Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Player Profile: Melky Cabrera

If you liked Casey Kotchman, then you’ll love Melky Cabrera.

Other than the fact that Melky is a league average defensive outfielder whereas Casey is a good defensive first baseman, the two players have very similar skill sets.  The batting approach of Cabrera, like Kotchman, consists of taking a decent number of walks (8% BB rate in ‘09), making contact at an excellent rate (88% contact rate in ‘09), and hitting an extremely high number of ground balls (50% GB rate in ’09).

It’s hard to generate much power when 50% of the balls you put in play are driven into the ground.  This deficiency has dimmed the futures of prospects ranging from Delmon Young to Mark Teahen.

That said, Cabrera is just one skill away from turning into a productive major league batter.  Melky will be 25 going into the season, so he’s still in the growth stage of his career.  It’s not inconceivable that he could start lifting and driving some of these balls as he approaches his peak seasons.

If he doesn’t improve with the bat, he’s little more than a fourth outfielder who could be a nice defensive substitute for Nate McLouth in the late innings.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Javier Vazquez trade - a week removed

The Braves get Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and $500,000.  The Yankees get Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.

This trade dramatically reduces the Braves’ chances of making the playoffs in 2010 - by approxmiately 15%. That’s what makes this deal painful. What makes the deal somewhat more bearable is that there’s a decent chance that it improves the Braves’ payroll structure and overall talent in the long-term. To appropriately assess the merits and demerits of the trade, it will be necessary to consider the cost of making the trade against the potential benefit.

Let’s begin our analysis by considering a counterfactual hypothesis. Javier Vazquez is a member of the Atlanta Braves for the entire 2010 season. When his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2010 season, Frank Wren has to decide whether or not to offer him salary arbitration. For simplicity, let’s assume the Vazquez is offered and declines salary arbitration. Since Vazquez will likely be a Type A free agent, this would net the Braves two compensatory draft picks.

By going down this counterfactual path, we’re able to get a clear picture of the full cost of making this trade. The Braves gave up one year of Javier Vazquez plus two compensatory draft picks and team control of Boone Logan for three more years.
Research shows that these draft picks are worth about $8 million.

The lost value of Vazquez’ contribution is best measured in relation to the player(s) that will replace him. This would either be Kenshin Kawakami or Derek Lowe.

Kenshin Kawakami
[4.7 WAR (Vazquez’ 8-yr average) – 1.7 WAR (Kawakami’s 2009)] X $4.5 million (approximate value of marginal wins) = $13.5 million.

$13.5 million - $11.5 million (Javier Vazquez’ 2010 salary) = $2 million.

Derek Lowe
(4.7 WAR – 2.6 WAR) X $4.5 million = $9.45 million. $9.45 million - $11.5 million = -$2.05 million.

Bumping Lowe out of the rotation instead of trading Vazquez would have actually resulted in a net economic loss for the Braves, which may come as a surprise to the bloodthirsty masses that wanted to completely cut ties with Lowe at whatever cost necessary - but not to the discerning Screaming Indian reader.

We'll assume optimal decision-making on the part of Frank Wren (I know, I know), and say that the cost of losing Vazquez is $10 million because he would have bumped Kawakami, not Lowe out of the rotation.

Let’s estimate that Melky Cabrera will cost a total of $9 million during his three years remaining under team control. Dunn is very similar to Logan in skills, age, and service time, so there can’t be much expectation for profit there. For simplicity, we'll assume the following:

Boone Logan - Mike Dunn = 0

That gives us a final total of the cost of the Vazquez trade at $19 million.

Now, for the benefits.

The Braves got 6+ years of Arodys Vizcaino, 6+ years of Mike Dunn, 3 years of Melky Cabrera and $0.5 million.

Projecting Cabrera’s value in 2010 and beyond is difficult because of role uncertainty and limited (if NY-aggrandized) major league experience, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll add much (if any) value to the line-up other than as a fourth outfielder and marginal contributor.

So whether this will be considered a good or bad trade may ultimately come down to whether Arodys Vizcaino reaches - or how nearly he reaches - his considerable ceiling.  Much of the burden of recovering this $18.5 million will be placed on his his ability to outperform his pay grade if/when he makes it to the big leagues.

The Braves could rid themselves of a potential albatross of Francoeurian proportions if they were able to flip Melky Cabrera. Talking Chop suggests that Frank Wren would be well-advised to act as quickly as possible while Cabrera still has that brilliant Yankee sheen. I agree. Otherwise, Cabrera may be a candidate to become non-tendered in the coming years, given how much his salary could grow in arbitration. If he’s traded or non-tendered, this trade goes from ‘outside shot long-term win’ to ‘probable long-term win’ for the Braves.

This article can also be found at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Braves sign Troy Glaus to one-year deal

The Atlanta Braves have signed Troy Glaus to a one year deal pending the results of a physical.  Glaus is expected to play first base for the Braves.  This will be Glaus’ first foray into manning first base for an entire season.  His customary position is third base, where most metrics regard him as a poor defender.
Over the past 8 seasons, Glaus has averaged 2.575 Wins Above Replacement, including about 1.25 seasons lost to injury.  Last year, Glaus only played in 14 games for the Cardinals due to a shoulder injury.  In 2008, his last full season, Glaus was worth 5.3 WAR at third base.  The move to first base should help Glaus stay healthy and will limit the Braves’ exposure to his suspect glove work.
The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but are believed to be heavily laden with incentives.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fantasy Fallout: Brandons Morrow & League Traded

A trade between Seattle and Toronto was announced on Monday afternoon. No, not that one. A new one. One that won't be the lead story on ESPN, but one that's just as interesting to fantasy owners looking for low-risk, high-reward pitching.

The Mariners sent Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays for Brandon League and an as-yet-unknown prospect. This seems like a pretty good deal for both teams, with the Mariners probably getting the better end of the deal (depending on who the prospect turns out to be).

The Mariners get a guy in Leauge who can immediately step into late-inning relief work, which will be a nice addition for the suddenly contending (if not AL West favorite) Mariners.

The M's could ill afford to have Morrow struggling to find his groove as a starter while Seattle pursues its first pennant in (HOW MANY?) years.

Morrow, Starter: 71 K, 48 UBB, 4.42 ERA, 79 1/3 IP
Morrow, Reliever: 133 K, 73 UBB, 3.65 ERA, 118 1/3 IP

Since the new administration in Toronto has indicated its committment to rebuilding, Morrow's new team may be better suited to provide him an opportunity to consolidate his skills in a starting role. The talent's there, but for Morrow to succeed, health and consistency must follow.

As for League, he leaves a bullpen rife with pitchers featuring "closer stuff" (Frasor, Downs) to one where, well... Let's just say David Aardsma was their closer last year and leave it at that.

League's surface stats in 2009 were abysmal (4.58 ERA), but his base skills tell a different story (9.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 56% GB). While one should always be wary of relievers giving breakout performances in small samples, for Leauge, the success doesn't come out of nowhere. Though his skills have taken a little while to round into form at the MLB level, League once came with top prospect billing.

With Aardsma's track record spotty at best, League is a player you might want to think about about stashing away at the end of your draft. If the opportunity to close knocks, League has the skills to keep the role.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Player Profile: Brian McCann

Brian McCann's 2009 was famously marred by a Lasik surgery that didn't take. One can't help but think that the drop-off from his 2008 level of production had something do with this (.281/.346/.486 in '09, .301/.371/.523 in '08).

The decline in McCann's rate statistics coincided with declines in his base skills (-1 BB%, -4 contact %, -2 flyball %). Still, the drop-off was marginal and to be expected following a season as mammoth as McCann's 2008 - but even so, McCann was still one of the elite catchers in 2009.

Going into his age 26 season and with another offseason Lasik procedure (that will hopefully go much more smoothly), I'd put expectations for McCann somewhere between 2008 and 2009. That's a conclusion with which the industry's leading prognosticators seem agree:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: .286/.350/.509
The Bill James Handbook: .291/.362/.511

Assuming he's healthy, Brian McCann's is one of the most stable skill sets in the game. And that has to give comfort to Frank Wren and fantasy owners alike.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vazquez unlikely to waive no-trade clause

Braves ace Javier Vazquez has been bandied about the MLB trade rumor mill in the past couple of days, mostly related to talks between GM Frank Wren and the Los Angeles Angels. Mark Bowman confirms that sources close to Vazquez maintain that he would be unlikely to waive the clause in his contract that prohibits the Braves from trading him to a west coast team.

