Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

I don’t want them forget Ruth; I just want them to remember me. -Hank Aaron

30 Jun

June, 1998

6/28/98: As you see, the replacement for the Andruw-o-Meter is in. I’m keeping track of the bullpen for now; with Greg Maddux’s shutout last night the bullpen ERA is probably a full run higher than the starters. (I’m a couple of games behind, waiting for CNN/SI to post current bullpen stats.)

The Braves won two out of three from the Blue Jays, with Tom Glavine pitching quite well today and the offense really coming alive. Randall Simon was called up after Curtis Pride hurt his hand when he childishly splintered a bat in the dugout yesterday. Simon got the start and played well, but isn’t really much of a hitter, a .250-range player with some power but no walks. At best, he’s a Jermaine Dye-type player, without the defense. They really should have called up George Lombard, who is tearing the cover off the ball in AA.

6/27/98: The Braves broke a 3-game losing streak tonight behind Greg Maddux at his most Madduxian, with a little Randy Johnson thrown in: a complete-game shutout, eight hits, no walks, and a career-high 13 strikeouts. Again, the starting pitching has to be great, with the offense lagging just a little with Andres Galarraga out with a back problem, and the bullpen reaching Marineresque levels of incompetence. It’s going to be hard to win more than half the time until that gets corrected. The bullpen’s failure is, I think, affecting the starting pitching; Neagle in particular looks like he’s pressing, and Kevin Millwood’s recent problems probably can be traced to a little bit of overwork. Since Smoltz even if he pitches well can’t go more than about six innings, the Braves are really just riding Maddux and Tom Glavine right now. Of course with Al Leiter out they’re the two best starting pitchers in the league, but at best they can only start half the time.

One further point about Maddux; he’s starting to go a little longer than he had the last couple of years. He’s not throwing a whole lot of pitches (about 105-110 tonight) but he is starting to rack up the innings. He’s actually returning to his old pattern; he led the league in IP five years in a row from 1991-95 and in complete games from 1993-95. He only had five complete games each of the last two seasons, after ten in each of the two (strike-shortened) seasons before. He already has five this season. He’s been hurt a little the last two years, and those injuries seem to have cleared up now.

Rumors have the Braves trading for Jeff Shaw (which would as I said before probably be a mistake) or Randy Myers (which probably would help a whole lot but I expect would require giving up Bruce Chen and I wouldn’t want them to do that). There’s also a rumor that they’re trading for Roberto Alomar, who would be an upgrade at second, but one half-season of him (he is a free agent after this season) wouldn’t be worth giving up Chen or the Braves’ other top prospect George Lombard.

6/23/98: The Braves tonight salvaged a split of a two-game series in New York against the Yankees, to be followed immediately with a two-game series with the Yankees in Atlanta. A weird thing Bobby’s doing, playing Ryan Klesko in left field with Curtis Pride as DH. Curtis isn’t a great outfielder, but he’s decent, and almost anyone’s better than Klesko. Also, when he brought in Gerald Williams for defense, he wound up losing Klesko rather than Pride. He did this previously in the Baltimore series, but did not do this in the past in the World Series, choosing rather to DH Klesko. I can only guess that this is to get Klesko more work in the OF, though personally I think that rest would do him more good.

Tom Glavine had a classic “Maddux” tonight, eight innings, two runs, and a number of fine defensive plays. It’s not good that the Braves almost need the starting pitcher to be great to win, but they’re getting enough great starting pitching to survive for now. Kerry Lightenberg finished the game tonight, in a non-save situation, and might be back at the top of the bullpen heap for now.

The Braves traded Alan Embree to Arizona for Russ Springer. Panicky move. Springer is 4-3 with a 4.13 ERA, and he gives up lots of fly balls; with Turner Field apparently a home run park this year, that’s a really bad idea. He’s giving up almost a hit an inning, plus a walk every other inning. The Braves have lots of guys like this, there’s no reason to go out and get one.

6/21/98: Two of three lost to the Expos with today’s 4-1 defeat. I have to wonder what would have happened if Ozzie Guillen hadn’t made a terrible error in the fourth inning that let the first run score and the eventual second run reach base. I cannot understand what that man is doing in the major leagues.

