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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 4

What Caused the Braves Collapse?

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

I've been a marginal blogger for almost four years now, and when you lead the kind of rockstar life that those of my ilk do (I made pasta with pesto for dinner tonight) you tend to meet a few valuable contacts along the way. Well, upon joining up with Chop-n-Change, I found myself deeply immersed in the goings-on of the club not only on the field, but behind the scenes. And because I'm by nature a gregarious glad-hander with a natural affability that not only endears me to nearly everyone I meet but also has a certain disarming effect, I've put that access to good use by schmoozing around with some higher-ups in the Braves organization*. And so of course, I felt that I had to get to the bottom of some of the issues that have been weighing on Braves fans' minds lately (degree of weight entirely dependent on individual proclivities toward mourning).

*This might be the least truthful sentence in this entire post, and that's saying something considering how much meth gets involved in a couple paragraphs.

Now, I can't disclose with you everything that I learned in those enlightening hours spent behind the closed double doors of the Braves' Official Department of Artifice, but I was able to get permission to share with you what happened in the Braves' clubhouse during that final, fateful month when the team embarked upon a nearly historic choke job. All information provided comes from team souces that agreed to comment exclusively under condition of anonymity, which I thought was just fine by me since that means I can say whatever I want and you couldn't get confirmation one way or the other. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me. 

But that's enough of the glance into the painstaking journalistic process that goes into this blog. Let's get to the good stuff, shall we?

Former hitting coach Larry Parrish, much-maligned around these parts for his preaching of aggressive hitting, is the first culprit here. As you might have suspected, a hitting coach's job is to provide instruction to a team's hitters. Reviewing video, tweaking mechanics, deciding which batting gloves look coolest with the uniform the team's wearing on any given day; these were all part of Parrish's purview. But questions swirled throughout the clubhouse about whether he was the best man for the job when it turned out that his hyperactive hitting approach, and my sources say that all may have been the result of prolonged use of various 'uppers,' often-illegal chemical stimulants designed to give the user sustained manic energy. The team began to tune him out when he bullied newly called up Jose Constanza into taking those now-infamous running swings; perhaps most telling is this quote from one veteran player: "It's hard for a guy making $15 million to tell an $80,000 hitting coach that he needs to take it easy with the cocaine. We just kind of stopped paying attention, to be honest."

That lack of attention, it appears, was not limited to the team's apathy toward their hitting instructor. The Braves, who won just nine games in the month of September, were fielding a roster of players who were mostly utterly ignorant of the team's performance. "During games, you'd see guys just kind of amble off the field and go hang out in the clubhouse for a couple innings. They'd miss at-bats or not be in the bullpen on time." Apparently, they couldn't stay away from the luxurious amenities in the Braves clubhouse, like multiple flat-screen TVs fully rigged wtih Xbox 360s, Playstation 3s, and "some s*** you've never even heard of yet." When asked what the team's record was at the end of the year, outfielder Nate McLouth replied "I don't know, man, Red-80?" When I informed him that that was not only not the team's record but was in fact the snap call for, like, every single one of the East Dillon Lions' plays from the Emmy-winning show Friday Night Lights, McLouth offered only a derisive snort and a shove before calling me a "nerd" and walking away*.

*The author would like to take this moment to point out that he would have made fun of McLouth's peroxide locks but that it is awfully difficult to form a witticism from around sobs of shame. He implores you not to think less of him for it.

Unfortunately, such a collapse as the one the Braves and their fans suffered through cannot be attributed to only two individuals. Rather, the problem was systemic, and was allowed to grow unchecked by manager Fredi Gonzalez. My sources tell stories of a clubhouse that came completely unglued early in September -- not because of a loss, but because after a 4-3 win to avoid a sweep in Los Angeles, Derek Lowe took the team out for drinks but did not invite Constanza. I'm told that Constanza counted no friends on the team except for his bat, which he treated as a constant companion. The two were never seen apart, although sources familiar with the situation indicate that relations between the two got a bit strained after a public display of affection by Constanza went unrequited by the bat (which he had named Marta after the Atlanta public transit system where the two had met; Constanza literally picked it up from underneath a seat where someone had left it).

Constanza Bat

The beginning of the end. Via Yahoo! Sports.

Abandoned by his teammates and unloved by Marta, my sources indicate that Constanza resolved himself to do everything he could to sabotage his team's playoff chances. It sounds unbelievable, but the numbers don't lie: he hit .174/.174/.174 during the month of September. 

