Braves Check: Dog Days Edition

There’s been plenty of action in Major League Baseball over the last few weeks, but aside from the Teixeira trade, the Braves haven’t really been part of it.  Football season is also around the corner, and even when the Braves are in contention, they get pushed to the back page of the local sports sections in favor of stories about the latest State of Alabama v. Fulmer spectacle or the most recently arrested Georgia Bulldog.  Of course there’s no way you’re seeing them on ESPN’s FavreCenter or AL East Tonight.  Thank goodness for baseball blogs.

Here are some stats from the last two weeks:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p1yenOyDW3pWy7F_s0xxhFg&output=html&gid=5&single=true&range=a1:g25

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p1yenOyDW3pWy7F_s0xxhFg&output=html&gid=6&single=true&range=a1:g17

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p1yenOyDW3pWy7F_s0xxhFg&output=html&gid=7&single=true&range=k1:s12

A few comments:

  • Several players made their Braves’ debuts over the course of the last fortnight.  Clint Sammons was immediately a huge improvement over Corky Miller, but I get the feeling that he wouldn’t have come up were it not for McCann’s concussion (I guess because of the “playing everyday” factor).  His minor league record indicates that he won’t keep hitting .333/.368/.500.  Something more like his career minors line of .262/.334/.365 seems more appropriate, and that would be more than fine for a backup catcher.
  • Casey Kotchman has started his Braves career somewhat poorly at .205/.308/.295, but he’ll hit better in the long run.
  • Francisley Bueno is actually on the roster now, but he hasn’t been used yet.  Hopefully he’ll get in some games if only to reduce the mileage Bobby Cox has put on Blaine Boyer’s arm this year.
  • Brian McCann has kept up his performance as the Braves’ best hitter when Chipper Jones can’t play.  He was already playing that part before the Teixeira trade, though: McCann has 40 points of OPS on Tex this year (when he was a Brave, at least).  Consider his fielding contribution at catcher vs. Teixeira at first base, and there was really no contest in the first place.
  • The lineup hasn’t been pretty beyond those few outstanding players.  Martin Prado has been the team’s third-best hitter this year, albeit in a limited sample size of 97 PAs.  His slash line of .310/.381/.500 is amazing, especially since he hasn’t hit a ton of line drives (just 17.1%) and has just one homer.  The gap power may be somewhat real, but he seems like more of a .280 hitter in the long run.  His current role on the team is also quite redundant, although he wouldn’t be the guy to get rid of.  Why bother having him, Infante, and Ruben Gotay on the roster all at the same time?
  • Jeff Francoeur keeps providing more of the same thing we’re used to seeing from him: if nothing else, he’s prolific at making outs.  He’s made 352 so far this year if you include 13 double plays.  The Braves have hitched their wagon to him in every form except for his contract, and he’s probably not going anywhere soon.  As Jay said in the comments of my last post, Ben Grieve is a very good career comparison for Jeff, only Grieve actually had plate discipline, and by “good,” I mean “tragic.”
  • Turning now to the players entrusted with the task of preventing runs, the Braves lost one of the best to Tommy John surgery when they lost Tim Hudson.  Only the miraculous season of Jorge Campillo comes close to Hudson’s 2008, and that will likely continue to be the case.  Campillo has actually passed Hudson in WPA/LI this season with +2.409 with three “quality starts” in three chances in the last two weeks.
  • The rest of the rotation was touched up at least to some extent over that same time period, although Charlie Morton has been very strong in his last two outings, both quality starts.  Jair Jurrjens was a bit rocky, and Mike Hampton has understandably been somewhat erratic.  Chuck James has been awful after posting a 2.48 ERA in 13 AAA starts.
  • The bullpen has enjoyed more magic from Buddy Carlyle, who posted 6 1/3 shutout innings in two weeks’ work.  He’s sitting on a 3.69 ERA now overall.  Vladimir Nunez and Julian Tavarez have been surprisingly good of late, while Will Ohman and Mike Gonzalez have been less-surprisingly good.
  • The other side of the bullpen shows that Blaine Boyer has worn down (6 runs in 4 2/3 innings since my last update), and Royce Ring completely imploded before being DFA’d.

The Braves are in an interesting position now for the middle of August.  They will bide their time until the September roster expansion gives them some real roster freedom.  Hopefully they will allow Clint Sammons to spell Brian McCann some down the stretch, but all the other young players may have to wait.  In a few weeks, they can call up guys like Brandon Jones and Brent Lillibridge (again) to see what they want to do in 2009 and beyond.

