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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 2

Braves miss a great chance with Fukudome

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Today, former Indians and Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome signed with the Chicago White Sox, for the low cost of $1 million. When I saw this, I immediately began to think how great of a fit he would have been with the Braves, especially at that price.

The Braves' fourth outfielder right now is Matt Diaz, with Jose Constanza looking to rip that title from him. We all know what each player is at this point in time: Diaz is a platoon bat who is losing his touch for hitting lefties, and Constanza is a speed merchant with no power or plate discipline. Got it. On the other hand, Fukudome is a versatile bat with good plate discipline and average power for a center fielder. He's only a year older than Diaz, and his walk rate is routinely twice what Diaz's normally rests at.

The major difference that Diaz and Constanza have over Fukudome is their batting average. Fukudome is a career .260 hitter, while Diaz (when on) and Constanza can crack .300. But then again, we're in the year 2012, and we should know that getting on base is the overall name of the game, and Fukudome does that better than Diaz. Constanza is a guy who just be a pair of legs if the BABIP bubble bursts (as it did after his miracle run last year), and I'm not sure that's a risk I'm willing to take.

At the end of the day, Frank Wren's trade for Matt Diaz last August continues to haunt the team. He's an inferior player to Fukudome, and he's more than twice as much. Seriously? Feel good stories are all well and good sometimes, but only when they work out well. The Diaz acquisition continues to plague the Braves, nearly six months after it happened. 

Exploring DOM, Atlanta's pitching stat of choice

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Today at Georgia Tech, Braves GM Frank Wren and Scouting Director John Coppolella were giving a guest lecture in a sports analytics class. The lecture gave an inside look into the Braves operations, and some of their analytical tools. Nothing too note-worthy came out of it, aside from the fact that the Braves use a stat called DOM to evaluate pitchers. DOM is thought of by the organization on the same scale as OPS, with the major league average last season being .602. To calculate DOM, you divide a pitcher's strikeouts by his walks plus his hits. Below is a list of each Braves pitcher's DOM for 2011.

Kris Medlen 2
Eric O'Flaherty 0.838
Jonny Venters 1
Craig Kimbrel 1.588
Anthony Varvaro 0.885
Randall Delgado 0.419
Jair Jurrjens 0.484
George Sherrill 0.844
Tim Hudson 0.645
Peter Moylan 0.667
Cristhian Martinez 0.773
Tommy Hanson 0.934
Scott Linebrink 0.532
Brandon Beachy 0.988
Mike Minor 0.626
Arodys Vizcaino 0.68
Julio Teheran 0.345
Derek Lowe 0.486
Scott Proctor 0.36
Jairo Asencio 0.381
Cory Gearrin 0.862

Some interesting observations coming out of the list...

-The holy trinity in the bullpen was excellent
-Of the starters, DOM liked Hanson and Beachy the most
-DOM wasn't a fan of Hudson and Minor
-DOM absoutely hated Delgado, Lowe, and Jurrjens
-Some reliever you didn't expect to be good were (Sherrill, Gearrin, Varvaro)
-The relievers you expected to be bad were (Linebrink, Proctor)

Some things I don't like about DOM...
-It doesn't penalize a fly ball, high home run pitcher
-It doesn't reward a ground ball, weak contact pitcher

One thing I noticed while looking at this is that the stat really doesn't favor some legendary Braves. Greg Maddux's career DOM is .588. Tom Glavine's is .450, and John Smoltz's is .755. Compare that to current players and their career DOMs, like Jonathan Sanchez (.749), Oliver Perez (.684), and Rich Harden (.789). What those numbers tells me is that the stat is skewed towards high strikeout pitchers, and doesn't give "finesse" guys a fair shake.

When tracking the minor league stats for 2012, I'll be keeping track of DOM from now on, just to see if promotions match the newly unearthed stat. It'll be interesting to watch for sure. 

