Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Thanks to Mac's family, is back.

30 Nov

The Most 2015 Moment of 2015 – Fredi’s Big Idea (by Edward)

Ed. note: For those of you with heart conditions, or who are with young and impressionable children, we ask that you turn around in your seats.

June 11th, versus the Padres.
As a group, we don’t give Fredi Gonzalez nearly enough credit for creativity. When he screws up, everyone notices—maybe even a little too much. When he’s quiet and effective, only a few of us (I should say: a few of you, since I’m a charter member of the He-Man Fredi-haters) stick up for him. And all of us agree that, at the very least, he doesn’t stand in the way of good players all the time. But Fredi the Innovator? That’s a stretch. Bear with me.

It’s mid-June. As the days have grown longer, the shine on the new season has begun to fade. The players are showing signs of listlessness, and they’ve lost a few more lately than they did in April, and at first pitch the Braves are at an uninspiring 29-30. But Fredi’s a veteran manager. He knows the season is always going to have it’s ups and downs. He’s got to keep his eye on the big picture. He knows that 29-30 can be a launchpad to 40-32 if his team regains their mojo and if he pushes the right buttons.

Plan A, though, is to leave the buttons alone. (There is some evidence to support this decision, as the buttons did not have a very good season.) It took Julio a minute to settle in, but he’s been a machine since the 2nd, facing a mere one batter more than the minimum over six innings. With a 4-1 lead heading into the top of the 8th, and Jim Johnson getting the day off after having pitched the last three running, Fredi does his best Cosmo Kramer impression and tries to see just how far below the E he can ride his starter.

It’s not the worst idea he’s ever had, but it backfires. That’s baseball. Julio gives up two singles, and he’s clearly on his way to walking strikeout-prone Wil Myers. The gears start turning. Maybe it’s the gnawing feeling that if he can just find the magic switch, he can turn this rag-tag team into something. Maybe it’s the temptation that, with one bold move, he could open up a blue ocean to the rest of managers and be glorified into eternity. Maybe for a few minutes in the 8th General Tosca neglects his primary task of poking the skipper whenever he appeared to be thinking too much. Whatever the cause, Fredi has a breakthrough.

[Cue interior monologue.]
The line-up. The line-up is the defining feature of baseball. Nearly every time there’s an event on the baseball field, a new batter comes to the plate. I mean, how is that fair? A pitcher doesn’t even have time to get comfortable throwing to one guy before a whole new guy takes his place. What if a team bats Mark McGwire and Vlad Guerrero back-to-back? Is Tony Womack lurking? What about Jeromy Burnitz? They’re all so different. No one could possibly prepare for a thing like that. No, this is stupid. I’m going to tell Blue that this game is under protest until we can get a fairer shake for my staff. I’m going to call up Joe Torre and—wait a minute! Eureka! I’ve got a whole bullpen full of pitchers! That’s basically the same advantage!

Here’s how the rest of the inning plays out, now that Fredi has his Big Idea.

  • Teheran finishes walking Wil Myers. Bases loaded, 0 outs. Still Braves 4, Padres 1.
  • Pitching change. D. Eveland replaces J. Teheran.
  • Passed ball. Braves 4, Padres 2. Walk. Bases loaded, 0 outs.
  • Pitching change. N. Masset replaces D. Eveland.
  • Strikeout. Bases loaded, 1 out.
  • Pitching change. L. Avilan replaces N. Masset.
  • Walk. Braves 4, Padres 3. Bases loaded, 1 out.
  • Pitching change. D. Aardsma replaces L. Avilan.
  • Strikeout. Bases loaded, 2 outs.
  • Catcher’s interference. Braves 4, Padres 4. Bases loaded, 2 outs.
  • Groundout.

And scene.

In what I believe was a major league first, we saw 5 consecutive pitchers for 5 consecutive batters. Now that’s innovation. He brought in Grilli for the ninth, too, in accordance with the time-honored baseball manager tradition of Why the Hell Not?

Taking a quick tally from the (absolutely excellent) comment thread time stamps, it was 32 minutes of pitching change hell, with Ugly Betty’s ugliest betties sprinkled in for good measure. We lost the game in extra innings once the Padres discovered that “Last Man Standing” Brandon Cunniff wasn’t a real major league pitcher.

[Cue interior monologue.]
Shoot. That’s what I get for thinking too much. I guess I can forget about that 2016 extension.