This is good news for Braves fans, as the Angels don't have much to offer that would compensate Atlanta for the value that Vazquez should bring to the pitching staff in 2010.

Friday's Braves Buzz

Johnny Damon has interest in playing for the Braves. I can only hope Frank Wren doesn't have interest in paying him.

The Braves haven't contacted Adam LaRoche, who quips to Dave O'Brien via text message, “No talk from ATL that I know of. Guess I should have hit .400 while I was there."

Elsewhere, six players who will likely never make a meaningful contribution to the major league team were signed to minor league contracts.

Derek Lowe & the rush to judgement

Derek Lowe did not have a good 2009. One year after accepting a 4 year, $60 million contract to come to play for the Braves, Lowe is all but being run out of town on a pole. Wren may have no choice but to trade Lowe at this point, as all the trade talk understandably has the veteran righty all hot and bothered.

Though there may be disagreement about the order I have chosen, few would dispute that the following are the Braves' top starters going into 2010.

1) Javier Vazquez
2) Tim Hudson
3) Tommy Hanson
4) Jair Jurrjens

The uncertainty in the rotation arises from the fifth starter spot. Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and (maybe) Kris Medlen are Atlanta's most viable contenders for the vacancy. It seems that everyone is assuming that Derek Lowe isn't the Braves' fifth-best starter. I don't think this is a safe assumption.

At minimum, I think Lowe is at least as good as Kawakami going forward (and probably better) and also happens to have a long track record of being an outstanding MLB pitcher. Consider two pitcher-seasons:

Pitcher A: 1.8 K/BB 42%/39% GB/FB ratio
Pitcher B: 1.8 K/BB 56%/26% GB/FB ratio

Which do you prefer? Pitcher B? Me too. You, my friend, have just indicated that you preferred Derek Lowe's 2009 to Kenshin Kawakami's.

Sure, at $15 million a year, Lowe is badly overpaid. But, in a league where contracts are guaranteed, bad investments are sunk costs. And when you're dealing with sunk costs, you have to forget the fact that Lowe is overpaid and go with the best player.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Soriano accepts arbitration offer from Braves

Rafael Soriano was one of only three players to accept arbitration as the deadline to do so came and went at 12:00 AM Eastern Tuesday morning.

It's expected Soriano will be awarded somewhere between $6.5 million to $7 million. Under arbirtration rules, the contract is not guaranteed, but the Braves cannot trade Soriano until after June 1st unless they first obtain his persmission.

Suddenly, the Braves have a deep, expensive bullpen headed by Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and Rafael Soriano, who will command a total of about $17 million in 2010.

Frank Wren may try to move Soriano along with Derek Lowe and Kelly Johnson via trade, but Soriano's hefty price tag paired with his difficulty staying healthy over the past several seasons may make him a difficult pawn to maneuver during this Hot Stove Season.

Also returning in the Atlanta bullpen are Peter Moylan, Kris Medlen, Eric O'Flaherty, & Manny Acosta. Boone Logan, Jo-Jo Reyes and either Derek Lowe or Kenshin Kawakami may also figure into the mix.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Braves sign Billy Wagner to $7 million deal

In a vacuum, I don't hate this signing. As J.C. Bradbury points out, Wagner would likely yield more in revenue than it cost to sign him.

But it's the opportunity cost here that worries me, especially given the fact that the Braves rather curiously delcined to offer arbitration to Adam LaRoche. (What was the downside here? That he would accept the arbitration offer, and you would get the best first baseman on the market at relatively little expense?)

The Braves have a dire need at first base this offseason, they won't have much payroll coming off the books, and they've already blown $7 million on a 38-year-old reliever who is just getting back from Tommy John surgery.

We broke down the market for free agent first basemen back in October.

Catch the details of the Wagner signing here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Possible Left Field Free Agent Targets

The following are some left fielders the Braves might look to target in the upcoming free agency period. No players with WARPs under 0.5 were considered because, hey, even the Braves have standards.

Player (2009 WARP)
Jason Bay (6.3)
Carl Crawford (4.7) $10MM club option with a $1.25MM buyout
Matt Holliday (4.6)
Manny Ramirez (3.9) $20 MM player option
Johnny Damon (3.0)
Marlon Byrd (2.2)
Fernando Tatis (2.1)
Randy Winn (1.9)
Gary Sheffield (1.5)
Gabe Kapler (1.1)

You may be noticing that the Braves' 2009 left fielder, Garret Anderson, was excluded from this list. Yeah, that's because his WARP was a 'professional-hitting' 0.1.

Jason Bay will be the cream of the left field free agent crop, 1.6 wins ahead of Carl Crawford, who likely won't repeat his 2009 output during any other season in his career.

You have to imagine the Red Sox & Yankees will be furiously competing for Jason Bay and Matt Holliday.

There might be some decent value to be had from Johnny Damon, but he's represented by Scott Boras and is projected to be a Type A free agent. I could see it getting very close to spring training without Damon having signed a contract.

If the Braves want to go the safe, cheap route, Randy Winn is probably the way to go. Otherwise, they'll likely have to overspend to bring home any of the big names on this list.

Don't forget that our 2010 Free Agent Targets page will be continuously updated throughout the offseason, where you can link to our analysis of the Braves' other vacancies heading into 2010.

This article also appears at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Possible free agent First Base targets

The following are some first basemen the Braves might look to target in the upcoming free agency period. No players with WARPs under 0.5 were considered because, hey, even the Braves have standards.

Player (2009 WARP)
Adam LaRoche (3.9)
Russell Branyan (2.9)
Nick Johnson (2.9)
Fernando Tatis (2.1)
Eric Hinske (1.1)
Carlos Delgado (0.8)
Dmitri Young (0.5)

Based on last season's Wins Above Replacement Player, Adam LaRoche will be the best first baseman hitting the free agent market this offseason. As such, it would make a great deal of sense for the Braves to offer LaRoche salary arbitration. Should he decline the offer, don't be surprised to see Atlanta pursue him as a free agent. It would be difficult to imaginge that Frank Wren would let first base go virtually unattended for a second consecutive season. Should the price tag for LaRoche be too high, there will be some other interesting options available to the Braves.

No one questions Nick Johnson's talent, but he's been a disabled list mainstay for the better part of the decade.

Russell Branyan has finally begun to thrive after being given a shot at regular playing time the past two seasons.

Carlos Delgado was well on the way to following up on a resurgent 2008 campaign when hip surgery put him on the shelf for all but 100 PAs in 2009. He might be an interesting candidate for the vacancy if the Braves can sign him cheaply.

Lastly, there's always the option of moving Chipper Jones over to first base. Doing so would relieve the Braves' pitching staff of Chipper's increasingly miserable defense, help Chipper stay healthy, and fill the Braves' vacancy at first base with a player already on the payroll.

This article can also be viewed at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Medlen indifferent between starting and relieving

In a piece he wrote for this month's issue of Chop Talk magazine, Kris Medlen writes that he is indifferent between starting and relieving:

I honestly don't have a preference between starting and relieving. I like pitching. I'm a versatile guy, and I just want to be in a position to help my team. I want the guys to trust me with that job.

Honestly, this puff piece doesn't tell us much. What's he going to say? That he hates relieving and demands to be traded if he's not returned to his starting role?

Medlen as a starter: 18 1/3 IP, 19 K, 11 BB, 6.38 ERA
Medlen as a reliever: 49 1/3 IP, 53 K, 19 BB, 3.47 ERA

As a reliever in 2009, Medlen was used thirteen times for two or more innings, seemingly leaving open the possibility of an eventual return to the rotation. I've mentioned before that I think handcuffing Medlen to Tommy Hanson's starts for a long relief role would be a creative way to limit Hanson's innings in just his second major league season.

