Friday, April 9, 2010

Braves go west to take on Giants

The Braves are set to kick off a West Coast road trip this afternoon with a three-game series at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

Probable pitchers:
4/9: Tim Hudson (RHP, ATL) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (LHP, SF)
4/10: Derek Lowe (RHP, ATL) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (RHP, SF)
4/11: Jair Jurrjens (RHP, ATL) vs. Time Lincecum (RHP, SF)

Sanchez will be the first lefty-handed starter the Braves have faced in 2010. Since we haven't seen Bobby Cox fill out a lineup card yet 2010 when the Braves are facing an LHP, I'll submit my recommendation:

2B) Martin Prado: .285/.362/.474
LF) Matt Diaz: .346/.383/.537
1B) Troy Glaus: .277/.399/.558
C ) Brian McCann: .267/.334/.425
SS) Yunel Escobar: .280/.357/.380
RF) Jason Heyward: .000/.000/.000
CF) Nate McLouth: .244/.317/.392
3B) Omar Infante*: .266/.310/.381
P ) Tim Hudson: .103/.143/.149

*Assuming Chipper can't play.

Jonathan Sanchez may be the best pitcher the Braves have faced so far. Certainly, his handedness will be a problem for a lineup whose platoon splits lean so heavily in the other direction. Sanchez took a big step forward as a starter last season, and the 27-year-old has the stuff to develop into a front line starter if he can build on those gains - particularly if he can keep his walks under control and pitch efficiently.

Tim Hudson will be pitching for the Braves, and - if the last month of 2009 and spring training are any indication - Huddy seems set to have a strong 2010 after spending most of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This is what the Giants' lineup has done against RHPs:

CF) Aaron Rowand: .279/.337/.429
SS) Edgar Renteria: .283/.333/.384
3B) Pablo Sandoval: .327/.375/.542
1B) Aubrey Huff: .286/.347/.493
LF) Mark DeRosa: .265/.333/.397
C ) Bengie Molina: .270/.300/.392
RF) John Bowker: .260/.308/.439
2B) Juan Uribe: .255/.297/.425
P ) Jonathan Sanchez: .092/.148/.118

I will be live-tweeting today's game, which starts at 4:35 PM ET.

FanGraphs impressed by C.J. Wilson's first start

FanGraphs chimes in on C.J. Wilson's (LHP, Rangers) first start yesterday since 2005. They came away as impressed as I was:
Overall, it was a very encouraging start for both Wilson and the Rangers. It wasn’t against one of the better offenses in the league, but it still looks like Wilson will be here to stay as a starter in the major leagues.

Cubs shut out Braves in Atlanta's first loss

Last night's 2-0 shutout was a bitter defeat for the Braves in the style of many of the Braves' losses over the past couple of seasons: solid pitching backed by an offense that could get runners on base but couldn't drive them in. (The Braves stranded 12 baserunners on Thursday night).

Tyler Colvin's solo homerun in the top of the second put the Cubs ahead for good. In the fourth inning, Marlon Byrd's second homerun of the year plated the game's final run.

The loss was especially frustrating because - despite the homeruns - Tommy Hanson (5 1/3 IP, 7 K, 3 BB, 4 H) outpitched Randy Wells (6 IP, 1 K, 2 BB).

The Braves nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth when Eric Hinske took a Carlos Marmol pitch to deep center with Nate McLouth and Yunel Escobar on base. The ball was well-struck but ultimately hauled in by Marlon Byrd for the second out of the ninth inning. Melky Cabrera unceremoniously struck out to end the game.

Lastly, you probably inferred this next bit of news from the fact that I mentioned that the Braves played a baseball game yesterday, but here goes: Chipper Jones injured his oblique and is expected to miss 2-3 days.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

C.J. Wilson shines in his first start

OK, so it wasn't first start - but it was his first start since 2005, and it went very, very well for the long-haired 29-year-old known to the Twitterverse as @str8edgeracer. Wilson pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out nine, walking two, and giving up just five hits.

As outlined by Matt Klaassen, a big key in Wilson's attempt to "go all Ryan Dempster" by going from a reliever to an above-average starter was that he sustain the uptick in his groundball rate that we witnessed in 2009. (It jumped up to 55.4% in '09 versus 49.3% in '10).

Mission accomplished... kind of. Wilson's batted ball data came out like this: 6 flyballs, 5 groundballs, and 4 line drives. Looks great, right? Well, 4 of those ground balls came in the first two innings. Wilson only induced one ground ball during innings three through seven. Normally, I wouldn't think anything of such a thing. However, since Wilson is transitioning from a reliever to a starter, it's worthwhile to note how his performance changes deep into the game.

