Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Is The Braves' Bullpen Really This Bad? - Does Alex Anthopoulos Need to Make a Move?

The Braves currently find themselves leading the National League East. However, as the season grows it's becoming more apparent that the Braves have some major issues in their bullpen. The bullpen has been hit or miss and lately, it's been more miss. While it's easy for most fans to point to the duo of Peter Moylan and Sam Freeman as two of the biggest problems, I think the bullpen issues go beyond two guys who have struggled. Brian Snitker's bullpen management has been questionable ever since he took over for Fredi Gonzalez. To me, his biggest issue is his hesitance to use his best relievers in high leverage situations early in games. Snitker has a tendency to pull his starters around the fifth and sixth innings, which is understandable given the youth in the rotation, however he tends to let his worst relievers pitch critical innings in the middle of games.

(Kevin Cox - Getty Images) 

Take a look at the game today against the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves pulled starter Sean Newcomb and replaced him with Sam Freeman. Freeman took over in the 7th inning and proceeded to give up three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. Freeman, at best, is a lefty specialist, yet Snitker continues to let him be exposed against right handed batters. For reference, Freeman has a .178/.315/.364 slash against him when facing lefties. His biggest issue is his command as he walks way too many batters to be an elite reliever in the bullpen. To make matters worse, Snitker still brought in A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler to pitch after the lead had been given up by Freeman. Again, why not use your higher leverage relievers before you bring in the preverbal white flag guys (Freeman and Moylan)? If you're going to use them when there's no lead to protect, they're being wasted.

Snitker seems so set on going by the book that he doesn't realize that sometimes, the most important inning of the game occurs before the ninth inning. While other teams are allowing bullpen guys to act as an "opener", the Braves continue to pull their starter early and follow them up with the worst options in the pen. I know that this is an approach that many don't agree with, but when your starters are only going five or six innings, wouldn't it be interesting to start the game with someone like Minter or Carle and then bring in your starter to pitch the middle of the game? After that, you can hand it over to your other top two or three options and the game would go the same way. Instead of pulling your starter in the fifth or sixth inning, you're able to let them pitch deeper into the game and it solves the issue of having to use your worst options early on in the game. I don't see the Braves doing anything like this and I don't think Snitker or the Atlanta media would allow such a drastic change that goes against the "traditional book" of baseball. When the Braves played Tampa Bay and San Diego earlier this season, Chip Caray and Joe Simpson both made their share of jokes at the idea of an "opener." Needless to say, the Braves don't seem to be the most progressive team, even after hiring Alex Anthopoulos.

With that said, do the Braves need to make upgrades to the bullpen? I think that depends on whether or not Anthopoulos believes his team can truly compete for a playoff spot in 2018. This team is contending much earlier than anyone could have expected, but do they trade their minor league depth for a late inning reliever? To be honest, I think they need to stand pat with what they have and only make a minor move to try to solve some of the bullpen issues. I don't think it's worth trading away depth to make a failed playoff run in 2018. I'd save those prospects for bigger moves in the off-season. The cost for high end relievers has skyrocketed over the past few years and I just do not think it's worth it to go after someone like Brad Hand or Raisel Iglesias. While they're both great relievers, I think there's still a lot of issues with this team. Third base is still a huge question mark and Dansby Swanson still isn't living up to the hype or expectations placed upon at shortstop him by the media. Basically, the issues with this team go beyond the bullpen. Snitker, shortstop, third base, and the bullpen are all massive question marks. Fixing one with a high cost relief pitcher (high cost = top prospects) does little to solve the pressing issues with this team. It's just putting a bandaid on one issue and leaving the others to be exposed.

I think the biggest move Atlanta could make is to fire Brian Snitker. While some fans seem to think he's a great manager, there's a growing divide amongst fans who think he cannot manage the bullpen effectively. As you can tell, I clearly think he does a poor job of managing the bullpen. This bullpen may not be "elite", but there's enough pieces there to win many games. However, Snitker continues to mismanage the pen, which causes games to go 15 innings and causes the bullpen to be overworked and not effective as time goes on. Anthopoulos needs to bring in a fresh face to complete the rebuild in Atlanta. Brian Snitker still represents the old ways in Atlanta and to be honest, it feels like he brings complacency. In a perfect world, Atlanta would go after someone with no previous ties to the last coaching staff. It's time to look past the Bobby Cox disciples like Fredi Gonzalez and Brian Snitker, as they all seem to make the same mistakes with bullpen management and in-game tactics. Brian Snitker is the type of manager to pinch-hit for a pitcher with a position player, just to have him bunt. Yeah, that's not how you win games in 2018........

