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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 26

AFL Update - 11/7/10

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The AFL is in full gear, and actually, the season is almost over, with the final game being scheduled for the 18th. I haven't taken a look at how the Braves prospects out there are doing either here or on my former site, so I guess I should take a look at how things are going, right?

The Braves initially sent 7 players out, and those 7 were Freddie Freeman, Tyler Pastornicky, Cory Harrilchak, Cory Gearrin, Erik Cordier, Kyle Cofield, and Michael Broadway. Since the season began, Freeman hurt his thumb and went home, while Cordier, Cofield, and Broadway are also no longer on the team's roster. Whether its due to injury or just plain ineffectiveness, I have no idea. But regardless, Benino Pruneda was sent out to replace the departed Braves on the roster. We're down to 4 guys to be looked at: Pastornicky, Harrilchak, Gearrin, and Pruneda. Let's take a look at the guys who aren't with the team anymore first.

Freddie Freeman, who will be the Braves starting first baseman in 2011 barring injury or him getting traded to fill a bigger hole with the team, only played in 5 games with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, and went 2/16 with a double and a triple, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts in those 16 at bats. Obviously, the sample is way too small to draw conclusions about his performance, but he reached base 4 times in his final 10 plate appearances in the league. That counts for something, right? His thumb should be fully healed by the time camp opens up in February.

Erik Cordier is thought of rather highly in some circles. I am not part of one of those circles, because I think a guy who walks a batter every other inning and strikes out less than a batter per inning is a pretty sad excuse for a prospect, but it is what it is. He'll be 25 when camp opens up, and will probably spend the season in Gwinnett. Just thinking of him being one call away from Atlanta is enough to give me chills. His performance in the AFL was pretty bad. He only threw 5 innings over 2 appearances, and was bad: 7 hits, 5 earned (all in the first appearance), 6 walks, and 6 strikeouts. Well, he struck out a batter per inning...and walked a batter per inning too. Well done, Erik.

Kyle Cofield is a guy I tend to mentall group with Cordier a lot, and I'm really not sure why. He was actually added to the Braves 40-man roster this week along with Juan Abreu, as both players are 6 year minor league veterans and could possibly explore free agency if they weren't put on the roster. Cofield really isn't too exciting of a guy: walks a decent bit of guys, doesn't strike out a ton. He'll be a reliever in the long run. He made one appearance in the AFL, and allowed a solo homer in his inning of work. At least he got a trip to Arizona out of the deal.

Michael Broadway is a guy that makes me wonder how they choose the players to send out to Arizona. He's worked his way up the organizational ladder pretty quickly, splitting last season between Mississippi and Gwinnett at the age of 23. Problem is, there isn't much to see here: his lowest career ERA is 3.90, and he didn't strike out a batter per inning until this season. He has two of the same characteristics as the other two pitchers I've talked about so far: he keeps the ball in the park, and will walk his share of hitters. He managed to allow a run in each of his 4 AFL appearances despite allowing only one homer and one walk, to go along with 5 strikeouts. Mr Broadway, welcome to BABIP hell.

And now, the guys that are still out there. Since we're talking about pitching, we'll start with Benino Pruneda. This guy is an absolutely nasty pitcher, striking out 93 in 64 2/3 innings for Myrtle Beach and Mississippi this year. He also walked 37, so there are some flaws there too. His brief AFL tenure has been pretty bad so far. Pruneda has thrown 4 innings, allowed 8 hits and 5 earned, and also walked 4 while striking out 6. Since he came to the league late, I'm not sure if he was just in bad shape or what, but it's really not like him to get hammered like this. As for his 2011 prospects, he'll either be in Mississippi or Gwinnett. He held his own in Mississippi, so a promotion to Gwinnett could be in the cards.

Staying with the pitching theme, Cory Gearrin is the most advanced of the Braves group out in Phoenix, spending all of 2010 in Gwinnett. He's thrown 12 1/3 innings, most of any non-starting pitcher on the Phoenix squad. Results have been good, as he didn't allow a run until his last appearance, where he allowed 4 to cross the plate. Gearrin has allowed 2 walks (both in the same game) and struck out 9, while allowing 11 hits (9 in his last 2 appearances). Gearrin is a ground ball machine, and could actually make a play for a spot in the Braves bullpen depending who the team decides to tender contracts. He could be an effective replacement for Peter Moylan if the Braves decide to part ways with the Aussie.

