Apologies for no posts since the Winter Meetings. Spring training has come and gone, ushering in new chapters, faces, hopes, and potential records. Through the first 15 games of the season, Braves fans truly couldn’t ask for much more. A 13-2 records puts Atlanta atop the NL-East by a four game margin, and most importantly, puts heat on the Washington Nationals to perform every night. Most Braves runs have come courtesy of the long ball, but the victories can be traced to a league leading ERA of 1.92. Let’s give an assessment of each player thus far in their performance. I’ll go down the typical order that Freddi puts out.
Simply put, Atlanta needs more runs from their leadoff hitter. Runs can’t be scored if the guy doesn’t get on base. Expect the .167 avg to creep up over the next few weeks. It’s too early to start doubting, but Braves fans do not want to see another 5 year contract and production similar to what Dan Uggla has produced. I expect Simmons to eventually take over the leadoff spot, moving BJ down to 5 or 6 spot. Three swipes in the first 15 games is good to see. As that avg rises, so will the stolen bases.
Ugh…this just breaks my heart to see. Atlanta, and even baseball for that matter, does not want to see this guy turn into a streaky year-up and year-down player. His swing is just looking to tight and fidgety. A .115 avg is just not acceptable, especially for a 2-slot hitter. On the bright side, time tells that the average will rise and he will start to hit the gaps better. And considering the Braves have a 13-2 record without their franchise player performing, that’s not a terrible situation to be in. I see J-Hey putting up much better numbers in May and who’s to say that he won’t have a monster summer? Another plus is that his defense has looked fantastic for us.
How can there be such parity between two spots? Where J-Hey has faltered, Justin has done nothing but shine in his first month as a Brave. He is on track to break a franchise record for most home runs in April. Through 58 AB’s he has hit 9 dingers, a feat he did not accomplish last season until early AUGUST. Those who said all he needed has a change of scenery couldn’t have been more right. However, with an MLB leading 9 homers, he only sits at 13 RBI. This is a direct reflection of the avg and OBP of Heyward and big brother. If all three start clicking at the same time, look out. It’s hard to pick a favorite already but here is my preferred J-Up longball.
Freeman was off to a sizzling start until placed on the 15-day DL. Words has it, Freddie wasn’t too happy with Freddi. But with such a great start, there isn’t too much room to hold a grudge. Freeman sustained an oblique strain during the opening series but felt he could play through it. Braves’ brass opted to play it safe while also getting Chris Johnson more looks (which has played out well). Again, the Braves have seen a great chunk of their success even without their rising star. Once he is in the lineup, rest assured that even more runs will cross the plate.
Evan Gattis is basically a walking legend right now. It’s hard to believe that this guy was a janitor/ski lift operator little over five years ago. His first MLB hit sailed over the left field fence in the Ted with friends and family watching. His first pinch-hit appearance gave his Braves a decisive 2-run lead, breaking a deadlocked game in PNC park. He has gone five times in 43 AB’s, also posting a .279 avg. Baseball writers and experts have lauded his story and abilities since Opening Day. Once McCann is back, the Braves will have a hard decision to make as to who will be managing the game behind the dish. For now, Atlanta, and all of baseball, will just continue to ride the Gattis wave.
Through the first 15 games, Uggla hasn’t shown any surprises. His .179 avg is par for the course The three long balls are to be expected. Walks are high, yet so are the strikeouts. Four errors is typical for Dan Uggla….he’s doing exactly what baseball has expected. Uggla’s time with the Braves has been a rollercoaster of emotion and production. He hasn’t been the guy that the Braves intended to sign after Bobby Cox’s departure. His power numbers are lower than hoped for, yet his fielding is slightly better than anticipated. But hey, to have the raw power and not-so-bad OBP hitting in the 6 or 7 hole isn’t a terrible thing.
Chris Johnson’s production, attitude and presence have given Braves fans reason to breath again after having to part with Martin Prado. I was right there too, “I dunno…Prado is versatile, clutch, hard-working and a clubhouse presence. Outside of Chipper, he is basically irreplaceable.” Johnson has proven us wrong, so far at least. His .438 avg leads the Bigs. The power numbers are there with 2 HR’s and 7 RBI. It’s also a welcome commodity have the guy play 1B as well. If Freeman ever needs a break or we just need more presence from the right side (one of our problems for the last three or four years), Johnson can be penciled in first. Plus, I am also a big fan of his swing. The guy just has a pretty stroke.
