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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 6

Game Recap - 8/31/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Braves 3, Nationals 1

WP: Lowe (9-12)
LP: Lannan (8-11)
SV: Kimbrel (41)

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first: with his 41st save tonight, Craig Kimbrel set a new rookie record for saves, breaking Neftali Feliz's record of 40 last year. And to think, he's still got a month to tack onto that total. Could 50 be in sight?

Anyway, the game. This was a real solid win. Derek Lowe turned in a shockingly great start. He held the Nats to two hits (both by Ian Desmond) through six innings while walking two and striking out six. Then he came out to start the seventh, allowed a homer to Michael Morse, and was pulled to a great ovation. The three horsemen of the apocalypse then set down the next nine Nationals hitters in a row on just 35 pitches, striking out three in the process. I love six inning games. 

The offense for the Braves came in short bursts. The scoring started in the second with a Chipper Jones solo homer, the 450th of his career. I'd love it if he stuck around long enough to get 500, but I doubt it'll happen. He's got 14 this year and will probably finish at 18 or so...he'd need two plus years of that kind of production to hit the magic milestone, and I don't think he's got that much left in the tank. The Braves got more scoring in the third, when Lowe of all people lined his first career homer over the left field wall. The third run was tacked on later in the inning when Dan Uggla drove in Martin Prado on an infield single. In Matt Diaz's re-debut with the team, he was up to his old tricks again, scoring two bloop hits and seeing just seven pitches in three at bats. Some things never change. Freddie Freeman also had a pair of hits despite inexplicably hitting in the seventh spot of the order. Shockingly, the top three hitters (Bourn-Prado-McCann) went 0/11 with a walk. It's pretty encouraging when they struggle and get picked up by the lower half of the order.

The Braves look to clinch a .500 record for the season and pick up their 81st win of the year tomorrow against the Nationals. The pitching matchup is a favorable one for the Braves: Tim Hudson versus Chien Ming Wang. First pitch is at 7:05. I will *not* be watching the game live, because I will be at the Nationals AA game in Harrisburg to see Stephen Strasburg make his final rehab start. The game would have been perfect if Harrisburg lost or Bowie won tonight, because they would be in a position to clinch the division title...but the Senators clinched tonight with a 2-1 win over Portland. Oh well, it'll still be a great time.

Also, I'm going to look to get some meaningful content of some sort up tomorrow. No idea WHAT...but it'll be here, so look for that. 

Why I Am Firmly Against the Diaz Acquisition

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The Braves acquired Matt Diaz from the Pirates today for a PTBNL. Most fans are giddy as HELL, because they all love Diaz as a person. I feel bad, because while he seems to be a really great guy, he's really outlived his usefulness on the field. I mean, that's why the team cut him last offseason, right?

Diaz's role throughout his entire career has been that of a lefty killer. Last season with Atlanta, he had an overall line of .250/.302/.438, which is substandard from a corner outfielder. But against lefties, his line was a solid .273/.318/.512. But that line was actually a downgrade from his career line against lefties, which is .329/.369/.511. You can't even blame a low BABIP last season for his struggles, as his mark against lefties was .312. While that's down from his career lefty BABIP of .362, it's still a high number.

This season with the Pirates, Diaz has become unplayable. His overall line is a hideous .259/.303/.324. Against lefties, once his forte, Diaz is hitting .295/.342/.362. His once solid power against lefties has completely disappeared. You can't even blame Diaz's starting drop in power on his home park, as he's got a .063 ISO at PNC Park, and a .067 ISO on the road. That is a minimal difference.