2012 player preview: Luis Durango

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The Braves signed Luis Durango this offseason as a minor league free agent, and invited him to spring camp. Looking at Durango's skills overall, he reminds me a lot of someone else that will be in camp, but on the 40-man roster: Jose Constanza. Durango has gotten brief cups of coffee in the majors over the last three seasons with the Padres and Astros, and has really only shown two skill: speed, and plate discipline. In his 39 games in the majors, mostly coming in off the bench, Durango has just a .653 OPS, not logging one extra base hit over his 74 plate appearances. However, he's walked seven times (9.5% walk rate) and has stolen seven bases, being caught just once.

Comparing the 25 (soon to be 26) year-old to Constanza's stint in the majors this past year, you get a sense that Durango is a lesser version of Constanza. Constanza received 119 plate appearances last season, his only career major league action, and had a .724 OPS. He walked six times (5.0%), and stole seven bases, but unlike Durango, he was caught four times. Constanza also showed more power than Durango, rapping out four extra base hits, including a pair of homers.

Looking at each player's minor league numbers tells a different story. In AAA last year, Durango had a .640 OPS for the Padres and Astros organizations, while Constanza was at .712. Durango went 28/42 on the basepaths over 108 games, while Constanza went 23/31. Comparing power, Constanza and Durango had the same pathetic ISO of .039. 

Neither guy is ideal for a major league roster, but comparing the two, it looks like Constanza is the better player. With him around, I don't see any reason that the Braves would let Durango get extended playing time in the majors unless Constanza gets hurt. Even then, neither player looks like much of a major league stalwart, and appears to be AAA filler. With the expected promotions of Cory Harrilchak and Mycal Jones to Gwinnett, I don't think Durango will even get a ton of playing time there.

Check out Durango's projection on THT here 

2012 player preview: Matt Diaz

Written by Joe Lucia on .

diazWhen the Braves acquired Matt Diaz from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of August, I was vehemently opposed to the move for several reasons.

1) Fredi Gonzalez would feel inclined to start Diaz in right field over Jason Heyward when lefties were on the mound.
2) Diaz's effectiveness against lefties in 2011 had dropped off to the point where he had no purpose on the team aside from a pinch hitting role.
3) He was under contract for 2012 for $2.125 million, and his presence on the roster next season would really hamstring the team.

Sure enough, all of those were true. In the 16 games Diaz got into as a Brave, he got 37 plate appearances, which clearly means there were some starts in there (probably in the neighborhood of eight or ten). His struggles with the bat continued in Atlanta, as his overall line with the Braves was .286/.297/.314. In those 37 plate appearances, he walked just one time and had one extra base hit (a double). Against lefties, his line with the Braves was .296/.310/.333 over 29 plate appearances. For comparison's sake, Jason Heyward's 2011 line against lefties was .192/.270/.308...so while Heyward's batting average was lower thanks to a .228 BABIP (Diaz's was .333), he showed the ability to take a walk and get extra base hits, something that Diaz didn't show. 

In 2012, I don't see a potential spot for Diaz on the Braves roster, and the team might be forced to eat some salary in order to get him off the team. He's the fourth outfielder right now that can only hit lefties, so that's not really a good fourth outfielder, huh? He's not great defensively (+2 DRS over his career), he's not fast (33 career stolen bases)...his only role is to hit lefties, and he couldn't do that at all last season. If Diaz has a spring that resembles his 2011 season when it comes to hitting lefties, I don't see any way that the Braves can keep him on the Opening Day roster. For as much of an anti-Constanza guy as I am, I'd rather have him on the Opening Day roster than Diaz if you base things solely on their 2011 seasons.

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com 

2012 player preview: Randall Delgado

Written by Joe Lucia on .

rdelgadoRandall Delgado made a lot of strides in 2011, ending up in the major league rotation to finish the season, but at the end of the day, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Delgado's year started in Mississippi, where he started 21 games and threw 117 1/3 innings. In his stint at Mississippi, he struck out 110, walked 46, and allowed 11 homers, all coming together to give him a 3.82 FIP.

He took a step back after being promoted to Gwinnett, where in four starts, Delgado threw 21 2/3 innings while striking out 25, walking 11, and allowing four homers. That is a 4.82 FIP stint in AAA.

Then in Atlanta, Delgado would get seven starts over the course of the season. Despite a 2.83 ERA, Delgado threw just 35 innings in his seven starts, striking out 18, walking 14, and allowing five homers. That's a 5.14 FIP, over two runs higher than his ERA.