That’s all I have time for this morning. I will try to get the rest and then also an assessment of the pitching staff up as well.
Outside of the Toronto/Miami blockbuster, the Braves have made the most offseason noise this winter. In less than a week, the Braves have filled the needs of an OF position and right handed power via the BJ Upton acquisition. In a surprise to some, Wren and Co. shipped out “Big Red” Tommy Hanson to his native West Coast for Angels’ reliever Jordan Walden.
Going into Nashville, expect the Braves to continue building their team. There is still money to play with and tantalizing trade options available. Be ready to see a new OF join the fold and possibly a few pitching prospects shipped away. I’ll now give my grades and analyses of the two moves.
BJ UPTON ACQUISITION OF 5YRS/$75 MILL.
Is Bossman Junior a picture perfect pickup for the Braves? Did he fit everything and more that Atlanta could have ever dreamed of? No….but who was? Many will scoff at his low OBP and high strikeout rate. Most will acknowledge he is a plus average defender. Anyone can pick out and magnify each flaw of every OF candidate. I’ve heard a ton while sifting through the rumor mills….
“Bourn will be too pricey as a Boras client and his legs will fall off at the end of a 5-year deal…”
“Pagan isn’t getting any younger and just had a good/lucky year….”
“Hamilton carries more baggage than a Kardashian…”
“Victorino had an awful year in LA and fell off the map…”
“Upton has an attitude problem and gets on base as much as some pitchers…”
The fact of the matter is, every one of these guys are quality players that have many strengths and fewer weaknesses…..who does a team expect to sign, Willie Mays??? I love the move for BJ Upton because it got him off the table quick. Wren and Co. were smart to wrap up their biggest need first. The OF market will now only get more pricey. Heck, Johnny Gomes started it off by signed a 2yr/$10 mill deal….if that’s the starting gauge, I can’t wait to see how much the Phillies overpay for Pagan, Bourn, or maybe even Hamilton. It seems BJ was
blown away pleasantly surprised by his reception from Braves’ brass, stating that they made him “feel at home.” Kuddos Frank n’ Freddie.
I truly believe that his OBP will rise and strikeouts will drop. He has a lot more protection in Atlanta. My guess is that he will be batting somewhere between Heyward and Freddie. With a potential 30/30-club guy in front of him, he’ll be seeing a lot more fastballs. With the leader in team RBI’s from 2012 behind him, he won’t see as many pitches out of the zone. After all, in TB all he really had hitting behind him was Longoria (shout out to a well deserved extension) and Carlos Pena.
I really feel that Upton was the best fit for Atlanta’s needs. He hits for power, from the right and plays better than acceptable defense at less cost than Bourn would be. He also makes the team younger and keeps them just as fast.
Will/Should the Braves go after Justin Upton?
Well for starters, if they find a trade then Andrelton Simmons will not be involved in the deal. I would love to see Heyward and the Upton Bros. manning the ATL outfield as much as the next guy, but ARZ will ask for a lot in return. The D-Backs are looking for MLB ready talent in pitching and SS/3B. I could actually see trade talks pick up if the Indians are involved as well. Braves could send SS prospect Nick Ahmed and Randal Delgado to Cleveland. Indians could send Shin-Soo Choo and/or Asdrubal Cabrera to Arizona. Upton, of course, would come to play at the Ted in Atlanta. While these wouldn’t be the exact terms, I think it’s a good starting point and don’t be surprised if Wren tries to involve a 3rd party
TOMMY HANSON FOR JORDAN WALDEN
To be honest, this one caught me by surprise a bit; not that Hanson was dealt, but that we received another reliever. From my previous posts, I’ve been hoping the Braves would trade Hanson for months now. I just couldn’t help but seeing him turn into another Jair Jurrjens case. Sell on whatever value he has now and move on. I was excited for Hanson for those first two years but his velocity keeps dropping and his mechanics just scream of multiple, future surgeries.
