Thursday, July 28, 2016

Braves trade Lucas Harrell for Travis Demeritte

Yes, the Braves magician and GM John "Coppy" Coppolella has swung another deal for an asset the Braves really didn't need, and turned that asset into prospects. We love prospects these days. Braves fans wrap themselves up at night with their Braves prospects sheets that have all the young faces printed on them. Don't you want to sleep with Dansby Swanson on your pillow? I can guarantee you if not, your wife or girlfriend does.

But what did the Braves get? In the first fifteen minutes Twitter was abuzz about the potential of the new prospect from the Rangers named Travis Demeritte. Which is great because I like when the Braves family gets excited in a bad season. After all, we have nothing to look forward to right now except the potential of our minor league players. That's just the hard truth. Still, is the trade worth the buzz it's getting? Did the Rangers really give up a big-time prospect for essentially two mid-year pickup players the Braves didn't even want?

I've heard crazy things about how much of a future 3B player Travis will be for the Braves. Yeah, well that's a little nuts, because Travis has been in some version of A-Ball since 2013, which is a little odd. I have to wonder why a guy who hits 25 homers in a season at an infield slot wouldn't get advanced in the minor league system over almost 300 games. Well, for one thing he got hit with a banned substances suspension in 2015, and that was 80 games. So I immediately throw out his numbers from before that, because he was likely on the needle. Frankly, even after his suspension I have to question if he's still using, because several players have continued to use banned substances even after their first violation. It shows you're careless, and stupid, and you're willing to cheat in the minors to get ahead. I'm not a fan of that at all.

However, I can move past that if he's cleaned up his act, and there's been no more suspension since then. What did happen in 2016, was he again his 25 homers at A-Ball. Which begs the question yet again, why is he still in A-Ball? Many times it's because a player is blocked by upper tier talent, and when I look at the Texas farm system that might be the case in some areas. For example, at the MLB level Beltre and Odor aren't going anywhere at the 2B and 3B slots, and at AAA they have a kid named Joey Gallo playing 3B who is hitting over .900 OPS. So sure, he's unlikely to move up there right now. But why not AA? Why is he stuck down in A ball still?

I have a guess, and that's because the Rangers knew they could likely get some value with a guy boasting HR numbers at the lower leagues, and they didn't want to risk bringing him up to AA where he might struggle and decrease his value for no reason. I don't think they believe the kid has a future in their organization at all, partially due to blocks, partially due to the suspension, and probably even more that he's a slugger with a shocking 125 K's in 378 PA's at A-Ball. Let me tell you something about strikeouts, they don't get better as you see better pitching with ungodly breaking stuff. You have to make some serious adjustments to get rid of those swing-and-miss numbers when they are that high.

So is this trade a complete coup? No, I don't think so, but I do think it's a low risk value move. I think it's a young player with power potential, but he's swinging from his heels in A-Ball and would have to learn how to harness that power more effectively. People will go nuts over the homer numbers, and that's fine. But homers in the California league won't necessarily translate to banging the ball out of the yard against the next two tiers of minor league pitching, let alone the majors. He's a lottery ticket bet for the Braves, which is a fine bet considering they gave up almost nothing of value for Travis. That's the key point. I love the trade for that part of it alone, because it's not like they gave up Simmons for this kid and some pitching. The value trade of the play is completely dependent on Travis' value, but there's little to no downside for the move.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Who is as bad as Erick Aybar?

By now you know that Erick Aybar is terrible and deserves to be publicly flogged in the town square while children throw apples at him. But exactly how bad is Erick Aybar? Is he as bad as a recent Wall Street Journal article declared him "potentially the worst player in a generation"? And why the hell are the Braves still playing him everyday when we have a guy like Dansby Swanson in the minors, begging for some big show time?

I got into this discussion recently with a few of my Twitter followers. Most of them agree that the reason we are trying to play Aybar is to showcase him for a trade. The question is, can the Braves trade the worst player in a generation? Can they even get a bag of balls for the guy? I suppose since they were able to unload BJ Upton, there's always a chance the Braves can move him (although BJ/Melvin suddenly started playing well again so ha-ha front office he just hated it here, not baseball in general).