Anthopoulos has some big question marks that he needs to correct at some point. I think Snitker will finish up the season managing the Braves and they'll remove him in the off-season. The Braves are now a very attractive option for all mangers and it's clear they're no longer set on "tanking" to rebuild. Much like the Astros years ago, it's time to let the old-school manager go and bring in someone who's open to trying new approaches. The Astros found their manager in A.J. Hinch (after firing old-school baseball guy Bo Porter, who ironically works with the Braves now), the Braves need to figure out who can take their roster to the next step. I can't speak on who they should go after, but with Dave Martinez and Gabe Kapler managing division rivals, the Braves will have to make sure they find someone who can match up with them tactically, or else they risk their "rebuild" never getting over the hump. This off-season will be huge for the Braves franchise and it'll be interesting to see what Anthopoulos decides to do. A lot could be solved with getting a new manager and signing a free agent bat or two. Manny Machado would be a great upgrade at shortstop and they should still have plenty of money left to make another splash or two. Until then, we'll just have to see how the 2018 season unfolds. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Frank Wren's Legacy Lives On In Atlanta.

Every Braves' fan has an opinion on former General Manager, Frank Wren. Some view him as the man responsible for the decline of the franchise, others claim his free agent signings weren't financially sound. Some even believe he wasn't given a fair shot in Atlanta and eventually became the scapegoat for bigger issues with the organization. Regardless of how you feel about Frank Wren, his legacy with the Braves continues to live on. After Wren's firing, Atlanta shifted their focus on "rebuilding." Many publications have credited the Braves as having the top farm system in baseball, but it's built mostly on pitching. However, there's a few high upside bats residing in Triple-A. Most notably, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies.

Ronald Acuna (signed for $100k out of Venezuela in 2014) has exploded onto the scene this season and looks to be the future top prospect for the Braves. This season, he's hitting a robust: .306/.362/.507 and appears to be ready to debut in Atlanta sooner, rather than later. Many fans post online about the emergence of Acuna and compare him to Braves' legend Andruw Jones. I think that's an unfair comparison, but fans seem to crave these comparisons and it puts unfair expectations on the players. Just remember, ESPN once compared Jason Heyward to Ken Griffey Jr. and suddenly, Atlanta fans expected Heyward to hit 50 home runs a season. Acuna looks to have all the tools in the world, but he's still just a 19 year old kid. With the Braves short on impact hitting prospects, Acuna looks to be the real deal.

Ozzie Albies (signed out of Curacao for $350k in 2013) has also impressed this season at Triple-A hitting: .290/.337/.441. He's currently being blocked by Brandon Phillips (yes, 36 year old Brandon Phillips). Unlike other rebuilding teams, the Braves don't seem too eager to allow their young position players a legitimate shot at earning a full-time job at the Major League level (this article is being written before the trade deadline, so this may change over the next week or so). During a telecast on FSN, Chipper Jones said of Albies: “He does have some flaws that we’ve got to fix and it’s up to us as a staff and as an organization to fix that..." It seemed to be that Chipper was getting hinting towards something more with how Albies plays the game and less about his actual talent. The Braves have always been against players who are "flashy" in the field, they once traded Yunel Escobar for his flashy play (Bobby Cox routinely benched Andruw Jones for making it look too easy)..., so it's not surprising to hear of them trying to work with Albies on "fixing" his "flaws." Whatever those "flaws" may be...

So, what does all of this have to do with Frank Wren's lasting legacy with the Braves? Well, Wren was the general manager when the Braves signed Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. I notice a lot of fans seem to want to place blame on Wren for everything wrong with the franchise, but they fail to give the man credit for signing the two prospects (position playing prospects) with arguably the highest upside in the farm system. He also signed Johan Camargo, who is playing very well so far in Atlanta (.317/.341/.472 at the time of this writing).

