Braves Check: June 16, 2008

During last night’s ESPN broadcast, Jon Miller referred to this past week as the “Week from Hell” for the Braves, and I’m not inclined to say any different, even though they won two road games against the team that had the best record in the AL.

Braves fans may have already seen John Smoltz throw the final pitch of his career, and this week may have been the same story for Tom Glavine.  Jair Jurrjens suffered a freak injury, forcing a spot start from Jeff Bennett, and Chipper Jones felt the wrath of the Angels’ batting cage on Friday.  He’s already dealing with a quad injury, and he doesn’t need anything else to worry about.

The end result was another losing week, and the team is now two games under .500 for the season at 34-36.  They’re in third place by percentage points over the Mets, 3.5 games behind the Marlins for second, and 6.5 behind the Phillies for first.  For what it’s worth, they’re also 7.5 games behind the Cardinals for the Wild Card spot.  That’s almost a more depressing sight than watching the division lead slip away.

Because of the injury problems, this team isn’t as good as I thought they were to start the year, so they need some serious help to get back in this race.  I doubt it’s in them to sell at the deadline unless things keep turning for the worse.  A lot of teams would probably want Mark Teixeira, and if I’m Frank Wren and the team is this far out a month from now, I’d be listening to offers.

This Week’s Stats

If you are using one of many feed readers, you may not see the tables below.  Please click through to the post to see the data.  Check the Braves WPA home page for a description of some of the more unique stats and for links to updated season-to-date stats.  Information from fangraphs.com is used in preparing these reports.

Five best Braves plays of the week

  1. Greg Norton hit an early 3-run homer off Ted Lilly to give the Braves an early lead in Monday’s loss to the Cubs (+.238).
  2. Yunel Escobar singled home the tying runs against Ervin Santana in the 5th inning of Saturday’s win over the Angels (+.183).
  3. Jeff Francoeur put the Braves on top early on Wednesday with a 2-run shot off Carlos Zambrano (+.159).
  4. Omar Infante doubled home the tying run in the 4th inning of Friday’s win against Jon Garland (+.132).
  5. Tim Hudson induced a double-play ball from Eric Patterson, mitigating the Cubs’ third-inning threat on Wednesday (+.128).

Five best Opponent plays of the week

  1. Jim Edmonds hit a game-tying homer off Blaine Boyer in the 9th inning of Wednesday’s near-win over the Cubs (-.466).
  2. Kosuke Fukudome gave the Cubs an early lead with a 3-run homer in the first inning off Tuesday’s spot-starter, Jeff Bennett (-.240).
  3. Maicer Izturis doubled home two runs off Charlie Morton to give the Angels the lead in Saturday’s game (-.199)
  4. Casey Kotchman hit a line drive homer off Jorge Campillo that barely cleared the fence in the right-field corner, but it gave the Angels a 2-0 lead in last night’s loss (-.199).
  5. Howie Kendrick hit an RBI single off Jo-Jo Reyes in the third inning of Friday’s win (-.128).

Comments

  • Brandon Jones made the biggest splash this week after being called up from AAA Richmond, hammering out six hits and a walk in 14 plate appearances.  Jones appears to be the new everyday left fielder until Matt Diaz returns.  If he keeps this up, Diaz may return to a bench role.
  • Yunel Escobar was the only other regular hitter who had a particularly good week: 9 hits and 5 walks in 29 trips to the plate.  Only one of his hits went for extra bases, though.
  • Greg Norton didn’t provide much outside of his 3-run homer, and several other regulars fell squarely into “below average” territory: Johnson, Blanco, and Francoeur.
  • The middle of the order was mostly punchless.  Chipper had his first bad week in a while and watched his average dip to .402.  Teixeira was 5-for-24 and is hitting .276/.367/.448 for the year, which is below what you want to see out of a first baseman, much less one with his reputation.
  • Although Manny Acosta is now closing in on him for the team LVP honor, Francoeur is now two full wins below the next-worst hitter on the team with a WPA of -1.746.  Among qualifiers (1/2 PA per game), only Corky Miller has been worse in WPA per plate appearance.
  • Looking on the bright side for a moment, the Braves had six different pitchers start games last week, and four of them recorded quality starts, with at least six innings of positive-WPA pitching.  Tom Glavine and Jeff Bennett didn’t meet those standards, but Reyes, Hudson, Campillo, and Morton all did.  Those four allowed 8 runs in 28 2/3 innings as starters this week, sporting a 2.51 ERA and over 7 innings pitched per start.
  • Reyes and Campillo each went 8 innings and allowed 2 runs in their respective starts, with the latter pitching a complete game in losing to Joe Saunders and the Angels last night.  Hudson was less economical than usual (3.92 pitches per batter faced, 3.58 for the season), and he only lasted 6 2/3 innings.
  • Charlie Morton’s major league debut looked fairly impressive and wasn’t far out of line from what you’d expect from a guy trying to put control issues behind him.  He issued only one walk, but he did need 4.16 pitches per batter, and he’ll have to work ahead in the count if he wants to last any longer than six innings.  Morton’s stuff looked fantastic, so hopefully he’ll learn on the fly.
  • The bullpen was somewhat better rested this week, as solid starting pitching combined with a trip to an AL park required less than the usual workload (once you account for Glavine’s early exit due to injury).  Manny Acosta led the team with 3 innings and 3 2/3 innings of relief work, a far cry from the 4-5 innings we were used to seeing earlier this season.
  • Acosta has now gone from being unreliable in the clutch to just “bad.”  He allowed 6 hits and 6 runs, and his ERA would have completely blown up were it not for his own error reducing those 6 runs allowed to just 2 “earned” runs.  Luckily, WPA gives him full credit for those runs allowed.
  • I’m not sure I’d know to whom I could turn if I were Bobby Cox managing this bullpen.  The best relievers are either starting or spot-starting often enough now that they can’t be used in one-inning situations.  Ohman and Ring have been better than the right-handed relievers, but that’s possibly because they’ve been saved mostly for left-handed batters.  Stockman and Ridgway are both unproven, and that basically leaves Boyer and Acosta, who have struggled in key situations.
  • Combined, Boyer and Acosta are 5-of-16 in “effective” relief outing chances (games where they’ve entered in a situation twice as crucial as a normal situation and recorded a zero or positive WPA).  The rest of the team is at least acceptable at 72% (26-of-36).