As it turned out, Wilson became a much different pitcher as the game wore on. In the first two innings, he drew a lot of contact, and got a lot of ground balls. But in innings three through seven, he struck out eight batters and had a GB/FB ratio of 0.2.

Another interesting tidbit is Wilson's performance against right- and left-handed batters. Wilson has always dominated left-handed batters. Thursday was no different. He faced eight lefties, struck out half of them - and fifty percent of those he didn't strike out grounded out.

He was still good against righties but not as good. He struck out five, walked two, gave up four hits, and posted a 0.6 GB/FB ratio.

Normally, analyzing one start would be absurd - and maybe it still is in this case. Wilson's still got some work to do with respect to maintaining his extreme GBer profile deep into ball games and being consistently effective against RHBs, but if his first start is any indication, the Rangers look to have planted the seeds of something that could be very special.

Game 3 Preview

The Braves (2-0) and Cubs (0-2) take the field on Thursday night for yet another righty-righty pitching matchup - Tommy Hanson and Randy Wells.

I won't waste your time by reading from Hanson's résumé. He had a great 2009. He had a great spring training. Barring injury, 2010 should be no different.

Randy Wells had a pretty successful 2009 himself, breaking into the Cubs rotation with a moderate strikeout, low walk, high ground ball rate approach. Think of him as Jair Jurrjens-lite - a decent talent, but he's not going to be fronting any major league rotations (unless he gets traded to the Padres, who trotted out Jon freaking Garland on Opening Day).

Before the opener, I outlined the Cubs' and Braves' historical performance against RHPs.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chipper's eighth inning blast pushes Braves past Cubs

Another dramatic homerun stole the show on Wednesday night. This time, it was Chipper Jones hitting a two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the eighth to drive in the game-tying and -winning runs against the Chicago Cubs. John Grabow took the loss for the North Siders.

Ryan Dempster (RHP, CHC) was dominant in the loss, striking out nine in just six innings of work while walking just two. A Jason Heyward double in the second inning drove in the only run that Dempster allowed.

Jair Jurrjens' performance was less impressive. He walked two, struck out just as many, and allowed two runs in 5 IP. Screaming Indian favorite Kris Medlen worked two solid innings of relief (2 H, 2 K, 0 BB, 0 R). Peter Moylan picked up a vulture win, and Billy Wagner was lights-out in the ninth, recording all three outs via the K.

The three game series concludes on Thursday with a showdown between Randy Wells and Tommy Hanson. Advantage: Braves.

NOTE: I had previously written that Hit Tracker recorded Jason Heyward's Opening Day homerun at 433 feet. They are now saying that it was 476 feet, with a speed off the bat of 120 MPH. Yowza. Needless to say, it was upgraded from "Plenty" to "No Doubt".

Game 2 Preview

Wednesday's 7:10 ET game against the Chicago Cubs will feature another righty-on-righty matchup when Ryan Dempster (RHP, CHC) and Jair Jurrjens (RHP, ATL) take the hill for their respective teams.

I broke down the Braves' and the Cubs' historical performance against RHPs on Monday.

It will be interesting to see how Jurrjens holds up given his struggles with shoulder inflammation this spring. It seems like it would have made a lot of sense to slot Jair in at the fourth starter position to give his shoulder just a little bit more rest. But the Braves have been pretty agressive with the 24-year-old's workload, trotting him out for 188 innings in 2008 and 215 innings in 2009.

Off-day loose ends

Upset about high ticket prices at MLB games? Like most problems, the United States' government has something to do with it.

Oh, and the Braves (1-0) are currently tied with the Mets and Phillies for first in the NL East.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jason Heyward fever drowns out Lowe's awfulness

On any other day, Derek Lowe's dreadful outing (6 IP, 3 BB, 2 K, 5 ER) would have had Braves fans everywhere in a miserable mood on Opening Day. But April 5, 2010 was not your average opening day. It was Jason Heyward Day.

Heyward's first inning three-run homerun off of Carlos Zambrano in his first MLB plate appearance is already the stuff of legend. The towering shot to right center traveled 433 feet, registering as "Plenty" on HitTracker's scale of Plenty, Just Enough, and Lucky. Watch the homerun here.