Back to that whole, "Braves fans blame everything on Frank Wren" stuff... I was searching through Braves fans on twitter and discovered this gem:

That's right, Frank Wren is being blamed by some Braves fans for the team trading away Craig Kimbrel. Wren was fired by the Braves on September 22nd, 2014. Kimbrel was traded on April 5th, 2015. Yet, fans still want to blame Wren for that trade. Some fans even bash the extensions given out by Wren, when in reality, he gave modest deals to Kimbrel, Teheran, Freeman, and Simmons. Also, it's worth noting that in trading Kimbrel to the Padres, the Braves only received Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, and Matt Wisler in the deal. If you compare that to what the Yankees received for for Aroldis Chapman, you can tell the Braves definitely sold low on Kimbrel. Yes, they did free up the money owed to Melvin Upton, but they still took on money in acquiring Quentin (who they eventually released.) In the end, the Braves basically only acquired Matt Wisler for their All-Star closer. All in the name of saving money. If only they had held on to Kimbrel until the trade deadline, they could have maximized their return.

Current Braves' GM John Coppolella seems to have a knack for not maximizing value in his trades. Just look at the trades involving Alex Wood, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Justin Upton. Coppy also has a knack for trading any player that was signed by Frank Wren and we routinely hear rumors of the Braves being open to trading Lucas Sims, Julio Teheran, or Ozzie Albies. Essentially, if you have any ties to the former GM, Atlanta might be looking to deal you away. In the end, if Coppy makes a bad trade, most fans will say: "he admitted it was bad!" and all is forgiven. If only Frank Wren had apologized for signing Melvin Upton.... Guess all would be good, right?

In the end, Frank Wren's legacy in Atlanta is difficult to quantify. On one hand, he was responsible for getting the Braves back to the playoffs after a five year drought. He was also in control when the Braves drafted Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Alex Wood, Evan Gattis, and Andrelton Simmons. I think it's a bit unfair to completely forget the team he took over and how depleted the farm system was at the time of his hiring (John Schuerholz sold the farm to acquire Mark Teixeira). The Braves were contenders throughout Wren's time in Atlanta, but now-a-days, most fans think of Wren as being some fool who wasn't competent enough to keep his job. As someone who follows the Braves closely, I remember fans acting as if he was some genius during his tenure with the Braves. I believe the official saying was, "All I Do Is Wren." and all was good with the world. But once the Braves fired him, the local media ran stories against him pretty much everyday and turned him into one of the biggest scapegoats in Braves' history. While Frank Wren wasn't perfect, he was able to work with tight salary restraints and put together a team that was able to compete every season for a playoff berth.  His legacy in Atlanta continues to this day thanks to the likes of Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Lucas Sims, and Johan Camargo. As the Braves continue to "rebuild", you could argue that the foundation that is in place is still in large part due the work of Frank Wren.


I know most Braves fans will be either angry or offended with this piece, but I think it's fair to look back on a GM who has been chastised for producing a lack of prospects. When you look back, the team produced many young stars during his time in Atlanta. Also, when the top two hitting prospects in the farm system are his signings, it's important to give the man credit for that. While his sample size is small and he may not have the potential upside as Acuna or Albies, you could even argue that Johan Camargo has the look (and tools) to be just as good a player as Dansby Swanson (and he is also a carryover from the Wren era as well.) Also, it's worth noting that the Braves are giving Swanson the "Heyward treatment" and allowing his season long slump to take away his playing time and development as he will now only be a part-time player. That's a far-cry from the guy who was destined to win National League Rookie of the Year just before the season started. Interestingly enough, it seems like Camargo is enjoying his success due in part to a high BABIP, just as Swanson did last season during the start of his Major League career (Camargo .398 vs .383 for Swanson).  So, take from this what you will. I'm sure the same old trolls will continue to mock Frank Wren on twitter as being some incompetent loser who ruined the franchise, while ignoring all the good he did while in Atlanta. The Braves do still have bigger problems to solve, most notably, with the coaching staff. It seems like Wren's ultimate undoing in Atlanta was in part to him wanting to fire Fredi Gonzalez after his refusal to use Craig Kimbrel in a playoff game and his desire to change a lot of the scouting department in Atlanta. The Braves ended up bringing back guys who had been fired and keeping Fredi around for another season and a half. To me, the Braves need to fully embrace change if they want to compete again for a divisional title (or World Series.) Young, fresh thinking people who aren't afraid to go against the book. I doubt they'll go that route, but it would be a breath of fresh air for a franchise that tends to go by the book with every move they make. Until then, it'll be difficult for me to actually embrace this "rebuild." 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Looking Back At The Shelby Miller Trade.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

When the Braves dealt Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks, social media exploded with the consensus being that the Braves "won" the trade. However, it might not be as much of a "win" as people claimed it to be.

