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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 28

Edward Salcedo Is Not An April Fool's Joke

Written by #test on .

Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Kevin Goldstein brings us the following nugget from a scout on recent Braves signee Edward Salcedo:

"I saw where you wrote that he'd be around No. 5 on your Braves list, and that's way too low. He's not a shortstop, but he has a hose and huge power. Get ready for that guy."

Maybe one of the scoutier types around here can tell me what's meant by a "hose." Maybe his arm (which is said to be very, very strong)? Whatever it means, it sounds dangerous. Reader NickS kindly confirms that this scout does indeed use "hose" to refer to Salcedo's cannon of a right arm. You heard the scout. Get ready.

In far more pointless minor-league news, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tells us the Braves refused their right to take back lefty Edgar Osuna, whom the Royals selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Osuna allowed 12 earned runs in 10 innings this spring, so it's not like the Braves miss him much; if they thought highly of him, they'd have protected him in the first place.

Making the Cut: Offense

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

Every team goes into spring training with some "camp battles," where players have to impress the brass in order to win a job on the Opening Day roster.  The Braves had exceptionally few of those battles this year, and while the fields of contenders have narrowed, it appears most of the fights will go right down to the wire. Here's what you need to know about the open spots and the guys hoping to fill them.

To give my analysis a bit of background, let me link to the world's most useless baseball evaluation webpage. Spring training stats, in my mind, are as close to meaningless as numbers get.  You're talking about 45 at-bats, for the current team leader.  That's worse than an insignificant sample, since guys are facing wildly varying levels of pitching competition: veterans working on new pitches, minor leaguers not even close to ready for The Show, etc.  I will discuss some of the subjective things I've read about these various players in camp, but I'm not going to bother with their stats at all.

With that out of the way, I present the open slots.  There was a spot open in the starting outfield when camp opened up in Orlando, but let's face it: at the rate he's going, they're going to forget the Disney part and rename the place HeywardWorld.  This is a post for another time, but people who've read me know I wanted Heyward in the minors on Opening Day, but the kid has surpassed my every expectation and several experts I trust seem to think he's truly ready.  Admittedly late, I'm on that bandwagon.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Heyward will play right field on Opening Day, leaving just one roster spot up for grabs on offense. With Matt Diaz covering fourth outfielder duty, Eric Hinske backing up the four corners, Omar Infante doing everything but selling hot dogs, and Melky Cabrera able to spot in center field if needed, there's a pretty obvious hole for another utility infielder, preferably one that can handle the middle infield. Diory Hernandez tried his hand at that last year, but offseason shoulder surgery will keep him on the sidelines.  Freddie Freeman and Brandon Hicks are still in camp, but neither of them has played above Double-A, and they're just around to show off at this stage.  That leaves us two contenders: Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston.  Conrad and Thurston actually have quite a bit in common, in that they are both Triple-A lifers who've done nothing in the majors to suggest they merit a major-league job.  Conrad has some pop in his bat, and while he's "versatile" in that he'll put a glove on and stand where you tell him to, he really doesn't have a defensive position in the infield.  Thurston, on the other hand, won't hit for power (if he hits at all), but he won't embarrass himself playing second or third.  I'm really not a fan of either of these guys, and really wouldn't mind seeing Frank Wren get grabby on the waiver wire, but forced to choose between the two I'll take Thurston since I don't think Conrad has the "utility" to be a "utilityman."

Capitol Avenue Club at Chop-n-Change: A Retrospective for Perspective: Chipper Jones

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I've been on the Braves blogosphere for quite a few years now, and there are few writers I respect more than Peter Hjort. We go back a long time on Mac Thomason's Braves Journal, and he and I both started blogging on our own around the same time. He runs Capitol Avenue Club, the best sabermetric Braves blog on the web. We're trying out a content-sharing agreement between our two blogs, to see if we can both benefit. Let us know what you think!

Chipper Jones is a Braves legend. Whenever he hangs up the spikes, his number is going to be retired, he'll immediately go into the Braves hall of fame, and he'll be headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame shortly there after. It's a blessing to have such a gifted player on your team, period--much less for sixteen years--and watching Chipper develop and rake over the past two decades has been a delight for Braves fans, team mates, executives, and owners alike.