Finally, its time to take a look at the two hitters the Braves sent to Arizona. First, we'll look at 20 year old shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who was tabbed to play in last night's All-Star game. After coming over midseason from the Blue Jays in the Alex Gonzalez trade, Pastornicky was assigned to Mississippi, where he was playing at a level most guys his age aren't. He kept his head above water, with a .699 OPS down in Pearl. His performance this fall has been much less impressive. The usually surehanded Pastornicky has 6 errors in only 13 games, and is posting a dire .632 OPS. He's not going to hit for a lot of power, but his .063 ISO is worse than the .102 mark he posted with Mississippi. He also hasn't walked in those 13 games, a little strange for someone who walked 55 times in 115 games in 2010.

And the final Brave in the AFL has been the one producing the best so far: outfielder Cory Harrilchak. He's leading the Desert Dogs in OPS with a .992 mark, and has slugged 3 homers...which is as many as he hit in 453 at bats for Rome and Myrtle Beach this season. Cory has walked 7 times in 16 games, but has also struck out 12 times. His trademark speed hasn't been on display as much as maybe we'd all like to see, as he's only 2/4 on the basepaths. Harrilchak turned 23 a week and a half ago, and after an impressive first full professional season, is looking to put his stamp on the world a little more. This performance in the AFL is going to probably attract more eyes to his play. He'll hopefully be ready for it, and I assume he'll begin the year in Mississippi, ready to make a move. Did I mention he has a fantastic blog?

That does it for today's look at the AFL. I'll be back in a week and a half when the league ends with a full wrap. I'm also going to start taking looks at the various Caribbean winter leaagues. They're a pain to recap, because something like 60 players are listed on each team's roster, including players who actually aren't on the team. But we'll get to that next week!

Possible Left Field Targets

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Free agency begins in...oh, 13 and a half hours. The Braves haven't really been major players under Frank Wren, with the biggest name players brought in being Billy Wagner last season and Derek Lowe before the 2009 season. Most of the moves the Braves make are under the radar, like last season's signings of Eric Hinske and Takashi Saito, or the trade for Omar Infante and Will Ohman prior to 2009. This season, expect more of the same. Looking at the current roster, the only major hole on the team is in left field. The starting infield and rotation are set, 3 bench spots and 2 outfield spots are already spoken for, and most of the bullpen will return from 2010. This team is in a fantastic position to compete, assuming of course, that gaping, massive hole in left field is filled by a capable hitter and not someone like Melky Cabrera.

The Braves will have some money to play with, as the salaries of Wagner and Saito are off the books, along with the $3 million wasted on Cabrera last year. Will the team have enough to bring in someone like a Carl Crawford or a Jayson Werth? I doubt it. But there are other options, who while not being sexy names, would be huge upgrades on what the team trotted out on a daily basis in 2010. Signing a full-time starter would likely mean the end of Matt Diaz's Atlanta tenure (as if the claiming of Joe Mather wasn't enough of a death blow for Diaz), because there wouldn't be much need for a platoon if the team had someone who could play every day. Now, what are some of these upgrades I was talking about? Glad you asked...

Johnny Damon
Last season with Detroit, Damon put up numbers below his career average, but still around league average overall. He hit .271/.355/.401 with a career low 11 stolen bases (on 12 attempts, so he's still got the fantastic accuracy he's had his entire career). There is still value here, as he posted a career high 11.3% walk rate while playing in the tougher league. A switch to the NL would more than likely boost his numbers a little bit too.

Pat Burrell
Braves fans are more than familiar with Burrell, who's got 2 rings in the past 3 years and was a key cog of the first Phillies teams who started to gain control of the NL East. Burrell was horrible, terrible, no good, very bad with the Rays for a year and a half, but after moving to the Giants midway through last season, he became a force and a feared hitter again, hitting .266/.364/.509 with 18 homers in only 96 games as a Giant. His acquistion was probably the key reason why the Giants became world champions. After recapturing his stroke in San Francisco, he may have priced himself out of the Braves range though. I'd still like to see him with the Braves, because he's a truly great hitter when he's on. He may be a total butcher in left field, but we've been there and done that before.

