Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Braves June State of the Union

First blog post since the beginning of the season? Man I'm slipping in my old, married stage. I guess I can blame this one on the fact we are moving into a new house. In the future I plan to do at least 2-3 blogs a month once I'm moved in.

Today is June 13th, and the Braves are in solo first place with 38 wins. Does anybody know the last time that happened? If you guessed 2013, good for you. The Braves on June 13, 2013, 5 years ago, had 39 wins and a 5.5 game lead over the Nationals. They were actually tied for first place on June 13, 2014 a year later. The good news is that in 2013, they won the division outright with 96 wins.

It's a heck of a start for a team I though MIGHT average wins in the mid-70s. Anything can and will happen, but we can all agree that this team is outperforming expectations. The best part of how they are outperforming is on the offensive side of the ball. Last year the Braves averaged 4.52 runs per game, and to date they are averaging 5.00 runs per game. Over the course of a season, that's an extra 78 runs, and that would certainly vault the Braves from 20th place where they were last year to most likely a top 10 offensive team.

Another funny aspect of this team's offense is that the Braves have a top 10 home run hitter in MLB, and it's NOT Freddie Freeman. No, in fact it's Ozzie Albies, the 5'8' (on a really good day) 165 pound might mouse we have clubbing Grand Salami's as of last night. Quite an amazing feat for a player I saw years ago in AAA and seriously wondered how he would ever hit at the major league level. I had a reason back then to be concerned as his rather paltry .732 OPS in 2 seasons was like a lukewarm blanket. Now? He's hit more homers in 68 games than he hit his entire stint in the minor leagues! His MLB OPS is .807. That's a whopping turnaround at the highest levels.

Let us not forget what the Braves are supposed to be built on with all these prospect moves, the pitching. That's the aspect of this team that leaves me the most concerned, because it's the area I see a potential disaster looming if there is one. There are two really bright spots in the rotation, and those are Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz. Both are sub 3.00 ERAs, both have sub 3.50 FIP, both are allowing less than 7 hits per 9 innings, and both have 0.6 HR per 9 innings. In ranking pitchers, they are easily 2 of those top 30 starters in the league, and Mike Foltynewicz is probably top 10.

Then we have the rest of the rotation, which is where I see the disaster. Julio Teheran is awful, and he's been awful for a long time. I don't trust him as a starter, and frankly the only reason I think they put him on the DL for what is essentially a minor issue is because the club doesn't trust him either. He's the only pitcher on the team with a negative WAR according to Fangraphs. I'd be better off throwing some shlub on the mound than Teheran. Literally any replacement player is better. That's terrible.

Also there's Brandon McCarthy who I'm particularly hard on because he's a home run machine. Brandon gives up 1.59 HR/9, which ranks 75th amongst the 90 qualifying starters. The fact he's won any games is because he's managed to get some stellar offensive run support, and he's had some really good games coupled with some complete blowups that really upped his ERA over 5.00. He's basically a coinflip which would make him a fine 4th or 5th starter. Except he's not really that, he's probably the 3 in our rotation, which is bad.

Then the 5th guy is...uhhhh. Exactly, there is no 5th guy. We have a 5th guy by committee and they are all equally questionable. Probably the best option is Mike Soroka who just came back today from a shoulder issue and shut out the Mets 2-0. If he's the guy (he's young and looks like he's 12), then maybe he can be a #3 in the rotation, and push back McCarthy and Julio.

Still, that would make our 1-2-3 pitching staff a bunch of guys that are younger than 25. That's REALLY suspect from a playoff perspective because none of them have the experience yet in big games, and the playoffs are a completely different animal mentally. Ask a guy like Kris Medlen who looks lights out all year then suddenly hits the playoffs and gets beaten up for 5 runs each time.

Overall, we're moving in the right direction. I think if McCarthy can even out a bit, and Julio can be remotely functional along with Soroka possibly filling out the rotation? This team has a chance to get a division title. And that would be huge for this city after the years of crappy baseball.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Braves are the hottest offense in MLB

After 7 games, the Atlanta Braves are tied in wins for the division lead at 5, they've scored the most runs in all of MLB, and they are outpacing the next closest offense by 1 run per game! There's about 5 things in that sentence I never thought I'd type out into this blogging machine this year.