What concernes me about the Diaz acquisition is his playing time. You know that because he's back in the fold, he's going to be getting regular starts against lefties. And of course, in tonight's lineup, Jason Heyward is on the bench. He gets benched the night after he goes 1/2 and drives in the only two runs of the game for the Braves. Meanwhile, Diaz is in the midst of an August stretch where he OPSed .574 in 32 at bats. It's almost as if the Braves don't WANT Heyward to get into a groove, first starting Jose Constanza over him due to the hot hand fallacy, and now starting Diaz in front of him due to the platoon fallacy. Diaz is also a terrible defender in right field while Heyward is a magnificent one, but since no one really gives a damn about defense when discussing Jason Heyward, I'm sure you'll all let that little tidbit slip by too.

But I'm not done yet. In the offseason, Diaz signed a two year deal with the Pirates worth $4.25 million. The Braves will still be on the hook for $2 million next year...and that is more than both Eric Hinske ($1.5 million) and David Ross ($1.625 million) will be making. They are two of the best bench players in the league. Diaz is not. The team is locked in for $2 million for a bench player who only has usefulness against lefties. This is not a smart way to run a team at all.

I understand the reasoning behind the deal. Diaz is a fan favorite who has a reputation for being a lefty killer off the bench, which is something that the Braves have felt they've needed all year. However, that reasoning is outdated, and the cons outweigh the benefits in this situation. With the addition of Diaz, someone who could actually help the team in October will be left off the roster. And it's probably going to end up being Jose Constanza, because I can't see any situation where the team goes into the postseason with Brooks Conrad as the only member of the bench with an ability to play up the middle. Funny how that works....yesterday's treasure is today's trash. Matt Diaz is today's flavor of the week, and Braves fans are going to realize pretty quickly that he's not the same player that he was back in 2009. 

Braves in the AFL Announced

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Today, the AFL rosters were announced. Braves prospects will be on the Surprise Saguaros, and seven members of the minor league system are going to the desert. Without any further ado, here they are, with a little bit of analysis for each one.

-Billy Bullock. Acquired from the Twins in March for Scott Diamond, Bullock is a reliever who has struck out 65 and walked 34 in 49 2/3 innings. The fastball is dynamic, but the control is a mess.

-Erik Cordier. I'm not a fan of Cordier. He's battled injuries this season, and has only thrown 86 innings for Mississippi and Gwinnett. He's walked 48 and struck out 63. He's on the 40-man roster, and is probably tenth on the starting pitcher depth chart right now. This seems like a "last chance" to prove himself.

-Sean Gilmartin. The first round pick of the Braves in the 2011 draft, Gilmartin has made five professional starts: one in the GCL, and four in Rome. He's walked 23 and walked only two, and is way more advanced in his development than his current level of competition would indicate. I wouldn't be shocked to see him in Mississippi to start the 2012 season.

-JJ Hoover. After a rough start to his career in Gwinnett (which I witnessed, live and in person!), Hoover has excelled in his second run in the International League. He's been converted to the bullpen, and as a reliever for the G-Braves this year, he's struck out 22 and walked just four in 10 2/3 innings. He's struck out multiple hitters in all but one of his relief stints in AAA this year.

-Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt is the best catching prospect in the system, and is still very young at just 19 years old (he turns 20 on Friday). He's struggled since a midseason promotion to Lynchburg, OPSing just .608 with no power and no patience at the plate in 44 games. He's turned it up a little in August, with a line of .313/.324/.375.

-Phil Gosselin. Gosselin has taken a step back offensively this year in the Carolina League after earning a late promotion to the league last season. He was drafted out of the University of Virginia last season by the Braves, and has had some peaks and valleys in his game this season: his power has increased while his walk rate has decreased and his strikeout rate has decreased. I'd like to see a college bat like this show a little more at the dish, and the AFL will be a good place for him to show off his abilities.

-Todd Cunningham. Cunningham was a midseason All-Star in the Carolina League, but has fallen off a bit in August after returning from an injury. He was having a great season before he got hurt. Cunningham doesn't strike out much at all and has decent speed, but no pop. He was another college bat taken by the Braves last season, and needs his power to mature a little more before he becomes an impact prospect.

