The Braves know how to finish the week with a bang. Yunel Escobar had an epic at-bat against Kevin Gregg (if you’ll allow me to call a matchup between two virtual unknowns “epic”), eventually singling in the tying and go-ahead runs to put the Braves up 5-4 in the 9th inning yesterday. Then, Bob Wickman came in and immediately allowed a homer to Miguel Olivo, but he escaped with the game still tied. The Marlins eventually won on a Josh Willingham hit, while pretty much everyone who cared about seeing the All-Star rosters was watching. That may be a topic for a later post, but suffice it to say that I have mixed emotions about the midsummer classic.
Anyhow, the Braves had a very successful week, despite yesterday’s disappointing finish. Even if they were playing the Nats and Fish, 5-1 is a good week.
This Week’s Stats
Scores and FanGraphs summaries:
For the week alone:
For the season-to-date:
Best plays of the week:
- Yunel Escobar singled in 2 runs off Kevin Gregg in the 9th inning of yesterday’s 6-5 loss to the Marlins (+.615). The hit was the Braves’ biggest play of 2007, turning an 18% win probability into a 79.5% chance of winning, though the Braves would surrender that edge on one pitch in the latter half of the 9th.
- Andruw Jones hit a 3-run homer off Mike Bacsik in the 5th inning of Tuesday’s win over the Nationals, giving the Braves a 5-1 lead (+.220).
- Brian McCann hit a 3-run homer off Billy Traber in the 6th inning of Monday’s win, giving the Braves a 4-0 lead (+.211).
- Edgar Renteria doubled in Willie Harris off Armando Benitez in the 8th inning of Saturday’s game, giving the Braves a 2-1 lead (+.176).
- Chipper Jones hit an RBI single off Byung-Hyun Kim, tying Saturday’s game at 1 in the sixth inning (+.149).
How much longer is the leash on Bob Wickman as the Braves’ closer? Until this week, I was really stretching to come up with a complaint about the handling of the pitching staff, but Wickman seems to be having some real trouble now. Combine that trouble with the fact that the Braves have at least one other capable ace reliever (Soriano and perhaps Yates), and there’s no better reason to keep Wickman as the closer other than “he’s the veteran” and “he’s getting paid the most.”
Let’s check the stats. Wickman had a tough week, allowing four runs in three innings of work, including a couple of Miguel Olivo homers. His WPA was bad, at -.313, and he now only has Kyle Davies and Mark Redman to look down upon with a season total WPA of -.686. You can see that most of that is due to poor clutch performance (CP) , which is exactly what you don’t want out of a closer.
As for the rest of the bullpen, Soriano had a tough week of his own, with an earned run over two innings and a WPA almost as bad as Wickman’s. Of course, he’s still the team leader, which makes such a week (really just one outing) more palatable. Villarreal and Ledezma showed why they are not the go-to guys with poor performances in low-leverage situations. Paronto and Moylan were basically neutral for the week, while Yates had the only significantly positive week at +.147. His +1.164 season WPA now ranks third on the pitching staff, second among relievers.
The starting pitching was quite good this week, and we’ll just assume that’s not entirely because Kyle Davies’ turn was skipped in the rotation. Every starter finished his outing with positive WPA, which is always a good sign. Hudson and Carlyle both started twice, although Carlyle’s outing yesterday was rain-shortened. Hudson’s two solid outings gave him an impressive +.678 WPA for the week, increasing his season total to +1.460. He is also the first Brave to top +2 in WPA/LI, so his performance so far is absolutely for real. John Beamer (of Chop-N-Change) wrote a great article in today’s Hardball Times analyzing Hudson’s performance using Gameday Pitch f/x data, so that’s worth a read.
Moving on to the lineup, it’s clear that the bats awakened this week with the return to NL East pitching. Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones had the best weeks, with Escobar’s ridiculous clutch at-bat yesterday providing most of his +.795 WPA for the week. His +1.079 WPA for the season now ranks him fifth among Braves hitters, although his real performance level is somewhat below that. Personally, I don’t see how a non-speedster can keep up a .300 average with decent power by hitting over 60% of balls on the ground. Still, I’ll take his results, because they only help his value as a trading chip. Aside from the recent platoon with Kelly Johnson, Escobar’s increased playing time has come at the expense of Woodward and Orr, which makes him perhaps even more valuable than I originally thought.
Chipper’s good week is just more of the same for him, and he has now jumped onto the list of batters over +1 in WPA. Willie Harris, Edgar Renteria, and Kelly Johnson all had weeks that would have been considered outstanding a week ago, but they got lost in the shuffle of the great performances this week. McCann and Salty both made it into the black, while Francoeur, Thorman, and Diaz all slipped slightly below zero. That leaves one familiar name at the bottom of the heap: Andruw Jones. Despite two homers, he was still just 5-for-26, and he’s still just flailing away most of the time.
Either this week or next week, I’ll take a look at the month of June and re-evaluate the whole organization like I did a few weeks back. Until then, let’s look at what’s in store for next week.
The Road Ahead
The Braves have a full slate this week as they head out west to face the Dodgers for four and the Padres for three. It will be a tough test against arguably the two best teams in the NL West. Here are the pitching matchups, which of course are subject to change:
Monday: Smoltz vs. Derek Lowe
Tuesday: Davies vs. Randy Wolf
Wednesday: James vs. TBA (Hong-Chi Kuo?)
Thursday: Hudson vs. Brad Penny
Friday: Carlyle vs. Justin Germano
Saturday: Smoltz vs. David Wells
Sunday: Davies vs. Greg Maddux
It looks like the Braves will miss both Jake Peavy and Chris Young in the Padres series, which is a huge blessing. They’ll still face some tough opposition, but I’m hoping (as usual) for two series wins and a 5-2 week heading into the All-Star break. I’ll be attending the Braves’ first game after the break against the Pirates, so another detailed game review will probably follow that contest.