Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Scarred, but smarter.

17 Jan

Where Do We Go From Here? — In Summary (by Rusty S.)

As an overview of the position players, here’s a brief summary of my findings and opinions from the “Where Do We Go From Here” series.

The hard truth is that the Braves had only 2 position players (Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte) register above 2.0 WAR in 2016. Worse, there are 4 incumbent position players who were essentially replacement level (Matt Kemp, Tyler Flowers, Adonis Garcia, Jace Peterson all < 0.5 rWAR) and compounding that problem is that there are 4 positions where the incumbents will be 31 or older in 2017 (Kemp, Flowers, Garcia, Nick Markakis). The Braves again appear set to limp through 2017 with these guys, but these borderline vets are going to have to be addressed before the rebuild is over in 2018 or beyond.

The good news is that the Braves know where they are going at 1B and SS, with Freeman and Dansby Swanson, respectively. Swanson is a good bet to join Freeman and Inciarte in the > 2.0 WAR club in 2017, and Freeman is the oldest of the bunch at only 27. Jace Peterson is approaching what should be his peak years; there is a reasonable chance he will continue to improve for a couple of years. This improvement will have to happen for Jace to be a useful starter, but a healthy Ozzie Albies may at age 20 already be as good as Jace, and eventually well past him. Worst case, Jace’s versatility makes him an attractive bench player. There is a reasonable chance that Dustin Peterson could be a replacement for Markakis or Kemp by 2018.

I am skeptical about both Sean Rodriguez and Rio Ruiz, but platoons at 2nd and 3rd could increase the production there marginally. The Flowers / Recker / Gosewisch combo at catcher is primed for disappointment.

There are some intriguing prospects who spent 2016 in A-ball or lower, including Kevin Maitan, Travis Demeritte, Ronald Acuna, Austin Riley, and Alex Jackson. I reserve judgment until we see them in Double-A.

The rebuild continues apace. It looks like we’re not going to get there in 2017, but I’m optimistic the Braves will be better than 2016. The winter is long enough without giving away the spring and the summer too.

Where do we go from here? Hopefully, by 2018 moves will be made so that we’re carrying only one replacement-level position player, max. Finally, it’s only January – still time for some of those moves to be made before April!

09 Jan

The Best Players in Baseball, 2016 (by Edward)

Here we are at the beginning of the year arguing about Mark Kotsay, as usual. But did you know that according to my rankings method—see last year’s inaugural post—Mark Kotsay isn’t actually one of the best players in baseball anymore? Here are the 30 players who beat him out. (Rankings accomplished by my patented Math + Massage technique. The working document is here. Per last year’s post, “3-yr W. TR Avg.” is a weighted average of the player’s last three years on Bill James’s Total Runs leaderboard.)

Rk Player 3-yr W.
TR Avg.
2017
Team
2017
Age
2015
Rank
1 Mike Trout 163.6 LAA 25 1
2 Josh Donaldson 152.6 TOR 31 3
3 Nolan Arenado 144 COL 26 12
4 Manny Machado 149.5 BAL 24 9
5 Mookie Betts 161.5 BOS 24 NR
6 Kris Bryant 143 CHC 25 NR
7 Paul Goldschmidt 140.8 ARI 29 2
8 Ian Kinsler 142 DET 35 19
9 Jose Altuve 140.2 HOU 27 ~13
10 Buster Posey 135.6 SF 30 8
11 Francisco Lindor 144 CLE 23 NR
12 Anthony Rizzo 133.2 CHC 27 13
13 Adrian Beltre 132 TEX 38 11
14 Anthony Rendon 128.2 WAS 27 NR
15 Robinson Cano 129.5 SEA 34 17
16 Brian Dozier 129 MIN 30 22
17 Joey Votto 134.5 CIN 33 4
18 Dustin Pedroia 133.6 BOS 33 21
19 Carlos Correa 127 HOU 22 NR
20 Charlie Blackmon 125.2 COL 30 NR
21 Kyle Seager 124.4 SEA 28 29
22 Brandon Crawford 123.8 SF 30 NR
23 Adam Eaton 122.4 CHW 28 NR
24 Carlos Gonzalez 120 COL 31 NR
25 Bryce Harper 119 WAS 24 6
26 Yoenis Cespedis 116.6 NYM 31 26
27 Jean Segura 121.2 ARI 27 NR
28 Dee Gordon 126.8 MIA 29 23
29 DJ LeMahieu 118.8 COL 28 NR
30 Xander Bogaerts 115.4 BOS 24 NR

Notes about the list:

  • Next 10 mathematically were Marte, Heyward, Kipnis, Freeman, Cruz, Herrera, Belt, Yelich, Frazier, and Miguel Cabrera. I would have re-ordered them significantly, I’m sure.
  • I would like to exclude Dee Gordon from the list, but the system won’t let me. Damn the man! Save the Empire!
  • Players who made the top-30 mathematically but I cut because of a lack of playing time include Corey Seager, AJ Pollock, Jackie Bradley Jr. and a bunch of other schmoes
  • I had never heard of Adam Duvall before undertaking the list this year. I’m still not sure I’ve heard of Adam Duvall.
  • Hell of an era for third base.
  • Hell of an era for…Ian Kinsler?!
  • Rough year for Harper, McCutchen, Heyward, and Stanton. I don’t know if anybody thought they’d all disappoint.
  • Everybody look out if the Rockies figure out how to pitch.
  • Who’s the best player over the next five years out of Betts, Bryant, Lindor, Correa, and Machado? Answer: Probably Dansby Swanson.

