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Chop-N-Change http://www.chop-n-change.com/ Thu, 18 Sep 2014 19:39:47 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.1 (obRSS 1.8.11) http://www.chop-n-change.com/images/ Chop-N-Change http://www.chop-n-change.com/ Winning Isn't Everything http://www.chop-n-change.com/2013-articles/july/winning-isn-t-everything.html I do not believe in absolutes.

Yes, I recognize the paradox inherent in that statement. But as a general rule, I feel confident saying that you couldn't tell me one statement of opinion for which I can't present an opposing viewpoint. Feel free to try me in the comments.

But I was idly browsing the internet earlier today when I came upon something that caused me to rethink the one thing that I've considered a Belief in the last few years. And, as is the wont of such things, that something was on Facebook. 

No, I don't mean the genius-level copywriting produced by an overworked, underpaid intern with a B.A. whose job it is to produce pithy sentences to get fans excited. Nor do I mean the fairly terrible Photoshop work performed by, um, well, probably the same guy. Nor even do I mean the fact that pitchers and catchers REPORT IN ONE MONTH, YOU GUYS!

What caught my eye was that they used Jason Heyward in the picture.

Now, on one hand, the association is natural. Not only are Heyward's Spring Training feats as close to legendary status as Spring Training feats can be -- who among us doesn't remember the story about him breaking the assistant GM's car window with a home run? -- but the two are irrevocably associated on an internal level as well. Heyward, like all top prospects, represents something more than just a baseball player; he's the physical embodiment of Hope and Future. And I can tell you that on Opening Day 2010, Braves fans were pretty thrilled that their version of Hope happened to be a linebacker-sized fella from Atlanta who mashed a home run off the starting pitcher for the Mercurial All-Stars, Carlos Zambrano.

But there's always an other hand, and if we fast forward two seasons, we see it in stark relief: people who feel personally offended that this 23-year old struggled through injury on his way to a season that was as disappointing for the young outfielder as it was for the team.  We saw people who believed Doctor Chipper Jones' sub-moronic advice that Heyward needed to be playing through injury for the good of the team and we saw people happy that Jose Constanza got to play over Heyward long after the little sparkplug's fire had burned out. Hell, we got enough of that confrontation on our own corner of the blogosphere, never mind what was happening on Twitter or in the comments of, like MLB.com or the AJC.

Please click "Read More" to continue with this story...

Which brings me back to my belief-challenging Facebook session. Here are a sampling of the comments from that post:

jhey1 

jhey2 

jhey3 

Allow me to reconsider that whole 'no absolutes' thing when I say this: you people just do not get it.

Here's the thing about sports fans: we're passionate, which means that too often, we're unable to separate reason from emotion. We're prone to overraction, and never has there been a more promninent and accessible forum from which to share your reactionary (and, often, drunken) views with the world. I get that, and I also get that there is no environment better suited for loutish rants about the nature of a thing than sports.

But at some point, you have got to step back and look at the big picture. Let's use Heyward as a convenient example: this kid turned 23 last August. He had, at the time, been playing Major League Baseball for nearly two full seasons. I can't speak for you, but when I was his age, I was fighting a losing battle against my academic motivation, drinking too much and playing video games all the damn day long. Oh, and I only occasionally was able to find time to work out so that I could play well in my weekend baseball games. 

So it's no knock against you when I say I doubt you were doing much different -- and you certainly hadn't spent a year performing admirably at the very highest level of your profession before spending a second year at your job being hurt and trying to live up to the expectations placed upon you by literally millions of people.

And you want to tell me it's okay to speak on Heyward like that? When you have literally no idea what his professional expectations entail? Sure thing, dude.

Because this is a Braves-focused site, I'm going to comment only on Heyward, but the following applies to struggling prospects of any team: too often, observers -- whether by dint of his physical stature, the fact that he's spent three years in the league, or their own ignorance -- expect him to be a star, and are completely willing to not only forget his age -- again, he's 23 -- but what that means from a personal development standpoint. It's one thing to look at a player who's made the big leagues from a young age and say that he's to be held to a certain level of expectations. It's another thing entirely to disregard the fact that he's not just a 23-year old physically, but also mentally -- and lord knows that can be a hard time.

Yeah, I know that the common response is that they don't need to be treated like babies. That maturity is expected of them and all that, and that if they're not helping the team win then they deserve the scorn (or benching, or platooning, as in Heyward's case).

But that argument is, succintly summarized, paternalistic bullshit.

Like I said: I understand when fans get upset that their favorite players/teams underperform. But you've got to understand that not only is there no need to focus your anger on one player, it's counterproductrive to do so. You want to blame Heyward and say that he's costing the team wins while he's trying to live up to your expectations of what a player should be? You want to ignore the fact that he's developing not only as a player, but as a man? 

Have fun, but you're wrong to do so.

And if you parrot that same line back at me after I say this next line, fine; you won't be the first. But ...

Winning doesn't matter.

Admittedly, that's some pageview-trawling lingo. But, hey, who wants context in a one-sentence paragraph?

When I say winning doesn't matter, I don't mean that I don't want the Braves to win games, or make the playoffs, or win the World Series. Obviously, I do -- I've just written a thousand words defending a single one of the players who've ever worn a Braves uniform. But I worry that we lose sight of what makes for a winning organization and what fosters a positive environment of growth for its young players: patience.

Yes, there are franchises like the Yankees for whom patience is less a virtue than a dirty word. Rebuilding is not in a Bronx-dweller's vocabulary. But for the sake of Heyward, and the sake of non-Yankee franchises everywhere, I implore you to have some. Can it cost some wins in the short term? Sure. Is that something that I shouldn't shrug off so easily given that the Braves were so close (so goddamn close aghhhh) to making the playoffs, which immediately gives them fair betting odds at winning a championship? Maybe.

But what counts in my book isn't results (i.e. winning) but rather process - i.e. winning the right way. And no, I don't mean that in mouthbreathing, probably racist way you're used to hearing; I mean that in the sense that I want my team's front office to be mindful not only of putting a competitive team on the field, but of the future. To put perhaps too fine a point on it, I don't want them toying with the psyche of the kid who was baseball's best prospect two years ago because they buy into the misguided notion of The Hot Hand. 

Unfortunately, that's the management we're dealing with. And damned if they're not creating fans in their own image, which is just a shame.  

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2013-07-14T07:21:00+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2013-articles/july/winning-isn-t-everything.html
More fun with DOM http://www.chop-n-change.com/2013-articles/july/more-fun-with-dom.html In case you missed it earlier, I wrote about the Braves' usage of DOM and where the team's pitchers stood in the grand scheme of things. As I thought about it and crunched all the numbers, I thought that DOM might favor relievers more than it did starters, after seeing the higher numbers posted by the team's bullpen in 2011. So I decided to take it upon myself to do a little more research into the topic.

Here are the top ten DOM numbers for relievers in baseball in 2011.

Koji Uehara 1.809
Kenley Jansen 1.714
Craig Kimbrel 1.588
Jonathan Papelbon 1.450
Tyler Clippard 1.405
Rafael Betancourt 1.352
David Robertson 1.333
Greg Holland 1.321
Sergio Santos 1.314
Antonio Bastardo 1.296

 
The highest FIP of those ten players belongs to Clippard, at 3.17. Of the top ten relievers in baseball in FIP, five are on that list, including all of the top four.

Please click "Read More" to continue...

Now, let's look at the top ten DOM numbers for starters in baseball in 2011, qualified starters only.

Clayton Kershaw 1.088
Justin Verlander 1.082
Cliff Lee 0.996
Zack Greinke 0.976
Cole Hamels 0.923
Michael Pineda 0.920
Roy Halladay 0.905
Josh Beckett 0.884
Brandon Morrow 0.879
James Shields 0.865

Of that list, the highest FIP is Morrow at 3.64. Of the top ten starters in baseball in FIP, five are once again present, including the top three. 

What does this little exercise prove? Relievers will generally have a higher DOM than starters. In fact, there are 16 relievers who have DOM values higher than the best starter.

The correlation between FIP and DOM isn't strong, but there is a slight one there. The average reliever DOM (among qualified candidates) was .778, and out of all 34 relievers with a FIP lower than 3.00, six had a DOM above league average, only one had a groundball rate that wasn't more than 12% above the league average of 44%: Darren Oliver.

When it comes to starters, the average DOM (among qualified candidates) was just 0.635. Of the 45 players with a DOM higher than that mark, there were seven with a FIP above 4.00. Of those seven, only Ricky Romero and Wandy Rodriguez (by 1%) had a groundball rate HIGHER than the league average of 44%.

Now, what does THIS show us? DOM is a better indicator of player success than it is for relievers than for pitchers...unless we're talking about groundball relievers, then there is more of a chance for variability. For starters, an above average DOM isn't a perfect indicator of success, but it's not completely meaningless either. Approximately 83-85% of pitchers with an above average DOM will have a solid FIP. 

It's not an exact correlation, but it's pretty accurate. If you figure in all starters and relievers as opposed to qualified ones, the bar gets lowered dramatically. For example, looking at all relievers as opposed to qualified ones pushes the average down to 0.669, which would put 83 of the 134 qualified relievers above average. For starters, the bar falls to .570, which puts 55 of 90 qualified starters over the average guideline.