Unfortunately for the Braves, where management should have stepped in, they shrunk from the occasion. Gonzalez became withdrawn from his team, going so far as to live in separate hotels at all times. He feared interaction with his players, and made a point of getting thrown out of games so that he could be out of the dugout and away from the team that challenged his professional pride. When asked what Gonzalez did in the clubhouse, my sources responded that he would while away the hours on Twitter, a social media platform dedicated to criticism of sports teams. Gonzalez took to posting under the alias 'Frediot,' as his notion that he'd lost the team coupled with rampant criticism from Twitterers completely subsumed him in self-loathing and shame. 

The front office claimed that they had no idea of the troubles brewing within the clubhouse, laughing off inquiries about the mental health of Constanza and Gonzalez as well as whether Derek Lowe's DUI arrest or pitching coach Roger McDowell's suspension for intolerant comments in San Francisco had had any effect on the team. They maintain that their outside business interests -- team CEO Terry McGuirk was reportedly involved in discussions with Tyler Perry about a transfer of ownership of the TBS network of which McGuirk is vice chairman -- had no impact on their focus and dedication to assembling a winning baseball club.

And so here we are, picking up the pieces of a broken season that once held so much hope. In many ways -- or, at least in one poor metaphor -- the 2011 season was like a precious vase full of life-giving playoff revenue, which Eric Hinske smashed because he wouldn't stop dicking around in the clubhouse even though how many times, Eric? But that, thankfully, is the past now, and as the season comes down to its thrilling (?) conclusion, the Braves and their fans are left facing a lot of important questions. How will the pitching logjam play out? Can Jason Heyward regain the tantalizing promise that he showed in his rookie campaign? Who put Chipper Jones' cane way up on top of the lockers? And, most importantly, did Parrish leave any of that meth around? We might need it.

The Teixeira Trade, Four Years Later

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The Mark Teixeira trade between the Rangers and the Braves happened more than four years ago. I thought that today, I'd take a look at the ramifications of the trade, since the Rangers are two wins away from their second straight AL pennant. A number of the players involved in the trade are contributing to this Rangers team, and I was thinking about how the 2011 Braves would look if some of these guys were still in Atlanta.

First off, the particulars of the trade. The Braves acquired Teixeira (along with reliever Ron Mahay) in exchange for a mountain of players: Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Beau Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A year later, the Braves would send Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek.

For the record, I had no problem with the deal at the time. The Braves needed an upgrade at first base (because the current starter was....Scott Thorman. Yes, THAT Scott Thorman), Teixeira was available, and he seemed like an obvious fit. To his credit, he did exactly what the Braves expected him to do. He played in 157 games in Atlanta, had a .295/.395/.548 line, and was worth 6.1 fWAR. In the three and a half seasons since Teixeira was traded away, Braves first basemen have been worth a cumulative fWAR of 4.8 fWAR. This inclues full seasons from Casey Kotchman and Freddie Freeman, and half seasons of Derrek Lee, Troy Glaus and Adam LaRoche. So uh....yeah, the position continues to suffer after the trade.

But what would the players that were sent to Atlanta do for the Braves right now? The Braves appeared to be set at shortstop with Yunel Escobar, but dealt him away at last year's trade deadline. In the three seasons that Elvis Andrus has been in the majors with the Rangers, he's been worth 10.1 fWAR, stealing at least 30 bases in all three seasons, playing stellar deefnse, and even walking a good bit. Escobar and Alex Gonzalez have combined for 7.4 fWAR over that same time, with both men experiencing more success with the Blue Jays than with the Braves. Both players were excellent defensively, but Gonzalez has been pretty terrible on offense in his year and a half with Atlanta. The Braves would have been much better off with Escobar in the long-term, but are also in a much better place having Andrus than Gonzalez.

Over his first three seasons in Arlington, Matt Harrison didn't look like he would be much of anything in the majors. He didn't strike anyone out, and the ball was flying out of the yard like crazy. Then this season, something happened. Harrison threw 185 2/3 innings of 3.39 ERA ball, and was worth 4.2 fWAR. He cut his homer rate in half, and became a damn good pitcher this season for the Rangers. That 4.2 fWAR would have led the Braves staff in 2011.

2010 Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz is one of the top closers in the American League, but the Braves appear to be set there with Craig Kimbrel. Feliz has been worth 3.9 fWAR in 162 2/3 innings worth of work in his career, and that could have slotted nicely into a Braves bullpen that gave 73 2/3 innings worth of work to the subpar efforts of Scott Proctor and Scott Linebrink.

Jarrod Saltamacchia wouldn't have much of a spot in Atlanta, due to the presence of Brian McCann, one of the best catchers in baseball. The Rangers traded him to the Red Sox last summer, and he was worth 2.5 fWAR this season for Boston, despite a .288 OBP. 

As for Beau Jones, he's just a minor league reliever right now. He's spent parts of the last four seasons in AA, and just seemed like another guy at AAA this year. No big loss here.

