Thursday, July 25, 2019

Braves Playoff Chances: Win the Weekend or Panic

Hey all, it's been a while as usual in the summer. I've been in Vegas and on a cruise in July, so I'm settling back into a season where for the last month I heard about how great the Braves are, and how them making the playoffs this season is nigh-assured. This was coming from people on the radio, people in media, and people on Twitter.

Guess what?

We just dropped 2 games at home against the Royals. The Kansas City Royals. The Royals only had 37 wins coming into that series, which put them as the 3rd worst team in all of baseball. And they swept us in a 2-game series inside SunTrust Park.

Now, as you know I'm not one to react much about short term issues. I usually look at the season in 2-week chunks, not 2-game chunks. However, this is going to be one of those few times I'm going to panic just a bit. Here's why:

Let's go back a couple weeks to July 11th. The Braves were up 6 games on the Nats, with a chance over the next three weeks to absolutely bury them. They had series against the Padres (average), the Brewers (average), the Nats (a tick above average), and the Royals (terrible). The expectation over that lineup with 12 games is to do better than .500 baseball. Instead the Braves went 6-6, and dropped two of those games against the worst team.

So why does that worry me? Because the Nats went 8-4 in that stretch and closed the gap now to 4 games back. The Nats get the Dodgers at home while we take on Philly this weekend, and then it's another heads up for the last time with the Braves until September. The Braves have one last big chance to strike now and take out most of the division, putting their foot on the throats of their enemies.

And yet, we have so many concerns on the pitching side. Nobody really knows what's going on with our rotation. We have Keuchel, Teheran, and Soroka. After that? It gets really suspect really fast. Sure Gausman came back and has been good once, but I can hardly use one outing as the yardstick when he was terrible earlier in the year. Fried? Yes it was good to see him come off injury and have 5 innings of shutout ball against Milwaukee, but before that his ERA was spiraling up quickly and now cresting over 4.00. Is that good? This year probably, but it's not exactly awe-inspiring if you compare him to pitchers of a year ago.

We're seeing a fairly rapid rise of ERAs in the league from an average of 3.96 in 2015 up to 4.49 right now. The last time it was up in the 4.50 ERA range as a league average was 2006-2007 before the league put the complete kibosh on the steroid era of baseball. And yet, it's happening again with rumors of the balls being juiced, and pitchers publicly declaring shenanigans. I'm hearing those 10 year old excuses cropping up again. Players are better conditioned! Players try to hit the ball hard all the time now! It's an approach thing!

Something's up my friends. You don't just jump in ERA that much for no reason. Home runs are up everywhere in the league and balls are flying out of parks with 400 footers becoming regular occurrences. That brings me back to the concerns with the Braves. If we don't have good answers for 2 of our rotation spots, or they don't firm up fast, we're ultimately reliant on the bullpen to solve problems when they can't get into the 6th inning. And from what I've seen of bullpens, everyone's is an absolute trainwreck.

No, we need to stop the bleeding here. Don't let the Nats get their foot in the door. Let's sweep the Phillies and hope the Nats take a beating from the Dodgers. Put a 6 game lead back on them, then take 2 of 3 on the road head to head. With 8 games up and no head-to-heads for a month, I think the Nats will start to wither and die.

But if the Braves lose to the Phillies and the Nats pull within a couple of games coming into town? You're going to start seeing people panic, and that's what I want to avoid.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Braves sign Dallas Keuchel

Usually when the Braves are reportedly interested in a high-priced player, that report is completely wrong. The Braves are notoriously tight-lipped about their agreements, and they love to fly low under the radar.

This signing of Dallas Keuchel is the exception. I had heard from recent reports on Twitter that it was down to the Braves and the Yankees as possible candidates, which usually means that the Braves aren't really in the ballgame since the Yankees toss around cash like a trust-fund baby in South Florida.

HOWEVER, there's always the exception to the rule, and this time the Braves are the beneficiary of that exception. Dallas signed a deal with the Braves for a reported $13M, which is just over $21M prorated for the remainder of this 2019 season, after which he becomes a free agent again.

In my mind there's two reasons why the Braves structured the deal that way. First, it allows Keuchel to save a little face, because he rejected a $17.9M qualifying offer from the Astros, and subsequently will make less money to pitch this year. But with the Braves structuring it as a $21M deal, he can say he was worth more than the qualifying offer because the deal was actually prorated for less service time. That's a mental hurdle the Braves had to clear because Keuchel went out on a limb and got burned by the market.

The second reason the Braves structured the deal this way is because they only need Keuchel for this year. The starting pitching is stacked behind the current guys we have in the majors, and the Braves had a stop-gap solution in Kevin Gausman that simply didn't work. With Gausman a bust, they needed another mid-line starter to fill in the gaps, and possibly pitch in the playoffs. The rotation now would be Soroka, Fried, Keuchel, and Teheran in the playoffs. With Folty pitching the way he is right now, I don't think he would get a start in any series, but he's currently the 5th guy during the regular season.

Now, the Braves have to wait for Keuchel to get ready, which is the big concern. With this much time off, will Dallas be as effective as he would be with a full spring training behind him? The Braves will send him down to AAA to work things out, and I would expect to see Keuchel just before the All-star break given about 2-3 weeks to prepare.

The other questions is that at 31 years old, will Keuchel still have the same stuff that won him a Cy Young award in 2015? In 2018, he showed that he was a horse who could pitch tons of innings with a respectable 3.74 ERA, but he gave up more hits than he's ever allowed in his career, and his WHIP was the highest it had been in 4 years.

As a pitcher, he's a 4 pitch guy (Fastball, Slider, Cutter, Change), with the emphasis on his Cutter and Slider as his out pitches. He needs ground balls because he's not a blow-you-away guy with velocity (the Fastball is around 90). He's going to change speeds, mix up pitches, and dazzle you with an array of looks in the hopes the batter will roll over into a double play. When he's at his most successful, the walks are down, he's confusing hitters and he's keeping the ball in play in the ballpark.

Overall, if the Braves get the 2018 version of Keuchel, that's great and we can use it to make the playoffs. If they get the 2015 Cy Young version of Keuchel, they could easily have a piece that would help them battle to win a World Series. It's that simple.

