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03 Mar

The Jadeite Jewel: The Real Mr. Incredible

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Round 3: Slip ‘N Slide vs. Superman

The Slip ‘N Slide

Editor’s Pitch: Simmons not only kept up with the path of the ball when his feet slipped out from under him, he caught it and threw it from his knee without any hesitation, as if he had planned to do it that way all along. His arm is strong enough that he got the out. From his knees. On the outfield grass. With a throw that was chest high when Freddie Freeman reached out to catch it. Chip Caray’s “Are you kidding me?” was spot on.

Last Round: The Slip ‘N Slide breezed past The Pop-Up Throw 26-11.

Superman

Editor’s Pitch: Take a screen shot at 0:28 of this clip, throw a cape on the man, and you’ll discover the true identity of Superman. Clark Kent has nothing on Andrelton.

Last round: Superman absolutely clobbered Low, 38-1.

28 Feb

The Jadeite Jewel: He’s Just Unbelievable

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Round 3: The Video Game vs. Shortstop…or Left Fielder?

The Video Game

Editor’s pitch: The video is worth a thousand words of commentary, so just watch it again. Okay, now watch it one more time. Can a mere mortal even bend like that? He’s covering the bag, bends against his momentum to catch the ball, and then flips back to tag the base. The baserunner was already running and was nearly on top of him…and he got the out. This play defies the laws of physics and it made his pitcher laugh in disbelief. The cherry on top is he tried to turn the double play and was disgusted with himself that he couldn’t. Unbelievable.

Last round: The Video Game easily beat Who Needs Feet? 24-13.

Shortstop…or Left Fielder?

Editor’s Pitch: No one saw this coming. All eyes were on Justin Upton, wondering if he would get to the ball in time, since the left fielder is really the only person who has a chance at that ball. The only problem is, Simmons does not think like the rest of the world, and he seems to be out to prove he could man the entire left side of a baseball field without any assistance if he needed to. He not only ran at full speed with his back to the infield toward a fence, he dove toward that same fence to make the catch without thought to personal safety. As if the effort itself wasn’t incredible enough, he actually made the catch and hung on for the out. That just doesn’t happen.

Last Round: Shortstop…or Left Fielder squeaked by The Jeter, 26-25.

26 Feb

The Jadeite Jewel: Houston Atlanta, We Have a Runoff

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Well, Braves Journal, Simmons is really starting to stump us. We have had a few close shaves this round, but this contest ended up in a dead tie. The only thing to do is run the contest again! So, call your friends and tell them to vote! Vote early and vote often! (Except, not really, because you can only vote once…although if it really means that much to you to see your play make it to the next round, you could always find a second computer to vote on or clear your browser’s cache…but don’t tell Alex I told you that).

Without further ado, I present:

Runoff: You Shall Not Pass vs. On the World Stage

You Shall Not Pass

Editor’s Pitch: I’m really not sure how Simmons got to this ball. He had to dive, obviously, but then he had to reach up to actually catch it. I wouldn’t have guessed his arms were long enough to make this play, but the one lesson I have learned from watching Andrelton for three years is to always expect the impossible. And this certainly looks impossible.

Last Round: You Shall Not Pass beat The Ballerina 39-1.

On the World Stage
Note: The very first play shown in this clip is the play in competition.

Editor’s Pitch: Simmons’s skills are not confined to the regular season. He was in mid-season form in March, during the World Baseball Classic. Seeing a 6-3 double play is not rare, but seeing a 6-3 double play from centerfield is very rare. He was once again in an area most shortstops never see, and he once again made an incredible play and was ready to throw immediately. In this case, he was able to get a second out. I know I just said it, but it bears repeating: his instincts are incredible.

Last Round: On the World Stage beat Out of His Way 28-10.

24 Feb

Julio Teherán: Our New Niekro? (by Ububba)

Did you know there are only 14 players from Colombia in Major-League history?