Brad Hawpe
Ah jeez...for fans who like to harp on defense, you can go ahead and skip this one. Hawpe is an awful, terrible defender (though most of his damage was in right field for the Rockies in his career), and is destined to be a DH. However...he can hit. Some of that is the Coors Field effect, but he's can slug on the road too: .273/.369/.470 on the road. He's a proven hitter, and would probably be dirt cheap. Like the first two guys on this list, he strikes out a ton, at a 26.8% clip over his career. But man, he can HIT. Can't field worth a lick...but he can hit.

Magglio Ordonez
He's coming out of a huge contract, so he may have a higher mental evaluation of his own worth. The former Tiger and White Sox star will be 37 on opening day, but hasn't slowed with the bat, hitting .303/.378/.474 last season. He's posted an OPS under .800 only twice in his career: once in his first full season, and once in his first full season in Detroit, an injury riddled 2005 where he played in only 82 games. He walks at about an average rate (8.5% in his career, though last season, the mark was 11%), but doesn't strike out much at all: only 12.2% for his career, and 11.8% last season. I personally think Ordonez would be a really great sign if he'd take something like $5 or $6 million. He finished the season on the DL, and durability has been a concern, so buyer beware.

Manny Ramirez
Bear with me here. Sure he's a complete nutcase. Sure he's been battling injuries the last 2 seasons. Sure he's a PED offender and has been labeled a clubhouse cancer. But the fact of the matter is that when Manny Ramirez is healthy and has a chip on his shoulder, he is a phenomenal hitter. No one can or will argue this. He singlehandedly willed the 2008 Dodgers to the playoffs. He was the driving force behind the Red Sox teams this decade that battled the Yankees for supremacy in the AL East. Even early in his career with the Indians, he was a young beast of a hitter despite hitting lower in the lineup behind proven stars. His best days are probably behind him, but he would definitely be a welcome addition to the Braves lineup. We also wouldn't have to worry about any personal conflicts between him and Bobby Cox, with the long-time manager's retirement last month. It would be an interesting experiment, one I'd really like to see if the price is right.

What do you think the Braves should do? Be rational.

Braves Claim Joe Mather

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Today, the Braves annouced that they had claimed Joe Mather off waivers from the St Louis Cardinals. This does nothing to fill the Braves' gaping hole in left field, but what it does do is give the team a player that can compete for a spot on the bench. Think Joe Thurston last spring...ironically, Thurston was also a former Cardinal. Mather is a utility guy with the ability to play all 3 outfield positions (though he plays center pretty poorly), and both corner infield positions. So essentially...he's Eric Hinske with a lot less bat. Now, if the Braves picked up Mather with the intention of replacing Hinske, its a stupid move. But if the Braves picked Mather up just because he seemed like he could be a useful body, its another issue altogether...one that I don't have much of a problem with. I don't really mind the move all that much if its like the Thurston move, putting Mather into a competition. But if he's being immediately written in for a bench slot? I've got issues.

Mather spent most of last season with AAA Memphis, and in 335 at bats, put up a line of .275/.348/.442. He had a pronouced platoon split last season as well, hitting .311/.398/.485 against lefties and .259/.326/.422 against righties. So now he's possibly looking like a replacement for Matt Diaz with the lefty splits. He'd definitely be cheaper than Diaz, who is arbitration eligible this season and will be getting a raise on his $2.55 million salary from last season. Is a platoon player like Diaz worth over $3M? Probably not. Another team might have interest in Diaz if he is re-signed though, and if Mather beats him out for a job. So my major question about this deal remains: is it a competition thing, or is Mather being given someone's slot on the team? I absolutely don't want Hinske to go anyway, and I'm on the fence about Diaz at this point in time. We'll see how the rest of the hot stove shakes out before making any rash decisions about the issue.

Braves Pick Up Options on Infante, Gonzalez

Written by Joe Lucia on .

It was just annouced today that the Braves picked up their 2011 options on super utilityman Omar Infante, and on starting shortshop Alex Gonzalez. Both options were expected to be picked up, and no one should be surprised at them. Gonzalez's option was for only $2.5 million, and despite the massive amounts of hatred he gets on Twitter, he was worth the pickup...but then again, Yunel Escobar will make just as much, and he's a better player, so the point is really moot. Gonzalez made some absolutely fantastic plays in the field, but he also had a lot of crappy boneheaded plays that ended up costing the team runs. With the bat, he was about Escobar's equal...not the huge upgrade that Frank Wren envisioned when he acquired Gonzalez from Toronto back in July. In the end, it is what it is: the Braves will have an adequate shortstop starting in 2011 without dedicating a whole lot of money towards its, and that's that.

