Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

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30 Oct

Where Do We Go From Here? 2014, Part 1: What Do We Do With BJ? (by smitty)

Note to Braves Journal newbies: Every offseason here at Braves Journal, we run a series of posts called “Where Do We Go From Here?” The first one of the 2014 offseason is from Smitty.

Other than hiring a General Manger, the most important decision the Braves face this offseason is, “What do we do with BJ Upton?” Ultimately, the final answer of this question could determine the next two to three seasons.

As you know, BJ Upton was signed by the recently departed Frank Wren prior to the 2013 season. This signing and the theft of his brother, Justin, were probably the best and worst moves of the Wren era. While Justin’s performance has been outstanding, BJ has been terrible. Whenever you have a season where you add 24 points to your batting average, and people still claim your season was a failure, it’s bad!

Let’s break it down by options:

A key reference point here is that BJ is owed $45,350,000 through the 2017 season, according to Baseball Reference.com.

1. The Win the Powerball Twice and Develop Superman Powers Scenario: The Braves trade BJ Upton to a team willing to pick up the full tab

There is no way I see this happening. There was a better, albeit small, chance last offseason of this scenario happening. However, when you put up back to back negative WAR seasons, no one will want you. Unless I am hired by the Phillies to be their GM, no one is going to pick up the $45,350,000 contract of doom.

2. The One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure, or Something Scenario: The Braves trade BJ Upton to a team that will pick up the tab, if we throw in value and/or take a bad contract back

There were rumors abound in July that the Cubs and Braves discussed an Edwin Jackson for BJ Upton deal. Baseball Reference notes Jackson is owed $22 million for 2014-2015 and had an ERA of 5.58 over his last two seasons in the Friendly Confines. While the money doesn’t match up, the Cubs might kick in some salary relief if the Braves include, say, Mike Minor.

I think there are a few teams that may listen to us (Rangers, Dodgers, Yankees…) and may take BJ off our hands. A deal like this would cost obviously cost us something of value.

I actually think this is the scenario that will happen. It will test our new GM right out of the gate and could be the move that defines him early on.

3. The Dan Uggla Scenario: The Braves release BJ Upton

This scenario may happen if the Braves don’t find a taker before the start of Spring Training. I am not sure Liberty Media will be too happy with this, but if the Braves don’t feel BJ can contribute and no one will take him, this is what you probably have to do. Another season like the last two will start to be a massive clubhouse distraction. We know how the Braves feel about that.

Under this scenario, the Braves may save some money if anyone picks up BJ, though it probably wouldn’t be more than the league minimum. Maybe Liberty Media agree it is sunk cost and since we have played the “front office shuffle,” they will eat some of the cost and allow the Braves some payroll latitude.

4. The Left Field Scenario: The Braves keep BJ Upton

As noted above, BJ’s brother is on the team and is a free agent next year. I am sure the Braves would like to keep him and they way they handle this could will be a factor in that decision. Maybe Justin gives the Braves a discount for the way this all goes down and to play with his brother for a few more years. Maybe the Braves decide to give the new hitting coach a shot to correct BJ’s issues. Maybe BJ starts taking PEDs and shows off in winter workouts.

5. The Gold Watch Scenario: BJ Upton Retires

This is the scenario that ranks up there with me being named GM of the Phillies. I guess there is a chance BJ is mentally fatigued and says, “I’ve lost it.” After a winter of failing to make contact with 75 mph fastballs from a machine, BJ calls a press conference at Turner Field. With his brother and father flanking his sides, he tearfully makes the following announcement:

“After playing a game all of my life, I now have reached the end of my life in baseball. When I came to Atlanta a few years ago, I dreamed the organization would take the next step and we would hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy as the (Royals/Giants) did a few months ago. I became even more excited when the Braves added my brother to the roster and was able to live a dream of playing with my brother and best friend.

I would like to thank God, my family, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Atlanta Braves for making this an incredible ride. I am thankful the Braves will allow me to serve as Assistant Secretary of Minor League Base Running Development and Overseer of Baseballs.”

Assistant Secretary of Minor League Base Running Development and Overseer of Baseballs does have a nice ring to it.

27 Oct

Crowdsourced Sopranos Comparisons

John Schuerholz: Tony Soprano (spike)
John Hart: Paulie Walnuts (spike), Silvio Dante (Edward)
John Coppolella: Christopher Moltisanti (spike)
Frank Wren: Big Pussy (Adam R), Phil Leotardo (Ububba)
Bobby Cox: Uncle Junior (spike)
Fredi Gonzalez: Bobby Bacala (spike)
Terry McGuirk: Johnny Sack (spike)
Li’l Jonathan Schuerholz: AJ Soprano (spike)

So, is John Malone Livia Soprano?

