twist of timing and fate, the Braves get to open up the their 2019 season at SunTrust Park this year on March 29th. I say weird twist because the Braves got to open up their 2018 season at home on the exact same date, March 29th, last year. You may say, okay so what? Well, in 2017, the Braves didn't even play a home game until April 14th, after 8 regular season road games in a row. In 2016, we opened at home but it was on April 4th.

In fact, except for these last two years, I couldn't remember a time when the MLB season was opening in March. Turns out that this is true, this is the earliest opening day for the MLB ever. And the prior year it was the earliest opening day before that. Why did that happen? Because in 2017, the players union and the MLB agreed to different scheduling, with one more weekend on the front end of the schedule, but 3-4 additional rest days in the middle of the schedule. Riveting stuff!

Now that I've thoroughly bored you with scheduling talk, on to the actual team! The Braves are set to come out of Spring Training with a roster that includes some of your old favorites like Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, and Nick Markakis (mostly because Nick is old, I don't know if he's a favorite of many).

The other old guys to round things out are Tyler Flowers (33), Josh Donaldson (33), Adam Duval (30), and...that's about it unless we're talking about a few pitchers. The rest of the team is a bunch of young guns, and frankly I'm old enough now to be older than every player on the roster. Which is both fun and depressing. I'll spend time in later blogs going through the roster and the players as we get through the week.

As we get closer to opening day, I want to know the answers to a few questions:

  1. Which players, especially pitchers are going to make this roster
  2. Who is going to be at the back end of this rotation and can we dump Julio Teheran please?
  3. Will Ronald Acuna break every record, hit for the cycle, heal the sick, and raise the dead?
The hype is real this year since the Braves won the division last year, and I'll go into detail what that means in the rest of the division as other teams spend dollars and we hold onto pennies like those "owners" in Denver want to make a profit or something. Jerks.

The best news is, we're back! A new season is coming!


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Brian Snitker named NL Manager of the Year

Brian Snitker is 63 years old, and he's been in the Braves organization in various forms since 1977. Basically he's been a Braves longer than I've been alive on this earth. And now he's the NL Manager of the year in 2018.

During that time as a Brave, he's managed 6 different minor league teams in their farm system. He's also been a pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves in the 1980s, and a third base coach for the Atlanta Braves from 2007-2013.

Funny story, he replaced Fredi Gonzalez twice in two different Atlanta Braves jobs. Once, he replaced Gonzalez in 2007 as the third base coach when Fredi went to be the manager of the Marlins. Later, two years after Fredi Gonzalez become the Atlanta Braves manager, Snitker was demoted to AAA Manager in Gwinnett. Then, when Fredi was fired in 2016, Snitker was promoted to the interim Atlanta Braves manager. Basically Fredi leaving places is great for Brian Snitker's career.

When Snitker was named interim manager of the Braves, nobody really expected him to keep the job very long. There were rumors swirling that the Braves intended to hire Bud Black as their main choice, a choice that never really panned out as Black ended up with the Colorado Rockies. In essence, Snitker was hired to keep a seat warm for the REAL manager the Braves intended to hire down the road, and make sure the young kids that we called up to the MLB level continued to develop. He was never meant to be a long term solution.

But something magical happened. The Braves ended up winning games that nobody expected, and last season they ended up winning a division. Better yet, the team was actually fun to watch and the young talent really seemed to play hard and looked like they were having fun out on the field. That attitude of playing hard all the way to the end of the game and never giving up really played out in a lot of comeback wins for a Braves team that was top 5 in runs from the 7th to the 9th innings.

Snitker absolutely deserves the award, and I'm extremely happy he won it this season. Snitker takes a lot of crap from analytics fans about his decisions, but I love that his guys win games, and we get to stick it to a bunch of people who think that the manager position can be replaced by a computer. At its core, managing is about people, not numbers. It's about inspiring your people to be the best they can be, and every report I get from the clubhouse tells me that these young guys would run through a brick wall for Brian Snitker.

So kudos to you Brian, and I'm glad the Braves extended him to a longer term deal. For somebody who has paid his dues several times over, it's good to see that loyalty pay off.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Braves 2018 Season recap

Well folks, they did it. The Braves managed to climb out of the doldrums of a plodding rebuild and establish themselves as NL East Division winners. I don't like to use the word champions because there's only one champion in baseball every year and it wasn't us. However, this Braves team did manage to win 90 games and smoke the rest of the division by an 8 game lead when the dust settled. For a team expected to win games in maybe the mid-to-high 70s? This is a massive over performance and a great season.