Heyward's blast was part of the Braves' 16-5 rout of the Chicago Cubs, led (along with Heyward's 4 RBI) by a 2-run single and a 3-run double by Yunel Escobar. Escobar and Heyward accounted for 5 of the 6 runs plated in the Braves' big first inning, in which they regained the lead for good after Derek Lowe gave up a three-run homer to Marlon Byrd in the top of the first.

The Braves are off on Tuesday but resume action at Turner Field on Wednesday when Jair Jurrjens will face off against Ryan Dempster.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Braves Opening Day Preview: In the Field

If you had told me five months ago that Derek Lowe (RHP, Braves) was going to be the 2010 opening day starter for the Atlanta Braves, I would have enjoyed a hearty laugh at your expense. Javier Vazquez and Tommy Hanson were easily the Braves' best pitchers in 2009 while Derek Lowe fell well short of the expectations set by his $60 million contract and seemed a safe bet to be traded. My, how things have changed.

Since Javier Vazquez was traded to the Yankees, Derek Lowe has gone from clubhouse pariah to number one starter. The Braves' newfound confidence in Lowe was buoyed by a dominant spring (18K/2BB in 22 IP), and Lowe will need to build on that success to regain his 2008 form.

In 2009, Lowe struck out more than a batter fewer per nine innings (5.13) and walked more than one additional batter (2.91) than in his last year as a Dodger. His groundball rate also dipped from 60% to 56%. A strong debut against the Cubs would go a long way toward alleviating some of the buyer's remorse that Frank Wren and the Braves were feeling this offseason.

This is how the Cubs' opening day lineup has fared against RHPs:

(SS) Ryan Theriot: .283/.347/.351
(RF) Kosuke Fukudome: .262/.372/.417
(1B) Derrek Lee: .285/.364/.505
(3B) Aramis Ramirez: .284/.341/.493
(CF) Marlon Byrd: .282/.342/.416
(LF) Alfonso Soriano: .278/.320/.508
(2B) Mike Fontenot: .272/.348/.435
(C) Geovany Soto: .257/.338/.456
(P) Carlos Zambrano: .220/.226/.367

Any time Derek Lowe takes the mound, there are going to be more than a few balls put in play. The Braves finished 22nd in UZR for 2009 and firgure to be about the same or slightly better in 2010. The Braves' infield defense will likely be a bit worse in 2010, with Troy Glaus replacing the league average defensive combo of Casey Kotchman and Adam LaRoche while Chipper Jones' defensive prowess continues to deteriorate with ever-advancing age. The outfield should be improved with Melky Cabrera and Jason Heyward replacing Garret Anderson, Ryan Church, and Jeff Francoeur. The outfield defense could be further improved by moving Melky to center and Mclouth to left, but that's a topic for another day.

Braves Opening Day Preview: At the Plate

After enjoying a period of dominance in the early 2000s, Carlos Zambrano (RHP) saw his once-elite skills deteriorate during the latter part of the decade. If there's one encouraging sign, it's that Zambrano's K/9 rebounded to 8.1 in 2009, reversing a three year slide (8.8, 7.4, 6.2). But the most troubling number of all may be that Zambrano's innings pitched continued their downward trend (223, 214, 216, 188, 169), yet another sign that Big Z's arm is succumbing to the high-stress workload placed on him during Dusty Baker's days in the Cubs' dugout.

Zambrano's spring training was something of a mixed bag. While he only struck out 15 batters in 24 innings pitched, he demonstrated much better control than he has in previous seasons, walking just 6 batters.

Still just 28, Zambrano may yet have his best seasons ahead of him if he can conquer the command issues he's battled over the last several seasons. His performance against the Braves on opening day could be a big indicator as to which Carlos Zambrano will be fronting the Cubs' rotation in 2010.

This is what the Braves' opening day lineup has done against righthanded pitching in their careers:

(LF) Melky Cabrera: .272/.332/.395
(2B) Martin Prado: .321/.358/.436
(3B) Chipper Jones: .307/.410/.551
(C) Brian McCann: .304/.365/.527
(1B) Troy Glaus: .248/.345/.476
(SS) Yunel Escobar: .311/.382/.448
(RF) Jason Heyward: .000/.000/.000
(CF) Nate McLouth: .265/.350/.474
(P) Derek Lowe: .131/.175/.139

After finishing 21st in UZR in 2009, the Cubs should be an improved defensive unit in 2010. Milton Bradley and his brittle frame were shipped to Seattle, and Marlon Byrd was signed to replace him, allowing Kosuke Fukudome to move to from center to right field, where he is a much better defender.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A scout's take on Edward Salcedo

A quote from an anonymous scout in Kevin Goldstein's Grapefruit League Scouting Notebook:
Braves SS Edward Salcedo: "I saw where you wrote that he'd be around No. 5 on your Braves list, and that's way too low. He's not a shortstop, but he has a hose and huge power. Get ready for that guy."