21 Oct

The Last Week Before the Offseason

I’m rooting against the Giants because Posey was out.

I’m rooting for the Royals because if they win the World Series, there is no chance that Dayton Moore gets hired away.

20 Oct

Where Do We Go From Here: Why I Believe In Retooling, Not Rebuilding

We’ll get to the meat of the offseason content after the World Series, but in the meantime, I wanted to point to an interesting article by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, where he tries to wrestle with what he got wrong about the Royals. Of course, basically no one predicted that they would reach the World Series this year, but Cameron panned the James Shields trade specifically because he thought that it was so unlikely that they would experience quick success as a result of it.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that when the results of the postseason don’t align with expectations, that our expectations were clearly wrong to begin with. The playoffs — like most short tournaments between competitors of mostly equal stature — are mostly random, with the outcomes swinging wildly on things that simply couldn’t have been predicted in advance.

But while I think I can defend my analysis of the Royals talent level, that doesn’t make the overall argument correct. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen essentially unparalleled parity in MLB, and this year, we have a World Series match-up between two teams who made the playoffs via the Wild Card. In 2012, the Tigers got to the World Series with 88 regular season wins; in 2011, the Cardinals won it all after winning just 90 games. While better teams are still more likely to win out in the postseason, the structure of the playoffs gives a real chance to every team who simply qualifies, even if they sneak in via the Wild Card. So maybe I underestimated the potentially positive returns from being on the good side of mediocre.

This is the crux of why I always land on the “retool” side of the “retool versus rebuild” argument. The 2014 Braves, for all their flaws, nearly won 80 games, and these days, pretty much any 80-win team is in range of a year like the 2014 Royals had — getting lucky and winning five or eight extra games in the regular season beyond what their Pythagorean record would have predicted, and then riding a Costco tub of pixie dust through the playoffs. The only way to guarantee you’ll miss the playoffs altogether is to rip off the bandaids and blow up your team, the way the Diamondbacks did in the firesale that netted us Justin Upton, or the way the Marlins did in 1998 and 2012.

As a lot of people have grumbled (including me), baseball has become less of a regular season sport and more of a postseason sport. What happens in the first 162 games is not completely meaningless, but since 1/3 of all teams play on past the regular season, the odds are incredibly good that the best teams in the regular season will not play particularly well in the playoffs, and that teams that were mediocre in the regular season will play great in the playoffs.

But that’s the world we live in, and that’s the world in which the Braves have to play. There’s almost no added advantage in winning 95 games in the regular season rather than 90. So that means that the ultimate goal must be to build teams that always have a pretty good chance of winning 90. There’s no harm if you overshoot that. But there’s significant harm if you foreclose on that possibility altogether.

17 Oct

Stupid Manager Tricks, Mike Matheny Edition

So, for those of you not following along at home, Mike Matheny lost the NLCS last night by managing worse than Fredi Gonzalez ever even thought about doing. I’ll throw it over to Deadspin for the details.

Matheny, when asked about not using closer T. Rosenthal in 9th: “We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

Suffice to say, when it comes to Fredi, it could be a lot worse.

The Giants play the Royals for the title of World Series of WildCard Teams Championship.

15 Oct

The Braves Win The Franchise’s First World Series (by AtlCrackers Fan)

Ed. note: to see the previous installment in the 1914 Braves saga, click here

Three days after the regular season’s end, the 1914 World Series started on October 9 in Philadelphia. The surprising upstart Braves faced off against the defending World Champions, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s were making their fourth World Series appearance in the last five years, having won the 1910, 1911 and 1913 series. Possessing a famed “$100,000 Infield” that included Eddie Collins at short second and Frank “Home Run” Baker at third, along with a pitching staff anchored by Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, the Mackmen stood as prohibitive favorites to win a fourth World Series.

Game 1, played at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, was the only snoozer of the series. Dick Rudolph pitched a masterpiece, and the Braves easily won by a score of 7-1. Possum Whitted iced the game for Boston with a 6th inning triple.

Game 2, played the next afternoon, turned into a nail-biter as Bill James and Eddie Plank matched pitch for pitch through eight scoreless innings. Third baseman Charlie Deal, playing only because Red Smith remained in Brooklyn with a broken leg, hit a double with one out. A botched pickoff led to Deal reaching third. After James struck out, Les Mann singled Deal home for the only run of the game. James made the bottom of the ninth interesting by walking two before inducing a game ending double-play.

