Monday, August 31, 2015

The White Flag is Waving

Braves fans, constant readers, I want to thank you for sticking with the blog and this team for this long. It's been a fun ride until after the All-Star break. Then it's just been a slow-boat to Hell populated by demons poking you in the butt. I talked to my friend about what's been happening and he informed me that through no fault of my own, the blog has taken a turn towards being just tough to read. I can't blame him for feeling that way either.

This Braves team is now completely unwatchable. This is the worst baseball team I've ever witnessed up close, and I followed the Braves in the 80s. This team lost a series against the Yankees this last weekend, and they lost it combined 38-11. That 38 runs is the most ever given up in a 3-game series since the Braves have moved to Atlanta. There's literally nothing more I can say about it than in the last 50 years, we've never witnessed anything this horrible.

So with that in mind I'm transitioning entirely to football. I'm creating a new blog for SEC football soon that I think you will like, and I'll be sure to pimp that out to all my fans. But as far as the Braves go, I'm not willing to put up with any more of this. It's one thing to rebuild, it's another thing entirely to sell the entire fanbase down the river with unwatchable crap that sets records from the 1960s.

What makes matters worse, the Ted looks like they are getting ready to abandon it. The food service was terrible this year at games, the facilities look like they aren't getting any more maintenance, and in general it felt more run-down than it had in the past. I used to like to go to Turner Field for the game-day experience. Now I feel like I'm being nickel and dimed to death over extra jalapenos on my nachos. No joke, they wanted to charge me $2 on a $7 nacho for extra jalapenos. The staff looks lazily around and barely even seems to give a damn about taking my order. This isn't the Braves way, and this isn't in some small section of the upper deck. This is behind home plate 101.

I hope we can forget about this season quickly and that we're not just setting ourselves up for more pain in 2016. I hope they can find some bullpen help and get this young pitching staff coached up. I hope we get a manager who speaks in more than just platitudes and can manage a bullpen when we move to the new stadium. I have a lot of hopes. But until those hopes come true, I'm not going to be bludgeoned with terrible baseball and players that look like they've quit.

We didn't give up on this Braves team, they gave up on us. That's the most disappointing part.

I'll do a full season wrap-up after the last game, and go over how my early season predictions went. Until then?

GO (2017) BRAVES!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This was an actual Braves inning this week

It's not often that the Braves pull something that drops my jaw in a horrifying way. This week they did just that. Here's what happened in the 7th inning against the Rockies on Tuesday.

Simmons walked.
Bourn walked. Simmons went to second.
Ciriaco grounded into a double play, but went to first.
Markakis walked, Ciriaco went to second.
A wild pitch moves the runners to second and third.
Nick Swish walks to load the bases.
The Rockies change pitchers to face Freddie Freeman.
Freeman strikes out to end the inning.

Now, that may not sound like much, but think about this. The Braves had 4 walks and a wild pitch, and managed to score ZERO runs. With two runners on and no outs, thinking of all the possible permutations of the way that could actually happen, the double play through third is the only way it could happen. You had to have a double play, and you had to have it happen when there wasn't a runner on third. A normal double play going to second and first while the runner advanced to third? Nope, doesn't work because he scores on the wild pitch. If you just go out by out, the runners eventually advances home on the four walks, regardless of the wild pitch.

No, it had to happen that way. Having a double play that went through third base was it. Otherwise, a runner scores SOMEHOW. But no, not with this team. They find ways to achieve the seemingly improbable and make it possible. Because that's the "Braves Way" in 2015. That and we've won one game in the last 10. Yep we're 1-9 right now. The odds that this team wins even 70 games are really tanking fast.

So in the hopes we pull this thing together at home, we have the Yankees this weekend. If nothing else I want to ruin those Yankee's weekend.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Braves set record from 1968, Fredi stinks at Bullpen Mgmt

The title says it all. The Braves lost a 4-game series in Chicago for the first time since 1968. I just wanted to remind people that the Braves are setting records that haven't been broken in almost 50 years. It reminds me of when the Florida Gators lost at home to Vanderbilt a couple years back, and that hadn't happened since World War II. But at least the Gators had the good sense to fire their head coach. The Braves don't seem to do anything but tell us that this manager has a handle on everything.