27 Nov

Left Behind: The Guys Who Didn’t Make It (by Bledsoe)

There were several also-rans besides Francoeur . Most of these guys likely would have made the list if Mac’s list had been static, as they’re better Braves than the guys who were Nos. 40-44 in the Original List. But with the addition of seven new players, they no longer can bump somebody off. But they’re worth an honorable mention.

Julio Teheran: 40-30, ERA 3.44, WHIP 1.191, IP 633.1, 542 K

Teheran just fulfilled the three full seasons rule this past year. He’s actively waiting in the wings, just off the map in my view. Currently 12th lowest ERA for eligible pitchers, and 13th in Ks. But he’s a very shaky candidate at this point. It remains to be seen whether his stats improve or not. It could go either way.

Adam LaRoche: .281/.346/.512, 77 HR, 253 RBI, 217 RS, OPS+119

Adam made the Left Behind 18 before he returned for half a season in 2009. As noted, his slugging percentage as a Brave trails only four guys on this list: Hank, Chipper, Ryan, and Fred. LaRoche is a better candidate for the 44 than Claudell Washington, Lonnie Smith, etc. But all those guys have been kicked off the list by better players, and Adam isn’t quite good enough to replace Chris Chambliss, who is the anchor position player here.

Tommy Hanson: 45-32, ERA 3.61, WHIP 1.252, 635 IP, 592 K

Rest in peace, Tommy. AAR’s writeup said it all. Just misses, but can’t knock off Ron Reed as the last pitcher in. Neck and neck with Julio above, I’d probably have to go with Julio if I were forced to pick one. 11th in Ks among eligible pitchers.

Matt Diaz: .299/.347/.449 43 HR, 194 RBI, 185 RS, OPS+ 108

It took Matt seven years as a Brave to accumulate three full seasons worth of plate appearances. I loved this guy – kept him on my Rotisserie team in all weathers. He absolutely scalded the ball whenever he was in the game, and he sprinted out every ball he hit. He’s in the top 20 for OPS of guys eligible for this list; he’s in the top five for batting average. But he doesn’t fare so well in Runs Created because he just doesn’t have the at-bats. He needs back all the plate appearances he lost to stiffs like Ryan Langerhans and Gregor Blanco. While he would have been an arguable candidate to join the Original List, the New List he can’t touch.

Kris Medlen: 34-20, ERA 2.95, WHIP 1.155, 512.2 IP, 434 K

Can’t make minimum starts requirement to be eligible. Delighted to see him have some success this year with KC. If he’d had one more full season with the Braves, he’d have to be considered a serious candidate. Oh well.

Jair Jurrjens: 50-36, ERA 3.58, WHIP 1.329, 720 IP, 486 K

Jair pitched longer as a Brave than Teheran, Hanson, or Medlen, but not quite as dominantly. He’s much of a muchness with those four guys, all of whom can’t kick out Ron Reed as last man in.

25 Nov

Where Do We Go From Here?: Maybe Defense is an Overvalued Asset

On March 29, 2013, as MLB prepared to break spring training and embark on another summer of swings, the New York Times ran an article about the upcoming season and league wide trends. The gist of it is summarized by the headline, “Strikeouts on the Rise,” but just in case you weren’t sure where they were going with it, they also provided this helpful subheadline:

There were more strikeouts in 2012 than at any other time in major league history.

The Times, of course, wasn’t breaking news with that article. The meteoric rise in K’s had been explored for some time on the sabremetric webs. Multiple theories had already been bounced around as to the drivers and causes of the steady increase in strikeouts, including but not limited to such ideas as “hitters just don’t care because we’ve stopped shaming them for swinging and missing” all the way to “the rise of specialty relief roles sends fresher arms throwing harder into the games where tiring starters once remained for at least another inning or so.” By 2013 we were not only to the point where the Grey Lady was picking up the previous work and running it as a spiffy little interactive graph, but to where MLB itself was convening committees to look at the “problem” of too many strike outs and the resulting drop in offense.

Since then, the trend has not let up. In 2012, the season prior to this article, the league K’d a total of 36,426 times. The raw totals for the next three seasons (2013-15): 36,710; 37,441; and 37,446, an increase of roughly 1% a year. No matter how you slice the numbers, the trend is still obvious, notable, and increasing. More and more Major League at bats end with the hitter making a U-turn back to his dugout and the catcher tossing the ball around the horn while the next guy digs in.