As for Infante, he'll also make $2.5 million in 2011, and this one seems much easier to comprehend. Omar played everywhere in 2010...5 positions, to be exact (both outfield corners, both positions up the middle, and third base), and put up a career high .775 OPS in 506 plate appearances. Sure, he couldn't take a walk and hit for no power at all...but dammit, he was a solid contributor to the team. Next season, if his at bats are limited to 300 or so and he's not forced into a starting role, he'll be even more valuable to the team. Infante started to struggle terribly once the calendar turned to September, and it really started to show over the last 2 weeks of the year. He's a fantastic bench player...you just don't want him starting every day,

In another little move, the Braves re-signed Scott Proctor to a one year deal for $750,000. This, in my mind, is a terribly stupid move. Proctor, who was recovering from shoulder surgery all season, was bad at every level he pitched at in the minors, and just as bad in the majors. But yet, he's worth 3/4 of a million dollars? When you've got someone like Stephen Marek in Gwinnett waiting for his shot? Stupid move. The contract is guaranteed too, so if Proctor comes into the spring and stinks things up, you've got an expensive mop up man on your hands. There are better options internally, especially with the losses of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to retirement and release, respectively.

One more, even more minor move before we leave...the Braves reinstated Jairo Asencio to the 40-man roster. Just who the hell is Jairo Asencio, you ask? Why, its the pitcher formerly known as Luis Valdez, who missed all of the 2010 season with visa issues. I expected Asencio/Valdez to compete for a roster spot going into the year...fat lot of good that expectation did me. Now, I expect him to do the same in 2011. Here's hoping he's been throwing all year, and that is arm is still in good shape.

And a pair more of notes, bear with me...the options on Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel were declined, as expected. Man, I wish the team had Tim Collins right about now...he'd slot perfectly into that bullpen.

An Introduction

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Welcome. My name is Joe Lucia, and I'm the new lead editor here at Chop N Change...you may know me from my work over at the now defunct BravesHeart.com. The Fanball Sports Network shut it doors on Sunday, and I'd like to thank Ben, the CEO here at Bloguin in wasting no time whatsoever in getting me over here. Its a great feeling to know your work is appreciated.

Now, for those of who you haven't read my work...what are you in for? I put a heavy emphasis on statistics (which should be nothing new for regular readers of the site), and the minor leagues...those are my 2 major fortes. Also, my writing style: I like ellipses. If you have a problem with that, sorry. Its just how I roll.

I'm looking forward to playing around with all the great tools Bloguin has to offer, and bringing this site back up to what it once was. I know I have really huge shoes to fill, but I'm going to do my damndest to fill them. Thank you all for continuing to read Chop N Change.

Braves Free Agents - Retain or Release?

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

With the Giants taking home the World Series* yesterday, it's officially time for the Hot Stove League to get underway. Which I, for one, find quite exciting, even if the Braves aren't going to be big players this season. And since we're in the five-day window that teams have as an exclusive negotiating period with their free agents, I thought it might be instructive to take a look at the players whose contracts with the Braves are up, and asserting my overarching authority on personnel decisions by deciding which should be retained or released. Or, y'know, offered arbitration. But there's no word for that that starts with an 'r' so it gets its own sentence. Cool? Cool.

*I need a ruling on this: should I have rooted for the Giants to win so that the Braves can say they lost to the champs? Or should I have been bitter and rooted against them all the way? Cause besides the Phillies series, I had precious little goodwill toward that team.

Troy Glaus

Glaus earned $2.75MM this season and was a 0.5 WAR player. He's a zero in the field, with the exception of the sparkling double play he turned in the NLDS, and hit just .240/.344/.400 that is, somehow, inflated; recall his outstanding performance in May as an explanation of what I mean. While his wOBA and wRC+ suggest a league-average hitter, I see a guy whose only viable skill at the plate is patience - and that's true of multiple hitters in the lnieup. Personally, I wouldn't bring him back, but considering that the other options at first base aren't all that enticing, Glaus may look good if he'd take a pay cut.