The best part of the move, like many Alex Anthopoulos has made, is that it's a short term low risk gamble. One year deals are becoming the norm in baseball for older athletes because younger GMs have learned they are no longer in the steroid era of baseball. You can't pay a guy until he's 40 and think that's a good deal anymore. That's why Keuchel was on the market so long. He wanted an unreasonable amount of years that no MLB team was willing to give him.

Instead, now he's a rental player on a team that may be in the best position to win the NL East.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Braves can win this division - Post-Memorial Day Review

Yes, the Braves lost two games to the Nats, and just got their butts handed to them in the final game 14-4. I'm aware that making a blog post declaring that we can win this division on the heels of beat-down might seem asinine. However, I'm the person who tells you not to be a prisoner of the moment when it comes to this team, or baseball in general.

I've settled into a pattern with this blog of being able to do a post about every 15 days. There are two reasons. One, I'm always busy now, and two, I really think you get better analysis from me when we don't look at the team in day-by-day chunks.

What I've seen over the past two weeks is that Austin Riley is a complete stud who is knocking the cover off the ball early. He's hit 7 homers in 14 games, and has an OPS over 1.10, which is frankly ridiculous. He'll never be able to keep that pace up and we all know it, but this looks like a kid with a great ceiling. I'm the person who will tell you not to freak out over a rookie, but it's hard to stay mentally balanced when the kid is jacking balls all over the yard and hitting .375 to boot. It's not like he's all power either, he's got 12 singles to go with his 7 homers and 2 doubles. It's impressive.

Meanwhile the pitching got a lot better than where we started this year. The staff is in the top half of ERA for the season now, and in the month of May the Braves are 10th, even including the debacle last night. Also keep in mind that the bullpen was almost dead last in April in ERA, and they've moved out of the cellar into a not-respectable-yet-but-trending-up 20th in the league on the season.

You basically have these pitchers who are functional right now as starters:

Mike Soroka is amazing with about 50 inning pitched and an ERA approaching 1.00
Max Fried has an ERA of 3.19 and is cruising along in most of his starts
Julio Teheran is functional currently as much as it pains me to say it since I can't stand him

That's pretty much it. Kevin Gausman just got lit up for 8 runs so that's going to sting, but he really hasn't been amazing this year since at all anyway and I think we need a better option from the younger talent. Also Mike Foltynewicz shows promise coming off his injury but he hasn't done enough to say he's functional yet.

That means we have 2 pitchers I can trust right now, a possible 3rd, a 4th that's coming along, and we need a better 5th line guy in the rotation. The good news is that is like most teams in the league. However, most teams in the league aren't as good offensively as the Braves. If you look at the runs scored this year the Braves are 14th. Slightly above average, but that's at the MLB level, what we care about is the division.

Once you consider the fact the Braves play 76 of their games against the NL East, and when you compare the NL East in scoring against the Braves? The Braves are in second place behind Philly with only a 6 run deficit. That's nothing. Offensively the Braves are neck and neck with the Phillies with only one game more played, and they are better in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS than Philadelphia. When you look at pitching, same story. Second in the division behind Philly slightly by about 0.19 in ERA.

What does that mean? Obviously it adds up to the fact that in the standings we're 3.5 games back of the Phillies who have played better than us so far, and those 3 games are essentially the sweep the Phillies handed us head-to-head early in the year. What gives me hope is the home records. Atlanta is 14-14 at home, and Philly is 20-10. If the Braves can improve their home record slightly, they are good enough on the road to win this division.

Also take note, the team with the best road record in the NL East has won the division every single year since 2014. Right now, even though the Braves are behind in the standings, they have a better road record at 16-12, than the Phillies at 13-12. If that trend continues, I think the Braves can win this division because they've played well on the road since last year. This young team really travels well, and eventually we know the home wins come along.

With the offensive talent, and enough pitching, I don't think the NL East is anything special this year, and I think the Phillies are easily catchable. The Braves will have a race on their hands, and the next few head to head games will really matter when we see Philadelphia again in mid-June.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mike Foltynewicz's Slider is the problem, and he's likely still hurt

Something is very wrong with Mike Foltynewicz. If you've watched his major league starts at all in 2019, since coming off what was described as "right elbow soreness" initially, you've noticed that very little of the All-Star caliber pitcher from 2018 has translated to the field lately.

Folty has pitched 21 innings in 4 games and has an ERA over 8.00. Those are the simple numbers so I like to look a little deeper to see where the problem lies. For that we head into a few advanced statistics I like.

In terms of pitchers with more than 20 innings pitched this year, there are 193 qualifying players. Of that 193, Folty ranked 189th in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). In fact, his negative WAR of -0.6 in such a short amount of time is indicative that almost anybody else could have pitched instead of Folty, and the Braves would have had a better result.

This is a HUGELY different WAR than what Folty posted in 2018 when he was 20th in WAR out of 140 pitchers that pitched more than 100 innings that season. That's not even the same person really. What does that tell me? Something is still wrong with his arm or his mental game.

Missing spring training can throw a pitcher off for sure, but usually those pitchers don't get more than 20 innings of work during the spring. As an example in 2018, Folty only got 16 innings of work in the spring, and he was excellent for the year. In my mind, having 20 regular season innings is enough to be "prepared" for the regular season and not screwing around with morale-building double-talk which belies the performance on the field.

The numbers get worse when you dig deeper. Folty is giving up 3.38 HR/9, 3.38 BB/9, and only 5.58 K/9. The walks are fairly consistent with his 2018 numbers, but the K's are almost 3.5 lower per 9 innings, and the Homers have increased by 2.5 per 9 innings. He's not striking out people and he's giving up bombs left and right.

What's the reason? His slider is way off. In 2018, it was his most effective pitch, and the pitch he could go to for outs, coming off a 96 MPH fastball. In 2019, it's getting killed. His Slider Runs against average is a -4.5 in 2019, where in 2018 it was a +22.9. You know what you can't do when your elbow is hurting? Throw a slider well.

