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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 3

2012 Player Preview: Christian Bethancourt

Written by Joe Lucia on .

bethancourt20 year-old catcher Christian Bethancourt is a tough nut to crack. He's fallen from grace on many prospect lists (dropping to ninth on this year's BA top ten), because he hasn't found consistency hitting, despite playing the 2011 season as a 19 year-old in full season ball. He started the year in Rome, and after a cold spell to start the year, caught fire and finished at .303/.323/.430 before getting called up to Lynchburg, where he finished his year struggling, finishing up at .271/.277/.325.

The major demerit on Bethancourt right now is his plate discipline. This season, he walked just 11 times in 410 plate appearances. That's not going to work in the long run, but hopefully, his plate discipline can improve as he ages. His power is also lacking, with a .096 ISO overall. That's also not really going to cut it, but he's still filling out his body, and that can improve with age.

The power question got answered a little bit in the AFL, where Bethancourt OPSed .880 in 74 plate appearances, homering five times (which is how many he hit in the entire regular season) and adding three doubles as well to give him an ISO of .250 in the fall - a massive improvement. But the plate discipline question remained. In those AFL games, Bethancourt walked just twice while striking out 17 times. The walks are consistent with his 2011 regular season totals, while the strikeouts spiked, probably due to Bethancourt attempting to impress and hit the ball more, along with the quality of pitching in the AFL.

There is no need for the Braves to rush Bethancourt, because there is a glut of young catching in the low minors. In addition to Bethancourt, the Braves system features guys like Ryan Delgado and Evan Gattis, both of whom have hit rather well during their careers. I'd personally like to see Bethancourt start the year at Lynchburg in 2012, and if he's able to succeed hitting, he can get promoted to Mississippi, much like the team did with him in 2011. Bethancourt spent all of 2010 in Rome and struggled offensively, and started there in 2011 as well before being promoted once he caught a spark.

I think Bethancourt can be a solid catcher in the bigs, but he needs to continue to develop his power and plate discipline. 2012 will be a big step forward for him, and I'd really like to see him develop his offensive game a little more. If he can do that, he can be a top 100 prospect in 2013.

Check out THT's projection for Bethancourt here

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com 

2012 Player Preview: Brandon Beachy

Written by Joe Lucia on .

beachyBrandon Beachy was an absolutely critical part of the 2011 Braves rotation. He was third on staff in fWAR at 2.8, despite only throwing 141 2/3 innings. The two players better were Craig Kimbrel, the best reliever in baseball, and Tim Hudson, who threw nearly 75 more innings than Beachy. So that 2.8 fWAR is a pretty solid number considering Beachy's body of work. He missed about a month with a strained oblique in May-June, and while that hurt the team overall, I think it may have helped...just because it limited Beachy's innings. He threw 135 in 2010, and the team probably didn't want to overexert him, though another 30 innings wouldn't have hurt.

As for Beachy's on-field performance, it was stellar. He led the pitching staff (AS A ROOKIE) with 169 strikeouts, and had a solid 3.68 ERA, which was backed up by an even better 3.19 FIP (and 3.16 xFIP for that matter). His 10.74 strikeout rate led all of baseball for a pitcher with at least 140 innings pitched. To call Beachy's rookie year anything but a success would be an absolute, flat-out lie.

There is still room for improvement, however. Beachy allowed 16 homers, too high of a total for 140 innings of work. Beachy is a flyball pitcher, so that somewhat explains his 33.8% groundball rate, but I'd like to see that get a little higher too. If Beachy is able to keep the ball in the park and on the ground a little better, he could be elite. Even if he replicates his 2011 rates, he'll still be a damn good rotation piece.

With the injury concerns surrounding Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson this season, Beachy is the de facto number two starter following the trade of Derek Lowe in November. It's a very tall order for him, but I think Beachy can absolutely be the pitcher he was in 2011 again in 2012. Even if Hanson and Jurrjens are fully recovered from their shoulder and knee injuries respectively, Beachy is still going to be counted on to be a solid part of the rotation. Both Hanson and Jurrjens have had Jeckyll and Hyde type careers, and Beachy's thusfar has been much more respectable.