Eric Hinske

Hinske earned $1.5MM this season and was worth 1.0 WAR. He hit better than Glaus (.256/.338/.456, .341 wOBA, 115 wRC+) and isn't a complete butcher in left field. Plus, he's a year younger than Glaus. I compare the two because they're both very similar players at this point in their career; neither are guys you want to rely on for defense, and you're not really gonna be excited about having either guy on your team. That said, I'd take Hinske over Glaus for sure; he outplayed his contract, and could probably be worth a $2-2.5MM deal. Which is good, because he could use the money to pay for more sweet tattoos.

Yeah, I never really miss a chance to post that.

Derrek Lee

Lee was one of those change-of-scenery guys, where the team hoped that some time in the Atlanta sun would do him the kind of good that Chicago's Friendly Confines apparently wasn't providing. Let's look at his wRC+ by month, shall we?

87, 98, 87, 100, 137, 154

Well, I guess that worked! Now, I'm guessing that that performance was less 'change of scenery' and more 'regression to the mean from a talented hitter,' and that Lee would probably be an above-average hitter next season. Unfortunately, he's a Type A free agent coming off a $65MM contract. Which means he won't be cheap. You know who is cheap? Freddie Freeman. Also, beads. I say he's gone.

Omar Infante ($2.5MM option, $250K buyout)

Kind of a no-brainer. Infante wasn't as good as his outstanding first half suggests, and I imagine that our perception of his overall performance is more than slightly impacted by his 'chase' for the batting title. But he was worth 2.7 WAR, and he's an up-the-middle player. I expect him to be worth about half that next season, and $2.5MM is a reasonable rate to pay for that kind of performance. He'll be back.

Alex Gonzalez ($2.5MM option)

Gonzalez is also a no-brainer at the price. He was pretty bad with the bat; that first-half power surge was, as we probably all know, a mirage, and he ended with a meager .250/.294/.447 line that clocks in as just below league average. He does provide a fair amount of defensive value, however, as his 5 fielding runs above average and 3.4 WAR suggest. If he were up for arbitration, I'd non-tender him with the quickness (23 HR and 88 RBI from a plus shortstop? An agent's dream in arbitration), but he's cost-controlled and one of the best free agent shortstops available. He'll be back.

Rick Ankiel ($6MM mutual option, $500K buyout)

Ankiel hit .232/.321/.389 while striking out in a full third of his PAs. He's useless against lefties, hasn't flashed any of his power in two seasons, and is barely an asset in the outfield. There's no chance he's worth $6MM, so I really hope the Braves toss that half a mil his way and get him out of town.

Kyle Farnsworth ($5.25MM option, $500K buyout)

I can't believe I'm about to write this, but...Farnsworth was actually pretty good last year. His strikeout rate declined by about a half-K per 9, but he also got his walks under 3.00 per 9 for the first time since ever. His 3.34 ERA is supported by a 3.06 FIP and 3.63 xFIP, too, so this wasn't really a fluke season. However, even with the improved numbers, he still only came out to 1 WAR, and I have a hard time believing that he can keep his home run rate (at 0.56 per 9, it was less than half his career average) so depressed. Ultimately, $5.25MM is just too much for a reliever unless it's an elite guy - and Farnsworth certainly isn't that. However, I do think that the Braves will bring him back, because...well, I think most MLB teams still overrate veterans in the bullpen. I'd rather bank on finding a youngster who can provide similar performance for less than it would cost the Braves to buy out the Professor.


In the next couple days, I'll take a look at what kind of outside free agents the team might do well to bring in.

Jason Heyward vs Expectations

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

We've got a little break in baseballing action before the World Series, which, as you know, features precisely zero members of the 2010 Atlanta Braves. Sad, I know. So let's take a look back on one of the biggest positives of the season: the rookie campaign of the newly-anointed franchise savior Jason Heyward.

Heyward Walkoff celebrate

Heyward, who turned 21 on August 9, made his highly touted debut on Opening Day, defying the expectations of those who thought he'd likely begin the season in the minors for a few weeks so that the Braves could save a few million on his eventual arbitration cases. And it was a fairly ho-hum debut, if you're the kind of person that's so jaded with the world that a 20-year old hitting a home run in his first ever MLB at-bat is something you'd call 'ho-hum.' In which case you're beyond my help.