Certainly, World Series hero Edgar Renteria (32.1 WAR) would be the most accomplished. But outside of him, only fellow infielder Orlando Cabrera (21.4) merits much mention. Both played for seven different clubs, and they enjoyed long, relatively lucrative careers, not to mention a few precious rings.

But, with a little luck, there’s a countryman who’ll eventually be able to claim the title as Colombia’s greatest pitcher because, with the exception of one season-long blip, Julio Teherán’s professional career has been one of remarkably steady ascension. Truth be told, he’s already there after two full seasons (7 WAR), but let’s hope he can join those two in the durability department.

The Numbers: His official bio says that he debuted in rookie league as a 17-year-old. By the time he turned 20, he’d already delivered a pair of superb minor-league seasons (2.59 & 2.55 ERA), earning the rank of #5 MLB prospect by Baseball America. The right-hander faced his first bit of adversity in 2012 with his second stint at AAA Gwinnett (5.08 ERA). Then, with a promotion to The Show, the light went back on. His first season in Atlanta, 2013, looked like this:

30 GS, 14-8, 3.20 ERA, 185.2 IP, 173 H, 22 HR, 170 K, 45 BB, 13 HBP, 117 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 3.2 WAR

He finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting and contributed mightily to Braves first division title in eight years. Could he get better than that? He could & he did. His ’14 season was simply terrific:

33 GS, 14-13, 2.89 ERA, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 221 IP, 188 H, 186 K, 51 BB, 126 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 4.0 WAR

How did this happen? He began to get lefties out with much more regularity.

2013 Splits:
RHB: .204/.264/.317 (.581 OPS)
LHB: .289/.340/.483 (.823 OPS)

2014 Splits:
RHB: .223/.265/.322 (.587 OPS)
LHB: .239/.292/.395 (.687 OPS)

The Adjustment: So how did he shave 136 OPS points vs. left-handed hitters? He successfully altered his repertoire.

According to brooksbaseball.net, Teherán’s overall pitch repertoire (6,625 career pitches) has mainly been a 92-mph 4-seamer and 90-mph sinker with a 2-seam grip. He’s also mixed in an 82-mph slider, 74-mph curve and an 82-mph change.

But facing LHHs in 2014, he relied less on the 4-seamer (32% in ’14, compared to 44% in ‘13) and more on the sinker (29% from 21% in ’13). Additionally, he went slightly less with the curve (12% from 14% in ‘13), slightly more on the slider (14% from 12%). He also threw them more change-ups (13% from 9%).

In ’13, LHHs touched him up with power (slugging .483), but in ’14, they slugged a more manageable .395. “Hitting,” the franchise’s winningest hurler once said, “is timing; pitching is upsetting it.” Seems like Teherán got the memo.

As you can see from the splits, Teherán’s ability to dominate right-handed hitters (.214/.263/.321) hasn’t changed throughout his young career (.586 OPS). The slash lines were consistent in 2013 and 2014. And, not surprisingly, his approach has remained essentially the same the past two seasons: the 4-seamer (47%) and the sinker (26%) do most of the business — the former getting most of the whiffs — while he works in the slider (13%) and curve (9%). The change (3%) is barely there. So, if it ain’t broke…

What most Braves fans certainly notice about Teherán is his Pedro-like fearlessness. (Bryce Harper damn-sure noticed.) And it’s hard not to like a pitcher who’s as unafraid to throw strikes as he is to reclaim the inside of the plate. If you watch a game with Teherán on the mound, you’ll see a talented pitcher working a healthy repertoire and exhibiting genuine competitive fire. In my book, he’s a great guy to root for.

Extra Spice: It also doesn’t hurt that, as an NL hurler, he can handle the bat a bit. For his young career, he’s hitting .155, decent for a pitcher, with 14 sac bunts. (In 2013, he hit .224, but fell off to .105 last season.)