Happy New Year, everybody! May the Braves actually land a player on this list next off-season.

03 Jan

Trade Recap: The Evan Gattis/Mike Foltynewicz Trade

Ed. note: Click here to see Rob’s recaps of the other major trades from the Great Teardown.

The Braves continued their sell-off in the offseason of 2015 with a piece that they didn’t necessarily have to trade. Evan Gattis was under team control for 3 more seasons, was 27 and had only finished his second professional season, and was currently playing a position they had no replacement at (and still don’t). But with the concern over his ability to stay at the position long-term, his attractiveness to an AL team because of the DH, his favorable salary, and his best years being within a window that the Braves would not be competitive, the Braves decided to trade him to the Houston Astros along with James Hoyt for Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, and Andrew Thuman.

Who We Gave Up:

Evan Gattis – El Oso Blanco has a unique story. With a past that included a retirement from baseball, working as a janitor, living in a hostel, and bouts with depression, The White Bear returned to returned to baseball at 24 when he was drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round. He made it through the minor league system fairly quickly, and made the Braves’ Opening Day roster in 2013. His beginning was the stuff of folk heroes: his second at bat was a home run off Roy Halladay, and he won the NL Rookie of the Year in April.

Gattis averaged an OPS near .800 during his two seasons in Atlanta. He’s a bit of an all-or-nothing player with a low batting average and light-tower power. His ISO was the highest on the team during his time, and his power has only improved hitting in front of the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. The Braves used him primarily as a catcher in his second season with Atlanta, but Houston did not use him behind the plate at all in 2015 and only used him there about one-third of the time in 2016. He has primarily been used at a DH, but has played some corner outfield as well.

James Hoyt – Hoyt was a non-prospect sent to balance the scales in the deal. He was 27 at the time, and was not considered a piece in Atlanta’s future. He pitched in middle relief for Houston in 2016, and he’s pretty much just a guy. If he keeps this up, he might become Brandon Cunniff.

Who We Received:

Rio Ruiz – One of the few position players we took back in deals in that offseason, Ruiz has progressed through the minor league system very quickly. He was traded after putting in a strong season at A+ for Houston, so the Braves put him in AA as a 21 year old. He had an inconsistent and very slow start, and while he finished the season strong, he still ended up with a .229/.331/.318 line in 484 PAs. Nonetheless, Atlanta saw something in his finish to once again promote him and make him one of the youngest players at that level. He didn’t disappoint as he put up a .271/.355/.400 line in a full AAA season, earning himself a cup of coffee with Atlanta.

Ruiz projects to spend some time in Atlanta next year, and even has the potential to win at least the left-handed side of the starting job at 3B. He seems to have responded well to commands to get in shape, and the Braves clearly see something in him that isn’t always reflected in his waist line or slash line. And as it stands right now, he’s continuing to make strides and could be an everyday player in Atlanta. As of now, he’s the best-performing position player in the trades we made that offseason.

Mike Foltynewicz – What’s not to love? 6’4′, throws 98, and appears to have the stamina and stuff to be a top line starter. But it’s not all wine and roses. Folty has been appearing in major league games since 2014, and as he heads into his age-25 season, there are still question marks about his ability to be a frontline starter. His 2016 season saw him make great strides on the mound (4.31 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9), but he still has periods of ineffectiveness, and when his fastball doesn’t have any movement, he can be hit hard (9.1 H/9). With that said, his age-24 season saw improvements to his strikeout, hit, walk, and home run rates across the board, and the optimism is still there that he can be a big part of Atlanta’s future. He’s cost-controlled, has all of the tools, and if he puts it together (which could happen as early as next year), watch out.

Andrew Thurman – Thurman had no success in Atlanta. Poor fella was hit hard at every level in the system other than A+, and he was released this past year. Some blame his struggles on the bus crash, and admittedly, he was never the same after it. He is currently a free agent, and he may have pitched his last professional pitch.

So what?

It’s hard to give up someone like Gattis. He was under contract, had immense raw power, and he could play multiple positions — though, admittedly, he didn’t necessarily play them well. He was, however, destined to play for an AL team, and he was never going to be a full-time catcher. It might be too early to fully evaluate this trade, but if Ruiz becomes an everyday third baseman like he’s expected to be, and if Foltynewicz continues his development, and James Hoyt doesn’t turn into Waite Hoyt, then I think we come out OK in this deal. We won’t have won it, we won’t have lost it, and it would be consistent with the theme of the 2015-2016 seasons of getting younger, cheaper, and higher-ceiling players. If Folty becomes the top of the rotation starter that he seems to have the potential to be, then you’d have to put this trade into the “win” column for the Bravos.

27 Dec

Mallex Smith (by Smitty)

Mallex Smith was brought over from the Padres as part of the “Great Rebuild” in the Justin Upton deal. He has been a fun player to follow, based on his high batting averages, speed (he stole 88 bases in 2014) and, of course, he is a fellow Smitty.

There is no doubt Mallex can hit a little. A guy with his speed, all he need to do is put the ball in play. But can he hit enough? He doesn’t have much power, though he did hit three home runs once he was called up last season. Those were probably a product of him sitting on fastballs guys were trying to throw by him.

While Mallex’s speed screams “Center Field!”, he really isn’t an amazing defender. He is known to take some less-than-stellar routes to balls. This is supposedly something he has been working on for a few years.