The Braves signed Salcedo, an 18-year-old Dominican prospect, to a contract with a $1.6 million signing bonus in March.

Spring Training Recap

Hello, Internet. We're back.

I made the decision to give myself a little break during spring training. With seemingly every sportswriter on the planet tweeting inning-by-inning score updates ad nauseam in games that don't count, I figured that it was territory that was already being thorougly covered.

But in three days, the games will start to count. And Screaming Indian is very excited about kicking off its first full regular season.

Now, despite my previous comments and overwhelming evidence that spring training performance is not useful in predicting regular season performance, there are some interesting stories that emerged from the Grapefruit League.
  • Jason Heyward's .346/.469/.481 spring, which earned him a starting spot in right field. While exciting for the fans, the decision to not hold him back in AAA for a couple of weeks could prove costly down the line when he earns 'super two' arbitration status.
  • The starting rotation's 68 to 13 K/BB ratio. Tim Hudson looks fully recovered and Derek Lowe appears primed for a rebound. Kenshin Kawakami had a disturbingly low strikeout total (13) in 24 2/3 innings while only walking two. It's highly unlikely that he'd be capable of sustaining a walk rate that low during the regular season.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA standings currently have the Braves taking the NL wild card, while CHONE has them winning the East. They'll need some things to go their way in order for these projections to come to fruition, but it should - if nothing else - be a very exciting season in Atlanta.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Back to Basics: maringal wins and players' marginal revenue product

On this blog I employ many methods and statistics that I don't really make much of an effort to explain. To make my writing a bit more accessible, I'm going to go out of my way to do just that - explain some of the methods I'm using in a series that I'm going to call Back to Basics, which bears no relationship to the Christina Aguilera album of the same name.

When analyzing free agent transactions, I will often remark that Player X will be worth Amount Y to Team Z. The basis for determining the value of a player comes from his contribution to team wins. It has been found, not surprisingly, that team wins are positively correlated with team revenue. Therefore, the marginal revenue that a player provides (by way of marginal wins) constitutes his value to a team.

If signing Player X will bring Team Z $10.5 million in marginal revenue, then Team Z will be willing to sign that player for any amount at or below $10.5 million, which is the point at which Team Z would break even.

Based on this concept of players' marginal revenue product, an equilibrium price for wins will emerge in any given free agent market. In last year's market, one win typically cost $4.5 million. In the 2009-10 market, wins have gone for about $3.5 million. In reality, the value of a win varies from team to team but these numbers serve as a decent starting point for analyzing transactions.

The quantity of wins that a player can be expected to provide is projected with a metric called Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR has been explained over at Beyond the Boxscore in greater depth and clarity than I could possibly hope to achieve. My only real beef with WAR is that it doesn't seem to account for baserunning at this point in time. I'll limit my comments on WAR to what I've already said, as WAR is meaty enough to headline its very own Back to Basics post.

The best analysis that I've seen of marginal revenue product applied to baseball is in J.C. Bradbury's The Baseball Economist. You should also check out his blog, Sabernomics.

Melky Cabrera Revisited (plus closure on the never-ending Johnny Damon saga)

As Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited is widely considered to be among the most influential Rock & Roll albums of all time, so shall this post be revered as one of the most influential Melky Cabrera blog entries of all time.

OK, maybe that's overstating it. But I do have an interesting nugget of information to consider along with my well-documented skepticism regarding Mr. Cabrera's chances of making a positive contribution to Atlanta's 2010 playoff push.

Melky Cabrera is a very interesting case, as he has gone from being extremely overrated in New York to being greatly underappreciated as an Atlanta Brave, with much thanks for that owed to the fan base's anger over trading Javier Vazquez. For what it's worth, the CHONE projection system appears to love Melky in 2010. In 562 PA, they have him hitting .296/.367/.441. After considering Melky's defensive contributions, his projected 2010 value based on the CHONE projection is 3.4 wins above replacement (WAR). In case you're keeping score at home, that's 0.2 WAR better than Johnny Damon's 2010 CHONE projection. (For a fantastic primer on WAR, check this out.)

