Sunday, October 1, 2017

Braves Season is over, 2017 in review

Well friends, we all know I don't write much anymore. And if you know me at all you know why (planning a wedding, CFO job, travel, etc). I can't say I'll be doing this next year again, but we'll see what the cards hold. I'm always willing to take a look back at the end of the year though and see where I was right, wrong, and how the Braves surprised me.

So here is an analysis of my BOLD PREDICTIONS at the beginning of the season.

- The Starting Rotation will be bottom 10 in the majors: CORRECT! Hell, not only did one of our starters completely flame out and get released (Bartolo, and I called that one as being fat and old), but Julio Teheran had one of his worst years of his career (again, I called that he'd hit the skids), Folty didn't post an ERA under 4.00 (which I pointed out he never had), but RA Dickey and Garcia were nice surprises that kept it from being a total trainwreck. Savor this one because I get very wrong very fast.

- Dansby Swanson wins Rookie of the Year: OMG WRONG! I mean it's hard to win ROY honors when you're getting demoted to AAA mid-way through the season because you're sucking. My guess is he figures it out next season with a better mental approach, but I'm not betting on him lighting it up until he fixes a few holes in his game.

- Freddie Freeman hits 40+ homers: SLIGHTLY WRONG. I say slightly because Freddie missed almost 6 weeks of time and 48 games. If you take the 28 homers he hit in 116 games and play them out over a 156 game season (Freddie doesn't take many days off), he gets about 38 and comes up just short. And that's assuming averages. So I'm slightly wrong here due to math and such.

- The offense will be top 10 in runs scored: HILARIOUSLY WRONG. We're near the bottom middle in runs scored, and it's all because our infield was mostly pathetic at hitting the ball until we brought up some guys from AAA mid-year. Ozzie and Camargo I'm looking at you.

- The bullpen will be a trainwreck we still haven't fixed: OUTSTANDINGLY CORRECT. You should have bet your house on it. Not only is the bullpen one of the top 5 worst in ERA this year, we were also top 10 in Blown Saves. And that's pretty amazing because we only had 58 save opportunites all year long.

- Somebody will pitch a no-hitter in SunTrust Park: SLIGHTLY WRONG. Folty took one to the 9th back in July, but it was taken apart in the 9th inning as those things are so wont to do.

- Brian Snitker will get a contract extension mid-year: WRONG! Man, not only wrong but he might get fired after all this. Which would make this the weirdest offseason yet for the Braves team, if you believe the article that Ken Rosenthal put out there about the Braves front office in turmoil.

- Parking around the stadium will be fine by July: AWESOMELY RIGHT! Holy crap, if there was anything more overblown than parking concerns around SunTrust it was the narrative that the traffic would be horrendous. It's the easiest thing I've ever seen in Atlanta sports to get to that ballpark. It's also gorgeous and the best move that's been made by any team in this city. Getting out of downtown should be a standard for all teams moving forward. Downtown is an abyss of traffic wasteland.

- The Braves will change regular closers at least twice: CORRECT! The Braves used two closers regularly but didn't trust Jim Johnson after blowing 9 saves, so they tried Jason Motte briefly who also blew 3 saves without ever getting one, and finally settled on Vizzy.

- The Braves get 76 wins: WRONG BUT STILL RIGHT! They got 72 wins, which isn't 76, but it does cover the over 71.5 that Vegas predicted which means if you bet the over based on my prediction (which would be stupid, what were you thinking?) you still won. I'm calling this one a wash.

That means it's 4-5-1 in terms of right, wrong, and tied. That's pretty terrible by me, but hey, it was a pretty terrible season. I mean for heaven's sake the Nats clinched the division in early September and won by 20 games. I hate that Nats. I hope they lose in the first round again so we can go on mocking them for never winning a playoff series.

SURPRISES OF THE YEAR!

Ender Inciarte being awesome shouldn't be a surprise, but he was really awesome. Ender finished the year with 200+ hits on the season, joining a club of Braves such as ABSOLUTELY NOBODY since 1996 when Marquis Grissom did it.

Lane Adams might actually be a good utility guy. Lane had a .800+ OPS in over 100 plate appearances so I'd like to see more out of the guy in spring training 2018. He's got a chance to be a really great bench guy if not regular utility player.

Johan Camargo looks like an infielder of the future. The dude hit almost .300 on the year, and he's played very sharply at the hot corner and SS. He's only 23 and doesn't look scared in the least to be playing at the MLB level.

Ozzie wasn't bad at all! I gave the kid a lot of crap, but so far he's making me eat my words that Dansby would be the better prospect, given Ozzie's size. I hope he keeps it up because that's just more success for the Braves.

Matt Adams was amazing for a while! I was shocked that Matt basically filled in when Freddie Freeman was out and went on an absolute tear at the plate. Matt hit 19 homers and 58 RBIs, but the Braves should have traded him mid-season when there was big interest, and they dropped the ball I think.

Sean Newcomb might be an answer. I can't say for sure, but the kid has some stuff and he's battled through an entire bad season with up and down results. Still, he was the best of the young guns that I saw and I like his upside for the long term.

And that's about it for the year. I look forward to the long wait until next year because I will forget the pain of losing this season and start to believe in our future and the process. That's what we hold to in 2018, that we'll finally be competitive team again. A .500+ team again. A team that can challege Washington down the stretch and possibly retake the NL East in this decade. Yes, that's a team I want to believe in.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where will the Braves finish

Since the Braves were 45-45 and playing .500 baseball, the insane rumblings of the fanbase were about how the Braves might be buyers at the trade deadline. That was and will always be the ravings of ignorant people about what the purpose of this team was this season. The job of the Braves this year was to be mildly entertaining enough so that people would want to show up to a new ballpark and drop their cash there while we waited another year to see the younger prospects get their turn. Nothing more.

We were never competing for anything, and now you're getting a full dose of that reality as a fan. Instead of a 45-45 team, the Braves are now a 7-19 team with 46 games left to play. If they continue on that pace, they will win about 12-13 more games and finish at best with 65 wins. That would be the worst season we've had since the rebuild started two seasons ago. But do I care if they finish with 65 wins or 70 wins? No, because it's all irrelevent. We know where the team is heading and that's a youth movement. And if you didn't know that by now, I'm sort of wondering what the true expectation was.

So year 3 will be in the books as another dud when we look at the finish. In about 3 weeks we'll see even more of the young guys come up as 40 man rosters extend the bench. That's when I think you'll see more full time debuts of pitching prospects we've only heard about, and maybe some young field players like Acuna that we've yet to see.

Year 4 is the year I expect this team will really move back towards relevence. Do I think they'll win? No. I think they'll probably finish with wins in the 70s, but they'll have a ton of on the job learning as the young prospects finally start to sink or swim. I don't believe you really start to compete until Year 5 of a rebuild and I've said that before. It's tough, but that's where we live.