I'm not going to lambast Fredi Gonzalez for many things, because honestly the manager has little control over many things, but his bullpen management has been a disaster. There are few good answers, and when there aren't many good answers it falls on the pitching coach to improve guys, and the manager to put those struggling relievers in the best positions. Instead, Fredi is focusing WAY too much on R/L matchups (or not enough at the right times) and not taking into account that the bullpen guys need time to figure it out on the mound. Then, inexplicably he gives extra batters to guys that are obviously struggling and the game comes unraveled. Allow me to explain.

In game 2 against the Padres, Wisler has a 2-run game going through 5 innings. He has 85 pitches in the books and although he's laboring, he's still getting outs and keeping the Braves in the game. Instead of letting him go in the 6th, Fredi goes to the bullpen. Any time the Braves put the bullpen in play for more than 3 innings, I can almost guarantee the odds of losing rise to 90% or worse. Aardsma comes in and gets shelled. Detwiler come in after him gets shelled. And what was once a 2-0 managable deficit in the 6th ballooned to a 7-0 laugher in just one inning.

In game 3 against the Padres, Julio Teheran has been dealing. He has only given up 1 run on 4 hits through 6 innings, and he's struck out 7. The Braves are tied 1-1 because the offense is terrible. But because for some reason when a pitcher gets close to 100 pitches, he has to come out now. So who does Freddie go to? A rookie who has literally 6 innings pitched in the majors. In a tie game on the road. Are you freaking serious? Of course as luck would have it, BJ Upton gets a hit off him immediately. That alone should tell you the kid doesn't have it today. Does Fredi take him out? Noooooooo, he leaves him in there for not one, not two, not three, but SIX batters as the Padres manage to score two more runs to make it 3-1. Moylan eventually relieved him and got the final out. Hint, you don't put a brand new rookie on the mound in a tie game scenario. That's stupid.

I won't fault Fredi for starters getting destroyed, so Folty getting ripped in Game 1 against the Cubs, and Wisler getting shelled in 3 innings has nothing to do with management. Even Shelby Miller's curse can't seem to fall on Fredi because nothing will help Miller win a game it seems.

What I will fault him on is Game 3. By some small miracle with Williams Perez on the mound, the Braves manage some stellar offense. They scored 7 runs in this game, and they had a 7-3 lead going to the bottom of the 5th. Perez had looked nothing short of awful all game, giving up a couple of no-doubt homers on a ton of pitches, so we had to know that this was going to be his last inning regardless.

The Cubs managed to ding Perez for two more runs on a double after he's gotten two outs. Does Fredi get him? No. So Perez gives up another two out double and now it's 7-6 before Fredi finally gets Moylan to put out the fire. And he does. So with it 7-6 does Fredi allow Moylan to go back out there? No, he goes to, you guessed it, MARKSBERRY AGAIN! And the kid gives up a dinger to tie the game 7-7. The time to put in Marksberry isn't in freaking close games! You don't let young kids who were in single-A ball suddenly jump into high leverage MLB situations. That's why you have guys like Edwin Jackson and Peter Moylan for matchups.

So Jackson comes in and puts out the fire. For some reason he lets Jackson go another inning, but not Moylan, and Jackson gives up back to back homers. Note, this was against the bottom half of the lineup, and Miguel Montero who hit the first homer is a lefty. Jackson is a RH guy. The time for LH Marksberry was then if you believed you HAD to use him to get a lefty out. I'm fine with using the kid as a lefty specialist to get lefty hitters. But he'd already burned Marksberry down in the earlier innings to face a RH-RH-and Switch. It makes no sense. There's no real logic here. Just madness.