The other things I've heard related to service time for Dansby, not really having a proven better option at SS (except maybe Castro), and possibly the fact they are tanking for a first place draft pick by finishing dead last. I think if you want to finish last you should play Erick Aybar and act like a nice guy (because nice guys finish last hur hur). If you want to at least win some games, I'd put someone above Aybar's dismal -1.5 WAR on the field. HINT: That's anybody. He's terrible. Anybody would be better than him. Well maybe not ANYBODY, as I'll show you with some quick analysis.

So who is worse than Aybar right now? Prince Fielder and Alexei Ramirez, both with an astounding -1.8 WAR on Fangraphs. Which is funny because Prince is getting paid $24M this year to be the worst player in baseball, a defensive nightmare, and terrible at the only position he can play which is DH in the AL. That makes Aybar look like a gem in comparison. It gets worse when you see the Rangers are on the hook for $24M for another 4 years of Fielder, who is 32. You know what post-steroid power hitters don't do in their mid-30s? Get more powerful. That was reserved for guys riding the needle. In today's game, go look at Albert Pujols numbers when he turned 33 and beyond. That's what you get. MAYBE one good year out of every 4 left.

Alexei Ramirez is 34, playing on a $1M buyout option with the Padres, and sucking. He's worse than Aybar, but he costs much less $$$, which is probably the reason the Padres keep playing him. If there was an option to make a Redneck Swap Meet Trade (I take your junk, you take my junk, we try to fix each other's junk), then I've say Ramirez for Aybar makes sense. They are both SS's who may just need a change of scenary since neither team is going anywhere. Maybe you can get a prospect for Aybar out of San Diego because they've taken dumber trades from us before.

But in reality, there's no market for Aybar. He costs the Braves $6M this year, which means he only has about $2.5M left on the deal, and on top of that he's not signed beyond 2016. So what are you trading exactly? You want to rent Aybar for 2 months for your playoff run other GM's? What GM would be that stupid? If you want to try and fix Aybar, you can get him for next to nothing come December, and sign him to a minor league deal where he can work his way on a roster for a prove-it minimum. You don't pay $2.5M for Aybar's sub-.600 OPS and horrible defense.

Aybar isn't going anywhere until we get the 40-man roster callups, and he may not even leave then. Because I just don't think you have enough answers at SS in case somebody gets hurt for the long haul, and you're paying him already in a lost season. So why not keep playing him and annoying the hell out of me? I'm sure that's what the Braves are thinking. Well they better have a good option for 2017, because the shine will come off that stadium real fast if this team doesn't start looking like a professional baseball club soon.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is Ender Inciarte a Braves outfielder of the future?

Many people who watched the Braves in this terrible season have fallen in love with a few players. I think one of the primary players is Ender Inciarte, who has been something of a defensive revelation in center field. His speed and ability to make contact effectively have made him a unique asset in the organization that I didn't really expect.

The Braves acquired Ender as part of the famous Shelby Miller deal to the Diamondbacks, along with Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. If even one of those guys turns out to be a long term answer, that trade is a win. If two guys pan out it's an overwhelming win. The chances that all three pan out is damn near impossible but if that happened it would be one of the biggest one-sided trades in all of MLB history. And that's excluding if Shelby is a good player or not.

Offensively Ender has been pretty bad this season in total. He's hitting with a .599 OPS which is on the wrong side of terrible. He's batting with a .227 average, but almost no power as he's slugging .306 on the year. That slugging number is really the problem. For a center fielder with his speed, I need Ender to be a gap to gap doubles machine, with the ability to steal second or third when he's on base. And make no mistake, these are the lowest slugging numbers of his career, as he was slugging .386 for two seasons in Arizona. I could live with .386 and a .350+ OBP. I can't live with a .306 slugging number.