The Jay-Hey Kid would go on to build upon that strong debut, posting a strong .240/.360/.520 line throughout the month of April, then going on a Pujolsian tear through May, hitting .337/.453/.628. Those slashes come despite his playing through a groin injury that would, unfortunately, serve as a precursor of what was to come; in June, the youngster hit a meager .181/.287/.245 while suffering through a thumb injury that made it difficult to even grip a bat, let alone hit effectively. It was the same injury that would force him to miss the All-Star Game start that he had earned through his performance and the fans' vote.

Fortunately, he rebounded strongly, showcasing the same abilities that we saw in the first two months of the season. His July line looks precisely like this: .356/.457/.458, nearly making him the only member of the OBP>SLG club to post an SLG over a good-for-a-pitcher .379. The fact that he then went on to slug .536 in August suggests that the 'low' .458 mark was a result of the lingering effects of the thumb injury; hand injuries tend to significantly sap power. And then came the horribly disappointing September stretch run, when the lout only managed to hit .275/.415/.385. Psh. WHERE'S THE CLUTCHINESS?

Well, as it turns out, Fangraphs had Heyward at 4.94 WPA*, which was 5th-best in all of MLB. That means he hit well all season, and was particularly good in high-leverage situations, as good performance in those PAs boost WPA more than, say, a first-inning tater tot. And as long as we're talking about how he hit, let's delve a little deeper. That .277/.393/.456, 5 WAR season is excellent for just about anyone, and flat-out astounding when it comes from the bat of such a young hitter. In fact, it's a season for the ages; that .393OBP is the seventh-highest ever by a player in his age-20 season, trailing only, in order, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez, and Mel Ott again. You may have heard of those gentlemen. If not, allow me to edify you: they were, to a man, some of the best players to ever lace up cleats and take the field, and are all either in the Hall of Fame, or will be there eventually.

*WPA, while not necessarily a measure of 'clutchiness,' is short for Win Probability Added. It is basically the addition and subtraction of the various +/- WPA a player accrues over a season as graded by the Win Expectation system. For example, Brooks Conrad's walkoff grand salami on May 20 against the Reds was, by itself, a +.815 WPA play -- i.e. that one hit was worth nearly an entire win because of the likelihood of winning it added to the team's chances. By contrast, if you'll allow me to reopen a healing wound, Conrad's fielding misadventures against the Giants in Game 3 (3 errors, as if you've forgotten) came together to be 'worth' more (less?) than -.700 WPA. Essentially, the system tries to quantify how much - or how little - a player contributes to his team's chances of winning the game with each aspect of his involvement.

Clearly, Heyward's pitch recognition and plate discipline are nothing short of jaw-dropping for such a young talent. But that story goes beyond just the high OBP; he swung at less than a quarter of pitches thrown to him out of the zone, while the rest of the league swung at nearly 30% of those pitches. He also drew a walk in over 15% of his PAs - a high number for anyone, let alone a rookie. And, yeah, I know, you get it...he was young, just a rookie, blah blah blah. But I really don't think that one can overstate that point; if his stats alone don't push him ahead of Buster Posey in the RoY voting, the fact that Heyward outperformed Posey at such a tender age should be*. And it's not like he was some lumbering butcher in the field, either; rather, he was his pitchers' friend in right field, earning nearly 5 fielding runs above average.

*Let's play everyone's favorite game: What Could Have Been! If Heyward hadn't had that abysmal June, he would've hit .301/.417/.505. As a 20-year old. Who plays a very good right field. For a team that, against the odds, made the playoffs. If the National League hadn't been so stacked with candidates this year, that's the kind of performance that gets a dude some MVP talk.

So, really, what can't this kid do? Well, I don't want to play wet blanket, but there is room for improvement. His .335 BABIP may or may not be sustainable; it's well above the league average, but Heyward also has good speed and hits a lot of line drives (18%), so it's entirely possible he'll be one of those guys who just posts a better BABIP than most other fellas. He was also accused of sometimes taking too many pitches for his own good. Extraordinarily patient hitters will often get that kind of knock against their game, but there is some merit to it in Heyward's case; he did swing at only 40% of the pitches he saw (league average: 46%) and 59% of pitches in the strike zone (league average: 64%). And there is room for improvement in what happens when he does swing the bat, as Heyward hit over 2 ground balls for every fly ball, which isn't bad in and of itself, but hitting more fly balls -> more home runs -> more happiness.