My feeling is he's still hurt and not admitting it at all, but the lack of effectiveness of that Slider is what's turning 2018 All-Star Mike Foltynewicz into 2019 probably shouldn't be pitching on an MLB roster Mike Foltynewicz. I'm hoping he either heals up fast, admits he needs to take time off to fix it, or the Braves realize what needs to happen and decide it for him.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Braves beat Padres 3-1, Bullpen looks amazing for once

If you watched disappointing Colorado series where the bullpen imploded in the 9th inning and gave up 5 runs, you probably stopped watching the team for a little while out of pure unadulterated rage. I fully support taking a break from MLB when you need a mental health day.

However, the Braves came storming back over the last two games, including the win last night 3-1 against the Padres. Mike Soroka looked great in his start, going for 6 innings and 81 pitches with only 1 earned run. Many would say that with the bullpen struggles, Snit could have left him out there for the 7th with only 81 pitches, but he made the call to go to the pen...

And it was the right call. Enter Tomlin, Blevins, and Webb. Josh Tomlin is a 34 year old 9 year vet coming off a deal in Milwaukee that the Braves picked up March 21st. He's pitched sporadically so far with only 8 appearances on the year. Against the Padres, he was stellar with only 1 hit allowed in 2 innings. Blevins came in next and allowed absolutely nothing. He is a lefty the Braves picked up from the A's on a trade for cash about two days ago. Lastly Jacob Webb, a 25 year old who only has 6 appearances this year came in for the save. Webb has given up absolutely no runs and one hit in his appearances over 3.2 innings. I can say he looked very impressive and I like the fact he's becoming a late inning option. We'll see how he develops as hitters get more looks.

The Braves offense was very ho-hum with the exception of two guys. First in one of the weirdest plays I've seen in a long time, Mike Soroka bunted a ball as an intended sacrifice to move Johan Camargo to second base, but the Padres ended up throwing the ball not just past the second baseman, but past the center fielder as well. So Soroka ended up with what we dubbed a "Little League Triple" on Twitter, and the Padres managed not one but TWO errors on the same play. That scored the first run, and then Ozzie knocked in Soroka with a single.

Ozzie stole the show offensively with another run in the 5th as he hit a 401 foot homer into the left field stands, on a pitch I'm honestly not sure how he kept it fair or hit it out. It was very low and he was off balance but it was way gone. Ozzie is emerging as one of the best hitters on the team.

Side note, Ender pulled up lame early when running to first base, and had to be replaced by Camargo. No word yet on what the issue is but from reading lips he said he didn't hear a pop so I'm hoping everything is just a DTD issue. He needs a day off anyway so maybe we'll see him before the weekend.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Good, Bad, and Ugly: Braves First 20ish Games

I like to recap the team after every 20 or so games because I think that provides a proper barometer on what we've seen so far. If you're taking in baseball in less than 20 game chunks, I think you're going to draw some insane conclusions based on the roller-coaster that is day-to-day baseball. In fact, 20 games is probably insane to draw conclusions from as well, since I think 40 might be more accurate, but I'm a blogger not the Farmer's Almanac. I don't think that far out.

THE GOOD:

  • The Offense - Wow, who saw this coming? Through 20-something games the Braves actually have the 5th ranked offense in the MLB per Fangraphs, and they 6th in total runs scored. That's a good sign for the mix of young and old that we have on the team. After all, offense is what gets you to the playoffs. However, pitching is what wins when you get there.
  • Ronald Acuna - Dude's not just good, he's en fuego. Acuna is hitting everything well, and the stats back it up. You want average? He's hitting .307. You want Slugging? He's slugging .600 on the year so far. Plate discipline? He has almost a 15% walk rate to a 25% K rate. Fangraphs has him 7th in WAR among hitters, and almost 90% of his balls are hit medium or harder. Acuna doesn't know what a weak contact bloop looks like. He's ripping stuff.
  • Max Fried - One of the only pitchers we can count on right now, Fried looks like the young stud we were all hoping for when we traded all the 2015 players for magic beans. Fried is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.38, a ground ball rate that's 5th in the league (ground balls don't leave the yard so that's good), and he's striking out over 6 guys every 9 innings. I like everything about the kid so far, and hope he can stay healthy long term.
THE BAD:
  • The Pitching - Pretty much everyone that's not Fried in the starting rotation isn't getting the job done well. Teheran has an ERA over 5.50 and we all know I think he should be shipped off to Siberia. Kyle Wright got blown up in his 3 starts, Sean Newcomb was so bad he was shipped off to AAA, and Kevin Gausman is functional but got shelled in his one game against a decent team (The Mets). Also Touki Toussaint looked good until he didn't and gave up 7 runs in Cleveland.
  • The Walks - The Braves are #1 in the league in giving up walks. That can be really bad news, but not always. In 2018, the teams that gave up the most walks were the White Sox, the Braves, and the Cubs. The White Sox lost 100 games. The Braves and the Cubs won 90+ each and made the playoffs. Why were the White Sox so bad while the Braves and Cubs were successful even giving up that many walks? Because the Braves and Cubs gave up less than 1 HR per 9 innings, and they stranded runners at a 74% or higher rate. The White Sox gave up 1.23 HR per 9 and stranded runners at a dead last 63%.
THE UGLY
  • Giving up Homers - Case in point about why the walks worry me, the Braves are giving up 1.31 HR/9 right now, and that's a cause for concern. If you walk tons of people and you're giving up more than a homer a game? You're giving up multiple run homers at that point, and that causes you to lose games in the long run.
  • Pitching Injuries - Folty is still hurt, Vizzy is hurt, Venters is "hurt" because he's terrible, and Darren O'Day is still hurt and hasn't even played a game yet. All of this is bad because we are desperate for decent pitching right now. Why? Because...
  • Bullpen - Good lord the bullpen is wretched. Terrible. Awful. Abysmal. I predicted bad, they went beyond bad and landed in some circle of bullpen Hell I wasn't aware had a zip code. How bad is it? In 80 innings, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.71, and that seems generous to how they look on TV. In 10 wins, the bullpen only has 3 saves, and 3 blown saves. They have a -0.5 WAR according to Fangraphs, which is 27th in the league. The bullpen gives up 5.5 walks per 9 innings, worst in the majors. They give up 1.57 HR/9, 7th worst in the majors. I could go on, but you have eyeballs and you've seen it.
What does this all mean? If we can score, score a ton. No lead is safe in my book. Let's just try to put 8 on the board every night and hope the bullpen can get it over the plate while keeping it in the yard. Also, can we please get Folty back? I need some more solace in my everyday starting rotation.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Braves sign Ozzie Albies to 7 year extension for $35M

Much in the same way I was in favor of the Ronald Acuna deal for allowing him to have security over his finances for the long-term, I'm in favor of the Albies deal because to him it had long-term value that will allow him to be a millionaire for the rest of his life.