However, stated plainly, Chipper is getting old. 2010 will be his age 38 season and players don't hit forever. After Chipper suffered what was probably the worst season of his career since 1995 (his rookie year) in 2009, it's appropriate to question how much Chipper has left in the tank. In order to come up with a good answer as to what to expect from Chipper going forward, it's important to understand where he's been.

Chipper's success has been primarily a product of his balanced offensive production. He's the rare type of player that hits for a high average, walks a lot, and hits for power. He's one of 14 players to play 2,000 career games and post a batting average of at least .300, an on base average of at least .400, and a slugging average of at least .500*. The kind of offensive balance and production Chipper has been able to sustain over the years is beyond remarkable, it's legendary. However, said balance in production leads to complications when attempting to isolate, quantify, and predict the various offensive attributes.

Rather than trying to separate the components of on base average or slugging average, I prefer to start from scratch and examine this as a problem of primary and secondary production. The metrics I've chosen to represent the two components are, naturally, batting average and secondary average. Quite simply, how much a player produces via hit and how much a player produces via anything other than a hit--on a rate basis in both cases. The linear combination of these two metrics yields a metric called APS (average plus secondary). Think of APS like OPS, only it doesn't double-count for hits (so the totals are going to be lower) and isn't a pile of mathematical gibberish. The formula for APS is (TB+BB+SB-CS)/AB.

Chipper Jones owns a career .307 batting average and a career .411 secondary average, good for a .718 APS. For perspective's sake, last year the average NL 3B posted a .261 batting average and a .271 secondary average (.532 APS). In 2009, however, Chipper's APS experienced a sharp decline. His .643 mark still rated about 110 points above league average for an NL 3B, but it rates 74 points below his career average and 145 points below his 2008 mark of .788 (the second highest of his career). But, looking at one year trends isn't particularly productive and I could explain this until I'm blue in the face, but, instead, I'd like to present the information visually:

Click to see some spectacular charts, and even more analysis...

I Wrote About Sciambi's Piece Over at Fangraphs

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I liked Jon Sciambi's Baseball Prospectus piece so much, I wrote about it twice: once here, and again today at Fangraphs. Here are my suggestions:

Sciambi’s a good broadcaster, and he clearly has his heart in the right place: his goal is to enhance the viewers’ experience of the game, by giving them useful information that they can understand, neither dumbing it down nor sailing it over their heads. That’s a tricky assignment, because it’s always hard to be all things to all people, and it’s hard to be part of any movement pushing a paradigm shift. It’s hard to please a casual watcher who doesn’t know the acronyms or methodology of advanced sabermetrics at the same time that you’re trying to say something that Dave Cameron doesn’t already know. (As Will Carroll notes, last year ESPN tried to make OPS a regular feature of their baseball broadcasts, but apparently their viewers thought it was “too complicated.”)

So what can be done? I think a lot of non-saberheads get hung up on the constellation of acronyms that we use, getting so hung up at all the capital letters that they miss the meaning behind them. (Like Jim Bowden, creator of “OBPATUZXYZ,” or Jon Heyman, inventor of “VORPies.”) So, pace Will Carroll, we need to be willing to let broadcasters be stupid — but with a purpose. The stats around here are pretty easy to read, because they’re all scaled to look like things we’re more familiar with, but we’re not going to see a broadcaster talk about FIP any time soon. However, everyone understands runs and wins, and, as Will Carroll says, anyone can understand a statement like “Albert Pujols was two wins better than Zack Greinke last season.” It has to be justified, but we’ve all heard broadcasters make unsupportable assertions about how many more wins a player adds to his team, or how many runs he saves with his glove. These are just numbers that add support to things they already say. And it can easily be understood. Both by the Jon Sciambis of the world, and the Russ Smiths.

Sciambi surprised my in his compliments of Joe Simpson, whom he described as an old-school guy who was completely open to slightly more granular splits and analytic techniques. I hadn't thought of Joe Simpson as particularly open to new-school methods. With Sciambi gone, though, I'm not sure who on the Braves' team will introduce smarter stats to the booth. I like Don Sutton a lot, but he's never struck me as a guy on the cutting edge, and you all know how I feel about Chip Caray. Can Jim Powell be the guy?

I doubt it, but I'll be listening.

We Miss Ya, Boog!