What I'm looking forward to at the end of the year is seeing all the September call-ups and I hope the Braves don't waste the opportunity. September and Spring Training should be auditions for everybody under the age of 25 to make this team full time. I know certain positions like 1B and CF are locked up right now, but everything else in the field is going to be pretty wide open. The Braves may trade or release Nick Markakis if they have a better option in RF, and they are hoping Matt Kemp hits well enough that they would do a mid-season trade to take most of his salary away to another team to build up 2019 cash reserves for free agents.

But SS and 2B are still going to be a battle. 3B is a battle. Catcher is still a question. Most of the rotation for the pitching staff is up for grabs. I want to see these young kids fight for spots in September because that's what makes the team worth watching now. We're not competing for anything but the future, and W/L totals going forward don't bother me at all if it includes some on the job training.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dansby send to AAA, Garcia traded

I was dead wrong about Dansby Swanson this season.

One of my predictions was that he would be on pace for the Rookie of the Year honors, and there was no way he was getting sent down even after his on the field struggles. Enter Johan Camargo and everything changed for Dansby. Here's the true numbers for Swanson right now on this season, (compared to the league average):

Batting average - .213 (.255)
On-Base Percentage - .287 (.325)
Slugging - .312 (.427)
OPS - .599 (.751)

As you can see, Dansby is almost 150 points lower in OPS, 115 points lower in slugging, 40 points lower in OBP, and 40 points lower in average than a standard baseball player.

His WAR is -0.3, and his defensive metrics are terrible with 14 errors, a below average Zone Rating, and very average range for his position. Overall, he's just not a good player at this level, and so he needs to spend some time in the minors honing his craft.

Remember that Dansby has never played an inning in AAA. He was skipped from AA up to the majors which is now looking like a giant mistake. Mentally, he's not ready for the pressures of the league, and defensively he doesn't have the fundamentals down to play the SS position at the highest level.

However, this can be a good thing for Dansby who was something of a golden child for his entire career up to this point. If he takes the tack of Adonis Garcia, who was sent down to the minors also over his attitude and defensive ability, works hard down there, and then comes back up to the MLB level, he can really improve as a player and improve his defense and approach. I don't think he's done and I don't think the Braves are walking away from Dansby. I do think they are correcting the error of promoting him too early.

Jaime Garcia was also traded this week for cash and a bag of balls named Huascar Ynoa, who you will probably never see outside of the minors, and adds to the list of names I'll never want to learn to spell consistently. The Braves did this deal to save $4.7M of Garcia's money. That's all. It's simply a cost control move and a lottery ticket in Ynoa. I can't get excited about that because I know that money under Liberty Media's ownership is unlikely to ever end up back in roster decisions.

I'm going to do another article at the end of the week detailing where we are in the season after 100 games, but needless to say I think we're all indifferent to this team at this point. After a run of getting to .500 they've full accepted the fact they are sellers, and NFL presseason football is less than a week away. Once you hit August with a MLB team you know can't win, we all sort of move on to watching the presseason and looking at our college football teams.

I can't wait for both to be honest.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Braves at the Half-Way Point

Standard disclaimer, I realize I don't write as much as I used to, and that's because my new job and new FIANCE (WOOOO!) keep me very busy in the summertime. But that's not an excuse to do less than an article a month, so I'm logging in today to talk about several things we've witnessed over the last 30 days.

Bartolo is finally gone, and it happened way too late. I said back on May 6th, well over 2 months ago that he was basically done in my mind. He was done then, and he went on to pitch 7 more games, where the Braves lost 5 of them. His ERA was 8.14 when he was finally cut from the team in July, and that was after spending a fake stint on the DL. It was a terrible move that didn't work out and cost us $12M in the interim. But sunk money is sunk money and they needed to realize it faster. I think we easily could have won 3 of the games he lost at the end, and we'd be sitting at .500 right now.

The Braves are 42-45, three games under .500, and about 10 games back of the Washington Nationals for the division. The Nationals are not what I would call a strong team. They have massive bullpen problems, and I think their manager puts entirely too much stress on the starting staff, which will be an issue come playoff time. However, do I think the Braves can win this division? No. Our starting pitching and bullpen depth isn't good enough to make up a 10 game deficit in 75 days. Nor do I think we should chase that division by trading for people at the deadline. We are not buyers, we should be sellers to set up the 2018 season where I think we'll really have a chance to compete for the first time in a long time. I've said that the whole way down. You stick to the plan and don't do something stupid.

Freddie Freeman is back and looks like he hasn't missed a step at all. The man was out for 6 weeks with a broken wrist injury most doctors said would take 10 weeks to heal. He's a freak of nature when it comes to wanting to get on the field, which I love from somebody making over $100M on his contract. Freddie has already hit 2 homers in just 6 games back, with a .385 average in July and slugging over .700 for the month. He's insane. I can't get over how fast he came back and how well he's playing off an injury that might cost many guys the season and all their momentum.

Johan Camargo is a bigtime surprise that's caught the eye of many Braves fans. In 40 games, Camargo is hitting .327/.355/.500 slash line with 14 RBIs. The only thing I want Camargo to improve is his on-base, which is lower due to his 5BBs/24Ks. I would like to see the walks increase to at least get to a 1/2 BB/K ratio. However, it's not just at the plate for Camargo, it's in the field. He's had only one error in all his games played, which goes to show he can play the up the middle positions very competently.

Dansby Swanson is having some issues, and it's not pretty to watch. In the exact opposite version of Camargo, Swanson is struggling hard at both the plate and in the field. Not only does Dansby have the most errors on the team at SS with a whopping 14, but he also has the 2nd most errors in the major leagues. That would still be an issue if he was hitting well, but he's not. Dansby's OPS is .620 in an era where anything under .700 is awful. There's hope on the horizon if he can hit well through the later half of July, but if not he's going to be pressed by Camargo and Albies for the up the middle spots on this team.

Sean Newcomb looks like he might be an answer on the mound, even as he struggles with some early growing pains. When I see a pitcher have 4 games that are quality starts, and then two games that are implosions against two of the best teams in baseball right now? That's normal. He's 24 and he's not ready to take on the best lineups in baseball. He is finding his place against the average MLB team, which is all I want right now. I'm interested to watch all of his starts, because I love how he can work his way out of damage with his strikeout stuff.

Lastly, Ronald Acuna is getting promoted to AAA today, and Acuna is a kid that even Chipper Jones himself compared to Andruw Jones. Acuna was promoted out of AA in about 60 games hitting over .300 with a massive pile of doubles under his belt. The kid can hit, and apparently he can play every position in the outfield, which would be a huge boon when the club trades or runs out of contract on Kemp and Markakis. I look forward to seeing him get some playing time in 2018 at some point.