Looking at the rest of the Saguaros...it's a damn solid team. In addition to the Braves, the other teams putting players on the team are the Royals, Rangers, Rays and Marlins. There are some decent prospects on the team, including Jeremy Jeffress, Kyle Skipworth, Tim Beckham, Christian Colon, Matt Dominguez, Mikie Mahtook, and Wil Myers. Gosselin is one of two second basemen on the roster, so he should get a decent chunk of playing time, as should Cunningham since there are only five outfielders. As for the catchers....Skipworth has never hit as a professional, and Elio Sarmiento (the third catcher) is a 25 year old. Definite positive for Bethancourt's playing time.

I'm hoping that the games will be aired in some fashion, on MLB.TV or MiLB.TV...but I doubt either happens. Games run from October 4th to November 19th. 

Managers, Fredi, and MOY Awards

Written by Mark Smith on .

People misunderstand my hatred of Fredi Gonzalez. Overall, I don’t hate the man, and while I do think there are and could be better managers, I’m not sure I would even fire him. Thinking about the manager in totality, their job priorities go clubhouse management and (massive gap) strategy. I will remind you that filling out the roster really doesn’t come into play at all for managers, though they do get some input, so while the Braves have handled injuries quite well, that has more to do with Wren maintaining pitching depth, keeping Prado around to fill in where necessary, trading scraps for Bourn, and having some voodoo magic to keep David Ross and Eric Hinske as important bench players. None of that has to do with Fredi, so stop giving him credit for the Braves’ record.

But what can we give him credit for? As I said, maintaining the clubhouse is Fredi’s, and any manager’s, top priority and most important duty, but it is, unfortunately, the one thing we have zero access to. We don’t know what happens in the clubhouse, what Fredi does to maintain it, and whether or not it has any efficacy. We just don’t, and neither does DOB or Bowman. All the good stuff happens behind closed doors and away from curious eyes. But let’s try to piece a few things together. The fact that we haven’t heard anything from the clubhouse is probably a good sign, but is the happy clubhouse because of Fredi or the winning record?

Winning teams rarely have problems, but it’s also irresponsible to hold it against Fredi that he has a good team to manage. The one exception might be Chipper calling out Jason, but I’d argue it wasn’t a big deal and may be a point in Fredi’s favor. Chipper obviously just says things now and has given up keeping his mouth shut, but he’s the team leader and more harm than good might be done by telling him to shut up. And Heyward still likes Chipper. Parents scold children all the time, but it doesn’t mean the children now hate the parents. Heyward and Chipper have obviously worked things out, if there was something to work out, and Chipper’s been feeding Heyward batting tips. He could have gone to McCann, but he went to Chipper. Problem over.

The next biggest issue is this thing with Heyward and his playing time. We’ll talk about strategy in a minute, but let’s focus on the clubhouse right now. In no way has Heyward moaned and groaned about what has happened. Sure, that might be a point in Heyward’s favor, but that he showed no surprise or anger tells me Fredi sat him down and explained the situation. Communication is key, and I applaud Fredi if this is common practice. That no one else has said anything is another point in Fredi’s favor. It could be that everyone was just on board, but it also tells me that the players are behind his decisions, which is crucial for a manager who must have players obey him. Overall, if I were to say managing is 80% clubhouse and 20% strategy (I have no idea if that’s close to the truth, but I’m trying to be conservative), Fredi already has an 80/100 from me.

Now comes the strategy part and where Fredi and I part ways. Right off the bat, I’ll give Fredi a few points of credit for generally yanking starters on time, but that’s about it. His lineup construction has seen Jordan Schafer and Alex Gonzalez high in the order for significant periods. He pigeonholes his best relievers into the 8th and 9th innings. He bunts early in the game, restricting the potential for multiple runs when no one has any idea what number of runs will win the game. He refuses to pinch-hit with his best right-handed bench bat Ross, and he refuses to pinch-hit for Alex Gonzalez in critical situations. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Fredi’s a poor tactical manager.