This article can also be viewed at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Troubleshooting the infield corners

Most of the Braves' struggles on offense in 2009 stemmed from their inability to obtain offensive production from the positions on the field where you typically expect the most production: the infield and outfield corners.

In right field, Jeff Francoeur was, well, Jeff Francoeur. Ryan Church didn't provide the relief from Frenchy's awfulness for which the Braves had hoped. Matt Diaz provided some late-season spark, but thinking of him as anything more than the short end of a platoon would be a mistake on par with, say, signing Garret Anderson to be your every day left fielder.


The failures of the corner infield positions were a little more unexpected. Not even those dimmest on Casey Kotchman's prospects expected him to be as bad as he was during his brief tenure with the Braves. But the Atlanta finally found their guy at first base in Adam LaRoche only to see him become a free agent at the season's close. While it would be nice to be able to re-sign LaRoche, doing so will be costly and will likely keep Adam in Atlanta a good bit beyond Freddie Freeman's ETA in the big leagues.

On the other side of the diamond, Chipper Jones' inability to remain healthy presents problems of its own. Enduring Chipper's frailty in order to enjoy his effective-when-healthy schtick is now a deeply ingrained part of Braves tradition. But the novelty has begun to wear thin, especially when he's not delivering a 1.000+ OPS as he did in 2008 and 2007 and Martin Prado is the guy filling in for him a couple times a week. Don't get me wrong, Prado is a serviceable second baseman with room yet to improve, but his bat doesn't play at third base.

There's a potential solution here that might allow Frank Wren to solve two problems at once: move Chipper to first base. Jones wouldn't be the first player to move across the diamond to keep his body healthy and his bat in play. Third base is one of the most physically demanding positions on the field, and moving him to first might prove to be less strain on his body. Furthermore, Chipper's defense at third these days is either average or awful, depending on which metric you use.

As I've mentioned, this solution could potentially solve two problems: 1) the void at first base 2) Chipper Jones' health.

It does, however, create another problem: the void at third base. Fortunately, I have an answer which, I think, solves that problem quite well: sign Adrian Beltre.

But more on that tomorrow.

This article also appears at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Braves expected to shop Lowe, hold on to Vazquez

MLB.com reports that the Braves will look to unload Derek Lowe and his contract via trade:
In order to retain the financial flexibility to keep the club's rotation strong and also address the needs at first base, outfield and the back end of the bullpen, Wren is expected to explore the possibility of trading Lowe, who is owed $45 million over the final three years of his contract.

"It's an obvious position of strength and when you're looking to improve your club, you're looking at where you can improve it at the expense of some other area," Wren said. "We'll see when we come out of our planning meetings what we feel is most appropriate."

Cox, who will join Wren and the club's other top scouts and administrators in Orlando next week for the planning meetings, certainly doesn't buy into the possibility that the team could opt to trade Vazquez, who went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and notched 238 strikeouts in his first season with the Braves this year.

"I haven't ever thought about trading him," Cox said. "I know we've got him for one more year. You'd have to get an awful lot."

As I see it, the Braves have four obvious choices for the 2010 rotation.

SP1) Javier Vazquez
SP2) Tim Hudson
SP3) Tommy Hanson
SP4) Jair Jurrjens

The fifth spot is where the Braves have some room to maneuver. Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and Kris Medlen could all be viable options. Depending on what happens with the bullpen in the offseason, it might be worth giving Medlen a serious look as the fifth starter during spring training. Alternatively, he might be paired with Hanson as a long reliever to help manage the latter's workload.

I suppose the point I'm trying to get across is that there are a lot of places Frank Wren could go from here. It's encouraging that he's looking at trading his most expensive, least effective pitcher (though I assume the Braves would end up eating a significant portion of his salary in any trade).

Braves Becoming Free Agents

Tim Hudson ($12 million club option) - All indications seem to be that the Braves will pick up Hudson's option. And with the way he pitched so well so soon after Tommy John surgery, why not?

Adam LaRoche - This will be a tough call for Frank Wren. LaRoche is decent enough, and is certainly an improvement over the sad sack we were employing before he returned. However, I'm expecting LaRoche will want a long-term contract. As such, it might not make a whole lot of sense to pay to bring him back. For what it's worth, LaRoche is projected to be a Type B free agent.

Rafael Soriano - Right-handed relievers are a dime a dozen. He's going to be a Type A free agent. Let him walk. Take the compensatory picks.

Mike Gonzalez - Left-handed relievers that can also retire right-handed batters are a slightly rarer bird. I'd bring him back. His lack of a "closer" tag should make him slightly cheaper than Soriano. Should the Braves decide to let him go, Gonzalez would also be a Type A free agent.

Garret Anderson - If Wren re-signs Anderson and his .723 OPS, I might become a Mets fan.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean that.

Greg Norton - Meh. Why bother?

This article can also be viewed at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kawakami / Stauffer in Game 2

With last night's extra innings loss to the Padres and the Rockies' victory over the Dodgers, the Braves are now 5.5 games back of the wild card. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds give them a 25.37% chance of making it to the postseason, down 7% from yesterday.

Needing a string of minor miracles to make it to a 163rd game this season, the Braves send Kenshin Kawakami to the hill on Wednesday to face Tim Stauffer. Kawakami has been slightly more effective over the past month, trading strikeouts for a diminished walk rate and a 3.77 ERA over the past 31 days (5.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 over that time).

Stauffer is a former prospect whose star has faded following a string of injuries. He's been effective in his brief time (41 IP) with San Diego this season, striking out 37 against 14 walks for a 3.95 ERA.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Padres outlast Braves in extra innings

Mat Latos rebounded from a pair of rough outings with a brilliant one, giving the Padres seven innings of scoreless ball, including four strikeouts, no walks, and just two hits.

The only run his opponent, Jair Jurrjens, surrendered was a solo homerun to Adrian Gonzalez in the top of the third, but he probably deserved worse. Not including Gonzalez' round-tripper, Jurrjens allowed eight baserunners (4 hits, 4 walks), but all were left stranded. Jair left the game after 7 2/3 IP, down 1-0.

The Braves missed a golden opportunity to tie the game and/or take the lead in the eighth inning. The bases were loaded with one out, but Omar Infante lined out to Everth Cabrera, and Martin Prado struck out to end the threat.

It seemed like the book was written going into the bottom of the ninth. No one has done anything against Padres closer Heath Bell all season, so there was little reason to think tonight would be any different. But Adam LaRoche couldn't be bothered with the notion that he was expected to bend over and take it like Casey Kotchman. LaRoche drove in in pinch-runner Reid Gorecki on a single that was nearly caught by Will Venable.

But, ultimately, Atlanta's propensity for striking out with the bases loaded did them in. Garret Anderson joined the party by striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth, and David Eckstein drove in the winning run on an RBI double in the top of the 12th.

Screaming Indian favorite, the normally reliable Kris Medlen, took the loss, allowing two walks and two hits (including that fateful Eckstein double) in one inning of work.

Jurrjens v Latos in Braves/Padres opener

With the Rockies' late night, extra innings miracle win against the Giants last night, the Braves are 4.5 games out of the wild card. According to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds, Atlanta has a 32.4% chance of making the playoffs.

The Braves will resume work on closing that gap when the Padres come to town tonight and open up a three game series at 7 PM Eastern.

Jair Jurrjens takes the hill for the Braves, hoping to build upon a hot streak that began a month ago whe he outpitched Tim Lincecum. Since (and including) that game, he has struck out 25 and walked eight in 28 2/3 innings pitched.

Jurrjens' opponent, rookie Mat Latos, is heading in the opposite direction. In his past two starts (7 2/3 IP), Latos has allowed 12 ER on 15 H and 7 BB. The Padres have decided he will only make one more start beyond tonight in order to limit the 21-year-old RHP's workload.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The spectre of Tim Hudson looms over Turner Field as Kawakami takes on Phillies

Today's Pitching Matchup: Cole Hamels (LHP, Phillies) vs. Kenshin Kawakami (RHP, Braves)

It's easy to look at Cole Hamels' stellar 2008 and forget that for much of his career he's been dogged by the dreaded label of "injury-prone". But that label is not an uncommon one among young pitchers, especially ones that have endured the heavy workload that Hamels bore last season (223 1/3 IP, not including playoffs). Though he's spent some time on the disabled list this season, Hamels has performed admirably (128 1/3 IP, 111 K, 27 BB, 41% GB rate). There is some cause for concern, as he's on a three-year downward trend in strikeouts per nine (9.9, 8.7, 7.8).