That's it for now. More to come at the end of July when we're looking at the final two months of the season. I can only hope that like THE FREEZE, the Braves can narrow the gap on the Nationals big lead.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Braves win best game of the year so far 11-10

One of the things I'm trying to celebrate this year is when the Braves pull off the unexpected. That's honestly the best thing about a season where you know you're not going to compete for a title. When you get the unexpected upset of a really good team, you should latch onto it and savor it like a fine wine in between several belts of Kirkland Light Beer.

The Braves played the Nationals last night when Stephen Strasburg faced off against Mike Foltynewicz. They really didn't matter in the outcome other than to say neither pitched well at all. This game was an old-fashioned throwback 1990s era of the homer.

Do you like dingers? You bet you do. Chicks dig the long ball as Glavine and Maddux loved to remind us. There were not one, not two, not three, but EIGHT homers in this one game. And even the eighth one mattered in the result. This game was a roller coaster of lead changes. The Braves smacked around Strasburg in the top of the first with two homers for three runs.

But the Nationals came back in the next two innings with two more homers of their own and two more runs scored on a single and a sac-fly. At 4-3 Nationals, the Braves came back in the 3rd and Matt Adams smacked a 3-run homer to make it 6-4 Braves. Are you feeling like the last team to bat might win this game? It sure had that feeling to me.

The Nationals roared back in the 3rd and 4th innings with 5 unanswered runs, and I'm pretty sure in the 4th inning, they came one batter short of batting around the order. It wasn't pretty and that's what finally knocked Folty out of the game with supremely unimpressive line of 3.1 IP, 11 hits, 8 earned runs, 2 walks, and no strikeouts. He sucked. However, coming off a day where he was absolutely impressive in his last start, you can expect some up and down. This was the down. Obviously. Duh.

But the Braves weren't done. Down 9-6, they kept chipping away. In the 8th inning Matt Adams his a solo homer to make it 9-7. Then Inciarte hit a sac-fly with the bases loaded to make it 9-8. Down only one run going into the 9th inning, and the Nationals bullpen looking extremely vulnerable, a victory didn't seem impossible.

It was very possible.

After getting behind in the count, professional hitter Nick Markakis earned a lead off walk, followed by Matt Adams getting walked out of what I think was pure fear of throwing him another meatball he could crush into oblivion for his third homer of the game. That's when Tyler Flowers decided to step and and be the hero. With the game on the line, he belted a ball into the right field stands, stunning the crowd in Washington and giving the Braves an 11-9 lead!

But the game wasn't over. Washington wasn't going to go quietly. A leadoff double for the Nats came around to score on a 2-out single by Trea Turner, bringing the winning run to the plate in the form of Bryce Harper. All eyes were on one of the Braves Country's most hated players, willing Jim Johnson to get him out and not give away one of the most well-fought games of the season. Jim got Bryce to fly out to center harmlessly and the game was ours.

It's not a game you'll tell your grandchildren about but it absolutely was the best game of the season so far. It had everything except good pitching. And frankly, we don't have good pitching so that was supposed to be expected. I'm just happy we won, and I'm happy it was Bryce Harper who got stung for the last out. He can take his endorsements and 5 preseason championship rings back to his piles of money and gigantic house. The loser.

GO BRAVES!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Braves refuse to roll over and die

If you watched the weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds (insert Major League movie joke here) then you may have noticed the Braves actually won a series on the road. Hot damn! When's the last time that happened? Let me pull out the old stat book <grabs a dusty tome from the corner and flips through it like an old fart>. Ah yes, it was about 18 days ago in Toronto when we took two off of them in the snowy North before they broke Freddie Freeman in half at the wrist. Stupid Canucks.

Anyway we won, against all odds. Frankly against all reason if you listen to the people on Twitter whine about what Snitker is doing. HE'S PLAYING GARCIA A LOT! WHERE'S RUIZ? WHAT'S THIS LINEUP! RIGHT/LEFTY LIVES MATTER!

Yes, we've entered a Braves New World where the team is winning in spite of whatever your computer says should have happened. That's a shock for some people and they don't seem to be taking it too kindly. I suggest you remind them that this is sports and wins are good. Just in case they seem to have forgotten that for a moment.

I for one welcome a day when Snitker plays Markakis at 3rd base and we win the game 14-0. Why? Because we won, and that's all I really care about at the end of the day. There's being right, and then there's results. I care about results. I'm a CPA and a CFO. Wins are the end game of any endeavor, and for the moment, the Braves are getting results.

So how did we win? Was it starting pitching? Hell no, are you crazy did you watch any of the games? The starting pitching would put a bad name to the term greasefire, unless you happened to be named Mike. Teheran just gave up 7 runs in a win, Dickey gave up 5, and poor Mike Foltynewicz gave up absolutely nothing and the team lost the game anyway. Just goes to show you Mike, you have to make them earn it. But not too much, or they don't respect you in the morning.

No, the answer to winning was offense. Pure and simple unadulterated blast it into the second deck of the Great American Smallpark power. In the wins, the Braves scored 19 runs. In the loss? Two runs. Yeah, and we should have won the 2 run game because the bullpen gave that one away in the 9th. Man can you imagine a road sweep? When the heck did that happen last in a 3 game series? <finds the dusty tome again> Wow, September 21st against the Mets in 2016. They must have completely given up hope and sent in the clowns.

Don't get it twisted, I love this team. I'm just shocked at the mercurial way they seem to win and lose on a whim. Pull all the right levers against an easy opponent like San Francisco? We get bushwhacked. Play a bunch of hunches against a decent team like Cincy? We win 2 of 3 in the smallest park in all the land and probably should have swept the series. Go figure.

If you've got a good read on this team, please send me your tips because there's money to be made in the gambling market. I need to know your insights. After all, I need a nice lakehouse just like everybody else. We might as well get rich while we're waiting on the team to really compete, and enjoy the winning streaks while we we can.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Braves May Recap

What a month. This May was probably one of the bigger rollercoasters in my time watching this team. We went from the awful lows of a 6 game losing streak, to the dizzing highs of winning 10 of 13, and back to the terrifying lows of losing Freddie Freeman for most of the season. Then we found Matt Adams in a trade who turned out to be a pretty nice slugger. Then we beat the Nationals in a series! And after that we lost 6 of 8 at the end of the month.

Geez, up and down and round and round again.

What did we learn about this team in April? Well the starting pitching is pretty awful outside of Jaime Garcia, who finished the month with a 2.45 ERA. The rest of the starters? Dickey had a 5.70, Folty and Julio both had 6.12, and Bartolo had an 8.54. The fact we won 12 games in the month is something of a miracle with those stats.

The bullpen was slightly better. Jason Motte was awesome with 12 innings and no earned runs. Vizcaino had over 12 innings and 1 run (the one happened to be the game-loser last night unfortunately). Sam Freeman and Jim Johnson have combined for 5 runs in 25 innings, which is very solid. Then you have the guys like O'Flaherty, Wisler, and Collmenter who just got shelled. In the case of Collmenter is was so bad he was given his outright release.