Crybaby Mark Wohlers volunteered to go down to the minor leagues to work on his game; rumors persist that the Braves will try to trade for Jeff Shaw. Shaw’s thrown a lot of pitches the last couple of years, I have to wonder if he’s the best solution. Dennis Martinez is the closer for now.

John Smoltz pitched very well in the one game of the Expo series the Braves won. He’s going to be on a pitch count for now, and I expect Bobby will be more careful with him than he was earlier this year. But with the bullpen the way it is now, there will be the temptation to let him go longer than he should.

6/18/98: The Braves took two out of three from the Marlins, but it’s not exactly last year’s Marlins team. But it’s not the offense’s fault. They have some really good players, and are scoring about as many runs as last year. So the next time someone makes fun of the Marlins’ position players, remember that. The pitching there has been awful, but if they’d kept Kevin Brown and Al Leiter, I think they’d be in the wildcard hunt.

We’ve all heard, I hope, of the “quality start”: a pitcher goes six innings and gives up no more than three earned runs. It gets attacked, sometimes — after all, it’s a one-game ERA of 4.50, which isn’t so great. But it’s useful, because a pitcher who has made a quality start has given his team a chance to win. Basically, if they lose it’s not his fault.

Anyway, I would like to propose a new stat, the super-quality start, known for short as a “Maddux”. A Maddux will be any game in which a starting pitcher throws at least eight innings and gives up no more than two earned runs.

I don’t know about the eight innings, but Greg’s pitched 16 games this season and given up more than two runs twice, both against the Rockies.

6/15/98: Where to begin… The Braves took two of three from the Expos, but that wasn’t the real story of the weekend. The bullpen went into total systems failure Friday, and it might not be recoverable. After Maddux threw eight strong innings and left leading 5-2, going for his tenth win, Mark Wohlers came into the game. Wohlers had apparently been complaining to Bobby about being used in non-save situations, so Bobby obliged him by bringing him into the easiest save situation there is. Hardly anybody blows these. Wohlers threw four pitches, walked the leadoff man, and was pulled for Mike Cather. Cather couldn’t get anybody out and wound up losing the game right there. Wohlers went into the dugout and started whining.

Bobby Cox has been Wohlers’ biggest supporter, and that Wohlers is starting in on him after that is incredible ingratitude. More than that, it’s an intolerable situation to be acting the way he did towards his manager, at least in public. Wohlers has this sense of entitlement many closers develop. Most are replaceable, much more replaceable than a good starting pitcher or regular player. They are, after all, mostly just failed starters. But they act like they’re the biggest stars in the world. If a reliever isn’t something special, a Tom Henke or Lee Smith who’s among the best for many years or a Dennis Eckersley or Trevor Hoffman who’s totally dominant for several years, you’re better off trading him while his value is up. In my opinion, Wohlers is not special. I would like to point out that the bullpen’s troubles began with Wohlers’ rehab assignment, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his return shook up the other relievers, who were all faced with some sort of demotion.

One more point about the Expos series. In the final game of the series, Expo outfielders twice tried to make sliding catches and both times misplayed routine (if run-scoring) singles into triples. In one case, an additional runner scored on the play; in another, the batter after reaching third later scored. The Expos therefore essentially gave the Braves two runs, and if they hadn’t stolen the Braves signals or something and pitched out on a squeeze play it might have been three. This is the cost of aggressive play; it’s flashy, but it generally costs you. You might save one run, but the cost is usually turning a maintainable situation into a potential big inning, and baseball is a game of big innings. I’ll also say that it gets you hurt a lot, and both Expos outfielders involved (Rondell White and Vlad Guerrero) have had injury problems. Only one Brave OF tries to make a lot of diving catches; Ryan Klesko. He is both the Braves’ worst outfielder and their most injury-prone.

6/11/98: The Braves wound up splitting the first six games of interleague play, after losing the Boston series 2-1. Can we all admit that interleague play isn’t the answer to baseball’s problems, whatever they may be? Nobody really cared about it this year; in two years it wouldn’t be worth pointing out anymore.