2016 Recap: Mallex played eight games in the minors in 2016 and only hit .419(!). After getting the call up to the bigs, he started really slow, but looked like he was putting a things together before injuring his thumb. (In 16 games in April, he hit a putrid .188/.278/.292. In 42 games in May and June before his injury, he hit .256/.326/.413.) He finished the season with a .238 average and .316 OBP.

He also was caught stealing eight times in 24 chances. Those aren’t numbers you want from a player with his skill set.

2017 Outlook: Where do you play him? The outfield is crowded with Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis and it doesn’t appear the Braves are in a hurry to move any of those three. Peanut has mentioned the possibility Mallex will start the season in Gwinnett to get regular ABs.

Mallex has been mentioned in a few trades, but the Braves are rumored to want to keep him.

I am a big Mallex Smith fan, but I feel his skill set only allows for a brief window of success in the majors. While he is probably best suited for a fourth outfielder on a playoff team, he has a lot of appeal to teams in need of a top of the order bat. I think the Braves need to find a way to play him or try and flip him for a position of need. Sitting him on the bench is a waste and there is no need for him to shag balls across town for an extended period of time.

 

19 Dec

Someone asked for a Keltner on Andruw and I had a half day free…

Ed. note: Once a year, Mac used to write up a Keltner List for a retired Brave, as a way of debating whether he deserved to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A few years ago, I wrote one for Kenny Lofton; two years ago, Sansho wrote one for Deacon White, who played for the Boston Red Stockings in the National Association and the National League, the team that is the forerunner to the modern Braves; and last year, Kevin Lee wrote one for Barry Bonds, who was nearly a Brave before the Pirates nixed the deal.

Here’s Mac’s standard preamble to Keltner lists: The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.)

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No. Andruw was considered the best defensive outfielder of his generation, routinely argued to be the best defensive player at any position during his prime, and arguably the best defensive centerfielder of all time. He was also clearly one of the best offensive players at his position for about 10 years. But in a league that included Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey among other notable superstars, Andruw was never, and never should have been described as “the best player in baseball.” At his peak, in 2005, he came in second in MVP voting to Albert Pujols.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Probably not. Always a core piece of the puzzle, he was nevertheless overshadowed by “the other Jones boy” or the “Big Three” in the rotation. You could make an argument for 2005, a year where Chipper was hobbled with injury and lacked the additional defensive value Andruw provided and only John Smoltz and Tim Hudson were around to compete on the pitching side, but the question isn’t if he was ever the best player on his team for a single year. Andruw was usually the second or third guy in the lineup (behind Chipper and someone like McGriff or Andres or Gary Sheffield) and, of course, there was always Greg Maddux to account for.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Again, a more difficult question than we as fans might like to assume. Andruw was always in the conversation, but he played against Griffey in his early days, and he played against Jim Edmonds in his later years. You can make arguments that he was the best CF in the game for certain years, but it’s hard to say he was better than Junior across the entirety of his career.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Yes. Absolutely, yes. Andruw was a core component of every Braves team from 1996-2006, which rather obviously includes pennant drives through 2005.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Uh…. No. No he was not. I mean, yeah, he plugged along as a league average DH/1B in the AL and Japan after the debacle in LA, but he was done as a regular contributor to pennant worthy teams by the age of 30.

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Barry Bonds still exists.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

According to B-REF’s similarity scores, Andruw’s most similar historical comp is…Dale Murphy. Yeah. That seems about right.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

As noted in the comments of a previous thread, the Hall regularly undervalues defense and regularly underrepresents center fielders. Andruw’s core case for the Hall is that he was a world historical defensive talent who crushed 400+ homeruns out of CF. I personally think the Hall should recognize those types of players (inclusive of Edmonds and Murphy.) The Hall voters seem to ignore my suggestions on the matter. Perhaps my rhetoric is not civil enough for their delicate ears.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

This depends, once again, on how you value defense and how you rate defensive stats. I think Andruw is underrated by voters (or will be) because they underrate historic defensive value outside of pet project players (i.e. Ozzie Smith.)

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

You know, now that Junior is in, he very well may be. Edmonds has a case, with Murphy and Kenny Lofton sliding into the conversation after them.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Received MVP votes in 5 seasons, but only broke into the top 5 vote totals once. (2005.)

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Was an All-Star in all five seasons he received MVP votes (2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006.) Was generally undersold as an All-Star due to the glut of Braves represented during those years, the glut of slugging OFs from other teams, the fact that Mike Cameron’s teams occasionally needed a representative, and/or the fact that people of the time really, really over estimated the value of Steve Finley.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

A team led by peak Andruw could win the pennant. It could be argued that Andruw led his team to the pennant in 2005.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Aside from vaguely educating a subset of MLB fans to the existence of Curacao and the Dutch Antilles in general, no.

UPDATE 12.22.2016: There’s a nice conversation in the comments thread below regarding whether or not Andruw’s manner of playing defense – playing very shallow to steal singles that other fielders let drop, and racing to the gaps to cover balls over his head – “changed the game.” I am not convinced it did, because I’m not convinced other fielders without Andruw’s instincts and preparations to read the ball off the bat can get the same jumps on the balls over their heads to replicate his defensive alignments. That is to say, I’m not sure he “changed the game” so much as he was simply better than anyone else and could play it differently himself. That said, it’s a good question without a definitive yes/no answer…

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Andruw was always trailed by complaints about his conditioning and competitive desire, almost entirely due to the fact that his resting facial expression was a smiling smirk. Bobby Cox once pulled him from a game for “loafing” when he was 19, and that stuck for years as a “thing.” He got a giant contract from the Dodgers in 2007, showed up out of shape and had a disastrous season, and folks don’t seem to be willing to look past that either. All of this is generally crap reasoning IMHO, but they don’t let me vote.