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2013-07-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2013-articles/july/more-fun-with-dom.html
How much will the departure of David Ross hurt? http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/november/how-much-will-the-departure-of-david-ross-hurt.html

By now, all the dust has settled and all the smoke has cleared. The four year Braves career of David Ross has come to an end, as the veteran backup catcher has signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox for an average of $3.1 million per season. A lot of Braves fans are crushed over Ross leaving the team, and with good reason - he was an awesome and productive member of the team.

In his four seasons with the Braves (2009-2012), Ross was paid just $6.2 million (coincidentally, the exact amount he'll get over the next two years in Boston) and provided the Braves with 6.4 fWAR in 663 plate appearances. That is an absolutely insane level of production off the bench. To put that in perspective, Chipper Jones provided 5.0 fWAR of value over the last two seasons in 960 plate appearances while making $26 million. Defense has *a lot* to do with those fWAR numbers, but nevertheless, that puts into perspective just how valuable Ross has been.

Defensively, the value Ross brought to the Braves cannot be understated. In his four year Braves career, Ross threw out just under 40% of all attempted base stealers (39.8% to be exact). Contrast that to Brian McCann, who has thrown out 30% of base stealers just once in his entire career: 2010, when he caught exactly 30% of base thieves. That is an astounding statistic, and speaks to just how great Ross is as a receiver behind the plate.

With McCann's offseason shoulder surgery, the Braves are in a difficult spot. They can't exactly just throw their hands in the air and give someone like JC Boscan (a minor league free agent in his own right) the backup job behind McCann. The backup catcher for 2013 will probably end up logging substantial playing time this season, perhaps even more innings behind the plate than Ross did in 2012 (421 2/3 innings, for those curious). If the Braves backup catcher has the same characteristic that many backup catchers have (that is, they cannot hit worth a damn), the team is going to be losing valuable offensive production.

That blend of both offense and defense is what made Ross so valuable to the Braves, and what will make him missed so much. How many backup catchers can provide you with above average offense as well as elite defense? It's a very unique and interesting blend, and it's going to be tough to find a player like that on the free agent or trade market this winter. Look at some of the free agents: Henry Blanco, Rod Barajas, Gerald Laird, Miguel Olivo, Humberto Quintero, Kelly Shoppach...with the possible exception of Shoppach, they're all either inept offensively, defensively, or both. It's extremely tough to find the unique blend that Ross provided for the Braves this season.

But then again, finding a backup catcher that can fuel your team offensively doesn't exactly have to be a science. The Phillies came into the year with Brian Schneider backing up Carlos Ruiz, but eventually had to turn to career minor leaguer Erik Kratz once Schneider went down and the starter Ruiz had injury issues of his own. Of course, the 32-year old Kratz had an .810 OPS for the Phillies in 157 plate appearances and threw out 45% of attempted base stealers. You just don't know sometimes.

Overpaying a veteran just because that's your only option isn't something I'd recommend for the Braves, especially with how tight payroll is with this franchise. Simply giving a career minor leaguer like Kratz who never got much of a chance might work out for the best at the end of the day. Instead of browsing the veteran free agency list, why not look at the minor league free agents? There might just be a diamond in the rough that could save the season for the Braves, but honestly, there's a lot riding on this decision...more than that should be riding on it, considering it's for a bench position.

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2012-11-12T02:01:53+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/november/how-much-will-the-departure-of-david-ross-hurt.html
A six man rotation is an awful idea http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/august/a-six-man-rotation-is-an-awful-idea.html For all the crapping on Fredi Gonzalez we do for his awful moves, he's done some good things this year. This however, is not one of them. The Braves will activate Tommy Hanson from the DL and start him on Friday, and go with a six man rotation until August 30th (when the team has an off day).

Hanson will start on Friday against the Dodgers, who have a .680 OPS (third worst in the NL). His second start looks to be on August 23rd against the Giants, who have a .710 OPS (sixth worst in the NL). His third start before a decision will be made for September on the rotation will be on August 29th against the Padres, who have a .680 OPS (a fraction of a point behind the Dodgers, and the second worst mark in the NL). So essentially, Hanson will be given every opportunity to succeed. Keep in mind, this is a particularly cushy part of the Braves schedule, with seven against the Padres, four against the Giants, three against the Dodgers, and three against the HATED NATIONALS coming over the next three turns in the order.

The crucial series this month are obviously the back to back road trips against the Nationals and Giants next week. You could actually argue that Fredi's handling of the rotation makes sense here, as the only pitcher to start in both series is Tim Hudson, the team's best starter all year. He'll start the opener in Washington next Monday, and the closer in San Francisco in two Sundays. Hudson, Paul Maholm (fresh off of a complete game shuout in New York), and Kris Medlen (who has been dominant in three starts this year, albeit against bad teams) will start in Washington, and I really can't complain about any of the three.

My main issue with giving Hanson every opportunity to succeed is well...he doesn't deserve it. Since the All-Star Break, he has a 7.45 ERA (third worst on the team behind the demoted Anthony Varvaro and the "injured" Jair Jurrjens). The next worst mark on the entire pitching staff belongs to Hudson, who has a 4.29 ERA while somehow managing to walk fewer hitters than Hanson in 16 1/3 more innings. Hanson has walked nearly a batter per inning since the break, and even discounting the disaster in Miami a couple of weeks ago, he hasn't been good. Hell, he's not even going deep into games. He's gone into the sixth inning just once since the break. What the hell?

Hanson probably isn't going to turn into the ace we all thought he would be when he was kicking the bejeezus out of the minors in 2008 and 2009. After a fantastic 2010, he's taken turns south in both 2011 and 2012, and he just isn't a viable option right now. His fastball isn't even averaging 90 mph this year. In his last start on July 30th, Hanson's fastball *averaged* 88mph, and topped out at a hair above 90. Looking at the PitchFX graph, it looked like he only topped 90 twice...on 45 fastballs. That's not good at all.

This has kind of developed into me rambling about Hanson, and I apologize for that. But the guy just isn't one of the Braves top five starters right now. Hell, when you figure Randall Delgado into the mix, is he even one of the top six starters right now? The six-man rotation worries the hell out of me, but if Hanson can't succeed in his three turns through the rotation this month...he shouldn't be making any more starts for the rest of the year. Period.

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2012-08-14T01:46:40+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/august/a-six-man-rotation-is-an-awful-idea.html
Say goodbye to Michael Bourn http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/august/say-goodbye-to-michael-bourn.html bourn2Braves center fielder Michael Bourn is having a career year, just three short months from hitting free agency for the first time in his career. Bourn has sparked Atlanta's offense this year, OPSing .758 at the top of the order with a team-leading 29 stolen bases. His eight homers are a career high, and more than he had in the last three seasons combined. Bourn is also an elite defender in center field, logging 13.2 UZR and +13 DRS. However, despite how valuable he's been for the Braves this season, there is no chance in hell he's going to be a Brave past this season. Let me explain.

Even before Buster Olney's confirmation that the Phillies coveted Bourn, any sane baseball fan knew that the Phillies would have interest after dealing impending free agent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers last week. When Philly gets involved in negotiations, a player's price goes through the roof. Before the season, everyone assumed that Bourn would get a contract in the range of five years and $60 million. That's out the window now after Bourn's fantastic year, and of course, the interest of a large market club. The new salary estimate for Bourn starts at $16 million per season, and while you can argue the merits of giving that kind of money to a soon-to-be 30-year old center fielder who's best asset is his speed, the Braves simply cannot afford to pay that kind of money to one player with their current payroll situation unless the deal was heavily backloaded.

First off, the Braves payroll is rather static. It's going to sit between $90 and $95 million, and there isn't a damn thing that anyone can do about it. Blame that on whoever the hell you want to (Liberty Media, Frank Wren, SportSouth, Atlanta fans, whatever), but nothing is changing in regards to the payroll unless something unforeseen happens. By "something unforeseen", I mean that a multi-billionaire offers Liberty 20% over market value for the team and pumps money into them like the team is a deflated cream puff, or that something happens with SportSouth that makes the network renegotiate the extremely favorable (for them at least) TV deal they have with the Braves. Quite frankly, I don't think either will be happening any time soon.

Looking at the Braves payroll for next year, despite Derek Lowe's behemoth contract coming off the books and Chipper Jones's retirement, there isn't a lot of wiggle room. Dan Uggla is owed $13.2 million, and that's not going to be going anywhere. Brian McCann has an option for 2013 that will surely be picked up for $12 million (at least, due to the presence of awards escalators that can bump it up by $3 million). Tim Hudson has a $9 million option that's going to be picked up (and bumped to $9.5 million in oh, six starts or so). Barring an awful two months with the team, new acquisition Paul Maholm has a $6.5 million option that will be picked up. With just those four players, the Braves payroll is over $41 million...or nearly halfway to the budgeted goal.

Then, you have to figure in the arbitration raises. Martin Prado is making $4.75 million, and let's guesstimate that he gets a raise to $6 million or so after his bounceback year. Eric O'Flaherty is making $2.49 million in his second to last arb year, and a raise to $3 million seems feasible. Bam, you're already over $50 million in payroll. Jair Jurrjens has a year left of arbitration, but there is no chance in hell that the Braves are going to pay him the $6 million he'd likely be awarded.