There's little good that can be said about what Hamels' opponent, Kenshin Kawakami, has done this season (118 IP, 84 K, 49 BB). If Kawakami can outperform Hamels on Saturday, it will be huge not only for the Braves' postseason hopes but for Kawakami's hopes of remaining in the rotation. On August 13th, Tim Hudson pitched four innings against AAA Durham (Tampa Bay), striking out three, walking one, and giving up five hits in four innings pitched.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Howard's homerun beats Braves

Joe Blanton (2 K, 1 BB, 7 H) and Jair Jurrjens (6 K, 1 BB, 5 H) dueled admirably, giving their respective teams seven innings apiece of two-run ball. Blanton's cause was aided by a brilliant defensive performance by the Phillies' not-so-secret weapon, Shane Victorino.

Things got hairy in the top of the eighth when Ben Francisco led off with a double against Mike Gonzalez. Luckily, the Phillies decided to waste an at bat from one of their best players when they allowed Jimmy Rollins to bunt Francisco over to third. Victorino and Utley popped out in succession to end the inning.

But the bullpen's high-wire act was short-lived. Ryan Howard gave the Phillies the game-winning run in the top of the ninth with a solo homerun off of RHP Rafael Soriano. Despite the lefty-leaning heart of the the Phillies order (Utley, Howard, Ibanez) likely coming up in the ninth, Cox opted use LHP Mike Gonzalez the inning prior to face righties Ben Francisco, Jimmy Rollins, and switch-hitter Shane Victorino.

The Braves were unable to mount a counterpunch in the eighth against Ryan Madson and got two runners on against Lidge in the ninth, but Nate McLouth flied out to deep left to end the game.

The Braves now have a serious uphill battle to win the series. Tomorrow will be the hardest part. The Kawakami/Hamels pitching matchup heavily favors the Phillies. The Braves now trail the Phillies by six games.

Atlanta & Philadelphia open critical intradivision series

It's difficult to overstate the importance of this weekend's series against the Phillies. By Monday, the Braves could be as few as two games back of the Phills in the NL East or as many as eight. Baseball Prospectus currently gives the Braves a 44% chance of making the playoffs. Taking two or three games from Philadelphia should dramatically improve those odds. The series gets started on Friday night in Atlanta, where Jair Jurrjens and Joe Blanton are set to take the mound.

Blanton came to the Phillies last season via trade from the Oakland Athletics. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Blanton has been a solid mid-rotation type who is, at times, prone to being done in by the longball. (But then again, are there any pitchers who pitch half of their games in Citizens Bank about whom this cannot be said?) On the year, Blanton has pitched 132 innings, tallying 111 K and 35 BB while giving up 1.5 HR/9. Blanton has been particularly effective of late: in his past 28 1/3 innings, he has a 2.51 ERA on the strength of 20 K and just 2 BB over that same period.

Jair Jurrjens will be asked to manage the difficult task of limiting the damage done by the Phillies' lineup, a solid group to be sure but one that feasts on right-handed pitching in paricular. Jurrjens' overall performance this season had been characterized by deterioration in each base skill: strikeouts, walks, and groundball percentage. But Jurrjens caught fire after the All-Star break to bring his strikeout and walk ratios in line with those from 2008 (The only perceptible difference is an eight percent drop on his groundball rate.) In his last 29 IP, Jurrjens has struck out 25 against 9 walks on his way to a 3.41 ERA during that period.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 ET.

Good news, Phillies fans: Kenshin Kawakami is set to take the mound on Saturday. Philadelphia has yet to name a probable starter. Sunday's matchup will be much better for Atlanta, as staff ace Javier Vazquez will take on overrated rookie J.A. Happ.

A version of this article also appeared on the Braves Baseball Blog

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I am Medlen; hear me roar!

A couple of weeks ago, we highlighted the success Kris Medlen has enjoyed since being converted to a reliever and argued that he be used more frequently and in more high-leverage situations.

Since that time, Medlen has made us look brilliant (13 2/3 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, 2 ER over the past 31 days), but he still isn't being used in critical situations. Of the his colleagues in the Atlanta bullpen, his .56 Leverage Index tops only Manny Acosta and James Parr.

13 2/3 innings of work indicate that Bobby Cox is starting to use him more, but dammit Bobby (said in best King of the Hill impression) start using him more when the game is on the line!

A new collaboration

I will be doing some writing for The Braves Baseball Blog, a satellite of NL East Chatter, so be sure to check out both of those sites.

But for my uncensored, raw, and uncut analysis (not to mention the occasional nude photo of Jeff Blauser), be sure to keep it tuned to the Screaming Indian.

LaRoche powers Braves to 6-2 victory over Nationals

For the second night in a row, the Nationals got on the scoreboard against Atlanta in the top of the first, but - for the second night a row - the Braves came storming back.

Derek Lowe gave up three hits and a walk in the first inning, but managed to limit the damage to one run when Nyjer Morgan was caught stealing and Josh Willingham grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Atlanta got things going in the bottom of the second when Garret Anderson and Adam LaRoche hit a pair of solo shots to take the lead away from Washington. The Nationals tied it back up in the top of the seventh inning when a Ronnie Belliard single drove in Elijah Dukes.

The seventh was the last inning that Lowe would work. He continued to struggle with his control of the strike zone, walking four batters in seven innings pitched. Still, Lowe had the ground ball machine in full effect, generating 11 of outs via the grounder.

In the bottom of the seventh, Adam LaRoche quickly helped the Braves retake the lead on the strength of his second solo homerun of the game. Atlanta pulled away in the bottom of the eight with a three-run inning that got kick-started by a Martin Prado solo shot. LaRoche and Greg Norton walked in the Braves' final two runs later that inning.


LaRoche continues to be scorching hot, with 13 hits in 35 at bats, including three homeruns, since he was acquired from Boston.

The Rockies and Phillies both won tonight (the latter in Pedro Martinez' triumphant debut), so the Braves don't gain any ground in the wild card or the NL East with tonight's win.

Braves seek fifth straight victory tonight against Nationals

Pitcher A: 143 IP, 74 K, 45 BB, 55% GB rate
Pitcher B: 153 1/3 IP, 65 K, 48 BB, 52% GB rate

Any guesses as to which two pitchers own these miserable and disturbingly similar stat lines?




Pencils down, class. Player B is John Lannan, of whom the Braves made quick work in last night's 8-1 rout. Player A, unfortunately, is tonight's starter for the Braves, Derek Lowe. Frank Wren has to be sweating that 4 year, $60 million contract right about now. But unlike the hapless John Lannan, Lowe has a track record of being better than his year-to-date perfomance, so there's reason to hope for a turnaround.

Lowe's counterpart in tonight's contest, Craig Stammen, inspires little more confidence (83 1/3 IP, 37 K, 16 BB, 49% GB rate). As a consequence, the two struggling righties could find themselves in the midst of a slugfest before all is said and done.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hanson dominates, Braves roll

Well, we'd been expecting it since the first of June, but we didn't get it until the first of August: Tommy Hanson's first utterly dominant performance (6 2/3 IP, 9 K, 0 BB, 7 H, 1 ER). The Braves bats also stayed hot, delivering eight runs of support for Hanson's seventh win of the season.

Given the outcome, the game did not begin quite as auspiciously as you might expect. The Nationals got on the board in the top of the first when a Ryan Zimmerman single drove home Nyjer Morgan. But it was all Braves from there.

Matt Diaz opened scoring for Atlanta in the bottom of the second with his patented RBI double play groundout, driving in Brian McCann. Martin Prado put the Braves ahead for good in the third with an RBI double that plated Ryan Church, who was filling in at center for Nate McLouth (a late scratch with a sore hamstring). Church and Yunel Escobar would later join Prado with RBI doubles of their own, putting the game out of reach early (6-1 after 5 innings).