Anyway, just watch how Fredi manages the bullpen like he's pulling names out of a hat. Also if the Braves are in a key situation, I don't want to see someone pitching that's been called up this season unless it's the last thing we have. And we just released Aardsma who was one of the other few guys with some experience on this team. We're just making bad situations worse. We should have released Detwiler. He's terrible. But he's a lefty so he'll probably play here forever and suck the life out of me.

At this point I'm only watching home games because that seems to be the place where the Braves actually win, despite the bullpen shenanigans.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why are the Atlanta Braves so bad on the road?

Well, it finally happened. I no longer want to watch this Braves team when they head out on the road. If you're watching, and judging by the TV numbers you aren't, the Braves have the worst road record by losses in baseball at 44, tied with the Phillies. Even worse, the entire NL East has a losing record on the road and the best of those is 8 games under .500 when they leave their home confines.

I expected better than this mess, and we all would have seen better if the Braves hadn't given up mid-season and traded away everyone. I get really frustrated as I'm watching a Mets team who is frankly terrible everywhere except New York, and they are likely going to win a terrible division over a tanking Washington Nationals team. There's no reason the Braves couldn't have competed in this division and won it if they actually rolled the dice now instead of stocking the farm system for a possible future that may never come to pass. Rational people will disagree, but offense wasn't the problem with the pieces we had. The issue was we were unwilling to improve the biggest problem on the team, which was the bullpen. We may not even fix it next season when the team is a year from the new stadium. This bothers me as a fan.

I don't expect to win every year. I really don't. I understand the need for a rebuild. But there's aspects to this rebuild that don't make sense to me, and one of them is the need for bullpen arms and decent hitting. The Braves have offloaded both in these trades, and gotten back a slew of unproven minor league "talent" that may or may not have any impact at the MLB level. This shows up in numerous ways, but the most obvious is road record.

Having a losing road record in baseball is common. Of the 30 teams in baseball, exactly 7 have a winning road record right now. That's about 24%. So, losing on the road and making up your wins at home is indeed the norm. It's one of the reasons that baseball has a huge home field advantage. Here's an article with some data that breaks down home field advantage in baseball over the last 5 years: http://www.betfirm.com/mlb-home-field-advantage/

The basic conclusion of that article is that home teams are winning almost 54% of the games. To most people that sounds small, but an advantage like that over 5 years equals almost 900 wins. Divided out by teams that's an advantage of nearly 6 wins per team per season that they get because they are playing at home.

So going into this season, if we take into account that an average team will win only 46% of their road games, it stands to reason that the Braves would have a losing record on the road. Here's the problem, the Braves winning percentage on the road is only 33%. That 13% below the average is worth almost 9 wins, which if you move 9 from the loss column and put them in the win column for the Braves, guess what? The Braves would be 62-59, 3.5 games back of the Mets and ahead of the Nationals for the Division title race. And we'd probably all feel better about ourselves and the team.

But the problem is the pitching for the Braves on the road is awful, a 4.57 staff ERA that's 24th in the league. You can't win games when you are giving up 4-5 runs every time you leave Atlanta. It just won't work. Compare that to the Braves team that last made the playoffs in 2013, whose road record was 40-41. That team won 96 games and had a staff ERA on the road of 3.68, which was almost a full run better than now. That's our difference, plain and simple. Scoring or not scoring, when your pitchers cross that 4.50 barrier on the road, it's a recipe for disaster. The current teams worse than that are Minnesota, Boston, Detroit, Seattle, Colorado, and Philly. Guess how many games back those teams are in their divisions? 13.5, 12.5, 14, 9.5, 17.5, and 17.5 games back. The Braves are 11.5 back. You can't win with that kind of pitching on the road. Nobody can.

So I am firmly in the camp that this organization sold us fans down the river, and I have no idea when the fast moving currents are going to stop. I'm looking at a team that obviously has no answers this season, and I'm wondering if they'll have answers in 2017, let along 2016. We've been stockpiling pitching, but somebody has to man up in the bullpen, and somebody else has to start slugging the ball besides Freddie Freeman and old AJ Pierzynski. But if you can't at least put up a fight on the road, you aren't even going to be relevant by August. Just like we see now.

