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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 1

Chipper Jones Walks It Off

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

I came home from work today to find a piece of paper wedged in my apartment door. This is not uncommon; I and the other residents in my building have had notices ranging from spraying for snakes (I live in Wisconsin, which so ... ?) to telling any and all possible offenders to stop putting nails behind the tires of a Camaro in the parking lot (yes, seriously). 

But this time, I was the only one with the paper, so I unfolded it and read that my apartment is to be shown to a prospective lessee tomorrow (today? whatever) at 1430 and that it is to be presentable. So, being a kindhearted soul (hey, Madison landlords -- tweet me!) I embarked on a full-fledged cleaning escapade. Unfortunately, 'kindhearted soul' is second to 'degenerate slob' in my own personal self-description (uh, forget that sentence, Madison landlords), so this was to be a several-hour endeavor. I turned on the Braves game for some accompaniment, watched the Phillies jump out to a 6-0 lead, then turned it off.

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The 2012 Braves, endless optimism, and Fredi Gonzalez

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Two games into the season, and the Braves are 0-2. Most fans, casual and die hard alike, are going to point at the fact that we're still in the first week of April and that there are still 160 games to get the ship corrected and for the Braves to win 90 games and make the playoffs. I'm not so sure about that anymore, and it has nothing to do with the disappointing on-field performance of the players. Nope, as usual, it comes when I look in the dugout and see who's managing this team.

Fredi Gonzalez is...disappointing to me as Braves manager, 164 games into his tenure. The way he goes about certain things absolutely boggles my mind. Fredi's managerial style thusfar during his Braves career almost reminds me of a kid who was given the keys to a sportscar for his 18th birthday, and is told to go to the store to pick up milk. During the ride, the kid has no idea what he's doing. He drives in the wrong gear and burns the clutch, he sideswipes a few parked cars, he runs red lights...but at the end of the day, he gets the milk, and that's all that matters, right? Just because the end result of a situation is what you intended it to be doesn't mean the process to get to said result was correct. In my above scenario, the process was an absolute disaster that should have resulted in something going horribly wrong. And just because nothing went wrong, we're all supposed to sing kumbaya and be happy? That's a big heaping load of garbage. Trust the process, not the results. And Fredi's process, during his tenure last season and already this season, is an absolute trainwreck.

Gonzalez is like the kid who has the keys to the sportscar, and has no idea what he's doing. Matt Diaz is pretty much useless as a major league hitter at this point, yet he started Thursday's game against the Mets, and pinch hit as the tying run yesterday. I can actually buy the argument to start Diaz against the left-handed Johan Santana on Thursday. I'm not going to cite splits against a pitcher (because I think they are roughly a giant load of garbage), but as everyone and their mother knows, MATT DIAZ IS A LEFT-HANDED PITCHING KILLER. He went 1/2 with a double off of Santana, but when Johan was pulled going into the sixth inning, it was Diaz who trotted up to the plate against a right-handed Ramon Ramirez with men on second and third. Of course, almost like it was God himself smacking Fredi on the knuckles with a ruler, Diaz grounded out on the second pitch against Ramirez to end the last situation with multiple men on the Braves would have all day.