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Just when I was starting to feel like I knew the guy, Jon "Boog" Sciambi moved from working the play-by-play for the Braves to a cushy job at ESPN. He deserved it -- he's a good broadcaster, a little bland, but well-meaning and adds to the action rather than detracts from it, unlike Chip Caray. Unfortunately, what's good for him is bad for us, because it means that we lost one of our best guys. He just wrote a very good, very thoughtful guest piece over at Baseball Prospectus about trying to introduce more advanced stats into baseball broadcasts.

The goal is not unveiling newfangled stats; it's about getting people to understand basic ideas and concepts. To achieve that, we can't just slap stats up on the screen and explain them. Understanding has to come in the form of analysis. We have to use the stat and explain it. Sometimes it needs to be the PBP guy playing analyst and getting the color guy to react:

If Ryan Howard is up, I can talk about RBI and why dependent stats don't evaluate individual performance well; RBI aren’t what reflects Howard’s greatness, his SLG does. I can mention that Howard's massive RBI totals may be due to the fact that no player has hit with more total men on base than Howard since 1492 (I believe this is a fact but didn't feel like looking it up). Point is, there are dead people who could knock in 80 runs hitting fourth in that Phillies lineup. (OK, I probably wouldn't say that on-air.)

The metrics are getting so advanced that we're in danger of getting further away from the masses instead of closer. We, as broadcasters, have to find better and entertaining ways of explaining the math in bite-sized terms. Simplified, we need to explain that one of the problems with batting average, as opposed to slugging percentage, is that batting average values a single and a home run equally. We can't assume that's understood just because we understand it. And the only way it gets embedded is to keep beating the audience with it so that it becomes ingrained the way ERA eventually did, even though that once passed for advanced math.

Plenty more good stuff over there -- go read it. Let's all pray that Chip Caray does too.

Hank Aaron Interview: Nice Reading If You Have a Case of the Mondays

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Hank Aaron visited the Braves' spring training camp today, and Dave O'Brien and Charles Odum of the AP took down a number of his quotes. He had a lot to say about the low number of African-Americans in baseball. (By my count, and I apologize for the implicit tokenization, Joe Thurston is the only other African-American player in camp. Obviously, there are also Latino and Caribbean players of color, not to mention our Asian pitchers, on the roster and in camp.) Aaron said he was glad to see Heyward in camp, but that "it dampens my spirit when I come up to spring training and I look at the kids – I’m not talking about tomorrow, I’m talking about right now – and don’t see any black kids."

I envy Heyward the chance to meet Hank Aaron -- the greatest right fielder in baseball history -- but what Hank's saying isn't new. And, as Hank points out, it's about economics. In this country, football and basketball are the major scholarship sports, so unless you come from a well-heeled background (as indeed Jason Heyward does, the son of Dartmouth grads), those two sports are your best ticket to college and ultimately the pros. In Latin America, the economic incentive is entirely in baseball's favor: in towns like San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., the biggest money on the landscape comes from the scouts with American checkbooks handing out millions of dollars in signing bonuses. There are no other jobs, no other industries, and certainly no other sports that can compete with that.

Otherwise, he had many nice things to say, praising Tommy Hanson ("a bubbling superstar in their pitching") and Jair Jurrjens, Jason Heyward ("I think he’s going to do well") and Bobby Cox ("Bobby’s just been wonderful, not only to this organization and the city of Atlanta, he’s been good for baseball").

Ultimately, there wasn't a ton of red meat in the interview -- no scoops, bombshells, or other surprises -- but it’s just nice to hear the man talk. He still passionately loves baseball and the Braves, and carries himself with dignity, grace, and humility. He was my first hero. He still is.

Sunday Sayings: Smoltz, Salcedo, Proctor

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

Bringing you some interesting discussion pieces this Sunday afternoon, courtesy of our old friends at the AJC and MLB.com:

First, and most important, the Braves are reportedly close to making a landmark signing.  Looking back at the previous post, no, it's not Johnny Damon.  It's not even a player who will play in the majors in 2010, or even 2011 (probably).  Mark Bowman of MLB.com says the Braves are "nearing a deal" with 18-year-old Dominican shortstop phenom Edward Salcedo.  Salcedo has been on the radar for a couple of years now: back when he was a Scott Boras client, he inked a deal with the Indians north of $2 million.  That deal was voided over concerns about his age, but this time around, MLB has conducted an official investigation to verify Salcedo's age.  The Braves reportedly initiated the investigation.  He's expected to command a similar bonus this time around, so it would represent more than double the biggest bonus the Braves have ever handed to a Latin American signee.

