Thursday, February 28, 2013

Training Game #6: The Tigers

Whoops. That's the word I'd use for the two starters in this game. Porcello for the Tigers gave up 3 runs in the first inning, including a bomb to Juan Francisco. Hudson gave up 2 runs in the first inning with a bomb by Prince Fielder. I doubt Tim will be the only one to get victimized by Fielder this season. After those iffy starts, both starters settled in, and Hudson went 2 more innings without giving up a baserunner. That's the kind of recovery you expect from a veteran ace.

Francisco stole the day in this game. Juan had the 3 run homer in the first, and a line drive single in the third that help set up a sacrifice run. That turned out to be the difference maker one the score sheet for the day. It's good to see Juan boast the kind of power he had early in games, because that's when he's likely facing the MLB talent he'd see on a day-to-day basis. Also, we need a guy like Juan for his platoon position at 3rd, and the possible off the bench PH for power. As such, you want Juan to have a pinch hitter's mentality. He's not going up there to look at pitches and draw walks. He's going up to the plate to size up a pitch he can drive into the gaps or over the wall. Case in point was his first AB, when he looked at one ball before launching the second pitch high fastball to deep right.

Other notables were Joe Terd grabbing a 2 bagger and RBI with 2 outs, and Chris Johnson knocking in Freddie Freeman on the sacrifice fly in the third. Overall, the Braves didn't have many changes, only going 2-6 with RISP, but the made the most of them to convert 5 runs. That's probably the way we are going to have to play this season. We'll need a few dinks and dunks with a 2-3 run shot somewhere. We'll also need to jump on people early. We're all too familiar with the Braves hanging their heads after not scoring for 4 innings with that "We're NEVER gonna win!" look on their faces. I hate that look.

Six more strikeouts for Braves batters on the day. That brings the toteboard up to...38 total Ks. And Dan Uggla leads the way with 6 Ks in 12 ABs. DO NOT WANT. Clean it up Uggs, you're making me irrationally nervous. I'd feel a bit better about the 38 Ks if there weren't only 13 walks to go along with them. It's early in the training, so a lot of that is kids just wanting to freewheel with the bat. I understand that. I'm going to keep a closer eye on that later in training around the middle of March.

Game today against the Phillies at about 1PM. Looks like we get to see Hamels. Maybe we can take him deep right off the bat and stick it to the Phillies before the season even starts. Never miss a chance to boo the Phillies, folks.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Training Games 4 & 5: The Marlins and Nats

Are people done panicking about the start of spring training yet? See what I mean? I won't even bother referencing the record so far, but it makes some people less crazy when you win games in any format. So, good for them I suppose. In the meantime, we learned more about the Braves young players and prospects, and a few things about our pitching staff development in these two matchups. Let's dig in on the recap.

For starters, Heyward and Justin Upton both had pretty long shots against the Marlins in a 4th inning back-to-back effort. I really like the way Heyward is swinging the bat right now, and he's always going to be one of the players we watch in training for his approach. As you well know, Jason has had up and down seasons in his early career, and a lot of that comes from his approach at the plate. Some (like me) thought he developed a hole in his swing when he was struggling due to his stance off the plate. However, when it's right, he can launch balls into the stands from the inner half. Part of the reason Jason was able to get that home run in the 4th was his good eye on early pitches. He took Scott Maine to a 3-0 count before swinging. Then he ran it full. On the 3-2 pitch that Maine tried to groove, Heyward fully turned on it and sent the ball deep to right for the long bomb.

Compare this to Justin's approach in the next AB. Now you know you have a pitcher who's rattled and has been throwing balls. Justin correctly lets Maine toss one low and away for a ball, and he knows that Maine's not going to try to get behind 2-0 again. He's waiting, and he ambushes a high inside fastball that he drives into left field. Both guys were able to wait for the right pitch to pull, and they both didn't miss it when it came. Nor did they go freewheeling at the first piece of crap ball near the plate. Patience for these younger players will be paramount over the long haul.