There are also the younger players who will be entering arbitration for the first time, and they're all guys that are pretty crucial parts to the team on varying degrees: Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen, and Cristhian Martinez. It's a pain in the ass to determine value for first time arb players, but let's compare Heyward to Hunter Pence (who settled for $3.5 million as a Super Two in his first year of arb) and Hanson to Chad Billingsley (settled for $3.85 million in his first year of arb). Give the three relievers (or quasi-starter in Medlen's case) $1.2 million each, and you're at about $11 million for just those five players and something like $62 million overall.

This is the issue the Braves are faced with now. They'd have around $30 million or so left to spend on their team, and be short one outfielder (two if you move Prado to third), and three slots on the bench (assuming either of Janish/Pastornicky and Francisco are penciled in for the 2013 team). The rotation would look something like Hudson/Maholm/Hanson/Minor and one of Delgado, Teheran, Gilmartin, Medlen, etc. So if the Braves wanted to sign Bourn and throw say $18 million per year at him, they'd only have $12 million to fill the other holes on the team...which would likely be doled out to mediocrity, or hell, be eaten and have slots given to young players.

Keep in mind, that this entire piece says nothing about how silly it would be to give a player like Bourn a possible nine figure deal. I don't think Bourn will get Carl Crawford money by any means, but I think he'll get more than Torii Hunter. If this was the 90s, and the Braves' $90 million payroll was one of the top five in the league, I could rationalize a long-term deal for Bourn at a comparable rate. But in the year 2012, where $90 million doesn't even put you in the league's top ten...it just doesn't make sense for this team at this point in time.

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com

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2012-08-08T23:31:48+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/august/say-goodbye-to-michael-bourn.html
The struggling Braves bullpen http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/june/the-struggling-braves-bullpen.html The Atlanta Braves bullpen is a different animal in 2012 thusfar than it was in all of 2011. Last year's Braves bullpen had a 3.11 ERA and 3.12 FIP in March & April, and a 2.91 ERA and 3.42 FIP in May. This year, the pen had a 3.91 ERA and 3.57 FIP in April, and a 4.48 ERA and 4.41 FIP in May. That is a HUGE difference when looking at a crew of seven pitchers, with the best three returning from 2011 to 2012.

Before everyone immediately starts pinning the struggles of this year's bullpen on Chad Durbin, remember that the 2011 pen had Jairo Asencio destroy his chances at ever making it in Atlanta in April, and Scott Proctor sabotage the world in May. And actually, Durbin has calmed down quite a bit in May. His 2.38 ERA is second lowest in the pen for the month (*what?!*), but his 4.95 FIP is second-worst. Regardless, both are improvements over April, when his ERA was 9.00 and his FIP was a starting 7.38. 

The pen was largely fine in April, aside from Durbin. The only FIPs higher than 3.20 belonged to Durbin and (perhaps shockingly) Eric O'Flaherty, sitting at 4.37 and adding a  4.91 ERA to the crew as well. May on the other hand, was an unmitigated disaster. Only two pitchers had a FIP under that 3.20 mark, and one of them is currently in Gwinnett stretching to be a starter (obviously, Kris Medlen). The other one, and the best pitcher on the staff, is once again Craig Kimbrel.

But what is the absolute root of the bullpen's struggles? A lot of it just has to do with luck coming back and slapping the Braves in the face. The league averaage HR/FB rate for relievers is 10.0%. Four of the Braves seven relievers have posted marks higher than that, including Jonny Venters at an eye-popping 27.3%. Venters had allowed a total of three homers over 171 innings over 2010 and 2011, and has allowed three in 20 1/3 innings this year. Dumb luck, or a sign of something worse? I'm not going to say that Venters' career is over, but his groundball rate is down to 55.9%, after being above 68% in his first two years in the majors. Furthermore, he has a 25% line drive rate, which is just terrible. The .466 BABIP possessed by Venters also suggests that he's just terribly unlucky, but with that line drive rate, it makes a little more sense. On the other side of the coin, he has career bests in both strikeout and walk rates, signifying that there's still something there. His fastball velocity though, has dropped one mile per hour from 2011 to 2012. That's a little concerning.

The other negative option from the bullpen is Eric O'Flaherty, initially brought to the team in 2009 as a LOOGY, but then was transitioned into the seventh inning role. Last season, when O'Flaherty had a 0.98 ERA, he was aided by a 92.3% strand rate and 3.9% FB/HR. This year, those marks have regressed to 75.3% and 16.7%, which seem a little more realistic. As a result, his ERA is 3.66 and his FIP is 4.18. Oh, and there's the righty thing. O'Flaherty is allowing a 1.018 OPS to righties, and he's faced 54 of them compared to just 34 lefties. Last year, O'Flaherty faced four times as many righties as lefties, and held them to just a .599 OPS. That's a little low for a guy who's allowed righties to a .739 OPS over his career, in comparison to the .560 OPS he's held lefties to.

You can point your finger at Durbin or old man Livan (who has actually been perfectly adequate in his role) all you want, but quite frankly, the Braves bullpen is struggling because two of the big three (on an aside, how silly was it for people to get obsessed over a nickname for a reliever trio when only one of those relievers possesses long-term sustainable dominance?) are struggling terribly this year. The only player to amass less fWAR than either O'Flaherty or Venters this year is Durbin, and everyone pretty much expected that.

One HUGE positive note for the Braves bullpen, though. If Venters and O'Flaherty do manage to put it together over the season's final four months, they'll be fresh. They've combined to throw just 40 innings this year (with Kimbrel adding 20 of his own), while last year, O'Flaherty logged 26 1/3 innings over the season's first third, with Venters clocking in at a mind-blowing 33 2/3 innings. For comparison's sake, Kimbrel had 27 innings over that timespan, and actually pitched worse than he has so far this year. At least Fredi is attempting to make sure a late-season bullpen meltdown doesn't happen this September.

Photos courtesy of Daylife.com

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2012-06-04T18:40:00+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/june/the-struggling-braves-bullpen.html
Chipper Jones Walks It Off http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/may/chipper-jones-walks-it-off.html I came home from work today to find a piece of paper wedged in my apartment door. This is not uncommon; I and the other residents in my building have had notices ranging from spraying for snakes (I live in Wisconsin, which so ... ?) to telling any and all possible offenders to stop putting nails behind the tires of a Camaro in the parking lot (yes, seriously). 

But this time, I was the only one with the paper, so I unfolded it and read that my apartment is to be shown to a prospective lessee tomorrow (today? whatever) at 1430 and that it is to be presentable. So, being a kindhearted soul (hey, Madison landlords -- tweet me!) I embarked on a full-fledged cleaning escapade. Unfortunately, 'kindhearted soul' is second to 'degenerate slob' in my own personal self-description (uh, forget that sentence, Madison landlords), so this was to be a several-hour endeavor. I turned on the Braves game for some accompaniment, watched the Phillies jump out to a 6-0 lead, then turned it off.


***

Cut to an hour later. I check in on Twitter, and I see that ... uh, the Braves rallied? They scored on Halladay? BRIAN MCCANN HIT A GEEDEE GRAND SLAM?!? 

Let's pause here to skip over the Chooch-related unpleasantries and the subsequent comeback from that particular deficit (because I didn't watch it) and ...

TIE GAME IN THE BOTTOM OF THE NINTH INNING?! AFTER DOC HALLADAY, WHO MAY OR MAY NOT EVEN BE A MORTAL HUMAN BEING, WAS STAKED TO A SIX-RUN LEAD?!

Well, yeah, I started to watch again. I do have some self-respect, after all. And then Michael Bourn popped out with the bases loaded, and I kind of tuned out again.

***

So this part here is what I was actually driving at when I started in 200 words ago, but I'm drunk and excited, which the latter is rarely resultant from April baseball, so here we are. Chipper Jones stepped in to bat with a runner on first against Brian Sanches, which is somehow not a misspelling.


Now, if I were a narrative-inclined baseball columnist, I might twist a yarn of the 20-year veteran stepping in against a guy who, in six seasons, has thrown as many innings as Justin Verlander might in one season. But I'm not, and I did (/do) not really know anything about Sanches, so I assumed that he was just your standard two-pitch reliever taking the mound in place of one Jonathan Papelbon, who's being paid a ... well, 'princely' sum kind of understates his contract, but you get the idea, to record outs at the end of baseball games.

The ... I guess you could call it 'sabermetrician' in me (though I wouldn't claim to put myself on that level) instinctively rages against that decision because it's objectively dumb, but the Braves fan in me was thrilled. Because Charlie Manuel is the kind of red-ass, old-school manager who subscribes to the theory of using your closer only in save situations, the Braves were going to get to face a guy who hadn't found any kind of Major League effectiveness until his age-30 season, and who is not Jonathan Papelbon's equal ont he mound. 