At the end of the day, Delgado is a fantastic prospect, especially when you consider that he threw 174 innings over three levels at age 21. That's an admirable thing. Regardless of all that, and his low ERA in the majors last year, Delgado is absolutely not ready for the majors. He showed that he wasn't ready during his stint at Gwinnett, where he allowed too many homers and walked too many batters. But because of injuries, he was given the shot in the major league rotation, and he held his own.

With the Braves glut of starting pitching right now, Delgado is probably seventh overall among starting pitchers on Atlanta's depth chart, behind the five major league starters and top prospect Julio Teheran. I'd put him above Arodys Vizcaino due to Vizcaino's use in the bullpen last year and his unsure future as a starter or a reliever. At any rate, Delgado will be starting his year in Gwinnett, with another shot in Atlanta looming in case of an injury to one of the starters. I'd assume that the decision on whether or not to call up Teheran or him would be based on who's scheduled start is closest to the needed start, much like it was last season.

At any rate, we should be seeing Delgado again very soon. But it won't be on Opening Day at Citi Field.

Check out Delgado's projection on THT here

Photo credit to Joe Lucia
 

Five prospects loaded with questions in 2012

Written by Joe Lucia on .

As I'm writing my player previews (and to an extent, my top 30 prospects list last week), I find myself writing "there are a lot of questions about this guy" a lot. So here are five prospects in Atlanta's system who have so many questions about them that will determine whether or not they're ready to become an elite prospect, or just another flash in the pan.

1. Mycal Jones
Jones is a very toolsy player, and last season was his first in center field after switching from shortstop. His defense vastly improved after switching positions (as you can tell by the numbers on THT, it's a two win improvement), but there are still some questions about Jones's offense and his maturity. The soon-to-be 25 year-old was arrested for DUI last season a week after coming back from a foot injury that kept him out for a month, and he played just 100 games on the season. Jones did improve some facets of his game in 2011, as while his strikeout remained constant at around 24%, his walk rate improved from 7.4% (which is already pretty decent) up to 12.5%, which is excellent. His power fell off though, with an ISO dropping from .159 to .129. He's still quite adept on the bases (73.9% success rate last seaon, compared to 75.9% in 2010), which is a benefit to his game. If Jones is able to add a little bit of power to his game in 2012, he could be the starter in center in 2013. Or, he could be an organizational bat. The window is closing pretty quickly given his age.

2. Dimasther Delgado
I am a huge Delgado fan, given how excellent his 2009 season at age 20 was for Rome. But Delgado missed all of 2010, and just didn't seem right for the first half of 2011. After the All-Star Break, he looked like a potentially elite pitcher. He'll be just 23 once the season begins and should start off in Mississippi, and if he has a full season like his second half of 2011, he should easily be able to be a top ten prospect in this organization, especially with the projected attrition of the top ten prospects due to graduation to the majors. However, if he has a full season like his first half of 2011, he's probably just filler at this rate.

3. Brandon Drury
Drury was a big riser on prospect lists this offseason after a year that saw him be named the Appalachian League co-player of the year. My expectations for Drury were a little more tempered than others, and I can definitively point at one stat to tell you why: Drury walked just six times in 278 plate appearances. That is a 2.2% walk rate. To put that in perspective, Yuniesky Betancourt had a 2.7% walk rate, Vladimir Guerrero was at 2.9%, and Alex Gonzalez, who we all loved and adored last season, was at 3.7%. Think about that: this guy walked 40% less than Alex Gonzalez. He might be an awesome pure hitter, and at just age 19, there is a huge chance he can improve. But I'm not puting him in my top ten until he walks at least 5% of the time, no matter how high his OPS may be.

4. Adam Milligan
I love Adam Milligan. I remember when he made his debut in Danville (before quickly moving up to Rome) in 2009 when I was writing for BravesHeart, and people were calling him a potentially elite prospect. Like I usually do, I tempered my expectations, knowing what tends to happen to hot prospects. Sure enough, he hurt his shoulder for Myrtle Beach in 2010, and didn't play a game past May. In 2011, he was repeating high-A, this time with Lynchburg, and he was dominant, with a .902 OPS. The problem is, he played in just 65 games after constantly battling injury. Over his career, Milligan has played in 153 games over two full seasons and one half season. That is absolutely awful. If he's able to stay healthy and play in 120 games in a season, Milligan has potential to be an upper echelon prospect in the Braves system. But the odds of that happening are slim based on his last two seasons.