Tommy Hanson got pulled after three batters in the sixth, when the Mets would score their only run, and was replaced with Kris Medlen. Cool. Good move. Now is when Fredi pulls the double switch to get Diaz out of the game. But instead of doing the largely logical thing and putting Juan Francisco (who my feelings on will require another thousand words) at third and moving Martin Prado into left...he brings in the slap hitting phenom himself, Jose Constanza, to play left field. When it was revealed that Constanza had made the Braves Opening Day roster, fans such as myself were terrified. We were all told to calm down, because it was just for a week until Chipper was back, and that Constanza was only put on the roster because he was already on the 40-man (ignoring the fact that the team had open spots on the 40-man, of course). In the back of our heads, we all know that Constanza would have an effect on this team because Fredi has a nasty fetish for him. Sure enough, Constanza was now in left field and due up third in the inning. Naturally, Tyler Pastornicky tripled with one out to bring Constanza up with a chance to tie the game. As much as I despite the Francisco transaction, I'll admit this: the dude's swing is so damn violent that if he makes contact, he's at least getting the ball in the air. This is when Mets manager Terry Collins brought in his lefty specialist Tim Byrdak (despite a reverse platoon split for Constanza), and Constanza's at bat was such a disaster that I don't even want to relive it. Essentially, he struck out and looked like a fool on the third strike pitch, swinging at a pitch so far out of the zone that it would have hit a right-handed batter. While Francisco is an unmitigated disaster against lefties, 60% of his contact against them is on a line or in the air. That's what the team needed at that point, not an at bat from a guy who hit groundballs over 60% fo the time last year.

The rest of the game went swimmingly, and the Braves went down without a fight. Of course they did, it's only natural. I especially loved the use of Jonny Venters, who looked like a complete mess in his inning of work, allowing three baserunners and only getting two swings and misses while throwing more pitches than Medlen did in his two innings. The extreme overuse of Venters over the past two seasons is something to keep an eye on this year.

Let me get back to Fredi, and yesterday's game. Jair Jurrjens looked like absolute garbage out there yesterday (102 pitches, 4 1/3 innings pitched, two swinging strikes, two homers, and a partridge in a pear tree), and the bullpen usage following his departure was also bizarre. After six, it was a 3-2 Mets lead. Livan Hernandez (who threw a sinker that, I swear to god, didn't crack 84 all day) held the Mets scoreless in relief of Jurrjens despite allowing three hits. One run game, seventh inning, who do you go to? It's gotta be the washed up and decaying corpse of Chad Durbin (who's probably worth another 500 words on his own), right? Of course, Durbin got beaten like a rented mule, allowing three hits and a run on a Lucas Duda homer to make it a 4-2 game and essentially extinguish Atlanta's hopes of winning since the offense is so damn bad. What puzzled me is that after Durbin's inning, he was pulled and replaced with Cristhian Martinez, a much more effective reliever. Hell, Livan was signed in the first place so Martinez could throw more meaningful innings. How in the name of all that is holy is being down two runs in the eighth more meaningful than being down one run in the seventh? It legitimately makes no sense to me, and I can't rationalize it at all. Of course, Martinez retired the heart of the Mets order on seven pitches. The damage was done by then, and that was that.

My final qualm with Fredi over the first two games in the season comes of his usage of pinch hitters in the ninth inning yesterday. With two outs and Freddie Freeman on second, Fredi pinch hits Eric Hinske for Tyler Pastornicky. I understand the logic...kind of. It's a two run game, you need a homer to tie, you want your big bopper up there....right? But here's the major issue with it all: what happens if Hinske reaches base without homering? Well...you have an interesting situation there. With the pitcher's spot following Pastornicky's in the order, you're going to need a pinch hitter there regardless. While he's a rookie, Pastornicky has much better speed than Hinske, and while he has a much lower chance of homering and tying the game up, he probably has about an equal chance of reaching base. Fredi essentially sold out in this situation and banked that it would be an all or nothing type situation from Hinske. Instead, what happened was a median of the two outcomes: Hinske singled. Now, another interesting choice. The tying run is on first base, but it comes in the form of a guy who runs like an iceberg. Fredi (smartly, but the situation could have been avoided overall by not using Hinske there) pinch runs for Hinske with Jack Wilson, who would take over at short if the Braves tied it or took the lead. Now, another issue rises up. Fredi has no pinch hitters left on his bench after burning Hinske for Pastornicky, burning Wilson for Hinske, and using the pathetic Constanza earlier in the game (as the first bat off the bench, no less). Well, he had two guys left. There was David Ross, a pretty damn good hitter, but one that cannot be used as a pinch hitter in any circumstances in case something happens to Brian McCann, and Diaz, who has such an aversion to hitting righties that you might as well not even bother. Predictably, Diaz got the call to pinch hit for Martinez, and struck out on four pitches. That's that, folks.

