Braves Check: August 10, 2009

Suddenly the Braves seem like a team with a little resilience and fight in them, don’t they?  I didn’t watch much of the games this week, since they were almost all late starts, but winning 3 of 4 against the Dodgers on the road can’t be a bad thing.  A series win against the Padres earlier in the week helped them finish the short west coast trip at 5-2.

The Phillies had a rougher week, getting swept by the Marlins.  So, although the Braves gained some ground on first, they’re still a half-game behind the Fish for second place.  They’re also 3.5 back of the Giants and Rockies, who are now tied for the wild card lead.  The Cubs and Marlins also stand in their way in that race.  Cool Standings is giving the Braves about a one-in-four chance of reaching the postseason (actually 23%), which seems about right.

Last Week’s Stats

Javier Vazquez started twice last week and was the team’s statistical star, striking out 13 in 15 innings while holding the opposition to three runs.  He won both starts and only allowed 13 baserunners, further cementing his status as the Braves’ 2009 ace and one of the best pitchers in the National League.

Kenshin Kawakami also had two starts, including a gritty performance on Saturday in L.A.  While he wasn’t credited with a win for either start, he was quite good.  He needed to be, with Tim Hudson nearing a return and a current rotation member likely headed to the bullpen if he comes back as a starter.

One pitcher who hasn’t been particularly great but whose status in the rotation is probably safe is Derek Lowe, who continues to scatter tons of hits while allowing few enough runs to still look decent overall.  Lowe allowed 8 hits and 2 walks in his only start, but he gave up only two runs.

Also checking in with a solid performance was Tommy Hanson, who battled hard on a day when he didn’t seem to have his best stuff working.  He also gave up only two runs and has now at least matched that level of performance (6+ IP, 2 or fewer runs) in five of his 11 career starts.  Jair Jurrjens had the only poor start of the week, and it’s possible that his results will begin catching up with his defense-independent pitching performance (based on walks, Ks, and homers), which suggests that he should have an ERA around 3.70.

At the plate, Chipper Jones actually had the best week of any Brave, despite sitting out most of the Dodgers series.  He hit a homer, a double, and five singles to go with three walks and even a stolen base.

WPA liked Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar this week for some of their big hits, and I’m sure it would have liked Yunel’s diving stop that ended Saturday’s game if it factored defense into the equation.  Like Chipper, Johnson only played in four games, but he clubbed two homers in 14 trips to the plate.  Escobar played the entire week, going 8-for-28 with four walks.

Ryan Church, Matt Diaz, and Adam LaRoche also participated in the fun to some extent, each hitting at least one homer in a week when the Braves visited two parks that heavily favor pitching.

The less-exciting offensive players last week were Martin Prado (10-for-33, but no walks), Nate McLouth (5-for-22), Brian McCann (4-for-25), and Garret Anderson (8-for-33, no walks).

For the season, Chipper has a sizable lead on the other hitters in WPA, Runs Created, and wOBA, although McCann and Escobar rank ahead of him in Wins Above Replacement because of their defense.  That’s not just based on the quality of their defense, though; they get a boost just because they play catcher and shortstop.

The bullpen had an up-and-down week, with the up represented by 13 2/3 shutout innings from Gonzalez, Moylan, Medlen, and Logan.  Rafael Soriano continued to erase a season’s worth of excellent work (in WPA, at least) with another walk-off homer, this one allowed to Andre Ethier, who is apparently very good at that kind of hit.

Eric O’Flaherty and Manny Acosta had some struggles through the week, although I would have let Acosta finish Sunday’s game instead of bringing in a heavily overworked Peter Moylan.  When Moylan came on, the Braves still had an 8-2 lead, which is very, very safe, even with two runners on base, as there were in that situation.  There’s just no good reason to be protecting a six-run lead with one of your key relievers.

Jason Heyward Watch

Mark Bowman’s latest blog post revealed that Frank Wren has been watching the M-Braves’ last few games so that he could see Jason Heyward for himself.  Perhaps a promotion (to Gwinnett at least) is imminent?  There’s probably not much else he can do to prove himself in AA, although his OBP did dip under .500 with a 1-for-5 day on Sunday.  His one hit was a homer, however, and he’s hitting .411/.492/.729 overall in Mississippi.  My main question at this point is whether he will be in AA long enough to make the trip to Chattanooga for their five-game series toward the end of the month.