Now, I don't mean to pat myself on the back when I say that the at-bat played out about as predictably as could happen in that situation. As someone who's spent some years pitching and who's spent more years watching Chipper hit and two-pitch relievers pitch, the progression of pitches was more or less by the book. 0-2, we see a bounced curveball. 1-2, another bounced curveball. Chipper doesn't swing, because he's Chipper. Sanches throws them because he's, well, Sanches. 2-2, Sanches comes high and tight because as any Braves fan can tell you, Chipper thrives on pitches middle-out. He doesn't get it high enough, and we get a foul ball. 

I often find myself wondering what, exactly, separates great professional athletes from mediocre ones. Like, sure, sometimes the greats are more athletic than their lesser counterparts. But then, sometimes there are utter freaks of nature who wouldn't be out of place at the Olympics who just cannot hack it at anything approaching a professional level of sport. The skills are so granular, and so finely tuned, that it can be hard for fans to discern who's doing what well, and who needs improvement at what. They see the numbers on the scoreboard and know that they should cheer or boo accordingly, but in terms of what actually shows up in someone's performance ... well, it can leave a lot of fans in the dark.

The Chipper - Sanches at-bat was not such an occasion. Sanches had Chipper 2-2, had barely beaten Jones on a high fastball ... and then shook off his catcher and decided to go back to the heater.

Now, Sanches isn't some rookie. He's entitled to make that kind of decision! But you have got to pick your spots -- and 2-2 when you barely beat a future Hall of Famer ain't the kind of spot you pick to shake off your catcher. Sanches discarded the curve for a fastball ... and saw it get deposited 380 feet down the right field line, and 10 feet on the first base side of the foul pole.

At that point, as a pitcher, you have got to adjust. And Sanches did -- but he went for another curve out of the zone (if memory serves -- I'm doing this off the top of my head, so).  Chipper Jones is not the type of hitter to bite on a 2-2 curve out of the zone, especially -- especially -- when you've already thrown him two of those. So Sanches put himself in an uncomfortable place (like the back of a Volkswagen), and when he needed to get out of it, he ...

... watched his catcher throw down three fingers, nodded, and came set.

Um ... okay. I stood up when I saw that, because I was aware of who was pitching: Brian Freaking Sanches, who had been added to the Major League roster literally the day before he was making this apperance. Brian Freaking Sanches, who, in his Major League career, has used his changeup exactly 2.3% of the time. Brian Freaking Sanches, who, to my mind, was about to make a huge mistake.

However long it took that ball to flirt with going outside, then decide to hang out over the plate, then fly 424 feet, later, my suspicions and the hopes of Braves fans everywhere had been realized. Braves 15, Phillies 13, F-11. Just the way we drew it up when we saw Halladay-Hanson listed as the starters. 

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2012-05-03T09:30:45+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/may/chipper-jones-walks-it-off.html
The 2012 Braves, endless optimism, and Fredi Gonzalez http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/april/the-2012-braves-endless-optimism-and-fredi-gonzalez.html Two games into the season, and the Braves are 0-2. Most fans, casual and die hard alike, are going to point at the fact that we're still in the first week of April and that there are still 160 games to get the ship corrected and for the Braves to win 90 games and make the playoffs. I'm not so sure about that anymore, and it has nothing to do with the disappointing on-field performance of the players. Nope, as usual, it comes when I look in the dugout and see who's managing this team.

Fredi Gonzalez is...disappointing to me as Braves manager, 164 games into his tenure. The way he goes about certain things absolutely boggles my mind. Fredi's managerial style thusfar during his Braves career almost reminds me of a kid who was given the keys to a sportscar for his 18th birthday, and is told to go to the store to pick up milk. During the ride, the kid has no idea what he's doing. He drives in the wrong gear and burns the clutch, he sideswipes a few parked cars, he runs red lights...but at the end of the day, he gets the milk, and that's all that matters, right? Just because the end result of a situation is what you intended it to be doesn't mean the process to get to said result was correct. In my above scenario, the process was an absolute disaster that should have resulted in something going horribly wrong. And just because nothing went wrong, we're all supposed to sing kumbaya and be happy? That's a big heaping load of garbage. Trust the process, not the results. And Fredi's process, during his tenure last season and already this season, is an absolute trainwreck.

Gonzalez is like the kid who has the keys to the sportscar, and has no idea what he's doing. Matt Diaz is pretty much useless as a major league hitter at this point, yet he started Thursday's game against the Mets, and pinch hit as the tying run yesterday. I can actually buy the argument to start Diaz against the left-handed Johan Santana on Thursday. I'm not going to cite splits against a pitcher (because I think they are roughly a giant load of garbage), but as everyone and their mother knows, MATT DIAZ IS A LEFT-HANDED PITCHING KILLER. He went 1/2 with a double off of Santana, but when Johan was pulled going into the sixth inning, it was Diaz who trotted up to the plate against a right-handed Ramon Ramirez with men on second and third. Of course, almost like it was God himself smacking Fredi on the knuckles with a ruler, Diaz grounded out on the second pitch against Ramirez to end the last situation with multiple men on the Braves would have all day.

Tommy Hanson got pulled after three batters in the sixth, when the Mets would score their only run, and was replaced with Kris Medlen. Cool. Good move. Now is when Fredi pulls the double switch to get Diaz out of the game. But instead of doing the largely logical thing and putting Juan Francisco (who my feelings on will require another thousand words) at third and moving Martin Prado into left...he brings in the slap hitting phenom himself, Jose Constanza, to play left field. When it was revealed that Constanza had made the Braves Opening Day roster, fans such as myself were terrified. We were all told to calm down, because it was just for a week until Chipper was back, and that Constanza was only put on the roster because he was already on the 40-man (ignoring the fact that the team had open spots on the 40-man, of course). In the back of our heads, we all know that Constanza would have an effect on this team because Fredi has a nasty fetish for him. Sure enough, Constanza was now in left field and due up third in the inning. Naturally, Tyler Pastornicky tripled with one out to bring Constanza up with a chance to tie the game. As much as I despite the Francisco transaction, I'll admit this: the dude's swing is so damn violent that if he makes contact, he's at least getting the ball in the air. This is when Mets manager Terry Collins brought in his lefty specialist Tim Byrdak (despite a reverse platoon split for Constanza), and Constanza's at bat was such a disaster that I don't even want to relive it. Essentially, he struck out and looked like a fool on the third strike pitch, swinging at a pitch so far out of the zone that it would have hit a right-handed batter. While Francisco is an unmitigated disaster against lefties, 60% of his contact against them is on a line or in the air. That's what the team needed at that point, not an at bat from a guy who hit groundballs over 60% fo the time last year.

The rest of the game went swimmingly, and the Braves went down without a fight. Of course they did, it's only natural. I especially loved the use of Jonny Venters, who looked like a complete mess in his inning of work, allowing three baserunners and only getting two swings and misses while throwing more pitches than Medlen did in his two innings. The extreme overuse of Venters over the past two seasons is something to keep an eye on this year.

Let me get back to Fredi, and yesterday's game. Jair Jurrjens looked like absolute garbage out there yesterday (102 pitches, 4 1/3 innings pitched, two swinging strikes, two homers, and a partridge in a pear tree), and the bullpen usage following his departure was also bizarre. After six, it was a 3-2 Mets lead. Livan Hernandez (who threw a sinker that, I swear to god, didn't crack 84 all day) held the Mets scoreless in relief of Jurrjens despite allowing three hits. One run game, seventh inning, who do you go to? It's gotta be the washed up and decaying corpse of Chad Durbin (who's probably worth another 500 words on his own), right? Of course, Durbin got beaten like a rented mule, allowing three hits and a run on a Lucas Duda homer to make it a 4-2 game and essentially extinguish Atlanta's hopes of winning since the offense is so damn bad. What puzzled me is that after Durbin's inning, he was pulled and replaced with Cristhian Martinez, a much more effective reliever. Hell, Livan was signed in the first place so Martinez could throw more meaningful innings. How in the name of all that is holy is being down two runs in the eighth more meaningful than being down one run in the seventh? It legitimately makes no sense to me, and I can't rationalize it at all. Of course, Martinez retired the heart of the Mets order on seven pitches. The damage was done by then, and that was that.

My final qualm with Fredi over the first two games in the season comes of his usage of pinch hitters in the ninth inning yesterday. With two outs and Freddie Freeman on second, Fredi pinch hits Eric Hinske for Tyler Pastornicky. I understand the logic...kind of. It's a two run game, you need a homer to tie, you want your big bopper up there....right? But here's the major issue with it all: what happens if Hinske reaches base without homering? Well...you have an interesting situation there. With the pitcher's spot following Pastornicky's in the order, you're going to need a pinch hitter there regardless. While he's a rookie, Pastornicky has much better speed than Hinske, and while he has a much lower chance of homering and tying the game up, he probably has about an equal chance of reaching base. Fredi essentially sold out in this situation and banked that it would be an all or nothing type situation from Hinske. Instead, what happened was a median of the two outcomes: Hinske singled. Now, another interesting choice. The tying run is on first base, but it comes in the form of a guy who runs like an iceberg. Fredi (smartly, but the situation could have been avoided overall by not using Hinske there) pinch runs for Hinske with Jack Wilson, who would take over at short if the Braves tied it or took the lead. Now, another issue rises up. Fredi has no pinch hitters left on his bench after burning Hinske for Pastornicky, burning Wilson for Hinske, and using the pathetic Constanza earlier in the game (as the first bat off the bench, no less). Well, he had two guys left. There was David Ross, a pretty damn good hitter, but one that cannot be used as a pinch hitter in any circumstances in case something happens to Brian McCann, and Diaz, who has such an aversion to hitting righties that you might as well not even bother. Predictably, Diaz got the call to pinch hit for Martinez, and struck out on four pitches. That's that, folks.