The Braves lost games two and three basically because of bad pitching. They gave up ten runs in the third game, wasting two homers from Andres Galarraga, his 24th and 25th. I am really surprised at how well he’s done in Atlanta. It’s one of those inexplicable things; Galarraga is hitting almost as well in Atlanta as he did in Coors Field (and that shouldn’t happen), while his road statistics have gotten better for the second straight year, at age 37. I don’t think there’s any parallel for this in the long annals of baseball, a player becoming a better hitter in his late thirties than he ever had been before, a much better hitter.

I retired the Andruw-o-meter. I’m leaning to replacing it with the Guillenometer, but I’m open to nominations.

6/7/98: I love to watch Greg Maddux pitch. He maybe doesn’t throw hard, but he’s the ultimate pitcher. Sometimes you’ll hear that you’ll never see another 300-game winner; these people aren’t really paying attention. Maddux is on a 300-win pace, easily. He now has 193 wins for his career, at age 32. That’s a lot; it’s tied for 87th in this century.

But among pitchers through age 32, Maddux ranks seventeenth, and you have to figure he’s going to win more games this season, probably enough to become only the sixteenth pitcher this century to win 200 or more games before age 32. He’s won more games than Steve Carlton had at this stage of his career, more than Don Sutton, more than Lefty Grove or Nolan Ryan. Many more than Warren Spahn or Phil Niekro. If he wins 20 games this season, he’d be ahead of Tom Seaver or Fergie Jenkins, ahead of every 300-game winner this century but Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Pete Alexander. That’s not a guarantee that he’ll win 300; seven of the top ten age-32 winners this century failed to win 300 total. But he’s certainly in a position to win 300 games, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. There’s at least one active 300-game winner in or near his prime in the major leagues today. Probably one on the Braves, actually. (Tom Glavine is tied for 58th this century in wins through age 32; with 20 wins this season he would be 38th. John Smoltz is closing in on the top 100, and is a year younger than Glavine and Maddux.)

6/6/98: On the other hand, if you don’t get any baserunners it doesn’t matter a whole lot how much power you have. Last night, the Braves and Oriolds (my nickname for the very old Baltimore team, and I’m not surprised that they aren’t winning) combined for five home runs, and five runs total. That must be nearly as rare as getting twelve hits in a nine-inning game and not scoring any runs, or two teams having the same number of hits in a 9-0 game. Unfortunately, the Oriolds had one more solo homer than the Braves.

Today, the Braves jumped all over Mike Mussina, knocking him out with eight runs given up in less than five innings. Kevin Millwood isn’t pitching any better than Denny Neagle did yesterday, probably a little worse, but he’s likely to get a win (it’s 8-3 as I type) and Neagle got a loss. Life isn’t fair sometimes.

There was a major deal two days ago, with former Braves relievers Greg McMichael and Brad “The Human Gasoline Can” Clontz going to the Dodgers and Mets respectively. For some reason, all the attention has been on the throw-ins, starting pitchers Hideo Nomo and Dave Mlicki.

6/3/98: Dennis Martinez tied Juan Marichal for the most wins by a Latin pitcher in last night’s game. He did it in style, a complete-game shutout; you got the feeling that he wasn’t about to let the bullpen to have a shot at blowing this one.

It’s stretching a point, but last night’s game shows what I mean when I say that batting average is overrated. The Brewers had 12 hits in 35 AB = .343 BA. But they didn’t score any runs, largely because they didn’t do much besides hit singles. They had one walk (= .361 OBP) and one extra base hit, a double (= .371 SLG). Basically, if all you hit are singles, you’re going to lose a lot. You have to do something else. Preferably hit for power.

6/2/98: Something I missed… The Braves cut my man Brian Edmondson (he will presumably go back to the Mets). He had pitched poorly in his last couple of outings, but spending most of your time on your kiester and then being asked to go out and pitch in close games will do that to you. They called up Rudy Seanez, once described as “The worst pitching prospect of all time” by my idol Bill James, but he throws really hard and the Braves have apparently gotten his control under control, and he might be vaguely useful.

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