Walden is a year removed from a 32 save, all-star appearance, Rookie of the Year contender season. He throws smoke and though he struggled a bit in 2012, it’s too early too give up on him just yet. Plus, he will be utilized in a RH set-up role…not closing.
While I would have loved to see a return of Peter Bourjos, this move frees up even more salary space ($4 million) to sign another big-ticket OF. Also, expect talks of re-signing Chad Durbin to die out pretty quickly. To be fair though, Durbin didn’t do half bad for us last year (3.10 ERA–second lowest in career–in 76 appearances). This move might be to counter EOF’s value skyrocketing over his Atlanta tenure. Maybe we don’t see an extension or re-sign on the lefty when his contract is up. Maybe he will just be flipped in a trade for an OF. Maybe we will just keep him and take a run at having the best bullpen in MLB history…Either way, it benefits the Braves and Hanson has been traded. Side note: I think the Angels are a perfect fit for Big Red and wish him the best of luck there.
I’ll give the Laird pickup a B….after it was clear that Ross was talking more money and years, Laird was probably the most logical option.
For all of my readers–namely my mom and buddies who occasionally throw me a sympathy bone–I will be attending the Winter Meetings in Nashville! The plane actually leaves tomorrow. I will do my best to take some pictures of super-cool, famous people and post them upon returning.
Well, I think that the pain has subsided enough now to post again. That wildcard game was such a heart-breaker. To see Chip go out like that was pretty rough. Another season bring hopes of brighter days an–especially for the Braves–new faces.
David Ross has already found a new home in Boston, caught in an intriguing tangle with two other catchers Ryan Lavarnway and former Brave Jarrod Saltalamacchia (I almost spelled that right the fist time!). I was really hoping (and assuming) that the Braves would make bringing Rossy back on a one or two year deal was a day one priority. By the looks of it, Michael Bourn will not be returning and Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, and Miguel Batista will be finding new employers as well. It was initially thought that the Braves would bring back Reed Johnson, but with the re-acquisition of former ATL prospect Jordan Schafer, those plans seem to now be up in the air. My guess is that Chad Durbin will return to the ‘pen.
Most are anticipating a move for Prado from LF to the hot corner. This leaves CF and LF vacant or a possible CF, 3B. Francisco could be an option at third but it’s not the most likely scenario.
Backup Catcher Signed Gerald Laird….not a terrible move. Obviously they don’t think Bethancourt is ready.
Right-handed power (from an OF)
So here are 5 moves that I think that Braves could explore. Reminder, I am not Frank Wren (obviously) so if some of these sound far fetched or unrealistic, forgive me. I’ll keep it as plausible as normal though.
1. Sign BJ Upton
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman suggests that Upton tops the Braves’ FA wishlist. While many may complain about his OBP (an ugly .298 last year), we need to realize that he probably wouldn’t be penciled in at leadoff. Also, he didn’t have as much protection in TB. Over the years, his greatest bats behind him were Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena…nothing to break a huge sweat over. Braves hitting also ranked 2nd in the MLB for walks. With some additional help from Greg Walker and dangerous lumber behind him, Upton’s OBP will rise. With no other moves, I see Prado (maybe Simmons) hitting leadoff and Upton batting second to wreck havoc on the basepaths.
Upton also brings more right-handed pop to the table (28 HR’s 78 RBI’s). A huge dip won’t be seen in terms of stolen bases. While Bourn handled most of the swiping duties last year, Simmons will have a complete season (hopefully) and don’t be surprised if J-Hey takes a stab at joining the 30-30 club.
2. Trade for Justin Upton (contingent upon #1)
Yes, I know that landing the brothers would be unlikely and that we aren’t picture perfect trade candidates for the D-Backs, but listen to me. The D-Backs are searching for pitching and a MLB ready SS or 3B. I feel that a trade sending Hanson, Teheran and Juan Francisco would at least be looked at by Arizona. They receive two quality arms–one for now, one for the near future–and a young 3B with some pop. The Rangers tried including the Braves as a third party for an Upton trade earlier this week. The deal involved the Rangers receiving J. Upton and sending prospect mike Olt to the Braves for Andrelton Simmons, who would go to Arizona. The Braves wisely balked.