Now, as far as outliers go, CHONE's weighted on base average (wOBA) projection of .358 for Cabrera is a pretty big one. (For a fantastic primer on wOBA, check this out.) The second-most generous Cabrera projection (Bill James) approximates a wOBA of .330. That impressive wOBA seems to be inflated by a .318 BABIP that deviates sharply from his BABIP of .288, .271, and .295 in the past three seasons. But it's not entirely reliant on fluke singles. Bill James projects an ISO of just .128 against CHONE's .145, including 8 more doubles in 50 fewer plate appearances. In 2009, Cabrera registered an ISO of .142 - so CHONE's power projection seems pretty reasonable, especially since Melky is still in the growth phase of his career.

If we adjust Cabrera's BABIP to .300, his triple slash projection drops to .281/.325/.426, resulting in a wOBA decrease of .012, which causes us to adjust his WAR value to 2.7, or 0.5 WAR less than Johnny Damon's projection.

If this estimation of Cabrera's value is in line with the front office's expectations, much of Frank Wren's recent behavior makes sense. No wonder he was lowballing Johnny Damon - he only stood to gain half a win, which can be had for about $1.75 million in this free agent market.

I say all of this to make the following point: even though we lost out on Johnny Damon, he's not so great that his value can't be replaced by a Melky Cabrera who slightly outperforms expectations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jair Jurrjens to undergo precautionary MRI this week

Word got out on Presidents' Day that Jair Jurrjens would undergo a precautionary MRI on his sore right shoulder. Though club officials are insisting that the procedure is merely prophylactic (team trainers are saying there appears to be no structural damage), there may be some reason for concern in the long term. The 24-year-old Jurrjens has already endured a heavy workload in his brief career, pitching 403 1/3 innings in his two major league seasons.

Additionally, it appears that the increased workload is having a deleterious effect on his base skills. Jurrjens' strikeout rate declined from 6.64 in 2008 to 6.36 in 2009, and his groundball rate dropped from 51.5% to 42.9%.

Still, Jurrjens came on strong in the second half of 2009, so maybe my concern is misplaced. Should Jair's shoulder falter, Kris Medlen will be at the ready to step in for some spot starts.

Jurrjens' 2009 Projections
The Bill James Baseball Handbook: 210 IP, 6.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: 203 IP, 6.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA: 196 IP, 141 K, 66 BB, 3.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
CHONE: 172 IP, 6.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Atlanta's courtship of Johnny Damon: is there a Plan B?

With word getting around on Thursday that the Tigers would likely be willing to exceed the Braves' one-year, $4 million offer to Johnny Damon, many journalists reasserted their belief that Detroit is the favorite to land Damon. Yesterday, I calculated that the Braves could go as high as $7.7 million and still get fair value for Damon.

But what if the Tigers do outbid Atlanta? Are there any other remaining free agents left field options for the Braves? Not really. The only thing that comes close is Jermaine Dye, who is projected by CHONE to have a 1.3 WAR season in 2010. That would make him worth about $1.05 million to the Braves in added line-up value.

Dye was sub-replacement in 2009, so any investment here - no matter how small - would bear considerable risk, even if it's only $1.05 million. Garret Anderson was signed to an equally cheap contract in 2009 and was awful. The sunk cost of the contract could have been easily overcome, but Bobby Cox's insistence on having him play 133 games as a sub-replacement player could not.

Should you choose to look more closely at Dye's 2009, you might notice his dramatic platoon splits (.236/.323/.434 vs. RHP, .292/.387/.508 vs. LHP). So it would appear that he might possess some value on the short end of a left field platoon. Perhaps, but not for the Braves. Matt Diaz is a career .347/.384/.537 hitter against lefties, so having Dye steal his at bats would actually be counterproductive.

The only context, then, in which signing Dye might make sense would be if Jason Heyward was going to start the year in AAA. In that case, the Braves might be well-served by a three-way outfield platoon of Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, and Jermaine Dye. But if you're going to get into the business of assembling platoons, you might as well look toward someone like Jonny Gomes who - despited his limitations as a player - has a much more appropriate estimation of his market value.

UPDATE: FanGraphs also chimed in on why teams are avoiding Jermaine Dye like the plague.
Copies of Baseball Prospectus 2010 are now shipping! Order your copy today! If you enjoy Screaming Indian, Baseball Prospectus is essential reading. Also consider subscribing to their web site.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Breakout Candidate: Rick VandenHurk (RHP, Marlins)

You don’t have to be a veteran fantasy player to know that Ricky Nolasco is probably going to be much more valuable in 2010 than his 5.06 ERA in 2009 would indicate. While that information is useful, that’s not a level of analysis about which I’m interested in writing. No, in my Breakout Candidate pieces, I’m going to be looking deeper into the player pool for pitchers that may be had cheaply in deep mixed, NL only, and AL only formats.