Yet, after almost a week of play, this team has already surprised many including myself. I jokingly tweeted a few days ago, "Braves are going to the playoffs!" But is it really a joke? Have teams that started this hot and ended up in first place of offensive output in the first week really continued to soar? Or does it fall into the saber-cats favorite colloquialism, the SSS - Small Sample Size?

To answer the question, I looked at the last 10 years of statistics, because honestly anything further back than 2008 doesn't warrant discussion to me. Those stats are horrifically tainted and always will be. Once league-wide testing and rules went in, and were fully adopted and followed, that's when you can really see the changes on the offensive game. Also I used 2008 as my marker because it's the year after the worst alleged cheater in history (Barry Bonds) retired in what should have been disgrace. Seriously, that guy is a loser and to see people continue to back him as a HOF candidate is shameful.

Anyway, let's look at the numbers. The Atlanta Braves through 7 games are averaging 8 runs a game. Does that number mean anything?

In 2008, after 7 games, the Braves were tied with the Brewers at 6.67 runs per game for best in the majors. The Brewers made the playoffs, and the Braves didn't going 72-90. Why? Well a lot of reasons, but this was during the year of the infamous Mark Teixeira trade and the year Skip Caray died.

In 2009, after 7 games, Toronto and Miami (then Florida) were tied at 7 runs a game. Neither made the playoffs. However, Florida had a respectable 87 wins, but Toronto finished 75-87.

In 2010, after 7 games, the Phillies were in the lead with 7.17 runs a game. They had 97 wins and went to the playoffs, only to lose in the NLCS

In 2011, after 7 games, the Reds and the ChiSox were tied for 7.5 runs a game. Neither made the playoffs, and both finished with 79 wins.

In 2012, after 7 games, Detroit was in the lead with 6.67 runs a game. They went to the World Series and lost to the Giants, also winning 88 games in the regular season.

In 2013, after 7 games, Colorado was in the lead with 6.5 runs a game. They didn't make the playoffs and had 74 wins.

In 2014, after 7 games, the Marlins were in the lead with 6.67 runs a game. They didn't make the playoffs and had 77 wins.

In 2015, after 7 games, Detroit was in the lead with 7.83 runs a game. They didn't make the playoffs and had 74 wins.

In 2016, after 7 games, the Cubs and Yankees were tied at 7 runs a game. The Cubs won the world series. The Yankees didn't make the playoffs with 84 wins.

In 2017, after 7 games, Arizona was in the lead with 7.5 runs a game. They made the playoffs only to lose in the NLCS, and also won 93 games.

So to recap, here's what happens when you're in the run lead after 7 games:

- 1 World Series Champion
- 4 other playoff teams
- 9 teams didn't make the playoffs

So with 14 teams in 10 years, and 5 of them making the playoffs, I think it's a better than 1/3 chance those teams would make the playoffs in the last 10 years. Not terrible for simply starting strong. But let's dig further?

Of the 14 teams, only 11 had 5 wins or more. Those 11 still include all the teams that made the playoffs. That increases our percentage to almost 50% when you take into account teams that lead in runs and had 5 wins or more.

So does it matter? We'll see, but I like the idea of the playoffs essentially being a coin-flip on a hot start. And will the Braves make the playoffs? I still have massive concerns about the pitching, but the offense looks like it's figuring a few things out.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Braves Win - Markakis Walk Off Homer

In the season opener, when things looked their bleakest, the Atlanta Braves were down 5-0 to the Phillies and Aaron Nola was cruising. Then, thanks for analytics or just sheer stupidity, the Phillies decided to pull Nola in the 6th inning, and the comeback was on.

The Braves Freddie Freeman 2-run homered in the 6th off of reliever Milner, followed by Ozzie Albies solo shot in the 8th off of Morgan. After walking Freeman and the Braves still down 5-3, the Phillies went to Ramos out of the pen, who promptly walked Suzuki and then threw a wild pitch that advanced the runners to 2nd and 3rd. However, in trying to get Freeman at third, the Phillies threw the ball into left field, scoring Freeman and moving Suzuki to third. Bare in mind, the Braves have now scored the 4th run in the game without a hit. And to cap things off Preston Tucker laced one to center to score Suzuki and tie the game.

