Saturday, April 22, 2017

5 minutes of Braves Q&A Week Three

I am trying out a 5 minute Q&A sessions on Twitter so you can follow the link here for the video. Today's questions were on The Prospect Plans and Freddie Freemans lack of RBIs when he hits homers.

Check out @BentheCPA's Tweet:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why Dansby Swanson should be batting 8th

Sorry for the delay everyone, I was in Washington DC having fun visiting my girlfriend's family for the first time. And apparently I missed quite the home winning streak. That is until the Nationals came to town and continued their dominance over the Braves. Yeesh. Let's go over what I haven't covered so far.

The Braves had a 2-gamer with a Marlins that they split 1-1, then they came home to their shiny new ballpark and swept the San Diego Padres in a 4-game sweep. They followed that up recently with a 2-loss section against the Nats, the final game still outstanding today. I don't hold high hopes for that one either way. They are 6-8 in the W/L column as of today.

Freddie Freeman is having a career start to the season, batting .440 with .920 slugging and a 1.453 OPS. He's leading MLB in average, and he's tied for 4th in home runs. And yet, with 6 homers to his name in this short season he has exactly 8 RBIs, because nobody in front of him can get on base consistently. Why is that?

Because the top of the order has major issues. Freddie is batting 3rd behind Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. Brian Snitker is always going to be slow to make changes I believe, because he's an old-school guy like Bobby Cox who wants his players to play through any challenges rather than move them around. I think that mentality needs to go the way of the dodo. In my mind, you look at the season in 16 game chunks. I'm more than willing to give a player 10% of the season to figure something out (that's usually around 2.5 weeks). Then, I'd make a change for the next 10% to see how he responds. It's a marathon of a season, so you don't want to judge a guy on small samples, but moving people around in the order based on production isn't as big of a deal as people make it out to be. And Dansby Swanson has FAR from earned the #2 spot as a birthright when he's still a rookie.

Dansby is currently hitting .131/.159/.197 and his OPS is .355, basically in that small sample he should be batting #8 in the lineup, and not #2. I have no idea why this is taking so long for Snitker to make a change, but eventually he'll have to because Matt Kemp will come back. Inciarte has started to heat up a bit from his bad start, so I have no problem leaving him in the leadoff spot. He's fast, he's good at bunting and making contact, and he's showed some pop with 4 homers already. But I think Brandon Phillips as the veteran is the obvious #2 hitter on the team, not Dansby Swanson. I'd follow him with Freddie, and then Kemp in the cleanup slot when he's back. Here's my ideal lineup right now.

Ender Inciarte - CF
Brandon Phillips - 2B
Freddie Freeman - 1B
Matt Kemp - LF
Nick Markakis - RF
Tyler Flowers - C
Chase d'Arnaud - 3B
Dansby Swanson - SS

Why Chase at third over Adonis Garcia? I don't think Adonis has earned the right to play yet. He's hitting .170 with a .460 OPS and he's started every game. I think it's time to shake that up, because he's not some gold glover 3B we're invested in. He's holding a spot while we're waiting on somebody better. Right now Chase has a .375 average and he's the hotter hand.

Also that lineup balances out your L/R hitters so that you don't have any of your top 5 hitters in a row for reliever easy innings. I think it's logically what Snitker should do, so I'm hoping he comes to that same conclusion if Dansby can't snap out of this funk by the end of the week.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Atlanta Braves Week One Recap

To avoid burnout this year, I'm going to be focusing on the Braves week by week rather than game by game. Why? Because I think this is still a rebuild period so isolating one game at a time will be more frustrating than looking at the positives and negatives of the whole week.

Unfortunately in Week One, the Braves had a record of 1-5 and blew several leads to get there. I can't say I'm upset with the team in general, I'm upset with a lot of different things that went wrong in different ways to lose all those games. Let's take a look at the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Week One.