With that said, today I’m going to look at one of Nolasco’s teammates, RHP Rich VandenHurk. VandenHurk features a 91-92 MPH fastball, an 84 MPH slider, a 70 MPH curve, and an 84 MPH changeup. In 2009 he went to the slider more than twice as often as he had in previous seasons.

VandenHurk turns 25 on May 22nd and has a three-year MLB K/BB trend of 1.71, 2.00, and 2.33. Given that combination of age and encouraging trends in strikeout and walk rates, VandenHurk may very well be on the verge of a breakout. The one facet of VandenHurk’s game could most easily prevent this from happening is his tendency to give up fly balls. VandenHurk gave up fly balls on 50% of all balls put in play against him in 2009. If you don’t think an extreme fly ball tendency can’t be the undoing of a pitcher with a stellar K/BB, you probably didn’t own Scott Baker last season.

Another source of worry is health. VandenHurk threw just over 100 innings at various levels of the Marlins’ organization in 2009. He missed 60 days with a sore right elbow in 2009.

Here’s what VandenHurk did last year:

MLB: 4.30 ERA, 7.52 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, 58 2/3 IP
AAA: 2.87 ERA, 7.69 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 59 2/23 IP

…And what the leading projection systems think he’ll do this year:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: 125 IP, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.18 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Bill James' Baseball Handbook: 121 IP, 8.9 K/9. 3.9 BB/9, 4.39 ERA , 1.36 WHIP
Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA: 125 IP, 113 K, 56 BB, 4.38 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
CHONE: 117 IP, 8.5 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 4.85 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

I’m expecting VandenHurk to end 2010 with an ERA in the low fours, showing up on a lot more radars as a sleeper candidate in 2011 fantasy drafts. If you’re in a keeper league, now is the time to stash. For VandenHurk, it only gets better from here.

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Braves make Damon an offer he might refuse

With rumors that the Braves have offered Johnny Damon a one-year contract hitting the twitterverse on Wednesday afternoon, I thought this might be a good opportunity to look at what Mr. Damon might be worth to the Braves in 2010.

CHONE projects Damon as being worth 3.2 WAR in 2010. Let's suppose the Braves' current left fielder (an amalgamation of Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, Eric Hinske, and various other fourth outfielders) would be worth 1 WAR in 2010. Signing Damon, then, would provide add 2.2 marginal wins. That would make him worth $7.7 million to the Braves in 2010.

Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that the Braves' initial offer is for one year at about $5 million, a portion of which would be deferred. If Damon ended up signing for this amount, that would provide the Braves with $2.7 million of consumer surplus. Damon may be even more valuable if those two extra wins are enough to put the Braves in the playoffs. Most forecasts currently have the Braves in the playoff hunt, but not quite in the playoffs.

The Braves' newfound interest in Damon might come as a surprise to those who heeded overmuch Frank Wren's declaration that the Braves weren't planning on making any more player acquisitions this off season. Though the comment angered many Braves fans at the time, in retrospect, it may have been a shrewd move. Wren is, after all, having to wrangle with Scott Boras to try to make Johnny Damon a Brave. Why tip your hand that you're still looking for another outfielder? Boras has already shown that he can produce teams that are interested in his clients out of whole cloth. There would have been little point in allowing Boras to use such a comment to ramp up the perception of demand for Mr. Damon's services.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Prospects Update

I've updated the Braves Prospect Rankings Review entry to include a link to Keith Law's Top 100.  In addition, I'm going to add a link to the sidebar of the Screaming Indian to provide you with a resource you can easily revisit any time you like.

We'll aslo add updates on prospects invited to spring training once that gets under way.

Happy PECOTA Day & other Braves notes

Today was that magical day that only comes once a year - the day Baseball Prospectus unveils their PECOTA player projections. The staff at BP compile these projections into depth charts and attempt to predict Win-Loss totals based on those projections and estimated playing time.

From this process, I give you Baseball Prospectus' projected 2010 NL East Standings:

Phillies (88-74)
Braves (85-77)
Nationals (82-80)
Mets (77-85)
Marlins (76-86)

The Braves would be tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the NL Wild Card. That sure put the Braves' reluctance to get involved with Johnny Damon into perspective, doesn't it?