Eric O'Flaherty and Manny Acosta combined for 2 and 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to close out the game.


Chipper Jones, a late addition to the lineup was 2 for 4 with a solo homerun, a single, and a walk.

Elsewhere, the Rockies were beaten by the Pirates, and the Phillies held off the Cubs in extra frames, putting the Braves 3.5 games back of the wild card and holding at 4.5 back in the NL East.

Talented Mr Hanson squares off against the not-so-talented Lannan

Wow. What a weekend it was. By taking three out of four from the Dodgers, the Braves have reinserted themselves into the National League playoff picture (according to Baseball Prospectus, they increased their odds if amking the playoffs by 12%). Of course, I missed all of the action as I took a long weekend and was otherwise occupied for most of it.

But, lucky you, I have returned. And, lucky Braves, the lowly Nationals come to town tonight. Taking the mound for Washington will be the lightly-skilled John Lannan (148 2/3 IP, 64 K, 44 BB).

His opponent will be Tommy Hanson, who is showing that he's slowly getting acclimated to big league hitters (monthly K/9 trend: 5.6, 6.5, 7.5). But he still needs to improve his control of the strike zone (29 BB in 67 IP). He'll need his best stuff tonight against the Nationals, who know how to work deep into counts (remember, it's their anemic pitching staff that has done them in).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hanson v Gaudin in early afternoon game

In an early afternoon matchup against the Padres, Atlanta will send Tommy Hanson to the hill. Hanson's strikeout rate is finally starting to climb (6.5 K/9 over the last month), and he'll look to build upon that success this afternoon. Hanson and his 45% year-to-date flyball ratio stand to benefit from the spacious outfield of PETCO.

Hanson's opponent will be Chad Gaudin, who has reinvented himself as a strikeout pitcher this season (102 K in as many innings pitched). At the same time, Gaudin has had some difficulty controlling the strike zone. He's walked 54 batters so far this season. A selective approach by the Atlanta lineup may precipitate an early call to the bullpen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

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Braves rout Padres 9-2, Vazquez gets rare run support

The Braves entered Tuesday night's game against the San Diego Padres as they have entered most games of late: badly needing a win to stay in the wild card race.

The top of the fouth began auspiciously for Atlanta as three straight singles by Garret Anderson, Yunel Escobar, and Adam LaRoche loaded up the bases with no outs. But an excellent opportunity to have a big inning was squandered when Matt Diaz hit into a run-scoring double play. Javier Vazquez then struck out to end the inning, stranding Yunel Escobar on third and allowing Tim Stauffer to escape relatively unscathed and down to Atlanta just 2-1.

The Padres tied it up at two apiece in the bottom of the fourth on a Chase Headley double that drove in Will Venable from second base. At this point the narrative seemed all too familiar - squandered opportunities by the Braves lineup hanging the pitching staff out to dry.

But the Braves deviated from the script and answered right back in the next frame as Martin Prado hit a solo shot to untie the game. In the top of the sixth, Matt Diaz redeemed his bases loaded double play groundout with a two-run homerun that drove in Adam LaRoche, putting the Braves up 5-2. The Braves never looked back, tacking on four more runs before the night was over to lock up a 9-2 victory.

Javier Vazquez turned in his customarily dominant performance, striking out six, walking two, surrendering six hits, and allowing just two runs to cross the plate in seven innings pitched. Despite lowering his ERA to 2.99 on the season, Vazquez picked up just his ninth win on the season, a testament to the poor run support he's received all year long. Tuesday, however, was different. Atlanta scored seven of their nine runs before he was pulled from the game.

Elsewhere, the Rockies beat the Phillies 8-3, leaving the Braves stagnant at 5.5 games back of Colorado in the wild card race, but drawing the Braves to within 6.5 games of the NL East leading Phillies. With the Braves set to face the Phillies nine more times over the season's remainder, first place in the NL East doesn't seem as unattainable for Atlanta as it did a few weeks ago, recent struggles notwithstanding.

Javier Vazquez continues to be typecast as "stopper"

For the second time in as many games the Braves will call upon the studly Javier Vazquez to terminate a losing skid that has seen Atlanta fall 5.5 games out of the wild card spot. There is little I can say about Javier Vazquez's performance in 2009 (140 IP, 158 K, 28 BB, 3.01 ERA) that can't be ascertained from his ridiculous stat line. Thankfully, the trade deadline came and went with no action on the curios rumors that Frank Wren was shopping the Braves' ace.

Vazquez will once again have the added benefit of facing an inferior opponent in Tim Stauffer. The 27-year-old Padre is no slouch (21 IP, 16 K, 5 BB in majors; 2.14 ERA, 6.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 in minors), but he's also no Vazquez.

Still, the Braves' considerable advantage in the starting pitching matchup will be of little consequence if their lineup continues to score fewer than 3 runs per game as they have over their last seven contests.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Punchless Braves bats offer no support for Kawakami

Despite my numerous castigations of Kenshin Kawakami's performance this season, he was pretty decent on Monday night (6 IP, 4K, 0 BB, 1 HR, 3 ER). Kawakami pitched just as well as - if not better than - his opponent, Mat Latos (7 IP, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HR).

But the Braves offense provided little succor for Kawakami, mustering just 6 hits, including but one extra base hit - a homerun by Adam LaRoche in the second inning that put the Braves up 2-1. The Padres knotted the game back up in the second on a Kyle Blanks solo shot. A Will Venable single in the bottom of the third drove in David Eckstein. That would be all of the offense the Padres would need to put the Braves away, as Latos and the San Diego bullpen combined to shut Atlanta out over the final seven frames.

The Braves have scored just 19 runs in the last seven games and will need to pick up the pace if they want to salvage any of their rapidly receding playoff hopes. With the loss, the Braves fall 5.5 games back of the Rockies for the NL Wild Card spot.

Kawakami looks to get his act together against Latos, Padres

There's tip-toeing to be done around this fact: Kenshin Kawakami was horrendous his last time out. But if there was ever an opportunity to turn things around, Kenshin will have one when he faces the gutted San Diego Padres on Monday night.

The Padres no longer have Jake Peavy, but the Braves will have the misfortune of facing the best rookie San Diego pitcher since Peavy: 21-year-old RHP Mat Latos. Young Mat has been stellar in his first 16 1/3 innings in the majors (13 K, 4 BB, 9 H, 5 ER). If there's a chink to be found in Latos' armor, it's his 59% flyball rate. When major league batters are hitting that many balls in the air, several of them are bound to leave the yard. But there is one obvious factor mitigating the impact of this weakness - tonight's game will be played in PETCO, a park that has been very generous to the likes of flyball pitchers Jake Peavy and Chris Young over the years.

Kawakami will also enjoy the benefits of PETCO. Though he doesn't have the extreme GB/FB split of Latos, he's no GB artist (41% FB). But it's Kawakami's other skills that need improvement if he's to improve upon his woeful start against Florida last week. In the last 22 1/3 IP, Kawakami has struck out just 10 batters while walking 12.

Tim Hudson pitched 4 scoreless innings at AAA Gwinnett on July 27th... Just saying.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Billingsley, Dodgers steamroll Braves

The Dodgers defeated the Braves 9-1 on Sunday night.

Starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens was done in by a 3-run HR by Matt Kemp in the fifth inning. The Dodgers wouldn't need to score again to win the game, but they went ahead and did it anyway.

Jurrjens pitched decently, especially considering the level of competition, throwing 5 innings in which he struck out five, walked two, gave up 10 hits, and allowed four runs to cross the plate.

It was the bullpen that blew the game wide open, giving up 5 earned runs in 4 innnings of relief, including three that were attributed to Boone Logan.

Dodgers pitching shut down the Braves offense on the strength of a performance by Chad Billingsley, who pitched five innings and struck out nine, walked one, and surrendered but two hits.

With the loss, the Braves fall five games back of the Wild Card-leading Rockies who beat the Rockies 6-4 in extra innings.

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta - but does he make the Braves any better?