Last season, the Braves won 89 games and led the wild card until the final week of the season. They collapsed in epic fashion, and as much as everyone wants to point at the players not performing, the main finger should be pointed at the manager who put them in situations were the odds were against them succeeding. During the 2011 season, Fredi was driving the sportscar down the road with reckless abandon, cutting red lights, zooming past stop signs, and nicking cars all along his road to the playoffs. It looked like he'd get there fine, until he t-boned a car just a block from his overall destination. Instead of giving Fredi a new sportscar, or hell, repairing the old one and giving it to someone who can handle it properly, the Braves repaired their old car, and handed Fredi the keys again. Two games into the season, he's gone through a red light and nearly killed a pedestrian. If he doesn't learn how to drive properly, this trip is going to end like last year's: short of the ultimate goal, not because of the brilliant machine he's driving, but becuase of his horrendous skills behind the wheel. 

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2012-04-08T18:26:25+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/april/the-2012-braves-endless-optimism-and-fredi-gonzalez.html
Braves-related notes from the 2012 Fielding Bible http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/march/braves-related-notes-from-the-2012-fielding-bibles.html
Freddie Freeman had a horrible UZR, and fans immediately jumped to conclusions about how UZR was a flawed stat because they thought Freeman was great. Well, the FB agrees...kind of. Freeman had -2 runs saved in 2011, which is in the bottom half of the league (but nowhere near the worst). Freeman made 70 "good plays" and 30 "misplays" on the season, compared to the league average of 62 and 33. So he was above average in that regard. The average good play/misplay percentage is 50%, and Freeman was above average there at 55.5%. So where was Freeman weak? On bunt attemps, 12 of the 14 sacrifice attempts hit towards Freeman resulted in either a sacrifice or a hit, an 85.7% success rate for the offense. League average is 81.6%. He also allowed one hit on the one bunt hit attempt towards him. A "success" for the defense is when the lead runner gets picked off. So on bunts towards him, Freeman picked off the lead runner just twice. There are certainly worse players in that regard, but Freeman was below average.

Zone rating isn't used too much anymore with the advent of UZR, but it still tells you a little bit about Freeman's defense. He had 188 balls hit in his zone, and he made the play on 138 of them. That 73.4% success rate is second worst among all first baseman, ahead of just Carlos Pena. Oddly, Freeman did make 32 plays out of hte zone, the fourth highest mark in the league. What this essentially says is that Freeman had issues with more routine plays, but was able to make more plays that he wasn't expected to make.

One more category that there isn't an expanded amount of data on, but just one brief tidbit: double plays. The Fielding Bible gives detailed double play statistics for middle infielders, but minimal amouts for corner infielders. Freeman had eight opportunities to start a double play in 2011, and completed just one. Contrast that to Ryan Howard, one of the worst fielders in the league, who had 12 attempts and completed seven of them.

And that's the official explanation on why Freddie Freeman is roundly considered a bad defender. Got it?

We'll touch in the rest of the players, starting with Dan Uggla. He's just so bad defensively. 45 good plays and 53 misplays (compared to 55 and 43 for the average second baseman) results in a pathetic percentage of 39.9%, You can't even use the excuse of "he turns the double play so well", because in addition to getting Alex Gonzalez nearly killed a few times, he only converted 82 of the 140 DP attempts that he had to start. That 58.6% of turned DPs is among the worst in the league. On pivots on DP attempts, Uggla covered 60 of 96, for percentage of 62.5%...still below average. His .817 zone rating was middle of the pack, and his 39 out of zone plays was actually in the upper half of the league. But his overall clumsiness at second killed any of the goodwill that he had built up with his out of zone plays. He was also a -10 on plays to his left. That's pretty bad.

Alex Gonzalez was pretty awesome at short, but we knew that already. 62 good plays and only 37 misplays led to a percentage of 59%, one of the top marks in the league. Gonzalez was above average at starting the DP, converting 65.5% of his opportunities, but not so great at converting the pivot, with only 55.9% converted (SS average is 60%. Plusses everywhere on his plus/minus, though nothing remotely approached the +23 on balls to his left he posted in 2010.

Chipper...oh, Chipper. 21 good plays and 24 misplays results in a 48.3% percentage. On bunts, which Chipper does "oh so well" according to Chip Caray, he nabbed the lead runner just once on six sacrifice attempts, and killed just one of three bunters trying for a hit. Luckily for Chipper, he's not expected to get the lead runner a majority of the time: the league average on sacrifice attempts it 88.6%. On the bright side, none of the sacrifice attempts led to a hit, which means Chipper is doing part of his job right. You know what you're getting out of Chipper, and while he's bad, he's not horrendously bad like Uggla.

How about Brian McCann behind the plate? Catcher defense is generally a total shot in the dark, but you get the sense that McCann isn't too great behind the dish. He had just eight good plays while making 53 misplays, leading to a really bad 38.3% percentage. We can look at bunt defense for catchers too, and McCann was actually pretty good there, with opposing teams converting just 11 of 17 sacrifice attempts. That gives the offenses a 64.7% success rate against McCann, compared to a league average of 72.1%. McCann did allow three bunt hits though, the highest total in the league. McCann also nabbed just 17% of basestealers....that's really not good, and a definitive step back from 2010, when he nabbed 27%. 

A slight comparison for McCann and David Ross: Ross didn't allow any bunt hits, but he never nabbed the lead runner on a sacrifice attempt, either. Ross also pegged out 31% of attempted basestealers, a crazy good rate.

Now, the outfield. Compared to some of the lead glove left fielders in the league, Martin Prado looked like a star. He made 15 good plays and 13 misplays, resulted in a 56.2% percentage. Gerardo Parra, one of the best defenders in the league, had a 56.1% percentage. So, there's that. Prado's arm is about average. Runners took the extra base against Prado 26 times in 74 opportunities, a 35.1% rate. League average in left is 36%. He also had four kills (player goes for the extra base, gets thrown out). Prado's plus/minus numbers were good. He had an issue with shallow balls, logging a -3 there, but was +5 on deep balls.

I'm not going to examine Michael Bourn, because the book doesn't separate his time in Atlanta and Houston, and Houston's center field is a totally different animal than Atlanta's.

Now, Jason Heyward. This guy is one of the best fielders in the league, and no one is giving him any love at all. His good plays and misplays were low, 12 good plays and 20 misplays for a 41.6% percentage. His arm suffered a little bit, with hitters taking extra bases on 47 of 86 attempts for a 54.7% success rate, compared to a 49.4% success rate for all right fielders. He also only had two kills. But then you look at his plus/minus numbers, and things get insane. On deep balls, Heyward was a +29. Think about that: +29. That's an otherwordly number. He was even a +1 on shallow balls, showing that he's not giving anything up by playing where he is. Legitimate stuff right there.

The starting pitchers. Pretty much the only stat we can look at are stolen base percentages due to the lack of bunt and double play data (because the numbers are so low). When Tommy Hanson was on the hill, just 9% of potential baserunners got thrown out. Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Jair Jurrjens were at least adequate, with 24%, 24%, and 38% of potential base stealers getting gunned out. Funny stat: basestealers went 30/33 off of Tommy Hanson. Basestealers went 2/4 against Mike Minor. So Minor had one fewer base stealer thrown out in nearly 30 less attempts. Yup. Also, basestealers went 26/30 off of Derek Lowe. Just another reason to hate him.

The bullpen. Craig Kimbrel allowed just one stolen base on four attempts. They went 2/4 off of Jonny Venters. They did go 5/7 off of Eric O'Flaherty, showing some sort of weakness for the holy trinity.

So there are just some interesting defensive facts about the 2011 Braves. There's a lot to be worried about (infield defense, stolen bases) and some stuff to be excited about (outfield defense), so 2012 will definitely be an interesting year defensively for the Braves.]]>
2012-03-13T23:49:30+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/march/braves-related-notes-from-the-2012-fielding-bibles.html
2012 player preview: Freddie Freeman http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-freddie-freeman.html Freddie FreemanBy most accounts, Freddie Freeman's rookie year of 2011 was a rousing success. After all, he was the runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year race (behind teammate Craig Kimbrel, who won the award unanimously), he finished third on the team with 21 homers, and he had a very good .794 OPS. But advanced stats hated Freeman, with him just logging 1.0 fWAR, and there's talk that Freeman's offensive stats will peak around where they did last year. What gives?

Let's tackle these issues one at a time. Freeman's low fWAR is due in part to UZR's absolute hatred of him. His UZR was -12.6 on the year, more than halving his value. Braves fans, of course, spit venom at this notion, claiming that Freeman is a magnificent fielder (because that's what Chip Caray and Joe Simpson tell them every night). DRS rated him as neutral, which I think is a more apt valuation of his defense. Tangotiger did a fantastic study on first base defense, comparing Freeman to Carlos Pena, and came to the conclusion that Freeman has very few opportunities to actually make a play, and the opportunities he had were much easier than other first basemen in the league. The link is definitely worth a read.