After a Sunday off, Game 3 moved to Boston but the game was played in Fenway Park, rather than the Braves’ more usual home field of South End Grounds. Lefty Tyler started for the Braves and ended regulation tied 2-2, with all the runs coming in the first four innings.

In the top of the 10th, Home Run Baker stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and lived up to his clutch nickname with a singling home two runs. However, Hank Gowdy led off the bottom of the 10th with a solo home run, cutting the deficit in half. Following a strikeout of a pinch hitter, a walk to Moran and single by Johnny Evers left runners on the corners. Joe Connolly followed with a sacrifice fly to center field, allowing Moran to tie the score.

Game 2 starter James came on in the 11th, allowing no runs. In the bottom of the 12th, manager Stallings showed his tactical skills. Hank Gowdy started with a ground rule double. Stallings then inserted Les Mann as a pinch runner, and had Larry Gilbert pinch hit for James. Gilbert received an intentional walk. Moran then attempted a sacrifice bunt, but the pitcher threw wildly to 3b, allowing Mann to score, ending the game 5-4.

Game 4 seemed anti-climatic. Dick Rudolph started his second game, giving up a run in the 5th that tied the game. But Boston came back with two in the bottom of the fifth, and that was the end of the scoring. On October 13, 1914, the Braves won the fourth and final game of the World Series by a score of 3-1.

As improbable as the last to first finish, Boston had swept the mighty Athletics 4-0.

Postscript

After season’s end, Connie Mack would trade away most of his stars (maybe that’s where the Marlins got the idea) and the Athletics would finish in last place for the next 7 seasons, 1915-1921. The A’s wouldn’t finish out of the second division or above .500 until 1925, as Mack assembled his next dynasty, the team that would win the American League crown three consecutive years from 1929-31. Even today, the A’s franchise has captured nine World Series titles, trailing only the Yankees and Cardinals.

Showing that 1914 wasn’t entirely a fluke, Boston finished 2nd in the National League the next season and then 3rd in 1916. But it was a brief flourish. Between 1917 and 1945, the Braves would have only three seasons (1921, 1933 & 1937) above .500.

But the Braves’ fortunes turned once more after the end of World War II, when the return of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain from the war gave rise to the team’s second World Series appearance and the memorable phrase “Spahn, Sain and pray for rain.” Spahn finally won a World Series ring with the Braves in 1957. Of course, Sain left his mark, too. After he had retired as a player, Sain began a long and successful coaching career, eventually returning to the Braves. Beginning in 1979, he mentored a young Braves pitching coach named Leo Mazzone. Mazzone won a ring in 1995 — the third and last world championship in Braves franchise history thus far.

14 Oct

Ruh-Roh

Just saw this infographic in the AJC:

The Braves’ average attendance just dipped by 2,380 fans per game in 2014. That’s real money. With an average ticket price of $18.53, over the 81 home games at Turner Field, the Braves stood to lose something like (18.53 * 81 * 2380) $3,572,213.

The Braves’ average attendance was 29,065, which brought in $43,624,530 in revenue — nearly half the payroll. (It’s actually 44.5% of the $97,855,673 payroll. But, of course, Ervin Santana’s $14 million was basically unexpected — if not for that, attendance would be equal to more than half of payroll.)

I don’t blame the fans. If I were in Atlanta, I wouldn’t have wanted to go out to the ballyard to watch those bums too often, either. But you can be sure that the team accountants took notice of this.

10 Oct

Not That We Care: a guide to the playoffs, part 5

Tonight baseball continues along its merry way without us. This time it’s Game 1 of the ALCS, apparently pitting the Kansas City Lorde Songs against the Baltimore Unintimidating And Thus Unintelligible Bird Mascots. (cf Thrashers, Atlantan or otherwise.*) A guy you’ve heard of because his first name rhymes with “Big Game” goes up against a guy that even the in-house propagandists at MLB can only describe as “calm, consistent.” Though, to their everlasting credit, they do follow that up with this bit of fire breathing promotion.

“Right-hander described as unflappable, very good at holding runners”

In addition to Chris Tillman, the Orioles will also feature stars like Kevin Gausman, Joe Saunders, and power hitting 1B/OF Steve Pearce. Apparently really boring white guy names is the new market inefficiency.

The Royals will counter this super-caucasoidal attack by continuing to clap louder and believe really hard.

All of which reminds me, perhaps explicably so, perhaps less than, of that one time David Tennant’s Doctor turned keys to the T.A.R.D.I.S. into perception filters. I mean, I know these teams are there, and it should be exciting and fun to watch franchises who haven’t been relevant since the 1980s take a turn on the big stage again. But every time I try to focus on them I end up back at Saturday Down South reading about Todd Gurley.