Remember, value is in the eye of the beholder. Fans generally hate to see the local free agent guy bet on himself, leave the local team, and take as much money as he can from the Yankees or the Red Sox. Time and time again I see people complain on social media, burn jerseys, or boo the player for taking the big deal in another town.

Yet, if a guy takes a seemingly lesser deal for financial security? Fans freak out and say he left money on the table, what was he thinking? I'm not like that. I see a contract for Albies that makes total sense for him and his family. He's taking a long term insurance policy of $35M that is fully guranteed against all injuries, bad play, and unforeseen circumstances.

Could Albies if he's a complete amazing talent over the long haul make more money? Of course, but the likelihood that he could struggle or get hurt is just as prevelent. And let's not forget that Albies size would be an issue on the open market at some point. As much as Braves fans love the kid, he was only a .757 OPS hitter in 2018 even with 24 homers. I also have to figure that 24 homers is an anomaly for a 2nd baseman that hit only 31 in his entire minor league career.

Julio Teheran took a similar deal when he was 23, and got $32.5M over 6 years. People questioned the deal then, but I think if you look at Teheran's lack of great play over that contract, he made the right decision. If Teheran had bet on himself, he wouldn't be set for life on his first major contract deal. He made the call to take the sure thing, and it paid off. One of the few times you'll see me credit Teheran for anything.

I'm not saying Ozzie will fail or he will succeed. What I'm saying is that $35M is still more money than most people will ever see in a lifetime, and it's enough to never worry about money ever again. For a kid out of Curacao whose father passed away recently from a heart attack in 2013? Ozzie knows that life is short and that he's the patriarch of his family now. People look to him to secure not just his legacy but the family as well. It was important for him to take the deal so he did.

On the surface it's also a great deal for the Braves because it locks up a long term talent. If Ozzie plays well it's a great contract for them. If he plays poorly it's essentially going to amount to one year of Josh Donaldson when they want to write it off. I say good for the management team figuring out what was important to both Acurna and Albies and make the appropriate deals.

I like where the future of this team is heading.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Braves in a Blizzard

The Braves are trying to escape winter storms that are poised to hit the Denver area today. The scheduled match between Atlanta and Colorado is supposed to be 1:10PM Mountain Time, but according to the Weather Channel hourly report, there's a 90% chance of Thunderstorms rolling in at 1PM MDT.

And it only gets worse from there. Once the rain starts, it's supposed to continue for the next 5 hours non-stop, with temperatures dropping from 51 degrees to 32 degrees in that five hour timespan.

Then, the snow comes. Yes, 26 mph winds will bring with it about 5' to 10' of snow on the Denver metroplex. That's supposed to continue until about 1AM MDT, or 3AM here in Atlanta.

If I'm a betting man (and we all know I am) unless there's some sort of freak miracle, they will cancel this game within the next few hours, and the Braves will get on a plane to beat out then incoming storm before everything gets grounded at the Denver airport. Because believe me, that airport is going to get shut down for the evening if they are getting socked in with 25+ mph winds and near a foot of snow in 6 hours.

Let's hope everyone gets back safely for the Mets series that starts tomorrow.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Braves in Colorado then back home for Mets

The Braves went 5-1 on their homestand against the Marlins and the Cubs, and were it not for some bad luck in the Saturday game against the Fish, the Braves could have had back to back sweeps. That's a nice turnaround from getting swept by the Phillies, but neither the Cubs nor the Marlins are going to present a challenge for most of the league this year. The Cubs are over-hyped and struggle to score at times, and the Marlins are rebuilding from the studs up.

That brings us to Colorado, where the Braves won last night 8-6 in a game that was closer than it should have been thanks for Julio Teheran's penchant for giving up the atom-bomb homer. If you think I'm above taking shots at Julio every time he pitches, think again. I'll ride that pony until it leaves town.

Colorado is also a complete disaster to start the season, so the Braves should take one if not both of the next two games against them. That being said, the first real test in over a week will come when the Braves have a home 4-gamer against the hot Mets, who are 6-3 on the season and 5-1 on the road.

I'll skip over the Colorado series because Colorado is a dumpster fire, and set you up for the series against the Mets this weekend.

Thursday - Wright vs. Matz
Friday - Newcomb vs. Wheeler
Saturday - Teheran vs. Some Guy
Sunday - Some Guy vs. deGrom

We don't have projected starters yet for the Saturday and Sunday matches but it would be the slot for Fried if he was going to go against deGrom, and that would be a spectacle. I would love to see us put out Fried against the Mets best.

Wright versus Matz will also be interesting because Matz has given up a solo earned run this year and that's it. Wright on the other hand has given up 5 earned in 2 losses. The natural expectation is for Wright to implode and Matz to roll, but baseball has a way of turning that expectation on it's head early in the season. Matz has only faced Washington and Miami hitters, neither of which was anywhere near as good as the Braves, while Wright got dinged up by the Philly lineup for one of his losses, in addition to Miami as well.

Teheran will continue to look bad but somehow the team will score 8 runs and he'll get to pitch for the rest of the season as I pull my hair out and fire slippers at the TV. Yes I'm bitter, fight me.

Newcomb was great in his last two outings, but he's an up and down guy. However, Wheeler has come out early in the season, and he can't find the zone at all. He walked 7 against Washington and gave up 7 earned in his last game. Maybe Wheeler will shake it off and get right against the Braves, but historically that hasn't happened, and the Braves have had great success off him. I'd like to see the win there to even the series if Wright drops the first game to the Mets.