13 Dec

A Better Way To Do World Series Home Field Advantage (by JonathanF)

The change in the CBA which now will end the experiment to make the outcome of the All Star Game determine home field advantage in the World Series has met with general acclaim; this is mostly because people didn’t like the idea in the first place, not because it’s being replaced with something better. It’s being replaced with better regular season record, which is simply not a very good idea at all.

Let’s start with the fact that it doesn’t matter very much. My previous statistical exploration in Braves Journal was devoted (unsuccessfully) to explaining why baseball’s home field advantage is so small, much smaller than any other sport. That series focused on the regular season, but it’s not much different in the World Series. The AL won 11 of 14 “This Time It Counts” All-Star Games, but only 6 of the resulting 14 World Series. That’s barely even evidence; in fact they won just over half of their advantages (6 out of 11) while the NL won all three of theirs, but that is entirely consistent with the advantage being worthless.

For Braves fans, 1991 still sticks in the craw as the World Series Determined by Who Played At Home and The Hulk Hrbek And Those Stupid Baggies In The Outfield, but for every 1991, there’s a 1996: home teams went 1-5. And, while not a very good measure, home teams in Game 7 in the ASG-determined years are 1-2.

That said, on the assumption that fans of a team want the 4-3 advantage, there is a case to be made that the better deserving team gets the “advantage.” There might even be some extra revenue in it.   People seem to forget that the old system was for the home field advantage to alternate. The NL got the odd years and the AL got the even years. Nothing a team did determined whether or not they got the advantage. That said, ever since the playoffs began in 1969 (remembering Braves debacles seems to be my specialty in this essay) the better regular season record got home field advantage, so it was somewhat natural to think of carrying that system into the World Series.

But in an unbalanced schedule, it really makes very little sense, beyond the fact that it’s easy to calculate. After all, a coin flip is pretty easy to calculate too. Teams with better records are very often worse teams. This is particularly true when the records are close. I don’t think this surprises anybody, but we put it aside in determining, for example, who gets in the playoffs except when we want to argue about some really good team that didn’t get in.

And to be honest, I think the quest to get the best team is a little silly anyway, so I’m OK with using a not-particularly-good index of goodness to measure it. But for those who want a better measure, they abound, and we don’t use them for three reasons: (1) they’re more complicated; (2) they are more out of a team’s own control than their own win-loss record; and (3) people don’t care enough.

A simple robust measure is a Bradley-Terry ranking. A variant of this (ELO ranking) is used to rank chess players and it is pretty standard in comparing college hockey teams, where it goes by the name KRACH, which stands for Ken’s Rankings of American College Hockey, after Ken Butler who first used it in this way. His original explanation of how it works is clearer than I’m going to be here, so people who want the details can go there, but I’ll give a little flavor here, for the MLB version. In Ken’s spirit, I’m naming it JOBA, for Jonathan’s Overall Baseball Assessment. I chose this name because it will take the world by storm, be attacked by a swarm of small insects (metaphorical critics) be ridiculously overused and then fall into obscurity.

JOBA is a vector of values, one per team, which summarizes their chances of winning every head-to-head match between the two teams. If The Braves have JOBA-value B and the Mets have JOBA-value M, then the chances that the Braves will beat the Mets in a head-to-head match is B/(B+M). That’s it. We then pick the 30 JOBA-values to best explain how teams did head-to-head against each other. In fact, what we do is pick JOBA values that get the aggregate win-loss numbers for each team exactly right given the schedule they played. The only data you need is the 30 x 30 matrix of head-to-head wins. And the programming to get the ratings is not that complicated.

So while all JOBA does is recover the exact win-loss record for each team, it does it in a way that accounts for scheduling differences. 93 wins is a much better record in a good division (the AL East, last year) than 95 wins is in a division that has some bad teams in it (looking at you, Nationals.) We know this, and we talk about it, but JOBA makes a unique simple adjustment for it that in some ways explains where the won-loss record comes from by eliminating strength of schedule considerations.

JOBA ratings aren’t actually unique. Note in the example above that if we multiply B and M by the same constant we get the same prediction. So while the relative ratings are unique, we can change how we express them up to a constant. I have chosen to make the Atlanta Braves have a permanent JOBA rating of 1000. Every other team is determined relative to the Braves. This decision doesn’t affect the relative rankings in any way. When ESPN takes over this idea, they’ll do something like have the Red Sox and the Yankees add to 100… doesn’t matter. Any single constraint that fixes the level of any one team will do, as will any scaling constraint that sets the total range.

So, based on the 2016 regular season, here are the JOBA rankings:

Team JOBA Wins
  CHC   2297    103
   TEX   2156     95
   BOS   2093     93
   CLE   2078     94
   BAL   1940     89
   TOR   1916     89
   WSN   1836     95
   SEA   1759     86
   DET   1731     86
   NYY   1723     84
   HOU   1681     84
   LAD   1646     91
   KCR   1536     81
   NYM   1526     87
   STL   1525     86
   SFG   1510     87
   CHW   1445     78
   LAA   1362     74
   PIT   1288     78
   MIA   1283     79
   OAK   1205     69
   TBR   1195     68
   COL   1157     75
   MIL   1121     73
   PHI   1061     71
   CIN   1024     68
   ARI   1010     69
   ATL   1000     68
   SDP    987     68
   MIN    923     59

 

First off, while these ratings don’t mirror wins, they go in pretty much the same direction, as you’d expect. (The correlation coefficient is almost 95 percent, for those who care.) And where they diverge (as with Boston versus Washington) they go in exactly the way you’d expect: Boston was a much better team than Washington last year despite having two less wins.