Next Up: Can he top or equal 2014? Tough to do, really. Not surprisingly, the projections from various outlets are calling for a regression. Whatever. Considering the rest of this generally uninspiring roster, I’m just glad he’s still pitching for my club. Let’s hope his arm stays intact.

Contract Status: As most Braves fans know, Teherán is signed for the long-term — a very good pitcher signed to a very, very good deal. Year-by-year, it breaks down thusly:

$1 M for ’15; $3.3 M for ’16; $6.3 M for ’17; $8 M for ’18; $11 M for ’19; $13 M for ’20 ($12M club option, $1M buyout)

Immediate Future: So as we enter our potential wilderness years — y’know, the two seasons we’ll probably be bad & see fewer fans at The Ted — it’s not hard to look at Julio Teherán and be reminded of Phil Niekro a little bit. Back in the Disco Era, when the Braves didn’t match up well against too many teams not named the Padres or the Mets, Knucksie was the one guy you didn’t mind sending to the mound against anybody. Carlton? Sutton? Fine, bring it. You had a chance, and you tuned in.

Now, don’t call me a glass-half-empty guy. I’m not saying that the Braves expect to be hopeless for eight seasons, like 1972-79 when Atlanta fielded exactly one winning club. No, rather, it seems that the plan is that we’ll not suck any longer than it takes to scurry off to the suburbs. Luckily, Julio Teherán should be one of the players worth watching.

20 Feb

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman earned the nickname The Offense last year, and this offseason has done nothing to make one suspect anyone will challenge him for that title for a long, long time. While the Braves have apparently shifted their attention from trying to acquire every pitcher they can get their hands on to stockpiling catchers, organizational depth at offense is, well, lacking.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, because we do have Freddie, and we still have this picture that made us all become Freddie fans for life:

votefreeman

After signing the largest contract in Braves history last offseason, Freddie could not quite put up the numbers he had in his MVP-caliber 2013 season. His line of .288/.386/.461 was down from .319/.396/.501, and he hit only 18 home runs, the lowest number of his career. He also grounded into 18 double plays, nearly twice his total from 2013. He did play in all 162 games (including every contest during the last two months of what the Braves called “baseball” but I just called “painful”), so tiredness may have impacted his performance; however, you would think that if anyone could play in every game in a season, a 23 year old could. Of course, he wasn’t a bad offensive player. He did reach base safely multiple times in 89 games last season, more times than anyone else in baseball. He just wasn’t his 2013 offensive self.

I have gone through dozens of Andrelton Simmons highlights this winter, and one thing I have repeatedly noticed was how impressive Freddie was on the receiving end of many throws. I know defensive metrics do not rank him highly due to limited range, but I like what I see. I’m perfectly fine with having his defense around for the next seven years.

So, what should we expect from Freddie’s 2015? Well, considering his 8 year/$135 million deal runs through 2021, I think one certainty for him about this season is that he is not going to be traded. That’s not a certainty many other Braves have. Other things to watch for: a third straight All-Star appearance, if he has a decent first half (the Braves have a few pitchers who may be worthy of the honor, but Freddie will surely be in the discussion on reputation alone and has a legitimate shot as long as he doesn’t catch the Uggla/BJ bug, a sickness that no Brave will hopefully ever suffer from again); an offensive line somewhere between his 2013-2014 totals (say, .295/.390/.480—numbers I could live with); a bunch of Freddie Hugs, and more optimistic quotes that may be partially based in reality, or may just be PR at its finest.

Not that he’ll ever say anything publicly, but I would be curious to know if he now has any regrets about signing his contract. I mean, he signed it when it looked like the team had the core to contend and was the youngest team in MLB, an altogether bright future. When he signed the contract, I recall he also made several comments about how much he liked his teammates and wanted to play in Atlanta, but that was before his best friend (Dan Uggla) was cut, his other best friend (Jason Heyward) was traded, and the roster was nearly given a complete overhaul. Now, the next couple of years aren’t looking the brightest, and his teammates (and now ex-teammate) are joking about having to wear “Hello, My Name Is…” t-shirts at Spring Training. This is probably not quite what he was envisioning a year ago when he signed his contract.