My favorite moment of the season? I'm glad you asked. It was early in the season against the Marlins on May 20th. The Marlins had jumped all over Julio Teheran, and I disgustedly turned off the game after he gave up a 6-0 lead in the 4th inning. But sensing something that evening, for no reason at all I turned the game back on in the 8th. What unfolded at that point was one of the best comebacks of the season. The Braves were down 9-4 heading to the bottom of the 9th inning. Dansby Swanson is first up and immediately strikes out. So with one out and nobody on, things looked impossible.

But then, a walk. And a single. And a sac fly. Now with it 9-5, and two outs, the game is surely over right? Wrong. Freeman gets an infield single because the Marlins throw the ball away, and Albies scores making it 9-6. Then Freeman takes second on fielder indifference and Markakis knocks him in with a single to make it 9-7.

Starting to panic, the Marlins made a pitching change, but to no avail. Markakis stole second, Flowers walked, and Suzuki knocked Markakis in with a single making it 9-8. Now with runners on first and second, the Marlins threw a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position for, guess who, Dansby Swanson who started the inning with a strikeout. And what does Dansby do? He comes in for the clutch hit that plates both Flowers and Suzuki, and the Braves win the game 10-9 in epic fashion.

It was easily the craziest and best comeback of the year in a year with lots of great comebacks. Also to me it highlights the strength of this 2018 Braves team, which is late inning rallies. They were never out of games, and they never quit. In fact, statistically they were the 3rd highest scoring team in the last three innings of game, behind only Houston and Boston. All of those were playoff teams and Boston won the World Series. That's great company for a young team really learning how to play at the highest level.

What else do we need to do to recap the season? Oh that's right let's look at my bold predictions from the beginning of the year:

- The Braves will score over 750 runs this year. TRUE, they finished with 759 runs, just outdoing my prediction by a nose.

 - The Braves will hit 200+ Home Runs. FALSE, they only hit 175, and we probably needed a few more to be a serious playoff contender down the stretch. This is where I'd focus if I'm building the team for the offseason, we need more power.

- Ronald Acuna wins Rookie of the Year. TRUE, he's already won in certain publications, and he had a huge polling lead in the Baseball Writers poll, so I'm going to assume he's got it locked up there as well.

- Julio Teheran will be amazing. FALSE, wishful thinking here compadres. Julio stunk. His ERA was almost 4.00 in 175 innings, and his WAR was 56th out of 57 qualified starters. He was so bad the Braves didn't even trust him to start a playoff game, opting for Sean Newcomb instead. I expect they will desperately try to trade him in the offseason to the highest bidder.

- The rest of the rotation outside of Julio will be a disaster. - FALSE, the only reason this is false is because Folty had a great year as a starter as did Anabal Sanchez when he was healthy. Other than that, the wheels came off of the pitching staff for the most part, and McCarthy got injured so badly he couldn't finish the season.

- The bullpen won't be a complete disaster this year. TRUE, yall may fight me on this one, but the bullpen in 2017 was 26th in the league. This year they were 17th in the league in ERA. That's middle of the pack which is NOT a complete disaster. So I'm counting it.

- A Brave will throw a no-hitter. FALSE, every year we get so close. This year is was Sean Newcomb losing it with 2 outs in the 9th against the freaking Dodgers. I'll continue to predict it until it happens.

- Nick Markakis won't be traded. TRUE, Nick was with us the whole way, and that was a good thing because it helped the Braves get to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. The haters can hate all they want.

- Dansby Swanson will have a come-back year. TRUE, Dansby coming off a horrible year with a negative WAR and a sub .640 OPS managed to improve his OPS numbers to almost .700, his slugging by almost 70 points, his fielding errors reduced by half. All in all, it's over a 2.5 point move in the positive direction for his WAR, which I count as a good comeback. Now will he hold the position forever? Not if he continues to stand pat, he must improve on this year to be the starter for the rest of this Braves run.

- The Braves win 75 games. FALSE, we beat that by 15. I undersold this team this year, which is rare for me, but I was really concerned about the pitching. That actually came true, but the problem was the offense really faded in the last month when it mattered most, and the offense is what got them to the playoffs. Example, if you look at the Braves runs scored in September? They were 14th in MLB. That's a drop off of 6 positions from their pre-All-Star-break position of 8th in runs scored. That carried over to the playoffs where the Braves only scored 8 runs, in 4 games, and two of those they were completely shut out.

5-5 on Predictions. Dead average. I'm a coin-flip of mediocrity at predicting this team.

So what does the future hold? I hope we see some offseason moves that really bolster the pitching staff and give us some power in the middle of the lineup. The Braves have the money to spend with their new stadium and Battery revenues, so I believe they'll plow some of that money back into the team. That means during free agency I'd be looking at a new right fielder, a new catcher, a possible power infielder for either starting or utility, and a lot of help in the bullpen.

We'll see how it shakes out around the hot stove. See you in 2019!