The direct impact of this trend has been done to death. Offense is down, as is power. Teams are looking for new hitter profiles that might be more successful in a low offense environment, including the much ballyhooed return of Joe Simpson’s “contact hitter.” But one thing that hasn’t been fully fleshed out is how the rise in K’s impacts the rest of the game. One thing we can be certain of is that as the number of at bats ending with contact decreases (i.e. K’s rise), so too decreases the number of plays a defense has to make behind the pitcher(s.) An increase in strikeouts directly reduces the value of defense. And thus, the value of defenders.

The worst reading imaginable of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball is that “slugging and on base win baseball games.” First, that’s been known for years; it was a maxim of Branch Rickey back in the 40s, at the very least. The more proper reading of Moneyball is rather, “teams with limited payroll flexibility must find and exploit market inefficiencies.” That is to say, a club that can’t simply buy its way into contention like the Yankees (and now Dodgers and perhaps Angels and Cubs) must be smarter than the competition. They must find undervalued assets and acquire them, preferably at the cost of overvalued assets.

In the 1990s, the undervalued assets were unathletic looking sluggers who controlled the plate and walked a lot. The overvalued assets were “RBI men” and fast guys with low OBP’s that “just look like a leadoff hitter.”

In 2015, it is quite possible that the undervalued assets are those relievers averaging 2 K’s per inning out of the pen any time after the 6th. And the overvalued asset? Quite possibly, it’s the wizards with the gloves, who are no better than anyone else at milling around and waiting for the catcher to start the ’round the horn throw as the batter walks back to his dugout in what used to be shame.

Sabermetrics is the search for new truths and ways of thinking about baseball. I don’t know if the Braves’ current plans and theories will pan out. It’s a brutally difficult game to succeed at, at any level. But I do think they have a plan, and I think that plan is backed up with something more than John Hart’s gut instinct and John Coppolella’s Magic 8-Ball. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. As for me, I’ll continue to breathe and see where it goes from here.

23 Nov

Left Behind: Jeff Francoeur (by bledsoe)

Jeff Francoeur
RH Hitting, RH Throwing Outfielder
Braves Seasons: 2005-2009
.266/.308/.424, 78 HR, 359 RBI, 310 RS, 89 OPS+

Okay — I wrote this sucker up, might as well put it up.

As I said, in a 2007 update to the 44, Mac opined that if he redid the list, Jeff Francoeur would likely have to fall in in the thirties somewhere. I was surprised at the relatively high ranking, as Jeffy was easily Mac’s favorite punching bag. Mac did say that ranking was IF Francoeur had a decent 2008. And in 2008, Jeff’s OPS fell to .653 and the Braves in desperation sent him in midseason down to Mississippi to relearn to hit, where he didn’t. I left him off, but he didn’t miss by much.

I recall a Baseball Abstract in the early years in which Bill James was noodling a stat that would reflect a player’s intelligence. The concept was to cherrypick certain random stats that James thought reflected IQ. One of them I believe was basestealing success, the notion being that smart guys know when to go and when not to. Another was showing year to year improvement at the plate, and I think one was walk-to-strikeout ratio (having a good idea of the strike zone equaling brains or some such theory). It was just a rough draft, and I don’t remember much more, other than Ozzie Smith scored high. I don’t think Jeff Francoeur would.

Francoeur was one of those high school Golden Boy athletes, excelling in everything he put his hand to. He played both baseball and football in high school in Gwinnett County at Parkview High (Go Panthers!), winning everything in sight and being named All-Everything. He had football offers from Notre Dame and others, but chose Clemson, due to his childhood dream of gelding hogs. (I may have made up part of that last sentence.) However, the Braves took him in the first round of the 2002 draft at No. 23, and he postponed a promising career in tractor maintenance to play professional baseball. In 2005, he made his professional debut at the age of 21. He hit .300 in a half season and finished third for Rookie of the Year.