But so are most managers, and I think it’s part of the process. These managers were brought along in the game during a time when speed was your lead-off man, middle infielders hit second, and closers were becoming the cool thing to have. Most managers are simply going to make similar decisions because it was taught that way to them, and that’s hard to break. But it’s also why Fredi’s a poor tactician. He understands the behind-the-scenes macho culture of baseball and has baseball cred, and that’s why he does well in the clubhouse. But his inability or refusal to actually think for himself is troubling. His responses to strategy questions are known before he gives them because they are so stereotypical. And they’ve been proven wrong by people curious enough to look. But the difference between Fredi and most other managers is the difference between trying to sweep dirt off a carpet with a normal broom and a Swiffer. Both are ineffective, but the Swiffer might get a little more.

To give Fredi his final grade, I’ll give him 4 points out of 20 for strategy. Overall that’s an 84/100, but a few people might give him a couple extra points in the strategy department. In any case, Fredi earns a B/B- for his overall managing prowess, which is about what I would have expected. A B/B- is fine and certainly enough to let him continue on, but it’s certainly nothing special.

Now about that Manager of the Year Award, it’s the hardest award to award correctly. As I’ve already said, the most important thing they do is also the most opaque to our eyes. There are also tons of myths surrounding the award. For one, managers get credit when the team vastly outperforms projections even though projections are not certain and the improvement probably has nothing to do with the manager and more to do with the general manager (I find it funny that a lot of people know who the manager of a team is but not the general manager, when the general manager is probably the most important man in the organization). For another, the manager gets credit when he deals with injuries or hardship, even though the virtue is probably (again) the general manager’s and not the manager’s. Picking the right one is extremely difficult, but I don't think Fredi's your man. It’s not that I don’t want to give Fredi credit. I’m fully willing to give him credit where it’s due. But I won’t give it to him because I’m told to or because baseball tradition tells me to. I expect him to make moves that are beneficial to this club, and when he does not, I will point it out.

Game 134 Recap (8/26/11)

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

Mets 6 (62-68), Braves 0 (79-54)

w: Chris Capuano
L: Tim Hudson

EDIT: I've tried to no avail to embed a YouTube clip here. It won't work. So go watch it here, not only so that the next sentence makes sense, but so that you can laugh a little bit.

Ok, so it was two hits. But the Braves didn't even give us the benefit of the run, so that comes right out in the wash.

Seriously, though, you guys, the Braves -- who, APPARENTLY, lead the NL in home runs -- were facing Chris "Mr. 2006" Capuano. And this is what Capuano did:

9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K

It was  the best start of his career, and the best start by a Mets pitcher all season. And the Braves did all they could to help him; no Brave had an at-bat longer than seven pitches, and Capuano drew only two 3-0 counts all night. I don't think Michael Bourn could've missed more sliders if he'd told his buddies to just bring him back some White Castle, but he fell asleep before they got back and they ate them all. Plate discipline was as foreign a concept to these Braves as Watch the Throne to Dick Cheney. The Braves' first hit came on a broken bat grounder from Dan Uggla in the fifth inning. amd the second came off of David Ross's bat in the eighth.

Speaking of Ross, I don't understand why he was playing tonight. The Braves have three consecutive off days coming up thanks to Hurricane Irene and a scheduled break on Monday, so why rest your best hitter? I know the shine hasn't come off David Ross to a lot of people, but for as good as he is in his role, his role is backup catcher. The upside there is extremely limited. And as long as we're speaking of things, speaking of limited upside, Jose Constanza got the start Jason Heyward, because Heyward is in a strict platoon situation ... except, and I'm not sure that this has been beaten into peoples' heads enough, JOSE CONSTANZA IS ALSO LEFT HANDED. I know Heyward's struggling. I know that. But why oh why do we think he'd be better than Heyward against lefties?