Overall, I'd like to learn something about the Braves in this series. If we can play with the Mets and make this series 2-2 or even win it? That shows me we're ready to take on a wild card hunt, if we lose 1-3 or God forbid get swept? That would tell me more about where this train is heading.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Braves win 6-4 with 8th inning comeback against Chicago Cubs

In a battle of which bullpen could be worse on any given day, the Braves outlasted the Cubs to win 6-4 on Wednesday night. That's somewhat of a miracle given that the Braves bullpen is still statistically one of the bottom five bullpens in baseball. Fortunately the Cubs are second to dead last in bullpen. That's a pretty low bar to clear if we're being emotionally honest with each other, and I like to think after all these years we've developed that kind of trust and connection.

Julio Teheran started the game, gave up 1 earned in five innings, but didn't get a decision. Frankly, Julio deserved worse because again there were runners all over the place. Julio gave up 6 hits and 3 walks in those 5 innings, which is a WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) of 1.80 for the game. A WHIP above 1.30 is decent, and anything above 1.50 for a season will likely get you shelled long term. In 2 games, Julio is sitting right on 1.50, so just because he had a good outing doesn't mean that I'm not ready to ship him off into retirement still. He's a disaster constantly waiting to happen.

Jon Lester for the Cubs had a decent day on the mound with 6 innings and 2 earned, but he also gave up 6 hits and 3 walks. That was sort of the theme of the day for the Cubs, they walked way too many batters and eventually it cost them.

Cue the 8th inning, and the Braves are down 4-2 with time to rally getting short. Steven Cishek is in to pitch for the Cubs. I couldn't remember why he seemed familiar so I had to look him up today. Turns out he was the Marlins closer back in the 2013-2014 seasons. There's likely a reason I wouldn't recall that off the top of my head. First, in 2013 the Braves won the division and the Marlins lost 100 games, so I probably didn't get to see Cishek close out many of them. Second in 2014, that was the final year of Frank Wren's time as GM because of the BJ Upton/Dan Uggla debacle and I think I blacked out that season in a fit of rage.

Anyway it's the 8th inning and Cishek comes in to face Freeman, and walks him. He then faces Acuna, and walks him too. In a bold strategy (not really), facing Markakis who is hitting a robust .211 so far on the season, he walks him as well. So with the bases loaded, the Cubs manager finally comes back from the bathroom or wherever he was (because he wasn't paying attention for the first two batters) and puts in another pitcher.

Enter Johan Camargo. He smashes a double into right center, and that clears the bases, making it 5-4 Braves. After another pitching change, Flowers gets a hit that moves Camargo to 3rd, and Dansby plates Camargo with a sac fly. In one inning, the Braves plate 4 runs, 3 of the runners getting on base via the walk.

Now the Cubs misfortune is our gain, so I'm thrilled the Braves pulled this game out. Again though, let's be realistic about how the Braves are winning. They are punishing a VERY bad Cubs pitching staff at home. As good as the Phillies are, the Cubs are that bad right now. The truth of what the Braves truly are is somewhere in the middle. We look like a team with above average offense and very suspect pitching.

If the pitching continues to improve, we're all going to be smiling at year end. I think that the front office is relying on this being a season to see which prospects are going to turn into starters, and which ones are heading to the pen. However, if there's anybody over the age of 30 getting regular starts late in 2019, I'll be pretty shocked.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ronald Acuna gets $100M contract, and it's a great deal for everybody

The Braves just signed Ronald Acuna to a $100M, 8-year deal. I personally think it's a fantastic financial decision by both parties, as it removes a lot of risk for Acuna, and it provides favorable cash flow for the Atlanta Braves.

WHY IT'S A GOOD DEAL FOR THE BRAVES:

The Braves get Ronald Acuna for the next 8 years, and assuming he plays well in those 8 years, they will get one of the better young outfielders in the prime of his playing years for the price of $12.5M per year. This number puts him in the top 20 of current outfielder salaries, but over time as inflation increases, the Braves are hedging against those escalating outfielder contracts.

For example, if the best outfielders are nearing $30M a year in 2019, what will they be making in 2027 when the Ronald Acuna deal expires? My guess is, based on what we know from 2011 when the best outfielders were making close to $20M, you could see salaries north of $40M when Acuna comes up for his next deal at Age 28.

Also Acuna produced a 3.7 WAR according to Fangraphs last season in 2018. Considering an MLB average is around $5-6M per 1 point of WAR, If Acuna can average 2 WAR or better every year, this deal will make a lot of sense for the Braves.

WHY IT'S A GOOD DEAL FOR RONALD ACUNA:

Currently Acuna is scheduled to make just under $600k per year for the next couple of years, and then become arbitration eligible for the next 3 years. Let's say that he does well and earns a large number in arbitration over those years and averages $15M per year. What does the math tell us about holding out versus signing this deal today?

Well for starters, Acuna gets $25M in two years instead of $1.2M, which is a $23.8M difference. That's assuming this $100M is even across the whole contract which it may not be. Now let's assume over the next 3 years he would have made $15M, but instead makes $12.5 per year. That means he loses $7.5M in possible money, but he gained $23.8 on the front end.

Total difference to Acuna: $16.3M, with no time value of money (I don't want to complicate things further for baseball readers with present value calculations and expected returns.)

Now let's really fictionalize and let's say he signs the Bryce Harper style deal when he came out of arbitration, $26M a year.

We're 5 years into Acuna's career when he's out of arbitration. So we're comparing the last 3 years of the current deal that Acuna signed, which takes us up to the total of 8 years he's under contract, versus 3 years of a fictional contract he could have signed at full value coming off arbitration.

The difference is $26M a year x 3 years, versus $12.5M a year 3 years. A total $78M versus $37.5M, or in other words, Acuna loses out on a possible $40.5M on the back end of his possible fictional contract.

Add the loss of $40.5M and the gain on the front end of $23.8M, and you'll see how Acuna is basically forgoing $16.7M of opportunity cost. In other words, Acuna might make $16.7M if he held out, if he played well enough to get a top-tier contract, and if he doesn't get hurt.

When you weigh approximately $17M extra versus the $100M guaranteed? It's a no-brainer to sign it now. After all $100M makes you filthy rich regardless. Why put $100M at risk for an additional 17% return over an 8 year period of time? That would be ridiculous from an investment standpoint and ridiculous from a baseball contract standpoint as well.