The biggest loss in the Teixeira trade was Andrus, especially after the organization soured on Escobar. But with Tyler Pastornicky waiting in the wings (who was acquired in the Escobar deal), the position should be back to being a strength in 2012 or 2013. The trade didn't really cost the Braves a ton, and it filled a need at the time, at a position that is still giving the team below average production. I'd do the deal again every day of the week.
 

Prado, Heyward, and Injuries

Written by Joe Lucia on .

In a lot of the interviews I'm reading with Braves staff members after the end of the 2011 season, a lot of them are excusing Martin Prado's poor performance this season because of the staph infection he went through in June that kept him out for a month. I'm not doubting that the situation is very serious; I've seen some very nasty pictures of staph in the past. But if Prado gets a pass on his hideous season because of his staph, why is Jason Heyward not getting a pass on his bad season (which by the way, was still better than Prado's) because of his shoulder injury that bothered him all year, and resulted in his hand going numb at points?

Before Prado went down with his staph (his last game was June 7th), his line for the season was .277/.324/.438...which is solid, albeit unspectacular. His OBP was at or above .330 for just six days before the injury, so it's not like he had been killing it like in years past. His walk rate was 6.8%...which is roughly where he was in 2009. His ISO was .161, which actually would have been a career high. His BABIP was .289....not horrendously low, but way below average for Prado.

Post-staph, he hit a wall. His post-staph stat line was just .244/.283/.339. His walk rate fell down to 4.8%, which is where he was in 2007 in 62 major league plate appearances. The ISO fell down to a pathetic .095, which is acceptabl only if you're stealing a ton of bases and getting on base at a .370 clip. His BABIP fell to .255.

So just looking at the stats, there was a definite dropoff from pre and post staph infection. But Prado wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire before the injury, either. I can understand giving him somewhat of a pass, but not a complete pass.

Now, let's look at everyone's favorite punching bag, Jason Heyward. Heyward's injury was with him since spring training, but I'm not going to right the season off as a loss. We're going to start at the point where Heyward left a game against the Nationals because his hand went numb: May 10th. He had a MRI on the 11th and would get 15 more plate appearances over the next two weeks before going on the DL for about a month. So that's my arbitrary cutoff line: May 10th.

Before May 10th, Heyward was having a down year in the five weeks of games up to that points. His stat line was .220/.322/.433. Because the season was still very young, one bad week could screw up your line. On May 1st, his line was .252/.342/.505, but I digress. We're still using May 10th as the dividing point. The .213 ISO he had before the MRI was actually better than his mark in his rookie season of 2010, and his walk rate was 12.2%, lower than it was his rookie year by 2%. The main culprit for his struggles was a .206 BABIP, which is ridiculously low.

After the MRI though, Heyward's stats hit a wall big time. His triple slash was .230/.307/.367, his BABIP actually increased to .274, his ISO fell to the horrendous rate of .137, and his walk rate fell to 11.1%. The major thing that dissipated with Heyward was his power, which isn't surprising considering how pivotal a shoulder is to your swing. Like Prado, there was a definite dropoff with Heyward's number after the initial injury.

Both players clearly struggled once their separate situations went down. If you're going to give Prado a pass for his struggles post-staph, you need to give Heyward a pass post-numbness. It's just not fair to give credit to one, but not the other. And if Heyward's shoulder really was bothering him during the spring, I don't know why the team didn't do something about it in March. If his struggles this year could have been avoided with proper therapy, someone on the Braves training staff deserves to lose their job. The same holds true if Prado's staph was caused by the training staff, but staph can pop up anywhere and it's usually pretty hard to pinpoint. Regardless of that, both players deserve a pass for their struggles this year....to a point. 

2011 Minors in Review: Gwinnett

Written by Joe Lucia on .

We're done licking our wounds. It's time to start up the season recap pieces. I'm going to start with the minors, and then get into the major league roster. Today, we're going to start with the Gwinnett Braves.

Despite not having a prospect-laden roster, Gwinnett finished 78-65, just a game and a half behind wild card winner Lehigh Valley (another team without many top prospects). All three members of the holy trinity of pitching prospects got playing time in Gwinnett, with Julio Teheran spending the majority of his season there. His season was excellent, as Julio won a host of awards, including IL Most Valuable Pitcher, IL Rookie of the Year, IL Mid and Post Season All-Star, BA AAA All-Star, and BA Minor League All-Star. Pretty much....Teheran was one of the best pitchers in the minor league game in 2011, and he did it as a 20 year-old in AAA. His stats backed up the accolades, as he went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA, five homers allowed, 48 walks, and 122 strikeouts in 144 2/3 innings. His FIP was 2.96, so this wasn't some sort of mirage. I firmly believe he's ready for a spot in the major league rotation next season, even if he'll only be 21.

Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado spent small parts of the season in Gwinnett, so for right now, I'll just talk about their time in Gwinnett. Vizcaino worked out of the bullpen, and only got seven innings of work before getting called up to Atlanta. He struck out eight, didn't walk a batter, and the one earned run he allowed came off a homer. As for Delgado, he got four starts with Gwinnett, going 21 2/3 innings, allowing four homers, walking 11, and striking out 25. Unlike Teheran, I think he's still a work in progress, despite his "success" in Atlanta. I put success in quotation marks because despite a low ERA, his walks and strikeouts were all out of whack. Vizcaino will be 21 when next season starts, while Delgado would be 22....it's odd that the oldest of the three is the one I think still needs to spend time in the minors, but here we are.

Mike Minor also spent some time with Gwinnett, and likely won't be back there next year. In 100 2/3 innings, he struck out 99 and walked 27. The worst part of his game in Gwinnett was the 12 homers he allowed, but that seemed to get in order once he was promoted to Atlanta. Yohan Flande looked like a solid minor league arm with no future in the majors, striking out 104 and walking 38 in 137 innings in the bullpen and rotation. Todd Redmond also looks like a guy who could make the major league rotation of an inferior team, striking out 142 and walking 47 in 169 2/3 innings. Like Minor, homers are a problem: he allowed 18 this year. He could easily catch on with a team looking for pitching depth this offseason.

Gwinnett had many options in the bullpen that could have seen use in Atlanta, that didn't for a variety of reasons. Jairo Asencio didn't pitch at all in 2010 after some visa issues, and came back with a vengeance in 2011. In 54 2/3 innings, he struck out 70, walked 22, and allowed just three homers en route to a 1.81 ERA and 2.56 FIP. Yet, he didn't get a callup in September when the major pieces of the bullpen were gassed. He got just 10 1/3 innings of work in Atlanta, allowing one homer, walking five, and striking out eight while posting a 6.97 ERA. But here's the thing: four of his runs came in one outing against the Giants in April, and three came in a blowout loss to the Padres in June. In his other four appearances, he allowed just one run in nine innings, going multiple innings in each one, striking out seven with two walks. His lack of use in the majors was embarrassing when someone like Scott Proctor was allowed to throw 29 1/3 innings of hideous baseball.

Another guy who got some time in Atlanta, but wasn't given a September callup, was Cory Gearrin. Gearrin didn't spend any time in Atlanta after the middle of July, and his overall Atlanta results were skewed by allowing ten runs in 1 1/3 innings in two of his last three appearances, which were blowouts. With the bullpen needing a groundball specialist after Peter Moylan's myriad of injuries, Gearrin could have been a good hand, but alas. He was damn good in Gwinnett:: 50 innings, 60 strikeouts, 20 walks, no homers, and a good groundball rate. But the Braves let him rot at Gwinnett for a second straight year. Questionable management.

Those were the top two relievers in Gwinnett's bullpen, but there were other guys that were solid. Anthony Varvaro struck out 69 and walked 35 in 59 innings with two homers, and earned some innings in Atlanta over the course of his season. He's in contention for a spot in the 2012 bullpen due to his strikeout ability and ability to pitch multiple innings, despite his questionable control. One of my favorite relievers, Jaye Chapman, struck out 77 and walked 31 in 68 1/3 innings with Mississippi and Gwinnet, while also getting a ton of ground balls. Last season, his ERA was hideous despite only two homers allowed and a strikeout an inning. Hopefully this season proved that he can succeed at higher levels. JJ Hoover had been a starter for his entire minor league career, but after being called up to Gwinnett and put in the bullpen in August, he struck out 26 and walked six in 13 2/3 innings. I'll talk about his tenure as a starter when I do the Mississippi recap tomorrow. And finally, there's Stephen Marek, who looked to be on a track to the majors, but blew his elbow out in the beginning of May after just ten appearances. 

Gwinnett's offseason was a wasteland for prospects. Their best hitter was Stefan Gartrell, the 27 year old acquired from the White Sox in early April. He had a .262/.338/.504 line overall, hitting 28 doubles and 25 homers. He had nearly as many strikeouts as hits (118 strikeouts, 119 hits) and looked like a career minor league masher to the end. Mauro Gomez, who turned 27 after the season, is much like Gartrell. His line was .304/.356/.522, with 34 doubles and 24 homers. He was signed this past offseason as a replacement for Barbaro Canizares, who the team let walk to the Mexican League. This was his first year in AAA, but at the end of the day....he's a career minor leaguer. With Freddie Freeman in Atlanta, he's not going to be getting a shot in the majors any time soon.