In case you missed it, Casey Kotchman was traded to the Boston Red Sox on Friday for Adam LaRoche. So did the Braves improve their playoffs odds with this move, or are they just rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship?

Baseball Prospectus' remainder-of-season projections have LaRoche being an upgrade of 1.8 runs over Casey Kotchman with the bat. Fielding Runs Above Replacement has their year-to-date defensive performances being pretty similar.

The biggest difference between LaRoche and Kotchman? For the balance of the season, Kotchman is due about $1.07 million against LaRoche's $2.6 million. So the Braves are paying roughly $850,000 for just under two additional runs. The Red Sox are supposed to have included cash considerations, but those details have not been made available.

Also, LaRoche will be a free agent at the end of the season. According to an approximation of the Elias Sports Bureau rankings, LaRoche will fall just short of being a Type B free agent, meaning that the Braves will receive no draft pick compensation if LaRoche declines arbitration. Kotchman, on the other hand would have been cheap and under team control through 2012.

Though I've made no secret of my belief that Casey Kotchman is a severely inadequate first baseman, he still has his peak years ahead of him, and he's not so bad if you're thinking of him as nothing more than an affordable stop-gap to get you to the Freddie Freeman era.

Jurrjens and Billingsley in battle of precocious RHPs

The Atlanta Braves take on the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight in a game that will feature two talented young right-handed pitchers: Jair Jurrjens for the Braves and Chad Billingsley for the Dodgers.

Billingsley profiles as a strikeout pitcher, averaging 8.5 K/9 IP this season and 9.0K/9 IP in 2008. But control of the strike zone has eluded him of late, walking 11 batters in his last 26 1/3 innings. Much like Jurrjens, Billingsley is following up a stellar season in 2008 with something of a step back in 2009 from a skills perspective (-.5 K/9, +.4 BB/9, -5 GB% this year relative to last).

But it's been Jurrjens who has picked things up of late, with lights-out performances in his last two starts (13 2/3 IP, 14 K, 2 BB, 3 ER). Jair will need to be in top form on Sunday night if the Braves are to shut down the Dodgers' formidable bats. Los Angeles leads the National Leage in On Base Percentage vs. Right Handed Pitchers, with a line of .271/.344/.403. It's worth noting that those numbers include 50 games in which Manny Ramirez did not play.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Personal Note

Yours truly has a date with destiny on Saturday. OK, maybe not a date with destiny, but rather a non-refundable date with the Educational Testing Service - more commonly known to you and me as the malevolent administrators of the Graduate Record of Examinations.

As a consequence, I will be taking a 48-hour leave of absence from bringing you my singular analysis of the Atlanta Braves. (Did you see that? I used a GRE word in that sentence.)

Thank you for supporting the Screaming Indian in its infancy. We will pick things up full speed on Sunday morning.

Wish me luck.

AJC: Braves Release Jeff Bennett

David O'Brien of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that the Braves have released Jeff Bennnett.

I think I speak for Braves fans everywhere when I say, "Good riddance, kind sir."

Bennett threw 34 innings for the Braves in 2009, striking out 23 and walking 21.

Prado, Escobar banged up

Martin Prado was hit on the ankle by an errant ball during pre-game warm-ups and was scratched from the line-up. Kelly Johnson made the start at second.

The Braves' middle infield was dealt another blow when Yunel Escobar was struck on the wrist with a Rick Vanden Hurk pitch in the bottom of the second. Diory Hernandez replaced Escobar at shortstop.

Despite the injuries, the Braves have the early lead thanks to a two-run double by Casey Kotchman in the bottom of the second.

Braves call upon ace Javier Vazquez to end 2-game skid

Javier Vazquez will be playing the role of stopper on Thursday night against the Florida Marlins, hoping to reverse a two-game slide that has put the Atlanta Braves four games back of San Francisco, the NL Wild Card leader.

There's no reason to think that Vazquez won't be up to the task. Vazquez has taken very well to his return to the senior circuit this season. In 133 IP, Vazquez has struck out a remarkable 150 and walked just 27, yielding an ERA of 2.98. Some are still calling for Vazquez to be traded, but why would a team just four games out of a playoff berth deal away its best pitcher?

At just 24 years of age, Vazquez's opponent, Rick Vanden Hurk takes the hill with very little MLB experience. In his limited service, Vanden Hurk has been quite wild. In 11 IP this season, he's struck out 7 and walked 5. Vanden Hurk is also very prone to the longball (48% flyball rate).

Given the disparity in the pitching matchup, it's not unreasonable for Braves fans to be counting on a win tonight - but baseball's a funny game.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Braves visibly frustrated as Kawakami founders

In Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Marlins, Kenshin Kawakami did nothing to quiet rumblings that Tim Hudson might immediately supplant him in the starting rotation when he returns from his rehab assignment. Kawakami was, as he has been so often this season, god-awful. In in 4 1/3 innings, he allowed all six of the Marlins' runs, giving up 7 hits (including three HR) and walking three.

The slugfest started in the third inning when Hanley Ramirez drove in Emilio Bonifacio on an RBI triple. Pitcher Josh Johnson joined the party when he hit a three-run bomb off of Kawakami to push the lead to 4 in the bottom of the fourth.

Casey Kotchman hit a solo shot in the top of the fifth to open scoring for the Braves, who were threatening later in the same inning with Ryan Church and Nate McLouth on the corners with one out, but Josh Johnson got Martin Prado to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Hanley Ramirez continued to feast on Braves pitching with a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth. Dan Uggla followed with another homerun later in the inning. Garret Anderson answered right back with a two-run homer in the fifth that plated Brian McCann. But that was the last run the Braves would score on the evening.

Josh Johnson didn't have his best stuff tonight, striking out just one while allowing three runs on two homers in six innings, but the Braves couldn't overcome the disastrous performance by Kawakami and couldn't muster any offense once they got into the Marlins' bullpen.

Pinch-hitter and trade rumor subject Kelly Johnson hit a triple with two outs in the top of the ninth. But Johnson's heroics proved too little, too late as Leo Nunez slammed the door with a swinging strikeout by Nate McLouth.


The Braves' frustration with their performance over the past two games was palpable in the eigth inning, when both Bobby Cox and Brian McCann were ejected following a dispute with the home plate umpire over the location of the strike zone.

Screaming Indian favorite Kris Medlen worked a scoreless inning and a third of relief, striking out one and walking one.

The Rockies were idle tonight, thanks to a rainout, so the Braves fell back another half game, leaving them four games out of the wild card spot.

Wednesday's Braves/Marlins pitching matchup

The Marlins will have a decided advantage in Wednesday's pitching match-up as righties Kenshin Kawakami and Josh Johnson take the hill in the second game of the series between the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins.

Josh Johnson has been superb so far in 2009, and one might be forgiven for not remembering that it was only a year ago that Johnson made his return from Tommy John surgery. Typically, post-TJ pitchers struggle with their control for a while after they come back, but this has not been the case for Johnson.

Johnson hit the ground running in the second half of 2008 and picked up right where he left off when the new season began. In 135 IP, Johnson has struck out 113 batters while walking just 35, yielding an earned run average of 2.80. When he's not missing bats altogether, Johnson has been able to induce ground balls at an impressive rate (54% GB rate in '09).

Though it will be hard to beat out the remarkable seasons of Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, and Javier Vazquez, Johnson should at least be in the conversation when people start filling out NL Cy Young ballots.

Much less impressive has been the Braves' Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami. The 34-year-old has been plagued by control problems all season long, walking almost 4 batters per nine innings on his way to a 4.04 ERA (an ERA he's fortunate to have given his 1.9 K/BB ratio).

Kawakami's struggles have gotten worse of late. Over the past month, he has walked as many batters as he has struck out. Somehow, he has managed a 3.27 ERA over that period of time. But if he doesn't turn things around soon, his luck will eventually run out.

If for no other reason, Kawakami needs a good start to quiet speculation that he might eventually be moved to the bullpen - the footsteps of Tim Hudson are only going to get louder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Braves lose to Marlins on 2-run walk-off HR by Ross Gload

The Braves took the early lead in the third inning on a Martin Prado single that plated Ryan Church, but the Marlins answered right back with a 2-run double by Hanley Ramirez in the bottom of the frame, accounting for the only two runs that Jair Jurrjens allowed in his six innings of work.