All in all, I think it's the perfect compromise for both sides. Everyone can breathe easy that Acuna is going to be a Braves for a long, long time.

GO BRAVES!

Braves beat Cubs 8-0 in home opener

Everybody breathing a little easier now? Wins will do that. Especially shut-out wins at home. Does this mean I'm optimistic we're going to the playoffs now? Of course not, because again, it's just one game.

I like recaps because it gives us all a moment to reflect in time. It also provides a historic lookback where I can search my archives and see what I was thinking about the team on a Tuesday in April. Today I feel pretty good, who wouldn't?

The Good - The Braves scored 8 runs, had 2 homers, all the position players got at least one hit, and Albies went 3/4 currently looking like the best hitter on the team. Also the pitching staff gave up nothing, the bullpen had no walks, and Sean Newcomb got through his first start with no ERA damage.

The Bad - Sean Newcomb wasn't actually good. He was lucky. Also he was able to pitch to contact a ton because the Braves jumped on the Cubs early. However, 6 hits and 4 walks in 4 innings? That's not going to be sustainable against a team that can actually score runs. Currently these Cubs don't qualify.

Play of the game was one you should have seen on highlight reels all over ESPN and Twitter, as Dansby Swanson misplayed a grounder, it jumped out of his glove straight over to Josh Donaldson, who barehanded the ball and threw out the runner at first in one motion. Also Josh has a crazy mullet thing going on. That's what I remember thinking after that highlight.

Braves win (yeah!) and now we have weird day off in the middle of a series (boo!). We'll pick up action with the Cubs again on Wednesday, and close out the series Thursday.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Braves get swept by Phillies, look to Home Opener against the Cubs

We lost. All of the games. If you read Braves twitter (and for your sanity you probably shouldn't) then you've seen the epic meltdown that occurred over the weekend. Fans are mad. They are mad at the ownership for not putting in more money, they are made at the GM for not making more moves, and they are mad in general that the bullpen looks like a complete disaster.

How bad was the weekend? Let's recap statistically shall we?

  • Offensively the Braves were okay. They averaged under 4 runs a game, which honestly in this day and age of baseball doesn't really cut it. The new mark for playoff teams is around 4.5 runs a game, and that's as of 2017-2018. If you look at last year there wasn't a single playoff team below 4.5 runs a game, and the two teams that made the World Series averaged nearly 5 or better a game. Offense is back in baseball after a long hiatus.
  • The Braves took a lot of walks, 16 total in 3 games, and they hit 3 homers in the series. That's a good sign of things to come if the Braves are putting a lot of people on base and averaging a home run a game or more. The 2 and 3 run homers are what change the dynamics of games.
  • Now for the bad - The Braves have the 28th ERA in the majors at 8.63, and a current FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 7.98, which is 29th in MLB. That's not just bad, that's getting beaten with a hickory stick by your grandmama bad.
  • The Braves bullpen has an ERA over 11.00, which is hilariously not dead last in the majors because the Nationals have an ERA over 13.00. The Phillies and Mets are just looking at both the Nats and the Braves and counting easy wins in their heads right now.
  • We're the only team in MLB with no wins right now. Everybody else won at least one game over the weekend except the Atlanta Braves. Granted this isn't anything to actually panic over yet, but saying we shouldn't feel bad is like telling a kid that just dropped his ice cream, "Hey don't worry it's empty calories anyway, you're better off."
So am I worried? Not really, because it's baseball and panicking over any 3 games before the All-Star break is pretty stupid historically. The Braves lost 4 straight games to open the season in 2012, and they finished with 94 wins and a Wild Card slot. Plus, the Phillies did a ton to upgrade their roster, and if you're not picking them to win the division this year I think you're mildly crazy. They have a murders row lineup where the 7th guy would likely be hitting 3-5 on any other team.

Heading into the home opener the Braves will face the Cubs. Here's the projected starters:

4/1 - Newcomb v. Hendricks
4/3 - Teheran v. Lester
4/4 - Fried v. Darvish

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I'll be glued to the Fried-Darvish matchup on Thursday. That's the marquee one for the series I think for many Braves fans. Darvish is coming off a shellacking in Texas where he gave up 3 earned in 2.2 innings. Fried has had two shots out of the bullpen and given up absolutely nothing. 

I'm also interested to see which Sean Newcomb shows up. Good Sean is a killer. Bad Sean gives up 5 earned runs before you can figure out what the heck just happened. We saw a lot of both in 2018, and I'm hoping that fresh off Spring Training we'll get more good than bad.

Also for the lineup I'm interested to see how long it takes Ender and Nick Markakis to get going. Brian Snitker is going to put them in the lineup until they figure it out, because they are both proven veteran hitters. However, you'll get to hear a lot a keyboard warriors crying out for Acuna (who is slugging a grand .200 in the cleanup slot) to get the nod for the leadoff position. I'm all about putting the best guy in the best slot, because frankly I can't remember the last time the Braves had a veteran fixture at the top of the order for several years.

Let's remember as well that this ain't the Cubs of the World Series runs of yore. This Cubs team just got flattened on the road by the Texas Rangers. Both teams are carrying a grand total of 1 win into this new series. The Braves should treat this as a get-right series after a woeful Philly outing. Will the pitching be up to the task? That's what I'm waiting to find out as well.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Braves drop opener, give up 10 runs

Well, that could have gone better. I wish I wasn't right about the bullpen looking awful, but in the first game of the year...well the bullpen looked awful. Granted it's one game, and I'm far from throwing in the towel and giving up on life because we lost 1 of 162. I also know we lost the first game of the year in 2018 and ended up in the playoffs.

That being said, the Phillies showed very quickly what they did to improve this year, and that's on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, in a 10-4 loss there's a lot to unpack, but the main thing I noticed was our pitching did not seem up to the task against the offensive power that the Phillies put together. To make matters worse, the Braves defense had a terrible game and kept giving that good Phillies lineup extra outs.

Julio Teheran went for 5 innings in the game, giving up 3 earned runs. His main issue is yet again giving up homers in the first inning, and then not being able to lock down innings with two outs. Julio gave up a homer to the first batter, Andrew McCutchen (yep that's one of the Phillies off-season signings this year), and immediately put the Braves in a hole 1-0. In the 4rd after we'd tied the game with an Markakis RBI, he managed to get 2 Ks with a runner on third and could have put the inning away with no damage.