Wilkin Ramirez spent the year in Gwinnett as a 25 year old, and also got some time in Atlanta. He had a .766 OPS, has an aversion to walks, but has decent speed, going 19/25 on the bases. He also has solid power, as his .191 ISO indicates. But the holes in his game (17 walks, 70 strikeouts) will prevent him from being a regular in the majors. He did have an .893 OPS against lefties for the G-Braves this year, which once again begs the question, "why did the team bring in Matt Diaz?" The world may never know. Matt Young started the year on the Braves bench, failed miserably, and was demoted to Gwinnett, where his abilities didn't look so hot (.719 OPS, 17/24 on steals), but he still did walk nearly as much as he struck out (57 walks, 59 strikeouts). But his failure in 2011 in Atlanta will likely stop him from getting another shot. Nothing is stopping Jose Constanza though, who despite just a .712 OPS in Gwinnett, got promoted to Atlanta, where he milked a couple of hot weeks for all they were worth, and is now being talked about as a relevant player, despite an absolutely abysmal September (which fans seem to completely ignore). He shouldn't be in the mix, but he is, and that's depressing. 

Anyone else? Tyler Pastornicky got a brief spell in Gwinnett and excelled, OPSing .821 in 27 games before an ankle injury ended his year. He could be the 2012 shortstop in the majors. I'll talk more about him in the Mississippi recap. Brandon Hicks, who I wrote about yesterday, had a solid renaissance year, OPSing .779 and getting his power back into form (.196 ISO). Diory Hernandez was horrible all-around. Everyone else on the team either didn't have a great year, and/or is a career minor leaguer that isn't even worth talking about.

Gwinnett has a bunch of players that could have use in Atlanta in 2012, but there just aren't enough spots to go around. The team's pitching is damn good, and the Braves could go with an entirely homegrown bullpen if they were really inclined in 2012, but I have a nagging feeling that some veterans are going to get involved. But as with all AAA teams, there is a plentiful amount of 4-A players who shouldn't be sniffing the majors. Unfortunately, the fanbase has latched onto some of those, and I'm afraid that it's going to take a failure at the major league level for them to see the light. I really don't want to waste 200 plate appearances on Constanza or Gartrell, but I have a feeling that could be happen while superior options like Wilkin Ramirez or Brandon Hicks continue to rot. The same goes for the pitchers: there is no way that Asencio and Gearrin should be allowed to rot for another year while guys like Proctor get innings at the major league level, but that's the way this team operates.

Does Brandon Hicks Deserve a Shot at Short?

Written by Joe Lucia on .

When talking about the Braves shortstop position for 2012, most of the focus goes towards two options: re-signing Alex Gonzalez, or promotiong Tyler Pastornicky from Gwinnett (after just 27 games at AAA) to be the starter. Well, if Gonzalez gets an offer from another team that he can't turn down (think a multi-year deal for at least $3 million a season), and the team decides Pastornicky isn't ready, there doesn't seem to be another option aside from signing another one of the light bat, strong glove options on the market.

But what about Brandon Hicks, a former top prospect?

All accounts seem to agree that Hicks is solid with the glove. He might not be at Gonzalez's level, but who is? He'd also be cheaper than some of the major league free agents. After a pair of sub-.700 OPS seasons in the minors, Hicks rebounded with Gwinnett last year to post a .779 OPS in 104 games with Gwinnett (while going just 1/21 at the major league level). Could he be worth a shot at the end of the day?

I ran his AAA stats for 2011 through a minor league equivalency calculator, and this is what I got.

370 AB, 40 R, 79 H, 12 2B, 1 3B, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 32 BB, 146 K, 7/10 SB, .213/.276/.362

Here is Alex Gonzalez's 2011 line.

564 AB, 59 R, 136 H, 27 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 22 BB, 126 K, 2/2 SB, .241/.270/.372

Those overall slash lines really aren't that different. A six point difference in OBP and a ten point difference in SLG essentially even out. When you figure that Gonzalez would be getting paid upwards of five times as much as Hicks, the difference gets magnified a little more. Hicks' glove probably wouldn't be as good as Gonzalez's, but ther aren't many that are.

Just for the hell of it, I ran Tyler Pastornicky's 2011 Mississippi numbers through the calculator.

361 AB, 50 R, 106 H, 13 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 18 BB, 37 K, 16/25 SB, .247/.283/.332 

The major difference in Pastornicky's line between the other two is his lack of power. The increase in OBP is offset by a massive drop off in power.

And because WHY THE HELL NOT, here's his brief Gwinnett tenure.

106 AB, 12 R, 33 H, 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 6 BB, 12 K, 6/9 SB, .311/.350/.349

Oooooh. Now THAT looks sexy. Let's combine the two MLEs for Pastornicky to find an overall season total for him in comparison to Hicks and Gonzalez.