I won't deny the fact that I was one of the people who claimed this trade to be a huge win for the Braves. After dealing Andrelton Simmons, the Braves still had Ozzie Albies waiting in the wings to play shortstop, but acquiring a prospect like Dansby Swanson helped to ease the loss of Simmons. Swanson came up during the 2016 season and looked to be an immediate superstar for the Braves. Hell, he was featured in commercials for the Braves before he even made his Major League debut. The Braves have marketed him as a superstar, so fans immediately placed unrealistic expectations upon him. He lived up to the hype, slashing .302/.361/.442 in his first 38 games. Many experts labeled him as the sure bet to win Rookie of the Year for the 2017 season, however, he hasn't been able to sustain his amazing start to his career. So far in 2017, he's only slashing .227/.301/.333. Unlike some others, I did expect Swanson to experience a bit of trouble in his first full season in the majors, but his extended poor play leaves him looking less like a "future hall of famer" as some fans called him (I am being for real when I say that) and more like a replacement level shortstop.

With all that said, I'm not ready to give up on the kid just yet. I think he's too talented to toss aside because of a rough first full season in the majors. I think he's talented and deserves his fair shot to prove he can make it at this level. It's just worth pointing out that you can't base a player's career off 38 games in the majors. I'd even say that judging him off of this season is harsh, but his sample size grows by the day and outside of a nice month of June (.306/.355/.418) this season hasn't lived up to the immense hype put on him by the fans of the Braves.

Getting back on track, it's time to look back at the trade that sent Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamonbacks. On paper, the Braves did quite well in this trade. It's hard to argue against acquiring your everyday shortstop and an All-Star outfielder, Ender Inciarte. The third piece of the trade for Atlanta was pitching prospect Aaron Blair. Considered as a "throw in" in this deal, many considered him to be the steal of the trade. However, he's been a disappoint in his time with the Braves organization. In 15 starts with the Braves last season, Blair went 2-7 with an ERA well over well over 7. Win/loss record and ERA aren't the most important stats in the world, but even his strikeouts per nine (5.9) and his walks per nine (4.4) just aren't enough to be effective at the major league level. Not to mention the fact he gave up over 10 hits per nine innings as well. The Braves have kept Blair in the minors so far in 2017 and his numbers aren't improving. So far, he's 6-4 with an ERA over five. For old school fans who like wins, I'd guess they'd be happy with his win/loss record, but just glancing at his stats you can see he has still been largely ineffective.

The brightest spot of this trade for Atlanta has been Ender Inciarte. Inciarte was just named an All-Star, so congrats to him on that feat. He's been the best center fielder the Braves have had since Andruw Jones left to join the Dodgers years ago. His attitude and work ethic are what fans love to see and you could argue that he's the most important position player on the roster. He plays Gold Glove caliber defense and his offense has been essential for the Braves. As I mentioned, I think he is the most valuable player on this team. As the old saying goes, as he goes, the Braves go. Freddie Freeman is the best hitter on the team, but his lack of defense and base running greatly diminishes his overall value. We're talking about all around value here, not just what you can do with the bat. This is bringing back memories of the Trout vs Cabrera case just a few years back. Ender Inciarte is the most exciting player on the Braves and I feel comfortable saying that. Again, that's not to take anything away from Freddie Freeman, but there's only so much a first baseman can do to make things exciting. However, with Freeman playing third base occasionally now, we might get to see some fun "effort" being shown at the hot corner.

Now, was this trade bad for the Diamondbacks? Well, it's a mixed bag. You could argue that dealing Inciarte hurt their lineup, but they have A.J. Pollack and David Peralta on the roster. David Peralta is almost the exact same player as Ender Inciarte. They both put up modest, to above average production at the plate and both play above average defense. In fact, using a blind eye test:

Player A: .311/.360/.473

Player B: .306/.351/.412

Player "A" is David Peralta and player "B" is Ender Inciarte. As I was saying, there's not much difference between the two offensively. So, losing Inciarte didn't really hurt the Diamondbacks as much as you'd want to think. In fact, Peralta has been just a bit better offensively than Inciarte has been this season. Last season, Arizona had Jean Segura at shortstop and he did an amazing job for them. He was later dealt to Seattle for Taijuan Walker, but they did not initially miss Swanson at shortstop. They have used a combination of Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed at shortstop this season and both players have done a great job. Ahmed isn't much of a hitter, but plays above average defense (0.4 dWAR in 53 games) and Owings has been very effective at the plate hitting .283/.323/.490 on the season. While neither player may have the potential upside of Dansby Swanson, they're both doing a capable job playing shortstop.