So how in the world did the Braves win all those games? Timely scoring. In the Braves wins in May, they averaged 6.5 runs a game. Which if you think about it since the starter ERA was close to 5.50, you'd have to score over 6 per game to win. I can also tell you that if the recipe for success is your team scoring 6 runs a night? You're going to lose a lot of games. Even Houston and Washington, the best scoring teams in the league, only average about 5.5 a night right now. It's simply to much to ask of your hitters on a regular basis.

We learned that Bartolo Colon is basically finished, although if you read my blog a month ago I basically made that point already. We learned that Freddie Freeman isn't the only engine driving this offense, and that if we had him along with these other pieces you can see some glimmers of hope for scoring on a regular basis. We learned that Josh Collmenter wasn't the answer, and that Jason Motte may be nice trade-bait at the deadline. And lastly we learned that the division is already over in May because the Nationals are up almost 10 games on everybody, and nobody except Washington has a winning record heading into June. The NL East is starting to look like the AFC East in the NFL.

As we head into June, I only have one thought that really crosses my mind: When we will see the next generation come up and play at the major league level?

I have a feeling it's coming soon with these starters struggling.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Braves replace Freeman with James Loney and Matt Adams

Now that Freddie Freeman is sidelined for about 10 weeks, the Braves had to have a better answer as everyday first baseman than Jace Peterson. That meant signing and trading for two new faces, James Loney and Matt Adams.

James Loney was signed to a minor league deal (ala what Ryan Howard was doing and failed at) so that he can potentially step in as a first base option. Loney is a 33 year old, 11 year MLB veteran with almost 1400 games played at first base. He had a career resurgance in Tampa back in 2013, but his hitting numbers have been in steady decline ever since, leading up to his outright release from Tampa in 2016. At that point, the Padres picked up him at the beginning of 2016 season, and then the Mets purchased his rights from the Padres. He played 100 games with the Mets in 2016 and had a very mediocre .703 OPS with a .265 average.

Loney at his core is a replacement player, and that's why he's been signed away from the Rangers and Detroit after they tried him in their minor league systems. I would hold out hope for this one working beyond just filling in as a below average defensive replacement with a tepid bat, but we'll see.

Matt Adams is another story. Adams was traded to Atlanta for cash and Juan Yepez, a guy I've never heard of mentioned in our minor league system even once. Adams is almost 29, been in the league about 6 years, and he's a career .270/.315/.452 slash line player. That's a strong slugging percentage but the reason Adams is likely getting traded from St. Louis is his defense, which is frankly abysmal for a first baseman. However, with more power comes more playing time, so while he's nothing like Freeman with the glove, he's less of a falloff with the bat.

Neither person can make up for Freeman, yet the team suddenly went on a winning tear against the first place Nationals, and they are pitching better than ever. Maybe the Freddie injury galvanized the team to actually try harder instead of staring at Freddie swinging the bat. Maybe the Nationals took their foot off the gas and just assumed they would steamroll the Braves. Either way, it's an odd time to see a team surge when they've lost their best player. I hope they can keep it up against the Pirates this week.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Freddie Freeman out 10 Weeks, All Hope is Lost

We had a good thing going didn't we? The Braves were sort of turning things around against Toronto and they were getting on track to possible get close to .500 again. Freddie Freeman was having undoubtedly the best start of his career. And now we learn that he's going to be out 10 weeks for a broken wrist because some idiot maple leaf syrup guy hit him with a fastball. Life isn't fair in baseball.

Sigh.

At least Dansby is improving and the team was scoring 4+ runs a game. If the pitching staff wasn't such a wreck, I'd feel pretty good about our chances to just weather the storm and play decent baseball if Freddie was just going to miss a month. But 2.5 months? There's no way the offense can recover from that kind of loss. You're talking about MAYBE Freddie getting back at the earliest in mid-July, and more likely at the beginning of August. The season will be truly over by then, and there's almost no point in having him worry about struggling with it, other than getting reps for next year.

I didn't think we'd win the division but I held some hope that with the offense improving Freddie would be the All-Star leader of the team and a possible MVP candidate. That's not going to happen now. I have to admit it really takes what was already a sort of questionable season and makes it completely awful. If we don't get the chance to see some of the young guys come up and play now? I don't know what the point of watching this team is beyond simply habit. I need to know that the guys we're playing will be here for the division run we hope to make.

That's not guys like Adonis Garcia, Nick Markakis, Jace Peterson, Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Flowers, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, RA Dickey, Emilio Bonafacio, or Brandon Phillips. I can pretty much say with certainty, most if not all of those players won't be on this team in 2019. And 2019 is the 5th year of the rebuild, the year I expect to compete for a division again.

So now? With no Freddie and only Dansby, Ender, and Kemp as 3+ year or longer parts of this team? I just start to feel like this season is a waste of time if we're not getting some younger players some time in the show to prove they can do it. I'm tired 2.5 years into the process still hearing that guys aren't ready. I'll continue to harp on that until it changes because we're not competing for a pennant this year.

Losing Freddie sucks and I'm bummed.

GO BRAVES!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dansby Swanson isn't going anywhere

Look I hear a ton of whining about Dansby Swanson lately, and it's warranted with his stat line. Dansby is a starting shortstop with a .151/.222/.217 slash line, and he's 174th out of 185th among qualified starters in WAR. Turns out the worst player in baseball right now is Carlos Gonzalez, which is pretty funny considering he's making $20M this year. So I don't expect that to continue for Cargo, nor do I expect this slump to continue for Dansby.

When you look at the Braves future, Dansby is a top candidate. Right now, as usual, people are panicking over his slow start and not looking at the big picture. Does Dansby look awful at the plate? Yes. Would you start anybody with those stats if they were an MLB vet and you weren't sunk by a contract? No. But that's not where the Braves are right now as an organization. Winning is NOT the most important thing to the front office right now. What is important is developing talent at both the MLB and the minor league levels, and accelerating it to the MLB level so we can have a functional team in 2018 and a contender for the division in 2019-2020. That's how long these things take. Rebuilds are 5 year processes, and we're really in year 3 of the process.

This is the year where I expect to take the worst lumps, because it's the time when the young guns will emerge and struggle. Dansby is just the first. I expect to see several pitching prospects up here by mid-year, and then watch them flounder. Looking back, I wouldn't be shocked to see this team finish with less than my original projection of 76 wins, simply because we're going to see a ton of turnover as some point, especially with the pitching staff. But the key thing to remember is that Dansby is the first guy to show up, and there will be more, not less.

It makes no sense to send Dansby back down to the minors. He's never going to learn there, and now is the time for us to figure out if he can play for an entire season. He needs the time to readjust to the majors and make an impact. When Dansby originally came up last season, he was hitting over .300, and that's not an accident. He has the tools to be successful, but hitting in the majors is a constant cat-and-mouse game of adjusting over and over again to pitchers as they adjust to you.