But Jeff’s promising career sort of fizzled. His OPS marched slowly southward, and he finished his Braves career at a disappointing OPS+ of 89. Part of the reason I thought he struggled at the plate was just a failure to adapt to higher levels of play. This was a guy who had been able to dominate everyone he faced in high school by just showing up and using his natural athletic ability. The game was simple for him: swing at the ball and watch it leave the park. When he got to the bigs, he seemed baffled that that non-strategy – just pick up the bat and do it – wasn’t succeeding anymore. He never saw a pitch that he didn’t think he could hit out of the park, and he swung at most. And he seemed unable or unwilling to change/improve/learn/listen to coaches. He was finally traded to the Mets, as a sort of Trojan Horse perhaps, for Ryan Church in the summer of 2009. There he mysteriously started to hit. He also tipped a Mets clubhouse attendant $50,000 when he left NY at the end of the 2010 season. That’s a lot of shoeshines.

The cobweb of years have perhaps made us forget, but Francoeur was an excellent defensive right fielder for us. In 2005, in 67 games, he led the league in outfield assists (13). He again led the league in 2007 with 19 – that’s a lot of assists. (He posted the same number for the Royals in 2012.) He’s actually the active leader in career OF assists with 124. (I have a theory about outfield assists that I actually like a lot. To wit, elevated outfield assists are largely a function of opponents underestimating a player’s arm and/or range. So a lot of OF assists means that 1) the rest of the league doesn’t respect your fielding and 2) they’re wrong about that.)

I think it’s kinda cool how many recent Braves were taken out of high schools in the Atlanta metro area. Sort of a throwback to the days when teams had regional first dibs on local talent.

I’d say that of the Left Behind, he trails probably only Clete Boyer and Brian Jordan as deserving of being on the 44.

Next: a few guys who also just missed the cut.

21 Nov

The Most 2015 Moment of 2015: The $189,000 Man (by Edward)

Ed. note: For those of you with heart conditions, or who are with young and impressionable children, we ask that you turn around in your seats.

We are all sick and tired of 2015. I think this past season of baseball will forever be linked in our minds with a sort of monolith memory black with despair.

However, what we feel as solid, obsidian despair does not exist. The monolith, like the Island of the Grand Jatte, is in this case an illusion, the powerful effect of a million pinprick baseball moments spread out over 162 games.

In the spirit of honesty, healing, and happiness, I have isolated a few of the more emblematic moments of the year for your consideration–after which consideration there will be a vote–after which vote let’s laugh about it and agree that it’s all over now.

Here are your nominees, then, for the Most 2015 Moment of 2015.

1. The $189,000 Man. April 28th, versus the Nationals.
Coming off a convincing 8-4 win against the NL-favorite Nationals, the Reloaded-not-Rebuilt Braves were 10-9 on the young season, 3 ½ up on the Capitol Creeps, and staring into the shaky eyes of a 23-year old A.J. Cole making his major league debut in the hostile confines of Turner Field.

The home team made quick work of the hapless rookie, hanging nine runs on him in 2 innings to bring on mop-up man Tanner Roark, who proved only somewhat more effective. The Braves were up 10-2 after 4 innings. Our 3-4 hitters, mainstay Freddie Freeman and the Improbable A.J. Pierzynski, had huge games. Freddie was 4-6 with a double and 3 runs scored; AJ was even better, going 4-4 with a walk and a sac fly. The Braves were riding high.

Jome Julio hit a rough patch in the 5th, though–with an assist from Alberto Callaspo‘s botched double play ball–and what was once a foregone conclusion became a bit of a ballgame. Braves 10, Nationals 6.

It was close enough that all of us at home began to worry about our kryptonite: former Braves players. As if on cue in the 7th, Feliz Navidad walks Bryce Harper (smart!) and Jose Lobaton (um…) to
put ducks on the pond for former Brave, Dan Uggla, who manages to knock them in with a triple on a high fly ball to right-center. (Reminder: Markakis and Maybin are currently slated to reprise their roles as everyday outfielders in 2016.) Next batter? Reed Johnson, obviously. Result? RBI double, obviously. Braves 11, Nationals 10.

The offense tacks on another, and the Braves head into the ninth inning with Proven Closer™ Jason Grilli facing Zimmerman, Espinosa, and Lobaton–who aren’€™t exactly Ruth-Gehrig-Meusel. Zimmerman fans, but Lobaton (who hit .199 on the season) singles and Espinosa (having at this point a career walk rate around 5%) takes a base on balls. Thunder Dan strides to the plate:

It isn’t the dramatic loss that hurts most–although it did seem to take the wind out of the team’s sails a bit. Nor is it our unfortunate, inevitable weakness against old Braves–even of the most useless variety. It’s not even the fact that Uggla did it for the absolute, most-hated enemy we’ve got.