Now, to the other elephant in the room: Freeman's offense. People point their finger at Freeman's stellar minor league stats, and expect that performance in the majors. Well, look at his MLEs according to THT for his final three seasons in the minors. 

2008: .278/.326/.470, .343 wOBA
2009: .250/.313/.370, .304 wOBA
2010: .277/.332/.465, .344 wOBA

His MLEs for the next six years peak with a .356 wOBA. Last season, he was at .345. That's not much of an improvement. The metrics do not like Freeman's overall future projection, because despite his lack of strikeouts, he possesses below average power for a first baseman (his .166 ISO ranked 18th among 24 qualified first basemen).

You know what I think a good comp for Freeman would be? Braves-era Fred McGriff. McGriff was electric over his first year and a half in Atlanta, but fell to the .355-.365 wOBA level before departing. There is nothing wrong with having Fred McGriff as a first baseman. But Fred McGriff isn't exactly an elite player, and expectations for Freeman are probably going to be set too high going into 2012. I'd settle for 20 homers and an .800 OPS. Anything more is a bonus. 

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2012-02-23T00:29:23+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-freddie-freeman.html
The Last Person the Braves Need http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/the-last-person-the-braves-need.html wrote about how the Braves missed out on an opportunity to bring in Kosuke Fukudome, late of the NPB, Cubs and Indians, to compete for a fourth-outfielder role. In response, a commenter had this to say:

"I hope this is not serious!! Fukodome [sic] would have been the last person the braves need."

The comment has since been either deleted or removed, I guess, but surely Fukudome is not really the last person the Braves need. I submit for your consideration, without further comment:

Juan Pierre

Alex Rios

Raul Ibanez

Aubrey Huff

Aubrey Drake Graham

Everyone else who starred in Degrassi

Jose Constanza

Jose Canseco

Kevin Costner as Crash Davis 

Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel

Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella
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2012-02-22T06:06:36+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/the-last-person-the-braves-need.html
2012 player preview: Yohan Flande http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-yohan-flande.html
You can do a lot worse than Flande, though. In 137 innings for Gwinnett, split between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Flande had a 4.01 ERA, struck out 104, walked just 38, and allowed only nine homers. That translates to a 3.37 FIP, which is pretty damn good for a guy I'm calling roster filler. When you consider that 2011 was his first year pitching at AAA, things get a little more impressive.

But sometimes, you have to think realistically. With the Braves starting five right now, along with Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and JJ Hoover in Gwinnett and Zeke Spruill in Mississippi, the highest you can put Flande on the major league depth chart is tenth, and that's assuming you don't think much of Todd Redmond. Flande could actually probably start and do an adequate job for a bad team in the majors, but he's really not going to get a shot with the Braves. For now, he'll continue to hold his own in Gwinnett, and perhaps he'll be able to get a late season callup for a bullpen role. But if he's starting in the majors for Atlanta, things have taken a really bad turn for the Braves. No offense to Flande, but there are so many better options for the team right now.

Check out THT's projection for Flande here ]]>
2012-02-22T01:48:19+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-yohan-flande.html
Fredi Gonzalez isn't good with cliches http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/fredi-gonzalez-isnt-good-with-cliches.html SPRING TRAINING, HELL YEAH! Fortunately, that means we get access to a new round of awesome Fredi Gonzalez interviews. Today, Fredi spoke with reporters upon the opening of spring camp.

"Stop looking in the rear view mirror and start looking in the front mirror to see what's ahead of us"

So uh...stop looking in the rear view mirror, that's self explanatory. If you're looking at a mirror, you're seeing what's behind you. If you were looking in a mirror that would show you what's in front of you...it's just glass? It's not a mirror at all?

"In the major leagues today they're breaking camp today, or broke camp yesterday, I think Seattle broke camp a week ago..."

Note to Fredi: breaking camp is what happens at the end of game, thus you'll hear the phrase "broke camp and headed to Atlanta to start the season", not "broke camp and started practicing in Orlando".

Guys, I have a feeling our manager isn't too smart.

[h/t: Dirk Hayhurst on Twitter]

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2012-02-21T10:46:14+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/fredi-gonzalez-isnt-good-with-cliches.html
Hanson in car accident to start spring http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/hanson-in-car-accident-to-start-spring.html
....and so begins the Braves' spring camp. Hanson is going to be a huge part of Atlanta's success or failure this season, and a concussion, no matter how minor or how severe, would slow his progress in his return to facing live hitting his spring. Concussions are serious business, and it would be an absolutely crushing blow to the team early on if he suffered one. Here's hoping that Hanson is fine and in camp tomorrow to resume workouts and drills.]]>
2012-02-21T00:24:33+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/hanson-in-car-accident-to-start-spring.html
The MLB blackout rules and you http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/the-mlb-blackout-rules-and-you.html
But Braves fans are everywhere nationwide, and this is more complicated than "southern fans are fine!" Here's a list of the games where the Braves game on Saturday will fall into FOX's broadcast window.

June 16th, 7 PM: Orioles @ Braves
June 23rd, 7 PM: Braves @ Red Sox
July 7th, 7 PM: Braves @ Phillies
July 14th, 3:30 PM: Mets @ Braves
July 28th, 3:30 PM: Phillies @ Braves
August 25th, 3:30 PM: Braves @ Giants
September 1st, 3:30 PM: Phillies @ Braves
September 8th, 3:30 PM: Braves @ Mets

So the Braves are going to be featured in FOX blackouts just eight times, out of a possible 22. The final two Saturdays of the season are up to FOX as to which games they want to feature, so the max possible amount is ten blackouts, which isn't that terrible. Compare that to some other prominent teams though. The Phillies have seven games on nationally, the Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees have nine, the Mets have eight for some reason...you get the idea. Most of the good teams in the league in larger markets have a lot of games on, while the smaller market teams don't have many.

What does this mean for you if you're an out of market fan looking to buy MLB.TV or Extra Innings? Well, in addition to the local blackouts you'll get (living in central PA, I get four: Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Pirates), you'll be blacked out of eight additional games unless you're in the viewing area for those games. Note that all but one of the FOX telecasts are against teams located in the northeast, which means that fans west of maybe Ohio would be screwed for watching Braves games on FOX.

Personally, the blackouts aren't a huge deal for me. They'll always be around. They totally suck, but they'll be there for awhile. But the thing that irks me are the local overall blackouts, because I'm thinking about ditching my cable box....which would take me out of the running to view games on Root Pittsburgh, Comcast Philly, and MASN. That's what, 47 games I wouldn't be able to see? At worst, let me watch the non-local feed on MLB.TV. It's the least you can do, right?]]>
2012-02-18T00:41:19+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/the-mlb-blackout-rules-and-you.html
2012 player preview: Robert Fish http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-robert-fish.html
The 24 year-old showed a negative trait, however: walks. Fish walked 18 hitters in those 30 1/3 innings, but with all due respect, seven of those came in one disastrous appearance in September. Take that outing out, and Fish struck out 41 and walked 11 in 28 2/3 innings. Combine that with the 19 hits he allowed (again, excluding that seven walk appearance in September, where he also allowed two hits), and Fish had a fantastic 1.367 DOM on the season. That is a fantastic number.

In AA last year, Fish did show some platoon splits against lefties and righties. Against lefties, he walked four and struck out 17 in 11 innings (1.133 DOM). Against righties, he struck out 24 and walked 14 in 19 1/3 innings (0.800 DOM). That's a definite split, and he could have a role on the team as a lefty specialist, much in the role that George Sherrill had last year (and was effective at, despite fans and their silly anti-Sherrill crusade).

Fish has thrown just 2/3 of an inning in AAA, and his lack of experience at the level could submarine his chances at making the major league roster. He's a nice guy to have in the organization, and I hope that even if he doesn't make the major league roster, the Braves are able to work something out with the Angels to keep him in the organization.
]]>
2012-02-16T01:05:26+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-robert-fish.html
Braves miss a great chance with Fukudome http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/braves-miss-a-great-chance-with-fukudome.html Kosuke Fukudome signed with the Chicago White Sox, for the low cost of $1 million. When I saw this, I immediately began to think how great of a fit he would have been with the Braves, especially at that price.

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

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

At the end of the day, Frank Wren's trade for Matt Diaz last August continues to haunt the team. He's an inferior player to Fukudome, and he's more than twice as much. Seriously? Feel good stories are all well and good sometimes, but only when they work out well. The Diaz acquisition continues to plague the Braves, nearly six months after it happened. ]]>
2012-02-15T00:36:03+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/braves-miss-a-great-chance-with-fukudome.html
Exploring DOM, Atlanta's pitching stat of choice http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/exploring-dom-atlantas-pitching-stat-of-choice.html
Kris Medlen 2
Eric O'Flaherty 0.838
Jonny Venters 1
Craig Kimbrel 1.588
Anthony Varvaro 0.885
Randall Delgado 0.419
Jair Jurrjens 0.484
George Sherrill 0.844
Tim Hudson 0.645
Peter Moylan 0.667
Cristhian Martinez 0.773
Tommy Hanson 0.934
Scott Linebrink 0.532
Brandon Beachy 0.988
Mike Minor 0.626
Arodys Vizcaino 0.68
Julio Teheran 0.345
Derek Lowe 0.486
Scott Proctor 0.36
Jairo Asencio 0.381
Cory Gearrin 0.862

Some interesting observations coming out of the list...