Plus, to add insult to injury, Constanza did that stupid thing where he takes a running swing. Absolutely infuriating. Even the Mets' broadcasters castigated him for it.

I'll touch briefly on the Braves pitching before pouring tequila over this game and lighting it on fire. Hudson scattered -- inasmuch as that's even possible -- 11 hits over 6 1/3 innings while allowing four runs and three walks and striking out just four. Fredi called upon George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink to protect a 2-0 lead because he hates good sense; Sherrill retired a lefty, and then Linebrink surrendered a two-run double to Lucas Duda on the very first pitch that he threw. And then, with the damage done, Jonny Venters came in, and allowed a pair of runs himself thanks to a sinker that didn't sunk. 

Blah. Whatever. Tomorrow's affair is man vs. nature; that very essence from which we have sprung combatting our own wits and resolve and also Twitter's servers. I'll be back in a week but good luck to all y'all east coasters. Oh, and a word of advice: you don't have enough bottled water or liquor. Cheers!

Game Recap - 8/25/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Braves 8, Cubs 3

WP: Beachy (7-2)
LP: Garza (6-10)

It looked like it was going to be another one of those days. After the Braves scored three runs three batters into the game after a three run homer by Brian McCann, the Cubs struck back with three of their own in the next two innings. However, that will be all, and the Braves put five more on the board over the final seven innings of the game to pick up an 8-3 win. Brandon Beachy got off to a rough start, but the numbers at the end of the day are impressive: six innings, six hits, three runs (two earned), no walks, and eight strikeouts. The bullpen threw three innings of one hit ball, and both Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel got the day off. Eric O'Flaherty did pitch, however. He was sandwiched in the game by Arodys Vizcaino and Cristhian Martinez.

Now, the offense. McCann had two homers, adding a solo shot in the seventh to his three run bomb, and that helped pace the Braves offense. The main catalyst of the game was Michael Bourn though, who had four hits on the game. Freddie Freeman also had a pair of hits, and Dan Uggla reached twice. The bottom four spots in the order? 1/16, and the one hit was a Brooks Conrad pinch hit single. Jose Constanza is five for his last 24. Just sayin.

The Braves are now on the road for a series in New York that will likely be disrupted by Hurricane Irene. The east coast is going to get pounded on Sunday, and there are talks about a doubleheader on Saturday. But first, let's get Friday's game out of the way. Tim Hudson will toe the rubber for the Braves against Chris Caupano of the Mets. First pitch is at 7:10.  

Game Recap - 8/24/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Cubs 3, Braves 2

WP: Wells (5-4)
LP: Lowe (8-12)
SV: Marmol (30)

There's going to be a lot said about this game. Derek Lowe pitched reasonably well, but was let down by some awful defense in the second inning that allowed the Cubs third run to score. Lowe ended up pitching seven innings, allowing four hits, two earned, walking a too high total of four, and striking out six. Honestly? It wasn't a bad performance, aside from the second inning where he allowed a walk to Tyler Colvin and a mammoth homer to Alfonso Soriano, and where Tony Campana scored a run after reaching on an error, stealing second, being balked to third, and scoring on a ground out. Scott Linebrink nearly opened the floodgates in the ninth by loading the bases before Chipper Jones bailed his ass out by snaring a liner and doubling Carlos Pena off third.

The offense....well, that was an ugly story. The team only had three hits, two of which were solo homers by Chipper Jones and Alex Gonzalez. The offense had multiple runners on base in one inning: the fourth, and a ball didn't leave the infield for all of that inning. In the ninth, Dan Uggla was plunked to reach base. Freddie Freeman struck out with one of the most pathetic swings you'll ever seen, Chipper nearly grounded into a double play (only a tough slide by Uggla prevented the game from being over there), and Jason Heyward struck out looking to end the game on a fantastic back door slider by Carlos Marmol. Fans are going ape on Twitter about Heyward not swinging at the pitch....it was a damn good pitch. I don't blame him for not swinging. When you have a guy with control issues like Carlos Marmol, I wouldn't go up there hacking either. The Braves only swung the bat five times in that inning. Remember last year against Marmol in Wrigley? His control was all over the place, the team was patient, and Rick Ankiel buried a ball into the right field corner to win the game. In the ninth today, he plunked a hitter and went to a pair of three ball counts in four hitters. Why hack at a pitch like that?

