Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

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16 Sep

Questions with David O’Brien

Again, the delay was my fault and not DOB’s. Q&A below the jump.

1. Are you familiar with sabermetrics? If so, do you try to use sabermetrics insights in your reporting? (Ron)

I’ve got a lot of respect for the principles of sabermetrics, and there’s no question using it (or is it “them?”) can offer a lot more insight into a player’s value or a team’s expectations than simply relying on the old-school stats such as a hitter’s batting average, or RBI, or a pitcher’s wins and losses. Personally, I believe statistics such as OPS and WHIP are more valuable for measuring a player’s worth, in most instances. And from my leadoff hitter, I care more about OBP than batting average. From my heart-of-the-order hitters, I like higher slugging percentages, solid averages with runners in scoring position, and good OBP is also preferred.

I realize these probably aren’t the kind of sabermetric stats you’re referring to, but I think that while the more hardcore, esoteric sabermetric stats are helpful in dissecting the game for many people, for the majority of fans, the folks I’m writing for, such stats as “run differential” and “defensive average” and other just don’t strike a chord. I want to connect with my readers, help them better understand the game, and in doing so I think it’s important that I don’t write in a clinical fashion or use a sabermetrician’s strict interpretation of the game.

Frankly, I get turned off by sabermetricians who discount the human element in the game, who try to dissuade those of us who’ve watched thousands and thousands of games from believing that some players are far more effective in “clutch” situations with games on the line, or that some teams develop a confidence that translates to better performace in close games than their overall stats might indicate, that kind of thing. The human element is huge in all sports, and baseball is certainly no exception.

2. What’s your take on Chipper vs. the media in NYC? (Murphy3Ever)

I believe he was justified in being upset with a few members of the media there, the usual suspects including smarmy, sensationalistic headline writers at the Post and Daily News, and a couple of sports writers there who feed the beast on a regular basis by misrepresenting something that’s said, taking only the parts of a statement that fit what they want their story to convey. Chipper made a very honest and cogent point about steroids and how ballplayers in this era, including Chipper himself, will face questions from many skeptics who don’t believe they put up the stats they did without enhancement, without performance enhancers including steroids. Chipper said A-Rod would face those questions, but he also said he (Chipper) himself would, that it was an unfortunate byproduct of the Steroid Era.

A couple of writers and a couple of tab-headline writers turned that into Chipper throwing A-Rod under the bus, which is not what it was about. There are many great sports journalists in New York, but there are some at the tabs that have little integrity. They aren’t held to the same standards of, say, the NY Times and most reputable newspapers in other markets.

3. How does the Atlanta Organization view Matt Diaz? Strictly platoon, or will they ever give him a shot at the full time job in left? (Justin Parker)

I think they’d prefer to keep him in a platoon job, feeling that the way he’s been used is part of the reason for his surprising success with the Braves over two seasons. But Bobby Cox has also said repeatedly that he believes Diaz could succeed in an every-day role. So depending upon how next year’s roster shakes out, where the money is allocated and whether young Brandon Jones is ready, we could see Diaz in either a part-time or full-time left-field role next year. But I think they believe Jones will be ready, at least to split duties out there in left. Also, Braves might get some attractive trade offers for Diaz. You just don’t know, this early on in the process.

4. We all love to speculate about the guys on the farm. Who do you see flying under the radar? (Urlhix)

He’s not under the radar so much anymore, but outfielder Jordan Schaffer is probably going to be manning center field in a couple of years for the Braves, assuming Andruw isn’t re-signed to a long-term extension. Schaffer had a great year in A-ball this season and has been compared to Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore by more than one scout I’ve talked to. Infielder Brent Lillibridge also had a very, very good second half in the minors and should be up within a year or two.

5. What are the chances the Braves resigning Ron Mahay? (Dan)

Tough to say at this stage. I’ll know more soon after the season. But I know they like the work he’s done, and they’ll need a lefty next season. Salaries for lefty relievers can get a bit out of the Braves’ price range in a hurry, but he’s “only” making $1.25 mill this year, and well worth it.

6. What do you think about Lillibridge and B. Jones’ ability to contribute in 2008? (JoshQ)

Jones will make the team in spring training, I think. Probably split time in left field to open season. Lillibridge might still be a half-season or a season away, only because Braves don’t want such a top-rated prospect serving in a bench role to begin season, they want him continuing to develop. And they’ve already got their shortstop in Renteria or Escobar, if Renteria is traded. Lillibridge might have to move to 2B or the outfield, in which case he’s going to need a little time out there before making the move, I would think. Then again, Kelly Johnson did it in one offseason, so you never know.

7. How likely is it that Edgar Renteria will be traded this offseason? Is the organization really ready to hand the reins over to Yunel Escobar for good? (Stu)

Tough to tell, because I don’t know if Braves can get the pitcher they need in a trade with Renteria as the principle. If they can, I think he’ll be gone. Again, it’ll be at least a weeks before we start hearing who might be interesting. And yes, they’d not hesitate to turn it over to Escobar. He’s a star in the making.