The Braves were threatening again in their next turn at bat when Garret Anderson and Yunel Escobar reached base with none out, but Ricky Nolasco got out of trouble by getting Ryan Church to ground into an inning-ending double play.

In the top of the sixth, the game was knotted up 2-2 after a Chipper Jones solo shot, his fourth in as many games against Nolasco.

Garret Anderson hit a home run off of Marlins closer Leo Nunez in the top of the ninth to give the Braves what appeared to be the game-winning run. But Rafael Soriano gave up a two-run homer to Ross Gload in the top of the ninth to blow the save and lose the game.

Jair Jurrjens - for his part - pitched very well, striking out five, walking only one batter, and giving up five hits. Over his last 13 1/3 innings, Jurrjens has 15 K, 2 BB, 10 H, 3 ER. Perhaps, after a first half in which his skills deteriorated compared to last year, Jurrjens is beginning to turn things around on the stretch run to the playoffs.

The Rockies also lost on Tuesday by a score of 4-0 to the New York Mets. The Marlins will move ahead of the Braves by a game in the Wild Card race, but the Braves keep pace with the Rockies and remain 3 games back.

Rumor Mill: Braves eager to become latest franchise to be fleeced by Billy Beane

With only 3 days before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, the rumor mills are a-churning. And while we've been inundated with the details of the negotiations between the Blue Jays and Phillies over the fate of Roy Halladay, the Braves on the other hand haven't been a topic of trade deadline discussion since some bizarre rumors that Javier Vazquez was being shopped fizzled out a couple of weeks ago.

... until today.

A rumor surfaced Tuesday afternoon that Atlanta was in talks with the Oakland Atheltics regarding a potential Kelly Johnson-for-Michael Wuertz swap.

I bet I know where the front office is coming from: they think that, between Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and Kelly Johnson, they have a surplus of middle infielders.

But what they may be mistaking as a surplus is in actuality a misallocation of resources.

Kelly Johnson would be an offensive upgrade over Casey Kotchman at first base. Kelly Johnson would be an offensive and defensive upgrade over Garret Anderson in left field. And while Martin Prado has been stellar over the past year, he's hardly a known quantity at this point. I don't think I could say with any certainty that Kelly Johnson won't have a better career than Martin Prado (for what it's worth, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA lists KJ's second closest comparable player as Chase Utley).

The preceding claims are only true, of course, if you believe the entirety of the 2007 and 2008 season to be more representative of Johnson's true skill level (as I do) versus the injury-riddled 2009 version of Johnson.

But this doesn't even begin to consider the fact that the Braves probably don't need the bullpen help in the first place. True, there's something of a drop-off after Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, but Peter Moylan has been fine, Eric O'Flaherty has been a solid LOOGY option, and Kris Medlen is stepping up nicely. And, oh yeah, some dude named Tim Hudson is currently rehabbing in Single A.

Hopefully, Frank Wren will realize what a talent he has in Kelly Johnson (relative to those who are stealing playing time from him) and this will all have been a bunch of griping over nothing on my part.

A Tale of Two Pitchers: Nolasco / Jurrjens matchup kicks off important intradivision series

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Nolasco's was the highest of ERAs, Jurrjens' was the lowest of ERAs. OK, you get the picture.

The Braves and Marlins head into action today tied at three games back of the National League wild card spot. In Ricky Nolasco and Jair Jurrjens the Marlins and Braves, respectively, send two young pitchers to the mound whose differences don't stop at their widely divergent ERAs.

Jurrjens' sparkling 2.67 ERA belies a deteriorating skill set (128 IP, 88 K, 47 BB, 43% groundball rate) likely brought on by his heavy workload during the 2008 season - a season in which, it's worth noting, the Braves were not in contention for a playoff spot late in the season at which time a more cautious approach might have called for Jurrjens to be shut down.

Nolasco, on the other hand, has been haunted all season long by a 5.42 ERA despite displaying skills that promise much better future results (103 IP, 105 K, 26 BB, 39% GB rate).

So give the advantage in staring pitching goes to the Marlins tonight, but what about the bats? The Braves are hitting .261/.334/.408 against righties on the season, while the Marlins are a little worse at .260/.331/.397.

If the Braves can work deep into pitch counts and send Nolasco home early, they might fare better against the Marlins' bullpen who have had to work a little more often than the Braves' bullpen has this year. In 312 IP, Marlins relievers have struck out 294, walked 161, and given up 23 HR while boasting a 3.79 ERA. The Braves' bullpen has given up earned runs at a slightly higher clip (3.80), but have the better K/BB ratio (2.01 to Florida's 1.83), including 271 K, 135 BB, and 17 HR in 295 1/3 IP.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Idle Braves gain half a game on the Rockies

The Rockies lost to the Mets on Monday by a score of 7-3. The difference was a Fernando Tatis grand slam in the eigth.

Fernando Tatis? Yes, Feranando Tatis.

Stop checking your calendars. It's not 1999 again.

Colorado's loss brings the Braves within three games of the the Rockies in the NL wild card race.

As Ugly As I Seem: the anniversary of the Mark Teixeira trade

We're coming up on the anniversary of the Mark Teixeira trade. Does it seem as god-awful now as it did at the time? Briefly, yes. It's still awful.

To refresh: the Braves dealt Mark Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek.

Kotchman has been putrid with the bat to the tune of a 0.8 wins above replacement since the trade (in other words, Kotchman's contribution has been worth less than one run better than what a random, non-prospect dude from AAA would have produced). Marek has been just as awful. In 34 innings between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett, Marek has given up 23 earned runs, 27 strikeouts, and 30 walks.

Alternate universe scenario: Braves offer Teixeira arbitration. Teixeira declines. Teixeira signs with Yankees. Braves receive two sandwich picks.

Yeah, I like that version better.

Alternate universe scenario two: Braves offer Teixeira arbitration. Teixeira declines. Braves sign Teixeira.

Now, suppose the Braves spend the same $20 million on Mark Texeira as the Yankees did (this is problematic, but bear with me until the end of the paragraph). The Braves are immediately 5.46 wins better than they are in the depressing reality where they instead have Casey Kotchman under contract. These extra wins have monetary value, especially if they prove to be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. If you place the value of each marginal win at $4.5 million, Mark Teixeira's production net of Casey Kotchman is worth $24.57 million. The Braves could have outbid the Yankees by $4.57 million and the result would have been a wash!

Now, I should point out that Teixeira's contract is heavily backloaded, and it is highly unlikely that he'll be worth the $22.5 million he'll be paid as a 36-year-old, but the Yankees to be sure are due some surplus on the front end.

In any case, my point is this: trading for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek was the worst of all possible decisions. Casey Kotchman is a first baseman who has no power, no longer gets on base, and isn't especially good with the glove. As for Stephen Marek, I'd be shocked if he ever set foot on a major league baseball diamond, and the fact that he was given the title of "prospect" when news articles covering the trade were written was, quite frankly, laughable.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is Martin Prado for real?

Martin Prado is hitting .320/.387/.489 on the season. His perfomance to date is almost a perfect replication of what he did for the Braves in 238 plate appearances in 2008, when he hit .320/.378/.461. Now that he's sustained this level of performance for a full season, we have to ask ourselves - is Martin Prado really this good?

In the minors, Prado demonstrated decent on-base skills but showed little in the way of power (.300/.353/.393 in 1,920 minor league at bats). But since being called up to the majors, Prado's slugging percentage has gone up nearly .070 points (.455 SLG% 560 MLB at-bats).

Prado's current 8.9% HR/Flyball seems sustainable enough. HitTracker lists three of Prado's homeruns as being of the "Just Enough" variety while just two were hit "Plenty" far, which might portend a mild dip in his slugging percentage. Aside from that, there's no other evidence to suggest that Prado is a flash in the pan.