So for those of you asking if Dansby will get sent down? The answer is a hard no. If he's still under .200 in July? The answer then might be a soft no. But the Braves are going to give Dansby at least 3 months if not the whole season to get this right, and the only reason they might send him back after that is to regain confidence with his new swing approach.

In the meantime just root hard for Dansby to pull it together and pull out of this funk, along with the rest of the Braves.

GO BRAVES!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Braves Starting Pitching is a Disaster: Some Advanced Stats

Here's the problem I have with the team right now, and this will be mildly ranty and really stat-driven so just be prepared for that. I have had a problem with the way our starting pitching staff was designed from Day 1, and if you go back in time to when they first announced the rotation I did some bold predictions. One of those predictions (in fact the absolute first prediction) was that the starting rotation would be bad. I questioned everything except really Teheran, and even with Teheran I said that I expected a small fall-off

And so here we are in May, and I've had a month to watch this pitching staff. There's only 6 months in the baseball season if you don't count the playoffs (and let me tell you with this crew, we ain't counting on October) so I believe 1/6th of a season is enough to start analyzing what we've seen.

I don't like what I've seen at all with the pitching.

Now like I said before, I can't say I'm shocked. I expected the pitching staff to suck, and I wrote that down in the predictions on both the starting and the reliever fronts. What I'm shocked by is that we are DFL (Dead Freaking Last) in the major leagues in ERA for our staff. The starters? 24th in the league. The relievers? 28th in the league. And why is is so bad? Who is the problem? Allow me to elaborate.

Our best starter by ERA right now is RA Dickey, and that's misleading. He's at 3.94, Garcia is at 3.99, Teheran is at 4.33, Folty is at 4.55, and Bartolo is at a whopping 6.27. Among qualified starters, our absolute BEST pitcher by ERA is going to rank 51st out of 100. That means every pitcher we're tossing out there is in the bottom half of the league.

But wait! Stat guys always tell us that ERA doesn't matter, that it's actually FIP (or fielding independent pitching) that matters. That's basically ERA adjusted for an average defense. OK, sure let's look at the pitchers FIP. It actually gets worse. In that case, Julio is the best ranked Braves pitcher with a FIP of 4.31, and that's 59th out of 100 in the league.

Julio isn't pitching well. Nobody is. Why? A big issue is that the starters excepting Julio are all giving up well over a HR every 9 innings, which is a bad ratio is you want to keep scores down. At the absolute best if you're giving up a homer every start, you're giving up one run. And it can get worse. Folty as an example is giving up 1.52 HR/9, which ranks him 74th in the league out of 100.

Julio's problem seems to be command. He's given up the most walks on the team at 18, he has given up almost a hit an inning with 32/35.1 innings, and his batted ball numbers are awful. Guys are squaring him up well, and that leads to more hits and runs. Over 26% of Julio's hit balls are line drives, which a BIGTIME problem for a pitcher. Right now that would put him 94th out of 100. That's why he's getting crushed. He's struggling for command of the zone, and when he's in the zone, hitters are teeing him up for hard hit balls. Compare to say a guy like Max Scherzer who only has 13% line drives in the top 5 of baseball, it's no surprise that Max's ERA is at 2.66 while Julio has ballooned to over 4.00.

Bartolo is basically done at this age in my mind. He's too old to have strikeout stuff anymore, so he mostly relies on people getting out on balls in play. The problem is that if you look at his hard-hit balls, he's giving up almost 40% hard contact (that's 8th worst in the league.) When you're getting blasted that hard, it's tough for the defense to react, and that's causing some issues in addition to his 22% line drive rate. It tells the tale of a man who like Julio is missing in the zone, and he's paying the hard prices for it. And he'll continue to pay them unless he can cut down on the hard hit balls.

Folty's problem is homers and run support. He's gotten exactly 5 runs scored for him in every game he's pitched, meaning he's always pitching from behind. That's never good for the psyche. But he's got some great strikeout stuff with 8.19 K/9, and only 2.45 K/BB ratio. Near 2.5 to 1, is really really good. So he's got the command of the zone, and he's punching people out. Here's the problem, he's given up 5 homers, and of those homers 4 of them came in his last 2 starts, and 3 of the 4 were multi-run homers. You can survive solo shots, but if you're giving up 2 and 3 runs shots en masse? Big problem. However, Folty is still one of my smallest concerns because he's got the strikeout stuff to get out of trouble, and he's not really giving up a ton of big-time contact around the yard. With the exception of last night, he's been pretty good and just needs some run support to take the load off his mind.

Garcia and Dickey share the same problem, and it's that they can get any swings and misses. For Dickey, that's normal because knuckleballers don't strike people out. For Garcia? That's a bigger issue. With K/9 rates in the 5.00s? You better not be giving up a ton of big contact. What the FIP stats and BABIP stats would tell you about Garcia and Dickey is that you should be a lot more worried about them than what we've seen. If anything they've been getting lucky not to give up more runs. What do I mean by that? The average BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is around .300 for hitters. Both Garcia and Dickey are in the .240s right now. That's extremely low to the point where they are in the top 20 in the league for lowest average. The issue? That's unsustainable unless you're a guy like Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw. Garcia and Dickey are neither. I'd expect their ERAs to start trending up in the future as their luck runs out, not down.

So in a nutshell, we have the worst pitching staff in baseball, and I don't really think it's fixable for about 60% of it or worse. And yet, I look down at the minors and think to myself, Wow, Kolby Allard has a 1.36 ERA in AA. Wow, Sean Newcomb has a 3.08 ERA at AAA. Wow, Lucas Sims has a 2.83 ERA at AAA. And yet we're still throwing these veterans at the starting rotation for reasons I don't understand.

Bartolo's value is going to tank if you don't do something soon. The second he starts to have a remotely good streak (if ever again), Coppy needs to unload him before his value goes to zero. I'd say the same thing with Garcia and Dickey before people figure out they have been getting lucky on borrowed time for about a month. We need to get the old guard out of here and get the new guard in here by the All-Star break.

I'm okay with losing if I'm seeing young talent develop. I'm not okay getting kicked around if we're running a bunch of old farts out there with one year deals.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Freddie Freeman is scorching hot

I don't mean hot as in looks, although I'm sure plenty of the Braves Country ladies would have something to say about that. What I do mean is that Freddie Freeman is playing some of the best baseball he's played in his career, and he's off to one of the hottest starts he's ever had. How good is Freddie right now through 25 games?

.378 Batting Average
.491 On-Base Percentage
.811 Slugging
10 Homers
7 Doubles
1 Triple
4 Stolen Bases

Freddie is 2nd in Slugging in the NL, and he's number one overall in WAR for the early season. He's easily the best player in the league through April, and the fact that Ryan Zimmerman won it over him is only because he is #1 in slugging and the Nats are the best team in the NL right now.