Instead he walked a guy, and gave up two singles that scored two runs. Down 3-1, the Braves weren't really in a good spot, but it was still manageable. That is until Shane Carle took the mound in the 6th and proceeded to have a 2 walk, one 3-run homer disaster in his short outing.

At 6-1, the game was effectively over, but the Braves drew it to 6-3 on a Matt Joyce homer. Never heard of Matt Joyce? Me either. Apparently he's a 34 year old mostly AL journeyman guy we picked up from the Giants, who picked him up on a minor league deal after he was released by Cleveland. Dude was in Cleveland and was told politely to leave. That has to hurt. Still nice to see a relative no-name guy smash a homer for his new team.

That 6-3 warm fuzzy ended quickly when Luke Jackson came in for relief in the 7th. Two walks, and a hit later, the bases were juiced for Rhys Hoskins the Phillies cleanup hitter. He proceeded to belt a 380 Grandest of all Slams into the seats and the Braves found themselves down 10-3.

Luke Jackson is not good. He's got over 100 innings of relief and 90 something game appearances and his ERA is around 5.50. I've seen enough of him to know he's not a long term answer in the pen, and yet he's still on this MLB roster. I have no idea what Alex Anthopoulos is thinking with him, but if you want to figure out if he can play in the majors? The answer is no. He's 27 and getting lit up. He's not some young prospect trying to figure it all out. Let's move on and find better options.

But again, it's one game. I'm not going to freak out other than continually pointing out that Julio is bad and Luke Jackson doesn't need to be on this roster. Those things are facts. Fight me.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Braves Roster and Bold Predictions 2019

Alright we're one day away from real baseball. The Braves are headed to Philly to open up the season, and that means we're ready to who will be taking the field for the Braves this year. Here's what we know:

Catchers - Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers
Infield - Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson
Outfield - Ronald Acuna, Charlie Culberson, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis

So if you're keeping score, you'll see that a grand total of not much changed from 2018 to 2019. We added Donaldson and McCann, we lost Kurt Suzuki and sent Adam Duvall to the minors where he belongs right now. Also we released Ryan Flaherty who had a lot of ABs off the bench in 2018.

Where does that leave us with pitching? Well, according to the Braves depth chart we have seven possible starters right now:

Starters - Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran, Brice Wilson, Kyle Wright, and Max Fried.

The reason we have seven guys is that Folty and Gausman are currently injured so the actually starting five won't include them for the opening weekend and subsequent Cubs series.

Bullpen - Vizcaino, Minter, Venters, Sobodka, Biddle, Winkler, Carle, and Jackson.

Obviously when Folty and Gausman come back, Wilson and Wright likely go to the pen. Then we'll see after a month who gets to start games or who is healthy. One thing I know for sure, you can never have enough starters up in the big leagues. They are all made out of balsa wood in my opinion, so if you think you'll have one play the entire season, don't bet on it.

On to the BOLD PREDICTIONS! Let's go

  1. The Bullpen is still a problem - We've got a bunch of young guys who will be taking over positions that were occupied either by cheap older guys, or younger guys who couldn't hack it. I don't expect this to be a strong point for our organization.
  2. The Braves WON'T sign Craig Kimbrel - Craig wants a bunch of money, and we're a day away from the start of the season. I don't think he's coming to town and I don't think the Braves need him honestly. The problem for the bullpen isn't the 9th inning, it's innings 6-8. Doesn't matter if we get to the 9th down 3 runs whether we have Craig or not.
  3. Markakis will be a disaster late and get benched in August - I want Nick to succeed, but we barely wanted him around enough to be a stop-gap cheap option in RF. Nick will be fine for 2 months, and look very good. Then the wheels will come off at the All-Star break. He hit .877 OPS in the first half of 2018, and .701 in the second half. He's 35 years old. He's making $6M and is an easy person to sideline if we're in a playoff run at the end of the year and need a bat. Father time will get him this year.
  4. Max Fried will emerge as a regular starter - Fried has the makings of a guy who has figured things out in spring training, and he'll be competing with his fellow young arms for a real shot at a starting spot this year. I think the 15 innings we saw of him in training with a 2.35 ERA tells me a little, but the fact he had only 5 BBs to 16 Ks tells me a lot more about his control.
  5. Julio Teheran will get released or traded - This is Julio's last year on his deal, and as you well know he's terrible and he will continue to be terrible into this season. Assuming ANYBODY else shows up with a pulse that can keep the ball in the ballpark? They should take his starting spot, and the Braves will have no problem dumping off his small amount of money if they don't need him for a playoff run.
  6. Ronald Acuna will post better numbers than Bryce Harper - Acuna is the real deal, a young future superstar in the making, and if he can stay healthy I think he'll eclipse the numbers posted by Bryce, who will be feeling fat and happy under his new contract in Philly. Think I'm crazy? In 2018 Acuna was better than Bryce in OPS, Slugging, and Average. He also didn't play in about 48 less games. If they both play full seasons, I'm convinced Acuna is the better player right now.
  7. We're going to have issues at catcher - Brian McCann is old. So is Tyler Flowers. Neither guy is exactly in the stage of life where they can swing the bat well, and I'm not sure Tyler Flowers could throw me out if I was stealing second base. His Caught Stealing % last year was 23%, the league average last year was about 28%. I'd be running all day on Flowers, and he's likely to get most of the starts since he's the younger of the two.
  8. Braves Home Record will dramatically improve - In a weird anomaly last year the Braves were an amazing road team and an very mediocre home team. Second year in a new stadium may have taken some of the shine off the home field advantage, but bigger than that I think our lack of power really made SunTrust Park one of the worst home run parks in baseball (it was 27th according to ESPN). The addition of Donaldson, a full year of Acuna, and Freddie Freeman getting protection I think helps that.
  9. Braves will hit 200 or more homers - We hit 175 last year, and for the reasons I listed in #8 I think we'll crest the 200 homer club in 2019
  10. The Braves will win under 90 games - Vegas put the number at 90, and I'm going under. I'm not bullish on this year at all because I don't think we did enough in the off-season to secure a team that can compete with Philly and the Mets in the pitching department. It will be VERY tough to win the division again with a bunch of younger players, and despite signing Donaldson, the Braves spent next to nothing (when they said there WERE going to spend money and basically lied) to improve our playoff positions. When everyone else gets better and we basically stand pat I don't have a lot of confidence we can win the division. However, I do think we can win 86-88 games, which might be enough to get us into a Wild Card position. In 2017, that would have been good enough, in 2018 it wouldn't have been close at all. We'll see how this thing unfolds.
I'm excited about this season, but I'd be lying to you if I didn't feel like the ownership has screwed us over here on having a chance to go for a title. We were promised big things with the opening of the Battery and the new revenues. Right now we're projected to be 21st in opening day payroll at $111M total, which is actually less than the $112M we opened SunTrust park with back in 2017. Go figure. However, that won't stop me from watching, cheering, and hoping we can become one of those lower spending teams that make a run like the Houston Astros.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