Most metrics give his glovework at third base better reviews than at first base or second base so far this season. This may have interesting implications as Kelly Johnson returned from the DL in grand fashion on Sunday and Chipper Jones is often banged up. Still, Prado's profile as a strong on-base man with doubles power probably plays better long-term at second base than at third. It will be interesting to see how Bobby Cox manages this situation.

Braves rout Brewers 10-2

A game that had the makings of a pitchers' duel through the fifth inning turned into a slugfest by the end of the sixth. Already up 1-0 on a first inning Brian McCann double that drove in Nate McLouth, the Braves put a four-spot on the Brewers in the top of the sixth, fueled by a McCann walk, singles by Garrett Anderson and Matt Diaz, and a two-run homer by Casey Kotchman to cap the rally.

The Brewers answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning off of Derek Lowe, who had a solid but unspectacular outing, walking none while striking out three. Ten out of the 15 outs Lowe induced on balls in play came via the ground ball, so the groundball machine was in peak form today.

Kelly Johnson was impressive in his first start back from the disabled list, going 3-for-4 with a walk, a homerun, 2 doubles, and a stolen base.

Kris Medlen gave up one hit in a scoreless ninth inning. The Braves were already up 8 runs when he came into the game, but one can't help but wonder if Bobby Cox's decision to use him in the 9th was a test to see how well he might do in high-leverage relief situations. Last week, we suggested that such a role would be the ideal short-term use of Mr Medlen.

The win allowed the Braves to keep pace with the Rockies in the NL wild card race. Colorado topped San Francisco 4-2 on Sunday.

The Braves are off on Monday but pick things back up on Tuesday against the Marlins, who are currently tied with the Braves for second place in the NL East.

Lowe and Looper in series finale

Derek Lowe and Braden Looper take the mound on Sunday in what is easily the least sexy pitching matchup of the series. Lowe is a groundball artist who has struggled this season, striking out just 67 batters in 124 2/3 innings while issuing 41 walks. Lowe is still inducing ground balls at a rate of 55%, but he'll need to get the walks down and the strikeouts up if he intends to help the Braves catch the Rockies in the NL wild card race.

Looper has been surprisingly effective throughout his career given his modest skills. Most of his success, however, came out of the bullpen while he has hovered around replacement level as a starter for the past three seasons.

Braves can't take advantage of Gallardo's wildness

Neither Yovani Gallardo (7 1/3 IP, 6 K, 4BB, 9H, 0 ER) nor Tommy Hanson (7 IP, 1 K, 2BB, 4H, 2 ER) were as effective as they've shown they can be. Still, neither team did very much to take advantage until Yovani Gallardo squared to bunt with two on in the bottom of the fifth. When Hanson threw the pitch, however, Gallardo pulled his bat back and hit a single that bounced just over the head of Chipper Jones. Gallardo has proven before that he's no slouch with the bat, and this proved to be the only run the Brewers would need to put the Braves away.

Elsewhere, the Rockies beat the Giants 8-2, putting the Braves 3.5 games (and four losses) back of the Rockies for the wild card spot.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gallardo, Hanson take the mound in battle of talented young arms

Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers was born just six months before the Braves Thomas Hanson (almost to the day), but the former has been on the MLB scene for three seasons now, while Mr Hanson made his first start on June 7th of this year.

Hanson dominated AAA to the tune of 99 K, 17 BB, 40 H, and a sparkling 1.49 ERA in 66 1/3 innings pitched. When Hanson was called up to the big leagues his surface statistics remained outstanding (8 ER in 29 IP, including four wins), but there was reason to wonder how long it would last (16 K/17BB over that same stretch).

But ever since his start against the Nationals on the Fourth of July, Hanson has turned it around, striking out 18 batters in just 19 innings while walking just six. It will be interesting to see if Hanson has finally turned the corner.

Yovani Gallardo, on the other hand, has been heading in the opposite direction of late. Gallardo had a 2.86 ERA through the end of June, striking out 9.4 batters per nine innings. But since the beginning of July, Gallardo's control has been slipping. In his last 23 IP, Gallardo has walked 13 batters. Gallardo's past performance suggests he'll get back on track eventually. The Braves will just hope he waits until his next start to do so.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Javier Vazquez without best stuff, Braves still get it done

Last night, Javier Vazquez didn't dominate the Brewers in the way he's dominated the rest of the Naitonal League this year, giving up 4 ER in 7 innings while striking out nine and walking three (this was just the fourth time this season he'd issued four walks in a game).

Luckily, the Braves' suddenly potent bats (the Braves have scored 5.75 runs per game in the post-Frenchy era) picked him up by plating 9 runs, including a Chipper Jones solo shot in the 6th that put them up for good and two-run homer by Nate McLouth in the top of the eight that put the game out of reach.

Yesterday, I wondered if Manny Parra had re-harnessed the considerable skill he displayed in the second half of 2009. Clearly, he hasn't. His night was done after throwing 106 pitches in only five innings, only 63 of which were strikes. He issued three walks, struck out three, gave up 10 hits, and allowed 4 runs to cross the plate.

Elsewhere, the Giants beat the Rockies 3-1, leaving the Braves 2.5 games back (and three losses back) of Colorado and San Francisco, who are currently tied for the wild card spot.

Vazquez and Parra face off

Javier Vazquez has unquestionably been the ace of the Braves' staff this season and arguably the best non-Lincecum, non-Haren NL starting pitcher (his curious exclusion from the All-Star game notwithstanding).

Though it's died down of late, there had been considerable buzz about Braves GM Frank Wren shopping Vazquez over the past couple of weeks. Now that Matt Holliday is a Cardinal, however, it's difficult to imagine a trade in which the Braves deal Vazquez and improve their chances of making the playoffs.

A great start tonight might go a long way toward making the front office realize that Vazquez is worth holding onto. Given his Cy Young level of performance this season(126 IP, 141 K, 24 BB, 2.86 ERA), there's little reason to expect otherwise. And who knows, maybe - just maybe - Vazquez will finally receive some run support from the suddenly hot-hittiing Braves line-up.

I can't imagine using any of the adjectives that I used above to describe Vazquez when talking about Manny Parra, who has been nothing short of wildly unpredictable in his brief career.

Parra had an impressive skills breakout in the second half of 2008 (9.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, GB/FB ratio greater than 2 in 79 1/3 IP) but has struggled to build upon those gains in 2009. In fact, Parra was so bad during the first half (55K/41BB in 63 IP) that he was sent down for three starts at AAA Nashville.

Though his time with The Sounds gave some cause for worry (24 2/3 IP, 19 K, 13BB), Parra has been much more effective since being recalled on July 9th. In two starts since he rejoined the Brewers, Parra has thrown 13 innings, giving up only one earned run while striking out 13 and walking just one. But is it a fluke or a full-on skill recovery? Tonight, the Braves are hoping it's the former.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kris Medlen: use him or send him down

I'm big on Kris Medlen. Probably moreso than most. He does have a smallish frame and probably projects longterm as a high-leverage reliever rather than a front-end starter. But still, the man has some talent, as evidenced by the success he had prior to his call-up (37 2/3 IP, 44K, 10BB, 20 H, 1.19 ERA at AAA).

But you wouldn't know Medlen was one of the Braves' top prospects by the way Bobby Cox has been using him over the past couple of months. Since moving to the bullpen following a start on May 31st in which he dominated the Diamondbacks (6 IP, 9K, 1BB,4H, 1ER), Medlen has only made ten appearances out of the Braves' bullpen.

Medlen's performance in the big leagues has been hit or miss so far. He's dominant on some nights but can't find the plate on others. But there's good news! We are able to isolate his bad performances from his good performances by analyzing the duration of his appearances.

In games in which he has pitched more than two innings, Medlen has 27K/19BB with 20 ER in just 26 innings. When Medlen has pitched 2 innings or less, he's put up 10 K against 1 BB in 8 IP. True, this is a very small sample. But through four MLB starts, Medlen has proven he isn't ready to be a full-time SP (although he might already be a more interesting option than Kenshin Kawakami), and since the evidence so far has indicated that he might be an effective one or two inning relief pitcher, that option ought to be worth exploring.

If not, send him back down to AAA Gwinnett, and keep stretching him out as a starter.