Braves Check: July 13, 2009

Beginning Thursday, it’s a new season for the Braves, albeit one in which they begin six games out of a playoff spot.  The Phillies and Giants have been hot lately, pulling away from the field in the NL East and NL Wild Card races, while the Braves have barely treaded water.  This week they went 4-3, but they’ll have to do even better in the second half.

Last Week’s Stats

Brooks Conrad got regular at-bats this week, with Martin Prado’s services needed most of the week at positions other than second base, and he put up an impressive 1.065 OPS.  Nate McLouth, Casey Kotchman (pre-flu), and Jeff Francoeur (pre-trade) also topped 1.000.  Fittingly, it was the first time Frenchy had reached that mark this season.  Let’s not forget that his OPS as a Brave finished at .634 in 2009.

While not quite player-of-the-week material, Martin Prado racked up 10 more hits this week.  All of them were singles, but any team would be happy with a .412 OBP out of the #2 spot in the lineup.

Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar, both of whom missed some time due to injuries, fell into the “merely average” category of hitters this week.  Yunel has familiarized himself with that category before, but it’s more disturbing to see Chipper becoming more and more at home there.  He’s still walking a ton – 6 walks and a .474 OBP this week, but the hits were sparse, and the power outage continued.

The rest of the lineup ranged between below average and awful.  Brian McCann had a handful of doubles and not much else, and everyone else was pretty bad.  Diory Hernandez played most of the Colorado series, but he managed only a .200/.200/.267 slash line.  The scouting report on his defense suggested he wasn’t ready to be a regular after he was called up, but I figured he’d hit a little bit.

The non-McLouth or Francoeur outfielders were pretty awful.  Garret Anderson, had five hits in 28 tries, but he rarely walks, so he needs to do a lot better than that.  Diaz was 0-for-9 with a walk, and Ryan Church was 1-for-9.  I’m still happy to see him out in right field.

On the pitching side of the ledger, no one had an awful start, but Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen struggled at Coors Field.  Jair Jurrjens actually had the worse of his two starts earlier in the week against the Cubs, pitching well later in the week in the thin air.  Kenshin Kawakami had a good start against the Cubs, and Derek Lowe found his sinker again in Colorado.

The bullpen seemed to be suffering from overwork by the time they got to Colorado, which spelled disaster on Sunday.  Soriano continued mowing down the entire league, and the LOOGY duo of O’Flaherty and Logan totaled 5 2/3 shutout innings, but it was pretty ugly after that.  Gonzalez had his elbow flare up again, and Moylan and Acosta just got battered.  Luis Valdez was thrown into a tough situation for his debut on Sunday, and he was handed the loss on Brad Hawpe’s double.

Moylan, in particular, has been criminally over-worked for this point in the season.  I just don’t see how Bobby Cox justifies throwing him out there so often, especially coming off Tommy John surgery.  Every year of late, it seems like Bobby has a guy who he rides until he just can’t get anyone out.  Blaine Boyer was among the league’s appearance leaders a year ago until he flamed out toward the end of the season, and Moylan is that guy in 2009.  Don’t be surprised if he becomes the first DFA’d Braves relief pitcher in 2010.

The Road Ahead

Frenchy’s Triumphant* Return is scheduled for this weekend, a four-game series against the Mets following the All-Star Break.  Even though I think the Atlanta media and Braves broadcasters have been too kind to him because he’s an affable guy off the field, I hope he gets a good ovation from the hometown fans.  I would hate to see someone in his position, returning to the place where he grew up, get booed for being a bad player.

For four years, virtually everyone treated Jeff like he was already the next big star, well before he learned how to really hit major league pitching.  It’s not like the Braves had to let him play every day once they realized this, so they share some (perhaps most) of the blame.  Jeff bought into it, never made the right adjustments, and now has to begin his career over again in the nation’s most unforgiving media market.

I haven’t seen where either team has projected their starting rotation after the break.  The Mets are supposedly leaning toward Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey in the first two games, and Johan Santana would presumably follow.  The Braves could start with Vazquez, if he’s healthy enough to go, and then follow with Jurrjens, Lowe, and Kawakami.

Personally, I’m interested in Friday night’s matchup.  I’ll be in attendance for that one, and they’ll be retiring Greg Maddux’s jersey in a pregame ceremony that night.  Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to pass along next week.

*May not be triumphant.

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5 thoughts on “Braves Check: July 13, 2009

  1. Baseball is a game of individual performance as well as team play. With that said, I don’t like the Braves chances of making the post season this year.

    I don’t see the chemistry of a winning team nor do I see any one player lighting a spark to ignite or inspire this team. Overall, an uninspired, lackluster performance individauly and as a team. I am not pointing fingers, but IMO, this lies squarely on Cox.

    I have never been a big fan of Bobby, a manager in the right place at the right time; someone who has done less with more than anyone in baseball history. It may be time to look at a change there.

  2. While I think he’s made his share of managerial blunders, and his bullpen deployment is a persistent one, I’m not sure he deserves the blame if the Braves don’t reach the postseason this year. The talent level’s just not there to say “this team should be playing in the World Series,” unlike the mid-90’s.

    What Bobby gets a lot of credit for is his ability to manage his team’s emotions and keep them on an even keel for a full season. While I haven’t attempted to quantify that, and I’m not sure that I could, it seems to be true anecdotally, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt there.

    To me, the manager always seems to get more praise when things go right and more criticism when things go wrong than he deserves. I’d say that firing Bobby would be farfetched, but if it does happen, it would be the case of a manager taking the fall because it’s easier to replace one guy than find a team that can hit.

  3. You mention one positive on Bobby’s managing that I have liked about him over the years. Another credit to him is the way he gets the entire team involved, usually not letting anyone rot away on the bench.

    But he has always baffled me with his decisions ranging from making a lineup to his timing and/or choices when making personel changes during a game; decisions that have not only cost them games but championships.

    I guesss you have to take the good with the bad sometimes. But it just seems to me that the last 3 years or so the Braves just seem to be going through the motions on the field. If the manager doesn’t do something to inspire the team, who will? Not Chipper (Braves future manager, replacing TP), for sure.

  4. I’ll have to agree with John here. The Braves have had around .500 talent for the last few years, and they’ve played around .500 ball (with the exception of last year–but we’ll give the guy one mulligan when he won 14 consecutive division titles). Similarly, they’re right around .500 this year. No matter what profession, I don’t think you can fire someone for meeting expectations rather than exceeding them. If teams started going by that policy, there would be at least 50% managerial turnover from year to year.

    Sure, he makes some questionable managerial decisions, but compared to what a lot of other managers do, are they really that bad? And how much of an effect do they really have in the first place?

  5. A quick note about 2008:

    Last year’s futility was the result of poor fortune in close games and the fact that they stopped trying to compete in mid-July. They were in exactly the same spot a year ago today in the division race, 6.5 games out, before things fell apart in August.

    On Bobby:

    He does make some poor strategic decisions. In general, he opts for one-run strategies too often (bunts, etc.), fails to use his best relievers in crucial spots before the 9th inning (this was a much bigger problem when he didn’t have Soriano and Gonzalez healthy simultaneously). He also overuses certain situational relievers (Boyer, Moylan, etc.) and he seems too loyal to players with only marginal talent who have performed well over a short period of time in the past (see Pete Orr, Willie Harris, Jeff Francoeur).

    Despite all of those flaws, I’d guess that he doesn’t cost the Braves that many games with poor strategy compared to most of the other managers out there.

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