I wouldn't go as far as saying Beachy can be a staff ace racking up 5 fWAR seasons like it's no one's business, but if he has a 4 fWAR season in 2012, I wouldn't be surprised at all. In fact, I think that's what I'm expecting out of him. Beachy can take a huge step forward this season, and it's pretty important for the Braves if he does or doesn't. Is he a two year wonder, or is he the type of guy that will be in Atlanta's future plans?

Check out Beachy's 2012 player projection on THT

Photo credit goes to Joe Lucia

2012 Player Preview: Luis Avilan

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The 22 year-old Avilan was added to the Braves 40-man roster this offseason after signing with the organization as a 16 year-old. He's slowly worked his way through the system and spent 2011 in Mississippi, where he split his time between starting and relieving. Avilan hadn't started full-time since 2007 in the DSL, so it was a nice change of pace for him. As a reliever, Avilan is a guy who can strike out a batter per inning, but has control problems.

2011 was a rough year for Avilan. Despite a career high 106 1/3 innings, his strikeout rate was a career low 6.60 per nine innings, which is to be expected with a transition to the rotation. What wasn't necessarily expected was the spike in home runs allowed by Avilan, who allowed a career high 10. To put that in perspective, he allowed a total of nine homers from 2008-2010. However, while Avilan's strikeout and homer rates went in the wrong direction, his walk rate went down the opposite route, settling in at 3.05, his lowest since coming to America in 2008.

In the DWL this winter, Avilan has also split time between starting and relieving, and he appears to be much more effective as a reliever. He's pitched nearly the same amount of innings in each role (21 relieving, 22 2/3 starting), and struck out more hitters while walking fewer in relief. He's also allowed half as many hits coming out of the pen as he has starting.

I'd expect Avilan to be a reliever at Gwinnett next year, and that's probably the best role for him right now with the glut of starting pitching talent that the organization has. He's simply not good enough to crack the organization's top starting pitching prospects, but could crack the top reliever prospects.

Check out Avilan's 2012 player projection on THT 

2012 Player Preview: Jairo Asencio

Written by Joe Lucia on .

asencioJairo Asencio didn't pitch an inning for the Braves in 2010, but in 2009, he looked like a real option for the major league bullpen after an outstanding performance for Gwinnett. Then known as Luis Valdez, Asencio struck out 75 while walking just 19 in 71 1/3 innings. He was an International League All-Star, and a promotion to the majors looked to be in the cards for 2010.

But before the 2010 season, things took an unexpected turn. Asencio was detained in the Dominican Republic for identity fraud, and it was found out that his name wasn't Luis Valdez, but in fact, Jairo Asencio. The visa issues wiped out his entire 2010, and his future with the Braves looked questionable at best.

The team stuck by him in 2011, and got a couple of callups to the majors, totalling a 6.97 ERA in 10 1/3 innings, walking five and striking out eight. It was a different story in Gwinnett, where Asencio was dominant in 54 2/3 innings. The 27 year-old struck out 70 while walking 22, and was named the AAA reliever of the year after the season.

Asencio is continuing to perform well this offseason in the Dominican, where he has a 1.07 ERA in 25 1/3 innings, striking out 33 while walking just nine. He'll be 28 a mont into the season, and while he's on the 40-man roster, the Braves need to figure out whether or not he's in the future plans. The team was in a similar situation with Stephen Marek last year, who made the decision for the Braves to part ways with him easier after blowing out his elbow in May.

The situation with Asencio is much different, as he's been dominant in his three active seasons in the Braves organization. I think he can be an effective reliever in the majors if the team actually gives him more than a 10 1/3 inning trial. The fact that Scott Proctor got more of a chance to impress in the majors than Asencio makes me believe that the team really doesn't see him in their future plans, but with his performances at AAA in his last two seasons, why shouldn't the team give him a shot? Guys with mid-80s changeups and low-90s fastballs don't grow on trees, and it would be worth it to at least see if he's got anything instead of just kicking him down to Gwinnett right away.