Last season, the Braves won 89 games and led the wild card until the final week of the season. They collapsed in epic fashion, and as much as everyone wants to point at the players not performing, the main finger should be pointed at the manager who put them in situations were the odds were against them succeeding. During the 2011 season, Fredi was driving the sportscar down the road with reckless abandon, cutting red lights, zooming past stop signs, and nicking cars all along his road to the playoffs. It looked like he'd get there fine, until he t-boned a car just a block from his overall destination. Instead of giving Fredi a new sportscar, or hell, repairing the old one and giving it to someone who can handle it properly, the Braves repaired their old car, and handed Fredi the keys again. Two games into the season, he's gone through a red light and nearly killed a pedestrian. If he doesn't learn how to drive properly, this trip is going to end like last year's: short of the ultimate goal, not because of the brilliant machine he's driving, but becuase of his horrendous skills behind the wheel. 

Braves-related notes from the 2012 Fielding Bible

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I got my copy of the 2012 edition of The Fielding Bible last week, and after digesting a lot of the information in it, I'm finally getting some thoughts down about it. In case you've never heard of it, The Fielding Bible is essentially a massive dump of defensive data, looking at pretty much every little defensive situation you can think of. This is some pretty overwhelming stuff if you're not ready, which is why I waited so long to get a post up. I'll take a look at each of the team's eight starters on defense, and a couple of pitchers.

Freddie Freeman had a horrible UZR, and fans immediately jumped to conclusions about how UZR was a flawed stat because they thought Freeman was great. Well, the FB agrees...kind of. Freeman had -2 runs saved in 2011, which is in the bottom half of the league (but nowhere near the worst). Freeman made 70 "good plays" and 30 "misplays" on the season, compared to the league average of 62 and 33. So he was above average in that regard. The average good play/misplay percentage is 50%, and Freeman was above average there at 55.5%.

2012 player preview: Freddie Freeman

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Freddie FreemanBy most accounts, Freddie Freeman's rookie year of 2011 was a rousing success. After all, he was the runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year race (behind teammate Craig Kimbrel, who won the award unanimously), he finished third on the team with 21 homers, and he had a very good .794 OPS. But advanced stats hated Freeman, with him just logging 1.0 fWAR, and there's talk that Freeman's offensive stats will peak around where they did last year. What gives?

Let's tackle these issues one at a time. Freeman's low fWAR is due in part to UZR's absolute hatred of him. His UZR was -12.6 on the year, more than halving his value. Braves fans, of course, spit venom at this notion, claiming that Freeman is a magnificent fielder (because that's what Chip Caray and Joe Simpson tell them every night). DRS rated him as neutral, which I think is a more apt valuation of his defense. Tangotiger did a fantastic study on first base defense, comparing Freeman to Carlos Pena, and came to the conclusion that Freeman has very few opportunities to actually make a play, and the opportunities he had were much easier than other first basemen in the league. The link is definitely worth a read.

Now, to the other elephant in the room: Freeman's offense. People point their finger at Freeman's stellar minor league stats, and expect that performance in the majors. Well, look at his MLEs according to THT for his final three seasons in the minors. 

2008: .278/.326/.470, .343 wOBA
2009: .250/.313/.370, .304 wOBA
2010: .277/.332/.465, .344 wOBA

His MLEs for the next six years peak with a .356 wOBA. Last season, he was at .345. That's not much of an improvement. The metrics do not like Freeman's overall future projection, because despite his lack of strikeouts, he possesses below average power for a first baseman (his .166 ISO ranked 18th among 24 qualified first basemen).