But think about this, in June of 2016 people were turning on Freddie Freeman. It sounds ridiculous now, but remember the scenario. Let's jump in the wayback machine and teleport ourselves to June 9th, 2016. The Braves are 17-42 in the standings. It's the worst start most Braves fans that were born in the 80s and 90s have every really witnessed. Freddie is batting with a smooth .250/.345/.431 slash line. He's only got 9 homers in 58 games, he's striking out at an alarming rate, and this team can't figure out how to score. Everyone looks lost, and Freddie just doesn't look right out there at the plate, even if the numbers aren't that bad.

Cue this article I wrote back then: http://www.bravesbythenumbers.com/2016/06/is-freddie-freeman-worth-20m-year.html

Back then I compared Freddie's value to other hitters, and his total contract value against his WAR for his career. Then I looked to see what he would need to produce in WAR today to get to his anticipated contract values. The answer is about 3.5 WAR a season. Through a month this season, Freddie is already at 2.2 WAR. That's insane. He could basically coast to an average ho-hum season for the rest of the year, and he'd still be well worth the $20.5M he's making this year for the Braves, and I'm guessing he'll do better than that.

It's funny how much difference a small change can make. Supposedly Freddie changed his approach in batting practice to try and hit line drives at the short stop every time he was hitting. That apparently keeps his hands inside and allows him to put the bat on the ball better. Is that all there is to it? I certainly believe it's part of the solution, but almost no hitter is going to tell the media EXACTLY what's working, because that's going to tell pitchers how to get you out. I mean hell, he could be completely making up the shortstop thing just to keep us off his trail. He's sneaky like that.

Anyway, it's great to see Freddie performing because he's the highest paid player on the team, and it's even better to see him starting to actually take more of a "face-time" role. I think as he ages, he'll start to think of his role more like Chipper did. Initially Chipper was reluctant to take over as a leader and even a bit abrasive with the media and fans. As Chipper aged, he softened towards everybody and realized that being a jackass doesn't help anything. Maybe Freddie is starting to move towards that goal already, which would be a great sign for this clubhouse winning in the near future.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Braves finally win, Beat the Mets!

Wow so the long Braves national nightmare is over now that they actually won two games in a row. That's quite the turnaround from losing 6 straight over the last week before they arrived in New York to play the hapless Mets. How bad are the Mets? Well, they've lost 6 in a row, they are 1-9 in their last 10 games, and they are now (thanks to the Braves kicking their behinds) dead last in the NL East. Weren't the Mets supposed to contend for a playoff spot? Welp, too bad because they are 7.5 back of the Nationals, and they play them this weekend. Honestly, the Mets could be double digits back in the division by the end of April. Yikes. Not that I take pleasure in the Mets misfortunes...

HAHAHA, no I totally do take pleasure in their misfortunes, that was a bald-faced lie.

The Braves are 8-12, so it's not like we're a good team either. We're only 4-6 in the last 10, but we're on a two game winning streak heading into a series with Milwaukee. Downside to that series is that the Brewers are the 2nd hottest team in the NL with a 3 game winning streak and a 12-11 record. However, I like our chances against the Brewers and here's why. The Braves are going to see Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, and Matt Garza as starters. The Braves lineup is hitting OPSs of 1.005, .884, and .620 respectively against those pitchers. I would expect to be very offensively oriented in the first two games, and when the Braves see Garza he'll be going against Folty who has pitched really well. If the Braves can scrape a couple of runs, I don't see why they can't win this series.

The do need to improve a few things of course. First the grounder/fly ball ratio for the Braves is 1.09 which is worst in the majors. Grounders never ever leave the park, and usually aren't a sign of a good AB, so you'll usually find a really high correlation between teams that hit a ton of ground balls, and teams that don't win a ton of games.

Here's the 2016 top grounder teams: Miami, Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.

Here's their 2016 win totals: 79, 69, 68, 71, 73. Not a single team went over .500 that topped that list, and not a single team made the playoffs. In fact, in 2016 the Dodgers hit the 9th most grounders and made the playoffs. Everybody 8th or higher was out. And the reason the Dodgers made the playoffs wasn't their offense, they were 14th in the league in runs scored. So you can see how hitting into a ton of grounders long term really kills your offense and your playoff chances.

The other thing the Braves need to improve as a team? They have absolutely no pinch hitting. At some point, GM Coppy is going to have to bring up some young talent to at least try to get a pinch hit, because the Braves are hitting 3/30, which is a .100 average, with only 2 RBIs. Basically the bench is giving you nothing, which is really terrifying because if a regular starter has to sit, you don't really have anybody to drop into a slot. And if you need a key PH with the pitcher coming up, which happens a TON in the NL, you have no good options. I'd like to see another journeyman guy from the minors get a shot in that role rather than Emilio Bonafacio suck on a daily basis.

So that's that. I'll be at a wedding this weekend at the lake, but I'll try to do another Twitter Q&A on Periscope, so if you want to send me your questions for that on Saturday, feel free! Have a great weekend!

GO BRAVES!

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: https://twitter.com/BentheCPA/status/855782766713217024?s=01

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
Pitcher

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.

GO BRAVES!

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.

THE GOOD:
  •  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 BAD:
  •  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 UGLY:
  • 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.

GO BRAVES!

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.

GO BRAVES!

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!

GO BRAVES!

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.

GO BRAVES!

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.

THE GOOD:
  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.
THE BAD:
  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. 
THE UGLY:
  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.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Braves Spring Training: RA Dickey Uh-Ohs

So one of things I'm never going to do during Spring Training is panic. That's a given. Things change and pitchers develop as they go along through the process. However, we're essentially 2 weeks away from Spring Training ending, and the pitching situation isn't exactly gelling like I would have hoped.

Here's the intended starting rotation that I think everyone from the Braves organization wanted going into the season: Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, RA Dickey, and SOME GUY. They honestly thought they had the first four veterans in the bag and that they would be ready to go. They also thought that somebody from the plethora of young arms would challenge for a final spot, or maybe two spots if a veteran guy struggled.

There's a problem right now. RA Dickey looks like a potential disaster out there in training. He's pitched in 3 starts for 9+ innings, given up 15 hits and 13 runs. The only reason his ERA isn't astronomical is that 5 of those 13 runs were unearned. They still count against you in the scorebook though. Bartolo Colon is also struggling, but only in one outing out of his four starts. He got lit up for 8 hits and 5 runs in 3 innings against the Pirates. However, I'm less concerned about Colon because he's going to have those types of screwups at this juncture. When he's on his fine, and about every 4th game you can expect an implosion.

What concerns me more about RA Dickey is I've had several older fans and old-time baseball people specifically tell me that he doesn't look good. These are people I know for a fact don't panic about stuff, so when they tell me bad news, it's legitimately bad and not an overreaction. 

The good news is that Garcia looks fine, and Teheran is your Ace so nobody is worried about him. Also, Mike Foltynewicz seems like he's positioned to be SOME GUY in the rotation. The issue is what happens if RA Dickey isn't the guy?