Check out Asencio's 2012 player projection on THT

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com

2012 Player Preview: Nick Ahmed

Written by Joe Lucia on .

This is the first of 70 player previews I'll be writing, previewing the 2012 season for each member of the Braves 40-man roster, each non-roster invitee, each member of our midseason top 30 prospects list, and assorted other prospects. First up: Nick Ahmed.

Nick AhmedNick Ahmed was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round (85th overall) of the 2011 draft out of UConn. The 21 year-old shortstop was sent to Danville to start his career, and he held his own, with a line of .262/.346/.379 in 59 games. Like many young hitters, Ahmed had a deficiency against lefties, as he hit just .228/.302/.316 against them. Overall, his plate discipline was very good, walking 30 times while striking out 46 times in 284 plate appearances, for a walk rate of 10.6% and a strikeout rate of 16.2%. His power didn't develop the way I really expected, with just a .117 ISO on the season.

Ahmed will likely start 2012 in Rome, where 2011 shortstop Matt Lipka is being converted to center field, and might have to repeat the level because of his anemic bat. At 6'3", 205, you'd really expect more power from Ahmed, even as a middle infield bat. He's a guy who could be a big riser in the Braves system in 2012, especially if the power appears this season. With the lack of power right now, I don't think he could be a starter in the majors, but his plate discipline gives the air of a strong bench bat. Then again, he's been a member of the organization for seven months, so let's not be too hasty.

I really think Ahmed can be a top 20 or so prospect in the organization by year's end, and he could possibly be top ten if (as I've mentioned before) the power develops. Right now, he's still a college bat in the low minors, and he should be dominating. The move to full-season ball will test his mettle and determine whether he's more like Philip Gosselin, or more like Joey Terdoslavich.

Check out Ahmed's 2012 player projection on THT

Photo credit to Joe Lucia

Fredi vs. Logic: Lineup Preview

Written by Mark Smith on .

Having fun at the expense of Fredi Gonzalez is pretty commonplace around here. While I think he certainly has the ability to keep the clubhouse together and has the respect of the players, he’s not good strategically, and I do think it costs the Braves wins. In fact, I wonder if Frank Wren believed the same but was afraid to mess with things mid-season while they “worked”. When a young prospect comes in with ugly mechanics, teams generally let the prospect fail a bit before they try to rework them. They do this because a player may hesitate to make changes when his mechanics have “worked” before. Though I don’t think Wren wanted September to happen the way it did, it also provided a clear opportunity to suggest ways in which Fredi could improve without Fredi being able to argue much. Who knows if that happened, but I like to think it did. Anyway, it’s time to start looking at next season’s team, and as we do, we’ll put a #FrediSpin on it. Today, the lineup.

Lineup Position

FrediLogic

FrediAnswer

Logic

Realistic Answer

1st

Fastest player

Michael Bourn

High OBP, speed preferred if all else equal

Michael Bourn

2nd

Middle infielder, contact hitter preferred

Martin Prado

Highest OBP, probably best hitter

Chipper Jones

3rd

Best hitter

Chipper Jones

2nd best hitter, preferably more power than 2nd hitter

Brian McCann

4th

Power hitter, RBIs

Dan Uggla

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Dan Uggla

5th

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Brian McCann

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Freddie Freeman/Jason Heyward

6th

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Freddie Freeman

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Martin Prado

7th

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Jason Heyward

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Jason Heyward/Freddie Freeman

8th

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Tyler Pastornicky

Next best hitter, switching R-L preferred

Tyler Pastornicky

One thing you may notice is that the lineups don’t really look all that different. Essentially, Fredi just moves Prado up and everyone else down, but there are some key differences. Starting at the top of the lineup, Bourn is in there on both lineups, but that could change drastically with an injury. Instead of rotating a high OBP guy to the top spot (maybe Prado if we’re living in a realistic world), Fredi would be tempted to put someone like Jose Constanza at the top of lineup because of his speed (remember Jordan Schafer if you don't believe me), even though he wouldn’t get on base much to use it. This would basically be throwing away at-bats and putting the rest of the lineup in a hole from the get-go.