The final part of this trade is Shelby Miller. It's difficult to quantify him due to his ineffectiveness last season and his short run this season due to injury, but he was pitching more in line to his career numbers this season, so there is hope for the Diamondbacks that he will at least be a decent contributor for them when he is able to pitch again. The Diamondbacks have found success using both Zack Godley (2.8 WAR) and Randall Delgado (0.9 WAR) to make up for the loss of Miller. It's worth noting that Godley was acquired from the Cubs for Miguel Montero, who they recently released. As you can imagine, they would like to have Godley right now given the performance by their rotation so far in 2017. Much like the case for Swanson, we all are just going to have to wait and see what exactly Miller can bring the Diamondbacks. He has the potential to at least be an average major league starter, but again, time will tell with him.

So, looking back at this trade, it's hard to pick a definite "winner" or "loser" at this point. You can say the Braves won the deal just for the sake of getting Swanson and Inciarte, however, Swanson has yet to live up to hype placed upon him by fans in Atlanta. I do think he'll be a fine shortstop moving forward, but he may not be the "future hall of famer" some fans were portraying him as being. As long as he's a league average shortstop, I think Atlanta fans should be happy. Also, it's hard to say that the Diamondbacks really miss Inciarte or Swanson due to them replacing them with Peralta and Owings. Granted, nobody anticipated Owings playing this well in 2017, but he has shown flashes of being a solid player the past few years.

So, who wins and loses this one? Well, that's for you to determine. I have a feeling Atlanta fans will claim they won and Diamondback fans will say it wasn't as bad as first thought. Maybe people can actually let trades play themselves out before claiming a team "won" or "lost?" Then again, staying rational doesn't get clicks... So, I'm guessing that won't be the case moving forward. Oh well.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Re-Evaluating The Alex Wood Trade

While many fans seem to applaud most every move made by current Braves' GM John Coppolella, he has made his fair share of questionable moves. Perhaps his most questionable trade: trading Alex Wood to the Dodgers. In this trade, Atlanta received: Paco Rodriguez, Hector Olivera, and Zachary Bird.

( Source: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images North America) 

As someone who follows the Braves closely, most fans were surprised by the move, but seemed
alright with trading Alex Wood because, "he's going to be injured soon anyway." From the start, fans seemed to not have much faith in Wood due to his mechanics. And while worrying is understandable, the fact remained that Wood was an above average starter during his time in Atlanta. Combined with his age and modest contract, Alex Wood was essentially a steal in the second round by former Braves' general manager Frank Wren.

Alex Wood seemed like the kind of piece a team would want to build around. Especially a rebuilding team like the Braves. However, Coppolella had an unbridled desire to land Hector Olivera. It was rumored that the Braves had made a very serious offer to Olivera before he signed with the Dodgers. Determined to get his man, Coppolella dealt Alex Wood to the Dodgers. Also included in the deal was then top prospect José Peraza, another piece Atlanta could have used to build around. While Peraza might be a bit limited offensively, he makes good use of his tools: ranking third in triples, fourth in stolen bases, third in defensive assists, third in double plays turned as a second baseman, and third in total zone run as a second baseman. He may not be an All-Star, but he is a very serviceable player at the Major League level. Luis Avilan was also dealt to the Dodgers and he has also been very serviceable. It's worth noting that the Braves don't have a lefty reliever with an ERA under 5.48 (Sam Freeman has been solid, but with half the sample size of EOF and Ian Krol.) Peraza and Avilan were basically "throw-ins" in the trade for Olivera and would both be valuable pieces to the current Braves' roster.

Looking back at the pieces the Braves received for Alex Wood, well, there's nothing much to see at all. None of the players sent to Atlanta are still in the organization. Hector Olivera was released following his very serious domestic violence incident, Zachary Bird is now in the Rangers organization, and Paco Rodriguez is seemingly out of baseball rehabbing injuries (was released by Atlanta at the end of spring training.)