A Guide To The 2008 Atlanta Braves

I had initially planned to leave this section as a recurring part of the “Braves Check” posts, but I thought I’d regularly edit it as a “living document” and flesh it out a bit more as a separate page on the site.  You can find the latest version here.

The Road Ahead

Opponent Previews

An April snow-out is forcing the Braves to make a one-game stop in Colorado tonight before resuming interleague play in Texas tomorrow.  They’ll return home on Friday to host the Mariners for 3 games.

The Rockies have dealt with some injuries and own the NL’s worst record at 28-41.  Their pitching has been pretty bad (perhaps unexpectedly even when you account for Coors), and they obviously haven’t scored enough runs to make up for that.  Ubaldo Jimenez is actually pretty good, though (despite the numbers), because he keeps the ball on the ground for the most part.  He’s all that matters to the Braves in terms of their pitching staff this week.

The Rangers have ridden the contributions of Josh Hamilton (still an awesome story a year later) and token crazy guy Milton Bradley all the way to a record that’s a half-game better than the Braves’ at 35-36.  As usual, pitching is their problem, as they’ve given up 5.83 runs per game this year.  Pretty much everyone in their lineup is hitting well, though, so those two aren’t the only guys to worry about.  As for the pitching staff, only Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are above zero in WPA for the season.

It’s worth noting that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .244/.369/.395, which is also known as “not that much worse than Teixeira.”  The Braves also gave up a few other guys in that deal, as I recall.  (I think I came across at the time of the deal as cautiously optimistic that Tex would lead the Braves back to the playoffs and possibly to a championship, while I lamented the fact that they had to give up so much for a year-and-a-half rental.)

The Mariners are MLB’s cellar dwellers at 24-45, and they also happen to have employed Greg Norton earlier this season.  They have a few hitters as high as the low-.700s in OPS, and because they have only a few, they are also the AL’s second-worst offense at 3.9 runs per game.  They play in a pitcher’s park, but they use one of those DH thingies most of the time, so that’s not many runs.  At least they’re not the Royals, who have given Tony Pena regular at bats with an OPS+ of -2.  The M’s pitching staff hasn’t been that great, either, with the exception of Felix Hernandez and (occasionally) Erik Bedard.  Closer J.J. Putz is on the DL, but he wasn’t pitching well anyway.

Probable Starters

These are the probable starters according to MLB.com and my own best judgment (for the rest of the week):

Monday: Jurrjens vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
Tuesday: Hudson vs. Vicente Padilla
Wednesday: Reyes vs. Eric Hurley
Thursday: Morton vs. Scott Feldman
Friday: Campillo vs. Erik Bedard
Saturday: Jurrjens vs. Jarrod Washburn
Sunday: Hudson vs. Carlos Silva

Unless the Mariners try to skip Silva and start Hernandez on Sunday (they haven’t been doing that this year), the Braves will avoid two team aces for the second straight week.  Hopefully they’ll get some runs out of it this time around and gain some ground on the Phillies, who face the Red Sox and Angels this week.

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