467 AB, 62 R, 139 H, 15 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 24 BB, 49 K, 22/34 SB, .298/.332/.377

That....isn't bad at all, and probably the best overall option. Let's put all three in a row right now for a side to side comparison.

Hicks 2011 MLE: 370 AB, 40 R, 79 H, 12 2B, 1 3B, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 32 BB, 146 K, 7/10 SB, .213/.276/.362
Gonzalez 2011 ML: 564 AB, 59 R, 136 H, 27 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 22 BB, 126 K, 2/2 SB, .241/.270/.372
Pastornicky 2011 MLE: 467 AB, 62 R, 139 H, 15 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 24 BB, 49 K, 22/34 SB, .298/.332/.377

Well, looking at all that...Pastornicky looks like the best option of the three. All three of his slash stats are the highest. Gonzalez and Hicks look to be a wash overall. Considering all three have the reputation of being good with the glove, giving Pastornicky the job in 2012 might not be as bad of an idea as I have said in the past.

2011 Atlanta Braves Fact or Fiction

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Time for a round of fact or fiction....I take some of the more popular talking points being spouted off by Braves fans, and determine whether they're based in fact....or totally fiction. Simple, right? I'll do five today, and maybe I'll make this a recurring feature.

Jose Constanza should have gotten more playing time in September.
FICTION. You all know how I feel about Constanza. Fans who were clamoring for him to play over Heyward down the stretch don't have very good knowledge of statistics. Here's a fact: when Constanza did play in September, he was terrible. He got 24 plate appearances over the month, had four hits (none for extra bases) and no walks. He didn't even steal a base. His slash line was a gorgeous .174/.174/.174. Heyward on the other hand? In his 80 plate appearances (too few in my opinion, based on what I'm about to say), he hit .258/.375/.364. That on base was second on the team during September behind Alex Gonzalez. Naturally, Gonzalez and Heyward were in the seventh and eighth spots in the order for nearly the entire month....real smart, put your two best on base guys in front of the pitcher where they'll surely die. They each scored eight runs, or as many as Martin Prado did all month...who had 33 more plate appearances than Heyward and 46 more than Gonzalez.

Derek Lowe should be released this offseason.
FICTION. Obviously, Lowe didn't pitch anywhere nearly well enough to earn his $15 million dollar salary. But....he wasn't nearly as awful as you might think. Sure, his ERA was 5.05, but his FIP was 3.70, and his xFIP was 3.65. Those are damn good numbers, actually better than Jair Jurrjens' on the season. Lowe's biggest problem was a .327 BABIP, which was equal to his mark during his bad 2009 year and 32 points higher than his career norm of .295.

Here are some interesting facts about Lowe's career as a Brave....
-He hasn't pitched 200 innings once, after doing it three times in four years as a Dodger.
-He hasn't had an ERA under 4.00 after doing it all four seasons as a Dodger.
-He hasn't had a ground ball rate above 60% after doing it all four seasons as a Dodger.
-His highest fWAR in a season as a Brave is 2.7, which was a season low as a Dodger.

Based on Lowe's production as a Brave (7.8 fWAR in three seasons), he's slightly overpaid, assuming that 1 fWAR = $4.5 million. So he's been worth $35.1 million, and madae $45 million. There's still some use in a 2.5 fWAR pitcher at the back end of your rotation, and with Peter Moylan's tenure in Atlanta likely over, the Braves could use a veteran ground ball specialist if they don't want to pull the trigger on Cory Gearrin. Food for thought. I don't think he should be cut outright though, and I also don't think they should trade him away for ten cents on the dollar. There's still value here.

Alex Gonzalez should be allowed to leave as a free agent.
I'm going to go FICTION again. I'd rather have Yunel Escobar at short right now, but he got run out of town on a rail, and right now, Gonzalez is the guy. I don't think Tyler Pastornicky is ready down in Gwinnett, playing only 27 games in AAA before getting hurt in August and missing the rest of the year. I would have no qualms about bringing Gonzalez back for one season. He made $2.5 million this year, and provided 1.1 fWAR of value. If anything that fWAR is LOW, because Fangraphs has him listed with negative UZR (which is a total joke, considering he's a +15 on the DRS system....that right there is 1.5 WAR). If he'd be willing to come back for the same salary, I think he'd be a great stopgap for a year while waiting for Pastornicky to get ready. In September, he was the team's best hitter with a 1.018 OPS. I'm not saying he could do that for a full season, but I don't think .580 OPS bad like he looked for most of the season. I think he could get to around a .700 level, which is close to where he was after the trade last year. That plus great defense = well worth your $3 million.