People thought it was going to be Aaron Blair, but he's been so bad at spring training he got demoted back down to the Minors level. As a result, Lucas Sims got the only other start in spring by a pitcher I haven't listed, and that was on March 10th. He gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in 3 innings, hardly an inspiring performance, but it's one start.

The part that unnerves me about the situation is that for all the talk about pitching prospects I honestly don't see a rush to step into that starting rotation role right now. Wisler has been getting crushed in training with an ERA over 8.00, Sean Newcomb has only pitched for 3 innings, and nobody else seems to be getting stretched out to start. We're basically betting right now on RA getting it together because the other young guys don't look ready. That's a problem for the long term because if they aren't ready yet, they better figure it out fast since we're on a lot of short term pitching deals in 2017.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Braves Spring Training: First 2 Weeks

We're 13 games into Spring Training, about two weeks into the process, and I figured it's a good time to step in right now and give you a few talking points as we head into the season. Also, I like to remind you of something very important so you don't turn into panicky idiots. And it's this: SPRING TRAINING RECORDS ARE MEANINGLESS!

If I hear another fan ask me about the fact we're 3-10 in Spring Training, and if it's a bad thing, I'm going to scream. No, it's not bad. The starters barely even play past the 4th inning in most of these early games and the rest of the rosters are filled out by AAA players and pitchers you'll not see in the majors any time soon.

The Cubs won the world series last year, and their spring training record was 11-19. The Nationals, Giants, Mets, and Dodgers also made the playoffs, and their combined spring training records last year were 53-58. Not even above .500 in total. It doesn't MATTER. What matters in spring training is how many ABs you're getting for the backups, how much time your starters are getting, and how everybody looks in your pitching staff in the last week or so leading up to the season. Oh, and if your guys are making decent contact. That's about it.

In that vein, who am I watching early on? Micah Johnson, Jace Peterson, and Johan Camargo are getting a lot of ABs so far, and they all fall into the second baseman category on the roster. Considering we have Brandon Phillips as the starting second baseman for the team, my guess is the Braves are looking at a couple of these guys as a potential backup and maybe utility guy for the infield/outfield.

Were I to pick one of those guys, I'd probably lean to Jace early on because he's got the experience with the team. However, Jace isn't having a great start to the spring with a .167 average and absolutely zero power. I think Camargo still has to spend some time at AAA before he gets called up which means Micah Johnson might get a shot if he can prove himself. He's got the experience at the MLB level and I don't want to see Emilio Bonifacio back here again.

Adonis Garcia also has 21 ABs in 7 games, which leads me to believe he's your #1 starter at third base unless something changes. He's also hitting the ball fairly well with a .333 average in that stretch and only one strikeout. I like to see that kind of contact early on in Spring Training because it lets me know he's seeing the ball clearly.

On the pitching side Josh Collmenter has yet to give up a run in 2 games and 5 innings of training, which is a good sign for him making the club as a possible 5th starter or long reliever. The Braves also gave a chance to John Danks to get some spring training innings, but he hasn't looked sharp and unless he puts together 3 good outings in a row, I think he's destined for AAA to figure things out after his injuries in prior years.

Folty and Teheran have both looked sharp in their outings, while RA Dickey and Aaron Blair have looked anything but sharp in their two attempts. Also, Wisler and Newcomb got rocked in their early outings, but like anything else it's early. I'm not drawing any conclusions on the starting rotation battles until we get to the end of spring and things look a little more settled. I'll just say that early on nobody outside of Folty and Teheran are really impressing me. At least Bartolo Colon looks like Bartolo Colon which makes me happy regardless of outcome.

So yeah, no panic from anybody because it's spring. But I do want to see a few bench guys step up and really make names for themselves so they can play a bigger role on this squad. Nothing on this team is set in stone as we walk into this new stadium, other than Freddie Freeman is our first baseman, and Nick Markakis will be your right fielder. Anything else? Totally in flux.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Brandon Phillips: What Should Braves Fans Expect?

Brandon Phillips is going to be 36 this season with the Braves, and the second baseman that we acquired from the Cincinnati Reds hasn't really shown any signs of age over his last two seasons. In 2015 and 2016, Phillips hit over .290 avg, combined over .400 slugging with an average of 11.5 homers per season. For a second baseman? That's pretty strong numbers offensively. Also, the Braves are only paying him $1M, and the Reds are picking up the other $13M of his contract. Not a bad deal for a years worth of a player.

This move tells me the Braves are looking at 2017 as a competitive year, and they don't think their prospects are totally ready to take over this season. That's good and bad. It's good because with a more veteran squad, the chances of actually getting over .500 go up, as opposed to breaking in an entirely new team with a bunch of young rookies. The bad is that at some point you do have to break in those rookies, so it moves back the long-term competitive timeline even further.

Braves fans should look at Phillips in two ways. If he produces and things go well, he's a nice piece that you're paying minimum money for, and he'll help you play competitive ball before possibly becoming a trade-bait piece for a more competitive team. The second option is that he sucks, and the Braves unload him in favor of a younger player because the overall cost is only $1M plus the trade value of the prospects they gave up (which wasn't much, this was almost purely a roster dump move by the Reds).

My guess is that since Phillips is in a contract year, we're going to see him at his most motivated, and players in contract years typically post better numbers even when they are in their mid-30s. Given what we know about Phillips I would expect about a .265/.310/.400 slash line, and he may steal a few bases, while hitting about 5-10 homers over the course of a year. Also, I think Phillips speed is still good enough for him to leg out plenty of doubles if he can stay healthy.

Defense will be an issue for Phillips as he's seen a decline with his glove as he's aged. That's to be expected playing an up the middle spot in your mid-30s, because the range can only decline from here on out. Phillips was an error machine last season with the Reds as he committed 14 errors at second base, so I'm hoping he'll reduce that number with the Braves since it was his career worst. However, I can't expect to to get much better because like I said he's old.

But the Braves have had some good luck with old guys in the past (Aaron Harang, David Ross, Derreck Lee, Eric Hinske, etc.) so why not Brandon Phillips. Go team old farts!

GO BRAVES!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Atlanta Braves Spring Training: What We Know

Spring training games begin on this coming Saturday, February 25th. The Braves will open with the Blue Jays and hopefully we'll get to hear some of the action on the radio while I'm working on getting my new apartment set up that I've finally moved into. Yes, onward and upward. New place, new girlfriend, new furniture. A lot has happened this off season, but I'll have the same old attitude towards the Braves. It's a love that is sometimes rivaled by how annoyed they can make me when they are playing like a bunch of lollygaggers.

What do we know going into Spring Training? Well get ready to see a ton of pitchers, because there's over 30 on the roster. Guys like Mike Foltynewicz, Jim Johnson, Ian Krol, Eric O'Flaherty, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler and Arodys Vizcaino you already know. But you're also going to see additions Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey in the mix. And on top of that you'll get some looks at the young guys like Aaron Blair, Josh Collmenter, Max Fried, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims. Then after that it's a bunch of guys we mostly aren't familiar with or are journeyman older dudes looking to earn a bullpen slot.