No, here’s what hurts most. The $12,692,500 he earned from the Braves this year to play 67 games for Washington is one of the chief reasons the Braves are terrible now. After the front office cut him loose for being one of the worst players in baseball for two years running, first he picked up a World Series ring with the Giants, then he drove this dagger into our hearts. By my estimation, we paid him north of $189,000 for the privilege.

Following posts will introduce our subsequent nominees.

20 Nov

Atlanta Braves Trivia Time! (by sansho1)

Correct answers acknowledged in the comments. You have 24 hours. Go!

1) Who was the youngest Atlanta Braves All-Star? Who was the oldest?

2) Other than Tony Gwynn, who was the only position player to appear in at least one NL game every year from 1982-1998?

3) What did Rico Carty carry in his back pocket during games?

4) What position player had the highest single-season WAR (BBRef version) in Atlanta Braves history?

5) Who holds the Atlanta Braves single-season record for walks taken?

6) Two former Atlanta Braves hail from Hawaii. Who are they?

7) Whose Atlanta record for stolen bases in a single season did Otis Nixon break?

8) The top two Atlanta Braves in career defensive WAR are, of course, Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons. But who is third?

9) Who is the oldest living former Atlanta Brave? Who is second?

10) Since 1988, three former Atlanta Braves went on to finish in the top 5 in Cy Young voting with a different team. Who are they?

11) Rowland Office accomplished something four times that no other 20th or 21st century major league player accomplished more than twice. What was it?

18 Nov

Xanax, Part 1

One of the very few topics on which I generally default to optimism is the Atlanta Braves. It is known.

I can get testy with the constant rending of garments that we seem to descend to any time things don’t go perfectly or according to how we would do it. It is known.

I have been watching a lot of One Punch Man of late. This is likely new information.

All of this given, I hereby present “how the Atlanta Braves compete for the NL East or at least the WildCard* in 2016, in one move.”

Assumption 1: Hector Olivera does not bomb out. That is to say, he is a reasonable facsimile of a middle of the order hitter with some power, and can fake it well enough at 3B.

Assumption 2: Terry McGuirk was not lying when he said payroll would increase going into 2017, and that the Braves are willing to once again carry a top-10 payroll.

I honestly don’t think either of those assumptions require unicorn’s blood to be true. Your mileage may, as they say, vary.

Punch 1: Call Milwaukee. Offer Lucas Sims and Touki Toussaint, packaged with at least one of Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher’s expiring contracts. Preferably both. Ask for Ryan Braun’s entire contract in return.

1B – Huggy Bear
2B – Jace Peterson
3B – Hector Olivera
SS – Erick Aybar
LF – Ryan Braun
CF – Cameron Maybin
RF – Nick Markakis

OF4 – Dian Toscano
OF5 – Mallex Smith

The rest of the roster fills in with pieces already in the mix in Atlanta.


*Remember way back 12 months ago when everyone was all “ALL WE NEED TO DO IS SNEAK INTO THE SECOND WILD CARD! WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!?

17 Nov

Where Do We Go From Here?: Let The Kids Play (by Edward)

Illusion check, in order of appearance: Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and Andrelton Simmons. Or if you’re not into using names: Immediate Sensation 1, Immediate Sensation 2, Immediate Hugsation, Immediate Sensation 3.

Okay, okay, it didn’t turn out perfectly. Heyward lost his power, Kimbrel got a little shaky in some key moments, Freeman hasn’t quite had that BIG season we all want to see, and Andrelton isn’t much of a hitter. But these were stunners; absolute, no-assembly required studs right out of the box. We stuck them into everyday roles, and kept on winning as if we’d gone to the Elite Free Agent Store. (Sidenote: We did go to the Elite Free Agent Store. What the hell was Mudge doing on a shelf at the Elite Free Agent Store?!) That’s how talent is supposed to work.

Reality check: That is not how talent works.

Let’s see here…How about a quiz?

Player A, 2005, Kansas City: 5-17, 5.80 ERA, 183 IP, 2.15 K/BB
Player B, 2012, Los Angeles: 330 Plate Appearances, .228/.280/.281, 1 HR, 20 BB, 62 SO, special shout-out for Sam Hutcheson
Player C, 2008, Cincinnati: 9-14, 4.81 ERA, 171 IP, 29 HR allowed
Player D, 2008, Oakland: 316 Plate Appearances, .242/.273/.361, 4 HR, 13 BB, 81 SO

Hint: All of these seasons occurred early in a player’s career, and in each case the player got much better later. Players learn. Players adjust. Players grow. Players mature.