  •  Starting pitching was top 10 in the league. The starters had a combined 2.64 ERA in 6 games across 34.1 innings. Frankly, that's excellent and I can't really demand any more from the starters to help us win games. Except they go exactly zero wins thanks to the rest of the team.
  • Freddie Freeman is raking. Freddie has a 1.085 OPS and he hit 2 homers in the same game this afternoon. The crazy thing is that in the one game the Braves actually won, Freddie went 0-5 with a walk.
  • Nick Markakis is also raking. Nicky Kakes is hitting with a .900+ OPS, two doubles, and a triple. The only thing that's keeping him from the stratosphere is his 9 Ks in one week.  
  •  The Braves are 10/53 with runners in scoring position. That's a .189 average when a runner is at least on second base or better, and that's around 25th in the majors. It's not a surprise when you're blowing that many chances
  • The Braves have hit into 10 double plays in one week. That's top 3 in the majors in most double plays. That could be ugly, but here's the thing, you have to get a bunch of runners on base in order to hit into double plays. But the Braves did hit into 145 of them last year, which was #3 in the MLB. And they are on pace to do that again.
  • The Braves bullpen has a 5.97 ERA through the week. That's bottom 10 in the majors and it's the even worse combined with the next ugly stat.
  • The Braves have committed 7 errors in 6 games. That may be dead last in the majors when the stats all get posted tomorrow, but it's certainly in the bottom two teams if not dead last. What makes it worse is that the errors directly lead to SIX unearned runs. That's an unearned run a game, and that's unacceptable.
  • Brian Snitker is making awful moves. I can forgive a lot of things from a manager, but there's a few things that get my riled up more than anything. One of them is pulling a pitcher who is obviously dealing, and he's under 90 pitches, for a bullpen we all know is questionable. The entire reason the Braves lost the Sunday game against the Pirates is because Snitker yanked Julio Teheran with 87 pitches going into the 8th inning, the pen gave away a 2 run lead, and then eventually lost the game. The pen sucks. Let the starters go deep where we can.
So Week One is pretty much a total bust. Luckily there's like 30 more of these. OK not really but it's dang close because baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. So I'm not going to go bat-blank-crazy over a week, but I'd like to hope we can actually field the ball, catch the ball, and throw the ball next week. Also, for heaven's sake stay out the bullpen or I'm going to start calling it the pigpen.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Braves Opening Day against the Mets

Julio Teheran probably checked the calendar to make sure this was a new year, because that game yesterday probably didn't feel like it. In 2016, Julio barely got any support as he had one of his career best years, but lost game after game to no-decisions due to no offense. Considering the Braves scored a grand total of nothing in game one, I think he's scratching his head yet again this morning.

Three things went really wrong in that game, and those three things added up to one big 6-0 loss to the Mets. Let's recap those 3 things in order of least important to most important.
  1. Tyler Flowers didn't get the tag down on a lazer throw to the plate by Ender Inciarte that would have kept the game tied at 0-0. The reason he didn't get the tag down in time is because he was incorrectly positioned behind the plate instead of in front of it.
  2. The bullpen imploded for 6 runs. In a move that you better get used to as a Braves fan (because I warned you that we haven't solved the issue in my Bold Predictions) Krol, Roe, and EOF all got lit up for 6 earned runs in a single inning, with 4 walks and a wild pitch. They simply couldn't command the ball at all, and that's not great for relievers. You really only have one job as a reliever, and that's throw enough strikes to either get some timely K's or use your defense to get outs behind you. Nothing will ruin a game faster than late inning reliever walks. Case in point.
  3. Matt Kemp was a trainwreck. It's one game so I'm not going to jump on Kemp too hard, but he's absolutely the reason the Braves didn't score in this game, and it's likely the reason that we had to yank Teheran early for the pen. TWICE, Kemp had a runner on third with one out and couldn't even put the ball in play. You can't have strikeouts in those scenarios in a tie game and expect to win. That's just giving runs away. And we gave away at least a 2-0 lead on the Mets that would have changed the complexion of the game.
So that's the end result of game one. Like I said, don't panic over one game, other than the fact the bullpen is still really bad and we're going to need starters to go at least into the 7th inning to have much of a chance. If we're putting in the pen starting in the 6th inning? You can likely turn off the game unless we have a 6 run lead. And maybe not even then. They need to get much better much quicker, or we need to get Coppy to fix the issue with some younger talent by May.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Braves Delta SKY360 Club