While Alex Wood continues to thrive in Los Angeles, I see a lot of Braves fans on Twitter still stating that, "he's going to get hurt with his mechanics!" It's almost as if they want him to be injured so they can claim Atlanta, "won the trade!" Given the pieces Atlanta received for Alex Wood, just him being on a Major League roster is a win for the Dodgers.

Some fans point that this trade eventually led to Atlanta getting Matt Kemp, and that alone is enough to make most of them happy. However, Matt Kemp hasn't been very valuable in his time with Atlanta. If you look at his offensive stats, you'll see he's been above average, but he looks much more suited as a DH in the American League than someone you'd want to plug in the outfield everyday. While he's hitting a robust: .322/.357/.553 this season, his defense is atrocious. Even with posting an OPS of .910, he's barely above replacement level due to his defense. He's on track to finish the season with around a 2-3 WAR (bb-ref). While some point to his arrival last season and the Braves solid finish to the season, there's now been a bigger sample and it's clear that he's not having that much of an impact on this team in 2017. If you play a replacement level player everyday and give them enough at-bats, they're going to have solid stats. Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman both bat ahead of him and they're very good at getting on base. Kemp can compile offensive stats when he's constantly coming up with people on base. It's just like, say, Brandon Phillips batting behind Joey Votto while in Cincinnati. Phillips and Kemp both lack plate discipline to take walks, but they usually put the ball in play and drive in runs at decent rate. I think the law of averages will tell you that if you come up enough with guys on base, you're bound to drive one in every once and a while. To be great at it in baseball, you simply need to be successful, what... 27% of the time? Besides, RBI's are overrated in my opinion. Congrats, your teammates did all the work and you got a hit! Buster Posey is on pace to have over 20 home runs and something like... 50 RBI's. I'd argue that having him hit where Kemp is on he Braves, he'd have well over 50 RBI's at this point. Even Nick Markakis has over 30 RBI's and he just slaps singles all over the ballpark.

Getting back on track, Atlanta essentially traded young building blocks to just to end up with an aging Matt Kemp. As it stands, the Braves offense is actually pretty solid. They rank in the top ten in the National League for team OPS, and they are in the top three in both team average and on-base. Offense isn't the biggest issue with this team, but their rotation is a nightmare. Adding two 40+ year old starters to the mix wasn't the answer, and thus, even more reason why the Alex Wood trade was a colossal failure. Even if Alex Wood kept on his pace he had in Atlanta, he'd be the ace of their rotation. For a team that continuously talks about wanting pitching, continuously drafts pitching, and still has pitching issues, dealing a young (and cheap) starter never made much sense. Maybe the Braves only saw Wood as being a back end guy or a reliever? Guess we'll never know.

As the Braves continue their long rebuild, the "new car smell" with Coppolella might be wearing off for some fans. While there's an abundance of pitching prospects, most of the notable hitting prospects in the system are carry overs from the Frank Wren era: Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Braxton Davidson, Randy Ventura, Carlos Castro, Joey Meneses, and Luis Valenzuela. Although, I'd argue that the most exciting minor league hitting prospect (not named Ronald Acuna) might end up being Alex Jackson, but he seems to be dealing with injuries this season. Jackson also seemed to have issues with Mariners' organization, so there's no telling what to expect out of him moving forward. While the Braves continue to have draft picks inside the top five, they're bound to produce one or two major hitting prospects as time goes on. Having draft picks that high is also something that the previous front office didn't have the luxury of experiencing, but they still produced many players on current Major League rosters.

The draft is fast approaching and it'll be interesting to see which route the Braves take this year. Will the finally draft a high upside college bat? Or continue to build around high school pitching? When you look around the league, taking upside college bats seems to be the way to rebuild, but I guess that's not "the Braves way!" 