You know what I think a good comp for Freeman would be? Braves-era Fred McGriff. McGriff was electric over his first year and a half in Atlanta, but fell to the .355-.365 wOBA level before departing. There is nothing wrong with having Fred McGriff as a first baseman. But Fred McGriff isn't exactly an elite player, and expectations for Freeman are probably going to be set too high going into 2012. I'd settle for 20 homers and an .800 OPS. Anything more is a bonus. 

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The Last Person the Braves Need

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

A couple days ago, Joe wrote about how the Braves missed out on an opportunity to bring in Kosuke Fukudome, late of the NPB, Cubs and Indians, to compete for a fourth-outfielder role. In response, a commenter had this to say:

"I hope this is not serious!! Fukodome [sic] would have been the last person the braves need."

The comment has since been either deleted or removed, I guess, but surely Fukudome is not really the last person the Braves need. I submit for your consideration, without further comment:

Juan Pierre

Alex Rios

Raul Ibanez

Aubrey Huff

Aubrey Drake Graham

Everyone else who starred in Degrassi

Jose Constanza

Jose Canseco

Kevin Costner as Crash Davis 

Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel

Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella
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2012 player preview: Yohan Flande

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Ah yes, Yohan Flande. He's also known by the English translation of his name, "AAA roster filler". But let me be serious for a minute. Flande isn't in the top ten starting pitchers on Atlanta's depth chart, and he's really just....a warm body to fill out the AAA rotation.

You can do a lot worse than Flande, though. In 137 innings for Gwinnett, split between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Flande had a 4.01 ERA, struck out 104, walked just 38, and allowed only nine homers. That translates to a 3.37 FIP, which is pretty damn good for a guy I'm calling roster filler. When you consider that 2011 was his first year pitching at AAA, things get a little more impressive.

But sometimes, you have to think realistically. With the Braves starting five right now, along with Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and JJ Hoover in Gwinnett and Zeke Spruill in Mississippi, the highest you can put Flande on the major league depth chart is tenth, and that's assuming you don't think much of Todd Redmond. Flande could actually probably start and do an adequate job for a bad team in the majors, but he's really not going to get a shot with the Braves. For now, he'll continue to hold his own in Gwinnett, and perhaps he'll be able to get a late season callup for a bullpen role. But if he's starting in the majors for Atlanta, things have taken a really bad turn for the Braves. No offense to Flande, but there are so many better options for the team right now.

Check out THT's projection for Flande here 

Fredi Gonzalez isn't good with cliches

Written by Joe Lucia on .

SPRING TRAINING, HELL YEAH! Fortunately, that means we get access to a new round of awesome Fredi Gonzalez interviews. Today, Fredi spoke with reporters upon the opening of spring camp.

"Stop looking in the rear view mirror and start looking in the front mirror to see what's ahead of us"

So uh...stop looking in the rear view mirror, that's self explanatory. If you're looking at a mirror, you're seeing what's behind you. If you were looking in a mirror that would show you what's in front of you...it's just glass? It's not a mirror at all?

"In the major leagues today they're breaking camp today, or broke camp yesterday, I think Seattle broke camp a week ago..."

Note to Fredi: breaking camp is what happens at the end of game, thus you'll hear the phrase "broke camp and headed to Atlanta to start the season", not "broke camp and started practicing in Orlando".

Guys, I have a feeling our manager isn't too smart.

[h/t: Dirk Hayhurst on Twitter]

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Hanson in car accident to start spring

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Braves starter Tommy Hanson, who missed a nice chunk of time last season with shoulder problems, was involved in a single car accident this morning on his way to the Braves complex in Orlando. According to Mark Bowman, Hanson blew out a tire and bumped his head. He showed up at camp, but didn't participate in any workouts, and went to a doctor to be checked for a concussion. No word on what the results of the tests are.

....and so begins the Braves' spring camp. Hanson is going to be a huge part of Atlanta's success or failure this season, and a concussion, no matter how minor or how severe, would slow his progress in his return to facing live hitting his spring. Concussions are serious business, and it would be an absolutely crushing blow to the team early on if he suffered one. Here's hoping that Hanson is fine and in camp tomorrow to resume workouts and drills.