Recently I had the chance to join the Braves for a night of food and frivolity at their new Delta SKY360 club which is located underneath the seats behind home plate. The club is about 15,000 square feet of space, lined with golden gloves and silver sluggers of Braves players from over the years, and centered with 2 bar stations and a slew of food stations at the far end. It looked like it could easily seat 200 people with little issue, and probably hold up to 500 in a pinch with standing room.

You enter the club through an elevator located on the third base entrance of the stadium, and you descend to a lower level walk around a concourse. When you follow this tunnel, you take a left into the club proper, and you're immediately greeted with the Silver Sluggers lining the wall as you turn. Here's a picture of the bar as you enter into the club, it's a full wraparound situation with 4 bartenders working, along with people helping to order drinks for the tables. If you see people blurred it was because they were running that fast to get their drinks!

As you look at the far end of the hall, you see the buffet setup. The first station is a Chef's Island where they are preparing handcrafted dishes like Kobe Beef Sliders, Shrimp and Grits, Pork Belly Tacos, and Chicken Caesar mini salads. I took a quick picture of the station where they had the Shrimp and Grits cooking in the back pans.

Next up, you have the cold foods buffet, where you could get items like hummus, grilled veggies, rolls, crackers, cheeses, cold cuts, various sausages, three different types of salads, and other assorted dressings and goodies. I took a long shot of that table here.

What really struck me with the food was the quality. It not only tasted good, but the professional layout of the different items had me thinking of the offerings from a four-star restaurant rather than the food I'd get at a ballpark. This has it's obvious pros and cons, as we come to the ballpark to watch a game, but with all the amenities you might find yourself more interested in the food and drink than sitting and watching the game. Decisions, decisions. It's a tough life. Here's the slider trays that I tried and the dessert buffet below.

All that being said, we're not just here for the club, we're here for a game, and as you walk outside to the seats you're immediately greeted by the ushers who are happy to point you to your section. I stood in the proximity of our seats to give you a shot of what the field looks like, and you can get a sense of the right field Chophouse in the background. The actual view of the park will seem very familiar to all fans when they see it. The differences will be apparent when you walk around. The seats are nicer, padded, and closer to the action in the Delta Club area. There are giant fans in the concourses to provide a breeze in the summer. The Chophouse now has several rails for standing rather than one giant overlooking rail from the top. The restaurants and areas are upgraded and serving top end fare. It's all one big attempt to improve the fan experience from top to bottom, while leaving the actual field and views very familiar.

All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to see the Delta SKY360 Club, and I'm excited about seeing in more in the future. Yes, it's for a limited group of fans (what I would really call SunTrust Club 2.0), but they've improved more than just that area. You can get a sense that the Braves organization really wanted to make this ballpark for the fans, so they'd have something to eat, drink, and do before every game. They wanted to have a surrounding battery of restaurants, bars, apartments, and shops so that fans wouldn't feel like they had to just show up at 7PM and leave at 10PM. We all know the downsides that the area around Turner Field had, and this ballpark is a direct answer to those concerns whether you were in favor of the move or not.

I've personally been unabashed in my support of the move. The people who are paying the most money in season tickets were VERY in favor of the move. And as we know with anything, the businesses will follow the money. That being said, I think this ballpark will have something for the fan spending $20 all the way to the fan spending $300 a ticket. I think it will also be a place where you can actually feel comfortable walking around the park, visiting the surrounding merchants, and spending a leisurely Saturday tailgating with friends.