He's strong, athletic, and supposedly plays a very smooth shortstop with a good arm.  He's got great bat speed and plenty of power projection, but his swing has lots of moving parts so timing may be an issue against advanced breaking balls.  He's an excellent fit for a Braves organization that's very thin on prospects left of second base.  Salcedo's 6'3" frame could fill out and force him to move to third base as Chipper Jones' replacement, or he could keep his defensive chops and perhaps even move Escobar over to the hot corner.  Salcedo would combine with Arodys Vizcaino to represent a huge shot in the arm to our minor-league system this winter.

A couple other quick housekeeping notes from the AJC:

David O'Brien brings word that reliever Scott Proctor is well ahead of schedule in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, to the extent that he might even be ready to make the Opening Day roster.  The seventh spot in the bullpen is pretty wide open, and Proctor certainly has the stuff to be a quality reliever if he can get healthy.  However, there's a caveat: if he spends more than about three weeks in the minors, the Braves will control his rights for 2011 via his final year of arbitration.  O'Brien makes the obvious comp between Proctor and Peter Moylan last spring, but remember how rusty Pete was in the earlygoing last year?  I'm in favor of letting Proctor rehab the extra month while giving a youngster like Luis Valdez an audition in the 'pen.  Then, we can keep Proctor an extra year if we want.

I know this is old news (ten days old, to be precise), but Jeff Schultz caught up with John Smoltz, and Smoltz says he's "open to anything" as far as where he plays in 2010.  Naturally there's going to be speculation about a return to the Braves, even though the Atlanta pitching staff appears to be pretty crowded.  It sounds like Smoltz is over the animosity that surrounded his departure last winter, and it also sounds like he's been keeping in pretty close touch with his Braves friends like Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox.  Smoltz was victimized last year by a .354 BABIP, and still struck out nearly a batter per inning with a K/BB ratio north of four.  Used carefully, he could still be a major-league asset.  His return would sell tickets, and he's the kind of guy who could make it worthwhile to shuffle the staff a bit.  But is it worth taking the chance of having to let him go again if he comes back in less than top-notch form?

Oh, and as a final thought, I'll go on the record as saying that as much as I wanted Johnny Damon, he wasn't worth $8 million to the Braves.

Comments on anything?


Damon to the Tigers: I Hate Being Right

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A week ago, I wrote: "The Tigers offered Johnny Damon $14 million for two years. I'm guessing that he's out of our hands." Though the two-year deal, which Tigers owner Mike Illitch personally explained to the media, was little more than a negotiating tactic, it appears that I was right. Multiple sources are reporting that Damon and the Tigers have agreed on a one year, $8 million deal. He's not worth that to us, I'm afraid. (After all, Javy Vazquez wasn't worth $11 million to us.) This means that our opening-day outfield will be relatively weak, however, and adds to the pressure to bring up Heyward early.

This isn't a criticism of Wren, as such: we literally couldn't afford Damon at that price. But it's a shame, all the same.

"The most beautiful MRI he ever saw in his life"

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I hate to be a Debbie Downer, you guys, but we're not out of the water yet. On the plus side, Mets fans on Fangraphs hate me because yesterday I wrote this:

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by reports that the New York Mets are going after Rod Barajas. Though most fans and observers alike acknowledged that the Mets’ greatest needs were in their tattered starting rotation, Omar Minaya has focused the bulk of his attention on his second-string catching corps, signing Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, and Shawn Riggans, and retaining Omir Santos, September callup Josh Thole, and farmhand Robinson Cancel.

Of course, it kind of makes sense that Minaya doesn’t think that any one of those six is a starting catcher. But he spent much of the offseason pursuing Bengie Molina, whom no one would mistake for Gabby Hartnett. Molina was the Mets’ second-highest free agent priority behind only Jason Bay, and after Molina jilted them a month ago, they remained unable to think of any other position on the diamond. Despite the number of backup catchers the organization already possesses — and the paucity of reliable batterymates in the starting rotation — the Mets still seem to be focused on finding 162 games worth of backstops.

More at Fangraphs...