Don’t expect BJ to take a brotherly love discount and don’t expect the D-Backs to be more inclined to ship Justin off if the Braves sign BJ. But it would be a blast to see what they can do in the same lineup. Also, I think that the trade talks for Justin will increase if BJ gets signed.
3. Trade for Denard Span
The Twins needs pitching. We have it. We need a CF. They have Ben Revere and Denard Span. Both can’t play CF in Target Field. A deal could be made.
Span quietly put together a pretty good season in 2012. He hit .283 and had his best year in terms in dWAR. Plus, Span has plus speed and a workable contract (earning $3 mil last year). Span could be a productive leadoff hitter and give us solid production for a solid 3-4 years.
A trade package for him would probably involve Tommy Hanson (can you tell I really want to trade him) and probably a prospect like Zeke Spuill
4. Trade for Dexter Fowler
Similar situation in Coors Field, only worse. The Rockies put together a miserable season on the mound. They need pitching more than any other MLB team but are strapped financially to franchise players Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Old Man Weather, Todd Helton. They won’t be able to make too much noise in the FA market this year and what they can afford won’t get them far.
Fowler is an Atlanta native which adds a little bit of hometown flavor. He pieced together a .300 avg last season (higher than any Braves player) and shows some pop for a leadoff guy. He has good speed but doesn’t swipe a ton of bags. Also, his defense is nothing to rave about either. Still, he would be a decent addition in CF and that would leave us money to go after a nice pitching piece for our rotation. Someone the likes of Edwin Jackson or Shaun Marcum.
5 (the crazy one). Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
I don’t think there is a player that hits the ball as hard as Mr. Stanton. Who knows what the Marlins are capable of doing? They have needs everywhere. If it meant giving up Medlen, Delgado and Bethancourt to do it, I would take it in a heartbeat. We could use the money still available to go after another pitcher to shore up the rotation. Who knows, maybe Gilmartin would be ready by Opening Day and we could throw out Hudson, Hanson, Maholm, Minor and Gilmartin….that’s not terrible. Plus, Stanton is raw, right-handed power. I’m sure he or Heyward could play LF and you could give Shafer another shot at CF…..overall, not the greatest idea. But I’d really love to see Stanton in Turner.
I’ll keep posting my thoughts on offseason moves. I’m actually going to the Winter Baseball Meetings in Nashville this December too! So, stay tuned for some sweet pics of me photobombing John Kruk. I’ll try to post about the rotation and ‘pen within a week too.
Another October is upon the Chop Nation. It’s hard to believe that this is the last postseason for Chipper. While it would have been nice to close out the NL East and get home field advantage, participating and winning a must-win game might be just the fuel that propels us through to the Fall Classic.
I will give three keys to our success in this lone wild card game against the Cards.
- Timely, effective hitting: It looks like the Redbirds will be sending Kyle Lohse to the mound for this winner-take-all series. He has been their most consistent and dominating pitcher, sporting a 16-3 record. However, in his only start against Atlanta this season, the Braves roughed him up on May 30 for 5 ER’s in 5 innings. Lohse received the ND in an eventual 10-7 victory for the Braves. The current ATL roster is hitting a combine .317 carrer against Lohse which is in our favor. Look for a possible pinch hit from Lyle Overbay if the game is close in the final innings. Overbay has hit .385 with a homer against the right-hander. Also expect clutch hits from Chipper as he holds a .462 avg, 1 HR and 5RBIS against Lohse as well.
- Medlen has to keep being Medlen: He is coming off of an MLB record breaking performance, breaking Whitey Ford and the New York Yankees 62 year record of most consecutive games won as a starter. Medlen was also just named NL pitcher of the month for the second month straight–the first to do so since Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010. Medlen sported a 1.26 ERA and 4-0 record in September. He has not allowed more than 3 ERs in each start he has made this season. If the Braves can scratch across more than 3 runs, chances are we will be playing in the NLDS. Experts predict that the game will be a pitchers duel and with the likes of the Ted being considered a neutral pitchers park, that only adds to the suspense.