Brandon Beachy shouldn't have to compete for rotation spots next year.
This is no doubt a FACT. Looking at fWAR, the only Braves starter who provided more value than Beachy this season was Tim Hudson, who threw 70 more innings than Beachy. He led the team in strikeouts as a rookie. We all complained about his walks, but did you know his walk rate was lower than both Hanson and Lowe? Another issue with Beachy was his homers. His homer rate was higher than all of the rotation aside from Hanson. But you know what? It was a damn successful rookie season. For the record, I don't think Mike Minor should need to compete for a spot either. But there are only so many spots to go around right now, and someone is going to get caught up in the numbers game.

Martin Prado deserves more blame than he's getting for the 2011 collapse.
This one is also a FACT, but by the same token, it's not his fault that he was miscast. Prado has never been a high on base guy. The .350 marks he's put up over the past couple of seasons were fueled by a .300 average and a .330 BABIP. If the hits aren't falling, he's absolutely not a top of the order hitter. And guess what? This season, the hits weren't falling, and Fredi didn't make much of an adjustment. When he moved Prado down in the order and hit Chipper second, it was a thing of beauty. And then, a couple of games later....he changed everything back because Chipper bitched and moaned about it. That was a mistake in my mind. If everything falls into place next season, this is what the best possible order would probably look like.

Bourn
Heyward
Jones
Uggla
McCann
Freeman
Prado
Gonzalez

That's a damn good lineup. The only massive change was swapping out Heyward and Prado, but that's a pretty major change. Just say Prado and Heyward bounce back, but not to their 2010 levels....say, a .330 OBP for Prado and .370 for Heyward. Over a 600 plate appearance season, that's 25 times on base - pretty major. McCann, Freeman and Uggla in the middle there seem to be interchangable based on matchups, and I'm not married to the idea of them being shifted between those three spots. Chipper should stay in the three hole, because of his wicked on base potential...he's a .380 OBP guy at his core, and I think he, and the rest of the team, bounces back to their true talent levels with no Larry Parrish in the fold next year.

So, that was fun. If you have anything you want to see in the next FOF, tweet me, comment, whatever. I'll be keeping my eyes on Twitter for anything interesting. Season in review player pieces will be starting up tomorrow too...joy. 

Larry Parrish GETS AXED

Written by Joe Lucia on .

After the Braves stunning collapse this September, someone had to take the fall. Many fans wanted it to come down to two men: Larry Parrish and Fredi Gonzalez. I wrote a piece yesterday damning Parrish. Today, just one day after Fredi said that the entire coaching staff would return in 2012, a simple tweet from the Braves twitter account cleared things up.

 parrish
DING DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! Larry Parrish is OUT as hitting coach, much to the joy of Braves fans across the country. When the news was announced, my feed exploded with people absolutely awash with joy. It's almost like a vicious dictator being taken out of power, except not nearly as important in the grand scheme of things. I haven't seen one person who was upset with the dismissal. Not one. This is a good thing - we're all united on this one.

Now, who's going to replace him? The replacement hasn't been named yet, but the immediate favorite is the former hitting coach, Terry Pendleton. TP had some level of dislike towards him from the fans, but overall, the Braves offense wasn't that bad with him leading the ship. During Pendleton's tenure as hitting coach (2002-2010), the team ranked sixth in baseball with a .339 wOBA. For comparison's sake, that's Rafael Furcal's wOBA from 2002-2010. I'd take that, especially when you consider some of the putrid hitters that he's had playing under him (Jeff Francoeur, Garret Anderson, etc).

As for other candidates, the field is vast. Hitting coaches can come from anywhere. Hell, Parrish was coaching with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Internaional League when the Braves appointed him last offseason. Pendleton was out of baseball for a couple of years before the Braves brought him on a decade ago. Maybe the Braves go with Pendleton. Maybe they go with an experienced hitting coach. Or maybe, like they usually seem to do, the Braves pluck a candidate out of left field that none of us even considered.

A Damning Examination of Larry Parrish

Written by Joe Lucia on .

In the wake of the collapse, the Braves announced today that Fredi Gonzalez and his entire coaching staff would be returning for the 2012 season. Let me get this straight - you bring the entire staff back 12 hours after capping off one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, for a team that ended up winning two fewer games than the previous year? That doesn't make much sense. I'm all for Roger McDowell coming back, as he's done a fantastic job since coming to Atlanta in my mind. Many fans share my sentiment in this regard after a quick Twitter straw poll.