I also liked to see Chris Johnson and BJ Upton getting 2 hits apiece in the Marlins game, and the Braves had a robust 4-9 RISP. The pitching was also very good from the players you're likely to see on a daily basis in the pros. Medlen, Gearrin, Kimbrel, Avilan, Martinez, and Varvaro all pitched 8 combined innings of 1 run baseball. Then some jerk named Yohan Flande gave up 5 runs. We don't care about him yet. Put him back in the minor league oven for another 2 years.

The Nats game was a bit of a different story from the pitching standpoint, and it raises an old concern from the ghosts of early 2012. Mike Minor went 2 innings with 3 hits, 2 walks, 2 earned runs, and struck out 4. The strikeouts are good, but the WHIP is wretched, and the 2 runs in the first inning are not what I'm looking for. He's the only starter so far to give up a run. He's also one of the only starters who was on the club last year that I have big concerns about. You well know if you read the blog last year how I was ready to basically punch him in the face after his early starts. I've since softened my position on that, but I don't forget easily what happens when the Braves give up early runs in tough games.

A guy who continues to show up in the stats sheet is Evan Gattis. He went 2/3 with a run scored in the game against the Nats, and that brings his overall total to 5/9 with 2 doubles, 2 runs, and 2 RBIs. Clearly, he's seeing the ball the best of any prospect in spring training right now. He's been an organizational All-Star for the Braves for the last two years, and a post-season All-Star for the Rome Braves in 2011. He's a catcher by trade, but can shift to the OF since his bat is that good. If this was the AL he'd be a DH, no question. Will he get a shot at the team? Probably not on a regular basis yet because we are so set at catching and outfield, but you never know about how the health of players will go over the regular season. It's good to have a slugging guy in your back pocket as a PH solution late in games. One thing is clear, he's too big for AAA pitching, but maybe a little too one-dimensional for the big leagues? We'll see if he's ready to make the leap in the regular season. Keep an eye on him.

Let's also take a look at some overall spring batting/fielding stats so far:

Total Ks for the Braves: 32 in 5 games
Most Ks by any player: Dan Uggla with 4
Most Hits by any player: Gattis and BJ Upton tied with 5
Most Homers by any player: Jason Heyward with 2
Most Walks by any player: Dan Uggla with 2, tied with Ernesto Mejia
Most Errors by any player: Dan Uggla with 2

Dan Uggla scares me with that glove. I don't care about much else except seeing that improve.

Go Braves!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Training Game #3: The Pirates

Now, it's about this time in Spring Training when some pundits, or your friends, or the haters will want to bring up scores and records. Those people do not understand baseball if they do. Best to politely nod, ignore them, and put them on your list of people not to save if there happens to be a nuclear/zombie apocolypse. We won't need that kind of nonsense in my brave new world.

The game against the Pirates showcased a couple of pretty awesome things. Heyward jacked one in the 6th inning that landed waaaaay deep in center. It was a total no-doubter on a 1-2 count, which is nice to see that Jason can ambush a pitch when he's behind. BJ Upton also grabbed a two bagger in the fourth when he leveled off on a high first pitch fastball. That was one of BJ's two hits on the day. Also, Schafer went 2/2, so I have to give the kid a nod when he does well. I would love for him to raise his trade value by knocking a few around in training. Oh and Pastornicky went 1/1, so the chuckleheads were batting 1000 on the day. Savor the flavor, guys.

Downside? We struck out 8 times, bringing the total to a smoooooooth 23 Ks in 3 games. Also we went 1-8 with RISP, stranding 8 guys. Oh and as honorable mention, Venters got rocked. Two runs on 3 hits because he elevated a sinker that left the yard. Not a good inning for Everyday Jonny. That was nothing, though, compared to the greasefire that was David Carpenter. The RH reliever only went .2 innings giving up 5 runs on 4 hits. Carpenter is a Toronto reject who posted a horrifying 8.07 ERA in 32 innings last season. For some reason the Braves claimed him off waivers, possibly due to the fact he had a 2.93 ERA in 2011 for Houston in 28 innings. Guess what? We probably should have left him there.

Some dude named Aaron Northcraft, who was born in the 90s (DO YOU FEEL OLD YET?), did his best Wild Thing impression by walking 4 guys in the 8th. Thing is, Northcraft is a 6'4" 225lbs hurler who could be an effective middleman if he can stop throwing it into the crowd. He's a longterm prospect heading to a AA transition, so we'll see if the name comes up again in 2015.