Ender's strikeout to walk ratio is good right now at 29-20, so he's not giving up a ton of outs at the plate and he has a good eye, which is key because he needs to be on base for his speed to be an asset. That brings up something of his bad luck when it comes to balls in play, because his current BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) is .255 on the year. Now, BABIP only matters for a couple of reasons, when it's absurdly high or low. When it's high, people will warn you that the player is out over his skis, and that he's got to return to normal at some point. When it's low, people will say he's having bad luck and he's not as bad of a hitter as his numbers. An average BABIP usually settles in somewhere between .290-.310 for a season. So by those metrics, Ender is getting screwed and is nowhere near as bad of a hitter as 2016 numbers would tell you, which also makes sense because he's at his lowest OPS in the last 3 years.

So based on what I'm seeing from Ender's career, assuming a normal average on balls in play over time, I think he's about a .270/.325/.380 slash line player offensively, with some room to grow. That would make him a .705 OPS guy, which isn't much to write home about, but there's some other elements to consider about Ender's value to this team. The first is his base stealing ability. He's stolen 48 in his career, and been caught 16 times. If he was an everyday starter, I'd imagine he could steal about 30 bases a year if the Braves made it a priority. That's a couple of ifs, but it's a key point that more steals means more RISP chances for him to score runs. And that's where Ender's value is going to be on this team, not with his slugging, but as a guy who increases his on-base percentage and crosses the plate a lot.

The other value Ender bring is defensive. As you know, I consider defense to be overrated when looking at player value at many positions. Center field is NOT one of those positions. Your up the middle infielders, and center fielder need to be the strongest defensive positions on the field. Your center fielder has to make reads, cover the most ground, and captain the defense in the outfield. Ender can do all that very well. In fact, he's already accumulated a 6.1 dWAR on baseball reference in 2.5 seasons. In fact, if you look at players that have over 1000 innings on Fangraphs over the last 3 years, you'll see that Ender ranks as 8th defensively in CF. Ahead of guys like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Carlos Gomez. That's not bad company.

Overall, we have to look at Ender Inciarte's value to the team related to contracts. He's 25 years old, under control until 2021. He'll hit arbitration next year and the Braves can decide to give him a longer term deal or not. I think they should, because it likely won't be that expensive to hold him. Right now he's making the league minimum essentially. If Ender can improve his batting slightly and hold on to his speed for another 5 years, I'd sign him to that deal. HOWEVER, I would never sign a guy like Ender for a second deal, because his speed is going to slump in his 30s, and he's not a good enough bat as constructed right now to demand that kind of value.

So is Ender Inciarte a longer term piece? I think for the near future it could work. I'd want him to anchor my outfield while guys like Mallex learn how to play in the corners. For what it will cost the Braves and the value they could get back? It makes a lot of sense to me that Ender will be a part of this club in SunTrust Park.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Braves "First Half" of the season in review

Let's be honest, there's no point in recapping or previewing games anymore. I sort of fooled myself into believing that I could keep up with it as we got into the dog days of summer, but I'm constantly traveling on the weekends, really busy with work, and most importantly I'm not that interested in recapping games that involve mostly players I'll never see again after the new stadium opens.

I'm ready for the true rebuild to start now. I don't care about the wins and losses after the break anymore. We've fired the manager in the first half of the season, we're 31-58 which is 22.5 games back in the division, and we have the dead last record in baseball. And let's be honest, very little is likely to change in regards to the standings in the second half of the season. What can change is that I get to see more of guys like Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Jace Peterson, Ender Inciarte, Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair, Mike Foltynewicz, Chase d'Arnaud, Matt Wisler, Tyrell Jenkins, Manny Banuelos, Mallex Smith, and Rio Ruiz. I realize that some of those guys are injured, but when I look out on the field every day I see Eric Aybar get a start over a prospect is a day lost in my book.

I can't wait for the full September callups because that's likely when we'll see these guys. But before that, we need to understand where we've come from. So far this season, here are the Braves offensive team stats:

Runs - Last
Hits - 26th
2B - 18th
3B - 15th
HR - Last
AVG - Last
OBP - 28th
SLG - Last

Lots of lasts in there. It explains why we have the worst record in baseball. Now for the pitching stats!