5. Evan Gattis
In 2010 for Danville, Evan Gattis was a 23 year-old debuting rookie. Last season for Rome, he was a 24 year-old who absolutely terrorized Sally League pitching, posting a .986 OPS and 22 homers in 89 games. So, what's the question here? Well, he'll be a 25 year-old in high-A in 2012, and if he doesn't produce...well, that's the point where you cut bait. Last season in Rome was fantastic, but he's set the bar pretty high for himself....and that's not necessarily a good thing when you're as advanced as Gattis is. He's a little old to be considered a "prospect", but if he can keep destroying minor league pitching, he may hit himself into the argument.

2012 player preview: Todd Cunningham

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Todd Cunningham was the second round pick of the Atlanta Braves (53rd overall) out of Jacksonville State University in the 2010 draft. Upon being drafted, Cunningham was sent to Rome, where he OPSed .679 in 65 games. In those 65 games, Cunningham showed decent plate discipline (14 walks, 30 strikeouts) and minimal power (.078 ISO). He went to Lynchburg for the 2011 season, and including a four game rehab stint in the GCL, he hit .255/.346/.354 with 15 stolen bases.

Some immediate thoughts about Cunningham's 2011 season. His plate discipline was roughly the same as it was in 2010, with 34 walks and 52 strikeouts in 91 games. That's actually pretty good, especially in comparison to some of the prospects in the organization. His power also increased, as his ISO jumped up to .099. The power is still pretty minimal for a corner outfielder, but I'm wondering how much his injury in the middle of the season sapped his power.

Cunningham also had a stint in the hitter-friendly AFL, and while it's a small sample size, his performance there worries me. In an 18 game stint in the desert, Cunningham hit just .250/.319/.344. He walked five times and struck out 13 times while hitting five extra base hits. More troubling is his performance against right-handers, whom he hit just .212/.293/.250 against. I don't know his splits for the 2011 regular season (thanks MILB.com!), but in 2010, he hit .259/.344/.327 against righties, which indicates there's a history of a lack of power against them.

But as I said a paragraph ago, a lot of Cunningham's future depends on how much the injury affects him in the future. There was a clear problem with him once he returned in August, and that tempered his numbers a good bit. He's very good defensively and can play all three outfield positions, and could break out in 2012, which he should be spending in Missisippi

Check out THT's projection for Cunningham here 

2012 player preview: Erik Cordier

Written by Joe Lucia on .

cordierTime for a guy who could be a factor for the Braves this season, but not in his current role: Erik Cordier. The 25 (26 this month) year-old Cordier was acquired from the Braves way back in March of 2007 from the Royals in exchange for Tony Pena Jr, then a shortstop. He missed all of the 2007 following Tommy John surgery, and only threw 45 innings in 2008 for the GCL and Rome. In those 45 innings, Cordier struck out 36 and walked 22.

In his first full season following the surgery, 2009, Cordier played the whole year at Myrtle Beach. The control problems that present themselves following Tommy John were still quite prevalent, as Cordier walked 74 (while only striking out 88) in 121 innings. He also allowed 13 homers, which is a little high. In 2010, Cordier was at Mississippi, and he improved a little bit, throwing 143 2/3 innings. There were positive signs from that year, as his strikeout rate increased to 7.33 from 6.55, and his walk rate fell to 4.76 from 5.50, but that mark is still way too high. On a good note, he only allowed three homers on the season, curbing his issue from 2009.

2011 was Cordier's first year at Gwinnett, and it didn't go too well at all. For the season, which includes one start at Mississippi, Cordier only threw 91 innings over 20 starts, walking 51 and striking out 65 with ten homers. His walk rate split the last two years at 5.04, his strikeout rate was the worst it's been in his career at 6.42, and the ten homers he allowed resulted in a step back in homer rate, to 0.99 per nine innings. Cordier had two appearances in the AFL this spring, throwing 2 2/3 innings, walking three, and striking out two.

