Friday, December 27, 2013

Atlanta Braves New Years Resolutions

A little early, but I'm going to be travelling on actual New Years Day, as I expect many of you will. So I'll do this on Friday to get the jump on the New Year. Here are the things I think the Braves should resolve to do in 2014.

1 - Be Better in Center: We all know BJ sucked, and he was part of the reason the Braves couldn't get anything going at the back end of the order. Hell, he was so bad it was record-setting. He's a killer to a lineup if he's wrong. That means if the Braves want to have a remote shot at taking the division again next year, they need him to hit over .240 at the least.

2 - Make Better Decisions at the Plate: There are times when a walk is as good as a hit. There are other times when a walk is a situational killer because a guy batting sub-.200 is behind you. If we have two outs, two on, and Jason Heyward at the plate, I want him free-wheeling on the ball when Dan Uggla is behind him. I don't want that walk to make the bases loaded for a bad hitter who doesn't even put the ball in play 50% of the time. You can't play the odds that way and expect to score. Too many times the Braves were swinging when they shouldn't (guys like Simmons jump to mind), and taking when they shouldn't (guys like Justin jump to mind). As a result our RISP was terrible, and that's what making better decisions improves foremost.

3 - Embrace Thievery: Speed was supposed to be one of this team's assets. You know how many bases we stole last year? 64. That was 24th in the Majors. When you struggle with RISP, it helps to get more chances with RISP. I mean even if you're hitting .250 in that category, you'll still score a run if you stretch 4 singles into runners on second with smart base-running.

4 - Stay Healthy: How many injuries can you take to a team before it takes a toll on your performance? How many times did a pitching injury or hitting injury change the whole outlook on a month? The Braves need to take a look at how they approach games, as does the manager. They need to question their conditioning heading into the season if they are constantly coming up with tweaks and problems to almost everyone in the lineup. If there's one thing I can say for Dan Uggla, dude is in shape and doesn't get injured that often.

5 - Minimize the Snowball Effect: The Braves were bad about giving up the big inning that would completely sink the game in 2013. Somehow one run would turn into 4 runs with a lot of walks, errors, and bombs. Example, in game 3 of the playoffs, the Dodgers got two leadoff hits. Then the Braves got a strikeout. At this point, all you need to do is get a ball on the ground or in play. Nope, Teheran walked the bases loaded. Then he gave up a sacrifice. Okay, so the damage was just a run. Get an out and you're out of the inning. Nope, 3 run bomb to Crawford with two outs. Not just with 2 outs, with 2 strikes as well. That's what I mean about the snowball effect, and it happened to the Braves all season. In fact in September, the Braves gave up 9 innings of 3 runs or more. That's just in one month. Those are game-changing innings that more often than not cost you wins down the stretch.

Those things are the resolutions I'd love to see the Braves make in the New Year. Oh, and will somebody adopt Dan Uggla please? Maybe we can put him on one of those ASPCA-type commercials with Sarah McLachlan singing "Eyes of an Angel" and distribute it to all the GMs. For just $35,000 a day, you can give an Uggla clean drinking water, baby Tees, and a good home.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Braves Contract Talks Part 5

Small update, the Braves have signed Beachy to a 1 year deal to beat arbitration, but they won't say how much. My guess is not much. Beachy hasn't been right since he had the Tommy John surgery in 2012, and frankly I don't think the Braves really trust his health now. They want the one year deal to get him on the roster in a prove-it-to-us scenario, but if Beachy can't regain some of his velocity and break on the ball, he's not going to be a long-term answer in the rotation for the Braves.

If you remember last season, Beachy was like the prodigal pitcher that was coming to save us. Except that day never really came. He only started 5 games all season, and he was pretty mediocre in those starts. The WHIP was a solid 1.03, but he was giving up long balls and big hits like crazy. A 4.50 and 5 bombs in just 30 innings isn't going to excite anybody, especially when the fast ball wasn't topping out in the mid-90s. He had a procedure in September to work out whatever the problem was supposedly, but I'm going to have a very close eye on him in spring training to see if he's ready.

Seven players are still left to sign contracts, including Kimbrel and Freeman, so we still have a ways to go on the late year contract talks, and hopefully the Frank Wren wheeling and dealing.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Braves Contract Talks Part 4

The Braves have inked Gavin Floyd to a 1 year deal. A friend and reader texted me asking who the heck Gavin Floyd was. Honestly, I had no idea so I did some digging. The deal for Floyd is a $4M one year deal that pulls him in as a FA out of the White Sox. No wonder I didn't know the guy, he's in the AL, the place where good pitching goes to die. Unless you are named Verlander. Moving on.

