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!