2019 Braves Potential Lineup

I listened to an interview on 680 the Fan this morning here in Atlanta, and the Front Row Show had Brian Snitker on to talk about the team. One of the most interesting discussion points was Ronald Acuna, and how impressive he is coming off his rookie season. So impressive, in fact, that Brian Snitker said he's planning to bat him in clean-up spot for opening day.

I tried to remember the last time a Braves player went from his rookie year to batting clean-up for the team. The one that immediately jumped to mind was David Justice, who in 1990 after his rookie year hit in the 4th slot in many of his games (42), but he also batted 5th and 6th quite a bit that year. That may not be the most recent one, but it was certainly the name I though of easily.

The conversation got me thinking. If I'm Brian Snitker, how would I set the lineup today?

Here's my thoughts of who to put where, and why.


  1. Ender Inciarte/Ozzie Albies - Of the 4 guys who have some speed, Ender has the best on-base percentage with the lowest slugging. He's not going to be a home run hitter, but he can get to first and possibly stretch that into a double while driving the pitcher crazy on the bags. Ozzie can go here against Left handed pitching, which I'll explain later on.
  2. Josh Donaldson - This is where he wants to hit, and in his last full season he hit 33 homers with .560 slugging. I want him to get as many ABs this year as we can for his $23M
  3. Freddie Freeman - That's his spot, fight him.
  4. Ronald Acuna - He had highest OPS on the team, and he was a rookie last year. I think this is the perfect spot for him to have his 26 homers he hit in a shortened 2018 season to turn into a lot more 2 and 3 run homers.
  5. Nick Markakis/Ozzie Albies - I want a guy who can hit for higher average here, and drive in the runners with possibly 2 outs. Nick is the best contact hitter we have on the team (who also has no speed and thus won't hit lead-off), and his .308 average and 35 RBIs with 2 outs really put a dagger in teams psychologically. When you can score runs instead of ending up with nothing for an inning, that's a big swing in every game. Case in point, the 2018 World Champion Red Sox were TERRORS with 2 outs, and that made a big difference in why they won the title. I've put Ozzie here as well but I'll explain why in the #6 slot
  6. Ozzie Albies/Johan Camargo - Ozzie can go in either the 5-6 slot until he can figure out how to hit Right handed pitching, which is the majority of the ABs he's going to get. His splits there are .696 OPS against RHP, and .905 against LHP, which is a huge difference. Against lefties he will move up in the order. Also, until somebody tells me we're going to have somebody else play 3rd, I'm assuming Camargo gets the job. He's a fine hitter, .800+ OPS last year, and he can play most positions in the field.
  7. Brian McCann/Tyler Flowers - The two catchers will rotate, but I think putting them in the 7th slot makes sense. Tyler is a mediocre hitter at best, but Brian if he can revert to 2017 form before the 2018 injuries is a lot more dangerous with his bat. 
  8. Dansby Swanson - I've seen nothing that says Dansby is getting benched, but this is a make-it-or-break-it year for him. Otherwise, one of the younger upstarts will eventually replace his spot on the infield by either taking it directly, or rotating somebody else like Ozzie or Camargo into SS. 
  9. Pitcher - Because it's still the NL until they force the DH on us.

Thoughts? How would you rank them heading into the season?

GO BRAVES!

EDIT: Left out my commentary on Ozzie, stupid.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Two weeks to Braves opening day

In a weird twist of timing and fate, the Braves get to open up the their 2019 season this year on March 29th and then at home on April 1st against the Cubs. I say weird twist because the Braves got to open up their 2018 season at home on the exact same date, March 29th, last year. You may say, okay so what? Well, in 2017, the Braves didn't even play a home game until April 14th, after 8 regular season road games in a row. In 2016, we opened at home but it was on April 4th.

In fact, except for these last two years, I couldn't remember a time when the MLB season was opening in March. Turns out that this is true, this is the earliest opening day for the MLB ever. And the prior year it was the earliest opening day before that. Why did that happen? Because in 2017, the players union and the MLB agreed to different scheduling, with one more weekend on the front end of the schedule, but 3-4 additional rest days in the middle of the schedule. Riveting stuff!

Now that I've thoroughly bored you with scheduling talk, on to the actual team! The Braves are set to come out of Spring Training with a roster that includes some of your old favorites like Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, and Nick Markakis (mostly because Nick is old, I don't know if he's a favorite of many).

The other old guys to round things out are Tyler Flowers (33), Josh Donaldson (33), Adam Duval (30), and...that's about it unless we're talking about a few pitchers. The rest of the team is a bunch of young guns, and frankly I'm old enough now to be older than every player on the roster. Which is both fun and depressing. I'll spend time in later blogs going through the roster and the players as we get through the week.

As we get closer to opening day, I want to know the answers to a few questions:

  1. Which players, especially pitchers are going to make this roster
  2. Who is going to be at the back end of this rotation and can we dump Julio Teheran please?
  3. Will Ronald Acuna break every record, hit for the cycle, heal the sick, and raise the dead?
The hype is real this year since the Braves won the division last year, and I'll go into detail what that means in the rest of the division as other teams spend dollars and we hold onto pennies like those "owners" in Denver want to make a profit or something. Jerks.

The best news is, we're back! A new season is coming!

GO BRAVES!