More good news that doesn't show up in the scores? Hudson, Maholm, and Teheran all have pitched 2 innings of no-hit ball each. Only two guys have reached base on them so far. Guys that also haven't given up hits? Avilan, Gearrin, Kimbrel, Martinez, and Varvaro. So far, so good from most of our pitching regulars (except Jonny).

Go Braves!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Training Game #2 Recap: The Yankees

It was a pretty good hitting day for the Braves. However, it was a terrible fielding day, which is always one of my concerns with out lineup. Atlanta had 3 errors in the game, most of which came in the third inning. We were tossing the ball all over the diamond, AND Bethancourt had a tough time blocking pitches at the plate. Not pretty, and not what I want out of our guys.

Two guys had standout days at the plate: Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis. Evan managed a 4th inning double and a two run bomb in the 6th to go 2/3 on the day. Freddie also had a pair of singles and scored a run on Gattis' long ball, going 2/3 as well. The rest of the team was average in their attempts to get on base, and we suffered from an all-too-familiar problem of going 0-7 with RISP. Strikeout totals for the Braves? Five this time around which brings our running total to 13.

Let's take a look at some good and bad through 2 games so far:

Good - Freddie Freeman already has 3 hits in 5 ABs. Every time he's put the ball in play, he's gotten a base hit. None of them are deep balls yet, but I like the way he's putting the bat on the ball. Also, we got a peek at Braves pitching prospect JR Graham, a guy that can wing a fastball up to 100 on the gun with some natural movement. Graham's issue in the bigs will be command, but he's got the natural ability to be a possible show player.

Bad -  Jordan Walden, the player we received in the trade for Tommy Hanson, got absolutely lit up in this game. Part of that wasn't hit fault because the Braves fielding in the third was wretched. However, he still gave up 4 runs on 3 hits and a bomb. No amount of fielding can bring one back into the ballpark when it's 5 rows deep. Walden was a closer for the Angels in 2011 and an All-Star. Seeing as we have Kimbrel already, that won't be his role with us. We'd be looking for him as a setup guy, but he's had problems with command and his fastball has seen a dropoff. With those concerns I have a close eye on Walden to see if he even belongs in our already quality pen.

Go Braves!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Training Game #1 Recap: Detroit Tigers

Opening day of Spring Training was mostly a pitching display. The Tigers didn't have a single hit against Hudson, Kimrel, Avilan, Gearrin, Martinez, or Hughes in their innings pitched. It wasn't until the 8th against some newbie named Ryan Buchter that they got on the board. Overall, that was good to see from our staff, although you're not likely to see Kimbrel pitch in the 3rd inning very often.

The only guy who had a decent hitting day for us was Joey Terdoslavich, whom I will now refer to as "The Terd" because I'm mature like that, went deep in the 9th inning for the Braves solo run. Freeman and Uggla also had hits, along with some of our backup outfielders. Nobody had any errors in the field, but of course that's a given when your pitchers hardly let anybody touch the ball until the 8th. We'll see how that plays out over the week.

There's a couple of guys I'll highlight for their approach at the plate, good and bad.

Todd Cunningham - He's a 6 foot 200lbs switch hitting outfielder who is about 24 years old. Cunningham in the ninth was first pitch swinging on a middle of the plate meatball. He ended up rapping that on a line to left for a base hit. It's a smart approach late in a game like that to look for a good pitch early in the count, and Cunningham wasted no time.

Tyler Pastornicky - In the 8th Tyler led off the inning by swinging at 3 straight pitches, and striking out. Two of those pitches were up and out of the zone. It was a terrible approach for anybody leading off an inning, and it shows he wasn't thinking about the situation. We don't need you to get hits in the leadoff spot of an inning, we need you to work counts and get on base by any means possible. Hacking doesn't help.

Oh, and if you want to keep an early counter on how many times the Braves will strike out this season, we had 8 whiffs at the plate on Friday. The number 8 is actually my lucky number. Also, Justin Upton will be wearing #8 this season. So, in Sesame Street terms, today's game was brought to you by the number 8, and the letter K.