If you're a Braves fan, the fact that I spent a paragraph getting about as nitpicky as I could in order to find flaws in the season that our rookie right fielder recently completed should actually be quite heartening. Because beyond those minor flaws - which I fully expect him to improve upon as he, to borrow Torii Hunter's words, gets his man muscles - there really hasn't been a blemish on Heyward's season beyond that thumb injury. And, really, who expected that kind of performance from the Kid? A quick look at three major projection systems tells us 'not many people.' Bill James had him at .303/.371/.465; CHONE saw a .258/.324/.416 line (fools!), and ZiPS liked him for a .275/.341/.429 clip. Basically, Bill James, with his famously optimistic projections, was the only major prognostication system that foresaw the kind of things Heyward would be capable of right off the bat - and he's not even a Braves fan. Basically, Jason Heyward was everything anecdotal hyperbole made him out to be, giving fans hope for the future as the present era came to an end.

We're In Atlanta, Not Hollywood

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

As someone who spends a good deal of his time writing about baseball and another good deal of it wondering about Why I bother to do so, given that it's, essentially, a game, it seems that I could jump on this NLDS between the Braves and Giants as an opportunity to squeeze some meaning out of all the watching and writing that I do. And yet, as readers of this blog have likely noticed, I've resorted, out of, alternately, frustration and elation, to throwing up my hands and posting a picture that summed up the previous night's proceedings - a regrettable, nonsensical screed against Brooks Conrad excepted. And tonight, after witnessing the end of the Braves' season - and, more importantly, Bobby Cox's managerial career - it was indeed tempting to just post a picture of Bobby Cox's curtain call, or of the Giants tipping their caps to a legend, and call it a night. Sitting here, struggling for words or any kind of cohesive narrative, the temptation becomes all the stronger.

But it just feels like a cop-out to do that on tonight, of all nights. Tonight, when 2 runs again felt like it might be enough to pull out the upset. Tonight, when a ton of Braves fans had already given up on the series - witness the vacant bleachers for proof. Tonight, when Bobby Cox donned his 6 jersey for what could be the last time - and, indeed, was. Tonight, when so much had gone wrong in the previous games, but some faint hope remained that there was some magic left in the team.

Ultimately, though, as Kevin Goldstein tweeted, we're in Atlanta, not Hollywood. It seems odd to reduce such a momentous game to the few characters afforded us by Twitter, but...this is, indeed, Atlanta, home of the almost-boring excellence preceding October nightmares. In Hollywood, the aging pitcher argues to stay in the game and whiffs the next batter for the third out of the inning on a shoulder-high fastball. In Hollywood, the scrappy bench guy comes up the next inning and overcomes the kind of rough night that will go down in the lore of one of the more storied franchises in baseball to launch a fastball, its path silhouetted by a balmy-blue night sky, into seats teeming with red foam tomahawks. In Hollywood, the players storm out onto the field, their exuberance matched only the lusty cheers of the tens of thousands of the faithful; the goat from the night before tosses his helmet into the exuberant atmosphere as he is mobbed at home plate, his redemption validated by the lusty cheers of the crowd that booed him from the bottom of their collective heart not 24 hours ago.

In Atlanta, though, that starter argues to stay in the game and walks the next hitter to load the bases, paving the way for the tying and go-ahead runs to score. In Atlanta, the hometown kid, indispensable in propelling the team this far, strikes out with runners on first and second and denies the crowd their joy. In Atlanta, a team forced to rely on aging veterans and raw rookies does not succeed. In Atlanta, reality sets in.

And this series loss is, in one harsh word, reality. If we're being honest with ourselves, much of the hope the Braves had for postseason success relied upon two things: the fact that anything can happen in a five-game series, and the hope that the guys could come together as one and, somehow, pull off the 11-for-6 slogan they wore over their hearts.