The next difference is how well the lineup situates itself. Because Fredi rarely switches Uggla and McCann depending on the pitcher involved and seemed to generally favor Uggla over McCann once Uggla got hot, the lineup becomes very left-handed heavy at the bottom, with the potential for three straight lefties from McCann to Heyward. This won’t matter as much for most of the game, but once the opposition goes to their bullpen, they can just [insert lefty here] and mow through the inning. If you switch to the other lineup, it constantly switches back-and-forth, and the opposing manager is at least forced to think about burning a couple more relievers or taking his chances that Uggla and/or Prado doesn’t rake the lefty. The more switches the opposing manager has to make, the better.

Heyward also becomes an issue. Should he begin to hit, where do you put him in Fredi’s lineup? Unless Fredi puts him fourth (which I doubt), he will still have back-to-back lefties or even back-to-back-to-back lefties in the lineup, and Prado, the team’s fifth or sixth-best hitter still getting more ABs than the better hitters. Using the other lineup, you could move Heyward to third or fifth (depending on just how good he’s hitting) and shifting McCann and Freeman down accordingly without having lefty-lefty issues or the problem of a worse hitter getting more ABs than better hitters.

Like I’ve said before, I realize this is nit-picking to a degree. The difference between Fredi’s lineup and my own probably isn’t worth more than 5-10 runs (or about a win) over the course of the season. But it’s all about process and critical thinking. If Fredi can’t make correct decisions here, how many other similarly small ones does he make, and how many wins does that begin to cost the team overall? 2? 3? More? The NL East has just become much more competitive this season. The Marlins are much improved. The Nationals are improved. And the Phillies are still the favorites. The Braves can’t just give away wins, and I hope last year showed them that.

Dan Uggla Is Weird, Man

Written by Mark Smith on .

To say that last season was a roller coaster for Dan Uggla would be a compliment to any roller coaster. After a disastrous start that saw him hitting .170 at the beginning of June and under .200 until July 27th, Uggla went on a 33-game hitting streak that saw his average climb to .237. The awful start coined the term #Struggla, and he was a punchline until the hitting streak really got under way. But now that the season is over and another one nears dawn, we have to start wondering about next year.

Before we take a look forward, it’s kind of fun to look back at what he’s done.


Season

BB%

K%

BABiP

fWAR

2006

7.0

18.0

.309

4.5

2007

9.3

22.9

.279

2.7

2008

12.4

27.6

.320

4.6

2009

13.8

22.5

.274

2.7

2010

11.6

22.1

.330

4.9

2011

9.2

23.2

.253

2.5

Career

10.5

22.7

.294

22.0/3.7


As you can see, Uggla’s entire career has been a roller coaster. Jacob Peterson (aka @junkstats; follow him if you don’t already) was the first to point out the BABiP fluctuations to me. His career BABiP is .294, but none of his seasons are particularly close to that mark. When you then look at his fWAR, it’s no surprise that it fluctuates wildly as well as his average is 3.7, but none of his seasons are within a win of that. Based on this, it looks like Uggla is headed for a nice 4-5 win season.

We, of course, can’t just assume that. Adam LaRoche had those ridiculously good second halves … until he didn’t in 2010. Bouncing back-and-forth like that is mainly just a statistical anomaly - someone has to do it - and we just happen to be witnesses. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe statisticians whose job it is to do this sort of thing. Bill James and RotoChamp all have Uggla playing to his career averages, and the FANS come to the same conclusion - Uggla should be worth about 3.5 wins this next season. We certainly don’t “know” that, but that’s the best prediction we can give.