Keep an eye on that minor league talent we have now and the young arms we got in these trades. In the immortal words of Star Wars, "You're our only hope!"

Make sure to click an ad this week if you haven't already since it supports the blog, and hopefully this team can make things more watchable when we head back home against the Yankees.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cameron Maybin is a Freaking Sorcerer with RISP

For those of you that missed it, Cameron Maybin jacked his first walk-off homer last night to win the series against the DBacks, and bail out an offense that yet again left Shelby Miller hanging like a side of a beef in a meat locker. I debated with one of my friends what award we should give Shelby for getting absolutely no help from the offense. Perhaps the AT&T Award since his support is absolutely wretched.

Anyway, Cameron Maybin hits well in key spots. People in the stats world don't believe in clutch players since they say everything evens out. I agree that things even out, but I also believe in the temporary psychology of clutch. Anybody that's ever played a sport knows what it's like to have intense pressure, and have certain players you can rely on to perform in those spots. Cameron Maybin is one of those players who has risen up in big spots this season. Here's why:

Total 2015: .277 avg with .397 slugging, 9 homers, 51 RBIs
2015 RISP: .380 avg with .500 slugging, 1 homer, 42 RBIs
2015 RISP, 2 outs: .361 avg with .528 slugging, 0 homers, 14 RBs

The dude is really coming out of his shoes this season when he's getting RISP chances. What's crazy is that for the last 3 years going into this season? He was terrible in those same scenarios. He's riding what the stat-heads would call an outlier in his career. And I would actually agree with them on that count. Nobody hits almost 100 points better on their average with RISP long term. It's a complete anomaly.

So why does it matter to recognize that fact? Because at some point, Cameron is going to come back down to earth when the Braves likely decide it's time to resign him or not. And what you need to remember when that time comes is that Cameron is a career .250 hitter. Day to day he's going to struggle to be part of the Braves long term play when 2017 hits. In essence, as much as I like the guy, he's likely not someone who will be a Braves player for several years to come.

But the good news is that we get him through 2016, and possibly 2017 with a club option. If he continues to stay hot he might have some major trade value in the offseason for some more hitting help on the team or heaven help us more bullpen options. Remember the lesson of Chris Johnson. If you think it's an outlier, you sell high. Always sell high.

GO BRAVES!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How Bad is the Braves Bullpen?

Short update since it's been a while since I wrote something. I watched the games against Tampa Bay and the two games against Arizona so far. Considering we lost 3 of those, and 2 of them we lost because the pitching imploded, I was very unimpressed with our staff. I can understand why John Hart wanted to get as many pitching prospects as we can, because this team can't pitch consistently. That's the hard truth. The even harder truth is that outside of maybe a handful of guys I'm not sure anybody on the staff is really MLB ready.

So how bad is the bullpen that keeps blowing games for the Braves? Right now the Braves relievers have a 4.20 ERA which puts them 24th in the league. But where does that rank for Braves teams in the past? The only bullpen that has been worse by ERA than this one in recent history was the 2008 Atlanta Braves pen that finished with a 4.25 ERA in 21st place in the majors. In terms of rank, no bullpen since 2000 has finished worse than 24th in the league.

Do you remember the 2008 Braves? Oddly they have a ton in common with this current team. They only won 72 games all season, and they finished in 4th place in the division. Here's who was pitching on that ill-fated team. The starters were Jair Jurrjens, Jorge Campillo, Tim Hudson, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, and a very old Mike Hampton and Tom Glavine. John Smoltz also pitched for like, two seconds on that team. The relievers were Jeff Bennett, Blaine Boyer, Buddy Carlyle, Will Ohman, Manny Acosta, Juan Tavarez, Mike Gonzalez, Vladimer Nunez, Royce Ring, Chris Resop, and Rafael Soriano.