At this point in time, I'm wondering if it's time to try Cordier out of the bullpen. He's only made five relief appearances (excluding the AFL) over his career, and his stuff may actually profile a bit better there. I mean, look at what happened with Jonny Venters: he turned from a non-prospect as a starter to a dominant late-game reliever. With the extreme logjam of young starting pitching at the upper levels of the Braves system, I don't see how Cordier could possibly crack the top five of Gwinnett's rotation. However, he could crack the top seven of the bullpen, which could give his career new life. If he wants to stay in the organization, that might be the best role for him.

One final note for the road. In 2009, Jonny Venters' final year as a starter, he threw 156 2/3 innings for Mississippi and Gwinnett with a 4.42 walk rate and a 5.63 strikeout rate. In 2010 and 2011, he has thrown 171 innings of relief for the Braves in Atlanta, with a 9.95 strikeout rate and a 4.32 walk rate while allowing just three homers. The conversion worked well for him, so why couldn't Cordier follow in the same path?

Check out THT's player projection for Cordier here

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com 

Braves officially unveil new alternate jersey

Written by Joe Lucia on .

During a press conference this morning at Turner Field, the Braves officially unveiled yet another alternate jersey.
jersey1 
 The jerseys are identical to the ones we initially linked to last month. Here's a closeup view of the patch on the sleeve.
jersey2 
My initial thoughts? NEEDS MORE TOMAHAWKS. No tomahawk on the front of the jersey makes me a sad panda, and takes the team down another small path towards political correctness. But dammit, I associate the tomhawk so highly with the team.

The jersey will be worn for Saturday and Sunday home games. The former Sunday home reds will now be worn on Friday night home games.

So just to clarify, that's now five jerseys for this team. It's completely conceivable for the team to wear five different jerseys over seven games, or four over six games. Jeez, talk about overkill.

The jerseys are available for sale today at the CNN Center clubhouse store, and you can order them online right now.

2012 player preview: Jose Constanza

Written by Joe Lucia on .

constanzaJose Constanza is a very polarizing figure among Braves fans. Some erroneously believe that he should have gotten more playing time down the stretch. Some correctly believe that all he can be is an extra outfielder due to his good speed and little else in his game. Constanza will go into camp competing for the fifth outfielder slot (yes, fifth outfielder....remember, Matt Diaz and his guaranteed contract have the fourth spot locked down), but should Braves fans expect anything higher than a replacement level performance from him?

When Constanza was called up at the end of July, he got three starts that month. A majority of his playing time came in August, where he hit .342/.392/.452. Now, a couple of things. He had a .371 BABIP during that hot stint during the month. Despite the sexy numbers across the board, his ISO was only .110 (good for a center fielder, unacceptable for a corner outfielder, where he was getting a majority of his starts), and his walk rate was an average 7.3%.

The wheels came off in September, but fans kept begging for him to get playing time. Here's a fact about Constanza's September: it was awful. He hit .174/.174/.174, going without a walk or an extra base hit in 24 plate appearances over 12 games, as he was reduced to a pinch hitting role. For what it's worth, he also went 0/2 on the bases in September after going 7/9 in August.

I'll admit it: he had a hot month of August. Good for him. But to claim that Constanza deserves a starting role is completely ludicrous. Constanza is a guy that over his entire minor league career, has a career best ISO of .109, which came in a 76 game stint in high-A back in 2006. He is the definition of a pinch runner off the bench, and not the type of guy who should be playing every day.

But honestly, he *could* be better than Matt Diaz coming off the bench. Diaz's claim to fame is that he kills lefties. Last season, his OPS against lefties was just .692. Granted, that's better than his OPS against righties of .550, but I digress. It's still really not good. Constanza on the other hand, had an OPS against lefties of .799, though he didn't have an extra base hit and was ridiculous lucky with a .441 BABIP. Personally, I wouldn't want either on my team, but if I had to choose between them....I'd rather have Constanza. I think that carrying both would be a critical mistake for this team, as it would really stifle the options that Fredi Gonzalez has.

Check out THT's projection for Constanza here

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com 

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