Anyway, any similarities you may notice between this guy:
bradyanderson

And this guy?
MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

Purely coincidental I’m sure.

*I once went to a Thrashers game, before they migrated back to their natural home in the frozen wastes of central Canadiastan. The most shocking element of said game was when the home team scored and the two giant metal Brown Thrashers in the ceiling, who were not in fact brown nor small sparrows flitting about your porch-side shrubbery, unleashed a torrent for FIRE! At which point my wife and I had this brief exchange:

She: “Fire breathing thrashers!!!”
Me: “I didn’t know they could do that.”
She: “Evolution is awesome.”

08 Oct

Where We Go From Here

We’ll continue with the playoff game threads. But I wanted to put this up to explain to the new folks and remind the regulars about the cadence of the offseason and hot stove league. Traditionally, we run a series of “Where Do We Go From Here?” posts analyzing the 2014 season and pointing toward what needs to be done in 2015, and we also run player profiles for the 2015 25-man roster.

Volunteers are greatly appreciated! Please email me at the email address in the top right.

By the way, not to toot my paper’s horn too loudly, but this is really good.

06 Oct

Boston Takes the National League Pennant! (by AtlCrackers Fan)

Ed. note: to see the previous installment in the 1914 Braves saga, click here

The National League’s regular season after the games on October 6, with the Boston Braves as the unlikely league champions. Starting with games on Sept. 18, Boston finished the season going 17-4-3.

The standings on the morning of Sept. 18 1914 looked like this:

  W L Pct. GB Change
Boston Braves 77 55 .583 5-1
New York Giants 74 59 .556 3.5 5-3
Chicago Cubs 72 64 .529 7 3-3
St. Louis Cardinals 71 64 .526 7.5 3-2
Philadelphia Phillies 64 71 .474 14.5 6-3
Pittsburgh Pirates 62 71 .466 15.5 3-5
Brooklyn Dodgers 59 74 .444 18.5 2-4
Cincinnati Reds 56 77 .421 21.5 0-6

For the remainder of September, the Braves posted a 12-1-3 mark, clinching the pennant by winning the first game of a doubleheader from the second place Giants at the Polo Grounds. (The second game was called after 8 innings with the score tied 7-7.) Over this stretch Boston played five doubleheaders, including on four consecutive days (!) from September 23-26.

Stallings’ use of pitchers during this grueling stretch was very regular. The “Big Three” were Bill James, Dick Rudolph, and Lefty Tyler. One of them would start the first game of the doubleheader and then someone else — Dick Crutcher, Iron Davis, Otto Hess, or Tom Hughes — filled the gap in the second game. (That said, Dick Rudolph started game one on both Sept. 24 and 25 while Bill James pitched game two on the 25th.)

The Braves would play eight more regular season games in October, including three more doubleheaders, posting a 5-3 mark. In these games, Stallings rested his regulars, letting the reserves play most of the time. James and Rudolph made one start each, but each pitched only three innings. Perhaps more problematic was the injury suffered by Red Smith, a broken ankle, in the next to last game. Smith, acquired in August from Brooklyn, had hit at a .319 clip over the last 60 games, but his season was over and the Braves would be forced to play the World Series without him.

The final season standings looked like this:

  W L Pct GB Change
Boston Braves 94 59 0.614 17-4
New York Giants 84 70 0.545 10.5 10-11
St. Louis Cardinals 81 72 0.529 13 10-8
Chicago Cubs 78 76 0.506 16.5 6-12
Brooklyn Dodgers 75 79 0.487 19.5 16-5
Philadelphia Phillies 74 80 0.481 20.5 10-9
Pittsburg Pirates 69 85 0.448 25.5 7-14
Cincinnati Reds 60 94 0.39 34.5 4-17

Boston essentially performed its miracle in slightly less than three months, from July 5 to September 30. A total of 14 doubleheaders were played during this run with Boston going 20-7-1 in twinbills. Twelve extra-inning games were played, and Boston went 7-3-2 in those games. Boston threw 19 shutouts during the season, with 17 coming after July 4. The Braves were held scoreless 12 times during the season, but only three times after July 4, as their team batting average rose from .241 on July 4 to .251 at season end. Fielding remained constant, as the Braves fielding average stood at .959 after July 4 and at .963 on October 6. (For reference purposes, the National League’s batting average was .251 and fielding average .958).

The Braves went from 14 games under .500 and 15 games out of first place to 31 games above .500 with a ten-game lead after clinching the pennant on Sept. 30. Boston posted a 63-16-4 mark over that stretch. That’s why they call it a miracle.

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