The Braves dealt for a slugger and a couple of relievers this week, and as kind of an afterthought, they went 4-2 on the field. Heading into August, that’s barely what they need to keep pace with the Mets and Phillies. The Astros initially presented no challenge to the Braves’ offense, but a few hiccups on Thursday night let the Astros salvage game three of the series. The Rockies came in and blasted them on Friday before a couple of solid wins over the weekend. Let’s look at some stats.
This Week’s Stats
Scores and FanGraphs game summaries:
Stats for the week alone:
Best plays of the week:
A lot of this week’s best plays are necessarily going to come from Thursday’s extra-inning nightmare, since there were more crucial situations in that game than in the rest of the week’s games combined. The other games were equally important, but do realize that long extra-inning games are going to have that effect on WPA.
- Matt Diaz homered off Brad Lidge, driving in himself and Corky Miller and tying Thursday’s game at 11 in the 12th inning (+.472).
- Chipper Jones hit a 2-run homer off Aaron Cook, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning of yesterday’s game (+.289).
- Yunel Escobar hit a walk-off single off Taylor Buchholz, driving in Jeff Francoeur and winning yesterday’s game (+.288).
- Willie Harris hit a 2-run triple off Woody Williams in the fifth inning of Thursday’s game, giving the Braves a 7-5 lead (+.235).
- Mark Teixeira hit a 2-run homer off Woody Williams to tie Thursday’s game at 5 in the fifth inning (+.217).
The offense lifted off at Turner Field this week, with the exception of Friday’s loss to Colorado, and it’s a good thing. The starting pitching hasn’t been good, and Tim Hudson is probably the only starter the Braves can absolutely count on for decent work. Hudson provided the Braves’ only quality start this week by my revised definition of that metric: 6+ IP and a positive WPA. It’s quite similar to the actual QS criteria, but I like using WPA instead of < 3 ER. It’s still arbitrary, but it’s a decent baseline and certainly a goal for every start.
Unfortunately, Hudson’s Saturday outing was the only “quality start” of the week. Chuck James hit his 5-inning wall twice and gave up four runs in each outing. Carlyle only threw 71 pitches in a 2-run, 5-inning performance, and Smoltz lasted 6 2/3 after an awful first inning, allowing five runs to the Rockies on Friday. Jo-Jo Reyes gave up five runs (four earned) in just 3 innings, and he was demoted to make room
The result of these poor starts: more work for an already-depleted bullpen. Octavio Dotel had thrown just 23 innings for Kansas City, but he was thrown into four games in his first five days, setting an alarming precedent for the rest of the season. I’m firmly convinced that the recent bullpen woes are not the fault of the relief pitchers themselves. With adequate starting pitching, this bullpen could look much better.
Having said all that, it’s hard to be encouraged by the bullpen’s workload this week, even though their performance was quite good. There were 23 total appearances by the relief staff, totaling 26 1/3 innings. Moylan, Yates, Wickman, and now-demoted Ascanio allowed nothing in their 10 1/3 innings. Mahay and Villarreal were fairly good in nine total innings, allowing three runs between them. Soriano and Dotel each gave up a grand slam for 7 earned runs in 7 total innings. I’m seriously starting to wonder if the Braves are starting to do irreparable harm to these players’ arms, although I guess I don’t really have anything other than recent poor performance to back that up.
Back on a more positive note, the offense was outstanding, especially against Houston. Matt Diaz led the way with a couple of homers, a 1.289 OPS, and a +.613 WPA in 22 plate appearances. Andruw Jones’ injury has allowed Diaz to play more this week, and he just keeps on hitting.
Yunel Escobar added another huge hit this week with his walk-off single yesterday. He was 8-for-18, a .950 OPS for the week in 20 PAs, and he is now the overall WPA leader among Braves hitters, as remarkable as it sounds. Fully 2/3 of his positive WPA is based on clutch performance, but he still ranks fifth in WPA/LI and fourth in WPA/LI per plate appearance (counting only the players with a significant number of PAs).
Renteria’s injury will give Escobar some regular playing time to continue proving that he can be a solid major-league hitter. I’m still not sold, since his GB/FB ratio is still over 3:1, and he’s not fast enough to keep beating out ground balls. His line drive rate is solid, but he’s not really showing any kind of ability to hit for power. Basically, I’m afraid that when his batting average drops, he’ll cease to be a useful hitter. For now, I guess we’re all just along for the ride, and so far it’s been a good one.
Moving on down the line, Jeff Francoeur added almost a full win with his bat as well. He was 11-for-26 with two doubles and a homer, which gave him an isolated power of .192. That’s an improvement back toward his old level of power, but it’s an awfully small sample size to judge that kind of change. Joe Simpson mentioned this week that Francoeur has actively been backing down his power in an effort to make more consistent contact. It’s working, and perhaps at some point he’ll put it all together and turn into an elite hitter. Right now, he’s a .300 hitter with average power and below-average on-base skill.
Willie Harris was also impressive this week, posting a +.228 WPA and a .984 OPS for the week in what amounted to a full-time role. In my mind, he’d be barely hanging on to his job because of the way Diaz has played. Harris was over a full win below average in WPA this past month, so he’s slowly returning to his “normal” level of production.
Mark Teixeira had a great first week as a Brave, and Kelly Johnson hit over .500 for the week, but together they only managed +.200 in WPA. Tex’s three homers in 23 ABs gave the Braves a lift in the power department, and perhaps more importantly, he has allowed the Braves to designate Julio Franco and remove Scott Thorman from a regular role. Johnson posted an outstanding 1.403 OPS that was diluted just a bit by a few key outs.
McCann and Renteria fell into the “average” category for the week, which meant they were almost bringing up the rear. Both had solid weeks overall, but like Johnson, they were ruined by coming up short in key situations.
Chipper and Andruw were the goats of the week, even though they both delivered some big hits. Chipper hit .250, including a homer and eight runs scored, while Andruw improved his season average by going 4-for-18. Together, they were worth about a full win below average, which shows just how good the rest of the lineup was to make up for them.
The Road Ahead
This extremely important week for the Braves has been looming for some time. They’ll travel to face the Mets for three games starting Tuesday, and they’ll play over the weekend in Philly. Six games against the two most important Braves opponents could seemingly make or break the team’s morale, if not the actual season (there is, after all, almost a third of a season remaining). I probably won’t be happy with anything less than two series wins, but that’s usually the case anyway. The Mets and Phillies will each face the Marlins in their other series this week, so it could be tough not to lose ground if the Braves can’t pull out several wins.
Here are the probable starters:
Tuesday: Carlyle vs. Oliver Perez
Wednesday: Smoltz vs. Brian Lawrence
Thursday: Hudson vs. Orlando Hernandez
Friday: James vs. Cole Hamels
Saturday: TBA vs. Adam Eaton
Sunday: Carlyle vs. Jamie Moyer
Saturday is a legit TBA at this point because the Braves demoted Jo-Jo Reyes and recalled Lance Cormier. I’m thinking Cormier gets the start, as much as Villarreal might deserve it. Oscar has worked a ton recently, so I suppose it makes sense.
A Final Programming Note
If you’re in the habit of checking my Braves WPA stat page (usually updated 1-2 times weekly), I’m changing the way the data is displayed very slightly. In order to make the stats a bit more relevant and easier to read, I will only display players who meet one of the following criteria:
- Currently on the active roster
- Have played a significant amount of time
This should reduce the clutter and hopefully make that page a bit more meaningful. I’ve already made that change to the season totals in this post as well.