The stage was set for a comeback. And you could basically pull every name out of the Braves hat for a hero and still no have me pick Nick Markakis as the walk-off-wonder. Nick Markakis hadn't had a walk-off homer run in his CAREER. Let me remind you that Nicky has been playing in the majors since 2006. You may remember those as the heady days before the sub-prime mortgage crisis tanked the economy.

Yet, with 2 outs and 2 on, Nick Markakis blasted a home run to right center, and won the game 8-5 over a stunned Phillies team. It was the biggest comeback on opening day in Braves history, dating back to 1900. That's amazing, and what made it more amazing was that it was the first walk-off win on opening day since 1998. That's 20 years ago folks. Do you now how the Braves finished in 1998? They won 106 games, finished 1st in the NL East, swept the Cubs in the NLDS and went on to lose 4-2 to the Padres in the NLCS.

Hell, I'd take all of what I just said there after the kinds of seasons we've had leading up to this. Get me to the playoffs in any fashion this season and I'll consider it pouring a pile of gold on rubies. And yes, I realize one game doesn't mean anything in the playoff scenario but we're above .500 for the first time since 2015 so I'm running with this for all it's worth.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Braves Season Opener 2018

Hello there Braves fans! Who is excited about another season of Braves baseball?

Well I for one am cautiously optimistic we might see some decent offense out of the young club this year. Do you realize how many guys we have on the team that are 31 or older? Only seven on the club and about half of those are catchers. It's a YOUNG team which means any real predictions about what will happen are probably useless. As such I'm not going to be doing any bold predictions this year.


Here we go:

  1. The Braves will score over 750 runs this year. They score 732 last year which was 21st in baseball. Increasing an extra 18+ would put them in the top half of the league in scoring, which is where I think they will go this year.
  2. The Braves will hit 200+ Home Runs. I see this as a team that's going to run into some homers. Granted that's a HUGE increase over their 165 homers last year, but remember that Freddie Freeman was essentially out of commission for a month and he lost a ton of momentum that would have put him over 40+ homers alone. I think with him at full strength, and with Acuna coming up and Ender getting his pops in? You'll see a middle of the pack home run team this season.
  3. Ronald Acuna wins Rookie of the Year. I don't care that he's going to be held up for 12 games. That won't matter. This kid's a hero and he's going to rake when he gets up to the show.
  4. Julio Teheran will be amazing. Julio has a trend going of good year, bad year. He had a bad year last year by his standards. I expect him to rebound with an amazing year in 2018.
  5. The rest of the rotation outside of Julio will be a disaster. I don't trust anybody in the rotation, and I'm not really sure who is supposed to be the 5th starter. I do know that Brandon McCarthy, Mike Foltynewicz, and Sean Newcomb don't inspire a ton of confidence.
  6. The bullpen wont' be a complete disaster this year. The bullpen has been the worst part of the team for a long time, going on almost 3 years at this point. Now? I think with the young guys coming up and the pure talent we'll see getting shots at relief work, the bullpen will actually become a strength late in games.
  7. A Brave will throw a no-hitter. I predict this every year. Every year I get seriously close, and have it fall apart in the 9th. This year they get one.
  8. Nick Markakis won't be traded. As much as people want him gone and think that he's got value? He has no value and we're stuck with him for the duration of his deal. So don't think he's suddenly getting dealt at the break.
  9. Dansby Swanson will have a come-back year. I think Dansby will have a huge rebound this year now that the pressure is off the kid. He came up too soon, and it affected his play when things started to spiral downward for him. Now that he's seen some AAA time, and been shown that the show is for guys that can deal with the day to day rollercoaster of emotions? I think he's ready to become a true major-leaguer.
  10. The Braves win 75 games. I see people predicting 80+. I 'd love to believe you, but this rotation tells me we're going to have massive issues keeping opponents off the basepaths this year. I think they lose plenty of games with scores of 5+ on the books simply because the starter flares out before the 5th inning. But then again, this season is about getting young guys time more than wins and losses supposedly.
My biggest hope is that this team is interesting to watch. Last year it got to the point in the late summer I had to turn them off because the defense was so bad, and the pitching was so bad, that it become a painful slog to watch 9 innings of baseball. I don't want that this year. I want a team that's remaining competitive night to night well into August. If they can give me that, and maybe some more, this year will be a success in my book as the young guys cut their teeth.