The other thing that leaps out at you in these rankings is how badly the NL sucks right now, top to bottom. Tampa Bay is a pretty bad team, but they are actually slightly better than Colorado, who won 7 more games. Note by the way that the interleague games are telling you everything you can possibly know about the relative strength of the two leagues, but that instead of just looking at the interleague record, they look at whether strong NL divisions played weak AL divisions, and vice versa.

There are another couple of advantages to using JOBA. First, we would no longer care how the interleague schedule works out. Plus, teams would get full credit for how they did against who they played. Second, makeup games at the end of the season and ties leading to one-game playoffs could be played if you wanted to, but you wouldn’t really need to: the 162 game JOBA and the 161 game JOBA are not going to be very different, and you could break regular season ties with JOBA. Even better, you could use JOBA to pick wild card teams. (The only difference last year is that Cardinals would have gotten in instead of the Giants, so maybe records are better: the Cardinals should never get in.)

So there you have it: JOBA. I’d use it for standings, wild cards, and every playoff matchup, but that’s definitely just me. W-L isn’t that bad. But if you think home field advantage in the WS matters, if you aren’t going to use JOBA, go back to alternation. It’s fairer.

08 Dec

Where Do We Go From Here? — Outfield (by Rusty S.)

Ed. note: Every year we publish a series of articles entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which we analyze what the Braves need to do in order to get better the following year. Here’s the intro to the series.

The Incumbents

The outfield seems like a strong spot for the Braves. It is not. One memory that the past couple of seasons have drudged up from the late ‘80’s Braves teams is – one forgets what a good ballplayer looks like.

Nick Markakis, who just turned 33, is coming off of a 1.7 WAR in 2016, and has not had a WAR above 2.0 since the 2011 season. Markakis had a .269/.346/.397 slash line in 2016, and was able to increase his home run total from 3 to 13 as he continued to recover from neck surgery performed prior to the 2015 season. The low double digit home run total is typical of his recent seasons.

Since the 2012 season, Markakis has been consistently in the 1.7 to 2.0 WAR range, and it’s not a bad gamble to hope he can squeeze out another such season in 2017. That would make him good enough for the kind of team the Braves appear to be assembling for this season, but, realistically, his age and his borderline performance level make him a bad gamble for seasons going forward. Mark right field down as another position that will need to be addressed before there is a next great Braves team.

Matt Kemp just turned 32 and is coming off of a Blutarsky-esque 0.0 WAR in 2016 (0.0 in San Diego, and comically, -0.0 in Atlanta.) Despite contributing 35 home runs and a .268 BA, his value was affected by his .304 OBP and negative dWAR. It was supposedly once said after a Willie Mays triple that the only man who could have caught the ball, hit it. The next time Kemp flies out to left, we might say that the only person who couldn’t have caught it, hit it.

However, to be fair to Kemp, the idea that he is only a replacement level ballplayer doesn’t totally pass the smell test. His power is a scarce and valuable skill, and there is reason to be optimistic that his offensive output will continue to be aided by his departure from San Diego’s Petco Park. In 241 plate appearances with Atlanta, Kemp posted a toothsome .280/.336/.519 line. A final grasp at optimism is the note that after moving from right field in San Diego to left field in Atlanta, Kemp posted a range factor per 9 innings of 2.15 in 54 games in left, compared to a league average of 1.80.

Still, there remains the -0.0 WAR to temper the shiny objects and the small sample sizes. At age 32 the clock is ticking, and numerous injuries and arthritis have ground his wheels nearly to a halt, as he’s declined from 40 stolen bases in 2011 to just one swipe last year. It’s hard to be optimistic about what role Matt Kemp might play on the next great Braves team.

Ender Inciarte is the bright spot of the outfield, and is everything that one wants in building a team. Inciarte turned 26 in October, and is entering his prime. He is coming off of a 3.8 WAR season in 2016, and a 5.3(!) 2015, after which Arizona found him to be expendable. He provides value both offensively and defensively, and in 2017 he will be looking to build on a career .292/.337/.381 line in 1586 plate appearances, and to defend his first Gold Glove award. Inciarte got off to a slow start in 2016, reminding us not to get too excited over small sample sizes, and watching his defensive smarts and hustle softened the blow of losing that same type of entertainment that Andrelton Simmons had provided.

Others

Mallex Smith had a breakout season in 2015 with a .303/.371/.378, 56 stolen base season, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A.  He followed up with an injury shortened MLB rookie season in 2016, where he posted a .238/.316/.365 in 215 PA’s. He stole 16 bases, but was caught 8 times. To my eye, it looks like there is room for improvement in his technique, which should result in an acceptable caught stealing percentage going forward if he can refine it.

Smith, who will be 24 in May, has the physical tools to be an excellent center fielder, and in limited time there he had a range factor / 9 innings of 3.15 compared to a league average of 2.39. Smith is not quite as polished as Inciarte is defensively, but they are similar enough defenders for me to say that for Mallex, glove is a mini-Ender’d thing.