The move is obvious, Floyd is meant to take over the seasoned right-handed veteran role that Tim Hudson provided the Braves last season. He's a 30 year old pitcher, a 70-70 record, a kid out of Baltimore, MD, and a 4.48 ERA in the DH league. That's probably akin to a 3.98 ERA in the NL. He's spent 7 years with the White Sox, during that tenure he's been able to rack up 4 seasons of 30+ starts, and one season of 29 starts. Last year he was put on IR with a Tommy John injury, so the Braves will be getting him off of that surgery. He can put up 190+ innings a year when he's healthy, no problem. Also, he's a decent strikeout guy with a 7.1 K/9 ratio. Basically it's a 1-year value play tryout for a guy coming off a surgery with little downside. For $4M plus another $4M in incentives, the Braves are getting a pitcher who is guaranteed to play hard for the extra cash, and a guy that will fit nicely into the 3-4-5 spot of the rotation.

Now, what does this mean for the Ace discussion? In my mind, you know you have 3 solid starters, Medlen, Minor, and Teheran. Now you have Floyd. You want to add Beachy back if he's healthy. That's your 5 right now. If you make a trade for Price, you're going to have to deal one of those guys back, otherwise you've screwed up your rotation. Yes, you want depth, but that's why you have guys like Alex Wood and David Hale in the wings. I think it's still possible, but I'm starting to believe that like the Dan Uggla trade, the mythical Ace trade is just that. A Myth.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Braves Contract Talks Part 3

Short Update: The Braves signed Walden to a 1 year $1.49M contract. That means he is one of the first dominoes to fall on the offers made to about 9 Braves in order to avoid arbitration. This is the guy we got from LA in exchange for Tommy Hanson. Somebody remind me where Tommy Hanson is right now? He didn't get a contract offer? Wonder why. Oh because had a 5.42 ERA and got sent down to Salt Lake AAA? That sucks. For them.

Seriously, any Braves fan could tell you Tommy Hanson can't pitch. Much like we could tell you that Dan Uggla can't hit. The fact we got Walden in a trade for Hanson is nothing short of a miracle. Walden posted 54 Ks in 47 innings, a 1.13 WHIP, and an opposing BAA of .220 on the season. He's the perfect setup man for the 8th when you need a bridge. Get Venters back in the flow, and you've got a Venters-Walden-Kimbrel back end that people feel pretty comfortable about.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Braves Contract Talks Part 2

I'll start this update by saying that Bobby Cox is going to the Hall of Fame, so good for him. It's no shock to anybody since he's one of the most winning managers of all time, and one of the guys that almost every player wanted to play for. I'll give that it's just due when they actually have the ceremony. In the meantime, we have HOT STOVE!

Frank Wren did an interview recently with Mark Bowman to discuss the players the Braves might be looking for in the off season. I'll give you a quick hint, he's not going to talk about getting an Ace. Here's a quote from Frank:

"I don't see, necessarily, a front-line move," Wren said. "I see more support moves, where you are adding a bench bat that can give you power off the bench. Or adding to our bullpen or adding to the depth of our rotation. I see it more likely to make those moves than the big front-line moves."

Ok, so I see this two ways. One, no GM is going to come right out and tell you about his big moves in the offseason. If he's out there saying, "Man we REALLY need an Ace or we're screwed as a franchise," that opens you up to other clubs raising the price, and fans getting pissed when you can't pull off a deal. So, I think ole Franky's sandbagging us. We know he's looking at big-named pitchers. He's also probably looking at a backup left fielder slot, and some pinch hit utility guys we could put in late. But really, this offseason is going to be about two things: Can we unload Dan Uggla and can we sign the big arm?

Right now, the answer on both fronts is no. It's also early. Meanwhile, the Nationals have already been making moves, like picking up Doug Fister for their pitching staff. Does that bother me as a Braves fan? Not really since I think Fister is coming off one good year, while his previous stats tell me that he's usually a 50-50 win guy who can eat innings at a 3.50 ERA. Granted, that's solid, but he's also turning 30 this year, and he's coming off the highest inning total of his career in Detroit. Tim Hudson had an almost identical stats year to Fister back in 2005 when he was 29, then went out and had 13-12 season with a 4.86 ERA at 30. It can happen at that age, and Hudson was 3x the pitcher Fister is.

So the Braves focus now on the Ace, despite Frank's attempts to make you look at the kitty over there. Two names that are popping up are David Price (duh), and Jeff Samardzija (ugh). If we get Jeff, I'm not sure what I'd do, because if you've read this blog much you know I think he's a punk and I really dislike him. Also, Notre Dame football players don't belong on this team. His numbers aren't in the same arena as Price. David's 71-39 with a 3.19 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. He's also 28. Samardzija is 29, is 29-35 (that's mostly the Cubs), has a 4.19 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Do these guys look similar? They shouldn't, because one is an Ace, and the other is a guy the Cubs would hope to trade for magic beans that solve being a terrible franchise.