- Proper Management for Gonzalez: This IS the biggest game that Freddi has managed in his career. There is no argument. He never got to the postseason in Miami. This could be a game–and an eventual postseason run–that cements Freddi’s stay here in Atlanta and ultimately gives Braves fans comfort in someone besides Bobby Cox at the helm. He had plenty of tools to use: the best bull pen in baseball, solid defensive players on the bench, balanced bats from both sides of the plate, speed on the base paths. He will surely need to be the maestro of a properly orchestrated ball game. A LOT rides on his shoulders.
Hopefully my next post will be examining the three keys of the NLDS….and not the offseason!
My apologies for not posting in a few months. I was married on July 28th to my best friend and love of my life. So, much of my time has been devoted to final preparations, getting our apartments settled, all the wedding day festivities, our honeymoon etc. Oh, my twin brother was also married a week after me, so that took more time as well.
So, hopefully I can keep up a two post/week clip from here on until Chipper plays his final game. I hope to continue this blog into future seasons. I appreciate those who have followed the blog and hope to keep providing you quality content.
For now, I will leave with a few summarizing thoughts that I will expound upon in future posts.
Our bats need consistency
Players need to erase any doubts from last season’s late stretch blunder
We need more home fan support
Tommy Hanson needs to be traded….*duhn duhn duhn*
Chipper has been having nothing short of a magical swan song. I’m interested to see how the postseason turns out. Check out this little video to put a smile on your face.
Three Keys to Get to the Post Season
It’s nice to see the Braves on such a hot streak. Starting the second half of the season well is critical, especially with the Marlins, D-Backs, Brewers and Mets (thanks to sweep at the hand of the Braves) fading fast and becoming potential sellers. The following are what I feel are three critical keys that will put Chipper in the postseason for the last time.
1. Consistency: Since May 20th, the Braves have only lost one game in a row TWICE (@Washington June 2 and vs. Cubs July 4). What does this mean? Well it means that we are a streaky team right now. Our highs are high, but our lows are low. In fact, in that stretch Atlanta suffered a 3, 4, and 8 game losing streak–being swept 3 times. We’re currently riding a 7 game win streak. It feels good, huh? Well as good as this current streak feels is how bad that 8 game losing streak felt.
Now, it’s the MLB. Each team has professional ball players who can turn heads on any given night. It’s the great teams who can forget a loss and come back to take the series. As simple as it is, to get to the post season we have to win series. After a loss, they have to come back out and get a win. Also, the three teams that swept Atlanta–Washington, Cincinnati and the Yankees–are all teams that could (and probably will) make the post season….when those series really count.
It’s be nice if Uggla could stay consistent in a Braves uniform too….just saying…
2. Better Pitching….Particularly out of our starters. This is a team last year that was ranked:
4th in ERA (3.48)
4th in BAA (.240)
15th in Quality Starts (86)
and oh, 1st in strikeouts (1,332)
This year we are currently
14th in ERA (3.93),
13th in BAA (.251)
27th in Quality Starts (37)
and 15th in strike outs (671)
Last year’s quality starts were so low because our bullpen was so good. I mean, why not hand the ball over to O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel in the 5th with Derek Lowe on the bump. This year the quality starts are low because our starting pitching is struggling.
Going into the season the Braves were projected to match the numbers from 2011. We got Kenshin Kawakami and league BP thrower Derek Lowe off our roster. Teheran and/or Delgado was expected to come in and show why they’re touted as some of the best pitching prospects of the day. Tommy Gun Hanson and NL All-Star Jair Jurrjens would (hopefully) be healthy the entire season. Tim Hudson would come back strong from back surgery and the biggest question marks were if Brandon Beachy’s rookie season was a fluke and if Minor would make his way in the rotation….
Five months later, all-star Jurrjens was demoted, Beachy is on the DL (although after pitching VERY well and proving he is indeed NOT a fluke), Delgado and Minor lack the stuff to go deep into games and provide consistency, Ben Sheets was signed and has put up one of the better starts and Atlanta find themselves in the trade market for pitching….not a right-handed bat with pop. My how the turn tables.