It’s possible that the collective good week had by Matt Diaz and Ryan Church might contribute to leaving Heyward in the minors, although I’m not sure that’s good enough justification for doing so.  My outlook might be different if the Braves were protecting a division lead, but in their current position, I’d take a chance on Heyward adding some value down the stretch.

One last side note: I love having the chance to do a prospect “watch” like this.  It sure beats having a depleted farm system.

The Road Ahead

The Braves will use only one full turn through the rotation this week, with only five games on the schedule, all at home.  The first two will be against the Nationals, who have somehow won their last 8 games in a row.  Cliff Lee won’t have a turn this time around, but I’m sure we’ll see him sooner or later.  These are the matchups:

Tue vs. WAS: Hanson vs. John Lannan
Wed vs. WAS: Lowe vs. Craig Stammen
Fri vs. PHI: Jurrjens vs. Cole Hamels
Sat vs. PHI: Kawakami vs. Jamie Moyer
Sun vs. PHI: Vazquez vs. J.A. Happ

Stammen is the only righty in the group, so expect to see the Escobar/McCann lineup switch some more this week.  That’s probably a good thing, but the Braves as a whole don’t really have a platoon split at all this year.

Other than a five-game sweep, the best thing that could happen this week would be several big wins to rest an overworked bullpen, but that might be hoping for too much.  Five wins would certainly be enough.

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5 thoughts on “Braves Check: August 10, 2009

  1. The last I heard was mid-August, which is already upon us. I think he’s probably a couple of weeks away at the most.

    Right now it seems unlikely that anyone currently in the rotation is going to pitch poorly enough between now and then to make a replacement obvious.

    Vazquez has been terrific – the ace of the staff. Jurrjens may be tiring a little but is still the #2 guy. Lowe has been erratic, but he’s getting paid so much that you figure he’d have the longest leash. Hanson is the most inexperienced, but he’s been better than Lowe and nearly as good as Jurrjens. Kawakami has been erratic, but he’s still on the books for quite a bit of cash.

    So, barring injury, there’s no clear cut candidate, especially considering that Tommy John patients usually don’t return to their top form until two years after the surgery. Maybe Hudson returns as a long man in the bullpen?

    The depth would be nice, and Hudson has expressed that he would be willing to accept such a role. If that’s how it works out, the Braves might be able to move Medlen back down to AAA to get a few starts in before the end of the season.

    Having said all of that, we haven’t even broached the subject of the team option on Hudson’s contract for 2010. He might be worth that, and he’s probably better than Kawakami long-term anyway. But can the Braves justify paying for 4 starters (not including Jurrjens/Hanson or even Reyes/Medlen/Parr) when there are probably other improvements to be made?

    There are probably more questions than answers to be found at this point.

  2. I know you’re way better informed about this sort of thing than I am, but if somebody’s going to lose a spot in the rotation, it sure seems like Kawakami would have to be the choice. I know Derek Lowe’s average-type-stats aren’t great, but 18 of his 25 starts have been quality starts. And even though wins and losses shouldn’t count for much, it sure doesn’t seem like a guy who’s 12-7 (Lowe, largely due to the quality starts) or 7-2 (Hanson) would get the boot instead of a guy who’s 5-9 (Kawakami).

    But you’re right that Kawakami has still been a serviceable fifth starter. Hudson to the bullpen does sound like the safest plan.

  3. I think the chances are pretty slim that Lowe would get booted from the rotation, but could you blame the Braves if they thought of him as their fourth-most reliable starter, ahead of only Kawakami?

    Hudson’s injury tweaks (unrelated to the arm) may delay his return slightly, it appears. I’d say the later he returns, the more likely he returns as a member of the bullpen.

  4. No, I’m agreeing with you that Lowe looks like the #4. That’s why he was the only other person I mentioned, since I just took it for granted that either he or Kawakami would be #5.

    Anyway, even if they do decide reinsert Hudson into the rotation, having too many serviceable starters is still a much better problem then having too few.

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