Plus it will be a great day when the product on the field starts to match the quality of the stadium!


Monday, March 27, 2017

Braves Bold Predictions 2017

Hey we're starting baseball in exactly one week! Who is excited?! <Raises hand like that nerdy kid you probably hated in middle school> That's right, we're ready to watch 162 games of (hopefully, mercifully decent) baseball, and before we do that I get to make some bold predictions about the season. Let's find out how wrong I'll be there year! Can anything top me picking a guy to lead the team in average who was then subsequently kicked off the team for domestic violence? WE'LL SEE!
  1. The starting rotation will be bottom 10 in ERA in the majors - I don't like much about our rotation this year beyond Folty and Teheran. I'm also sort of waiting for Teheran to come back to reality after last year. Julio had the best year of his career in 2016, and I think it would be hard to repeat that performance mentally and physically in 2017. Folty is still learning the ropes but he's yet to post a MLB ERA under 4.00 for a season. Garcia has only had, from what I can tell, one stellar year in his entire career, and that was 2015. RA Dickey is always a bad knuckler from getting shelled, and Bartolo is (let's face it) fat and old (although entertaining).
  2. Dansby Swanson wins Rookie of the Year - Dansby kept his rookie status heading into 2017 which means he'll be in the prime slot for ROY honors if he plays well. I don't think the competition will be very stiff, but it will likely come from the Cardinals, Nationals, and Pirates with their prospects if it does. However, Dansby was a .302/.361/.442 guy last year in 38 games, so if he's on point with those numbers in 2017 he's a shoe in to win it.
  3. Freddie Freeman hits 40+ homers - Freddie was banging the ball last season, he's had a great spring seeing the ball, and everyone is marveling at how consistent he is at the plate. I really like his odds to kill the ball in the new park. He hit 34 last year, and I think he'll be in the home run race this season with over 40.
  4. The Offense will be top 10 in runs scored - At the end of 2016, the Braves finished 4th in runs in September, and 10th in runs in August. They really turned things around offensively, and if anything I think they are better prepared to score in 2017. Matt Kemp will be around full-time, Ender Inciarte now has his deal to play in the outfield long term, Nick Markakis is still consistent, Freeman is back to full strength, Adonis will be at third, Dansby will get starting time, Brandon Phillips is now the second baseman, and they added Kurt Suzuki to catch. It all adds up to more runs on paper. Now we just need them in the ballpark.
  5. The bullpen will be a train wreck we still haven't fixed - My fear is that no lead will be safe with the Braves in 2017. I don't really see many options beyond Vizzy, Johnson, and Krol. Even Johnson and Krol had some uh-ohs in 2016. Behind that is the likes of Paco Rodriguez, Mauricio Cabrera, and Jose Ramirez. Two of them have less than 50 innings in the majors. Rodriguez has barely 80 innings. That's not a ton of experience to hang your hat on with the pen.
  6. Somebody will pitch a no-hitter in SunTrust Park - I don't know if it will be for us or against us, but I have a feeling that no-no is getting out of the way earlier in the new digs.
  7. Brian Snitker will get another contract extension mid-year - The Braves won't want this to linger, and I think they like having Snit in the dugout. I suspect the Braves will be cruising around .500 and fairly watchable all year which is really all the front office wants in this transitional period. They may say they want to make the playoffs, but they aren't stupid enough to actually believe it with this pitching staff.
  8. Parking around the stadium will be fine by July - Everyone is panicking but it's just a matter of finding your niche around the new lots. Once people figure out where to go, and that the battery is actually open for dinner before games with stuff to do, I get the feeling you won't have the 7PM traffic crush every day. People will start showing up at 5PM and hitting up Antico on the way to the stadium.
  9. The Braves will change regular closers at least twice - I don't think Vizzy holds the job all year long. Something just tells me with this bullpen we're going to see a big shakeup, and it might by Vizzy, Johnson, and somebody else as the Braves try to solve the late-game issues and closer problems. I would like to hope I'm wrong, but I don't really love what I'm seeing on the pitching staff at all.
And finally #10 is the record. I think the Braves go 76-86. I think they'll have games where they look awesome offensively and win 8-4. Then they'll have a night where they struggle and the rotation implodes early for a 7-2 loss. It's going to be a rollercoaster with more downs than ups as they continue to look to get younger arms experience on the staff. After all, this is still part of the rebuild. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Braves Spring Training

