Braves Check: Back to .500

It’s been a good week off for me, but in that time I managed to let some nasty folks break my blog.  So, my apologies for that.  It should be fixed now, even if Google and Firefox don’t think so.  Here at jfwiii.net, our completely original motto is: “A Blog You Can Believe In,” and we are not a third term of those nasty spam blogs.  We promise.

Perhaps that’s not the best analogy to be making, but you get the point…there’s nothing to see here.

The week wasn’t as kind to the Braves as it was to me (before the attack).  Atlanta started off well by taking 3 of 4 from the Marlins but finished by getting swept at home by the Phillies.  They’re now 6.5 games behind the Phillies for the division lead and 5.5 back of the Cardinals in the Wild Card hunt.  They’re also back down to .500 with a 32-32 record.

This Week’s Stats

Totals for the season are now updated, but I’ve come up with a few qualifications to remove the clutter from the stat pages.  For hitting stats, players must meet ONE of the following criteria to be included: 1) On the active (25-man) roster as a position player, or 2) At least one plate appearance for every two team games this year (currently 32 PAs).  That knocks out some of the emergency guys like Lillibridge and Pena as well as the relief pitchers (while including the starters if they have enough PAs).

For pitching stats, the criteria are similar (meet one of the following): 1) On the active roster as a pitcher, or 2) at least 1 inning pitched per 6 team games this year (currently 10.7 IP).  That means Phil Stockman is included, while Pete Moylan is not.  Actually, Moylan is the only pitcher who currently doesn’t make the cut, but it’s possible that John Smoltz and Chris Resop eventually will not, as the IP requirement increases.

Weekly stats will continue to include everyone who appeared in a game.

Five biggest plays of the week:

  1. Jeremy Hermida singled in the tying and go-ahead runs in the top of the 9th inning in Monday’s game against John Smoltz.  He advanced to second on an error by Omar Infante (-.617).
  2. Jeff Francoeur and Josh Anderson advanced (to score and to 3B) on a Kevin Gregg wild pitch in the bottom half of the same inning (+.383).
  3. Hanley Ramirez hit a 2-run line drive homer off Manny Acosta in the top of the 9th inning on Wednesday, giving the Marlins a 6-4 lead (-.358).
  4. Earlier in the same inning, Mike Rabelo hit a 2-run homer off Acosta to tie the game at 4 (-.347).
  5. Shane Victorino drove in the go-ahead run with a single off Blaine Boyer in the 9th inning of Sunday’s game against the Phillies (-.316).

Comments

  • It was a rough week for Manny Acosta, who can be credited with two full losses worth of WPA.  In four appearances, he had three chances at an “effective outing” and blew two of them, allowing six runs.  Let’s hope Rafael Soriano (and Mike Gonzalez) can get back to full health quickly.  Will Ohman is probably the team’s most reliable late-inning guy right now, and that’s not good.
  • Speaking of Ohman, he picked up two vulture wins by pitching 5 1/3 shutout innings this week, and he was also 2-for-2 in effective outing chances, making him 6-for-6 this season.
  • Phil Stockman has been good, but he has yet to appear in an even remotely crucial situation.  That’s a great way to break someone in, although he should be fine regardless, since he is a minor league veteran and 28 years old.
  • Tim Hudson had the lone quality start this week, but I think he’s getting these mostly because he’s the only guy the Braves have who can be counted on to last deep into a game.  Jurrjens and Campillo (and even Jo-Jo Reyes) are looking better as starters, but only Hudson is averaging at least 6 innings per start (6.5).  The other three starters (not including Glavine) all gave up some runs this week, but hopefully the blister bug will die down and they can settle in as reliable pitchers.
  • I suppose it’s not surprising that Chipper Jones hit .579/.652/1.105, led the team in WPA with +.769, and got hurt all within the past week.  This team is probably at least six wins worse at this point without his contributions, so he needs to get better fast.
  • Brian McCann and a quickly-heating-up Mark Teixeira followed closely behind Chipper this week, each contributing a full win above average.  McCann was just 3-for-17, but two of his hits were homers, he walked five times, and he was hit by pitches twice.  It’s hard to manage a solid .946 OPS with just 3 hits, but that’s one way to do it.
  • The rest of the lineup except for Jeff Francoeur was some form of average last week, which means that Frenchy continued his quest to have the worst season of any outfielder this year.  He’s probably been hit-unlucky because he has a solid line drive rate of 22.4% (above the team average).  He’s just not hitting for a ton of power like his reputation would suggest he does.  Less than 9% of his fly balls have left the park.  That’s slightly better than Matt Diaz and Mark Kotsay, worse than Greg Norton and Kelly Johnson, about 60% of the rate of some of the Braves’ real power hitters (McCann 15.4%, Tex 14.7%), and less than half of Chipper Jones’ 22.7% rate.  Right now he has average power, and he still doesn’t walk, so he’s an out machine.  Were it not for the Braves’ current injuries in the outfield, I’d have to ask how much longer they’re going to let him attempt to harness his potential at the major league level.  I’m obviously not the only person thinking about this right now, either.
  • Using that as a segue into discussing other managerial decisions, Bobby Cox seems to be getting more and more quirky as the season progresses.  Friday night’s decision to leave Will Ohman in the game rather than pinch-hit (or pinch-run) for him in a crucial situation possibly cost the Braves the game.  Royce Ring was available if he absolutely had to take advantage of the lefty/lefty matchup.  Apparently he wanted Ohman to face Ryan Howard, so I assumed he would be using Ring for Geoff Jenkins, but he left in Blaine Boyer (who relieved Ohman after Howard’s turn) to face Geoff Jenkins, starting the string of walks that began the ninth-inning trouble.  Kelly Johnson’s error was just the next piece of an already-frustrating game.
  • I was watching Friday’s game with my brother-in-law Chris, and he brought up the point that Bobby’s decisions related to the pitching staff have gotten increasingly weird since Leo Mazzone left.  In a few short years, he seems to have become a proponent of the Tony La Russa “player matchups and handedness are everything” micro-managing school of thought.  I hadn’t thought about that angle before, but it makes sense.
  • Brian Lawrence is almost certainly not a savior for the Braves pitching depth, but he is another possible arm to add to the mix.  He actually pitched decently for the Mets’ AAA club last year, but his career trend is not inspiring.