Smith does not have enough power to play the corner outfield traditionally, but he could be a shutdown corner outfield defender, and that’s good, so who knows? Still, it’s unlikely that the Braves would settle on an Inciarte / Smith combo in their regular outfield. Smith, who is only 2 years younger than Inciarte, will need to demonstrate soon that he can be the offensive equivalent of Inciarte. He has not yet.

Recently-acquired Sean Rodriguez played 7 different positions for Pittsburgh in 2016, none of them remarkably well. Rodriguez, who will be 32 in April, is coming off a career year offensively, with 18 home runs part of a .270/.349/.510 line. When projecting his 2017, it’s important not to lose sight of his career 2435 PA’s and career line of .234/.303/.390. In his career, he’s played the infield more than the outfield, but he’s played everywhere but pitcher and catcher, so his versatility makes him a useful bench player.

Prospects

Dustin Peterson is the Braves’ 18th-ranked prospect according to mlb.com, and the outfielder closest to the Majors. As a 21-year-old in Double-A, Peterson hit .282/.343/.431 with 12 home runs in 524 at bats. My understanding is that Mississippi is a poor park for home runs, and it will be interesting to see how Peterson’s power develops in 2017. He was quite young for his league, and there is reason to be optimistic that he will keep his OBP up as he matures into the next levels. Peterson was originally a 3rd baseman, but has been moved to left field.

Ronald Acuna is the Braves’ 17th-ranked prospect. The 18 year old spent most of 2016 at Rome, where he put up solid numbers in 171 PA’s, while a thumb injury limited his action. It’s premature to make projections on low-A stats and small sample sizes, but the scouting reports are exciting.

Braxton Davidson is the Braves’ 24th-ranked prospect. The 32nd pick in the 2014 draft, the 20-year-old already has 1196 career PA’s mostly in A and High A, and apart from a good OBP, the early numbers are not encouraging (.224/.344/.360.) Davidson has been young for his leagues, though, so there’s still reason to keep an eye on him. He’s a corner outfielder, so it’s extremely important that Braxton ups his offensive output as he matures.

Alex Jackson has just been acquired from Seattle, and there is no report yet where Jackson stands on the list of Braves prospects, but Jackson was the number 6 prospect in the Mariners system, after having been taken with the 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft. He seems, at first glance, to be similar to Braxton Davidson; a high draft pick who, while young, has not produced much offensively to date even in the low minors. Interestingly, mlb.com notes that Jackson was a catcher when drafted, but moved to the outfield after signing.

Free Agents

There are a number of interesting free agent outfielders remaining, but the Braves don’t appear to be in on any of them. High profile names include: Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Dexter Fowler, Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, and Carlos Gomez, plus familiar names such as Gregor Blanco and Jeff Francouer. http://www.spotrac.com/mlb/free-agents/outfield/

Trades

There was some talk of trading an outfielder, but it seems to have dissipated, perhaps not coincidentally around the time of Mallex Smith’s injury and struggles in winter ball. That is sensible enough for 2017, but the interesting question is: what do the Braves want their outfield to look like in 2018 and beyond? Markakis and Kemp are getting older and seem to be expendable. But what kind of return could you get, and should it even be a replacement outfielder? Inciarte would likely bring the best return, but Inciarte is the kind of player the Braves should be trying to acquire, and it is far from guaranteed that Smith will be a full replacement.

It looks to me as if the Braves are going to take another year to see what they have with Smith, and that they expect Dustin Peterson to take an outfield spot in 2018.

02 Dec

Trade Recap: The Andrelton Simmons Trade

Ed. note: Click here to see Rob’s recaps of the other major trades from the Great Teardown.

This may have been most controversial deal during the rebuild, and was likely the most heartwrenching. Andrelton Simmons was a fan favorite, a GIF maker’s delight, and was the best defensive shortstop in baseball by a significant margin. He was under team control for the next 5 seasons, he was only 25, and with the team largely unsettled with position players, he was a stable commodity on the team. Nonetheless, the Braves traded him and Jose Briceno to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, Erick Aybar, and cash ($2.5M).

Who We Gave Up:

Andrelton Simmons – Simmons had won two Gold Gloves in his time in Atlanta (he inexplicably lost the 2015 award to Brandon Crawford, and the 2016 award to Francisco Lindor). His range knows no bounds, he’s extremely sure-handed, and his arm is electric and accurate. When he was drafted, a scout who thought he’d make an excellent pitcher enthused that he had “huge sh*t coming out of the pen,” but the Braves took him as a shortstop and the rest was history. He’s a human highlight reel, and you may enjoy the compilations here and here. Over the last 4 years, Andrelton leads baseball in Defensive Runs Saved with 131. The next guy has 61. He’s really good at playing shortstop.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Andrelton’s offense has never really developed. After late season duty in his rookie year that led people to think he could be a perennial All-Star (a .289/.335/.416 line in 186 PAs), he continued hope in his offense with a respectable first full season (.248/.296/.396). As was the case with many players on the 2013 Braves, the long ball was in play for Andrelton where he produced his to-date career high, 17 HRs. But he has not hit double-digit home runs again, and has not cracked an OPS over .700. In his first season with LAA, he did steal 10 bags, and his .690 OPS was the highest since his first full season. But with his salary increasing to $6M, $8M, $11M, $13M, and $15M, the Braves just couldn’t justify his future salary and needed to give the next team some years at a below market price to make the deal possible.

Jose Briceno – Briceno is a non-prospect catcher with no stick to speak of. Catchers tend to develop their offense late, but he has not shown an ability to hit upper minors pitching. He’s TBD, but he doesn’t look like he’ll be in the major leagues any time soon.