As for the catchers, we have eight on the roster somehow (5 are non-roster invites.) Which is odd because I'm only really aware of three of them (Tyler Flowers, Anthony Recker, and Kurt Suzuki). There's a guy named Kade Scivicque which again will add to the impossible names for me to spell correctly on the fly. I'll likely dub him Ceviche if it ever comes up. My guess is we're in for another year of catch platoon so don't really get attached to anybody.

The infield is what you would expect, Freddie Freeman, Jace Peterson, Chase d'Arnaud, and Adonis Garcia are all there. Plus you have young guys Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Rio Ruiz. Also you'll get to see the new addition as of last week, Brandon Phillips. The rest isn't really important right now. My guess is your infield for opening day is Freddie at first, Phillips at 2nd, Dansby at SS, and likely Adonis at 3rd unless something changes wildly in training.

Lastly the outfield is Ender Inciarte, Matt Kemp, and Nick Markakis. That's basically the starting outfield all year unless we make some trades. They invited in Emilio Bonafacio, but if you remember last season at all I dubbed Emilio "Boner" for a reason. Because he was terrible. I don't think he's going to make this team as a non-roster invite.

So who would I keep an eye on? I think there's open battles at 3B and Catcher on this team right now, in addition to basically every pitching spot except for 1-3 which will be occupied by Julio Teheran, R.A. Dickey, and Bartolo Colon. I believe Mike Foltynewicz will make the team as a starter, but he has to show some improvement over last year. I also believe that Vizcaino will remain the closer, but that's hardly set in stone. The entire bullpen was awful last year so it's up for grabs in my mind. If you're watching training this year, watch the pitchers because that's where the most action will be in 2017 as we settle on the final roster heading for opening day.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Have the Prospects Blues

I'll be extremely happy when the Braves have a pretty set roster again so I don't have to listen to more stories about prospects. In the off-season coming off a rebuild you'll likely read a hundred articles about the Braves farm system. BRAVES TOP 100 PROSPECTS! BRAVES LEAD THE LEAGUE IN FARM SYSTEM PROSPECTS! BRAVES #1 IN PROSPECTS AND OTHER RELATED PROSPECTICLES!

Ugh.

I'm tired of prospects and we're only in Year 2 of whatever the hell this experiment is with Coppy and the Braves. You know why I'm tired of prospects? Because prospects are not a guaranteed MLB player. Prospects are lottery tickets, or magic beans, or bond futures, or whatever analogy you want to create. And that's fine if you're in this for the extreme long haul and you enjoy talking about the minor leagues. There's a place for that. Some fans enjoy that kind of thing.

I don't.

When I started writing about the Braves, I only meant one kind of Braves. The Atlanta kind. I realize we have many other Braves spread across the southeast in various minor league forms. I never cared. I didn't have to care. Now with the rebuild I've been forced into caring because my very fandom rides on the successes and failures of my GM putting the team back together like a minor league Humpty Dumpty. And you know what?

That sucks.

I like watching the Braves and that will never stop. But I also like to watch a team that I think has a chance to win any given game that I'm watching. Last year we didn't have that, and I think many of us were okay because we knew why we had to suffer. And things did get better later in the year as we continued to gel with a new manager and a new set of called up players or trades. That's all good, and from what I understand we should be even more competitive next year.

But enough with the freaking prospects talk.

Show me the baby, don't tell me about the labor. If a player is good, that's awesome because I want to see him at the MLB level, and then we'll decide how he fits with the team. I don't give a crap about his AAA numbers or all the other rankings or where he was drafted or how he looks getting off the bus. Show me the baby.

It's the offseason so I expect a ton of fluff prospect pieces since there's not much to write about with a team that finished dead last in the division. Still, in my mind this is my pledge to you: I'll write about some guys in spring training if I think they have a shot at making the MLB team. Otherwise, I'll leave the prospects debates and talk in the regular season to the other bloggers out there for your minor league info. I'm ready for the real thing.

Bring on Spring Training in a month, I can't wait!

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Braves trade Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons

All was quiet on the trade front for about a month. Then all of a sudden we got a bombshell dropped in our collective laps, and it exploded all over Twitter leaving many in Braves Country shocked and confused. Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons, two names we'd actually seen at the MLB level have been traded to Seattle for (you guessed it) more pitching prospects.

I'll come at this from the angle of the fan first. This pisses me off. I liked Mallex a lot, with his hitting, his speed, and his defensive ability in the outfield. I love speed because it never slumps as the old saying goes. It's a part of the game that's become almost an afterthought in the powerball era, and now that steroids are mostly gone from the game and the HR numbers have plummeted I think it's high time that speed and base stealing make a resurgence. Yet, we traded away one of my favorite prospect-come-MLB reserve players because Coppy wanted more arms. How many pitchers is enough Coppy? WILL YOUR PITCHING LUST EVER BE SLAKED YOU MONSTER!

<Breathe>

OK, so that's me as the fan. Now I take off that hat and my angry scowl and put on my analyst hat. Let's be honest about Mallex after they signed Ender Inciarte to a multi-year contract. Mallex was a replaceable/tradable piece. And since nobody is safe, he got packaged with Shae who is coming off Tommy John. Mallex was blocked at the MLB level by multi-year deals with Kemp, Markakis, Sean Rodriguez, and Ender. Shae was a big question mark that never really panned out yet at the MLB level.

In return Seattle gave up their pitcher prospects Luis Gohara and Thomas Burrows. Luis Gohara is a 6'3" 20 year old lefty born in Brazil, and he's been pitching in the Seattle organization since he was 16 years old. In that time he's mostly tooled around rookie and A-ball, amassing an ERA around 4.40 in 48 starts. His WHIP is also way too high at 1.512 because he's giving up tons of hits, well over a hit an inning. My feeling on the move is that the Braves see him as strikeout artist and love the fact his a lefty, so they will try to train him up in our organization. However, since he's a 20 year old in A-Ball we're unlikely to ever see the kid until 2019 at a minimum. Great.

Thomas Burrows is a lefty reliever that pitched at the University of Alabama until getting drafted last year in the 4th round. He's spent some time at A-Ball getting almost 20 games of practice and a respectable 2.55 ERA during that time. I like the fact he's got a good fastball supposedly with a slider, but he will apparently have to work on some other pitches to round out his ability at the MLB level if he wants to start. Otherwise, with two pitches you get put into the closer role at best. However, given his size at 6'1" 225 pounds, he's a big boy who can likely push some big power.

Overall, unless Mallex turns out to be a world-beater CF long term, the deal isn't a bad one. Because the Braves gave away a blocked player and a reliever they don't really use for a possible front line starter and a nice relief piece to step in as closer. Still, it's magic beans. These things may never develop on either end, and we may never know if this trade sucks or works until 2023. So gird your loins Braves fans, the rebuild is far from over.

GO BRAVES!