Elsewhere in the vast basebally analysis universe, Keith Law unveiled his Top 100 prospects, which included five Atlanta Braves:

#1 Jason Heyward (RF)
#45 Arodys Vizcaino (RHP)
#63 Julio Teheran (RHP)
#67 Freddie Freeman (1B)
#85 Randall Delgado (RHP)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday's Braves Buzz

The Yankees signed Randy Winn to a one-yer deal, virtually eliminating the possibility that Johnny Damon might be wearing pinstripes next year. While this would seemingly open a window for the Braves to make a move on Damon (who has fewer and fewer options), the Rays are being aggressive early on.

David O'Brien reports that the Braves are not pursuing Jim Edmonds. Although I don't know that anybody really thought there was much risk of that.

The Mets are rumored to be interested in ex-Brave John Smoltz. For my money, this would be the Mets' best signing of the off season (unless you count successfully not signing Bengie Molina).

Keith Law ranks the Braves' farm system as fifth-best in MLB.

Breakout Candidate: Yusmeiro Petit (RHP, SEA)

While the Screaming Indian is first and foremost an Atlanta Braves blog, I do reserve the right to publish my musings on players on other teams – particularly as it relates to their (f)utility in fantasy baseball – whenever it may strike my fancy.  With that out of the way, I invite you to consider my opinion on the possibility that Yusmeiro Petit will be much better in 2010 than in 2009...

Yusmeiro Petit has landed with the Seattle Mariners after a rather unpleasant two-year layover in Arizona en route from Miami.  Petit’s last dominant season was in 2005 when he posted at 3.65 ERA on the strength of 9.1 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 in the Marlins’ minor league system.  Petit did manage to post a 3.0 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP with the Diamondbacks in 2008 before having a god-awful season in 2009.  I’d been eyeing Petit as a potential breakout candidate in last year, but a doubling of his ’08 walk rate and an extreme fly ball tendency in one of the best MLB hitters’ parks ultimately did him in. 
With that said, I’ve previously given up on prospects following disappointing campaigns only to be made to look like a fool when the capitalized on their considerable promise in the following season (e.g., Carlos Quentin).  If Petit can regain the command of the strike zone that he displayed in 2008 he may be primed for a breakout in 2010.  Already in his favor, Petit will be moving from an extreme hitters’ park to an extreme pitchers’ park, and he will be backed by the best outfield defense in the major leagues.
The main caveat to my endorsement is that a degree of role uncertainty does exist, as Petit spent some time coming out of the bullpen in Arizona.  It’s not immediately clear how Seattle will employ him – the addition of Cliff Lee certainly didn’t help his chances of landing in the rotation.
I would avoid (but keep an eye on) Petit in shallow fantasy leagues, but he might be worth a late-round flier in AL Only leagues.  2010 may be the year where skills and fortune are at last working in unison for Yusmeiro. Only 25 years old, Petit still has a few years before we should start doubting that he’ll ever put it all together.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Atlanta Braves Prospect Rankings Review

When it comes to the Braves' farm system, everyone agrees that Jason Heyward is far and away the best prospect in the system (and maybe anyone else's system, for that matter), that there is a scarcity up-the-middle talent, and that there is a wealth of high-upside power arms.

Potential 2010 MLBers:
Jason Heyward (RF)
Craig Kimbrel (RP)

High-upside power arms:
Julio Teheran (RHP)
Arodys Vizcaino (RHP)
Randall Delgado (RHP)

Check out what some of my favorite publications have to say about the Braves' minor league talent:

Baseball Prospectus
Fan Graphs
Baseball America
Keith Law

And for an in-depth look at prospects from around the league, check out the Minor League Baseball Analyst.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Player Profile: Peter Moylan

The Braves avoided salary arbitration with Peter Moylan on Tuesday by re-signing him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

The 31-year-old right-handed reliever had a career-best season in 2009, his first since he missed all of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Moylan is a side-armer who feeds batters a steady diet of fastballs with a slider thrown in about once every four pitches.

To be worth the $1.5 million he is owed in 2010, Moylan would need to provide value equal to 0.43 Wins Above Replacemnt (assuming a marginal win value of $3.5 million). Peter's a good bet to be at least that good in 2010, even if some regression from a career-best season (1.5 WAR in 2009) is to be expected.

In keeping with what we've seen from post-TJers in th past, Moylan had some control issues in the first half of the season, walking batters at a rate of 5.4 batters every nine innings. But a ground ball rate of 65% over that same period was his salvation, while his control improved (3.6 BB/9) in the second half while still inducing a high rate of grounders on balls in play (61%).