That being said, he is still a Brave, and should be a Brave for a very long time if he has anything to say about it, according to the “contract” he signed for a fan at a Braves Caravan stop. The fact that he signed this and actually wrote “not my fault if anything happens” may have just earned him the distinction of being my favorite player (a position that has been sadly open since the Braves abruptly dropped Kris Medlen and the awesomeness that goes with him from the team).

B8tSdRLIgAAxHIA.jpg-large

So, regardless of what mediocrity we may have to endure from this 2015 season, we do still have Freddie so all is not lost. He may never be the second coming of Chipper Jones, but he’s a pretty great piece to have around. And we should get to watch him play in Atlanta for a long time.

18 Feb

Luis Avilan

Luis Avilan is one of the few holdovers from last year’s bullpen, but that means very little other than he’s one of the few guys I’ll recognize in Spring Training pictures. That being said, since his name is not Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, or Julio Teheran (and maybe Alex Wood or Craig Kimbrel), he may not even be a Brave tomorrow. Who knows.

The good: Pretty much the entire 2013 season. Following up a very successful rookie campaign in 2012, Avilan was fantastic for the entire season. He went 5-0 and posted a 1.52 ERA in 65 innings over 75 games. He was reliable, but appearing in nearly 1/2 of your team’s games is a pretty heavy workload. That may have led to…

The bad: Pretty much the entire 2014 season. It was not kind to Avilan. After two great seasons, he struggled through the first half of last season, and his ERA sat at 4.85 after 47 games when he was demoted to AAA on July 19. He was recalled on August 14 but things did not really improve for him. He finished the season with a 4-1 record and 4.57 ERA, giving up 22 runs (all earned) and a .287 opposing batting average in 43.1 innings. His 47 hits and 21 walks led to a rather worrisome 1.57 WHIP. He allowed 2 home runs and recorded 25 strikeouts.

If Avilan can get enough innings in (the Braves have invited 33 pitchers to camp, and there are only but so many innings available) and he has a good Spring Training, and if he is still with the team at the end of it, I’d say there’s a decent chance he makes the Opening Day roster as the second lefty behind James Russell. The Braves did, however, add Josh Outman to the bullpen mix over the winter, so if he has a better spring than Avilan, Avilan may find himself beginning the season up the road in Gwinnett.

If Avilan can put up numbers along the lines of his rookie season, closer to his 2013 than his 2014, he may find himself shipped to a contending team at the trading deadline, since effective lefties don’t exactly grow on trees. While I’m sure the Braves would have traded him this winter or packaged him with someone if the right deal had come along, hanging on to him may net them a greater gain if Roger McDowell can work his magic and help Avilan bounce back. If not, there will still probably be a contending team willing to take a flyer on him simply because he throws with the correct hand.

So what is his 2015 outlook? Numbers-wise, I don’t know. I would not be the least bit surprised if they were better than his 2014 results, nor would I be surprised if they weren’t. Relievers can really be year-to-year. I will be surprised, though, if he is still with the Braves at the end of the season. He’s cheap, left handed, and playing on a team that is not really expected to contend until he gets a little less cheap. If I were him with those factors in place, I probably wouldn’t be buying any real estate in Atlanta any time soon.

16 Feb

The Jadeite Jewel: Whatever’s Necessary To Get the Out

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Round 2: Taggin’ Fool vs. Run At Your Own Risk

Taggin’ Fool

Editor’s Pitch: This astounding tag has gotten a lot of well-deserved publicity. Freeman’s throw was awful on what should have been an easy pick-off play, but through an instinct unique only to him, Simmons was able to apply the tag where he caught the ball–between his legs. I can’t find a clip of it, but I remember later on in that broadcast they showed an angle from centerfield that clearly showed Simmons got the tag down. How he was able to do that will remain one of life’s great unsolved mysteries.