So, while the Braves continue to search for pitching, Alex Wood continues to shine for the Dodgers. The Braves are left with an expensive, aging, one dimensional outfielder in Matt Kemp. Hector Olivera is playing Indy league ball with seemingly no future in Major League Baseball. No matter which way you cut it, this may go down as the worst trade in the John Coppolella era in Atlanta. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Side Effects of Bunting

            The Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Rockies, and Reds are near the bottom of the standings in the National League, but they are all in the top five in one category… Sacrifice bunts.
             Back in the day, bunts seemed to be an essential part of the game of baseball. Get a runner on, get him over, and get him in. That’s “ABC baseball” and it’s something teams swore by until the recent sabermetric revolution many teams began following.
            Pitchers bunting is one thing, but far too often it seems like teams are having more and more batters sacrifice their at-bat in an effort to squeeze one run out of an inning. Regardless if the opposing pitcher has walked two batters and looked totally off, teams continue to bail them out by giving away outs. It’s almost as if teams are settling for one run when they could potentially score two or three runs easily, if they wouldn’t give away an important out.
            Over the weekend, I watched the Braves and Mets play… I found myself becoming more and more angered at the decision-making put in place by the Braves decision making. During the game Friday night, Tyler Flowers led off the ninth inning with a single and Erick Aybar was hit by a pitch… Thus, giving Atlanta two base runners with no outs. With the winning run at the plate and no outs, Brian Snitker called on Chase d'Arnaud to pinch hit. He immediately hit into a double play while trying to advance the runners with a bunt. Nobody seems to want to ask why he’d call upon his pinch hitter to bunt (if you’re going to do that, why not just use a starting pitcher instead of wasting a bench bat?). But this move was a classic Barves moment and yet another game lost by Atlanta via poor managing. 
Freddie Freeman bunting... Because why not? (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            After all of that, the Braves found themselves in a similar situation during the game Saturday night. Jace Peterson led off the inning with a single and Ender Inciarte followed with a sacrifice bunt. Traditional fans may see this as playing for a run, but this essentially gave the Mets a free out and opened up first base. Which, the Mets immediately intentionally walked Freddie Freeman to set up a double play. Nick Markakis hit directly into the defense and the Mets turned a game ending double play.
            This is just a small snippet of a disastrous season that the Braves are going through. It’s also just another reminder of how important it is to have a manager and front office that embraces a more analytical approach. It’s easy to second-guess managers when things do not work out, but there’s an abundance of data available to illustrate how bunting only decreases a team’s chances of scoring a run.
            The most surprising stat to me is that the Angels have 23 sacrifice bunts. That’s right, an American League team has had 23 sacrifice bunts…. That’s five more sacrifice bunts than the closest American League team (Royals) and the Angels have more bunts than eight National League teams. The Angels have played 15 interleague games, but looking over their team stats, I found that they’ve had no sacrifice bunts by pitchers. This is a lineup that features five batters with an OPS+ over 100 and arguably the best player in Major League Baseball, Mike Trout. If you do a quick Google search for “Mike Scioscia bunting” you’ll be rewarded with numerous articles expressing their anger towards his calls for sacrifice bunts. What’s even more appalling to me is how the Rockies can have the second most bunts in baseball (32) and the majority of those bunts are by DJ LeMahieu, who has a .326/.394/.496 slash line… And he’s the guy dropping down sacrifice bunts and giving himself up for lesser hitters to drive runners in.
            The Braves, Reds, Phillies, Brewers, Rockies, and Angels are a combined 195-264 this season. Personally, I don’t think it’s much a coincidence that the worst teams in baseball are some of the most frequent bunters in the game. The majority of these teams employ “old-school” managers who seem more worried about managing to not lose rather than managing to win.
            The bunt will never truly go away. As long as the National League continues to go without the DH, we will always see pitchers batting and trying to lay down sacrifice bunts. That might also be changing given the offensive explosion by National League pitchers at the plate this season. In Madison Bumgarner’s last start, San Francisco elected to forgo having a DH in the line-up and allowed Bumgarner to bat for himself. The result? Bumgarner went 1-for-4 at the plate with one run and a strikeout. His hit, however, was a line drive to center field that had 103-mph exit velocity, according to MLB StatCast. Will more teams follow suit and allow their star pitchers, who can swing the bat, a chance to bat for themselves? Or will they always be reduced to dropping down bunts because that’s what “the book says to do!!”  By the way, where can one purchase the book that old-school managers go by? Is it located next to the aisle where they sell hats to tip? Hmm… In the end, I guess it is easier for managers to justify a batter bunting instead of swinging away in a run-scoring situation. However, baseball is an ever-changing sport. Some teams have adapted, but others are being left in the dust. Some teams are complaining about shifts, bullpen micro-managing, and pitching limits on young pitchers, but they seem to have no problem with putting themselves at a run scoring disadvantage by bunting. Here’s a great clip from the movie “Moneyball” that sums up things nicely.