Reports are indicating that the Braves may pursue a frontline starter for 2009, but it’s been a while since the Braves spent big money to acquire a free agent pitcher.  Trades are obviously another story (see: Mike Hampton).  The problem is that a big name starting pitcher might not be enough to make the Braves a contender in 2009, since they were barely one with Hudson in the fold.  The rest of the pitching staff is a collection of question marks.

Is Jurrjens’ 2008 his new established level of performance, or will he regress in ’09 at all?  Same for Jorge Campillo.  Will Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton show their command is consistent enough to entrust either of them with a rotation spot?  Is Chuck James ever going to be an effective major league pitcher again, or is he just organizational depth at this point?  Will the Braves, or anyone for that matter, sign Mike Hampton to an incentive-based one-year deal?  How much starting pitching depth is too much, and does any of it matter if you don’t have some proven guys at the top?  There are lots and lots of questions, and currently few answers as I see it.

They’ll get better results at the plate next year if only because they won’t be so unlucky, but I’m not really sure what the plan is at certain positions, especially in the outfield.  The Jeff Francoeur Predicament is a story by itself, but there are two other outfield slots to fill and seemingly no acceptable long-term options (Blanco has no power, Will Diaz hit again?, Kotsay is a free agent, Brandon Jones might not be ready).  Aside from Jones, the other minor leaguers seem too far away to help in 2009.

So, do the Braves punt 2009 and build for 2010 and beyond?  A lot more players are expendable if that is the case, and I might entertain that option if I were being held to the $80M or so budget of the previous few years.  I’m not sure how the Braves’ ownership group sees the team from a financial standpoint, so I can’t really speculate there.

Right now, I’m still getting my head around the idea that I’m talking this way in August.  When is football season, again?

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7 thoughts on “Braves Check: Dog Days Edition

  1. How much starting pitching depth is too much, and does any of it matter if you don’t have some proven guys at the top?

    You can’t have too much pitching, as we have all learned this year. Their arms, no matter the age, are just too fragile. But, in reference to part 2 of the question, it doesn’t matter if there are no proven guys. For a few years now it seems like the Braves have been collecting average and below average pitchers in hopes of forming an above average staff. It’s a formula that simply won’t work.

    Will the Braves, or anyone for that matter, sign Mike Hampton to an incentive-based one-year deal?

    I think they probably will, most likely because nobody else will take a chance on him, and the Braves will be one of the more pitching desperate teams that will be shopping this winter.

    Is Chuck James ever going to be an effective major league pitcher again, or is he just organizational depth at this point?

    Obviously the answer here depends on our definition of “effective”. With the exception of this year, I’ve always felt like Chuckie was a great fifth starter type pitcher…we were just asking him to be our third starter, which obviously left us disappointed. The difference, however, is that the Braves are probably leading the league in fifth starter type pitchers on the 25 man roster. To me it seems like a pick your poisen type debate. Do we want a 5th starter that will give up a few long balls, or do we want a 5th starter that will have strike zone issues? Of course, there are pitchers the Braves use that do both so…yeah

    Will Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton show their command is consistent enough to entrust either of them with a rotation spot?

    Your guess is as good as mine on this one.

    So, do the Braves punt 2009 and build for 2010 and beyond?

    This one, in my opinion, depends less on who the Braves get in the FA market, and more upon the health, rehab of John Smoltz, Rafael Soriano, and Peter Moylan. Without those guys, I don’t think it matters what frontline starter we buy or what outfield powerbat we purchase. I’d watch those guys in the offseason and if they aren’t doing well, might as well kick the bucket. We have seen what happens when we field a team of 20 minor leaguers and 5 legitimate ball players…no sense in doing it again.

  2. Plan on linking to Jeff Francoeur’s blog on your
    “Other Favorites” list anytime soon?

    http://www.jefffrancoeur.com/jeffsBlog.asp

    I think it really has to be his writing… You’d hope no professional ghostwriter would be that bad.

    I do like the question he poses in his most recent entry – “What is your favorite baseball term?”
    Mine would be “Jeff Francoeur designated for assignment”

    Look at the numbers of the AA and AAA outfielders in the Braves organization on minorleaguebaseball.com. Not a one knows how to take a walk. Bodes well for the future.

    Hope roving hitting coach Leon Roberts and some of the minor league batting coaches get canned at the end of the season.

  3. That’s basically the way I would’ve answered those questions, too, and that doesn’t bode well for the near future.

    No plans to link to Jeffy anytime soon. Not until he hits enough to match his star marketing status.

    The Braves’ hitting philosophy has been screwed up since Terry Pendleton took over as hitting coach. Obviously it’s an organizational problem now, although it fortunately hasn’t infected Jason Heyward yet.

  4. A curious observation that’s not specific to the Braves but does involve them: It’s reasonably likely that all of the last 13 NL Champions (9 different teams) will miss the postseason this year.

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