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Braves June State of the Union

First blog post since the beginning of the season? Man I'm slipping in my old, married stage. I guess I can blame this one on the fact we are moving into a new house. In the future I plan to do at least 2-3 blogs a month once I'm moved in.

Today is June 13th, and the Braves are in solo first place with 38 wins. Does anybody know the last time that happened? If you guessed 2013, good for you. The Braves on June 13, 2013, 5 years ago, had 39 wins and a 5.5 game lead over the Nationals. They were actually tied for first place on June 13, 2014 a year later. The good news is that in 2013, they won the division outright with 96 wins.

It's a heck of a start for a team I though MIGHT average wins in the mid-70s. Anything can and will happen, but we can all agree that this team is outperforming expectations. The best part of how they are outperforming is on the offensive side of the ball. Last year the Braves averaged 4.52 runs per game, and to date they are averaging 5.00 runs per game. Over the course of a season, that's an extra 78 runs, and that would certainly vault the Braves from 20th place where they were last year to most likely a top 10 offensive team.

Another funny aspect of this team's offense is that the Braves have a top 10 home run hitter in MLB, and it's NOT Freddie Freeman. No, in fact it's Ozzie Albies, the 5'8' (on a really good day) 165 pound might mouse we have clubbing Grand Salami's as of last night. Quite an amazing feat for a player I saw years ago in AAA and seriously wondered how he would ever hit at the major league level. I had a reason back then to be concerned as his rather paltry .732 OPS in 2 seasons was like a lukewarm blanket. Now? He's hit more homers in 68 games than he hit his entire stint in the minor leagues! His MLB OPS is .807. That's a whopping turnaround at the highest levels.

Let us not forget what the Braves are supposed to be built on with all these prospect moves, the pitching. That's the aspect of this team that leaves me the most concerned, because it's the area I see a potential disaster looming if there is one. There are two really bright spots in the rotation, and those are Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz. Both are sub 3.00 ERAs, both have sub 3.50 FIP, both are allowing less than 7 hits per 9 innings, and both have 0.6 HR per 9 innings. In ranking pitchers, they are easily 2 of those top 30 starters in the league, and Mike Foltynewicz is probably top 10.

Then we have the rest of the rotation, which is where I see the disaster. Julio Teheran is awful, and he's been awful for a long time. I don't trust him as a starter, and frankly the only reason I think they put him on the DL for what is essentially a minor issue is because the club doesn't trust him either. He's the only pitcher on the team with a negative WAR according to Fangraphs. I'd be better off throwing some shlub on the mound than Teheran. Literally any replacement player is better. That's terrible.

Also there's Brandon McCarthy who I'm particularly hard on because he's a home run machine. Brandon gives up 1.59 HR/9, which ranks 75th amongst the 90 qualifying starters. The fact he's won any games is because he's managed to get some stellar offensive run support, and he's had some really good games coupled with some complete blowups that really upped his ERA over 5.00. He's basically a coinflip which would make him a fine 4th or 5th starter. Except he's not really that, he's probably the 3 in our rotation, which is bad.

Then the 5th guy is...uhhhh. Exactly, there is no 5th guy. We have a 5th guy by committee and they are all equally questionable. Probably the best option is Mike Soroka who just came back today from a shoulder issue and shut out the Mets 2-0. If he's the guy (he's young and looks like he's 12), then maybe he can be a #3 in the rotation, and push back McCarthy and Julio.

Still, that would make our 1-2-3 pitching staff a bunch of guys that are younger than 25. That's REALLY suspect from a playoff perspective because none of them have the experience yet in big games, and the playoffs are a completely different animal mentally. Ask a guy like Kris Medlen who looks lights out all year then suddenly hits the playoffs and gets beaten up for 5 runs each time.

Overall, we're moving in the right direction. I think if McCarthy can even out a bit, and Julio can be remotely functional along with Soroka possibly filling out the rotation? This team has a chance to get a division title. And that would be huge for this city after the years of crappy baseball.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Braves are the hottest offense in MLB

After 7 games, the Atlanta Braves are tied in wins for the division lead at 5, they've scored the most runs in all of MLB, and they are outpacing the next closest offense by 1 run per game! There's about 5 things in that sentence I never thought I'd type out into this blogging machine this year.

Yet, after almost a week of play, this team has already surprised many including myself. I jokingly tweeted a few days ago, "Braves are going to the playoffs!" But is it really a joke? Have teams that started this hot and ended up in first place of offensive output in the first week really continued to soar? Or does it fall into the saber-cats favorite colloquialism, the SSS - Small Sample Size?

To answer the question, I looked at the last 10 years of statistics, because honestly anything further back than 2008 doesn't warrant discussion to me. Those stats are horrifically tainted and always will be. Once league-wide testing and rules went in, and were fully adopted and followed, that's when you can really see the changes on the offensive game. Also I used 2008 as my marker because it's the year after the worst alleged cheater in history (Barry Bonds) retired in what should have been disgrace. Seriously, that guy is a loser and to see people continue to back him as a HOF candidate is shameful.