On the minus side, Jair Jurrjens's shoulder is still barking. He says that he's maybe a week or two from being able to throw, and his shoulder still feels tight and stiff. The MRI showed no structural damage, just inflammation, and Jurrjens described the doctor's diagnosis: "The doctor said that's the most beautiful MRI he ever saw in his life. Everything is intact and nothing is wrong in there. I'm happy with that."

Of course, the thing about an MRI is that you wouldn't get one if everything was okay. "The most beautiful MRI he ever saw" is a great line, because it's kind of an oxymoron: it was an attempt to figure out why in the world Jurrjens's shoulder is hurting, and one that revealed no good answer. His shoulder is still hurting, after all.

So keep your fingers crossed, but don't hold your breath.

Was Jair Jurrjens Abused? No, But His Arm Still Might be Dead.

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Update: "MRI results showed that he isn't dealing with any structural damage in his right shoulder." Breathe a small sigh of relief, but not a big one, guys. Rafael Soriano showed us all that MRIs aren't the final word on injury. Jair still needs to be monitored closely and shut down the second he shows any kind of discomfort. (By the way, Rob Neyer linked to this post yesterday, saying "I'm roughly 90 percent in agreeance with Remington here.")

Original post: Jair Jurrjens is having an MRI on his shoulder, as you've heard by now. Shoulder soreness is bad; there are few things worse for a pitcher. The MLB.com story mentions that he felt a tired arm in 2008, after throwing 40 more innings that year than he ever had before (and thereby qualifying himself as a candidate for the Verducci Effect). In 2009, he pitched 215 innings, 26 2/3 more than in 2008.

Was he abused?

On a pitch-by-pitch basis, no. Jurrjens had six starts with more than 110 pitches last year, after only three such in 2008. On the other hand, this wasn't preferential treatment. Derek Lowe also had six starts of more than 110 pitches, and Javier Vazquez had 10. (Kawakami had two, and Tommy Hanson had just one.) In his 34 starts, which tied Lowe for the team lead, Jurrjens averaged 97.1 pitches a start and 15.3 pitches an inning -- while Lowe averaged 94.4 pitches a start but 16.5 an inning, Hanson averaged 94.4 pitches a start and 15.5 an inning, and Vazquez averaged 103.5 pitches a start and 15.1 pitches an inning. So he wasn't killed on a per-start basis. But all of those starts added up, and his 3305 pitches were second on the team, just behind Javy Vazquez's 3315, and 10th in the National League. (Both were far beyond league leader Adam Wainwright, who had 3614, or major league leader Justin Verlander, who had 3937, more than 300 more than runner-up Felix Hernandez.)

Then again, 215 innings seems like a lot for a 23-year old. And it is. Jurrjens is one of only 24 pitchers in the last 20 years to have a 215-inning season by his 23rd birthday. (Mark Buehrle, Ramon Martinez, and Steve Avery each had more than one.) As you might imagine with any group of precocious young pitchers, the vast majority of them got injured or flamed out by their 30th birthday. Two of them are headed to the Hall of Fame: John Smoltz and Mike Mussina. Several are still in their prime: Buehrle, Javy Vazquez, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, the rejuvenated Ryan Dempster. A few are still active but close to ruined by injuries or ineffectiveness: Dontrelle Willis, Ben Sheets, Fausto Carmona, Sidney Ponson, and the perhaps-retired Mark Mulder. Of the rest, a few of them pitched meaningful innings into their 30s: Andy Benes (done by 34), Brad Radke (done by 33), Matt Morris (done by 33),and Livan Hernandez (somehow still around, at 34). The others were all more or less done by the end of their 20s.

Remember, young pitcher attrition is extreme. So Jair's got the odds stacked against him. Does that mean that the Braves were wrong to let Jair Jurrjens pitch 215 innings? Maybe, but 215 isn't actually a very high number when you consider that it's an average of fewer than 6 1/3 innings per each of his 34 starts. It might have been best if they could have shut him down during the stretch run, but he was the team's second-best pitcher, and they couldn't afford to lose him -- and even then, they weren't overly reckless with his pitch count, as he stayed at or under 100 pitches for five of his last seven starts despite never pitching fewer than 7 innings.

The hell of it is that there isn't much the Braves could have done to prevent this. Arm problems for young pitchers are all but inevitable. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope.

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