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

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

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

When tracking the minor league stats for 2012, I'll be keeping track of DOM from now on, just to see if promotions match the newly unearthed stat. It'll be interesting to watch for sure. ]]>
2012-02-14T05:26:33+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/exploring-dom-atlantas-pitching-stat-of-choice.html
2012 player preview: Luis Durango http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-luis-durango.html
Comparing the 25 (soon to be 26) year-old to Constanza's stint in the majors this past year, you get a sense that Durango is a lesser version of Constanza. Constanza received 119 plate appearances last season, his only career major league action, and had a .724 OPS. He walked six times (5.0%), and stole seven bases, but unlike Durango, he was caught four times. Constanza also showed more power than Durango, rapping out four extra base hits, including a pair of homers.

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

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

Check out Durango's projection on THT here ]]>
2012-02-14T00:38:42+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-luis-durango.html
2012 player preview: Matt Diaz http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-matt-diaz.html When the Braves acquired Matt Diaz from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of August, I was vehemently opposed to the move for several reasons.

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com ]]>
2012-02-11T22:33:34+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-matt-diaz.html
2012 player preview: Randall Delgado http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-randall-delgado.html Randall Delgado made a lot of strides in 2011, ending up in the major league rotation to finish the season, but at the end of the day, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out Delgado's projection on THT here

Photo credit to Joe Lucia
 ]]>
2012-02-11T01:33:35+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-randall-delgado.html
Five prospects loaded with questions in 2012 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/five-prospects-loaded-with-questions-in-2012.html
1. Mycal Jones
Jones is a very toolsy player, and last season was his first in center field after switching from shortstop. His defense vastly improved after switching positions (as you can tell by the numbers on THT, it's a two win improvement), but there are still some questions about Jones's offense and his maturity. The soon-to-be 25 year-old was arrested for DUI last season a week after coming back from a foot injury that kept him out for a month, and he played just 100 games on the season. Jones did improve some facets of his game in 2011, as while his strikeout remained constant at around 24%, his walk rate improved from 7.4% (which is already pretty decent) up to 12.5%, which is excellent. His power fell off though, with an ISO dropping from .159 to .129. He's still quite adept on the bases (73.9% success rate last seaon, compared to 75.9% in 2010), which is a benefit to his game. If Jones is able to add a little bit of power to his game in 2012, he could be the starter in center in 2013. Or, he could be an organizational bat. The window is closing pretty quickly given his age.

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

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

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

5. Evan Gattis
In 2010 for Danville, Evan Gattis was a 23 year-old debuting rookie. Last season for Rome, he was a 24 year-old who absolutely terrorized Sally League pitching, posting a .986 OPS and 22 homers in 89 games. So, what's the question here? Well, he'll be a 25 year-old in high-A in 2012, and if he doesn't produce...well, that's the point where you cut bait. Last season in Rome was fantastic, but he's set the bar pretty high for himself....and that's not necessarily a good thing when you're as advanced as Gattis is. He's a little old to be considered a "prospect", but if he can keep destroying minor league pitching, he may hit himself into the argument.]]>
2012-02-09T22:12:43+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/five-prospects-loaded-with-questions-in-2012.html
2012 player preview: Todd Cunningham http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-todd-cunningham.html
Some immediate thoughts about Cunningham's 2011 season. His plate discipline was roughly the same as it was in 2010, with 34 walks and 52 strikeouts in 91 games. That's actually pretty good, especially in comparison to some of the prospects in the organization. His power also increased, as his ISO jumped up to .099. The power is still pretty minimal for a corner outfielder, but I'm wondering how much his injury in the middle of the season sapped his power.

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

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

Check out THT's projection for Cunningham here ]]>
2012-02-08T00:48:15+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-todd-cunningham.html
2012 player preview: Erik Cordier http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-erik-cordier.html Time for a guy who could be a factor for the Braves this season, but not in his current role: Erik Cordier. The 25 (26 this month) year-old Cordier was acquired from the Braves way back in March of 2007 from the Royals in exchange for Tony Pena Jr, then a shortstop. He missed all of the 2007 following Tommy John surgery, and only threw 45 innings in 2008 for the GCL and Rome. In those 45 innings, Cordier struck out 36 and walked 22.

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

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

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

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

Check out THT's player projection for Cordier here

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com ]]>
2012-02-07T05:25:23+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-erik-cordier.html
Braves officially unveil new alternate jersey http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/braves-officially-unveil-new-alternate-jersey.html jersey1 
 The jerseys are identical to the ones we initially linked to last month. Here's a closeup view of the patch on the sleeve.
jersey2 
My initial thoughts? NEEDS MORE TOMAHAWKS. No tomahawk on the front of the jersey makes me a sad panda, and takes the team down another small path towards political correctness. But dammit, I associate the tomhawk so highly with the team.

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

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

The jerseys are available for sale today at the CNN Center clubhouse store, and you can order them online right now.]]>
2012-02-06T21:22:10+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/braves-officially-unveil-new-alternate-jersey.html
2012 player preview: Jose Constanza http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-jose-constanza.html Jose Constanza is a very polarizing figure among Braves fans. Some erroneously believe that he should have gotten more playing time down the stretch. Some correctly believe that all he can be is an extra outfielder due to his good speed and little else in his game. Constanza will go into camp competing for the fifth outfielder slot (yes, fifth outfielder....remember, Matt Diaz and his guaranteed contract have the fourth spot locked down), but should Braves fans expect anything higher than a replacement level performance from him?

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

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

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

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

Check out THT's projection for Constanza here

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com ]]>
2012-02-04T21:45:46+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/2012-player-preview-jose-constanza.html
Top 30 Braves Prospects: #5-1 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/top-30-braves-prospects-5-1.html 5. Sean Gilmartin
I criticized the Gilmartin draft pick immediately when it happened because I saw no reason for a team with a glut of near major league ready pitching prospects to take a college arm that would zip through the system. Well, his performance hasn't warranted me to be irritated at him, but the point still remains: he's going to go through the system ridiculously fast. The 21 year-old threw two innings in the GCL before the Braves moved him up to Rome, where he threw 23 innings, struck out 30, and walked....two. In the AFL, he struck out 26 and walked eight. One negative about Gilmartin's pro debut: he allowed three homers in Rome, and five in the AFL. He's going to move very fast, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him start 2012 in Mississippi. Remember Mike Minor (another college arm) and his tour to the majors....14 innings in Rome after getting drafted, going right to Mississippi in 2010, and being with Gwinnett and Atlanta later that season, the year after he was drafted. Yeah, I wouldn't be shocked to see Gilmartin on the same track.
THT Projection

4. Edward Salcedo
I still believe in Salcedo. Salcedo is another guy who a lot of bloggers are abandoning ship on, despite the fact that he played most of 2011 as a 19 year old. He spent the whole year with Rome, and there were positives and negatives to his game. We'll start with the negatives: his defense was positively atrocious and will definitely require a positional change, and...well, that's really it considering that he's still a raw kid. He hit .248/.313/.396, showing decent power (.148 ISO) and OK plate discipline (41 walks, 105 strikeouts). There are still a lot of holes in his game, but the now 20 year-old will start the year in Lynchburg, with another year in America under his belt and a couple of less excuses for his performance. I think he can break out in a big way this season.
THT Projection

3. Randall Delgado
The freshly minted 22 year-old Delgado reached the show in 2011, and held his own despite some ugly peripherals. Despite a 2.83 ERA in seven starts, Delgado walked 14 while striking out 18 in 35 innings, two numbers that will need to change for him to retain success at the major league level. He also allowed five homers in 35 innings, another number that's way too high. Delgado got just four starts at Gwinnett before getting called up to the majors, but did have 21 for Mississippi, where he struck out 110 in 117 innings. Delgado will start the year in Gwinnett with the majors just an injury away, but he's still got a lot to work on, specifically his control. 71 walks over 174 innings in three levels is too many, and Delgado needs to harness his pitches just a little better in order for sustained success in the majors.
THT Projection

2. Arodys Vizcaino
Vizcaino started the year in Lynchburg's rotation, and ended it in Atlanta's bullpen. He threw a total of 114 innings over the season, both starting and relieving, and struck out 117 while walking just 27. Atlanta needs to figure out what they want to do with Vizcaino. He could potentially be a dominant reliever or a top-line starter, but with Atlanta's glut of starting pitching right now, he could immediately contribute in the bullpen right now. At the same time, you don't want to tie him into the bullpen long-term if you think he can be a better starter, much like has happened with Neftali Feliz (until the Rangers finally decided to make him a full-time starter this year) and Jonathan Papelbon.
THT Projection

1. Julio Teheran
Teheran was the best pitcher in the organization, and one of the best in all of minor league baseball, in 2011, and he did it all as a 20 year-old. For Gwinnett, Teheran went 15-3 in 25 starts (145 innings), striking out 122 and walking 48 while allowing just five homers. His success didn't translate too well to the major league level, where Teheran struck out ten and walked eight in 20 innings in the majors. He could probably still use a little bit of time in Gwinnett to refine his game, but he's pretty damn close to being major league ready. With the Braves major league rotation set in stone right now, it wouldn't be bad to sent him down to Gwinnett to perfect his craft, but putting him (or Delgado for that matter) in the major league bullpen would be a colossal mistake.
THT Projection]]>
2012-02-03T22:16:00+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/top-30-braves-prospects-5-1.html
Luis Durango Doug http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/luis-durango-doug.html
Part 1: Exposition

 dob_durango

Take a moment to be glad that I'm not riffing on 'scatty,' then briefly scold @cgros127 for using 'FWI', which is not an acronym for anything useful, then follow me to Part 2.