I like doing Good, Bad, and Ugly articles because the reader response is typically higher, and most of you enjoy listing things and then arguing about the lists. So in that vein, here's the items I've deemed Good, Bad, and Ugly about Spring Training so far for the Atlanta Braves roster.

  1. Freddie Freeman is raking - In 28 ABs, Freddie is hitting .464 with an OPS of over 1.000
  2. Kurt Suzuki is your catcher - Kurt is hitting .391 in 23 ABs, and playing well enough that the Braves decided to send Anthony Recker down to AAA. It looks like the catching slot is settled for the beginning of the season.
  3. Dansby Swanson looks great - Dansby always looks great with the flowing hair, but an OPS of .940 in spring training doesn't hurt, and he's poised to be the SS of the future.
  4. Adonis Garcia is your third baseman - He's hitting well, he has the experience there, and it seems like the Braves are comfortable with him filling that position in the short term as prospects develop.
  5. Brandon Phillips is healthy - Brandon's old, but he's hitting almost .300 and he seems to have good energy with the club. That's what we need out of our new full time second baseman.
  6. Mike Foltynewicz looks ready - Folty has pitched very well in and out of trouble this spring, and it looks like he's prepared to take over a starting rotation slot, while putting to bed all questions of whether he belongs there as a regular starter.
  1. Matt Kemp has looked blah - Kemp showed up with a better weight, but his hitting in Spring Training has been very average. He's a power hitter, but hasn't really shown signs of power yet. That's fine in the short term, but we'd like him to turn it on quickly come opening day.
  2. WBC interrupted training for a few guys - Whether it's good or bad to see some "live bullets" in the WBC, I don't know. But I do know it cut down on some training ABs for guys like Ender Inciarte, so you hope that the WBC prepped them just as well.
  3. Jace Peterson had 3 errors in training - For a guy who doesn't hit amazingly well, he can't suddenly lose the ability with the glove. He's a utility player now since Brandon Phillips will likely take over at 2B full time. 
  1. Due to injuries, Bonifacio will make this team - Emilio Bonifacio in his entire career with the Braves hit .212 with a .535 OPS. He sucks. I have no idea why we can't find anyone better, but we can't so he's going to make the team.
  2. Chase D'Arnaud is terrible and should get cut - Chase was a stopgap guy in 2016, but he's hitting .111 in training and I don't see why they should waste a roster spot on him in 2017. He can go work on his music.
  3. The bullpen is still a problem - John Danks was supposed to be an option out of the pen, but he's been released after he sucked. Blaine Boyer has been awful with an ERA over 10, Jose Ramirez has an ERA over 6.00 and hasn't looked great allowing 3 homers in 8 innings, Ian Krol looks shakey, and the rest of the guys barely have enough innings to make judgements. Luckily O'Flaherty looks decent, Vizzy can still close, and Jim Johnson looks great. But remember last season's bullpen woes had these guys included. We were hoping for upgrades and I'm not seeing a ton.
  4. The rotation is old - Bartolo and Dickey may or may not pan out, but they are really old guys who we shouldn't expect better than 50/50 shot at winning each night. Folty and Teheran will lead the way as the young guns, with 30 year old Garcia getting regular starts in the middle. It's not a bad rotation, it's just an old rotation with a lot of downside if your elders don't perform.

So there you have it. I think the good outweighs the bad right now, but we have to hope for bigger and better things as the new stadium digs open.