Last Round: Taggin’ Fool beat The Faceplant 37-8.

Run At Your Own Risk

Editor’s Pitch: When a ball splits the gap and bounces away from even the most accomplished of outfielders, you pretty much concede the runner on first will score and focus on keeping the hitter held to a double. Not Simmons. Michael Cuddyer was over halfway home, but Simmons, well onto the outfield grass, threw a perfect strike to the plate to nail him. The ball could not have landed in a better place for Brian McCann had Simmons walked it in and handed it to him. Just wow.

Last Round: Run At Your Own Risk beat Split ‘n Throw 41-3

13 Feb

The Jadeite Jewel: Don’t Question the Instincts

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Round 2: Glove: Optional vs. 180˚ Genius

Glove: Optional

Editor’s Pitch: In Minnesota this year, that will be a hit against Ervin Santana. Last year in Atlanta it was top of the 5th, one down. The catch itself is insane enough, with Simmons making the call to barehand it to give himself a chance to throw the runner out. Then, when the ball bounced slightly differently than he seemed to be anticipating, he stayed with it and nailed the runner with a perfect throw. Perfection on a diamond.

Last Round: Glove: Optional beat Short Hop Maestro 34-11.

180˚ Genius

Editor’s Pitch: Simmons’s instincts on this play are crazy. After he was forced to change his route, he still wanted to try to get two. The problem was, he had to run back to the bag to get the first out, which put his back squarely toward first. How does he choose to compensate for that? By jumping and spinning 180˚ and throwing mid-air. Seriously, who does that? The throw wasn’t great, but it was certainly catchable. Had Freddie been able to catch it, this would have been one of the coolest double plays I have ever seen.

Last Round: 180˚ Genius beat Showing Off the Arm 39-5

11 Feb

The Jadeite Jewel: Anything’s Possible

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Round 2: You Shall Not Pass vs. On the World Stage

You Shall Not Pass

Editor’s Pitch: I’m really not sure how Simmons got to this ball. He had to dive, obviously, but then he had to reach up to actually catch it. I wouldn’t have guessed his arms were long enough to make this play, but the one lesson I have learned from watching Andrelton for three years is to always expect the impossible. And this certainly looks impossible.

Last Round: You Shall Not Pass beat The Ballerina 39-1.

On the World Stage
Note: The very first play shown in this clip is the play in competition.

Editor’s Pitch: Simmons’s skills are not confined to the regular season. He was in mid-season form in March, during the World Baseball Classic. Seeing a 6-3 double play is not rare, but seeing a 6-3 double play from centerfield is very rare. He was once again in an area most shortstops never see, and he once again made an incredible play and was ready to throw immediately. In this case, he was able to get a second out. I know I just said it, but it bears repeating: his instincts are incredible.

Last Round: On the World Stage beat Out of His Way 28-10.

09 Feb

The Jadeite Jewel: Superman Wears #19

Andrelton Simmons standing on a baseball field with a glove on his hand is a web gem waiting to happen, and this winter Braves Journal is going to determine which of his gems is the best of his best—his Jadeite. To see the previous posts in the series, click here.

Round 2: Double ‘Em Off vs. A League of His Own

Double ‘Em Off

Editor’s Pitch: Unless an attempted steal was happening, runners are usually not doubled off on looping line drives, especially looping line drives to short. When Andrelton Simmons is involved, though, words like “unless” and “usually” mean very little. If there’s a play to make, Simmons will be all over it.

Last Round: Double ‘Em Off beat Tricked You 32-6.

A League of His Own

Editor’s Pitch: Simmons was moving toward third base with the pitch, so he had to reverse his direction to get to the ball. He somehow caught the ball anyway, managed to beat the runner to second, then threw to first while his entire body was still heading toward right field, and somehow got enough on the throw to turn a double play. In a tie game. In the bottom of the 14th inning. He’s not fair. He’s really just not fair.

Last Round: A League of His Own beat The Cannon 32-5.

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