Starter ERA - 15th
Reliever ERA - 20th
Saves - 25th
QS - 17th
BB - 10th
Ks - 18th
Opp Avg - 12th

As you can see, the pitching stats are WAAAAAAAY more positive looking than the offensive stats. The obvious fact is that while the pitching can improve a good bit, it's by no means the main problem of the team. The problem is that the team isn't scoring, that it hasn't been scoring for a long time, and that until the rebuild gets focused on position players instead of pitching prospects we may not get better at scoring in the near future.

I can tell you along the rest of this season, my focus will be articles about the new guys. I plan on doing features on the prospects, the current young kids playing at the MLB level, and almost no focus on the day to day results. Because the day to day doesn't matter this year. If the Braves win 80% of their games for the rest of the season, they'd still end up with less than 90 wins, and likely miss the playoffs. And that's if they had the best turnaround in MLB history. It's not going to happen.

But what will happen is we as fans will learn what we have. And to learn what we have we need to see them at the MLB level taking their lumps. I for one liked Aaron Blair getting knocked around for the first time because he got to see what it was like. Maybe he reacts better the next time. Maybe he doesn't and he's not an answer. But we need to learn if he's an answer and putting him in AAA doesn't teach us anything anymore. Let's get those guys up here and see what they got!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Holiday Weekend Recap: Braves and Marlins at Fort Bragg

OK so I was at the lake all weekend, and like many of you out there in your parts of the South I was ridiculously hot all day. Man. It was brutal on the field too, as I saw temps were around 110 degrees on the Turner Field grass. That's absurd for Georgia baseball in early July. But you know what they say? A hot dry summer usually means a very cold snowy winter. So look out for snowpocalypse 2016 this year.

I have to be honest about playing the Marlins in this series, for the most part is was incredibly boring. The best game was the first one, which saw the Braves rally back from 3-0 early, only to win on a 4-run flurry in the 6th. Tyler Flowers was the hero of that game as he had not one, not two, but THREE doubles. Freddie Freeman had a triple, Snyder had a triple, Chase had a double, and the Braves team had 19 chances with RISP. They cashed in 6, which was enough for 8 runs, but they easily could have scored 12+ if they were on point. The rest of the games were noncompetitive blowouts for the most part, with the Braves splitting the series wins 2-2.

The pitching was mediocre to bad all weekend. Folty was meh in game one giving up 3 runs in 3 innings. He was coming off injury so I get it, but with all these injuries he needs to get back to long-form in a hurry. Julio Teheran got smoked for 5 runs in 7 innings in game 2, and Wisler gave up 3 runs in 6 innings at Fort Bragg which was a QS in only the statistical sense. The best pitching performance of the weekend was in Game 3, by a guy named Lucas Harrell. Lucas went for 6 innings and only 1 run in his first Braves start of his career. Not too shabby for the journeyman AAA/MLB player with only 63 starts in the show at age 31. He might be a good fill-in since we traded Bud Norris last week to the Dodgers.

The hitting was very up and down in the 4 games. Braves scored 8, 5, 9, and 2 runs respectively, of course looking their worst offensively on national TV at Fort Bragg. I quipped that if the Braves played every game on National TV, we'd probably go 10-152. We just never seem to look good under the bright lights, which is probably why the nation takes such a dim view of Atlanta sports. Every time they are exposed to the product, it sucks.

Still, the highlight of the Fort Bragg game was the location and the service men and women who got to attend with their families. That's a very cool outreach event for the MLB to do after getting stung a year earlier with taking large payments from the DoD to do sponsored hometown hero events. I think they should continue the tradition at a new fort every year on the July 4th weekend, and give other teams a chance to play in front of our military.

Currently we're playing the Phillies, although I didn't get to do a preview since I was on holiday. Needless to say we got crushed in game one, but I expect a bounceback in game 2 with Folty on the mound. We certainly don't need to be losing any series for Philadelphia.