Here's what the leading projection systems have to say about Moylan's 2010:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: 73 IP, 7.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 64% GB Rate, 3.60 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Bill James Handbook: 78 IP, 7.3 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 3.58 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Braves re-sign Peter Moylan; Pirates claim Brandon Jones off waivers

In what has been a slow week of Braves news, Atlanta resigned righty groundball specialist Peter Moylan to a one-year, $1.5 million contract - avoiding salary arbitration.

With the signing, the Braves have no more remaining arbitration-eligible players.

The Pirates claimed former Braves OF Brandon Jones off waivers on Tuesday. Jones was designated for assignment to make room for Eric Hinske on the 40-man roster.

The Braves also seem to be hanging out in the periphery of Johnny Damon rumors, seemingly waiting to see just how far his asking price will drop before potentially making an offer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wednesday's Braves Buzz

Mark Bowman spent some time rationalizing the Braves' bean counting.

Fan Graphs looked at Atlanta's recent draft performance.

J.C. Bradbury weighed in on the Eric Hinske and Troy Glaus signings.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesday's Braves Buzz

The Troy Glaus signing was formally announced on Tuesday.

Aside from adding a pinch-hitter/fourth outfielder (Don't we have plenty of those already?), the Braves don't expect to make any more moves this off season. This would seem to kill speculation that the Braves might make a run at Johnny Damon if his asking price dropped.

Adrian Beltre, a player I thought might be a good fit for the Braves, signed with the Boston Red Sox.

Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus looked at how MLB teams assemble their rosters (subscription required). The Braves seemed to be among the best at balancing young, cheap talent with free agents.

Player Profile: Nate McLouth

It is no secret that the SABR community stood athwart the selection of Nate McLouth as the 2008 NL Rawlings Gold Glove recipient in center field. Several defensive metrics bore witness to McLouth’s futility that year, but no amount of data or reason prevented Gold Glove voters from deferring to their bias for players possessing that oh-so-valuable quality of ‘grittiness’. (Think Aaron Rowand and David Eckstein, or basically any white guy who appears to overachieve. A gritty player may also be identified by possessing large quantities of 'stick-to-it-iveness'.)

But then a curious thing happened. After struggling to hold his own in center as a Pittsburgh Pirate during 2007 and 2008, McLouth was a defensive asset in 2009. In fact, even though he experienced some regression from his career year at the plate in 2008 (.853 '08 OPS; .788 '09 OPS) McLouth was just as valuable in 2009 (3.5 '08 WAR, 3.6 '09 WAR) because he was a dramatically improved defender (-14.5 '08 UZR, 3.6 '09 UZR). And that’s including some DL time courtesy of a nagging hamstring injury.

Your initial reaction, like mine, may have been that McLouth probably benefitted from his mid-season change of venue from PNC Park to Turner Field. Maybe Turner Field was just easier to defend than PNC. But the numbers tell a different story. McLouth was markedly better while patrolling center at PNC Park than at Turner Field. According to RAA2, McLouth's defense was worth +8 runs above average with Pittsburgh but fell to -7 with Atlanta.

Now, a limitation of this information is that it is not segregated by park (i.e., home and away). But that shortcoming doesn’t make Nate McLouth’s defensive 2009 any less enigmatic, nor does it give us any better of an idea of what to expect from McLouth in 2009. If the 2007/08 version shows up, Melky Cabrera might prove a rather useful player for the Braves. Putting Melky in center and McLouth and right would save the Braves at least 10 runs in the field.

But if Nate McLouth did have some sort of breakthrough in center field last season, Melky Cabrera becomes even more useless than he initially appeared when he came to Atlanta as part of the Javier Vazquez payroll dump trade.

While we can’t ignore McLouth’s 2009 in the field, it’s more likely that we’ll see the old Nate McLouth than the +4.7 UZR/150 Nate McLouth. Playing CF isn’t something that gets easier to do as you get older, and lingering hamstring issues are never good for a player whose value is so heavily driven by his speed.

McLouth's bat is something more of a known quality - though the drop in power in 2009 makes you wonder if Nate has already passed his peak. A 5% uptick in his ground balls on balls in play drove the power dive while a slide in his contact rate (84% in '08, '80% in '09) drove a .020 BA decline.  Otherwise, McLouth's base skills remain stable.

This is what two major publications have projected for Mr. McLouth's 2010 season:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: .260/.339/.429
Bill James Baseball Handbook: .263/.344/.449