The next question we have to ask is if Uggla showed signs of decline. When a player goes up-and-down like he has, it’s harder to see when he declines. So we need to look at some peripheral stats to see what’s going on and if the .253 BABiP is really to blame. First thing’s first, Uggla didn’t strike out more than usual. While the BB rate dropped (probably due to being #aggressive), I expect the reason behind that - Larry Parrish - is gone. The next thing we do is look at batted ball statistics. Before we get too into it, batted ball statistics can fluctuate because it can be difficult to tell between a line drive and a fly ball, etc. When you look at those, everything looks pretty normal except for a massive spike in pop flies, but the question becomes what caused it. Was it a loss of bat speed? Well, he still hit usual array of home runs and didn’t seem to sell-out and strike out for the power. Was it something in his swing mechanics that prohibited him from making the same contact? Perhaps. I remember a lot of backside collapses, which would cause that sort of thing, but I can’t compare him to past seasons. Ultimately, the answer is no. I don’t think he’s declining, at least rapidly.

Uggla will turn 32 during Spring Training, and he’s beginning to reach the point at which we ask questions about collapses. Additionally, the scrutiny over Uggla’s extension was over a possible quick decline. But let’s remember a few things. 32 isn’t that old. It’s just beyond his theoretical prime. And while the worries over the extension were about a decline, the worry wasn’t really about 2012. I realize that the slow start to 2011 caused some additional concerns and that his hitting streak didn’t make up for that, but we have to realize that, as odd as the it was, his season was one that was bound to happen at some point to someone. It’s certainly an interesting story, but let’s not read too much into it.

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Are the Waves of Pitching Talent Breaking?

Written by Mark Smith on .

When I wrote about the Braves’ pitching depth last year, I mentioned that the best thing about the Braves’ pitching depth was that it was coming in waves. Almost a year later, it’s time to re-examine the starting rotation and ask whether or not the depth is still there.

We’ve already seen some turnover this off-season, and we even expect a little more. Derek Lowe was traded to the Cleveland Indians for salary relief and a relief prospect that may make it to AA. Now, we wait to see if Jair Jurrjens will share Lowe’s fate, but as the off-season wanes, it’s becoming less-likely that he’ll be traded. Although we’re all a little bummed that no hitter or prospects are headed our way, it really isn’t the worst thing in the world. Jurrjens should perform well enough to retain his value, though there’s obviously some injury risk, and there will certainly be trade partners looking for pitching at the deadline. All the while, the Braves retain the added pitching depth. Speaking of that, let’s take a look at this year.

2012

MLB

AAA

AA

High-A

Low-A

Tim Hudson

Julio Teheran

Sean Gilmartin

Carlos Perez

JR Graham

Jair Jurrjens

Randall Delgado

Zeke Spruill

Cody Martin

Tommy Hanson

JJ Hoover

Chris Masters

Brandon Beachy

Mike Minor

The rotation looks mostly like I thought it would, and the only change is the surprise trade of Lowe. I really didn’t think they’d ever get rid of him, but never doubt Frank Wren, I guess. While it’s uncertain if Hudson or Hanson will start the season in the rotation, it doesn’t seem like they’ll miss more than a month, and if/when they do, that’s why this is a depth exercise. Comparing it to last season, some of the depth and upside is gone from the back-end of the minor-league system. Teheran and Delgado were fantastic, and I’ll include Hoover until they officially make him a reliever, which I think is a bad move for the moment. Moving down to AA, Gilmartin, Spruill, and Masters are likely to be 4/5 starters, but they’re still decent depth. Perez, at High-A next season, is the one pitching prospect that really let us down, but that’s about what you expect in regard to prospect attrition. Another level down, Graham and Martin look to be given a chance to start, but I’m not sure how long that will last.