Personally, I feel pretty confident that the pitching will get the job done. I don’t think we should make a move for pitching….yet. I personally would like to see another round through the rotation to pull the trigger on a deal. Maybe I’m still burned by the Tex trade. Maybe I just don’t want to see us ship away another future star(s) (see “Adam Wainwright”). Plus, I think all the pitchers will have a solid second half.
3. A continued production from the OF: The Atlanta Braves, when considering at the plate and in the field and on base paths, have the best outfield in the major leagues. Who saw that coming? Answer: no one. When the season started, questions were raised whether Jason Heyward could remain healthy. Was he just a bust? After a terrible sophomore season, Heyward has quietly quited his critics. His defense is sterling, with the top UZR rating in the NL (10.4).
In fact, Prado, Heyward and Bourn all rank in the top 10 of WAR and UZR in the NL. Freddy’s most recent lineups include all three at the top of the order, combining speed, power and average. None of the players are putting up huge, MVP numbers, but as a whole the three might be putting up the best combined season for outfield that the MLB has ever seen! If the three can keep it up, it will prove critical for a postseason push.
There are my three keys. Obviously there are even more that could have been included, and perhaps sohuld have been included. Feel free to add your thoughts or expound on mine.
First Half Awards
So I wanted to just take a look back into the first half, evaluate it a bit and hand out some made-up awards. I’m sure the guys could pin these up on the fridge or keep them on the mantle for years to come….okay here we go!
Cy Young: Craig Kimbrel
This kid has just come out and proven that last year was no fluke and he will be one of the more dominant closers in the game for years to come. He has posted 27 saves in the first half, leading the NL and sports a 1.29 ERA. Kimbrel only blew one save in the first half while fanning 15.7/9 inings and limiting batters to a .189 OBP. If the Braves are leading going into the 9th, it’s essentially a guaranteed win. With the rest of the bullpen (Venters, Durbin and O’Flaherty) not quite living up to preseason hype, it’s been a breath of fresh air as the steady anchor on the Braves pitching staff.
On a side note, I really think that this award would have gone to Brandon Beachy had he hot gone down to Tommy John surgery.
Silver Slugger: Jason Heyward
Thanks to a hot June, Heyward receives the nod for this award. In all reality, there isn’t any ONE Brave who stands out as a front runner shouldering the offensive workload–which is a good problem to have. Heyward leads the team in home runs and slugging and is in the top 5 in runs, hits, and OPS.
It’s been a breath of fresh air to have the Braves putting up big offensive numbers. In fact, the Braves are in the top-10 of runs scored in the league for the first time going into the second half of the season since the 2007 season. For a team so reliant on their pitching, the Braves are putting up great numbers, and I’ve gotta say, it’s nice going into the trade deadline not desperately searching for some pop….weird. \
Heyward receives the Comeback Player Award as well. He has already passed his total RBI’s from last year, has tied his HR total, and is batting 48 points higher than last year….all in 91 fewer at bats. Who knows, maybe he will win the Comeback Player of the Year award in the NL….probably not but who knows?
Breakout Player: Andrelton Simmons
This is a no brainer. Since being called up in early June, Simmons has wowed fans all over the country. Many already hail him as the best defensive SS in the NL. He was named Rookie of the Month of June and has surprised even the Atlanta front office at the plate. It’s a shame that he went down with a broken pinky and will be out for at least a month. He had a legitimate shot at winning the ROY for the NL. He will be back with plenty of time to help the Braves continue their playoff push into September.
MVP: Michael Bourn
Michael Bourn has been exactly what the Atlanta Braves need. We hadn’t had a true leadoff hitter since Furcal in 2005. With Bourn burning the base paths, (to the tune of 25 SB this season) he gives the Atlanta hitters opportunity to shine. He leads the NL in runs and is third in hits and multi-hit games. Most surprisingly, Bourn has already gone deep 7 times this season, surpassing his previous career high of 5. With a new found pop at the plate, a legitimate gold glove candidate, unmatched speed and an ASG nomination this year, how can I not give this guy the MVP so far?!
As this is a Chipper Jones blog, I have to say something about his numbers. The veteran is definitely leading by example, boasting the team’s highest OPS, OBP and K/BB ratio. Here’s to Chip leading the Braves to the postseason in the seasoned vet’s swan song!