Go Braves!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Spring Training begins today

Finally. It's been forever since that thing that happened at Turner Field involving a fly ball and trash on the field. We can't really speak of it. Every time I hear that replay call, I want to tomahawk chop the entire umpiring union. Moving on.

SPRING TRAINING! Game one is today against the Tigers. I'll be going over the results of the games on a day by day basis, but don't expect me to talk much about wins and losses. Records don't matter. Also don't expect to read into what the veterans are doing. Most of what I'll be covering is the younger guys, their fielding, and the pitchers that aren't Hudson and Medlen. The back end of our rotation is one of my biggest concerns.

Over the next week, we're heading into March with the lineup we expected, minus Brian McCann. That means we'll likely see Freddie Freeman in the cleanup slot until Bmac is back, and after that we'll shuffle depending on production. Medlen and Hudson are absolutely the 1-2, Maholm and Minor your 3-4, and a 5 that's probably Teheran unless he plunks the mascot or one of those Braves girls in the short shorts waving T shirts. How come I never get a T shirt when they are out there? Is there a trick to this? I suspect a tshirt conspiracy at play.

It's a crappy day in Atlanta, but the weather is fine in Florida. I wish I was there, but tax returns don't do themselves.

Go Braves!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pastornicky and Schafer are complete morons

“We’re waiting for [Pastornicky] again this year,” Gonzalez said sarcastically, in a good-natured tone that nonetheless sent a message. “Schafer probably has a tough time getting travel arrangements. He’s another one I’m going to grab. He only lives two exits up the road here; I haven’t seen him yet."

Holy crap. How dumb are you guys? Oh wait, Schafer already spent a 50 game suspension for PED violations, got arrested for dope, and couldn't hack it on the Astros. When the God-forsaken Astros put you back in a box with "Return to sender" stamped on it? You officially suck at baseball and possibly life.

Pastornicky lost his job to a rookie that couldn't hit in spring training because he had hands of stone at short. Nobody knew that he also had a brick for a brain as well. Maybe he's so dumb he couldn't find his pants, and that kept him from making it to training. Maybe his agent didn't inform him that showing up at the last possible second looks bad when you're TRYING TO GET YOUR JOB BACK.

As far as I'm concerned we should have just cut them as they got out of the car. Pull a Willy Mays Hayes and just put their bunk out in the parking lot. The downside is that Pastornicky might not notice, and Schafer would just get high in the parking lot until he could hitch a ride to the Keys.

Go Braves!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pitchers and Catchers Reported Today

It's almost here. This is one of those update posts as we get ready for the Spring Training games to begin. It's also time to let you know how I'll focus on Spring Training in terms of coverage. Let's go over a few ground rules so we know what's important.

1 - Records don't matter in Spring Training: Winning is irrelevent. You know who won spring training last year? Don't cheat and use google. Exactly, you have no idea. It was Toronto. Yep, a team that finished 16 games under .500 in the AL East. We went 10-18 in Spring Training and won 94 games.

2 - A veteran's stats don't really matter, either: You know what Dan Uggla hit in training? He was batting .277 with 6 bombs. Know what Chipper was hitting? Around .200 with only 1 RBI. How did that work out in the regular season? Not so much. You can't really glean anything from their numbers because they don't really care, and they are working on techniques against odd rotations.

3 - Fielding stats do matter: Guess the only two starters on the team to make 3 errors in training? Dan Uggla and Tyler Pastornicky. One got replaced because he had 7 errors in 42 games and the other led the team with 12 errors on the season. Fielding is fielding. You don't want to see people struggle at any level with the glove.

4 - Young kids do matter: Simmons got his shot because he could field well in training. A guy like Bethancourt is going to have a lot of eyeballs on him since McCann won't be ready until late April, and Rossy is gone. Watch how the young guys field, and their approach at the plate. The hits and misses don't matter, it's the mental aspect. Are they swinging at good pitches? Are they taking close balls off the plate? Are they aggressive in the right spots? All of those things are important at the major league level. As Kevin Costner says, "They throw ungodly breaking stuff in the show."

Keep your eyes open. See if you can find the next star.

Go Braves!