The MLB blackout rules and you

Written by Joe Lucia on .

There is a lot of hubbub lately about FOX extending their national blackout window into primetime this year, opting to televise numerous games locally over an eight week period as opposed to the usual three or so in the afternoon. Braves fans locally in the south really shouldn't care about this, because they'll get the games on FOX, and that'll be the end of that.

But Braves fans are everywhere nationwide, and this is more complicated than "southern fans are fine!" Here's a list of the games where the Braves game on Saturday will fall into FOX's broadcast window.

June 16th, 7 PM: Orioles @ Braves
June 23rd, 7 PM: Braves @ Red Sox
July 7th, 7 PM: Braves @ Phillies
July 14th, 3:30 PM: Mets @ Braves
July 28th, 3:30 PM: Phillies @ Braves
August 25th, 3:30 PM: Braves @ Giants
September 1st, 3:30 PM: Phillies @ Braves
September 8th, 3:30 PM: Braves @ Mets

So the Braves are going to be featured in FOX blackouts just eight times, out of a possible 22. The final two Saturdays of the season are up to FOX as to which games they want to feature, so the max possible amount is ten blackouts, which isn't that terrible. Compare that to some other prominent teams though. The Phillies have seven games on nationally, the Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees have nine, the Mets have eight for some reason...you get the idea. Most of the good teams in the league in larger markets have a lot of games on, while the smaller market teams don't have many.

What does this mean for you if you're an out of market fan looking to buy MLB.TV or Extra Innings? Well, in addition to the local blackouts you'll get (living in central PA, I get four: Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Pirates), you'll be blacked out of eight additional games unless you're in the viewing area for those games. Note that all but one of the FOX telecasts are against teams located in the northeast, which means that fans west of maybe Ohio would be screwed for watching Braves games on FOX.

Personally, the blackouts aren't a huge deal for me. They'll always be around. They totally suck, but they'll be there for awhile. But the thing that irks me are the local overall blackouts, because I'm thinking about ditching my cable box....which would take me out of the running to view games on Root Pittsburgh, Comcast Philly, and MASN. That's what, 47 games I wouldn't be able to see? At worst, let me watch the non-local feed on MLB.TV. It's the least you can do, right?

2012 player preview: Robert Fish

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The Braves took Robert Fish in this year's Rule 5 draft, and he'll compete for one of the coveted bullpen spots (which are scarce at the moment). Fish spent last year with the Los Angeles Angels (after being taken by the Yankees in last year's Rule 5 draft before being returned to LA). He spent the majority of the year with Arkansas of the AA Texas League. For Arkansas, Fish showed some good qualities. In 30 1/3 innings, he struck out 41, and had a 1.88 ground ball to fly ball. He also allowed just one home run over the course of the season.

The 24 year-old showed a negative trait, however: walks. Fish walked 18 hitters in those 30 1/3 innings, but with all due respect, seven of those came in one disastrous appearance in September. Take that outing out, and Fish struck out 41 and walked 11 in 28 2/3 innings. Combine that with the 19 hits he allowed (again, excluding that seven walk appearance in September, where he also allowed two hits), and Fish had a fantastic 1.367 DOM on the season. That is a fantastic number.

In AA last year, Fish did show some platoon splits against lefties and righties. Against lefties, he walked four and struck out 17 in 11 innings (1.133 DOM). Against righties, he struck out 24 and walked 14 in 19 1/3 innings (0.800 DOM). That's a definite split, and he could have a role on the team as a lefty specialist, much in the role that George Sherrill had last year (and was effective at, despite fans and their silly anti-Sherrill crusade).

Fish has thrown just 2/3 of an inning in AAA, and his lack of experience at the level could submarine his chances at making the major league roster. He's a nice guy to have in the organization, and I hope that even if he doesn't make the major league roster, the Braves are able to work something out with the Angels to keep him in the organization.