Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Scarred, but smarter.

06 Feb

The Little Deals (Part 2)

Ed. note: this is continued from Part 1.

11. Cameron Maybin for Gabe Speier and Ian Krol

Essentially Maybin, a league average centerfielder, for Krol, a lefty specialist. Speier was a balancer in the Shelby/Dansby trade.

12. Ryne Harper for Jose Ramirez

Ramirez was not thought of much at the time, not even after his first stint with Atlanta, but he finished the second half of 2016 strong and figures to play a role in the 2017 bullpen. He has an above-average fastball, and he was essentially acquired for nothing.

13. Christian Bethancourt for Ricardo Rodriguez and Casey Kelly

The Braves gave up on a former top prospect, Bethancourt, to receive a semi-live arm in the form of former top prospect Casey Kelly. Kelly did nothing for Atlanta, and was subsequently released.

14. Nate Freiman for Tyler Moore

Journeyman filler for journeyman filler. Nothing much to report.

15. Jhoulys Chacin for Adam McCreery

Chacin’s 5 decent starts for Atlanta allowed them to receive a live arm in return. The live arm has been more dead than alive, as he’s now a 24-year old who is struggling in low-A.

16. Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek for Brian Matusz and 2016 Competitive Balance Round B Pick

Barker had a strong 8 start stretch in the early part of 2016, and the Braves capitalized on that by packaging him up with Brian Matusz’s contract to land a competitive balance B pick that would later turn into Brett Cumberland, a college catcher who is currently the Braves’ 29th-best prospect on Pipeline.

17. Jason Grilli for Sean Ratcliffe

Grilli’s slow start in 2016 led the Braves to dump his salary and pick up a live arm. They released Ratcliffe later.

18. Kelly Johnson for Akeel Morris

After Kelly’s third stint with the Braves, they traded him to the Mets for a second time for Morris, who is a solid relief prospect for Atlanta. He’s currently the 25th-best prospect according to Pipeline, and could have a spot in Atlanta’s bullpen as early as 2017.

19. Alec Grosser, Dian Toscano, Bud Norris and cash for Caleb Dirks and Phil Pfeifer

Norris, after a terrible start in the rotation, had a strong rebound as a swingman, and the Braves got two relief prospects along with dumping Toscano’s salary. This was the second Dirks transaction, as the Braves traded him the year previous for international pool money.

20. Dario Alvarez and Lucas Harrell for Travis Demeritte

Alvarez and Harrell were two classic flashes in the pan, the second of whom had been without a team two months before, and in return, the Braves received a legitimate second-base prospect with a plus tool (power). Demeritte is now the 9th-best prospect on Pipeline. He currently strikes out too much, but if his K rate improves, he could become a major piece of Atlanta’s future.

21. Hunter Cervenka for Michael Mader and Anfernee Seymour

Cervenka, a below the radar signee out of a Texas independent league, had a strong 2/3 of the season as a mostly lefty specialist. Anfernee Seymour has a plus tool (speed) and is the 20th-best prospect in the system. Mader is an interesting lefty starter who pitched well in brief duty at AA. If the Braves didn’t have several strong lefty starting pitching prospects, Mader would be getting more attention. He’s a sleeper in Atlanta’s deep system.

22. Erick Aybar for Kade Scivicque and Mike Aviles

The forgettable Aybar experiment ended with the Braves getting a catching prospect and salary dump in return. Scivicque has a good reputation as a defensive catcher who is still getting his bat going. Scivicque could have a career as a backup catcher.

23. Jeff Francoeur for Dylan Moore and Matt Foley

Frenchy, in his second stint with the Braves, was exchanged for an interesting first baseman/outfielder having a strong season at 23 at high-A, and Foley, a catcher with some upside.

24. PTBNL for Joe Weiland

After pain-stakingly enduring 21 days in between trades, Coppy couldn’t contain himself any further and traded for Weiland, who was released less than a month later.

25. Gordon Beckham for Richard Rodriguez

Gordon Beckham, who is not good, returned a player who needs no introduction, because he doesn’t have one.

26. Max Povse and Rob Whalen for Alex Jackson and Tyler Pike

The Braves would have gone into 2017 with several question marks in the rotation. To mitigate that risk, they acquired three veteran starting pitchers. But left with several high-minors pitching prospects with low ceilings and not enough opportunity, they decided to consolidate by getting former first round pick and top prospect Alex Jackson. His bat and career stalled as he was moved to the outfield, and the Braves hope that a change of scenery and a move back to catcher, his original position, will both revive his career and the Braves’ minor league catching situation. Povse and Whalen largely didn’t have a future in Atlanta, but Jackson does if he can prove he can handle it.

27. Luke Dykstra, Chris Ellis, and John Gant for Jaime Garcia

More pitching consolidation as the Braves packaged more low-ceiling pitching talent to help the major league roster and better use the glut of pitching they acquired. Dykstra is the interesting, forgotten player in this deal, and he could be a utility player one day. Garcia solves the need for consistency (and a lefty starter) for the Braves’ 2017 team.