Frank, you have one job. Go get David Price. Give up whatever you have to short of Simmons and Freeman. They want Heyward? Take him. They want Gattis? Take him. They want BJ back and a public apology? You bet. I would literally sell almost anybody on this team to get him, and yes, I include Craig Kimbrel in that. Some of you are like NOT CRAIG ARE YOU CRAZY? No, I'm not. Not only is the closer position statistically the most overrated in baseball (you're going to win 90%+ of the games you lead by a run or more regardless of the pitcher), but Craig is also one of those guys that redlines his arm constantly. I think he's ripe for Tommyjohn at some point in the near future. Don't think it can happen? Look at the two relief guys in Venters and O'Flaherty. Look at Beachy. Look at a guy like Strasburg on the other side. Guys that try to pump up the high heat in today's game, and have done it since they were in high school, are bound to face the knife at some point in their careers now. Also, would I trade a closer for an ace starter? Yeah, considering my closer is going to pitch maybe 70 innings a year, while my Ace is probably going 200+.

Remember guys, the trading philosophy should be to make trades when guys are at the absolute highest point of their value. That's why nobody wants Dan Uggla, and people would want a guy like Craig Kimbrel. You need to leverage whatever assets you have while you can, because I don't think Craig is going to pump out 50 save seasons over and over. Even Rivera only did that twice, and that was playing for the Yankees. So, I hope you can see the point, and that this isn't me trying to get Craig out of town. I love Craig, I think he's a great guy, but I can show you imperically how our closer isn't as important as our starter when it comes to succeeding in the post-season. If he's part of a package to get the key starter, we shouldn't freak out about it.

Let's get us an Ace!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Braves Attendance Metrics

The Braves 2,548,679 in paid attendance in 2013. This is about 125,000 more people than the prior year of 2012, and the highest in Turner Field since 2007. Why is that important for the Braves? Because as we've seen in prior years, the contracts and payroll are highly tied to the gate. Who likes charts? I LIKE CHARTS! Here we go.

Now if you look at those two charts, you can see how there is a correlation between the payroll and attendance. The exception is the Phillies, whose payroll has exploded due to a series of bad overpriced contracts, and now they are floundering while trying to unload some liabilities in their 30s. Meanwhile, you can see that the Braves are pretty even keel. It's no accident that since 2007, the Braves payroll has stayed relatively consistent while the other teams have gone through some wild swings. You can certainly see how the Nationals became more competitive in that period as their payroll began to rise, leading to them winning a division. You can also see the Mets taking a nosedive in payroll and at the gate due to the Bernie Madoff stuff. You can also see the exact point where Marlins suckered their fans into a new stadium for a year, and then subsequently sold off the team. Because their owner deserves to be dealing art in Hell.

So what's the point of this? Well if you look at when the Braves had a payroll over $100M in 2008, that just happened to follow the best attendance year the Braves have had in a decade in 2007. You can watch as attendance feell in 2008, so did payroll in 2009. They are very closely tied for the Braves because our TV contract never changes, but the attendance numbers can drive team expenses. That means you may see an uptick in payroll for the Braves in 2014. How much exactly? Well we're pretty close to the 2008 attendance numbers, and they are looking to take on possibly an Ace contract, so you could see as much as $95M in payroll in 2014. Will Frank Wren do that? I hope so!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Braves Contract Talks Part 1

Yesterday the Braves made several contract offers to avoid arbitration. This is important, because if you know the Braves, the one thing that the club doesn't do is go to arbitration. In fact, if you push for it as a player on the Braves, you can expect to find yourself another job when that period is up. The Braves aren't quite clipping coupons as a franchise, but they certainly aren't buying at Whole Foods. If the Braves were shopping for clothes, they'd be at Ross or TJ Maxx. Not at Goodwill but also not at Joseph A Bank. In essence, they have to be very careful with money, which makes the Dan Uggla and BJ contracts that much more devestating.

Three players did not get offers, which means their time in Atlanta is likely up. Christian Martinez is the obvious one, and I don't think anybody will be sorry to see him go. He spent most of 2012 on the DL with some sort of bizarre shoulder injury and never recovered. The other two are Paul Janish and Elliot Johnson. Paul may be a fielding whiz, but he couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag. Elliot really found his stride here in Atlanta after struggling in KC, but he's still a career .218 hitting second baseman no matter how you slice it. We have a full stock of those already. The Elliot Johnson move also suggests what I've believed all along, the talks to move Dan Uggla are going nowhere. He's going to be your second baseman when 2014 opens. While we all wish somebody would take the crappy contract off our hands, I think we all need to understand that no GM in baseball is that stupid. Even at 25% of what Dan makes, he's not worth it.

Players that got contract offers to avoid arbitration? That would be Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Chris Johnson, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Jordan Schafer. That doesn't mean they took the offers, but the Braves are working on getting them signed before they have to get to the arbitration process. They also signed Ramiro Pena to a one-year contract that will avoid arbitration as well. That means you'll have Dan Uggla, Pena, and Pastornicky as a potential platoon for second base. It also means there wasn't any room for Elliot Johnson. The Braves also signed a one-year deal with Venters, so he will be around for 2014 as well coming off the Tommy John surgery. That's good news for the bullpen.

In the coming weeks, the Braves will work on getting the remaining deals closed so we can keep the young guys happy. Also, Frank Wren will continue to try and make the trade for an Ace if he can. We'll see what the hot stove has in store as we get closer to Christmas. Maybe there will be a fireballing starter under the tree.