2013

MLB

AAA

AA

High-A

Tim Hudson/Jair Jurrjens

Julio Teheran/Randall Delgado

Carlos Perez

JR Graham

Tommy Hanson

Sean Gilmartin

Cody Martin

Brandon Beachy

Zeke Spruill

Mike Minor

Chris Masters

Julio Teheran/Randall Delgado

In the above table, the “/” means either/or. If Hudson’s option is picked up, then I expect Jurrjens to be traded, and If the Braves think it’s better to hold onto Jurrjens and/or Hudson’s back continues to act up, I expect the Braves to pass on the option. As for Teheran and Delgado, it’s really up to who performs better this season. Along with the loser in the battle between Teheran and Delgado, Gilmartin, Spruill, and Masters will pitch in AAA. Well they will if they don’t get traded. When you have surplus of back-end starting prospects and a rotation of guys who could be better, you trade the back-end starters, and I expect Hoover (not shown above because I’m guessing he’ll be moved to the bullpen; I made my stand in the last section), Spruill, Masters, and/or Perez to be traded at the deadline like Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens were this past season. Watch which two do best, and they’ll probably be gone.

-----------------------------

So are the waves breaking? Kind of. There was certainly some attrition last season. Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer were traded. Carlos Perez lost some of his luster. Dave Filak kind of fell on his face. But there were some additions, like Gilmartin and the rebirth of sorts from Spruill. What we see coming from further down the pipeline isn’t the same type of mid-to-front-line pitching at AAA now. It’s more of the 4/5 variety. That’s not surprising for a couple reasons. One, this collection of talent doesn’t happen often, and two, the Braves have been college- and reliever-heavy in past drafts. As a result, the lower levels don’t have the high-upside prospects. That, of course, could be fixed if the Braves draft differently come June or if they pump in a few more Latin American prospects. But for now, the Braves still have a lot of depth ready to help the major-league team, which is way more important than lower levels.

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Braves Alternate Jersey Leaked?

Written by Joe Lucia on .

newjersey

We've been hearing about a new alternate jersey all winter. Well, the jersey leaked this evening, and it doesn't look too bad, as you see above, courtesy of SportsLogos.net (an amazing resouce). The most notable difference is the lack of a tomahawk on the front for the first time since the 1980's.

The  jersey is very similar to the 1963 throwback sold on the Braves website, with a few key difference...most notably, the lack of the screaming brave on the arm (boooo), replaced instead by a pair of crossed tomahawks. The name and number on the back more closely resemble the current jerseys, with navy blue text for the player's name as opposed to the larger font red in the '63 throwbacks.

Anything to make a buck, right? As good as these jerseys look, they're really nothing but a cash grab for the team, and based on the reaction I'm seeing on Twitter, they'll sell bucketloads and make the introduction of this jersey totally worthwhile. First it was the Sunday reds, then the navy roadies....now, we have a third alternate jersey. Do the Braves really need any more?

Braves Re-Sign Wilson To Back Up Pastornicky

Written by Joe Lucia on .

All offseason, the Braves were looking for a veteran to back up rookie Tyler Pastornicky at shortstop. Today, they got him: veteran Jack Wilson, who Mark Bowman is reporting has been re-signed to a one year deal. The Braves acquired Wilson from the Mariners last August.

Wilson's bat is completely gone at this point, as the .559 OPS he posted last year was the second worst of his career. But the Braves didn't bring the veteran back for his bat, they brought him back for his glove. Wilson is still a good defender at short, even if the -1 DRS that he posted in 2011 was a career worst.

So, the Braves appear to be doing this year what they did last year in favoring defense over offense at short. I'd say that's a good move, even with Derek Lowe and his groundball tendencies off the team. With Wilson's presence on the team, the Braves now have the ability to double switch Pastornicky out of the game and not lose anything defensively, something that was lacking from the team before Wilson was acquired.

This is a minor move, but I don't mind it at all. I guess this tells you all you need to know about what the team thinks about Brandon Hicks, though. Jon Heyman is reporting that Wilson's salary for the year will only be $1 million, so there isn't a tremendous financial burden here either.

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