28. Brady Feigl and Tyrell Jenkins for Luke Jackson

Jenkins was another pitcher who had lost his spot in Atlanta, and with the Braves wanting more high-upside prospects, they took back Luke Jackson, who possesses an above-average heater and the potential to stick in Atlanta’s bullpen.

29. Shae Simmons and Mallex Smith for Thomas Burrows and Luiz Gohara

Mallex Smith, a fan favorite and believed by lunatics to have the ceiling of Rock Raines, was largely void of a regular spot on Atlanta’s roster, so the Braves continued to collect high-ceiling pitching prospects by getting one of Seattle’s top prospects in Gohara. Keith Law declared Gohara one of his top 100 prospects, and Burrows appears to be an interesting lefty bullpen prospect who could rise quickly. Simmons, who was once considered a top prospect, could never stay healthy enough to earn the confidence of Atlanta. Mallex was later traded again to Tampa Bay.

30. PTBNL for Micah Johnson

In an effort to replace Mallex Smith, who had appeared to be on track to be the 4th outfielder in 2017, they received Micah Johnson, a speedy left-hander who can hit righties and play second base and centerfield. With a proposed 4-man bench, Johnson’s versatility could make an ideal backup for Inciarte while providing more flexibility than Mallex could have.

02 Feb

The Little Deals of the Rebuild (Part 1)

It can be hard to remember all of the little deals that Coppy has made, especially when he’s made so many, and so many have included more significant players. But the small deals have been where Coppy has been able to increase the breadth and depth of the farm system, and if not for these deals, we wouldn’t have some pieces in place that could play a role in the next great Braves team. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of every exchange of talent the team has made since the rebuild began, but it will still include most deals that don’t involve an important major league player.

1. Tommy La Stella for Arodys Vizcaino

As time would tell, Coppy was intent on trading low-ceiling players for high-ceiling prospects and other young players. Vizcaino was previously acquired in the Melky Cabrera/Javier Vazquez deal, and was then traded for Paul Maholm. When healthy, Vizcaino is a top reliever in the game, but is struggling to consistently stay healthy. La Stella played an important role in the Cubs’ World Series team, but the Braves should be happy with the trade.

2. Anthony Varvaro for Aaron Kurcz and Cash

Varvaro was a decent middle reliever, whom the Red Sox needed, and Kurcz was ultimately traded a few months later for bonus pool money. Fun fact: Varvaro is now a police officer.

3. David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve for Manny Banuelos

Two low-ceiling relievers for a former top prospect. Banuelos never gained consistent health and effectiveness, and the Braves released him in 2016. Carpenter and Shreve have been inconsistent relievers for the past two years. The Braves even brought Carpenter to spring training in 2016.

4. Kyle Kubitza for Nate Hyatt and Ricardo Sanchez

Low-ceiling prospect for a high-ceiling lottery ticket, Sanchez. Sanchez is still very young (19), and has a mid-90s fastball, but continues to be overshadowed by the bountiful harvest of pitching prospects. He could settle in as a nice lefty reliever within the next couple years.

5. David Hale and Gus “Pickles” Schlosser for Jose Briceno and Chris O’Dowd

The Braves increased their minor league catching depth by trading two AAAA relievers. Hale had done some nice work as a swing man for Atlanta, but neither have done anything since. Briceno ended up in the Andrelton Simmons trade, and O’Dowd has done nothing. He’s in the White Sox organization now.

6. Alberto Callaspo, Juan Jaime, Eric Stults, and Ian Thomas for Juan Uribe and Chris Withrow

Weird trade. Callaspo was a bust for Atlanta, Stults has never really been good, and Jaime and Thomas are both reliever filler, and the Braves were able to add it all up for Juan Uribe, who had a strong 167 PAs of .285/.353/.464 production before being traded, and Chris Withrow, who pitched some strong middle relief innings in 2016 before being DFA’ed due to roster crunches.

7. Phil Gosselin for Touki Toussaint and Bronson Arroyo

The Braves essentially bought Touki for $13M. Touki was a former 1st round pick, with exceptional stuff and youth, and the Braves got him by being willing to take Arroyo’s contract. Touki is consistently in the top 15 of a very deep farm system (formerly a top-5 prospect for Arizona), and after a dominant second half in low-A, he is primed for a breakout year. The D-Backs inexplicably traded a first round pick for short-term salary flexibility.

8. In separate deals, Cody Martin, Caleb Dirks, Jordan Paroubeck, Garret Fulencheck, and Aaron Kurcz for International Bonus Pool Money

The Braves sold several low-minors and low-ceiling prospects to different teams to get enough international bonus pool money to land Derian Cruz and Christian Pache. While these two have garnered less attention than superstar signee Kevin Maitan, they both rank in Atlanta’s top 30 prospects. John Hart has specifically commented on Pache multiple times, and both could be getting underrated in this deep farm. These trades (and the subsequent signings) and the Touki trade stand as two creative sets of moves by Coppy to utilize finite 2015 assets to deepen the farm.

9. Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe for John Gant and Rob Whalen

During a rebuilding year, the Braves parlayed two strong platoon players into two starting pitching prospects. Gant and Whalen both filled major league innings in 2016 before being flipped, Gant in the Jaime Garcia trade and Whalen in the Alex Jackson deal.

10. Chris Johnson for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and Cash

In effort to consolidate the monies owed to Chris Johnson into the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Braves took the remainder of money owed to Swisher and Bourn so that they would be free of money owed to Johnson in 2017.

To be continued…

30 Jan

The Olivera Tragedy

This trade was a mess from the beginning. And after almost a year and a half since, time has not been kind to the evaluation. There’s the potential the trade could end up looking a little better, but that would be damning it with faint praise. It was a complicated trade that required a third team to get involved, and it included prospects, established players, draft picks, and salary dumps. It was really a trade that should have never been made, and Coppy is on record saying he regrets the trade. The premise of the trade was that Atlanta sent money (Bronson Arroyo’s contract), two good relievers (Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan), a talented prospect (Jose Peraza), and an established lefty starting pitcher (Alex Wood) for a 30-year old Cuban prospect (Hector Olivera), young lefty prospect (Paco Rodriguez), a 2016 first round pick, and a filler prospect (Zach Bird). Including the Marlins’ role in the trade is largely irrelevant to our discussion, so we’ll skip it.

The centerpiece of the deal was Hector Olivera, a heralded Cuban defector whom the Dodgers acquired for $62.5M. He was considered to have slightly above average power and speed, and appeared steady at second and had the arm for third. The Braves and Padres were also interested in Olivera, and it was believed he’d be quick to the major leagues and ready to be an above-average contributor. With that said, he had previously struggled with a blood disorder, minor UCL tear, and was never really projected to be an elite player. The interest in him was confusing, and with the Braves having even more time than the Dodgers to scout him, it’s further puzzling why the Braves were so interested in him.

Olivera’s time in Atlanta was a disaster. He had a respectable .253/.310/.405 line in his first major league action, but the Braves determined he couldn’t handle third base (further diluting his value), and decided to start him in left field to begin 2016. But to further guarantee that he would be considered a huge bust, he was suspended 6 games into the season after assaulting a woman. The Braves were able to basically hide his sunk cost by “trading” him to San Diego for Matt Kemp, but the Braves ultimately ate every ill-advised penny they gave to Olivera. You either have to say that they ate Olivera’s salary, and got Kemp at a “discounted” rate, or they paid Kemp’s full salary, but they can’t have it both ways by saying San Diego “took” Olivera’s salary and got Kemp at a “discount” which is sadly what we’re being told. Considering the failure of Dian Toscano as well, the Braves had a blind spot with Cuban players. The Braves, it appears, relied heavily on the character assessment of Fredi Gonzalez, and perhaps this further contributed to Fredi falling out of favor with the club.

As mentioned, we didn’t just receive Olivera, but the lefty prospect (Rodriguez) still has not pitched for Atlanta after having Tommy John surgery. The pick, however, did yield our current #11 prospect according to John Sickels, Austin Riley. If Paco Rodriguez can have success in Atlanta, and Riley continues to develop, then it softens the blow of Olivera’s failure, but what we gave up may cause this trade to only appear one-sided.

Alex Wood was a big part of what we gave up. A lefty out of the University of Georgia, Wood started his career as a successful swing man, but had been a full-time starter for over a year with success. He was also only 24, but to be fair, his low strike out totals and herky-jerky delivery made some concern that he would not continue his success. He was injured in 2016, so he’s only made 22 starts for the Dodgers since the trade.

Peraza was once our #1 prospect, but the Braves appear to have been comfortable trading him with the emergence of Ozzie Albies (Dansby Swanson had not yet been acquired). There were concerns over Peraza’s hit tool and plate discipline, but if he could stick at shortstop, there was no concern that he’d be an above average regular. After an underwhelming but short stint with LA (.182/.250/.318 in 25 PAs), he was packaged in another three-team trade that sent him to Cincinnati. Splitting time across CF, SS, 2B, and LF, Peraza put up a strong .324/.352/.411 line in 256 PAs as a 22-year old. He seems to be the prospect we thought we were giving up: a good one.

The two relievers struggled with LA, inexplicably, but Johnson returned to Atlanta to have a strong season, and when healthy, Avilan recovered in 2016.

At the end of the day, Coppy took a huge risk in acquiring Olivera and it backfired very, very badly. Coppy’s legacy doesn’t completely hang on this trade because of his other successes in almost all facets of player acquisitions, but this trade was so, so bad. What did they ever see in Olivera in the first place?

26 Jan

This is just to say

I have watched
play baseball

and his smile
you were probably
to market

Forgive me
he is bad
so terrible
and bad

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.
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.

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