Unfortunately, reality has little tolerance for hope, or for the kind of magic that so often colors the sepia-toned retrospectives of the games that have ingrained themselves in the national consciousness for over a century. Reality dictates that this Braves team, boasting a good pitching staff and a weak lineup that needs to cobble together a few runs in order to win...will be hamstrung by a porous defense. Reality tells us that the Giants were, ultimately, better. The Braves were backed into a corner, their last resort that of hope for some Win It For Bobby miracle, and reality took that away.

The reality, now, is that the season is over. Bobby, clad in street clothes, kissed his wife after the postgame press conference and said, simply, "No more uniform, honey." Those words, manufactured by Hollywood, would be uttered as players doused him in celebratory champagne, the bliss of a championship campaign relieving the bubbly sting in his eyes. In Atlanta, though, no champagne flows to cover the tears brought on by the unhappy conclusion of a lifetime in baseball.

Thank you, Bobby

Nevertheless, allow me - and, probably, all of you - to repeat the chorus that has dominated these last few games: Thank you, Bobby, for 25 years at the helm of this team. And thank you to everyone who donned a Braves jersey this season for all the fond memories. I'll be looking forward to 2011, and I'm sure you will be, too.

On Brooks Conrad

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

As you probably know, the Braves lost game 3 in heartbreaking fashion. After being no-hit for much of the game, Eric Hinske managed a two-run home run in the bottom of the 8th to put the Braves in the lead; all they needed was three outs to lock down a surprising 2-1 series lead. Instead, they surrendered the tying run. Which, OK, the Braves have won in extras before, and the last time quite recently - hearken down to the post below this for a refresher of Game 2.

But then Brooks Conrad let a grounder off the bat of Buster Posey* go through his legs, and the go-ahead run scored.

*I feel like I've mentioned this before, but...I really had no ill will against Posey until this series. I don't want to say that it's ridiculous that people would vote for Posey for RoY over Heyward, because there is, as always, an argument to be made for Posey. However, I do think that Heyward is the clear choice, and the fact that San Francisco fans seriously believe that Posey is, to quote their chant, better than Heyward makes me really, really dislike Posey. Not only is Heyward better, but he's three years younger. And if you want to say that Posey is more valuable because he's a catcher, then check yoself because he spent nearly a third of his games played at first base, not catcher.

Is that egregiously bad? Yeah. You hate to have that happen to your team. But consider also that Conrad dropped a pop-up earlier in the game that allowed the first run to score. And then his botched double play ball. And then his popped up bunt. And then the fact that his three errors in a game are the most in postseason history.

My point is: at this point, I actively dislike Brooks Conrad. And I know that the general MO of my sabermetric community is to have some degree of compassion and respect for the players. They are, after all, trying their hardest, and have as much, if not more, invested in these games than we as fans do. But...frankly, I don't care. I have scarcely been so furious with a human being as Brooks Conrad upon letting that grounder through. Well...I did come very close to reaching that level when Conrad dropped an easy popup to let the first run of the game score. I don't care that I'm supposed to be compassionate; I don't care that he feels "absolutely terrible" right now. Is that selfish? Yes. Is that hateful? Probably more than I'd like. Is that my entitlement as a fan? I don't want to look at Conrad's WPA right now. I don't want to parse the stats. I want to embrace and proselytize my rancor for all things Conrad. His marginal contributions at the plate are insufficient; this is a man who does not deserve significant major league playing time.

That last sentence was me being diplomatic. Sorry that this whole post is, at best, incoherent. But, and say it with me now, Braves fans: I. HATE. BROOKS. CONRAD.

Moralizing update: As was expected, I feel less strongly about it now than I did yesterday. Removed the whole broken legs bit. Am going to just hope that he doesn't play for the Braves again.

Braves (Royals?) Win Game 2

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

Rick Ankeil hits a game-winning homer
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In the grand - i.e. it's happened three times here now - tradition of one picture summing up the game, here's Rick Ankiel launching a bomb into McCovey Cove. You'd be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who thought the Braves had so much as a puncher's chance after giving up the three-run homer in the first inning, let alone after Matt Cain drove in an insurance run, yet one of the unlikeliest possible heroes came through in extra innings to give the Braves the nearly-impossible win.
And how about Kyle Farnsworth! Who'd have thought he could be useful?
And Troy Glaus! What a double play!
Ahhh....I still get excited thinking about the game. Hopefully those Sunday reds will bring more good luck.

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