8. Which Brave do you most enjoy interviewing? Who is the funniest? (House)

Hampton’s hilarious. Moylan is very funny and amiable, like most Aussies I’ve met. I’ve always liked talking to Edgar. Most of the Braves are easy to deal with, including Francoeur, McCann, Chipper, Kelly Johnson, Andruw, Hudson, Smoltz … most are very easy to deal with. Wickman was not.

9. Where is Mike Gonzalez in his recovery? (JoshQ)

He’s never around the clubhouse, so I can’t tell you exactly. Haven’t asked lately, because I know it’s going to be at least May or June before he’s ready, so there’s not much reason in asking in September when so many other things that are more timely are going on.

10. Who is your favorite non-Braves beat writer? (House)

If you’re talking baseball writers, I like Gordon Edes at the Boston Globe, Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated, Paul Sullivan at the Chicago Tribune, Tracy Ringolsby at the Denver Post, Tom Krasovic at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Bob Nightengale at USA Today, Joe Strauss at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch … man, there’s a lot of good ones and I’m gonna leave out some if I try to name all the guys whose work I really like and respect. Thomas Boswell at Washington Post was my favorite baseball writer, but he’s now a general sports columnist. Same for Richard Justice at Houston Chronicle. Verducci’s probably my favorite baseball-only writer now, though he’s not a newspaper beat writer, per se.

19 Responses to “Questions with David O’Brien”

  1. 1
    stapler Says:

    “Wickman was not.”

  2. 2
    Adam M Says:

    Thanks for that, Mac. That was one of the few times over the past two months I’ve enjoyed reading something Braves-related. And yes, Wickman was the worst. Good riddance.

  3. 3
    Rob Copenhaver Says:

    “Wickman was not.” The one thing that stuck out the most. Thanks Mac for getting that going. That was really interesting.

  4. 4
    ryan c Says:

    brandon jones gets called up and starts in left.

  5. 5
    RobBroad4th Says:

    Very cool.

  6. 6
    Rob Cope Says:

    Ryan, are you saying that’s happening now or next season?

  7. 7
    Another Alex R. Says:

    I was at the game last night. It sucked. DOB is one of the Braves’ bright spots — too bad he can’t be our pitching coach!

  8. 8
    Brian J. Says:

    Brandon Jones in the lineup today, giving us three Joneses. Shame we couldn’t move Chipper to left for an all-Jones outfield.

  9. 9
    Parish Says:

    I did not read through the comments in yesterday’s recap. I was not really inspired. So, forgive me if I repeat points made clear by others previously.

    First of all, congratulations to the Richmond Braves for winning the Governor’s Cup and the IL championship. In my mind that was truly an achievement considering the lackluster way they finished the season, especially compared to their competition. They beat tough teams from the Yankees and D-Rays systems. Lillibridge and Brandon Jones played significant roles, so it is good to see those guys know how to win even if they aren’t as high profile prospects as those on the teams they beat.

    By the way, the Braves’ farm has not won that title since 1994 when we had Javy Lopez, Klesko, and Mike Kelly down there.

    My other note has to do with Carlyle. I would not wish injury on anyone, but I think it is in the team’s best interest that he not perform as a starter the rest of the season. We know we are not going to the playoffs, so looking to next year, I would rather have Jo-Jo getting innings so he either gets settled in or proves we should not rely on him.

  10. 10
    Rob Copenhaver Says:

    Yay for Tim Hudson. Our first complete game of the year: September 16th.

  11. 11
    braves14 Says:

    Hudson finally got his complete game shutout.

  12. 12
    Nasa from france Says:

    Stop the presses !!! A Braves starter just pitched a complete game!

  13. 13
    Adam Says:

    Thank god.

  14. 14
    Wryn Says:

    War Eagle!

  15. 15
    Daveinzona Says:

    THAT was an Atlanta Braves baseball game!

  16. 16
    ububba Says:

    I’m late coming to this, but thanks Mac & DOB for some revealing info.

  17. 17
    Stephen Says:

    Thanks Mac–one of the more enjoyable interviews that I have read recently….

  18. 18
    Hawkmoon Says:

    Thanks Mac & pass out thanks on to Dave for this.

  19. 19
    Tomahawk Squawk Says:

    It’s funny, I didn’t know Wickman was such a bad clubhouse guy until after he was DFA’d. I guess I pictured him as a much more approachable, hard working bullpen guy. Steve Phillips even mentioned in an article once that he contributed to “great clubhouse chemistry.” So bizarre.

    Maybe he wasn’t like that in years past?

    Either way, thanks for Q&A w/ DOB. Good questions and answers.

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