(Give up? A is Zack Greinke, B is Dee Gordon, C is Johnny Cueto, and D is Carlos Gonzalez.)

And so, 2016 Braves, be patient with Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, Manny Banuelos, William Perez, William Perez, Arodys Vizcaino, Shae Simmons, Andrew McKirahan, Tyrell Jenkins, Lucas Sims, Max Fried, Hector Olivera, Christian Bethancourt, Adonis Garcia, Jace Peterson, Dian Toscano, and Mallex Smith, whenever they come up.

Some of them are going to be duds. Some of them are going to be back-ups. A few will have long unspectacular major league careers. And maybe one or two or three of them, with the right mix of TLC and hard knocks, are going to become special.

The point here isn’t to wishcast. It isn’t to encourage a massive trial-by-fire either. But the Braves, more than any team in baseball save the Phillies, probably aren’t built to win now. We’re building a future, and we’ve got to figure out who’s a part of it. Coppy, Harty, Scheurholzy, Fredi: If your choice is between a total black hole and some Neck Cakes, take the Neck Cakes. But if your choice for third base is Adonis Garcia or David Freese, pick Adonis, even if we think Freese is more likely to handle the position. Jerome Williams is a free agent, and he might pitch better than our other two Williams, or Wisler, or Folty, or ManBan. 2016 is not the year to give him the chance.

I don’t care how sure you are that Nick Swisher’s going to grin his way into a dead cat bounce. Let the kids play. Alright?

15 Nov

Braves Panicked After League Says They Must Field a Major League Team in 2016

November 15, 2015
Sports · Local


Braves General Manager John Coppolella was informed six weeks into his new job that he is expected to field a major league team in 2016.

ATLANTA, GA—Braves officials were taken by surprise earlier this afternoon when a league official informed the team they have a major league schedule they will be expected to play out in 2016.

“This comes as a surprise to us,” Braves General Manager John Coppolella admitted. “We really did not have this on our radar right now.”

Earlier in the day, Coppolella told the media the team was actively looking to get rid of Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran, saying that both had been members of the franchise for too long. “Freddie and Julio have been great guys to have in the clubhouse, but it’s time to move them along and get some fresh blood in there,” Coppolella said.

However, the team is having difficulty moving them, Coppolella noted, because the Braves have already used the rest of their major league talent to stockpile minor league pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery, and they are now running low on potential trade partners. “Most of the other teams out there do not have many of the type of prospects left we are looking for,” Coppolella said, “Ideally we’d like to have a variety of prospects to choose from in a trading partner, but we were so active last winter that we were able to get most of the guys that fit our prototype, and so few Tommy John surgeries were performed over the summer that there is a real shortage of pitchers recovering in farm systems right now.”

After hearing Coppolella’s comments about Freeman and Teheran, a league official sent the team a memo reminding them that their appeal to have their major league operations suspended during their retooling process had been rejected, and that they would be expected to fill out a 25-man major league roster at the end of Spring Training.

“I was never notified about that. This is the first I have heard of it,” Coppolella said when he was reached for comment. “When I took this job, I was under the impression that I was supposed to continue the work I was doing as the Assistant GM. There I had been instructed to dismantle the major league team and restock the farm system, so I had assumed the team’s petition for a short-term recess from MLB had been accepted. This will definitely change the game plan I have been following.”

Coppolella further noted that the team will be opening a new ballpark in 2017, and that he is appalled the league is going to make them play this year in their old one. “This place is like 20 years old—it’s outrageous we are going to have to play ball games here next year when we will be opening a new ballpark so soon. All of the elements were in place for our petition to be accepted, so I really don’t know why [the league] rejected it. But, that’s life. If we have to play next year, we will play.”

When asked if he felt pressured to construct a major league roster in such a short time frame, Coppolella dismissed the idea. “April is a long way away. We are not concerned in the least about whether we will be able to assemble a team or not.”

A source close to the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, disagreed with Coppolella’s statement and said that the atmosphere in the Braves front office is decidedly panicked. “Coppy was shocked at first—he really didn’t see this coming. Now that it’s sunk in a bit, he is putting on a bold face for the media, but he has started to panic, and everyone else in here are kindof taking their cues from him.”