Anyway. The Braves are looking to win the season series against the Cubs tomorrow, and it'll be up to Brandon Beachy to do it. It's a great pitching matchup, as he's going against Cubs ace Matt Garza. First pitch is 2:20. I get off work at 2. This...is a good thing.  

Kimbrel Knocking on History's Door

Written by Joe Lucia on .

We all know that Craig Kimbrel is awesome. This is a fact that cannot be denied. But just how awesome IS he? Here's a look at some numbers.

-Kimbrel currently has a 31 2/3 inning scoreless streak. The all-time record is 41, by Gregg Olson from 1989 into 1990. The all-time rookie record is 38 by Brad Ziegler of the A's in 2008.

-From May 15th, 2010 to April 21, 2011, Kimbrel had a strikeout in each game that he pitched in, for 26 straight games. Also, from June 5th, 2010 to September 19, 2010, he had nine straight games of at least two strikeouts. The record is 15. His current streak is six straight multiple strikeout games - 14 in his last six innings.

-You all know about him tying Neftali Feliz's rookie saves record with 40 last night. Kimbrel is one of 12 players with 40 or more saves in a season and 100 or more strikeouts. There are only four seasons of 45 or more saves and more than 100 strikeouts, and three are from Eric Gagne. The other is Brian Harvey, of all guys.

-Kimbrel's FIP this season is 1.21, and his xFIP is 1.94. The only lower marks in the past decade came in Gagne's 2003 season (0.86 FIP, 1.18 xFIP).

-Kimbrel has a 14.56 strikeout rate. That is the highest of all-time for a rookie. It's the sixth highest rate for a reliever in MLB history, behind only Carlos Marmol last season (15.99), Gagne's 2003 (14.98), Billy Wagner's 1999 (14.95), Brad Lidge's 2004 (14.93), and Armando Benitez's 1999 (14.77).

What am I getting at here? Kimbrel isn't having just a good rookie season, he's having a great all-time relieving season. He's just on another level right now, and can't be touched. And to think, people wanted him out of the closer's role at the beginning of the year... 

Game Recap 8/23/11

Written by Jeremy Reed on .

Braves 5, Cubs 4

Well Fredi finally came around tonight, starting Heyward in place of Jose “The Hot Hand” Constanza.  What’s that?  It was only because Constanza was out with a sprained ankle but should be back within a couple of games you say?  Oh well.  Too good to be true I guess.

If only Mike Minor had Jair Jurrjens’s ability to pitch with runners on.  He must be unclutch.  Despite striking out six and walking none (outside a hit batsman) in five innings, Mike Minor managed to surrender four runs.  Compare that to Jurrjens’s feat of allowing thirteen runners in just over six innings and not giving up any runs.  CyJurrjens I say.  Just shows that that stupid FIP thingy doesn’t matter at all.  Jurrjens’s was 5.06 and Minor’s 3.80.  And yes it is Mike Minor’s fault that Alex Gonzalez allowed a run to score on an error.  Stats are for losers.

The Braves scored five in the fourth with four of them coming on Heyward’s grand slam.  Fredi sure knows a #8 hitter when he sees one.  If only he was faster around the bases in that home run trot…then we’d have something.  Chipper matched Jason with three hits because he’s a crafty veteran.  I’m not really sure what that means, but Chip and Joe say it often, so it must be important.  I think craftiness must be what separates bad players (Yunel Escobar) from good players (Alex Gonzalez).