Who We Received:

Sean Newcomb – The centerpiece of the deal. Newcomb is a big lefty, standing 6’5” and weighing 255 lbs. He has a plus fastball, plus change up, an average change, and many have compared him to Jon Lester. Based on his size, mechanics, and stuff, the comp is valid. Newcomb has the strikeout numbers to be within striking distance of Atlanta, but walks have been his undoing. His BB/9 has never been below 4 since Rookie league, and in his second year at AA (he had 7 GS in 2015), he still has not mastered the strike zone (4.6 BB). He still strikes out over a batter an inning even as he gets into the upper levels, but if he does not fix his control issues, it will be very difficult for him to be a big league starter. He’s very important to the short- and long-term success of the Braves, and if he consistently avoids free passes, he can be an ace of a staff.

Chris Ellis – Another tall (6’5” as well), imposing starter. A less heralded prospect, Ellis possesses an average fastball but an above average change up. He’s also had his bouts in control, but like Newcomb, maintains a strong strike out rate. After a strong showing at AA (78.2 IP, 61 K, 1.131 WHIP, 2.75 ERA), Atlanta promoted him to AAA in hopes he’d continue his performance. Instead, he ran into more struggles than he’d had at any previous level, seeing his walk rate balloon (6.9 BB/9), his H/9 increase (9.0), and his ERA skyrocket to 6.52. Interestingly, his strike out rate improved to 8.6, so there is some reason for optimism in his progression. He’s had a few good outings in the AFL, so he’s still moving forward. He’s 24, however, and if he doesn’t make it to Atlanta before some of the higher-ceiling prospects are able to, then he could find himself stuck in AAA or traded.

Erick Aybar – The Braves thought they needed to take a shortstop back in the deal, so they received Aybar and $2.5M of his $8.5M salary. Aybar was 32, coming off a down year, but had performed well 3 of the previous 4 seasons before then. Aybar struggled to hit his weight out of the gate for Atlanta, but upon returning from a DL stint on 6/12, he pulled off a .289/.346/.396 line until he was pawned off on the Detroit Tigers. The Braves received Kade Scivicque, a 23-year-old catcher with some pop, and Mike Aviles and his $2M salary, who was later released. Scivicque has also been playing in the AFL, and could be an interesting piece down the road.

So What?

It’s hard to get excited about the return for Andrelton. Andrelton may not have ever been an offensive asset, but according to advanced stats, he saves you a lot more runs than he costs you. However, while in the cold light of day it may have made sense to trade Andrelton, the return seemed light. If Newcomb is able to harness his command, he can become an above average major league starter or even an ace. But he’ll be 24 next year, he hasn’t yet found his command, and if your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle. It’s also possible that Ellis never makes a meaningful contribution to the parent club. Based on his salary, Aybar did not provide much value to Atlanta at all, even considering the return in his mid-season trade.

The best I can say: to be determined.

25 Nov

Trade Recap: The Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller Trade

Ed. note: Click here to see Rob’s recaps of the other major trades from the Great Teardown.

The first big trade that Coppy made was trading Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Like Justin Upton, Heyward was one year away from free agency, and with seemingly no hope of re-signing him, they decided to get something significant for him instead of leaving for free agency. By this point, it was not publicly declared (and perhaps not even internally decided) that they were in the midst of a rebuild, so receiving back a major league piece like Shelby seemed to be important.

Who We Gave Up:

Jason Heyward – Bad Henry County. The next Braves Hall of Famer. The next Hank Aaron? A true 5-tool player who could perform each of them at an elite level. He dumped the first fastball he ever saw into the Braves’ bullpen in 2010. The expectations were enormous. He should have had the bat of Fred McGriff, the defense of Andruw Jones, the arm of Jeff Francoeur, and the leadership of Chipper Jones if you talked to enough Braves fans. But instead of being a cornerstone player for the next 15 years, J-Hey was simply… an excellent major league baseball player. He was an All-Star, finished second in the RoY, has now won 3 Gold Gloves, and sabermetricians think he is one of the most valuable players in baseball. As it stood, he had a .781 OPS, stole bases at a 75% clip, and played perhaps the best right field defense in the game. He was mostly durable aside from some hamstring issues and a very unfortunate pitch to the face in 2013.

In his lone season in St. Louis, he had one of his best seasons since his rookie season. He managed his highest stolen base total (and success rate), he hit .293/.359/.439, and won another Gold Glove. St. Louis, perhaps, hoped that he would sign his inevitable long-term mega deal with them, but he went to their rival, the Chicago Cubs. But after signing up with the Cubbies for 8 years in exchange for $184,000,000 in payment, his first season at Wrigley was a very forgettable one. He turned in his worst OPS of his career (.631), played his fewest games since his injury-marred 2013 season, and didn’t steal nearly as many bags as he had previously. It got so bad, in fact, that he was benched multiple times during the Cubs’ World Series run.

He’s perhaps the most enigmatic player to play for the Braves. Do you really pay $22M a season for a guy who is not a transcendent offensive power? But at the end of the day, a penny saved is a penny earned, and advanced defensive metrics say that he saves significantly more runs over an average right fielder than he “loses” at the plate over an elite offensive player. To many, the balance tips to his side, and the value is there.

Jordan Walden – Classic Atlanta with this one. We picked him up by trading the late Tommy Hanson in 2012. For a total of $2M, he provided two solid relief seasons for Atlanta. For St. Louis, he pitched 10 1/3 innings in two seasons due to injuries. The Braves signed him last week to a minor league deal with an invite for Spring Training.