Opponent’s Guide / The Road Ahead

I’ll throw in another section for this week in addition to the preview of upcoming matchups as sort of an opponent’s guide to the 2008 Braves.  Some of these inter-divisional matchups sometimes feel like inter-league matchups with the unbalanced schedule.  It seems as if we’re not going to see the Cubs again for 3 years or more, like what happens with the Angels.  For what it’s worth, both upcoming teams are quite good, but the Cubs look like a better offensive team.

Here’s what those teams can expect to see from the Braves:

Opponent’s Guide

Right now, the 2008 Atlanta Braves are exactly what their record suggests: a mediocre team.  They’ve hit decently well, but not in situations that matter.  On my hitting stats page, you’ll see +2.162 in WPA/LI, which is four wins above average in win probability added without considering the context.  That’s pretty solid, but their abysmal clutch performance (CP) drags their actual win probability down below -2, or four wins below average.  That’s not good.

Chipper Jones has a .420 batting average and gets on base over 50% of the time.  He is a clear offensive star this year, but he’s also questionable for the next few days with a slight quad tear.  He’s one of the game’s five best players when he’s healthy, even at age 36.

Our catcher is better than your catcher, Cubs fans, and not many teams can say that right now.  He’s younger and more experienced, too.  Mark Teixeira is heating up, and the middle of our lineup is as good as any in baseball.  Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson are also pretty good up the middle.

Unfortunately, our outfield stinks.  Matt Diaz and Mark Kotsay, who are both serviceable when healthy, are on the DL, so you’ll get to see some players you’ve probably never heard about (for good reason).  Some combination of Greg Norton, Gregor Blanco, Omar Infante, and Josh Anderson will roam left and center, while the overrated young superstar I mentioned in the comments above mans right.

Our starting rotation has actually been pretty good, even without John Smoltz.  You might only recognize Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine (who is a shell of the pitcher he was when you last saw him in a Braves uniform), but our rotation sports individual ERAs of 2.17, 2.86, 3.77, 4.47, and 4.80.  Kudos to you if you can match the pitcher to the ERA; that’s Jorge Campillo, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tom Glavine, and Jo-Jo Reyes, in order.

The problem with the rotation has been its inability to last deep into games, but the bullpen has also performed admirably in response.  You’ve probably never heard of any of our relievers, but they’ve done quite well as a group.  We don’t even know who our closer is right now, and it doesn’t really matter because closers are overrated in general.  Angels fans possibly wouldn’t understand that, but Cubs fans might.

The Road Ahead

The Braves leave home having not had tremendous success, for once.  This week’s games against the Cubs and Angels certainly won’t be easy, even though they will avoid each team’s presumptive ace (Zambrano and Lackey).  Ryan Dempster has actually been pretty good this year, although the rest of the Cubs’ rotation is merely average.

Here are the probables:

Tuesday: Glavine vs. Ted Lilly
Wednesday: Jurrjens vs. Ryan Dempster
Thursday: Hudson vs. Sean Gallagher
Friday: Reyes vs. Jon Garland
Saturday: Campillo vs. Ervin Santana
Sunday: Glavine vs. Joe Saunders

The Angels could choose to skip Joe Saunders and start both Lackey and Santana against the Braves, since they have Thursday off, but I’m not sure that would make sense for them.  Jered Weaver has been their worst starter, but he’s pretty much locked in for Wednesday, so they’d have to skip either Garland or Saunders.  I think they’ll probably leave the rotation alone and go with the guys listed above, which is relatively good news for the Braves.

I’ll be posting vacation pictures very soon, and I’ll try to come up with something else for later in the week.

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One thought on “Braves Check: Back to .500

  1. That’s a good point about Mazzone. I wonder if that’s McDowell’s influence, or just a natural tendency of Bobby which he is now exerting more that Leo’s not around.

    I always feel full of hubris when I criticize a HoF manager, but Cox has definitely been puzzling to me this season.

    I’m a fan of Francouer, but man what a bad season. It’s always strange to me when players (who are thought to be clean) suddenly have no power.

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