Anyway, let's look at the numbers. The Atlanta Braves through 7 games are averaging 8 runs a game. Does that number mean anything?

In 2008, after 7 games, the Braves were tied with the Brewers at 6.67 runs per game for best in the majors. The Brewers made the playoffs, and the Braves didn't going 72-90. Why? Well a lot of reasons, but this was during the year of the infamous Mark Teixeira trade and the year Skip Caray died.

In 2009, after 7 games, Toronto and Miami (then Florida) were tied at 7 runs a game. Neither made the playoffs. However, Florida had a respectable 87 wins, but Toronto finished 75-87.

In 2010, after 7 games, the Phillies were in the lead with 7.17 runs a game. They had 97 wins and went to the playoffs, only to lose in the NLCS

In 2011, after 7 games, the Reds and the ChiSox were tied for 7.5 runs a game. Neither made the playoffs, and both finished with 79 wins.

In 2012, after 7 games, Detroit was in the lead with 6.67 runs a game. They went to the World Series and lost to the Giants, also winning 88 games in the regular season.

In 2013, after 7 games, Colorado was in the lead with 6.5 runs a game. They didn't make the playoffs and had 74 wins.

In 2014, after 7 games, the Marlins were in the lead with 6.67 runs a game. They didn't make the playoffs and had 77 wins.

In 2015, after 7 games, Detroit was in the lead with 7.83 runs a game. They didn't make the playoffs and had 74 wins.

In 2016, after 7 games, the Cubs and Yankees were tied at 7 runs a game. The Cubs won the world series. The Yankees didn't make the playoffs with 84 wins.

In 2017, after 7 games, Arizona was in the lead with 7.5 runs a game. They made the playoffs only to lose in the NLCS, and also won 93 games.

So to recap, here's what happens when you're in the run lead after 7 games:

- 1 World Series Champion
- 4 other playoff teams
- 9 teams didn't make the playoffs

So with 14 teams in 10 years, and 5 of them making the playoffs, I think it's a better than 1/3 chance those teams would make the playoffs in the last 10 years. Not terrible for simply starting strong. But let's dig further?

Of the 14 teams, only 11 had 5 wins or more. Those 11 still include all the teams that made the playoffs. That increases our percentage to almost 50% when you take into account teams that lead in runs and had 5 wins or more.

So does it matter? We'll see, but I like the idea of the playoffs essentially being a coin-flip on a hot start. And will the Braves make the playoffs? I still have massive concerns about the pitching, but the offense looks like it's figuring a few things out.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Braves Win - Markakis Walk Off Homer

In the season opener, when things looked their bleakest, the Atlanta Braves were down 5-0 to the Phillies and Aaron Nola was cruising. Then, thanks for analytics or just sheer stupidity, the Phillies decided to pull Nola in the 6th inning, and the comeback was on.

The Braves Freddie Freeman 2-run homered in the 6th off of reliever Milner, followed by Ozzie Albies solo shot in the 8th off of Morgan. After walking Freeman and the Braves still down 5-3, the Phillies went to Ramos out of the pen, who promptly walked Suzuki and then threw a wild pitch that advanced the runners to 2nd and 3rd. However, in trying to get Freeman at third, the Phillies threw the ball into left field, scoring Freeman and moving Suzuki to third. Bare in mind, the Braves have now scored the 4th run in the game without a hit. And to cap things off Preston Tucker laced one to center to score Suzuki and tie the game.

The stage was set for a comeback. And you could basically pull every name out of the Braves hat for a hero and still no have me pick Nick Markakis as the walk-off-wonder. Nick Markakis hadn't had a walk-off homer run in his CAREER. Let me remind you that Nicky has been playing in the majors since 2006. You may remember those as the heady days before the sub-prime mortgage crisis tanked the economy.

Yet, with 2 outs and 2 on, Nick Markakis blasted a home run to right center, and won the game 8-5 over a stunned Phillies team. It was the biggest comeback on opening day in Braves history, dating back to 1900. That's amazing, and what made it more amazing was that it was the first walk-off win on opening day since 1998. That's 20 years ago folks. Do you now how the Braves finished in 1998? They won 106 games, finished 1st in the NL East, swept the Cubs in the NLDS and went on to lose 4-2 to the Padres in the NLCS.

Hell, I'd take all of what I just said there after the kinds of seasons we've had leading up to this. Get me to the playoffs in any fashion this season and I'll consider it pouring a pile of gold on rubies. And yes, I realize one game doesn't mean anything in the playoff scenario but we're above .500 for the first time since 2015 so I'm running with this for all it's worth.