Pointless Musings:

  • Do they ice Constanza’s sprained ankle?  I mean, that could risk cooling him off.
  • Alex Gonzalez walked.  He now has like 3 or 4 of them on the year.
  • Shockingly, Arodys Vizcaino is being used correctly in high leverage situations.
  • Julio Lugo pinch hit again.
  • Sherrill, Vizcaino, and Martinez all got holds.  Meaningless stat?
  • Craig Kimbrel is awesome, but his goatee is not.  He still looks 12.
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Re-Evaluating the Nate McLouth Trade

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Since it worked so well with the Derrek Lee trade yesterday, today I'm going to take a look at the Nate McLouth trade from June of 2009. This trade actually holds a special place in my heart, as it happened right around the time I started up at BravesHeart, and was one of the first stories I really covered. I was cautiously optimistic about it two years ago. Today, it's a different story.

In exchange for McLouth, the team sent Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton to the Pirates. The return seemed modest at the team. Hernandez was a slap hitting outfielder who had no power to speak of, and was struggling at the upper levels of the minors. Locke was a nice looking prospect, but had also struggled in taking the next step into being an elite prospect. And finally, there was Morton, who failed in every shot in the Braves rotation, and had worn out his welcome. McLouth on the other hand, was a guy coming off of a .819 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove season. It looked like a fair gamble for a guy who could hold down center field (or left field, assuming Jordan Schafer would rebound from his wrist injury).

We now know that the McLouth tenure in Atlanta has been a disaster. Over 250 games with the Braves, his OPS is .699. His power, which was solid with the Pirates, has fallen off. His once blazing speed is gone. He's battled injuries and ineffectiveness over his entire tenure with the Braves. Oh, and that Gold Glove defense? It was a mirage. He won the award despite a -19 DRS with the Pirates in 2008, and has a cumulative total of -11 in the three years since that season.

The only saving grace we could possibly get out of this deal is if the prospects that the Braves sent to the Pirates didn't pan out. Yeah, well....we're not that lucky. After 35 disastrous starts in the majors in 2009 and 2010 for Pittsburgh, Charlie Morton has finally put it all together and been a welcome surprise for the Pirates. His ERA is 3.42, and it's bolstered by a FIP of 3.65. Morton's strikeout and walk rates are still pretty bad, at 5.48 and 3.67 respectively, but his homer rate is a very low 0.32, and he's getting ground balls at a nearly 60% clip. That's a great recipe for success. Look at Tim Hudson.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Jeff Locke, who was cast aside by the organization after struggling with a 5.52 ERA in Myrtle Beach in 2009, has become an awesome prospect for the Pirates. After scuffling through the rest of 2009 with Lynchburg in the Pirates organization, his 2010 ERA was 3.56 between Bradenton and Altoona, while he struck out 139 and walked just 26 in 144 innings. ESPN's Keith Law ranked Locke as Pittsburgh's sixth best prospect coming into 2011 (behind a couple of stud draftees, of course), and expectations were high. He's spent most of this season in Altoona, but was recently promoted to AAA Indianapolis, and he's holding his own so far: his ERA is 3.89, and he's struck out 121 while walking 50 in 136 1/3 innings. They're not studly numbers by any means, but they're solid. After how his 2009 season started, it's been a great rebound year for Locke, and he could find himself in the majors at some point next season.

As for Hernandez, the questions about his bat still remain. He's never slugged above .400 in his career (still), but is showing good speed on the bases to go with some adequate plate discipline. With Jose Tabata locked up long-term, and Andrew McCutchen as the face of the franchise, it doesn't look like that there is room in the Pirates starting outfield. But he could very easily be a solid bench player with his speed.

Overall, this trade backfired on the Braves big time. McLouth was unable to live up to the high expectations thrust upon him when he came to Atlanta, and the three players traded for him are blossoming on varying levels. This is the downside of trading prospects: sometimes, they actually become what they were projected to be.