Who We Got Back:

Shelby Miller – Shelby, we hardly knew ye. Shelby clearly was the centerpiece of the deal, and like his counterpart in this deal, he played one season for his new team. He didn’t produce the WAR that Heyward did (6.5 to 3.6 WAR, with much of that gap due to Heyward’s controversial defensive contribution), but he turned in a valuable season for the rebuilding Braves. He led the league in starts, pitched 205 1/3 innings, produced a 3.02 ERA, and made the All-Star team as the Braves’ lone representative.

But where the story changes is what the Braves did with Miller next. While Heyward left for the Cubs in free agency, the Braves traded the big Texan to Arizona for Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair. Considered at the time to be one of the biggest heists of the decade, the progression of value certainly is to be taken into consideration for what the Braves received with Shelby Miller.

Tyrell Jenkins – Another big fella from Texas, Tyrell was originally committed to Baylor to play quarterback. He’s a high-ceiling-low-floor prospect who possesses a 94 MPH fastball, average breaking ball and change, and struggles to match his secondary stats with his otherwise strong ERAs. He struggles to consistently throw strikes (3.5 BB/9 in his ML career), doesn’t strike out enough guys (6.5 K/9), and that came to a head in his time in Atlanta in 2016. His inability to master those things in the minors led to an alarming walk rate (5.7 BB/9), a simply unacceptable K/9 (4.5), and that led to a 5.88 ERA in 14 games. The Braves at a couple different points have said that his future may be as a reliever, and the jury is still out over where he slides into Atlanta’s plans long-term. He has been rated as highly at #6 on some prospect charts as the Braves have continued to tinker with their farm system.

So What?

If the trade evaluation ended at the end of 2015, then you’d say that the Braves traded a cornerstone player for a very good right-handed starting pitcher. That may not sound particularly appetizing. But with Heyward now in such an enormous contract, Shelby sold for a king’s ransom, Jenkins still having potential, and Walden back in Atlanta, you’d have to conclude that the Braves sold at a great time on Heyward and maximized his value.

18 Nov

Where Do We Go From Here? — Catcher (by Rusty S.)

Ed. note: Every year we publish a series of articles entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which we analyze what the Braves need to do in order to get better the following year. Here’s the intro to the series.

The Incumbent

Tyler Flowers has an unremarkable career slash line of .232/.302/.384, in 1720 plate appearances spread over 8 seasons.  In 2016, the righty-hitting Flowers went a more respectable .270/.357/.420, his first season in Atlanta.  That included 8 home runs in 281 at bats.

Flowers generated 0.3 WAR in 2016, with a 1.5 oWAR dragged down by a -0.8 dWAR.  In his career, Flowers’ dWAR has generally hovered around the +0.5 mark, but there is no hiding the fact that in 2016 Flowers caught only 3 of 63 base stealers, a hideous 5% rate.  In 2017, Flowers will need to get closer to the 25% – 30% range he exhibited with the White Sox, or this is going to be a problem.

Flowers will be 31 in 2017.  Maybe there is something about Atlanta or the National League that will allow us to ignore his career line and see him maintain something close to his 2016 offensive levels.  However, the more likely bet is that 2017 sees a return to his career norms.

Others

Anthony Recker is another righty-hitting catcher, on his fourth major league team at age 33.  2016 is the first time he’s batted over .215 for a season.  Recker has a .200/284/.350 career slash line, so let’s not get too excited about the .278/.394/.433 line he put up in 112 Atlanta plate appearances.  Recker does appear to have a moderate amount of power, with 18 home runs in 545 career at bats.

In his limited time in Atlanta in 2016 he was assigned 0.6 WAR, in line with his career bests.  He also threw out 22% of attempted base stealers.

We were under the impression that A.J. Pierzynski had retired, but it’s being reported he may try to find a landing spot in 2017. In fairness, this is just the cherry on top of Pierzynski’s retiring in his own inimitable style. There is no evidence that the Braves are interested, nor should there be.

Prospects

Lucas Herbert is the only catcher in mlb.com’s list of top 30 Braves prospects, at number 26. The 19 year old Herbert hit .185 at Rome in 2016, with 8 home runs in 335 at bats.

Free Agents

The Braves seem to be interested in acquiring a catcher, either through free agency or trade.  The top free agent catchers based on 2016 are 30 year old Matt Wieters of Baltimore, and 29 year old Wilson Ramos of Washington. Ramos hit .308 with 22 home runs in 2016, but unfortunately he is out at least the first 2-3 months of 2017 with his second major knee injury. Georgia Tech’s Wieters, who will be 31 in May, posted a 1.7 WAR in 2016, his first season over 0.8 since 2012.

Other catchers the Braves have been tied to include Jason Castro and Nick Hundley. The Astros’ Castro is a lefty hitter who could platoon with Flowers.  Castro will be 31 in June and is coming off of a .210/.307/.377 line in 2016, his 3rd consecutive season around that level.  He caught 24% of prospective base stealers in 2016.  The 33 year old righty-hitting Hundley is coming off of a 0.1 WAR season for Colorado.

The recent signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon lead me to believe that the Braves are looking at more of a stopgap approach for 2017.

One thing is clear.  Between the incumbents and the prospects, catching is the most dire component of this organization, and it will have to be addressed before there is a next great Braves team.

© 2017 Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built | Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)

GPS Reviews and news from GPS Gazettewordpress logo