This source believes things will settle down after a while, though, and is confident there will be nine players taking the field in a Braves uniform on Opening Day. “We may have to turn some of our minor league pitchers into athletes and have them fill in some other positions in the majors for awhile. There’s also a lot of semi-pro leagues around here and some church softball teams that we can take a look at to find some guys who can wear a glove on their hand and take the field. So it’s really not that big of a deal—we’ll get something worked out before the season starts.”

Coppolella went a step further and expressed some optimism about the 2016 season. “We know the fans in Atlanta want to see competitive baseball again, and I have no doubt we will be able to give them that this year, even if it is a bit sooner than I was expecting,” he stated through a text message this evening. “I expect there to be some close contests this season, some nail biters, some exciting baseball. I think fans will be surprised by the product we will put on the field,” adding that with the fans’ demands for competition, the team is anticipating sellouts against each contest played against Philadelphia, and is scheduling their promotional giveaways accordingly.

12 Nov

The 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves, #41: Andrelton Simmons (by bledsoe)

No. 41: Andrelton Simmons
RH Hitting, RH Throwing Shortstop
Braves Seasons: 2012-2015
.256/.304/.362, 31 HR, 168 RBI, 197 RS, 85 OPS+

Some will think this is low. But Simmons just eked out the minimum three full seasons this past year, and if this were based solely on offensive production alone, he wouldn’t make the top 44. If we expanded it to 66 he might not make it. But his glove, even in three short years, makes it impossible for me to leave him off. We are in my view looking at the best defensive shortstop ever to play the game.

Born and raised in Curacao, he spent less than a year playing for West Oklahoma State College when the Braves drafted him in 2010 in the second round, as a pitcher with a 98-mph fastball. I’ve heard two contradictory versions of the story, one in which Andrelton wanted to try to pitch in the bigs, and the Braves wanted him to switch to SS, and the other in which the positions were reversed. In any event, the pitcher experiment was very short-lived, as by 2011 he was a full-time shortstop at Carolina. He was called up from AA on May 31 in 2012 and we’ve never looked back.

Is he better than Ozzie Smith? I think he is. It’s a tough question. He’s only 25. We’ll have to see if his career can last as long as Ozzie or Mark Belanger’s. But based on an admittedly short statistical sample, he is on pace to blow away their career defensive sabermetric marks. For example, the career modern era SS dWAR leaders are:

Smith (19 seasons) 43.4
Belanger (18) 39.4
Ripken (16 at SS) 33.7
Aparicio (18) 31.6
Vizquel (24) 28.4

Well, Andrelton is at 15.2 after 3 ½ seasons. Ozzie’s highest dWAR season was 1989 with 4.7(his mean season was 2.2.) Andrelton has averaged 4.76 dWAR over the last three years. In other words, he’s averaging the best season ever recorded by the guy considered to be the best defensive shortstop ever to play the game.

Defensive sabermetrics are of questionable value. But here are some of Simba’s highlights.

In 2012 he only logged 426 innings, but compiled a UZR/150 of 33.4, which I believe is the highest ever recorded at shortstop since 2002 when they started recording the stat.

His total UZR in 2013, 23.9, was more than double the second place finisher at shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, at 11.4. In dWAR, he was 5.4, more than double the next guy, the Twins’ Pedro Florimon, at 2.1. He’s second in career dWAR for the Atlanta franchise, with 15.2, after just three seasons. (Andruw is the leader in the clubhouse with 26.2, and Andrelton should pass him in 2018.)

Just use your eyes. Virtually every other game I watch, I see something that he does that nobody else in baseball could do. Just review the highlight reels on this site.

I also think he is one of the brainier players in the game. The stuff he pulls to deke baserunners into thinking they’re safe trotting back into first, or throwing to a base no one expected him to, is brilliant. He is thinking about plays, and able to execute them, that most players would never conceive of. Those smarts will I hope lead to improved success at the plate. His contact rate is phenomenal (career K rate is 9.2% — Ichiro’s is 9.9%). He’s too athletically gifted and too intelligent to continue to struggle finding his stroke. I expect that we will see continued tinkering but also continued improvement. I see no reason he shouldn’t be able to hit .275/.350/.400.

Just a classy guy. He slides in at New No. 41, below Kent Mercker and above Chris Chambliss. Again, I hope he never leaves Atlanta. He will shoot up this list quickly.

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