That team was awful. The only upsides to that squad were Brian McCann, Chipper Jones, and Martin Prado were all in the starting lineup. That was the year we traded away Mark Teixeira to the Angels. Nothing went right in 2008, and it was the worst year in terms of wins we'd had since the turn of the millennium. And we may beat that this year. That's how bad this bullpen is, it reminds me of the 2008 team that lost 90 games. Oh, and the worst team in recent memory was the 1990 Braves that only won 65 games. With 46 games left and 52 wins in the books, I don't see this Braves team being that bad, but they will have to win more than 1 out of every 4 games the rest of the way, and that's what they lost in the last 4 games I watched.

So how bad is this Braves bullpen? It's likely the worst we've seen in 15 years at least. Which is saying something. Because if I have to go back much further than that, we're getting dangerously close to the 1980s Braves. And that's nothing we want to remember or see again.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, August 10, 2015

What is a realistic goal for this Braves team?

If we're looking at simple math, the Braves currently have a .455 winning percentage as we stand today. That means on a 162 game season, the Braves would have 73-74 wins, which is pretty much exactly what Vegas had them projected to be at the beginning of the season. I believe the exact number was 73.5 which is uncanny. Those casinos aren't build by people winning a ton of money.

But is that winning percentage indicative of how the Braves are playing with all the trades and changes they've made? I don't think so. I'm going to use the Alex Wood trade as the dividing line because at that point in time, the Braves were essentially waving the white flag. They've since moved Chris Johnson for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, so the team has improved from the very poor hitting club they were before. However, Freddie is banged up again, so we're likely not going to see him for a while either.

On July 30th, the Alex Wood traded happened. It's been about 11 days since then, and we've played 10 games. The Braves are 5-5 in that stretch, a .500 record. Let's assume that without any other changes, that's what the Braves are for the rest of the year, a .500 ball team. With 50 games left, they would finish with 76 wins instead of 73-74. So really, being just average isn't a huge bump.

But what if my goal is winning 81 games? That's a .500 record on the season. Why would I want to get there? A few reasons. One, I think it provides the team a big boost that they maintained a "winning" record even with all the craziness going on in this year. Two, it validates that John Hart is taking this rebuild in the right direction, and that the younger pitching is started to hold its own. Three, it's fun to spit in the eye of all those analysts who said the Braves would have 90+ losses this year and a non-functional offense.

What's it going to take to get to 81 wins? A 30-20 record. Or a .600 winning percentage. It's damn near impossible, but remember that the Braves schedule for the rest of the August only has 2 really tough teams on it, the Yankees and the Cubs. If the Braves can finish the month 12-7, I think they are in a really good position to finish strong. Now, for that to happen they are going to have to score more runs, and the bullpen is going to have to stop giving it away late.

As for the scoring, the Braves are 5th in total runs scored in the month of August so far, which is way up from the horrific scoring month they had in July when they finished dead last. It's quite the turnaround. The bullpen is still a question mark. The Braves dumped Avilan in a trade (thank heavens), and the bullpen now has names like Ross Detwiler, Andrew McKirahan, Jake Brigham, Matt Marksberry, Ryan Kelly, Arodys Vizcaino, and David Aardsma. And I can see things improving for guys like Aardsma (who had two really bad games), and Vizcaino and Marksberry. I need to see more out of Detwiler, Brigham, Kelly, and McKirahan, and I suspect we will.

What's realistic for the Braves to finish? I'm thinking anything between 70-78 wins is reasonable. I'm hoping for 80+ but it's going to take a never-say-die attitude out of these guys, and the Mets/Nats tanking a bit. Will we win the division? Absolutely not, nor the wild card, nor anything of the sort. For that to happen, the Braves would have to win 15 in a row, and that's insanity reserved for the completely delusional. In all liklihood with the Met and Nats beating each other up, the Braves get eliminated from the playoffs by Labor Day.

Mainly what I want to see for the rest of the season is how the young starters and bullpen develop, how Michael Bourn looks in the outfield along with Cameron Maybin, and if the Braves decide to ever bring Christian Bethancourt back this season, or if he's finally banished to AAA until they can unload him in a trade. But mostly I'm looking for fun moments like this weekend when we beat up on the Marlins and I got a replica world series ring!

GO BRAVES!