Part 2: Rememberance and Extrapolation

Rememberance: Y'all recall the TV show Doug? Not the awful version from ABC, but the one from Nickelodeon? I assume you do, because '90s nostalgia accounts for ... well, whatever percent of internet traffic isn't devoted to Netflix, porn, and making dumb comments (~22%). And if you do remember the show, then you might happen to have a few faint strands of the lyrics to this tune bouncing around in your grey matter ...

 


Extrapolation: Luis Durango brushes his hair with a cactus and wears a snake for a belt. This has nothing whatsoever to do with his being an effective baseball player; all I'm saying is that whatever hair remains on his head after the cactus brushing (you'll note Doug's sparse foliage up top) quickly falls out under the stress of repeated haranguing and death threats from PETA. 

And I hope he wears a sturdy cup, because I can't say that's where I'd leave the fanged snake's head were I to tie it around my waist.

Part 3: Epilogue

Luis Durango is a latter-day Jose Constanza, and has finally ascended to the stage whereupon he will embrace his ultimate destiny in life: driving a wedge between Braves fans in exactly the same way as his spiritual predecessor did a scant few months ago. 
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2012-02-03T08:09:50+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/luis-durango-doug.html
Top 30 Braves Prospects: #10-6 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/top-30-braves-prospects-10-6.html 10. Zeke Spruill
Injury issues. Maturity questions. There was a lot of turbulation surrounding Spruill going into 2011. What he did was nothing short of outstanding. As a 21 year-old, Spruill spent about 2/3 of his year with Lynchburg, and 1/3 with Mississippi. While a Hillcat, Spruill threw 130 innings in 22 starts, struck out 92 and walked 23. He threw a minor league-leading six complete games as well. Once getting the bump to Mississippi, his dominance waned, but only slightly. In seven starts, Spruill threw 45 innings, walked 17 and struck out 16. He is an absolute groundball machine and does a fantastic job at keeping the ball in the park. He'll start off at Mississippi and attempt to master that league, with a promotion to Gwinnett looming.
THT Projection

9. Andrelton Simmons
Simmons has quickly become one of the highest regarded prospects, but I'm not necessarily sipping the Kool-Aid quite as heavily as others. In his first full year, Simmons was moved up to Lynchburg, where he showed he was a defensive whiz with a cannon arm, with THT grading his defense as two wins above replacement level. His bat is good for a middle infielder, with a line of .311/.344/.408 last year, but the lack of power really worries me. Simmons also has interesting plate discipline, as he doesn't strike out (43) or walk (29) a lot. At the end of the day, I'd really like to see him add some more walks and some more power to his game before I proclaim him a top 100 prospect.
THT Projection 

8. Tyler Pastornicky
We went with the more advanced shortstop prospect over the one with the higher upside, so sue us. Playing with Mississippi for most of 2011, Pastornicky hit .299/.334/.414 with 34 strikeouts and 24 walks in just 91 games. He earned a late season promotion to Gwinnett, where he hit .365/.393/.414. His power disappeared after the promotion, but he's still doing all of this on offense at a higher level than Simmons, at a younger age (about three months younger, to be exact). The 22 year-old will start 2012 as Atlanta's starting shortstop, and there is some disaster potential here after just a month's worth of games at AAA.
THT Projection

7. Christian Bethancourt
Bethancourt played all of 2011 as a 19 year-old, which many fans aren't considering when looking at his progress as a prospect. In 54 games at Rome, he hit .303/.323/.430 before earning a promotion to Lynchburg, where he struggled to a .271/.274/.325 line in 46 games. The plate discipline is obviously an issue, as he walked just 11 times in 100 games. But Bethancourt's power definitely took a step forward after an ugly 2010 (at age 18!), and his performance in the AFL this fall was impressive, as he hit .306/.324/.556. The five AFL homers he hit matched his season total in just 20 games. Bethancourt is still growing and maturing, and this is a prospect list, not a "sure thing" list. Bethancourt is still an excellent prospect, despite people jumping off the bandwagon left and right.
THT Projection

6. JJ Hoover
Hoover turned himself from a middle of the road starting pitching prospect into a potentially dominant relief prospect in 2011, and that certainly helps his long-term value. In 13 2/3 innings out of the bullpen for Gwinnett after being promoted from Mississippi, Hoover struck out 25 and walked just six, while not allowing an earned run in the process. This is a guy who's role has completely changed from April to August, and now as a reliever, his career has a second life. I'd expect him to start the year in Gwinnett to get more of a feel for his new role as a reliever, and possibly earning a callup to Atlanta in the late summer.
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2012-02-03T05:01:55+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/top-30-braves-prospects-10-6.html
Top 30 Braves Prospects: #15-11 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/top-30-braves-prospects-15-11.html 15. Adam Milligan
The 23 year-old Milligan is a supremely talented individual....but he just cannot stay healthy. This season for Lynchburg, Milligan had a .902 OPS and 35 extra base hits, but only played in 64 games. The prior season, while playing for Myrtle Beach, Milligan struggled due to a shoulder injury and played in just 23 games with a .653 OPS. The most games Milligan has played in a season came in 2009 in short-season ball, where Milligan played in 67 games. When healthy, he is an absolute masher. His ISO in 2011 was .266. Milligan doesn't walk a ton, with just a 6.2% walk rate last season compared to a 29.5% strikeout rate. He reminds me a lot of Cody Johnson, with a lot fewer strikeouts. If he's ever healthy for a full season, look out.
THT Projection

14. JR Graham
The 2011 fourth round pick Graham burst onto the scene this season and immediately became a force in Danville's rotation. The 21 year-old struck out 52 while walking 13 in 57 2/3 innings while not allowing a homer, and he flashed a fastball that touched 98 miles per hour that Baseball America graded as the best in the Braves draft class last season. Graham's future may end up being in the bullpen, but for now, the Braves will keep running him out there as a starter. As a college arm, he could move quickly through the system, and he may not stay at Rome for long this spring.
THT Projection

13. Tommy La Stella
La Stella was an eighth round pick in the 2011 draft, and was named the best pure hitters in the Braves draft class by Baseball America. He skipped short season ball entirely and was sent to Rome, where he dominated. in 63 games, La Stella had a line of .328/.401/.543 with 27 extra base hits, 26 walks, and 28 strikeouts. As a college bat out of Coastal Carolina, the 23 year-old has already begun a quick march through the farm system. I'd expect him to start at Lynchburg, and depending on the play of Philip Gosselin in Mississippi, he could leapfrog him on the depth chart and take over there.
THT Projection

12. Joe Terdoslavich
Terdoslavich has leapt into the collective minds of Braves fans as a legitimate ace prospect after one good season in Lynchburg, where he OPSed .867 and hit a Carolina League record 52 doubles. The sixth round pick from 2010 had a fantastic first full season in the organization, and is on the cusp of being an elite prospect. But overall, he played the season as a 22 year-old in the low minors. While his performance was good, it wasn't truly dominant. His strike zone discipline still needs some sort after he struck out 107 times last year, but he isn't awful by any respect in that regard. If more of those doubles start going over the fence, look out. He seemingly solidified his performance in 2011 with a good showing in the AFL, OPSing .972 and making the league's All-Prospect team. I'm not sold on him as an elite prospect quite yet, though. One more season like 2011, and I'll be picking up the Kool-Aid.
THT Projection

11. Carlos Perez
I don't think any prospect's stock took more of a hit in 2011 than Perez's. Initially expected to follow in the footsteps of Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, and Randall Delgado, Perez fell short of expectations in 2011. In 125 innings, he struck out 109 and walked 66, resulting in a slight increase of his strikeout rate from 7.15 to 7.85 and an increase in walk rate from 3.92 to an unsightly 4.75 per nine innings. But there still is a lot to love with Perez. His stuff is excellent, he kept the ball on the ground pretty well, and he was plagued by bad luck last season, with a .323 BABIP and a horrendous 59.4% strand rate. Plus, he didn't turn 20 years-old until the season ended. Maybe we all set our expectations a little high for Perez, but we can all breathe a little easier if he comes out guns ablazing to start the 2012 season.
THT Projection ]]>
2012-02-02T02:07:48+00:00 http://www.chop-n-change.com/2012-articles/february/top-30-braves-prospects-15-11.html