The major issue that myself, and the rest of Braves country, has with the return of the coaching staff is the return of Larry Parrish, who had a disastrous first year in Atlanta. With Parrish and his preaching of aggressiveness at the plate, the Braves have absolutely suffered. Look at the walk rates that the 2011 Braves starters had this season and in 2010. NB: Freddie Freeman is excluded from this list due to his jump from AAA to the majors. Michael Bourn's 2011 rate is just with Atlanta, as is Alex Gonzalez's 2010 rate.

walks

*Every* starter featured a decrease in walk rate this year. EVERY. LAST. ONE. This is not a coincidence. Some of the drops are frightening, with Bourn, Jones, McCann, Uggla and Heyward all falling by over 2%. The team as a whole fell by nearly 2% as well, which includes bench players. It was damn near impossible for Prado and Gonzalez to drop off, but yet, they somehow did. But did that have much of an effect on the team's overall offensive performance? You bet your sweet ass it did.

ops 

Every starter aside from Chipper Jones saw a drop in OPS, and Chipper's rise was only by seven points. Some of the drops were small, like Michael Bourn losing 14 points from 2010 in Houston to 2011's two months with Atlanta (this does not include his 2011 numbers in Houston) and Brian McCann losing 11 points after falling off a cliff after returning from his strained oblique in August. But some of the drops were frightening. Martin Prado simply ceased to be effective, losing 120 points in OPS. Jason Heyward lost 130 after a shoulder injury hampered with his season, and his approach never looked good all year. Dan Uggla's debut in Atlanta started terribly before he turned it on over the season's final two months, but he still lost over 110 points of OPS.

The team as a whole lost 45 points in OPS. The Braves offense went from Neil Walker to Delmon Young. That's....really not good. And personally, I don't think it's a coincidence that the drastic dropoff in production coincides with the beginning of Parrish's tenure in Atlanta. One more chart for the road. What about power? If the Braves were swinging more, they were probably at least hitting more balls over the fence and into the gap, right?

iso

McCann and Jones up. Uggla and Bourn neutral. Heyward, Gonzalez, and Prado down, with Prado's decline being the worst. Team aggregate: neutral. So for all that effort put towards being aggressive and changing approach, nothing positive happened.

Larry Parrish, everyone: your 2012 Atlanta Braves hitting coach. Thanks for coming. 

Game Recap - 9/28/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Phillies 4, Braves 3 (13 innings)

WP: De Fratus (1-1)
LP: Linebrink (4-4)
SV: Herndon (1)

We lost. St Louis won. The season is over.  34 days ago, the Braves had a ten and a half game lead on the Cardinals in the NL wild card standings. Today, on September 28, 2011, the Cardinals are wild card champions, and the Braves are...nothing. The Braves are choke artists. Plain and simple, that's what's up.

I'm not going to do a typical recap here. The Braves had a 3-1 lead through six innings, and Craig Kimbrel blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning. He walked three hitters and hit one - the control issues that weren't there for most of the season showed up at the worst possible time. With the game in extra innings, Fredi brings in his long man, Cristhian Martinez. There is no double switch. Martinez throws seven pitches and is pulled. The next pitcher is Scott Linebrink. He loses the game in typical Linebrink fashion.

I'll be back...sometime this week with a more in depth look at just what the hell happened, and I'm going to start up with the offseason stuff....which I didn't expect to be starting for at least another week.

Peace out, 2011. It was a good ride that could have been so much better. 

Fredi Gonzalez: the Blind Man Who Leads Us

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The final game of the season. The Braves are tied for the wild card lead, and trending down. Who is in the starting lineup to face Joe Blanton, a right-hander?

Matt Diaz. The same Matt Diaz who has a .222/.260/.282 line against righties this season.

I saw this, and thought one thing: does Fredi actually WANT to go to the playoffs? Does he WANT to win a championship? Apparently not.

When the team traded for Diaz a month ago, I was against the deal.  Look at the comments on that post. "Diaz will just be a pinch hitter", "He started off slow, but has turned it on lately!" and so on and so forth. Here we are, game 162, season on the line....and Matt Diaz is in the starting lineup against a right-hander. Matt Diaz, with the career .688 OPS against righties. Matt Diaz, with OPSes against righties of .633 and .542 against righties over the last two seasons. Matt Diaz, who's "hot streak" before the trade has led to a .607 OPS in a month with the Braves, with one walk, and one extra base hit.

Matt Diaz, you are more qualified than Jason Heyward to start this critical game. Now get out there and put up your 0/4 so we can get Fredi out of town. You can point to the offense struggling as much as you want. The fact of the matter is that the exhausted bullpen hasn't helped matters, because of Fredi's insistence on overusing them earlier in the season in un-necessary spots. Jonny Venters: 5.56 September ERA. Craig Kimbrel: 4.22 September ERA. Thank you Fredi, for running the team's two best relievers into the ground so hard that they single handedly cost the team multiple games this month, when JUST ONE WIN would have changed everything.

Fredi, I'm done with you. At this point in time, I don't care if the Braves make the playoffs. In fact, I'd almost rather the team didn't....just so Frank Wren would feel obligated to make a change because of this epic collapse. I'm absolutely disgusted right now. 

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